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What’s the point?

Optimistic Nihilism. Big words that I don’t use every day. Not sure that I’ve used them together. Ever.

I heard about this in a sermon podcast and have been mulling over it for a couple of days. Let’s break it apart to understand it.

Nihilism, put simply, is the understanding that nothing matters. Everything that has ever existed on earth is very insignificant in relation to everything else in the universe. There seems to be no purpose for why humanity or earth began, and no purpose for its existence.

When you die, your body becomes worm food and turns to dirt, which eventually nourishes something else. And you are forgotten. But the short life, even if you live to be over 100, is ended and soon forgotten. No real impact has been made in the long line of time, or the wide expanse of space.

You don’t matter. You didn’t matter before you existed. You won’t matter after you exist. So what you do between your birth and your death doesn’t matter either. It’s nothing.

That doesn’t sound very cheerful, does it? If life, if MY life has absolutely no meaning in the bigger scope, then what’s the point?

That’s where the optimism pops in.

Oh, really?

Because your life has no purpose or meaning, the optimistic nihilist argues that it does not matter what you do. Just enjoy what you do. That’s the positive attitude!

Your life doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you have lots of money, or not. It doesn’t matter what skills you have, what degrees you have earned, how big your family is, where you went on vacation, if you fall in love, if you live in a cave all alone…absolutely nothing matters.

So just do what makes you happy. Do what makes you fulfilled. Do what drives you.

Sounds great until you stop to think through what would happen if your neighbor thought the same, – and your boss, and your teacher, and the rulers, and your children…

Because if absolutely nothing matters to them. And nothing matters to you. Then your neighbors could sleep in your bedroom with your spouse if they wanted. Your boss could choose not to pay you. Your teacher could make your life miserable. The rulers would make laws that met their needs. Your children would be completely out of control. And you wouldn’t do anything about any of it, because none of it matters.

Sounds like a miserable existence, doesn’t it? We all want to have freedom for ourselves, but we don’t want the same freedom for others around us.

What a contrast to the biblical worldview that includes these points – and a lot more:

  • God created everything for a purpose – for His glory and our enjoyment (Psalm 19:1-6; Psalm 104:14-15).
  • God created man after His own image. There is something unique about man that sets him apart from all the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • God created each individual for a purpose (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15-18; Philippians 1:6).
  • God is in control of everything (Psalm 104).
  • God is controlling history to bring out His plan (Genesis 1; Revelation 21).
  • God is loving, kind, and forgiving, allowing each of us to submit to His will, or to rebel against Him (Genesis 3; John 3:16).
  • God gives us hope for life after death (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
  • God’s plan includes eternity in one of two places – in heaven, the presence of God, for those who submit to Him (John 14:1-6); in hell, separated from God in a place of eternal torment for those who refuse Him (Revelation 21).

The Bible tells so much more and gives meaning to our lives on earth.

Optimistic Nihilism? No, thanks.

I’d rather be optimistic about the meaning of life with God – today and for all eternity.

 

Who am I?

Most of us face an identity crisis. Often it comes at the time of some other crisis. Some life change happens and we begin to wonder who we are.

Maybe it happens when the last child starts school. What do I do without the little tag-a-long?

Maybe it happens when the company downsizes. Am I really worth it to the company to keep me on the payroll?

Maybe it happens when your spouse walks out the door for good. Where do I fit in?

An identity crisis probably happens more often than we realize. Sometimes we just get busy with the next thing without taking time to answer the question. Maybe we’re afraid of the answer.

The same question plays a role in our struggle against sin.

  • Who am I? I’m a loser, so I might as well give in…again.
  • Who am I? I’m a nobody, so no one will care anyway.
  • Who am I? I’m an addict, so there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

But when we put our trust in Christ to pay the penalty for our sins, our identity changes.

  • Who am I? I am declared righteous in Christ, so I should live like it.
  • Who am I? I am at peace with God, so I should not feel that I need to please Him.
  • Who am I? I have access to God, so I am not alone.
  • Who am I? I have hope, so this is not the end of the story.

And that’s just two verses (Romans 5:1-2) that tell us who we are in Christ.

If you ever wonder who you are, pick up any of the letters in the New Testament (Romans-Jude) and make a list of who you are in Christ. My favorite is Ephesians.

