Tag Archives: purpose

A word for graduates, a lesson for all of us


Graduation season is upon us. It’s that weird season of both endings and beginnings, of both tears and smiles, and of both sadness and excitement. I must admit that I teared up as I stood outside the field house and watched past students exit in their caps and gowns with their degrees in hand and their future before them. I remember these times in my own life vividly. I am not someone who likes change and yet graduation was such a tangible symbol of the previously unseen work poured into exams and assignments the previous four years. Each commencement was filled with such an intense mixture of bittersweet emotion – joy and pride at the accomplishment, excitement for what the future held, and sadness at having to leave the place I’d called home for so long. Some of my peers experienced only sweetness as the previous four years had not been as kind to them as it had been to me and the day it was all over with simply couldn’t come soon enough.


It’s also the season of, “What are you doing after graduation?” A question dreaded by all but by none more than those who just don’t know yet. I guess I was one of the fortunate ones. I always had an answer to this question. But having an answer is much different than being confident in the direction the answer is taking you. And as I work with high school and college students, that’s the sentiment I hear expressed most often. Students ask me, “How am I supposed to know what to do when I don’t even know who I am?”

The field of psychology often talks about “identity development”. I’m more interested in character development than identity development. Identity isn’t developed, it’s discovered. Your identity has already been imprinted on your heart by God, your Father and Creator. It needs to be discovered because over time our identity is buried – buried by our own sins of greed and pride, buried by fear, buried by others’ expectations of us, buried by pain – just to name a few. In the midst of trying to discover my own identity, a professor told me, “Decide what you are passionate about. Identify a need in the world around you. Then find the point where those two intersect. There you will find your purpose and calling in life.”


Those wise words changed my life. I began to realize that my passions and preferences are part of what makes me uniquely me. And it is true of you as well… follow your dreams as they are likely God given! So often fear and insecurity cause us to make practical choices, the safe choices, but not always the God-ordained choices. We follow our head and our fear instead of our heart and God’s lead. And we are left uninspired and unfulfilled as a result.

So to any recent or future graduates longing to uncover your identity and God’s plan (or really anyone experiencing a holy discontentment with their life), may I urge you to first be bold and courageous. Forget convention and do not give into fear. Stop worrying about what you are “supposed” to do and focus only on what God is calling you to do. Want to know your true identity? Ask the Creator. He knows each and every detail of every masterpiece He’s ever made. He knows how to uncover the places that have been covered. He knows how to make the dark areas part of the beautiful whole. He knows how to make your heart sing and soar. He knows you inside and out and if you trust Him and follow Him, you’ll not only discover your own God given identity, but you’ll also find God.

“I love those who love me,
    and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17 NIV

Throwback to graduation from Fuller in 2008. Finally, Dr. Cleveland, YES!

The First Reality Show Ever

I absolutely love reality shows. I believe the obsession began in high school with MTVs “The Real World”. It was “the story of 7 strangers picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.”


Next came “THIS IS AMERICAN IDOL.” Who didn’t fall in love with Kelly Clarkson!? I survived the Ruben Stoddard and Fantasia Barino fiasco of seasons 2 and 3, voted my heart out for Carrie Underwood, sat stunned as Chris Daughtry, Mandisa, and Katherine McPhee were all eliminated while Taylor Hicks took the title, wondered how Kris Allen could ever beat Adam Lambert, discovered it is possible to hire worse judges than Paula Abdul, and found that if you can sing, people will overlook the fact that your first and last name are the same (Phillip Phillips).

Then Survivor taught us all how to “outwit, outlast, outplay.” Extreme Makeover Home Edition made my roommate and I cry each and every Sunday night. The Bachelorette allowed every girl to live out their greatest fantasy – choosing from 25 very eligible bachelors competing for your attention. And finally, reality TV taught us all that sometimes it is okay to be “The Biggest Loser.”

But did you know that the first reality show was actually in the Bible? Extreme Makeover stole their concept from ancient Persia and the book of Esther.

King Xerxes was wealthy beyond imagination and wanted all the world to know it. He began to flaunt it. For 180 days (that’s 6 months!) the king paraded his grand riches before his nobles. Then he spent another 7 days showing off to the subjects in the kingdom. In the meantime, Queen Vashti was having a party of her own with all of the women of the kingdom. On the last day of the celebration, the king gave these orders, “Bring Queen Vashti to my party! Tell her to put on her royal crown and to wear her finest clothes. I want to show off her beauty in front of my distinguished guests (Esther 1:11).” But the queen refused the king’s order, which infuriated the king. He believed that if the queen refused the king then all the other women would believe that they could refuse their husbands as well. He dismissed Queen Vashti from his presence and decreed that every man should be the master of his own home.

Now the king was without a queen and so the ultimate reality show was born…

Every beautiful young woman old enough to marry was brought to the palace in something like The Bachelor meets Extreme Makeover on steroids. One of these young women was Esther, an orphaned Jew adopted by her cousin Mordecai living in Persia as unwanted exiles. Before going before the king, each woman went through 12 months of beauty treatments. The “executive producer” of the whole show takes a liking to Esther and gives her the advantage of the best beauty treatments and best food available. The rules dictated that each woman could choose whatever she’d like to take with her before the king. Esther was wise and took only what the “producer” suggested. Not only that, but Esther also had special qualities that people were simply drawn to. The king took notice. Esther 2:17-18 says, “The king found [Esther] to be more desirable than all of the other women. Unlike the other young women brought before him, she alone won his heart and his favor. So he made her his queen instead of Vashti and placed the royal crown on her head. King Xerxes invited all of the nobles and officials to a state banquet in honor of Esther, his new queen.” Esther took the grand prize!!

One reality show ends, but a spin-off develops. This one is for the guys and is part COPS and part Sopranos. Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill the king, tells Esther, who tells the king, and the plot is spoiled. In the meantime, the king decides to promote his buddy, Haman, and as a way to honor Haman’s new position, orders that the rest of the royal officials bow down to Haman.

As a Jew, Mordecai refuses to follow the order, which infuriates Haman. Haman wants everyone’s respect and admiration. He decides that punishing Mordecai alone for his defiance is not enough. Haman decides to kill all of the Jews. Sadly, the king agrees with Haman’s plan. The Jewish people immediately begin to both panic and mourn their demise.

Queen Esther, insulated from the real world by the walls of the palace, sends a servant to inquire about why the Jews are upset. Mordecai sends word back to Esther that as queen, she is their only hope. But going to the king without being summoned is a death sentence and Esther hasn’t been summoned by the king in over thirty days! Mordecai reminds her that she is still a Jew herself and adds, “Who knows? Perhaps you have been made queen for such a time as this.”


Even though King Xerxes hadn’t called her, Queen Esther takes a risk and enters his presence. She discovers that his feelings for her have not changed and he welcomes her in. Remembering the King’s love for parties, Esther tells the king that she would like to have a banquet in honor of the king and Haman. The king eagerly accepts her request. At the end of the banquet, Esther invites them back for a second banquet. Haman leaves very pleased with himself and boasts of his riches, his relationship with the king, and his promotion. The thought of Mordecai refusing to bow down spoiled his mood so he decides to hang Mordecai the following morning.

As fate would have it, the king could not sleep that night and asked for the records of his reign to be read to him. The chosen bed time story is of Mordecai spoiling a plot to kill the king and saving the king’s life. The king realizes that Mordecai had never been properly recognized for his actions. The king asks to consult with any official in the outer court. Haman had just arrived hoping to discuss his execution plans with the king. The king begins by asking Haman what should be done to honor a man who has pleased the king. Haman assumes the king is speaking of him and describes his own greatest dream involving royal robes, horses, and a parade through the city.

