We Were Made for This

The alarm goes off. My arm quickly moves to snooze it before it wakes up my wife. I sigh (or groan). Why does morning come so early? My mind turns to what is next (if I stay awake). Depending on which day it is, my schedule is different. Some days, I head downtown to my job in the city. Some days, I go into church for the day.

So, as I eventually turn off the alarm, my mind starts to run through what the day will hold. Depending on the day of the week, there are different levels of anticipation or lack thereof. So, I swing my stiff and crackling body out of bed and start moving toward the first task. I usually wake up pretty groggy, not overwhelmed with eagerness and expectation. As my day progresses, I find that I can frequently navigate the day without a much sense intentionality or purpose. That is not to say that I don’t strive to do my tasks well or set a good example. However, I can just go methodically through the day, checking things off my list and dealing with things as they come. My focus can easily become getting through the day and not on the purpose for the day that I have been given. Can you relate at all?

Did you know that you and I were made with a purpose? We are not just random results of chance or human reproduction. We were created with purpose and each day we are given comes with a purpose. The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes this purpose in the response to the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This answer is based on continuous references throughout Scripture. I have included just a few here. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11). “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11).

We have been created for the glory of God and in His presence is fullness of joy – not just a little joy, but fullness, richness, and completeness of joy. This means that each day I open my eyes, I have a purpose – to glorify God and to enjoy God. Whatever else is on my list for the day is secondary to this. Whatever else is on my agenda should flow through and out of this purpose. I have heard the statement before that someone “was so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” Personally, I think this statement is neither Biblical nor true. For when we become heavenly minded, with our heart and mind set on God and His work in our lives, it is only then that all of the rest of our lives can truly come into proper focus (Colossians 3:1-4). Our lives and daily tasks become a life of worship (Romans 12:1-2) and in the midst of this, we find joy in God.

This does not mean that life does not come with challenges, hardships, and sorrows. However, in the midst of these, we can continue to live a life of worship as we seek to bring glory to God and receive joy from Him. This is truly a gift and only possible by the hand of God, through life in Jesus Christ. As we focus our gaze on the wonder of Christ and yield to His work in our lives by the Holy Spirit, God will transform us day by day, As we sink our roots deep into Christ and the Word of God, our desires will become more like His and we will not be satisfied so often with cheap imitations offered by the world. We will hunger more for things that are eternal.

As it is, I find that I am often satisfied with less than what God has offered to me. C.S. Lewis put it this way. “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (The Weight of Glory, 1942). This will be a constant struggle, but the battle is worth it. Let’s not be so easily pleased. Let’s hold fast to our hope in Christ and continue to spur one another on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25). May we pursue lives of worship, finding satisfaction in our God as we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. It was for this that we were created.

Together for His glory…

Do I Love You More Than Before?

I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. We have both changed over the years. Our relationship has changed. Our roles have adjusted and shifted during our years together. We are several years older. It is just not the same as it used to be.

We met when we were in 7th grade. I was interested in her from the first time I saw her, but we attended different school districts, so I did not see her that often. In high school, she started attending our church. We knew each other on a surface level until we reached our junior year of high school, which is when we started dating. Our relationship was very serious from the beginning. By the spring of our junior year, we had already discussed marriage. By our senior year, we had started discussing timelines. My father, seeing where this was all going, said he wanted us to wait to get married until we had finished two years of college, which we agree to do. We set the wedding date for the weekend following finals of our sophomore year!

Our dating and engaged years had been filled with time spent together, going on dates, spending time with family, church and youth group events, and many phone conversations. The first two years of college were spent in different parts of the state, so there had been many letters, cards, and phone calls (and phone bills – before cell phones). About every four or five weeks, I would make the drive across the state. We would spend every second possible with each other. As the wedding drew near, I started coming back every other week. I could not stay away. Then, we were married, and things began to change.

