"Please, please, please!" The voices rang out as the kids were begging their parents, "Please let us spend the night!" It was such a common occurrence when the cousins got together. So much so, that I remember my mom giving instructions to my sister and I on one occasion, "Now when we get ready to go, I don't want to hear you all begging to spend the night!"
It was that way with us cousins. We loved being together and my cousins were some of my best friends growing up. On my mom's side, my cousin, Ron, was closest to my age and his sister, Karen, was closest to my sister's age. So, we were a perfect match to play and have fun together. Our adventures were filled with fun and mischief alike. Whether it was paper routes, softball games, Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes or bicycle rides and trail bike adventures, tree houses and camp outs...we loved spending time with our cousins...there may have even been a few adventures involving eggs and a roll of toilet paper (I apologize for our few mischievous escapades). Our cousins on both sides were our friends and we grew up cherishing those times, and still cherish the memories we made as kids together.
Did you have those kinds of experiences with your cousins? Sometimes cousins can be as close as siblings. They play a special role in our lives and have a special place in our hearts.
There is another couple of cousins that I've thought about recently as I've been reading through the Gospel of John. Jesus and John the Baptist were second cousins. Their mothers were cousins: Mary and Elizabeth. They had a unique connection, however. Unlike the closeness I experienced with my cousins, John the Baptist said of Jesus, "I myself did not know him..." (John 1:31). The cousins lived apart from one another growing up, Jesus in Nazareth (northern Israel) and John, in Judea (southern Israel). So, it is not surprising that John didn't grow up knowing Jesus personally. However, John apparently grew up being taught something very important about the relationship between he and his cousin from the north. John had a calling...a purpose for his life. As a matter of fact, an angel appeared to his father, Zechariah the priest, to foretell the miraculous birth of his son and the purpose he would fulfill. The account of this is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1. Among other things that the angel Gabriel said to Zechariah, was that his son would prepare the way for Jesus to come onto the scene.
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Fast-forward 30 years and we find John in the wilderness outside of Jerusalem, preaching and baptizing people who came to hear his message. He was fulfilling the purpose for which he had been created as he proclaimed, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ” When Jesus showed up, John went on to declare, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:19-42) Then the most interesting thing happened. John's followers left him and started following Jesus! John was successful in fulfilling his purpose and it meant losing all of his followers to someone else! But, then, that was the idea, right!? Exactly!
Consider what we can learn from John's example of fulfilling his purpose
How has God called you to surrender? In what ways have you been tempted to make the focus on yourself? Who are the people that have helped you see your purpose? How does your purpose serve the greater purpose of God's plan of salvation for the world? I hope you will share your thoughts in the comments below.
Never Too Broken
A man and his wife, from Holland, sat down in the workshop of skilled craftsmen to share their story. The place was filled with the tools that fit the skilled hands of women and men who have spent decades studying and refining their craft. The couple opened a small box and carefully unveiled a gold pocket watch. The timepiece showed the age it carried and reflected the story they unfolded for the interested clock maker and his associate. The watch was discolored by years of grime, the second hand and crystal were missing, but there, in the fob on the end of the watch chain, was the picture of the grandmother, holding guard over the treasured keepsake. The Hollander told the story of the grandmother from Indonesia who had been taken from her home and family, during World War II, and imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. Having been taken quickly from her home, she grabbed the only thing she could that would represent the connection to her family, uncertain what the future would hold. Taking the watch, she sewed it into the hem of her dress, where it remained, undetected, for four years until her release after the war ended. She then passed it down to her son, who had left it to his son, as the only family heirloom that connected them to their family history. The grandson left this precious piece in the capable hands of the craftsman to do his magic.
In the following days, the expert clock maker and another craftswoman who restores clock faces, meticulously, and with care, brought the watch back to life. They restored it to working condition with cleaning and repair that was just enough to give it the life it once had, while preserving the integrity of its history and age. When the day came for the reveal, the grandson, his wife, and his mother, were moved to see the watch once again working...as if each tic of the second hand represented the heartbeat of the grandmother who had survived such tragedy and miraculously preserved this artifact that would connect her generation to the many to come. (You can see this story on the BBC program, The Repair Shop.)
This BBC program is a new discovery for me, but I'm intrigued by it. Taking something that is old, broken and no longer useful in the eyes of the average person, and turning it into something of restored beauty or usefulness, is a joy to watch! I wish that I had been a master craftsman. To have studied a craft for decades, honing my skills and developing myself as an expert who has the ability to bring items "back to life;" to be able to restore things to their former beauty, to be able to bring joy to someone when they see the history come to life in that heirloom that connects them to their own history; that would be such a satisfying process.