I’ve found that knowing who I am helps me to live like I should. I can stand against the temptations better when I’m reminded that I am not a loser, nobody, or an addict.

And it’s easier to get through the trials of life, too.

 

 

Easy Street

Livin’ the dream. Made in the shade. Success. Lap of luxury. Stress-free living. No problems.

Doesn’t that seem to be the goal of so many people? We want to have a life with no problems, no stress, no anxiety. Health, wealth, and beauty.

Unfortunately, many preachers proclaim that this is the goal of the Christian life.

“Your best life now.”

“Come to Jesus and He’ll solve all your problems.”

“If you only have a little more faith, God will take that cancer away.”

Only trouble with that: You can’t find that in the Bible anywhere. For preachers to have that message, they have to take verses out of context. They have to ignore large sections of the Bible.

Like the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians. In 12 verses the apostle Paul talks about suffering and affliction five times.

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

Notice he doesn’t say, “We’re praying that the persecution will stop.” Rather, “We boast in all the churches about your faith in the midst of persecution and affliction.”

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—

Their faithfulness is proof of God’s righteous judgment. They are suffering because of their beliefs, but at the same time it demonstrates that God will carry out His plan.

since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,

In God’s righteous judgment, those who afflict the believers will be afflicted. God is aware of the persecution of believers and the persecutors will get their punishment from Him. (I don’t have to think of ways to get back at them. God’s going to take care of that!)

and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels

When Jesus returns, the relief from affliction will come. Maybe not before, but there is a promise that it will happen when Jesus comes back.

in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Look at the punishment for the persecutors: “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.”

Those who persecute God’s beloved children for a few days, weeks, or years, will be punished forever. Forever separated from God, unless they turn to Him.

Compare that to the persecution and affliction that His children might experience in this life. Ridiculed. Imprisoned. Burnt at the stake. Beheaded. Fed to wild animals. Drawn and quartered. Some believers have suffered immensely for holding fast to their faith in Jesus Christ.

But it’s only temporary, only limited to this earthly life.

Suffering for the cause of Christ is to be expected for the believer who is living in this world. It’s what we should expect. Not easy street. Not health, wealth, and prosperity.

But it’s only temporary. The alternative is eternal.

Lollipop Living

 

An illustration from today’s sermon:

“If you’re good today, you’ll develop strong character, which will lead to a great career,” said no parent to a misbehaving four-year old. Ever.

Character? Career? What does that mean to a four-year old?

“If you’re good today, I’ll give you a lollipop,” spoken by myriads of parents through the centuries to misbehaving four-year old. Myriads.

A lollipop is a reward that a four-year old can understand. It’s sweet. It’s sticky. It’s mine.

But as an adult, even if we still like lollipops, we know that the character and career are much more important than a sweet reward at the end of the day.

And there certainly is nothing wrong with being rewarded for completing a task. A cup of coffee. A family vacation. A graduation cake.

But if we’re living for the lollipops, we’re going to be disappointed. A ten-year old is no longer satisfied with a lollipop, like he was when he was four. It’s no longer enough motivation.

The lollipop is short-lived. Its pleasure doesn’t last long. (How many licks does it take to get to the center?) Its value depreciates quickly. (Once you lick it, no one else wants it – except maybe another four-year old). And all you have left are a wrapper and a soggy paper stick.

How often in our lives are we content with the lollipop? We see the short-term benefit of a decision, an action, a thought, a friendship, but we forget that that reward is only as long-lasting as a lollipop.

The New Testament often uses the picture of rewards to remind us that there is something greater waiting. There’s something better than a lollipop – or a quick business deal, or a night at the bar, or a night in someone else’s bed, or fame and fortune.

  • 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Only one runner wins the prize, and that only after self-discipline.
  • Philippians 3:12-14 – Forget what is behind and press on toward the prize of the high calling of Jesus Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 – Our goal should be to please the Lord, because some day we will stand before Him.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 – Since our work for the Lord will be judged, we need to do our best.
  • Hebrews 11:6 – God rewards those who seek after Him.

Many more, plus examples of individuals who resisted temptation (Joseph and Daniel), help us to understand that there is something greater than a lollipop waiting for us.

