Who Are We? Why Are We Here?

The Vine

We humans tend to seek meaning in our lives and our behaviors. We want to know who we are, why we are here, and what we are supposed to do. We may not always think about it; in fact, many times we just absorb whatever our family or our culture has to say about who we are and why we are here. These questions prove important because they shape our lives: what we think we want out of life, what we need to do in life, and how we feel about the quality of our lives.

People have always asked such questions; the stories we tend to call “mythology” developed to answer them. In the past some people thought they were made to be the slaves of the gods, working the fields and providing food for the gods so they would not have to work. Others thought of the gods in very human terms, as extremely powerful and immortal people who were to be placated more than loved. Today people tend to seek answers from science, and according to science we are all accidents of evolution, born to use resources, create offspring, give ourselves and our offspring every advantage we can, and then we die. In such a world life becomes all about using resources, avoiding pain, and trying to enjoy life to the fullest until we die.

We find a very different story about who we are and why we are here from the pages of the Bible. According to the Scriptures man was not made as a slave of the gods, or developed as an accident: he is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This does not mean that God is just a really powerful human; God is spirit, and well above and beyond us (Isaiah 55:8-9, John 4:24). According to the Bible God is not just one Person, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, of the same substance and essence, one in will and purpose: in short, one in relational unity (John 1:1, 18, 17:20-23). Humans are made in the image of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we have therefore been made in love by the God who is love and who is one in relational unity, and so we seek relational unity with God and with one another (1 John 4:8).

Once we have unlocked this core concept of who we are and why we are here, we can see how it is emphasized as primary in what God has accomplished in Jesus according to the New Testament. After explaining the great power of how God saved His people in Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul went on to explain how God worked to reconcile everyone to Himself through Jesus’ death, allowing all people to become one body in Jesus, as one household of God (Ephesians 2:11-22). Paul went as far as to say that such unity in the body is the eternal purpose which God realized in Jesus, displaying His manifold wisdom to the powers and principalities in the world which seek to divide and conquer mankind (Ephesians 3:10-11). In Ephesians 5:32-33 a “great mystery” involves the relationship between Christ and the church: it is to share in the same depth of intimacy as, or even greater than, enjoyed in the marriage relationship (cf. Genesis 2:28). In the final picture of what life will be like in the resurrection, John is given a vision of the people of God glorified, and God dwells in their midst (Revelation 21:1-22:6): the ultimate goal of life, therefore, is to share in God, and to dwell in His presence forever, in the midst of all of God’s people. The mature Christian will recognize that life cannot be about the gifts God gives more than the gift of God and His presence. Even though the fullness of the intimacy and power of this relationship awaits, God has called all of us to begin sharing in its blessings now. Jesus died and was raised again to prepare a place for us in the household of God; through His Spirit God will now dwell with those who love Him and keep the word of Jesus (John 14:1-3, 20-23; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, Ephesians 2:20-22, 1 Timothy 3:15). Christians are to become one with one another and with God as God is One within Himself (John 17:20-23): we are to participate in life together, and enjoy a taste of the beauty of relational unity which we will enjoy fully in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:1-16).

Thus God has made us in His image to share in relationship with Him and with one another; God is our heavenly Father, and has done all He can to love us, provide for us, instruct us, and redeem us (cf. Luke 15:11-32, Romans 8:31-39). This should become the predominant way in which we look at God and His purposes for mankind as revealed in Scripture. Yet to what end? God made Adam in the Garden of Eden to keep it and tend it (Genesis 2:15); man is to exercise dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). Everything we are and have are gifts from God, and He has given them to us so we may use them as stewards of His varied grace (1 Peter 4:10). We therefore live in relationship with God to use what He has given us for His purposes, to His glory, to serve Him and one another. Some have more gifts than others (e.g. Matthew 25:14-30); yet we all have our distinct purposes and abilities to work to build up one another and help grow the body of Christ and benefit all mankind (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16). Our lives, therefore, are not our own: we cannot look at life as something over which we have mastery, using it to build ourselves up to the harm of others, but as a gift from God, to enjoy and share, and all His gifts as blessings with which we can bless others.

