Rest Isn’t Random (And Random Isn’t Rest)

In a weekly discipleship group I’m in we’ve been talking about work/rest balance lately.

We’ve talked specifically about the somewhat radical concept that God has designed us to work from our rest rather than rest from our work. I know, that hardly seems to make any sense. Work from our rest? But if you look at Genesis 1 and 2 you’ll find that God created man and woman on the sixth day, and the very first thing they did was take a day off together. Instead of working until they were at capacity and only resting when necessary, they first rested to prepare for the work that was ahead of them. Rest wasn’t a necessary evil or unrealistic fantasy, it was a non-negotiable part of God’s design.

We’ve been using the shape in this image “the work/rest semicircle” to guide our conversations, and it’s been really helpful.

All of this talk about rest has caused me to look at both the quality and quantity of rest in my own life. I’ve learned a lot through this process, but my biggest takeaway by a mile is this simple truth:

Rest isn’t random.

Or, here’s another way to say it: Just because something is unproductive doesn’t mean it’s restful. Just because I can’t check off a box on my to-do list after a half hour doesn’t mean that half hour was life-giving, refreshing, or rejuvenating.

And what I’ve realized- maybe this is obvious- is that sometimes the reason I don’t feel rested is because I spend time that is available for rest on activities that can best be described as random.

Because the truth is that work has a cumulative value. If I work, and continue to work, that will eventually accomplish something (I know, I’m wading into deep waters, try to stay with me). Similarly, if I rest that will eventually accomplish something. I might not be productive, but the time will have purpose. I’ll be more prepared for work, I’ll feel refreshed, I’ll be energized and more confident. Random, however, has no cumulative value. Random is just, well, random. Time spent randomly leaves me with nothing more than time spent. And often as a result I don’t feel rested, even though I was unproductive.

So during these last few weeks I’ve tried to be extra conscious about how I spend the precious moments of free time that I have. These moments are typically in the evening after everyone else in my family has gone to bed (I’m an involuntary night owl). During these moments when I’m filling discretionary time I ask myself a simple question: Is this rest, or random?

Put differently, is this rejuvenating, or it is just wasting time? Is this soul-enriching or soul-draining? Will I feel refreshed when I’m finished with this, or will I feel the regret of misspent time?

And I believe these questions are so critical for a few reasons:

1) Our time is limited- You can overspend, overeat, and oversleep, but you can’t overlive. Time is the most valuable resource we have, and the knowledge of how limited it is can give us the wisdom we need to spend our time well.

2) I fill the VAST majority of my time with activities that I care about deeply-  I care a lot about my job, I care a lot about my kids, and I care a lot about my wife (not listed in order of priority…in fact, listed in reverse order). When I’m giving attention any one of those areas I want to be at my best. It’s not enough for me to simply fill time in these arenas of life, I want to be fully present, operating (as best as I can) at maximum effectiveness. This means I have to rest well, because the quality of my work is often limited by the quality of my rest.

3) God made us for rest- Perhaps this one is obvious, but its easy for me to forget. So often I feel like I’m made to produce, or I’m made to do things I can measure or show someone. The truth is while God created us for fruitfulness, rest is a critical component of creating this fruitfulness.

So in the course of observing my own behavior and asking these questions, I’ve started categorizing different activities as “rest” or “random”. You might place activities in different categories than I would, but I think its important to know our own wiring and know how different leisure time activities impact us. Here are a few common activities that I’d put in each category:

Rest

1) Reading a (mostly) fun book- I put the word “mostly” in there because I read almost nothing that is purely for fun. I read almost exclusively nonfiction, and I’m constantly looking for nuggets of wisdom I can use at work or in life. That being said, I find that sort of reading fun. And, more than that, I feel great after 20 or 30 minutes spent reading. It helps me connect with God, makes me thankful to live at a time when so many great books are so readily available, and it usually stimulates my thinking (or makes me think I need to find a new book).

2) Exercise- I’ve only recently started exercising again after nearly a year and a half of only occasional physical activity (thank you, knee injury). While it’s true that I hate exercising with the energy of a thousand burning suns while I’m actually doing it, it does great things for my psyche. Even as I type this, I’m looking forward to working out later today. It’s an opportunity to clear my mind and take care of my body. While I generally don’t feel awesome immediately after working out, I find that during the hours that follow I feel a level of refreshment that just can’t come from sitting on the couch.

