Thursday, July 26, 2012

Purpose Gives Meaning to Life

A Peanuts cartoon had Charlie Brown shooting his new bow and arrow. Each time he shot it; he would run to the fence and draw a bull’s eye around the arrow. Lucy saw what he was doing and informed him that he was not doing it correctly. His reply to her was, “It works. I always hit the target.” Many people are like Charlie Brown. They are shooting their arrows into the air and drawing a bull’s eye around wherever they land. They operate under the old idiom, “If you aim for nothing you will hit it every time.” The problem with this philosophy is that it accomplishes little and it leaves the individual feeling empty and unfulfilled.

God did not create man to wander around without any sense of direction or purpose. He has a purpose for each one of us. When we discover the purpose God has for us and we commit ourselves to achieving it, our lives become meaningful and exciting. There are ups and downs but the sense of purpose we have gives us the strength to continue. The Apostle Paul was a man with a purpose. God explains his purpose to Ananias in Acts 9:15: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;” (NASB." Paul accepted this purpose and dedicated his entire life following his conversion to carrying the name of Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul understood that God does not give a purpose without providing the power to fulfill it. His sense of purpose gave him the capacity to carry on in the difficult circumstances.

John Maxwell addressed the affects of a sense of purpose on the ministry of Paul in a sermon titled “The Power of Purpose”. He suggested that purpose provided seven important benefits for Paul. Listed below are the seven benefits he used to demonstrate what purpose brought to the life of Paul.

-1- Purpose motivates.

-2- Purpose helps one set proper priorities.

-3- Purpose helps one reach his/her potential.

-4- Purpose provides the power to live in the present.

-5- Purpose helps one maintain a high moral.

-6- Purpose enables one to minister more effectively.

-7- Purpose gives one a way to measure progress.

It was Paul’s commitment to God’s purpose that gave Paul the strength to overcome the obstacles in his life. It was his commitment to God’s purpose that enabled him to write, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (( II Corinthians 4:7-10 NASB)

While we aren't like Paul, we all do have a God given purpose. He doesn’t wish to hide it from us. He is waiting for us to ask Him to show us. If we will ask, He will show us. It may not be an immediate response but He will show us. Once we have a sense of His purpose for our lives; once we commit our lives to fulfilling that purpose, we will find that it provides the same benefits to us as Paul’s purpose did for him. Isn’t it time that we stop shooting our arrows into the air and drawing a bull’s eye around where they land? Isn’t it time that we start to focus on the purpose God has given us and commit our lives to achieving it? Isn’t it time we step out of the world of aimlessness into the world of meaning and fulfillment? God waits patiently for each one of us to make that step.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Differences Make Us Stronger

My wife and I are very different. She is an extremely intuitive person. When she talks with someone, she wants to probe into the feelings behind what is said. When she talks with our children on the phone, she can generally sense when something is wrong. When I walk through the door at the end of a busy day, she can sense the kind of day I have had. On the other hand, I am a cognitive person. I tend to want to deal with facts. My intuition is not nearly as strong as my wife’s intuition is. When I talk to our children on the phone, I normally seek the basic facts about how things are going. Most of the time I am satisfied and my desire to know is fulfilled. While she tends to ask, “How do you feel about this situation?” I tend to ask, “Why is this situation the way that it is?”

An improper understanding might suggest that my wife is too sentimental and that I lack compassion. Neither would be a correct evaluation. We are simply different. We both care deeply about those around us, but we deal with things differently. Early in our marriage, before we had a better understanding of these differences, they sometimes caused stress in our relationship. In later years, we have come to understand God’s great wisdom in bringing two distinctly different people together in marriage.

Understanding Genesis 2:18 has helped to give us an understanding about why we are really good for each other. The verse reads, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” The key is an understanding of the phrase “help meet”. This term literally means to supply that which is missing or to complete. It is sad that some use it to suggest that a man should lord over his wife. It really means that God saw what was lacking in man and gave him his wife to complete him. I believe that this is a reciprocal arrangement. It is not about power or control but it is about completing one another.

This principle can be illustrated with a lock and a key. A lock without a key is of no use. A key without a lock is of no use. Together, they can provide a needed service. It would be foolish to sit around and to debate which one was more important. The fact is the lock and the key need each other to fulfill their purpose.

Understanding this principle has enabled my wife and I to understand that our differences should not be sources of irritation but sources of strength. We compliment each other. We help provide balance for each other. We have come to appreciate our differences. This appreciation has enlarged our ministry and helped us to move forward toward reaching our full potential. We thank God for our differences, because we know together we are at our best.

My purpose for this reflection is not to give a close-up look into the personal lifes. However, it would please us to know that someone might learn from our experiences. Hopefully, someone will be able to make an application to his/her life. Remember, if you and your spouse are opposites, God brought you together to compliment each other and not to confound each other. Appreciate the differences and let them bring balance to your life and your relationship.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rights and Responsibilities

It seems that every time you turn around today, someone is insisting that his/her rights have been violated. We have people protesting about animal rights, children’s rights, spousal rights, worker rights, free speech rights, and a multitude of other areas where individuals claim their rights have been violated. On the surface this may sound very American. However, when you look under the surface, you will find that obsession over our rights is not always a good thing.

