Two Words for Purposeful Living

Sometimes it’s possible to summarize really important subjects in a simple, concise, and easy to remember form. At this point in my life (having entered my 70th decade) I’ve come to the conclusion that I can summarize what gives my life purpose with two words, and then summarize the purpose of life in one sentence using those two words.

The words? GLORY & GOOD. The sentence? The purpose of life is to live for the GLORY of God and the GOOD of people.

There’s a famous document that goes all the way back to the 1600s that explains the beliefs of the Christian faith called the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It’s done in a question and answer format. The very first question and answer are, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Our chief purpose is to glorify God? God is already all glorious, so how can I give Him more glory if He already has it all? I’ve come to understand that I give God glory when I respond appropriately to how amazing He is (how glorious He is). This means I’m more impressed with Him than with anything else, including myself. I also bring glory to Him by seeking to live my life to please Him, to live as He would want me to live. So, I’ve determined that the main purpose of my life is to live it for God’s glory.

Second, my purpose is to live so as to bring about good to those within my sphere of influence. I want to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. The temptation is to live for self. I’ve discovered, however, through both serious reading and study and from life experience, that to live in such a way is ultimately less satisfying than living for the good of others.

It’s been in just recent years that I’ve come to express the purpose of life in a sentence using the two words, GLORY and GOOD. And so I often affirm, reflect on, and repeat the sentence to others. Let me state it one more time; the purpose of life is to live for the GLORY of God and the GOOD of people. Yes, it’s as simple as that!

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” The inspired words of the Apostle Paul as found in two of his letters in the New Testament of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 10:31 & Galatians 56″10a

Here and Now Is Where It’s At

If we were asked, “Where is a favorite place for you?” most of us would come up with an answer rather quickly. I suspect that wherever that place is, it isn’t where we are now!

Most of us, at one time or another, and maybe even now, find ourselves in a place we’d rather not be. We might not be thinking of a different geographic location but wishing we were in a different place when it comes to our health, finances, relationships, job, or some other circumstance.

When we’re not where we’d like to be it’s good to remember that God has a plan for us where we now find ourselves. That’s the situation a man whom Jesus healed discovered.

Life had been miserable for him. He had no home, often living among the tombs on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He was at war within himself, haunted by many demons. Everyone saw him as a crazy man, a wild man, a demon-possessed man. When they tried to apprehend him he would rip off the chain restraints they tried to use.

Then Jesus came across the lake in a boat with His disciples and healed the man. The man experienced an astonishing change that was truly miraculous.

When Jesus and His disciples were ready to climb into their boat to head back across the lake to the western shore, the newly healed man pleaded to go with them. Who could blame him? If he stayed in his old stomping grounds he had a horrible reputation to live down. Who would want to be around him, the one known as the crazy cemetery man? It was far more appealing to him to sail off into the sunset and into a new life with Jesus and His friends.

Jesus denied his request, telling him to stay where he was. Interesting. When Jesus called His 12 disciples it was a call to literally follow Him, wherever He went. For this man, Jesus was calling him to stay where he was!

So, what about our circumstances? Some of them may not be ideal, some even far from ideal. It’s possible God will call us to a new set of circumstances; we can pray for that, even work toward that end. Then again, maybe our call is to make the best of where we now find ourselves. Until the Lord changes our circumstances, our call from Him is to be the person He wants us to be right where we are! After all, we can’t do God’s work where we are not, but only where we are. Here and now is where it’s at!

“As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” Mark 5:18-20

From Wounds to Scars

Most of us collect scars as we go through life. Those of us who are older have quite an extensive collection! Each scar has a history, and we can usually recall the circumstances under which we acquired each one. Scars are seen as ugly, especially major ones, but actually they’re symbols of victory, that we’ve survived the accident or the surgery!

Scars are left over from a wound. Sometimes scars can be sensitive to the touch, even uncomfortable, but they don’t hurt like the wound did!

If we keep picking away at a wound it will stay a wound much longer than it has to. Our bodies have been designed to heal wounds so they’re nothing more than a scar. We just need to allow the process to happen and help it along by properly tending to the wound.

Emotional wounds need to be treated in the same way. We’re all emotionally wounded in one way or another at one time or another, some of us more, some of us less. The good news is that the Creator/Sustainer who designed our bodies to heal from a wound to nothing more than a scar has the same intentions for our emotional wounds. He’s the great Healer of these too!

Usually we can’t help that we’ve been wounded by someone, but we can help the wound heal into nothing more than a scar! How do we deal with a wound so it heals into nothing more than a scar? Well, to start off, by asking the Great Physician (God/Jesus) to work with our injury and to heal it. We then can cooperate with Him by letting the past go, forgiving the person who wounded us, giving up the right to get revenge, moving on, and identifying ways the wound of the past can make us a better person today. All of this, too, God will help with if we but ask Him.

