Tag Archives: purpose

What? Me, retire?

Sometimes it hits me that I am actually getting older.

You too, eh?  Thought so.  The years fly by, and our lives rush past.  But what are we rushing towards?  Are we living with purpose, or just filling our lives with activity?

My oldest son will be thirty this year, and my daughter – the baby of the family – will soon be nineteen.  Two of my four children are now married, and Marion and I are looking forward to the birth of our second grandchild in June.  Each of our children has a clear sense of purpose and direction.  They have set their course in life.  Marion and I find that our responsibilities as parents are rapidly diminishing.  We are entering a new season of freedom.  This raises a question.  Assuming that God grants us good health and the Lord delays His return for a few years yet, what kind of life do we want to live in the interim?

This is a question that only people who are somewhat prosperous get to ask themselves.  Last Friday evening, Marion and I, along with maybe 30 other people, enjoyed an evening at Le Nordik Spa in beautiful Chelsea, just north of Gatineau, as guests of an investment company in which we are relatively small-scale participants.   We enjoyed the free drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and found the presentations informative.   We also enjoyed getting to know a delightful couple about our age who run a small resort near Plevna, Ontario. Like us, they are looking to divest themselves of some of their present responsibilities so that they can have more free time.

Our conversation with D. and H., however, revealed both similarities and differences in our approach to investing.  Like them, we have been self-employed for years, have no pension plan, and have relied on investments to provide for our future financial needs.  Like them, we look for investments with inherent value, investments that are based on something more substantial than just the mood swings of the marketplace.  However, unlike them, we don’t place our hope in even the best investments, because we know that our lives are a vapour, and all our plans are subject to God’s sovereign counsels.  In view of this, we place our hope in His faithfulness.

D. and H. told us that their reason for buying into this particular investment was so that they could sleep at night.  When I heard this, I realized that we were coming from a different perspective.   I shared my investment philosophy with them:  I try to pick investments that are fundamentally sound, and then once I’ve made my decision I make an intentional, conscious choice to leave the results in God’s hands.

As a result, I rarely have problems sleeping at night.  After all, in the end I’m not in control anyway.  If God sees fit to turn all my carefully-chosen investment targets belly-up, that is His perfect right.  He is God, after all.  He’ll just have to provide for me some other way – because He did promise that if I seek His Kingdom first, everything else I need will be provided for, one way or another.  So, why should I worry?  I do need to plan, as best I am able – that is my responsibility – but having done that, I need to put the plans in His hands and leave them there.  I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the only approach to investing that leaves me free to devote my time and energy to living for God instead of worrying about my future prospects.  One way or another, my future is with God.  In view of this, worrying about finances (or about anything else) is a total waste of time and energy.  It’s completely unproductive, and Jesus warned that if allowed to take root in a believer’s life it will make the Word of God unfruitful.

Let me be completely clear.  I have no apology for having funds to invest.  As a young man, I thought all capitalists were evil (conveniently overlooking the irony that some of those evil capitalists had helped me financially).  I have come to see that this view is much too simplistic.  Jesus counted both the poor and the wealthy among his followers, and he didn’t condemn those who were wealthy for being prosperous.  What mattered was where they placed their hope.  Our hope is the anchor of our lives; it determines how we live.  As a believer in Jesus, my hope is in the resurrection.  I am looking for a new heaven and earth, the home of righteousness.  I know that I am accountable to God for whatever I do with what He puts into my hands.  Some would say that if I believe this, I should just give it all away.  I used to think this way myself, but I’ve come to see that this is not the only faithful response to God’s gift of prosperity (for more on how my thinking changed about finances, click here).   Marion and I have come to believe that it is part of godly wisdom for us to seek out sound investments, with the goal of being completely financially free in our older age, so that we are able to be a blessing rather than a burden to our children, and so that we are free to serve the Lord with the years that remain to us.

But here again, I find that my vision differs from that of many investors.  Money truly is not all that important to me.  It is really only a means to an end.  Financial freedom allows Marion and I to decide how to use our time.  We are already much closer to this goal than we were a few years ago, and I am enjoying the flexibility of being in a form of business that allows me to take increasing amounts of time off without leaving the business entirely.  I am sure that I will not find it difficult to fill this extra free time.  Most of my friends who are already fully retired tell me that they have plenty to do.  So I have no concerns at all about finding ways of filling my time.

