A few years ago, I was taking a long run through the little Arkansas town in which we lived. I was running a route through a neighborhood I had passed through many times on my runs. On this particular day, as I listened to my running playlist on my earbuds, pacing my breathing with each stride, I was enjoying the beautiful weather of the day, the sunshine and the light breeze that was blowing. Just as I passed behind Sequoyah Elementary School, at the intersection of Sequoyah Way and Neptune Drive, I was suddenly inundated with a childhood memory and emotion. It wasn't something I saw or a sound that I heard. I wasn't reminiscing about days gone by. This sudden experience of nostalgia, memory and emotion, came as the result of a smell...yes...a simple odor. That gentle breeze wafted across my path, brining with it the smell of the pine thicket bordering the street. I immediately looked to my right, seeing the pine trees, with the ground covered by a brown carpet of fallen pine needles. In this moment, I was taken back to my elementary school days on the playground behind King Springs Elementary School, in my hometown. I remembered the pine thicket that was a part of that playground and, upon which I had spent many hours playing with my classmates during our daily recess. It was a powerful moment as that smell triggered such vivid memories and happy emotions about those childhood experiences.
The Power of Olfactory Memory
Olfactory memory is memory that is triggered by smells from past experiences. It is said to be one of the most powerful of memory triggers. The reason is easy to explain. In the brain, the senses of sight, sound, and taste go to the thalamus, which is the relay center of the brain. The thalamus sends these messages to the various centers of the brain, including the amygdala (responsible for processing emotion) and the hippocampus (responsible for memory). However, when we experience the sense of smell, the signal bypasses the thalamus and goes to the olfactory bulb, which is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus. There is no slow down or filtering by the thalamus. This explains why smells can trigger very strong memories and associated emotions. This is why certain aromas at Christmas are so meaningful to us due to being connected with pleasant experiences of our childhood, or, why a widow may sleep with the shirt of her late husband for months after his passing, or a mother becomes nostalgic and wistful when she smells the familiar fragrance of the baby lotion she used when her child was an infant. Olfactory memory is a powerful influence.
The Power of Christ-like Fragrances
It is no coincident that this is the very imagery that God inspired the Apostle Paul to write about as he described our lives as followers of Christ in the letter to the Corinthian church.
But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.
2 Corinthians 2:14-17
Have you ever considered yourself a perfume? A fragrant aroma? As a follower of Christ, that is exactly what you are...or should be. Think about the significance of these words that describe us as a "Christ-like fragrance."
Our Purpose and Influence for the Gospel
On this week's Purposed365 Podcast, Jasman Rolle interviews musician, community youth worker and entrepreneur, Ronald Morrell, Jr. (listen here). Morrell shares about his journey of ministry and purpose through music, church, working with youth and starting and growing a business. He touches on...
The question we need to ask ourselves is..."How do I smell?" We can do a lot to try to smell good...put on lots of cologne, make sure we use deodorant, or just stand downwind from others (haha). However, those efforts only cover up the real odor, or try to redirect it. If we are living in purpose that is centered upon a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ...our Redeemer and King...His Spirit within us will produce an aroma that is pleasing to the Father and will waft over those around us. That aroma will trigger a response that can open the door to their entry into eternal life...making you a fragrant reminder.
You Had to Be There
It was our first time in Arizona. My family and I had stayed in Flagstaff the previous night and arose bright and early that morning for the next leg in our journey. We had packed up the Aerostar and set out across the country, on a journey of discovery and fun. Our daughter was 11 years old and my mom and stepfather traveled with us as well. We can recount many memories from that trip in 2000...laughs we had, funny things we teased one another about, seeing landscapes that we had never seen before. The beauty of New Mexico was amazing. The heat and barrenness of the Mojave Desert were awe-inspiring. We have talked of this trip many times over the intervening years with fond memories and laughter. This particular day, however, stands out in my mind with special significance.
Having left I-40, we were making our way up highway 64 toward our destination. We passed through the little town of Tusayan. By area, it is the smallest town in the state of Arizona, with only 144 acres, or .225 square miles. The town boasts a population, according to the 2010 census (when it was incorporated), of 562. I mention this little town because it stands in stark contrast to the destination to which we were traveling.
