There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whomJesusloved. – John 13:23 NASB
If you ever want to learn how to make things fair in life, have more than one child.
It seems no matter how hard we try, one of our four children is always wondering why he or she has it worse than everybody else, and why some sibling gets it so easy.
“My chores are the worst!”
“She got to play the XBox for a long time!”
“He got to go to his friend’s house, why can’t I?”
“IT’S NOT FAIR!”
I don’t feel too bad. If Jesus’ own disciples bickered and accused Him of playing favorites, then I figure this is a normal fact of life.
In the Gospel of John, the writer (John… shocking, I know) uses the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” five times to refer to himself.
Maybe it was humility; he didn’t want to write his name in the account, like “me me me, look at me.” But it kind of comes across to my ears as a proud statement. “I’m the favorite. I’m the one He loves. Neenur neenur neenur, you’re just plain ol’ Peter.”
But maybe this phrase is neither humble nor proud.
Maybe it’s a statement of a wonderful and incredible fact.
John understood. He really got it. John’s the one who later writes all about love in the church (read 1st John). He’s the one who emphasizes over and over again that Christ’s followers are “beloved of God” – and he even uses “beloved” as the collective title for his readers.
Beloved means dear to the heart, favored, favorite one. To call myself beloved of God speaks of confidence about His love, security and certainty that “He likes me… He really, really likes me.”
That’s not arrogant, either.
It is arrogant when we add “more than you” either consciously or unconsciously. It is arrogant if we presume to add “but not you” when we think of some group we don’t like. It’s foolish for us to think God should limit His love to suit our desires.
But we can confidently say that we are beloved of God, dear to His heart, favored and special to Him.
It pains my heart when my wife apologizes or worries needlessly whenever I seem frustrated or upset by anything. It hurts when my children say they are afraid to admit a bad decision for fear that “Daddy might get upset.” That tells me that I have not fully communicated to them the unchanging and unconditional love in my heart. They don’t understand that each of them is my absolute favorite. Each of them holds captive the full measure of my love. So, in my imperfection, I must work to communicate that more clearly.
God, on the other hand, has communicated His love. He has told you that you are His beloved, you are His treasure, you are the one He loves. When He plays favorites, we all win.
(Note: I’ve created some new categories for posts. One of these is the “Sunday Psalm,” which will contain either songs I’ve written or snippets from the book of Psalms in the Bible. This is the first such post.)
Since I’m starting a new feature that closely involves Psalms, I figure it would be appropriate to begin with the most well-known psalm of the 150 we have in the Bible:
A while back, I looked through this psalm and considered the words David chose. I found that all of it tied into one key point: God is the One I need.
(Unfortunately, I later lost the files and the notes for that study. So now I get to recreate it.)
I’ll take it one verse per post, because these time-tested verses contain something of lasting value, worthy of careful consideration.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (NASB)
God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. (MSG)
God is the One.
David starts with “the Lord.” Not “Lords” or “Gods” or “the Cosmos” or “my true inner spiritual self” or any such thing.
In ancient Israel, monotheism was one of the key religious points that separated the Jews from the nations around them. Starting with Moses, the message was “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Other commandments clarified that the Lord was to also be their only God. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
David sets his focus clearly right from the beginning. No other god, no other name, no spiritually vague concept will suffice. David’s eyes are on the Lord.
God is the One who cares for me.
David chooses his own childhood experience and sees how God exemplifies that role. The shepherd loves and cares for the sheep. But the shepherd is not merely a friendly or fawning pet owner with their favorite animal. Shepherds take on several roles-as we’ll see in future verses.
Most importantly, I think of modern, socially-acceptable spirituality, which leads us to a Buddy Christ that loves us too much to discipline us, a Santa-God that gives us whatever we want if we are good boys and girls, an Oprah Spirit that stands back and encourages us to do whatever we think is best for us. Too often, the god we like to hear about is the one that is on our level.
The shepherd is not on the sheep’s level. He’s not their buddy all the time. He’s not out to let them “discover themselves.”