God Restores Broken People
Watches and antiques aren't the only things that deserve to be restored. Something is of value when it is desired enough that someone takes care of it, cherishing and utilizing it in their life. Sometimes we may get or send the wrong idea in our realization that without Jesus, we are nothing...we can do nothing. We acknowledge that He is everything that we need...He takes us from the realm of death and hopelessness, to life and eternal hope. However, that does not mean that before we come to Jesus, we are worthless or not of value. The opposite is actually true! Consider what gives us value:
...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God Uses Broken People
Somehow, there can be this image in the church world that a person has to be perfect before God can use them...that we have to have it all together or God has no use for us. While I'm not suggesting that we give ourselves a pass for sin, I am declaring that being sinless, free of hang-ups or struggles, is not the prerequisite of being useful in the hands of God. The fact is, that the Bible is full of examples of how God uses imperfect and broken people. For example...
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God...
1 Corinthians 3:3-5
Spend Time in the Master's Workshop
The watch that spent four years in the hem of a prisoner's dress had to undergo a transformation to be restored to its usefulness and beauty, and to fulfill its purpose to connect the generations of a family. This transformation required extended time in the workshop of very skilled craftsmen. They painstakingly worked to carefully bring the watch to life...giving joy to those who were connected to it.
The Father has a workshop where he does His masterwork in each of us. He is working to make us that masterpiece that brings glory to His name. We are freed to fulfill our purpose and to see Him work through us to accomplish the things he has planned for us in this world! How does He accomplish this? Again, Paige gives us some insight...
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Hitting the Wall
It was April 26, 2008...a cool Saturday morning with an early light drizzle that had turned to gray skies. As I made my way through the streets of Metro Center office park, the muscles in my legs began to weaken, my body started to feel heavy and my brain was telling me to stop and rest. At that moment, a passenger van slowly passed by with the sliding door open. The people inside asked, "Do you need a ride?"
The day had started for me well before sunrise, but this journey had begun months earlier. I, and two of my friends, had set out from our homes that morning, just outside Clarksville, TN, heading for Nashville. It was a day to follow through on a challenge and commitment we had made to one another the previous September, to do something none of us had ever before attempted. We embarked upon the process of training to run a marathon...that is a 26.1 mile long-distance run. I remember vividly, the first day I ran a mile on my training plan, I was so winded that I could hardly breathe. But, over the intervening months, I slowly advanced in my stamina, strength and distances. The short runs, the Saturday mornings dedicated to the long runs, learning about hydration and nutrition, meeting up with my buddies to encourage and cheer each other along on those increasingly lengthening Saturday runs, all added up over the months to prepare us for this day.
So, our training was being put to the test. As we approached mile 18, my friend, Eric, and I, began to experience what is called "hitting the wall." It is when the body has expended the fuel is stores and the energy dips, impacting the physical as well as the mental functioning of the runner. It is a point at which the runner has to take steps to push through and not give in to the slump and give up. The passing van that was provided to transport injured or fatigued runners to the finish line, offered an added temptation to give in to the thoughts in our minds to stop and not finish the race. However, there was something that took place in that moment that got us through. We began to talk to each other. We coached one another, we encouraged and told one another, "We can't give up." We were completing 18 of 26.1 miles...we had come too far to stop. We had trained and we had worked hard to prepare for this day. As we pumped one another up, and grabbing energy gels and hydration at the next station, we pushed through that wall. We were not going to be stopped. And, you know what? We made it.
The next 8 miles were not easy, but they were not defeating. We kept going because we could visualize in our minds what it was going to be like to cross that finish line. It didn't matter what our time would be. It only mattered that we were going to finish...we were going to cross that line. And, I will tell you, I couldn't have imagined what it would be like to make that final turn and see the finish line in view. As we did, Eric and I looked at each other with smiles that engulfed our faces. I was thinking, "We are going to do this!"...thinking it, until I was saying it! And, we did...we crossed the finish line that day, completing the challenge and the commitment we had made 7 months earlier. I can't tell you how good that felt! I would go on to run another marathon and 11 half marathons over the coming years. Never fast, but always finishing.
Life is a Race, Purpose Gives Us a Reason to Run
I share this story to illustrate an important concept of living a purposed life. However, let me be quick to say, this isn't original with me. A writer, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote about it a few centuries ago.
Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne.
Run the Race in Community
A "cloud of witnesses" describes those who have gone before us on this journey of faith. The picture that is painted is that those who have finished are cheering on those who are still in the race. Like a marathon runner coming into the stadium on the last leg of the course, the cheers in the bleachers rise. This picture reminds us that we are not meant to run this purposed race alone. Just as Eric and I were encouragers to one another when we hit the wall, we are to be encouragers, cheering one another on, providing support and reminding ourselves of the reason we run...to fulfill our purpose and to bring glory to the One who created us for this race. Sometimes, our engagement in community lifts us when we are weak. Sometimes, it challenges us to lay aside the things that weigh us down or the sins that will trip us up. Always, it points us toward the finish line.
Keep Our Eyes on the Finish Line
Part of the words that Eric and I spoke to one another when we hit the wall, were reminders of what we had set out to accomplish. We talked about the finish and how we would feel when we finally crossed that line. We could visualize that moment and it was an encouragement to keep going through that tough phase. In the same way, we are reminded to keep our eyes upon Jesus in the life marathon. He is the One who gives us our purpose...the "source and perfecter of our faith." In his place at the right hand of the Father, he advocates for us, and he has sent his Spirit to encourage and empower us. When we start to lose focus on why we are running this race, He is the One who reminds us of our purpose. He has already paved the way for us. Following Him, keeps us on the right course. Our encouragement of one another to maintain that focus is actually a part of the purpose we are called to fulfill.
Celebrate Every Mile and the Ultimate Finish
The picture that the writer of the Hebrew letter paints for us is as if the crowd is cheering us across the finish. But, there is also a sense in which their victory is a celebration of our completion of every mile. After Eric and I pushed through that wall at mile 18, I can assure you that we celebrated every tick of those last 7 miles. Each mile marker was a step closer to the goal. God's Spirit encourages us, and so do His people. Every step of the way, we can find support and help from those with whom we are running. When the course gets tough, we find the grace and strength we need from the indwelling Holy Spirit and through the incarnational ministry of Christ through our fellow runners. Then, when we finally reach that last turn and the finish line is in view, we will be able to celebrate that we have lived a life of purpose, not perfection, but one of purpose that has made a difference in this world. I can't think of a better way to finish...finishing strong.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. In the future, there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
What can we learn from this about living a life of purpose, 365 days a year? Allow me to summarize:
Who do you look to for encouragement when life gets tough? Who is in your community? Who are you encouraging and supporting to find their purpose and run the race well? What are you doing to keep your eyes on Jesus? What do you have to celebrate today on this journey of purpose? SHARE YOUR TOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.
Into the Unknown
Guillaume Néry stands on the sandy floor of the Caribbean Sea, just off Long Island, Bahamas, contemplating the dark hole before him. He is somewhat of an amazing man...perhaps he could be called an adrenaline junky. As a French athlete, his endeavors include base jumping as well as achieving championships in free diving. Free diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on holding one's breath rather than the use of scuba gear. While most of us can hold our breath for 45 seconds before we start to become uncomfortable, if we hold on for over a minute, we may feel that we are about to pass out, our lungs starting to struggle to take in air.
As Nery stands there, a few feet below the surface of the water, it isn't just the fact that he is doing so with no apparatus to assist him with breathing, but it is that he is about to free dive into what is known as the deepest sinkhole in the world. It truly appears as though it were a dark abyss with no discernable bottom. If you watch the video of his free dive into this dark hole, you will find yourself on the edge of your seat and perhaps even trying to breath for him. It is as if he steps into an unknown darkness that swallows him up. To say the least, it can be a little scary to watch. Stepping into unknown territory is like that...risky, scary, an adrenaline rush.
In this week's podcast, we hear an interview with Contemporary Christian Music artist, Hannah Schaefer, as she talks about her journey into the unknown and taking the risk that was necessary for her to pursue that purpose for which she was created. If you haven't done so yet, jump over to the podcast and take a listen before continuing with today's blog post...I'll see you back here after the interview.
Until you step into the unknown, you don't know what you're made of.
