I’ve noticed over the years how often we associate God’s involvement or anointing with something that is large in size, scope, budget and growth.  None of us would consciously admit this correlation, being aware of the stories of men and women of faith throughout the ages.  And, knowing that there has been many “successful” individuals, organizations and companies without the involvement of God.

We see David wrestle with this in Psalm 37:7 where he writes, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”

This is not to say that large enterprises that are Godless are wicked, but simply that they can be prosperous without God.

Still, we can react to a stories of large and growing endeavors, especially by Christians, with thoughts like, “God has really blessed it” or “God is all over it” or “He (or she) is anointed of God”.

The problem with this thinking is not so much if we are correct about our assessment of God’s involvement with another, but rather the conclusions we make about God’s involvement in our life.

You see, as soon as we use factors of size, scope, budget and growth to determine God’s blessing or anointing on something, we are in the unsafe minefield of comparison.  And, comparison eventually finds it’s focus on our own life and harbors in the waters of disappointment and discouragement.

I’ve journey in those waters far too many times, even when I knew better.  The measuring of blessing and significance through comparison almost alway ends in my wondering if God is involved or cares about what I am doing.

Scripture says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation…”  2 Peter 3:9 &15 NASB

I often regard the patience (or slowness) of God as reluctance, distance, disinterest, neglect or anger.  I rarely regard His patience (or slowness) as salvation, meaning His loving work of delivering me from something or to something.

One of the difficult things about the pursuit of desire is the need to wait for it.  Not to manipulate a desire into existence or abandon it out of frustration.

Perhaps the slowness of the development of your desire or dream is God’s protection from the traps that have been set for your destruction.  Or it could be God’s engineering and sequencing of all the elements needed for the fulfillment of your life’s work.  We must “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

As Oswald Chamber said,  “If the Spirit of God has stirred you, make as many things inevitable as possible, let the consequences be what they will.”

We must plant and water the seeds of desire and vision that God has stirred and then let Him bring the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:6)  We must wait in the ready.

Gary

My natural inclination is to believe life will turn out just fine; I lean towards the positive. It’s not that I think every day will be sunshine and daisies (my home is in Michigan, the birthplace of gray skies), it’s just that I believe the sun will come out eventually.

Last month my outlook on life was normal: optimistic. I had reasonably high hopes that my next book will sell well after its July release; I felt positive about the “fruit” of my daily tasks (writing, counseling, etc.); and I mostly believed God would work things for the good.

But when I’m sick, my personality leans toward the negative. It’s not that I’m Eeyore or Puddleglum, but their gloomy forecasts no longer seem farfetched.

These past couple weeks I’ve been sick and my outlook on life turned sour.

I began to doubt that people are interested in learning to hear God (the topic of my book); I questioned whether anything I do contributes anything of value to the world; and I began to worry that God wanted to punish me for some past, forgotten sin.

Bear in mind: nothing external had changed! I didn’t receive negative comments from my publisher. Readership of my blog and one-on-one counseling interaction remained the same. And I didn’t read a Scripture passage that says, “God really dislikes you.”

The world outside remained constant. No new information came my way—not the dinkiest fact—that should convert my beliefs into doubts. And yet my fears festered and flourished.

Sometimes we need to doubt our doubts.

And Then There Are Other Times

Jerome Kagan is a pioneering psychologist in the area of adolescent development. He studied children across thirty-six cultures and discovered that children everywhere are born with one of three different instinctive reactions to external threats:

  • Some are wired for anxiety: their immediate reaction is, “Let’s get out of here.”
  • Some are naturally aggressive: they think, “Let’s get them before they get us.”
  • Some are just optimistic: they say, “Hey, let’s not get bent out of shape; things will work out just fine.”

But none of these temperaments is always right. The anxious response may be healthy in dangerous times but it’s crippling in times of plenty; and aggressive people may succeed during safe times but their lack of caution may kill them when restraint is required.

Sometimes our natural beliefs are just wrong. Kagan says,

The aggressive has to realize that sometimes you really are to blame, the anxioushas to realize that sometimes you really aren’t to blame, and the optimistic has to realize that sometimes things are terrible.

In other words, sometimes we need to doubt our beliefs.

But … How Do We Know?

Our instinctive doubts and beliefs are unreliable. Our moods create doubts we shouldn’t always believe, and our natural temperaments create beliefs that should sometimes be doubted. We need something outside ourselves.

That thing outside ourselves is God’s promises.

Anytime we make a promise, we commit ourselves to create a future for someone else. In marriage vows we vow “for better or worse, in sickness and health.” We pledge our lives to make a hopeful future for another. (Though we’re not very good at keeping our word.)

In his promises, God has committed himself fully to create a future for us. And he is faithful:

  • I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6)
  • All things work together for good … for those called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
  • I know my plans for you, plan for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)

Our beliefs and our doubts are fickle and erratic, sometimes sunny and often gloomy. We can choose what we believe. We really can choose to doubt our doubts, even doubt our natural beliefs, and simply believe his promises.

