Purpose

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There are two questions I have seen people wrestle with: Who Am I? Why Am I Here? This is a common theme in the University classroom, in the business sector – especially in Human Resources or Management coaching, and in conversations around the teapot at my house. The world tells us things we should do everyday. Use this toothpaste for whiter teeth, drink this coffee to help sustain coffee plantations in South America, or wear these clothes so you can fit in with others.

I didn’t have these questions when I was growing up. Traditions in the Asian culture has parents make those decisions. They choose what school you will go to, which college you will attend, what professional degree program you will join and also who you are going to marry. It’s all planned out… nice and neat. You are told that you don’t have to worry about dating because they already have in mind a family who has a nice son. They tell you that you will probably end up making this much money because you will be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. This is not a bad thing, it’s just the way the Eastern part of the world sees things.

Of course, the problem with me was that I was NOT living in that part of the world! Even though my parents enrolled me in a college I didn’t want to go to, in a field I did not want to pursue – (they chose the school based on their Dentistry program, obviously dismissing the fact that I was scared of the Dentist). Much to my parents’ dismay, I changed my school to one that had a medical school and changed my intent from Dentistry to pre-med (I did keep my major in the Biological Sciences though, as a consolation prize). In other words, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

Things didn’t stop there. I ended up meeting my husband and we decided to marry. So, I didn’t go to the school they wanted, the profession they chose, and I disregarded the marriage future they chose for me, for I was to have an arranged marriage as my older sister did. After college, however, I settled in neatly to a job at Campbell Soup Company.

The first change came when the Vice President of Human Resources asked me what I wanted to do? Guess what… no one had EVER asked me that before. I was dumbfounded! I must have looked like an idiot because I told him that with my eyes open in surprise. He sat back in his chair and said “Well, have you ever thought about what you are good at or what you would like to do for work? Do you like what you are doing now?” For a person who loves to talk, I had nothing. I stared at him again. I did manage to ask him “What do you think I should do? I am willing to learn.” Apparently that was a good question because he had me look into Human Resources – a career that I adore and have done now for two decades.

None of this ever pointed to my spiritual life. This was just work and career related. Again, I was pretty clear on who I was as a Muslim (= God is the Master, you are a Slave) and what my purpose was (= to live a good life and do the five pillars so I could get into Heaven). I didn’t need to have a purpose. I just obeyed like I was supposed to… well, kind of.

I tried fasting, but would get major headaches. I tried praying five times a day, but it was really tough with holding down a full time job and two children at that time. So, even in that, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

What is someone’s purpose in life? Is it to get that degree?  Is it to get the next promotion or raise? Is it to get a bigger car or nicer house? Have you achieved your purpose when you have 2.5 children? I have done those things and even more (we have 3.0 kids!), but that has left me with wanting more. I really thought that getting a big home would truly satisfy me. The only thing it does is give me more rooms to clean. It sounds very ungrateful.But  I think that’s the TRUTH. I truly believe it is ungrateful to God to continue to want more than what He has provided for me. The promotions, career, home still didn’t tell me why I was created. What am I supposed to be doing? Is this all there is to life? You get in your nice car, go to your nice job, come back to your nice home and do that again over and over again?

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I think what leaves us flat is that the purpose of life has to be bigger than simply fulfilling our own desires. When you go to the Bible, you get a very clear answer for the purpose God created you. It’s in Isaiah 43:7 ~”Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made…” This verse says we are created for one reason and one purpose: to glorify God in all we do. This seems a bit strange at first. Why shouldn’t I follow my own purpose? The answer is that you can, but by running after these transitional things, you will not be satisfied. If you look to others for your purpose, they may be contrary to your desires. If you get your purpose from doing things, you will get burned out because you are doing it on your own power and not on God’s provision for you.

I love the story of Jonah in the Bible (not just because of the whale). I love it because he chose to say “no” to God and insisted on doing his own thing. God gave him a clear purpose and marching assignment. Jonah ignored, turned away and ran off to do his own thing. THEN he got swallowed up by the whale.

It reminds me of when our oldest son was little. We would ask him to do something little like clean up his toys in his room. He said “No! I won’t do it” His refusal didn’t change our mind or outcome or anything else. It just added more time and drama to the thing we wanted and needed him to do. I think that’s how it is with us and God’s purpose. I think we sometimes know what God wants us to do and we say “No! I won’t do it” and run the other way. Other times, we try to do things on our own power like serving in the church or other ministry that we wanted to do (and not necessarily what God desired for us to do), and we burn out. We get swallowed up… just like Jonah.

