After a lifetime in church in high school I began to have doubts regarding the faith. A short time after school I left it all behind.
Of course, I wandered down many paths, most of which I will never admit to my children. About ten years ago or so I sobered up and began thinking seriously about life, faith etc. You know all the big questions.
In the course of my ruminations I began listening to that insipid top-40 Christian music all the time and began reading the Gospel of John. Most days I would read through the entire Gospel. Some days just a small portion would get read but I did all of my Bible reading from the Gospel of John.
One day John 10:10 jumped out at me, grabbed me and would not leave me alone for neither love nor money:
The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
The part that really stood out was the clause “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”
For weeks I could not get this verse out of my head. Every time I read John I would get hung up at this verse trying to decipher it. What was an abundant life? How is modern Christianity an abundant life? Is this abundance something spiritual or something physical? Questions like these hounded me for weeks back then and to tell the truth they still hound me today.
A lot, maybe even most, people view religion as a set of rules to follow. Do this and don’t do that and God will love you and bless you with salvation. Christian author CS Lewis once said something to the effect of ‘if you want to know how evil you are try to be good.’ The old Mosaic law is only there to show us that we can never live up to God’s perfection. We can do nothing to earn God’s salvation.
Let me put that in the vernacular- you can’t do squat to earn God’s favour! Not one blessed thing! The Bible says that even our best works are as filthy rags to God. Even Paul said that he wanted to do good but couldn’t do anything good. How is a person like me going to get any good done when Paul himself couldn’t?
Trying to follow a bunch of holy sounding rules is not an abundant life. It is impossible and leads to frustration and depression. Besides, as I am fond of pointing out, Jesus only gave us five commandments- Love God, love others, love yourself, follow me and go teach others the same. Jesus made the burden light and the yoke easy! WOOHOO!
My questions did not abate on John 10:10. I began to wonder if the abundant life was the prosperity gospel and self-absorbed religion of the evangelicals. All 12 of the disciples of Christ died horrifying and tragic deaths. The Apostle Paul died a martyrs death. Christians have been hunted down and killed in many countries throughout history. Some of the most God-like people I have ever met have died due to cancer or some other lingering illness. Some other spiritual giants I know live in grinding and degrading poverty in places all over the world.
God never promised to make us healthy, wealthy and wise. Only a fat, indolent and self-absorbed church would ever come up with such a silly “doctrine.” He promised to be there with us through times good and bad, but becoming a Christian is not a ticket to a big bank account or a healthy body.
Many of today’s “preachers” are little more than life coaches and self-help gurus. I am not saying that they are necessarily wrong but they, like following holy sounding rules, do give people false hopes and false expectations. This, in turn, leads to frustration and depression.
Jesus promised us an abundant life.
Over the course of the last ten or so years, I have come to understand that God is sovereign, not me. There is a catchy little Christian song that says “God is in control,” and we sing it all happy-like but I wonder if we understand it all. God is in control of everything. God is even in control of what we think that we are not allowing God to control. God made the whole show. God created the planet and set it in motion. God made the world so that the sun would rise everyday. God made the lion to hunt the gnu and God made the rabbit to mate. God made the cat lying at my feet lazy. They all just follow their programming.
While I do struggle with the concept of man’s free moral agency, doesn’t it stand to reason that God made us the same way? Does it not also stand that God wired us up to act and react in certain ways to certain stimuli?
Maybe the abundant life is learning to rest in the sufficiency of God, to realise that God made people the way they are and we don’t need to “save them” by chastising them every time they do something wrong. Maybe the abundant life is accepting these people for who and what they are and loving them anyway. Maybe it’s realising that we don’t need to preach some arcane and probably erroneous doctrine but rather to care about other people.
In a world of darkness, frustration and depression maybe the abundant life is simply living life, the God wired us up to live. The one without the heavy yoke of religiousity and doing good all the time.
Let me leave you with one last thought today. Phillipians 2:13 says:
for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.
Any good that comes from “you” actually comes from God working through you. The fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5 are not rules for us to follow but rather a way for us to see when God is working through us. We can rest easy, knowing that Jesus said:
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
An abundant life is waiting.
Way out in Mesopotamia a long time ago lived a King. We’re going to call him Chad, mostly because typing Nebuchadnezzar hurts my fingers.
Chad ascended the throne left to him by his dad who also had long name. It’s pretty safe to assume that Chad had a good life growing up.
Chad was no dummy by any stretch of the imagination. He married a princess of the rival Median empire thus securing the safety of his own.
Chad’s dad was a conqueror. Dad had added lots of territory to the realm but was never able to conquer the Levant or Egypt. Chad did it tho.
During the reign of Chad and dad Babylon was an empire that passed everyone in knowledge & power. In fact, no one beat them until Microsoft.
They were so smart that a few thousand years later their scientists discovered the new star over Jesus’ manger.
Even today our clocks still follow their design. This was one amazing empire. But I do digress just a little.
