Two of the most awe-inspiring places I've ever visited, as an American, were thousands of miles apart, but their impact comes from the same source. Those two locations were Arlington National Cemetery and Normandy American Cemetery.
I remember my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, DC. Observing the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier was a moving experience. The solemn silence of that ceremony, with the precision performance of the guards, punctuate the purpose of the place...to honor all of those who have fallen in battle, who's bodies are lost or who were unable to be identified. Taking that into consideration, as I stood and gazed across the rolling hills lined with more than 14,000 white grave markers, I was struck by the reality of the sacrifice and investment made by millions of people over the history of our nation.
Fast-forward two decades and 3,749 miles, I find myself standing on the grounds of the Normandy American Cemetery. There, as in Arlington, I saw the perfect lines of white makers, identifying the graves of over 9,000 troops who died in Europe during World War II. These were individuals who gave the ultimate sacrifice to insure freedom for millions who were being persecuted, oppressed and murdered by the advancement of tyranny and dictatorial evil intent on taking over the world. As I stood that day, looking out over Omaha Beach, where allied troops landed to make headway in driving back the advancement of tyranny, a Frenchman stood next to me. Knowing that I am an American, he looked at me and said, "Thank you for what your country did here for the people of France."
On this Memorial Day, we must continue to be reminded of the value of those who have served our nation well as members of the armed forces. Most importantly, we remember the great price paid by many who have given the most...by giving their lives. Their sacrifice has helped to preserve freedom for Americans and others around the world. When we stand in places like Arlington National Cemetery, there is a sense that those who have sacrificed for our freedom, stand in the stadium of the heavens looking on, cheering us on, to continue to fight for liberty and defend against the evils of those who are intent upon destroying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all in this world who cherish freedom.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
The writer of the book of Hebrews also spoke of a "stadium" of onlookers who cheer for those who are in the fray of the daily pursuit of our life of faith. In this visual that the Hebrews writer gives us, the context is that of an athletic race of endurance. This race of the life of faith is from salvation to our eternal destination. As we run this race, were are being cheered on by this huge crowd of witnesses who have gone before us...they have completed the race. Now, they cheer for us to complete it as well.
Others Have Pioneered the Way
One of the things that Memorial Day does for Americans is to remind us that others have paved the way for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today. In some ways, we realize that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. This inspires us to continue to stand strong for freedom and strength as a nation. In the visual of Hebrews 12, the same thing is provided. We are reminded that we have this legacy of faith because many have gone before us to lay the foundation. We are inspired to follow in their path of the race that has been laid out before us. They surround us. They encourage us with their faithful race. They remind us that we do not run in vain. Our hearts are inspired. Our faith in spurred on to strengthen our race.
They Remind Us What is Required
No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer (2 Timothy 2:4). Those who serve our nation in the military, do so with a commitment and lifestyle that sacrifices the things that civilians take for granted. They volunteer to place themselves under the direction of a commander who expects their complete loyalty to the cause...to the mission to which they have been assigned. In this race of faith...this warfare that we fight...the cloud of witnesses reminds us that we are called to make the choices to live a disciplined and dedicated life of faith.
So, let's stick with one metaphor here. The Hebrews passage is using the metaphor of running a race. He tells us that there are two things we must do in order to run this race well...running with endurance. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). Let's consider the "rules" given here in Hebrews 12:
1. Lay aside every weight
No runner, wanting to finish the race of endurance well, wants to carry extra weight. Rather, a runner makes sure that they have nothing to hinder their performance. For the follower of Christ, running the race of faith, the same is true. We are encouraged to lay aside anything that will slow us down in our race. The Apostle Paul wrote about this principle, "Everything is permissible for me," but not everything is helpful. "Everything is permissible for me," but I will not be brought under the control of anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). To run well means that we sometimes we make decisions about what is best, not just what is right. So, think of what areas of life that may hold issues for you here. Are there things that distract you from priorities? Are there activities that prevent you from focusing on what is really important? Are there involvements that become addictive? These aren't sin in themselves, but they are weights that slow you down in running the race well. These are the things that need to be laid aside.
2. Lay aside every sin
This is a little more clear...usually. As a follower of Christ, we accept the Word of God as our guide for faith and life. It is the truth that instructs us concerning right and wrong...the absolutes and the laws that lay out for us how to live a life of holiness that benefits us and fulfills our calling. As Ephesians 4:1 reminds us, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called..." Through confession and repentance, we can lay aside the sins that, don't just slow us down, but which entangle us...presenting the danger of causing us to fall. We cannot hope to run our race of faith without giving attention to this process. The promise we are given, when we commit ourselves to holiness, is forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 1:9-2:1). So, you see, laying aside the sin that entangles us is a matter or confession and the forgiveness of God. It is as simple as that.
