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?

In the Land of Inconsequence


At 16, I read through Acts and came away understanding that the pivotal disciple in the book was not Paul but the man who stood behind him, Barnabas. In those words, God said to me, “Be a Barnabas. Help raise up future Pauls.”

I entered college a few years later and studied robotics because I enjoyed tech and knew there would be money in it. But after two years, I felt hollow on the inside. I realized that while I was good at computer-related things, it wasn’t where my heart was.

On completion of my sophomore year, I worked the summer at a Christian camp.  Not any camp though, but the one that six years previously was the place where I met the amazing manager of the camp, who introduced me to Jesus and changed my life forever.

I had a rough first week as a counselor. I had a cabin full of rowdy boys from Cleveland who did nearly everything wrong. Yet at the end of the week, I’d seen how Jesus had touched them. I’d understood something about the Great Commission I’d never grasped before.

After the kids left on Friday after dinner, the staff had its worship and communion service. As I partook of the Lord’s body and blood, I remember thinking that each of us had been consecrated by the Lord for this work. Each of us had a holy calling.

Following the blessing of that worship, seven of us piled into John’s enormous, early ’60s convertible (an Impala, or maybe a Caddy) and headed into town for ice cream. John, Lori, and Shawn took the front seat, while Keith, Michelle, Ruth, and I sat in back. The long-persisting, mid-June  sun crouched low on the horizon, the last of its rays golden on our faces as we sped west, the warm wind tossing our hair. Around us, katydids poured out songs of love, and the world burst with life and possibilities.

At the ice cream parlor, Ruth and I hunkered down in a booth and talked about what it meant to have a mission in life, to discover what God intended for each of us, how He would use us, and what the future might hold. I remember feeling something change in me, as if I’d discovered a great truth about where I stood in the vast cosmos, and how the Lord could use me going forward.

On the way back home, under a heavens aglisten with stars, John turned on the radio. A lone acoustic guitar built into a full band, leading into these haunting lyrics:

Ooh, I’ve been running down this dusty road.

Oh, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning;

I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.

I considered those words a sign of hope. That not knowing where I would be tomorrow was a sign of God’s joy in taking those who love Him to wonder-filled, unexpected places.

We cruised past a tiny oil pumping station, and a giant ball of orange-yellow erupted from a pipe and roiled the sky, turning night to day. When I looked at the faces of the six around me, I could see the fire dancing in their eyes.

I remember thinking, It will never be better than this.

The events of that summer made it clear that robotics wasn’t the future for me. I didn’t return to college in the fall.

Back home, with “what next?” occupying every thought, I asked to meet a pastor friend of mine named Terry. On a lovely September day, I sat in the courtyard of his church and waited for him.  An ancient woman with a cane shuffled toward the bench I sat on.  She moved about as slowly as a person can and still have the motion be considered forward progress. She eased herself down beside me, took a deep breath, and folded her white-gloved hands. After a moment, she turned to me, called me by name (though I had no idea who she was), and told me that she had been talking with God about me. She then said that God had told her to tell me to pursue my calling of being a Barnabas and to do so in the environment I enjoyed the most. I was stunned by her words. Just then, Terry walked out of the building to my right. I waved to him then turned to the woman. She was gone. I asked Terry who she was, but he said no one had been sitting beside me.

I love the outdoors. I’m a nature boy. I love working with people who desire to know God more deeply, people who don’t want the status quo in their Christian life, who are looking for something more.

Armed with what I’d experienced, I understood that God had shown me a direction. And I took it.

It wasn’t easy. I worked summers in camping ministry and filled in the rest of the year. Eventually, I found full-time work in that field. Even though I had ups and downs, I believed I was on the right course. I started ascending in responsibilities. I trained counselors, devised and developed curriculum and programs, even worked as a camp manager.

But eventually, at the age of 27, my lack of a college degree caught up with me. Doors started closing.

After leading a weekend retreat for my church, someone said that I had a real gifting for this kind of work and that I should pursue a degree in the field. The words stuck.

As it was already late March, I’d missed every deadline to apply to college, but I did so anyway. In mid-April, Wheaton called. I drove up, interviewed, was told they had a scholarship for older students returning to college in Christian Education, and a week later I was accepted and told I had a full-ride for my academic payments. I immediately enrolled in classes related to camping and a month later spent that summer at the college’s camp in Wisconsin.

