Lenten Thoughts: Purpose

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For a while I thought I was depressed. Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job in 2008. In part, I think the trauma was due to the fact 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.

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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 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 without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission. I forgot 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 God is the one 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.

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This reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball. These days few will 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 and picture your favorite baseball team has made it to the playoffs! And they did it not just on their bats, but on 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 they’ve 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 we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us.

Perhaps that’s why we need to bloom where we’re planted—to trust God’s process, timing, and purpose.
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Lenten Thoughts: Self-denial

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Lent mode, self-denial, has been an on-going theme in my life. I’ve been living without some indulgences due to money crunching. Living on a budget forces us to really think about what is necessary, what can wait, and what can’t even be considered.

Doing without crowded my mind on my way to work. I passed the gas station where I occasionally stopped for a tasty cappuccino. Before I knew it, I was driving by McDonald’s and I’m almost positive I heard a hazelnut iced coffee screaming out my name. But I just kept driving; and thinking as I drove.

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As a child, I heard of people speak of “giving up” chocolate or pizza for Lent. This year, Church Leaders were recommending to the faithful that they give up technology (computers, internet, and texting). I had trouble then and now making the spiritual connection between the items given up and God.

Did you give up something for Lent? Why? The purpose of giving something up is to make room for something else. Just as when we fast, we forego food to focus on God. Pondering these concepts, I was reminded of the time when the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out the demon by the power of Beelzebub. Through the story we’re warned of the danger of simply casting out something, in that case evil, without filling it up with something of God.

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When I was in college one of my dearest friends challenged me to consider self-denial. She made reference to Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross (Mark 8:34). While many point to the cross as burden or pain, it has also been suggested that it is about mission and purpose. Understanding this began to help me put the pieces together.

I guess it could be about chocolate or the internet if the pursuit of those things keeps me from fulfilling my purpose. To know that, though, I believe I’m going to have to know what my mission is. Many years ago, as I began my ministry I felt directed to verse in Colossians as a guide for me as a pastor and as a person. Paul wrote: 2My purpose 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 (Colossians 2:2).

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These days, I have more time to live into what I think this verse is calling me to do and be. Each day as I reflect, I’m shone the things I have planned that can keep me from fulfilling my purpose. If I am going to live as true follower of Christ, I’m going to have to give those things up, deny my selfish interests, and live on purpose for Christ. Personally, I find this is something I have to do daily, just as Jesus invited me to do.

Do you know what your purpose, your mission is? Have you thought about what is holding you back from fulfilling your calling in Christ?

Set it down and let Him fill you up!

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Lenten Thoughts: Restore

(This reflection was written in 2009.)

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A few days ago, my husband and my grandson went grocery shopping. One of their favorite stops is the “day old” cart by the bakery. The grandson spied an individually wrapped cornbread loaf. He had to have it and grandpa obliged. The problem was that by the time they got to the car the bread had been pulverized in its wrapper. Abandoned as inedible, the crumby remains sat seemingly unwanted on the kitchen counter for a couple days.

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Fast forward a few days, my wonderful husband and cook made a pot of venison chili. On a whim I packed the crumby remains to eat for lunch with my chili. When it came time for lunch I opened the wrapper and dumped the crumbs into my chili. As I ate, I think I might have purred, it was just that good.

I had come very close on a couple occasions to throwing out the crumby mess. What was I going to do with them? They no longer appeared to have any purpose. They didn’t look good. I imagined that their inability to seemingly live up to their original intended use made them useless. Now isn’t that just the way we think?

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How many people have we almost thrown away because they no longer appear to be living up to their purpose? How many lives wait desperately to be reclaimed and restored but experience none because their lives are messy?

A few years ago I interviewed for a position with a local ministry. One of the board members conducting the interview, who was aware of the “messiness” of my own life, asked if I had been restored. It was a tough question to answer then. It still is. I know I’ve been redeemed—that was God’s work. The rest, well, it may take more time. But it will be as sweet as the cornbread in my chili.

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What are you waiting for?

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7, ESV

The world says: Don’t just stand there, do something.

The world warns that if we wait to act the future will be shorter.

