A Purpose

Read Jeremiah 17:7-8

During a recent podcast from our city’s mayor, she was interviewing a chaplain who serves as a mentor and guide at one of our local universities. She was asking the gentleman about the advice he gives to his own children and the young adults with whom he works daily. One piece of advice he mentioned was to realize that wherever God has led someone, there is something which God intends for them to do there. This comment was a reminder for me of a charge which a friend of mine gave at the end of every worship experience. The image of God planting us somewhere to produce fruit came into my mind. This image raised the passage from Jeremiah in my thoughts.

What does it mean to be planted in a location to bear fruit? First, it raises the idea that wherever we land in life is not by chance nor is it solely based on decisions which we make. There is a partnership in action when it comes to the community we claim as home. God guides us in the process but does not dictate the decision. We may not always adhere to God’s guidance but whether we do or not, God will provide opportunities for us to bear fruit wherever we land. When we trust God’s guidance, the landing is a little softer and the opportunities a little clearer.

Second, we are made aware that wherever we are, we have the opportunity to bear fruit in the Lord’s name. This bearing of fruit looks different for each person. Just as there are different colors, tastes and benefits of the fruits we find in nature, the produce from our actions and lives are different. The fruit which the Lord desires us to produce is the type which builds up others, introduces to them the possibilities with God, and communicates the love and grace of the Lord.

Jeremiah reminds us that where we are planted, we will find the necessary items which will feed us and sustain us. As a tree needs a water source to sustain its leaves and bear fruit, we need a source which feeds us spiritually. The Lord provides us that living water source so we never have to fear, can endure challenges, and are able to bear fruit for the Lord.

Quoting my friend:

” You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He (sic) has a purpose in you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in his (sic) grace and love and power.”

– The Reverend Rich King quoting Mark Batterson

Life Purpose

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Titus 3:1-8 (NIV)

There comes a point in everyone’s life when we try to understand what is our purpose. For some, there may be more than one point in life when this question surfaces. Seeking an answer to this question requires introspection, sometimes counseling, and research. Each of us have a drive for discovering our purpose. This drive is due to our desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. We desire to feel we have value in our work and actions.

The passage from Paul’s letter to Titus speaks of life purpose. Paul directs Titus to remind the people how they should interact with leaders and members of their community. Paul points toward a time when everyone’s behavior was unkind and destructive. Then God chose to introduce the Savior into the world. Through Jesus, a new way of living was made possible. This new way has provided the people with an opportunity to do what is good for everyone.

A purpose has been given to bring meaning into our lives. We have been saved from our destructive and self-centered ways of living. Christ has not only saved us from these behaviors but has presented us a pattern in which the purpose is doing good for the sake of others. We do good in response to being saved. Our life’s purpose is to do good. How we go about fulfilling that purpose is our true quest.

Impossible to Possible

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Luke 1:5-25 (NIV)

Science is a wonderful gift which the Lord has given to us. There are some who try to pit science against faith. I do not understand this assumed conflict. Since all things come from God, science has its origin in God. God gave us the abilities to think, explore, discover and rationalize.There is no reason that the Lord would give these abilities to us and then expect us not to use them. Faith tells us that God created and interacts daily with all of creation, science attempts to tell us how. However, science does not  limit God’s ability to act in any manner. The passage for today brings before us what Zechariah’s knowledge tells him ispossible and what the Lord actually does. 

Zechariah was serving as a priest before God. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were older and childless. While he was alone in the temple burning incense, the angel Gabriel came to him and said Elizabeth would bear a son, John. He told Zechariah that John would be filled with the Spirit and would lead people back to God while making them ready for the Lord. Zechariah questioned this because they were both old. Because of his doubt, Gabriel said Zechariah would not be able to speak until the child was born. When Zechariah returned home, his wife became pregnant.

We can be like Zechariah in some situations. With our advancements in biology and medicine, as well as other scientific discoveries, we can claim something is impossible. God is not bound by our discoveries or the rules we claim exist in creation. There are times when the Lord acts in ways which we cannot explain now, or maybe ever. John had a very specific purpose and God chose to utilize two of the Lord’s servants to place this service into motion. The important message which Zechariah and Elizabeth provide us is that those things which we determine as impossible are possible with the Lord in fulfillment of a purpose. Also, the story reminds us that we still do not possess all knowledge.

