Living in Your Purpose

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Just finished up, last night, serving in a second student conference this summer. The first was in Daytona, Florida with the Bigstuf camps folks (love those people) and the second was at the church where my husband serves on staff in the student ministry and production staff. We are talking over six thousand student lives impacted this summer, just through those two conferences alone. It is quite a humbling, exhilarating, and EXHAUSTING experience!

As I listened to the speakers at both conferences speak, they spoke to the students quite a bit about living out their God given purpose, and walking out their faith. We are, after all supposed to be doers and not hearer only of the Word, right? (James 1:22)

It’s true, what the speakers said to the kids. The most important thing they will accomplish in this life is to live out God’s purpose for their lives. To discover what that is, and live in it. To run after it. The goal is to help those students understand that so that they can begin on that journey now.

Sadly, there are so many adults who live out their lives, every day, apart from that purpose. Many of them don’t even know what that purpose is. (Many may not have the understanding that they were created with something to do, a purpose.) Sadder still, are those who know what that purpose is, and yet are still not living in it.

Their lives are spent, day after day, living a life they were never called to or gifted for. Theirs is a frustrating life. Can you imagine a hawk, whose purpose in life is to soar above the trees and see the world from a lofty position, never leave the ground? It realizes the wings on its back were given them for a reason, a purpose, and yet refuses to acknowledge that purpose and instead, chooses to spend its days on the ground. None of us has seen a healthy hawk that did not live in its purpose.

It is never too late to live in your purpose.

I have a friend who is a life coach who recently asked, “Intention without action is like wanting to win the lottery without buying a lottery ticket. What is one action step you can take toward your goal?” ~Lisa Allen

I’m not asking you to buy a lottery ticket; I am asking you to consider that one step you can take to begin living in your purpose.

I love watching people who are living in their purpose. I got to do that this weekend. My husband, Matthew, is a creative and technical genius. I am not even exaggerating. Not a bit. When he is living in that purpose, there is obvious near-miraculous things happening… Near-miraculous… I mean he’s not Jesus, for crying out loud.

For the last few years, Matthew has not really had the opportunity to live in that purpose. He’s been in the neighborhood, but not close enough. It’s kind of been a situational thing, and even I think a period of rest for him. But he stepped back into his purpose this week and there were huge things happening. I mean HUGE. The cool thing was, everyone saw it, not just me.

When someone is living in their God given purpose, its obvious to those around them. Christians love to see other Christians doing what they have been gifted and called to do. It brings a smile to the face. Conversely, there is nothing sadder than to see someone living apart from their purpose. It’s like watching that poor hamster running on his wheel. There’s a whole lot of commotion, quite a bit of effort, but not much of any real consequence happening.

So how about you? Are you living in the God-given purpose for your life? If you are, then kudos to you. I’d love to hear about it. If not, then why not? Have you even discovered what that purpose is? You can ask yourself, “What is it that really gets me going? What would I do, even if I weren’t being paid to do it?” It’s likely that very thing, which will help you to live in your purpose. Then begin taking the steps, one at a time, which will get you to your life’s purpose. Look out for the miraculous to happen, or at least the near-miraculous!

I’m going to let you see a snippet of what happens when a person is living in their purpose… the video doesn’t do this justice…

This is Motion Student Conference 2012 at Church of the Highlands. Three thousand students, hundreds of staff and Dream Teamers…

and Matthew, my husband, living in his purpose. This, my sweet friends, is his purpose.

Same Old Questions

I like impromptu conversations with my children. As they have grown up and become young adults, those conversations can get interesting. They also, more often than not, occur late in the evening. It’s during those wee hour times that I often hear what’s really going on in their lives, what they are thinking about, and where their heads and hearts are.

This last week my seventeen-year-old wanted to tell me about a conversation he had with his supervisor at work. This supervisor is not a believer. Well, let me say he is not a follower. He believes in God… sort of.

My son was not on the clock, but had stopped by work for some reason, and just happened to be right on time for a Divine appointment. I love those. It was just my son and his boss in the room, and just as scheduled, the topic of religion came up. My son’s boss has lots of questions. They are the same questions that most who question the validity of Christianity have. There are really no new ones, are there?

“How could a loving God…?”

“How good is good enough…?”

“How can you be sure you’re in…?”

“Why is there suffering…?”