As we rolled into the national park, the foliage and terrain of the area were unique in this high desert Kaibab Plateau. Our anticipation of our destination made our hearts beat a little faster in our chests and we searched for glimpses. Traveling along a park road, we caught a slight glimpse, but the full view of this, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, would elude us until we had disembarked from our vehicle and walked the trail among the trees.
Then it appeared. As we approached the rim of the canyon, the immensity of this vast river gorge overwhelmed me. My emotions caught in my throat and my eyes scanned the view to try to take it all in. Frankly, it was difficult to fully grasp what I was seeing. The Grand Canyon is grand indeed. That day, as we walked along the rim, stepped out onto an observation point with a clear floor, looked into the vast 6,000+ feet drop from rim to floor, I immediately thought of the greatness of the God who created the earth. We drove to the east, around the rim of the canyon, until we came to a place where there was an observation tower. From that vantage point, we watched a thunderstorm, lightning and all, make its way across the canyon in the distance. It was truly an awesome sight to see. No words can do justice to what I experienced. You had to be there...I was...and I worshiped.
Have you ever been in that kind of situation...an experience that was so moving and impactful in your life, but, as you tried to describe it to others, you were at a loss for words? You have probably said, "You just had to be there." I think I've had several of those experiences over the years. I've found myself in experiences that have moved me to turn my eyes to the God of the universe and...worship.
What do you think of when you hear the word, "Worship?" For many, it may bring images of Sunday gatherings at church, singing in a congregation, or maybe rituals that are meaningful in turning our hearts toward God. I would challenge you to consider a much broader and, frankly, more biblical view of worship. The Scriptures teach us that worship begins with a presentation of ourselves to God in service...a daily abandonment of our will to His and a seeking of His will in each of the moments of our day. The words of Romans 12:1-2 put it succinctly..
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
So...we are taught that the true way of worship is to give ourselves as an offering to God...daily. As we do so, our "living sacrifice," made holy by the blood and sacrifice of Christ, is received by the Father as worship...the kind that really matters. It matters because it leads us into the process of transformation...in our actions and our thinking. It opens our hearts and minds to know and follow the perfect will of God...that which is good and pleasing to Him. In turn, we explore the journey of His purpose in our lives and that brings great joy to us. I know because I've been there, and I've worshiped.
So, the next time you find yourself in a place that captures your attention...something about God's creation, a critical turn in life's road, or maybe just a conversation with a friend over coffee...abandon yourself to God in that moment, worship Him, allow Him to work in you and through you to fulfill His "good and pleasing and perfect" purpose. You will be there...and you will worship.
“I have one desire now – to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.” ~Elisabeth Elliot
Have you experienced one of those "You had to be there" moments? Where was it? How did God speak or impact you? What did you learn about Him, and about yourself? Comment about your experiences. Like and share as well to get a conversation going.
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!
God, Let Me Help You Out!
It was September 18, 2010. My wife and I had traveled from our home in central Arkansas to middle Tennessee, for a weekend of ministry. We had been invited back to the congregation we had served for 10 years, as they were dedicating a new facility to serve their community. As I prepared the message I would share that Sunday morning, I had no idea how the truth God showed me would be a test of my own trust in His sovereignty.
The dedication message on that Sunday would come from Joshua 4:1-11. It was a challenge and encouragement to stack the stones of life that represent how God has worked in us, so that they offer a memorial/testimony of praise to His glory. I encouraged the people to glorify God because He is faithful, honor Him as the Great Provider, and to glorify Him for the sake of future generations.
...“Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
God has a knack of bringing the truth of His Word into the reality of our daily lives in ways we might not expect. Saturday night, prior to my sermon presentation, the process began to do just that. I would have the opportunity to have my trust in God's sovereignty tested and tried and proven. That evening I received a call from a pastor of one or our churches in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. As the call unfolded, I learned of the tragic accident that resulted in the death of one of their high school students in the church and school. The loss of this young man was having a ripple effect among the students and the community. They needed someone to come and provide crisis/grief counseling to their students and families. He asked if I would come and help.