It all seemed like a dream.

I graduated at the top of my class in 1992. I even won the Senior Class Scholarship for the most deserving senior class student.

I’d worked in some of the best camps in America by then. The president of Christian Camping International and the foremost authority on outdoor education in Christian camps were two of my references. My résumé was golden. Everything was working for me as of May 1992.

Fast forward nearly two and a half years and I’m selling computers, wondering what the heck happened.

The first wave of Catholic priest scandals hit right as I was graduating. In the aftermath, being single and 30 years old didn’t endear me to many camp leaders. Being married made one safe was the thinking, I guess, though I knew that was a lie. Still, the golden résumé,  prayer, and fasting couldn’t overcome the news headlines. It was a terrible time. I couldn’t believe what I was subjected to.

Yet I had to put food on the table.

After the last soul-crushing rejection from a camp that reneged on their offer of  a management and curriculum design job when they learned I was single, I threw in the towel.

A few years later, I was married and working in Silicon Valley for Apple then at NASA. Then came a child and a mortgage. The bottom fell out of tech and I changed careers yet again.

I live on a proto-farm now and write for a living. Most of my income goes to pay for insurance policies. My 9-year-old son is gifted and bored with school. He attends a special program for gifted kids each Saturday. This last Saturday, his engineering class of about 30 kids built circuit boards. My son was the first done with his. I worry how we will meet his educational needs.

The garbage needs to be taken out. Someone has to cut the grass. Weeklong work on taxes beckons. Gotta fill the fridge again. Census forms. The truck breaks down. How do we get to swim lessons now? Did we send in the vehicle registration forms? What day is it today? How did another week fly by?

The juggling goes on an on. So many balls to keep in the air.

Oh, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning;

I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.

Twenty-seven years after seven young people piled into a huge ’60s convertible and drove into the dream of a future filled with God’s purposes, I stand on the side of the road, lost  in the Land of Inconsequence, choking on the exhaust fumes.Wandering the Wasteland of Inconsequence

I spent this last Sunday morning with tears in my eyes.

That’s my story. I believe it’s one that many other Christians share, though the details are different. I think that church pews around America are filled with middle-aged people wondering what happened to the mission they embraced years ago. Life became cubicles and rush hour gridlock and the smirk on the face that accompanies hearing the dream stories of youth who are poised to change the world. Those were our stories—once.

It feels like hell living a life of no consequence, counting time until we go to heaven and receive whatever meager reward we earned, based mostly on what we accomplished for the Kingdom when we were barely out of childhood. The Land of Inconsequence is a terrible place to dwell, yet the population grows daily.

God knows most of us who dwell in that land would prefer to be elsewhere. We’d like nothing more than to cast off the burden of a life buried in bureaucracy and striving. We don’t want to look at the mission of the Kingdom of God and think, Hey, nice fairy tale. We want to be more concerned with the fact that Christians in India and elsewhere  face persecution, but we’re stuck on the phone arguing with the electric company, trying to figure out why our electrical bill is twice as high this month.

All the while, what we once were eats at us. The old mission claws at our heart, but we don’t know how to get back to it. We don’t know if we could even perform that mission should it one day open up again. And the days keep falling from the calendar.

Some will say that God closes those doors due to sin, stupidity, and sloth, but I don’t know if that’s always the case. Sometimes, things just are. Yet it bothers me that so many Christian people who once burned brightly now sit in a pew somewhere on Sunday and lament what might have been. They had a mission once. Now they pay endless bills and kill themselves to keep up with the ever-growing numbers on those pages.

I wish I had an answer for this, but I don’t. I’m trapped in the mire too. All the doors closed one day, except for one, and in taking it there seems to be no return.

Is this a sad post? Sure. But I don’t think we can run away from sadness. As Christians, we must be able to deal with all of life’s challenges in ways that reflect the truth of God. Sadness is part of the human condition, and God does not shrink from speaking to it.

The hope that I hold out is that God has an answer. We just may not understand it. Do I think that God is happy that so many people dwell in the Land of Inconsequence? No. But if the Church doesn’t acknowledge the problem, how can we expect to see that change?

