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Tuesday 15 April 2014

The Flip Side: Getting Purpose Right

I think it’s unfair of me to point out the lack of discernment in the church at large and leave it at that. So this blog is the flip side of my last one, in the last one I took a dig at people who are soft on Bible knowledge, who lack discernment and for the really discerning you would have noticed that I did this by showing some of the flaws in the logic of those believers who would deny that certain spiritual gifts are for today (aka cessationists). I am not a cessationist, our God is the living God, and he is still at work in power in this world, and testimonies to this power abound. My aim was to get people to think about how they handle the Bible, and what their pre-suppositions are, and more than anything: be discerning. You don’t have to agree with me, I am not right about everything, make sure your beliefs about the Bible are based on deep, careful study. I see a large lack of this in the church today, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Read the first 10 chapters of Proverbs and you will see that a godly person loves wisdom and knowledge, I want our Christian culture to rediscover a love for knowledge.   

In this post, I want to do something for those of you who thought something like this, “This guy is just some big meanie who doesn’t love people, who doesn’t care, all he cares about is the truth…” or something along those lines. The reason I want to do this is to show you it is possible to care about people and the truth at the same time. I know from speaking to different people that some Christians don’t believe this is true, and this is a scary thought, because in the name of love people are too scared to confront error in the modern church. So many people believe love is three orders of magnitude more important than truth, but we must remember that Jesus is truth and he is love, because he is God, and those two things find their origin in his eternally, radically, awesome character. So to help you see that we can be loving and truthful, I want to address something I said in my last post, and flesh it out a little. Ok here is what I said:

If you listen to some of the most influential teachers in the world, (of the seeker-driven, evangelical and charismatic variety), across denominations, rather than hearing the word of God opened, and our sinfulness and need for the atonement of Jesus expounded and the clear teaching of each text explained clearly; you will hear passage after passage misquoted to be about how special we are, how sin stops us from realizing our potential, how all we need is a clear purpose and we can make a difference in this world; and the scary thing is, most people don’t have an issue with this, they see this as solid Bible teaching (Matthew Littlefield, Discernment Must No Longer Be A Spiritual Gift).

Scarily, some people may have read this paragraph and thought something like, “What’s his problem? I thought the whole Bible was about how I should fulfil my purpose in life. I thought Jesus died for me because I am special. I thought sins do stop us from reaching our potential. I thought the Christian life was all about making a difference in the world. Is this not what we are called to?” Well let’s see if I can help you discern the difference between the Bible’s versions of these things, and so many popular preachers’ versions of these things. God’s truth is beautiful and when you understand his word well, and its application for our lives, then this lifts so many burdens off our life (John 8:31-33).

Ok let’s kick off by discussing purpose. You will rarely hear a mega-church/seeker-sensitive preacher who does not focus a large proportion of their yearly preaching time on helping you find your unique purpose in life. Among other things they will say stuff like this: “God has created you for a special mission”, “He has placed in your heart a special desire, or plan, or dreams, and you must find out what these are and then fulfil them; this is your purpose!” Then they will say things to help you find out your purpose; things like this: “What is it you really enjoy doing?” “What big dreams or goals do you have which are too big for you to do on your own?” “If your dream can only be fulfilled with God’s power than that dream is from God” (I kind of wish this were true because then my dream of being a Jedi Master might not be as ridiculous as I thought it was – man I would love a real lightsaber, I think with a green or purple blade). Really guys, really? This passes for sound teaching this day?

I really don’t want to have to burst your bubble, but nowhere in the Bible does God promise to tell us what our personal purpose is in life (aside from giving us wisdom to help us determine what to do with our lives). The Bible does teach that we are created for a purpose, a good example is Matthew 28:18-20, where all disciples are tasked with the great commission. Or you could reas 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, where we are told we are new creations and God wants to reconcile the world to himself through us, his ambassadors. A really great example is Isaiah 43:6-7 where it teaches that God’s redeemed people are created for his glory; that’s all of us who believe. But the Bible doesn’t promise we can find our unique purpose! God’s not your personal, sanctified, fortune teller, or fortune cookie. He is God!

Now you may then ask “What about Paul, or Jeremiah, or Moses or others? God told those guys their life mission.” Sure God does take some people aside in the Bible like Peter, Paul, Jeremiah, Moses and others and tells them what their life’s purpose is. I also believe he can and does still do this today for some people, as he did back then, but nowhere does he promise all of us that he will tell us our unique purpose in life and pastors who say otherwise are frankly lying to you (think of the many thousands/millions of believers in the Bible God did not do this for). These preachers are building up inside of you a false expectation of what is to come in your Christian walk. We are not all apostles, or prophets, and in the Bible God only spoke directly to a very few of those who lived, and who believed (note what it says in 1 Samuel 3:1; Amos 3:7 – God speaks through his prophets, but not everyone, or even specifically for everyone). I believe God does still speak supernaturally today, in fact the New Testament church is to be characterized as a place where God brings visions, dreams and prophecies (cf. Acts 2:16-21; 1 Cor. 14:1, 6), but nowhere does God promise that he will reveal to us our unique mission in life. The belief that you can figure out your unique destiny comes from Disney, not the Bible. If God brings that knowledge to some, that is his will, and we see it in the Bible, but he does not promise to do it for all of us.

