Demanding God’s power to do your own thing

Jesus was a rebel. The culture of His time was to revere the religious elite, and Jesus openly opposed them. In our current culture, the expectation is to defy authority, to live for yourself, to do what feels right, so following Jesus in our present-day culture is a form of rebellion.

So I guess the line we need to draw is who you’re rebelling against, because when you rebel against God, you’re asking for trouble. But what does rebelling against God even look like?

C3DC4DAA3EToday’s verse is Isaiah 53:6.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

Each one of us has walked away from God’s best in our lives at least once. Some of us more than once. Some of us have made a lifestyle of abandoning the roads God says are the ones to travel on, and we’ve had to live with our consequences.

But what about the Christians who don’t want to walk away? What about those of us to seek God with everything we have and everything we are? Surely if we’re willing to sacrifice our comfort and our easy lifestyles, we couldn’t ever be rebellious, right?

The spirit of rebellion is tricky, because it stems from pride. And pride can be hard to recognize sometimes.

I like doing things my own way. I don’t like to wait for God to show me which path I’m supposed to take. Instead, I prefer to just rush ahead and deal with the consequences as they come. So many times in my life, if I had just waited for God to work, maybe things would have been different. But no. I’m not good at waiting. So I have to rush forward and do everything in my power to provide for myself.

I’m independent. I’m strong. I’m capable. That’s the way God made me, so if I don’t act independently, capably, and strongly then I’m not living up to my potential as a Christ-follower. Right? That’s what my brain tells me. But is that the truth?

Rebellion isn’t just doing the things God says are wrong. And it isn’t just not doing the things God says are right. Rebellion is a heart attitude that says it’s my way or the highway. Rebellion is demanding God’s resources so that you can do what you want. It’s issuing an ultimatum to the Lord so that you can accomplish your goals instead of His.

Just because you read your Bible every day doesn’t mean you’re on the same page as God. Just because you can quote Scripture and know the Bible forwards and backwards and can spout random trivia about left-handed judges and mysterious priests with unpronounceable names doesn’t mean that your goals and dreams are instantly God’s will for your life.

No. You have to ask.

Have you taken your dreams and goals to God? Have you asked Him about doing what you want to do? Have you taken the time to wait and listen for His answer to make sure that the path you’re on is the right one? If you haven’t, if you’re just blundering through life doing what you want, how do you know you’re not doing more harm than good?

We’ve all wandered away. Every last one of us. But if you know Jesus, you don’t have to pay the price for that foolish choice. Jesus already did. You just have to accept it. But that doesn’t mean you can keep wandering off without consequence.

God will save you if you ask. Freely. Just as you are. No strings attached.

But don’t expect that you can demand His power and His resources and His strength and then just run off and do whatever you want. No, friends, it doesn’t work that way. If you want God’s power in your life, you’ve got to live your life on His terms. That means you do what He says. That means you take the positions He provides. That means you treat people the way He treats people. That means you see yourself the way He sees you.

If you’re living life on God’s terms, I can guarantee that your life won’t look like what you expect it should. But you’ll have everything you need. God will provide it. And if you make Him the center of your life, one day you’ll wake up and find that all your dreams have come true.

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A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Everyone wrestles with God at some point

Do you know someone who has turned away from his or her faith? It’s a hard thing to observe, especially if it’s someone you love. Because you can’t do anything about it. You can’t talk about it, because that will make it worse. And you can’t ignore it because you’d rather chop off your arm than cut that person out of your life.

A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 1:6-7.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

This passage is talking to the ones at the Church in Galatia who had decided that following someone else’s “gospel” was a better idea than the Gospel that Paul had brought them. But that’s not what caught my eye about this particular passage.

What caught my attention was Paul’s statement of his shock that the Church was turning away from God “so soon.” In the Greek language, the word is ταχεως, which means quickly or hastily.

Paul was shocked that the Church was turning away from God so soon. So does that mean if it had been later in their walk that he wouldn’t have been as shocked?  It wouldn’t have surprised him if they turned away from God after they’d followed Him for a few years or so?

If that’s the case, there are a couple of things we can learn from that statement, the first of which is that it’s not uncommon for people to get turned around in their faith. It’s not unusual for people to get screwed up. It’s not unusual for people to twist off, especially if they are prone to believing lies disguised as truth.