3) Good conversation time with people- This one is tricky because I’m in a season of life where social time can be hard to come by. When I can find it, however, I love it. I get charged up talking with people I respect about things that matter. Far from wanting to get away from work when I’m not at work, I love talking about ministry, I love talking about books, I love talking about ideas. I also love talking about more trivial stuff that sports or (to a lesser degree) current events.

4) Sleep- This one probably doesn’t require much explanation. I’m not very good at sleeping (remember, involuntary night owl), but I’ve allowed myself to go to bed earlier a few days these last few weeks, and that’s good.

Random

1) Random Internet surfing- I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at getting on my computer to “check something real quick” and then burning a solid hour reading articles like “27 Ways to (Some Random Thing I Don’t Care About)”. The best part is, once I’m done I usually feel like someone has punched my brain in the face. Burning time on the Internet is so obnoxiously easy, but it leaves me feeling some combination of guilty and stupid for wasting so much time.

2) Watching a lot of television- I follow three sitcoms, I very occasionally will watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, I watch a moderate amount of sports (usually while doing something else), and I watch the occasional Internet clip. I find that the occasional TV show is fine. I love to laugh, so a great TV episode is a fun little mental break. But if I sit down and watch two hours of television I get up feeling like I’m walking through mud. Initially I thought maybe this was due to some sort of obsession with productivity I have, but the more I’ve thought about it the less I think that’s the case. I just don’t enjoy passively sitting in front of a screen for a long time. That’s why I almost never watch movies, and its why even during major sporting events I almost always either a) record it so I can watch it faster, or b) have something else going on (a conversation, a book, etc.) while I watch. I know a lot of people find TV really relaxing, but I’m finding that I just don’t

What’s frightening is that those two activities are my default when I have some free time. They’re so easy. Getting out my Kindle, or exercising, or even making plans to hang out with someone, can feel like work. Part of what makes “random” so seductive is that it’s so easy. But the low barrier to entry is a trap.

These last few weeks as I’ve asked this question I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve closed the laptop and found something else to do. Where I previously would allow myself to fall into the pit of endless articles and TV episodes I’m instead being more intentional about redeeming the time I have and using in a way that will make me feel truly rested.

So I’d invite you to consciously look at how you spend your free time this week and ask the question, is it rest or random?

Because rest- real rest- isn’t random, and random isn’t rest.

Why Being Fake (Even in the Little Things) Hurts You

I remember when I was a teenager I went on several church mission trips to Mexico.

Those trips were awesome for all sorts of great reasons, and they were also awesome for one very shallow reason: On one afternoon during each trip we would go shopping. And shopping in the parts of Mexico we were going to meant one thing: cheap fake Oakley sunglasses.

I’m not going to say buying these sunglasses was the highlight of the trip, but I’m also not going to say it wasn’t pretty close. The opportunity to look like I had fancy sunglasses was quite enticing to this materialistic teenager who was growing up in a wealthy suburb where it seemed like everyone had fancy stuff.

And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with wearing knockoff sunglasses, it turns out wearing them has some unintended side effects.

Researchers at Duke, North Carolina and Harvard have studied the impact of “fake” accessorizing on our ethical decisions. In one study that I read about in John Ortberg’s new book Soul Keeping, researchers gave a group of women expensive Chloé sunglasses, but half of them were told the glasses were actually knockoffs.

Keep in mind, they were only told, the glasses were knockoffs.

Even though the women were randomly assigned to the “real” group or the “knockoff” group, the knockoff group was more than twice as likely to cheat or steal in a subsequent study than the women who were told they were wearing the real deal.

Merely being told they were wearing fake sunglasses made these women more than twice as likely to behave unethically.

That’s crazy!

In another study people who thought they were wearing the fakes were found to be more cynical in their attitudes towards others.

Ortberg concludes,

We fake it in life to bolster our ego. But the result is, we feel like phonies and become more deceptive and cynical with others – so exquisitely sensitive is the need of the soul to be whole.

 

Wearing fake sunglasses is one thing, and even given what these researchers have told us, it’s relatively harmless (and a heck of a lot cheaper!).

But I wonder if there are other seemingly minor ways we can project a false image of who we are that creates a bigger impact.

I live in the real world, and as such I sometimes feel the need to look the part when I’m anything but “the part”. I feel the occasional pressure to act like I’ve got things together when I don’t. I feel the temptation to put on the proverbial fake sunglasses and pretend like they’re the real deal.