Don’t give in to the lollipop. Hold out for the eternal reward.

 

What does God want me to do?

Do you ever stop to wonder if you’re doing what God wants you to do?

Not just in the big picture, big decision, life-changing events. But every day. Every moment.

Are you doing what God wants you to do this very moment? How has the rest of the day looked? What are you planning for the rest of the day?

Often we think it’s just the big issues that interest God. But it seems that the Bible teaches that He is more interested in the little issues. The words we say. The thoughts that we have. The places we go. The things we do. The attitudes we have. The nickles and dimes, not just the $100,000.

And I don’t think it’s because God is nitpicking, looking for one little slip up. It’s in the sum of the many small things that our character is revealed. The habits reveal who you are in how you spend your hours, not just your career. The actions throughout the day illustrate who you really are. What you do at home behind closed doors tells more about you than what you do on the big stage at work.

Think of some of the commands in just one paragraph in Ephesians:

  • Speak the truth with your neighbor (Ephesians 4:25)
  • Resolve your anger (Ephesians 4:26)
  • The thief should no longer steal, but work with his hands (Ephesians 4:28)
  • Build up others with your speech, don’t tear them down (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Don’t be bitter, angry, malicious, or slanderous (Ephesians 4:30)
  • Be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:31)

There are six things right there that are every day challenges. God wants you to do those things. All day. Every day. For the rest of your life.

Knowing what God wants us to do is not hard. It’s in the Bible.

Doing it is the challenge.

 

Judge not, lest you also be judged

Bumper stickers. Facebook memes. Twitter tweets. Conversations in the break room.

We’ve all heard this quote used in conversation, usually to silence someone of a differing opinion.

But like a lot of other biblical quotes, it’s generally taken out of context. Put into the common language its modern interpretation is, “Don’t tell others that they are doing something wrong, or you’ll be told that you’re doing something wrong!”

In our culture it seems that everyone is free to do what they please and no one can criticize them. To support this philosophy, who better to call upon than Jesus Himself?

But look at the context:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you (Matthew 7:1-6).

If verse one tells us to not pass judgement on anyone, then it contradicts verse six. Verse six calls us to discern between “dogs” and “pigs” and everyone else. However you define “dogs” and “pigs,” clearly Jesus is calling us to make a distinction and not give them certain things.

A greater clue is found in verses two to five: You’ll be judged by the same standard that you have used to judge others (v 2), and you are called to remove the log out of your own eye before helping your brother with the speck in his own (vs 3-5).

What Jesus is calling His followers to is non-hypocritical judgement. He even calls the one who looks for others’ problems while ignoring his own a hypocrite (v 6).

Another interesting point here is that Jesus is talking about relationships within the family. He uses “brother” to reflect a close relationship, not “stranger,” or “person.” This is talking about relationships within the body of believers.

And there are ample passages that call fellow believers to confront one another about their sins, while giving instructions on how it is to be done (i.e. Gal 6:1-6; 1 Cor 5).

We are called to confront other believers about their sins with the right attitude and the right intention. And at the same time be ready to accept being confronted by others about our own sins.

So the next time you’re tempted to use the phrase “Judge not, lest you also be judged,”don’t.

Unless you’re going to bring in the rest of the paragraph and practice biblical confrontation among fellow believers.

He is so precious to me

This song has been going through my head the last three mornings when I got out of bed.

  1. So precious is Jesus, my Savior, my King;
    His praise all the day long with rapture I sing;
    To Him in my weakness for strength I can cling,
    For He is so precious to me.

    • Refrain:
      For He is so precious to me,
      For He is so precious to me;
      ’Tis heaven below, my Redeemer to know,
      For He is so precious to me.
  2. He stood at my heart’s door ’mid sunshine and rain,
    And patiently waited an entrance to gain;
    What shame that so long He entreated in vain,
    For He is so precious to me.
  3. I stand on the mountain of blessing at last,
    No cloud in the heavens a shadow to cast,
    His smile is upon me; the valley is past,
    For He is so precious to me.
  4. I praise Him because He appointed a place
    Where someday, through faith in His wonderful grace,
    I know I shall see Him, shall look on His face,
    For He is so precious to me.

— Charles H. Gabriel, 1902

16 Singing Men sing “He is so Precious to Me”