My concern lies in a different direction.  I don’t just want to fill time, I want to fill it well.  Leisure time, after all, is a form of wealth.  It is a trust from God.  What is the point of being financially free if I waste my freedom on living for myself, with no higher goal than satisfying my own desires and whims?  What a waste of all life’s hard-won lessons!  That kind of life is not worthy of the one who gave His life for me, and it will bring nothing but shame and regret when I stand before God’s judgment seat.

Financial freedom is a perfectly valid goal for a disciple of Jesus – but only if I use my freedom to serve others.  Jesus has set me free from the control of sin so that I can bear fruit for Him.  I am so thankful for God’s mercy and goodness that if He grants me financial freedom, I want to use the opportunities that He gives me to be as fruitful as possible.

So, what will Marion and I do as we move closer to financial freedom?  To maintain our health we’ll undoubtedly live at a somewhat slower pace than we did when we were in our thirties, but our intent is to devote our time and energy – and as much of our annual income as we are able – to making disciples and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  Of course, we’ll also take time to enjoy our relationships with our children and grandchildren – after all, God is a God of relationships, and the family is one of the fields of ministry in which He has called us to be stewards.  We will probably also be looking for opportunities to do some travelling.  But because we just aren’t wired to live a life of perpetual leisure, we will be looking for travel opportunities that allow us to use our gifts to strengthen the people of God and serve the needy.

I’m not looking forward to retirement.  How boring!  I was made for the glory of God, so I intend to live out my years seeking His Kingdom and living for His glory.  No, I’m not looking forward to retirement.  I’m looking forward to being redeployed.

Share

Making the most of the rest of your life

I was talking with some friends at work today about our plans for the future. The conversation turned to retirement and how we want to use the years that remain to us. We all agreed that since life is short and none of us knows when we are going to die, it’s important to stay active, to have goals and interests, to make the most of the years we have left.

Like my friends, I want to stay healthy, to use my talents and abilities to the full, to enjoy life, to bless my children and grandchildren.  But because I look at life through the lens of eternity, I see all of these as secondary goals. I do want to make the most of the rest of my life, but my horizon is eternal – and that makes all the difference in the world.

For me, having an eternal horizon means at least three things.

The first thing it means is that my life will not end when I die, so I don’t need to fear death. Yes, death is real, but humans are spiritual beings, not just physical ones. The hunger to understand what lies beyond death is part of what separates people from animals. My dog Cookie doesn’t seem at all concerned about the meaning of life, but people are different from dogs. In the ancient words of King Solomon, considered the wisest man on earth in his day, God has planted eternity in our hearts. We were originally intended for eternal life, which is why most people are not content with 70 or 80 years followed by the prospect of nothingness.  The wonderfully good news is that Jesus, the Messiah, has conquered death and made a way for those who have placed their hope in Him to have eternal life.

Having an eternal horizon means something else as well.  It means that I am accountable to God, who sees all actions and knows all motives, for how I use the time I have left.  It’s very common nowadays to say that a good life is whatever makes you happy.  God’s word says something different.  Ultimately, it is not all about me. In fact, the sooner we learn that, the better, because that’s where all the misery started.  The Deceiver tricked our first parents into thinking that if we could be independent we’d be better off, but they soon learned that a life in which they were in control brought only misery and disappointment. It has been the same way ever since. When we live for ourselves, the pleasures – though real – are temporary, and they bear bitter fruit. Having an eternal horizon means recognizing that lasting joy can only come about when we surrender to our Maker and discover life as it was meant to be lived, with Him at the center.  If this is a new idea to you, I can tell you that it is much better than doing life on your own. I’ve tried it both ways, and I can’t imagine going back to life without God.