We Have the Perfect Champion
This is all about focus. The soldier on the battlefield is attentive to the orders of the commander. The athlete on the field must be focused on the instructions of the coach. In our race of faith, we have the perfect "coach." He has "initiated" and "perfected" our faith. Jesus is not a "religious leader" who just demands and orders his followers to blindly do things that keep them under his control. Instead, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to initiate and complete the faith that we have acquired. Therefore, we can run our race with our eyes fixed upon Him...we listen to His voice...we watch for His hand at work in our lives. It is His work in us, and His power in us, that enables us to finish the race successfully. He is in the place of power and status, at the right hand of the Father. The good news is, we are seated there with Him. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus... (Ephesians 2:4-6). Being seated with Christ at the Father's right hand means we have access to all the power, covering, wisdom, grace and sustenance that we need to run well and to finish well.
What an amazing visual to imagine, that all the saints of the ages past are gathered around us in the heavenly realm, cheering us on to victory as we run our race of faith with endurance. That race is possible because of the One who's Spirit lives in us. We can finish the race well...we can fulfill our purpose for which God designed us. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:8-9). We will not grow weary in living our purpose as long as we allow His Spirit to fill us daily.
Who are the specific people who have gone before you to pave the way of faith? What have you laid aside that has helped you to run more effectively? Comment, like and share this post to get the conversation going!
"Living the dream!" I don't know if I ever heard him say it quite that way, but in every sense of the phrase, that is what Billy and his wife were doing. They were living the dream in the unique way they were meant to do so. But, you may not have recognized it quite that way.
The first time I visited their new home, then still in the final stages of construction, it was a slight challenge to get there. Making my way north on Highway 7, out of Russellville, Arkansas, I eventually made my way onto a gravel road that snaked along the base of a mountain to the right and looked out over a grassy field to the left. It was a sunny summer afternoon and the dust rolled up before me, stirred by the vehicle I was following to show me the way to Billy's home. After a few miles drive on the dusty gravel road, we turned left, down an embankment and into the pasture field that lay between two stretches of the Ozark mountains. We made our way across the field, coming to a creek of considerable size that flowed along at the base of the mountainside. Stopping to survey the terrain and determine how to proceed, I decided that my four-wheel-drive SUV was capable of continuing the trek. Billy and his sons had carefully rearranged and placed river rock in the creek to make for a low water crossing that was sufficient to allow us to ford the creek. Immediately on the other side of the creek bed, a steep pathway had been cleared of trees, brush and obstacles, wide enough for a vehicle to climb up about a hundred feet to the site of the home that he was building.
Yes. You heard that right...Billy was building this home. He designed, plotted and built, with the help of his two adult sons and his wife, this quaint home that was perched there among the trees and overlooking the creek and meadow below. Billy had not only designed and built the home, he had even utilized an old sawmill to cut the lumber from timber harvested from the area. He had determined that the home would be an adaptation of the homes of an earlier era in which oil lamp light and woodburning fires provided light and heat to its inhabitants. The water supply was fed by a spring and a cistern, as such, was used for storage. Plumbing with a gravity system would make possible the modern conveniences of running water in the kitchen and bathroom, complete with shower.
As I emerged from my vehicle, perched on the incline, I saw the cabin that had been erected there on the side of that mountain. It was an impressive site to see and to know that it had been produced by the skill and hard work of this man, his wife and sons. When I would visit them again on later occasions, I saw the beauty that had been integrated into the structure. Things such as an ornate repurposed front entrance door, stained glass and other furnishings and fixtures, added a rustic, yet artistic ambiance. I've always considered Billy somewhat of a rennaisance man of sorts. He is intelligent, a skilled craftsman, musically talented, a writer and an artistic story teller. He is a man of the earth and yet a man who has traveled outside his culture and country. He has served as a pastor, a mail carrier, a musician, teacher and a youth worker. But, no matter what course life has taken him, I would venture to say that he would tell you that he is "living the dream."
Think about your life. "Living the dream" means so many different things to different people. I suppose my point in using that phrase, which is flippantly tossed around tongue-in-cheek, is that there is a life for each of us that is the right fit. There is a pathway and a plan that has purpose and produces good things.
In this installment of the P365 Blog, I have asked travel photographer, Elliott Chau, to share some thoughts about how he has discovered purpose and joy in the unique pathway he has taken. Watch what he has shared with us in the video below. Then, we will wrap it all up on the other side with some closing thoughts.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Elliott challenged us to consider the overall question of the purpose of life...Why am I here? In considering that question, he directed us to the words of Jesus, as he responded to a law expert about the greatest commandment in the Old Testament. Jesus, without hesitancy, quoted from the Shema (a portion of Deuteronomy 6 that became a part of the daily prayer of Jews), that stated that loving the "Lord your God" is the first and greatest commandment. He then went on to paraphrase Leviticus 19:18, saying the second greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself." As Elliott explained, and Jesus taught, when we redirect ourselves to that overall purpose of loving God and loving others, "everything else lines up."
