The Drama of Redemption: Creation

Why do you think God created the world, and people in particular?  Was it because he was bored?  Lonely?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism has famously declared, “The chief end of man (aka: the reason we were created) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  God created out of love, that we would worship Him and be filled with his joy as we worship.  We were created by God in His image in order to “mirror” him by glorifying/worshipping Him in everything we do, because we received joy when we honor God.

What’s it mean to “Glorify” God?  One of our high schoolers gave among the best definitions of “glorify” I’ve ever heard: she said, “It’s to recognize who God is and what he’s done and to show that to other by what you do.”  1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Eating and Drinking are pretty normal things, not super-spiritual things – and yet we’re told to do them (along with whatever else we do) “for the glory of God.”

So what’s it look like to glorify God?

  • When you’re in school and learning about biology, you recognize that God made your body to function so perfectly that every cell is designed to do a specific task.  Meanwhile, you also learn about the universe and how ridiculously small and “insignificant” planet Earth is when compared to all the galaxies far far away.  Just think: God created all those galaxies, and yet He cares for you so much that he sent Jesus to live and die and rise again for you!
  • When you’re on the practice field, you want to use your physical body and athletic gifts to honor the One who gave them to you.  That means you practice hard, take care of your body, and play as a good teammate (that means you pass the ball when someone else has a better shot!) and you aren’t an arrogant glory-hog when you play well.
  • When you’re home, you help with chores around the house, respect your parents, and are generally pleasant to be around.

Christian author, John Piper, has said “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  Are you satisfied with God?  You were made to glorify God in everything you do, and to enjoy God forever!  Remember, en-joy, God wants to fill you with joy!  That doesn’t mean life is about being happy and living out the “American Dream,” because God often calls us to difficult things and He brings us through seasons of suffering – but He fills us with peace and joy even in the midst of those experiences.

Out of love, God created you to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever.  Don’t want until “forever” begins… start now.  That’s what God made you for.  Obviously, “something” (Sin, which we’ll discuss next week) has gone terribly wrong; but it’s absolutely necessary for us to remember WHY we are here and WHAT God made us to do.

LWAYG: Prayer of Supplication (or, “What Kind of Prayers Does God Answer”)

“How can I get God to answer my prayer?”  That’s a question I think we all ask at some time or another, and wish a million different motives behind it.  But it’s an important question that’s worth asking because it gets to the heart of the majority of prayers we pray.  It’s beyond the intent of this lesson/post to dig too deeply into the reality of “unanswered prayers,” but I believe what I’ve written below will prove very helpful to the person who truly wants to grow in their spiritual maturity.

Christians sometimes fall into extremes when it comes to prayer: God only answers prayers that display his glory (usually this is more common among theological and “serious” believers), and God answers prayers that make us happy (I think this is probably the default approach most of us take towards prayer).  My hope is to demonstrate that both of these are incomplete and unhealthy in isolation from the other.

While this Youth Group series has been focused on “Prayer in the Psalms,” I felt compelled to jump out of the Psalms for this lesson because Jesus’ teachings on prayer are so foundational that I felt the lesson would simply not be as strong or helpful by sticking with the Psalms.  Here are two things Jesus says about prayer that are very much worth our attention (and memorization!):

—“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

I remember being taught this verse as a child in Sunday School and I prayed every night for weeks that I would get a certain GI Joe tank that I really wanted.  I prayed and prayed and begged my parents (especially whenever my mom would drag me to the mall with her)… but I never got that tank.  My confidence in prayer was seriously weakened because I was taught that whatever I ask for “in Jesus’ name” would be given to me.  But that’s not really what Jesus says… he says that we would receive whatever we ask for in his name, “so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”

Our prayers must be directed to God and for God.  This doesn’t mean that I can simply reword my selfish prayer (“God I ask that you would bless me with this GI Joe tank to show my friends that you’re able to do even the impossible!”).  When we pray we need to be aware of our heart’s desires and make sure that our heart’s greatest desire is for God’s glory to be put on display in our lives.  If that is truly our desire, then the things we pray for will be radically different than if we pray while our heart’s greatest desire is for our own comfort or pleasure.

 —“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”  (John 16:24)

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13)

At the same time, Jesus says that we will receive whatever we ask for so that our “joy will be complete/full.”  If we want full joy, we should pray.  If we take delight in giving good things to our children, how much more must God love giving joy to his children!  God does not stand over us as a non-emotional grandfather shaking his cane at us telling us to stop having fun.  God created pleasure, laughter, happiness, and joy.  But He made them as trail-markers to point us to pursue our joy in Him.  Too often those things become our destination and ends-in-themselves, and that turns them into idols rather than the joyful blessings given by a loving God.

So we find this tension in prayer: we pray for God to be glorified (meaning, “that others would see how truly amazing and truly awesome He is”) and that He would fill us with joy.  This is what prayer is meant to do, honor God and fill up God’s children.  I think the major disconnect is that we miss how both of those aspects are shaped by the other.

As John Piper has written in his excellent (and highly recommended) book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  When I am truly excited and joyful about seeing God be glorified, then God gets the glory and I get the joy.  When I look for my joy in anything other than God then my prayers and my desires will change.

We should pray for the sick and for all the needs we have, but those should not be the only things we are bringing to God in prayer.  It is right and biblical to have a prayer list that we use to ask God to do things for us and others and to give us what we want and need… we’re called to carry each other’s burdens and to weep with those who weep.  But if our heart approaches God with a clinched fist as if God owes us something then there is something seriously missing in our view of God and our view of prayer.

So what kind of prayers does God answer?