My son came home feeling a little like he was not successful in answering all the questions his boss was asking. He felt that if he could just answer them all, his boss would believe. I spent some time helping him out with some of the answers, but in the end I reminded him of this one thing.

I reminded Ryan that he came to faith in Jesus when he was a small child. He knew a few Bible stories, knew Jesus loved him and had died for him, but that was about it. Yet that was enough for him to give his heart to the Lord.

Coming to faith in Christ has nothing to do with getting all of your questions answered. Heck, I still have questions. But the truth is, the difference in being able to have all of your questions answered, and walking by faith and not by sight (or understanding) is the difference between having a religion and having a relationship.

Faith in Christ is not a head issue. It is a heart issue, and until the Holy Spirit woos a person, (“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them…” John 6:44) they insist on seeing and understanding with their minds, what in reality is a matter of the heart.

How can you tell if you have a religion rather than a relationship?

Well, are you more interested in what you are against rather than what you are for? Do you use the Bible to beat people up instead of showing them grace? Are you a plank-eyed saint or a selfless servant to the wounded?

We are called to love a dying world. We are not called to be able to answer all of their questions. Yes, we are supposed to be prepared to give an account of the hope that we have at all times (1 Peter 3:15), but that does not require that we lead a theological discussion or debate the finer points of Scripture. Just that we can talk openly and passionately about the God who loves us, and His Son who gave up His life for us.

I hope the burden my son felt following his conversation was eased some. I think the next time he has the opportunity to share with someone about the hope that he has, he’ll feel a little better qualified to speak. After all, he’s just sharing his story. And he has a great story.

Decisions, Decisions…

There are times in your life when you have to make choices. Some choices we make are easier than others. Chocolate or vanilla? Well, chocolate, of course! That one is easy, but other choices we have to make in life are not so clear-cut. Some require quite a bit of thought, research, prayer and time.

I was faced with making a choice this last week. I wasn’t expecting to have to make it. It came up all of a sudden like they do sometimes. I didn’t have a lot of time to make my decision; it was more one of those split second decisions we often later regret.

I had decided to take my youngest son and his friend to my parent’s farm for the day. My dad likes to take his younger grandchildren for rides on the farm tractor. When they are just a bit older he will let them drive it through the pastures and down to the small lake on the property. This was what my son and his friend were most looking forward to. Boys and tractors. Yep.

So the three of them climbed aboard the tractor, while I opted to walk to the lake on my own. It’s not that far, and I could make it there in the same amount of time it would take them to drive it on the tractor. My dad doesn’t let them drive it too fast for fear they will drive it right through a fence or sling off a passenger. Plus, the route they were taking was the “long way”. I could cut right through the pasture, stepping carefully, and meet them at the lake.

I forgot one important detail. I forgot that when the cows on the farm hear the tractor coming, they think it means they are in for a treat of sweet corn. And they come running. I heard them mooing before I saw them coming up and over the rise in the pasture. Leading the charge for the sweet delight of corn was the large bull who weighs in at right around 2500 pounds. You wouldn’t think that 2500 pounds could travel that quickly.

It was about that time they saw me. They stopped short and had to decide if I had the treat, or if the tractor did. They decided that maybe I did, and headed then for me.

I. Had. No. Treat.

In that moment I had a decision to make, too. I could stand there and let the bull and cows find out up close and personal that I had no treat, or I could run to the tractor and climb up to safety.

Since I weigh considerably less than 2500 pounds, I made a running break for the tractor. After about ten short steps I remembered that I can’t run. Well, I CAN run, I just shouldn’t. After 45 years of use of my bladder and four pregnancies… I leak. Sneezes must be handled with care, even. Running without a diaper is asking for a mess.

Thankfully, my dad had seen my predicament, and had stopped the tractor to wait for me. I made it, walking the rest of the way, just in time to beat the hungry mob. I just had to air dry for a while. TMI?

I have since made another choice. I’m going to get that bladder issue fixed. One never knows when one might be faced with running from a hungry mob of cattle, or whatever.

Most of our life decisions don’t have to be made on the fly like that one did. Most of the time we have time to seek wise counsel, pray, and weigh our options. My daughter, Laura, was recently trying to make her own mind up about something. She laid out her options before me and we talked about it. Then she said something that made my heart smile. She told me that when faced with a decision, she has been taught to go to her spiritual mentors for their advice, to pray, and to wait on the Lord to direct her. She said she was going to do that.

