Known: The Secret to Meaning

(Post #3 in a 4-part series collaboration)

By Shelby Welch (bio below)

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

When I typed in “Meaning of Life” into Google, it gave me 2,350,000,000 results. It gave me results about books, videos, lectures, and numbers-all these different ways that people have tried to find meaning in their lives. Wikipedia even attempted to give possible answers such as to realize one’s potential, to seek wisdom and knowledge, to do good, to love, to have power-even the ultimate nihilistic answer: life has no meaning.

We see it over and over in media. Children dreaming of what they will do one day. Young adults trying to find what they are supposed to do with their lives. Middle-aged people trying to find purpose after a large upset in their lives. And the elderly scrambling to find meaning before their time on this earth runs out.

I am not guiltless in this pursuit. I have sought meaning to my existence in love, in friendships, in academics, and in achievements. Spoiler alert: they all come up empty. Lovers leave you. Friends betray you. Someone will always outsmart you. Someone will always outscore you.

But this year in my reading I think I may have discovered the secret. In C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, he points out the ultimate meaning behind Man’s existence. “If He who in Himself can lack nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed.” Our purpose in life is not that which we can give God but that we may be loved because we are His. Oh, how freeing it is to know that the merit of my life is not based on what I can achieve but on what my God has done for me.

Psalm 139:17 reads, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” Lewis calls it “the Intolerable Compliment.” That the God of all the Universe would choose to love Man, the one creature that is continually rejecting him; that he gives us the opportunity to love him back. That is the purpose of life. That we are known and loved by our Creator.

Thank you, Father God. Thank you for all that You have created and all that You do in our lives. Remind us of our purpose when we become anxious and weary, when we become tired and downtrodden, when we become weak and insecure. Remind us that our purpose is not in being the best parent in the world, not in being the highest-ranking employee, not in achieving all the accomplishments our peers have, and not in the relationships we choose to form. But that our purpose is to be known and loved by You. May we spend the rest of our lives learning to love You more.

Amen.


Blogger Bio: Shelby serves the animals and clients of Bishop Animal Shelter. She and her husband Frank met while studying at Florida Southern College and were married November 12, 2016. Shelby has swam with sharks.

Look at Me

“You, O Lord, are the lifter of my head.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭3:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I witnessed this the other day. Actually, we all do every day. People walking around literally and figuratively needing a head lift. Sometimes it’s the person in the mirror.

When I read this verse recently, a familiar image came to mind. Picture a discouraged child, head down, not wanting anyone to see their eyes, possibly hiding their tears. They’ve been asked several times, “Look at me!” After several refusals, the inquirer gently puts their first few fingers under the child’s chin lifting their head in order to force eye contact. With that gesture, change becomes possible. The child looks into another pair of eyes offering forgiveness, understanding, empathy, strength, hope, protection, peace, or love.

In my relationship with God, I can often forget to allow him to lift my head. I’m satisfied to look down. To see what I want to see. To accept less. To tolerate guilt. To self-protect. To wallow. To be a stubborn child.

This Psalm was written by David in an extremely sad time. His own son was after him. Can you imagine how downcast David was? David helps us see how important it is to allow God to lift our heads. To be Fathered. To see what we need to see. To receive more. To embrace mercy. To drop our guard. To stand tall. To be a changed child. To obey the first time God whispers, “Look at me.”

The Ideal Image

About 24 hours ago I saw something beautiful. At the moment I didn’t recognize it for its beauty, but God did.

The outward portrayal on this human’s face may have been interrupted as sadness, maybe pain, or possibly frustration. Even though my mind told me that’s what it was, it didn’t sound, taste, or appear like any of those things. None of those words described what was on the inside. The outside doesn’t always portray the inside.

God sees the inside. What looks outwardly wrecked to me may look inwardly beautiful to him. Brokenness can be beautiful.  In fact, it just may be the ideal image he longs for. It took me a full day to come to the right word describing what the outward appearance was revealing about the inward condition: broken. And it was beautiful. Unexpected. Attractive.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he was in pain, tremendous sorrow, and recently aware it was his own doing. No human knew what to do for him. So he turned his heart again to God. He wrote that God was pleased with his brokenness and humility. God saw something beautiful.

Our brokenness doesn’t have to be tragic, destructive, or separating. Anything but. Our brokenness can be refreshing, reenergizing, and even breathtakingly beautiful. It’s possible when others see you sad or in pain, you can echo David to pray, “Lord, open my lips (even in my brokenness), and my mouth will declare your praise (even when I’m broken).”

Praying through Scripture

(Day 13 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

One of the best patterns for spiritual warfare that we can follow is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He demonstrates the adept use of Scripture as a shield for His own heart, reminding himself of the truth. This same well-aimed truth is what tears through the tempting words of Satan, revealing them to be lies and deceit. We need to have a good grasp on the truths in Scripture in order to use them against the attacks of the enemy. Just as we would equip ourselves from an armory for a physical battle, for a spiritual battle we must equip ourselves with knowledge of the Word.