Everybody struggles. Everyone has something about their faith they don’t like or that they can’t understand or that they wish were clearer. Some people can just accept that God is God and He does what He wants. Others struggle. Others want to know why. And if they aren’t grounded in Scripture, if they aren’t close to God, and if they aren’t really seeking God with everything they are, it’s easy to be led astray.

Because it’s so nice to believe the prosperity gospels. It’s so comforting to believe that we never have to struggle or fight. It’s so much easier to fit in. And it’s so much more fun to do what we want instead of doing what God says is right.

God asks for a lot. His expectations are high. Not for salvation,  because that’s a free gift and we can never afford to pay for it. But the Christian life isn’t easy. It never has been, and it’s not supposed to be. We don’t belong in this world, remember.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when people turn away from their faith after they’ve had it for a while. It shouldn’t shake us. It shouldn’t frighten us.

Maybe someone has some into their life with “gospel” that isn’t really the Gospel, and it’s their choice to believe it or not. But that choice is up to them. That choice is between them and God.

And it may not even mean that they don’t believe it anymore. It may just mean they’re wrestling with God over something they’re being stubborn about.

And the thing about a wrestling match is that more than two people can’t wrestle at a time. More than two people wrestling is a fight. You can’t get between them. You have to let them battle it out.

But what you can do is never stop loving them. Don’t ever turn away from them. And know that if they really belong to the Lord, He won’t let them go. And He’s never lost a wrestling match.

If someone turns away from their faith soon after accepting it, that might be a sign their conversion wasn’t real. But that’s not for us to say either. That’s a heart issue, and only God knows the heart. It’s our job to love regardless and share our faith with everyone we meet.

The one thing we can know for sure is that everybody struggles. We may not know why, and we don’t have to. But we don’t have to stand there gaping with our mouths open when we hear that someone is struggling with their faith. Loosen up those halos, Christian, and admit that you do too.

Don’t be afraid to share those struggles. Don’t be afraid to be honest about the places where you falter and hesitate. Your struggle and your life and your victory may be just what someone else needs to hear to keep them in God’s fold, instead of wandering off with some other shepherd.

 

Why we should celebrate when the lost get found

Yesterday, I posted about my stupid cat Gremlin and her ridiculous idea to hide her two kittens (affectionately known as The Ponds” in reference to the companions from Doctor Who seasons 5, 6, and 7) in the gigantic, garbage-filled dumpster in my driveway. My dad and I despaired of ever getting them out because they were way way back in the back, buried under trash and broken furniture, and all sorts of old things.

Gremlin hid them there because she thought it would be safe, but what she didn’t know is that the dumpster is leaving for the landfill this morning. And if Dad and I couldn’t rescue the kittens, they’d be shipped off alone to the garbage dump.

So what did Dad do? He jumped into the dumpster, trash and all, and sifted and sorted and climbed around trying to get the kittens out. He tried a couple of times while I was at work, but he didn’t have any luck. We weren’t sure what to do.

I wanted to try one more time when I got home. So I got home, changed out of my work clothes, and Dad and I climbed back into the dumpster. And just being goofy for the sake of it, I called out: “Hello, Ponds!” (in true Doctor Who fashion). And what do you think happened?

You guessed it. They popped right out. Pond (just Pond) ran right up to me, and Rory got stuck (so much like his namesake) and I had to fish him out. But we got them both free, and they’re perfectly fine.

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

Today’s verses are Luke 15:4-7.
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

I actually told God on the way home from work that if He helped us get the kittens out, I’d post this passage. This is a story that Jesus tells, and it’s actually the first of a trilogy. The first is about a sheep. The second is about a coin. The third is about a son–the Prodigal Son. It’s all in this chapter, and it’s all about finding what you’ve lost and rejoicing about it.

Have you been there before? I mean, put yourself in that shepherd’s sandals for a moment. You’ve got 100 sheep, and one of them wanders off. Gets lost. Sheep tend to do that. Would you let it go? Would you ignore it?

If you aren’t a shepherd, you might. But if sheep are your livelihood, you aren’t going to let one wander off, even if you have 99 others. Not while you can do something about it.

Sort of like this deal with the kittens. I have two cats already, Barney and Gremlin. They’re both a ton of fun and provide hours of entertainment and companionship. So it shouldn’t matter if I leave two kittens to die, right? I have two others.

