Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Abundant Life

John 10:1-10

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

         Are you happy with your life? 

         I’m not asking if the things in your life are good.  I’m not asking if your situation is great.  I’m asking about your state of mind about your life.

James Thurber, in his delightful story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,   tells about a man who is constantly day dreaming about a better life.

         One moment he is, in reality, driving down the highway, listening to his nagging wife, and the next he is in a fantasy world, commanding a ship at sea.
One moment, he is standing in front of a store window smoking a cigarette, the next he is again in his fantasy world, a hero smoking his last cigarette as he prepares to face an enemy firing squad.

         There is a real contrast between Walter Mitty of the real world and Walter Mitty of the fantasy world.  In his fantasies, Walter is heroic, brave, decisive, intelligent -- while in reality, he is meek mild person who is constantly hen pecked by a nagging wife.

Poor Walter Mitty -- anyone who reads the story can't help but feel sorry for him -- he wants so much to be something he's not.  He wants so much to have something MORE out of life.
But Walter Mitty is not alone.

         Paul Simon, in one of his songs, wrote,

         I know a woman, became a wife,
         These are the very words she uses to describe her life.
         She said a good day ain't got no rain.
         She said a bad day's when I lie in bed
         and think of things that might have been.

         Many of us are so dissatisfied with life that we often find ourselves like Walter Mitty, dreaming of lives that are not our own, or like the woman of Paul Simon's song, who sits in bed and thinks of things that might have been.

The tragedy of this is the universality of the problem.

So many people are so discouraged about their lives.

In another of his songs, Paul Simon wrote

I don't know a soul who's not been battered,
I don't have a friend who feels at ease.
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
or driven to its knees...
When I think of the road we're traveling on
I wonder what's gone wrong.
I can't help it,
I wonder what's gone wrong.

         For some many people, life isn't what they would like for it to be.  Jesus understands that feeling very well.  In our New Testament lesson, he made the bold declaration that he had come to change all of that.  He declared that he had come to give ABUNDANT LIFE!

         Abundant Life!
I doubt seriously that Jesus was talking about abundance of possessions, abundance of savings, abundance of money, abundance of clothing, abundance of cars – or in his time, chariots. 

He was talking about the real things of life - a life that is filled with peace, love, joy, patience, and  all of the other good qualities of life to such a degree that he never runs out.  One never runs out of peace, because he has more than enough within his heart.   One never runs out of patience, There is always enough love and joy.  One is living the Abundant Life.

         What an idealistic and unrealistic concept. When one first considers it, such a perfect life as this seems totally far fetched and completely out of reach.  Few people would dare say that they are living the Abundant Life.  The sad fact is that many people, if they are truly honest, would admit to living just the opposite of an Abundant Life.   They would admit to living an empty, unsatisfying, inadequate life.
Years ago there was a movie with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.  The name of the movie was   PAPILLION, and it was about a man named Pappillion who had been sentenced to spend the rest of his life on the prison on Devil's Island.  During his time there, Papillion got into enough trouble to be thrown into solitary confinement for one year. There being so alone for so long, Papillion's mind began to play tricks on him.    He began to fantasize.
Before long he could not tell fantasy from reality.  
One night Papillion saw himself walking through the desert.  There he came upon 12 men seated around a 13th man, who was sitting a little higher than the rest.  This represented the Judge and Jury who had tried Papillion found him guilty of a murder, and sent him to Devil's Island.  Papillion became very upset and went to the Judge and yelled out at him, "I'm innocent!  I'm innocent of the charge that you convicted me of."  The Judge looked down rather apathetically and said, "Yes we know.  We knew       all along.  But you were guilty of something far worse than murder.  You were guilty of living a wasted life."
Papillion barely hesitated before responding, "Yes, I'm guilty, I'm guilty of wasting my life. There is nothing more tragic than a person who wastes his life, who lives an empty unsatisfying, inadequate life.  Such people go through life wondering if it is worth it to go on.  They continually seek for the answer to the meaning of life.  They search for purpose and goals, but never find them.  Such people rarely experience joy.  Instead of peace, they are constantly at war within themselves.  Instead of love, they have a terrible feeling of loneliness.
But what were those words from the Scripture reading this morning?   Jesus came that we might have life, but only inadequately
No.... that is not what....the Word of God says.   It says that Jesus came that we might have life and that we might have it abundantly.
The Abundant Life and the Inadequate Life.  Two very different life styles1 one very opposite for the other.
And yet, many do not experience either of these two life styles.  They do not experience the totally empty wasted life--Nor do they live the idealistic perfect, ABUNDANT LIFE.
They find themselves somewhere between the two, somewhere between the totally empty and the totally full life.  Perhaps this is where most people are, living a life that is JUST adequate.

In the life that is adequate, there are many happy times.   There are times of love. There are times of peace.  But there are also times of depression, fear, loneliness, and confusion.  This is perhaps the most dangerous type of life style, because it is possible to grow content---hoping that in the final analysis, the good times would outweigh the bad.  And being content, a person night fail to reach out for something better, for something more than just adequate.

But what were those words again that I read from the Scriptures?  "Jesus came that we might have life, so that at least we could have it adequately"?  No it says that He came to give us Abundant Life.

The abundant life.   The life in which one has all of the fruits of the Spirit;  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-discipline, and has them to such a degree that he or she never runs out.  There is always more that what is needed.
Idealistic?   Perhaps.  Out of reach?   No -- not for the Christian.
Jesus himself promised us this type of life to us, so we can all be sure and know that we can indeed live life in an abundant way.
And so the question is --  How can we begin to live life abundantly?
It is good at this point to take another look at the Scripture. Jesus was telling a parable of sheep being cared for and led by the shepherd.  It is clear to us that Jesus was speaking of his followers as the sheep and of himself as the shepherd.

         In order for us to receive the abundant life, we must become sheep of the shepherd, who is Jesus Christ.

         This, of course means that we must first of all be Christians.   In order for us to be Sheep of Christ, we must enter the way of life that we call Christianity.  We must receive Christ as our Savior.
By receiving Christ as our Savior, we have eternal life, but not necessarily abundant life, especially if, after having received Christ, we continue to live, unproductive, undisciplined lives.  If we are to receive the full blessings of our Christian lives, then we should let Christ be, in addition to our Savior our Shepherd:  Answering his voice as he calls us and entering the gates of life which he opens. We need to become obedient sheep, committed sheep, trusting in our Shepherd, Christ. The abundant life CAN be ours, and it IS God's will for us to live it.
Now mind you, the abundant life is not the idealistic life that it may sound like.  Friends and relatives will still become sick and even die.  It will still be possible for tragedy to enter our lives.  Financial problems will not stop....even though we live the abundant life.

         So what then is the difference between living life abundantly and living life adequately?

            It is a matter of a way a person is able to approach life.  It has to do with a state of mind.
God does not always change the situation in which we live life. Very often, however, God changes us and the way we approach the situation.

            The Abundant Life does not always make everything that is around us peaceful, but it does give us the ability to be at peace even during times of hardship and tragedy.
Our living the Abundant Life will not change the way OTHER PEOPLE live.
Our enemy will still be our enemy, mistreating us, and giving us a hard time. But it will help us to love then and to be at peace with them.
As Christians, we have eternal life.   We have a quantity of life that continues into infinity. Let us also live an abundant life, a quality of life that God would have us to live.

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.