Monday, December 05, 2005


It's easy enough to understand how Rick Warren's book on Purpose became such a big seller--we all want to make sense out of the circumstances around us. We all want to believe that God can take the most humble of circumstances and give us meaning in the midst of them. Unfortunately, I fail to find words to encourage those who, through careless decisions in their youth or simple inability, have found themselves serving drinks and busing tables in their mid-forties. Certainly, God desires to use them, and we hope that faithfulness will move them to greater responsibility, but ever coming to believe that a swing shift at Dennys is God's plan for your life is a little hard to hope for. And that's in America--this gets harder in cultures where an American minimum wage is a staggering amount of money.

So, I believe there has to be a better answer. It is noble to suggest that service through the church holds a key element of the discussion and I believe there is some merit to the suggestion. Through the use of our gifts in ministry, we sometimes find the strength to endure and even thrive in a less-than-ideal career. But I think there's more and I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago in an accidental conversation with a small group from school.

Christians struggle a lot with issues of identity and we were assigned to discuss the meaningfulness of the distinction between naming Christians as "sinners who had been saved" or as "saints who sometimes sin." We were fully prepared to dismiss it as an exercise in semantics, until we noticed something about our own language. We have no idea what a saint is. Mind you, we're seminary students and we do get it, but the word saint has become so muddled with formal definitions and trivialization that it carries no really useful image for us. But, it did for Paul and as we looked more closely, we saw something significant, something purposeful.

Here's the introduction to one of Paul's letters:
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
-Eph 1:1-2
It's not important that Paul addressed the Ephesians, it's that he called them saints. He does the same thing to the Romans, the Corinthians (2nd), and the Philippians. But, in 1 Corinthians and Colossians, he says something different, at least in our translations. There he calls them holy, one time as nouns, the other as verbs. Greek comes in really handy in places like this. Holy as a noun, holy as a verb and saints are all from the same basic word. They all mean holy. Paul calls the Christians this name over and over because he was intentionally re-forming their identities. What had once been common people, he now called "holy, set apart." These people had changed--they had become something new. Where saints no longer stirs us, this still has meaning. We are the set apart. We have been given purpose--no longer as common things but now as articles for noble purposes.

And in itself, it is significant to see that Paul was casting a vision for the people who received his letters--he was ever so persistently reminding them that they were no longer mere sinners, mere commoners. And on its own merits, this may supply all the purpose that many Christians need, but it still is nebulous. It declares a new identity and many sermons have run afoul in seeking to define the new and noble usage of these now holy vessels, but this alone is merely a description and not yet a destination.

Here's where our real discovery was made. Again, the Greek is handy. We have known all along that those living under the Law in the Old Testament came to God on his own terms and they did so through the temple where he dwelled. More specifically, they came to sacrifice at the temple, and a physical manifestation, a presence of God, the Spirit of God, dwelled in the inner sanctum--the most holy place, the holy of holies. Right between the wings of the cherubim who perched on the Ark of the Covenant. The temple was the most sacred of all places on the earth.

These common people, these sinners, Paul now called holy. But more importantly, he called them the temple (1 Cor 6.16, 2 Cor 6.16, Eph 2.21.). They had indeed arrived at a new identity and a new era of human history. They were now the most holy places on earth. In them, the presence of God, the Holy Spirit would dwell. And that is where purpose is found. Here is the destination. It is the purpose of the believer to be the vessel, the tent, the dwelling of the Spirit of God upon the earth. He no longer resides on the top of an ancient box. He no longer demands that seekers come to Jerusalem and pay tribute and make sacrifice. Rather, he made sacrifice. Now he sends us out to the very ends of the earth and we take him along, broken vessels nonetheless. It is our duty, our role, our calling, our purpose. We are the bearers of God.

Wherever we are, whatever we do, we are to take Him there and hopefully, carefully, prayerfully, others may see Him inside us. We can do that. It really has little to do with us. He simply asks that we allow it to happen--that we remain ever-mindful of that which dwells within us. That we yield to the Spirit who fills us. Purpose. Even in India. Even in Peru. Even in Rwanda. Even in Dallas. Even at Dennys.


deersnake said...

That's an amazing illustration of that transformation. As painful as it's been, it looks like that Greek is coming in pretty handy.

A point from one of Pete's sermons a few weeks ago has stuck with me that follows along this thread - when we sin, we carry Him with us into and through that sin. I get this amazing image of God feeling pain and angst in super slow motion during that sin.

Of course I think about all of this after-the-fact.

sekondstory said...

I must admit when I stared reading this I wasn't sure I was going to like what you were saying (wouldn't be the first) lol ... However, it had a good landing. I agree it isn't how you pay your rent that makes your life purposeful. No telling how many waiters God has used to bring people to Christ. Working a steady job with integrity is just being responsible, living a life in radical obedience is purposeful, not to mention powerful.

Wendy said...

I suppose that sf is not so bad.

f1rststory said...

Yo - any new posts anytime soon?

btw we'll be here some while you're up here - so you can ride my new toy if you's only a 125..not too bad.. ;)