Maybe We Just Weren’t That Special

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“God has big plans for you,” they said.

“You are special; you’ve been chosen,” they declared.

“You are the generation who is going to change the world.”

Our young hearts, full of dreams and hopes, burned with the flame of inspiration. We could do anything through Christ. We were going to change the world!

Twenty or so years later, we are half way through our lives. The world hasn’t been changed. If anything it’s more screwed up than it ever was. Many of us never did anything special and still feel a lingering guilt for conforming to the world. Some of us tried and failed. Maybe it was a quiet failure or possibly a more glorious burning out, but the pain and confusion are still there. Guilt, shame, and disillusionment, we are familiar with these demons. Doubt and questions have long replaced our naive enthusiasm.

If you resonate with any of what I just said, then this blog post is for you. Disillusionment sucks. It really hurts and we can easily start second-guessing so many other things we once believed.

But can I throw out an idea? Maybe we didn’t fail our calling or purpose. Maybe we just weren’t that special to begin with. Maybe we were never supposed to change the world.

 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV).

Recognize this verse? Maybe it’s one of the verses they used to try and motivate you to be awesome and do big things. I’ll be honest, I’ve used it myself as a well-meaning youth leader trying to encourage the next generation. It’s an exciting verse full of possibility. But the problem is that when we use it alone, ripped from it’s context, Jeremiah 29:11 loses it’s richness and depth.

It’s not really a promise about doing amazing things and changing the world.

The LORD is talking to Jeremiah about His people Israel that He sent into exile because they refused to obey Him. Torn from their homes and communities and away from their families, they had been taken into captivity in a strange land. The LORD tells them in verses four through ten that they are going to be in this place of captivity for seventy years. Not good news. But He wants them to accept it, settle down, marry and have children, and seek the peace of the places where they have been exiled. God assures them that even in this place of captivity, He has plans for them and that He will give them a future and a hope. This brokenness is not the end.

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It actually gets even better. In verses twelve through fourteen, the LORD tells His people that when they seek Him in this broken place, they will find Him. God assures His people that He wants to be found.

In it’s actual context, Jeremiah 29:11 is not exactly the, dream big and go do awesome stuff because God has a great future for you pep talk, is it? It’s more of a life is broken and it’s not gonna go the way you want, but make the best of it and seek Me because I want you to find Me encouragement.

Guess what, friends? We can’t change the world. And we aren’t supposed to.

“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

Live quietly; mind your own business. It seems like this passage is encouraging obscurity and simple faithfulness rather than awesomeness.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10.

Paul doesn’t say “big works” or “famous works” or “successful works”. He just says good ones. And we know that most good works are simple, small, and unnoticed.

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If you ever sat in a youth group meeting, or a conference, or at a chapel service at camp and listened to a well-meaning leader tell you that you were special, the chosen ones, or the generation that would change the world…

If you ever went to Bible college full of dreams and “the plans that God had for you” only to be completely disillusioned…

If you have served in Christian ministry, fought with blood, sweat, and tears, and gave it your all, only to be burned out, or maybe even burned by the people you were trying to reach…

Please hear me.

You have not failed. You are not a failure, or a washout, or a reject. This is not a one chance thing. God is not done with you. Those are all lies that you need to reject!

What if you were just on the wrong train? We try so hard to make a difference as though  in our own efforts we can change people. But guess what? No program, or church, or sermon, or camp, or mission agency, or youth pastor, or any other kind of human effort can change anyone.

Human religion might be able to control behavior for a while, but the power to transform hearts belongs to only One – the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.

So if we aren’t capable of changing the world (and aren’t even supposed to be), what should we be doing?

Getting to know Jesus.

“He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8.

There is only one person that we can actually change. Ourselves. And even that actual change has to come from Jesus! But we can chose to seek Him by developing habits that bring Him into the front of our mind and lives. We can search the Scriptures to find Who He truly is. We can learn to listen to the quiet whisper of His Spirit.