Big Picture

Sometimes it can be so easy to get wrapped up in details that you lose track of the big picture. Another way of saying this is the frequently used cliche, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” A person gets so focused on the little details that remembering the initiating goal is forgotten. This often happens in the church. People begin focusing on every detail of a project or how to accomplish a mission that they lose track of why the project or mission came to be important.

In April of this year, I wrote a series of blog posts about the purpose of the Church (see Purpose of the Church, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). I discussed specific aspects of what it means to be the Church. A one sentence definition which I place before you now is this: “The Church exists to demonstrate the love of God to the world and show what it means to be in relationship with God.” This is the forest which often gets lost in the everyday life of a congregation.

Within the church, we spend too much time arguing about the details of fulfilling the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:16-20). We discuss endlessly in committee and board meetings how much money to spend, who is going to be managing the mission, and how we are going to hold everyone accountable for the mission. We wordsmith everything to make sure that we clearly define boundaries and expectations so that no loopholes or confusion exist. Requirements are established; techniques are evaluated; and limitations are set. Our skills in exhausting the details often exhaust us and in the end any enthusiasm for doing the mission is diminished or destroyed.

The leaders of the congregation cannot be fully blamed for this problem. Part of the blame comes from outside of the church completely. We have become a society that spends a lot of time haggling over the details. If someone does not like the results of work done by a group or an individual, complaints escalate and may even result in litigation. Mistakes are not tolerated or acceptable in our lives anymore. All of this creeps into the church because too often we try to imitate corporations and our human behaviors become the norm inside the church just as they are outside the church.

Another problem that leads to being too wrapped up in the details stems from fear. As mentioned above, we have become intolerable toward mistakes. This creates a fear on each person’s part that she/he will make a mistake which will lead to ridicule and personal attacks. Each detail is hashed out over and over to prevent a mistake from occurring and negative consequences resulting. Our fear of failure rules our actions and choices.

What suffers because of this is the big picture. We are unable to focus on demonstrating the love of God and the meaning of being in relationship with God because we have to get all the details correct. On those rare occasions when we do successfully demonstrate these things, it is often because something has forced us to move away from the details and just do. Thank goodness for the Holy Spirit who encourages these times of being forced away from the details.

If you are a leader in the church, or more importantly a member of a congregation, I encourage you to constantly remind yourself and others of the big picture. Look for those times when the focus on details need to be thwarted. Create an atmosphere which allows mistakes and offers forgiveness. Remind each other that failure is only when action is not taken.

A Savior

One of the challenges which I see in the church, especially among leaders, is confusion over who is the savior. The problem is not that these leaders, and some members, struggle to come up with a description of Jesus Christ. Many of them do a great job of telling the life story of Jesus, talking about his earthly ministry, and giving a theological explanation regarding his death and resurrection. The issue is that in their zeal for fulfilling the Great Commandment, they begin to think that they are responsible for ensuring the salvation of others. This could not be farther from the truth.

Jesus came with a purpose, some may even say a call. Jesus’ purpose was to destroy all the barriers between humanity and God. God’s desire is that all may experience the fullness of God’s love in a lasting relationship with God. The difficulty in the achievement of this is humans have chosen often to take paths which lead them away from God. These paths make us vulnerable to committing unloving actions and to experience the impact of those actions taken by others. They also can give us a distorted understanding of love. Jesus’ ministry was focused on correcting this distortion and showing how these paths lead us away from God.

Jesus broke down social barriers which humanity created amongst themselves. Jesus presented a definition of love that was unconditional and with a focus toward others and not self. He reminded everyone what it meant to be in relationship with God. Actions which he took supported his words and showed us how we are to demonstrate God’s love to one another. All this culminated in his loving action taken on a cross where he gave his life to remove any remaining barriers we might have between us and God.

That final action by Jesus which led to his death and resurrection is sufficient for all people. Through this action, Jesus saved us from the paths we take which lead us away from the love of God. Jesus does not need us to recreate or to add to this action. Instead, Jesus told us to go out into the world and to tell all the people of his breaking of all barriers. More importantly, Jesus desires us to demonstrate this work in our own actions and words.

