A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing? (Quote source here.)
Kevin Gerald, founder and pastor of Champions Centre in Tacoma, WA, opens Chapter 9 titled, “Good Eyes,” in his book titled, “Good Things” (2015), with a shortened version of the above story (see pp. 61-62). After the story, Gerald asks:
How could anyone miss this? The master violinist did a charity concert and over a thousand people walked by without noticing? How does that happen?
The fact is that the people who passed by that day represent a trait common to all of us: we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. But the fact that we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Just what’s wrong with our eyes, anyway? (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62).
It’s true that we don’t often see what is right in front of us. Sometimes it has to do with our perception; sometimes it’s because, like the folks in the subway, we’re in a rush to get somewhere else. In the process of becoming adults we’ve lost our inquisitiveness that we had as children–the “stop and smell the roses” moments that we rarely take anymore. We assume things that are often not based in reality (e.g., gossip, or “fake news” that has recently entered our lexicon) that become our own perception of reality. We’ve all heard the saying, “perception is reality.” But is it really? (See article titled, “‘Perception is Reality’–Not Always True,” by Dr. Paul White at this link).
In “Good Things,” Chapter 9, Gerald goes on to write:
Jesus told us, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34, NKJV).
My eyesight is not as por as some people’s. But when I have my glasses on I can read with a lot more ease and catch details that I otherwise miss. Just as people go to an eye doctor to get glasses or have surgery to give them better eyesight, we’re not stuck with our current life paradigm. We can choose a better one!
The word “paradigm” comes from the Greek and is, in a general sense, a reference to a set pattern or way we see the world–not in terms of our physical eyes but in terms of our assumptions, beliefs, and overall perspective. Its’ what we might call our mind’s eye.
This is what Jesus was referring to as he explained the eye as the lamp of the body. He was saying that the eye can be good or the eye can be bad, and the condition of our eye affects what we see or don’t see, what we experience or miss out on. If our eyes are good, it’s like turning on a lap inside of us. We brighten up in our spirits because we’re living with a greater awareness of God’s goodness and blessings in our lives.
The opposite is true about bad eyes; they miss seeing the good. They may or may not take in darkness, but they definitely don’t take in light. What they don’t see is not what they are incapable of seeing but typically what they are not trained to see.
In a similar way, the only thing that’s different between a negative person and a positive person is what they “see.” Two people can grow up in the same house with similar life experiences, and one will be negative about life and the other will be positive. Even though they have been surrounded by the same environment and have the same parents, what they see and the way they see it is different.
Negative people are not bad. Pessimistic people are not ignorant. In fact, oftentimes negativity is a trait of people who are highly informed in what they call reality. When passing along their perspective, they will tell you, “I’m not being negative; I’m just being real!” And they are being real in what they are aware of and educated in, which is the “life is hard” reality. They have taken pages of notes and have the data to support the fact that life is not a gravy train!
When people are deeply educated in the “life is hard” reality but undereducated in the “God is good” reality, they lean toward the unfavorable possibility versus seeing the possibility of something good. The reason these persons can get stuck in their negativity is that they have accepted that the “life is hard” reality cancels out the “God is good” reality.
I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62-64).
As Gerald notes, it’s not that life isn’t hard for all of us from time to time (and sometimes for a long time), but rather not forgetting that God is still good when life is hard. Gerald writes more on this topic in Chapter 9 and also devotes a chapter to it in Chapter 12 titled, “What About ‘If'”.
In my work with people, I often deal with individuals’ reactions to situations as well as communication issues between co-workers and family members. As a result, in the process of working through these issues, people often say to me, “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Sometimes they say this to explain how miscommunication occurred with another person, or why they feel the way they do. . . .
The problem is — it is not true. At least, not always.
There is a verifiable reality that exists. And sometimes our perceptions (or beliefs about the world) do not match reality. In the physical realm, that is the basis for illusionists — they are able to make things appear different than they really are. Also, there are those tricks of nature that our senses can play on us that can lead us to misinterpret what is really happening (having a sense of your body being warm while you are in the beginning stages of hypothermia).
But in day to day life, I see the mismatch between perception and reality more practically. Here are some examples.
Miscommunication. The classic example is the scenario like this: “You said ….” “I did not. I said ….” “Oh, but I thought you said ….” “No. What I said (or at least, thought I did) was …” “But I thought you said …” If we stick with the perception is reality proposition, this leads to major problems in communication. This is true for both parties. For the initial speaker, “what I thought” does not necessarily equal “what I said”. And “what I said” is not necessarily the same thing as “what I meant”. Similarly, for the listener, “what I heard you say” may not be the equivalent to “what you said”. So perception may be perception, but it may not be what actually occurred.
The mismatch between feeling reactions and reality. I often see the disconnect between reality and perception in the area of worrying. Being worried or anxious is essentially a smaller version of being afraid (there is a qualitative difference between being terrified or afraid for one’s safety and being worried or concerned). However, the realm of worry and anxiety have to do with potential events that may happen. They always have to do with the future. The challenge is — not everything people worry about is reality-based. Those who struggle significantly with anxiety can worry daily about their loved ones being killed in a car accident on the way to school or work. Or they can worry about the stock market crashing, losing all of their savings, and winding up being homeless.
[NOTE: One way we can manage our fears and worries is to do a “reality check” — what is the actual likelihood of x event happening today? Has x happened before? How many times? Even if x happens, does that necessarily mean y will happen? And even in the unlikely event that x happens and y also happens, what are all of the circumstances that need to be in place for z then to occur? The chances are incredibly slim. So, how much time and energy do you want to spend worrying about a series of incidents that will probably not happen?]
