Prepare to be inspired! Articles are written by the ministry staff at ATC and added regularly.
Jesus said to the apostle Paul in Acts 26:16, “But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.” These are words that speak to us as well. We have purpose, God wants us to understand our purpose, and our purpose can be expressed in every area and season of our lives.
What is our purpose? The Oxford English Dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists, a person's sense of resolve or determination.” And Jesus said, “I have appeared to you for this purpose.” So our purpose is tied to His purpose, our purpose is a bigger idea than just doing something for Him.
This summer I was challenged to define my purpose, and this process was very revealing to me. I have lived as a Christian for 24 years but I have never sought out to try and understand why the Lord made Himself known to me personally. What is my Acts 26:16 revelation? My adventure has been very rewarding, and I encourage you to reflect on this for yourself. What is your purpose? Why were you created.
Jesus has revealed Himself to us so he can make us ministers. One definition of minister is an under-oarsman. I have often watched the Lawrence University rowing team out on the Fox River. I am drawn to the sport of rowing; the team is amazing to watch. Oarsmen must be in sync for forward movement. The oarsmen don’t determine the direction or the speed of the boat. As ministers, or under-oarsmen, our greatest purpose in church ministry is to be in sync, in unity. We need to row together s a team.
Remember the children’s song?
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream,
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
I was reminded of a sermon by the same name “Row, row, row your boat” preached by my late pastor, Reverend Jack Yonts II, relating to this song. He said:
Remember to keep
Your focus on the goal
Heaven is reality
Life is but a dream.
Ultimately Jesus is leading us and gives vision and direction. He has made us ministers, so let’s row, row, row our boat. Let’s live His purpose for us in unity with the church body. Merrily I might add, because there is joy in service, and our eyes are on the goal of reaching Heaven. Heaven is the reality, life is but a dream. This life lasts but a moment; so in this moment live your purpose. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.”
You are wonderful! The Bible says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. See? You were created to be wonderful! I love human beings! They are just wonderful. It’s built right in! That’s why people go to the moon and write songs and climb mountains and run marathons and paint landscapes.
You have it in you to be wonderful whether you acknowledge God or not. It’s built in to everyone, as kind of a common grace. We have intelligence, sensitivity, the will to overcome; so many traits that God created right inside us.
As if that isn’t enough, you are created in God’s image. Don’t ever forget that! So everything that He is...well, you can be, too. He is a creative God; therefore, you are a creative being. It’s what and who He is so it’s what and who you are. You have the capacity for wonderful, creative works.
You are awesome all by yourself. But when you add God to your own wonderfulness, the results will astound even you. You will literally be able to change the world. Why wouldn’t you try? So let’s think big. Pray prayers that scare you. Dream dreams so big they are impossible. You need to live a story only God can tell. Because when you and God fuse together in purpose and power, together you create an uncommon grace. It will change your life. It will change the lives of those around you and it absolutely will change the world.
But here’s the danger. Sometimes we get so focused on this, and getting it right, and call it God’s Will for My Life, that we put goals, ministry, and even people into the future. Instead of asking what is God’s will for my life, ask: What is God’s will for the next ten minutes? Or tonight? Or this weekend? Then do it. Instead of asking God to send you to another country, look around. Who needs you today? Go there. Through these acts, your future will appear, sooner and better than you would have thought. How wonderful.
To calibrate means to:
- mark (a gauge or instrument) with a standard scale of readings.
- correlate the readings of (an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument's accuracy.
- adjust (experimental results) to take external factors into account or to allow comparison with other data.
In other words, to calibrate means to get back to the standard. Calibration happens all the time. We recalibrate our clocks, thermometers, scales, printers, ovens, etc. When we “recalibrate” something, it means that it has already been calibrated, but has gotten off the standard. Some items can be dangerous if not properly recalibrated.
Summer is a time that should be relaxing. However, if you’re like most of us, your schedule needs to be recalibrated come September. Maybe you’re used to staying up late watching movies, and maybe you’ve been working less. For the students out there, severe recalibration must take place to get back in the habit of doing homework.