Take Charge and Get Things Planned
Time was of the essence. The students, staff and families needed support and counseling as soon as possible. There was no time to waste, so we went to work trying to plan the logistics of getting me to St. Croix and getting my wife back home. I had to re-pack and arrange my flight out of Little Rock, once I returned home on Monday. It was a 7-hour drive back to our home, the best I could do was to arrive on the island on late Tuesday evening. This was at least 24 hours too long. But, what could we do? How could we make it work? We were working as hard as we could to come up with a plan. Nothing seemed to work to make the timetable meet the need. Our best efforts were coming up short.
Life is like that sometimes...we think we have it figured out, or we give our best effort to make things work out as needed. Our best efforts sometimes fall short. But, when we trust God's sovereignty, things come together in ways we can't imagine. That's because He isn't limited by the same things that limit us.
God Already Has It Worked Out
As we were developing the plan, it was in a conversation with the travel agent with whom we were working that it suddenly occurred to us...we were thinking about this all wrong. The agent pointed out to us that we were already in an ideal location to make the timetable work perfectly. Flying out of Nashville provided a flight schedule that was perfect for our needs. So, I booked my flight for 6:00 am on Monday morning, heading to St. Croix. My wife booked her flight to Little Rock for 6:30 am. Our vehicle was left at the airport for me to drive home upon my return. Friends picked her up at the airport to get her home. I was on the ground on Monday afternoon in St. Croix, at 2:45 pm...over 24 hours earlier than we could have made possible with our original plans. What about my clothes (I had only packed for a two-day trip)? The ministry in St. Croix purchased clothes for me to wear during the week I was there. You see, God already had me in the ideal location at the ideal time to make it possible to go and minister to the needs of hurting people. God's sovereignty is perfect as He goes before us to prepare the way...His faithfulness is sure, His provision is enough and His timing is perfect.
Does God Need Our Help?
I was reminded that week, that God is always at work to accomplish His plan. He isn't surprised by the unexpected circumstances of our lives. I've found that there is tremendous comfort in the reality that God is already present in the moments we have yet to experience. He is already there to be present with us when we arrive. That means He already has it under control. He is already there with the resources we need to be sustained and equipped for the moment.
The next time we face those unexpected challenges...the struggles or opportunities that life presents...let's lean into His sovereignty and trust His goodness. He doesn't need us to help Him out. He just wants us to look for His hand at work...and find peace. That is how we know we are living a life of purpose.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
How have you experienced the sovereign hand of God...working in your circumstances? Are you in a place right now that you need to trust the guidance of God's Spirit? Share your thoughts and experiences to encourage or be encouraged. We would appreciate if you would like and share the post as well.
[This post is a companion to the podcast, episode 5, by the same title. Hop over here to listen before you read on.]
The sun was just beginning to set over the hill that overlooked our subdivision. The smell of freshly cut grass lingered in the air and the shouts and laughter of us kids floated above the pulsing din of the cicadas. Our parents watched from the back deck of our neighbor's house as we zigzagged across the yard, mason jars in hand, trying to capture as many fireflies as we could. Those elusive insects were here, then there, and we darted toward each flashing light, trying to catch another one before it disappeared into the fragrant wall of honeysuckle that bordered the grass-carpeted playing field of our childhood antics. We finally collapsed onto the lawn, laughing, sweaty bodies itching from the grass in which we rolled. Our parents called us to come in as the last glimmer of light faded from the summer sky.
Summer...it is my favorite season of the year. It was as a child, and it continues to be so now. I love the sunny days, the warm nights, the comfort of being outside and all of the fauna and flora that come with it. Some of my fondest memories are associated with summer.
Conversely, I don't like winter. It may be overreacting to say I hate the winter season, but not too much so. I don't like the cold, damp days. I don't like the short days that go from dreary to dark all too quickly. I don't like the dead look of the vegetation. I don't like to walk on brown grass that crunches under your feet. Snow...well, that's the only redeeming element of the season.
But, here's the thing...we don't get summer without having winter...at least here in North America. You see, after enduring the harshness and unpleasantness of winter, I get to see everything gradually come to life in the spring...trees budding, flowers blooming, birds singing, young wildlife running about. Then, spring gradually transitions into those lazy, hazy days of summer...at least in a perfect world. But, you get the idea.
Bottom line...seasons are all necessary and each one serves its purpose. The same is true in our lives. We go through various seasons over the course of our lives and each one fits a need in the linear process. Sometimes they build upon one another, at other times they provide transition, and still others, they place us on a sort of hold to give us a chance to reset. These, and many others, are the reasons that seasons exist in our lives.
