Eighteen years ago, a bestselling book made a national splash with the idea of having a life driven by purpose. The author was all over television promoting the concept, and it generated excitement all across the land. To find a reason for being and to dedicate ourselves to it captured our collective imagination. It is indeed an energizing thought but hardly an original one.
We need only to read the first four words of Scripture to find the appropriate starting point in the search for a purpose to drive us. We are misdirected if we are not steered by our Creator. Who better to explain the reason for our existence? He did not form humanity from the dust for no cause, and without Him we will be driven to the wrong ends.
Solomon’s fame for legendary wisdom spread throughout the world (1 Kings 4:29-34) and lives to this day. Both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes have been preserved through the ages as words that are God-given and profitable for our learning. The latter takes us on his journey of exploration that opened his eyes to the beneficial and the damaging. Much of his life was spent in pursuit of empty packages. Nothing in this world satisfies. Not riches. Not toys. Nothing. Looking beyond ourselves and our possessions is where we find purpose. In the beginning God…
Solomon’s wisdom and experiences led him to a conclusion: Fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). True wisdom is boiled down to these half dozen words. That is the sum total of our existence. We can listen to all of the lectures, scholars and experts but that is where the wise man takes us. It is universally applicable with no expiration date. Cultivate the correct understanding of our God, give Him His due respect and follow His directions.
Our great Creator was expelled from school generations ago, and the consequences have been tragic. Children are taught at an early age that we are little more than monkeys with high end accessories; the products of cosmic accidents. The dignity with which the Lord created humans has been rejected in favor of evolutionary luck, simply a billion year “oops” with no room for the fear of God. Even His very existence is up for debate, not to mention the validity of His guidelines. All that Christians hold dear is under assault. But then, that is nothing new.
Satan was quick to begin his attack on the Lord’s honesty and the legitimacy of His word (Genesis 3). Now, the truth is undermined by the academic community as well. They knock the props out from under Genesis 1 and the rest of Scripture falls with it. Battle lines have been drawn, and the war is on. The casualties have lost respect for an authoritative Creator and His commands. No God. No purpose. No drive. And we wonder why people are in despair.
John’s mission was critically important as he paved the way for the Son of God, so it was no time to beat around the bush (Matthew 3:1-12). He was direct, to the point and on the fringe of society. He was the Lord’s messenger, and his message was crystal clear: Repent. Change was coming, and preparation was mandatory. It was not a suggestion.
Jesus followed closely on the heels of the Baptist. His baptism had been followed by a tussle with the devil in the wilderness. He stepped on to the public stage with a familiar message: Repent. Change is a fundamental condition of the kingdom of heaven. Turning away from an old familiar way of life is never easy but essential for entry into that spiritual world of blessings. This was not up for discussion; it is a nonnegotiable (Matthew 4:17).
Pentecost found Jerusalem in an uproar (Acts 2). There were sights and sounds unlike anything before. Men spoke of the mighty deeds of a great God in languages that they had never known before. Peter seized the moment and spoke of the death and resurrection of Jesus which penetrated all the way to the heart of the Jewish audience. “What do we do?” The apostle’s first word to them was, “Repent,” and it was a command. Yes, he had more to say, but this led the way. It is fundamental to having our sins forgiven and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Genuine repentance originates deep within the heart of Christians. The extraordinary kindness of the Lord evokes a response from those who have a true appreciation of it. His nature leads to a change inside of us. To undervalue His character and the patient, compassionate way that He has dealt with us brings about a stubborn unwillingness to correct our own sins which takes us directly into a collision with the wrath of God (Romans 2:1-11). The prospect is a terrifying one (Hebrews 10:26-31).
The church in Ephesus had every advantage. Paul spent time there, and Timothy lived there receiving additional support in the form of a couple of letters to guide his efforts. Add to that the letter to the church, and they certainly had a firm foundation with follow up instructions for development. Yet, they lost their way. Revelation’s letters to the seven churches of Asia began with Ephesus (Ephesians 2:1-7).
They left their first love, and their very existence as a church was threatened. The Lord’s corrective measure for them? Repent. It is consistent throughout His messages to those churches. If there is a problem, repentance is always the solution for both the congregation and the individuals.
Our nation has largely turned its back on God, and it is easy to allow that attitude to seep into our lives. Apathy sets in, sin becomes acceptable and “repent” turns into an old-fashioned concept as another soul slips away.
We live in an amazing world. Winter brings a deep freeze as much of the nation will experience frigid temperatures and snow. Leaves have fallen and the landscape appears barren and lifeless. That will all change in a few months as leaves bud and flowers bloom. It is quite a remarkable demonstration of the God who orchestrates it all. Days go by, times change, the seasonal cycles roll on and a wondrous Creator is evidenced. Do we see Him?
Of course not, at least not in a physical sense. No one ever has (John 1:18), but we can grow in our understanding of Him. In that, we see the unseen. The magnificence of the creation bears witness of the One who made it. The far-flung stars, the majestic mountains, the vast oceans, the serene rivers and even microscopic organisms all testify of the powerful mastermind behind them. Not to mention the most remarkable work of all: humanity. It demands willfully ignoring all of the evidence to deny God’s existence.
The word of God fills in the necessary blanks about His character. It enables us to focus our attention on the force behind this amazing creation. The world around us proves that there is a great someone that set it all in motion but does not explain Him. It takes His written revelation to give us that information. Scripture is an incredible blessing, for in it we have God’s own words about Himself and us. As if that were not enough, He sent His unique Son to show us.