One great way to do this is to pray through the Psalms. David and others wrote many Psalms about the deliverance and provision of God, how He is there to protect us from our enemy and sustain us through our battles. Praying through scripture will remind us of God’s character, faithfulness, and can bind us to the faith of believers past, knowing that these words are timeless and true. As we consider God’s ability to rescue us, let’s pray through Psalm 46, which reminds us to find our shelter in Him.

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.

Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple

into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil. Selah

There is a river—its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High.

God is within her; she will not be toppled. God will help her when the morning dawns.

Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when he lifts his voice.

The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah

Come, see the works of the Lord, who brings devastation on the earth.

He makes wars cease throughout the earth. He shatters bows and cuts spears to pieces; he sets wagons ablaze.

“Stop your fighting, and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.”

The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah 

By Kyle Reilly

Get to the Doctor!

Psalm 19 is full, rich, and worth meditation. Verses 12-13 jumped out at me this morning.

Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins; do not let them rule me.

Did you notice the two types of sin he acknowledges? Unintentional and willful. That’s worth chewing on.

We all have a pretty good idea what our willful sins are, if we are honest. Many of them start with our tongue: slandering, gossiping, lying, or stretching the truth for our benefit. Others stay hidden from others in our minds and hearts, but they aren’t hidden to us. These types of sin are easy to address because we are aware of them.

But what about those unintentional sins? How are we supposed to address or acknowledge what we can’t see? 

May I suggest thinking of these sins as blind spots. If you were experiencing strange spots in your vision, what would you do? You’d probably go to the doctor, right? Because of his experience and knowledge, he could explain to you why your vision is spotty. 

What if the difficulty in your emotional/mental/spiritual life is hidden from your view? If you knew what it was or how to address it, you would do it, right? So when we can’t figure it out on our own, we have options similar like going to the eye doctor:

  • Pray these two verses
  • See a counselor or therapist
  • Go to church
  • Lean on a friend/mentor
  • Get connected to a small group

These are just a start. I would say that they could/should also be moved from optional status to non-optional status. If we want to stay clear of experiencing blind spots, ongoing connection with others desiring the same thing is the best place to be. Don’t wait for the blind spots to rise. Expect them. Position yourself in places where they can be seen, and you can receive the answers you cannot see for yourself. Get to the doctor!

Church Idols

(A post for the church-going reader)

We have idols. Some we know and hear sermons about. Some we don’t recognize or acknowledge and hear fewer if any sermons about. Before I list four of these and suggest how to address them, here’s how I’m defining an idol.

Oxford gives two definitions for idol:

  1. an image of a god, used as an object of worship.
  2. A person or thing that is the object of intense admiration or devotion…

My definition uses the second of Oxford’s with a few caveats.

  1. …which may tempt me to develop anger, gossip, slander, argue, or vilify.
  2. …which may cause division in my family or my church.
  3. …which may disrupt my worship in a church service.
  4. …which may be the source of spiritual attack.

A complete list of these idols would be longer, but here are four of these idols that are continually present in our churches.

  • Translation preferences-if you are disturbed if someone reads from a different translation than you prefer in any setting, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Preaching style preferences-if you are disturbed if a preacher’s style of speaking is other than you prefer or you sit in judgment regardless who is speaking, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Music style preferences-if you are disturbed by the song choices for a worship service and resist engaging with the rest of the congregation, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Leadership preferences-if you are disturbed by the leadership style of a staff member because they lead differently than another past or present staff member, this may be an idol of yours.

We all have dealt with and observed these idols both personally and corporately. For those of us who deal more directly with them on both of these fronts, I offer these suggestions:

  • Read from various translations in your own study time. Open your heart to the truths found in God’s Word regardless of the translation methodology.
  • Give grace to the following aspects of God’s work through a human being: their experience(s), their personality, their humanity, their gifts, their calling, their struggles, their uniqueness. Open your heart to the truths found in God’s Word regardless of someone’s speaking style.
  • Recognize your opportunity to engage music as you choose seven days a week. Open your heart for the short window of time during the worship service where you are not in charge of the choices and allow yourself to engage with the body of Christ.
  • Pray for your leaders. Spend time with your leaders. Accept that God moves leaders in and out of ministry locations. Resist the temptation to compare and grip unfair expectations. Open your heart to God’s work in this season of all the people in your church.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Who is Really God Here?

When someone is attacking us, our tendency is to focus on them and their actions, even in our prayers. It is fair to say in some cases we take the actions of an enemy and make them an idol. “Look at me. Poor me.” Our prayers become all about them vs. me. With that kind of mindset, who is really God here? 

Consider what David had to say about this in Psalm 5:

But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May You shelter them, and may those who love Your name boast about You. For You, Lord, bless the righteous one; You surround him with favor like a shield. ‭Psalms‬ ‭5‬:‭11-12‬ HCSB

David is suggesting that, because of the refuge God offers to those seeking righteousness, there should be rejoicing. Rather than focus on the enemy’s actions or words, David says boast about God. Rather than focus on the wrong thing, the wrong person, even the results of their actions, we can live in peace under the shield and favor that comes from the God of the Righteous. We must check our idol making by asking who is really God here.