Then we need to decide that we will no longer see the wounds from the past as wounds but only as scars. They’re still visible and may even be sensitive, but they’re no longer bleeding, infected wounds, only scars.

Scars aren’t bad. There will even be scars in heaven, but only one person will have them, Jesus. He will still bear the scars of crucifixion on His hands, feet, and side as an eternal reminder to all of us in heaven of the price He paid so we could be there with Him.

Scars can be good. Scars we can live with; they’re a reminder that, by the grace of God, we’re a survivor!

The Psalmist says of God, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Resting Rock, Sitting Stone

One of the rocks upon which I sit and rest

We live part of the year in Mexico, at Refuge Ranch, our home being next to our daughter and her family’s home. Every morning I take about an hour’s walk on a combination of horse paths and rustic rural lanes used primarily by local farmers.

All in all it’s a fairly strenuous walk, so I sometimes stop and rest, sitting on a rock that has, over eons of time, been fashioned into a reasonably comfortable seat by wind and rain. I call it my resting rock or sitting stone. Actually, I have about three or four strewn along the path that I’ve identified as a resting rock, a sitting stone.

Pausing to sit and rest restores me physically. It’s amazing how much the leg muscles can replenish themselves if you give them just three or four minutes to do so. It’s also a time for me to sit and think, though sometimes I just sit. One of the times when I was thinking as well as sitting I thought of how the Lord is my ultimate rock. I wasn’t just making this up; there are many verses in the Bible that refer to God as our rock. In His teachings Jesus also indicated that He wants to be our rock upon which we build the house of our life.

What is it about rocks that God chose them as an analogy for who He is to be to us? Well, for one thing, rocks are really old. It’s hard to find a new rock! God is more than old, He’s eternal!

Rocks are really solid, you can stand on them, you can build on them. You can depend on them. We can’t always depend on others. People forget, misunderstand, don’t want to understand, get distracted, reject, or die on us. You can’t always count on them. God is different, we can always count on God.

We also can’t count on material things meeting our needs, because they can wear out, rust out, be lost, stolen, go out of style, etc. God’s different; He’s not material but He’s solid through and through! Nothing material lasts forever, but God does! We can count on Him always being there for us.

Just as there are many different kinds of rocks there are different applications of how God is our Rock. That’s what I sometimes think about when I pause on my morning hike and sit upon a rock to rest, the different ways God is my Rock!

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:4

Where to Focus

 

I was helping our daughter record a short message to post on the internet. We had chosen an outdoor location at Refuge Ranch where she and her family live in Mexico and where my wife and I also live part-time. Our daughter settled down on a blanket for the recording with a profusion of wild marigolds blooming behind her. What was she looking at while recording? The camera that I was holding, of course, but just behind my camera and me was a wire-enclosed burn area filled halfway with ash and unburned trash.

Looking one direction there was a flower festooned view, while 180 degrees the other way was a view of trash. It all depends on where you focus your attention as to whether you see trash or flowers.

Can you think of a situation in your life where this principle could be applied? How about a whole lot of situations and circumstances? That’s certainly the case with me!

Our ability to focus on something while not focusing on something else goes way beyond the functioning of our eyes. The mind and heart can do the same.

The grandparents were disappointed they couldn’t take the grandchildren on a picnic because it was raining, but because it was raining they enjoyed playing games with the grandchildren at the kitchen table. A visit to the doctor wasn’t the best way to spend a good portion of the morning, but there was the opportunity to have a good conversation with another patient in the waiting room who desperately needed a listening ear and some encouragement. It was a long wait as the car was being fixed, but a great article in an outdated magazine in the waiting area would not have been read if the car had been fixed quickly. We have the God-given ability to choose where we focus our eyes and also where we fix our thoughts and upon what we fixate our hearts.

Children’s TV personality, the late Fred Rogers, remembers being frightened by some news as a child. His mother told him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Mr. Rogers never forgot the advice, nor should we!

We can focus on the trash or switch our focus 180 degrees and focus on the flowers. It’s a 180 degree switch I want to make when facing a lot of situations. You too?

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8

Shadow of a Candle

I saw a photo posted on Facebook that intrigued me and decided to duplicate the image. I placed a lit candle near a wall. The candle was positioned to catch the rays of the rising sun shining through a nearby east window. Like the photo on Facebook, my candle, too, cast a shadow on the wall, but, like the Facebook photo, the flame cast no shadow at all!

