The Center Of My Universe

Who is at the center of your universe?  God?  You?  Your kids?  Your Spouse?  Your Values?  HIS Values?  It’s an important question for followers of Jesus, especially today.  I live in a very secular, very humanistic culture. And, I would guess that you do, too. I see it all around me: people who have decided humanity is the highest good. As a short definition for secular humanism, I would offer this: a belief structure that embraces social justice, human reasoning, ethics, and philosophy for the shaping of a value system while simultaneously rejecting anything spiritual or faith flavored UNLESS said belief stems from a sense of self-fulfillment or self satisfaction. Such a system would, then, value human choice, tolerance, and logic in the pursuit of self-fulfillment. And, self-fulfillment is the bottom line.

Before you go wagging your finger at such an obviously non-Christian way of living, ask yourself what drives you day in and day out.  For example:  if I were to sell all of my possessions, give the money to the poor, and live the rest of my life in the service of the least of these, it would appear to be a very Christ-centered life.  It very well could be.  But why do I choose that life?  Do I choose it ultimately because it’s fulfilling to me?  Is it my value being played out?  Or have I embraced something Christ has asked of me in the pursuit of obedience to Him?  That’s the issue.  As if reading my mind, The Nomad Podcast posted this quote from Carl Medearis this morning:
“As Christians, we’re faced with a problem difficult to see because it’s so obvious. We’re aware of Jesus, but we are obsessed with Christianity. We’re stuck on its requirements and we’re defined by its doctrines, caught in an endless struggle to find out where we fit, if we’ve “arrived” yet, and if we’re doing it right…In this state, we’re not living in the grace of Jesus. We’re trying to maintain our membership.”

Modern western Christianity seems to be moving toward, at least in part, an attempted  synergistic mixing of Christian principles and secular humanism.  We follow those teachings that bring us the greatest fulfillment or that broker acceptance from those we value, avoid most things that require deep faith or great sacrifice, thus elevating ourselves or the group to the position of god.  This is a very complex and serious thing to me.  We have found a way to secularly humanize Christianity with the pursuit of what feels right to us, often embracing logic, social justice, and self-fulfillment with no thought to God’s desire for us or faith while at the same time having the appearance of Christianity.  Still having trouble wrapping your brain around what I’m saying?  When people come together to study the Bible, they circle up, read a verse, and then ask, “What does this verse mean to you?”  Fourteen answers and perspectives later, we’ve taken a text and filtered it through us to derive its meaning.  And no one dare say, “This verse couldn’t mean that…” or you’re intolerant, dogmatic, and narrow minded.  I agree that there is room for interpretation of the Bible, but not to the extent it’s normally taken.  The flex should come in what that simple truth looks like as it’s put into practice in our lives.  In my 20+ years of being a Youth Pastor, I saw it countless times.  I would ask, “What does this verse say?”  And 20 answers later there’s been an honest attempt at deeply spiritual things, philosophical things, application-type things, only to have to say, “Look at the verse.  The answer is there.”  Typically, we’ve run God’s Word through the filter of “me” in order to find its meaning.

Anyway, I digress.  I really simply wanted to pose the question today, “Why do you and I do what we do?”  Here’s a couple of quotes to meditate on today:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  (Luke 14:27)  “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”  (John 4:34)  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Gal. 2:20)

If I do all the right things, but only because I find them fulfilling and derive great satisfaction from them, have I really embraced what Christ is all about?  Honestly, only if I can say that love for and obedience to Christ, no matter the cost, are my bottom line.

Let The Rocks Stay Rocks

I was recently encouraged by a friend to think about Christ’s time in the wilderness, and His temptations there. So, I was reading though Matthew’s account, and got to these verses: “And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He [Jesus] answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’‘” (Matt. 4:3-4) I know what you’re thinking. We’ve all read this, and all contemplated what it means to depend on God for what we need and not our own provision. In German, they have a simple phrase when something is clearly understood. They say, “Ja, Klar.” And that’s what the main teaching of this passage is. It clearly states, as explained by Jesus, we are to depend on/rely on/live by God’s provision, and not our provisions alone. But there’s more; more that I think isn’t as clear, or is obviously ignored.

First, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, which is a passage talking about God’s provision for the Israelites through the giving of manna. In both places, though, the Scriptures acknowledge that bread ALONE doesn’t sustain us… Implication? We do need bread! But we must also remember that even the bread we have comes from God, or as Moses wrote in Deuteronomy, “But man lives by EVERYTHING {emphasis mine} that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Before we assume that we’ve earned what we have, we must acknowledge that even our ability to earn bread comes from God. Being true to the passage from Deuteronomy, Jesus is taking a humble position. Everything we have, have had, or ever will have that is necessary to sustain us comes from the mouth of God. This passage reminds me to stay humble and LISTEN for God’s creative provision for my needs. This temptation comes to Jesus at the end of a 40 day fast, when Jesus was hungry. I’m reminded here of His words in John 4, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34) In humble obedience, do what He’s called you to do and trust Him to provide.

The other thing I’ve seen in this Matthew passage I had not thought of before. It’s been 40 days and nights since Jesus ate. Matthew 4:2 says He became hungry. His body is crying out for food, His spirit drives Him to obedience and humility. But His situation is filled with hard things and a tempter telling Him to make things easier for Himself. What could Jesus have done? He could have made bread. Ja, Klar. He could have made pillows to lay His head on and moan about His hunger. Shoot, He could have made the rocks into bubble-gum to at least assuage His grumbling stomach. But He didn’t. And here’s where God really grabbed my attention this time. The hard, seemingly useless things in Jesus life, stayed as they were. He left them rocks. My friend, Ian, posed it to me like this: “may you have the courage today to remain with the stones that cannot yet be turned to bread…” I’d never thought about how I try to make hard things at least comfortable for myself. I’ve never thought about how hard I work to make things bearable. This goes deeper than trusting God to provide. It goes to the core of obedience, suffering, and ultimately contentment. Ja, Klar. Trust God to provide. We all get that. But when it comes to suffering, discomfort, pain, fear, etc., we seem to strive to replace those things with promises of blessings and a better tomorrow. Jesus didn’t say, “I will wait for God to turn this stones to bread.” Paul, in the same way, came to realize that the hard things serve a purpose. He writes in 2 Cor. 12:9 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (ESV) When I attempt to turn the stones into something more palatable, do I keep the power of Christ from resting on me? When I avoid suffering, do I hinder His work in my life? I don’t like the idea that suffering is a part of my journey. Who does? I believe that many, however, short change the power and provision of Christ by avoiding suffering, bemoaning suffering, are trying to escape from suffering.
Let the rocks stay rocks and wait on God’s provision, knowing His power is perfected in your weakness and his power rests upon you in your weakness. Let the rocks stay rocks, but stay anchored on THE Rock.