The king loves the idea and orders Haman to personally carry out every single detail in honoring Mordecai! But Haman couldn’t stay focused on his anger and dismay for long, he had the queen’s second banquet to attend! Esther’s confidence has grown since the first successful banquet. When the king asks her what she wants, she answers with the truth. She states, “If you favor me, my king, and if it pleases you, spare my life… There are some, my king, who wish to rid your kingdom of us (7:3-4).” The king immediately wants to know who would do such a thing and Esther replies, “The man responsible for these actions is wicked Haman (7:6).” Haman is killed on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. Mordecai is given the prestigious position Haman once held, and the Jews are saved from certain destruction.

What does this story have to do with self-worth and identity? EVERYTHING! Let’s look at the characters in the story. King Xerxes has no strength of character. He needs help making even small decisions. His only source of value is showing off his wealth and his ego is easily hurt when other people do not agree with him. Haman is obsessed with being admired and affirmed by others. Both of these men based their self-worth on things outside of their God-given identity. Mordecai, on the other hand, is passionate, caring and full of integrity. He remains true to his beliefs regardless of the potential consequences. He trusted God for his worth and value. And then there is Esther… she is smart, humble, and modest. She did not set out to be queen. When given the nearly impossible task of saving her people, she does not look for personal glory. Instead, she prays and relies on God for a miraculous intervention on her people’s behalf. She does not find worth in her position as queen, but she finds it in God’s love for her.

Mordecai and Esther understood their calling and purpose in life come from God. They understood that their value and identity come from God. They could only understand this because they had real, life giving relationships with God. Mordecai said it best. We are all placed where we are “for such a time as this.” But we do not rise to the challenge before us alone.


Ephesians 1:11 says, “Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.” We carry out God’s unique calling with Him right by our side and His strength at our disposal. God loves you. God chose you. God has a unique plan and purpose for you. And fulfilling that purpose brings deep meaning, purpose, and value to one’s life. So…you’ve been called “for such a time as this”. What is that purpose? What has God called you to do for His kingdom? And will you respond in faith and with courage like Esther and Mordecai?

time as this

Pain Has a Purpose


I heard a story about Tony Dungy, the former Superbowl winning coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and his young son. Tony and his wife have a large family of both biological and adopted children. One of their young sons began to do some things that made his parents scratch their heads. He would jump from the top of the stairs and not express any pain, even though the jolt of the landing ought to have hurt. He would frequently not notice when he had cut himself or scraped a knee while playing outside. But the final straw came when Tony’s wife caught their young son taking a cookie off a baking sheet while it was still in the oven and put it directly in his mouth. Though the hot cookie scalded his mouth, he did not cry. Though his hand was red and swelling with blisters from the hot baking sheet, he did not show any signs of being in pain. At the hospital, the doctors ran test after test and concluded that the boy had a rare disease that prevented him from sensing or experiencing pain. The Dungy’s lives immediatey changed. They had to constantly check their son for injuries or else he might walk around on a broken leg for weeks and not know it. They had to develop trust that inspired obedience in him because he did not learn from experience and so had to take their word for it.

Although the reason for pain and suffering often eludes us, one thing is always true: pain gets our attention and teaches us. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This is quite possibly one of the most misunderstood verses in Scripture. Note that it does not promise that bad things won’t happen to those who love God nor does it say that God causes the bad things that do happen. The question of why bad things happen to good people is nearly as old as creation itself. If God is so great and loving, why doesn’t he protect us from hurt and pain? Questions of why are rarely eased by answers of reason and logic and theology. Which is why I’m not convinced they should be answered at all. Instead, what if the focus is on God’s character as a healer, comforter, and redeemer. You see, what Romans 8:28 DOES say is that God will use everything that happens – good or bad – for His ultimate purpose, not necessarily our purpose!

My pastor once said, “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a puzzle to be solved.” How often I try to solve the “puzzles” in my life instead of just living day by day and trying to enjoy the mystery of it all! What would life be like if I stopped questioning and began trusting in my loving heavenly Father? What would your life be like, how would it be different, if you did the same?