Life on Purpose

26 01 2014

Have you ever come to the end of a week and you ask yourself “what did I accomplish?” I usually say this after a week that may have been busy but not productive.

One bad week is not the end of the world but what if after a month, a year or even a decade you felt you were busy but not effective.

If this happened in our professional life, we may be in danger of losing our job. If it is in the pursuit of our education, we would have lots of classes but no degrees. We see the need to have a plan and be focused so we can feel productive and accomplished.

What about our faith? It is easy to take this area of our life for granted. Often when someone mentions reading their bible they use the “whatever passage I open my Bible to” approach. While there is nothing wrong with that, it can result in our faith becoming stagnate. When it comes to church we either say yes to everything because we feel we have to or we don’t do anything because we have no passion or focus.

When I talk about having a plan and being focused, I am not talking about something you generate. There is a classic joke “if you ever want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” So what am I talking about? I am saying we should be like Jesus.

Please read Matthew 16:21-28. In this passage Jesus talked openly about the plan he was on earth to accomplish. Peter pulled him aside to correct him and Jesus told him “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (verse 23 NIV). Jesus went on to say it would be pointless if you gained the whole world but lost your soul. He said this with a warning if you choose to follow him you need to be willing to face hardships.

Jesus lived a life of purpose and focus. He had confidence and trust in his Father. He invites us to do the same. The only way we can do this is if we are intentional. Life can be busy and it can also be distracting. The result is our faith being set aside while we continue to be busy. In the end we feel frustrated because we have a feeling we are missing out on something better.

You and I have the incredible opportunity to make a difference in this world. We can only truly be effective if we are being faithful to what God has called us to do. This means that from time to time we need to pause and look at what we are doing. It is easy to get distracted and get lost in the business of life.

I encourage you to take some time this week to look at your personal time with God. Are you letting God lead and guide you? Does your prayer time include time to listen for God’s direction? Do you have a solid knowledge of the Bible? If you go to church are you serving? If you are serving why are you serving? Is it just because you feel guilty or is it because you are serving God with the gifts he has given you.

The result will be that you may need to adjust some of your day to day activity. You may need to be more intentional about how you read your Bible and what you do in the community. It will be worth it as you begin to see God at work and get the huge privilege of being a part of it. So let’s commit to living life on purpose.





God’s restraint –He wanted us more

13 07 2013

My wife is on a diet.  (This is when good husbands insert the comment, “She already looks great and does not need to diet but I will be supportive.”)  One of the keys to success in dieting is self control.  I watch Andreya have self control as she eats her lunch while three…okay four hungry boys eat a much different lunch.

Self control is critical to being successful in life.  I also believe it is vital to grow as a healthy Christian.

There seems to be two primary ways to get self control.  One is by establishing habits.  The other (and the one I want to focus on) is when we want something more than whatever we need self control for.  For example, if you really want an “A” in a class you will not watch TV but instead study.  Andreya wants to be at a healthier weight more than she wants that piece of chocolate cake.  (Sorry honey for reminding you of chocolate.)

Many people will try to have self control but fail.  I believe they fail because they either don’t have good habits or they are more focused on what they are giving up rather than on what they want.  When I keep thinking about how I am not suppose to watch TV, all I want to do is watch TV.  However, when I focus on the fact I want that “A,” I am not thinking of TV but I am focused on my class.

What do I want more?  That simple question seems to be a powerful tool to help me develop self control.

Here is the amazing part.  God never asks us to do something that he has not done.  God wants us to have self control.  What about God?  Has God ever demonstrated self control?

Walk with me through the gospels.  Luke 4:9-12 gives us some insight into the power available to Jesus.  Satan tempts Jesus to jump and see if the angels will do their job and catch him before he hits the ground.  Jesus turns him down by quoting scripture.  Just a little while later in Luke 4:28-30 we see Jesus walk through a crowd of people who wanted to throw him off a cliff.  He walked right through because he had the power to do so.  John 18 is about the arrest of Jesus.  Verse 6 shows the soldiers falling back as he spoke. Later in the chapter, verse 22, we see Jesus getting slapped by one of the officials.

Pause with me right here.  It is safe to say every angel in heaven wanted to pounce on that official.    Imagine all of God’s army at the ready begging to step in and save Jesus.  (There is a similar picture in 2 Kings 6:17.)

