Goal Orientation

It’s been said that obstacles are those terrible things we see when we take our eyes off the goal. When we feel negative and discouraged, that’s what we’ve done. Learn more about orienting toward the only lasting goal. This presentation was given during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

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Lately there has been something coming up with some of my clients that I never noticed much before. Some of them have told me that thoughts of past failures keep popping into their minds at random times – thoughts that are not connected with what they’re thinking, seemingly out of nowhere. When these thoughts come, they feel guilty, worthless, discouraged, depressed. Since these people are usually depressed, I went to the literature and re-read on the topic, and there it was – feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt. I knew that was a part of depression, but the idea of it just coming out of nowhere, randomly, struck me a bit.

It seems to me that, as Christians, we don’t talk too much about feeling that way. We focus on scriptures that tell us the human heart is evil, self-centered. We’re worried about thinking too much of ourselves, rather than too little. We try to be humble and meek. We try to stay low – not taking the chief seat in the synagogue, not putting ourselves forward – rather than lifting ourselves up.

Just so you’ll know, the mental health literature also talks about this state, where people’s view of themselves is out of touch with reality on the positive side. So believing we’re stronger, smarter, wiser, more capable, better than we are is a way to be out of touch with reality, isn’t it? Just as much as thinking we’re less capable, less valuable than we really are. So the idea is to stay with what’s real.

Let me switch topics here on you for a minute. I promise to tie it back together.

We’re talking about these things on a very special day – a biblical holy day. It’s the first day of a seven day festival in the Bible called the Days of Unleavened Bread. It’s an ancient festival observed for thousands of years by people interested in following what God tells us to do in His scriptures.

In the Old Testament, it was a reminder that God led Israel out of Egypt quickly – so quickly that they didn’t have time to make leavened bread. In the New Testament, we’re told that leavening is a metaphor for sin. Put a little in a batch of bread dough and it will rise, spreading through the entire loaf – a reference to the pervasive nature of sin in human life.

What kind of bread would you think that we would eat on Days of Unleavened Bread? Right. Unleavened bread. And what would that symbolize? Well, it would symbolize living to follow God. If leaven bread represents sin, unleavened bread would symbolize living God’s way. Paul even says as much in 1 Corinthians 5:6 through 8.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 – Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened, for Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven – the leaven of malice and evil – but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

“Not with the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” That’s significant. Jesus tells us that the festival is about sincerity and truth. And I’ve heard people say, “It’s really about getting the sin out.” Actually, it’s not. It’s about living in a sin-free state. I guess you have to get the sin out before you can do that, but all of that takes place before the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Jesus tells us to worship God in spirit and in truth. So it’s a festival about the Christian walk with Christ. Did you know that the apostle Paul – the man chosen by God to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world – instructed the Christians of that time – some twenty years after Christ died – to observe not the Eucharist, not Communion, but the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread. Do you know why we don’t do that any longer? Because it was not popular – in fact, it was dangerous – to be considered a Jew back in those days. So the church jettisoned the name, because it was Jewish.

So I think we talk too much about the sin part and not very much about the walking part. We talk about putting away sin more than we talk about walking the walk or living sin-free. So let’s talk about the walking the walk part during the festival that is about that part of Christian life. And let’s talk about the difference between negative and taking positive steps to walk with God.

Christians are supposed to be humble, but is humility negative? Some people think it’s more Christian to think about one’s mistakes and the times that we’ve hurt others than it is think about our capabilities. They call that being humble. To them, humility is to be negative about yourself. But that doesn’t sound right either, does it? Born in God’s image, created for good works, children of God?

What is humility – biblical humility? Well, the word simply means gentleness – to be gentle with people, rather than harsh or judgmental with them. It’s not about beating oneself up over past mistakes. It’s about being gentle with people. Humility comes from two places. It comes from empathy – that is, understanding the situation of others. When we see people with faults, we can relate to it, knowing that we have plenty of our own to deal with. A person who is not humble is critical and judgmental of others because of their faults. They don’t have empathy. Humility also comes from knowing that God has been gentle with us and has forgiven us our faults, and that it is a very helpful thing for us to know that. And, being humble, we wish to extend that same kindness to others. So, for Christians, humility comes from God – knowing what He has done for us.

So the question was, “Is humility negative?” It’s just the opposite. God has very positively forgiven our sins, so they can’t take us down any longer. That being the case, when we are rough on others, we are, in effect, showing that we don’t really appreciate Christ’s sacrifice for us. And that puts all who are judgmental on shaky ground with God.

There is the example in John 8, where the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him, and wanted to know what He thought they should do. And He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Well, He was without sin, but He was the only one there in that situation. He could have cast the first stone, but He didn’t. He told the woman He wasn’t going to condemn her, and that she should go and clean up her life.