But it just doesn’t work.

Walking through life in this way impacts us far more deeply than we realize. While we might be trying to fake it to fool others, it turns out we are not as good at fooling ourselves as we think we are.

And, what’s worse, dishonesty in the little things leads to dishonesty in places we never wanted it to be.

So its better for our hearts, our soul, and our blood pressure to be real. We’re better off if we accept the consequences of our “realness” and pursue deep-level change where it’s needed instead of pretending to be something we’re not.

Finding Fascination in the Familiar

“Wind from the Sea” by Andrew Wyeth

I don’t know about you, but I am a huge fan of “the new”.

I love new stuff. I love new books. I love new information. I love new foods and drinks. I love new experiences.

There was even a time a few months ago when I found myself feeling excited about trying a new brand of olive oil that was coming in the mail.

New olive oil.

That’s all it took to get me excited.

I don’t cook or eat with nearly enough sophistication for an olive oil brand switch to make a difference.

My point is, I’m constantly looking for new ideas to engage with, new concepts to learn, and new activities to try.

I love to explore, and for the most part I think that’s a good thing.

However, there are times when my fascination with “the new” can have a negative impact on me, and you likely know all about this if you share my fascination with new things. Occasionally my fascination with experiencing something new can lead to shallow engagement with ideas, concepts, and even people. If I’m not careful, my fascination with finding something new can, for example, keep me from applying something I already know because it’s easier and more fun to interact with new ideas.

Fascination with “the new” isn’t wrong. Far from it. But when it gets out of control it is often problematic.

This morning I was reading a book chapter I was asked to read in preparation for a meeting I have this week, and the chapter began with the author recounting the story of an artist named Andrew Wyeth. I don’t know much about art, so I’ve never heard of Wyeth, even though according to the author of this chapter he is “one of America’s most significant artists, an unparalleled genius of realism.”

What fascinated me about Wyeth is that he painted for more than 50 years, and yet never sought to paint a landscape outside of the immediate surroundings of his home in Pennsylvania and his summer house in Maine.

Fifty years!

Fifty years of painting the same landscapes.

I love what the author said of Wyeth:

His creative mind and brilliant skill, turned loose for ten hours a day and for years on end, can be forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

Forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

What a fascinating concept.

The chapter began with a quote from Wyeth himself where he says, “Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar.”

Satisfied by radical attention to the familiar. Excitement at finding fresh meaning in the familiar.

These are ideas that fly in the face of my fascination with “the new”, and I suspect that’s why they have caught my attention. And the more I’ve thought about this the more I’ve realized why these ideas are so important:

The familiar is what’s most important, and we can miss its depth when we only hunt for “the new”.

My family is familiar to me, but I know there is so much more I can learn about them and so many more ways I can serve them if I give them more attention.

The people outside of my family who I know the best are familiar to me, but there is so much more I can learn and so many more ways I can grow if I invest in them.

The day-to-day stuff of work is familiar, but it I can do my job better, and more important, serve people better, by giving radical attention to the everyday stuff.

The Bible is familiar, but its familiar words will nourish my heart, soul, and mind more than anything else I can read.

So these are areas where I want to grow.

I want to quiet down my ADD-brain enough to give my familiar my attention.

I want to embrace the reality that there is endlessly more fascination to be found in giving radical attention to what’s familiar and important than in constantly seeking out the new.

I want to embrace the reality that there is endlessly more fascination to be found in plumbing the depths of the familiar than in only chasing the new.

If you’re wired like I am, I hope you will, too.

How the Gospel Makes Us Truth Tellers

I’m reading a book right now about idolatry.

Exciting, huh?

It’s actually a terrific book, and one of the main arguments in the book is that if we are not careful, we risk taking good things we are passionate about and turning them into gods.

For example, our interest in our favorite sports team can become an all-consuming passion, such that our lives are scheduled around their games and our mood is impacted by their performance.

Or our interest in our children can cause us to become so wrapped up in how well they are doing that we begin to evaluate ourselves based upon how well they are progressing in life relative to other kids.

Or our interest in sex brings us to a place where it is no longer a good gift to be enjoyed in the context of marriage, but an unquenchable desire that leads us down the path of pornography and promiscuity.

The examples are seemingly endless.