If you’ve got pets, you probably cringed. No way could I abandon two kittens in a garbage dumpster when I have the power to do something about it. Not even if I have two others. Because it’s not about the other two who are already safe. It’s about the two who aren’t safe.

Isn’t that how God sees Christians? He loves us. We’re His children. He gave His Son so we could have a relationship with Him. But not every Christian lives the kind of life they should. Some wander off and get lost in the world, and those of us who don’t–the ones who stay behind like good little sheep–sometimes write them off. But God doesn’t. And we shouldn’t either.

God is just as keen to seek out His children who wander off as He is to stay with His children who stick around. And as much as He rejoices when one of them comes home, we ought to rejoice just as much.

When’s the last time you truly rejoiced when a Christ-follower came home after a time of wandering? Did you actually rejoice? Or did you just look down your nose and judge them? Did you give them the cold shoulder? Did you hold their past over their heads and snub them?

That’s not how God treats them. God rejoices when they come home. God went out of His way to bring them home. So we ought to celebrate, because He sure isn’t being quiet about it.

He rejoices when the lost are found again. So we should too. If you can’t get happy about that, you’re focusing on the wrong thing.

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Living life like a sheep

My brother and I raised 4-H market lambs for two years, and during that process, I learned a lot about sheep. And I learned why the Bible compares people to them. Sheep are pretty stupid, even though they think they’re awfully smart. They fall prey to the herd mentality. They will gorge themselves if allowed. They always think they know where they’re going, and they’re very, very stubborn about changing their minds.

Sound like anyone you know? I think every person needs to have experience raising sheep, especially if you’re a Christ-follower. It will open your eyes.

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are John 10:11-18.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

I never had opportunity to sacrifice my life for any of my sheep. I can’t say that I would have, honestly, because their purpose was to go to market. They existed in my life for experience and education and hopefully a decent premium at auction that would jumpstart my puny savings account. In that context, my sheep weren’t worth my life.

But shepherding in Jesus’ day was different than it is today. Around here, my neighbors “shepherd” with four-wheelers and a lot of shouting. In Jesus’ time, shepherds led their sheep. Sheep were their livelihood, and you didn’t need to raise sheep for the experience of it. It was a full-time occupation. So if anything ever threatened the sheep, it was worth it to the shepherd to intervene. Why? Because they were his sheep. They were his life.

To a sheep, a shepherd is everything: guide, provider, protector, friend. The shepherd is the one who knows where the best grazing is. The shepherd is the one who knows the safe paths to travel. The shepherd is the one who leads. The shepherd is the one who makes the plan. It’s up to the sheep to follow. The sheep don’t have to do anything else. They just have to keep up, and even if they can’t keep up, the shepherd won’t leave them behind.

Thinking about our relationship with Jesus in that context leaves me speechless. I am very much like a sheep in my life. I really think I know what’s best for me. I think I know where I can find the best prospects for my life, and I am certain I know how to handle the opportunities that come at me without help. I convince myself I know when I push myself too hard, and I’m incredibly too stubborn about everything, especially the things I don’t actually know.

Jesus is patient with me anyway. He gently corrects, carefully guides, consistently provides, and always protects me no matter where I go and no matter how often I bite off more than I can actually chew.

A shepherd who’s in it for the money can always find another opportunity for cash if the sheep are in danger. There’s no need to risk life and limb. But the shepherd who’s in it for the sheep will do crazy things to keep them safe, and that’s what Jesus did for us. No one compelled Him to sacrifice His life for us. Yes, God the Father sent Him, but Jesus didn’t have to do what He did.

So what does all this mean for our lives today? It means a lot, honestly. It means that we don’t really know best, even though we think we do. It means God has a plan, and it means our job is to follow and not worry about things we can’t control. Yes, do your best. Use your gifts to their fullest extent. But Jesus wouldn’t lead you down a path without a reason. Just like a good shepherd wouldn’t lead his sheep to an area without good grazing.

Maybe your life hasn’t turned out the way you expected. That’s okay. God still has a plan, Jesus is still the Shepherd, and you’re still the sheep. The roles haven’t changed, even if your location has. So rest. Find some nice grass to munch on. Live. Enjoy the view. And take it easy until Jesus calls you again. Then follow. If He’s willing to lay His life down for you, He’s not going to lead you wrong.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Sense of direction

Do sheep have a sense of direction? I don’t know. I know they’re creatures of habit, but just because they can get into a routine doesn’t mean they know where they’re going when left to their own devices. As far as I’m concerned, sheep have two settings, hungry and scared. And if they aren’t one, they’re the other.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 53:6.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

I’ve blogged before about how similar we are to sheep. The more you know about sheep, the more you’ll realize how much we’re alike. If you leave a sheep on its own, it will walk the same path day after day because it’s the path it has always followed. And even if there isn’t any food on that path, it will keep looking for it until it walks itself to death.

When you’re raising sheep, you have to establish a routine that you repeat daily. If you don’t, they get scared. I was told during my days raising sheep for 4-H that you would increase your chances of your sheep surviving through the fair if you played a radio in their barn stall constantly. Because there would be radios at the fair, and if the sheep isn’t used to it, it’ll drop dead in fright.

And you also have to establish a feeding schedule every day. You can’t just put all their food in the stall with them because they won’t stop eating when they’re full. They’ll eat themselves to death. And you have to mix salt in with their food instead of providing a salt block because they’ll chew holes in their teeth.

Does any of that sound familiar? Maybe we don’t chew holes in our teeth per se and maybe radios don’t scare us and maybe we can fend for ourselves a little better than sheep can, but how different are we really? I make fun of sheep for lacking a sense of direction, but my sense of direction is no better. Because when I wander off on my own, I get into all sorts of trouble.

There are so many times I am sure I know where I’m going. And I’m confident that even if I get into a sticky situation, I can handle myself well enough to get out unscathed. But it rarely happens that way. I’ve gotten really good at turning around when I’m trying to navigate a city I don’t know. But it’s one thing to turn around when you’ve taken a wrong turn while you’re driving. It’s something else to turn around when you’ve made a wrong choice in life.

Wrong choices in life don’t just affect me. Getting lost in life doesn’t just have an impact on my situation; it affects the people around me too. And the really ironic part of it is that I would never get lost if I just stayed on the path God laid out.

That’s why sheep need shepherds. They aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. So someone has to provide food for them or show them where they can find food. And sheep know that, as much as a sheep can know anything. That’s where we are different. We think we can take care of ourselves. We think we can survive on our own. We think we don’t need a shepherd because if we have a shepherd that means we aren’t in control of our lives.

But shepherds know where to find food. Shepherds know where to find water. They know how to take care of their sheep. Shepherds aren’t enemies with their sheep; their sheep are their livelihood. So why wouldn’t a shepherd want the best for them?

I’m not saying we are God’s livelihood, but why wouldn’t He want the best for us? The issue comes when His best doesn’t match our expectations, and that’s when we walk away from Him and get lost looking for food along our own path. We’re fortunate that He comes looking for us.

It’s the shepherd’s job to know how to take care of  his sheep. It’s God’s job to know how to take care of us. And maybe there are times when it doesn’t feel like God is leading me along a fun path, but I need to trust that He knows where He’s going because I don’t.

Sheep

Once you leave, can you ever come back?

I have a lot of experience raising sheep. I know that’s not a normal thing to admit to, but it’s the truth. And maybe I don’t have enough experience to really talk about it, but I did it long enough to know how hard it is. My brother and I did it for 4-H for two years. A great experience, in all honesty. It was hard, dirty, taxing work, and it involved training a super dumb animal how to stand, how to stand still, and how to walk.

But before 4-H and during, my neighbor ran a herd of ewes on my five acres. Sometimes there were twelve. Sometimes there were twenty. But no matter how many there were, the fences would always break. And you’ve never seen anything like a herd of twenty sheep stampeding toward you at the same time. It’s terrifying until you learn how to yell, and then they scatter away from you like they’re afraid you’re going to eat them. The sheep would run crazy all over our property. They’d eat the fruit tree blossoms and leave droppings all over the yard. And it was my job to round them back up again. They were beyond stupid. They were just ridiculous. But I did get a lot of exercise.

Sheep

Sheep - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

So when I read today’s verses, John 10:7, 9-10, I spent a little time recalling my exciting adventures chasing sheep all over my five acres.

