Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Author: Randy Page 2 of 141

Habit – Letters to a Church Displaced

I am posting excerpts from pastoral letters written for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida. These are offered with the prayerful hope that others might find perspective or encouragement in them.


After making another successful raid on Publix, our grocery store, the other day (it’s quite the adventure these days) I was caught up short by the realization that I had made it a standard part of my conversational repertoire to complain about the excessively personal questions that Publix clerks are encouraged to ask. “Do you have any plans for the weekend?” “You have anything going on tonight?” I know they have to do it, but the questions feel intrusive and I wished they would stop.

And now, there is a plastic shield between us and they are “gagged” with masks. “No, God, I didn’t mean that.”

A couple of months ago I lamented in my journal that I wanted Sundays to be more relaxing. Yes, it is a work day for me, but I thought that with some changes it would not be as stressful. But being realistic, I realized that I’m too much a creature of habit and routine. I wasn’t going to change.

But now my sermons are completed and preached on Friday mornings and I “go to church” with my feet propped on a footstool. “No, God, this is not what I meant.”

I’m not saying that this pandemic is all about me. I’m not the cause of it. But I can see that there are worse things than what I complained about two months ago. And it makes me want to go back.

But as I said in a previous week, going back is not the option.

There are those who are projecting dire changes for the church in the years ahead as a result of this period. Futurists are often wrong, and I’m not as glum. But that does not mean there will not be challenges. And the challenge at the outset will be how do we get back to doing what we do. Not only when will we meet again, but what will that gathering look like? Those are big questions that the church leaders will need to deal with.

Personally, I’d rather have church in my living room for just a bit longer than to mandate mask wearing or require “call ahead seating.” But perhaps these things will be uncomfortably necessary for a time. The issues are bigger than we are.

The changes I’m primarily concerned about are ones of habit. Like it or not, your and my habits have changed. I am profoundly grateful for those who have helped us maintain ministry in the midst of pandemic. None of us had any preparation for this, but you have helped us adapt. Community groups, the prayer gathering, our Ladies Bible Study, and who knows what else have continued to thrive. I was tempted Wednesday night to take a picture of Cord leading the youth group – sitting at a table with a computer-screen-full of faces before him. Ministry goes on because you are making it go on.

But it is abnormal ministry. It is ministry with a limp. And though we will learn good things from this, I’m concerned for the bad habits that could easily take root. For me, Sundays have become a wonderfully relaxing day. Perhaps you have found the same to be true. No clock, no deadlines, no frantically trying to get the family ready to walk out the door on time. Worship is a video. We can do that at 8:00 AM or 11:00, 2:30 PM or 4:36. Or not at all. And no one else will care, or know. What will that mean when once again worship starts at 10:30AM at a location on County Road 419? Will the power of the new habits carry over?

I’ve discovered that at heart, I’m a thoroughgoing introvert. Days of isolation agree with me. I like people, yes, but I like them in measured doses. I’ve learned in my isolation that I could probably live this way for a long time. Will it lead to avoiding contact or connection when normalcy, whatever it looks like, returns? Will the power of these habits carry over and become bad habits?

Experience tells us that ritual and routine are critical factors in those habits that help us flourish. Worship is but one example. Some of us developed the habit of flossing at an early age. Today, you can’t fall asleep at night unless you’ve flossed. Consequently when you are old, I will look with envy upon your fine, healthy teeth and gums. Habits serve us well. But when they are broken they can be hard to regain, as bad habits take over.

There will be a day, perhaps not too distant, when the former ways of being a church, gathering face to face, singing together, and communing together will return in some fashion. We introverts will need to climb out of our caves. We free spirits will need again to adhere to a schedule. We individualists will need to regain the value in the corporate. We who wore our pajamas to “church” will need to get dressed on Sundays. This will require, for some of us, great effort, believing that we are by so doing leaning into something good.

I want you to begin preparing to make that effort. If we do, we will emerge from this stronger. And better. I think I will be more friendly to the then newly ungagged and unmasked Publix clerk. And I may just realize that I am able after all to have a sermon ready to preach by Friday.

Sunday, and life, will be better.

With love,

Randy

Present – Letters to a Church Displaced

I am posting excerpts from pastoral letters written for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida. These are offered with the prayerful hope that others might find perspective or encouragement in them.


Barb and I prayed this morning thanking God that, as far as we know, none of the members of CPC have yet contracted COVID-19. We pray that that will continue to be the case and that the impact of the coronavirus will dissipate quickly.