For me, this phenomena of the greater light of the sun shining through the lesser light of the candle flame illustrates how I’m to live my life in relationship with God. A fundamental principle of a God-centered life I’ve sought to adopt is that God is to get the credit, the glory, if you will, of anything good that comes from my life. I’m like a small lit candle that’s in a room with the bright sun shining in. People can see me, the small candle and my little flame of good, but because a far greater light is illuminating my life, God, God’s light far outshines my light.

I believe my life is lived best when people see God in me more than they see me in me. I’m not there yet, I’m still growing beyond the childish wish of “look at me, look at Dave!” and seeking to move toward a more spiritually mature position where my life is saying, “Look at God, look at Christ.”

Yes, I like affirmation. I like for people to appreciate me. It’s normal and a God-given desire to be valued by others. But I’ve discovered that there’s something better than being well thought of by others. I’ve determined I want God to get the credit for any good within me and any good I do. I want folks to be impressed with God working through me rather than having them be impressed with me.

Life is so much better and bigger when I live for the Someone who is so much better and bigger than me! The irony is that when I seek to have people be impressed by God who is working through little ol’ me instead of trying to have people be impressed with me, I feel far better about me!

I may be but a small lit candle in the world, but because I want my life to be illuminated by God any shadow of good influence I cast is because of Him. And I’m more than okay with that!

“… Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Jesus in Matthew 5:16b

The Virtue of Eutrapelia

Grandma practicing the virtue of Eutrapelia with granddaughter Claire

A friend of mine, Bob Trube, works with university faculty and graduate students through a Christian ministry, reads more books than I eat sandwiches, and has a popular book review blog. Bob’s a deep thinker. When I have a conversation with him about some of the things he’s reflecting on I’m concerned I might develop a headache, trying to think his thoughts after him and attempting to respond intelligently to them.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, racial pain, and political polarization, Bob’s been posting a daily cartoon on his Facebook page. He’s also posted about his favorite sports teams. As serious as Bob can be, and he can be very serious, he has this lighter side, which I’m glad he’s sharing during these difficult times. We all need to lighten up!

Bob’s expressing the virtue of eutrapelia, and I’m betting Bob doesn’t have to look this word up! Because you and I aren’t Bob, let me try and explain it to us. Author Magnus Sannleikur wrote in his article “The Forgotten Virtue of Eutrapelia” (and to whom I must give credit for some of the thoughts I share here) that Eutrapelia is “related to playfulness and good-natured fun. It’s the simple joy that enlivens company and warms the heart.”

Those of us who believe in God and that He’s all loving and really cares about us should, of all people, be able to exhibit moments of humor, good-natured fun, and pushing back gloom and doom, even during difficult times. Too often, however, we can act as if we’ve partaken of prune juice instead of grape juice or wine the last time we had Communion! Jesus said we should be the light of the world. He certainly was referencing our need to proclaim truth, especially the truth about Him, but I can’t help but believe that being the light of Christ also includes brightening up things wherever we go!

We may not all be as funny, humorous, and quick witted as some, but we can laugh and enter into the fun when others are! It’s good to lighten up and not take everything so seriously. It’s okay to take time and relax, enjoying the gift of leisure. We’re not the super hero that has to save the world; hang up the cape! God has even given us one day in seven to take it easy and to not take ourselves so seriously, a goofoff day called Sunday or the Sabbath.

So we have God’s permission to lighten up and seek to enjoy the gift of life He’s given us. Laugh at something funny, play games with others, do something that makes someone smile, and look for other ways to have good-natured fun that expresses the virtue of Eutrapelia! Don’t bother trying to remember the word, we’ll leave that to my friend Bob. Just remember, and practice, what it means!

“For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done.” Psalm 92:4

Praise for Both the Telescopic & Microscopic View!

Scientists have discovered a super black hole. A black hole is a cosmic body so incredibly dense, likely resulting from a collapsed dead star, that the gravity is so immense that not even light can escape it, hence it’s called a black hole. This particular black hole is so massive that it’s slowly sucking in six galaxies. What an astonishingly large object God has made!

One of the smallest objects in the universe is the atom, which everything, including us, is made up of. But atoms contain even smaller objects called protons, neutrons, and electrons. Scientists believe these parts of the atom are made up of even smaller particles called quarks. No one has ever seen a quark, they’re so small. What an astonishingly small object God has made!

Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander wrote a hymn in 1848 with these words inspired by portions of Psalm 104, “All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.”

When we gaze through a telescope at the largest objects of creation or through a microscope at the smallest objects of creation we’re in awe! But even more should be our awe of the God who is creator of everything both great and small!

Our awe of God can grow even more awesome when we begin to grasp that He’s also a God of love, love for us! That’s the message, the Good News, of the best selling book of all time, the Bible.

A person can believe in God, that He exists and that He created and sustains all that exists. This is good, but it’s not the best! The best is when we realize God wants a relationship with us. He has this infinite love for us and desires that we enjoy the unparalleled delight of experiencing this love by responding and loving Him back.