Some years ago, two lesbians came to my office. They were both nurses. They had adopted a child who had been abused. The child later told me his adoption was the best thing that had ever happened to him. At the end of the first session, they asked me if I had a problem with them being homosexuals. I told them that I had noticed that during the session, they didn’t try to tell me how to live my life, so I supposed I could do the same for them. Now, do I believe that that orientation is contrary to God’s will? Yes, I have to, since it’s in the Bible – unless I want to become selectively aware. But that doesn’t mean that I have to judge them. That’s their problem. I have my own problems to worry about. God is going to take care of all of us and all of our problems, because we’re all His children. They didn’t come to my office to be lectured about their sins. They came seeking help for their innocent son. And I will always try to help people with that. You might say – as some I have known – “But I just can’t stand homosexuality! It’s an abomination!” Sorry, but God doesn’t allow us to condemn, even when we really don’t like it. He says He’s going to take care of the problems and He will. And He’s going to be fair about it – and loving. So “judge not that you be not judged.”

Okay, so humility is not negative. Is pride positive? The word for proud in the Bible most often means arrogant. Arrogant is to see oneself as stronger, smarter, more accomplished, more deserving than we really are – better than others. It’s also to be out of touch with reality about ourselves. I suppose you might think someone is positive about himself or herself when they are arrogant, so perhaps positive or negative really isn’t the core issue when it comes to our view of self in relationship to God. So what can we say about it? Well, I think the best way to go with that is to say that Christianity is reality-based. If you’re not as smart as you think you are, it would be good to know that. If you’re smarter than you think you are, it would be good to know about that gift from God. If you’re judgmental and self-righteous, it would be good to know that. If you’re gentle and empathic, it would be good to know that – that that also is a gift that God has given you that you can extend to others for God’s glory. If you have committed sins and have repented of them, it would be good to know that you are forgiven, because of what Christ has done for you, rather than beating yourself up over those things. All these things are based on reality of life with God.
Okay now, we’re coming to the part of the presentation I said we would focus on – our walk with God – walking with Christ, being humble in Christ. What do we do when we find ourselves taking the chief seat in the synagogue, or promoting ourselves or our agendas ahead of others, or manipulating, or pouting to get our way, or trying to control other people or outcomes, looking down our noses at others who we deem less righteous than we are? What’s the solution for the arrogant, self-involved side of things? Let’s go to Matthew 5:3.

Matthew 5:3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

To be poor in spirit is to know that without God, we know nothing about Him and His way of life – that we are spiritually poor, paupers, blind and naked – in the need of someone to take us and lead us by the hand. Otherwise, we’re utterly lost and without any hope of God in our life, or of His salvation. Poverty of spirit and arrogance can’t exist in the same mind. Actually, I must correct myself. They can, but, if they do, a condition exists that the human mind finds intolerable – ambivalence. One or the other will, inevitably, have to go. The question is, “Which will it be?” Will we be arrogant, self-serving, prideful, thinking we know best for ourselves and others? Or will we acknowledge God as the King of our life, and seek to walk with Him, and be guided by Him, and instructed by Him? Will we become humble, meek and poor in spirit? Which will win out?

Turn with me to Romans 6:6. Paul says here:

Romans 6:6 – We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that they body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

This festival we are observing is about walking free of sin – living to please God and acknowledging Him as our guide. What do we do when we find ourselves bombarded by painful thoughts of our past sins – getting discouraged about ourselves or our past mistakes, etc.? Well, look at the apostle Paul. Pearl Buck wrote a book about him, called The Great Lion of God. He probably did more to advance Christianity than any other person, but he paid a heavy price for it. He was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, falsely accused by the Jews, called a heretic. He said he faced wild beasts at Ephesus – undoubtedly a reference to being in the arena, facing hungry predators for the enjoyment of others. He said there he was pressed out of measure, despairing even of life itself. He sounds pretty depressed.

When Paul was called he was on his way in hopes of getting some Christians killed. He was going to Damascus. Do you think the irony of his past haunted him as he faced the death he hoped for others and for the same reason? Let’s read what he said – 1Corinthians 15:9.

1 Corinthians 15:9 – For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.

What a burden! What guilt! But how did he get past it? 1 Corinthians 15:10:

1 Corinthians 15:10 – By the grace of God, I am what I am. And His grace towards me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that was in me. Whether, then, it was I or they, so we preach, and so you believe. He says, “It’s pretty much irrelevant.”

Paul’s guilt is appropriate. He was guilty. But Christ died for his sins, and forgave him, and raised him up to a new life. And so he was able to be bold for God, because he knew he was forgiven. In the false and unrealistic strength of arrogance, we eventually crash and burn, but that wasn’t what Paul was running on. In the true humility and poverty of spirit from God, we can be truly bold. Look what Paul said in Philippians 3:12.

Philippians 3:12 – Not that I have already obtained this – talking about being in God’s family – or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own yet, but one thing I do – forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is telling us, here, that it’s appropriate and necessary to let go of our past sins. Once we’ve repented and converted to God’s way, we have been forgiven. And that’s what Passover is all about. Well, this festival is about going past that to being converted in our mind, and in our actions, and in our hearts – to live a new life powered by the Holy Spirit of God – the mind of Christ in us. The lesson of the Days of Unleavened Bread is about being free – free from our sins, free to follow God, free to press on toward the goal of eternal life with God and His family and to walk as He walked.