Reflecting on a Purpose-filled Life

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

bowThere is something incredibly profound in the relationship Paul has with Timothy that speaks of Paul’s integrity as a follower of Christ. After warning Timothy about those who are not true followers of Jesus, he reminds him of what is true, encouraging him to remain steadfast because of what Timothy has seen in Paul. I find this incredibly challenging and convicting in my own life, desiring to be able to say this to my children and those I disciple. Paul seems to have gotten it all right:

Teaching – Paul is confident that all he has taught is right and completely in sync with all that Scripture reveals.

Conduct – This takes the teaching to the next level, because he’s confident to say that his conduct has matched up with his teaching. One never points this out unless it’s demonstrable.

Aim in life – Timothy can see what Paul sees as his purpose and what is valuable based on his priorities and goals. Again, this must match up with both teaching and conduct. If the teaching is not right, the conduct not in line with the teaching, then the priorities will be skewed.

My faith – Paul clearly believes what he says based on his actions. He truly trusts the Lord in all things as demonstrated by the way He lives His life. This is obviously more than lip-service.

My patience – Now he’s getting personal. If he believes and trusts Christ, he is content to wait on the Lord which includes showing patience for God’s work in others. Rather than trying to “fix” someone or manipulate a situation, Paul will speak the Truth, live the Truth, encourage growth, but leave the results to God.

My steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings – In the face of great suffering and challenges, Paul stays the course. His faith and belief in Christ and the Word of God motivates Him to persist regardless of the circumstances.In spite of the fact that evil will continue and even increase, Timothy is to continue to become more Christlike through what he has learned and seen and what he has read through Scripture, the very words of God. Because of his life and discipline, Paul has “street cred” and can encourage Timothy, with confidence, to persist. Paul need not depend on the “do as I say, not as I do” cop-out. Rather, he can simply say to Timothy, “Follow me.” What power that carries and what a difference it makes in a life!

Admittedly, it is so hard to live this kind of life.  Frankly, though, if Paul can do it, anyone can. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changed Saul, an enemy of Christ, into Paul, arguably the most influential of all of the apostles of Christ, and it is that same power of that same Holy Spirit that can do that in me!

A World of Contradictions: Redux

For several years, I wrote and maintained a worldviews blog called Espresso Roast (toward the end, I invited a few friends to contribute, as well). Though I have long-since stopped writing on that blog, I do keep it online because there were a lot of things I commented on that I feel are still relevant to the world we are living in now (makes it sound like I wrote it fifty years ago).  So, I thought I’d go through some of the more important things I think we need to consider and re-post them here from time-to-time.  

“A World of Contradictions” deals specifically with the topic of abortion, but more broadly about our tendency to disengage our critical thinking in order to more easily adopt logically opposing views that suit our personal agenda or flavor of “truth”.  My hope is that you will consider this example and use it as something of a template in order to evaluate other instances of this in our culture today.  The ability to recognize it leads to the ability to live consistently and rightly in a crazy world of contradictions.

The following was originally posted on November 24, 2004…at 8:45 a.m.  

a world of contradictions

although I know that it is a sign of our current times, i still never cease to be amazed at our culture’s ability to embrace contradictions. we live in what many have labeled a “culture of death” because of our acceptance of abortion. this is an issue that divides our country at every election and practically every day in between. people vehemently defend the woman’s right to choose while others defend the baby’s right to live.

supposedly, the issue has been settled by the courts. the supreme court ruled that life begins at birth. well, then there comes the peterson case in which this guy is charged with murder…two counts. the fetus which isn’t yet a person is now given rights. that’s right, the right to live, and scott peterson is charged with fetal homicide.

the most recent instance of this type of crime came out this morning in louisville, where i live. a man has been charged with killing his unborn child by beating his ex-wife. a 19 year old man was arrested tuesday afternoon for beating his 18-year-old ex-wife who is in stable condition at a local hospital. according to the report, “her 5-month-old unborn fetus died after what police said was the latest of beatings the young woman suffered.”