We can live faithful, simple lives that dig deep into the people around us. We can serve and love and give. We can use the gifts that God has given us without demanding results. Our lives might not be magnificent, world changing, or even Instagram worthy. But these are the real kinds of plans that God has for us in the middle of our broken world. These are the good works that He has prepared for us before hand. This is the humble way of Jesus. Let’s follow in the obscure steps of our Savior.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” Philippians 2:5-7.

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Enemies of God

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enemy: a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.

Is God our enemy? It’s a question that I have been pondering for the past few weeks. Sometimes He feels like our enemy, and I’ve heard Bible verses that make Him sound like our enemy, but is He really? This is an important question! Because, I am much less likely to want to get to know Someone who is actively opposed to me…

There are plenty of verses that talk about God opposing the proud, or sending judgement on the wicked, or hating certain sins. Can He do those things and still not be our enemy? I think it depends on His motives, His heart behind the actions. Is God “actively opposed or hostile” in those situations? Or is He working out of love to get someone’s attention? Is He standing back and allowing cause and effect to happen? Is He feeling hatred because of the pain sin brings to the people it affects? It’s important to read these types of verses in context. As I’ve studied, I’ve found nothing that contextually makes God our enemy.

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And ultimately, I keep coming back to Jesus. If God were really our enemy, then Jesus would have been completely different. An enemy does not pursue peace. They do not treat us with ridiculous love and scandalous grace. They are not humble and gentle. An enemy does not seek out the broken and needy and give them value. They are not willing to be tortured and murdered for our sake. If Jesus is God, and I absolutely believe that He is, then God is not our enemy. He can’t be!

But, we are His.

Did you know that you can have an enemy without being one? Someone can be hostile and opposed to you without you returning the favor. They might even think and feel that you are mutual enemies without it being accurate.

The truth is, people are absolutely God’s enemies. Look at the definition of enemy…there is no denying it. We are actively opposed and hostile towards God. Every day.

The unbelieving world twists His character, argues against His natural law, and denies His existence. People in the church, who call themselves Christians misunderstand, misrepresent, and ignore Him at the same time. We are in a constant fight against God. It’s one of the results of sin.

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The creation surrounding us proclaims God’s eternal nature and divine character, but we claim it happened by accident. God created us in His own image with emotions, intellect, and the ability to connect in relationship, and we use our intelligence to decide He doesn’t exist. Jesus came as the exact image of God, and we proclaim Him to be “just a good man.” God breathed out the Bible, speaking to multiple people over thousands of years, and we either ignore it, twist it, or use it to our own advantage.

Yes, we are definitely God’s enemies. But God refuses to be ours.

Even as we fight, struggle, and insist on believing lies about Him, the Spirit of Jesus is calling us and drawing us to Himself. He never stops loving us, even when we hate Him. He is always ready to be found by people who seek Him. He never gives up on us. He always wants us. Isn’t that crazy?

Let’s throw away the lies, and shame, and discouragement. God is not our enemy! And even though we are His, He has already taken the first steps in reconciliation! We are loved, redeemed, and wanted. 🙂

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” Romans 5:10.

“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” Colossians 1:1.9-20

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The Only Condemnation was in the Commentary

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I’ve reached a pretty important conclusion. God isn’t who we think He is.

I realize that the Old Testament God often has a bad reputation. It might be hard to hate Jesus, unless you’re an uber-religious leader, but Jehovah of the Old Testament does some pretty terrible things. He’s harsh and demanding.

Or is He?

I’ve been puttering around in the Old Testament during my morning devo time for the past four months or so. Basically ever since a well-known preacher told Christians to “unhitch” from it…I know, I’m a total rebel. 🙂

So far I’ve made it through Judges, Ruth, and First Samuel. I’m working my way through Second Samuel right now. What I’ve found has shocked me! Half of the stories are missing. Or rather, the stories are there but certain parts I remembered are gone.