The shepherd can’t treat the sheep that way. Sheep need correction and firm guidance. They go through circumstances they don’t like because it’s healthy for them. They aren’t left to their own devices. They need a watchful eye.
God assumes the responsibility to provide all that for us. He steps up and says, “Let Me take care of you. This is My job.”
And let’s be honest. Look around. On our own, we can’t even do it right anyway.
God is the One who meets our needs.
The older meaning of “want” is used in most familiar versions. It doesn’t mean there will never be a time that I feel a desire for something I do not possess. It doesn’t mean that I will always have anything I wish. Again, God is not Santa. He’s not the ATM.
It means that I will have my needs met. Real needs, not just “really wants.”
“I really want that video game, God… Your Word says I shall not want, so… I need 60 bucks. Hook me up?”
The Message captures the meaning well. David is saying, “If I have God, I don’t need anything else. I’m good.”
Consider Paul’s comments in Philippians 4:11-13.
I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (MSG)
This is where Paul speaks about God the Provider – “My God shall supply all your needs” (Php. 4:19 NASB).
Did Paul endure hardship and tough times? Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind that there were moments where he had some wants, maybe even some valid needs.
But his experience was that in every situation, God came through, whether the answer was “yes” or “no.”
God is the One who genuinely cares for us and meets our genuine needs.
I’ve been sitting here playing Diablo III long-distance with my brother for a little while. Finally I realize I need to stop, and get started on actual projects instead of pointless video games. I commit to start writing a new blog post, and to start the rewrite of the first chapter of my Kaalistera book.
But first, I want some caffeine and some water.
So I go to the kitchen and find that the coffee pot has shut off. The coffee is room temperature now. I like iced coffee, and I love a steaming cup of hot coffee. But not this.
So I look for the diet Mountain Dew I bought yesterday. Then I see that I forgot to put that in the refrigerator. A cold soda would hit the spot. “Kind of slightly not warm” isn’t really what I’m looking for here.
“You are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” – Jesus.
Revelation 3:14-21 has a challenging letter to one of the early churches, and in that letter, Jesus makes that statement. He also says that “lukewarm” makes Him want to spit, or vomit.
Lukewarm isn’t, “well, I guess this will do.”
Lukewarm is sickening.
So where do I find myself on God’s thermometer?
I mean, I know how I feel about my spirituality. “I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Theresa,” I might say. But I’m not cold.
I suppose I can find an example of a really cold person, someone who is opposed to God or who is completely apathetic about what Christ has done for us. And then I can say “I am hot compared to him.”
Or I can find someone that is certainly “lukewarmer” than me, if I want.
If I can at least stop comparing myself to others, I’ll probably end up deciding that “I am not as hot as I could be or maybe should be, but I’m hot enough.”
Enough is a funny word. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope
as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” The definition begs a question:
That question is, “Whose?”
Whose demands are to be met?
Whose needs are to be satisfied? Whose expectations are being used to determine what exactly is “enough” in this case?
I say I’m “hot enough” or maybe “not super hot, but warm enough” in my faith. And Jesus says, “I wish you were hot or cold.”
This is what Jesus Christ wishes.
I can wish for things, and I can talk about what I want things to be like, and what I wish they were like. But God isn’t really asking for my two cents on these subjects.
He says plainly what He desires.
I WISH YOU WERE HOT.
Well, yeah, or cold, but let’s ignore that for a second because I don’t want to be cold.
The problem, the real issue, is that I want to be “warm enough.”
God help me, but that’s it. If I can just be “warm enough” to not make God sick to His stomach… if I can just be “holy enough” so that I don’t have to go confessing to God or feel guilty all the time… if I can just be “committed enough” so that I can say that I am “doing enough” so that I can say no to the really painful duties that I’d rather avoid… if I can just read “enough” of God’s Word, or pray “enough” and so on.
But let’s be clear here.
That is not hot.