But other than the obvious desire that fewer people get sick and die, why would we pray that? Is it so that we might once again resume our normal lives? I think it important to ask the question of what our normal lives ARE and what it might mean to return to them.

I have been wondering how things as simple as trips to the grocery store might forever be undertaken with more caution. At Publix there is now a plexi-glass shield erected between the customer and the clerk. There is no reason to expect that those shields will come down. Life on the other side in many ways is going to be different.

But such thinking also makes me realize that the life we are living right now is not an interlude interrupting real life. It IS real life. Life under the influence of coronavirus is the life we are called to live right now. We are not to see ourselves in a holding pattern waiting to get back to life as we used to live it.

Rather we are to see the way things are now as the life in which we are called to live. And so we pray that God will guide us to live well in this new setting. Not only that, we pray that God in showing us how to live in THIS setting will along the way open up doors for us to live better in the world that will be once this crisis has past.

While running last Friday (running either gives me clarity or makes me mentally unstable – the jury is still out on that one) I thought that with the proper precautions, I could bake cinnamon rolls, a staple of the Easter Sunday breakfast (which we sadly be missed this year) on Saturday and invite the congregation to come and get them. My thought here was that at least a part of the past could be retrieved. And it was. But God’s vision is not to the past in this, but to the future.

On Saturday it occurred to us that Barb and I being out front with rolls could be a great way to engage our neighborhood. So we posted to the neighborhood’s Facebook group that we would celebrate Easter by giving away free rolls Saturday evening to any in the neighborhood who wanted some.

We really tried hard to get people to practice social distancing. But . . .

As many of you know, we gave away six dozen rolls in thirty minutes Saturday, leaving many wanting. So Sunday morning, after the Zoom sunrise service, I made six dozen more. These I offered directly to the CPC people who missed them Saturday, and once again to the neighborhood. We gave away another three dozen, a good proportion of these to families in our neighborhood. The gratitude from our neighbors was effusive.

What’s the point? By learning how to live in the current situation, not merely lamenting the loss of the past, we have learned a practice that will change our future. Next year, should God allow, we’ll have Easter breakfast at the church. And again there will be cinnamon rolls, along with all the other good things that CPC people provide. But on Saturday evening, in our neighborhood, Barb and I will be on our driveway, giving away rolls to our neighbors and perhaps making connections that will change lives forever.

There is so much of God’s special leading in that story. Not all of what any of us do or can do will be that public or dramatic. But I pray it will be as good and, importantly, enduring. These are not to be days wasted or days merely endured. They are to be days lived.

And I pray that when we get to “the other side” we will carry with us new gifts and new tools and new joys for living.

Your pastor,

Randy

Gentleness – Letters to a Church Displaced

I am posting excerpts from pastoral letters written for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida. These are offered with the prayerful hope that others might find perspective or encouragement in them.

The portion of the letter shared here is from CPC ruling elder Jon Boardman, as he reflects upon the challenges of social compression.


CPC Ruling Elder
Jon Boardman

Social distancing has become a common phrase in our vernacular. But what about the opposite: “social compression” or “family compression”? Much is said about distancing ourselves from others to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, but how do we handle living with loved ones in a confined space for more hours than we are accustomed to doing? I love my family (there’s six of us), but spending all this time together under one roof tries one’s patience. And while spending all this time together, I find myself getting agitated, observing more flaws, and becoming more critical of the ones I love. So what are the guidelines for handling “family compression”? Here is what I suggest: exercise patience, kindness, and goodness.

Paul reminds us: “Love is patient and kind.” 1 Corinthians 13:4. Patience and kindness (and for good measure, I’ll add goodness) are the out-workings of love. We must keep in mind these three qualities/fruits as we love one another in our confined space.

Patience means “long suffering” and it denotes patience with people rather than circumstances. (Forbearance towards those who are demanding or aggravating. It never forgets the patience of Christ toward us.).

Do: be patient with each other; your loved ones will irritate you, but that’s because they are not you. Honor them in the uniqueness that God has made them.
Don’t: expect them to be you or to know your unspoken thoughts.

Kindness is benevolence, generosity of thought, wishing good to other people.

Do: encourage one another and point out what they are doing well.
Don’t: be sarcastic. It’s easy to be snarky and sarcastic when agitated, so hold your tongue.

Goodness is beneficence, generosity of deed, actually doing for them the good we wish them.

Do: serve one another; find what your loved one’s love language is and speak that language. In my family we have been going for walks together, baking treats, and playing lots of card games. I love hugs, so I’m looking to give or receive them.
Don’t: isolate yourself and withdraw.

