Third in series: Preparing for Our Next Big Step
I remember when I was finishing college. I was in my last semester and I was just consumed with how much I wanted to be done.
I just want to be done with this, I can’t wait til I am done with school.
Life will be so great when I graduate.
I won’t have to be staying up all night studying, I don’t have to write papers and do projects that I don’t want to do.
I don’t have listen to that one obnoxious professor any more.
Yes, life was going to be good once I graduated.
And this was my thinking, until I finally did graduate. It was pretty soon after that I realized that my anxiety and stress was not much better. Now I was stressed about getting job, figuring my career, paying bills. All those fun things.
And it didn’t take long to think back on college longingly. I wished for my college days. I got to play so many video games.
But really, I began to realize that I had missed out in that last semester of College. Rather than enjoying all of the time I was able to spend with all of my super close friends, rather than appreciating how great it was to go to class everyday and dream and think about big and fun ideas. Rather than really living in that moment and enjoying all that was on the table for me to enjoy, I was focusing on the issue at hand, which was, life is going to be better once school is over.
Only discovering that life in many wasn’t any better once school was over.
I wonder if you resonate with that at all. I wonder if you have ever been consumed with solving the problem at hand, or tacking the issue in front of you, only to later realize that solving that problem didn’t actually make you any happier.
That getting that promotion, or new relationship, or paying off that debt didn’t quite make everything better like you though it would.
Not that they are weren’t great, or not that they didn’t change anything, or that they weren’t worthy to pursue in the first place, but that they didn’t quite have the lasting effect on your experience of life that you had hoped.
Behind this, I think, is something that we try to talk about and pursue here every week at our church - the pursuit of deeper, fuller life. We’ve never met anyone who says to themselves: you know what I want? A shallow, empty life. That’s what I’m after!
And so our statement of purpose as a church (we say this every week) is SLIDEempowering deeper, fuller lives through connection with God - that’s what we exist to accomplish
SLIDE And MAYBE it’s just because we (Kyle and Vince, your pastors) have personally been in a “zooming out, going big picture, reflective” sort of mood lately SLIDE -- as it’s the start of the new year, and we’ve just made this big move back to the Davis, and (as you may have heard about) we’ve launched this ambitious SLIDE 2 Year Effort called “Our Next Big Step” -- BUT…
We thought this would be a great time to unpack that purpose statement (we’re not sure we’ve ever done that in a Sunday talk here)
It’s actually simply our take on a turn of phrase we get directly from Jesus, speaking about his purpose.
SLIDE X2 It’s recorded in chapter 10 of the Gospel of John - one of the four biographies of Jesus in Bible. Let’s take a look...
John 10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (or safety). They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
So we get a picture of this sheepfold which seem to be exposed and vulnerable to thieves, robbers and wolves,
Then we have the good shepherd. He knows and cares for and protects the sheep,
The sheep know his voice, they distinguish it from from that of a stranger. And when he turns them out to graze he does not drive them, but he goes before them, as to prevent any danger that might meet them
In explaining this parable Jesus positions himself as both the gatekeeper and the shepherd
He asserts himself as the gate, That through him we will find the pasture, we will be saved from from thieves and robbers, But even more than survival, in the pasture we find full life.
And he also calls himself The good Shepherd, Knowing the sheep intimately by name, leading them out to fat pastures, providing them both feed and rest, speaking comfort, protecting them, guiding them, Jesus presents himself as a shepherd who has sacrificial love, willingly laying down his life that flock would be saved. That through his sacrifice they may find life and find life to full.
I honestly love this passage, probably my favorite passage in the whole Bible. I just find it to ring so true with my experience of life
On one level it taps into my most basic of longings, What I wonder if we all want, we all long for, SLIDE the pasture. To feel cared for and comforted, and safe, to find rest and protection I actually remember when helping out with the high school group at another church, and I had a group of high-school boys And I'm taking them through the passage we just read, John 10, and I'm trying to figure out how to explain to high schoolers the good stuff here: like the offer to be cared for, loved, accepted, ect "... And one of the boys who always the kinda seemed to be disinterested in what we were doing, kinda just there because his friends were. He out of nowhere gets super excited, and shouts out, “Yo Hanawalt” he called me Hanawalt since played football and for some reason calling someone by their last name is kinda what you do as football player. And so right as I am describing what Jesus is offering, using the image of the pasture He interrupts me and says “Yo Hanawalt… Is there guidance in the pasture?” And I was like… uh… yes! Yes there is! He say “cuz I gotta situation. And I could use some guidance. I say, Ok what is it “You see there are these two girls” I don’t actually remember what happened beyond that But I just loved how he lit up, this image seemed to connect with some basic longing with him. He so wanted there to be a pasture, so badly wanted to find comfort, and care, and provision, and guidance I wonder, if like him this picture of the pasture captures a bit of what we all long for.
And I am also helped by the image of SLIDE the thief in this passage. I love how it captures a bit of the feeling that the life we long for is elusive. like there is thief that is trying to rob us from that full life, Whether the thief is simply life circumstances that are slapping me in the face, apparently snatching happiness from my grasps Or the thief is some sense of evil or oppressive force in the world, what I would call the Devil, which feels like it is actively keeping me from what Jesus seems to be offering here. Or, maybe the thief is just the brokenness of our world where things don’t seem to always work out well. In short, it resonates as true that in life It can very much feels like a thief stealing for me.
SLIDE You know It doesn’t take a lot for me to connect with the excitement that high school boy had about this passage, because I too think Jesus makes quite a profound offer here
That we are not forever doomed to find this pasture as just beyond our grasp,
but by looking to Jesus and saying, “I am not doing a great job at creating the life I want for myself, I am going to try to let go and follow you.”
In this Jesus seems to be promising that we can actually find the pasture, that we have a hope for the future that there will be a time when death and sickness and brokenness and terribleness, The thieves of our lives will be gone, but also that today right here right now we can find life and life to the full,
SLIDE But, what exactly does that mean, what does it look like that in Jesus we can find life to the full.
I think if I am honest, my initial default assumption usually is in line with the thinking I talked about in my opening story. something like “My life would be better if my problems were solved.” As so when I first think about life to the full, I have usually found myself thinking about all the problems I have that need to be solved. All the things that are in the way of my full life, that if only they were fixed, then I could experience life as I desire.
But, I have come to find that this way of thinking rarely serves me. For there always seems to be a new problem, a new hurdle, that next thing. I've actually never gotten to a place where all my problems are behind me. So if solving problems is what is required to have a better life, than on those terms i apparently won't ever experience life to the full. And as someone for whom faith plays a big role in my life. I have found that when I bring God into this pattern of thinking, it only gets more toxic.
I mean I absolutely believe that God is real and powerful and can in miraculous ways help me overcome the problems in life. And I think we should absolutely pray that God works in our life circumstances. I have had a ton of crazy experiences of God showing up in miraculous ways from inexplicable recovery from illness to unexpected financial provision. We have a time to do that every wk here at our services No, what gets toxic is when my problems hold my relationship with God hostage
A life free of problems is not what Jesus promised or modeled His life was full of challenges of problems, it culminated with him getting falsely accused and killed. or look at Paul, One of the most influential early followers of Jesus, who wrote most of the NT. Talk about problems, that dude was thrown into prison... twice... that we know about. Or look at the life of literally any one you have even known. There isn't a single one without problems or struggle … and I wonder if a life without problems is not actually desirable
Maybe the best thing God might build in us is resilience Again, as we’ve phrased it: To feel life as deeper, fuller and more connected -- no matter the circumstances That is exactly what Jesus is offering us.
Life, and life to the full is not easier, more comfortable, less problem filled life What Jesus is offering is a deeper, fuller and more connected life In fact, I would suggest that life following Jesus will require discomfort, risk, change, and challenge But, along with it, we get to feel truly alive, cared for, full of meaning, and hope and comfort, and yes to my high school friend..guidance.
And that is great because that is what we actually need and actually want. I don’t think we actually want a life free of problems, I don’t think we actually want a life that is easy. I think we want to feel truly alive,
This is why our purpose statement is empowering deeper, fuller lives by connecting with God.
SLIDE Takeaway - SLIDE Next time you feel yourself thinking, life would be better if only this problem was solved. SLIDE Try praying: God, show me depth and fullness in my life right now I'm not saying don't pray for your problem, absolutely do that But my suggestion is to maybe first before that or alongside praying for your problem Pray - God, show me depth and fullness in my life right now And the reason I suggest this is because 1, I think this, feeling more alive, deeper, connected. I think this is always on the table for us in a way just simply solving our problems isn't And 2, I really do think that if we could moment to moment find depth and connection and meaning - regardless of circumstances, that would make a much larger difference in our experience of life that solving any problem can. And also say if you're not already a person who finds themselves praying regularly, I think this is a great place to start. For this is where my own experience faith has really come alive Because I don't know about you but left to my own devices I don't seem to be able to see past whatever problem or inconvenience that is right in front of me. To me it has felt like I need help I can't give myself to find whatever depth or fullness or connection that may be available at any given moment. And there is where I think Jesus comes in
Like a couple weeks ago I had hit kinda a crunch point with my multiple jobs.
And I was feeling super stressed because I didn't know how to get all my work done.
And in the midst of that I prayed that god would help me. And what happened was not a solution to the problem but I felt like I my mind’s attention was being drawn to certain things. Much like the sheep coming to know the shepherd's voice, I have come to attribute certain thoughts like this to god But in that moment as I prayed I felt like my mind was having its attention drawn to all sorts of things. I will suddenly felt very aware of how much I was enjoying the coffee I was drinking, I found myself smiling as a memory of my son doing something adorable the night before came to my mind. And I even find myself feeling thankful that although I had a lot of work to do, it was all worth it I generally enjoy doing. And finally I just felt loved, I like in that moment felt God was showing me his love and affection for me. And all of that just made me feel alive I felt like, even though my problem was not solved, I felt life to be richer and more connected. It felt like a picture of life to the full even in the midst of that very Mundane coffee shop.
Well, in moment I will pray, and we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice.
So if you will stand with me