God offers true life in Jesus; in Him we live, move, and have our being, and in Him we can find rest, hope, comfort, strength, purpose, meaning, and full satisfaction. The Gospel of Christ remains compelling after all of these years, for in it we find answers to our deepest questions and a meaningful way forward in life. We are made in God’s image to share in life together, not in fear and insecurity to benefit some over others, but in love, joy, and confidence in God, sharing His gifts with one another to His praise and glory. May we put our trust in God in Christ and find true life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Love

The Vine

“Love is all you need.” So spoke some of the “prophets” of our day, and they were right. We could be very wealthy, but if we were not loved by anyone, we would feel hollow and empty. But if we love and are loved, even if we have very few earthly possessions to our name, we can be happy and content. In fact, long ago, a man named Paul said something quite similar:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV).

Paul understood how love was more important than anything else. No amount of wisdom, understanding, or power would have any value if he did not have love.

We can understand life in terms of the pursuit of love and being loved. From the womb we want to be loved by our parents. We grow up and look for that special someone who will love us unconditionally as we love them. We want to be surrounded by people who care about us and for whom we care deeply as well.

But if love is so fundamental and basic to our existence, why do we struggle to love and be loved like we should? Why is there so little love around? Part of our problem is how we understand what love is. In the Bible, Paul provides an excellent definition of what love really involves:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV).

As we know from experience, receiving true love is a beautiful and wonderful thing. We like it when people are patient with us and kind toward us. Yet we often find it difficult to express to others those same benefits, especially when we do not like them very much.

Such is why true love is not an emotion or a feeling. Love is a decision impacting the way we think, feel, and act. Feelings come and go; love endures all things. Emotions can sway back and forth, up and down, hot and cold; love is not irritable or resentful. Love springs forth from the active decision to love.

But if we are to love, we cannot insist on our own way or desire. True love involves seeking the best interest of the one we love even if it costs us greatly. Love, therefore, must be sacrificial: we must suffer loss for the one whom we love. It might be our time, energy, devotion, care, resources, or a number of other things. Love can never truly be about us; it must be about the ones we love.

And yet even if love is about the best interest of the one loved, such love cannot compel or coerce. We might think we know the best interest of the ones we love, but they may not see it that way. Love is not rude or arrogant; we cannot truly love while forcing people to act as we think they should. This does not mean that love comes without any standards; love rejoices with the truth, and cannot rejoice at wrongdoing. Love cannot compel or coerce, but love cannot enable bad thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors, either.

To love is to hope and trust: we seek the best interest of others, and in so doing hope that others will seek our best interest as well. True, self-sacrificial love is difficult enough to provide to others when we exist within a loving and caring environment; it is far more difficult when we do not feel loved in return. Nevertheless, love cannot force, since it does not insist on its own way. We must have confidence in love as the best way forward even though we will assuredly experience rejection and pain because we have dared to love. We must cherish our confidence that it is better to love others with the hope of being loved, risking the rejection or pain that comes along with it, than it is to be unloving and to miss out on the greatest blessings of life we find in love.

We humans easily slip into selfishness, inertia, and fear. We think it easier to just take care of ourselves. Despite good intentions toward others, we do not actually put the effort into seeking their best interest. We are afraid of investing our energies and resources into other people because we are not guaranteed good will and similar benefits in return.

But is such a life really worth living? What would our lives be like if no one had ever loved us? What if no one invested their energies or resources into us? We would not be here; we would have starved as infants!

But why is love so important? We are made to love and for love because the God who made us is love (1 John 4:8). God created all things and cares for all things because He loves them (1 John 4:7). No one has ever deserved or earned God’s love; God freely loves us despite our rebellion against Him and His purposes (Romans 5:6-11, 8:7-8). As God, He has control over all things, and can do as He wishes; He has no need for mankind, and yet He loves us and cares for us, seeking our best interest, willing to give of His Son for our sins (Romans 5:6-11, 8:31-32)! God has made it clear in Scripture what is our best interest–to follow the way of truth versus the ways of unrighteousness– and we will all be held accountable for our thoughts, words, and deeds one day (cf. Acts 17:30-31, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Yet God has never forced anyone to serve Him or seek after His purposes.

What shall we do? Will we put our trust in God and the power of His love, or will we shrink back in our fears? Are we bold enough to hope in the redeeming power of love to heal our own brokenness and the brokenness of others? God has loved us, having made us in love and to love. We do well to love God and love others in return, even if they do not love us, trusting that the way of love is always better than the way of indifference, selfishness, and fear. Join us at The Word Bible Study as we seek to learn more about God’s love and how we can best love one another, and let us work together to praise God for His love!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.

Hope

The Vine

For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it (Romans 8:24-25).

