Thursday, May 27, 2010

A higher purpose

I attended my youngest child’s high school graduation this weekend. For me, this means a time of added reflection on the years we’ve had her under our roof. As the only daughter after three sons, she was a delightful addition to our family; and her quick wit, wonderful conversation skills, and affectionate nature have brought tremendous joy to our home.

This is also a time I question whether I’ve fulfilled my purpose as her mother to prepare her to face the world. Does she have a firm enough foundation to keep her grounded during the next few years when freedom and opportunity offer her more chances to make big mistakes? Has she even begun to grasp her life’s purpose?

Graduating seniors are wrestling with big, life-altering decisions. Without a sense of purpose, without an understanding of why they’re here on the earth, the weight of these decisions can feel overwhelming. My prayer for each of them is that they would come to realize the eternal nature of their lives, which puts everything else into perspective.

God’s Words says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ, … he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone” (Ephesians 1:11, Msg.).

Where will you go to school? Where will you work? Where will you live? Whom will you marry? All these things are very important; yet, when placed against a backdrop of a higher purpose, one’s true calling, we understand that God has a plan. We weren’t placed here randomly and left without the resources needed to accomplish our divine purpose.

In Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, he states, “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillments, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

Once our graduates (and all the rest of us!) figure this out, the rest will fall into place.


OK, last week my darling daughter busted me for wasting time on Facebook, but right after that I connected with someone on that social network that I haven’t seen or talked to since the 1980s. Seeing her pictures and reading her notes to me the past few days have brought back fond memories of this lovely lady whom God used as a spiritual mentor in my life back when I was a young bride with small children, struggling to survive life in the cold Northwoods where my husband had dumped me and told me to stay! (I’m kidding, honey.)

Connecting with this woman and remembering her influence in my life (albeit through that “manipulating thief” Facebook) has caused me to reflect upon the many people whom God has used over the years to teach me about Himself and to draw me into a closer relationship with Him.

Of course it began with my parents who made sure I was in Sunday school and church every week – if there was a blizzard, we had church at home! I had two grandmothers whose Bibles I remember taking peeks at as a youngster. I had an older sister who, when I got off-course during my teen years, often reminded me that she was praying for me. And of course there have been many pastors and teachers over the years who shared their knowledge and wisdom with me.

My list of influences could go on indefinitely, and sadly, I’m afraid I’ve probably forgotten many of those who have touched my life along the way. Who’s to say something somebody said to me about Jesus when I was a child registered and stuck, although I have no conscious recollection of that moment?

We don’t know the influence we have on others.

I remember a man who used to greet little children by saying, “Hello. Jesus sure gave you pretty eyes.” Something so simple could begin the process of wondering and questioning and seeking and ultimately finding this Jesus – who gives pretty eyes.

It’s important to grab hold of opportunities to share Jesus with others. It doesn’t have to be a sermon preached with great fervor. It needs only be sincere and motivated in love.

Nose in the air

During this year’s Atlanta auditions for the hit show American Idol, a 63-year-old gentleman named General Larry Platt amazed and amused the judges and the audience with his performance of a song he called “Pants on the Ground.” If you’re not familiar with the song, surely you’re aware of the trend that had young men wearing pants multiple sizes too large for them, which resulted in the pants hanging … well below their beltline. And yes, I have seen at least one instance where a boy’s pants fell down to his ankles, and I thought, Don’t you realize how foolish you look?

There always have been and always will be fads – some good, some not so good – for people to follow, but in his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul encourages his young mentee not to get caught up in a tendency that’s still prevalent to this day.

You see, once we’re saved and our lives are changed by the work of the Holy Spirit (not by our own efforts), it’s easy to start thinking of ourselves as “very good” people while looking down our noses at others. But Paul says to remember, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3–5).

This is an important reminder to keep us in our place when we become too “pious.” It’s God’s kindness, love and mercy that has set us apart, not our goodness! How is our pride ever going to attract a lost world? We may not have our “pants on the ground,” but we look just as foolish walking around with our noses the air. And just as everybody waits to see if those baggy pants are going to fall to the ground, when we elevate ourselves above others, they’re eagerly waiting to see us fall – which will happen eventually, because “First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (Prov. 16:18 MSG).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Another spring

The other day I wandered around my yard, exploring buds and picking up old sticks. I was glad to see the cherry trees my son bought me for Mother’s Day last year survived the winter. I promised my sparse raspberry stand I would take better care of it this year. On the edge of the yard where we used to plant our garden, horseradish plants pushed through the earth—a gift from my dad who had a penchant for this strong-flavored root.

Sadness swept over me as I whispered, Another winter has passed and another spring has arrived without you in it. How can this be? Why do we keep looking for signs of new birth each spring when you’re not here to plow your beloved garden and tend to its produce all summer and rejoice in its harvest each fall? How can the seasons keep right on coming and going with this gap in the universe?

