September 17, 2016

Saturday Stuff

It is Saturday, September 17, 2016. It is hard for me to think that my blessed child will be turning 23 in less than four days from now. Oh my, how time flies! As I think about my life, really think about my life, I realize that even despite all the ups and downs, the fits and starts as they like to say, my life has been a good one. I am healthy. I am happy. I am living in a good place, and I have a good and prosperous future ahead of me.

Lately, though, I have been thinking about my next steps, where I will go ONCE I get that full-time job offer. My hope and my prayer is that wherever the Lord leads me, He will provide: a good paying job, a nice home, and a comfortable life for me. I am trying very hard to not be particular, even though I do know what I like/don't like, what I am willing to "live with/not live with," etc. I am thinking more about quality of life, about the things that matter most, and I am trying hard not to focus on "things."

Things, Things, and More Things

Just the other day, I was walking through my house and thinking this very thought, "what would happen if I couldn't have these 'things' when I move?" I was thinking particularly about my grandfather's roll top desk. I have always said that I would like to have this desk after my parents pass away. It is a beautifully restored desk, and my father paid to have it shipped from Indiana to California after my grandfather passed away in 1982. I would say it is probably about a hundred years old and it is in excellent condition.

This desk has sat in my parent's living room since the 80s and my Mom always used it to pay bills, write notes and letters, etc. I looks lovely in this room, and it is quite the focal piece for my parents furniture arrangement. But now, my Mom no longer uses it because my Dad has taken over the bill paying and she doesn't sit at it anymore. It sits there, still very stately and lovely, but no one uses it. I thought about this desk because if it came with me when I move to my own place, it would continue to serve as a focal piece. It would sit there and collect dust, but not be lovingly used as it once was when my Mom sat at it every day for near on forty years.

How important are things to our life? I mean do we place a higher or more valued importance on things than on people in our life? I hate to say it, but I think that answer is YES! I think we value the things we collect, the things we purchase, and the things that are handed down to us. In our consumer-driven society, we are constantly buying new things to replace old things, and finding more junk to add to our already overflowing junk drawers and piles. I am guilty of this very bad habit, of wanting more without wanting to let anything go. Yes, I have overflowing drawers just like the next person, but lately, my heart has been convicted of "lusting" after things, and as a result, I've been thinking about what really matters to me. More to the point, I've been thinking about what really matters to the Lord, and that thought has me contemplating downsizing, letting go, and living with less. As I consider moving to my next home and starting over, I am faced with the question of what to take and what to leave behind. What is realistic and necessary, and what it frivolous and not important. This means that I need to consider which "things" matter most to me, and I must take a light hand when it comes to deciding what can go and what must stay.

I was discussing this with my good friend last night, and I mentioned the scripture verse where the disciples were instructed how to go about preaching the Good News. In Matthew 10:5-13 we read Jesus' words,

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go onto the road of the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Do not carry any gold or silver or copper in your belts. Take no bag for the road, or second tunic, or sandals, or staff; for the worker is worthy of his provisions. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy and stay at his house until you move on. As you enter the house, greet its occupants. If the home is worthy, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

The idea here is that no matter where the disciples traveled, they were instructed not to worry about packing for a long trip. They were to go lightly so that they could move as the Lord was leading and directing them. The idea of going anywhere without provision must have been difficult for these early missionaries. I mean, when you consider how the ancient world traveled from place to place, typically the first thing that comes to mind is a large caravan of people and things. Yes, packing as Jesus instructed meant to take just what you could carry with you. It was the exact opposite of how most ancients traveled -- with everything including livestock -- packed up good and tight for the long journey ahead of them.

I realize that in this day and age, we tend to collect a lot of stuff. Yet, part of me understands this mandate as a way of life. I mean, if the Lord called you to move today, could you do it? Could you up and leave your home to move across the country or would you need time to make arrangements, pack your things, and plan out your extended trip? For most of us, we would say we would need at least a month, perhaps two to plan a move. And, while I understand this is considered wise by today's standards, I still think we are encouraged to remember to go lightly in this world. After all, when we die, we leave everything behind us. Scripture reminds us that where our treasure is -- there is our heart (Matt. 6:21). In the Gospel of Matthew we see that what we collect and hold dear is a good indicator of our heart intention. Likewise, we read something similar in Paul's words to Timothy, "After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can't take anything with us when we leave it" (1 Timothy 6:7 NLT).

As I consider this idea of going lightly, I am thinking more and more about why this is a must-have attitude among believers. There are scriptures that clearly instruct Christians in how to live in this world, how we are to be different (salt and light), and how we are to set ourselves apart from the world and its customs and standards. Yet, far too many Christians live exactly as the world lives. We are nary different from our neighbors. I believe, however, that it is not the outward issues that bother our Heavenly Father so much as it is the inward condition of our heart. You see, how we live on the outside is a clear reflection of how we think on the inside. Our heart and our outward manifestation of life are tied together. If we place a high priority on things, then we are showing the world around us how much "things" matter to us. If we place a high priority on people, then we are saying that the human beings that Christ died to save are clearly valued to us. I believe that this inward heart focused on people reflects our Father's deepest desire, and as such, it is His will that we focus on people more so than anything else. Yes, I believe the Father wants us to place people on a higher scale and plan than the things we cherish, dream of, and hold onto so tightly.