So, just because you have a grand dream to open restaurants, or be a gun attorney, or even the world’s greatest evangelist, or really anything, it does not mean you have been given this dream by God, unless he personally comes to you in a very real and vivid way, kind of like how he did for Paul in Acts 9. If God comes to you, you will know it, because when God came to people in the Bible there never was any doubt in their minds, or debate about what he wanted them to do. Also, just because you really enjoy doing something, does not mean it is your purpose to fulfil your mission doing that. I love playing Battlefield 4, and 4wding, but it is not my divine mission to do these things. Peter the Apostle loved fishing, but God took him away from this to something much grander; to be a fisher of men. We are told to take up our crosses and deny ourselves, not fulfil our own desires and call this ‘mission’; that’s more than a little askew from the call of the discipleship if you ask me (it’s called being narcissistic actually).  

In fact not only does the Bible NOT teach that God will openly, clearly, and unequivocally, state to all of us our grand purpose/mission, it teaches the opposite. Enter here one of the most popular passages for mega-church/seeker-sensitive pastors to use to tell people to figure out their purpose; Matthew 25:14-30, The Parable of the Talents. I want us to read verses 14-15 and note a profound insight from these verses, regarding God’s will for our lives. Jesus says, “For it (the kingdom of heaven cf. v1) will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (ESV).

Notice that the master, who in this parable represents Jesus, gives these men each different amounts of money (a talent was worth about a year’s wages), and then he just ups and leaves, he does not give them details, he does not tell them which way to direct the funds he gave them, he just ups and goes. Why? Well, our master, Jesus, is not one to dictate our every move, he gives us many things (which the talents represent): he gives us new life, rebirth, a clean slate, his Holy presence in our lives, not to mention all the various material things he gives to each of his people, in varying amounts. He also promises to give us wisdom so that we may know how to make good decisions, but he does not dictate to us our every move, or career choice, or calling in life, because he wants us to live by faith, not by sight; he wants us trust him, not be afraid to make a move without his clear and unequivocal direction. He has also given us his very words in Scripture to help us determine the difference between his way and the world’s way, and then in a very real sense he lets us loose on the world. He wants our minds renewed so that we can be transformed to determine what sort of action lines up with his will (Romans 12:1-2), but he is the master who goes away and leaves us to our devices. God does not leave us without witness (his Word), or comfort (his Spirit), or guidance (his fellowship of people), but he does leaves us to make wise decisions in our life in line with how we view his character (a view which should be built on the FULL word of God).

Note carefully two of the servants did not delay in seeking to increase what God had given them, and they were commended with those awesome, and in my heart longed for, famous words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But one servant, well, he copped it hard, and why? Because he was afraid; the master terrified him, and he was too weak to step out in faith without a direct revelation on what he should do with his one coin, so he buried it, and what does Jesus say about this guy: “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). Wow that’s harsh, yea, but it’s also God’s truth. What was the difference between these two groups of servants?

Well the first group was faithful. ‘Faithful’ can be explained in two ways: 1) They were guys who acted in a trustworthy and commendable manner; hence faithful, which is definitely in the text. 2) They were guys who trusted the master and hence acted accordingly, they were faith-filled guys; hence faithful. In reality it is both, those who are filled with faith will seek to be faithful, those who are not will likely not act faithful, it doesn’t take a mathematician to do that calculation (thank goodness because I suck at maths). This tells us that the third man had a big problem: he lacked faith in God, a fatal flaw in any one.

Let me ask you a challenging question? If you are skipping around from conference to conference, book to book, or prayer group to prayer group, waiting for a word from God before you are willing to step out and take a risk in life and invest what God has given you already: which servant in this parable do you think you resemble more closely? The third one maybe…Ah, not what you wanted to hear? Sorry to break it to you buddy, but look here is the awesome flip side of all of this: most of us get to choose our own unique direction and purpose (within God’s revealed will of course).

I think this is pretty cool, and it fits with the Bible, and the experience of most Christians. God doesn’t come to all of us in a dream and give us a divine mission. Instead, he has already delegated to us a mission: make disciples, or reconcile people to God if you prefer to say it that way. We get to decide how we will work into his divine mosaic of outreach. Look don’t get me wrong, the sovereign Lord is in control the whole time, he has your life in his hands, and he knows what you will be doing, but half the fun of life is getting to figure out for ourselves how we will use the talents God gave us, and then step out in faith, like the first two servants. That is one of the most awesome parts of our Christian life, it is an adventure, and we don’t always know the next path, or even our next step, and we will make mistakes, and choose wrong paths. But I can guarantee you that if you live this kind of faith filled life, you will always be able to look back and see how God was working in you and through you, all by his awesome power, and you won’t be able to help but give him the glory.

You could render the famous statement above, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant!” God, for some divine, unsearchable, reason, wants us to make pretty much most of our life decisions, whether it be job, career, ministry, wife, husband, country to live in etc., by ourselves, based on the wisdom he gives us in his word, and he wants to give us the chance to prove we are trustworthy, that’s pretty cool I think. So, he’s not against us having purpose, just don’t think he is going to hand it to you on a platter. This is the flip side of what I said in my last blog, we can have purpose, but it’s usually up to us to figure it out, in line with God’s written will (The Bible).   

Next we will deal with the topic of our ‘specialness’, but for that you will need to tune in next time…God bless, and may the force be with you (just had to say that to have a bit of funJ).