When Chad conquered tiny Judah he carried away with him several young officials who actually proved smarter and healthier than the Chaldeans.
Chad grew to respect these young men & hired them as counselors in his court. He also granted the conquered Jews all the respect he could.
Peace and prosperity reigned in Babylon. During this time of peace he built the Hanging Gardens, which were 1 of the 7 wonders of the world.
But Chad got a little big for his britches. He looked at all that was accomplished and he began to take credit for it all.
God got a little tired of Chad’s bragging and told Chad- Hey doofus, everything you have is because you obeyed me and respected my people.
And now because you are a dimwit I am going to take away your sanity tomorrow at noon. You will be the laughing stock of world diplomacy
Of course, the next day it happened. For seven years Chad looked like Howard Hughes on steroids. Long hair, fingernails, the works.
Chad twisted off so bad that he was eating grass like an ox. What a nut job! Then just as suddenly as it started, God stopped his insanity.
Chad, a pagan emperor, began praising God and told everyone he knew how cool the God of the Jews was. Chad had a powerful God encounter thru his trials. So what do we learn from Nebuchadnezzar? God is in control and even the bad stuff which happens are under God’s control.
Yesterday we talked a little about a man named Jacob let’s jump forward a generation or so today. Let’s get into the life of Judah a little.
Now Judah was an all right guy. Sure he had that jealousy issue with his brother Joseph but we all have issues with obnoxious people.
Shortly after Joseph was sole into slavery, I sure you remember the Technicolor Coat story, Judah decided to get married and have some kids.
Now the oldest was given the rather peculiar name of Er. Now Er married a girl named Tamar. The story should end with a happily ever after.
But the story didn’t end that way. Where is the moral in happiness anyway? Er was one evil dude so God capped him leaving Tamar a widow.
Now back in Patriarch days there was this odd custom of handing widows down to the next male in line so a family line could be established.
So as a result Tamar was given to Er’s little brother Onan. Now Onan didn’t want any part of creating a line for his idiot brother Er.
As a result Onan failed to perform adequately, through his own choice, and God capped this one too. Judah is running out of sons fast.
Judah promises Tamar that she will be given to the youngest son when he is old enough. She was to remain in mourning until that day.
Judah welches on his promise and Tamar, rather upset and needing some attention after all these years, takes matters into her own hands
Tamar dresses up like a hooker, when she should be cloistered in mourning, cleverly traps and seduces pop-in-law Judah and conceives a kid
Even tho Tamar did wrong, Judah declared that she was more righteous than he because she did what was right. So she wasn’t put to death.
At the rather odd ending of this passage involving a scarlet thread, Tamar ends up having twins.
Tamar’s kids appear in the genealogy of the Messiah. I’m pretty sure that Tamar was no virginal saint herself and she is one of only four women who actually appear in the genealogy of the Messiah.
Glory be to the Father who uses normal people to do his work and not the UberSaints!
Take this feller Jacob. This guy would’ve made a great lawyer or conman. What a sleaze ball this guy was! He connived his way into big money.
He was a whining mama’s boy with no conscience who wrangled an inheritance that didn’t belong to him from his own old blind father.
In the process of chiseling money from the old man he screwed over his older brother who actually had right over the entire inheritance.
Fearing his brother’s understandable wrath he fled the land & went to the old country because he had family there he hadn’t stolen from yet
As he left we see a peek into his character. He prayed to God and said IF you exist then do so-and-so. Jacob was not raised in the faith.
He went on to chisel his father’s family in a far off land and then decided to return to the land of his inheritance. He was scared.
God met him on the way and Jacob, the coward, had the audacity to wrestle with none other GOD! God showed him and made him limp for life
Jacob went on to become a successful man and raised a huge family, a couple of which were good people. Jacob was an ancestor of the Messiah.
So Jacob is yet another of the tainted people in the Bible which God used in a big way. He was very far from perfect. He lied and stole
But God still used him. God can use anyone. It looks like he prefers to use the dirty rundown skanky people sometimes. God’s crazy like that.
In Luke 7:36-50 we have more rejects that God uses. Most folks want to talk about the hooker washing Jesus’ feet. Most of the sermons that we’ve heard on this story dealt with Judas’ desire to fill his holy poor box.
But what about Simon the Pharisee?
Simon plays a critical part. His house hosted the party. He forgot to wash Jesus’ feet. His smart mouth got Jesus to teaching. Sardonically we note that he did not eject the hooker out of his house.
Do you think he was hiding something? A hooker one-upped a Pharisee!
We read scripture all the time but do we ever stop to think about what we read. We develop some sanctified notions about things in scripture when reality shows a different twist.
Take John the Baptist as an example.
Scripture shows this guy living out in the wild, maybe in a cave or something. He ate locust and wild honey. He kept ranting and raving about the end of the age and performed the very un-Jewish rite of baptism. He angered the authorities of his day.
In a word, John was a nutcase.
Cool, God works by using oddballs