I was just finishing up the season of college life when I was preparing to get married. My fiancé and I had spent months planning, dreaming and expecting the big day that would start the next season of our lives. She had another year of college to complete and we would make our first home together in Nashville while she finished up. Everything was set, except for one thing...I needed a job to support us as we embarked upon married life. I was sweating it as the wedding day was only two weeks away. However, just at that moment, a job came through. God answered our prayers. My Dad was happy, as he had suggested just a few weeks before, that we might want to consider postponing the wedding until I had a solid income. God always shows up on time. Here's the kicker though...my job...it was working at a funeral service college, as the staff assistant. That meant a lot of things, but one of them was that I would be interfacing with deceased people and grieving families. I learned a lot about the funeral industry and how to help those who were hurting, and I came to understand more about those who would be serving their needs.
At the time, it was just a job. I needed to pay the bills...to pay our $180 monthly rent, buy our $40/week groceries and the gasoline for our one car that my wife and I shared between our jobs and school. The on-call nights, transporting of bodies from hospital morgues to funeral home prep rooms, the removal of deceased family members from their homes and even the occasional graveside service conducted for a person who had no family or friends to come and pay their last respects...these were the day-to-day of my job. To some, it was a morbid occupation. To others it was weird. At the time, for me, it was just a way to pay the bills. It was a season that was a transition to what God had called us, or so I thought. It would not be until later, that I would look back and see just how important that year of struggle and adventure was as it prepared me for the season of life and ministry that would come. Here are a few of the things that I learned during that year:
Dependence Upon One Another as a Married Couple
During our first year of marriage, my wife and I lived 5 to 7 hours away from each of our families. While they were supportive of us during those months, giving us groceries and treating us to meals out when they came to visit, they were not there with us day to day. That meant that, when we faced a conflict or challenge, neither of us could run to parents for support or consolation. Instead, we had to figure it out ourselves...we had to lean into one another and strengthen our relationship through communication and understanding. That strengthened our marriage a great deal during those first 12 months and laid a foundation that has been strong ever since...even through the harshest of tests.
Money Management and Faith for Needs
That first year of marriage was filled with wonderful things for my wife and I. We experienced so many firsts and it was a year of growing in our relationship, learning how to be on our own and dreaming about our future. To say it was a challenge for us financially that first year, is an understatement. With my minimum wage job and the money my wife earned by cleaning a couple of houses, we had just enough money to meet all of our obligations. Every two weeks, we even had enough money on Friday to go to Mr. Gatti's Pizza for dinner...our splurge! We learned to be faithful in giving our tithes first, and we learned how to make a little go a long way. Those lessons have served us well all of our married life.
How to Comfort People Who Have Suffered Loss
Dealing with death and dying is not something that every person is comfortable with, nor with which they have experience outside of their own loss. As someone who would be involved in pastoral ministry and counseling, having this experience was invaluable for learning how to care for people who are hurting. I was miles ahead of my peers as a young minister when it came to being there for our people who were facing the loss of a loved one.
As I mentioned before, part of my responsibilities in this position was to serve on-call duty on a rotation schedule. When on call, I had to leave, whatever hour of the day or night, to go to a hospital, nursing home or private home and remove the body of a decedent and transport to the funeral home. This required me to be flexible with my schedule. It taught me that it was necessary to be available at a moment's notice when people are facing tragedy. I would be called to that duty many times over the years.
Organizational Leadership and Planning
While at the funeral service college, my duties were varied...I basically served to support the Dean in whatever way needed. One of those responsibilities was to schedule the clinical rotation for the students. While it was not a complicated task, it helped me to learn about planning and working with personnel. Getting my feet wet in this process would give me experience that provided a foundation for the many organizational planning and leadership roles I have fulfilled over the years.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God Wastes Nothing
So you see, this season of life turned out to be more than just a year of waiting for life to start. It was a training ground in so many ways. It proves that God wastes nothing.
This is a truth that we all need to understand when it comes to pursuing and fulfilling our purpose in His master plan. He uses everything in our lives as a part of His shaping and forming process, so that we can fulfill His purpose for us. For each of us that is unique, and for all of us it is the same. What I mean is, He molds us into a vessel of honor as He prepares and uses us to fulfill our unique role in His Kingdom. He molds us into the image of His Son, so that we can all become more and more like Jesus until we arrive at our ultimate destination to spend eternity with Him. We will never understand how to fully pursue our purpose without understanding that simple truth.
