Your Best Purpose Now?


Who are you? Do you believe you were created for a purpose or was it all just chance? This week on Let My People Think, Ravi Zacharias looks at how we were created for significance and what our purpose really is…

Ravi Zacharias is one of the few contemporary radio preachers I still listen to, primarily by podcast. We need more like him.

Work and life in a cubicleStill, in my listening to his two-part series recently rerun, I feel even philosopher/ apologist Zacharias seems ill-equipped to explain purpose amid our societal/cultural norms. The “how to live out that purpose practically” eludes even him. (Perhaps it’s because the talk was from 1992. I wonder how Zacharaias might speak about purpose in a more digital age.)

Purpose in life is an issue that I think bubbles under the surface of everyone’s thoughts, yet it is a question the contemporary Church in America fumbles.

Here’s what I see:

  • By reflex, many Christians will state their purpose in life is to glorify God in everything they do, but then they wonder why it is that what they do seems so insignificant and self-serving.
  • Many Christians struggle to make any sense of their own mission within the Church when they compare it against their actual day-to-day living.
  • Many Christians have been taught that God has a perfect purpose for their lives, what He created them to do that comprises part of “the abundant life,” yet this purpose eludes them, which means the abundant life does also.
  • That disconnect causes many to reason that if the life they have now reflects God’s purposes for them perfectly, it casts doubt on how faithful God has been to bring them into that promised life of fulfilling purpose. This leads to much of our modern angst in the Church.

Let’s be honest here. It’s hard to believe that assembling widgets on a factory line, going home exhausted after 10 hours, rushing perpetually here to there, and always having some expectation on you that you can’t fulfill is in any way reflecting the love of God for you through meaningful purpose.

Nothing saddens me more than to hear Christian leaders not only concede to this kind of industrial-revolution-inspired life but actually laud it. Doing so renders terms such as underemployed meaningless. I believe depression is rampant for the very reason that people are not finding any purpose to their lives. They labor, they consume, and then they die, having contributed little to the world.

How is it that the Church here concedes to that kind of drudge life and often holds it in high regard? Why are Christian thinkers and leaders not FIGHTING against the thinking, the systems, that create purposelessness?

Strangely, instead of working to change the way the system works, all we can do is point out that it’s broken. Then we teach some anemic coping mechanisms that we hope will work, at least until the next Sunday, when we will offer different, “better” ones. But we deceive ourselves, because men and women cannot keep adding tricks to deal with a purposelessness that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Does a person doused in gasoline and set ablaze want to receive either spiritual or secular suggestions on how to cope with being on fire? No, they need the flames extinguished, folllowed by emergency medical care. Yet most people are being burned by expectations and sociocultural conceptions of what their purpose should be. Who is calling out and saying that this experiment has failed? Shouldn’t that be the Church? Shouldn’t we be actively extinguishing false ways of living that create purposelessness and tending to the needs of those burned by the system?

The Church today in the West seems incapable of taking on systems of any kind. We simply are not up for that battle. But we should be. Instead, we tend to settle and make peace. Perhaps we, as a whole, have forgotten our purpose.

Can we at least start small? Just as each person in a church has God-given spiritual gifts that church leaders should be partnering to identify, I believe that each of us has not only a general purpose in life but a specific one. We used to name that a “calling.” If a person’s spiritual gifts are given by God to encourage and strengthn the Body, is not that person’s calling in line with those gifts? And is not the Holy Spirit able to help others to help us discover what God would have for us post-conversion?

I believe life in 2015 needs an infusion of purpose. If God has a wonderful plan for our lives, are we really living that way? Or are we lost at sea, hoping to crash on the shore of some future island oasis that seems so very far away?

When Right-Hearted Christians Defend Wrong-Headed Theology


Someone had let a whirlwind into the room.

Elder George Merriweather gazed at his Rolex. They’d been at this for only 10 minutes, but it felt like 10 hours. He glanced at Deaconess Lisbeth Cartwright and sighed. The former Miss America candidate from Connecticut nodded, and her blonde curls went bouncing.

Westminster Wesleyan had endured plenty of storms in the church’s nearly 200-year history, but it had scarcely seen the likes of this present hurricane, all 300-pounds in fluorescent eyeshadow of her, Miss T’juana Dupree Jones.

“It ain’t right to call Zion no ’xperiment,” the woman responded. “Alls I sayin’ is that Miss Thelma could use that food too. And Miss Laetitia and Miss Lucinda.”

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III regretted his choice of words. In a way, Zion Holiness Temple was an experiment. Changing demographics in the neighborhood abutting Westminster Wesleyan, while not exactly forcing the church’s hand, made it essential that the church consider an outreach that would bring the Gospel to more of the people who lived in the nearby area. Church leaders also recognized that Zion might need to have its own “flavor” if it was to develop its own style of ministry, one that Hill recognized he wasn’t equipped to understand. While Zion shared much with its parent church, Westminster encouraged the Zion congregation that met under its roof to develop its own programs.

