Joseph gently strokes his beard and considers the men and women he is about to invest his own life into. A gentle light from the small fire in the fireplace highlights the whispers of gray in his hair. These men and women are coming to him in order to find purpose and meaning to their lives. Yet, he realizes that the purpose and meaning is already there, within them. It was planted by God like seeds in the garden. However, they have forgotten or were never told how to care for the soil, how to enrich their lives so that the seed could take root. He has been taught and has entered into the training developed over many years by warrior monks like him. The training is not always easy, and the results are uncertain. But what is certain is that living life on purpose adds life to life, joy to joy and lessens the sorrows of tragedy. He wonders how he will train these men and women. How many will make it even through their year with him. Haunting his thoughts are the others in years past who he failed to reach, who misunderstood his directed jabs into their hearts. How often has he failed? The number is too many to count, yet he continues to tell himself that he will not quit trying. Surrender is not part of his life story; nor anything that can gain a foothold in his character. He teaches and trains this next batch of leaders for a broken world because he doesn’t know how long he has left.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. –Psalm 90:12
Knowing that our current life as we know it will be short lived creates two distinct benefits. First, it forces us to enjoy the pleasures of today instead of wasting the time on frivolous dreams of the future. Additionally, it causes us not to give up hope in the midst of crisis because we know that this too will pass. Secondly, it keeps us humble. Today you may have been the big hero but tomorrow comes when many will have forgotten your efforts of the past. Many who love us today will hate us tomorrow. Additionally, it causes us not to feel distress in our mistakes. The mistakes that we made today will be forgotten and the pain will cease. We must press on.
These lessons must be passed onto the next generation or they will waste their lives. These are the sorts of thoughts that cross through Joseph’s mind as he awaits the arrival of this mentoring group. This year’s group includes 2 men, 2 women and you, the reader.
One of the men is named Eric. He is young and a dreamer. His childhood was filled with challenges due to the fact that his father was a drug addict and a criminal. His mother however was raised in the church and chose to raise her children to love Jesus. Seeing the roller coaster ride of addicted life alongside the stable and loving life of his mother made the choice to live life as a Christian easy. But that was the only easy choice. His only male role model was lazy and seemed to thrive on schemes to outwit government and blame others for his difficulties. Eric realized that this would not work if he was to fulfill his dream of becoming a missionary. Unfortunately, the dream was not very realistic at the moment. How could Eric make it in the third world when he was often sick and lacked the motivation to get going to do what needed to be done to become a missionary? An additional challenge for Eric is that his picture of the mission field was painted by romantic pictures of bringing the light to an expecting crowd of eagerly awaiting heathen ready to accept the Gospel in a heartbeat.
Joseph smiled as he thought of Eric. When he was young, while not a Christian, he too had dreams of shaping the world and lived in a similar fantasy. Back then Joseph thought that he was a great gift to the world and that all of his dreams could come true simply because he wanted them to come true. The idea that he might have to work for them was totally foreign. He searched his heart for the right words to share with this young man that work is good, that the pains of his past could shape him and that he will need to make some lifestyle choices if he wanted his dreams to come true.
Sarah was a new believer in Christ. Over the years she had been a classic over achiever and rarely failed at anything. Sarah was hardworking and brilliant causing her to be promoted faster than any of her peers. With a mild case on insomnia she had been able to study and work harder than anyone else. When she became a Christian her first move was to sign up for college courses so that she could quickly become a minister. Even there, she excelled and rarely received anything short of perfection on her tests.
Again Joseph saw himself in her. At one point in his life he had been taking 25 semester hours, leading a mission’s team, a local ministry team, participating in everything that ROTC had to offer and had made time to woo his to be wife. During that time he rarely slept more than 5 hours a night and pushed himself not only to survive but thrive.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; -Psalm 46:10
For those who have discovered that hard work pays it becomes its own addiction. Sarah would provide the opposite challenge that Eric poses for Joseph. How does one teach someone to simply stop, breathe and learn to hear from God?
The other man in the group was named Samuel. Samuel had been a believer in Christ for as long as he could remember. His family was loving and caring. They taught him many great things that he still appreciates even today. Many of Samuel’s friends have taken to calling him Sam, but his mother still calls him Samuel. Sam’s life has been defined by his church. Three times a week he was in church. Other nights he could be found diligently searching the Scriptures for truth and guidance for his future. While Sam has a constant smile; inside he stews over the evil that he sees around him. He burns with hate for those who deliberately live in sin and he prays for destruction to come upon them.
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. –Luke 9:54-55
God hates sin. Not for the sin itself but more for how it destroys life. Every sin known to man hurts people. Think of theft and how it robs you not only of material things but also peace of mind. A break in can steal a feeling of security that is hard to restore. With that in mind Sam’s mindset seems right to Joseph. However, the hatred that brews within Sam is a recipe that deters love and grace. Joseph longs to teach Sam, grace as God meant it to be.
The other woman is named Julie. Julie’s parents had been hippies in the 60s and came to faith as part of the Jesus movement. They showed love to everyone regardless of their background. Julie is easygoing and fun to be around. Julie is not a part of any standard church. Her family prays in their living room and sings songs of faith. Each week they seek to learn how to be tolerant and loving to people. Her father often attends services of other faiths and believes that essentially all roads lead to Heaven. He has passed on the idea to Julie that while we should try to live a good and wholesome lives; Heaven is open to all who try to be good people. Julie has embraced the idea that grace covers up all sin and we should be tolerant of everyone. That is unless you are legalistic than you are evil in her mind.
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." -Acts 4:12
We live in a world were tolerance is taught as moral value and that we need to accept people and all perceived truth as relevant. This often creates challenges for the man or woman of faith who believes the Scriptures that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. Men and women of God who believe that God does have some laws that we should follow, are often labeled as narrow minded and obscure. Joseph considers how he will speak to this precious and loving young lady in a way that will show the error of her ways without disturbing her love for people.
Finally, dear reader there is you. I don’t know you. But as you read this book you may find parts of you in Eric, Sarah, Sam or Julie. It is possible that you are nothing like them. But as you engage with them, ask yourself the same questions and mediate on the same truths and discover what God has for you.
Introductory Assignment: Write out your story in just a paragraph or two. Who are you? Where do you fit in as far as overworked or lazy? How about where you typically ride in the battle between Truth and Grace? What is your perception of you? What do others think of you?