Which Economy Are You Living In?

When I was a kid, our currency was POGS. We’d trade and sell on the market at recess, and it was dog-eat-dog (unless you had a Batman slammer, then you played for keeps).  But we weren’t ruled by a single standard economy. There were always our Beanie Baby investments to fall back on.

The King of the Playground

The King of the Playground

I had Grunt…GRUNT! It was only because mom got him on the front side of the Beanie Baby Bubble™. And like some stupid kid who just wants to play with the toy, I ripped Grunt’s tag off when she brought him home. So, you can imagine the horror I experienced when I found out that there was a new thing called the “internet” where crazy moms were buying Grunt (with the tag) for $250.  “TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS?!” I collapsed in an ocean of tears. In 1994, $250 was Richie-Rich level money…at least to a third grader. I could have sold Grunt and built a roller-coaster in my back yard.

s-l300

This Grunt belonged to a more fiscally responsible 3rd grader who bought the plastic tag protector. 

About two years later the Beanie Baby Bubble™ burst and now we all have trash bags full of worthless toys (that we secretly hold on to because they will still be worth millions one day).

That’s what’s so interesting about economies. They can collapse overnight – especially when they are built on shaky foundations. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about two Kingdoms with two very different economies.  One can collapse overnight and the other has outlasted every superpower on Earth.

They are not recognized by their value statements, but by their GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Every economy produces something, and these Kingdoms are no different. According to Jesus, there are two Gross Domestic Products that characterize The Kingdom of the World and The Kingdom of God.

THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD

GDP #1: WORRY

The word “anxiety” is used six times in Matthew 6, then Christ commands us not to be worried about our lives. Most times, we see anxiety as something out of our control, but the Greek word is in the imperative.

“Worry is believing that God won’t get it right, and bitterness is believing He didn’t.” – Tim Keller

Jesus wouldn’t call us to something His Spirit hasn’t empowered us to do. So, if your life is characterized by worry or anxiety right, don’t lose hope.

GDP #2: SIN

He said that the eyes are the lamp of the body. If our eyes are healthy, we will be healthy. If our eyes are pursuing darkness, we will be full of darkness. And, when the good things in us are dark…it’s really bad (vs. 22-23). In short, when we seek the Kingdom of the World, our lives produce worry and sin in mass.

UNTIL YOU PURSUE THE RIGHT THINGS FIRST,
EXHAUSTING THINGS WILL PURSUE YOU FAST.

That’s the revolutionary economic concept Jesus was teaching. You have exhausting stuff speeding your way, and change happens only when you pursue the right economy.

MATTHEW 6:33
“But SEEK FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

GDP #1: HOLINESS

When we value what Heaven values, we will pursue holiness and prayer and people and worship and intimacy with God.

GDP #2: HARMONY

Food, clothing, and money are good things, but, as Jesus said, isn’t life more than these things? When we are pursuing the Kingdom of God first, then He brings our finances and relationships and physical needs into harmony with His will.

Jesus’ message is not “STAY AWAY FROM THESE THINGS!” Instead it’s, “PURSUE THIS THING.” When we are pursuing the Kingdom of God, we are naturally going to steer away from sin and worry. So, if you feel driven those things, maybe it’s because you are not seeking the Kingdom first today.

Every morning you and I are faced with the choice of the two Kingdoms, and our lives’ GDP will reflect that decision. If you’re like me, some days I choose wrongly and it catches up fast. That’s when I run to Matthew 6:33, repent, and remember the millions of Beanie Babies sitting in dumpsters.

Freedom from Big Foot Christianity

While you’re trying to roll out of bed at 6:30, they’ve been up since 4:00 doing pull-ups in their prayer closets and reciting Psalm 119 in perfect Hebrew. Those sparkly, brilliant, mega-Christians. Don’t they make you feel so small?

The good news is they’re not real.

It’s a conspiracy theory. Big Foot Christianity – the belief that super Christians exists (although no one has seen one in real life). At times, we think every semi-mature Christian is really Big Foot in disguise, but they’re not. They’re just Christians. Faithful and growing and saved-by-grace Christians.