Life happened. Our first son was born. I graduated college. I attended seminary. Our second son was born. I worked in ministry. I left seminary. Our third son was born. We returned home to St. Louis. We lived with parents. I worked various jobs. We moved out on our own. Then, we lived with parents again. We moved out again. After nine moves in thirteen years, we finally lived in the same home for over fifteen years, until we moved back in with my dad. I worked the same job for 25 years, while working in ministry also. My wife home-schooled all of our children. Two of our sons went to college, graduated, and got jobs. Our first grandson was born. Two of our sons were married. And so life continued.

As I said, things in our relationship were changing during these years. You may think I mean that they changed for the worse, but that is not the case. Oh, we had, and have, periods of struggle and distance in our life and relationship together. However, as the years have passed, our relationship has grown deeper – richer. There are times of backtracking, but we have eventually been guided and worked through those things and move forward. So, today, I can honestly say that I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. I love her far more.

We have weathered trials, uncertainty, failings, and sorrows together. We have celebrated victories, joys, and many special moments together. I have seen her giftedness, compassion, and giving spirit displayed on a level that I could only hope to duplicate. She has endured with me when I am at my best and when I am at my worst. She knows me better than any other human being on this planet, and she loves me anyway. I can be a royal pain to live with. I have a personality that can be annoying and flat out depressing. I have a tone (so I have been told) that can come across as very critical, especially with those I am the most comfortable with. Cheryl sees more of this than anyone. Yet, she still loves me and puts up with me. And Cheryl, my love, if I had it to do all over again, I would choose you, every time.

Our love for each other is great, but it is limited and imperfect. There is a love far greater – a perfect love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14-19).  In Philippians 3:1-11, the apostle Paul speaks of the exceeding greatness of knowing Christ and that there is nothing else in life that can even compare with it. Jesus Christ bore the punishment and shame that belonged to us. He took upon Himself the judgment of the Father for my sin and your sin – the sin of every human being that has lived, is living, and will ever live. He also bore the pain of our sorrows and suffering – every evil that is the result of sin (Isaiah 53:4-6). The weight of it all was placed on Him on the cross. Just the sorrow and weight of anticipation of the cross was almost enough to kill Jesus (Matthew 26:36). Any sin we have sinned and any pain or sorrow we have suffered – Christ bore them all. He endured it all for the glory of the Father and to provide our redemption. He died to save us and set us free.

So, the question I ask myself is how well do I know Jesus today? Do I love Him more than when I first started on my journey with Him? Have I taken advantage of the time I have been given to grow in knowledge of Who He is and what He has done in my life? Can I say, with the apostle Paul, that I consider everything else a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ? That is pretty tough stuff. That is a pretty high standard and regardless of how I answer this question right now, it also provides motivation for me to continue the journey. Because what Paul is saying is that I will find no greater joy and satisfaction in life than through knowing and following Christ. It is to my advantage, as a follower of Christ, to pursue Him. And the more I know of Christ, the more I will love Him and want to become more like Him. Christ, working and dwelling in me, will transform me.

I love my wife more now because of the journey we have traveled together and because she knows me even better than at the start, and yet still loves me. That makes her more precious to me. Jesus Christ knows everything about me and, in love, drew me to Himself so that I would reach out my hand to Him. He saved me and is renewing me daily into His image. He never grows in knowledge of me. He knew me completely before I was born, and loved me still. I, however, can grow in knowledge of Him through His Word and His work in my life. And as I grow in knowledge of God’s glory and holiness, I better understand how far from that I am. I become more aware of how amazing and unbelievable the love of Christ is. I understand more clearly how hopeless I would be without Him. I am grateful for His mercy to me, a sinner. I know that I have so much more to learn, but I want to know Him better because as each page of discovery opens before my eyes, it is better than the one before. If we open our eyes, God will never cease to amaze us – every day and for all eternity.

Do I love Him more than I once did? I would like to think so. Only God really knows. I long to know and love Him more because I know that is where true joy and satisfaction is found. Let us spur one another on to a greater knowledge and love of our great Savior.

Together for His glory…

What Do I Treasure?