Finally, having an eternal horizon means that I don’t have to be in a hurry. I can face the prospect of death knowing that I am at peace with God and that I have all the time He gives me – no more and no less. Since I am looking forward to an eternal kingdom, I can enjoy the time I have left without worrying about how long it will be.  It’s not up to me anyway.  A classic story about St. Francis of Assisi illustrates this beautifully. Francis was out hoeing his garden when someone asked him what he would do if he knew he was going to die by sunset of that very day. His famous answer was that he would finish hoeing his garden. Francis could respond this way because his whole life had been lived as an offering to his maker, so he had no need to fear death.

Do I want to make the most of the rest of my life? Of course – doesn’t everyone? But when you understand life from God’s perspective, suddenly the stakes are higher, the timeframe is very different, and the rewards are infinitely better.

Share

What are you living for?

Last week I had a conversation with one of my work colleagues.   We were talking about what we would do with our free time if we didn’t have to work for a living.  My friend is quite athletic and told me that he would love to spend more time coaching kids. 

All of us need a sense of purpose  to give meaning to our lives.  You don’t have to be a person of faith to recognize this – it’s a commonly accepted principle of psychology.   People who have a clear sense of vision and purpose are happier and more productive than those who have no vision.   Having a vision helps us to stay on track.  As the well-known proverb puts it, where there is no vision the people perish – perhaps more accurately rendered where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.  Effective youth leaders and wise parents understand that a positive vision is far more effective than rules in helping young people stay out of trouble. 

For people who do not see themselves as accountable to God, it would seem that any vision will do.  One vision is as good as the next – it’s really up to you.   Whatever floats your boat, as the saying goes.   But my life doesn’t belong to me, since I have surrendered control of it to Jesus Christ.  Actually it never belonged to me in the first place – the whole idea of freedom outside of God is an illusion.   We can only be free when we have yielded control of our lives to Him, and that’s the only context in which we can discover the true purpose of our lives.

My friend has a vision for his life.  It’s a good vision as far as it goes.  Working with kids is very important.  But kids need mentors who can not only have fun with them and teach them practical skills, but also lead them to God and help them discover their eternal value and purpose in a relationship with Jesus.   Playing on sports teams, as valuable as it can be for developing physical fitness, teamwork and perseverance, can never replace this.

We all need a vision for our lives, but a vision that doesn’t take account of God’s call on our lives is inadequate.   My friend might indeed be designed by God to coach and mentor kids.  Quite likely his desire to do this is an expression of gifts and abilities that are part of his God-given makeup.  Even so, unless this purpose is surrendered to God and seen in light of God’s overarching purpose for all of creation, my friend will ultimately be missing the boat.   He may do many good things – excellent things, even – and still miss the ultimate point of his life, which is first and foremost to be a lover and worshipper of the Most High God who made him.  Every other purpose in our lives must be surrendered to this one and take second place to it, otherwise the whole house will eventually come tumbling down.   In the timeless words of King Solomon of Israel, unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain.    Jesus’ own words were even stronger : What good is it to gain the whole world and forfeit your soul? 

Some good questions to ask ourselves :

  • What’s my vision? 
  • Have I surrendered it to God?  ( Is it his vision or mine?  )
  • Is it consistent with the way God has made me and the gifts He has given me?
  • How does it fit into His overall Kingdom purposes? 
  • How am I walking it out? 

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

NOTE to City Church small group leaders – I’ve included this post in the Small Groups category because it could function as a useful discussion topic in small groups.

Share

Healthy small groups : 4 areas of focus

One of the key characteristics that defines a healthy life is intentional, purposeful activity.  People are designed by God to have a purpose.  Even people who don’t believe in God recognize that a sense of purpose is one of the keys to mental health.  Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, capitalized on this theme a few years ago with his best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life

What’s true for individuals is true for churches.   Healthy churches are churches with a clear sense of purpose and some idea of how to get there.   Yet in any area of life, including church life, it is so easy to get into a rut and just keep doing things as we have been doing them.  It can be a real eye-opener to stop and ask ourselves some questions :

  • Why are we still doing this ? 
  • What was our goal?  Have we lost sight of it?
  • Are we there yet? (subject of a recent sermon at City Church)
  • If not there yet (most likely we’re not), are we still on the right track?
  • If we’ve gotten off track, how did it happen and what adjustments do we need to make?