So what should we do? For the Christian, purpose for our life can be narrowed down by asking God. Prayer is a wonderful way to start. It can be very simple, like “Lord, I will be obedient to your will and serve you in the way you have planned for me.” The next thing is to read and study His Word. God’s Word in the Bible is true and holy. It shines light into our life and brings comfort. God is really clear on how He has made you and what He thinks about you (see my post on Identity). Jesus told us “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” ~ Matthew 7:7. If we ask the Creator, you will be given what you are looking for. If you are searching for answers to other questions, you will find the answers in His Word. If you think that God has closed the door to reconciliation or to your dreams, knock on it. You will find that Jesus had already been standing there, patiently waiting for you.

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Identity

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About two years ago, Saudi Arabia passed a law that allowed women to have an identity card (see article from Riyadh Times). Why is that such a big deal? Prior to that, according to Quranic laws, women had to bring male acquaintances along with them to identify who they were. You see, women are not allowed to testify in court unless they have been identified and the only way they can do that is to have men establish their true identity for the judge. Of course, if the case was due to adultery or accusations of a sexual nature, women were reluctant to bring men (or might not be able to find a man who would vouch for them).

This is the predicament women find themselves in some countries. In the West, we have so many freedoms that we take them all for granted and don’t really give it another thought. If you want an identity card or driver’s license, you just go, pay a small fee and get it. No one questions you.

Yet, it is in the West that I find so many women struggle with their identity. I have women who come to me for Executive Coaching for work. These are women in high positions who don’t really know who they are. I also talk to stay at home moms who seem to have lost their way, teenagers who don’t understand which role they should play, how they should dress, which group would be most accepting of them. Why is that?

Society throws different ideas around of who women are (sexual objects, wife, mother, I am a goddess, hear me roar, etc) and I am convinced that the women’s lib movements caused more confusion by saying you can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. You don’t need to depend on anyone but yourself. Right after the movements of the 60’s and 70’s, the US saw divorce rates go through the roof. Women initiate 2/3 of the Divorces in the United States (see article for study). It doesn’t stop there. Harvard Health reported that the use of anti-depressants in the US has increased a whopping 400% since 1994. They estimate that 1 in 10 takes an anti-depressant… women’s lib isn’t really panning out to be the answer, is it?

So where is the answer? Both men and women search for their identity. We turn to others as if they have the answer for us. Chances are that they haven’t even figured it out themselves. The answer lies in the One who made us. Genesis 1:27 says that “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In one of my favorite passages of Genesis 2:21-22, God creates Woman “21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.…” It’s interesting to note that Adam noticed that creation was not complete without a helper for him and even more interesting to see that Adam is put to sleep while God does “divine surgery” on him. We can infer from the passage that when Eve was created, she also was alone with God. Herein lies the secret to our identity. Not only were we created in God’s image and bear a stamp of his likeness, but we get a close-up view of how God feels about us when we spend time alone with Him.

I am most confused when I listen to the voices of the world “You should do this” “Why are you spending time on that?” or “You would be good at that.” These are well-meaning family and friends, but the One who really knows you before you were even born (Psalm 139) is the One you should turn to first to find out who you are and what you should be doing. When we establish our identity through others (“oh, she’s the pretty one” or “she’s a cut-throat business woman”), we continue on in our own insecurities and weaknesses.

It wasn’t until I met Christ that I found out who I was. I was looking towards my dad (whom I love dearly) to provide everything I needed in life. When I got married, I simply transferred all those expectations on to my husband (whom I love dearly). What a huge burden for him to bear! Christ says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. He didn’t say to give all your burdens and expectations and place them upon others to fulfill you. Yet, that’s what we do! We expect our boss to know what we need to be happy at work. We expect our spouse to know what makes us happy at home. We expect our children to know what makes us happy as parents. However, none is better equipped to bring you true JOY than the Lord.

God has invited us into a relationship with Him. Some of the words God uses to describe us are: Forgiven. Chosen. Redeemed. Holy. Beloved. Child. Heir. New Creation. Cleansed. Daughter. Glory of Man.

So when you find yourself saying:

I am worthless     REMEMBER: Matthew 6:26 ~Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

I am a failure     REMEMBER: Phil 4:13 ~I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I am unlovable   REMEMBER: Romans 8:39 ~nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I have so much guilt   REMEMBER: Isaiah 43:25 ~I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

I have nothing   REMEMBER: Phil 4:19 ~And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Don’t listen to the voices that accuse. Listen to the voice that gives life. God is the One who created us and He is our heavenly Father who loves us. This is your identity as one created in His image. You bear the fingerprints of God. If you get confused and find out that you have no plan or feelings of self-worth, turn to the scriptures for the truth of who you are and why you were created.

