Have you ever read the things people write on tombstones? One epitaph I read was “Sir John Strange, Here lies an Honest Lawyer, and that is Strange.
In a London cemetery, the date of death was December 8, 1767 and the epitaph read, “Here lies Ann Mann, Who lived an old maid But died an old Mann.”
On the tombstone of her husband's grave, a Southern mountain woman had chiselled in rough and uneven letters this epitaph: "He always appreciated." J. Kenneth Morris
The Austrian emperor Joseph II wrote his own epitaph: "Here lies a Prince whose intentions were honest but who had the misfortune to see all his projects miscarry."
Andrew Johnson succeeded Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States and inherited the thankless task of reconstruction after the Civil War. He was often the object of severe criticism and even of ridicule. Few chief executives have known such stormy days in the White House, and there was even an effort to have him impeached. Against that background we can appreciate more fully the words on his tombstone at Greeneville, Tennessee: "His Faith in the People Never Wavered." - Robert C. Shannon
A number of years ago, Stephen Covey's book, Seven Habits for Highly Effective People became a best seller. In that book, he asks the question, "What would I like to see written on my tombstone?"
Wouldn’t it be great to be given the epitaph from Jesus in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Another book that has become a best seller recently is The Purpose Driven Life written by Rick Warren who is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
If we care about the epitaph written at the end of our life, then we will have to live in such a way as to achieve whatever we hope will be written. We will need to live with purpose and this book helps us think along that direction. It is a great book on the basics of the Christian life, an excellent expression of what is essential in living the way God wants us to live.
Today and then for four Sunday’s after Mother’s day, which is next week, we will examine this book and I trust will be encouraged to live our lives with purpose.
I want to encourage you to read the book and, in the messages, I will reflect on some of the key thoughts in the book. As we examine life with purpose, I pray that we will all change in some way as we seek to discover the purpose for which God has created us.
The question, and it is a significant question, which is asked in this book is, “How do you live your life?”
I have heard of people who walk out the door one day at the beginning of their vacation and decide to take a drive without having any kind of a plan. I doubt if someone can really do that purely. There is always something that determines the directions we take. Some people seem to live their life at random, but there is always something that inclines us to make the decisions we make. What drives your life? Why do you make the choices you make? In Chapter 3 Warren asks, this question and supplies some possible answers. He recognizes that some people are driven by guilt, some by resentment and anger, some by fear, some by materialism and some by a need for approval.
Whatever drives us impacts every decision we make. If we stay with the metaphor of driving, if we are driven by materialism, it will be very important that we own an expensive car. If we are driven by a need for approval, we will have a car that is “hot.” If we are driven by resentment and anger, then the other people on the road better watch out for us and it is scary driving behind people who are driven by fear.
We are all driven by something and whatever it is has an impact on our whole life.
Last week, when I attended a seminar put on by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, I learned something new. The speaker made a distinction between values and principles. He said that values come from what we value. We set a value on things and we live according to that set of values that come from our own thinking. On the other hand, he talked about principles as truths that come from God. We do not determine principles, they are revealed by God and we are called to live according to them. If we live by values, we are like the world - self-determining - and the things that drive us come from within us. If we live by principles, we are living by the purposes God has for us. Does God have a purpose for us?
A key verse that reveals that God does have a purpose is found in Ephesians 1:11, 12. There we read, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Notice that in this passage there are five words that indicate that God has a purpose for us. The five words are: “we were also chosen,” “having been predestined,” “according to the plan,” “conformity with the purpose of his will,” and “we…might be for the praise of his glory.” God has chosen us. He has a plan by which he intends to accomplish his purposes. He works out his plan. He has made us for the praise of His glory.
For those of you who are familiar with the “Four Spiritual Principles” which Campus Crusade has published, you know that the beginning of that presentation of the gospel says, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
This is the point that Warren makes in these chapters. In chapter one he says, “You were made by God and for God.” In Chapter two he says, “You are alive because God wanted to create you.” God has a purpose for our life.
Yet many people do not live by God’s purpose. It seems easier, or more natural somehow to live by our own values. Why should we consider living by God’s purposes?
There are two reasons that come quickly to mind. The first is that God is creator. He has made us and as the one who has made us, He knows what is best for us. How many of you have opened a paint can with a screw driver? I remember being told that you should never use a screwdriver as a paint can opener. It was not intended for that use and using it that way could ruin its usefulness as a screwdriver. Lately I have been trying to dig out a stump in our front yard. My son helped me and as we were chopping the roots with an axe, he was wondering how a chain saw would work. I suspect that if I asked to borrow your chain saw for this purpose, you would be reluctant to loan it to me. It would get ruined because it is not made to dig in the dirt. In the same way, God created us to fulfill the purposes he has for us. If we live by our own purposes instead of those that God has intended for us, we fall far short of what the creator intended to be the best use of our life, which He knows because He is our creator.
A second reason to live according to God’s purposes is because He loves us. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…” Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The love of God is really the crux of the matter but do we trust that God loves us? As a parent will want only the best for his or her child, so God wants the best for us. Do you believe that? If we do, we will know that a life lived according to God’s purposes will be the best kind of life. Another way of saying this is, as Warren does, that God’s love is shown because when we follow God’s purposes it gives meaning to our life, it simplifies our life according to Isaiah 26:3 which says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” He also says it focuses our life, motivates our life and prepares us for eternity.