first, it’s hard not to feel absolutely enraged by the level of brutality and cold-hearted cruelty demonstrated by this man (and i use that term loosely). i suppose this, in part, speaks to one of the prevailing attitudes: either 1. this man truly didn’t care that he could kill this child, 2. wanted to kill the child, or 3. didn’t even view it as a child. either way, we see demonstrated a devaluation of human life.

then there is the whole idea of fetal homicide. exactly how can there co-exist two laws on the books, one that says doctors can kill unborn children but nobody else can? is that not completely irrational? help me here, because i don’t see it. if i’m right here, i assume that it goes all the way back to the woman’s body thing. i think what we have is that a woman who has become pregnant, for whatever reason, has been given the charge of declaring human value. it seems to me that if the woman wants the child, even unborn, the child is a person…a human being. if the woman doesn’t want the child, the unborn child is not a human being. even on this level, there is a terrible contradiction. regardless of the judgment of the woman, the unborn is either a child or it isn’t. there cannot be, in reality (though i often question whether many actually live in that realm), two women standing side-by-side, one carrying a non-human, potential child…a fetus, and the other carrying an unborn human being…a child, determined to be so simply because each of the women have judged them to be so. sounds crazy, but i think that’s really what is going on within our legal system, and our culture at large. i suppose this is what we get when we have a legal system divorced from a transcendent, almighty God who alone is equipped to make those judgments. we have to make decisions like this that we have demonstrated our inability and incompetence to do so intelligently…in short, we were never designed for this.

so, i suppose we will continue to live in our duality, accepting, if not embracing, the contradictions we face in morality, ethics, religion, politics, and i suppose the list could go on and on. actually, i hope that is not the case. i hope those of us who believe in a transcendent, almighty and sovereign God will make our voices heard…not with a graceless condemnation on those caught up in the contradictions, but with compassion and love for a world caught up in the confusion and a message of hope that is found in the Author of life and order. 

Balance

This year for me is all about balance.  I’m trying very hard to seek “moderation in all things” and imbalance in none.  That’s a huge challenge for me!  So far, though, I’m eating right, working out regularly, finding consistency in Scripture reading, and working towards balance between work, family and personal time.  That last one may be the most difficult challenge for me thus far…not sure why.

The cool thing is that I’m enjoying life this year more than ever.  Living life intentionally makes all the difference in the world.  Actually, intentional living (based on 1 Corinthians 10:31) is when real living happens.  Is this easy?  No, not really, but I am committed.  Hopefully, if and when I waiver, some of my loving friends will gently help me get back on track! 🙂  So, how are you doing this year?  What is your area of biggest challenge regarding balance?

Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do

I am guilty. I didn’t know I was guilty until I stopped long enough to consider it and then it hit me. Yeah…I’m guilty. Of course, if I’d considered it earlier, I would have understood the depth of my guilt, but as it is, I was too busy to get it. I get it now.  I’m too busy.  That’s it.

I don’t think I’m the only one who is guilty.  You’re probably guilty, too.  Of course, you are taking the time to read this, though that can be just another sign that you’re guilty.  I guess it depends, doesn’t it?

There used to be a great exercise…a discipline, really, that great men and women used to engage in long ago.  Some still consider it a necessity, but on most, it is a lost art form; a craft long since abandoned as we have bowed to the ever-powerful god of the full schedule.  That great lost comodity is the ability and the practice of Thought.  Deep thought…extensive thought…meaningful thought.

Why have we given up on thinking?  Well, first, one might say that we haven’t; we think all the time.  If we didn’t think, we wouldn’t function.  True on the most shallow level of thought.  Real thinking, though, is taking time to consider, to contemplate, to roll things through our mind undisturbed by the outer world until we come to a conclusion.  It is considering the state of the world, the state of our souls or the state of Man.  It is wrestling with a problem until a solution is reached.  It is asking the greater and deeper questions about life and God and the human condition and staying with it until there has been progress made towards understanding (even if we never fully get it).  That is “Thinking,” and to answer my earlier question, we have given up on it for at least three reasons:  we’re too busy, it takes work, and it’s unproductive.