I wondered if things would ever feel “right” again or if this sense of loss would stay with me the rest of my life. I realized the latter would most likely be the case, and only our reunion day could fill the empty spot in my heart.

I turned my thoughts to that joyful day when I will embrace my loved ones again and never have to say good-bye. I smiled to think of the time we will walk hand in hand and experience a kind of perfect unity we never knew in this life. I realized that as long as I’m on this Earth, a deep part of me will yearn for the life that follows this one.

Like my dad’s plants stubbornly pushing their way out from beneath the earth year after year, our own rebirth and new life will come as surely as spring follows winter.

“Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us from this place and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom. Anyone who has been in the foreign lands longs to return to his own native land. … We regard paradise as our native land.”
— Cyprian

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

That others may see

I knew a woman in a neighboring city who used to be a waitress at a popular restaurant in that town. She told me that the worst shift to work was a Sunday morning/afternoon. None of the wait staff wanted to deal with the after-church crowd. Apparently, these fine, outstanding citizens who had put on their best clothes and just spent their obligatory weekly hour in “the Lord’s house” were rude, crabby, demanding, and truly lousy tippers!

For some reason I felt ashamed and embarrassed to tears when she told me this. I found myself saying, “I am so sorry!” even though it was not I who had committed this particular offense. I suppose my reaction was rooted in the same type of feeling we have when a family member has done something really stupid and shameful – are people going to assume we’re the same way because we’re related to that person?

This was this woman’s perception of Christians. She saw people coming from church, and she saw that their behavior was ugly. Ergo, people who go to church (i.e., “Christians”) are horrible. And since I’m a Christian, I felt compelled to apologize for others’ conduct.

Of course none of us can be responsible for someone else’s behavior, but we all must carefully consider our own conduct at all times.

Matthew 5:14, 16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; … Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” The world is watching more closely than we may realize. They are watching, and they are forming judgments about whether we have something genuinely life changing or if we’re absolutely no better off than they are. If there’s no difference, if we don’t shine God’s love and demonstrate His character, why should they want what we have?

It’s easy to get entangled in the emotions or the politics of a particular situation and forget our true purpose, but let’s remind one another that we’re called to be Christ’s representatives on Earth that others may see and glorify God.

Too many friends?

When I first joined the Facebook community, I teased my nephew for having over 700 friends. “How do you even know that many people?” I questioned.

He admitted there were a few on there he could probably delete because he really didn’t know them and never corresponded with them.

Ya think?

This got me thinking about friendships. How many friends does one need? Is having more friends better than having only a few? Which friendships are worth hanging onto, and which could be let go?

There are people we know who enhance our lives and help make us better people. In my life I would say these are the people who help keep me focused on God. My dearest friends are those who are sympathetic if I’m going through a difficult time, but ultimately they will point me to the Word, they will remind me of God’s faithfulness, and they will pray with me.

There are also people who complicate our lives and detract from our purpose here. With their minds set on the world and not on things above, it’s easy to get caught up in their trappings of gossip and negative thinking. They might be kind people who are lots of fun, but without a foundation of faith in God, what do they have to offer of lasting value?

Amos 3:3 (NKJV) says, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Friends are like-minded. If we gravitate toward fellow Christians who build us up in our faith, the strength we acquire from these relationships will carry into other relationships. We can bring the loving support we receive from the Lord and those who know Him to the friends who do not know Him.
The key, I believe, is balancing the proportions of whom we spend our time with. Remember, Jesus ministered to the masses, but He spent all His time with a few close friends who believed in Him.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'll cry if I want to ...?

I know that when it comes to emotions/feelings, I am an enigma to my husband. And even though I realize he’ll probably never “get” where I’m coming from, I am still compelled to dump all my feelings on him. After all, as a friend recently pointed out, he has “perfectly shaped ears,” designed, I’m sure, just for listening to me.

So year after year I make him listen to my tales fraught with mean people and difficult situations and just how hard life can be. And a common reply on his part is often, “That’s good for you! It will toughen you up.”

So year after year I’ve been telling myself that I need to toughen up and not be so sensitive – until I rejected that notion and said, “Wait a minute! Why do I have to be tough? God made me a sensitive person, and I’ll cry if I want to.”

Hmmm, maybe a reality check is in order.

God-given emotions are good. We have plenty of biblical examples of people expressing strong emotions – agonizing and weeping over the lost, for example.

God’s will is for us to be molded into the image and likeness of Christ. As we grow up in Christ, our emotions will reflect that growth. No longer slaves to bouts of depression, fits of anger, or spells of self-pity, our Spirit-filled lives will reflect His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control – and the wonderful emotions that accompany this fruit.

If you are a highly emotional person who feels things deeply and cries easily, rejoice in the knowledge that you are created in the image of an emotional God! At the same time, be willing to surrender any emotions that are not from Him; they will lead only to despair and destruction.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1–3).