My prayer for you: Lord, thank you for creating me in your image. Help me to see myself and others with your eyes. Help me to not elevate myself over others or you and to not let myself be degraded by others opinions. I want to live in your light, as you are in the light. Amen.

 

 

East to West

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When I teach Cultural Diversity, my students often laugh at some of the stories I tell about growing up in the East. Things are simply viewed differently on that side of the globe. In this post, I talk about how Time, for example, is looked upon as a completely different entity. Also, the idea of personal space is enormously different in Oklahoma than it is even in New York, much less the eastern hemisphere. Language varies as well. One often wonders with all these differences, how do we even get along with one another without stepping all over each other’s toes?

I personally believe that people in the United States are kind and more open to discussions of your background, where you lived, where you grew up and also ethnicity. This is a part of the foundation for the country – Ellis Island was a beacon of hope for many immigrants at the turn of the century. This country is made up of people from all over the world.

As I contemplate the differences, you have to be struck with some of the similarities we all have as human beings: desire to be loved, valued, and treated with respect. If you don’t believe me, just go driving with someone and see their reaction when another driver cuts them off on the road. There is indignation built right into that for just about everyone.

Whether I am teaching management or sharing my testimony about Christ, I am almost always asked about my background and point of view on various matters. For some, the idea of a burqa or hijab is of concern. For others, it is the exotic locale of the Middle East or Asia and how life is for people there. Yet, there are others who ask me about what my views were like about Jesus when I was growing up in a Muslim country.

If you ask a Muslim person about Jesus (by the way, they would LOVE to talk about Jesus – seriously. It’s not offensive. Christians just think that Muslims would be offended), you will find that some  Muslims will smile and tell you “We Muslims have more respect for Jesus than you do as Christians.” At first, you might not believe this. However, the Quran has an entire chapter on Christ, titled after his mother, Mary. The chapter is called “Miryam.” Mary is the only woman in the Quran to be called by name. She is given a place of high honor and esteem, as is Jesus (“Isa” in the Quran). Muslims have to hold all prophets as holy. They believe that their books are holy. For this reason, Muslims will not say bad things about Jesus because he is a holy person of God. This is not always the case with what you might find in the West. We have the gift of freedom and free speech. It seems like the name of Jesus is a free for all and many people choose to even use his name as a blasphemy (anything that is not held in honor and also using it casually or when you are mad – almost as a curse word).

The Eastern mind operates differently than the Western mind. Many times, I am asked “Why” by people. Why does this happen, why would God do this? Why is this the case and why is this written? For those who grew up in eastern countries, the “Why” is not that important, especially when it comes to things of God. If God is sovereign and He wills it, then so be it. Who are you to ask why? This can be a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it places God above mankind and our brains – He is infinite! We cannot think through everything and know the answer to everything. We are finite beings. We have a definite beginning and end. It is a bad thing because the “Why’s” are not encouraged. So when I had questions about the Quran or even teaching in school, it’s frowned upon by your elders to keep asking “why? why? why?”  This type of thought is greatly discouraged because it is considered rude or even challenging authority.

So the question is- how does the East come together with the West when we are on absolute opposites of the compass?

When you look at the Bible, you find some interesting things about people from all over coming to the table of Christ.  Luke 13:29 says “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” What does this mean? It means that Christ is preparing a table for us. He is getting ready many things in preparation for us to eat with him. How does one do this? He says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20. Christ doesn’t mind if you stand at the door and knock or even stand there and ask questions. He took care to address his disciple Thomas’s statements about how he would never believe  unless he put his finger into Christ’s wounds. Jesus didn’t get furious say “Thomas, how dare you question if I am the same Christ who was crucified!” Instead, when he later appeared to the whole group, Jesus said “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”John 20:27

Jesus is the only one who can connect the wide gap between the east and the west. The Psalmist wrote “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 Those same hands that Thomas wanted to see are the ones that bring the east and the west together through the shedding of blood and redemption in one cross.This is the grace and mercy God shows each one of us. Jesus is the one who provides us the love (enough to die for us), gave us value (allows us to be called children of God),  and gives us respect for others (new commandment: love one another as I have loved you).

The song by Casting Crowns sums all this in a beautiful way:

Jesus, can You show me just how far the east is from the west?
‘Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been
Come rising up in me again
In the arms of Your mercy I find rest
‘Cause You know just how far the east is from the west
From one scarred hand to the other