When a society becomes obsessed over the issue of personal rights, it often looses its understanding of personal responsibilities. When our “Founding Fathers” wrote our “Constitution”, they understood that rights without responsibility would eventually lead to anarchy. They realized the necessity of hard-working, reliable, responsible citizens, if the law of the land was going to work.

One of the areas where this emphasis on personal rights shows itself most clearly is in marriage. In all my years, I have never had someone come to me and say, “Pastor, my marriage is not doing well. Could you help me to learn how to do a better job of carrying out my responsibilities as a husband or a wife?” To the contrary, the cries are usually about how the other person is not meeting our needs or respecting our rights. Please understand that I am not calling upon anyone to become a rug for someone else to walk on. I am saying there would be fewer problems in marriage, if each party thought of his/her responsibilities toward the other before dwelling on their personal rights.

Unfortunately, this obsession with rights has crossed over into the church. More and more church members have become fixated on what they think the church should do for them, while giving very little thought of their responsibilities toward the church. Of course, there is no scriptural basis for this way of thinking. In fact, the Scripture says the opposite. It clearly states that we have been given gifts not for our own personal gain but that we might serve others. Jesus wasn’t insistent upon his rights. He demonstrated His servant-leadership on many occasions. One example was when He took it upon Himself to wash the disciples’ feet.

A proper balance between rights and responsibilities can be seen in Paul’s writing. In Philippians 2:3, 4, he wrote: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Here Paul does not tell us to completely forget our own rights but he does make it clear that the first thought from our minds should be about others not ourselves, about our responsibilities not our rights.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The End of the Road

Our first trip to Juneau, Alaska was for our son’s wedding. Juneau is an interesting city. It is bordered by water and mountains. There are only two ways in and out, by ship or by plane. While we were there, my son and his future wife took us to the end of the road. As you might imagine the end of the road is just what it sounds like. It simply goes as far as it can go and it stops. It had been determined that it would be cost prohibitive to try to build a road through the mountains. Therefore the road ends.

“The end of the road” reminds me of life. Along the journey of life, we often come to the end of the road. We come to that place in life, where we simply can not go forward. When we arrive at such a juncture, we need not be discouraged. Some of the most exciting people in the Scripture encountered God in the most powerful manner after they had come to the end of the road. In II Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat found himself at the end of the road. The nation was facing an attack from a superior force and it appeared that they were going to be defeated. In his desperation he turned to God and said, “O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee.” (II Chronicles 20:12) God replied to Jehoshaphat, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (II Chronicles 20:15b)

Daniel came to the end of the road when he continued to pray to his God after the king had decreed that everyone should pray only to him for the next thirty days. For his obedience to God, Daniel was thrown into a den of lions. He found himself at the end of the road. The next day when he was retrieved from the lions den he said to the king, “My God sent His angel and shut the lion’s mouths, and they have not harmed me” (Daniel 6:22a

This is two of many examples of end of the road experiences in the Scripture. These two men who lived at different times and places shared several things in common. First, they were faithful to God and sought to do His will. Second, they were faced with situations they realized were bigger than they were. Third, they were wise enough to turn to the only One who could get them beyond the end of the road. Fourth, they received supernatural assistance from the God they trusted.

Their God is the same God that we worship today. He has not changed. When we come to our end of the road circumstances in life, we need to remember, like Jehoshaphat and Daniel; we have someone to call upon who is bigger than our problems. It has been my personal experience that the end of the road is the place where I often find the closest and most intimate encounter with the One who is able to deliver me and move me beyond the end of the road. It is at the end of the road that my faith grows, because it is there that I can no longer depend on my own ingenuity and I must turn to the One who is able. For this reason, while it is still a place that I would rather not go, I no longer view the end of the road as a bad place. Instead, it has become a place where I have the opportunity to see God work on my behalf.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Reflections

Memorial Day was established to create a time for the people of this great land to step back and reflect on the men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice in the defense of this country we all love. As I think about this special day, I always think of my father and five uncles who fought in WWII. I also think of my classmates who went to Viet Nam during my youth. I mention these two without any intention to ignore those who have fought in other conflicts, Korea, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflicts in which our nation has been involved. I think not only of those who made the ultimate sacrifice but also of those who came home changed forever by what they had witnessed. As I reflect on these men and women, I sometimes fill a taste of guilt in my own heart, because I didn’t have to serve. Knowing they went in my place makes me even more appreciative of their sacrifice.

As we give thanks for the men and women who have served or who are serving in our military, it is important for us to reflect upon another battle that has been raging for years. It will not be won on foreign battlefields but it will be won or lost in the hearts of individuals. While many try to remain neutral, all will be deeply affected by the outcome. It is a war for the moral soul of America. It is not a new war. It has been continuing for many decades. It is a war between those who support a worldview of society that is free from moral absolutes and those who support a view of society that is based on moral absolutes given to us by our heavenly Creator.

There is much more involved here than people realize. In my opinion, it is a war about survival. If we choose to discard all moral absolutes and continue down the trail of situation morality, we will go the way of the powerful nations in the past who indulged themselves in self gratification. We will fall.