Zion didn’t have a home meals delivery program like Westminster did. And at least one person did not like this disparity.

“Miss Thelma be 91 years old, livin’ alone in a one-room ’partment with no A/C,” Jones continued. “You been up to her place?”

Benevolence Committee leader Quentin Greenway shook his head.

“No, ” Jones said, barely hiding her ire, “I don’t think you been.”

Olivia Brentwell, co-leader of the committee, spoke up.

“You have to understand, Miss Jones, we’re trying to encourage the Zion congregation to—”

“And I’m trying to encourage y’all to recall that Miss Lucinda done got her man blowed up in that desert war and got three precious little babies she need to feed, and y’all got the money and food.”

Greenway leaned forward and attempted his own interjection. He failed miserably.

“And Miss Laetitia been a widow lady for 20 years. You remember her man? Worked hisself to death probably.”

Pastor Hill, who had been listening all the while he played with his Mont Blanc pen, grimaced at the mention. Laetitia Washington’s husband, Franklin, had been Westminster Wesleyan’s janitor for three decades before he passed away.

“Y’all could drive that little van a couple more blocks and drop off them ladies something decent to eat at least once a day,” Jones said. “I don’t see why not. It ain’t right the way it be now. That’s all I gots to say.”

Jones folded her hands into her prodigious lap and stared straight ahead, the laser focus of her eyes burning a hole in the far wall an inch to the right of Greenway’s bald head.

He spoke.

“We have solid, biblical reasons, Miss Jones, for denying the request.”

Jones’s brow knitted.

“We do not wish to enable neediness,” Greenway began. “People fall into a pattern of victimhood that is disempowering. They lose the ability to care for themselves as God intends, instead developing an unhealthy reliance on others.”

Cartwright called on her training and raised herself perfectly erect. “And suffering is good for the soul, Miss Jones. The Bible clearly states that in this world we will have suffering. We should look on it as a gift from the Lord and thank Him for it. Suffering builds character, strength, and perseverance, qualities that every Christian should possess.”

Brentwell smoothed her silk dress and added , “Miss Jones, if we were to give these three women what you ask, how many more should expect the same treatment? God shows no partiality, and neither should we.”

To which Greenway added, “And our own resources aren’t infinite. We have to be able to meet the needs of Westminster’s own.”

The brow-knitting on Jones’s face was beginning to develop its own Zip code.

As he always did, Elder Merriweather saw the moment as a teachable one.

“This is clearly an issue of God’s sovereignty,” he said through steepled fingers, eyes trained on Jones. “While I can commiserate with the plight of these women, they are in the state they are because of God’s will. He alone raises up, and He alone brings low. For us to stand as His judge and claim that we know better by meddling in God’s ways, I daresay our presumption will come back to bite us.”

The human storm stirred again. A hand rose from Jones’s lap, one finger emerging from five, straightening, filled with indignation.

“You with the enabling. You with the suffering. You with the partiality,” Jones said, her eyes flashing, “and you with that word I done never heard before. What all wrong with you? You pushin’ me to sin with what I’m thinkin’, but I’m just gonna say it: Y’all don’t got the common sense God done give a goose.”

Pastor Hill thought to reply when he saw the shock on his leadership team’s faces, but that was before he noticed something on Jones’s face: the track of a lone tear.

“I don’t got nothin’ in this world, not even the stuff in this one office, ” Jones said. “But I can see that I’m gonna have to take my nothin’ and make somethin’ of it so I can take care of three widow ladies who don’t get the food in one day y’all get from one of your brunches.”

At this, Jones lifted herself, collected her faux leopard-skin bag and left, making sure the door of the office slammed with just the right amount of force to make one final statement.

No one said anything.

Finally, Greenway spoke.

“For one, I look at this as a success. That woman left here empowered to take responsibility for the care of these women. By standing our ground, we empowered rather than enabled.”

Brentwell and Merriweather agreed.

“Ministry is hard,” Cartwright added, still a little frazzled by the encounter.

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III didn’t hear his leadership team’s self-congratulations, though. Instead, he could not take his eyes from the old, wooden cross that hung on the wall opposite his desk, just as it had for as long as he could remember.


Here is how another leadership team, long ago and far away, handled a similar situation in a much godlier way:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
—Acts 6:1-4 ESV

God help us when we make up spiritual-sounding excuses supposedly based on “biblical theology” to ignore doing the right thing.

Hardship, Blame, and the Real Will of God


One phenomenon I’ve noted in the American Church that keeps getting resurrected and used as a club to beat frustrated and hurting Christian is this issue of who is at fault when things go awry.

