Tag Archives: Life

To the Full

Black Friday just isn’t what it used to be.  They ruined all the fun by starting it, in some cases, back at the beginning of November. Not the way the pilgrims observed it. No more standing all night in line and then smashing and pushing to get in the door.  Maybe I’ll take up roller derby.  But speaking of getting in the door, consider this, somewhat more peaceful, analogy from Jesus:

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  (John 10:9-10)

The frenzy on Black Friday, I suspect, is largely driven by people who are desperate for life “to the full.”  If I can score that toaster oven at a ridiculously low price, then I’ll be really living.  Nothing wrong with a new toaster oven, but it is not the “gate” to a full life.

Life “to the full” comes only by having the life of the Holy Spirit in our souls.  The Spirit is given to all who, as Jesus says, “enter through Me,” by faith.  Those who find this full life, “come in and go out and find pasture.”  Their lives are not locked up in church but are lived out in the world, led by Jesus, to “pastures” for sustenance and rest.  Compare the peace of that image with the mindset of those who smash and push their way into Black Friday sales.  You can see how the “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” the full life he falsely promises.

Teach Your Children Well

“Don’t forget to put on clean underwear!”  Did your mother ever say that?  “If you get in an auto accident and the medics cut your clothes off, you don’t want to be embarrassed…”  Just saying, but if the situation is that dire, your undies are probably going to be soiled anyway!  But mothers naturally want to pass along important lessons for life.

That being the case, I am troubled when I hear parents say, “I am not going to teach my children about God; I think they should make up their own minds when they are old enough.”  Really?  The problem with that reasoning is that every new generation then has to figure out about God, starting from scratch.  Almost certainly, that means they must find out some important things about life the hard way.  Listen to the wisdom in Psalm 78:

“…what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.” (Psalm 78:3-8)

Before my dad let me take the car, he taught me how to drive safely, how to listen for problems, read the gauges, check the oil and change a flat.  Kids are born these days with innate understanding of computers and smartphones, but you have to teach them how to cross the street and what a gas leak smells like.  Teaching them about God and about His instructions for life is even more important.

That is, provided you know about God yourself.  If the god you know is angry and vindictive, bitter and repressive, please don’t tell your children about him.  He’s not the God Who “so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son,” the Son Who said,

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14b)

Perhaps one of the strongest things you can teach your children is what God has done in your own life!  And, by the way?  The part about letting your kids decide for themselves?  You don’t have to worry about that; kids do it anyway. They will decide for themselves about changing their underwear.  But the stakes are much higher when it comes to knowing the Creator and about how He told us to live.  Teach your children well.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

When You’re Ready

My wife and I got mugged in Savannah, not physically but verbally, by a guy holding a sign and yelling Bible verses at us.  He literally followed us down the street, trying to “save” us by forcing Scripture on us.  He probably thought he was earning brownie points from God.  I was annoyed.  More than that, I was frustrated, wondering how many people he had chased away from God’s grace that day.  If you get accosted by someone shoving God or the Bible down your throat, don’t fight back; run away.  Because God doesn’t work that way.

It’s not that God doesn’t care; He really does.  Jesus’ brother, James, wrote of how God intensely yearns for His Spirit to live in us, just as He intended.  (That is my rough and loose paraphrase of James 4:5)  God is passionate that we be restored to the fullness of spiritual life by having His Spirit alive in us.  He wanted that for us so much He paid a terrible price to accomplish it.

BUT HE DOES NOT FORCE HIMSELF ON US!  He waits for us to be ready.  James continued his thought with this:

“But He [God] gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 – my explanation in brackets)

“The proud” in that verse are those who think they have life figured out on their own and who have no use for God.  He waits.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes “the proud” become “the humble.”  In the words of Bob Dylan (Like a Rolling Stone)

You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal

When “the proud” become “the humble,” when they are ready to receive Him, then God approaches.  With grace.  Not with loud, angry shouting.  He sent His Son to find you and rescue you.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

Jesus invited people to come to Him and find rest, saying He was “gentle and humble in heart.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

I remember seeing a video on Facebook about a guy who rescued an abandoned, starving dog.  The dog was aggressive, unwilling for anyone to approach but the guy just sat there and waited him out.  After a long time, when the dog was ready to receive it, the man gave him “more grace” – care, nourishment, healing and a new life.  There was no yelling involved, no signs, no scolding.  It was very much like my own experience with God, Who waited until I was not so full of myself.  Then, when I was ready to receive His grace, without holding anything against me, He gave me the life of His Son, Jesus.

He waits for you, too.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Like a Rolling Stone lyrics: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/rolling-stone#ixzz3UwbEdylf

Be a Real Tomato

Ever picked a tomato out of your garden and chomped down on it right away, letting the juice run down your chin?  Remember the incredible explosion of taste?  I challenge you to repeat that experience with any tomato you find at the store.  The primary motive of those who grew tomatoes for the store was making money not developing taste.  In the eyes of business, it takes too long to let a tomato grow naturally.  It’s too expensive to grow tomatoes for deep rich taste.  They work for tomatoes that look good, don’t bruise and survive lengthy warehousing and shipping.   That’s why store-bought tomatoes aren’t tasty.