I would love nothing more than to get believers together and raise this issue. It’s a dirty little secret, I think, and dirty little secrets need to be brought into the light of Christ and exposed before the people of God. Perhaps if we did this, God would work through us in ways that would help free people to return to those long-lost missions and find a way to escape an inconsequential life.

Blind, Deaf, and Dumb


I don’t normally change my plans for posts for the week, but my brother e-mailed me a story yesterday I just couldn’t believe. And I couldn’t believe it on so many levels that I could probably blog about it for the next month and not limn its depths.

As a musician, I enjoy a wide range of music. I think I can appreciate just about any genre of music. Punjabi sitar to punk rock to Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma”—hey, I like it all.

Which is how I know of Joshua Bell.

Sort of the classical music version of Bono, Bell’s the pre-eminent violinist of our times, under-forty, charismatic, and a lady-killer, too. He plays the noted “Gibson ex Huberman” Stradivarius worth $3.5 million. He commands $1,000 a minute performances all over the world.

But the Washington Post wondered what might happen if Bell were asked to dress down and play as a street musician near one of the busy subway connections in DC. An experiment in sociology, so to speak. Famed musicians were asked to weigh in on what might be the outcome. Most predicted problems. The biggest worry? Crowd control.

So Bell, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, took his multi-million dollar Strad down to the Metro to play incognito for morning rush hour. Hidden video camera still of Bell playing in DC subwayHe chose superb violin works unperformable by the less skilled. He played masterfully for the commuters.


The Washington Post has the whole tale (plus hidden camera video) in a fascinating story called “Pearls Before Breakfast.” Please read the whole thing.

Leonard Slatkin, the noted conductor, when asked what he thought might be the outcome, suspected that Bell would draw a large crowd and garner about $150 for his effort. The result proved far less stellar.

In truth, less than a dozen of the 1,097 people who passed by seemed to notice Bell’s presence. Fewer yet paused even momentarily to listen to the finest music in the world played by a virtuoso. Of those who did stop, a couple possessed past experience with the violin, enough to know the guy with his case left open for tips played on a level far beyond what could be expected from a street musician. One woman recognized Bell and stayed around simply because she couldn’t understand what she witnessed. She tossed in a bemused $20, making Bell’s total take for 43 minutes of stellar playing $32.17. And yes, a few folks threw in pennies.

I find it impossible to read that story and not consider that something’s profoundly wrong with us. In our hurtling from one place to another, our lives on perpetual fast -forward (at least until we hit the numbing reality of the cubicle), we’ve allowed the system we live in to rob us of time, relationship, culture, beauty, and every other mark of true humanity that simmers in our God-breathed souls. We act as if wonder itself might be purchased at Target for $9.99 on sale. We get our cheap, adulterated fix, then it’s head down and don’t get in our way.

One vignette within this cautionary tale tells of a mother whose three-year-old kept tugging her away from her objective so he could pause to listen to the guy playing the fiddle. I couldn’t help but think, and a child shall lead them.

Jesus Christ didn’t die simply to secure us a ticket to heaven. He died and rose again that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

In her book The Companions, science fiction author Sheri Tepper imagines a future in which people wear veil-like clothing in public in order to preserve their own cocoon of privacy. In many ways, I fear that Tepper’s world is already our own. What else can explain the silent shrouds we wear that cut us off from others, that speak to a child and tell him not to want to listen to the beautiful music, or to interact with the man playing it. That shroud descends over all of life, smothering it.

When I hear people telling me they prefer attending their local megachurch because it affords them some anonymity, I wonder when Jesus gave His divine imprimatur to our privacy. Yet we guard ourselves to the point of losing our souls. We numb our hearts to life going on around us. Wrapped in our cocoons, we literally fail to stop and smell the roses—or listen to Joshua Bell playing a Bach piece that once summoned tears to even the driest eyes.

Are we that beaten-down? That blind, deaf, and dumb?

It comes as no shock to me that much of Jesus’ ministry dealt with healing the blind, deaf, and dumb. We understand the physical component, but do we understand the spiritual and emotional portion of our marred humanity that compels us to walk by the world’s greatest violinist and not even pause for one moment to revel in his skill? To drop out of the ever-rushing torrent to soar on music crafted by the greats? Bach wrote “To the glory of God” on every work he penned, yet that glory wafts past us and we perceive it not.

How can it be that we have fallen so far, even those of us who claim to be Christians?