And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.
The prophet Isaiah cried out on behalf of the people of Israel to confess their sins and seek mercy and grace from God who loves them. In the midst of his plea, the prophet acknowledges the thing that they need most...God's recreative work to be displayed in them. As the Master Potter, God will shape our lives to make them beautiful pieces of art that are useful in a world that needs our beauty and light. Like those fireflies glowing in the mason jar. We become vessels filled with His light to shine brightly in this world.
How is/has God used a particular season in your life to shape you for His purpose? What have you learned in certain seasons of life that had equipped you well in your journey with Christ? What season do you find yourself in right now and how do you believe God is going to use it? Let's get a conversation going and share your thoughts in the comments.
I stood at the end of a road that used to lead to one of the most popular resort areas on Mindanao, Philippines. This road was well traveled because it led to the mountain resorts that Filipinos and international tourists would flock to in search of relaxation, leisure and escape from the heat, in the mountains near New Bataan. But, this day, the road was not traveled by tourists and people on holiday. Instead, it was a dead end, as the roadway literally disappeared into a sea of boulders (some the size of an automobile), tree trunks, mud and debris. There was an earie quiet as people stood, or slowly milled around among the scattered items that had been left in the aftermath of the raging avalanche of water that had devastated this region just a month earlier.
On December 4, 2012, Typhoon Bopha, nicknamed "Pablo" made its way across the southern Philippines island of Mindanao and left a path of destruction that wiped out coastal villages, flattened banana plantations and destroyed the homes of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos. After the storm had passed, and days of search and rescue, and weeks of recovery efforts were made, this category 5 storm had killed over 1,000 people and displaced more than 400,000. Standing there in disbelief at the destruction I was viewing, trying to imagine this massive river of water, a mile wide, that had swept boulders, trees, structures and people from the mountains into the valley, two filipino men walked up to talk with our team (I was with a Christian humanitarian aid team from the U.S.) and share their stories. With them was an older man, who was blind, being led by his grandson, a young man in his twenties. As they told the story, they described the impact of the storm, the chaos of its violent force as 160 mph winds ripped through their house and uprooted trees. They talked about loved ones who were swept away and never found. The elderly gentleman, who spoke no English, shared with us through a translator, how he had been swept from his home and family and carried by the flood waters for miles before being rescued, along with his grandson. They were the only two surviving members of his family. As we stood in awestruck silence, listening to their stories, we were astonished at their survival. Because we were obviously not Filipinos, they knew we were there as a part of recovery and support efforts and they thanked us for our work. In a bit of a spontaneous response, we stopped to pray aloud for the victims and their families in the aftermath of this catastrophic experience. When we uttered the final "amen," one of the young men picked up a small smooth stone and handed it to me. "Take this with you to remind you of the people of New Bataan," he said. I smiled and assured him I would do so, and to continue to pray for their healing and recovery. We shook hands as he smiled and thanked me once again.
They're called "the smiling Asians," I'm told...Filipinos. Typhoon season is an annual experience in southeast Asia, and especially among the Philippine islands. Every year they brace themselves for the storm systems that make their way through this region of the world. It is a part of life in this country that ranges from remote primitive villages to sprawling, modern cities. If there is one word I would use to describe the Filipino people, it would be resilient. My job as part of the humanitarian team was to do crisis counseling with the people who came through our mobile clinic. After receiving medical care, they would meet with me and (usually through a translator) I would explore their support network, provide mental and emotional processing for grounding and spiritual counseling of hope and the gospel. I always offered to pray with them, and I don't recall anyone refusing. But, one thing struck me through all the hundreds and hundreds of people I met over those days of ministry...it was the HOPE that they held in spite of immense odds against them. The experience taught me what hope looks like and, because many of them found their hope in Jehovah Jireh (The God who Provides), that lasting hope comes from the One who has us in His hands. It was a beautiful intersection of purpose...I was living out my purpose in serving the needs of the Filipino people, and they were living out their purpose in demonstrating the powerful hope of the Savior in the midst of trials! What a lesson in God's sovereignty!