There’s an illustration there about the difference between living by the ways of the world and living by the ways of God.  The world’s ways are all about making money and having stuff.  The world is more concerned with looks than it is with taste.  God intends for us to live and grow in His garden, receiving His provision on His schedule – all the things Jesus meant by “daily bread.”  The ways of God may seem inefficient to the world, but God’s ways develop “tasty” people.  When we grow and develop in harmony with God’s ways, life is better – it just is.  If you understand that, this quote from James doesn’t seem as harsh as it otherwise would:

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

At first glance, that sounds like the angry utterance of someone who thinks it is sinful to enjoy life!  But what James is really saying is, “Be a real tomato!”  Live and grow in God’s garden in step with His ways and in harmony with His rhythms.  Receive your daily bread with gratitude and joy.  If you go chasing after beauty, riches and fame you just may achieve those things.  But you’ll miss out on the tastiest life.  Instead, look to your Father with humility and thankfulness.  Be a real tomato.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


Real Life

Now that’s really living!  What were you doing the last time someone said that?  Eating?  Playing with grand-kids?  Water skiing?  Not everything we do in life is “really living,” right?  There are some moments in life when we feel more “alive.”  Life is full and rich, satisfying or meaningful.  So, not all life is “real life.”  If you understand how the same word, life, can be used to mean simply having a heart beat but can also mean the best vacation you ever had, then you can better understand Jesus, when He says:

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Jesus used the same word to mean two things:

1) All the things we hang on to in this world, believing we need them to be happy and secure.
2) The rich and full life that God intended for us to have as humans, being connected intimately and eternally with Him.

You can’t grab onto #1 and also have #2.  Holding on to #1 is a “death-grip.”  #2 is “real life.”  That is why, in the previous post, I used the video of a baby robin, screwing up his courage to fly for the first time (See: The Life You’d Die to Have).  As long as he clung to the safety and comfort of his nest, the only “life” he’d ever experienced, he could not experience the “real life” he was designed to possess – flying.

Similarly, Jesus continued:

“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26a)

The word, soul, in that question is the same word Jesus used for “life” previously.  He used the same word in this teaching, too:

” “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25 – I’ve crossed out the word, important, since it is not in the original text.)

Real life is more than food and clothes.  The “real life” God intended for us was eternal life, the life of His Spirit within us.  So long as we maintain our “death-grip” on life as we have always known it, our “nest” of stuff that makes us feel comfortable and safe, we will never “find” the “real life” God intended, flying with His Spirit.  When we let go of life and trust Jesus, He gives us “real life.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Bring it On

Maybe you have asked, “If Jesus saves, why doesn’t He save me?”   Maybe you have just lost your job or your home.  Maybe you have just received some awful news from your doctor.  Maybe you just saw your picture on the post office wall.  We find ourselves in deep trouble and call out to Jesus, “Save me!”  Sometimes He does and sometimes He does not.  Why not?

John the Baptist must have been wondering that same question.  John was a prophet who was faithfully and fearlessly serving God.  Not only that, he was Jesus’ cousin!  If Jesus had the power to break John out of jail, why didn’t He do so?  Jesus knew that John would be executed in prison and yet did nothing to free him.  Why not?  Why let John suffer and die?

it wasn’t that Jesus didn’t think John deserved it.  He told His disciples:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; …” (Matthew 11:11a)

But as good as John was, and as close as they were, there was something more important than John’s comfort and safety in play.  Jesus continued:

“… yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. [John the Baptist] (Matthew 11:11b)

The worst person who is in the Kingdom of Heaven is better than the best person who is not.  What did Jesus mean by that?

Here’s an analogy: The worst, piece of junk flip-phone that has service is better than the latest and fastest Google android mega-screen monster that does not.  Phones can be powered up and have all kinds of cool graphics and games, but it they don’t have “bars,” they are dead.  That’s because phones are designed to communicate by means of the invisible cell signal.

We humans were designed by God to communicate with Him, receiving and sending information, by means of His invisible Spirit in our souls.  Without that Spirit, even though we are physically alive, we are spiritually dead.  No “bars.”  Since Adam and Eve rebelled against God and lost “all the bars of their Spirit service,” all of their descendants have been born dead, disconnected from the Spirit – even John the Baptist.  Jesus’ primary mission was to give us the Spirit and bring us back to life.   Everything else was secondary.  He said,

“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b)

Jesus must have known that leaving John in prison would advance the cause of giving people real life in the Spirit.  That eternal goal was far more important than John’s immediate comfort or freedom.  If John could have known how his suffering would be used in that cause, he would have accepted it willingly.  Joyfully.