Misinterpretation of a situation. Some people make quick judgments. Sometimes this is to their benefit. But, in other cases, it can lead to misjudging what is going on in a situation. In working with kids and teens, I have often seen a scenario where a fairly impulsive student, who also views themselves as the ‘protector’ of others will come into a room and see a couple of guys “scuffling”. They have each other in headlocks and are throwing one another around the room. The self-appointed “hero” sees the guys “fighting” and promptly dives in, tackles one of the fighters, taking him to the ground, and yells, “Break it up!” (Frequently someone gets hurt in the process.) It is then that the hero finds out that the two boys were just “horsing around” and it was a good-natured tussle between two friends. The two “fighters” wind up being angry at the hero for interfering with their fun and over-reacting to the situation. Unfortunately, this happens in the adult world as well — where someone misinterprets a situation and reacts inappropriately because of their misperception. Truly, in these situations, perception is not reality.
Inaccurate beliefs about the way the world is. For instance, in doing career coaching with individuals, many people believe that finding a job that meets their needs and desires should be fairly easy and should happen within a matter of weeks. So they “dive in” looking and applying for jobs. After several weeks with no job, they begin to become discouraged (our feeling reactions are inter-related with our expectations) and begin to question if they are pursuing the right career direction. Self-doubt also sets in, wondering if they are capable of finding the type of job they want and whether they are really marketable. The reality is that finding a job which is a good fit for you takes a lot of time and energy. Usually three to six months, or longer. And this reality is demonstrated time and time again (one of the aspects of “reality” is that it can be verified empirically).
Misattribution of motive. Probably the most damaging form of misperception is the case of attributing a certain motive to someone else’s action, and being quite far off the mark. This happens in marriages a lot, it seems. And it can be the result of either an overt action (that is, something you did) or the absence of an action (something you didn’t do but the other person thought you should have). Let me state something clearly — most of us aren’t fully clear why we do what we do, let alone being able to understand the motives of another. It is always best to ask (and hopefully, believe) the other person, “Why did you …?” It can be helpful to start with the phrase, “I’m confused. Can you help me understand why you…?” (It seems to take the accusatory edge off of the interaction.) There are tons of examples, more than I want to go into (and for fear of incriminating myself). Let me just suggest: we often get “bent out of shape” with others because we attribute a reason for their action or inaction that is not accurate.
There are other examples of perception not equaling reality, but I think that is enough for now. Maybe use these ideas to frame your own thoughts when you hear: “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Maybe. Maybe not. (Quote source here.)
We all can see ourselves in those paragraphs cited above. I have also noticed that one of the most common places where our communications can be easily misinterpreted is in our use of Social Media. A quick text, or a Facebook post, or a tweet on Twitter can unleash a firestorm of misunderstanding, and it also has the capability of circling our globe instantaneously. So can email (just ask WikiLeaks). In fact, the technology created since the beginning of the 21st Century could eventually be responsible for unleashing World War 3 at some point in time. I’m not sure how we solve the misunderstanding issues on Social Media or if we can solve them, but perhaps it would do us all some good if we turned off our technology once in awhile and really do stop and smell the roses occasionally and gain back some perspective.
We live in both a fragile and an oftentimes angry world where the very thought that “God is good” comes into question on a frequent basis. The concept seems almost alien in the midst of some very horrific stuff that goes on all around our globe. That’s because evil exists and we too often blame the evil on God (or at least blame God for allowing it). However, it is as Kevin Gerald stated (quoted above) when he said:
I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 63-64).
For example, if you have survived some really horrific stuff today and you’re still alive, who has kept you alive? Or if you think you can’t make it through another day, who is it that keeps you going? God isn’t good just when times are good; God is good when times are horrific, too. He sees us through them if we will only stop blaming him for them and, instead, understand what Romans 8:28 is really saying to all of us:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
“All things” not only includes the good things and good times, but the really horrific stuff, too–the very stuff we can’t handle on our own. Jesus said we are to always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1), and that is especially true in the horrific turns our lives sometimes take, too. Life is not alway easy, and perception is not always reality; however. . .
God is good . . .
All the time . . .
And all the time God is good . . . .
YouTube Video: “God Is Good All The Time” by Chester Baldwin:
A few weeks ago I was roaming around in one of my favorite bookstores when I took a seat to check my email on my smartphone. There were two seats in that area with a small table in between them, and a handsome middle-aged man with a week’s worth of beard growth that gave him an intellectually stimulating and rugged look was seated in the other chair. He was reading a Mark Batterson book titled, “If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities” (2015). While I was in the middle of writing a brief email on my smartphone, he asked me if I was familiar with Mark Batterson. I said “yes,” and he said he thought “If” was his favorite book by him so far. I acknowledged that I had not yet read it, then I finished my brief email, and we ended up having a delightful conversation on a variety of topics.
When I was in another bookstore this past week that is known for it’s great discounts on Christian books, I saw a copy of “If” by Mark Batterson, who is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., and a New York Times bestselling author of several books. Remembering my previous conversation with the ruggedly handsome middle-aged man regarding the book, I decided to purchase it (and I love it when I get a great book at a great price, too).