And I’ve thought about idolatry for a long time, and I’ve tried to be as honest and vigilant as I can about rooting out the idols- things I’m looking to for significance other than God- out of my own heart. I’ll be the first to admit, that is easier said than done.

The antidote to all idolatry is the gospel, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ that shows us where our primary identity can and should be found. We are, first and foremost, children of God. We are called not only to follow Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we are called to delight ourselves in him (Psalm 37:4). When he is our delight and our greatest treasure, he breaks the power that idols have over us.

If my identity is in Christ, that necessarily means my identity is not in my work performance, or my commitment to spiritual disciplines, or my parenting skills, or my professional success, or the record of my favorite sports teams.

There’s another area of our life where idolatry can creep in, and this seems to be becoming more and more common.

We can make idols out of our perspectives and belief systems.

We idolize them, find our identity in them, and then lie to defend them.

I was reminded of this the other day when a politically-motivated email somehow made it into my inbox. What struck me about the email wasn’t the perspective of the person who sent it (I’m not into politics, so people’s political beliefs are not of my concern), but the simple reality that the email was full of lies disguised as facts.

I’ve always thought it strange that people would lie to support their political, theological or even moral beliefs. If your beliefs are so great, won’t they rise to the top in an honest conversation about different ideas? Why is it necessary to lie to promote them?

But the truth is, the primary reason people lie to promote their beliefs and further their agenda is that they have made an idol out of those beliefs.

When we make an idol out of our belief systems, we are no longer interested in the truth, we are interested only in furthering our perspective. Facts that challenge our perspective are to be rejected because they are assaults on our identity. Because of this, we have whole industries built around lying about politics. We have endless websites, blogs, and organizations built around lying about faulty religious or theological ideas. And we all have those friends and relatives who fill our inboxes and news feeds with biased “news” stories that show how their side is pure good and the other side is pure evil.

What’s behind all of lying?

Idolatry.

And it’s an idolatry that we are all susceptible to.

If I’ve made an idol out of my children I might be inclined to lie about how well they are doing in school, or I might invest a lot of time, energy, and money into promoting a certain image of what they are like.

If I’ve made an idol out of ministry I might be inclined to lie about the “success” of various programs I’m a part of. I put the word “success” in quotes because too often we measure success my attendance, which is silly.

If I’ve made an idol out of my political beliefs I will believe my side is wholly good and the other side is wholly evil. Once I have believed this I will necessarily be dishonest, or at least unbalanced, in trying to promote my particular perspective. Perhaps worse, I will root for the failure of politicians I disagree with, even if that failure would be bad for the country.

If I’ve made an idol out of being a good person, I will be dishonest about my flaws and project a false image of perfection.

If I’ve made an idols out of seeing God move in supernatural ways, I will try to attribute virtually anything to God’s miraculous intervention (I’m not saying he doesn’t sometimes miraculously intervene, I believe he does).

In short, idolatry will make us dishonest. 

But the good news is that the gospel frees us from all of this.

If my identity is in Christ I can be honest about my flaws. If my identity is in Christ I will desire to live in obedience to him, and living in obedience to Christ means telling the truth.

Even when it doesn’t support my agenda.

If my identity is in Christ I won’t need to lie to prop up my idols, and I’ll be free to tell the truth for God’s glory and my joy.

So where, if you’re honest, are you being untruthful, unbalanced, or unfair? Where are you trying to project an image that isn’t authentic? That just might be an area where you need to step out of the prison of idolatry, and walk in the truth-telling freedom that is available in Christ.

Why Destroying Arguments Doesn’t Work

So there’s this video that’s making the rounds on the Internet, perhaps you’ve seen it.

It’s a video of a guy riding in the back seat of a car, taking a video of himself. He starts by telling the imaginary “Mr. Atheist” he is going to “destroy evolution” in three minutes. He then proceeds to try to do just that….in around four minutes.

This thing keeps popping up everywhere. Someone even posted it on my Facebook page (I’ve since removed it).

I don’t mean to pick on the guy, but it should be noted that the arguments made in the video are not scientifically accurate. Regardless of what you think about evolution, or God, or creationism, or any of that stuff, the fact is nearly everything he says in the video can be proven false by a very brief Google search.

I believe the guy in the video believes he’s telling the truth, but he’s not. I don’t think he’s a bad guy- by all accounts he seems to be a guy who really wants people to meet Jesus, which is obviously a good thing. He’s just not telling the truth in this instance.