I am convinced that God did not waste John’s suffering and that He does not waste your suffering either.  I am convinced that if we knew how God uses our suffering to bring people to full life, we would be glad to be used by Him.  It’s not that we want to suffer.  We urgently pray and ask God to rescue us from it.  But as we pray to our Savior and King, we line ourselves up with what He knows is best.  “Thy will be done.  Bring it on!”

Don’t Trust the Herd

Just when I began to lose hope, I heard people have had enough of Lady Gaga.  Of course, soon enough, the thundering herd will head off over a different cliff.  There is no accounting for how powerful and unpredictable groupthink is.  Fads of pop culture are relatively harmless.  More serious is what happens when people cluster around social and political ideas without thinking.  How did Hitler get to be so powerful?  How did Rob Ford get elected?  How does extreme political correctness get imposed?  Groupthink about how to make money gave us the tech bubble and the housing crash.  People who broke away from the pack and followed their own ideas did better during those tough days.

As a rule of thumb, when everybody agrees about something, watch out!  Think to yourself, “Can all those people really be right?”  Jesus said:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  (Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus was talking about how to find life, real life.  He said, when it comes to life, the thundering herd has it wrong.  It’s not happiness or money or a better job and house.  It’s not thrills or music or fame or intoxication or even great achievement in your career.  Those paths are packed hard with countless footprints of those who thought they would find life and were disappointed.  Those gates resemble the bent and trampled doors of a city Walmart on Black Friday.  But the herd is wrong.

So how do we find the “narrow gate?”  Don’t get the wrong idea: the “narrow gate” is not for the “narrow minded.”  Narrow mindedness is another form of groupthink.  That herd is wrong, too.  The narrow gate Jesus referred to “leads to life” – abundant, full, rich and satisfying life.  And He showed us how to find it:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.  (John 10:9)

Hope for Life

Imagine the crew that Ernest Shackleton left behind, hopelessly stuck in Antarctic ice, facing a certain, slow, agonizing death by freezing, as he attempted to go for help. If you are not familiar with how far he needed to hike and then sail to find rescue, look it up. It’s one of the most astounding adventures of all time. But the guys left behind, huddled together, day after frozen day, with death circling like a wolf: how deep their despair must have been.

And how great their joy when one day, a speck on the horizon appeared, to let them know that Shackleton had returned, that he was not dead and that they were about to become the benefactors of a most improbable rescue! If you can grasp a sliver of their amazement, their blinking wonder and joy, then perhaps you can glimpse a portion of the disciples’ joy when they saw and touched Jesus after His resurrection.

Later, Peter wrote these words:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3)

As each person discovers that “speck on the horizon” and recognizes Jesus coming for them, they catch the full glow of Peter’s words. Not many of us can write music like Handel, but we can all jump up and sing “Hallelujiah!”

No Lie

Jesus knew He would be tortured to death within the next several hours. He knew the men around Him had left everything behind to follow Him, that soon they would be consumed by a tsunami of terror and grief. He had one last chance to speak with them. It was time for straight talk. Here’s what He began with:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-4a)

In effect, He said:
A. No matter what happens, don’t panic; God is trustworthy and so am I
B. I am going to fix it so that we can live together with God forever.
C. It really is true that God’s “house” has “rooms” (literally, places for people to move in and live forever).
D. There is no way I would lie to you about this at a time like this.
E. I’ve got to leave you, but I will come back for you.

All of that is comforting. It sounds like what a loving father might say to his family just before he leaves to immigrate to a new country where they will be safe, and where he will bring them as soon as he has a job and a place to live. “Don’t worry! I will come back for you!” Comforting.

But then Jesus said:

“You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:4b)

You can imagine how that comment raised anxious questions:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(John 14:5-6 )

Jesus wasn’t lying about any of that, either.

Just Like Candles

As beautiful as it is, a candle-lighting service also contains a powerful, instructive imagery.  We sit in the dark with cold, unlit candles. Our candles cannot make themselves burn; they must wait until the main candle is lit.  From that one, the flame is passed, one to another, until the whole room is filled with light.  When someone extends  their burning candle toward mine, its heat soon lights my wick.  Now heat and light emanates from my candle, allowing me to offer that flame to my neighbor.   I cannot do so until I have received the light.

Think of that imagery, and chew on this:

We love because he first loved us.  (1 John 4:19)

God’s kind of self-sacrificial love (agape love) does not exist in us when we are disconnected from His Spirit.  We love those who love us, we love others when it benefits us in some way.  But we know nothing of the type of love Jesus extended to us.  As Paul wrote in Romans:

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:7-8)

But if by faith, we accept His love, then we begin to love.  We love, like a candle that shines because it was lit.   It is not something we do out of obedience but something we do because our makeup has been changed.  His Spirit is alive in us.

We love because He first loved us.  

As we extend that love toward others, occasionally they, too, will receive the love of God and come to life.  That’s what John means when he says God’s love is made complete in us.  He gives it to us that we might give it to others.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  (1 John 4:12)

Just like candles…