We all know how life can get ugly. People hurt each other. People even hurt themselves. People get sick. Natural disasters happen. As much as we try to forget it, we all know we and everyone we love will die.

What would we do if we focused on all the negativity in life? How motivated would we be to do much of anything? Since life is filled with these nasty and cruel realities, why do we bother trudging through it?

Focusing on the horrors, evil, and tragedies of life is depressing. But hope makes life worth living.

If we stop and think about it for a moment, we can see how hope is the great motivator of our existence. We grow up in hope of a good, successful life. We go to school in hope of getting and maintaining a good job. We try to find that special someone, hoping to obtain a life-long partner and companion. We have children in hope of providing for them, doing what we can so that they can enjoy a better life than we do. When we are in the midst of trial or suffering, we hope for the day when we will overcome and feel good again. In bad times, we hope for good times; in good times, we hope it continues.

Hope is a powerful source of encouragement. It is easy to try to “sell” people on hope and get them to believe that some person, product, or idea will provide a better quality of life. But can those people, products, or ideas really satisfy as advertised? Politicians promise hope and do not provide much in return. Youthful hopes for a good life and a good world are often quickly dashed by the cold hand of reality with its suffering and pain. Ultimately, and sadly, all hope in this world is extinguished on the day of death. The world continues in its futility and decay.

If our hope is entirely based in this world, our hope will be frustrated. If there is nothing to life beyond this earthly existence, we are in for great disappointment. Our lives will never satisfy our hopes for them. No matter how good we have it, we will suffer the effects of pain, misery, sin, and death, and we will stare into the darkness. What can sustain us on that day? If we hope in this life alone, we will be struck by the meaninglessness of it all, and risk permanent disenchantment with life. As a wise man put it long ago, all is absurd; in this world, life is like a mist that vanishes quickly.

But what if there is more to living than this existence? What if we receive a glimpse into another world in which there is no pain and suffering, and we can live the way we were always intended to live? What if there is another life beyond what we experience now?

This is the hope Jesus extends to mankind. Jesus of Nazareth lived as a man on the earth around two thousand years ago, taught and did a lot of good things, but was executed as a common criminal on a Roman cross unjustly (cf. Acts 10:38-39). A lot of people placed their hope in Him; when He died, their hopes seemed frustrated (Luke 24:19-21). If this were the end of the story, there would be no need to tell it: the world is filled with stories of hopes dashed and expectations crushed by the cruel hand of death.

But Jesus’ story does not end there, for on the third day after His death, He did what no man had ever done or has done since: He was raised from the dead with power, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15:4-11). He is still alive and ruling from Heaven (Matthew 28:18).

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything! If Jesus could die physically and then be raised from the dead, this means there is a life to come after this life. If Jesus was raised from the dead, we also can look forward to a day when we will rise from the dead (Romans 8:22-23). This is the hope Jesus provides for the world: a day is coming when we will no longer be subject to death and decay. A day is coming when we will be able to be victorious over pain, suffering, misery, and death through Jesus (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:12-58)!

This hope does not mean we give up on this life; far from it! Jesus’ first followers showed how His resurrection is the guarantee of a day of Judgment: we will all stand before Jesus and have to give an account for our lives on earth (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11). Jesus does not expect us to wait for the new life to follow His ways; He expects all of us to believe in Him and follow His ways now, becoming like Him now, living as new creatures now: in short, we must build a relationship with God through Jesus now to experience it fully in the next life (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

Hoping in this world only will never satisfy; we will always be let down, frustrated, and in despair. Yet, through Jesus’ resurrection, we can nurture the hope of a world without pain, without misery, without suffering, with joy and glory beyond understanding. We can live the way we were always meant to live. You probably already know how it feels when hope is crushed; if you haven’t yet, that day will come soon. But here is a hope which can sustain us through the pain, misery, frustration, and futility of this life, since it extends out the promise of the life to come. Let us share in this hope together until we arrive at the day when we will no longer need to hope, in the presence of God forever in the resurrection of life!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.

Why Are We Here?

The Vine

Why Are We Here?

I know–it’s a hard question, and it requires a lot of thought. We’re busy with school, with work, and with life in general, and it’s hard to find time to think about a question like this.

But let’s think about it for a moment. Why are we in school? Why do we work? Where do we see ourselves heading in life? Why do we bother with any of this at all?

