Saturday, May 30, 2009

Blueprints of Purpose

Recently, at our Life Group we were discussing God and whether or not we felt that He had a purpose for our lives, and more importantly if He did, how we were supposed to know it. I thought that I would take a moment and try to gather our thoughts on the subject.

The whole conversation seemed to center around 5 questions:

1. Does God have a plan?

2. How do you know?

3. Do you want to participate?

4. How do you participate?

5. What does it look like - how do I know when I'm doing it?

Pretty loaded questions, huh? I bet that each of us has some strong opinions, if not feelings, on each of those questions. I'd be amiss to try to completely deal with each one of those here at this time, but let me see if I can at least give some background as to what conclusions we came to before jumping into the last few.

Obviously, to ask a question, "Does God have a plan?" one would have to make the concession that the person asking, and the intended audience, already believes that there is a God. More specifically, we believe that there is a Creator God, or a God by which all things are created. Before Him there was only Him, and He created everything "ex nihilo" or out of nothing. You can decide for yourself, but for me - having believed that - believing that He did so randomly or unintentionally just doesn't compute. Not just this world, mind you, but even me. I was created with a purpose; I was created with a "why" I am here. Jeremiah 29:11 in the New International Version translation of the Bible says, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

The question is, do I want to participate?

I have heard it said that the two greatest days in a man's life are the day he is born, and the day he finds out why. I'm one of those why people. Why this? Why not that? Yup, I was that little kid that always kept asking why.

"Why is the sky blue?"
"Because it is."
"No, but why?"
"Because God thought it would be best that way."
"Yeah, but why is it best that way?"
and on and on and on.

I still find myself in those little discussions with God from time to time. I'm the kind of person, when asked a question that I think I should know, will immediately try to find the answer. The Internet, Google, Wikipedia, and have all intimately become familiar with this little boy that always asks why. And I believe God wants me to know the answer to "why am I here?" But I must first answer the question, do I want to participate? If so, how do I do it - what does it look like to follow God's plan?

God Has a Set of Blueprints

Recently, I had the privilege of overseeing the construction of a multi-million dollar construction project on behalf of the owner. It was amazing. Just the coordination and communication necessary to even begin to accomplish such a daunting task was incredible. Dozens of different companies played a role in the execution of the feat. Nearly 2 years of planning and 2 years of construction culminated in one of our city's most beautiful buildings - thousands in our community have visited and thousands regularly attend - it's remarkable. But none of that would never have taken place if there wasn't some way of communicating to everyone involved what part each was going to play.

I learned that a lot of what goes into a construction project isn't fabricated on sight. Even as they are breaking ground, pushing dirt and digging holes; off sight - often across the country - others have begun the fabrication of large steel beams while others have begun making the doors that will mount on the cabinets inside. Fascinating to me is how the plumbers know where that toilet is going to be so that the pipe can be put in place before the concrete is poured, yet the toilet won't be installed until nearly a year later - and it will fit perfectly.

All of this coordination, all of these efforts, all of these steps, all of these additions to the building are reflected in a set of plans, or blueprints. Each page shows the next step in the process, and if executed correctly, will allow the next steps on the next pages to occur the way the Architect intended. Often times, it is necessary to flip back a few pages and see what has happened in the past in order to make sense of the current step involved; but the blueprints allow them to do that.

I believe that God has a set of blueprints for each of our lives and reflected in those plans are the numerous circumstances, people, additions, subtractions, and events that will ultimately coincide in His purpose for my life. I believe He wants me to know this purpose, but often times, I'm only able to see one page at a time; one step, then another. But I trust that right now, there are things in the works that will be added to me as time goes by; things that are purposed for me; things that are designed for me.

Turn the Page!!!

It might be difficult for many to relate to a construction project illustration or perhaps you've never seen a set of blueprints on a job that large. Have you ever assembled furniture before? I've never bought furniture that needed assembly that didn't come with a set of instructions. (Now, I might not have always used those instructions, but they were there. :) ) One of the most frustrating things that could happen to you while assembling your furniture would be to discover that there is a missing page from the manual. Could you imagine that?

Here's one that's worse, and yet its all too familiar. Could you imagine assembling your furniture, and following the directions on the first page and never turning the page to find out what the next step was? Never! Well, maybe. What would the furniture look like at that point? Definitely not all that it was intended to be. Yet, many Christians today are living their lives, partially assembled in the plans God has for their lives because they've never turned the page! They've never realized that getting saved or trusting in Jesus was only page one of the plan God intended. Simply coming to church every week isn't God's complete plan, there's more for you. Turn the page. You have to want to participate; there's another page waiting.