Though this storm was the most powerful to hit the Southeast Asian islands to date, they had no idea that, just a few months later, on November 3-11, 2013, super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) would strike further north in the islands of the Philippines bringing destruction. Haiyan resulted in over 7,300 casualties and over 28,000 injured. Yet, the faith and hope of the Filipino people remained strong. Take a moment to watch the video below and note the hope that is expressed by those who were in the midst of suffering! I'll wrap this up on the others side.
Without hope, all is lost. It is hope that has kept people strong and resilient through the most difficult of circumstances. Prisoners of war survived their captivity because of hope of rescue. Cancer survivors have persevered because they had hope of healing and recovery. The greatest obstacles we face in life can be overcome because of hope. This is no surprise to those who have experienced the redemption of Christ. The good news of Jesus Christ...Messiah...is a story and message of hope.
So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
You see...God has made a promise and, as the scriptures tell us, He cannot lie. In Him...that is in Jesus Christ, we find refuge, hope and access to the Father, therefore, His eternal life. That is the hope that anchors our souls. Perhaps a quick acrostic will help to drive it home for us.
We have hope, no matter our circumstances, because...
Honesty Opens the Door to Hope
In the video clip above, and in my experience in talking with the Filipinos I met in 2013, I realized, if anything, they were brutally honest with themselves and with God. They didn't sugar coat their situation, or try to explain it away, or live in denial. They faced their situation head on and were honest enough to say, "This is how it is." But, those who followed God (or at least acknowledged Him) were also honest enough to look to Him rather than blame Him. That's a huge lesson for us...when tough times come, honesty with ourselves and God is the first step to seeing our situation through eyes of hope.
Openness to God's Plan
God is always working out His plan in our world. He desires that all people come to Him and receive the salvation Jesus purchased (2 Peter 3:9). God is also working out His plan in and through you as His follower. Our hope is predicated upon the reality that we are in His hands and we are a part of HIs plan. Knowing that He is in control and is working all things for our good, provides hope in the bleakest of times.
Perseverance Through the Tough Times
Perseverance is both learned and enabled. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that we do our children a disservice by "rescuing" them from every tough moment that comes their way. When the going gets tough, parents sometimes step in and remove the struggle or remove the child from the struggle. That is the worst possible thing to do in those moments. Our children need to learn to persevere through hard things and to learn to wait, push through, figure it out, and ultimately, trust God in those circumstances. Paul recognized this value when he wrote the message Jesus gave him about persevering, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Hope enables us to persevere, and perseverance sustains our hope.
Entrance is Made Possible by Jesus Christ
The writer of Hebrews 6 (above) informs us that when Christ died for us, He tore the curtain that separated the Holy Place, from the Holy of Holies, in the temple. That area (Holy of Holies) was the most sacred place in the temple. It contained the Ark of the Covenant, atop of which was the Mercy Seat. This was the place where God exhibited his presence and where, twice a year, the High Priest would go in to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice to atone for (seek forgiveness) the sins of the people. This most holy place was so sacred that the priest would wear a bell on his garment so that those outside would know that he is still alive, and would have a rope tied around his ankle so that, if he went in without having been cleansed from his sin through repentance, he would die and they would have to pull him out with the rope. Suffice it to say, going into the presence of the Most High God was a serious matter.
However, when Jesus paid the final sacrifice, doing away with the animal sacrifices that had only pointed forward to His ultimate provision, that curtain that separated all people from the presence of God, was torn down. He made it possible for all of us, through His redemptive work, to have access directly to the Father. We no long have to have another man go to God for us. This Hope we have in Jesus has delivered us directly into the presence of our heavenly Father and we can communicate with Him directly. So, in life...through all of our ups and downs...no matter the situation...we can go to God with our needs and our hurts and our failures...we have hope because we have access to the One who gives abundant life through Jesus Christ. That is a hope that endures...the anchor for our souls!
If you haven't done so, hop over to our podcast and listen to the latest episode as Christian Hip-Hop artist, Kyren Monteiro, shares his story of "Hope for the Broken."
How has hope sustained you in the dark times? Where did God show up in life to bring hope for you? How have you had the opportunity to fulfill your purpose and share the Hope of Jesus with someone? Share your stories in our comments and let's get the conversation going!
"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.
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!