One of the stories Batterson opens his book with is about a fellow who decided back in 1987 to purchase a small chain of coffeehouses with a strange name. Can you guess the name? Starbucks. And the rest, as they say, is pretty much history. However, at the time, Howard Schultz, who purchased the chain of coffeehouses back then, paid a $3.8 million dollar price tag and gave up a salary of $75,000/yr to “purchase his passion for all things coffee.” It is, of course, one of the great American success stories, and Schultz, who was born a year after I was born, now has a net worth of $3 billion dollars, and is stepping down as CEO of the company on April 3, 2017, “to focus on turning Starbucks’ Reserve-branded coffee bars into destination restaurants” (quote source here). It was a huge risk for Schultz to purchase an unknown coffeehouse chain back in 1987, but as Batterson quoted from Schultz’s memoir, “Pour Your Heart Into It,” on page 10 of “If,” Schultz states the following:
“This is my moment,” I thought. “If I don’t seize the opportunity, if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and risk it all, if I let too much time tick on, my moment will pass.” I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I would replay it in my mind for my whole life, wondering: “What if?” (Original quote source: “Pour Your Heart Into It,” p. 63.)
What If? And that’s the topic of Mark Batterson’s book. After the Starbucks story, Batterson writes (p. 11):
What’s your “what if?”
If you don’t know yet, keep reading.
I want you to know that I’ve been praying for you. While I may not know your name or your circumstances, God does. And I’ve been asking Him to put this book in the right hands at the right time. That’s my prayer for every book I write. So when someone apologizes for having not read one of my books, apology accepted. I trust God’s timing.
Of course, the flip side is true. The fact that you hold this book in your hands is evidence that you’re ready for “what if.” I’m praying that God will reveal it as you read.
“If” is more than a book.
It’s your “what if.”
But first you have to get past, “if only.” (Quote source: “If,” page 11.)
There is a significant difference between “if only” and “what if.” “If only” speaks of regrets; whereas “what if” speaks of possibilities. In the next section in Chapter 1 titled, “The Power of If,” in his book, Batterson states:
Let me make a rather bold prediction.
At the end of your life, your greatest regret won’t be the things you did but wish you hadn’t. Your greatest regret will be the things you didn’t do but wish you had. It’s the “what if” dreams that we never act upon that turn into “if only” regrets.
That prediction is backed up by a study done by two social psychologists, Tom Gilovich and Vicki Medvec. According to their research, time is a key factor in what we regret. In the short term, we tend to regret actions more than inactions by a count of 53 to 47 percent. In other words, we feel acute regret over the mistakes we’ve made. But over the long haul, we regret inactions more than actions, 84 to 16 percent.
That doesn’t mean we won’t have some deep-seated regrets about things we wish we hadn’t said or done, but our longest lasting regrets will be the opportunities we left on the table. Those are the “if onlys” that haunt us to the grave and beyond.
Now let me translate that study into theological terms.
We fixate on sins of commission far too much. We practice holiness by subtraction–don’t do this, don’t do that, and you’re okay. The problem with that is this: you can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right.
Righteousness is more than doing nothing wrong–it’s doing something right. It’s not just resisting temptation–it’s going after God-ordained opportunities. Holiness by subtraction is playing not to lose. Righteousness is going all in with God. It’s playing to win. It’s living as if the victory has already been won at Calvary’s cross. And it has.
In my opinion, it’s the sins of omission that grieve the heart of our heavenly Father the most–the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas. Why? Because no one knows our God-given potential like the God who gave it to us in the first place!
Potential is God’s gift to us.
Making the most of it is our gift back to God.
Anything less results in regrets. (Quote source: “If,” page 12.)
At this point I can think of one example in my own life where I could apply both the “if only” and “what if” questions. The example, of course, goes back to September 2008 when I accepted that job in Houston which I lost seven months later in April 2009. I could state, “If only I had never accepted that job in the first place, I wouldn’t be living in a hotel now on a Social Security income and having such a difficult time finding low income housing.” That, of course, is a “regret” statement. However, the “what if” question given to that same situation–since it is a reality that I did take that job in Houston in 2008 and I am now living in a hotel room on a Social Security income, and I’m having a very difficult time finding low income housing–and turns the situation completely around. Enter Romans 8:28 which states:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Hence, using the words from Romans 8:28, the question now becomes, “What if God means to bring this very situation to work out for my own good because I do love him, and because I have been called according to his purpose.” His purpose, not mine (which we as Christians so often get confused about). That puts an entirely different spin on the situation. He never meant this situation for my ill will, but for His purpose, and that purpose is still unfolding. In other words, it’s not over until it serves God’s purpose, and it’s not just about what we want.
There is much in Batterson’s book that I can’t begin to touch on in a blog post, and I’m not going to try. However, there is a segment in Chapter 24 titled “Change Agents” that I want to quote (from pp. 221-225):
I have a few convictions when it comes to calling. They are keys to unlocking “what if.”
God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.
There is a high likelihood that God will call you to do something you’re not smart enough, good enough, or strong enough to pull off. By definition, a God-ordained dream will always be beyond your ability and beyond your resources. Why? So that you have to rely on God every single day!
I’m keenly aware of the fact that in my current state of spiritual maturity, I’m not capable of leading National Community Church two years from now. I need to keep growing, keep learning. And that’s the way it should be. Nothing keeps you on your knees in raw dependence upon God like God-sized dreams.
Criticize by creating.
In my opinion, criticism is a cop-out for those who are too lazy to solve the problem they are complaining about. Instead of criticizing movies or music, produce a film or an album that is better than whatever it is you’re complaining about. The most constructive criticism is called creativity.
At the end of the day, we should be more known for what we’re for than what we’re against. Anybody can point out problems. We’re called to solve them by writing better books, starting better schools, and drafting better legislation.