But that’s not my real issue with the video, because people – both Christian and non-Christian – unknowingly say factually untrue things to support their agenda all the time. I’m sure I’ve done it myself (though I try really hard not to).

My issue is that the goal of the video is to “destroy” evolution.

Destroy it?

Really?

Did Jesus say, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you destroy their arguments.”?

I don’t think so.

If I set out to “destroy” something you believe in, I’ve lost you, haven’t I?

If I’m trying to destroy something you believe in, I obviously don’t love you. I’ve decided you’re an enemy. You’re not a person to me won over, you’re an enemy for me to try to (verbally) beat into assimilation.

Why would you want to listen to me?

Think about it, how many times have you changed your beliefs about an issue because someone attacked you and made you feel stupid? I’m guessing not very many. When someone treats us like that, the last thing we want to do is agree with them. Even if the facts are on their side.

We live in a culture where trying to “destroy” people’s arguments is popular, but it doesn’t do any good. Pundits in the media don’t actually convince anyone, they just convince people who already agree with them that people who believe differently are stupid.

I don’t see much value in that.

Because the best you can do if you try to “destroy” someone is you can win an argument.

But you’ll never win someone’s heart that way.

And yet, we as Christians too often buy into this combative way of relating to people we disagree with.

But if a conversation starts with, “Let me show you why you’re an idiot,” it rarely ends with, “I’m so glad we agree now.”

I will be the first to admit that there are plenty of beliefs in our culture that deserve destroying. On a daily basis I read about people who believe things are are crazy, hurtful, thoughtless, or all of the above.

But seeking to “destroy” those beliefs is not going to convince those who hold them to change.

Those sorts of tactics only deepen the divide.

I’d rather be about winning hearts. It’s more work, it requires a gentler, humbler spirit, but it’s worth the effort. It requires taking the time to truly understand your opposition so you can characterize them in terms they accept, but that extra work at least creates the possibility of an honest conversation.

So I don’t want to destroy arguments, even if they’re (in my opinion) worth destroying.

I want to have conversations, understand people’s stories, understand why they believe what they believe, seek the truth no matter whose “side” it supports, and speak that truth with love.

 

 

Are You Overreacting To Your Past?

I played a lot of sports growing up, and I remember I would often see people my own age and younger who were totally unapproachable after a sporting event if they had lost. I only learned later such behavior is also common among adults. I couldn’t have been older than ten years old when I swore I would never be unapproachable after losing (And I was never very athletic, so I had a lot of opportunities to practice this). I’ve also watched sports my whole life, and when I was young I saw adults who would be nearly inconsolable when their favorite team(s) lost. I promised then that, even though I enjoy sports a great deal, and even though part of the fun is getting really “in” to a game, I would never ever allow a sporting event to impact they way I treated those around me. To this day I can intently watch a close game, and as soon as I’m done watching it, regardless of the outcome, I can turn and talk with a family member as if nothing happened. Similarly, I can show quite a bit of emotion when doing just about anything where a score can be kept and “flip the switch” and be completely composed almost instantly. Part of it is genetic wiring, but another part of it is the commitment I made when I was young. I’m never going to be like that. I saw people behaving badly, I saw how their behavior made me and others feel, and I decided I was never going to act like them. 2941655917_cd7626cff3 We’ve all been impacted by those sorts of experiences, and we’re probably better people for it. I’ve learned about having patience in frustrating situations by seeing people in front of me in line freak out, I’ve learned about being self-aware by watching self-absorbed people steamroll others, and I’ve learned about public speaking from sitting through boring sermons and lectures (and let’s be honest, we’ve all inspired other people to say that after observing our bad behavior). But lately I’ve started to wonder if it’s possible to overreact to those experiences. Is it possible, in our efforts to not be “like that”, we can overreact to the point where we adopt alternate flawed behaviors. As I’ve looked at my own life I’ve wondered if that is exactly what has happened. I’ve met on Tuesday afternoons with some of my colleagues for the last several weeks, and these meetings have inspired no small amount of introspection. Our conversations have forced me to evaluate some of my strengths and weaknesses, and they’ve driven me to investigate the “why?” behind some of my perceived weaknesses. And the most glaring answer to many of my “why?” questions is this: I don’t want to be like that. For example, while I’ve been blessed to serve in really healthy ministry environments and be mentored by a lot of great people, I’ve also been in environments where leaders used people. I’ve been in environments where leaders blatantly manipulated people so they’d get on board with their agenda. Those experiences have caused me to write “Thou shalt not use people” near the top of my list of my most strongly held values. That’s a good thing. But what’s not a good thing is going so far out of my way to make sure I’m not using people that I hesitate to challenge them at all. After all, it’s not leadership if you’re not calling people to follow. I’m not unwilling to challenge or lead people, but I sometimes hesitate to call people to deeper commitment for fear I will appear to be using them. This fear has replaced the imbalance I want to avoid with its opposite. The truth- which I know from my many years as a church volunteer- is volunteers love the opportunity to serve if it’s in line