As we celebrated the passion week, we were reminded that God’s kindness [is] offering or providing salvation through Christ Jesus (Rom 2:4; 11:22; Eph 2:7; Titus 3:4). Believers imitate God and Christ whenever they are generous to others, but especially in extending benevolence to those who are not loving in return. So as we practice “family compression,” remember to be patient, kind, and good to each other.

In doing so, we honor Christ.

Prayer – Letters to a Church Displaced

I am posting excerpts from pastoral letters written for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida. These are offered with the prayerful hope that others might find perspective or encouragement in them.


As we endure these weeks of separation, my feelings are quite numb. It is such a surreal time that my heart does not really know what to feel. For me, the predominant emotion is sadness. This morning as I was praying for members of CPC, my impulse for some was to say, “I need to check in on this person or family. We should have them over for lunch.” And then I had to check myself. We cannot do this, not now, and not for at least thirty days, probably longer. This has left me hanging a bit trying to adapt to this new world and the way ministry can be done.

For others of you, your emotions are far more intense. You are afraid, understandably so. You or those with whom you live are the vulnerable. Every cough, every ache, every body anomaly has you wondering and worrying.

Others of you are experiencing the severe financial pinch of this, and you feel an anxious dread. You wonder if you’ll have money to meet the expenses of the next few weeks or months. You wonder whether your business will survive or if your job will be there when this is over.

And still others of you are harried beyond measure. You love your kids, but suddenly you are having to work from home, and somehow supervise your kids schooling, without losing your sanity or exploding in anger.

These are tough times in which the church is unable to be the resource it has been in the past. We need others, we need their laughter, their encouragement, and as bodily creatures, we need their hugs. Hugs, and presence, are a casualty of the current situation. We can reproduce some aspects of our ministry, but meeting virtually is not the way church is supposed to be. Some of us struggle with our faith and need public worship so we can lean on the faith of those who are not.

All of this makes me sad.

But we do what we can.

It is intriguing to note that there were periods, at least, in Jesus’ life when he opted for periods of social distancing. “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray,” Matthew tells us. This is, at least, one thing that we can be doing. Stephanie Ilderton every month puts together a lovely prayer guide with recommended daily prayers. Download that and put it with your Bible. The April requests swirl around the needs that this unique time has brought to the table. Pray for these, for others in the church, for those in your community group, for those who are vulnerable.

We can use this time to pray for one another.

Your pastor,

Randy

Laughter – Letters to a Church Displaced

I am posting excerpts from pastoral letters written for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida. These are offered with the prayerful hope that others might find perspective or encouragement in them.


We are a church, and to speak of a church in isolation from one another is in many respects a contradiction. The words translated “church” in the Old and New Testament are words that mean “assembly.” We are MEANT to gather, to do what our commitment to life right now does not allow us to do. Zoom Bible studies and session meetings and community group meetings are welcome, but not the norm. We are meant to be together and the longer this goes on the more we will feel that.

Recently my son and daughter-in-law reflected on the deep loss felt when the church is not able to gather. It is worth a listen.

The church is meant to gather and we are missing that deeply.

But as we lament what we have lost, I hope you still laugh. There is sorrow about, but “a joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) To laugh is to acknowledge that the kingdom of this world will fall. To laugh is to know that there is yet something better before us. That was the hope that permeated the reigns of Israel’s kings, this longing for the Messiah, for something better, and it is still the hope of the Christian looking for the return of Christ.

But, we are asked, though we do not know the timing of our savior’s return, do we know when public worship will return? There [were] public calls for us to return to worship on Easter Sunday, calls based more on wishes than fact. We were not able. We will continue to monitor the counsel of public health agencies and remember that to take steps to reduce the spread of a virus is a very pro-life act. For the church to sacrifice for a time for the sake of our neighbors is an act of love.

But this I can say: when once again God’s people here and elsewhere are cleared to join in public worship, THAT day will be Easter, no matter when it falls. That Sunday will be the Sunday we celebrate life and the promise of life in Him, for the Lord is risen, indeed.

We still celebrate life in the face of death. When we do, we mock death which seems in the moment to be winning the battle. With the resurrection we know that he, and we in union with him, have won the war.

“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Our laughter says we believe that to be true. So perhaps you can laugh with my son and daughter-in-law? They are not only sensitive to the longing we have for worship, they have a good sense of humor.