Brennan Manning, author or The Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote, "My deepest awareness of myself is that I'm deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I've done nothing to earn it or deserve it." 1 John 4:19 states, "We love because he [God] first loved us" (bracket added). The only way that we can love God and love people, in the powerful way to which we are called, is to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is the God who pursues us...who pursues that relationship with you.
This really is the over-riding determiner of living life to the fullest and with blessing...to live a life of love. Elliott reminded us, just as Jesus taught, loving Him leads us to obey his commands. Obeying His commands, leads us to love Him and others. We can't go wrong with that perspective and pursuit. No matter what direction our unique pathway of life takes...based upon our experiences, opportunities, families, passions and skills...when it is lived within the context of the Great Commandments, it will be lived well...we will be "living the dream." The beauty of that reality is, whether you're a renaissance man living in the Ozark Mountains, or a travel photographer living in the tropical resorts of Bali, God has a plan that is even better than "living the dream."
Elliott Chau is a travel photographer who circles the globe, capturing the beauty of God's creation to share with the world. He lives out his purpose by sharing the love of God with those he meets. Check out his Instagram account here. You can also check out his website at www.lifewithelliott.com.
What does loving God and loving others look like in the purpose you are living? How has the love of God impacted your life and led you to love others? Like, comment and share to get the conversation going.
In Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem Finch confronts his Aunty Alexandra's prejudiced and shallow opinions of those "less desirable," by quoting his father, Atticus...
"Aunty...Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't."
There's a lot of truth in that little quote. In the context of the novel, it confronts the condescending and "better-than-thou" thinking that people can have toward others they deem less acceptable than themselves. For Aunty Alexandra, it was that certain members of the community were not welcome in her house due to their socio-economic status, even if they were members of her own family...certainly an attitude to be challenged.
However, there's another aspect of the quote I want to use as the focus of this Mother's Day post: "...you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not..." You can't choose your family...they are still kin. Family...the family we have, and the role we have in that family, are probably the most influential things in our lives...impacting our childhood development, teaching us our core values, instilling our core beliefs about ourselves, others and the world around us. The family to which we belong, has the potential to be the greatest influence on who we become and the life we pursue...that's nothing to take lightly.
Mother's Day is a reminder of this. This day has been set aside to honor the mothers' who have played such an important role in our lives. More than 50 countries around the world have a day designated to celebrate mothers, signifying that the role of the mother is such an admired and revered one in families, no matter the culture. Such sentiment was portrayed in the poem by William Ross Wallace, the title of which speaks volumes, "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the Hand that Rules the Word."
An Example of a Mother's Influence
Susanna Annesley was born the youngest of 25 children to a London clergyman. She was brought up with a strong Christian education in her English home. When she met Samuel Wesley, it was through the visits of he and his pastor father, among many who came to the Annesley home. Susanna and Samuel married and she became the wife of a minister as well. Through many heartaches, challenges of ministry, tragedy of the death of 9 of her children, marital conflict and loss of all material possession through a fire that destroyed the rectory, Susanna was a stalwart wife and mother of strong faith. She reared her 10 surviving children, educating them in their home, while supporting her husband in ministry and managing household financial affairs.
One may say that Susanna Wesley was a tremendous success, as she worked as a partner to her husband in his ministry. She even conducted worship services for parishioners in their home, during an extended absence of her husband, that was very popular with the members of the church. She was resilient, strong-willed, of deep spiritual faith and a meticulous organizer and manager of the household. However, perhaps author Anne Adams put it best when she wrote of the true success of Susanna Wesley:
"Susanna’s place in Christian history is indeed based on what her sons accomplished but it could be said to have been her example and influence that helped them to do what they did. Susanna’s best legacy was indeed her children, particularly John...Indeed, a great legacy from a woman who expressed a simple desire: 'I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”'
Our Family and Our Purpose
The question we consider today is, "How does the role we have in our family inform how we pursue the God-given purpose that we have?" Does it? Should it? I contend, there is really no way to avoid it.
As a husband or wife, we have made a commitment to that marriage partner that changed our lives the day we said, "I do." That means that we no longer make decisions with consideration only for our own interests. Pursuing our purpose as a spouse includes that commitment and the way we integrate our faith with one another. One of our Purposed 365 community members, Tim Johnson, put it this way, "One of the purposes in my marriage is to be a student of my wife." I like the way that is stated. I am fulfilling my purpose as I learn all I can about the person with whom I have committed to journey through this life. I can't hope to relate to her, understand her and care for her effectively if I don't know the person she really is.
