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.

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.

Do You Push Reset Each Morning?

How I start the day can determine more about the way it goes than just about anything else. I’m not talking about my devotional life per se (though one’s day is certainly affected by it). Instead, I’m focusing on how someone starts.

What is your waking thought? What do you do first thing every morning? Have you thought about it much?

Colossians 3:2
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

I have to push this reset button on my mind each day. Its default mode is set to “earthly things,” and will stay there all day if I let it.

Here are the two ways I press reset:

A VERY SPECIFIC PRAYER

The first thought out of my mind is always the same request to God:

Father, today, expand my mind to think more like Jesus, expand my heart to love more like Jesus, and help me be unashamed of the Gospel.

Then I look at my phone. Not to check email or social media, but to see my Prayer Notebook prompt. This app allows you to set reminders on your phone to pray for specific people and moments. It also keeps track of how God has answered prayers over time. I look at my prompt, pray for whoever is on it, and get ready for the day.

LISTENING TO SCRIPTURE

This is something I’ve only discovered recently, but have grown to love. Listening to Scripture on my phone helps focus my mind on things above (checkout the YouVersion app). Slowing down to write notes in a journal is good for me, too. But there’s something refreshing about hearing the Bible read out loud.

If I don’t start the day well, it tends to get cranky fast. I’ve also noticed that my morning routine thrives on subtle variety. So, I try to throw new things in the mix.

Begin thinking through your morning moments. I’d love to know what you’ve found to help. Leave a comment at the bottom with an idea or observation. It may guide other people to hit reset better. One of my favorites is an observation John Piper made:

“I feel like I wake up and have to get saved again every single morning.

How do you push reset?

Why We Need to Have Fun

A little nonsense now and then
is relished by the wisest men.
Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Fallon make their living by reminding people to laugh at how ridiculous our world can be. The laughter, though, only promises a momentary escape for most. Hope doesn’t exactly linger once the audience quiets down.

Christians, on the other hand, are a people of hope. Yet we can take ourselves too seriously at times. The Gospel is serious to be sure, but it’s also what gives us the ability to laugh amidst the chaos.

Philippians 3:20-21
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

There’s something about being a citizen of a City to come that makes you less uptight about the city you’re living in right now.  Like Paul said, we’re eternal creatures. Life is too long to be worried all the time.

This allows us to live seriously light-hearted.  It gives me freedom to read a book on leadership without obsessing over the way I’m leading. Why? Because one day I’m going to die and go home. My leadership has a shelf life. So, while efficiency and effectiveness matter, there is freedom knowing that those things are a means to an end (namely, the glory of God and the joy of man).

We forget that a lot. I rarely go a week without needing to remind myself on the drive home, “hey, it’s gonna be alright.” It’s my way of remembering who I am; a citizen of another City. (A City that’s way more fun than this one). That usually helps me be more fun in the meantime. There is a light-heartedness knowing all the difficulties and questions today are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

Christ’s love both sustains us and brings urgency to tell others of the hope that lifts our heaviness. Like the old hymn says,

I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me.
Now safe am I.

Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.

We have a Gospel to share. One where the love of Christ lifts us every day. This current city is tough. There’s not much that’s funny about it. But we’re not citizens of this city. We have Good News.

So, loosen up and laugh a little. It’s gonna be alright.

Die Happy Every Day

For people who work real hard at not dying, we seem to live in a constant denial of death. Funerals have become moments we try to forget about and move past. If we’re honest, it’s more comforting to distract ourselves. We don’t like to think that there’s another small plot of grass somewhere waiting for our casket.

What would happen, though, if we weren’t afraid of death all that much? Life would take an interesting turn. I’m not talking about a “base jump on a rodeo bull off Mount Everest” sort of thing. Bucket-lists are great, but they don’t take the next trillion years of your life into the equation.

Instead, I’m talking about the reality of forever. There will never be another moment where you don’t exist. Think about how crazy that is. You and I will never not be again. We are forever. To top it all off, death is a thing in the past.

Colossians 3:2-3
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

For those who are in Christ, the worst thing that could ever happen to you has already happened. Spiritual death has been overcome. It’s why we can grieve as those who have hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

But still, the reality of physical death is hard. Here’s how the 16th century Puritan pastor John Owen encouraged his friends…

“I die daily by continually preparing myself to die; I am always in a preparation to die; through the faith of the resurrection, I am always prepared to die cheerfully and comfortably, according to the will of God…

Brethren, I know no man dies willingly, –  no man living can have a habitual inclination to close cheerfully with this dissolution – but by looking upon it as a means to come to the enjoyment of Christ. I tell you, your bodies are better to you than all the world, than all your goods, or anything else; but Christ is better still. Grow in that desire of coming to Christ and you will conquer the unwillingness of death.”

The Christian’s Work of Dying Daily 
(available here for download)

How do we die happy every day? By throwing our hope on the resurrection, and placing control of our life into the hands of a good and sovereign God. Then we’ll be ready.

The worst part is over anyway. Remember, you died before waking up this morning.

The Faith Gap

The distance between what we know in our heads and believe in our hearts can seem ever-expanding at times. I grew up in the Bible-Belt South, have a seminary degree, and help pastor a vibrant local church. But don’t let any of that fool you. Death, disease and divorce affected my belief in God’s love and goodness early in life.

In other words, though I knew better, my beliefs reflected a God who was just out to get me (and didn’t even like me all that much). That was my faith gap. The space between what I knew and what I believed. You probably have one too.

I’m convinced now that it’s possible to make the gap smaller each day. People don’t grow a faith like the Apostle Paul in a week. Like strength training, you start with light weights and lift more and more over time.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

That’s the journey every Christ-follower is on. We are constantly shaped into the same image one degree at a time. The shaping takes on various forms, but a framework I’ve experienced many times looks something like this:

  1. Getting honest with yourself about real-life experiences
  2. Learning (or reminding yourself of) a truth from God’s Word
  3. Then, in light of your real-life experiences, bringing the truth to bear in your heart by taking one starting step.

I’ve watched the gap dissipate in my life and, like the verse promises, freedom was waiting on the other side. One starting step I took in the journey was to embrace God-given passions in my life; specifically writing.

A friend and mentor of mine suggested I start a blog as a way to sharpen my ability. I pushed back at first (We usually do when being stretched from one degree to another). But he helped by saying, “Don’t feel like you have to change the world. For now, just write about whatever interests you.” One step.

So, I started BillyBatmanPudding.com. There were three random things in my life that I’ve loved since childhood: Billy Joel’s music, Batman, and chocolate pudding. I thought about the title for about 30 seconds. Over the next several months, however, I noticed some things:

  1. I loved writing (even when it was about something ridiculous like pudding).
  2. I loved reading other people’s writing.
  3. Things I was writing about resonated with people all over the world (50+ countries).
  4. Things that resonated the most had to do with their own faith gap.

I decided, then, to change the name of the blog and narrow the focus to help people close the distance between knowing and believing (TheFaithGap.com). Now, every post takes on the three components mentioned above in hopes to make that gap smaller in your life.

Now, take a starting step. One suggestion is to subscribe to TheFaithGap.com and receive posts each week through email. They could be part of your strength training program that brings you from one degree of glory to the next.

Either way, I hope and pray the Holy Spirit brings freedom in your life by shrinking the distance between what you know in your head and what you believe in your heart…

because the gap keeps too many people away from True Life.

King Arthur and King Jesus

Both dramas have stood the test of time. Both take place in real periods of history. Both have hero vs. villain storylines and relate moral lessons to their readers.

So, if someone asked the difference between the Legends of Camelot and the Gospel of Luke, what would you say? Are both (or either) to be taken factually? What convinces millions of people that one is a fairy tale and the other is true?

In a society that likes a “turn the other cheek” Jesus but wants to scrub out the “resurrection Sunday” fairy tale parts, it’s important to know how to respond. What separates the tales of King Arthur from the words of King Jesus?

I think a good place to start lies with how such a narrative begins.  There are literary cues to every story – fiction or nonfiction; novel length or 140 characters.

“Knock, knock…” sets up a joke.
“Roses are red…” a poem.
“Once upon a time…” a fairy tale.

The writers in the New Testament, however, start their accounts of Jesus’ life much differently. Here are two examples:

Luke 1:1-4
In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

1 John 1:1-2
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.

If the Gospels were meant to be moral fairy tales loosely based on a real-life person, then Luke and John are terrible writers.  It would’ve been impossible to follow for 1st century readers because it would’ve been penned in a fictional format that wouldn’t exist for another millennium. Instead, it claims to be a careful, fact-checked, peer-reviewed report of something they actually saw happen.

People 2,000 years ago might not have understood Germ Theory or aerodynamics, but they knew virgins couldn’t get pregnant and dead men don’t join you for lunch. This is precisely why the Biblical writers were so careful with their words. Something entirely different from normal life had happened, and it would change everything.

John concludes his book this way: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

You shouldn’t base your life on fairy tales. Luke and John didn’t.

Flipping the Script on Selflessness

In the If-We-Were-Honest-About-Words Dictionary, “selflessness” seems to be up there with “boring” and “doormat.” It may be a characteristic we hope describes us, yet we seldom think about what selflessness actually is or how to build it into our lives. There seems to be a formula for it in Scripture:

high view of God + high view of self = selflessness

God’s Word is peppered with both sorts of love. Jesus commanded people to love God with all of their heart and to love others as they love themselves. Paul understood the necessity for a high view of self as well. Look how it plays out in marriage:

Ephesians 5:28-29

“Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…”

It is possible, however, to think too highly of ourselves (Romans 12:13). This formula gets lopsided and breeds arrogance. When this happens, we tend to…

  • Obsesses about our status or reputation
  • Find it difficult to empathize with others
  • Be easily offended
  • Judge others quickly
  • Extend grace slowly
  • See mistakes as the fault of everyone else

It’s just as easy, on the other hand, to slip into a low view of self. This too is pride but in a different sort of way. We still see ourselves as the center of the universe. Only this time we tend to…

  • Have a pessimistic or cynical view of our lives
  • Cling to one discouraging comment over one hundred encouraging ones
  • Believe everything wrong is our fault
  • Try to earn our way back to God
  • Be slow to accept forgiveness and receive grace

Both try to pull our eyes away from the goodness and greatness of God. So, how do we balance a love for God and love for self? I believe it begins with understanding something Tim Keller wrote,

The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time.

The Reason for God

You have infinite value. Not because of your abilities or talents, but because you are stamped in the image of a God who is Infinitely Valuable. If my sense of worth comes from this, I don’t need to be overly concerned with the opinion of others or my own accomplishments. It allows me to think on better things.

“True humility is not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less.”
CS Lewis
Mere Christianity

 

Good Reads for The Fall

I’m always on the lookout for a good book. The best ones I’ve come across were recommended by someone. I’ve written before on the importance of reading, and want to throw out a few that I’ve found helpful or interesting. If you’re looking to add to your list this fall, consider…

  1. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller (254 pages)
    Keller gives approachable answers to deep philosophical questions about Christianity. If you’re struggling with whether or not the teachings of Jesus are true, this is your book. If you’ve never critically evaluated your own faith in Christ, get it.
    reason-for-god
    “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life to busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”

  2. “Why an Historical Adam Matters for a Biblical Doctrine of Sin” by John W. Mahony (17 pages)
    This scholarly article published in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology was a short, helpful explanation of the importance of a real Adam and Eve. With the rise in popularity for evolutionary theism, understanding the various interpretations of Genesis 1-3 is critical.
    6273988_300x300
    How essential is it, given what the Bible says about sin, to maintain that Adam was a historical figure? What do we lose if we deny this point? In order to answer these questions I will proceed in three steps: (1) I will survey the biblical view of human sin; (2) I will discuss the various interpretive options proposed by current evangelicals who are questioning the actual historicity of the Genesis account; (3) I will conclude by arguing that the biblical doctrine of sin requires an original image bearing couple, rooted and grounded in history.”

     

  3. The Problem of Pain: How Human Suffering Raises Almost Intolerable Intellectual Problems by CS Lewis (154 pages)
    Although I disagree significantly at points (i.e. Lewis’ Darwinian view of humanity), he lands in orthodox places and forces you to face tough questions gracefully.
    51W7WmRKoeL
    “Pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that Ultimate Reality is righteous and loving.”
  4. Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots) by Matt K. Lewis (219 pages)
    I listened to Lewis on a Podcast recently and was interested in his assessment of the current political world. He pushes back on the conservative “echo chamber” and suggests that our society has become polarized in Washington because of it. Read it before November’s election.
    download
    “New technology allows us to avoid coming into contact with opposing viewpoints. There is no common culture or consensus. It’s entirely possible nowadays to go through a day and avoid hearing information that challenges your assumptions.”

     

  5. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. (224 pages)
    Every Christian should read this. Moore analyzes the Bible Belt South with aggressive clarity and refocuses Americans to the original message of Christianity.
    51viidXMhrL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_
    “We are Americans best when we are not Americans first. Therefore, we cannot build Christian churches on a sub-Christian gospel. People who don’t want Christianity don’t want almost-Christianity.”

  6. Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney (67 pages)
    Whether you have small children at home or are trying to figure out how to start family devotions with teenagers, this little book will be very helpful. Whitney takes away all the typical excuses by replacing them with practical (and realistic) suggestions.
    9781433547805
    “Husbands, fathers- if you have been negligent in this duty and great privilege, repent by starting family worship today. Again, you may feel awkward about what to say to your wife or your children about starting, but simply say that God has convicted you of your responsibility to lead in family worship and you want to start at a given time today.”
     
  7. Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavin (336 pages)
    Sometimes, you need to read something fun. Klavin’s novel is about a cop who solves top secret crimes. It gets real interesting on nights with a full moon because…you know…he’s also a werewolf. You might find the gore a little much. Either way, find a Werewolf Cop for your reading list.712XqhTMN8L-682x1024

There’s one more that I’m excited about…

8. Dear Frankenstein: Letters of Hope to Pieced Together Families by Blake Hudspeth
I’ve been working for the last few months on a short, free eBook that will be available this month. My aim is to encourage families that need hope. The ones on the brink of collapse, or perhaps are now on the other side of divorce and just want to keep their head above the water. Watch for it on this blog in the coming weeks.
Ad Cover

My family didn’t become functional overnight. Each person made important decisions en route and learned many lessons through tears. You will find them embedded throughout this book. Every chapter is a letter addressed to you- someone who needs hope. They will not teach you how to build a healthy, blended family. But they will give you hope that it’s possible.”

Happy reading!