The Art of Strategic Disregard 

Learning when to neglect your to-do list may be what separates the fulfilled from those who crash into a million pieces. And I love to-do lists. Love them. Uptight wedding coordinators would drool over my to-do lists. I have an entire program on my computer devoted to organizing and prioritizing my year. For some, the lists are color-coordinated and systematized whereas others are playing on a mental loop in the background.

Mine almost killed me.

There was never enough time in the day to get everything done, and I found there wasn’t a “work-home” switch in my brain I could flip on-and-off after 5PM. So, work won. The to-do list followed me through the front door, to the dinner table, and on into the night. Though I was physically sitting beside my son as he built a Lego tower, my mind was off solving another problem or thinking of ways to make an idea better.

Fear of failing to complete the list fueled the motorcycle I was driving towards that wall. Faster and faster and faster it went until I smashed into a million pieces. At that point, I knew something had to change, and it wasn’t a “practical” fix. Like I said, my organizational skills were superb. I had scheduled my burnout down to the nanosecond.

Here’s what I learned: My schedule was not the problem. It was a heart issue.

The noise quieted when I started believing that my value as a husband, father, and pastor really were dependent on what God thought of me. If He was proud and pleased, that was enough (even when there were checkboxes left unmarked on my list).

“Your to-do list needs to be less about what needs to get done, and more about who you want to become.”

 – Bill Hybels

Whether you are an OCD calendar-keeper or a shoot-from-the-hip sort of planner, God wants you to do one thing: Be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, 1 Thessalonians 4:3). 

Does your work-life look more like Jesus today than yesterday? Are you working excellently as to the Lord and not for men? If you have a family, do your children and spouse experience the aroma of Christ because of you? Are you present with them?  

I knew something dramatic had happened in my life when a friend asked me, “so, what are you planning on working on this week?” … and I couldn’t remember. It was sitting in my to-do list, waiting for Monday morning. But this was Saturday (and my son is three for only fifty-two Saturdays). Whatever problems that needed solving could wait.

I still love my to-do list (the program is called Priority Matrix…and it’s the greatest). It keeps me focused and allows me to check out when I go home. But clicking off the boxes doesn’t increase my value as a person or leader. It’s made to be neglected – so I can focus on what matters most. 

Are You Chasing the Wind?

I am an avid student of mid-life crises. The similarity of each one is fascinating (and terrifying the more gray hair I find in the mirror). Most happen when someone becomes afraid their life won’t matter, or they’ve somehow missed out.

They haven’t ridden a bull down Mount Everest or fallen into a public fountain while making out with their significant other. And there isn’t a string of educated letters after their name (it’s not even a well-known name at all).

But can you fault them? They just want to live an adventure. Yet that’s exactly where the problem lies – they don’t know what it means to live an adventure. In their minds, adventure looks a lot like a sexy, action movie filled with fast-paced cities or rugged mountains. Whatever it is, it’s certainly a far cry from their hum-drum soccer schedule work week. So, they freak out one day and do all sorts of silly (or harmful) things.

Though that day is fast-approaching, I have a plan for stopping it before I buy shark diving lessons in Fiji. Success isn’t waiting for me in Fiji anyway.

Adventure happens when I choose faithfulness, wisely, every day.

Lest you think that sounds too boring and over-spiritual, the most exciting lives I’ve ever heard of followed that principle; successful men and women who took risks that mattered. Success doesn’t pit goals against godliness. It just has the right perspective of career, family, money, and eternity.

Ecclesiastes 1:14
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Although we don’t know who wrote this (he is referred to only as “Preacher”), many think it was King Solomon or someone much like him; a man with extraordinary wisdom and wealth who had access to every network, business venture, and pleasure available at the time. Whoever it was, he had seen it all and called it “wind-chasing.” Super encouraging, right?

Under the Sun

It might help to know that the phrase “under the sun” was what kept ancient readers from plummeting into Nihilistic despair. In Hebrew expression, God and His ways were always portrayed as being higher than the heavens (Isaiah 55:9, Psalm 103:11). So, the original readers heard, “If what I’m chasing is under the sun, it’s vanity. This man has experienced all of it and concluded that it’s meaningless without God.”

If he were alive today, it might read something like, “Go for it! Climb whatever ‘Mount Everest’ is for you. Become well-known in respected circles, run with the bulls, become CEO of a Fortune 500, publish your books, travel the world, perform a TED talk, experience the perfect relationship, and retire with tons of money to leave your kids…I did all of those.  And let me tell you one thing for certain, unless God is at the center, it’ll be forgotten like the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Adventure happens when I choose faithfulness, wisely, every day.  It will take me on a joy-filled journey into a Kingdom that will never fade (unlike the motorcycle I may be tempted to buy when my hair recedes).

May your adventure be more than decades of wind-chasing.

_____________________________________________

For more, check out “Stress vs. Success: Do You Know the Difference?” 

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).

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. 

When I sin, then what?

Nothing makes a person feel all warm and fuzzy like hearing, “You need to repent.”  Or other times, “This is a sin issue.” Mmmmm, like a Snuggie for the soul.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve made repentance into a nasty word. But it’s really the opposite. Repentance is awesome. Repentance should be one of the most freeing parts of the Christian life.

The problem is most people don’t know how to repent.

From what I can tell, Christians do the first part pretty well. The turn-from-sin part. The Greek word itself means an “about face.” It’s a picture of a soldier turning quickly in the opposite direction; a dual-motion of rotating away from sin and towards Christ.

Confession comes easily. They admit what they just [did-thought-said] was out of step with the Gospel. It’s the second part that trips them up. The turn-to-Christ part. They feel, unless their righteousness is proven, they are to remain at arm’s length from God’s presence.

So, how can we turn towards Christ after a moment of sin?

We are told of two ways. Both are found in this passage:

Hebrews 10:14
For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

  1. Rest in the completed work of Christ for you.

    “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time…” Because of Christ on the cross, you are perfect. Full stop. You are perfect. For all time. Past, present, future. Don’t diminish His grace by trying to prove yourself. Rest, instead, on the finished work of Jesus. You can enter into God’s presence.

  2. Embrace the continuing work of Christ in you.

    “…those who are being sanctified.” We are both perfected (past tense) and being perfected (present tense). He who began a good work will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). In other words, there’s still work to do.

We should love repentance. It reminds us of our freedom in Christ and the continuing work He’s doing in our hearts. But we must remember to do more than just turn from sin.

Without turning towards our sin-conquering King, we end up wallowing in guilt and fear. Doomed, so it seems, to repeat the offense again and again. However, this is only possible when we forget the power of the Holy Spirit.

“The Christian life means moving from a battle that we could not win to a battle that we cannot lose. But there’s still a battle.”  –Tim Keller

So, from the moment you fall, repent. Jesus has set you free from sin. And He is setting you free from sin. Fight the good fight.

How Is Your Heart? (Foundation Inspection Included)

When significant cracks begin to show up on the walls of a house, it is a symptom of foundation problems. There are two options homeowners have:

  1. Patch and paint over the wall so people don’t notice.
  2. Spend time and money repairing the foundation.

The first option is certainly the easiest (and most tempting). It fails, however, to stop the cracks from coming back.  The truest solution requires pouring a sound foundation.

Like a house, your heart shows cracks as well.  “Why is ______________ consistently a problem in my life?” you may ask. Perhaps it is because you have slapped on a patch rather than addressed the foundation.

It’s easier to convince ourselves that heart issues are due to busy schedules or anxious seasons of life.  We attempt to paint over it with time-management strategies or simply wait for the season to change when, in reality, the foundation is off.  Read the words of Jesus,

Matthew 7:24-27
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

If our life is built on sand, when the storms get strong enough, the walls will crash down around us. It’s better to stop and take a quick look at our house before that time comes.

Do an Inspection

The following short exercise will help you look closer at life’s foundation. Take your time answering the following:

(Pick which choice best describes you)

As I do this exercise, my mind is focused on…

  1. Being courageously honest no matter what it reveals about my life.
  2. What someone will think if they knew my answers.

What brings me a greater sense of self-worth?

  1. Being loved by God.
  2. Being known as an expert at what I do.

When it comes to rest,

  1. I find that disconnecting from weekly pressures and expectations comes easily.
  2. I find it nearly impossible to not think about work or to-do lists all the time.