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:19-24 (ESV)

Our youngest son, Caleb, was born with Down Syndrome. His birth changed the course of our lives, literally. As parents, we have learned many things through the lives of all of our sons.  We love each of them deeply and we do not love one more than any of the others. However, there is uniqueness to Caleb’s life that God has often used to demonstrate certain truths to me.

I have often wondered what life would be like in this world if everyone was as satisfied with life as Caleb. For much of his life, we lived in smaller homes, without a lot of possessions. We don’t travel or go out to eat a lot. Yet, the majority of his life, you would think Caleb is the richest man in the world. This is not to say that he never wants something that he doesn’t have, isn’t ever disagreeable, doesn’t get upset when his schedule gets changed, or is sometimes as stubborn as a mule! These things do happen. However, most of the time, he is more satisfied with less than any person I have ever known.

Most of us would not consider grocery days a big deal. Years ago, when we had just one car, I would pick up the groceries on my way home. As I was bringing groceries into the kitchen, he would help unpack them and put them away. “Cereal!” “Cookies!” “Broccoli!” “Milk!” You would have thought it was Christmas morning from his response to every item pulled from the bags – simple enjoyment in simple things.

Caleb has his TV and ESPN. He loves to watch his sports. He will frequently listen to his music, while drumming the air with sticks or playing my old guitar, while also watching sports, muted on his TV. However, he is also content to sit and draw or paint or copy the lyrics to worship songs he loves. He has endless copies of lyrics and original designs of our “dream house” and his “man-room.”

He and my wife used to clean a church building together, where he would vacuum for several hours. He never seemed bored and he looked forward to it as one of his days of the week. He delights in his birthday. As soon as one is over, he starts talking about what he wants to do on the next one. He loves to help serve communion at church and also helps as a greeter. Someday, he says, he wants to be on the worship team. As Caleb likes to say, “This is the life.” So we did not go on a vacation this year. Instead, we sat together as a family, had popcorn and watched a movie on DVD at home. Isn’t life great? Caleb sure thinks so.

However, I find that I am frequently not so content with the life God has given to me. What does it take to satisfy my heart? Does it take reaching a certain level of income? Do I need to drive a certain kind of car? Does it require a bigger home? Does it require me to go on one or two vacations each year? Maybe material things are not what take hold of my heart. Maybe my satisfaction comes from making sure everyone knows that I am right. Does it come from receiving the approval of others? Or does it come from going to a church where they do everything just the way I like it, whether it is programs, preaching style, or music? There are so many things in life that can take hold of us and steer the course of our lives. In of themselves, there may be nothing evil about these things and many more that I did not mention. They can all be a wonderful gift from God. However, as shown in Scripture, the gifts of God can frequently become idols in our lives.

Jesus was clear. No one can serve two masters. No one. If obtaining anything else than Christ becomes the driving force in my life, then, according to Jesus, I am not serving Him. I am serving whatever that other thing is. I am worshiping it because I have valued it more than Christ. In reality, I am worshiping myself because I have placed my wants and desires above the desires of God for my life. I have placed myself on the throne. How easily and quickly this can happen in our lives. I find it to be a constant battle in my life. Instead of beholding the wonder of Christ and all that we have in Him, I become engulfed in my own self pursuits and desires. Instead of worshiping Christ and being transformed into His image, I allow myself to be satisfied by cheap substitutes, which never satisfy for long and have little or no eternal value.

Our lives are so cluttered with many things. We place so much importance on finding those things which will bring us happiness. Yet, there is a simple peace and joy that comes from being satisfied in Christ. When our gaze is fixed on Christ, everything else comes into proper focus. For then, we truly worship and our lives and priorities flow out of that worship and satisfaction. Our son, Caleb, values the simple things in life and he delights in them. Many of the trappings of life do not faze him, mostly because he does not understand them. He has the mind of a child in a man’s body. However, didn’t Jesus say to come to Him like a child? There is joy in simplicity. Simple trust. Simple life. Simple joys. Simply treasuring Christ, our Savior, and trusting Him for each moment of each day. This life is a gift. If we are in Christ, we have true life, for it is not just for our brief days on earth, but for eternity in glory with Christ. This is the life.

Together for His glory…