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Posts Tagged ‘Purpose’

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The Masters golf tournament ended yesterday (yes, I got to roam the grounds of Augusta National Golf Course!).  Patrick Reed won his first major tournament.  In doing so, he overcame many obstacles:

  • He was NOT the one the crowds wanted to win.  Again and again, the crowd favorites were greeted with roars of approval when they were introduced and when they made a great shot.  Patrick, on the other hand, was given only “polite golf applause” when he was introduced or when he made a great shot.  It was evident to all that he was not who the crowds were rooting for.  One of the headlines on CBSsports.com even read, “How a Villain Won it All” in describing Patrick’s victory.
  • The pressure of some of golf’s best players gaining significant ground (one even getting tied with him) when he faltered early.  When Patrick began the day with a bogey and a par (on a hole in which he should have had birdie), it looked like he would wilt under the pressure.  Instead, he steadied himself and made the shots he had to over the next 16 holes.
  • The challenge issued by one of golf’s best golfers, Rory McIlroy, with whom Patrick was partnered on Sunday, the last round of the tournament.  Rory was playing the “mental game” against Patrick.  Patrick stayed mentally tough throughout.

How did Patrick Reed manage to overcome all of these obstacles?  He won because he remained focused and committed to his purpose.  As I think on this, I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortations to us as Christians:  “Do you know know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.”  (1 Cor 9:24)  “Run in such a way that you press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

The need for Christians to live up to our identity and calling in Christ in today’s deteriorating culture cannot be overstated.  Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, the April 8 reading, states: “[Jesus’] resurrection means for us [Christians] that we are raised to His risen life, not to our old life….we can know now the [power and effectiveness] of His resurrection and walk in newness of life.  Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey Him.”

Like Patrick Reed, we will face significant obstacles in seeking to live in (and live out) our new life and identity in Christ.  There will be those who root against us, those who actively work against us, those who try to bully and pressure and shame us with “mental games.”

But Oswald Chambers is right … we can know now the power and effectiveness of His resurrection, we can walk in newness of life and the Holy Spirit work in us the very nature of Jesus … if we obey Him.

Patrick Reed won the Masters because he “ran the race” focused and committed to golf’s ultimate prize.  As Christians, we must run for a greater calling and prize.  We do this that we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-4) and because if we don’t, we simply deny the light culture so desperately needs.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. [We are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Are you (am I) “too easily pleased?”

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I recently finished reading “Out of the Ashes” by Anthony Esolen. Wow, what a fascinating, challenging and convicting read! I encourage any and all to read the book — but beware, it is not for the faint of heart nor those easily offended. Dr. Esolen is a man of learning and conviction, and his tone and some of his thoughts on culture and divine truth will put off some. He also tends to interrupt a line of thought for another line and it is up to the reader to determine how the thoughts are related to the immediate subject he is on at the time. Having said that, the author is largely accurate in his broad cultural analysis (if not always in the remedy, particularly regarding generalities on manhood and womanhood). The book has much to offer, and boldly and accurately state, regarding truth, beauty, education, God and man, how we rationalize evil and ugliness, and the need for ordinary people to be willing to resume the humanity that has often been lost (and how to do it). The last two chapters are classic and timeless! While the book is meant for more than the church, the universal church would do well to adapt what is discussed into how to recover its true mission and how to engage and influence by being distinct and thus true light.

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A few weeks ago, I finished “Love Does” by Bob Goff.  I know … I’m late to the party as this was a “must read” in Christian circles like 5 years ago.  However, I was hesitant to read the book because, to listen to others gush about it, it sounded more kitsch and cant than substantive.  Now, having read the book, I’d say that some of that hesitancy was justified, BUT….

At its best, and that is often, the author provides motivation to “put legs” on their faith. It is, in this sense, a series of modern day parables (though they differ in that they are based on his and other’s life experiences) that emphasize what the book of James emphasizes — namely “What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

At its “less than best,” there are places in which the book comes across as a Tony Robbins/Robert Kiyosaki “you can do it” motivational book with religious (though Mr Goff would not want anyone associating his book with “religion”) bromides and bumper sticker theology substituting for deep seeking of God. Example: “…[God] doesn’t pass us messages, instead He passes us each other.” “…our understanding will always have gaps and gaps are good because they leave room for God to fill in the spaces.”
In addition, there is a persistent “religion is bad” undercurrent. True religion, as Scripture points out (James 1:27) does the very things Mr Goff advocates and encourages. While I understand Mr Goff actually means “empty religion” (that which is buoyed by legalistic rules, righteous cliques and gatekeepers more interested in their own power), the continual bashing of religion and claiming Jesus wasn’t religious is somewhat wearisome. To quote a MiddleTree blog review, “[The author sometimes] seems to forget the world, and the Church, needs the folks he subtly calls out: black & white thinkers, the ones who study theology, the ones who call out sin; in other words, the ones who are very different from him. These folks, subject to borderline derision in a few spots in “Love Does”, have their place, and play an important role in the world. If everyone was like them, it would be a disaster. But Goff seems to dismiss them altogether, or at least to minimize their importance.”

