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What If

February 2017
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what-ifA 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.

job-42v2Hence, 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

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