As we recuperate from a week of Turkey and Stuffing (or was it being stuffed like a turkey?) I spent some time on our long, multi-state drive home thinking about being thankful. I came across this video that really hit home, and maybe not in the obvious way you would think:
Books? For Christmas? No, books are good, but I’m looking for something “more” for Christmas. That seems to be the message from the boy:
“That’s not toys, that’s books!”
Now this article may take a bit of work to follow, but stick with me. This problem is HUGE in the church right now. We’re given a gift, we look at it, seem to shrug our shoulders, and move onto the next gift… like the kid at Christmas.. “what else did I get?”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Rick Warrens’ “Purpose Driven Life”. In the past 10 years there has been a near-obsession in the church with understanding “God’s Purpose for Your Life” which is then coupled a misreading of Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”) What we end up with is a completely self-centered, “me” focused search for the holy grail of God’s plan for my life.. and it must be EPIC since he wants to prosper me and give me hope, right?
I’ve written previously about to whom Jeremiah 29:11 was written and what it actually means in context (here: Stuff the Bible Doesn’t Say, Part 2).
This week I’ll work through why we get this wrong, the impact from getting it wrong, and end with refocusing on Christ, and a proclamation of Christ’s atoning for this “purpose driven” idolatry.
How we get this wrong:
Like the kid in the video, we’ve been given a gift. THE gift. The ONLY gift that addresses our greatest need; Christ’s righteousness applied to us to save us from God’s just wrath. We’ve been declared righteous. Get this, because it will help you guard against the “Second Apple”)
Adam and Eve were handed creation; God made it, declared it GOOD and gave it to them. It was far more than everything they could ever need and, in an act of incredible grace, it was made to be beautiful and enjoyable. They were, literally, given the world.. and? They wanted more. Absurd, right? They wanted that other fruit.. the “second apple” which paled in comparison to everything else they had been given. But hey, if i’ve already got “this stuff”, I’m missing out if I don’t have “that stuff”!
They looked past what had been declared good, to want that which was not given to them. They didn’t need it. It was, in fact, forbidden.
Several New Testament books record what is perhaps Jesus’ most famous sermon. His first big crowd, His first major speaking event.. most of us know this Sermon on the Mount for the “beatitudes”. I could write weeks of articles on this sermon alone, but i’ll point out something you may not be aware of in today’s blog:
Contrary to what many people take from the beatitudes, due to translation into english, they aren’t commands. They’re not imperative, they’re indicatives! Jesus, standing in the midst of oppressed people hoping to hear how this leader would lead them out of bondage opens His mouth and declares: Blessed are you, poor in spirit. Blessed are you, mourners. Blessed are you, persecuted.
It makes no sense. It’s absurdly counterintuitive. They aren’t blessed, they are POOR, and PERSECUTED! But that’s where they, and we, miss it. We can’t judge our standing before God based upon our worldly state.
Adam and Eve were handed, through no work of their own, the good garden. And we, the church, have received the good news that we are made righteous, through no work of our own. Our greatest need has been met, and placed in our empty hands….
And yet, today, we’re obsessed by the fruit of the world and the “second apple” of epic purpose, adventure, world-changing goals, and power/prestige/money. Be honest, when you hear people talk about looking for God’s purpose, doesn’t it sound an awful lot like what their dream would be if they had a genie in a bottle? Good spouse, great career, influence, “prosperity”? How many people have you heard claim that God’s great purpose for their lives is to be, well, average? Or poor? Or slaves?
Well, in a single blog, I’m going to give you what you’re looking for. What Rick Warren never delivers, and what your purpose-driven-pastor vaguely aludes to.. your purpose. Why you are here.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
Salvation? Got it, thanks. What else you got for me, God? What do I get to DO? What am I supposed to do with my life? What’s God’s plan for my LIFE?”
Live in the land, take a wife, build a house, plant a garden… LIVE! If you’re a carpenter, work at it as your vocation to God, giving thanks for your vocation and present the gospel to those around you.
Wait, that can’t be it! It’s not EPIC!
What on earth would make you think it’s supposed to be? And more epic than living as an ambassador for the king of the universe? Don’t get it twisted, this place is temporary. It’s going away. The kingdom is at hand, and if you confuse your mission with the priorities of this world, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
The Apostles were martyred. The early church was persecuted and fed to lions. Onesimus was sent, by Paul, BACK into slavery. Only in a prosperous, first world country like the United States could you sell people the drivel that God wants for you an epic, prosperous journey in this life.
So why is this so damaging?
1. Because it’s, at best, a wrong FOCUS on us and our awesome purpose (the second apple) instead of Christ’s atoning work on the Cross for our sins (the good gift). I hear this constantly in evangelical, purpose-driven churches.. like “getting saved” is a box you check and then begin to seek out this great “purpose” for your life. This error is so glaringly obvious, only our narcissism could blind us to it. God gave you a mission (see the Great Commission above), and instead you’ve set off on another mission, a mission to find your great purpose. So you’ve been given your marching orders by your King and have jettisoned them in favor of finding your epic purpose in life. Huh, That can’t end well.
2. Because it creates unbiblical and unrealistic expectations. Not only are we so naturally narcissistic as to expect this epic adventure, but when we are met with the reality that we might be, well, average and live a life of devoted vocation… we become disillusioned with God.
For those who misapply Jeremiah 29:11 as their “life verse”, here’s a thought for you; The people that Jeremiah was writing to in that verse? They were in bondage. How did they get there? God PUT them there. He raised up the Babylonians to punish them for their idolatry. For those who didn’t think captivity was their “best life now” and didn’t go into captivity? God drove them out and killed them. Huh. Not so “best life now-ish” is it? So, they stay in captivity for 70 years. Many of the original readers of this letter lived and died in captivity. And God’s instructions for how to live their lives?
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 29:5-9 ESV)
3. I see the wreckage left behind the purpose-driven movement every day; narcissistic, self-focused “Christ followers” who never speak of Christ, but of their latest self-help (or church) program or the “new thing” God is doing in their life. The latest fad-theology being sold at the christian bookstore (Prayer of Jabez ring a bell?) Some fuzzy, warm feeling they have of a not-yet-seen epic plan God has in store for them. I wonder what the captives in Babylon would have thought about this? I’ve heard “pastors” talk about “shaking off” people who aren’t helping you move toward your purpose. If there’s a less Christlike sentiment, I can’t think of one.
So to wrap it up, stop chasing the second apple. God isn’t doing a “new thing”, nowhere in the Bible does God say that your youth group, or college and career group is a “chosen generation” to do great things for God. You are never, never, ever given the direction to “change your world” or “impact the world” in scripture. Never. The harsh, and beautiful truth is that you are an empty-handed beggar who was given the greatest gift of all, through no work of your own. Your call is to spread the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, to live a life of quiet obedience, and to ply your vocation to support your family and help the poor. That may be in a position of great influence, or in quiet obscurity. It may be in Babylonian captivity, or the prison cells of persecution; Lions den, or Palace. Epic, or pedestrian.
The gospel frees us form the sin of purpose-driven idolatry. From glancing past the greatest of all gifts to those “treasures” of a perishing world. Christs’ atoning work on the cross frees you to serve Him faithfully with little or much. Epic or lame, the purpose remains the same.. The glory of His name.