The world’s pattern is typically: ready, shoot, aim.

God says, “Wait.”

Henry Blackaby encourages, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”

Do you know what you’re waiting for?

Do you know who?

PRAYER: God, I don’t want to be doing something or anything just to fill up time. I will wait for you to tell me what I’m waiting for. For only in knowing that will I have any hope of finding my purpose.

Show Up

I started reading a book today, God Time, 75 Biblical Meditations On Time and History, by Edwin Walhout. I’ll admit I picked it up because it was free and I was getting bored with the devotions I started the year with. Bored is not good as it results in my avoiding reading devotionally, which is spiritual suicide for me.

I didn’t past the second page before my mind started clicking and pulling thoughts together. I haven’t read far enough to really recommend it, but is definitely starting well.

Edwin begins at the beginning (which according to Julie Andrews “is a very good place to start”) by considering Moses take on creation and how he teaches us to theists. In that discussion he says this, “…every person is part of the developing plan of God.”

Two trains took off in my brain with this one thought. Perhaps you can catch one.

The first thing that came to me was how important we are to God’s plan. I was in several plays and drama productions throughout my years of school and college–even later in church productions. Rehearsals always best when all the actors are present. Lines run smoother and staging makes sense. I learned the same thing participating in marching band. Spacing and formations can all messed up when someone is missing. And we all know that choirs and symphonies just don’t sound the same when all the parts aren’t performing together.

Every person has a part in the developing plan of God.

I didn’t always get the role I wanted. But my role was important or it wouldn’t have been in the script–an editor would have made sure of that.

And that leads me to the other train. Every person. I may not understand how that other person got a part, but they did. Every person. The ones I like and relate to. The ones I can hug. The ones like me. And the ones who aren’t. Every person. All the ugly, hate-full, arrogant, selfish, and scary people have a part to play as well.

So it’s not my place to question the One who is writer, director, and editor. Every person has a role, a purpose. How will I receive them? How will I interact. Each person touches my life for a reason, a season. How I play my part will impact others, too.

Life is God’s grand drama. And you and I have our parts to play. I’m going to show up and do my part. How about you?

Lent Day Six: Self-Denial

My life has been in a kind of Lent mode for quite some time. I’ve been living without some indulgences due to money crunching. Living on a budget forces us to really think about what is necessary and what can wait or not even be considered.

Interestingly, I was thinking about this on my way to work. I passed the gas station where I occasionally stopped for a tasty cappuccino. Before I knew it, I was driving by McDonald’s and I’m almost positive I heard a hazelnut iced coffee screaming out my name. But I just kept driving; and thinking as I drove. As I grew up I heard of people “giving up” chocolate or pizza for Lent. This year, Church Leaders were recommending to the faithful that they give up technology (computers, internet, and texting). I had trouble then and now making the spiritual connection between the items given up and God.

Did you give up something for Lent? Why? The purpose of giving something up is to make room for something else. Just as when we fast, we forego food to focus on God. As I thought about it I was reminded of the time when the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out the demon by the power of Beelzebub. Through the story we’re warned of the danger of simply casting out something, in that case evil, without filling it up with something of God.

When I was in college one of my dearest friends challenged me to consider self denial. She made reference to Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross (Mark 8:34). While many point to the cross as burden or pain, it has also been suggested that it is about mission and purpose. Understanding this began to help me put the pieces together.

I guess it could be about chocolate or the internet if the pursuit of those things keeps me from fulfilling my purpose. To know that, though, I believe I’m going to have to know what my mission is. Many years ago, as I began my ministry I felt directed to verse in Colossians as a guide for me as a pastor and as a person. Paul wrote: 2My purpose 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 (Colossians 2:2).

These days, I have more time to live into what I think that verse is calling me to do and be. Each day as I reflect, I’m shone the things that I have planned that can keep me from fulfilling my purpose. If I am going to live as true follower of Christ, I’m going to have to give those things up, deny my selfish interests, and live on purpose for Christ. Personally, that’s something I have to do daily, just as Jesus invited me to do.

Do you know what your purpose, your mission is? Have you thought about what is holding you back from fulfilling your calling in Christ? Set it down and let Him fill you up!