Then again, why do we ask these questions? Why do we think we should have purpose or direction in life? Some people think life really has no purpose: we live, we take up space, we give birth to more people, we die, and that’s all there is to it. After all, if we are really just advanced animals and all there is to life is what we can hear, see, smell, taste, and touch, what purpose would life have beyond taking care of the necessities of life and reproduction?

Does that answer satisfy you? I hope not! What a depressing and sad world it would be if life really had no purpose! Deep down, most of us believe (and hope) that we are here for a reason.

If there is a reason for living and if our lives are to have some purpose, who came up with that reason and purpose? How can we discover that reason and purpose?

The fact that we can even think of these questions shows that there is something different about humanity. We do not see lizards or mosquitoes asking these questions or wondering why they are here. Humans have the ability to reason, and that is what makes us different. This means that we know that we exist, that there was a time before we physically existed, and that we are going to die. We are able to understand cause and effect and think in other advanced ways. Why do we have this ability, unlike other animals, and who set all of this up this way?

The Bible can provide some direction for us. The Bible claims to be the message from the God who created the heavens and the earth to humans. This message describes how God made humans in His own image–a spiritual being with a soul and the opportunity to live a full and meaningful life. The way God works can be seen in His creation which we enjoy, and God made all men from one man and so designed them that they might seek to learn more about Him.

Have you ever wondered if there was more to life than what we can see and feel? Have you ever had an experience you could not explain, but one that pointed to some kind of reality beyond our own? These types of things happen because there is more to this life than the physical realm and there is a spiritual realm beyond our perception.

The Bible talks about God and how He created mankind so that they could seek Him, but this still does not tell us why we’re here and where we’re going in life.

The Bible shows us that God created man as He did in order to interact with him–basically, God wanted a relationship with people! The Bible says that God is love. The Bible also shows us that God is Three Persons as One in relationship– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in perfect relationship, and in the same way God wants to have a perfect, loving relationship with us! After He created people, He constantly spoke with them, hoping that they would listen to Him and do what He said so that they could enjoy that loving relationship.

But God does not force anyone to follow Him– people can choose to follow God or to go in a different path. Sadly, because people have gone in that different path, God’s great creation has been damaged by rebellion and sin. God did not intend for us to be sick, to suffer, or to die. All of those things happen because we have many times chosen to do what God does not want us to do. When we don’t do what God wants us to do, or we do what God doesn’t want us to do, those sins separate us from God. It keeps us from having that relationship God wants to have with us. As long as we remain out of that relationship with God, we are dead spiritually and risk being separated from God, the Source of life, forever! And the worst thing about it is that we cannot do anything about it by ourselves, since all the times we are doing what God wants us to do cannot undo the bad things we have done!

We are in a sad state! We are alone, without God, and without hope in the world! It’s little wonder that we are often so sad, lonely, and depressed!

But remember how God is love? Even though we have done bad things, God still wants to have a relationship with us. But all the evil in the world–sin, suffering, and death–had to be dealt with first. God did that by sending the Son into the world. He experienced suffering and death for sin even though He did nothing wrong, and in so doing He defeated sin and death. On the third day after He died God raised Him from the dead, and He lives to this very day. He returned to Heaven– that spiritual dimension beyond what we can see– and from there rules heaven and earth.

The Son–Jesus–did what we could not do when He died for our sins. We now can have that relationship with God by placing our trust in Jesus, declaring that He is Lord, by changing our thoughts and ways–trying to do what God says to do–and by being immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins in the name of Jesus Christ. Then we can begin to become the people God wants us to be–like Jesus His Son, doing good for people, doing what God wants us to do.

When we have that relationship with God, we will never have to feel alone again. God will be with us even when things do not seem to be going well for us in life. We can trust that our lives have purpose and meaning, because we know who we are and we have hope regarding where we are going.

Where are we going? God has promised in the Bible that a day of judgment is coming. If we have a restored relationship with God, we will share in the same resurrection that Jesus experienced and we will live with God forever, experiencing peace and joy beyond imagination. But if we do not have a restored relationship with God, we will be cut off from Him forever and will suffer greatly!

The members of the Venice church of Christ hope that you want to have a relationship with God your Creator. We hope that you want to learn how to do what God wants you to do, because that’s what we want to do. We want you to enjoy that relationship with God but also to have a relationship with us as we all try to do what God wants us to do. If you would like to talk more about God and His purpose for you, please call us at 310.351.1199 or contact us here; we also invite you to visit with us at our assemblies and Bible studies. Thanks for reading this material, and we hope to hear from you soon!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.