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The Lesson Vault
Double the content!
Note: this E-News is normally dedicated to ideas about how double groups, teach, or grow churches. This week is an exception and is all about what God is teaching me these days on a personal level. I will not be offended (or surprised) if you don’t find it interesting. Feel free to skip it.
"How are you doing?" Perhaps the most commonly spoken question in the English language; perhaps any language. And perhaps the most often lied about. I want to tell you how I am really doing. Really.
I can honestly say that I am happier than I have ever been, more motivated than I have ever been, more excited than I have ever been. Life is better than it is ever been. I wake up most mornings with this incredible, pinch-myself-I must-be-dreaming kind of joy. And, through the day I am constantly aware of the fact that life is good, God is good, this feels good.
I have been so happy for so long that I find myself asking what to make of this happiness. What is its cause? Can it be sustained? How do I explain it? Five learnings; this may be long; I will try to keep in brief.
My life was forever changed at a discount book table. The book was Desiring God by John Piper. I didn’t know too much about the book, except my friend, Sam Shaw, had recommended it. And it was cheap; this was the discounted book table. So, I picked it up. Then I set it down.
I didn’t pick it up again for six months. But, when I did, I couldn’t put it down. I am sure I start a 100 books a year (I only finish a small percentage of them—take if from an author, most books aren’t worth finishing). On a good day, a book is not a disappointment and provides a few helpful ideas. On a bad day, they are a waste of money. I have an account at the used book store for $1000 or so because of these books. But, then there are those gems. There have not been many of them, but a few books I would say have changed the trajectory of my life forever. Desiring God is one of those books.
The gist of the message of enjoying God is this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. A major goal of the Christian life is to be obedient to the command of God to enjoy Him. Christian living is not just about believing right and behaving right, it is also about feeling right. Piper paraphrases the Westminster Shorter Catechism this way: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” We glorify Him by enjoying Him. Christianity is not mostly about external duties. It is centrally about the duty to enjoy Him. C. S. Lewis said, “It is the Christian duty, as you know, to be as happy as you can be.”
Let me step out of my reflection here and preach a little. I will be in 120 churches this year challenging groups to double every two years or less. Our problem is not that we cannot figure out how to double every two years or less. I problem is we are about half bored with this whole deal. Much of the church is blatantly disobedient to the command of God to, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And, for good reason. It has been a decade or more sense I have read Desiring God and I can tell you that the command to rejoice in the Lord always is among the most difficult commands in all the Bible. I have been working at it for a decade and am starting to learn how to be obedient to this command.
Another breakthrough idea came to me a few years back that has transformed my life and relationship with God. I have always thought in terms of me serving God. I try to do that. But, I think it is far more accurate to say that God serves us. The greater always serves the lesser. The parent serves the child. On a good day, the child does some serving as well, but who are we kidding? When the child says, “Mommy, can I help you cook breakfast?” How much helping does the child really do? As any parent knows, the parent constantly and tirelessly serves the child. The child occasionally helps.
In the same way, I think it is far more accurate to acknowledge the fact that God is constantly serving us and we only occasionally do anything to serve Him. What can we really do for God, anyway?
This insight has changed my life.
I see God constantly in my life, constantly serving me. Constantly making my way straight, as the scripture says. It happened yesterday. I am in Southwest Louisiana as I write this. We will be in the state all week and wanted to see some friends while we are here. But, it is all the way across the state—a four hour drive. We called our friends on the cell phone as we were driving to our destination, De Ridder, LA. I don’t know what the population of De Ridder is, but it is small enough I had to teach Microsoft Word how to spell it just now. Anyway, we called our friends. They asked, “Where exactly are you?” “De Ridder.” “You are kidding, Jason just commented yesterday that we need to go over and see Granny on Saturday. She is in a nursing home in De Ridder. Can we do lunch tomorrow?”
Coincidence? Maybe. But it happens all the time. I could write a book on The God Who Serves telling the stories of how God is constantly serving me. An awareness of God’s constant serving has transformed my relationship with Him.
I wrote up this learning in an article called the 3.14 state, based on Philippians 3.14, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philip. 3:14 [NIV]
Although this concept is thoroughally congruent with New Testament truth, I actually discovered it reading the book Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. He quotes another author, Csikszentmihalyi who wrote a book called Flow. Seligman describes the highest human state in the words of Csikszentmihalyi : Flow.
Flow is that moment when time stands still Flow is that moment when you lose yourself in something that is bigger than you are. Flow is when you are lost in thought, lost in a task, lost in an idea. Flow is when you pour some coffee, then forget to drink it because you are so intrigued by the book you are reading.
Paul was having a Flow experience when he wrote “I press on.” Jesus was having a Flow experience when He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” Apparently, he was so lost in thought in this conversation with the woman at the well that he forgot all about eating. But a good conversation about the Father, was, to Him, better than a good meal.
We visited the Grand Canyon last summer. At one stop, we saw a man lost in thought, sitting on a little ledge, drinking in the bigness of the canyon. It is a full mile straight down from the rim to the river. He was just drinking it in. We were walking about, taking pictures, talking, laughing, and glancing at the canyon. He was drinking in the canyon. He was experiencing Flow.