Now, I’m not going to tackle the first two in-depth for the sake of space, but I will a little on the last one because it goes to the state of our minds and, for lacking of a better word, our thinking. I’ll talk about it in the first person, because I am the one here who is guilty…not you (?).

I get so busy (sometimes for busynesses sake) with life and ministry and all of the other stuff in life that I fail to build in time to just think.  I always have to have noise.  There needs to be something going on.  I feel as though if I’m not doing something, I am being unproductive.  I need to produce something…results! We are a results-driven culture and if we do not produce those results, we have wasted time…been un-productive, the greatest sin of all in our society.

I counter that thinking first pragmatically.  Quite simply, great thoughts produce great ideas, which in turn, produce great results.  Without great thoughts there will be bad ideas, and substandard results.  Perhaps there would be better production if we valued “think-time” enough to actually build it into our schedule!

Secondly, on a more holistic level, we become better people when we value the time of contemplation.  Constant noise leads to inner chaos and emaciated souls.  When we fail to cultivate the mind, we are shallow, weak-minded and under-developed.  The great leaders throughout history have always been great thinkers…men and women who valued the inner life and actively shut out the noise of the world to consider the drama being played out in their own souls.

These are things that I know; I understand deeply.  Yet I’m guilty.  I know that I will be a better husband, father, pastor…person if I will simply but intentionally build in time every day…every single day for contemplation.  On some days, it needs to be extensive.  On other days, it may just be ten minutes (and I’m talking here about in addition to any devotional time).  This is not a waste of time if I am truly contemplating life; if I’m asking tough questions about myself or the world at large; about life and relationship and suffering and solutions.  Great thoughts lead to great solutions, and I want to be a “solver.”  I want to be a great leader.  Maybe I will be or maybe I won’t be, but I bet the answer to that question is certain if I fail to be a Thinker!

the_thinker1

Fear, Itself. – 1 John 4:18-21

I’ve really had to chew on this passage and, to some degree, am continuing to chew as I write to see if what I’m thinking makes sense.  John says in 1 John 4:18 that, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Honestly, I think that verse is often used divorced from the rest of the section and without context.  I often hear that used in reference to taking risks to love other people.  In the narrow context, I think that misses the point, though in the broader context, it is still applicable.  However, if we don’t look at the context, we can miss the central meaning.

This verse (and the entire section that we’re looking at today) must be taken together with the verses that we read yesterday.  John talked in 13-17 about the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives, giving us internal assurance of our place within the family of God.  In essence, he says that because of the love God has shown them (the apostles) through Christ, they have come to believe in the love of God which leads us (by extension through their testimony) to a confidence that we will not face judgment.  That is the verse leading into the section for today, so the context is that we need not fear judgment because of the love of God.  That is the central idea: Because of the perfect love of Christ, if we are abiding in Him (finding our hope, contentment, purpose, etc.), we will have no fear of the future because perfect(ed) love casts it out.

So, really, John is giving us yet another test of how we can be certain of our standing with God through the absence of fear for the future, knowing in our souls (because of that indwelling testimony of the Holy Spirit) that we have been made right with God.  It doesn’t stop there, though.  John goes back to the idea of loving others as being partnered with this indwelling testimony.  There must be an outward expression of the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.  Namely, loving others.

Sure, it’s great to feel the confidence of our eternal security by a lack of fear of death.  Yet, if that is not coupled with unconditional love for others (which is commanded–see verse 21), we are still dealing with emotionalism or religiosity (which can often mimic a real relationship with Christ).  THAT is the marker of a life having been transformed into the likeness of Christ, not that we simply love those who love us or who are easily lovable, but especially those whom we find it difficult to love: the least of these, the poor, the outcast, the obnoxious!  With these tests, we can certainly get a pretty accurate read on our standing with Christ.  This is John’s continued goal and mission from his Gospel:  “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

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