Your pastor,

Randy

Longing – Letters to a Church Displaced

The Scottish pastor of the 17th Century, Samuel Rutherford, when cut off from the congregation he loved, wrote letters to some of his congregants. It’s what he could do and so it is what he did.

The ministry of the Apostle Paul often took him away from the churches he loved and who loved him. Even when he was imprisoned, to stay in touch with these churches, he did what he could do. He wrote them letters.

I am no Rutherford and certainly no Paul. But when I realized that the church I pastor was not going to be able to do what churches do – meet – for an unknown period of time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I understood their impulse. I have attempted to pastor with letters.

The response has been surprisingly positive, and suggests that others might find value in the more general reflections contained in these letters. Our current “imprisonment” is global, not local. I can therefore hope that the perspectives brought through the excerpts I will post might be of some encouragement to a broader audience.


We often read Psalm 42 as a lament born of a depressive spirit.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?”

Psalm 42:5 and 11

It is that, of course. But in his sorrowful state, what does the psalmist long for? Clearly he longs for God.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.

Psalm 42:1, 2

Specifically, he longs for God as God is present among his gathered people. He longs to appear before God with “the multitude keeping festival.” (42:4) That is, he longs for public, corporate worship.

We are living in an extraordinarily difficult time during which your longing for public, corporate worship will deepen. We never quite know what we have until it is taken from us, and this has been taken from us. We long for its restoration, and when it is restored that which we may have at one time taken for granted will be richer. We meet God in the gathered worship of the church. Virtual worship can only approximate that. We will pant and thirst for God and find him when we once again are able to join the multitude. Pray that this might come quickly.

As we pray that we might soon be reunited, may I suggest a prayer for this moment in time? Barb and I discovered this prayer last Sunday morning during our prayer time together. It is the prayer for the Third Sunday in Lent from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. As you pray it, you will see its applicability to this time.

“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church

Yours in the mercy of Christ,

Randy

Missing Your Blog

I received a terse but kind text on Tuesday of this week:

“Missing your blog.”

KW

I miss it, too.

So it may seem a curiosity that I have neglected it for so long.

It’s not for lack of material. Like most I have takes on Pressing Matters of Great Importance, like Tiger King (DID Carol kill her husband and feed him to her cats?). I have ideas on how preachers should preach when the congregation is at home in their pajamas. And I have thoughts on deeper things that are not culturally urgent such as living without fear or taking vows of celibacy. I have pieces in the queue that are funny, or try to be, and some that challenge (perhaps unwisely) conventional wisdom. Not all of this should be published, but I’d like to get some of these, at least, out there to be seen. So, yes, I, too, am missing the blog.

Apart from the current challenge of pastoring a church that cannot meet, my blog writing has been curtailed for a number of reasons. First, the little time I do have each day to give to writing has continued to be drained by The Book. I completed the first complete draft of Something Worth Living For in December. January was spent re-working the text for the publisher. Then time was spent with an editor going over it once again. All the while, I’ve directed time toward gaining endorsements and other such marketing efforts. I mistakingly thought that once I was done I was done. Just this morning, fifteen minutes of my writing time was spent corresponding with Christian Focus Publications as we continue to tweak the sub-title.

But now, most of that is behind me. And yet, that has left me flopping on the deck like a fish out of water. Someone I greatly respect asked me, “So what is your next book going to be?” Wait, should there be a next book? And so I sit, pondering, sketching, thinking, and not writing. Which of my five or six ideas have potential, both of sustaining my interest and capturing the interest of a publisher? (The latter being an especially relevant question since I only have a small number of blog subscribers, not quite 500 followers on Twitter, and only a handful who find me interesting on Instagram, the metrics that make most publishers sit up and take notice.) Will anything so capture me that I’m willing to shut off other pursuits to focus on that one alone for the year or two it would take to do the writing?

And then there is my desire to improve my writing. As I write, I was supposed to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attending the now postponed Festival of Faith and Writing. There I was to have participated in a workshop focused on writing a personal essay, a genre of great interest to me, with Meghan O’Gieblyn, an award-winning practitioner of the craft. The essay I was to have submitted for that workshop I have continued to write even though there is now no where to submit it.

https://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine

And that is part of the problem as well. I am a ponderous reviser. I envy writers who seem to form a finished product in their brain which then flows from their fingers through the keyboard and out to the waiting eyes of their insatiable readers. In contrast, I am working on the tenth or eleventh revision of my unneeded essay. I now thoroughly hate it and need to lay it aside until I can like it again. It’s getting closer, but the hours I have spent, while good in sharpening my thought, and possibly (though this close to it I can’t see it) improving my writing, those were hours I could have given to the blog.

