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!

Sermon Video: The Calamity of Sowing the Wind

I’m always a little taken aback when I stop long enough to think of how easy it is to engage in trivial pursuits in life.  Hosea calls it “sowing the wind.”

Do you ever find yourself engaged in trivial pursuits?  Trying to attain things that ultimately don’t matter and can’t bring lasting satisfaction  Does your life demonstrate meaning and purpose?  Do you have a dynamic relationship with God that leads to meaningful pursuits or are you doing little more than chasing your tail, so that if you get it, you only find the pain involved with being wrapped up in yourself and your own destructive idolatry?

This week, I talked about the Calamity of Sowing the Wind.  Here is the video from that message:

The Gathering Chattanooga 05-19-13 Sermon from The Gathering on Vimeo.

Navigating Your Way Through a Wilderness of Purpose

Have you ever been stuck in a bad job? I think that might be one of the worst things we have to deal with in life because sometimes we really do feel stuck, like a caged lion or a wolf caught in a trap. You might be in one right now. If you are, I’m sorry. I’ve been there and know how difficult it can be.

How do handle it? Do you tolerate it until something better comes along? Do you do the bare minimum, pining away the days until 5:00 comes around, or whatever time you are freed for the day, praying for Friday to get here quicker? Are you so miserable that you make everyone else around you share in the suffering just by being in your vicinity?

If we’re not careful, any of these are real possibilities for us and when it happens, nobody is happy. We tend to drift towards our default in those situations which is to belly-ache (if you’re not from the Southern U.S., that’s complain or grumble…you’re welcome), become angry (which often leads to bad relations with your boss, fellow workers and family), or even despair, as though this is all there is and it will never get any better.

So, what other alternatives do we have? What should we do in those kinds of situations?

Lose the ‘Tude

I think attitude has a lot to do with it and, contrary to what many say, I don’t think you can simply will your way to a new attitude. You actually need a new perspective. When you think about it, your perspective is what leads to your attitude, so if you skip over the process of finding the right perspective and, instead, try and “white-knuckle” your way into a new attitude, you’ll never succeed because the underlying feeling about the situation remains unchanged.

Below, I’m going to give you some things you can do to help you develop a new perspective about the difficult situations which can lead to a whole new attitude which, in turn, can transform your drudgery into a new mission (read, purpose).

Before I do, though, I need to be clear on something which may determine whether or not you keep reading: I’m a pastor and follower of Christ. Therefore, my perspective is unapologetically biblical. I’m unapologetic because I don’t think you’ll be able to find a true inner joy in your work apart from a relationship with the One who gives joy. You find joy because it’s there to be found. There is reason behind it and that can only be real if it’s intentional, which doesn’t happen unless it’s there on purpose, and purpose, by definition, can’t happen by chance.

A world without God is a world without real purpose except what you invent (because, again, there has to be an inventor for it to be real and meaningful). If we are the inventors of our own meaning (Existentialism) then we’re essentially engaging in an exercise in self-deception (ironically, what many atheists accuse Christians of). Be that as it may, I’m speaking here from my own experience as well as many others who have experienced the same true joy in situations where there really should be none. So, if you’re open to hearing about it, read on.

1. Begin asking God, “Why?”

OK, you’ve probably already been doing this, but now try it with a new focus. Rather than something along the lines of, “Why did you do this to me, God?” or “How could you let this happen to me?”, start asking God if this is a wilderness of purpose.

The Wilderness of Purpose

God most often leads His people into the wilderness for one (or all) of three reasons: purification, protection, and/or preparation. If you are a follower of Christ, God is most likely working something into you, shaping you into what He wants you to be for the future He has prepared, or He is cleansing you from a wrong attitude, lifestyle, or impurity. Since that is usually a process, the situation He has you in might be a key factor in that. If so, then think about it: short-circuiting that process is the last thing you want to do since, in the end, you lose out on what He has for you.

The Primary P

Whenever we begin to sort through the possibilities of why we may be in our current situation, we always need to begin with the right “P”. Since God may have us in the wilderness, for purification, preparation, or protection, it’s important to begin with the question of purifiication. In Hosea 3, God makes clear that He is leading His sinful people into the wilderness to discipline them, which involves allowing them to despar until they turn to Him and away from the sin that would destroy them. God does the same with us. Start by checking your own heart to see if there is something that needs to be made right. Pray David’s prayer in Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

If you find something, confess it and turn away from it. That is a primary purpose of God’s wilderness.

Divine Boot Camp

Once you are certain you are not being cleansed from one or more sinful attitudes or practices (which, itself, can take some time, so be patient), then assume God is working in you to prepare and equip you. Now, it’s time to ask God what you are to learn through this, because if you have been adopted by God through Christ, there is purpose!

If you can get your mind and heart around that new perspective, it can lead to a whole new attitude, allowing you to embrace the wilderness you’re in with a renewed sense of excitement and joy at what God is doing in your life.

2. Ask God “What?”

Once you have adopted a new perspective on a tough situation, it’s important to ask another immediate question: “What do you want me to do HERE?” You must ask that question first before you begin thinking about what God has for you later or you’ll miss the present opportunities and assignments.

It’s easy, once you’ve embraced the process, to look too far down the road. Remember, God has you where you are for a PURPOSE. Find out what that is. It could be that the very thing that drives you nuts about your current situation is your assignment for now. Through humility, you may need to serve that co-worker that drives you insane. By doing so, you become a blessing to them and you get the blessing of becoming more humble, servant-minded and Christlike in your thinking. Remember, this is the goal.

Maybe the role you serve is simply to learn to become a good worker, learning how to do menial tasks with a good attitude, giving honor to your employer whether you like him or not. All of these things are important things to develop in your life that will be useful in other situations.

While working on a ThM at Southern Seminary, my “pay-the-bills” job was working at Home Depot, which (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with working at Home Depot) is decidedly NOT what I had spent the past 22 years in education preparing for. Nevertheless, I walked through this process of taking a new perspective and it quickly became my mission field. It changed how I thought, acted, talked and worked! A menial job for me became an important mission field and served to build some important qualities in me that I use today in my current assignment which I love! I began to work with purpose, leading to a more joyous experience in almost intolerable tasks.

3. Determine to stick with it.

I’m hesitant to make that a blanket statement because there will probably be a time when you will need to move on, so don’t get too comfortable in the process. This is where discernment from the Holy Spirit comes through spending time with the Lord in prayer and the Word. If you’re patiently listening as you read and meditate on Scripture, you’ll know when it’s time to move on and will be able to confirm it through godly counsel and encouragement.

Until the time comes to leave, stick with it, even though it may get harder and/or more tedious. God never promised it would be easy. In fact, the Word is pretty clear we should expect the difficulty. The Enemy will most likely do everything he can to stop you because for you to master the process is greater victory for you and more glory for God…something he most certainly wants to thwart.

4. Embrace the Journey
God’s call on our lives is not about a particular destination, per se. It’s about a journey. We are a very goal-oriented people. We’re trained to be that way from the time we’re toddlers: “What do you want to be when your grow up?” We’re shaped into moving towards some thing. While that is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, it certainly does not encourage us to embrace the journey of walking by faith as we listen to where The Lord wants us to go and what He has for us along the way. We fail to see that obedience to will of God is the final goal as we make our way towards eternity with Him.

More than once, I have set a goal out before me, only to have The Lord move me in a different direction. Only later did I realize what He had prepared me for earlier equipped me perfectly for His “detour”. Of course, at that point, we have to be careful not to hold on too tightly to that call, as The Lord might still have another chapter that looks very much unlike what we’re currently doing. The Journey doesn’t end until we step into His presence.

No, it’s not easy, but by embracing our journey through a wilderness of purpose, we find a clearer picture of the nature and character of God. We also find that we are drawn in more closely to His presence by experiencing the provision of His grace.

Are you currently in one of these bad situations you’re trying to navigate through? I would love for you to either email me or tell me about your situation in the comments section below. I’d like to pray for you and encourage you, if possible. Have you been through a wilderness of purpose and made it out the other side? Please tell me about it. I’m sure others would benefit from your story, as well.


Accidentally Creative…on Purpose.

I just read a guest post on Michael Hyatt’s blog that was absolutely incredible.  Challenging each of us to use the creativity we’ve been given to the absolute max, Todd Henry encourages us to set a goal for our lives to “die empty.”  Here is an excerpt from the post:

I was in a meeting in which a South African friend asked, “Do you know what the most valuable land in the world is?” The rest of us were thinking, “Well, probably the diamond mines of Africa, or maybe the oil fields of the middle east?”

 “No,” our friend replied, “it’s the graveyard, because with all of those people are buried unfulfilled dreams, unwritten novels, masterpieces not created, businesses not started, relationships not reconciled. THAT is the most valuable land in the world.”

Then a little phrase popped into my head in such a way that it felt almost like a mandate. The phrase was “die empty.”

Is there some God-given creativity in you that is being wasted?  Are you wanting to accomplish something, but are plagued by fear, doubt or laziness?  Join me, then, in a quest to squeeze every bit of it out every day.  No more excuses.  Let’s decide today that we’re going to fulfill our potential, determining to stand before God someday, ready to give account for the way in which we invested the gifts and talent he entrusted us with.   Are you with me?  Let’s go.  

Read the full post here.

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