News: December 2019
There are three questions with which every human being wrestles at one time or another:
· What’s the purpose of life?
· What am I called to do with that life?
· What should shape my life as I pursue that calling?
In working with schools those are questions with which I ask them to engage. Until an individual or an organization creates clarity around those questions it is impossible for them to flourish in any meaningful way. Clarity is important but equally so is the purposeful decision by an organization or individual to align belief with behavior. Without alignment there can be no integrity. And without integrity all is eventually lost.
A compelling illustration of this comes through the words of Jesus of Nazareth. In the midst of a conversation with his disciples he made very clear the purpose of his life: I have come to seek and save that which is lost. Simple. Compelling. Concise. Every day, in varied situations, speaking to vastly different groups, Jesus never veered off course, never missed an opportunity, never said, “You know what, I’m tired of doing this. It’s too hard. I think its time for someone else to step in.” His course was set for him; “I’ve come to do my Father’s will”, and he stayed that course faithfully and effectively throughout his life.
And aren’t we glad that he did. Because he relentlessly pursued his purpose all the way to the cross, the grave, and beyond we have been given the opportunity to live purposefully in a broken world. For that reason if no other we can exclaim with the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”
Life “under the sun” is, under the best of circumstances, remarkably difficult. Everywhere we look is pain, suffering, heartache, hunger, despair and myriad other obstacles and challenges. Imagine life without the hope we have in Christ. In actuality we don’t have to imagine that world. All of that pain and despair is on display every day on our screens and in our communities. It is unavoidable.
I recently read an article on the Colson Center blog site that illustrates the sadness and sorrow of the world in which we live. Consider this single statistic. “Between 1959 and 2017 life expectancy in the United States rose from 69.9 to 78.9 years. That is a rather impressive gain.” As John Stonestreet points out, however, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association points a portrait of a society in deep trouble. For the third year in a row, the average life expectancy in the United States has declined. The last time American life expectancy declined three years in a row, World War I and the “Spanish Flu” pandemic killed 675,000 Americans. Percentage wise that would be the same as losing 2.5 million Americans today.”
As it turns out the reasons which seem to underlie this phenomenon are not related to poor health care options but rather to things like suicide, drug overdoses, liver disease and dozens of other causes summed up in the phrase “deaths from despair” a phrase coined by researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton.
When Jesus stepped into this world he came to provide a solution for despair. He came with the intention of seeking out and saving those whose lives were broken by sin. We see an illustration of this passion for his purpose when Matthew observes that, “When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
As John Stonestreet points out, “The Greek word that is translated “compassion” describes a visceral reaction, not a mere sentiment. In other words, Jesus felt this one in his gut.” His response to their plight was to tell his disciples to ‘pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,’ starting with themselves.
Sadly in 21st century America our response to the brokenness of this world tends to be, “We need the government to intervene. We need a new program.” Now don’t misunderstand me. Government done right has a role to play in helping people who are struggling. But here’s the heart of the problem. Government can’t change the heart. Only a holy God can do that. Government can help with the symptoms of the problem but they will never be able to fix the core of the problem. Never. Ever. No matter how much money is spent trying.
That is why Jesus doesn’t say to his disciples, “Pray that the Father will send another government program to save these people from the despair of life.” No, he says, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” That means us, the Church. We have the medicine those dying from despair need. It’s just easier for us to turn to the government and say, “Hey, you need to do something.”
At the beginning of this brief letter I posed a question about life and our responsibility to live our lives purposefully for a purpose. What would that look like if each of us who claim to be followers of Christ did just that? In his book on the life of Jeremiah, Run With The Horses, Eugene Petersen helps us see something vital about life’s purpose with a single statement made by god to Jeremiah: “Before you were born I consecrated you.” Petersen then goes on to give us some insight into what God was doing in Jeremiah’s life and what he seeks to do in ours today.
“Consecrated means set apart for God’s side. It means that the human is not a cogwheel. It means that a person is not the keyboard of a piano on which circumstances play hit-parade tunes. It means we are chosen out of the feckless stream of circumstantiality for something important that God is doing.
What is God doing? He is saving; he is rescuing; he is blessing; he is providing; he is judging; he is healing; he is enlightening. There is a spiritual war in progress, an all-out moral battle. There is evil and cruelty, unhappiness and illness. There is superstition and ignorance, brutality and pain. God is in continuous and energetic battle against all of it. God is for life and against death. God is for love and against hate. God is for hope and against despair. God is for heaven and against hell. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square foot of space is contested.”
Jeremiah, before he was born, was enlisted on god’s side in this war.”
And I might add, so was I and so were you. No one is exempt. As Petersen goes on to observe, “No one enters existence as a spectator. We either take up the life to which we have been consecrated or we traitorously defect from it. We cannot say, ‘Hold it! I am not quite ready. Wait until I have sorted things out.’” Christ didn’t. Jeremiah didn’t. Nor can we.
During the Advent season we are called to consider the meaning behind the coming of Christ into the world and the impact that coming has and should continue to have through our work on His behalf. Perhaps in so doing we will see more clearly the transformational potential of the gospel in our own lives, and the lives of those in our churches, communities, and the world.
Thank you for your continued support. Both your prayer and financial support allow me to keep moving forward in fulfilling the purpose I believe God has given me. I keep thinking that I am going to slow down a bit and that might happen at some time. Right now God keeps sending people my way. In the new year I will be working with schools in Austin, TX, Tucson, AZ, Portland, OR, and Bowling Green, OH with future possible projects in Toronto, ON, Wheeling, WV, and Dallas, TX.
Also I continue to work on my new book, well, I keep trying to find time to work on my new book. Pray that I will be diligent and disciplined in this effort.
Blessings on you as you continue to Seek and Serve our Lord and as you continue to work toward His purpose in your life.
In His grace,