So he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

This is a good example of why it’s a good idea to read the whole chapter. This passage seems a little discombobulated, but if you read the entire chapter of John 10, it gets clearer. Jesus is talking about being the Good Shepherd. The whole of John 10 really is fantastic.

But what is really interesting to me is how Jesus clarifies his statement. Notice verse 7 says “he explained it to them.” At the beginning of John 10, Jesus is talking about being a Good Shepherd. And he clarifies not by calling himself a shepherd but by calling himself the Gate.

Christ is the gate. We are the sheep.

But even as much as I noticed that Jesus clarified by identifying himself as the only way to salvation, I thought it was doubly interesting that he expands by saying, “They will come and go freely.”

Really.

I think there’s a perception that once you decide to follow Christ you are strapped down to a big book of rules and you aren’t allowed to live or have fun or do anything pleasant with your life ever again. That perception is there, even among believers. That’s why Christians hesitate to give their whole lives to God. They’ll believe that Jesus died for them, but they won’t take that last step and live for Him.

So how do you explain that Jesus is the Gate that allows his sheep to come and go freely?

What I have learned in my brief life as a Christian is that while God tells us what we should do, He also allows us to choose. We already know what He expects from us, how He wants us to live. So sometimes we choose right, but sometimes we choose wrong. But in any case, He gives us the chance to choose. We are free to choose. We are free to come. We are free to go.

Once we’ve entered his fold, we are his sheep. And there is a verse later on that speaks to when a sheep wanders too far away how the Good Shepherd will come out and bring him back (often with some leg breaking involved).

God doesn’t force us to do anything. We always have a choice. We have a choice to drink or abuse drugs. We have choice of what clothing to wear. We have a choice of what person we will date. We have a choice of what friends we make. We have a choice of how to spend our time each day.

God also says in this verse that it’s his purpose to give us a rich and satisfying life. A rich and satisfying life doesn’t come from obeying a bunch of rules. To me, there is nothing richer and more satisfying than knowing I’m free because of Christ’s sacrifice and that even when I’m not perfect, God still loves me.

We should all strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and we should all learn from our mistakes. But we aren’t born perfect. And when we first accept Christ, we aren’t immediately changed into someone who will never make mistakes. We all stumble. Not saying we shouldn’t try to do our best, but we shouldn’t give up either. Because God doesn’t give up on us.

Sometimes we make wise choices. Other times we make easy choices. But no matter what choice we make, we are still free to come back.

Dumber than a sheep

Sheep are pretty stupid. They’re one of those animals that people always make into stuffed toys and cute little figurines, and I always wonder why because I’ve been up close and person with too many of them to ever find them adorable.

And then Scripture has to go and compare us to them. I never really understood how much like sheep we are until I started raising and training them (or trying to). Sheep are pretty stupid, yes, but then people are pretty stupid too. But I think, to a certain extent, people outdistance sheep in the stupid factor.

Why?

Well, no matter how stupid a sheep is, it knows the voice of its shepherd. The sheep I raised, when they heard me coming, they would get excited because they knew I was coming to feed them. The sheep my neighbor has, they know the sound of his truck and come running toward it for food. Today’s verse talks about this.

Today’s verse is John 10:14-15.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.

But what do people do? We recognize God and God at work in our lives and in the lives of people around us, but we run away from it. Or we refuse to acknowledge it. Or we just don’t think about it.

Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons why. But I would anticipate that the strongest reason is pride because we don’t want to give over any of our own authority in our lives.

Have you met people like that? People who know that God is the only explanation but who still refuse to acknowledge Him? I have. And it’s really sad.

I don’t know what I would do without God in my life. I don’t know how I could function without knowing that He is working, whether in my life or in someone else’s. I don’t understand the purpose of trying to ignore God’s voice. I don’t understand what benefit that is.

That being said, I’ve done it. I’ve clearly heard God tell me something and I have turned away from it, thinking I know better. Thinking better of my own plans than of His. And following my own plans never works out very well.

So the next time I see a sheep (which will probably be on my morning drive to work), I think I’ll apologize. Because I never thought that anyone could be dumber than a sheep, but I’ve proven myself wrong a couple of times.

Because if a sheep can recognize its shepherd’s name and doesn’t mind running toward him for help, what the heck is wrong with me?