All that has been created, both great and small, is for our pleasure and delight, to discover and explore, and to rule over as good caretakers. All of creation is but a backdrop, however, to finding our delight most of all in our God who made it and us. He has created everything, both great and small, but He loves us most of all!

“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.” Psalm 104:24-25

2020 Hindsight

This past year, 2020, was an unbelievable year for most of us, for most of the world! So much loss of life, so much hurt, so much distance between us, so much economic loss. Author John Piper in his book, Coronavirus and Christ, prays, “Grant us a cure. Deliver us – your poor, helpless creatures – from these sorrows, we pray. But do not waste our misery and grief.”

It’s been said that hindsight is 20/20. Events like what we experienced during the pandemic of 2020 can be teachable times. They can help us see with greater clarity what we can’t see clearly when life is going well. C. S. Lewis said that God whispers to us through pleasure and shouts to us through pain. The Covid-19 pandemic certainly qualifies, then, as a teachable event! Looking back on 2020, what do I see more clearly with 20/20 hindsight?

First, I see more clearly how fragile life is. Thousands have been healthy and active one week and the next week have succumbed to Covid-19. It could happen to anyone at any time, even for those of us who feel we’ve taken precautions. Life has always been tenuous, but it’s been more obvious this past year. It makes me want to appreciate each day, to embrace life more fully. It also prompts me to seek a greater degree of readiness to meet God. I’m so thankful I can count on His gracious forgiveness because I’ve accepted Him to be my Savior.

Second, I see more clearly the importance of the human connection. The need for social distancing, the reality of people dying without family or friends, the absence of gatherings with family and friends, all has reminded me how much I need, how much we all need, each other. When this pandemic is over I know I’ll have a greater appreciation for being with people and loving them better!

Third, I see more clearly how before the pandemic I depended on busyness, entertainment, going here and there and back again to distract me from cultivating more of the presence of God within. It’s been said that you can tell the emotional health of people by their ability to be quietly alone. Being still is one of the best ways to get to know God better, and the pandemic has afforded many of us more time to do this.

I believe the affirmation that God never wastes pain. The year 2020 has been quite a pain! But, by the grace of God, I want to look back on 2020 with something like 20/20 hindsight and be a better person because of it!

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The Long Journey of Christmas

The distance between Heaven and Earth is great. It’s God making that long journey from Heaven to Earth that we celebrate at Christmas. Yes, God dwells everywhere, including the furthest reaches of the cosmos some 13 billion light years away, but the distance from the most distant point in the universe to our Earth is nothing compared to God’s journey to join humanity as one of us. The distance from the furthest galaxy to here is measured in light years; the distance God traveled to incarnate Himself as a human is infinite!

God and His Heaven are transcendent in every way compared to this terrestrial ball we call Earth. Holy, holy, holy is He (you need to repeat it three times, the Bible’s method, to even begin to grasp the reality of this attribute of God’s holiness). The Earth? Not at all holy. Sure, from a distance, Earth orbit or beyond, our world looks pristine in its blue, brown, and white colors. Get closer and you see the scars of a fallen, hurting, abused, broken planet of wild weather, disease, death, earthquakes, and more. Get closer yet and you can’t help but observe brokenness between people, people acting badly with each other. Get even closer, into the minds and hearts of each of us, and you’ve reached a new level of brokenness, broken souls.

This unbelievable distance from glorious Heaven to fallen Earth didn’t stop God from leaving Heaven and coming to Earth, taking on human flesh, being born as a human baby! We can’t imagine what the Son of God gave up, leaving the eternally and infinitely close relationship He had in the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to become one of us, ignored, despised, and forsaken by many. He left a place described as having building materials of gold, jasper, and other fine stones to be born in a barn. He gave up a glorious robe of light to wearing diapers that regularly became soiled. He gave up His cosmic throne for an animal feeding trough that was His cradle. He gave up being surrounded by angels to being surrounded by the animals in the stable and some scruffy shepherds.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas, the long journey God took, a gift of Himself for us. However, there’s another long journey of Christmas. It’s been said that the longest journey is from head to heart. That’s the journey of Christmas we each are asked to take, moving Christmas from head to heart. We know the story, at least most of us do. But making the message meaningful and transformational is another story!

Countless preachers have said at Christmas time that there was no room for Mary and Joseph and the soon-to-be-born Jesus in the inn so He had to be born in a stable. These preachers then have asked, “Will we make room for Him in our heart?” I can do no better than to repeat this frequently asked question. “Will we make room for Him in our heart?” It’s a long journey, from knowing the Christmas story in our minds to embracing it in our hearts, but it’s a journey very much worth the taking!

The apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:6-7