This week's Bible Study - March 13, 2016

Our Need for Direction

Background Scripture: John 8:12-19  

Quotes of the Week:
If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We continue the series on our needs. Last week, we talked about our need for contentment. This week's lesson talks about our need for direction. It would appear that the world is going in all sorts of directions. One of my favorite comedy sketches growing up was Monty Python's Silly Olympics. In it, the racers were lined up on the track, ready to run the race. They got on their marks and the gun went off, and they all went in different directions.

Regarding direction, there are some things that we can all agree upon. For example, the Bureau of Standards was created to protect both the consumer and supplier. No matter where you went, a foot was 12 inches and should always measure the same. A mile was always a mile and a pound was always a pound. Of course, there is the metric system which confuses feet and meters, and grams and ounces / pounds, but even then, the thought is that measurements are always the same. When the metric system was being pushed many years ago, I remember seeing a road sign that said "Metric system in Use - Next 100 Miles". I don't believe we took it too seriously.

There are few things that are the same for everyone. Certainly, the sun will always rise in the east and set in the west, but there is the tendency of mankind to make many facts relative. You would think that historical events would be the same for all, but I've certainly seen a slant in all types of events, to make the event more palatable to one side or the other. There are truths of behavior that would seem to be nearly the same for most people. For example, murder is something that most would agree to be wrong. However, situational ethics and individual's own perceptions often skew what is right in a situation.

In some cases, there is truth that can be proven, but there may be people that have already made up their minds as to what the 'truth' is and will refuse to look from any other perspective. We have seen events in our culture that have been skewed one way or another. One of the worst places for this is social media, such as Facebook. With so much available information, links to 'news stories' are often totally fictional, written to garner support for one side or the other. I have also seen people quick to believe what someone posts, as if what they are sharing is absolute truth. This can lead to disastrous consequences for relationships.

When we go places, we like to know where we are going and how to get there. We don't want people to give their opinions of how to get there, but we want clear directions. In traveling around the world, I have been to many different international airports. At most airports around the world, when you debark from the plane, there are signs that say "Hello" or "Welcome" in a multitude of languages. However, if you don't speak and can't read the native language, you are at a severe disadvantage in navigating to your destination on your own.

Sometimes, when we can read the signs and are driving to a destination, we find that there is adequate signage to help you get there. Often, when driving in a larger city and trying to get to the airport or a hospital, you can follow well marked signs. However, if you go to some cities, you will find the names of the roads to be different every few miles, which makes navigation really difficult. A GPS on your phone or in your vehicle can help, but it is only as good as long as the maps are kept up to date with new roads and construction.

In life, direction can be more difficult to fathom. We are each gifted with different skills and talents, and we may be headed in many different directions. In some cases, situations occur in our lives that alter our direction. I know that since my ALS diagnosis, many things have begun to change. I suppose that this happens to anyone who has been diagnosed with a disease that is known to be terminal. Not knowing when things will happen physically makes it difficult to plan for things that I once thought would be happening. However, you don't need to have a diagnosis to alter your plans. For many, life is lived based on a day to day perspective, with little thought of the day after tomorrow. We certainly cannot control what happens in a day, but I believe that God calls us to make some intentional plans, and head in a direction, as opposed to being a human mouse in a maze that wanders all over the place.

( John 8:12 )

In this passage, Jesus was speaking to the people, and He said "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but have the light of life." Light was a key part of the Jewish worship experience, going back to the tabernacle in Exodus. Jesus said that He was the personification of that light.

Light enables us to see in the darkness. The darker that it is, the less light that it takes to enable us to see things. When I was a child, our family went to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. They had a tour where they turned out all the lights and you literally could not see a thing. The guide informed us that the lights would go out, but I wasn't paying attention. Thankfully, after a couple of moments, he lit a match and it lit up the entire cave. A very small light enabled us to see everything. The problem, however, is that most of life is not 'that' dark. There have been times when I have been somewhere that was hard to see, because it was dimly lit. You might find this at some restaurants, where you struggle to read the menu. Or, you may find that interior lighting for home Bible Studies is often too low and "old eyes" are not able to see clearly.

I believe that a problem we face in our world today is that many have become accustomed to the light that we see, or the lack of it. I've watched movies where the skies were gray and people were just going through the day, as a form of drudgery. This was done in the movie, largely for effect, but this explains existence for so many people. Certainly the sun may be shining brightly, but inside, many are navigating through life without a handle on what they are doing.

When a person comes to a saving faith in Jesus, it is as if a light bulb goes off inside. In so many ways, we are changed, as we start to see the relevance of God's presence in our lives. Once you have experienced this light, you have a much greater understanding of the deep darkness that surrounds our world. When you start to see the things of God, you find it hard to understand how others are not able to see this light on their own. Many who are without Christ are in the dark, with no knowledge of their need for the light that Jesus provides. It is as if people, by default, are the opposite of the moths you may see on a summer night, flitting around a porch light. As opposed to the moths, people seem to be drawn to darker things.

( John 8:13-18 )

As Jesus went throughout His ministry, He was often challenged by the Pharisees. Rather than seeing how He was a fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecies, they saw Jesus as a threat to their position and to their tradition. In some ways, we can sympathize with the Pharisees. Who among us likes threats? Often, when people feel threatened, they will attempt to discredit the person they see as a threat.

The Pharisees said that Jesus couldn't be valid, because He was giving testimony in regards to Himself. To their credit, many people had come and had claimed to be the Messiah, and obviously, they were frauds. Even in our day, there have been people who have come who have claimed to be sent by God for some great purpose, and in doing so, have led people away from God. It is a real problem, but in this case, the Pharisees refused to look at much more information that pointed to the truth of Jesus. When have we been like the Pharisees, making up our mind on how something was going to be? When have we been unwilling to adapt to changes in circumstance in our lives that perhaps were ordained by God? Are we looking for truth today, or have we made up our minds already?