When it comes to small groups, there’s a useful “health check” that can help us evaluate whether we are on the right track.   Think of your small group and ask yourself these four questions :

  1. Are we looking upward?  Are we looking to God who is our source?  In our gatherings and our times together between meetings are we truly connecting with God and opening ourselves up to God’s purposes, his living word, and the operation of his Spirit?
  2. Are we looking inward?  Are we opening up to each other at more than a surface level?  Are we building connections that involve learning to trust each other, sharing struggles, joys, sorrows, hopes, victories?  Are our hearts becoming connected?
  3. Are we looking outward?  Are we learning to think like Kingdom people?  Are we living for His purposes or is our small group only about us?  Are we learning to see the people around us from God’s perspective, and do we bring their concerns and needs – especially their need of salvation – before his throne? 
  4. Are we looking forward?  Often honest friends are one of the instruments God will use to help us see the areas that he wants to transform, and to support us and pray for us and help us to grow.   Are we willing to take the risk of challenging each other to grow up in Christ – and the greater risk of opening up our own hearts to that same challenge?
Share

Reflections from Minnesota – Day 4

Last night I was privileged to participate in a two-hour prayer watch at the BHOP Prayer Room.  It was a wonderful experience — both refreshing and challenging.  I soon found myself hearing easily from God in this atmosphere of worship and spiritual intimacy.  This increases my hunger to see an increased flow of intimacy and spiritual power in the intercessory ministry at my home church.

BHOP is part of a global prayer movement that is committed to the establishment of night and day prayer in every region of the globe, in preparation for an end-time harvest and the return of Jesus as King.  I am so glad that Simeon is involved in this ministry.  He seems to have found his place and his calling, at least for this season.  It is good to see him growing as a worshipper, prayer leader and student of the Word.

So many prayers have been answered, and so many doors have opened for Simeon and Heather (not without obstacles and opposition – but then nothing of value happens without opposition).  It is good to be able to see Simeon and Heather coming into their own ministry and calling.  It is good to see them involved in something that I can believe in without reservation.  It is good to be able to learn from what God is working in my children.  I am more convinced than ever that they are where they belong.

Marion and I know how much of a blessing our parents were to our children, and we want to bless our grandchildren with good memories and lots of love and encouragement.  Since we won’t be able to see Sophie often, we want to plan for special family events that she will look forward to and remember.  One step we are taking is to make plans for an annual summer getaway in either Upper Michigan or Northern Ontario – somewhere approximately midway between Ottawa and Bloomington.

Share

Reflections from Minnesota – Day 3

For those who live in a northern climate, the coming of spring is a reason to celebrate.   This has been a week of wonderful weather here in Bloomington, Minnesota.  Snow is melting, water is running, birds are chirping and the air smells fresh and moist.  From the balcony outside Simeon and Heather’s apartment on the Bethany college campus, I can see fat buds on the surrounding trees.  What a blessing Spring is!

In our daily routine, it is easy to get caught up with the busy-ness of everyday living and lose sight of the amazing gift of life that we have been given.  Holding my little granddaughter has given me another impetus to reflect on the value of life.  I am thoroughly enjoying this chance to have a few days off to appreciate the simple joys that are all around me.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price.  Everyday life is a gift, but it’s possible to enjoy the outward blessings – the beautiful spring days, the wonder of a new life, the joy of new discoveries, the thrill of a new job or a new relationship – and miss the point of it all.  Especially when life is easy and we are enjoying life’s pleasures, it is easy to enjoy the gifts and forget the Giver.  I want to be one who recognizes the goodness of the Giver reflected in the gift.

True, we live in a world that has been flawed by sin, but for those who have eyes to see, the Creation – even in its flawed state – reflects the glory and creativity of an amazingly powerful and benevolent Creator.  And when I think about the price that was paid to set me free from the curse of a futile and empty life, and the price that believers under persecution still pay for their choice to belong to Jesus, I realize again that I don’t ever want to take God’s goodness for granted.  I want to live life for all it’s worth – to be involved in calling forth the image of God in those who are hungry for Him – to look for every opportunity to give glory to God with my life.

Share

In God’s image : made for a purpose

This is one of a series of posts exploring the topic of our human nature.   In this series I want to take a look at the concept that we are made in God’s image, and explore some implications of that belief.  For small group leaders – these topics could be good discussion starters in your small groups.

Today I’d like to think about the fact that we are made for a purpose.

Even people who don’t believe in God desire to find meaning, purpose and order in their lives.  That is an intrinsic part of human nature and is increasingly recognized as a key to mental health.   Some might argue that this desire for order, meaning and purpose just evolved by chance, but I don’t buy that argument.   All around us we see that order, design and purpose are always the result of the application of an intelligent, creative and purposeful will.   How can a random process with no intelligence, design or purpose result in an intelligent, incredibly complex being that is motivated to seek order and purpose?  This is a logical fallacy – even a child can see that it makes no sense.

People desire order, meaning and purpose in their lives because we were made that way by God.   One of the characteristics of God in Scripture is that God has a purpose, He has a redemptive plan.   The pagan nations around Israel saw their gods as arbitrary, capricious and sometimes cruel.   Not having any knowledge of the true God, they created gods as an explanation for the circumstances of life, and since life includes events that are random and unpredictable, they concluded that the gods – or some of them, anyway – must be cruel and not very dependable.  But the God of the Bible is different.   He is not the author of confusion or chaos.  These come from his Enemy who seeks to steal, kill and destroy.   The God of the Bible has a purpose.  That purpose is to redeem the creation which has been marred by sin, to overcome and finally destroy all evil powers, and to make all things new.

Studies consistently show that older people living alone are happier and healthier if they have a pet or even some plants to care for.  Why is this?  There are probably several reasons, but surely one reason is that when we have someone or something to  care for, we feel needed and valued.  All of us have a deep need for significance – to feel that our lives count for something.  In other words, we want to know that our life, and what we are doing, has some lasting value –  that it has some purpose.   That’s because we are made in God’s image.   God assigned a high purpose to our first parents – they were God’s representatives, charged with governing the earth on His behalf, and called to live their lives as God’s friends, in close relationship with Him.   He made each of us for a specific purpose too.   Each of us reflects some aspect of His creative, purposeful nature.

In a future post I’ll talk more about how our various abilities and gifts reflect God’s creative purpose.   For now let me close with a bit of my own testimony.  When I surrendered control of my life to Jesus Christ at age 34, I found a peace I had never known before.   It was good to know that I was forgiven and accepted and loved by God.  But I still wanted to know that God had something significant for me to do!   Was this just pride?  I don’t think so.   No doubt there was some pride mixed into my makeup at that time – I was a mixture of good and bad motives, and getting it all sorted out has been a lifelong process – but fundamentally, the desire to do something significant with our lives is part of the way we are made.  It is part of God’s plan, part of what it means to be made in His image.  That’s why Jesus treated His disciples as partners and entrusted His work to them.   That’s also why U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan – Yes, we can – held such powerful appeal : because people want to know that they can make a difference.

Yes, we can – not all by ourselves, not on our own – but we can make a difference.  We are made in God’s image, made for a purpose, and we can represent God’s purposes on earth.  First we need to come to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness – we need to let Him put our pride and self-will to death, not once but over and over again – but as He forms His character in us, restores and remakes us, and empowers us to do His works, we can play our part in seeing God’s good purposes fulfilled on the earth.

To think about :

  • What difference does it make to the way you live your life to know that you were made for a purpose, and that God finds delight in you?
Share

Seeing your small group as a TEAM

The Wikipedia definition of a Team :

A team comprises a group of people or animals linked in a common purpose. Teams are especially appropriate for conducting tasks that are high in complexity and have many interdependent subtasks.

A group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams normally have members with complementary skills and generate synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to maximize his or her strengths and minimize his or her weaknesses.

If you leave out the part about the animals, that’s a great definition of a small group!  A healthy small group is not just a collection of people, it has a vision and a purpose!  The purpose of every healthy small group will in some way be related to the Great Commission and the two Great Commandments, but the details will differ from group to group.  And, because God has designed the Body of Christ so that we all need each other, a small group can only fulfil its purpose as each person plays his or her part.

For small group leaders – here are some really good questions to ask your small group :

  • What is our vision and purpose?
  • Are we a team?
  • If we aren’t currently functioning as a team, what can we do about it?
  • If we are already functioning as a team to some extent, how can we improve?
Share

What is the #1 goal of small groups?

Why do we do small groups in church?   There are many reasons, but most often people will say that small groups are important to meet the need for fellowship.

I both agree and disagree with this statement.

I agree because it is so obviously important to focus on building strong relational connections.  I love the weekly Sunday service at my church, with its dynamic worship, powerful and relevant preaching, and top-quality children’s ministry.   But over the years too many people have attended for a few weeks or even a number of years, and then drifted away.  While people leave churches for many reasons, I am convinced that most will only stay if they form strong relational connections with at least a few people.   Besides, didn’t Jesus command us to love one another?  It’s hard to love people that you barely know!   It’s no accident that most of the churches in the New Testament met primarily in homes.   As small group life spreads, and we place more emphasis on building loving relationships, our church is gradually becoming a little more like the church of the New Testament, which was a household of faith, not just a collection of people who met in a building once a week to sing songs and listen to a message.

But in spite of all these compelling arguments for the importance of building relational connections, I can’t really agree that fellowship is the primary purpose of small groups.  I believe that the healhiest small groups will be those that focus on making disciples – in other words, helping one another follow Jesus.  Small groups that focus on fellowship as their highest goal are likely to end up being self-centred and shallow.  Groups that focus on  making disciples have the potential to be exciting, dynamic and always challenging as well as supportive.

The biggest single weakness of the North American church is that there are many attenders but very few disciples.  Disciples are people who are learning to trust and obey God in their daily lives, people who are choosing – as best they are able, with God’s help – to pattern their lives after Jesus.  We all need help with this, and a small group that sees its goal as making disciples is a great place to get support.  There you will be loved and accepted but also challenged to grow into the image of Christ.

A small group that is focussed on making disciples will also reach out to others to bring them into God’s family – because that’s what disciples do!  It will engage with the Word and apply the Word to daily life – because that’s what disciples do!  It will spend time in prayer and worship – because that’s what disciples do!   It will focus on serving – because that’s what disciples do!  It will help its members discover their spiritual gifts and apply them – because that’s what disciples do!

A group with this kind of atmosphere is lots of fun and leads to awesome fellowship.   In a healthy small group, people feel included, they feel they belong, they feel they have something to contribute and that they are making a difference, they feel that they are growing in their faith – because they are!  Great fellowship is like the matrix – the atmosphere in which disciples can be made.  You can’t become like Christ on your own.  It’ s not possible, because the Christian life is meant to be lived in community.  But if you make fellowship the primary goal, your group will be shallow.  If you aim at helping one another in the journey of discipleship, you get everything else as a bonus.  In small group life as well as finances, it really is true that if we seek God’s kingdom first, we get everything else thrown in!

Share

So how was your weekend …

When I get to work today, I know people are going to ask “so how was your weekend?”.  I had a great weekend!  It was great because I spent it with some awesome people.

My weekend started with a really productive Saturday morning.  I got to spend Saturday morning in one of my favourite activities – a building project.

Now, those of you who know me well are aware that I’m not a skilled carpenter or craftsman.  But that’s not the kind of building project I’m talking about.  I wasn’t working with wood or brick or ceramic or drywall – I was working with people.

What was I doing ?   Meeting with about a dozen small group leaders and potential leaders from our church.  What’s so exciting about that, you ask ?  It was exciting because of the incredible, quality people I was with.

  • They are motivated to love God and serve others
  • They know what really matters and what doesn’t
  • They are willing to be vulnerable and aren’t trying to impress others
  • They are seeking reality, not trying to escape from it
  • They are willing to be trained and to learn new skills for the sake of serving others
  • People from different generations were meeting together as friends and listening to each other
  • They understand the incredible value of the true life that Jesus gives, and are willing to open up their homes and their time to share that life with others

At our church we say that we are seeking to reach our city and touch our world one person at a time.  The people I hung out with Saturday morning are world changers.  They are world changers because they are people changers.  We need more like them !

Share