And finally it’s hard to take up the blog and build any sense of expectation in my readers when I know that I will fail you again. This blog will for the near future, at least, be a fill-in-the-gap space, which seems a paltry payment to readers who have, like my recent correspondent, encouraged me so much. You are not unappreciated. A paragraph in the acknowledgments of Something Worth Living For (look for it around November!) says, “For years faithful readers of my blog have urged me to write more.” This blog has been the genesis of much, including a book! I hope to, at least in the next few months, repay you with more frequent infrequent visits. For I miss it, too.

Of Cephalopods and Publishers and Very Special Long-Awaited Announcements

Ann Lamott in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, likens knowing when a book is done to putting an octopus to bed (pages 93, 94). Now that I have had to attempt such a thing, I find her analogy to be apt.

She points out that after you “get a bunch of the octopus’s arms neatly tucked under the covers” you are likely to find that “two more arms are flailing around.” I finished my first “final” draft on December 30. All the arms appeared to be tucked away. Two weeks later when I checked in there were arms sticking out all over. So, I spent the next weeks rewriting confusing sentences and then rewriting them again, removing allusions that only made sense to me, and, in some cases, re-framing whole sections.

Just when I was beginning to think all was snugly blanketed, an arm broke free. Then another. Punctuation marks were all in the wrong places. And where did this Harry Potter reference come from, anyway?

Ms. Lamott finishes the picture as only she can:

“Then, even though all the sucking disks on that one tentacle are puckering open and closed, and the slit-shaped pupils of the octopus are looking derisively at you, as if it might suck you to death just because it’s bored, and even though you know that your manuscript is not perfect and you’d hoped for so much more . . . it’s the very best you can do for now.”

That pretty well describes where I am. Though I hoped for more, this is the best I can manage for now. I can only hope that no one notices the arms that never did get fully secured under the covers.

Because, you see, others soon will be able to notice.

On Tuesday, January 14, I read, in an email, one of the most beautiful sentences ever written in the English language.

“We recently reviewed your manuscript Something Worth Living For: Conversations on Life and Theology in the Westminster Shorter Catechism at our editorial meeting, and I am pleased to inform you that we enjoyed it and would like to take it forward to publication.”

Apparently there are people, people I assume to be sane and honorable, who want to put their money into my project so that it might reach a wider audience. Christian Focus Publications is a publisher based in Scotland who, unless Scotland within the next year or so slides into the North Sea (the Eeyore in my soul assures me that this is an entirely realistic possibility), are currently planning a December, 2020, release.

I’ve tried to be real cool about this. I come home and say, “Hi, Barb, I’m home. I stopped on the way and picked up those oranges you wanted. Oh, also, my book is going to be published.”

In truth, however, I’ve had to restrain myself so that I did not run up and down the street knocking on doors announcing to startled homeowners, “You don’t know me, but my book is going to be published!” I tend to be unable to shut up about it to anyone unlucky enough to cross my shadow over the past few weeks.

I am humbled to know, as a friend familiar with publishing reminded me last week, that few who are as little known as I am who set out on this path are given the opportunity to cross this threshold. I have been blessed to be granted the opportunity to write. And now I am blessed in being published.

I am still in a state of shock.

Celebrate with me!

Those Sanctified

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

The early Christians whose lives are reflected in the pages of the New Testament were a worthy bunch in many ways. Their passion and sacrifice are a model for us as they faced adversity and yet persevered. But the Bible also makes clear that they were people, imperfect and flawed like us. They argued and stretched the truth. They sometimes showed favoritism too freely and tolerated error too quickly. Much of their behavior we would not describe as saintly, and yet God was please to call them (and us) saints. Though broken and sinful, they were united with Christ and set apart by God. As those so set apart, they were “sanctified.” In a settled and definitive way God pronounced them “holy.”

Table of Contents, Book One

The problem is that they, and we who are God’s holy ones, don’t act like it. The work of God which is sanctification is a process by which Christians are enabled by God to more and more act as who they are, as God’s holy people. And as Jesus is the model of holiness, sanctification is God through his Holy Spirit making his people more like Jesus. This work, this process, can be painful, and it can be slow, but it is always good.