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with their gifting, and they typically love to be called to grow. There’s a balance in all of this, to be sure, but I suspect I tend to be a bit too passive. And that’s largely an overreaction to my past. It’s an overreaction I’ve recently noticed in a few areas of my life. So what do you think? Is there anything to this idea? Do you see this sort of tendency in yourself?   Photo Credit: hans s via Compfight cc

Why You Don’t Need to Change Your Behavior

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” -Matthew 6:1-4

Beware, Jesus says, of doing good in order to get noticed. 8338771610_1843f82f07Beware of seeking to draw attention to yourself for your supposed good deeds. This brings to mind a certain recently-disgraced NBA owner, who apparently has a habit of taking out newspaper ads to thank himself for his charitable donations. Don’t be that sort of person, Jesus says. When you do good, do not feel the need to tweet, Facebook, Instragram, Snapchat and/or blog about it. That, Jesus says, is what the hypocrites do. There’s an emptiness to it. They, it stands to reason, are motivated not by a desire to do good, but by a desire to be praised for their goodness (before we condemn them, we should all probably admit we can relate to them a little bit…or a lot). But it’s interesting what Jesus prescribes as an alternative. Because it’s not a change in behavior. Sure, there is a behavioral component to it. He says to not make a big deal about your good deeds (“sound no trumpet before you”). But he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t stop with simply, “Do good deeds quietly so that no one else knows you are doing them.” He doesn’t stop with, “Change your behavior from that of a boisterous person to that of a humble person.” He says, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” Here’s the truth: I can buy a meal for a person in need or make time for a person in crisis or otheand tell no one about it, but still give myself a thousand pats on the back. I can still let that little voice in my head run wild with praise for my “good” deed. I can consider how I am so much kinder and so much more generous than all of those people who don’t give to the poor. You get the idea. Most, if not all, of us have done something like that. In other words, I can quite easily change my outward behavior while allowing my prideful heart to remain unchanged. When I do that the emptiness remains. And that is why Jesus says, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Here’s a translation: Simply be the sort of person who does good and thinks nothing of it.  I don’t applaud myself for eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, getting dressed before I leave the house, or completing various administrative tasks at work and at home that are a part of my weekly routine. It’s simply what I do, and I think nothing of it. They’re just the stuff of normal life. Jesus is instructing us to become the sort of people who do good as naturally as we brush our teeth in the morning. He’s instructing us to become people whose hearts are inclined- out of love for God and love for others- to live in a way that blesses others and thinks nothing of it. Because it’s one thing to change our behavior. It’s one thing to will ourselves into being “good”, even if our hearts want none of it. It’s entirely another to change our hearts. And Jesus, over and over again throughout the New Testament, is concerned with our hearts, not our behavior. And I don’t know about you, but I’m really grateful for that. Because I can change my behavior…for a time. I can fake it and put on the happy face. I can keep the rules, even if my motives are anything but pure. But “good” behavior with a wicked heart always creates tension. And that tension makes “goodness” a burden. A changed heart, on the other hand, makes true goodness natural. So I’m glad Jesus isn’t content with changed behavior. I’m glad the alternative to doing “good” things for the purpose of getting noticed isn’t a life of quiet pridefulness. I’m glad he wants to address the tension found in seeking to do good for the wrong reasons. I’m glad the gospel is about heart change not behavior change. I’m glad he wants to transform our hearts with his love, so that we have hearts who seek to bless others naturally and without fanfare. It’s a process, an incomplete process, to be sure. But it’s a process that leads to God’s glory and our joy.   Photo Credit: Defence Images via Compfight cc

Our Biggest Decisions Aren’t Our Big Decisions

I remember during the year between graduating from college and starting seminary I agonized over a big decision.

this way, that way

Do I move to the San Diego area, take the job at the church, and start seminary in Pasadena, or do I move to Vancouver and start seminary up there?