Instead of releasing the angels to protect Jesus, God restrained them.

Jesus wanted us more.  He demonstrated self control in the face of humiliation, beatings and ultimately the cross.  It is very humbling.  It is also inspiring and amazing.

If you are like me you will struggle with self control in some area.  Sometimes we will get self control by building good habits.  Other times we may need to pause and ask ourselves what we want more.  In that moment remember what God wanted more.  If you are like me it will put things into perspective.  You will be grateful and it will be easy to pick what you want.





What is bigger?

18 05 2013

I heard about a great website, iamsecond.com.  It has videos of a variety of people who declare “I am second” with God being first.  The videos are powerful and for those of us who are Christians they make perfect sense.  For those who are not Christians, I think the site does a great job of building a bridge and encouraging people to consider the possibility of being second.

When we look at the world, we see the ugliness of sin.  The escape of three women who had been held captive for a decade is one extreme example.  Each one of us have personal stories that make us cry or make us so mad we want to scream at the world.

That is where I found myself Friday afternoon.  I sat with a group of leaders wrestling with an ugly situation involving some of our people.  There was sorrow, anger, frustration…and the big question “why did this happen?”  Good leaders take it personal and look in the mirror to see if it was something they did or didn’t do.  They blame themselves and desperately want to fix it.

The easy answer is to tell everyone to become a Christian.  Of course the recent story of a Christian musician being accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill his wife might make some skeptical.  I prayed Saturday morning needing answers and thankfully God nudged me.

When we are focused on something larger than ourselves, we seem to get it.  If some catastrophe hits a city there are two choices.  Those who chose to focus on their community come together and great things happen and amazing stories are told.  Those who chose to worry about themselves loot.

I have a bias.  Jesus perfectly demonstrated what it meant to live a life focused on something bigger. It is amazing to mediate on the idea of God making our well being bigger.  Jesus didn’t have to die for us.  He chose to die for us.  He lived a life saying “not my will but your will be done.”  Even non-Christians are humbled by his life and point to his example.  Everyone can agree he lived for something bigger than himself.

When do Christians get it wrong? When we start worrying more about ourselves and stop caring about those around us.  When our needs and sadly often our wants become bigger.  We need to remember the one we follow.  He set the standard and promises to help us meet it.

This seems to be a universal principle.  I played through a variety of situations.  When we are focused on something bigger than ourselves, we act appropriately.  When we are focused on ourselves, we hurt others.  You can apply this to marriage, work, friendship…any area of your life.

Monday morning I will have the opportunity to sit back down with this group of leaders and offer my contribution.  It will need to be something that can be understood by everyone regardless of their faith.  It will need to be tangible.  I think I have the seeds of something good.

For those of us who are Christians, the world desperately needs to see that we are “second” and we are focused on something bigger.  For those who are not Christians I would ask you to consider what is bigger in your life.





Lent -the opportunity to reflect

15 02 2013

Have you ever been in a one way relationship?  The person only calls when they need something from you.  Anytime you do something together you end up doing what they wanted to do regardless of what you wanted.  Anytime you succeed they make sure you know that they did something better.  Over time it gets frustrating and either you distance yourself from that person or you just accept that is how they are hoping they don’t call to ask  what you are doing this weekend.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Lent.  It struck me as I was thinking through what I would give up for Lent that our relationship with God can sometimes become one sided.  We become that person who only calls God when we need something.  We ask God to come along with what we are doing but don’t pause to see what God would want us to do.  Others put God as the bad guy in the relationship.  They assume God is always looking down on them and even when they do something good, they should have done more.

Lent is a part of Church tradition.  It is a time for people to repent and consider the sacrifice Jesus made.  Many fast from something.  Let’s face it if Jesus can give up heaven to come to earth maybe we can give up sweets for 40 days.

That’s when it hit me.  By pausing and focusing on what Jesus has done for me, I was naturally looking at my relationship.  I could see elements creeping in that were making me a one way kind of guy.  I got excited because by making some sacrifices for Lent it gave me an opportunity to re-invigorate my relationship with God.  There is also value for the person who puts God in the bad guy role.  For that person Lent is an opportunity to reflect on what Jesus did.  It is amazing to think about God giving up his position to be born in a stable and live a harsh life most likely often at the edge of poverty.  Then, he willingly faced death in order to bridge the relationship between God and humanity.  Bottom line: you can’t look at Jesus and not see just how much God loves us.  Hopefully that moves God from being the “bad guy” to the rightful place as a loving God who deeply desires a personal relationship with us.

My prayer for you is that this Lent will be a chance to pause and reflect on your relationship with God.  If you are like me and need to balance out your relationship then join me in giving something up.  If you need to reconnect with God because you have lost the perspective of how much God loves you then I hope this will encourage you to take a step towards God.  In either case I appreciate Lent and the opportunity it gives us to reflect.





Pure Joy

29 01 2013

Have you ever had a bad day?  I know.  It was a silly question.  We all have bad days.  Some have bad weeks and others face years of struggle.  The longer we live the more we understand that life is not fair and suffering is a reality we must deal with.  Most people intellectually understand we need to respond well during difficult times.  To help us feel guilty we see stories of someone who has it way worse than we do but handles it with much more grace and dignity than us.

To increase our guilt the Bible seems to support this high standard of handling difficult situations with a positive outlook.  Take a look at what James said in his letter:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2 NIV)

I did a study of the verse and while the translators who wrote the NIV used the word “pure,” if you look at the original Greek the letter was written in you could also use the word “all.”  Imagine having a perspective of all joy while facing a trial.

So if you are a “good” Christian you walk around with a fake smile and praise God for the trial you are going through.  But what if the Bible is right?  What if there is this joy that is all-encompassing you can have as you go through a trial?  I believe that level of joy is available and waiting for us.

To get there we need to take two steps.  First, we have to believe this was not the way God wants things to be.  For proof just look at his reaction in Genesis Chapter 3.  We live in a fallen world.  This is why one of the pictures we use is the picture of God redeeming us or saving us.  This is why we look forward to Jesus returning.  We don’t expect Jesus to just stop by Wal-Mart on his way to Jerusalem.  We expect Jesus to bring an end to this fallen world and restore creation to God’s original plan.

Second, we need to see God’s response was to become personally involved and face suffering directly.  Jesus faced a wide range of pain and suffering before ultimately facing the cross.  Bottom line God gets it.

That’s when it hit me.  Those moments of all-encompassing joy happen in those intimate times of prayer when I am crying out to God and he hugs me and I know he understands.  The hug feels like a deep inner peace wrapped in compassion.  It is powerful.  In that moment my perspective changes and I am able to have a joy that puts things into perspective.  I am also reminded that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story.  He conquered sin and death and put suffering on notice that it’s time is limited.

I know there are a wide range of responses to what I just said.  For some they fully agree and have experienced those hugs.  For others they have lost that sense of connection with God or are angry with God and the last thing they want is to have God hug them.

Books have been written on this topic and a short devotional will not answer everything.  I would tell you that trials are the point where theology (our understanding of God) and practical life meet face to face.  We are forced to come to terms with what we believe about God and ourselves.

For those of you who have experienced those hugs I encourage you to spend some time thanking God.

For those who need a hug I encourage you to take a systematic theology class….not really.  I encourage you to not give up and to seek God in the midst of your trial.  It may mean talking with someone about what you believe and adjusting your understanding of God.  You may have to wait a little longer with confidence that at just the right time God will give you that hug.  The peace is amazing, the compassion is phenomenal and the love in incredible.

God is good.  I believe it.  I have experienced it and I hope you will too.





Jumping on the Bandwagon

20 01 2013

Yep. I am going to do it. I am joining the conversation about Lance Armstrong and not just because he has the same last name as me. I am joining because I believe it is critical for Christians to speak to the issues of life. We are not just a religion to make you feel good on Sunday mornings. We have good answers to the issues we face.

As I have matured in my faith I have learned the importance of transparency or “what you see is what you get.” Imagine if Lance had believed in being transparent when he was first tempted to try doping. Imagine if the first time he was accused he came clean and admitted it. From the news it appears doping was wide spread in the cycling community. Lance could have been a leader who brought integrity to the community instead of being the leader who perpetuated the problem and in the end brought disgrace to the community.

If you study Jesus’ interactions you will notice Jesus’ compassion for the person who was sincere and authentic. You will also notice that he always saw through the person who was trying to look good or hide their true motives. Jesus challenged those around him to be transparent.

I believe Jesus hinted at this in the Sermon on the Mount. In the first eighteen verses of Matthew chapter six Jesus challenged us to give, pray and fast in secret. I know “in secret” sounds like the opposite of transparency. However, think about it. If you are doing the right things for the right reasons that will naturally come out in every area of your life. Doing the right thing for the right reason is the byproduct of having a right heart. Having a right heart enables us to be transparent.

But we are human and we blow it. Sometimes we even lie. In steps the Bible. I love that it shows the nitty gritty reality of life. At the time the Gospels were written, Peter was “the man.” He was the one Jesus turned the reins over to. He was the “Lance Armstrong” of the church. You would figure he would want to manage his image. Instead we are told about his failure. When Jesus needed him the most, Peter lied that he even knew Jesus. How do we know this? Because Peter was open and honest about it. Most scholars believe Mark would have talked to Peter as one of his primary sources. At one level I believe Peter wanted it mentioned because for him it was not about him but about Jesus. Honoring Jesus was his focus. I don’t believe he cared what people thought about him. This gave him great flexibility to be transparent. Did he make a mistake? Yes, but he was willing to be transparent about it. This allowed him to deal with it (John 21) and move forward with his life.

It comes back to being focused on the right things for the right reasons. If you think about it when that happens you are not concerned with what people think about you. You are not concerned about maintaining a certain persona. You get to be yourself. That enables you to be a true leader.

Lance’s interview comes as we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. If you look at his life you will see he was not perfect. However, I would offer he tried to stay focused on the right things for the right reasons. We honor his life and his accomplishments. I believe the reason he could do that was because of his faith and focusing on Jesus.

This time next year Lance Armstrong will be old news. We will still be pausing to honor Martin Luther King Jr. I can’t promise we will ever make a holiday to honor you. I can promise that as you seek to do the right things for the right reasons you will become more transparent. As you become more transparent you won’t worry about the things that don’t matter in the long run. This will give you the freedom to make a real impact that will last. You will be a true leader.

For Christians this is our reality. This is what our faith teaches. I know it is much easier said than done. Remember we were not promised easy. We were promised it would be worth it.





Double fisted grip

16 08 2012

Today we drop our oldest son off at college.  There is a crazy mix of emotions.  We are excited for him.  We are proud of him.  We are scared.  We are sad.  We will miss him.  When I was sitting in the parent orientation and they were showing a video on dorm life, I could feel the tears trying to surface.  My son is leaving home.  I have to let go.

I am thankful God never does.  In John 10:28-29 Jesus gives us this picture of his grip on those who follow him.

28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

He is confident that no one can grab them from him.  Then, He goes a step further and says his Father also has his hand in the picture.  I love this picture of a double fisted grip.  I see it as us being in Jesus’ hand and Jesus’ hand being in his Father’s hand.

When our son was 10, I demonstrated this by putting a small rock in my hand and then wrapping my other hand around it.  I challenged him to try and get the rock.  He worked hard but was only able to pry a couple of fingers off the outer hand.  He still had to make through the second hand.  Needless to say the rock stayed secure in my double fisted grip.  (After he wrestled through High School and worked out all summer I am not sure I would try this now.)

How does this apply to our lives?  It gives us confidence as we face the day.  Situations and circumstances will constantly change.   We will have good days and not so good days.  No matter what our day brings at the end of it we will still be in the double fisted grip of God.  This leads to a change in perspective.  It is easy to see that this life is not always fair.  God sees it from a much broader perspective that includes all of eternity.  As I am sitting in God’s hand, I can begin to look at the world from God’s perspective (much easier said than done).   God never promised us an easy or safe life.  He promised a rich and rewarding life.  We live out our faith trusting God has a better perspective.  This gives us confidence.  A continuous loop is started.  As our confidence grows, we gain a better perspective which increases our confidence.

I want my son to have a rich and rewarding life.  I know he will face hard times.  I know he will face times when life will be unfair.  I also know God will hold him in that double fisted grip.  I will have to let go and have confidence God won’t (also much easier said than done).

Sometime today take a small object and put it in your own double fisted grip.  Thank God for his double fisted grip on your life.  My prayer is this simple exercise will increase your confidence and change your perspective.