My daughter is fourteen. If she were to do this with all of her life decisions, the sky is the limit for the things she can accomplish in her life.

The Bible tells us,

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)

And also,

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“Acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)

Are you faced with a decision today? Take some advice from a fourteen-year-old girl. Seek wisdom from your spiritual mentors. Go to that giant in the faith, and find out what they think. Then take it to the Lord in prayer. Then wait.

Your answer will come, and it will be the right one. Not always the easy one, but the right one.

One Lone Gunman

Several weeks ago, my husband bought movie tickets to attend the Batman movie marathon that showed in theaters on Thursday night. He, along with my three oldest kids, and a few friends, had looked forward to the marathon for weeks. We are huge movie fans, our family. I had to work early the following morning, so I opted out of the whole thing, and stayed home with our youngest kid.

I rose early the next morning, and when I got into my car to head to work, I turned on my radio and heard the horrific news. “One lone gunman has fired upon midnight moviegoers in Colorado, killing some and injuring many more.” The moviegoers had been at the same Batman movie marathon my family and friends had attended the night before here in Birmingham. No doubt, they had bought their tickets ahead of time and had anticipated a night of fun, only to have it turn into a night of horror.

I could talk to you about “original sin” and “total depravity of man”, but I’m afraid your eyes would glaze over and you’d stop reading. I’m not a seminary graduate, but I am married to one- so I know something of total depravity. (That’s a seminary joke.)

Still, we wonder what could cause a person to do something so terrible. We have a hard time picturing ourselves in that same position. Our brains cannot wrap around what could possibly lead someone to do such a thing.

The Bible teaches that with God we can do all things. (Matthew 19:26) Nothing is impossible with Christ.

But how about apart from Him? What is possible apart from Him? Apart from the love of Jesus, a man can walk into a crowded movie theater and proceed to kill and maim total strangers. Men, women and children alike.

I recently read an article online from USA Today that said nineteen percent of people are now checking the “none” box when asked about religious affiliation. That’s up from six percent in 1990. Both Catholics and Mainline Protestant denominations in America show either plateaued memberships or declines in membership. Once upon a time in America, ninety-nine percent of us claimed belief in a higher power. Today that percent is down to ninety.

What are we, as followers of Christ, supposed to do about the “Nones”? We are supposed to take seriously the Commission we were given in Scripture.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

Verse sixteen says some of the disciples doubted. Even after all they had seen and witnessed Jesus do in their lives and in the lives of others, they doubted what they were supposed to be about. So Jesus reminded them. It all depended upon them, you see. The plan was for the church to be the hope of world through the Holy Spirit. Jesus couldn’t stay and do it for them. For the scenario to play out like it was supposed to, He had to return to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to them. It was up to the disciples to go and tell the world about Jesus. They had to go to the Nones.

That Commission is no less ours today than it was for those disciples, even the doubting ones, of that day. We fill our days full of things that have only temporal results, leaving to the very end, if they find a place at all, those things eternal. We hurry through the grocery line hardly noticing the woman checking out our groceries and taking our money. We never stop to think about showing the love of Christ to her, but we are quick to criticize her sour attitude.

We pass by countless people every day and fail to see them through the eyes of Jesus. Those are the Nones. Some of them are, anyway. How do we know them? How do we find them? We start by taking our Commission seriously. We ask for an assignment. We pray to have the eyes of Jesus when we see them. We must be willing to love those hardest to love. We recognize that but for the grace of God, we would be a None, too.

Perfect Kids Are Overrated

As parents we try to do the best we can to raise perfect kids. We want them to be the best at everything. Even if we won’t admit it out loud. We want our sons to be the best ball player on the team. Moms dream of one day looking into that camera shot on TV, and seeing her son mouth, “Hey Mom!” We want our daughters to be beauty queens and learn the Miss America wave. We want them to be honor roll students and future Rhodes Scholars. We drag them to music lessons and endure years of endless recitals to hear our kid on stage for a couple of minutes hoping against hope that they don’t screw up their piece during their moment to shine. We want everyone to be impressed with our kids, and wonder how in the world we did it.

Well, here’s a hard truth, perfect kids are not only overrated, they are non-existent. Why? Because we raised them. Imperfect parents cannot raise a perfect kid. As hard as some of us try to be perfect parents so that we can raise perfect kids, we fail. And we spend a lot of time beating ourselves down over it.