In the Christian pantheon of blame, these four are the most prominent whipping boys:

  • God
  • Satan
  • The Individual
  • Society

Frankly, I’m burned out of the “it’s okay to get mad at God” mantra that I hear from some Christians. Job expected God to explain Himself for all of Job’s troubles and God smacked that down hard. So, the get mad at God thing is a dead end.

Well, it should be a dead end except that a lot of Christians sugarcoat that same idea by framing it within the context of God’s will. Bad things happen because of God’s will, and, because we love God so much, we should be happy that our house collapsed and our kids perished. It was all for our good.

Honestly, though, Job wasn’t happy with that answer. While he did not take his wife’s advice to “curse God and die,” this most righteous man still bristled at all the things that had happened to him. He still wanted God to explain Himself. If Job wasn’t happy with “God’s will” in his own awful situation, what chance do I have when things blow up miserably?

So we peel back the curtain on the Job epic and find that fouler Satan messing with the rigging backstage. Blaming the Enemy is big, especially within those churches that sprang from the Azusa revival.

Sadly, for many Christians, Satan becomes the universal excuse when something goes wrong. We blame him and that’s the end of the discussion. Calls for spiritual warfare go out, everyone prays binding and loosing prayers, and that’s the end of it.

Should that approach not work—and from my own experiences it doesn’t a lot of the time (because Satan isn’t entirely the cause)—some Christians start blaming themselves. “I did something wrong and have no one to blame but myself” may be true or it may not be. And if nearly 48 years of living have taught me anything, rarely is the individual entirely at fault either.  Sure, we sin and do stupid things. But God gives grace to follow, which covers our individual sins and deficiencies. With that the case, can I postulate that God’s grace is insufficient for a dingbat such as myself? Hardly.

Then society gets the blame hammer. The Christian culture wars are almost entirely driven by the idea that our society is the cause of every bad thing in…well, our society. Beyond the circular logic on that one, yeah, sometimes society does foster awful outcomes.  Sometimes society is to blame for problems—or at least for serving as a petri dish for their wicked growth. Problem is, the Bible makes it clear that we Christians can’t blame society for every bad thing in life. Rarely did society stand in the way of early Christians accomplishing miraculous things for God.

Ultimately, organizing blame into one or more of those four basins still cannot completely answer the question of why some happenings in life are just plain rotten.

I love the practicalness of the Book of James. In it are these true words:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
—James 2:14-26

In this case, whose problem is it that a brother and sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food? Is God to blame? Satan? The individual? Society?

While most people quote this passage as a primer on practical faith, too few understand it as a lesson on God’s will, which it is—in spades.

See, when we want to find blame for the condition of that brother and sister, it is the rare few who ask the question of the Church’s role in the will of God and the vagaries of life. We’ll blame our typical four sources, but do we in the Church ever wonder if we as a group are the reason for some of the awfulness we see in life?

Now, I’m not talking about being the cause of awfulness, but as the unused, mothballed resource for fixing that awfulness. James would rightfully contend that the brother and sister in Christ who remain poor and hungry will stay so unless the Church wakes up and does something to rectify the problem.

But we don’t hear that enough in our churches, do we?

Actually, let me revise that. We hear the clarion call to action in the culture wars, but we almost never hear it in cases of individual need, especially those needs that fly under the radar.

What about the case of the person crushed for the rest of her life under the burden of an uninsured operation? Does the Church have anything to say about that need? Better yet, does the Church have any responsibility toward rectifying that situation? Or will we blame God, Satan, the sick woman, or society for her plight?

More than anything, I wish more Christians would break from the standard blame game and instead ask, “What can we as a Church do?”

I’ve had a terribly stressful last couple weeks that landed me in the doctor’s office yesterday. I missed church on Sunday, which is not something I do. I play drums on the church worship team, and I don’t really have a backup at this point, so me calling in sick meant a scramble for the team leaders. Mercy in the midst of griefMore stress, more feeling bad, but I’d been up most of the night before and was just exhausted.

Now I could come up with a lot of directions for blame for causing all this stress, and I could imagine a million things God, Satan, society, and li’l ol’ me have to do with it all, but none of them trump dinner last night. Yes, dinner. Because Lisa, our pastor’s wife, brought us a homemade dinner last night.

And honestly, that kind of small act by the Body of Christ goes a long way toward defusing all these issues of God’s will and blame and highfalutin’ solutions and all that wacky stuff we get into.

When the Body of Christ is working as it should, these radically tough-to-solve problems suddenly lose much of their juice. Sometimes the answer to rotten things happening in life is as simple as showing up at the bedside of a sick person, writing a card to a shut-in, banding together to pay a medical bill, clothing someone who has nothing to wear, and on and on. It’s keeping our feelers feeling out where people need a little touch from the Lord through our being His hands.

It’s so easy to point fingers. But Church, more often than not the finger is reflected in a mirror right back at us. Rather than assigning blame or explaining the reason for someone’s plight, what are we doing to meet the needs of others in their times of distress?