Many people today say you get happiness by high self-esteem. This man did not go to the canyon to think well of himself. He did not go to the canyon so he could boost his self-esteem. He did not go to the canyon to think himself big. He went to the canyon to think himself small. He went to the canyon to forget about himself as he became lost on something far bigger than he is. I suppose high self-esteem is better than low self-esteem. But it not near as good as no self-esteem. It is not near as good as loosing yourself in something far greater than you.
Loosing yourself in something far greater than you is the highest human state. It is the Philippians 3.14 state. It is Flow.
More and more, I have been experiencing Flow. Not all the time, but a good deal of the time. And it is contributing to making life better than it has ever been.
Truly, it is nothing heroic that I am happier than I have ever been. I don’t exactly live a concentration camp life. I love my job and the people I work with are nearly always really nice to me. They nearly always have a, “Would you like a desert with that meal” kind of attitude. I live in a nice, new 4 bedroom house. I drive my favorite car—a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am. It is not a Lexus, but I don’t really require Lexus. I have learned there are two ways to get happy—you can either get more or require less. Happiness is about having enough. It is normally easier to require less. But, truth is, I have quite a bit. Good kids. Health. I love my job. Life is good.
I have been around long enough to know that my turn will come again. Life is easy now. The Bible teaches that the storms come, then the sun comes out. This is a sunny time of life for me.
Truth is nearly always a mid-point between two extremes. And, although what I just said is true: God is good; God has blessed; Life is good. It is also true that I have learned to cooperate with the law of sowing and reaping.
The Bible teaches that we live in a predictable universe. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7 [NIV] I wrote up this learning in an article a year or two back entitled “The Reality Principle.”
I have been working full time doing seminars for nearly seven years. During the first five years I was about 10% behind. I spent all the retirement I had saved during 11 years of working on staff. I piled up more than a little debt. I kept thinking I would close that last gap through videos. I produced a number of videos and felt I produced a quality product. But, I couldn’t sell it. So, after five years of trying, I gave up on videos and asked this question: what is working? Seminars was the clear answer. So, I began concentrating on what was working. Then I did a reality check.
People asked me from time to time how many seminars I did. I did a rough estimate and came up with a number of around 60 or 70. I went through my calendar and did the math. In 2002 I had done 40 seminars. I thought to myself, “This is silly; I do this full time. I can do more than that. I bet I can do 100 seminars a year.” I started concentrating on seminars.
In this weekly E-news I used to concentrate the side-bars on videos. No more. I started concentrating on seminars. I did 50 seminars in the back half of 2003 and just shy of 100 in 2004. I am on pace to do 120 this year. I have more than closed the gap. The debt is coming down and I am paying back that retirement account. Life is working because I am cooperating with the law of sowing and reaping.
A lot of churches, in my opinion, operate in violation of this law. They keep doing the same things (planting the same seeds) expecting different results. It is not going to happen. If you do this year what you did last year you will get next year what you go this year. Every time. It is a predictable universe. That is the law of sowing and reaping. That is the law of Galatians 6.7
These five learnings I have discovered over the last several years. But there is one factor that is not a learning; it is a person.
I have been pretty open in the past about the fact that my wife and I had more than our fair share of marriage troubles. For years we struggled and after eighteen and a half years of marriage, she decided she wanted to do something else. To say that I was devastated is the understatement of the century. I was almost suicidal. All my learnings about the importance of joy did me no good in that valley. I have shared about some of these learnings in another context. Please don’t hear this happy ending as some kind of defense of divorce. I couldn’t be more against divorce. I came to understand why God hates divorce—because it is awful. I hate divorce too. I think lots of divorced people do.
But, praise to the God of second chances. After nearly five years of living alone, He gave me a second chance at love. One year ago today I asked her to marry me.
She said yes. It has been the best year of my life. Not so much because of some learnings, but because of Missy.
She has loved me in every way woman can love a man. She has believed in me, supported me, traveled with me, wept with me, listened to me rant, embraced my kids and embraced my dream. She has loved me far more than I deserve and far more than I ever imagined possible. I didn’t think I would ever enjoy a love like this.
One of the things that attracted me to her was she had been a pastor’s wife and loved it. She loves the Lord and loves the ministry. And, we are starting to do the ministry together.
This next week she will conduct three seminars on K.I.D.T.E.A.C.H. While I teach adult classes to double every two years or less, she will teach teachers of kids to do the same. She was a public school teachers for years, as well as having experience teaching kids at church. Living life together this way will be incredible.
So, on Valentines Day I want to stand up on a box and declare loudly so all can hear, “I love you, Missy! You have made me the happiest man on the planet and I am deeply grateful to God for bringing you into my life. Happy Valentine’s day, sweetheart!”
Feb 14, 2005
I write two lessons a week that follow a question and answer format. These follow the curriculum outline for the Family Bible Series and the Explore the Bible Series.