The anointing is for everyone.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or a barista. From the top of the organizational chart to the bottom, God wants to anoint you to do whatever it is you’re called to do.
If I need legal help, I certainly want an attorney who has been to law school. But I also want an attorney who is anointed by God.
If I need surgery, I certainly want a doctor who has been to med school. But I want more than that; I want a doctor whose hands are anointed by God.
If I need dirty chai with two shots of expresso–well, you get the point. The anointing of God knows no limits when it comes to position or portfolio.
Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands.
Whatever it is that you feel called to do, do it as if your life depended on it. That’s 1 Corinthians 10:31 in a nutshell: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
The key word is “whatever.” It doesn’t matter what you’re doing; do it to the glory of God. “It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God,” said Oswald Chambers, “but we have not. We have been exceptional in the ordinary things.” And when we are, we put a smile on God’s face.
Richard Bolles, author of the classic bestseller [first published in 1970 and updated every year thereafter], “What Color Is Your Parachute?”, makes a profound observation. “The story in the Gospels of Jesus going up on the mount and being transfigured before the disciples is to me a picture of what calling is all about. Taking the mundane, offering it to God, and asking Him to transfigure it.”
“Taking mundane tasks and figuring out how to transfigure them.”
That’s what calling is all about.
More than a decade ago, I gave the eulogy at a memorial service in the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building. Some of the most important hearings in our nation’s history have been held in that room. If those walls could talk!
Yet here we were to honor the life of a woman with no rank. Jayonna Beal was the administrative assistant in charge of constituent correspondence for fourteen years. That isn’t a position people are fighting for on the hill, but Jayonna did it with grace. She didn’t have position or power, but that room was packed with the Who’s Who of Washington.
I spoke right after her boss, who would run for president in a few years. He, along with countless others, shared stories of how Jayonna’s small acts of kindness made a big difference in their lives. Jayonna baked cookies, sewed buttons, and showed interns the ropes. And she did it all in the name of Jesus. Jayonna practices the old adage, “Share the gospel every day; if necessary, use words.”
It’s the little “ifs” that change the world.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
I know a great street sweeper. Her name is Val, and she is a custodian who cleans like it’s nobody’s business but God’s. She inscribed SDG on her mop handle, just like Johann Sebastian Bach did on his symphonies. It stands for “Soli Deo Gloria.” It’s a reminder that she cleans for the glory of God.
Believe it or not, Val drove all the way from Canada to clean our offices at National Community Church. I know that sounds strange, but I think it falls into the category of “strange and mysterious.” She was profoundly impacted by our podcast, and she wanted to repay her debt of gratitude the best way she knew how. So she drove all the way to DC to clean our offices.
Who does that?
I’ll tell you who. Someone who knows God has called them. Back home, Val is the custodian for the school district. It’s often a thankless job; the job no one else wants to do. And it isn’t always easy. “My prayer last year was the God would get me off the third shift,” Val told me. “But now I have changed my prayer. I want to be taught by God what I need to learn.”
There might be educators in her district smarter than her, but I dare say that no one is more teachable than that custodian. And that’s what really counts in God’s kingdom.
Being a third-shift custodian isn’t most people’s dream job. But what you do isn’t as important as how you do it and whom you do it for. So no matter what you do, do it like Michelangelo painted, Beethoven composed, Shakespeare wrote poetry, and Val cleans bathrooms.
Whatever you do, don’t settle for what.
Imagine “what if.” (Quote source: “If,” page 221-225.)
I’ll end this post with something to think about that Batterson states on page 24:
There is no higher leverage point than the two-letter word “if.”
It defines our deepest regrets: “if only.”
It defies impossible circumstances: “as if.”
It’s pregnant with infinite possibilities: “what if.”
And it overcomes all refutations: no “ifs, ands, or buts” about it.
Biblically speaking, “if” is the conditional conjunction that turns God’s eternal promises into our present realities. Each of those promises is a high leverage point, but perhaps no promise in the Bible has more leverage than Romans 8:31 . . .
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” . . .
And that’s one little “if” . . .
That can change your life . . . .
YouTube Video: “Feel It” by TobyMac ft. Mr. TalkBox
The other day I ran across a small book of “simple suggestions” titled, “High Hopes,” by Patrick Lindsay, “one of Australia’s leading broadcasters and nonfiction authors. He spent more than 25 years as a journalist and TV presenter before he began writing full-time in 2001” (quote source: inside back cover of the book). As of the publication of this book in 2014, he had written 19 best-selling books. The blurb for this book on Amazon.com states:
Most of us race through life, unable to enjoy the present because we’re weighed down by the past or worried about the future. “High Hopes” offers insights that will allow you to slow the daily rush and enjoy your life, moment by moment. Patrick Lindsay prompts us to lift our spirits by simplifying our lives, embracing our humanity, sparking our imaginations and inspiring ourselves and those around us (quote source here).
Each quote contains a title, a simple suggestion, and is supported by a quote of timeless wisdom. Here are three for consideration:
Listen to What’s Not being Said
Most of us hear people speaking.
What’s more important is what they’re
not saying. Look for the subtext.
Be aware of what has been left out.
Observe their revealing physical reactions.
Often the real message is in the omissions.
The art of being wise is the art of
knowing what to overlook.
William James (1842-1910)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p.24)
Look for the Pattern
Most situations develop to a pattern.
It may be camouflaged, or slow to reveal,
but it’s usually there, and usually decipherable.
Understanding the patterns gives you power
to anticipate the next steps, or to break
the pattern to find novel solutions.