  • Prayers that are coming from a heart that desires to see Jesus Christ look truly awesome
  • Prayers that are looking for joy in Christ rather than joy in our own comfort or pleasure

This post is getting way too long already, and so let me acknowledge there’s A TON more that could be said (and should), but I think that will have to wait for another time.  If there’s something in particular that you disagree with or would like to say then please do so as a comment below.

If It’s Not Fun, Why Do It?

As my family and I were driving home last night from a short vacation I saw a bumper sticker that caught my attention.  I’ve basically had this blog post written in my head since then.  Here’s the bumper sticker that got me thinking:

This bumper sticker made me think of the Cheryl Crow song “If It Makes You Happy” that was popular when I was a teenager.  I just looked it up on YouTube and saw that Miley Cyrus recently sang it with Cheryl Crow… somehow that just seems very fitting.  The chorus of the song says, “If it makes you happy it can’t be that bad; If it makes you happy then why the hell are you so sad.”

This type of thinking sounds good: Do fun stuff and avoid what you don’t like.  The only problem comes when the police sirens chase you down for breaking traffic rules (“But officer, I don’t like stopping a lights, I have places to go!”) and the electricity in your house goes out because you don’t like paying bills.  Again, something that sounds good just doesn’t work.

Life isn’t all fun all the time… even if you’re a Christian and have the joy of the Holy Spirit.  The times we experience the deepest joy from God are often the times when we’re the most uncomfortable, while the times we crave joy are the times when we’re totally “secure” and “safe.”  So if you want to live with a “All fun all the time” lifestyle, then be prepared for very little joy… because God gives it to those who are willing to live bold, sometimes risky, always faith-filled lives.

Flooded?

I’ve been bailing water out of my basement… most people who live in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have been doing the same.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  Technically, the last part of this verse could also read “be drunk with the Spirit.”  We should not be filled up with alcohol, but with God Himself!  One of the main differences is that while drunkenness impairs your judgment and leads to foolish decisions, being filled with the Holy Spirit gives good judgment and fills you with wisdom.  I’ve been thinking about “filled with the Spirit” today.

I found myself praying something like this today,  “Lord, keep me from being a complainer.  I pray that I would not be flooded by water, but with your Holy Spirit.  Fill me with your peace, so that even in the midst of floods I will know your joy and show that to others.”

Keep in mind, I’m praying this because all too often it’s just not true of me.  I’m good at complaining… it comes very naturally to me!  But this is my prayer today, and I get the impression that there are many of us over who could benefit by praying a similar prayer and asking God to fill us up with the Holy Spirit.

Listening to the Spirit

It seems that listening to the Holy Spirit has been a theme that has come up more and more in my personal time in Scripture lately.  Here are a few verses God has used to be speaking to me lately as well as a song that struck a chord in me this morning.  Enjoy:

  • “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD I will seek.” (Psalm 27:9)
  • “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” (Ps. 32:8-9)
  • “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” (Ps. 51:11-12)

One thought seems to keep coming to mind, based off of Ps. 32:9 – “Don’t mule kick God’s will.”  I don’t want to be like a horse or mule, forced to do God’s will.  I want to have a submissive spirit that joyfully obeys whatever God asks me.  Yet, when I’m really honest, my heart resembles a stubborn mule more than the submissive spirit I desire.  Holy Spirit, keep on working in me so that you can work through me.

“Holy Spirit Have Your Way” by Leeland

Last Week at Youth Group: Bethlehem & Christmas

We hear about Bethlehem so frequently because of the Christmas story that most of us (I think) assume it was a pretty important town in Israel.  But it wasn’t, at least not like we’d consider New York City important in America.  In fact, “Bethlehem” is only mentioned 51 times in the entire Bible!  15 of those mentions have to do with David’s coming-and-goings, since that was his home-town.  8 of those mentions are in the Gospels telling of Jesus’ birth.  Bethlehem is also mentioned 7 in Ruth, since it’s the hometown of Naomi and Boaz.  Those three stories account for more than half the mentioned of Bethlehem; the rest are all very much in passing (ex: “Then Ibzan died, and was buried in Bethlehem” Judges 12:10.  Most of the other mentions are similar to this.).  Really, the only thing that ever happened of significance in Bethelehem prior to Jesus’ birth was when Samuel anointed David as King of Israel (1 Samuel 16).

Whenever I hear “O Little Town of Bethlehem” I’m reminded about the meaning of “Bethlehem.”  Literally, Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”

In John 6:48-52, Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

There are a few tie-ins here,

  1. Bethlehem – When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” I just think how God pays enough attention to details, so much that He ordained the town where David grew up (and where the Messiah was to be born) to be named Bethlehem… “House of Bread” gave birth to the “Bread of life” – pretty cool!
  2. Manna – Jesus points to the manna God provided of Israel in the desert… and then he basically says, “Remember the manna?  I AM THE MANNA!”  God provided for Israel’s physical needs through the manna; God provided for the world’s spiritual and eternal needs through “the living bread that came down from heaven.”
  3. Lord’s Prayer – We all know the line “Give us this day our daily bread…”  Well, Jesus says, “That’s me!  I am your daily bread.”
  4. Communion / Lord’s Supper – “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  Later on in John 6 is the controversial “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood” passage.  It seems pretty clear to me that Jesus is speaking metaphorically of himself as the “Heavenly Manna,” so we should apply to that communion also.

Jesus Christ is the bread of life who brings those who receive him eternal hope, peace, love, and joy.  What have you done with Jesus?

P.S.  I’ve mentioned “Bethlehem” 10 times in this short article (which is WAY shorter than the Bible).  Just thought that might give a little perspective on how infrequently Bethlehem is mentioned.