There is not one of us who is the Savior. That position has been filled by Jesus Christ. We do not have it within our abilities to break down the ultimate barrier between God and humanity. What we do have is the ability to introduce the Savior to others by our lives. Our expressing of the love of God and attributing that love for the choices we make in life will open doors for individuals to first experience and then begin to understand what God’s love is truly about.

YOU ARE NOT THE SAVIOR! Instead, spend your time introducing the Savior to others through your life and the sharing of God’s love.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.

Purpose of the Church – Part 2

In my most recent post, I shared my view about what the Church was not. This begs the question, “What is the Church?” In this post, I will be focusing upon what my definition to the Church might be.

As I was discussing in the last post, I clearly do not see the Church as a building. The gathering of the Church takes place in a building at times but the building is not what defines the Church. I shared that the Church is people; people in relationship with God and in relationship with one another. People who are on a journey which we call life and entwined in that journey are relationships. The Church acknowledges that this journey is communal in nature. We discover together, we learn together, we experience together, we fail together, we succeed together, we laugh together, we cry together, we live together, and we die together.

The Church is where we experience life together. Here is where support should be found. When one of us faces struggles or uncertainty, the Church surrounds that person and walks alongside. When someone is searching, the Church shares in the search by sharing experiences. When an individual is feeling attacked, judged, mocked, ridiculed, the Church embraces that person. The Church looks out for every individual but does not control or manipulate them. The Church shares the wisdom gained by experience but does not impose that wisdom on the person but lets the person use that wisdom within their own story.

One of the misconceptions that I encounter in the Church is the idea that the Church is God. I believe that this misconception comes from the interpretations of Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Too many have seen this as Jesus giving the Church license to judge people, exact punishments, and demand certain behaviors. Instead, I see this as Jesus indicating the responsibility of the Church to look out for the beneficial welfare of all people. This does not mean that the Church usurps God as the supreme authority.

I plan on doing one more post about the purpose of the Church. The last post will be sharing thoughts on how the Church lives out responsibilities given to Peter in the passage from Matthew 16.

Purpose of the Church – Part 1

Why does the Church exist?

This is a question that has been asked by numerous people over an endless number of years. It is a question which challenges church leaders, worship attenders, church members, and those who do not wish affiliation with any type of church. Yet, I find this to be a very fundamental question to understanding life as a Christian who has spent a majority of his life associated with the Church. So where to begin?

I have chosen to begin with a list of what the Church is not. Before I give you this list though, I wish to explain why I capitalize the word “church” at times and at other times I do not. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that if the word is being used regarding the name of a specific congregation, you capitalize the word since it is part of the formal name. If you are using the word to reference the entire body of Christ on earth, then you capitalize the word. If you are using the word as a generic term then you do not capitalize the word. Now on with the list.

What the Church is not:

  • A place to go to be “saved”
  • A place for only perfect people
  • A place to be “fixed”
  • A place to be part of the in-crowd
  • A place to be noticed
  • A place at all

You may have other items to add to the list but I wish to spend some time on the last item which I have on my list. I think it is a mistake to view the Church as a building or a location. While church buildings have specific locations, this is not how I see the Church. There is a song which I learned as a younger person, “We Are the Church,” written by Richard K Avery and Donald S Marsh. In this song, Avery wrote this line of lyrics: “The church is not a building place, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” This stanza from the song is at the core of how I understand the Church.

Beginning with an understanding that the Church is a people, gives us a launching point to discuss the question of why the Church exists in the first place. This also helps us to see why it is so difficult to understand the Church and how imperfect the Church really can be at times. People are not always the easiest to understand and definitely lack full perfection. Yet, for me, this actually allows me to breathe a sigh of relief. I can cross perfection off my list of requirements if I am going to be associated with the Church. I also have the freedom to experience the Church in a multitude of ways.

Now that I have laid out for you what the Church is not, we can move on to examine what the Church truly might be and what is its purpose. I invite you to join me on this exploration. In my next post I will be giving my definition of the Church. I would also like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject so please leave comments and questions as we journey this path together. Hint: the thought of a journey together will come into view again.