Habit rules the unreflecting herd.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 36)
Lose the Self-Pity
If we stop being self-centered, we
change our viewpoint on everything.
We widen our horizons, we start thinking
about others instead of ourselves. We
break away from a strangling negativity.
We form a solid positive base.
Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we
yield to it, we can never do anything
wise in this world.
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 51)
All of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in the throes of a pity party. I’ve had my share over the past several years since losing a job that has left me unemployed on a rather permanent basis at this point in time. It is not uncommon for us to ask “Why me?” especially if what happened to us was caused by others and not necessarily an outcome from something we did. Or it could stem from a natural disaster (or other circumstance) that took away everything we held precious in it’s wake. And on a lesser scale, it could stem from not getting accepted to a college we had dreamed about attending, or getting a job promotion we expected but was given to someone else. The list of things that are capable of causing us discouragement and to lose hope is endless… and that’s the point. We can’t afford to lose hope. . . .
I’m reminded of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as a classic example of a young man who endured one trial and tragedy after another lasting for years. His story is found in Genesis 37-50. It’s a story is filled with rivalry, jealousy, and betrayal. As a teenager Joseph is sold by his jealous older brothers into slavery to Midianite traders, and they tell their father, Jacob, that Joseph is dead. The Midianite traders then traveled to Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard (Genesis 37:36). Joseph serves Potiphar well, and Potiphar was quite pleased and gave him complete administrative responsibility over everything that he owns. Joseph is also described as being well built and handsome, and Potiphar’s wife had taken note. She tried to get Joseph to sleep with her but he refuses; and in her anger she concocts a story telling her husband that he tried to rape her which lands Joseph in prison for several years (see Genesis 39).
At this point in the story I want to turn to something Max Lucado, Minister of Preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, for that past 25 years, wrote regarding Joseph in his book, “You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help For Your Turbulent Times“ (2013). In a chapter titled, “Oh, So This is Boot Camp” (pp. 45-48), he opens the chapter with the following story:
On November 28, 1965, the fighter plane of Howard Rutledge exploded under enemy fire. He parachuted into the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and was promptly place in the “Heartbreak Hotel,” one of the POW prisons in Hanoi. [At this point a two-paragraph description of the prison and his 6×6 cell and the horrible conditions it is in is given.]
Few of us will ever face the austere conditions of a POW camp. Yet to one degree or another, we all spend time behind bars.
- My email today contains a prayer request for a young mother just diagnosed with lupus. Incarcerated by bad health.
- I had coffee yesterday with a man whose wife battles depression. he fees stuck (chain number one) and guilty for feeling stuck (chain number two).
- After half a century of marriage, a friend’s wife began to lose her memory. He had to take away her car keys so she wouldn’t drive. He has to stay near so she won’t fall. They had hopes of growing old together. They still may, but only one of them will know the day of the week.
Each of these individuals wonders, “Where is heaven in this story? Why would God permit such imprisonment? Does this struggle serve any purpose” Joseph surely posed those questions.
If Mrs. Potiphar couldn’t flirt Joseph into her bed, she would force him. She grabbed for his robe, and he let her have it. He chose his character over his coat. When he ran, she concocted a story. When Potiphar came home, she was ready with her lie and Joseph’s coat as proof. Potiphar charged Joseph with sexual assault and locked him in jail. “And [Joseph] was there in prison. but the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:20-21).
Not a prison in the modern sense but a warren of underground, windowless rooms with damp floors, stale food, and better water. Guards shoved him into the dungeon and slammed the door. Joseph leaned back against the wall, slid to the floor. “I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon” (Genesis 40:15).
Joseph had done his best in Potiphar’s house. He had made a fortune for his employer. He had kept his chores done and his room tidy. He had adapted to a new culture. He had resisted the sexual advances. But how was he rewarded? A prison sentence with no hope of parole. Since when does the high road lead over a cliff?
The answer? Ever since the events of Genesis 3, the chapter that documents the entry of evil into the world. Disaster came in the form of Lucifer, the fallen angel. And as long as Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion” (I Peter 5:8 NIV), he will wreak havoc among God’s people. He will lock preachers, like Paul, in prisons. He will exile pastors, like John, on remote islands. He will afflict the friends of Jesus, like Lazarus, with diseases. But his strategies always backfire. The imprisoned Paul wrote epistles [some while he was in prison]. The banished John saw heaven [read the Book of Revelation]. The cemetery of Lazarus became a stage upon which Christ performed one of his greatest miracles.
Intended evil becomes ultimate good.
As I reread that promise, it sounds formulaic, catchy, as if destined for a bumper sticker. I don’t mean for it to. There is nothing trite about your wheelchair, empty pantry, or aching heart. These are uphill, into-the-wind challenges you are facing. They are not easy.
But neither are they random. God is not “sometimes” sovereign. He is not “occasionally” victorious. He does not occupy the throne one day and vacate it the next. “The Lord shall not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the thoughts and intents of His mind” (Jeremiah 30-24 AMP). This season in which you find yourself may puzzle you, but it does not bewilder God. He can and will use it for his purpose.
Cast in point: Joseph in prison. From an earthly viewpoint the Egyptian jail was the tragic conclusion of Joseph’s life. Satan could chalk up a victory for the dark side. All plans to use Joseph ended with the slamming of the jail door. The devil had Joseph just where he wanted him.
So did God.
They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
(Psalm 105:18-19 NLT)
What Satan intended for evil, God used for testing. In the Bible a test is an external trial the purifies and prepares the heart. Just as a firs refines precious metal from dross and impurities, a trial purges the heart of the same. One of the psalmists wrote:
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
(Psalm 66:10-21 NIV)
Everyday God tests us through people, pain, or problems. Stop and consider your circumstances. Can you identify the tests of today? Snarling traffic? Threatening weather? Aching joints?