No, this isn’t just a feel-good blog about getting ready for fall with pumpkin spice lattes and “trying to do better”. Recalibration is all about getting back to the standard. So, what is God’s standard?
Target employees wear red shirts. That’s standard dress for a Target employee. That’s how they are known. But what do disciples do? What are they known for? According to John 13:35, the “red shirt” of discipleship is loving one another.
When we read God’s Word, it should change us. When is the last time you’ve read the Bible and been convicted about something?
That’s exactly what recalibration is.
Nobody is expected to remember every verse they’ve ever read. So, when we read the Bible, we should open our hearts and pray God, let me read Your Word with an open heart and I ask You to convict me in any area that I’m not trying to be like you. Recalibrate my heart to align more closely with your Word.
We’re terrible judges. If setting the standard was up to us, individually, we’d all have different standards. That’s why the Bible is the necessary standard for us to recalibrate our hearts. Our hearts, the Bible tells us, are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Ouch. If only we had something that could discern our hearts. Well, according to Hebrews 4:12, we do. Aha! The Word of God! It’s quick, it’s powerful, and it DISCERNS the thoughts and intents of our hearts. There’s the standard.
We must use the Word of God as our standard and align our lives with it.
If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, there are a lot of things that He teaches us in His Word; here are a few examples:
If you’re not reading SOMETHING in God’s Word every day, you’re missing out on a prosperous life. (Joshua 1:8) We have a great opportunity here.
There is great power when we humble ourselves daily and pray. 2 Chronicles 7:14 tells us God will forgive and heal when we do this! In addition, Matthew 26:41, Jesus encourages us to pray so that we don’t enter into temptation. The reasoning? Our flesh is weak.
Bible reading and prayer are essentials in our relationship with Jesus. If we let it, it can become cliché. There is nothing, however, that is cliché about a compass that points north. When calibrated correctly, we expect a compass to point north. If it’s not pointed that direction, we call it “broken”.
If you feel like your life has been pointing a little “northeast”, and you know your relationship with God could use some recalibration, start with His Word and talk with Him. Carve time out of your day to realign your heart with the Bible, and the standards we find in the Scriptures. There is great joy and great opportunity to be used as a tool of God when we pattern our lives by His instructions!
In the second chapter of Titus, we read: "Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance… Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, not enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good."
This message is obviously addressed to older men and women. It is a fitting subject for our time and place in history. America is now the oldest society in the history of the world. Does this surprise you? It’s true! There has never been a society with as high a percentage of older people. Material comfort, medical care and a low birth rate have led to what is called the “graying of America”. In our country, the number of people over 65 has passed the number of teenagers. There are about 23 million teenagers in America. (I know sometimes it seems like much more!) But America’s current population boasts close to 35 million people over 65.
What’s more, in 25 years one out of every five people will be over 65, and one out of every ten will be over 80. The graying of America truly is here. We see it all around us. Sometimes we even laugh at it. Bob Hope said, "You know you're old when the candles cost more than the cake." And Agatha Christie wrote on one occasion that she married an archaeologist. Someone asked, “Why would you marry an archaeologist?” to which she replied, "Because the older I get the more he'll appreciate me."
We can have a humorous approach to this. You know, they say there are only three stages in life: youth, adulthood, and "my, you're looking well." And when they start saying that to you, you know where you are.
When I was young teenager, I had an aunt who took care of elderly people, I remember one day in particular, an elderly gentleman was sitting in a rocking chair. As I passed by, out of the clear blue he said to me something that has stuck with me all these years. “Remember, when you have children, be sure you spend time with them.” I was kind of surprised. Was he saying that in his life he didn’t give his children the time he thought he should have? Did he mess up and was saying don’t do what I did? Or was he just trying to give a word of encouragement about raising a family? I guess I will never know.