There was a time when I wanted to raise perfect kids. I tried hard. I wanted to give them every opportunity to try everything that came along, so that when that perfect opportunity came by, they would be ready for it. It was all going to be… perfect.

I’m not sure when I decided it was all crazy. I can’t say that it happened overnight. But there are some people I credit with our transition. When my kids were smaller, I knew a family whose kids were grown and seemed… perfect. All three kids. Somehow, these parents had done it. I quickly wanted to become a student of their tutelage. What I soon learned surprised me. In talking to both the parents and the kids, I found out a few things. They were not perfect. Perfection had not ever even been the goal.

Their goal had rather been to be different. While good grades, music lessons, and sports had been part of their rearing, they were never the main focus. They told me that while their children were growing up, they were fortunate to live close to the beach and that every Saturday was “Forced Family Fun” day at the beach. They didn’t invite friends, they just spent time being a family. Both the parents and the kids told me these were sometimes frustrating days, but in the end, every Saturday they spent together as a family grew bonds that will not be broken.

I learned that these parents had an open door policy. No subject was off limits for their children to talk about. It was up to the kids to be truthful, and the parents to walk them through it, however bad it was. They had long conversations, some of them difficult, but never was the love of the parents for their children in doubt.

Perfection was replaced with purpose. All they did as a family, and as individuals, they did with purpose in mind. They followed the principal taught in Colossians 3:17

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”

Good grades were strived for not to please parents, teachers, or reward, but to present nothing less than their best to the Lord. Extra curricular activities were opportunities to reach out to people and be an example of the love of Christ. Any success in these areas was also intended as a way to present their best effort to the Lord. Family was a safe place to be imperfect, but purposeful.

After getting to know this family, our own family’s strategy changed. Over time, our focus was less on perfection and more on purpose. We wanted our children to find their God-designed purpose in life. So much of popular child rearing ideas focus on temporal things. We wanted to focus more on the things that will affect them for eternity and how they themselves can effect eternity for someone else.

Often times today, my husband will ask the question of an activity our kids are involved in, “Where are we going with this?” What he means in the question is,

Is there a purpose in this? What is the end goal in mind?

As I said, the shift didn’t take place overnight. I would love to go back and trade in some of those early parenting years, but like I said, we were imperfect then. Still are, but differently so. I no longer care to have perfect kids. I want purposeful kids. I want kids who live their lives out fulfilling the unique purpose they have in the Kingdom, whatever that is.

Oh, I want them to do it with excellence, sure, but not perfection.

Serve Day 2012

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:14-22

Yesterday was “Serve Day 2012” for my church. The leadership estimates between eight and ten thousand people from our church became the hands and feet of Jesus to the “least of these” in our state. I love my church. I really do. Some people don’t like big churches like mine, but I love to see what can happen when that many people come together in the Lord’s name to be the church.

My youngest son and I joined hundreds of other “Red Shirts” (All who volunteered were given red shirts declaring us on the “Serve Team”) at the Birmingham Christian Service Mission to lend a hand in any way we could. The building got a new coat of paint, the yard area was cleared of overgrowth and landscaped. Inside the large warehouse, many hands worked together to package up donated items that will be handed out to those in need in our state. All accomplished in four hours.

When Evan and I arrived early yesterday morning, we were instructed to go into the warehouse and get our work assignment from a Mission staff person names Allison. We approached Allison, along with some other newly arriving volunteers, and asked her what we could do to help. To say Allison was overwhelmed was an understatement. She asked, “How many of you ARE there?” I don’t think they understood that when we said we were coming… we were COMING! As I looked around the inside of the warehouse and saw all the red shirts already there, I thought it looked like a colony of ants at work! I don’t even think I got the names of those working the closest to me, but we had a great time together just the same.

I believe with all my heart that the successes that have been enjoyed by the church I serve are directly related to having the hand of God upon her. If I am honest, having that hand taken from us is one of my greatest fears. To that end, I pray regularly for the leadership of our church. I pray that they never become self focused, but always do everything for the glory of God. That they seek everyday to follow in His ways and to lead with integrity the people of God.

Someone asked our pastor yesterday how it felt for him to ask his church to do something, and actually have them do it. To have that kind of influence is precious. To guard against believing it has anything to do with you is critical.