If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter and angry. Yet if you see your troubles as tests used by God for his glory and your maturity, then even the smallest incidents take on significance. (Quote source: “You’ll Get Through This,” pp. 45-48).
The story of Joseph doesn’t end there. Early in his life God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, and one day after he had been in prison for several years, Pharaoh had two very troubling dreams back-to-back. He called all the magicians and wise men in his kingdom, but no one could interpret the dreams. His cupbearer, who had been in prison two years earlier with Joseph, recalled a dream that Joseph interpreted for him, and the interpretation came true three day later. The cupbearer was released from prison and reinstalled as cupbearer (which was part of the dream that Joseph interpreted would happen to him), and Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him to the Pharaoh. Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph until two years later when Pharaoh has his troubling dreams. The cupbearer told Pharaoh about Joseph’s interpretation of his dream and how it came true.
At this point, Genesis 41:14-36 describes what happened next:
Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was quickly brought from the prison. After he shaved and changed his clothes, he went in and stood before Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means. But I have heard that when you hear about a dream you can interpret it.”
“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”
So Pharaoh told Joseph his dream. “In my dream,” he said, “I was standing on the bank of the Nile River, and I saw seven fat, healthy cows come up out of the river and begin grazing in the marsh grass. But then I saw seven sick-looking cows, scrawny and thin, come up after them. I’ve never seen such sorry-looking animals in all the land of Egypt. These thin, scrawny cows ate the seven fat cows. But afterward you wouldn’t have known it, for they were still as thin and scrawny as before! Then I woke up.
“In my dream I also saw seven heads of grain, full and beautiful, growing on a single stalk. Then seven more heads of grain appeared, but these were blighted, shriveled, and withered by the east wind. And the shriveled heads swallowed the seven healthy heads. I told these dreams to the magicians, but no one could tell me what they mean.”
Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The seven healthy cows and the seven healthy heads of grain both represent seven years of prosperity. The seven thin, scrawny cows that came up later and the seven thin heads of grain, withered by the east wind, represent seven years of famine.
“This will happen just as I have described it, for God has revealed to Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The next seven years will be a period of great prosperity throughout the land of Egypt. But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten in Egypt. Famine will destroy the land. This famine will be so severe that even the memory of the good years will be erased. As for having two similar dreams, it means that these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen.
“Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.”
At this point, Pharaoh releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command (Genesis 41:37-44):
Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in fine linen clothing and hung a gold chain around his neck. Then he had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command. And wherever Joseph went, the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to him, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”
After the seven good years ended, the famine started for the next seven years, and it reached all the way to where Joseph’s family was living. The brothers who sold Joseph into slavery years earlier had no idea what had happened to him, and they had told their father that he was dead. Long story short (it’s too long to go into the details in this blog post) the famine evenutally brings his family including his father to Egypt, and the end result is that they were saved from the famine and the family was reconciled.
Joseph was 17 at the time his brothers sold him into slavery and 30 at the time Pharaoh brought him out of prison and appointed him to be ruler over all of Egypt (only second to Pharaoh). He was most likely around 40 before he saw his family again.
Genesis 50 speaks of the reconciliation between Joseph and his father, Jacob, who died shortly after their reconciliation, and he requested to be buried in the land of Canaan. After the burial in Canaan and the period of mourning was over, Joseph speaks the following words to his brothers (Genesis 50:14-21):
After burying Jacob, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to his father’s burial. But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.
So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.
But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
So Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in the land of Egypt, and Joseph lived to be 110 years old (50:22).
Most of us will not go through circumstances as severe as Joseph went through regarding his brothers’ betrayal which sent him into slavery, and then spending years in prison (under a false charge of rape) when he did nothing wrong. However, we all face situations and circumstances that come into our lives that at the very least cause us to say, “Why me?” But no matter what the situation happens to be, for those of us who truly believe in God, it is God who orchestras even those events we don’t understand that come into our lives, including those trying situations that can stick around for years.
I’ll end this post with one of my favorite parables that Jesus told which is found in Luke 18:1-8:
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
The persistent widow never gave up, and that’s a great lesson for us. No matter what we may be going through at any point in time, let’s remember the words of Jesus when he said:
Always pray . . .
And never give up . . .
And always have hope in God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Nothing Compares” by Third Day:
Bad behaviors left unattended becomes bad habits that are hard to break. In fact, we’ve often become so accustomed to our bad habits that we might not even consider them to be all that bad anymore. They just “are.” For example, habits like worry, anger, hate, revenge, gossip, jealousy, etc. Or habits like being late all the time, or overeating, smoking, drinking too much, drugs, and manipulating others for our own benefit. We can add lust, greed, power hungry, and showing disrespect to others–especially those we don’t like for whatever reason–to the list. However, the #1 bad habit infecting all of us is (drum roll, please)… lying. We don’t even think twice about lying anymore. It’s become as natural as breathing to many of us (see December 2016 article in The Washington Post titled, “An epidemic of lies: Our country’s cultural plague just keeps getting worse”).
Well, you get the idea about bad habits. We all have them, and often we just excuse them off. So let’s consider this quote:
“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.”
Do you know who said it? It’s the topic of a 2010 book titled, “The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist,” by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of Life.Church which started back in 1996 in a two-car garage by him and a handful of others. It is now “the largest church [as of September 2016] in the United States with twenty six locations in eight states” (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author and has written several books.
