Purpose

(I wrote this during Lent in 2009. Even more true today)

For a while I thought I was depressed.  Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job.  In part, I think the trauma was due to the to the fact that I found my identity in what I did.  The challenges of the work gave me purpose.  I felt vital and alive.  Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements.  We didn’t start with that.  We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life.  When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach to the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life- long driving force).  A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to.  It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed.  I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map.  I thought that without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission.  I forgot that the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be.  I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need.  I forgot that it is God who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.  

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.  I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him.  Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

It reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball.  They will never pitch a whole game.  That’s not their job.  It’s not why they were hired.  Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound.  Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for.  It’s their purpose.  

Now, dust off your imagination and try to picture this: your favorite baseball team has made the playoffs!  They did this not just on their bats, but because of their pitching.  But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and have threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game.  How crazy is that?  How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).  Right there with the assurance that we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us. 

That’s why we really need to bloom right where we’re planted!

Prayerfully ponder: How’s the soil where you are? Are you focused on how you want to use your perceived talents? Are you more concerned with what you want than what God needs from you? Are you discouraged because you feel like you’re riding the pine and you can’t understand why God is wasting your abilities? Are you aware of what God’s doing around you so that when the time is right (God’s specialty) you’ll be ready to pitch your inning?

In the Midst of the Storm

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I came out to the patio to write. I swept the patio. I fussed around the table. I decided to work on worship music for tomorrow’s online service.

I was doing everything but writing.

I pulled up the song, “Fear No More by building 429.” I found something to write about. I love this song. It fits my current situation. The lyrics of the song contain an image of Jesus holding us in a storm not of our own choosing. “This isn’t what I planned…” Chaos is all around but Jesus is with us in the storm.

As I listened my mind drifted to the passage where Jesus and the disciples are in a boat and a strong storm happens. Mark records Peter’s recollection: On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-40, NIV)

Jesus is not holding the disciples when the storm crashes in on them, and they are terrified they are going to die.

Jesus is there. He’s been there all along. He has the power to still the storm around them…and within them. Their fear brought them to Jesus, but not for an answer. They came accusing him of not caring. They are angry because while they’re consumed with and by their fear Jesus is curled up, cozy on a cushion. They are infuriated at his selfishness: this is no time to sleep, man! Do something for us. NOW!

In Mark’s account, Jesus rebuked the storm. What an object lesson. Storm, be at peace. Be still. Jesus may have addressed the storm, but his message was for the disciples. And it’s for us also.

Do you feel like there’s a storm all around you? Are the walls closing in? Do you fear for your life…or your way of living?

Here’s my confession: I’ve been really mad at God. Life was going pretty sweetly for me. I was achieving goals. I was about to start my D.Min (or finish it). Nelson was finally getting some of his medical issues addressed. We were happy. It was sort of like a Sunday boat ride on the lake on a wonderful summer day. Weather perfect. Floating along. Cozy. Relaxed. Happy.

Then bam. And nothing was comfortable. I couldn’t find happy anywhere on my radar. Ripped from the familiar. Life as I knew it…as I wanted it…was gone.

And this isn’t the first time in my life. I don’t want to re-rehearse the litany of what I saw as injustices perpetrated by God upon me. Why give it to me just to yank it away?

Selah. (Period of reflective silence.)

Job: shall we take the good and not the bad?

Paul: I have learned whatever situation I am in to find contentment.

Jesus: I’m right here. Be at peace. Be still.

Paul again: God puts us right where he wants us. (1 Corinthians 12:18)

Me: okay. I will trust that you are with me—even in the storm. I may not be in school for my D.Min, but I have a lot to learn. Right here. Right now. (That’s my prayer, so Amen.)

Hopelessly Devoted

Thursday brings new thoughts from my devotions this week.

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Today’s devotion challenged the way I look at work. One of the scripture references comes from Colossians 3:23: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters (NIV).

The phrase that jumped out at me is “with all your heart.” In the myriad of translations, you might read: heartily, willingly, enthusiastically, or with all your soul.

My husband is quite exceptional. I know a lot of wives feel that way, but Nelson knew about my calling before he married me, but nothing could have prepared him for this journey. And I will admit some of my choices have made things considerably more challenging than they needed to be.

One of the most difficult things has been finding meaningful employment that also provides the necessary financial support with each move. I knew I was probably never going to be paid enough to support our family.  I didn’t answer this call thinking it would make me rich in worldly possessions.

Right now Nelson is traveling weekly to the Buffalo/Niagra area to work. That’s about five hours from home. He works long days: 3:00am to 6:00pm. Monday through Friday. And it’s a job he used to do and hated.

So why would he go back to that work? Why would he do leave family and home?

Because God provided.

And because he decided long ago to live his life—which includes his work—for God.

This “with all your heart” is not a mushy, sentimental thing. The apostle Paul is speaking about a matter of will, of choice. Being willing is like in the marriage ceremony when the officiant asks, “Will you take this man/woman?” And the response is “I will.” It’s a choice, a commitment of the will.

So today, will your commitment be to rejoice in your work? Not because it’s your dream job, or you love what you do—but because whether it’s wonderful or drudgery, it’s a gift from God.

May your grind be grand today as you go through it with God.

(And don’t think you’re off the hook just because you’re “retired.” Paul is very clear this is about “whatever your hand finds to do.” Not punching a time clock doesn’t buy you a free pass 😉)

 

 

Springtime Snow?

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I was so excited to celebrate I wore spring colors and grabbed a light weight sweater. Before I left for work I took the dogs out for their morning duty

and it was snowing!