So what are the purposes God has for us? As we study this book we will discover that there are five purposes which God has for us. We will look at the first one today and then from May 16-June 6 we will look at the other four, one each Sunday. God’s purposes are:
#1 You Were Planned For God’s Pleasure.
#2 You Were Formed For God’s Family
#3 You Were Created To Become Like Christ
#4 You Were Shaped For Serving God
#5 You Were Made For A Mission
The first purpose - “you were planned for God’s pleasure” is expressed in Scripture as the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37 which says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God’s purpose is that we live to worship him.
Myron Augsburger says, “To love is to open one’s life intimately to that of another. To open one’s life to God means to open one’s heart or affection to Him, to open one’s soul or ambition to Him, to open one’s mind or attitudes to Him, to open one’s strength or activity to Him, and to open one’s self to what God is doing in the neighbour, be he friend or enemy!”
Ancient people observed the sun and the moon and the stars. It appeared to them as it does to us that all these heavenly bodies revolve around the earth. But as they began to try to calculate these cycles and predict their movement, they began to run into problems. The speed at which the heavenly bodies moved varied and some of the movements did not make sense. The planets at times appeared to move backwards.
Encarta Encyclopaedia says, “To explain the periodic variations in the speed of the Sun and Moon and the backward movement of the planets, they postulated that each of these bodies revolved uniformly around a second circle, called an epicycle, the center of which was situated on the first. By proper choice of the diameters and speeds for the two circular motions ascribed to each body, its observed motion usually could be represented. In some cases a third circle was required. This technique was described by Ptolemy in his great work the Almagest.
Clearly the explanation was complicated and not everything fit. Eventually, some began to question the basic assumption. In, 1543, the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the solar system, in which the Sun is stationary at the center, and Earth moves around it. This view of the solar system challenged Ptolemy’s geocentric model, which had been the accepted theory for a long time.
But little attention was paid to the Copernican, or heliocentric, system until Italian astronomer Galileo discovered evidence to support it. Long a secret admirer of Copernicus’s work, Galileo saw his chance to test the Copernican theory of a moving Earth when the telescope was invented in the Netherlands. In 1609 Galileo made a small refracting telescope, turned it skyward, and discovered the phases of Venus, indicating that this planet revolves around the Sun. Today, we have come to understand that the earth revolves around the sun and the cycles make sense and are completely predictable.
What is the center of your life? If the world revolves around you, and you live in a world you have constructed, many things will fit and, with some difficulty, it will be possible to construct a life that makes some sense, but it will never all fit. What is required is that we change the center of our life. The first purpose of our life is that God must be the center of our life. When God is the center around whom our life revolves and we live a life of worship, suddenly everything will fit into place. Psalm 119:165 in the Message says, “For those who love what you reveal, everything fits…”
God wants to be and deserves to be the center of our life, the one around whom our life revolves. He is worthy of our worship, trust and adoration. Revelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Psalm 147:11 reinforces this thinking when it says, “the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”
Warren says, “Worship is not a part of your life; it is your life.”
In “The Purpose Driven Life,” in chapters 7-14, there are a lot of good suggestions to help us live a life of worship. I would like to pick up on just a few ideas.
In chapter 9 he says, “The smile of God is the goal of your life.” Ephesians 5:10 encourages us, “find out what pleases the Lord.” I appreciate the things Warren has to say about worship when he points out that the singing we do when we have a worship band or when we sing with the piano and organ is not all there is to worship. In fact, he points out the danger of equating worship with singing, because it is possible to be stirred emotionally and not realize that that emotion is not necessarily worship. Worship is much broader than that. It is anything we do in life which is God directed, whose purpose is the smile of God.
Using the story of Noah, he points out that God smiles when…
- we love Him supremely
- we trust Him completely as it says in Hebrews 11:6 - “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
- we obey Him wholeheartedly as we read in John 14:15 - “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
- we praise and thank him continually as said in Psalm 69:30, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.”
- we use our abilities to serve Him.
In Chapter 10, he offers another reflection on worship that I thought was very important. He says, “The heart of worship is surrender.” Romans 6:13 speaks about this when it says, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”
I agree that this is the heart of the matter. As I suggested earlier, it is a matter of where the center is. If we are the center of our life, then we will surrender to no one. If God is the center of our life, then we will quickly and easily surrender to Him. Romans 12:1, 2 encourages us, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”
Another encouraging thought is that although surrender is a challenge for our proud hearts, it is to friendship that God wants us to surrender. Warren points to Romans 5:10, 11 which says, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” He makes the point that “Almighty God yearns to be your Friend!” I also appreciate the things he says about what that friendship means. Friendship involves a constant conversation. He also indicates that such a friendship involves honesty. When we read the Psalms, one of the things we notice is that the writers were honest with God. They were not afraid to tell God exactly how they felt and thought. That is also worship. What is most interesting is that friendship with God also means obedience. As noted before, John 15:14 says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” This also is worship.
Another word of encouragement that I was glad to see was to think about what happens when there is pain in our life. Can we still, at that point, live by the purpose of worship? He says in chapter 14, “The deepest level of worship is praising God in spite of pain.” He talks about the “dark night of the soul” and asks “Will you love, trust, obey and worship God, even when you have no sense of his presence or visible evidence of his work in your life?” We are encouraged to do so by Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
This afternoon, you may go visit family, or have a nap or go to Winnipeg. Why? Tomorrow morning, you will go to work or to school or do some work around the house. Why? Are the purposes of God at the center of your life? Warren says, “The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.” Does your heart lead you to think about what God wants for you? Is your heart focussed on bringing glory to God?