Grasping the Father's Will

I think what prompted this whole thought process was a quote I read from my favorite author and ministry leader, Joyce Meyer. I was over on Facebook yesterday, and in between classes, I was browsing through the recent feed to see if anything important was going on in the world. I subscribe to Joyce's feed so I regularly see her quips of encouragement posted on my page. This one particular quote struck me, and throughout the day, I kept thinking about it. Then last night, I prayed about it, and I even asked the Lord to help me understand what she meant by it and how it might be applied to my life. Meyer (2016) shared this quote from her new book, Seize the Day: Living on Purpose and Making Every Day Count, released this month.

Wanting to know God's will is not primarily about our circumstances, our job, or whom we should marry. God does care about those things, but if we seek to know those answers alone, we are not discovering the most important part of God's will. There are deeper things that God wants us to seek Him about, and when we do we will find that the answers we need for daily life are readily evident.

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will know that understanding God's will and purpose for my life as well as for the lives of others is one of my chief interests. I would say that outside of communicating faith effectively (my calling), making God's will known to others and helping them figure out their unique purpose is a secondary pursuit. In fact, I guess you could say that it is a secondary calling in some ways. I am so convinced that God has a purpose for each of His children, and that outside of the general purpose of His desire salvation for all people, God does personally invest His time in each and every child in order to help them understand His calling on their lives. Yet, many Christians believe there is no specific purpose to their lives. Many think they can do what they want, live how they want, and experience anything they way without any thought to God's desire or design for their daily life. I believe that while God gives us free will to do so, to live this way, the number one reason why so many people feel unfulfilled despite their very full lives is simply because they are not walking out their purpose. In short, they are not living as God has specifically called and designed them to live. 

Walking out your purpose is something that I believe helps Christians understand the reason why God called them to fellowship with Him. It is unique, it is special, and with this knowledge, the Christian man or woman can find their niche in this world. They can find purposeful work, purposeful ministry, and a deep contentment that lets them know they are right where the Lord desires them to be. Unfortunately, many false teachers and even good Bible teachers have skimmed over this idea of purpose. They have focused on the Great Commission and have said that the only purpose for man is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. I blame the reformers for this view, because prior to the reformation, Christian people, predominately catholics understood that there was a vocational calling associated with a life of service and devotion to God. But, in order to distance reformation theology from catholic theology, the early reformers simply focused on Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV) as the sole purpose (the walking part) of a redeem life.

"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."

If you read the Puritan catechism (developed by Charles Spurgeon but based on the Westminster and Baptist Catechisms), you will read that the chief aim of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Secondly, you will read that the will of God is focused singularly on the salvation of mankind. If you are not familiar with puritan theology or the catechism, you can read it here and here. Keep in mind that the catechism was simply a series of questions and answers used to explain Christian theology. It was designed for repetition, and that meant that in the early reformed church, the people were taught what to believe in this way: they would recite the question and the answer along with the "proof text" or scripture that the answer was based on. This was an effective means of teaching truth to the people during the reformation, and for many hundreds of years afterwards, catechism was central to the teaching of dogma and doctrine so the people would know and understand what the Church believed.

I personally love these catechisms, and I have no issue with them at all. I think they are necessary in that they help explain the important aspects of Christian theology that might be misunderstood through reading the scripture alone. Bible study, theological study, and more structured teaching on bible proofs are also important, but many people today have no knowledge of theology and doctrine, and as such they are not sure if a particular belief is accurate and true according to the Word of God. Furthermore, because they do not know doctrine in this way, they are not able to find the proof in scripture because it requires a deep and thorough understanding of the Bible to do it. Thus, in my view, these catechisms were of great help and served to teach the people what the Bible said about important theological matters in a very straightforward and easy to digest format.

Unfortunately, because the majority of people during the reformation were illiterate and didn't have access to Bibles to read and study on their own, the people often memorized these tenets without really understanding what they meant in relationship to their daily life. Take for example number 1 on either list. The question asks what is the chief aim of man? The answer provided along with proof texts is that the chief aim of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This one question is used to justify man's purpose and sole reason for existence according to Puritan and Reformed theologians. To me personally, it is a fine aim. I think it sums up man's purpose beautifully, but it does leave one wondering how they are to go about "glorifying" God? I mean, one must ask how to do that considering we are all fleshly and fallen creatures. 

