You Are Way Stronger than You Realize

The blood pooling on my knuckles helped me forget the knife-like pain stabbing behind both ear drums. Sinus tumors had created so much pressure that they were ready to rupture. All the pain and rage and desperation found their way to my ten-year-old fist as it punched a hole through our fiberglass shower.

After the immediate fear of “Oh shoot, what’s dad gonna say?” wore off, another thought hit as I shook off my hand…

You are way stronger than you realize.

That exact thought rolled back the other day as I was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. From jail, he said

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. Philippians 1:19

He banked his future on two things:

The help of the Holy Spirit

AND  

The prayers of Godly people

The little conjunction “and” changed the way I prayed. If you’re in Christ, it should change how you pray for others as well. You’re way stronger than you realize.

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.

A Little Faith is Enough Faith

If your faith has never been body-slammed, I doubt you’ve been a Christian long. But my guess is you probably know what it feels like to be gasping for air while lying face first in the ring.

I used to dread those days and, like some rookie boxer, tried desperately to dodge them. But no matter how much I ducked, life consistently found a way to jab the air out of my rib cage and send me to the mat. I would proceed to heap shame on my already fatigued body:

“Christians over the centuries suffered far worse, you little baby. Get over it.”

The fact that it was (partly) true didn’t stop the spasms in my lungs or the ringing in my ears. Condemnation rarely does. What eventually gave me hope in those moments was the response of Jesus to His weak-faithed disciples in Luke 17.

It would seem to me that if anyone had reasons to believe the things Jesus said, it would be His disciples.  Healing blind people is pretty convincing in my book. Yet there they were fighting with doubt – boxing and wrestling their way through most of Palestine. Finally, one day…

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:5-6

Now, from my understanding of the Gospel accounts, Jesus was never (ever) hesitant about rebuking unbelief in the people of Israel, but something different happens here. If this was a rebuke at all, the tone was shockingly soft. The apostles were quite aware of their lack of faith (that’s why they asked for more).

Jesus didn’t face palm Himself like I would have. Remember, He fed a stadium’s worth of people with a Happy Meal’s worth of food, and it wasn’t even the coolest miracle He did. How much more evidence did those guys need?

But, then again, I’ve heard stories of miraculous healings in my lifetime. I’ve lived in moments that could not be explained apart from the providence of God, and, like the apostles, can still get blindsided with unbelief in times of weakness or tribulation. The difference now is that I can hear the voice of Jesus as He picks me up, pops my shoulder back in place, and repeats Luke 17, “A little faith is enough faith.”  And I keep walking forward.

There were people who saw mind-blowing things, but walked away from Him entirely. So, what separated those guys from Peter, James, and John?  The apostles had faith. Sometimes it was itty-bitty, wimpy-looking faith, but it was enough.

After the deserters took off, Jesus looked at the twelve and asked, “Do you want to leave too?” Then Peter replied something that I have quoted many times as I stumbled back to my feet,

“Lord, where else are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:68-69

Life can dislocate your jaw and send you spinning to the mat some weeks. Peter knew the taste of that floor well. He also had little faith in those days, but a little faith was enough.

Be Picky About Reading

If you don’t get excited about books, you’re reading the wrong ones. That’s why I love a good recommendation list. Someone else already rolled the dice for me to see if a book is worth the time and effort.

So, if you haven’t decided what you’ll be reading next, here are some that paid off:

INTERESTED IN CULTURE?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 8.52.16 PM

The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth
MIKE COSPER

This is a book about why you should watch more television (and how to watch it better). By using modern examples from the screen, Cosper shows us why fiction is never truly fictional.

“We weep when Harry Potter rises from the dead, lifted by a deeper and older magic than even the most powerful wizard in the world can conjure: love. Then the theater lights lift and we return to the harsh daylight of the real world. We can hear these stories of life, death, and resurrection, knowing in our hearts that it really did happen.” [p.196]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 8.57.54 PM

The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students
ALLAN BLOOM

In the mid 1980’s, Allan Bloom decided that he would write the most prophetic book on American education ever published, then make it as dry as humanly possible. It’s brilliant, pointed, groundbreaking, and excruciatingly slow. But, if you’re a teacher, student, or somewhere in between, it’s a must read.

“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending.” [p. 25]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 8.59.43 PM

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
MICHAEL O. EMERSON & CHRISTIAN SMITH

Though filled with statistics and extensive research (making it a little tedious at times), Emerson and Smith’s findings revealed my own cultural blind spots in the Bible Belt, and gave tools to engage racial reconciliation realistically.

“White conservative Protestants are significantly less likely to explain racial inequality in structural [or systemic] terms. It [also] appears that they are more individualistic and less structural in their explanations of black-white inequality than other whites…” [p. 96]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.01.57 PM

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
J.D. VANCE

This is the story of what being a statistic feels like. Studies have shown that growing up in relational and financial poverty has marked much of our society’s unhealth, but Vance’s experience brings it to light in ways that you will identify with and recognize far more than expected.

“Whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, ‘The feeling that our choices don’t matter’.”

INTERESTED IN HISTORY?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.03.44 PM

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World
STEVEN JOHNSON

An entire war was fought over the color purple. (Meaning actual human beings died in that last sentence. You read it super fast, but they died super dead. Over the color purple.) Also, chess reshaped most of the class structure of Western Europe. Nobody died but it was still really interesting. Play needn’t be a luxury, but intuitive to create and innovate. We have to turn off that part of us in order to drone through the mundane. I learned all of that and more reading this fun, fascinating book.

“You will find the future wherever people are having the most fun.” [p. 15]

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.05.26 PM

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour
JAMES D. HORNFISCHER 

If you love boring facts about World War II, run away as fast as you can. This book is better than any thriller movie I’ve ever seen…or even heard of.  The fact that it actually happened is simply a bonus. It’s so good that I don’t have a quote for you because I let someone borrow my copy.

INTERESTED IN LEADERSHIP?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.08.40 PM

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done
PETER F. DRUCKER

Drucker wrote this in the 1960’s and people are still saying it’s ahead of the times. He was the first to coin the idea of a “knowledge worker.” If you lead in any capacity and haven’t read it, this one’s for you.

“Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events. And without check-ins to reexamine the plan as events unfold, the executive has no way of knowing which events really matter and which are only noise.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.10.21 PM

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
SIMON SINEK 

For those of you who have trouble answering the question, “Why exactly do you do what you do?” Take two days and gain Sinek’s insights on how to inspire yourself and those around you by bringing clear purpose to your career.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

INTERESTED IN FICTION?

src=”https://billybatmanpuddingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/screen-shot-2017-05-07-at-9-13-52-pm.png?w=390″ alt=”Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.13.52 PM” width=”195″ height=”300″ />
The Daughter of Time
JOSEPHINE TEY

If Sherlock Holmes were a bit wittier and far more smug, then he would be Josephine Tey. In this 1951 novel, she keeps you enamored with a detective who sits on a hospital bed for 200 pages solving a mystery that happened 600 years ago. There’s a reason she has been called the “Greatest Mystery Writer” by the New York Times.

“The truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time. An advertisement in a paper, the sale of a house, the price of a ring.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.16.44 PM
Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians
BRANDON SANDERSON 

I’m not going to try to convince you that this is on the same level as Josephine Tey. Read the title and make a judgment call.

“So, when people try to give you some book with a shiny round award on the cover, be kind and gracious, but tell them you don’t read ‘fantasy,’ because you prefer stories that are real. Then come back here and continue your research on the cult of evil Librarians who secretly rule the world.”

INTERESTED IN SPIRITUAL GROWTH?

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 9.18.16 PM
Knowing God
J.I. PACKER

Theology, in it’s purest form, should stir your heart and expand your mind to love Christ more deeply. Packer (a masterful theologian) guides the experience better than almost anyone. It’s practical and approachable. He swims deep but let’s you wear floaties.

“You can have all the right notions [about God] in your head, without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer.”

Whatever you pick this summer, just make sure you pick something. And be picky.

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)

Garth, Elvis, and the King

The smell of the Jungle Room is something people would kill to have known 40 years ago. “I went to GRACELAND!” they’d say while readjusting their layers of clunky jewelry. There was a time when the king sold out stadiums to screaming fans. People would (literally) faint at the sight of him, and I was standing in his kitchen.

We toured the grounds the morning after we saw Garth Brooks play to a packed house at the FedEx Forum. His concert, while amazing, struck me differently as I stood over Elvis’ grave that next day. There buried next to his pool was a man who knew the fame and the sound of adoring fans; nothing separating us but four decades. Yet there were fingerprints of regret on every surface of his house.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 16:26

Even though he had everything money and fame could offer, Elvis was an overall tortured individual. His life (coupled with Garth’s concert the night before) stood as a clear reminder that the bright and shiny things of this world don’t last very long. They will always let us down.

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

If whatever concerns you today is not something that will concern you 1,000 years from now, it’s probably not that important. So, as you read this, commit to walk in step with a King and Kingdom that will last forever (Matthew 6:33). 

And if a moment comes where this world seems brighter or shinier than the Kingdom of Heaven, just go to the musty Jungle Room and take a deep breath. 

What Our Hobbies Say About Us

Creativity is the corner where work and wonder meet. My wife finds it best in her garden. Even as she fusses over the thievery of squirrels or a sluggish tomato crop, turning over dirt and experiencing every stage of life does something unique to her soul.  As she creates and nurtures, the reflection of her nurturing Creator can be seen.

That’s why hobbies are so important.

But we need a new word for “hobbies.” Most hear it and think, “a luxury meant for people who aren’t as busy as I am.” So, let’s rewrite the definition more clearly.

Hobbies: something you do because you love it, not because you need it.

That’ll work for now. When you do something simply because you love it, the creative part of God in us shines forth. Hobbies aren’t necessary for survival per se. We don’t need music, yet there are artifacts from 6,000+ years ago of animal bones shaped into flutes by men and women.

Aeons before early humans started imagining writing or agriculture, they were crafting tools for making music…the most abstract of the arts. No one likes a hit record because it sounds like the natural world. We like music because it sounds like music – because it sounds different.

Steven Johnson
Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

When our ancestors were huddled around a fire trying to stay warm, they also created by singing and dancing and inventing. It’s always been that way. Like a signet ring on wax, we are all stamped into the image of our Creator.

Wonder and fun and creativity are a part of the abundant life Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). Whereas some try to find their refuge within recreation itself, Christians get to experience all of creation with the Refuge Himself. Life in Christ simply brings life to everything else.

So, if life is too frantic to do (or discover) something you love, you are not being productive. You’re surviving. Productivity means producing, and that requires creativity and wonder – a hobby. Something that creates a spark in you when talking about it with other people.

What creates a spark in you?

Take roasting coffee, for example. I can bore the brains out of most people talking about the nuances and chemistry that happens when a coffee bean hits “first crack” in my drum roaster, yet it’s fascinating. A lot of my friends prefer grabbing their store-bought Keurig cups on their way out the door, but they don’t love coffee like I do. There’s a wonder to it that sparks the creative part of my heart.

Every morning, as I brew a pour-over, I imagine someone in Japan or Ethiopia or Brazil (other coffee-crazed countries) doing the same thing. In a huge world where my little life can almost feel swallowed up by insignificance, it reminds me that we are connected as people. I may not understand their language or culture, but a hot drink made with carefully burned cherry seeds shows our common humanity. One created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ. In other words, a connected life filled with significance.

I love it so much I don’t even care how ridiculous it is that I’m blogging about coffee right now (which, by definition, is basically the most Millennial thing someone can do).

You may find the same sort of wonder in golf or beekeeping or fishing or stamp collecting. Or perhaps it’s time for you to discover something new altogether. Whatever it is, don’t add it to your schedule because you need to be “well-rounded.” Do it because of the wonder and excitement it sparks in your heart. Remember, Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

What is something you do because you love it, not because you need it? I’d like to hear about it – post in the comments below!