“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.” Former Christian Atheist Craig Groeschel knows his subject all too well. After over a decade of successful ministry, he had to make a painful self admission: although he believed in God, he was leading his church like God didn’t exist. To Christians and non-Christians alike, to the churched and the unchurched, the journey leading up to Groeschel’s admission and the journey that follows—from his family and his upbringing to the lackluster and even diametrically opposed expressions of faith he encountered—will look and sound like the story of their own lives. Now the founding and senior pastor of the multi-campus, pace-setting LiveChurch.tv [Life.Church], Groeschel’s personal journey toward a more authentic God-honoring life is more relevant than ever. Christians and Christian Atheists everywhere will be nodding their heads as they are challenged to take their own honest moment and ask the question: am I putting my whole faith in God but still living as if everything was up to me? (Quote source here.)
The following endorsements for the book should pique the interest of any Christian who is coasting along without serious thought for how they are living their everyday lives. These endorsements are found on the opening two pages of the book:
“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Craig is his willingness to be honest when his life doesn’t match up with the Scriptures. Too Many people are quick to make excuses for themselves and others who call themselves “Christian.” Craig challenges us to think deeply, honestly, and fearfully about how our lives may be contradicting our message.” ~Francis Chan, pastor and author
“In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Craig leverages transparency to force the rest of us to take an honest look at the contrast between how we live and what we claim to believe. Craig’s vulnerability coupled with his fresh insights, will move you to begin realigning behavior with beliefs.” ~Andy Stanley, senior pastor, North Pointe Community Church
“Craig Groeschel is a brilliant communicator and a gift to the church worldwide. He has a way of saying the things we are all thinking with an approachable authority that resonates with the ups and downs of our daily walk with God. Craig’s genuine heart to see your life’s journey flourish, and his honest perspective on personal experiences, will quietly convict your heart and encourage your soul.” ~Brian Houston, senior pastor, Hillsong Church
“Church people always talk about Christians and non-Christians, but nobody ever talks about the people in-between. Most of the men and women I talk to everyday fall into that middle ground, the group that believes in God but lives like he’s not there, doesn’t care, or doesn’t matter. In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Pastor Craig Groeschel hits this audience head-on, opening up about his own doubts and fears, while setting the table for hundreds of life-changing discussions about who God is and how he operates.” ~Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show, Ramsey Solutions
“There are too many Christian Atheists in the church today, and through this book, Craig Groeschel challenges the genuineness of faith in the life of the self-proclaimed believer. ‘The Christian Atheist’ will cause you to move from head knowledge to heart knowledge. This is a must-read for every Christian.” ~Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor, Free Chapel
“Craig’s insights and candor combine to make this book a true gift to ‘atheists’ of all kinds!” ~Bill Hybels, senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, and chairman of the board, Willow Creek Association
“‘The Christian Atheist’ will challenge you, push you, and disturb you. It will redefine your sense of purpose and focus as a Christian. Every Christian today need to read this book. Craig’s gut-level honesty is refreshing and will help move you toward a life that is fully devoted to Christ. Too many of us live lives that don’t truly reflect who we are as followers of Christ. But the good news is we can change. True Christianity awaits us. And Craig provides a practical prescription for how to get there.” ~Brad Lomenick, president, Catalyst
That should whet your appetite for reading “The Christian Atheist.” Groeschel opens the book with a sobering verse from Titus 1:16: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” In his “A Letter to the Reader” found on pp.11-15, he describes a conversation he had with a 23-year-old female grad student named Michelle who sat next to him on a flight and who he describes as a Christian Atheist. Here is what he writes on pp. 13-15:
Christian Atheists are everywhere. They attend Catholic churches, Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, nondenominational churches, and even churches where the pastor says, “GAW-duh!” when he’s preaching. They attend big seminaries, Big Ten universities, and every college in between. They are every age and race and occupation–and some even read their Bibles everyday.
Christian Atheists look a lot like Christians, but they live a lot like Travis [e.g., a middle-aged father of two heading home from an unsuccessful business trip that Groschel sat next to on a previous flight–that conversation is on pp. 11-13, but in Travis’ case he denies the existence of God altogether and states that he thinks Christians are the weakest people alive].
Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend–who’s scared to death of marriage–she asked me about my life.
Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I’m married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked.
After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”
This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity. Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life.
As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights–mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.
At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”
Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I see this kind of atheism in myself. People might assume that a pastor wouldn’t struggle with any form of atheism, but I certainly do. Sadly, Christian Atheism is everywhere. There has to be a better way to live.
This book is for anyone courageous enough to admit to their hypocrisy. I hope it pushes you, challenges you, and disturbs you. And if you’re honest before God–as I am trying to be–perhaps together we can shed some of our hypocrisy and live a life that truly brings glory to Christ. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 13-15).