Jesus revealed that unseen Creator. It is a concept that the apostles failed to grasp, even though they spent several years with Him (John 14:7-9). How much more of a challenge is it for us who have not seen the Son to comprehend His revelation of the Father? The greater blessing is promised to those who were not eye-witnesses and yet believe (John 20:29). Are we among them?
He was deity in a human body. When they looked, they saw the glory of God full of grace and truth (John 1:14). They touched Him. Conversed with Him. Watched Him. We see through their eyes from the words they wrote. They take us into an eternal dimension that is beyond that which is possible through our senses. Their description of the Son provides the means through which we develop an informed, accurate picture of the true God (1 John 5:20-21).
A deeper dive into the word of God will sharpen our spiritual vision as we strive for 20/20, which we will never have this side of the grave. Our sight will always be somewhat blurry, distorted by our humanity. The Bible provides a spiritual eye chart to help us check our vision. It gives us a look at God and His view of things. Improvement comes as we bring our thoughts in harmony with His. Happy 2020!
The empty tomb of Jesus validates everything that Christians stand for. There is a vast array of religious beliefs in our world. Islam is a system that is on the move worldwide. Muhammed’s faith is aggressive and spreading. He died and is still in the tomb. No resurrection means no hope beyond this world. He is simply one example. Movements come and go, but only one will remain standing beyond the grave. Our trust is in that one.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…(1 Peter 1:3).” Peter knew first hand about disappointment. He was totally confident that he could stand up to the stiffest challenge. He couldn’t. He vowed that he would never deny the Lord. He did. Any self-confidence had crumbled long before he wrote these words. His associates? They were no more dependable than he was. He had to look beyond himself for hope.
God is almighty, and it is to Him that we shift our attention. He towers over everything this creation can throw at us, and that is plenty. Even death suffered a death blow when face-to-face with the Lord (Hebrews 2:14). Combine His capacity to raise the dead with His incomprehensible mercy and it is an offer of hope that is out of this world. It is alive, and always will be. The tomb of hopelessness is empty.
He has brought us into a new realm of existence. “Born again.” He caused that. He has made Christians brand new. We stumbled around in sin, not knowing where we were or where we were going. We joined the prodigal son among the living dead (Luke 15:32). We had become pawns in the hands of influences without and evil desires within, both of which were tools under the devil’s control. We were corpse with a heartbeat (Ephesians 2:1-3), until God stepped in and emptied that tomb, too (Ephesians 2:4-7).
Vision becomes blurry in the rigors of day-to-day existence. Up early, rushing for work or school, a full day’s hustle, bills to pay, chores at home, collapse into bed; who has time in an overflowing schedule to contemplate hope? So, it easily drifts into the remote recesses of our minds. Surely, it is another satanic ploy leading to discouragement and despair. It was high on Paul’s prayer list (Ephesians 1:18). It must be important.
The word of God has given us a great formula for the maintenance of hope: information and persistence (Romans 15:4). History teaches us of the greatness of the Lord who delivers on his promises, even when there seems to be no possible way. Never give up. He is a God of hope (Romans 15:13).
All eyes are on the one we call Jesus. He has our attention in the once-a-year ritual known as Christmas. Lighted trees fill the neighborhoods and decorations adorn our streets. Presents will be exchanged with those we love as families gather across the globe. It is a fun time of year, but it will pass. All the festivities will come to an end, and routines will resume. Then what?
The reality of Jesus will not change. Hearts that were made merry might lose their joy. Bright wrapping paper will suddenly become disposable trash. Trees look empty, almost sad. It all loses its glitter the day after. Then what? The attention that the Christ child gathered during this festive season will wane. A bit of a letdown will set in. The world returns to normal. The Lord seems to be put in a box and shoved into a corner of a closet for another year. The only thing that has not changed is Him.
Our emotions ebb and flow. They are often slaves to times and situations, swinging upward when circumstances are good and downward when they’re bad. The Son of God is not like that. He is as consistent as the Father who sent Him (Hebrews 13:8). The character that He demonstrated during His brief stay in this world has never varied. It never will, and we can only gather an accurate understanding our heavenly Father from Him (1 John 5:20).
Both Father and Son displayed an incomprehensible love through the remarkable life of the One who voluntarily entered this sinful world. Heaven is the ultimate goal for every child of God, and Jesus was there and stepped away to join us here. Temptations were real. The potential to fail was ever present. The tempter lurked around every corner. He experienced human weakness and struggle. He knows about hunger and physical pain. He understands what it is to be betrayed. Denied. Abandoned. Alone. Totally, absolutely alone. Yes, He knows in ways that we never will. Unless we reject Him. Then we will know…forever.
He gave up that unimaginable equality with God to save us from an eternal separation from our all-loving Creator. He knows about the power of emotions. He wept for the grief that His loved ones suffered (John 11:33-35). He agonized over the prospects of His impending death (Matthew 26:36-46). Yes, He literally knows exactly how we feel but never allowed it to dictate His actions. His sole focus was the salvation of humanity (Matthew 1:21). From cradle to grave, He was never sidetracked from that task.
As we see nativity scenes splashed all across the world, let us never lose sight of the eternal significance of the Christ child. He was born to die. He came to free us not only from the penalty of sin but also our enslavement to it. Enjoy the season, and always remember His ultimate purpose.