James’ letter found in the New Testament is likely the earliest of all the writings in the New Testament. It is filled with straightforward and practical teaching about the faith of followers of Jesus Christ. James refuses to pull any punches, but with the immense compassion he challenges those who read it to take seriously their walk of faith, recognizing that how we live reflects who we are. Then, as today, there are many who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, yet their lives do not reflect their identity as children of God. This series will challenge each of us to live lives of faith full of action that is consistently and continually authenticating our identity and Christ’s body.
Joshua 2 is the story of a sinful woman, in a sinful profession, among a sinful people who, though she possesses limited knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, places her total faith in Him and is transformed by His grace. Rahab was likely the last person anyone would have thought would be saved and make such a radical life change from the city of Jericho, but through her faith, she and her family were not only saved, she becomes the great-great grandmother of King David and is included in the family tree of Jesus Christ. On two occasions in the New Testament she is commended for her faith and lifted up as an example of what faith looks life in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s some legacy for a woman with a past like Rahab’s.
Esther gives us a look into the lives of the Jewish people who stayed in Persia and settled down while the remnant that returned with Zerubabbel was rebuilding the temple.
As the southern tribes of Judah are carted off to Babylon it would appear to the nations that their God has proven to be weak and powerless. However, their exile is really a display of God’s integrity remaining faithful to His character. The book of Daniel provides a display of God taking center stage. As the nation of Israel experiences the consequences of their disobedience to God, God displays His almighty power and exclusive claim to be the One True God through the miraculous in each chapter.
This chapter of the journey through God’s story finds the nation God has chosen at the doorstep of the land He promised to give them. In spite of God’s promise and the multitude of ways in which He has acted on their behalf the nation refuses to enter into the land for fear of being trampled by the giants and instead ends up spending 40 years wandering through the desert. Though God wants for His people to receive and experience His blessings, both then and now, He will not enable sinful behavior to go unnoticed or undealt with in our lives.
I have a sweet tooth for ice cream. All it takes is a stroll through the ice cream aisle at the grocery store or a Dairy Queen commercial and all my defenses collapse. But several years ago I had a horrible ice cream experience that nearly changed my love for the arctic dairy treat forever.
Some friends of mine knew of my love for the cool creamy stuff and thought it would be funny to play a practical joke on me. They built the most beautiful caramel sundae the world has ever seen. OK, so that’s a little of an exaggeration, but you must picture in your mind a pretty doggone good lookin’ sundae. Just one look at the finished product made my glands jump into overdrive. So with spoon in hand, bib around my neck and my friends gathered round, I prepared myself for my journey to ice cream heaven.
I dug my spoon into the creamy caramel creation, pulled out the biggest scoop I thought my mouth could handle and thrust the spoonful into my mouth. I was instantly thrown into a state of confusion. Instead of finding myself on the Rocky Road to heaven, I was on a Mississippi Mudslide of misery. My taste-buds were expecting the cool, sweet, creamy flavors of an ice cream sundae but instead they were greeted with the warm, bland, pastiness of mashed potatoes and gravy.
I have nothing against mashed potatoes and gravy, but when one is expecting a caramel sundae I don’t know that anything could taste worse. Mashed potatoes and gravy may be able to be doctored to look like a real sundae but with the first taste there is no denying the combination is a counterfeit – just a poor reproduction of the real thing.
The joke, for my friends, was in the fact that they knew I was going to recognize the counterfeit just a little too late. Imagine the shock that would have ensued if, upon that first bite, I had really believed I was eating a caramel sundae and continued digging in, commenting on how cool and sweet and creamy the sundae was. The joke would have still been on me, but my friends may have brought my sanity, or at least my definition of a caramel ice cream sundae, into question.
Most of us would agree that humanity’s general orientation is toward ourselves. Whether it is conversations between parents and children or the advertising industry and the talk show circuit the connecting mantra is something akin to, “You’re worth it,” or “You deserve it.” Peruse the aisles of any bookstore and notice the growing self-help section. We want to feel good about ourselves and unlock our inner power, thereby contributing to the betterment of this giant blueberry. Then hopefully, we’ll be remembered for a generation or two as a good person. We even go so far as to scientifically prove that we are justified in focusing on ourselves because of the evolutionary processes that have put us atop the food chain. We are a people who are generally oriented toward ourselves.
Yet in the end all of this sounds about as pathetic as calling mashed potatoes and gravy a caramel sundae. And the truth is, it doesn’t settle all that well in our souls. We know this isn’t the real deal, but we’ve done our best to convince ourselves and everyone around us that it is as real as it’s going to get. And as long as the propaganda keeps playing in our ears, well, then it must be true. All the while we wonder why, if this is as real as it gets, all the pieces just don’t seem to fit together to make much sense. From marriages, to parenting, to worldwide peace it feels like we’re trying to fit square pegs in round holes.