The Scripture instructs husbands and wives, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21), and "In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). Submitting ourselves to one another, understanding and living with one another in a partnership, requires that we know one another. As P365 community member, Erica Renee Cox McKinney, stated, "I feel more in my purpose when my family life is taken care of...I find it brings order, unity, less stress and chaos." I couldn't agree more. When we focus on our spousal role and prioritize that relationship, fulfilling our purpose naturally flows out of that priority.
I believe the best fulfillment of my purpose, in partnership with my wife, was bringing up our daughter in the ways of the Lord. We are proud of the woman she has become, and the role of wife and mother that she is fulfilling in her own purpose. In commenting on this topic, she (Emily Simpkins) shared, "...Mothering represents laying down your life for another, which represents the Gospel. WOW! That really caught my attention, what greater purpose can I have than to be a clear representation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? So, I would say being intentional in not only my words and actions, as a mother and wife, but in my thoughts as well. I am striving (and still failing most of the time) to approach motherhood as kingdom work and as one of the most important ways I can fulfill my purpose right now." Community member, Kimberly Hall described her intention to teach and model what is right as she strives to influence them positively, "As my children age, I feel the purpose to keep them grounded. Hopefully, I have raised them to know right from wrong. I try to always be a positive influence. As your children watch what you do, you are their example and they learn as they look up to their parents."
The Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy, commending the faith-filled rearing from his mother and grandmother, "I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you" (2 Timothy 1:5). He knew that it was crucial in Timothy's development, that he have a mother and grandmother who accepted it central to their purpose, to bring him up in the nurture of the Christian faith. This enabled Timothy to learn and prepare to fulfill his purpose in ministry.
Let me hasten to add, however, a very important point. The comments of our community members, and the reality of my own experience, remind us that fulfilling our purpose as parents is one of imperfection, requiring grace and constant seeking of the right way to guide our children. There were times, as our daughter was growing up, that I had to pray for wisdom and work to keep communication open and use teachable moments. It was a learning experience for us that required a lot of grace and help of the Holy Spirit. Whether we are bringing up our biological children, step children, or a blended family, keeping our focus on the wisdom that God gives, will enable us to purposefully parent those whom God has commended to us. Community member, Angie Melson, expressed this challenge, "Being a stepmom to adult children and a child of aging parents feels overwhelming at times. I struggle with finding my 'sweet spot' in parenting adult children. I don’t want to be too hovering to them but I also want them to know I’m here and I love and think of them daily." It isn't easy, and there's no "one size fits all" approach to the challenges of parenting. As our children grow older, our parenting relationship changes. It takes care and wisdom to traverse that phase. There are two things that should be constant, however. One is that we continue to love them unconditionally and the second, that we continue to seek God's wisdom to discern how to adapt to change and communicate effectively. We are reminded in James 1:5, "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking."
Children of Aging Parents
For many of us, our parenting experience goes through several stages...not necessarily in this particular order. We start our family with the birth and early development of our children. They go through adolescence, which can have its unique challenges. Then, they begin to leave the nest and move into young adulthood...college, career, marriage. We may become grandparents as our own children grow older and start families of their own. At some point, then, we begin to transition in our relationship with our own parents as they enter their elder years. We may find ourselves, in some ways, taking on a parental role to our parents...securing their safety, managing their finances, planning for and providing day-to-day care. It is new territory for most people and can be very challenging, especially if it comes at a time when you are in the busiest phase of your career, or while being pulled toward supporting and engaging with your own children and grandchildren. Again, Angie Melson wrote, "With aging parents, it’s tough to navigate that relationship at times as well, because, like you mentioned, the roles are a bit reversed, but we will always be their children. So...I’m working on finding my purpose in this stage of life I find myself, and looking for ways to experience joy and gratitude for the blessings of having these beautiful family members in my life." That is a beautiful way of expressing the challenge of the journey. In the midst of this season, we can know that we have purpose...caring for those we love...supporting them in their declining years...helping them feel safe and valued and loved. That purpose in itself brings joy...for, what a privilege it is to care for the ones who spent so much of their lives caring for us. "Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12).
The words of Jem Finch echo in my mind, "You sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not." If I could choose my family, I would choose the very ones I already have. In each season of my life, whether as a spouse, parent or child, I want to live my purpose as I integrate my faith into each of those relationships. In the words of Susanna Wesley, "I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified."
How has your mother influenced your pursuit of purpose? What has your family role taught you about purpose? How are you living your purpose in your family role in this season of your life? Comment and share!
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!