According to (2016), to glorify God means, "to extol His attributes—His holiness, faithfulness, mercy, grace, love, majesty, sovereignty, power, and omniscience, to name a few—rehearsing them over and over in our minds and telling others about the singular nature of the salvation only He offers." Thus, the idea of glorifying God simply means to worship and praise His attributes and to submit to and obey the commands given in His word. When Christians seek to honor God, to praise Him, to worship Him, they are in effect giving Him glory. More so, when Christians seek to place Him first and foremost in their lives, to settle their lives around Him, they are also bringing Him glory. John MacArthur says that the chief aim of man is to glorify God, and in his view that means "To be able, through every single circumstance, to view it as if looking through the eyes of God, or as if taking into account all of God's attributes and attitudes. It is to be God-conscious. It is to make every decision of life and to do every action of life with God in a positive sense". Thus, the suggestion is simply that man's purpose, overarching and complete, is to come to a knowledge of God in order to understand His nature, His character, and His divine power so that we grasp that our lives are not our own. As MacArthur states, our reason for existence is to give God glory. We were created for one purpose, and that is to glorify God.

With this in mind, we can easily assume that my purpose is only to glorify God. There is no other purpose than for me to be wholly devoted to God. I am to live, to breath, to sleep, to do everything (1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17) for the glory of God. I believe this is true. But, I must ask, if this is true, then does God ever have a unique or singular purpose for a believer's life?

Our Purpose, Our Passions

This whole idea of the pursuit of passions is controversial. It seems that there are different views on either side of this issue. Some Christians say that God wants us to use our gifts, talents, passions to pursue a particular purpose in life. Others say that we are to find our sole contentment in knowing God alone. Our work, our careers, our life choices are immaterial to that sole pursuit.

The early writers of the reformation would say that the answer to this question is to make God our sole contentment. In fact, for hundreds of years afterward, the idea that we were to work hard, live right, obey Scripture, etc. would be the normal for the average Christian man or woman. There would be little opportunity for calling outside that of Pastor or perhaps missionary. In truth, most would live noble lives that consisted solely of feeding their families and living honorably before all man. Some might have opportunity to pursue a vocation such as law or medicine, but most would farm, work in manual trades or labor, or engage in commerce in the market square. Life was difficult and short for most, and disease and hardship were the normal. But toward the latter part of the 19th century, this idea of purpose and passion seemed to surge forward in a new age of optimism and industrial advancement. In short, we now live in a world where by we spend more time pursuing passions than we do providing for our families. We work 40 hours a week, 8-5, and we spend our evenings and weekends in free pursuit of relaxing activities. Our ancestors who lived in the 19th century would not have such a luxury. They would be up at dawn and in bed at dusk. Life revolved around daily chores at home, and if there was work in the city, it would consist of long hard days and little time off.

We are blessed in so many ways in our modern era. We can choose how to spend our days, we can live as we like, and we can work in many occupations simply because we have access to jobs and education to help us move up, in, or out of fields and specialties. 

So does God call us to specific pursuits? I think He does, especially in our modern world. Perhaps in years past, God's calling was simplified because of the time and place. Scripture seems to suggest that men were to do good work, care for their families, and to act honorably in the dealings in the marketplace. Likewise, women were encouraged to remain at home, to care for their children, to love their husbands and make a good home for them. Simple. Old fashioned. Honorable positions and roles. Framed in time. Yes, framed in time.

Today, both men and women seek honorable pursuits. They seek to know God's will for their lives, and to know if He has something special in mind. This brings my thinking back to Joyce Meyer's quote from yesterday. 

Wanting to know God's will is not primarily about our circumstances, our job, or whom we should marry. God does care about those things, but if we seek to know those answers alone, we are not discovering the most important part of God's will. There are deeper things that God wants us to seek Him about, and when we do we will find that the answers we need for daily life are readily evident.

Joyce seems to allude to the fact that God's will covers more than the things of our daily life. She suggests that God ultimately wants us to develop our relationship with Him first and foremost before we make decisions about our careers or our next move. I think in many ways what she is saying is simply this --> return to the basics and focus on God first. In doing so, all these other things will come to pass.

Matthew 6:33 (NLT) says, "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need." In this manner, we see that in order to know and to understand the will of God, we must first get to know God. We must pursue God akin to what our reformed theologians suggested -- by making Him our chief aim. In doing so, we will find that our purpose, our passions, and yes, our purpose are fulfilled in our relationship with Him alone. Does this mean that our purpose is not specific? No, I don't think so, but I think that the only way to know your unique purpose or calling in life is to spend time getting to know the One who created you for His good pleasure.

In Closing

As I close out this blog post, I am reminded of the simple view my Puritan ancestors had when it came to God and the things of God. They were simple people. Hardworking people. They didn't think much about passions and pursuit. They took life one day at a time, and in that way, they focused on what mattered most -- living honorably, doing hard work, and being consistent in their attitudes and in their good character. In this way, they lived simply and they focused their chief aim on bringing God glory. In my walk, and in my purpose today, my heart seeks to do the same thing. I am conflicted and I struggled to deal with the "things" in my life, with the clutter and the confusion. Yet, if I continue to make God and His glory my chief aim, I am certain that in the end, I will not be let down. No, I will not be let down. 

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, 
giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Colossians 3:17 (NLT)

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