Perhaps a shift in orientation is in order. Perhaps if we oriented ourselves toward God rather than ourselves we may find the pieces fitting together like they are meant to, not necessarily like we think they should, but like they are supposed to. And then suddenly when we sit down for that caramel sundae and put the first scoop in our mouth we would actually feel the rush of an arctic treat rather than some sculpted potato substitute. You can keep pretending the spuds are the real thing, me, I’m gonna get back to the real thing.
As a child I was fascinated by the television show, In Search Of. The show was hosted by the man who played Spock on the science fiction series, Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy. Each episode of In Search Of centered around Nimoy’s pursuit to uncover some mystery of life in a thirty minute show with enough time reserved for several commercials from the sponsors. These mysteries of life covered everything from the resting place of Noah’s Ark and the location of the tomb of Jesus to aliens, ufo’s and haunted houses. The show always fascinated me because in my childhood naivety I believed that Leonard Nimoy was the smartest guy in the world. How else could one explain his amazing ability to overcome every obstacle and provide all the answers the whole world was looking for? Sadly, my bubble has since been broken when I was informed that a whole team of people fed Spock his information. I must admit I was nothing short of crushed when this information first came to me.
Even though Leonard Nimoy may not have been the superhero I thought he was there is one thing he taught me that is absolutely certain, life is full of mysteries. Spock unveiled several mysteries for me, but there are still many questions which have been left unanswered. And there is one mystery which In Search Of never even sought to tackle. A mystery that has plagued the minds of mankind for centuries and though many have claimed to have solved the mystery still the search goes on generation after generation by a new batch of pioneers. It is the mystery of the meaning of life. What exactly is the meaning of life? How exactly do we find meaning in life? Is there really a purpose for our existence on this giant blueberry or are we simply just a product of an evolutionary process doing nothing more than existing, surviving and evolving?
Several thousand years ago the quest to answer some of life’s most pressing questions was tackled by a man who had all the resources necessary to perform an exhaustive search for the answer to this question. He had the brains; you could actually say he had been given a dose of divine wisdom. He had the money; if we were to transfer his assets into today’s standards it would be safe to say his wealth would dwarf that of Donald Trump or the Rockefellers. He had the connections; his friends consisted of queens, kings, princes, philosophers and the like from all across the known world. And he had the time; what else does someone who has a servant for every task do? He wasn’t limited by anything or anyone as he set out on his quest. And so he searched everything under the sun.
His conclusion at the end of his search may shock and/or annoy you. After this exhaustive search he emphatically proclaimed that everything is meaningless. How’s that for a show that will bring some high ratings to the network? Somehow I don’t think that’s exactly what we want to hear. His basic conclusion is as follows, “You want to know the meaning behind your existence, there is none.” He is not seeking to be overly pessimistic or sarcastic with this answer, simply realistic. If we can grab hold of this reality – that if the depth of our pursuit of meaning goes not deeper than trying to find our meaning in the monotonous repetition of the daily grind of work, or the futility of seeking to leave a legacy, or the pursuit wisdom gained through experience – then we will end up living a meaningless existence trapped in the monotonous drone of life as it ticks past us one second at a time.
Nothing satisfies. In his quest nothing that our seeker saw, discovered, attempted, produced, initiated, or concluded in his lengthy search brought lasting significance or personal satisfaction.
But his search didn’t go beyond this finite earthly existence. The search was conducted as if there was or is no God. If we live as though that is the case, true or not, then our lives are nothing but a monotonous repetition of complete meaninglessness.
I have no doubt many reading this are really pursuing being good people, trying to make the most of life and trying to find meaning in anything but God. You may look good, you may be very smart, and have great potential. You’re hoping there is a real light at the end of the tunnel. You may even keep telling yourself that it is life and happiness you’re pursuing, all the while ignoring the voice in the back of your head that keeps whispering yours is an effort in futility. As long as you keep your search earthbound you will find nothing but meaninglessness and monotony. The only way you will find meaning in life is in looking beyond this finite earthly existence to the Author of life. His name is Jesus Christ and He wants to bring meaning to your life. He says, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” How can he make that promise? Because He is, “the way – to find meaning, the truth – that reveals true meaning, and the life -we’ve all been looking for, no one comes to the Father except through Him.” Why would we want access to the Father? He is the Author of life. Not only did He create the heavens and the earth but He also created all of mankind in His image. It is through a relationship with Him, the one who made us, that we unlock the mystery of meaning in life. Without that relationship everything is nothing more than an exercise of futility.