What Does it Look Like?

What does it look like when someone is living God's plan for their lives? How do you know if someone is doing a good job at following God's plan for their life? Gosh, I wish I knew that. My searches of Google and haven't helped in this arena. I think it would be easier if it were more like driving. I know I'm driving well when I can successfully navigate my car between the lines. I'm a good driver when I operate my vehicle in a way that complies with the law and more importantly, I know when I've gotten off the road. Even if I choose to ignore it, there's an officer that is quick to remind me I'm not a good driver. But there are not traffic cops in the pages of God's plan that I've found. So how do I know? I definitely can't know for you or for someone else. But how do I know for me, what does it look like when I'm following God's plan for my life?

I'm not claiming to be the expert. I'm still learning. But I'm willing to share what I've learned so far. I believe that at least three things are involved when I (or we) are correctly following God's plan and purpose for our lives.

1. It involves others - I'm not expected to figure this out alone, and I'm not designed to keep to myself along the way

2. It involves one step after another - its progress. its movement. It's one step of faith after another.

3. It involves my growth - Its "I'm not who I was, but I'm not yet who I'm going to be." Its God adding to me. Its more. Grow = More

Off Track

If you can look at your life and honestly see that your pursuits, the things you do, or the things you occupy your time with do not match up with those three things, you've likely gotten off course. The danger here is you're probably pursuing something that isn't worth catching. I recently heard a story of a guy whose dog wouldn't stop chasing cars. "What would he do if he caught one?" the guy would ask. One day the guy tied a rag to wheel of his car and slowly drove through his neighborhood. Sure enough his dog began to chase his car. This time, the dog caught the rag as it slowly rolled with the tire. THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! around and around the dog went as he clenched the rag in his teeth. Immediately, the startled dog let go. The guy said that his dog never chased another car from that point on.

My prayer is not just that God would show me His plan for my life - I believe He wants to show it to me and that He takes every opportunity to do so.
My prayer is, "God, don't let me chase something that isn't worth catching." I believe that should be your prayer, too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why We Do What We Do

The question was posed (OK, so I asked myself)... Why do we do Life Group?

To put it more specifically, why have Kayla and I decided to prioritize our weekly schedules in such a way that we are able to attend a gathering of several couples who, like us, are young and newly married Christians to "do life" together?

Sometimes we fellowship, go to the movies, bowl, have ice cream, whatever; often times its over a meal, but sometimes we just hang out. We talk about God and our marriage and families and pray for one another. There are about 10 couples in our "Life Group."

But why? What are we here for? Why do we feel that it's important to do life with other people?

Kayla and I believe, like many others, that God never designed us to live this life alone - isolated from other relationships - relationships that can be life-giving. More simply, we believe that the Kingdom of God is built upon relationship. God's plan and purpose for our lives is realized when we help others, and allow others to help us grow in our relationship with God. We invest this priority into our family because we want to grow.

Groups can be quite interesting. Especially eclectic groups such as ours. However alike or different the composition of a group may be, it has been said that all groups like these "small groups" or "cell groups" advance in relationship through 4 basic stages.

Acquaintances - Friendships - Openness - Honesty/Transparency

I'll save you the time by not further defining each stage. I think you understand what I'm saying here.

In our experience, real growth for an individual (or couple) in a group environment really starts to begin between the second and third stages. It's not until we become open, honest, and transparent with ourselves and others in our group that we really start to see change. It's in this environment that we flourish.

Proverbs 18:1 says that "a man [or woman, or couple] that isolates himself seeks his own desire. He rages against all wise judgment."

A man who isolates himself.

If I ever want to see growth in myself as a believer, I cannot allow myself to be isolated. I have a few thoughts about this verse.

1. I can't find wisdom all by myself. We've all learned from others' successes and failures. God gives wisdom to those who seek it - and it comes from God and from His people.

2. It's natural/normal to fellowship with others and it takes more effort to put up a front while isolating ourselves. Over the years, we've learned to hide from each other; ashamed or embarrassed, we avoid showing others who we really are. That kind of behavior is not normal and is taxing on us. God never intended us to be that way. It's burdensome.

3. I can't learn to live with another person by spending time alone. It's in an environment of "others" where we learn that we're unique and its in an environment with others that we learn they are unique, too. It's here where we find out what normal is.

I believe that both time and shared experiences will progress each person in a group from acquaintances to friends to openness to honesty/transparency. But nothing will advance you quicker through the stages than TRIALS and CRISIS.

It's in our moments of trial and crisis that our true dependancy on others breaks down the walls of insecurity and pride that we've built over the years. When trials and crisis come, and they will, the environment that you've placed yourself in will make all the difference.

I've already mentioned how growth happens in a group environment when we progress from acquaintences to friends to openness to transperancy. If you place yourself, or your marriage, in one of these environments, when trials and crisis comes, so does growth! In fact, all God-given trials and crisis become opportunities for growth when placed within the right environment.

So, in answer to my own question, why are Kayla and I in a Life Group? Why do we choose to "do life" with others? Because we see that in life, trials and crisis can come and when they do we want to make sure that our marriage is in an environment where we can experience growth through those times of trials and crisis. Because of this truth, we prioritize and sacrifice so we can participate in doing life with others who want to do life with us.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Happens If You Plant a Decision?

In the season finale of 24, President Allison Taylor was faced with a pretty difficult decision - I'll spare you the drama of 22 weeks and an otherwise unwelcome cheesy impersonation of Keifer Sutherland saying, "Previously on 24" but the scenario is this: what is best as a Mother isn't what's best as the President. Does she condemn her only daughter or cover up the crime. Her husband begged her to do the latter.

My wife asked me the question. "What would you do in that situation?"

Initially, I said that I believe in life, each decision we face comes with increasing difficulty, but its our maturity and progression in life that gives us the tools necessary to make the best decision possible. You wouldn't expect a 5 year old to answer correctly on an Algebra test, but you would expect a correct answer from a high school senior. I said, "If I were the President, I'd be prepared to make that decision, but I'm not, so I can't."

But the more I thought about it, the more I wished I could answer the question again.

My wife and I truly live a blessed life. I'm constantly telling people that it feels like I've fallen face first into the blessings of God. It seems totally unexpected and completely by accident.

But that's not entirely true.

Let me state it another way. I've married THE most incredible woman. She's smart, caring, honest, hard-working, patient, and is becoming the exact woman that I want my kids to grow up to emulate. I chose her. Without a doubt, besides my salvation, the single most important decision that I will ever make. Yup, one big decision - make it or break it; can't be undone - and I chose well. That might be what you'd say,

But that's not entirely true, either.

I'm not the first one to jump on the revelation train as it pulls into the station, but I have figured this one out:

Every big decision can be made correctly, by making the correct smaller decisions. The decision on the kind of person I'd like to become [huge] can be correctly made by the smaller decision of who I choose to hang around and spend my time with... and so on.

Just like sowing and reaping. We all know what the Bible says about sowing and reaping, even if you didn't know it was the Bible where it all came from. Basically, it says it like this. Whatever a man sows [plants, does, acts upon, instigates, decides, etc] he will also reap [harvest, receive, happen, have opportunity for, etc]. By sowing small correct decisions, I had positioned myself for making a the really big ones correctly.

For example:

I chose personal discipleship - I understood God never intended for me to live out my Christianity alone. Every player needs a coach. If I wanted to be successful in life, I needed to submit myself to others who are further along in the race I was running. When I first started to be attracted to Kayla, I immediately sought counsel of my pastor.

I chose spiritual authority - I had to put away the "God told me to" Trump Card. Yes, God speaks to me. But I hear a lot of other things in my head, too. I've missed it before. I believe that God speaks to me in three ways: His voice, His people, and His word. I take what I hear and compare it to what God has said (His word) and to seek Godly counsel (His people). Even if I did hear right, the other two always help me carry out what it is I heard. I submitted our relationship early on to the inspection of my pastor.

I chose to protect my heart - Proverbs 3 said that if I trusted in the Lord and not on my own heart [will and emotions] that He would direct my path. Proverbs 4 said that it was important to guard my heart because out of it flowed the "issues" of life. I understood that to mean that the people that didn't guard their heart have "issues." I kept myself from those situations where I knew I wasn't very strong and could easily be compromised.

I chose to protect her heart - The easy part would have been just to flirt with her and see if she like me or not. Would have made things a lot easier. But what if it wasn't God? What if I just thought that she was the one because she was fine and made me laugh? What if I started to favor her and single her out only to find out that she did liked me too? What if she started to like me and what if I later found out it was hormones and emotions and not God's will? Until I knew for sure that God had spoken - until I had submitted my heart to my spiritual authority - I didn't let her know I liked her. She had no idea until I was certain she was the one that God hand picked for me.

All of those smaller decisions positioned me for the larger decision that was to follow. I chose well on the big one because I chose well on the smaller, easier, safer ones. I sowed wise decisions and reaped a wise decision from what I had learned.

If you will chose correctly when it doesn't count, it will be much easier to choose correctly when it does.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Politics of Fruit

Before the 2008 Presidential Election, I was reading a friend's blog when the following thoughts came to mind. I posted this in response to his blog. I thought it would be interesting to post it here, after the election to get your thoughts now that we've chosen our President.

Statement I caught: "To me this election shouldn’t be about what a man isn’t, but what a man is."

I'll step out there. You're right in that the success of a man is better surmised by the accomplishments he has rather than the opportunities he missed. Funny how we award people for what they've done and ridicule others for what they haven't. The dichotomy (fair or not) is present in just about every aspect of our lives. Artists refer to the Positive/Negative Effect of a painting by what's present/not present. Not painting something can be just as important, if not more, as painting it. To the sculptor, it's not the media that remains that takes the skill, but rather the media that is removed; and yet, it's the media that remains that receives all the renown and praise. It's the whole "darkness isn't substantial, it's merely the absence of light" & "evil doesn't exist and wasn't created, but is merely the absence of good" theological debates that we've grown to love.

Do you judge a candidate by what he will add to this country or by what he will take away? Is it fair to compare the resume's of two individuals who have different backgrounds - faulting one because of an opportunity that may or may not have presented itself - praising the other simply because, when that opportunity couldn't have been avoided?

I need a fruit. This fruit has to satisfy the ideals beheld by fruit lovers across the world - what's that you say? What are the specific ideals? well I'm not sure, but neither is anyone else so I guess it doesn't really matter - but the ideals must be met; if not, it's definitely not the right fruit for the job.

I've narrowed my selection (by popular vote, market availability, locale, etc.) down to an orange and an apple. Perhaps you could help me from here - I'm having trouble comparing their resumes.

You see I can't really compare apples to oranges. I can't fault the apple because it didn't grow on an orange tree - and I can't condemn the orange because it's obvious that the apple will make a much better apple pie - trust me on this.

Do I pick the apple based on what it can do? Or do i pick the orange based on what the apple cannot? etc.

I'd have a hard time choosing my fruit if I didn't have some specific ideals that I needed to satisfy. Sure, I might have to settle not having ALL of them satisfied, but if I defined specifically what was important to me and my beliefs, then it would be much easier to choose. I would have the peace and assurance (warning: Christian vocabulary emerging) at the end of the day knowing of what was important to me, and of the two fruits I had to choose from (pun intended) that I made the best possible decision.

I must say this, I disagree with the "influencers" mentality - hoping some key influencers will step up and make the choice for us so we can go along with that decision. I seem to remember a High School Prom Queen being elected that way. I want to be like them, and they voted for her, so I must now vote for her. We're supposed to be the influencers - men and women who will step up and reach in and determine exactly what ideals are important to us - those absolutes that are non negotiable - and from that compare the fruit as it measures up to those absolutes. Only then will the best fruit be chosen. Sure, I might have to settle not having ALL of them satisfied, but if I defined specifically what was important to me and my beliefs, then it would be much easier to choose.

Any decision made without careful consideration for the morals and ideals that really matter - is a decision made in haste and will probably end up tasting like an apple pie, baked with oranges. It's what you settled for, forced to try to become what you really wanted - leaving you, and your country, sorely disappointed.

First Out' the Gate

Years ago I promised God that I wouldn't read His word without a pencil in my hand. In my heart, I was expressing a desire to hear Him speak to me and reveal his thoughts for me as I shared my time with Him. I'd always have a pencil ready if He wanted to speak to me.

I figured, why would He share his thoughts with me if I was unwilling to apply them? I had to remember in order to apply, and I had to record in order to remember. Some call it a journal, some a diary, others a blog, but for me it started in the margins of my Bible and invaded the blank spaces between commentary and ultimately on the pages of the numerous notebooks I've accumulated over the years. I'm very fond of those notebooks.

As I've grown in my relationship with the Lord, I've realized that just as His word is living and active and relevant in my life, He desires the same for others, too. Or in other words, the things that God does in and to my life, he desires to do through me - to share and help others. Although He's told me numerous times that I'm his favorite [ wink ], I think we're all better when we share the lessons and thoughts that we've learned or heard from Him in our personal walks.

So I've got this desire to share. And dozen of notebooks full of thoughts, notes, ideas, challenges, and explanations just sitting there looking cool on my bookshelf. Not helping anyone.

Some of these will likely be sermons that I've preached or lessons that I've taught. Many of these will be the "grinding out" of the thoughts or perspectives that I have about life, relationships, and ministry - the beginnings of the next sermons or lessons. Or who knows, it just might be the place that the Lord uses to speak to you.

Through me, to you - He's that kind of God. All we have to do is listen - and have a pencil (or a computer) in hand when He does.