I’ve seen what happens to a church when God’s hand is not upon it. It’s not pretty. They are inward focused and life sucking. I’ve been there. I don’t ever want to be there again. Churches of all sizes can be blessed of the Lord. The formula just has to be the same.

They must be outward focused. The local church, regardless of size, is still the hope of the world. They must not have disdain for the very ones they are called to reach. They must not prefer to meet their own needs to the neglect of those they are called to serve. They must strive to avoid the trappings of the Laodiceans.

They must be life giving. We give because we want to, not because we are guilted into it. We serve because in serving we find our joy. We live life together, because together is better than living it alone. And together we can accomplish much.

They must be led with integrity. People will only follow someone they believe is trustworthy. But leading a church as pastor is a tough road. A pastor has some measure of success and they can begin to believe their own press. People will try to build up a pastor in his own eyes. When that happens, the focus is off. In the words of Mr. Han from the Karate Kid movie, “Your focus… It need more focus.”

It’s hard for pastors and churches to keep the focus where it needs to be. It’s easy to turn the focus inward. Churches can worry more about meeting their own needs rather than the needs of the hurting around them. This is when a church becomes life sucking. People attend a life sucking church out of obligation rather than purpose. The leadership must keep the Main Thing the main thing. (And they must remember, they are not the main thing.)

Jesus is, and forevermore shall be, The Main Thing.

Great job, Church of the Highlands.  Serve Day 2012 was great. Praise be to the Lord!

      

Flee. Pursue Righteousness.

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)

Montezuma’s revenge is no joke. After traveling with family to Mexico last week, about a third of us ended up with the dreaded affliction. I’m not sure why Montezuma has such disdain for foreign travelers, it is a fact that we do boost the local economy, but he’s a nasty fellow, and his revenge is even nastier. After being up most of the night Sunday night, I decided to brave it anyway, and go on to work Monday morning. It seemed that as long as I didn’t eat anything, I was pretty okay. At least I stayed out of the bathroom. I didn’t quite think this through, though. For me, no eating eventually will bring on a migraine. It did.

So about 1:30 Monday, I decided to take my sad sack self on home. I work in downtown Birmingham, and to get to my car requires a short city bus ride to a “remote” parking lot. The buses run on a fairly predictable schedule, and I made it to the bus stop just in time to see my bus pull off. No worries, there’d be another one…. In twenty minutes or so.

I hopped the next bus, and with three other passengers, thankfully sat in its air-conditioned seat, and sunk into it for the ride to the lot. I leaned my head against the bus window and sort of drifted off. Not to sleep, actually, but not exactly alert, either. There is quite a bit of traffic in the afternoon downtown, and so the bus ride is usually stop and go. I knew that the bus was stopped, but I figured it a red light was the reason. After a few moments the other female passenger said, “I don’t believe it. She just got her purse and got off the bus!” It took a beat or two for it to register that she was talking to me. I looked up to see that the two male passengers had gotten off the bus. We were not stopped at a red light, but pulled to the side of the road. Then I saw what the lady was talking about. Our bus driver, purse in hand, was walking away from the bus.

At that moment, the other lady passenger grabbed her purse, mumbled something about having somewhere to be, and left the bus, too. There I sat, alone on a city bus with the motor running in downtown Birmingham. Feeling like death itself.

Was the driver coming back? I had no idea. I waited a few moments, but she did not return. I waited a few more moments and weighed my options. I only had two. I could continue sitting there on the bus, or I could walk the four blocks to my car in the sweltering heat… while feeling like death.

In the end, I bailed out, too, and left the bus sitting there unoccupied, running, on the side of a city street. It’s funny to me now. It wasn’t as funny on Monday. But here’s the thing. Sometimes we need to stick it out, and sometimes we need to bail. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes.

I don’t know what made that bus driver bail on her bus and her passengers, but something did. She made a decision. She decided to walk away. How about you? Maybe there’s something in your life you need to walk away from. You’ve known it for a while, but to just walk away seems hard. Maybe it’s a bad influence or a friend who seems to tempt you into sin. Could be an unhealthy habit that has a hold of you. Whatever it is, you know it’s not good for you. It does nothing to better you, or grow into the person the Lord longs for you to be, and knows you can be.

Maybe today is the day you walk away from it. For good. Flee. Pursue righteousness.