Leaving Southern California to go to graduate school somewhere (anywhere) else had always been “the plan”. But there was a job in Southern California. And a church I was familiar with. And a much shorter move. But then again Canada was beautiful, and interesting, and different.

I did everything to try to figure out what the right choice was.

I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I talked to friends. I made several pro/con lists. I talked to Christie. I talked to the pastor of the very large church I was attending at the time (he may or may not have used the phrase, “Heck, I’d do it,” to announce the choice he recommended). In one moment of insanity I even wrote “F” (for Fuller, the school in Pasadena) on a small piece of paper and “R” (for Regent, the school in Vancouver) on another small piece of paper, crumpled them up, and asked the impossibly obnoxious spoiled junior high student I was tutoring at the time to pick one.

I don’t remember what he picked.

But I do remember that, in my mind, this was a big decision..

And surely God had a plan for me.

I just had to figure out what it was.

But as the days turned into weeks it became apparent that God was not as intent on revealing his will as I was on discovering it.

This seemed very strange to me.

After all, this was a big decision that was going to seriously impact the rest of my life. Surely God must have a will for this decision, or at least a preference. And surely if there were any decision for which an aspiring preacher man should be able to discern the will of God, it is a decision such as this. And surely God would be disappointed with me if I made the “wrong” choice.

But I

got

nothing.

Have you been there?

Have you been in that place where you’ve got a big decision to make and you’re doing all of the stuff you’ve been taught to do (or at least assumed you should do) when you need God’s guidance and all you’re getting is static?

I honestly don’t remember how I finally made the decision. I just know that on one December morning on the way to work I took advantage of the fact that in 2006 it was legal to handle a cell phone while driving and called the guy who would be my boss in San Diego and told him I’d take the job. I started a few months later, still thoroughly confused by God’s apparent silence on such a life-altering decision.

What I know now but didn’t know then is that God has a very different definition of “life-altering decision”.

And he has spoken to the decisions that truly are life-altering.

He has spoken saying that he wills my holiness (1 Thess. 4:3).

He has spoken saying he wills that I would seek first his kingdom (Matt. 6:33).

He has spoken saying he wills that I would trust him (Prov. 3:5).

And on and on I could go.

And those are the decisions that will most impact my life.

I’ll be honest, that was a hard for me to get my mind around for a long time.

Surely who I marry, or what job I take, or what city I live in, or how many children I have, or what school(s) I attend will have the greatest impact on my life.

God says otherwise.

In fact, he grants us freedom in making those decisions.

But he tells us to be holy. He tells us to seek his kingdom. He tells us to trust him. He tells us to marry a fellow believer. He tells us to number our days.

But he doesn’t say “Move to San Diego and take the job” (I made that decision though I was not 100% sure it was God’s will), he doesn’t say, “Marry Christie,” (I made that decision though I was not 100% sure it was God’s will), he does not say “Go to this school,” (I probably don’t need to repeat myself again).

Surely we can and should pray, and surely on occasion God may guide us in these sorts of decisions. But when he is silent we must remember that while the specifics of God’s will may be a mystery, it surely is not his will that we spend our days obsessing over gaining clarity from him in areas where he has never promised to be clear.

We are instead better off  loving him, pursuing holiness, loving others, seeking his kingdom, living on mission and doing as we please. The decisions to be faithful in those areas are the biggest decisions we will ever make. And in those areas he has been wonderfully, beautifully, mercifully clear.

Because once we’ve resolved to do those things, we can make decisions confident that we are walking in God’s will.
Photo Credit: Lori Greig via Compfight cc

Resurrection Monday

I don’t know what your day was like this last Sunday, but it you are a follower of Jesus I’m guessing it was a little different than usual.

Perhaps you went to church, but this time you dressed a bit nicer.

Perhaps you volunteered at church, but this time for a bit longer than normal.

Perhaps you found there to be a little bit less elbow room around you, and perhaps it was a bit more difficult to find a parking spot.

Perhaps you sang, but this time with a bit more enthusiasm.

Perhaps your preacher preached, also with a bit more enthusiasm.

Perhaps you saw people meet Jesus for the first time.