Now I have come to that place in my life when I find myself looking back thinking of the blessed journey I have had; serving God with my wife, children and grandchildren.
The book of Ecclesiastes gives us insight. The writer says in the first verse of the final chapter, "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth." Enjoy God while you're young; know God while you're young. Let God be the central figure in your life while you're young.
The aging of Christians is a blessing. It's the aged people in the congregation that provide its strength, its stability and its wisdom. Older believers, should they be in great numbers in the future in the church, are going to make the church a better place, a richer place. The mature godliness will be a benediction to the body of Christ. The aging of America means the aging of the church; the aging of the church is a great, great blessing.
The psalmist says in Psalm 71:17, "O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth, and I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, and Thy power to all who are to come." Give me a ministry in my old age because I can talk about Your strength, and I can talk about Your power because I've seen it for so many years - I've lived it. In Psalm 92, a very similar prayer rises from the heart of the psalmist, beginning in verse 12, "The righteous man will flourish like a palm tree, he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright." Those who can best declare the character of God are those who have walked with Him longest.
In 2007, America was developing an appetite for “fail” videos, and Fox News posted a video of a waitress falling through the plate glass window of a restaurant. A security camera captured the waitress cleaning a table after the restaurant had closed. In most fail videos you can guess how the fail is going to happen; you can forecast the moment by observing the risk. In this video however, there is no way to predict how or when the accident will happen. In one moment the waitress is standing in the middle of the room putting dirty glasses on her tray and without warning, she trips, stumbles, and careens through the window in epic fashion.
This story reminds me of the Apostle Peter on the night he betrayed Jesus. In Matthew 26:31-35, Jesus told the disciples they would all stumble and then scatter when he was taken away. Peter took offense to the very idea and told Jesus that while he could see the others failing, he would never fail Jesus. Jesus corrected Peter and told him he would deny his Lord before the rooster crowed three times.
Later in the evening, Peter seems to be holding his ground; his resolve is strong to stand with Jesus. The eighteenth chapter of John records that during Jesus’ arrest, Peter brandishes his sword and cuts off the ear of one of the captors. Peter is just like that waitress standing in the middle of the room, far from the plate glass window. And yet, by the end of the night, his stumble happened and Peter’s fall is nothing less than spectacular: it was an epic fail moment. Peter denied Jesus, not once, but three times. (Luke 22:54-62)
I’m so thankful the story doesn’t end there. The resurrected Savior went out of His way to restore not only the severed relationship between Peter and himself, but also Peter’s purpose as a preacher and leader. (John 21:15-19) On the inaugural day of the church age, Peter was the keynote speaker. He delivered one of the most important messages regarding salvation in the entire Bible. (Acts 2:38) Later, the people had such high regard for Peter’s ministry, they would lay their sick on the streets when he passed by, hoping his shadow would pass over and God would heal them.
We’ve all careened through the proverbial plate glass window. We’ve all had epic fails, and longed for a redo. The big truth for today is this: even our worst mistakes can be redeemed. Jesus put Peter back on the path to his calling. He didn’t define him by his worst decision. In fact, Jesus died to remit Peter’s sins and restore his soul. Jesus did this for all of us. Yes, some people may memorialize your fail and never let you forget when your life was broken, but God has more for you. Instead of shame, God will give you a life of double honor. (Isaiah 61:7)
1 Peter 5:10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (NKJV)
A few years back, there was a story about a couple, who were casually walking around their property, when they noticed what looked like some metal sticking out of the ground. As they began to dig and get a closer look, they realized that someone buried eight metal cans in what was now their yard. Even more fascinating than the cans that were buried was what was inside of the cans: 1,400 gold coins dating back to the mid 1800s! It turns out that the coins were worth approximately ten million dollars!
What an amazing find! It’s the stuff of fairytales; something we may have dreamed of coming across. Imagine what we could do with ten million dollars!!
This couple stumbling upon this hidden treasure makes me wonder. How long did they live on their property before they found the hidden treasure that was right in their backyard?
How many times did they look out their kitchen window into that backyard and not even know the treasure was there? Maybe they had difficult nights when they stared out that window wondering how they were going to pay their bills and make ends meet. Maybe they mowed their lawn right next to or above a treasure that would change their lives. If only it wasn’t hidden from plain sight.
It’s amazing how many of us go through life everyday, trusting only in our own ability to accomplish our goals. We trust in our own ability to visualize our future; our own ability to ‘take care of business’, our own ability to CONTROL THE UNIVERSE...and yet we lack the ability to recognize the hidden treasure right in front of us.
What hidden treasure am I speaking of? A hidden treasure that’s much more valuable than ten million dollars worth of gold coins. “What?! How can that be?!”
The hidden treasure I’m speaking of, the one that if we’ll recognize it, will forever change our lives. The one that truly is the answer to all of our problems, needs, and desires. The greatest hidden treasure I’m speaking of is Jesus.
There is nothing more valuable in this world than having a relationship with Jesus Christ. “What does Jesus offer me?” you ask. For starters, He guarantees peace that surpasses understanding. He guarantees an unconditional love regardless of your past. He guarantees provision for your basic needs. And the greatest guarantee He offers is eternal life: the kingdom of heaven.
What could be better than that?! Without the guarantee of the kingdom of heaven, what good are all the other treasures of this world? What good is ten million dollars if I don’t have anything to look forward to after this life?
In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 13 and verse 44, Jesus said this about the kingdom of heaven: “...the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
The value of the kingdom of heaven is priceless. The kingdom of heaven is worth more than all the treasures in this world. So much so, that when you find it, it would be well worth it to trade in all other dreams of finding buried treasure, and just focus on the kingdom of heaven.
In comparing the man Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13 to the couple who found the gold coins, I wonder how many times that man passed by that field with the hidden treasure in it, and never even noticed it? I wonder how many times he had passed that field in his life before he finally found the hidden treasure of the kingdom of heaven? How many times had he dreamt of finding something more in life? How often was he beaten down by life, worn out, confused, struggling just to get by? And here he was, walking right past the very thing he needed....the answer to all his dreams.
What about you? Have you discovered the hidden treasure that Jesus offers? Has the kingdom of heaven been revealed to you so it’s your primary focus in life? The one thing you value more than any treasure of this world?
Life happens quickly. Life can be demanding and challenging. You don’t have to do it alone. Don’t move too quickly. You might be moving right past a hidden treasure.
There’s something wonderful about catching up with a friend over a cup of coffee. You’re both so busy these days, but elated you can spare an hour to get up to speed about each other’s lives: the job, the kids, the spouse, your mutual friends and so on. Your friend actually cares about the things in your life others might dismiss. You can vent your frustrations to her without being judged. He may not be able to solve your problem, but you feel better just having talked it over. You give and receive advice and pats on the back, and before long, you’re finishing each others sentences again. By the time your cappuccino is nothing but a few drops of foam and all that’s left of your scone is crumbs, you’ve managed to solve most of the world’s problems together. You say goodbye with hugs and promises that it won’t be so long next time. You leave the coffee shop with a spring in your step, satisfied in this well-spent hour. “Why don’t we do this more often?” you think to yourself.
If you are reading this, chances are God is important to you. People are important to you. But amid our to-do lists, schedules, jobs, classes and volunteer work, it is easy to overlook the importance of spending time with a friend, and even spending time with God. Prayer can get mundane if it’s just one of your daily chores, and it can be intimidating to pray if you don’t have much experience. You don’t need experience to talk to a friend over a cup of coffee; you just have to make the time. You don’t need a special vocabulary to talk to God, either. You just have to start a conversation. Talk to Him about your life: the job, the kids, the spouse, your mutual friends and so on. God actually cares about all the little things in your life that others might dismiss. You can vent your frustrations to Him, and He is able to solve your problems! You give Him praise, He gives you advice, and you start your day with a spring in your step, satisfied in this well-spent hour. So grab a cup of coffee and catch up with the one Friend who always has time for you: Jesus!
While shepherds kept their watching
O'er silent flocks by night,
Behold, throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light.
The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo, above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior's birth!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere.
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.
Although it might not seem like a huge detail, have you ever wondered why… the shepherds? Why not people of power, like kings? The shepherds were dirty, forgotten people that didn’t have much influence on society. However, the angels appeared to them. Perhaps it’s because God has always been fond of shepherds (Abraham, Moses, David). Perhaps God wanted to foreshadow that He would be the Great Shepherd. Perhaps he wanted to show society that social status wasn’t important. Regardless, Jesus was born and the angels came to the shepherds. Although some of us undoubtedly will go on to make our mark on the world, most of us will live a life outside the spotlight, one that will be considered insignificant by society at large. But we are not insignificant to Jesus. If Jesus reached to lowly, forgotten shepherds, we can be sure He’ll reach to us. It doesn’t matter to Him how unworthy we appear to be on the surface. If we humble ourselves before Him, He will reach to us.
What is most powerful about these shepherds is what happened afterward. One encounter with Jesus changed them forever. They couldn’t help but share with others all they saw and experienced. One encounter with Jesus will leave us changed! There is no way to fully repay Him for visiting us and for pouring out His mercy and grace upon us. All we can do is share the message of that love and mercy with as many people as possible.
Christmas is one of the few times of the year when people are more likely to accept an invitation to church. Whether it’s a special service or a children’s musical, invite your friends and family to come! Be the hands and feet of Jesus by doing something special for someone in need. Share the gospel while you are there. Volunteer at a shelter. Bring a meal to a hungry family. Visit the elderly in a nursing home who may not have family around. There are many ways to give back! If you can’t find someone willing to join you for church or you don’t have an opportunity to volunteer, you can still share the gospel with someone. Share your testimony! Tell a friend (or two or twenty) about the many ways Jesus has blessed your life. You may help them discover the true meaning of Christmas, too.
When Sam and I were first married, we lived in an upper apartment on Chicago Street. It was an old house with cheap rent, in a neighborhood that has not fared well over the years. We lived next door to a a single mom with four children. They were on public assistance, and their grandma lived with them off and on. We all became friends and we brought the kids to Sunday School with us every week.
Valerie, one of the girls, was in my class at the time, and I remember her bike got stolen one summer. Every week in Sunday School we prayed that her bike would be returned to her. Every week. Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe God can do anything, but as time went on, it seemed pretty unlikely this prayer would be answered. The family didn’t have money to replace the bike either.
One Sunday, it must have been several months later, we were bringing the kids home from church and we pulled up in front of our house. Next door, Rose (the mom) and Grandma were sitting on their porch steps, and on the sidewalk in front of the house was a brand new bike with a bow on it. There was no question who it was for! Valerie saw the bike, jumped out of our car and ran up the sidewalk. She made a beeline for...her grandma. She flew right past the bike and almost knocked her grandma over with sheer delight. “Thank you, Grandma, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
That was the best illustration I have ever seen, before or since, of thankfulness. What a moment! I’ll never forget it. And it taught me a greater lesson: God is the giver of all good gifts. I need to remember the Giver and not just focus on the gift. I have so many good things in my life, and God has made it possible for me to give freely. Can you imagine the delight the grandma felt on being appreciated and loved so much? I want to be the giver of good gifts, not to receive thanks, but to give joy to another.
I also want to remember to say thank you, like the one leper out of ten who Jesus healed. Ten were healed; one went right back to Jesus to express his gratitude. Maybe the others went back to Jesus later. Maybe their mother had to remind them to go back and say thank you. But nobody had to remind Valerie to thank her grandma for the bike; it was the natural and spontaneous reaction of her heart. I want to be so exercised in gratitude that going to Jesus first in praise and thankfulness is my heart’s default mode. Not just one Thursday in November. Every day.