There is coffee or tea that is “warm enough” and then there is “hot” and the difference is very clear. There is soup that is warm enough to not make me queasy, warm enough so that the grease doesn’t congeal on the surface, warm enough to be edible… but a hot bowl of soup isn’t just “edible.” It can be “delicious” or “satisfying” or it can “hit the spot,” but it won’t just be “edible enough.”
My daughter likes to help with cooking dinner. She has started making some pasta dishes now and then, and the first few times, I wondered why in the world the noodles tasted so strange. They were soft, but sticky like glue. They mashed together and I thought I was eating paste with pasta sauce. What happened?
I watched her the next time, and found the problem.
“Deborah, you have to get the water boiling hot before you put the noodles in. You can’t just toss them in warm water and say that’s good enough.”
Pasta paste is edible. But it’s never a culinary goal to aim for.
Likewise, God doesn’t want His people to aim for “enough.”
What does it matter, though? Maybe being lukewarm was a problem for that particular church, but what threat does it pose for us today? God knows we’re all busy; many of us in the church probably have a schedule completely full of “Christian” activities. When we’re doing all that, maybe we don’t have time to get “boiling hot” anymore. Maybe lukewarm just has to be enough for now.
There’s a problem with that.
It is dangerous to be lukewarm because we think we’re still warm.
(Not that I ever do this… and don’t ask my wife, but)
When you sit in the bath for a long time, the water cools. But it still feels fairly warm, and it feels a lot warmer than getting out of the bath. If we get out for a moment and see how cold it is, it’s easy to get back in and feel a sense of warmth again. We won’t notice that the water is quite a bit colder than it was at first. We just care that it’s not as cold as the air outside.
We get complacent. We sit for a while doing the same thing, trusting–or even overconfidently knowing–that it is hot enough to serve a purpose. We get comfortable, “knowing” God has done a lot of work in our lives, and brought us some distance along this spiritual journey. And so those moments when God knocks on the door of our hearts (or the door of the bathroom), the altar calls that are more about discipleship than salvation, or the messages that address our behavior precisely–those, we think, are for someone else who “really” needs God badly.
We probably know exactly who that person is. In the old days, we’d get a cassette tape of the sermon for them. Now maybe we post a link on their FaceBook wall, or send them a podcast. We might think, “Man, I hope they get what God is saying to them, because He sure hit their nail on the head. Now I’ve done a spiritual good deed. I’ve done enough.”
Are we past-tense or present-tense?
If you walked, that doesn’t mean you’re walk-ING.
If you experienced, that doesn’t prove you’re experienc-ING.
If you did and saw and heard, great. But are you still do-ING, see-ING, and hear-ING?
If you burned for God in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re burn-ING for Him now.
You might have even been hot when you filled up the bathtub. But it’s been a while. What is God accomplishing here and now through your current obedience?
“Well I was X, Y, and Z at my old church. I did my time.”
That’s great. But you’re here now. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses at images of past glory and decide that you have achieved “enough.” God has more.
Exceedingly abundantly beyond what you’ve heard, seen, thought, dreamed… beyond what is considered possible or reasonable.
Far beyond any concept of “enough.”
He doesn’t aim for that.
Pastor Gary Hoyt of BCC preached on this passage while I was in Omaha back in 2008. Full disclosure: He probably deserves more credit than that for this blog post, because the notes I took on the passage and the subsequent personal thoughts were inspired by his sermon.
On that day, Pastor Gary talked about how we often deal with situations where some product or business is advertised in glowing terms, promising life-changing amazing results. Then we find the product is mediocre at best.
It was perhaps “good enough” for its purpose, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
It’s a shame when something over-promises, but under-delivers.
Pastor Gary offered his standard grin and challenging gaze, the “I really hope you get this point” look, and he asked this question:
“What if maybe God is One who under-promises, but over-delivers?”
What if the hype doesn’t — indeed, CAN’T — live up to God?
Am I too complacent to consider the possibility, the consequences of the “something more” God has?
Should I be content with a “warm enough” relationship with God?
My coffee has been heating up while I type this.
I couldn’t stand the thought of drinking it before, but I’m going to fill my cup now that it’s hot.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.