Conspiracy theories and fuzzy pictures of Big Foot breed all sorts of icky stuff in our heads. So let’s confront the theory with reality.

Stop trying to impress Big Foot. I have to remember this every day (even right now). Writing feels a little vulnerable at times and I’d rather not screw it up. There are two options I have when sitting down to write it for you:

  1. Imagine the Big Foot eyes that will peer over my words while conjuring up more sanctified and eloquent thoughts than mine. And try to impress you.(or)
  2. Remember that Big Foot doesn’t exist. Then maybe I can help someone else get over themselves enough to grow closer to Christ today too.

My default is #1. I have to choose to believe #2, and sometimes the transition is tough. It helps to have clear pictures to replace those fuzzy ones. This Scripture does it for me:

1 Corinthians 4:7
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Everything we have is a gift. You did not change your own diapers or pay rent in Kindergarten. You weren’t saved in a vacuum either. At some point, a man or woman was brave enough to share the gospel with you. Then somebody else (or more likely several people) showed you truths about Christianity and life and leadership.

Anything valuable you give to others is the result of what you’ve been given. And the wisest, godliest people you know are the products of what they’ve been given. There are no self-made, super Christians.

You don’t have to prove yourself to Big Foot (and you don’t have to be him).

Swapping Instant for Present

“Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliott

Newspapers, record players, and physical books will make a comeback in the next 5-10 years. That’s my theory anyway. And a new breed of hipster won’t be the trendsetters for it either. The innovation will come from those who have felt the toll of the instant.

Instant texts
Instant emails
Instagram
(and instant replies)

When we traded present for instant, it was a rotten deal. Instant can’t replace present. Being present means being fully somewhere. Instant won’t afford you that luxury. Instant makes you eye the phone when it buzzes during a conversation.  It’s the ever present third-wheel. Instant has wiped our memories of days when we weren’t always accessible.

The other week I was listening to a blues record solely because my record player can’t receive emails or texts or Snapchat. It just plays BB King. And my newspaper on the front porch every morning is filled with news. No click-bait about the president. No analytics for a marketer to read in his fluorescent lair. Just news (and sometimes sports).

It’s not all the smartphone’s fault. Going back to flip-phones won’t solve it (although some have tried, and made the New York Times). I don’t think deleting Facebook, Twitter, and everything in between will fix it either. The answer is learning to be present again. It can leave eternity ringing in your ears.

Matthew 6:33-34
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The paradox is, when my focus is the Kingdom of Heaven, it let’s me be here. I can take a breath and remember that I will exist forever as an adopted son of the Living God.

When I am present…

  • I can sit still and enjoy the normal moments (try this today)
  • I have more fun with my kids
  • Turning my phone off isn’t a big deal
  • That loud, frantic volume blaring inside my soul gets quieter

I am a son now, and I will be a son then. It makes me want to seek that Kingdom first, and be present with the people and circumstances around me.

(once I close my paper Bible and fold up the sports section, of course)

Why Our Future Matters This Week

Even though they had to make it in 1989, Back to the Future (Part II) got 2015 almost exactly right. This single screenshot captures it perfectly:

back-to-the-future-2-picture3

How did Steven Spielberg know we’d be wearing rifle-bullet chokers and painting our faces to look like a circuit board? Self-fulfilling prophecy I guess. Either way, for Marty McFly, the future has come and gone. What was once unknown is now in history books.

The future is often different than we predict, but not always.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

If you travelled back in time to last spring, you could bet the house that Chicago would win the World Series. Even when they lost games, you wouldn’t be biting your nails like the other Cubs fans.  “Just wait,” you’d tell them.

In the same way, when our eyes are fixed on “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” we are betting on a sure thing. Our perspective changes everything. Lives fixed on “the things that are unseen” have certain, unmistakable characteristics.

Suffering is counted as light and momentary.

The most effective medicine to alleviate pain is comparison. Hurt may run deep and be intense at times, but when measured against a painless, joy-filled eternity, it is a blip.

For more, see “Stopping Storms”

Value is measured in life-transformation.

Careers and commercial success can be good things, but they have a shelf life. Those who focus on eternity care most about people (because people are the only things that will last for eternity). Their system uses a different kind of currency.