In both our sickness and health.

Sam

As strange as it sounds, I don’t have a list of New Year’s Resolutions this year. It may be the first time in twenty years I haven’t published a list. Not because I’ve been so resolutely successful accomplishing all my past lists that I no longer have anything left to do, but because this is a landmark year for me and it’s put me to reflecting rather than goal setting.

In 2016 I will turn 60 and I’m looking forward to it.

When I turned 50 it felt like freedom and release. I said goodbye to all expectations of being cool or hip or fashionable and started crediting my idiosyncrasies as eccentricities. It was great. I was finally living up to my gray hair and beard.

When I turned 40 I finally felt like an adult. (No, that’s not entirely correct. Even today I only feel like an adult about 50-60% of the time. I always think of adults as the men my dad’s generation, whatever age that happens to be.) But at 40 I could no longer hide behind my age. I was old enough to know stuff, old enough to stop blaming behavior on my upbringing, old enough to formulate my own opinions without basing them on some talk radio host or what the guys at work say, old enough to settle into my reading list and read the books I enjoy, old enough to learn new ideas.

When I turned 30, well, that one‘s still a blur in my memory. We had a six-year-old and a three-year-old and dadhood took its toll on my brain cells. The summer of my birthday we moved but didn’t move to California due to a promotion I got and then didn’t get. A few months later I was with my son Byron when he was hit by a car while we were all riding bikes one Saturday afternoon, and it changed my understanding of being a father and spiritual leader. It was the first time in my life I called upon God out of desperation and fear.

The year I turned 20 was my last of three summers touring with Continental Singers as a bass trombonist, and my segue into big-time college life at the University of Oklahoma. It was the beginning of my lifelong journey with personal discipleship, my introduction to daily spiritual practices and teaching, my first experience with leaders who deliberately invested in my life, and my first date with Cyndi Richardson. Little did I know I was starting the adventures that would define the rest of my future.

And so I’ve asked myself, what will it mean to turn 60. I’m not sure, we can only know lasting effects after the passage of time, but I have some ideas.

Last year my daughter, Katie, gave me a red and white patch that says “Keep Exploring.” In the 1970s I would’ve sewn it on my bell-bottomed blue jeans so that everyone else could see it, but this week Cyndi sewed it on my black backpack so that I would see it every day … a permanent reminder of how I want to live.

The Keep Exploring movement was created by Alex and Bret, two young men from Flower Mound, Texas. Their webpage says this: “Keep Exploring is the simple idea that adventure can be found anywhere. We are trying to be better explorers by seeking out opportunities in everyday life. This is a collaborative movement – Everyone is invited. Start looking for new roads to take, old mountains to climb, and wild food to chew.”

Well, that’s who I want to be. Maybe not the chewing of wild food part, but I want my 60s to be years of exploring new ideas and trails and mountains and techniques and books and movies and relationships and influences and music.

A few Sundays ago I was cycling with my friend, Wes, and we were working through our increasing list of athletic ailments when Wes changed everything by saying: This is the best time of our lives. We’re finally old enough people listen to us. We can really make a difference.

I thought about what he said for a long time. Through the years I’ve been motivated by this thought: If I apply the weight of my life toward the people God has entrusted to me, I can change the world.

But now, as I enter my 60th year, even that seems too small. I no longer want to merely change the world … I want to change The Future. I am finally old enough, finally weighty enough, to speak truth into hearts and change the future.

And so I suppose I do have a New Year’s Resolution for 2016: Keep Exploring. I hope you’ll join me. Let’s explore together.

Berry Simpson

If you’re thinking about the calling on your life, then you’re thinking strategically. An essential part of the discovery process is looking back at your life strategically or analytically, in order to discovery clues about your calling through the things you’ve loved and the things you didn’t, the things that wounded you and their inherent messages, the people that came into your life and their affect. In other words, seeing and understanding what both sides were up to throughout your life (the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan).

When exploring the terrain of our past, it’s easy to walk into the quicksand of “if only”.

If only that hadn’t happened to me
If only I had married
If only I had married someone different
If only I had gone back to school
If only I had come to Christ earlier in my life
If only my financial situation had been different
If only I got that job
If only that had not happened to that ministry
If only I were smarter
If only I had a different personality
If only I had said yes
If only I had said no
If only I had someone to help me

While the actions of other and our own actions have consequences, which Pascal refers to as the “dignity of causality”, there always remains the overriding principle of the sovereign work of God. Scripture makes this very clear repeatedly, but perhaps non clearer than in:

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

With this being true, it is unhelpful for us to spend any time in the bog of “if only.” We are better served on the solid, rich soil of “but now.”