Thankfully, those kinds of things are not the emphasis of the book. The last few chapters, in particular, are spot on in calling the reader to put faith and love into action. So, despite the qualms, Love Does is a light, fun read in which the author uses his own experiences to tell great stories to highlight that following Jesus isn’t just a matter of “knowing the right things.” It is a matter of loving as Jesus loves, being His hands and feet — going and doing. And in so doing, we experience abundant life and we “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Bob Goff is one of those rare people who doesn’t just tell good stories; he lives them. And Love Does inspires you to follow his lead. It accomplished its main aim — getting me (the reader) to think about how to more actively love the people around me and who intersect in my life as well as to think about what my story can/should be in light of the gifts and passions God has instilled in me. And that makes this a worthwhile read and certainly commends the author.

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Cromartie
Do you know this man?  I was not aware of him until I read an article regarding his passing. I would have liked to have met him and been able to “intern” to watch how he represented and bridged Christ/Christianity to journalists.
 
What exactly did this man do?  Michael Cromartie was his name.  And he was “one of Christianity’s principal ambassadors in Washington, [representing] Jesus with joyful confidence,” according to Michael Wear, a former White House faith adviser under Barack Obama. “I’ve seen the effects of his life and work up close, and both the church and the nation are better off because of him,” said Wear.  “Michael was a friend whose encouragement I did not deserve, and whose insight has shaped my work, my life and my faith.  In the days ahead, we should look to Michael’s example to stoke our imagination for what a faithful public witness can look like in this moment.”

Scripture tells us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:20). From reading about Mr. Cromartie’s life and work and from the encomium’s from journalists across the political and ideological spectrum, it seems Mr. Cromartie was an excellent ambassador of Christ.  

 
Said one, “Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others. He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”
 
If that could be said of me, then I would be much more excited about meeting my Maker because I would be a much better ambassador for Christ.
 
Over the past year as I’ve been on a personal sabbitical, as I’ve prayed, studied Scripture, the lives of those I admire and tried to assess myself against God’s truth, I realize I fall well short of the standard Michael Cromartie set. He ran the race set before him well. What was said of him in terms of how he represented Christ could not be said of me.
 
It is (or should be) every Christian’s goal, upon death and entering the presence of Christ, to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23). I believe Michael Cromartie heard those very words on August 28, 2017.
 
My time of introspection has not been easy, nor always pleasant in facing some unwelcome realities about some aspects of my character, personality and actions. Don’t get me wrong, God has also shown me times and areas where “I’ve gotten it right.” But I also see much to improve on as I make my calling sure (2 Peter 1:10).

What I’m most grateful for is that God is making me aware of the areas where I must grow and improve; that He has not abandoned me, but rather I realize that in His lovingkindness, He has been blessing where I don’t deserve, working in circumstances and decisions to bring me to the point of serious Spirit-led self-assessment from which I fervently hope and believe He will make a new path/work for and in me.  I am amazed at His patience and His continued work in me.  He, I believe, through love and discipline is preparing a way that, in the end, I too can hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant….”  What a marvelous God indeed — the He continues to be mindful of me!

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I was in a Target retail store today walking down a main aisle to get to school supplies (looking for a graphing calculator for one of my boys).  As I looked ahead, I saw an elderly lady with a shopping cart stop and begin to eye me.  I could tell she thought I might be a Target employee.  Sure enough, when I was close enough for her to make herself heard, she inquired as to whether I worked at the store (as I was wearing khaki slacks and an orange-red shirt, her thought was understandable).

However, how she phrased her question caught me up short — and has had me thinking ever since.  She asked, “Are you a customer, or are you a real person?”

After confirming with her I was a customer, I began thinking on the latter half of her question — “are you a real person?”   Oh, I’m definitely flesh and blood, but that simply means I’m existing.  In looking for descriptions of a “real person,” I came across words like genuine, authentic, giving, loving and vulnerable.  If those words characterize a “real person” (and I think it certainly encompasses those things), then I sometimes struggle.

I naturally lean toward a “type-A personality,” but I’m also introverted by nature.  The results of such a combination are often stoicism (lack of showing emotion) and introversion.  I can often seem unapproachable, difficult to talk with, interested in people only in terms of how they can contribute to tasks at hand (a commodity).  When emotion does come out, it can often be in the form of impatience and/or frustration.