Current events are leveraged for evangelism.

The racial and political temperature in our country seems close to boiling point, and, with MLK Day falling the same week as President Trump’s inauguration, there is no shortage of social commentary about it. If you listen closely, however, everyone’s conclusion is the same: “We long for a better country.” That’s because there is a better country, but it’s a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16). Every other place will disappoint. So, we tell them about the Kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus Christ.

Where are your eyes set today? Is life a little dizzying?  Do not lose heart. Just wait, the future is a sure thing.

Do You Pray for Ghost Stories?

Remember that lady in Acts 12 who yelled, “AGH! It’s Peter!” then didn’t open the door for him because everyone else in the house was like, “Uh-Uh, that’s a GHOST!? I’m glad they left that part in there. What makes it better is the fact that they were all praying for Peter’s release from prison, and God miraculously answered them.

But, like the ghost lady, a lot of times we don’t believe our prayers matter either. They do though. They matter a lot.

God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to limit His activity to the prayers of His people.
– Vance Pitman

Paul, on the other hand, would pray and position himself to see God move. He knew prayer changed things. In prison, he wrote this in a letter to Philemon:

Philemon 1:22
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

He wasn’t asking this family to mumble through some little ritual at dinner. He told them to renovate their house in faith that God would move through prayer.

What are you asking God to do that only He can take credit for?

Don’t be like the ghost people. Be like Paul. Pray because it matters.

When God Seems Distant

Some days God feels more like a dusty, old book than a nearby Father. These moments happen to all of us, and our Christian faith can find itself under interrogation.  When I experience them, a blitzkrieg of questions follows:

  • Do I really believe a Middle Eastern man rose from the dead twenty centuries ago, and his Spirit lives inside me?
  • Do I really believe God loves me and wants the best for my life?
  • Do I really believe the Bible is true?

We cannot simply repress those questions – letting them creep about in our minds – waiting for doubt to strike before popping out again. What, then, should we do in moments when God seems a universe away? How can we avert these little existential, faith crises? There is a skill that, if mastered, will keep you from spiraling into despair:

Learn how to untangle your thoughts.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to the church explaining how false and deceitful thinking is a spiritual issue. We often speak of “strongholds” in light of demonic influence (and rightly so – other Scriptures affirm as much), but look carefully at how he explains it:

2 Corinthians 10:4-5
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

God’s divine power gives us the ability to resist Satan as well as destroy arguments raised against the knowledge of God. These opinions attack from every angle:

  • God seems distant because He’s not real.
  • God seems distant because He doesn’t love you.
  • God seems distant because The Bible is fictitious and unreliable.

We must master the ability to untangle such thoughts; demolishing them rather than submitting to their weight (or ignoring them altogether). With practice and time, you will find it becomes easier. After years of trial and error, here are three statements I hang my hat on when days of doubt or distance come:

#1: GOD EXISTS

I have, to the best of my abilities, tried to find a consistent worldview that does not require God. Atheism (or philosophical naturalism) and Buddhism were the closest I discovered and they left me wanting when asked questions like,

“Do people live as if this were actually true?”

“Is epistemology, meaning, and conscious explained in a way that seems consistent with real life?”

Some aspects were more convincing than others but, when viewed holistically, each system fell apart over time. Monotheism (belief in an all-powerful, eternal God) was the most consistent in explaining the human experience; specifically, as it related to ontology (a branch of metaphysics that focuses on being).

For anything to exist, there has to be Something with the power of being. In other words, Something has to be able to exist without having been created. That Being must also be eternal, otherwise it would have to first create Itself before anything could exist (I’ll wait for your brain cramp to subside).

Simply put, there is a reason why His name in Hebrew is Yahweh – I Am.

R.C. Sproul’s arguments on this subject convinced me further of the philosophical necessity for God’s existence. Listen to it here. However, many Jews, Muslims and, to an extent, Hindus would agree with me on this point. It becomes necessary, then, to continue untangling.