I’ll give you the chapter titles but if you want more, you’ll need to get a copy of the book. The twelve chapter titles are revealing:
Introduction: A Recovering Christian Atheist (Groeschel’s own story)
Chapter 1: When You Believe in God but Don’t Really Know Him
Chapter 2: When You Believe in God but Are Ashamed of Your Past
Chapter 3: When You Believe in God but Aren’t Sure He Loves You
Chapter 4: When You Believe in God but Not in Prayer
Chapter 5: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think He’s Fair
Chapter 6: When You Believe in God but Won’t Forgive
Chapter 7: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think You Can Change
Chapter 8: When You Believe in God but Still Worry All the Time
Chapter 9: When You Believe in God but Pursue Happiness at Any Cost
Chapter 10: When You Believe in God but Trust More in Money
Chapter 11: When You Believe in God but Don’t Share Your Faith
Chapter 12: When You Believe in God but Not in His Church
Afterword: Third Line of Faith
Each chapter is filled with deeply personal stories that will move us to reflect on our own life as a Christian and what it means to be a Christian, and in the course of reading it, we’ll find that there really isn’t any “middle ground” that one can afford to stagnate on. In the “Afterword,” Groeschel writes about three “lines of faith” and how the third line of faith is the most crucial . . . and without it, nothing else matters. Groeschel states:
Several years ago [do remember that this book was published in 2010], I increasingly recognized inconsistencies between what I claimed to believe and the way I actually lived. I preached that people without Christ go to hell, but my life showed I wasn’t equally passionate to reach those people. Though I believed God wanted my life to be different, I found comparing myself to others easier than measuring my life against Christ’s. I preached that prayer is critical, But my prayer life was virtually nonexistent. God’s Word said my treasure shouldn’t be in this world, yet material things continued to grab my attention. Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” But worry came as naturally to me as breathing. If I truly belonged to Christ, I should surrender my whole life to him. I just gave him parts instead, and took them back whenever he didn’t do what I wanted. I called myself a Christian, but I lived like an Atheist.
The more honest I became, the more I hated living faithlessly, and the more I craved intimacy with God. “Whatever it takes” became my heart’s cry. Whatever it takes to know him. Whatever it takes to live like I truly love God. Whatever it takes to love eternity more than this world. Even if I have to fight, scrape, and crawl away from my Christian Atheism into a genuine, crucified life of faith and radical obedience to Christ, I’ll do whatever it takes. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 234-235.)
Groeschel then explains a life changing experience that changed his direction:
One day I was at home working out on my elliptical machine, listening to a sermon on my iPod. Suddenly I just had to stop. Surrounded by God’s presence, I knelt down on the floor and started crying out to God. If you had seen me, you would have thought I was falling apart. But God was putting me back together.
I cried for all of God, and his presence became immediately real. Although I’d unquestionably been spiritually reborn a decade and a half ago, it was like I was being born again–again.
I’ve always believed in spiritual visions; I’d just never had one. Not anymore. I saw a picture as clear as the words on this page. I stood before three lines in the sand. Somehow I knew what each line represented. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” p. 235).
At this point, he states the three lines of faith:
Line 1: I believe in God and the gospel of Christ enough to benefit from it. Like so many others, crossing that first line was easy. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians live here. If there is a God, I want to be on his good side. I want to go to heaven. I want him to bless me with good health, good relationships, and a happy life. Like the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17, once God has helped me, I forgot about him.
Most wouldn’t admit that this is all the faith they can manage. We want God’s benefits without changing how we live. We want his best, without our sacrifices. At the first line, we don’t fear God or share our faith. We still love this world. We’ll pursue happiness at any cost. The list goes on and on. We first-line believers get what we can get from God without giving much, if anything back . . . .
Line 2: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to contribute comfortably. Past the first line are people who believe in God not only enough to benefit but also enough to give back–as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Many first-line Christians eventually cross the second line. “If I don’t have to change too much, I’ll do some of what God asks. If it doesn’t hurt too much, I’ll get more serious about God. But everyone has their limits, right?” Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, I was willing to go along with the religious rules as long as it didn’t hurt too much. . . .
Line 3: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to give my life to it. Although most people I knew were line-one and line-two believers, suddenly anything less than line three didn’t seem like real Christianity to me. Could I give my whole life to Christ? Not only in words but in my daily life?
Verses I’d read dozens of times suddenly flooded to mind:
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26). Am I willing to lose my life?
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). Could I sacrifice my desires, my hopes, my dreams?
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). What would it take to make my life nothing to me, existing only to do what Christ wants me to do?
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). Could I truly count all my earthly possessions a loss, making Christ my greatest treasure? (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 235-238.)
I knew in the deepest part of myself: I have to be a third-line believer. With unquenchable thirst, I pursued living water above all substitutes. I started praying like never before. I started pursuing God in the morning and continued throughout the day. Jesus was on my mind when I fell asleep and when I awoke. Scripture started becoming my bread of life, nourishing my soul.
I surrendered one thing after another, until just one major hurdle stood between where I was and where God wanted me. I can’t tell you what that thing was. It’s simply too personal. Only two people in the world know it.
My battle to cross the third line lasted almost two years. I prayed about it daily. I quoted Scripture. Though spiritually exhausted, I wouldn’t give up. Spiritual warfare raged around me. Finally, on one very normal Saturday afternoon, by faith, I gave this last part of my life totally to God. I sacrificed a fear that had held me hostage since I was a child and made a promise to God that I’d never take it back.
I crossed the third line.
I believe in God and Christ’s gospel so much that I’m wiling to give my whole life to his cause. Nothing in this world is more important to me than my treasure in heaven. No fear in my heart is greater than my fear of God. Tears are filling my eyes as I type this. I cannot put into words what God has done in my heart.
I am a different person.
You can be, too. . . . (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 238-239.)
As we can see from the above brief quotes from “The Christian Atheist,” and as stated on the back cover of the book, “Goeschel’s frank and raw conversation about our Christian Atheist tendencies and habits is a convicting and life-changing read.” If we want to go beyond the surface and the “What’s in it for me?” mentality, read this book. And perhaps, as Goeschel stated at the end of his book, we, too, will be able to state . . . .
I’ve crossed the third line . . .
I’m a different person . . .
You can be, too . . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa: