The Key To Being Needy

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We live in an “I want” society. The greatest songs, movies, and books all contain characters that are trying to achieve something, whether they get it or not. We live in a world where we encourage others to seek their hearts desires, to get their piece of the sky, to win and obtain what they truly “deserve.”

When I was younger my sister and I had a game we would play when watching television. Whenever our show would go on commercial break we would intensely wait for what great toy would be advertised. The first of the two of us who could yell, “Mine!”  the fastest would “get” that toy. Of course, we would never actually get whatever we claimed. The appeal of it was the wanting. It was exciting to see if we would want the same things and even more exciting when one of us got a claim on what we wanted. It didn’t really matter that I never got what I wanted. There was always something else that I wanted more. Commercial after commercial, my sister and I would fight to claim toys and we always wanted the next one even more than the last. I’ve come to realize that I and many other people live their entire lives this way. We are always in want.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”

-Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23 is very popular passage but the second part of verse 1 has always confused and honestly made me feel a little uncomfortable. What exactly does “I shall not want” mean?  Does it mean that I shouldn’t have any desires? Any goals? Any aspirations? That’s obviously not true. God doesn’t expect us to have meaningless, purposeless lives. He wants us to pursue fulfilling and completely satisfying lives. Psalm 23 simply expresses what truly brings that satisfaction.

I have lived a lot of my life in want. And when I had achieved that want, I simply move on to the next thing that my heart had been longing for. We all think that achieving the things we want will satisfy us. That the better car, house, job, or boyfriend/girlfriend will finally make us happy. But we will soon find that they just make the holes we are trying to fill bigger. All it does is make us want more.

The Bible tells us that God is the true way to satisfaction. He is able to fill our every need and desire. But if Jesus is the way to a meaningful and purposeful life, why are we still desperately seeking satisfaction elsewhere? It is pretty difficult to be fulfilled by God if we are constanly filling ourselves with other things. We get stuck in a cycle of achieving what we think we want and being disappointed when it leaves us empty again, so we move on to the next thing. And the cycle continues… Unfortunately for many, it never ends.

But God wants to satisfy us and to never have us be empty again. The funny part is that to be filled and satisfied with God, we must become empty. We must be needy in order to receive. We must be broken in order to be restored and we must die to ourselves and the world to truly have life. God can provide everything in Jesus Christ. Psalm 23 does not mean that we are not to have any desires, it means that every desire has already been filled by the goodness of God.

Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.”

 

The Two Ways to Weigh Down your Soul

Burden, Heavy, Jesus, Cross, Rest, Yoke

Life presents us with many heavy burdens. Some experience immense pain and suffering in this life, some experience momentary strife.  We all have felt or will feel heaviness at some point. That feeling when life is just too much and it weighs you down.

God does not shy away from telling us the reality of this world. We will face tribulation. Life gets difficult.  He never tells us that our lives in this world will be easy or trouble-free. He warns us of its difficulty. But he also tells us of a solution. He offers a promise in Jesus.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

In Jesus, we find the only way to know God and receive rest from our heavy burdens. But the solution Jesus offers as a way to be burden free seems counteractive. To receive rest we are to take on the yoke of Christ. A yoke is a piece of wood placed on two animals that were used to plow or pull a heavy object. Jesus is telling us that in order to be burden free we are to take on another burden, his.  It seems strange that in order to be free from something Jesus wants us to carry another burden. But the key is in his next statement in Matt. 11:30- “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Some of the burdens we face in life are out of our control. Some are the kind we place on ourselves. Whatever the case, Jesus offers a new way to bear the heaviness of life. He tells us to take his yoke upon ourselves. His yoke is light because he has taken on the ultimate burden. In reality, we are taking on a yoke that he is solely carrying. He has taken on the heaviness of life. He has taken on sin, shame, pain, and suffering for our sake. We are anchored down by the cross. Hebrews tells us that the hope and promise of God is an anchor for our soul. It weighs us down in a way that the world does not. It sets us free in a beautiful paradox. Jesus sets us free and relieves our burden by placing on us a new one that he has already taken. He replaces heavy burden with heavy hope. We are able to receive rest, an easy yoke, and a light burden when we are able to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow it to anchor our souls.

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”    Hebrews 6:19-20

 

 

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas

 

nightmare before Christmas, Disney, Christmas.s, Jesus, Darkness, Light

 

It may not be the most conventional Christmas movie but The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorites that helps me get into the Christmas spirit. The story is about a skeleton man named Jack who lives in a town where it is Halloween all the time. The townspeople are full of iconic monsters and creepy creatures that love everything scary and dark. Jack is admired and loved by all for his ability to be scary. They crown him the pumpkin king every year on Halloween and he basically is the town celebrity.

Jack has everything, yet something is missing. All that he has does not satisfy. After all the Halloween celebrations are through, he sings a song called Jack’s Lament where he admits the empty feeling he has despite his seemingly perfect life.

 

“But who here would ever understand that the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin would tire of his crown, if they only understood he’d give it all up if he only could. Oh, there’s an empty place in my bones that calls out for something unknown, the fame and praise come year after year does nothing for these empty tears” 
-Jack’s Lament

He eventually stumbles upon these doorways in the woods that lead to different towns focused on a certain holiday. He enters the entrance into Christmas Town where it is Christmas all the time. When he discovers Christmas he finally feels his emptiness being filled. He is changed and wants to share the good news of Christmas with everyone. But he doesn’t quite understand it. When he goes back home he isn’t able to bring the same experience to his friends. He becomes obsessed with trying to replicate Christmas. He studies everything about the holiday, even comically running experiments on ornaments and toys. He almost ruins all of Christmas in the process because of his obsession and frustration with failure.

His experience changes his life and motivates him to do whatever it takes to have and share Christmas. What makes Christmas so impactful for him?

“The sights, the sounds they’re everywhere and all around. I‘ve never felt so good before this empty place inside of me is filling up. I simply cannot get enough. I want it, oh, I want it Oh, I want it for my own. I’ve got to know, I’ve got to know. What is this place that I have found? What is this?”
 What is This

Even as a Christian I sometimes struggle to keep up with the desire to celebrate Christmas. Even when it is focused on what it really should be about (Jesus), I find myself dreading the season.

Maybe you’re like me and get overwhelmed or annoyed by the commercialism and extra burdens that come around this time of year. Maybe it is a hard time for you and you can’t  seem to find much celebrate about. Or maybe you adore Christmas; the lights, food, and the warm and loving family moments. Either way, Christmas will never impact you in the way it should unless you recognize something.

Christmas affected Jack the way it did because of the nightmare that he experienced beforehand. All Jack knew was darkness and it was that darkness that made him realize the wonder of light and love. He gives everything to have it but he was missing what made Christmas what it is (the movie never takes us to this point): Jesus. Christmas is about the light (Jesus) coming into the world and overcoming darkness.

Some time ago I realized why the miracle of Christmas sometimes didn’t touch my heart in the way it should have. It wasn’t because I didn’t know Jesus or that I wasn’t making him the “reason for the season.” It was because I didn’t fully grasp, experience, or reflect on the darkness that was there before he came. The darkness that exists before we know him, before we are saved by his redeeming love and grace. If we don’t see the nightmare before Christmas, we can’t experience its fullness and power. If we don’t see that that Jesus is the light that has come to save us from darkness, then Christmas becomes empty and every feeble attempt to celebrate with lights, decorations, gifts, and loved ones eventually becomes meaningless.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”         -John 1:1-5; 1:9

Jack never discovers what makes Christmas so special but he knows that there is something real that goes deeper than all of the things we think makeup Christmas.

“I’ve read these Christmas books so many times. I know the stories and I know the rhymes. I know the Christmas carols all by heart. My skull’s so full, it’s tearing me apart. As often as I’ve read them, something’s wrong. So hard to put my bony finger on. Or perhaps it’s really not as deep as I’ve been led to think. Am I trying much too hard? Of course! I’ve been too close to see. The answer’s right in front of me. Right in front of me:
It’s simple really, very clear
              Like music drifting in the air
                     Invisible, but everywhere
                                    Just because I cannot see it
Doesn’t mean I can’t believe it”
                                                                                              -Jack’s Obsession

Why We Pretend Everything is Okay

Masquerade, honesty, truth, Jesus

 

Christians are some of the happiest people I know (well, most that I have encountered). They are always there to lend a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on. They sing the most heartfelt/ warming songs in their services and have the most welcoming smiles. On the surface, they’re seemingly perfect. Being a Christian myself, I have done my best to fit in with the Christian persona. But a lot of the time, despite all of the joyful qualities, I find that Christians are some of the hardest people to relate to.

I’ve known for a long time what people expected Christians to be like. It is essential Christian character to always have your life together. My emotions, actions, speech, and thoughts all have to be in check. Real, healthy Christians are always happy, have the right answers and are extremely nice. But sometimes I’m not happy and don’t have the right answers. Sometimes I’m not the nicest person (more times than I’m actually willing to admit). This always left me frustrated and I constantly felt like I was a failure. It was impossible for me to be perfect and I had a hard time keeping up with the expectation that I was supposed to be.

Whether you’ve experienced this Christian paradigm or not, we have all felt the pressure to act a part based on what the people around us deem as acceptable. We have a hard time being honest with ourselves and others about how we really feel and what we really think. The truth is that we struggle with fitting into the mold of perfection; Being the perfect Christian or student or parent, etc. When we admit that everything is actually not perfect, we admit to weakness. Nobody likes to admit they are weak or inadequate. So, we hide the truth. We put on masks to hide what’s really happening and pretend that we have everything together.

We often fail to realize or remember that God knows the truth. No matter how hard we try to hide it. The only thing hiding does is hinder us from what can truly help us.The more we try to hide our shame, fear, and inadequacies the more we hold onto them; The more they fester within us.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve tried to hide their sin from God by covering themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). They sew together clothing from easily perishable material in a feeble and slightly humorous attempt to cover the state they were in. It may seem laughable but we ourselves do this all of the time. We hide everything behind false smiles, good deeds, and worldly success. But our attempts to hide are as ridiculous as Adam and Eve’s.

The New Testament tells us a story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman alone at a well. In their discussion, he offers her living water that will make her never thirst again; eternal life (John 4:13-15). She’s all game but doesn’t fully get it until Jesus reveals that this woman was an adulteress, having many husbands. Then, he reveals that he’s the Messiah and in her excitement, she tells the town about Jesus. The interesting part of this episode is that she’s excited about all of her dirty laundry being exposed by God. This is a woman who has been rejected by society. She goes to collect water alone instead of going with a group of women which was traditionally done. She was likely shamed and lonely. God brought all of her sin, shame, and pain out in the open and it freed her. Not because she simply had someone to confide in but because of who he was and what he could do with her exposed sin. He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Bringing out all that she was bottling up inside merely gave the opportunity for him to take care of it for her. He could save her (John 4:39-42)

In the Garden of Eden, after God had confronted them and revealed the consequences of their disobedience, he replaces their fig leaf covering with garments of skins. He clothes them with garments of (animal) flesh that will cover their nakedness more efficiently than what they had come up with. (Genesis 3:21)

Jesus covers our sin in a similar fashion. We desperately try to hide and take care of everything ourselves. We put on masks to make everyone think we’re ok. We attempt to lie to God and put on a show. But when all of our sin and shame and brokenness is laid out before him, when we take off our masks and allow him to take hold of all that we have been hiding (but that he’s seen all along), he covers us. God took animal skins, sacrificed flesh to replace Adam and Eve’s fig leaves and properly cover them. Jesus sacrificed himself and gave his own flesh and blood to replace our masks and properly and permanently cover our sins.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  –Matthew 11:28-30
 

Nothing Gold Can Stay

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You may be familiar with popular sayings like, “There’s a light at the end of every tunnel,” or “There’s always a rainbow after the rain.”  There’s no wonder that people like them; they’re very inspirational during times of difficulty. They bring a sense of hope. Dark and stormy season won’t last forever. The good times are coming. Although there is an important truth enclosed in these inspirational quotes, they lack some major insights. Difficult times always come back around again. There may be an end to your current troubles but there’s always some other issue just around the corner. These sayings are so popular because we are constantly going through difficult seasons and it’s inevitable that when you’ve gotten through one thing, you’ll go through another.

It may sound depressing but it’s true. Not just in our individual lives but throughout the history of mankind. When one war ends, another begins. A nation is well fed, then goes through famine. There is peace and then upset. There is power and there is oppression.  Throughout history, mankind has experienced rise and fall. We build nations and empires that don’t last forever.

Why is this? Why is it that empires fall and depression creeps back when you thought it had gone? Why do we persevere through troubles just to have others hurt us again? Recently I heard the answer to these questions through a poem by Robert Frost called Nothing Gold Can Stay. The poet translates some very biblical truths and gives insight into the dilemma of our difficult lives.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Frost writes about how at dawn nature is gold and perfect but it cannot stay that way. This change it makes is not a good one. Eden sinks to grief. I think that his reference to the Garden of Eden is very insightful because it links to the answers to our problems.

Nothing gold in this world can truly stay because of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. When God created the universe, including the first humans, he created them perfectly. Everything was good. There was no darkness or rain. It was just God enjoying his creation and vice versa. But when sin came into the world (through man), everything fell apart. Now, all that God intended for creation is tainted. Our relationships with God, each other, and all of creation to the very core of our being. Yet, we see glimpses of that initial creation in us and around us every now and then. We still reflect our creator but only in broken pieces. The first green that was gold is the hardest hue to hold. It doesn’t last. And God grieves over this. But we have the inability to get back to the good times before sin.

That is why Jesus came, was sacrificed, and resurrected. Because he was perfect; everything is restored in him and he took on all sin and defeated it. He is the golden way. When our faith is in him we are being restored even though we lack perfection.

When you’re going through a difficult season or the world is crumbling around you, know that there is hope at the end of them. But also know that storms and darkness will come again. The only way that you can find a golden path through them, a path through the hardships, is through Jesus. He is not at the end of the tunnel or after the rain, he is there with you in the darkness and through the storm.

 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  –John 16:33

 

 

Battling Loneliness

Loneliness, Comfort, Humility, Selfishness

There are two types of people who struggle with loneliness: those who can’t escape it and those who are desperately seeking it. There are some people who are stuck in their loneliness. Being around others causes feelings of depression and despair. Some hate being around people. It causes anxiety, stress, and frustration. Whether you want it or you’re trying to escape it, loneliness is never a good thing. No matter what side you’re on in the loneliness struggle you must know that God never intended for us to be alone. So, why does the struggle exist? The battle we have with loneliness has a lot to do with selfishness. The core of it is sin.

Sin is “missing the mark” of what God intended for creation. If God designed us to be relational and in community then sin ruins that. It alienates us from God and each other. That is why the root of loneliness is sin.

When we are in despair because we are lonely we are focused on ourselves alone. When we isolate ourselves from people we are also solely focusing on ourselves. Selfishness gets us stuck in our loneliness or causes us to want to be alone.

Loneliness was never God’s desire for us. We were created by a God who was and always is in community with himself as the social Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God created us in his image, he created us to be social and relational people. Even when he calls us to be away from each other, it is only for a time to be alone with him.

Loneliness is a battle. We have to fight the disconnection we feel or the desire to be away from people. How is the battle with Loneliness won? We must learn how to see past ourselves and look to Christ.

When Jesus was on earth, he understood and experienced every human struggle that we go through. But he ultimately felt the weight of the alienation we suffer from sin. When he was crucified he became sin for the sake of the world and cried out, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” At that moment, Jesus was alienated from God. Rejected by his people and separated from the Father, he was alone. In doing so he took on our loneliness and when he was raised to life every consequence of sin was defeated. Through Jesus, we can have reconciliation with God and others. Jesus restores and enables relationship and community to the way God intended it to be.

In order to win the battle with loneliness, we need to be humbled before God. Not focusing on ourselves and our desires but on him. Look to Jesus, for he comforts us in our misery and reminds us that we are destined for community and relationship. When we find ourselves focused on him we think less about ourselves and more on others. Other people who also battle with loneliness. Christ-like humility breaks the bonds of loneliness and leads us on a path of selflessness.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”  –Philippians 2:1-4

 

Obedience Training

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Do you ever have a hard time staying focused on or being obedient to God’s calling? We know that God desires for us to be obedient to his will and calling. That calling is sometimes hard to figure out. Sometimes it’s difficult to carry out. What exactly does God want from us? How do we remain steadfast and focused on what God has called us to?

The Calling

We all have a calling. A specific purpose to carry out in our lives. We are disciples; Students and followers of Christ. Our call is to grow as disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit. God also calls his disciples to make other disciples. We are to share the good news of Jesus Christ and teach them all of his commands. Our purpose is to show others what their purpose is. This may look different according to the gifts, talents, and personalities God has granted us. However diversely we may carry out this calling, it is the same for all Christians. 

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”           Matthew 28:18-20 

Keeping Focus

How do we remain focused on obeying God? It’s easy to get distracted from what he has called us to. The first step is knowing what our calling is and that we are to obey that. The second step is to remain focused on that calling. There are so many different things that can distract us today. We are bombarded with messages that tell us what we should be doing and how we should do it. How are we to remain focused on what God is saying amidst the distracting voices around us? The key is to focus on Jesus.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:6-8

When I was first training my dog, Talia, I had a hard time getting her to focus. When I would try to teach her commands she was easily distracted by everything around her. Even when she did learn some commands, she never obeyed them consistently. As soon as something else caught her attention, she was gone. I soon learned that there was one command that would help her consistently obey all the things I wanted to teach her. This command was, “Look at me.” I trained her to keep her eyes focused on me for periods of time. Soon she was able to do the commands I taught her with a new ability to focus. Not only did she have to obey what I said but she had to “look at me” the whole time that she obeyed. Whether it was to sit, wait, stay, or heel her eyes had to remain on me. Her obedience became consistent because she was trained to focus on me. The more she learned to look to me the easier it became to avoid distraction and obey.

When we find it hard to remain steadfast and obedient to God’s commands and call, we must learn how to focus on Christ.

Jesus taught this to the disciples often. They were always losing sight of the big picture and Jesus was constantly having to remind them. When they wanted to know who would be the greatest of them all he had to remind them what the kingdom of God was all about. He rebuked them when they wanted to punish a Samaritan village by raining consuming fire on them, when they tried to keep people from bringing their children to him, and when they tried to stop him from going to Jerusalem for his crucifixion. Jesus had to train them to obey and follow the mission and calling of God. 

Peter walked on water because Jesus called him out of the boat. He obeyed but soon became distracted. After taking his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. When he succumbed to the raging storm and waves around him he not only lost sight of what he was supposed to be doing but who he was doing it for. 

The only way we are able to obey God’s calling and remain steadfast is to focus on Jesus Christ. God is the one who reveals to us our purpose and how to obey it. He is the one who grants us the strength and the ability to carry it out. When we focus on Jesus we can overcome distraction and find the ability to carry out everything he has called us to obey.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2