  • Did you know God doesn’t seem to care that Deborah is a woman in leadership? There is no negativity or suggestion that she is only leading because no good men are available. In fact, she is celebrated. That was new to me!
  • Struggling with fear and insecurity, Gideon needs not one but two signs from God before he obeys. God patiently provides miracles for Gideon without comment (along with the strength to win an impossible battle). God does not appear fazed by Gideon’s needs or weaknesses. He never condemns Gideon for a lack of faith.
  • Samson is a narcissistic, womanizing, self-centered jerk who only wants revenge. There is no record of him ever repenting or caring about God at all. Even at the end, when God gave Samson back his strength, Samson only wanted it so that he could kill his enemies. Yet, somehow Samson ends up in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews chapter eleven.

Do you know what has hit me over and over again? The utter lack of condemnation. The Bible records facts in a historical, matter of fact way. God interacts with broken people to accomplish His purposes. Nothing stops Him. And the only condemnation is in the commentary. I actually had to stop reading the commentary in my study Bible because it was so irritating to me. If God’s not condemning these people, we sure don’t have any business adding it.

good-1123013_1920Condemnation is what we often hear in Sunday school, sermons, devotionals, etc. We humans can’t seem to get away from an obsession with behaviors and a desire to moralize and judge. We have to make sure people know that certain actions are bad.

But, is that really important?

The last five chapters of Judges detail some historical events that happened before there was a king and when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” They aren’t pretty stories. It’s a dark time in the nation of Israel.

Judges ends on that note. The tabernacle, the priesthood, and the worship of Jehovah have become twisted and corrupted. Everyone is doing whatever they want.

Next, the book of Ruth jumps back in time and tells the story of two women who lived during Judges. Ruth was a Moabite who came back to Israel with her mother-in-law after her husband’s death. She ends up marrying another Israelite man and goes on to be the great-great-grandmother of King Solomon (David’s son) who built the temple.

Why is this important? Well, in Deuteronomy 23:3, the Law declares that no Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD even to the tenth generation. There are only four generations between Ruth and Solomon! What? What kind of ridiculous mercy and lavish grace is being shown by Jehovah? What happened to the harsh, demanding God who wrote the Law?

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Maybe He isn’t who we assume He is. I mean, who better to disregard the Law than the One who wrote it? Maybe the Law was never meant to be perfectly followed…maybe it was meant to show us the heart of God.

Finally we arrive at First Samuel, and I love this part. We left off chronologically at the end of Judges (since Ruth happens somewhere in the middle) with terrible and tragic situations in a spiritually dark time. Into that darkness comes the prophet Samuel.

There is so much to unpack that I’m just going to use bullet points.

  • Despite the fact that most of the country is in spiritual darkness, Samuel’s parents Hannah and Elkanah seem to know the LORD personally. God always has been, and always will be, found by those who seek Him! 
  • After being given a miracle baby, Hannah gives her young son back to God and sends him to live with the priest Eli and serve in the tabernacle. Eli’s sons are totally out of control and yet are serving as priests. Worship at the tabernacle has been corrupted by thievery and prostitution. But this doesn’t stop God!
  • The beginning of Chapter Three declares that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” But, in Chapter Two, an unnamed Man of God shows up out of nowhere and gives Eli a prophecy about his sons. Where did this guy come from? What is his story? I don’t know, but God is still moving and working even though corporate worship is a mess!
  • And then directly after the declaration that God is not speaking to people, He audibly calls the child Samuel. Verse seven of Chapter Three specifically says that at this point Samuel does not yet know God and has never had God’s words revealed to him. All that is about to change! Samuel will go on to become a mighty prophet of the LORD.

Into a time of spiritual darkness and depravity, Jehovah shows up. He calls people, speaks to people, and patiently reveals Himself to them. He isn’t harsh, or demanding, or condemning. They haven’t been following the Law, but He doesn’t even mention that.

I don’t think God is Who we think He is…

It’s not that God doesn’t point out sin, because He does. But He points it out mater-of-factly with abundant grace and truth and an utter lack of condemnation. His conviction is meant to draw people to Him, not push them away. There is no shame or judgement. The more I read the Old Testament, the more Jehovah reminds me of Jesus. Crazy, isn’t it?

Part of our brokenness resulting from sin is an inability to relate to God. The Bible calls us enemies. Not that God is our enemy, but we are His. And yet, He is purposefully and passionately pursuing us. He always has been and He always will. (More on that next time.) 🙂

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