Perhaps you left encouraged, but this time a bit more than normal as you considered the reality of Easter Sunday: The grave is empty, death is defeated, eternal life begins now.

And perhaps the rest of the day was filled with some combination of Easter egg hunting, family and/or friend gathering, and special meal eating.

But I’m guessing today is a bit more normal.

Today is the day we return to alarm clocks, and commutes, and traffic, and time cards, and cubicles, and child-wrangling, and clients, and deadlines, and grocery shopping, and exercise regimens, and playgroups, and sinks full of dirty dishes.

Today is the day when the glitter of Easter disappears, but the reality of Easter takes root. 

Because resurrection is celebrated at church, but it’s lived out in the every day. The point of the resurrection isn’t that we get to go to heaven when we die- it’s that Jesus really is Lord, his mission really continues, and he really does call us to be a part of what he is doing.

Here.

Now. 

And so we get to embrace Resurrection Monday with the truth of Easter lodged in our hearts. We get to bring resurrection power to the very things Jesus came to transform- our minutes, our hours, our days.

So I hope it’s a Happy Resurrection Monday for you, as you return to whatever “normal” means for you. May you carry with you the fresh reminder that you have been given resurrection power, and you are a vessel of resurrection hope.

 

Rethinking Heavenly Rewards

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” -James 1:12

“…from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:24

“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” -2 John 8

Throughout the New Testament there is talk of crowns, rewards, and other such things that God has in store for his people.

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I’ll be honest, I’ve always had a little bit of a hard time with that concept, or at least with the way that we often talk about it in church world.

How do rewards work? 

Because often in the past I’ve heard heavenly rewards talked about like they are some sort of payback for good behavior or exceptional service.

I like to joke with our junior high pastor and say that he will get more crowns in heaven because, well, he’s a junior high pastor. But when I do that I’m kidding (or am I?). 

But when we’re not joking it quickly becomes not so funny.

And teaching about heavenly rewards can easily turn into manipulation:

“Give more money, after all, don’t you want to have treasure in heaven?”

“Go on that missions trip, after all, don’t you want a bigger reward in heaven?”

This sort of conception of heavenly rewards flies in the face of the notion of salvation by grace through faith. Worse than that, it teaches people to live in obedience not for its own sake, but rather for the sake of earning a payback.

And if someone is paying you back, they are, by definition, in your debt- which is, of course, ridiculous when that “someone” is God.

When these sorts of tactics are used they are essentially attempts to leverage human self-interest for Kingdom purposes, when the purpose of Kingdom living is heart transformation that gives us something more to live for than self-interest.

Recently I read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (a phenomenal book, by the way), and he talks about heavenly rewards, and he addresses the concerns shared by me and so many others head on:

“There are several passages in the New Testament, not least in the words of Jesus himself, that speak of God’s future blessings in terms of reward. Many Christians find this uncomfortable. We have been taught that we are justified by faith, not works, and, somehow, the very idea of being a Christian for what we will get out of it is distasteful.

But the image of reward in the New Testament doesn’t work like that. It isn’t a matter of calculation, of doing a difficult job in order to be paid a wage. It is much more like working at a friendship or a marriage in order to enjoy the other person’s company more fully. It is more like practicing golf in order that we can go out on the course and hit the ball in the right direction. It is more like learning German or Greek so that we can read some of the great poets and philosophers who wrote in those languages. The “reward” is organically connected to the activity, not some kind of arbitrary pat on the back, otherwise unrelated to the work that was done. And it is always far in abundance beyond any sense of direct or equivalent payment.”

Now that’s a perspective I can get behind!

Obedience isn’t work we put in so we can get “paid”.  It’s time spent on the driving range that prepares us to enjoy our time on the course even more. It’s time spent seeking to understand someone else so we can deepen our relationship.

Thus, the crowns of heaven are not carrots to be dangled in front of us the way a paycheck or a pension might be. They are, instead, the natural result of a life of obedience. They are the ability to enjoy the classics for a lifetime because we made the effort to learn Greek.

We don’t do things to earn God’s reward, and we surely don’t manipulate people into doing things with the promise of a heavenly reward. Ironically, doing this deprives people of what is most necessary to appreciate God’s real rewards, that being a transformed heart.

Instead, we are called to be transformed by God’s love. And when that transformation takes place it is our joy to “spend time on the driving range”, so to speak, so when it comes time to step onto the “course” we can enjoy it to its fullest.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

 

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