#2: THE GOD OF THE BIBLE IS THE ONE, TRUE GOD

Dozens of books helped solidify my confidence in the reliability of the Christian Scriptures. I’ve written about them here and here. Enough ink has been spilled by scholars in this area to spill more now. Instead, I will quote one of them:

If God exists and we are made in His image we can have real meaning, and we can have real knowledge through what He has communicated to us. If this is taken away, we are left only with man and his finite self-expression.

Francis Schaeffer
The God Who Is There

#3: THE GOD OF THE BIBLE IS FAITHFUL

God makes thousands of promises throughout the Bible, and cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Here are a few of them:

Matthew 11:28-29
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Romans 10:9
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Hebrews 13:5
I will never leave you nor forsake you.

What if God still feels distant though? Perhaps you agree with the statements above, but your spiritual life seems stuck. Although He has promised to never leave us, there are various causes that hinder our communion with God. The following ones tend to show up in our lives the most:

#1 UNCONFESSED SIN
(or lack of true repentance)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Sin can hinder our ability to see God, but Christ paved the way for us to see again. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

For more, see “When I Sin, Then What?”

#2 UNBELIEF IN GOD’S PROMISES

One of the loudest reasons we stumble in our spiritual journey is not a lack of knowing God’s promises, but a lack of believing them.

For more, see “Who Do You Trust?”

#3 UNWILLINGNESS TO RECEIVE FORGIVENESS AND GRACE

We feel unlovable. Our sin is too great. Our pride is too real. Our lust is too strong. We don’t deserve grace. (Of course, grace isn’t grace if you deserve it.) Remember, the Biblical God is faithful even when you are not.

2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Does God seem distant right now? Learn to untangle your thoughts while fighting for faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

He’s not as far as you think. 

You’re Good at Stuff – So Get Better

Too many people live in denial that God made them good at stuff. I lived that way for a long time as well. It might’ve seemed humble, but it wasn’t. I was really just afraid to say I was good at something. What if I failed? What if I wasn’t the best?

Denial was easier.

God made you on purpose. There’s a reason your mind picks up on math or art or language or business more naturally than others. Accept it. You’re good at stuff.

And it wasn’t meant for just you. When the nation of Israel needed a house of worship, Moses sent this decree:

Exodus 35:10
“Let every skilled craftsmen come do what the LORD has commanded.”

Notice he didn’t call for an accountant. God used skilled craftsmen for His glory and the good of Israel.

Acts 13:36
For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers…

How can you step into the purposes of God in your generation?

Begin by believing that He actually made you good at stuff. What can you do well? What comes naturally for you that doesn’t come as naturally for others? What ignites your heart? There’s a reason for it.

I’m good at writing.

You have no idea how hard that sentence was to type. Out of fear of failing, I shoved the thought itself into a drawer for years. There it could stay hidden from the opinions of others. But God never intended for me to hide it.

Strengths have a purpose. Mine do. Yours do, too. Lean into them. Accept that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ve learned to do so, and it’s changed my life.

Here are four ways to grow your strengths:

  1. Embrace Your Limits

    There will always be somebody smarter and better and prettier. If your worth is tied to being the best, don’t be surprised when paralysis or despair sets in. There’s a helpful little book by Seth Godin called The Dip: When to Quit and When to Stick that helped me understand this principle in a practical way.

  2. Make Space to Get Better

    Paul told Timothy not to neglect the gifts he’d been given. Sharpen them, instead, for the glory of God and the good of others (1 Timothy 4:14-16). This gave permission for Timothy to make space in his life to learn. One way I do this is by reading books on writing (and well-written novels) on a regular basis.

  3. Learn with Friends

    Whatever God made you good at was not intended to be done alone. Friends encourage and challenge us. If the Lord hadn’t put Tim Grissom in my life, I would have given up on writing long ago. We need friends.

  4. Do Something

    Small, consistent steps over long periods of time move us down the road quicker than we think. Read a book. Join a club. Take the class. Try your idea out. Just start. One day I realized, “You’re not going to wake up at 50 and know how to write. So, do something today that will help you down the road.”

God wired you a certain way for a reason. He has purposes for you in this generation. Run toward your gifts. And remember that, apart from Christ, you can do nothing.