The deflating of my spirit could be felt all the way to Cleveland.

This has been one of the top five coldest and snowiest winters in the last thirty years. And I was ready for it to be done.

But it was snowing.

IMG_20150320_111041Can you relate?

As I was driving to work, I was just about to express my displeasure to God  in prayer, when it occurred to me it’s still the first day of Spring! An occasional snow squall or ice storm or even freezing rain will happen–because that’s what Spring is.

Spring is the greening time: grass and trees. Spring is rain that brings flowers…and mud. We get to the end of Spring and we’re praying for summer’s warmth and fun. And then we want Autumn’s cooler temps and glorious display of color.

But without winter..without that season of rest and death…there would be no Spring.

So I hear you thinking, “What on earth does this have to do with Lent or seeing God?”

Well, I recall Job mused on this and his response to his wife’s disgruntlement with the way things were going down was, “Shall we take the good and not the bad?”

Pretty gutsy for a guy who lost everything, was covered with boils, and surrounded by some unsupportive friends. But it’s probably because in spite of it all, he learned this truth:  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) 

The apostle Paul also got it. He’s the one who said: And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)

Notice this: it doesn’t say all things are good. Paul is clear that this amazing, lavishly loving God, is able to make all the things–good, bad, or otherwise–work together for our good.

And here’s what I know about Spring snow: it doesn’t last!

PRAYER: God of seasons, change, and time. Forgive our reluctance in accepting the disappointments of life and not seeing your hand at work in  it ALL. Help us to trust that you are working, using ALL things for our good and your glory.

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God’s Just Too Hard To Understand

“Can you search out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than heaven— what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol— what can you know?”
Job 11:7-8

“I just don’t get God.”

I looked at the guy. I understood his struggle. But I also knew he was never going to understand until he gave up trying to figure it out.

None of us will.

One of the prophets stated the reason clearly: we don’t think like God.

And yet, the Apostle Paul tells us, in more than one of his letters, we have the mind of Christ.

Long ago I claimed Colossians 2:2 as my guiding verse: My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.

I think the key is tucked in the middle of that verse: the mystery of God.

Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

I have learned there are two kinds of people when it comes to mysteries: ones who try to figure out the “who done it” as quickly as they can; and those (like me) who focus on the story and let it unfold without having to figure it out.

Living in the unfolding takes trust. And I understand how difficult it can be to trust.

At some point in my spiritual journey I heard a quote and I wrote it down in the back of my Bible. I liked it so much that I moved it to the front–it was too good to be buried in the back:

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Here’s something that might help you hang in there when life is confusing and God’s way of doing things is hard to grasp: I’ve read the end of the book–and we win. Hold on!

The old gospel song says it best: we’ll understand it better, by and by.

PRAYER: God of mystery thank you for not being a God of confusion. Thank you for teaching us that even though we don’t understand what you’re doing, you’re still active, interested, and working in our lives. Keep the life of Jesus and the mind of Jesus before us so we can see you better and trust you more. Amen.

Tough to Swallow

In John 6 we find the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. When lunch is over he identifies himself as the Bread of Life. Then in a way that shocked the crowd, he goes on to tell them they must eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Their response: Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.” (John 6:60, The Message)

Too tough to swallow.

What do you find tough to swallow?

Has life handed you some bitter pills?

I always had a terrible time swallowing pills when I was a kid. All the way up through college, I would ask for a shot rather than have to swallow pills.

Penicillin was the worst. I couldn’t make those pills slide down no matter how much I drank. Nothing tasted worse. I would cry, beg, to not have to take the pills. My mom wasn’t very sympathetic. I know now she was “hard-nosed” about the whole thing because her ultimate concern wasn’t my immediate comfort but my eventual health.

Have you begged and cried out for God to remove some difficulty, an illness, financial challenges, physical limitations, or loss? But he lets it remain.

And that’s just pretty tough to swallow.

Doesn’t God care that you are suffering? Doesn’t he want you to be happy? Doesn’t he hear your pleas for relief?

Yes. But just like my mom, he loves you too much to leave you in your sin-sick condition.

There are so many stories in the Bible that are just heart-breaking. Widows who lose their only children. Poor Naomi and Ruth. And who can forget Job? But let’s consider Paul for just a moment.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church (See 2 Corinthians 12) he writes about his “thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it was, the apostle prayed on three occasions for God to remove it. And God said no.

He also said: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).”

As a result Paul declared: “I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weakness, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (1 Corinthians 12:10).”

Talk about a bitter pill. Paul endured much that we would find tough to swallow. But he also knew a strength and grace that enabled him to come through all the difficulty and in a way that brought honor and glory to the One who provided the strength and grace in the first place.

On the day when some of Jesus’ disciples found his message to be a bitter pill many left. Jesus turned to those who remained and asked if they were thinking of bailing, too. Peter spoke up for the remaining twelve: Where else can we go? You alone have the words of life.

Peter didn’t try to sugar coat it. Sometimes bitter pills lead to life.

Job, that persecuted and often misunderstood man from the Old Testament, grasped this one thing like nothing else in his ordeal. He summed up his ability to hang onto God in the midst of all his suffering this way: shall we take the good and not the bad? (See Job 2:10)

Paul went a step further and told the Roman believers that no matter how bitter the pill God was able to cause all the bad, the negative, the difficult to work for good. He never says that the bad is good, just that God can take all the negative and difficult and make them work for our good and his glory (See Romans 8:28).

Tough to swallow…perhaps. But remember, God knows what is absolutely best for you. You can trust him. It may be tough, but don’t walk away now. In him there is fullness of life, your life and mine, now and forever.