The older I get the more and more I realize there are many things in life that are beyond my control. Yet, I find myself trying on a regular basis to control many of them. What I have also realized is this is a phenomenon that is shared by many of my fellow human beings.
Take time for example. We have zero control of time – nada. I have yet to find an individual who has mastered the ability of slowing down, speeding up, rewinding or pausing time. Though there have been movies and books that grant characters these special abilities the last time I checked all those movies fell under the classification of fiction and fantasy. I have yet to see one that begins with the words, “based on a true story.” There are those who would like us to believe they are living a true story in which they have slowed or stopped time through the wonders of cosmetic surgery. In reality all they have done is effectively masked the certainty we all face that time is no respecter of persons.
Though all have at least a subconscious knowledge of the vainness of seeking to control time we still expend amazing amounts of energy on this effort in futility. Year after year we chase after the proverbial fountain of youth, seeking immortality. Why? In large part because we want to live forever, we don’t want to see time run out on us. We want to cheat death, beat death, laugh in the face of the Grim Reaper as he stands before us totally impotent.
Imagine for just a moment the implications if someone did actually come up with a marketable way for people to control time? What a precious gift for the family member who never got to say goodbye or reconcile with a loved one who passed away unexpectedly. And how beneficial would it be for someone in danger to simply pause time in order to steer clear of the danger about to ensue. This would be a great military weapon especially when our special forces find themselves hot on the trail of known terrorists who seemingly continue to slip through their grasp. But not all the implications are good ones. For every good result we can cite there are a handful of bad ones as well. This epic struggle is what good movie plots are made of, keeping powerful tools meant for good out of the hands of evil tyrants with an insatiable lust for power, destruction and control.
Regardless of what we may see played out at the local movie theater and on our home entertainment centers there always has and always will be certain things outside the realm of our ability to control and time is just one of them. Like it or not there are aspects of this life we live in which we are the drowning victim bobbing in the middle of the ocean in need of a rescuer to throw us a line. It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how much effort we expend because all that will ultimately result from our efforts is a tired victim bobbing in the middle of the ocean hoping and praying ever more frantically for any sign of a rescuer on the horizon. It wouldn’t matter if you were an endurance swimmer, a lifeguard, or the person with the longest running lucky streak in history, we find ourselves on equal footing when we’re alone hundreds of miles from a shoreline. A hope for timely help is the only thing we have.
As I’ve aged I would like to think I have become wiser, and as I ponder these things beyond my control I realize that instead of trying to shape reality to how I think it should be I should be living within reality as it is. If I’m bobbing in the middle of the ocean it doesn’t matter how much I believe I am living a different reality, unless a rescuer shows up I am sunk. I can think I’m on a tropical beach basking in the noonday sun all I want but in the end all I end up with is an empty fantasy. The good news is there is a rescuer on the horizon who throws a lifeline to all who stop trying to control and shape their own reality and send out an SOS asking for His help. The question is will we stop thrashing around and trying to save ourselves or will be accept reality and cry out for His help?
I’m reading a book right now by Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver. He recounts the building of the ark by Noah, highlighting how God was so particular with the details of how it should be built. God provided specifications for particular materials and exact measurements but there were two critical things left out; a sail and a rudder. Imagine building a boat that big then being in the middle of catastrophic conditions with no means of controlling the boat. God made it imperative that in the design of the ark Noah be willing to trust Him.
God has a way of doing that doesn’t He? Abraham was sent on a journey without a map or even a destination, Joseph reached his childhood God-dreams through a lifetime of nightmarish circumstances, and Gideon was sent into battle with a handful of rookie recruits against a veteran legion of mercenaries. So many accounts from Scripture and my own life affirm what Zacharias observes, “God has made it imperative in the design of life that we become willing to trust beyond ourselves.” I would add God delights in this. Yes, I said delights.
Quite often I think we struggle to see the delight in it as God does. We tend to think things would be better if we were in control. If we had the map, the steering wheel, the last say then everything would be, well…better – in my (insert your own name) humble opinion. But it also means the loss of faith, which means the loss of hope and feeling continually crushed under the weight of a world full of pain and suffering.
God has designed us and delights when we live by faith, when we “trust in the LORD with all [our] heart, and do not lean on [our] own understanding.” The blessed life is trusting the One who knows more than we do and is good – though He isn’t safe. So how are you doing? Are you asking God to include a sail and rudder or are you just building as He’s told you and leaving the control to Him?