I can think of no better statement of “but now” than Gen. 50:20 when Joseph said to his brothers, who tried to destroy him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

You see, we can say as the beloved of God:

Yes, that happened to me, but now God…
Yes, I wish I had gone back to school when I was younger, but now God…
Yes, things have been hard financially, but now God…
Yes, I have not had a lot of support, but now God…

We can live in the “if only” or the “but now God”.

Gary

I’m in the middle of another bout with bronchitis (I think I’m losing), so I planned to skip my blog this week. But last Sunday, a TV advertisement for a Christian dating site changed my mind.

I’ve never used an online dating site (I found my wife before Al Gore invented the internet), but I know many believers who found like-minded spouses online. The concept makes sense.

Last Sunday I tuned out the clichéd advertisement for Christian dating, with its images of smiling couples holding hands while strolling on a beach at sunset. But then the ad ended with this tagline:

“Helping good people find good people.”

Am I just overreacting?

The image of “good people finding good people” broadcasts all kinds of bad messages:

  • To non-believers: it reinforces the image of pompous Christians (“We’re the good guys and you’re the bad guys”).
  • To believers: it reminds me of the Pharisee who prays, “Thank you God I’m not like….”
  • To everyone: didn’t Jesus say he came not to the “well” but to those who know they are sick?

How can a “Christian” website get it so wrong? I’m all in favor of finding “like-minded” people or people with “shared beliefs” about God.

But to label ourselves as the “good people” undermines the essence of the gospel; because Christianity begins when we finally admit we aren’t.

There’s nothing wrong with a sunset walk on the beach, but to appeal to our superiority doesn’t make us look very … good.

Sam

Dealing with Self-Praise

When I was a teenager, family and friends used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Now they just ask me when I will grow up). I always wanted to be a missionary.

Immediately after college I began mission work in Europe. But one day, during a “normal” (that is, non-exciting) prayer time, I heard God speak two words: “Not now.” I sensed him say that if I did mission work “now” I would be creating an Ishmael not an Isaac; I would be birthing mission service out of my natural flesh and not out of God’s spiritual promise.

The sense was puzzling (I was serving God in the mission, wasn’t I?), but it was also compelling; so I left the mission field and entered the business world at the ripe old age of twenty-five. I eventually became an executive and owner of a software company.

Twenty-five years later, in another non-exciting prayer time, I sensed God say, “Now is the time.” I asked friends for discernment, and together we agreed that God was calling me away from my job. But none of us knew what God was calling me to.

That was why eight years ago, January 1st, 2008, I woke up  with no job, no client calls, no meetings, no paycheck, and no clue about what I should do with my life. When people asked me what I do, I always answered,

“Well I used to be a software exec….”

I missed the applause

After many clueless months passed, I read a quote by former tennis championChris Evert, perhaps the single greatest tennis player of all time. (She reached more Grand Slam finals than any male or female tennis player. Ever.) When she finally hung up her racquet, she said,

I had no idea of who I was or what I could be away from tennis. I was depressed and afraid because so much of my life had been defined by being a tennis champion. I was completely lost. Winning made me feel like I was somebody. It made me feel pretty.

It was like being hooked on drug. I needed the wins. I needed the applause in order to have an identity.”

I knew exactly how she felt (except for feeling pretty). I knew who I was but not who I am. I missed the applause.

The name trap

I’ve recently been reading Jeremiah, and last week I found a really odd plea:

“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches. (Jer. 9:23)

His plea is odd because the word he uses for “boast” is “hallel” from which we get “hallelu-jah” (praise the Lord). But the prophet uses the form, “yit-hallel,” which means to praise oneself.

In other words, he pleads, “Let not the wise man applaud himself for his wisdom;” nor wise parents for their parenting; nor smart people for their brains; nor good people for their morals.

Nor a former executive for his formerness.

Functional saviors

We live in an odd moment of Christian history. Up until the recent past, humilitywas valued and pride was disdained. We may have been arrogant, but we were too proud to show it.

Nowadays a self-applause disease plagues us. Look at the self-descriptions on websites, Facebook, and Twitter pages of believers who long for more followers. Self-praise (yit-hallelu’s) is an epidemic:

Bestselling author, loving husband, pastor to pastors, leader of leaders, visionary, entrepreneur, explorer,  sage. And the world’s most humble blogger.

Why do we insist on self-praise? To save ourselves. We boost our self-image through our self-boasting. To find significance in life, we applaud ourselves in the hope that others will join.

We name ourselves through self-admiration. Our self-applause becomes our functional saviors.

What can we do?

Our naming is an illusion. Or delusion. My old title beat me up; it whipped me with the scourge, “Used to be.” Everything we have will soon be a used-to-be.

We need a name that will never let us down—which really means we need a different savior.

The Apostle Paul surely had the Jeremiah passage in mind when he offered a similarly odd plea: “God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

The impact of my life would be magnified beyond measure if my single boast in the world was: “I’ve got the applause of the only person whose opinion counts—though I don’t deserve it!”

It’s finally time to execute my old title of Executive.

Sam