When someone is better than me at something,

  1. I can celebrate them.
  2. I feel threatened or insecure.

I feel like my daily choices are motivated by…

  1. Power, love and self-control.
  2. Fear and selfishness.

When I read Scripture,

  1. I am refreshed and inspired.
  2. I feel like more things get added to my spiritual “to-do” list.

I obey God…

  1. Because I love Him.
  2. So He won’t hurt or punish me.

Admit Your Need

Perhaps you are beginning to see places in your heart that need repair. So, how do we move from Answer Two to Answer One? And how can we guard ourselves from going back? There’s hope that your life can be built on the sustaining work of Jesus Christ. For today, as a next step, simply admit in prayer that you need help,

Father God,
There are places in my life that need to be reshaped by the work of Your Spirit. I am enslaved to things in ways You never intended. Would You help me experience freedom more fully? In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Repentance Brings Freedom

Many times, our areas of weakness stem from lack of faith.  Repentance is a dual-motion activity: turn away from sin and towards Christ. The example of the father in Mark 9:24 serves us well.  In a moment of doubt, he turned toward Jesus and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Turn to the Lord right now and ask Him to fill you with faith in the truths of His Word (even in the midst of doubts or uncertainty). Don’t patch it. Build your house on something better.

 

Stopping Storms

Defective little adages can get passed around like a cold, and they tend to stick around for a while. This one infected me quick:

“You’re either in a storm (difficult circumstance), coming out of a storm, or about to go through one.”

For too long, I let that statement be the filter for life. It wasn’t until much later that I figured out its two biggest problems:

  1. That can be said about anything. (You’re either in a van, getting out of a van, or about to get in one). It’s almost like announcing, “You’re either breathing or you’re… not breathing.”
  2. The focus, then, becomes whatever “it” is. In this case, one’s life is centered around storms.

The Storms

My life was the perfect host for that lingering cold. At five, my parents were divorced. It affected me more than almost any other season of my life. (I’ve written about how Christ redeemed it, and how He gives hope to blended families in a free eBook available here).

As soon as I felt like things were getting normal, an X-Ray revealed what was causing my excruciating headaches. Tumors had filled my sinuses and eyes. I was ten, and spent the next six years going through nine surgeries and many rounds of chemotherapy. Just moving from one storm to another, right?

“That’s how life works,” I’d remind myself.

The worst part was not the fear of tumors moving into my brain or the side effects of chemotherapy, but the kids who were battling life-threatening cancers in the Oncology clinic. Every Wednesday we would sit together waiting for our blood work to come back.

I knew their names. We played Donkey Kong. Each week the same thought rolled over and over as we waited: “Your storm is bad, Blake. But theirs is worse.”

That was what crushed me.  Knowing it could be worse.  Knowing that, as awful as this was, more suffering might await. Fear rose as I wondered what other storms were boiling ahead.

By eighteen, my disease was in remission. The calm made me nervous.

Three months later, I walked passed the coroner at our front door. Mom said what I had already figured out on the drive home, “Dale died.”  He was my stepdad, and I loved him very much. My world stopped for a while. Another storm.

But I knew it could be worse. It can always be worse. That was my life – the storms.

Freedom

This way of thinking is a virus. A cold that will kill you. It stole my joy for nearly 20 years. And today, as a survivor, I can diagnose the symptoms of it quickly in people:

  1. A fear of the calm (because it’s only a matter of time before the storm comes).
  2. An identity that’s tied to hardship. Their life matters only when they’re going through something (therefore, they’re always “going through something”).

Thank God for Jesus. Watch closely to what He did,

Luke 8:23-25
So they set out, and as they sailed he [Jesus] fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger.  And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?

 Turbulent water represented chaos to everyone in the ancient world. So, by calming the waves, Jesus was doing much more than trying to get back to His nap.  Christ was showing that He had authority over the chaos. The storm bowed its knee to Him.

Even the winds and water obey.

The Gospel is that Jesus Christ brings peace in the midst of your storm. He looks into the raging waters of your fear and pain and despair, stands to His feet, and says, “Be still.”

That’s what He did for me.

Of course there were more storms – miscarriages, nights in ICU with our son and so on. Jesus never promised we wouldn’t have moments that were hard. Instead, He showed that He was in control (and why that was a good thing).  The storms bowed their knee.

So, if life is NOT peaceful right now…

  1. Take heart, Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).
  2. Remember that Jesus can silence the waves (Luke 8:23-25).
  3. It’s ok to despair (the Psalmists often did), but follow their lead and run towards hope (Psalm 34, 42, 73, & 147).
  4. Rest knowing that God will bring comfort and peace (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

If life IS peaceful right now…

  1. Rejoice and be glad, give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  2. Ground your peace fully in the hope of eternal life (1 Peter 1:13).
  3. Don’t be afraid of future turbulence. God will be there when it gets bad (Philippians 4:6-7).

If your peace is determined by circumstances, then you’ve caught the cold and will live in fear. Please don’t. In Jesus’ name, be healed of that virus.

Let Him look into your eyes today and say, “Be still.”