In the pursuit of our purpose, the journey takes many twists and turns...much of which is the adventure of discovery and fulfilment that is a part of the experience. Sometimes that journey can be exciting, sometimes it is more of the mundane, sometimes it takes us through a season of the unknown...a wilderness of sorts. Now, spiritually speaking, we may often refer to a wilderness as a period of dryness, in which we may not hear or feel the presence of God...a time when we have to rely upon our faith that He is who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will. While that may be true, in some ways, about this season of stepping into the unknown, this phase of our journey is also a scary and adrenaline rushing time of abandoning the preconceived expectations of others, or even those we have for ourselves. It is about jumping into that uncertain space, where we find that God is certain and real and present in powerful ways we would have never known, unless we had taken the leap.
Why Step Out of the Boat?
Peter and the other apostles were out on Lake Tiberias late one night, when a storm arose and they were having quite a bout with the wind and the waves. Suddenly, they saw the figure of a person coming toward them, as if walking upon the water itself. They immediately became fearful...the man walking on the water, of course, was Jesus. He called out to them and told them not to fear, that it was he who was coming to them and to have courage. When Peter saw that it was Jesus, in very Peter-like style, he shouted...
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.
Now...I have to say, this is classic Peter, in his boldness and a bit of spontaneous impulse. But you have to give it to him...he was only bold because he was trusting in Jesus to do the miraculous, and to respond to Peter's willingness to step into the unknown.
Had Peter never believed Jesus could make him walk on water...had he never dared to believe that there was something that Jesus had to show him through his faith to step out of the boat...Jesus would not have had the opportunity to display his power in this particular way to Peter and the apostles. Yes, we know what came next...Peter got his eyes off of Jesus and onto the waves. That's when he began to sink. But, even that was a learning experience. Don't give Peter too hard a time over that...Jesus was teaching tremendous lessons about trust, rescue, recovery and sustaining power that would come in handy in the years ahead, as Peter led the first century church.
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped him and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
God Never Wastes Anything
You'll hear me say that often. I suppose it is because I've seen it over and over in my own life...even when I've messed up royally...when I have made a mess of things...the Father, in His love and grace, uses every bit of it to fashion a masterpiece that is an ongoing work of art. That is why we can trust Him...trust Him when He calls us to step out of the boat. When He says it's time to step into the unknown, that dark hole that is a little scary to consider, only to open up all of the wonderful possibilities and opportunities to experience His purpose for our lives and the glory it will bring to Him. When we do, there are some things that we can count on as a result.
Stepping out into the unknown may mean we make a decision that leaves others scratching their heads. Perhaps it will disappoint those who had their own agendas for our lives. Maybe it will mean giving up a relationship, or an expectation, or a comfortable environment. But there is one thing for sure...It will never mean giving up the peace that only comes from knowing we are following the will of the Father. His peace is beyond all comprehension and will guard our hearts and minds from the attack from within and without.
"In the end, it's between you and God. No one will truly understand your heart the way that God does. In that moment, I knew He had me wrapped up in His arms...I knew that it was going to be okay, and that by jumping into the unknown, I was going to find out my true purpose."
Growth and Fulfillment
When we take that first step off of the ledge, so to speak, there are all kinds of processes that begin to take place in us and around us. God's Spirit is released to do His work in us...to take us to that next level of fulfilling His purpose in and through us.
Because it requires faith to take that step, our trust and reliance upon God grows and matures. We learn what we need and what we can live without. We begin to see the real priorities of life in light of eternity. You can bet that Peter saw this growth in himself over the coming years. Even when he met with Jesus on the seashore for breakfast, after Jesus had arisen, that process was being worked out in him as Jesus told him, "Feed my sheep."
Just as Hannah Schaefer realized that her journey through the unknown meant she would learn new skills and understand new concepts, our step onto the water opens up opportunities for us to learn and develop our gifting and talents to fulfill that to which we are called. Someone has said, "God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called."
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29
So what will it take to get you to that point of willingness to step out of your comfort zone and into the awesome things God has in store? Discovering, fulfilling, expanding and realizing your purpose often takes you through that season of the unknown. It can be a little scary, but it is a wild adventure that ultimately opens the door for a purposed life.
Check out Hannah Schaefer's music here. Listen to her song, Wild, that is all about answering that call to live our purpose.
What is the dream, purpose or calling that is tugging at your heart? Is God calling you to step into the unknown in some way? Share your thoughts and hopes in the comments and let's get a conversation going.
With over forty years of ministry experience, Randy Kinnick continues to live a life of pursuing the purpose for which he was created. Whether teaching God's Word to adults, coaching youth and young adults in finding their purpose, or caring for the hurting and abused in Southeast Asia, the adventure has taken him around the world in ways he could have never dreamed. The adventure continues!