As I’ve reflected on this, I can think of many times when I’ve not been a “real person,” but rather a brooding, self-absorbed person.  Times when I’ve gotten frustrated and impatient with my wife or boys because they haven’t gotten something done or because they don’t get what I’m trying to explain after they’ve asked me to help them with their homework.  Times when I’ve “withdrawn” rather than drawn close.

I remember a time awhile back when a friend from work and I were talking.  This friend was trying to help me see why sometimes I could be intimidating or thought to be unapproachable.  As she was talking, I remained impassive.  I offered no words or facial expressions/body language.  Exasperated, she said, “See, this is what I’m talking about.  I have no idea what you’re thinking and wonder whether you care at all.”  I wasn’t being a real person.

As I’ve continued to think, the apostle Paul’s words on the fruit of the Spirit keeps coming to my mind:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”  A real person is one who exhibits these characteristics.  Such a person is genuine and values people as people (versus a commodity useful in accomplishing tasks).  Such a person is one who enriches others’ lives simply by how they interact with others – exhibiting the fruit outlined above.

As a Christian, I should be, by-and-large, a real person.  None of us is a perfect real person, but as a Christian, being a real person (defined by the fruit of the Spirit) should be the norm.  Christ says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you can recognize a people by how they act — as you can identify a tree by its fruit.  A good tree (real person) bears good fruit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, etc).  A bad tree, on the other hand, produces bad fruit (self-centeredness, impatience, anger, indifference, harshness, etc).  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

At the end of the day, I want to be able to answer that elderly woman’s question with, “Yes, I’m a real person.”  I can’t do that in my own strength, but only by walking in and with the Spirit of God.  May I, may we all, do so and be “real people.”

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monkey-with-hand-trapped-in-bottle-grabbing-bannana-with-sign“we are tempted when we are dragged away by our own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is brought to completion, it brings forth death.”   — James 1:14-15

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.”   — John 10:10

“…choose life…by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…” — Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a

 

In Southern Mexico lies the Cueva de Villa Luz, or Cave of the Lighted House.  I’ve read that as you make your way to the cave you walk through a veritable paradise of tropical birds and lush rain forest. Underwater the cave is fed by 20 underground springs, beautiful watercourses which teem with tiny fish. The cave itself is home to spectacular rock formations and beautiful ponds. The environment is inviting. Yet accept the invitation and you’ll soon be dead. You see, the Cueva de Villa Luz is filled with poisonous gases.

Temptation is just like this. It presents itself to us as something inviting, attractive, lifegiving. Yet in reality it’s poisonous and toxic.

Now squarely in mid-life, I, like many others before me, am examining my life — in particular, what have I done, if anything, of lasting meaning — and what, if anything, can I do with the time remaining to me that will be of lasting meaning. In this lengthy (and still in-progress) exercise, I’ve had to admit the painful truth that, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4, I’ve often given the devil a foothold, following the path that James outlines in his first chapter (and quoted above).

The result has been, indeed, death.  Death of dreams, death of opportunities, death of fulfilling my role fully as husband, father, and friend.  I reflect on moments in which my words and actions can only have negative impact they are modeled by others such as my children.  In the opportunities and ministries God has provided, I see responsibilities only partially fulfilled and effectiveness compromised.

All too often, I’m like the monkeys that are caught using candy or other sweets and a bottle. You see, old milk bottles are tied to the ground, and then something sweet is placed inside the bottle.  When a monkey comes along and sees the sweet he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the sweet enclosed in his palm his fist is too big to get back out the bottle. The  monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that sweet out, but he will not let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with “his hand in the cookie jar”!

This represents perfectly the contradiction of temptation and integrity.  As Dr. Jim Denison notes, “temptation seems to benefit more than it costs at first, but its disastrous consequences always outweigh the reward. Integrity usually costs more than it benefits at first, but its positive consequences always outweigh the cost.”

Our enemy is always a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He wants, as Jesus told us (also quoted above), only to steal from us, to destroy us. Thus, we can know that any offer of good from our desires which contradict God’s word to and design for us must lead to a greater harm.

Theologian Lyman Abbott noted that “every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice.”  In my self-examination, I’m looking at where my march is headed.  It’s a question I urge you to consider as well.

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The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and it will feature the New England Patriots — a franchise that has had an extended run of greatness, unlike any in team sports over the past quarter-century.  The owner of the team is Robert Kraft – who took a losing team and made it a winning one.

“Winning football games has been more important to me than making money. Winning is what turns me on. Money is pretty good, but a shroud has no pockets.” – Robert Kraft
There is great wisdom here. No, not winning football games, but rather, the realization that you can’t take it with you — “a shroud has no pockets.” So, what turns you on?  Is it something that you can’t take with you — or is it something of eternal value.
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” – Jesus

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