The time for being neutral in this conflict is over. The outcome is too important to sit on the sidelines and watch. It is time for each one of us to decide what kind of America we want our children and grand children to inherit and how much are we willing to sacrifice for them to have it. It is time that we heed the choice give to Israel by Joshua: “And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…. but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” Joshua 24:15 NASB).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Two Frogs in a Tub

I wrote this article twelve years ago. Little has changed since I wrote it. If anything, the frog in the boiler is weaker than ever. The sad thing is that he doesn’t know what is making him weak.

I once read an illustration about two frogs. One was placed in a hot tub of water and he immediately jumped out to safety. The other was placed in a cold tub of water. Then, the water was slowly heated until it became hot. By the time the second frog recognized that the water was too hot for him, it had drained him of his strength and he could not jump out of the tub. I use this illustration to show how the lines between right and wrong have been blurred in our country. In fact, they have been blurred to the point that many people can no longer tell the difference. For these folks, it is not right or wrong that matters, but it is does it feel good? Or will it benefit me? In many ways we have become like the nation Israel at the end of the Book of Judges. The last verse of the book reads: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

This change has not come over night. It has developed one step at a time. As a boy, growing up in South Carolina in the “Fifties”, I was provided with a well-defined set of parameters for behavior that was considered decent and acceptable. My parents, who were not religious zealots, did not impose these parameters upon me but they were imposed by society. This isn’t to say that everyone walked within the parameters set by society. It is to say that people were more aware when they crossed the line. They had a clear understanding of right and wrong. Obviously, this society was not perfect. It had its blind spots. It sometimes justified behavior that was unjustifiable. Prejudice is a case and point. However, overall, it did provide a clearer set of standards of right and wrong.

While people will debate whether the change has been for the better or for the worse, no one can honestly say the standards have not been changed. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the entertainment industry. We have come a long way from the shock many felt when Rhett Butler told Scarlet, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a d---!”(For those not old enough to remember, this was the closing line of “Gone with the Wind”.) We have come along way from Ozzie and Harriet sleeping in single beds. We have come a long way from Merv Griffin to Jerry Springer. Close behind the entertainment industry is the change in attitude toward our public officials. If the polls are correct fewer and fewer Americans expect their elected officials to be examples of fidelity and integrity.. These are a few examples from an endless list of things that show the bar for common decency has been changed over the years.

Some argue this a good thing. They say it has made our society less judgmental and more open and tolerant. Others are concerned that the water has gradually become so hot that there may not be enough strength left in the frog to jump out of the tub. You be the judge, because in the end, it is people like us that will determine the outcome. It is people like us that turn on the TV, buy the DVD’s, pay big bucks to go to the theater, listen to the music, and elect the public officials. In the end, it is people like us who will determine whether we will have a clear understanding of right and wrong or if we will continue on the road the early Israelites followed and everyone will do what is right in his/her own eyes.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Life Is a Matter of Perspective

A businessman was driving through the countryside, when he passed an elderly man sitting on a fence watching all the cars pass. Finding this character to be interesting, he stopped and spoke to him. He said, “I could never be happy doing what you are doing. Just sitting and watching the traffic pass must get boring.” The old man replied, “I do not see much difference between you and me. I sit on the fence and watch the cars pass. You sit in your car and watch the fences pass.”

To please his father a freshman went out for track. He had not athletic ability, though the father had been a good miler in his day. His first race was a two-man race in which he ran against the school miler. He was beaten badly. Not wanting to disappoint his father, he wrote, “You will be happy to know that I ran against Bill Williams, the best miler in school. He came in next to last while I came in second.” (Bits & Pieces, September 17,1992, p.12)

A young couple rented a vacation cottage for a week. One afternoon the husband looked out a window at the swimming pool and exclaimed, “Let’s change our clothes and go get some exercise!” His wife, who was washing the dishes in the kitchen and looking out the window watching some people playing tennis, quickly agreed. While she dressed for a tennis match, he put on his swimming trunks. The window a person chooses to look out at the world often determines that individual’s perception of reality. (Lyle Schaller, Activating the Passive Church)

Our perspective determines in large measure how we view the world around us. Our perspective helps determine our reality. This is why two people can look at exactly the same event and have two conflicting realities. This is the reason that it is important that our perspective on life be based on a solid foundation. If it is not, we can draw some dangerous conclusions that make perfect sense.

The writer of Proverbs understood this, when he wrote, “There is a way, which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 16:25 NASV) The writer also wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NASV) With these verses in mind, wisdom could be defined as “seeing things from God’s perspective”.

Each day we have the choice of viewing our world through the perspective of man or through the perspective of God. When we observe the mess that our world finds itself, it is clear which track mankind has chosen to take. You and I may not be able to change the world but we can have an impact in our little corner. We can refuse to be drawn into the deception of the world and choose, instead, to look at life through the perspective of God. We can choose love over hate, integrity over compromise, servanthood over selfishness and forgiveness over bitterness. The perspective we choose will not only affect us; it will affect those around us. Whose perspective do you choose today?