Jesus made it clear that His testimony was valid. He knew where He came from and where He was going. They only saw Jesus from the perspective that they chose to see Him. At least at first, they likely assumed that He was just another fad that would be here today and gone tomorrow, so they probably just wanted to minimize the damage He would do. Jesus, who could read their hearts, thoughts and minds, told them that they would judge others based on human standards. Their judgments were based on what they could see and what they thought could happen. However, they couldn't know everything about a situation to truly judge anyone.

On the other hand, Jesus said that if He were to judge, His decisions would be true, because He stood with the Father, who sent Him. I am sure this was a leap to the Pharisees, who could not fathom that the God they served would send a Messiah, bypassing the church and the 'way things ought to be done". However, God the Father stood with Jesus. Jesus told the Pharisees that in their own Law, it was written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. Jesus not only testified about Himself, but His Father testified about Him as well.

( John 8:19 )

I guess we have to give the Pharisees a little slack. If anyone else in the course of history said that their father had sent them, that father would be a human being and either would have existed and been known by others, or was alive and could be reached for comment. However, Jesus was saying that His Father was God. They couldn't see Jesus' father with their human eyes, so they assumed He was making it up.

Jesus told them that if they knew Him, they would know His Father. And, if they knew His Father, they would know Him. The religious system was so elaborate and so much about God and the worship of God that it had become more about the system and less about God Himself. If they did consider God, they considered Him only with their own preconceptions and assumed that He would only act as they thought He would act. Aren't we much the same today, even as believers? We may have in our mind that God can only do this or that, so we tend to limit what we believe God can do.

Closing )

As I have gone through this lesson, I keep thinking about how much we limit God with our own preconceptions. We may find ourselves in a situation where we truly want to follow God's direction, but we have already made up our mind about how we will allow God to act. It is a very dangerous thing to tell God the box that you will allow Him to fit in and then base your lives around that box. Are you boxing God in right now, in some situation in your life?

In life, we know that it is good to find someone who has had similar experiences, in order for us to gain perspective so that we can handle circumstances in our lives. Sometimes, we may need to gain a perspective that is different than our own, and this may involve talking with a counselor. In my own life, with my ALS diagnosis, God has blessed Berkley and myself with several others who are going through a very similar experience. We are finding that we can draw much strength from one another, as we understand some of the things that you cannot comprehend unless you have dealt with this first hand. I have a friend from work, Steve, who was diagnosed at about the same time and has been having more severe symptoms than I do. As we've meet with him and his girlfriend, we have learned about things that we will most likely need to know as my disease progresses. So as they have been an encouragement to us, we also hope that we can be an encouragement to them. I'm sure that you may have found encouragement from others who have similar life experiences as yourself, whatever that may be. It is good to be encouraged by and get some ideas for direction from others who have been where you are - in fact listening to others share their experiences can be a great way to gain insight about situations you are facing. We can learn not only what they did right, but we can also learn what they regret and would do differently. Both can be life changers.

I know that when we plan a trip, it is good to do a lot of research and learn from the reviews of others who have been to the same places. There are good websites to help narrow searches for trips and places to stay, as well as places to eat. That information has helped us to avoid places that others have had major problems with and to find places that were great for our situation. It can be good to get direction from these sites and other who have been where you are going when you are traveling and need to find information.

I know we look for direction and help from others who have been in similar life situations. I know we also look for information from others who have been the same place that we are going. These are good things, but the sad thing is that we often put more stock in these sources for specific issues and destinations than we do for what is truly important in life. We can easily find ourselves on TripAdvisor for hours upon hours to schedule a weekend trip. However, many struggle to find fifteen minutes a week in the Word of God to help guide them in their daily lives.

We may tend to think that magazines and current articles are more relevant to today's living, but when you really start studying the word of God, you will find that it meets you where you are. It is said to be living and breathing, and though you won't see your Bible rise and fall, you will certainly find that it is applicable to your life. Additionally, the perspective of Jesus, as one who lived on earth, is much better than ours. Certainly He didn't have to deal with a smart phone, the Internet or even electricity, but in the context of life's core circumstances, He understands more than we know.

I need to make a couple of points very clear here, so please listen.

First, we all sin. We have all had failures in life. I have had my share of them, as have you, and sometimes we have to live out the consequences of our sin. The point is that God's standard for life is perfection. That standard never changes, although we may find that our experience does meet God's standard. There is not a single one of us that meets it. So, please do not hold the Bible as a club to pummel those who have failed in life. There are times when God's word penetrates, but it was never intended to be a weapon in the hands of people. Sadly, we have all seen this happen and unfortunately, it has driven many people away from God, whom they should be approaching.

Second, when we read God's word, we must not take in our preconceptions. If you are simply looking for a passage that validates your behavior, you are not using the Word of God as intended. Each time we read from the Word of God, we need to go with an open heart and listen to what He says to us. If we are convicted about a behavior in our lives, we are to make changes - to confess our sin and repent. If we hear about forgiveness, we need to be able to forgive. Are you allowing God to direct your life, or are you using God's word as a guide only when it's convenient to your current situation? One way will humble you and draw you closer to God. The other way may fool people because while you may look like you are seeking God, in truth, you are holding onto part of your life and in the end you are doing what you want to do. Our prayer - for ourselves and for you, is that we all will seek God and His direction for our lives.