There are sinful ways of living and reacting and behaving that come easily to us. Though we are Christians, though we are in union with Christ and so justified, adopted, and set apart as saints, these well-practiced behaviors persist. We are pulled by the world to speak falsely, to neglect compassion, or to celebrate pride. We have an instinctual recourse to erupt with rage, to seek revenge, or to hoard money. We have traumatic histories or inexplicable inner urges that tempt us to sexual expressions that fall outside the biblical norm. To die to these impulses and to embrace a new way of life is incredibly hard and will never be complete before we die. And yet God is working in our lives to shape us and to conform us to the image of Christ. When we see change, we are seeing the evidence of the work of God.

The path on which God leads us as he conforms us to Christ’s character looks different for all of us. Some Christians may by personality or background or fortuitous cultural influence be closer to a Christ-like demeanor than those who have suffered a lifetime of abuse and trauma. The goal of sanctification in each is the same—to be like Jesus—but reaching that goal will follow different paths over different durations of time, and each person will come to different plateaus. For all of us sanctification will be a roller coaster ride with strides forward and strides backwards. But in it all we can never ever forget that ultimately it is not we who sanctify ourselves, but God who works in us to make us like Jesus. He began a good work in us, Paul says in Philippians, and he will see that it is completed. It is his work to change us and he is doing so.

The “mechanics” of sanctification will occupy our consideration soon in these studies. At this point be heartened knowing that God is the one who is changing you. Don’t despair if the progress seems slow and don’t quit because it is hard. A verse of the Christmas hymn “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” uses the language of John Milton to acknowledge that the walk of the Christian is never easy.

“And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow….”

The steps of sanctification are often wandering, painful, and slow. But they are guided by a wise and good God, our heavenly Father, who is willing even now to call you, as he did those early, irascible Christians, holy.

Living for God’s Glory

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

“Hey! Hello in there. Hey! What’s so important? What you got here that’s worth living for?”

So shouts Miracle Max at the mostly dead (but slightly alive) Westley in Rob Reiner’s classic movie, The Princess Bride. Though this is a wonderfully fun and playful movie, the question about what one finds worth living for is a terribly serious one. It is pondered by philosophers and lovers, by visionaries and artists, and, at some level, by everyone. What makes life worthwhile? Or, as the Catechism puts it, what is the chief end, the ultimate purpose, of life? What do we have that’s worth living for?

We all have an answer, conscious or not, of some sort. The college student may live to graduate, perhaps to find a spouse or pursue a lifelong career ambition. The homeless family may live only to find the next meal. The salesman may live for the next deal and the addict the next hit. Some live to find the approval their fathers never gave them. Others live to achieve a renown so far deprived them. Some live to get as much pleasure as they can before they die, others as much power. Few articulate what drives them. They just “know” at some level that the happiness they seek resides somewhere beyond their reach, and they pursue it. This thing pursued is our end, our purpose, and our goal.

In a sense, this end is in fact our god.

In the early days of my parenting what mattered to me, I am ashamed to say, was my reputation as a pastor. I parented my children concerned not by what was best for them or even what was Scripturally sound but by what served best my reputation as a ‘good pastor.’ My chief end, one might say, was to bring glory to my name and enjoy my reputation forever. This was never expressed and was never conscious. Yet this was the goal which drove me. It was the inadequate and unworthy god whom I served.

That thing for which we live is our god, and if we cherish the wrong god, an inadequate and false one, then serving that god will enslave us and lead us to disappointment. Only when we serve and cherish the true and living God will we find the joy and purpose for which we were created. Our chief and ultimate purpose, the only one that will not disappoint, is to live for the glory of God, and, in the end, to find our ultimate and complete enjoyment in him.

To develop the implications of this is the aim of the remaining questions and answers of the Catechism.

One shaped by a pursuit of God’s glory will bend every part of his life to that end. Johann Sebastian Bach inscribed at the bottom of many of his great musical manuscripts the initials “SDG,” a Latin symbol meaning, “to the glory of God alone.” That should be inscribed on every burger we grill and every email we send.

Living for God’s glory is the posture out of which people will find their greatest happiness. It is also the posture against which the deepest part of us tends to rebel. We prefer to think of ourselves as the masters of our own universe, which leads us to reject the claim of God over us, even if that claim comes as kindness.

It is the beauty of the biblical story outlined for us in the Catechism that God does not leave such rebels to their own chosen misery. He shows mercy to us in our rebellion, a mercy culminating in our being made “perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”

It is the knowledge of this mercy alone that can soften our cold, hard, rebellious hearts and replace them with hearts eager to see the glory of God alone as the one thing worth living for.

Page 2 of 141

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén