Because it’s Friday, and you need something a little lighter.
The simple fact is, you will NEVER be good enough for people. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much effort you put in, you won’t be good enough to meet the expectations and desires of other people.
- You won’t be spiritual enough.
- Your kids won’t be respectful enough.
- You won’t be thin enough.
- Your preaching will be too intellectual.
- Your preaching won’t be intellectual enough.
- You won’t have enough kids.
- You’ll have too many kids.
- You won’t serve on enough comittees at church or school.
- You’ll serve on too many committees.
- You won’t choose the right method of schooling for your kids.
- Your kids will eat too much junk food.
- You won’t go on enough dates with your spouse.
- You won’t do enough devotional times with your kids.
- You won’t have enough of the Holy Spirit.
- You’ll have too much of the Holy Spirit.
- And on and on and on.
Because you are sinful and you are human, people will always have a reason to criticize and judge you. Trying to constantly meet the expactations and desires of others is exhausting and miserable and futile. The harder you try, the more miserable you’ll be. Even if you get to a place where you have the respect of everyone, you then have to stay there, which is even harder than getting there in the first place.
The gospel allows you to stop striving and fighting for the respect and acceptance of other people.
Romans 8:33-34 says:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
There is only one person who can legitimately condemn you or bring charges against you, and that is God. After all, God is the one who knows your every thought, desire, and motive. If anyone could condemn you, it is God.
But if you are in Christ, God absolutely does not condemn you or bring any charges against you! He accepts you, delights in you, treasures you, loves you, and cares for you. It doesn’t matter what others say about you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t live up to the expectations of other people. It doesn’t matter if people criticize you. You have the full, unfettered, unhinged, unqualified love of God, and that’s all you need.
You can stop trying to be everything to everybody. You can get off the exhausting treadmill of people pleasing. You can let criticisms roll off our backs. Why? Because your worth and identity and security doesn’t come from other people; it comes from God through Christ. Your security and identity is not tied to your weight, parenting style, social group, diet, family size, or anything else.
The Judge of all the earth has already given his opinion of you, and it is decidedly in your favor!
This post is self-serving. Many of you know I have a book releasing in July called The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, so yes, I am giving you pointers on how to support me. But I’m also asking you to support Stephen Altrogge, who has written several books and is nice enough to let me blog on his site. And these tips apply to any author, whether they are a NYT best seller or a self-published specialist in something. You might also find it to state some rather obvious ideas. Ok, but are you doing them? These three simple actions can have a remarkable collective effect on the success of authors and their books.
1. Buy their books
Thank you, Captain Obvious, you say. But think about it. You can borrow books. You can go to the library. You can have good intentions. But actually purchasing the books is the best way to support an author. It really doesn’t matter from where you buy from either. In these days of e-commerce, every sale drives more sales, bit-by-bit. The Amazon ranking goes up, more people see the book, more purchases are made, and the author gets his or her royalty. Buy the e-book, buy the print book, no matter – this is the single best way to support authors and books you enjoy.
2. Write reviews and rate the books
Aside from buying this is the most powerful tool you have to help authors. We live a day when customer reviews are enormously powerful. Think of apps like Yelp that help you determine where you will or won’t eat. The star rating and the reviews on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Goodreads are equally as powerful. If a book has ten ratings we think the author’s mom and siblings rated it. If it has twenty-five his college classmates joined in. But if it has fifty or one hundred? Those matter. Add your voice and help the book get noticed. Major e-commerce sites have systems that rank books more highly and publicize them better if they get more ratings too, so you are doing more than offering an opinion. You are creating leverage for that book.
3. Talk about it
Two facts hold true for book sales. First, the greatest obstacle to an author having success is lack of awareness by readers. Second, the greatest incentive to buy a book is a recommendation from a trusted source. If you talk up books you overcome the first obstacle by being the trusted source. Think back to a book like The Help. The author, Kathryn Stockett, wasn’t well-known. The publisher didn’t invest big up front (If they had it wouldn’t have done anything; publishers can’t make small books big, but that’s an issue for a different day.) What made that book a national phenomena? Conversations which became purchases which became reviews and more conversations. Talking is exponentially powerful when it comes to promoting books. You can talk in person or you can talk on Twitter or Facebook or your blog. Just talk.
Most of the time, I don’t get grace. I mean, I understand it in an intellectual, theological way. I could probably give you a well-nuanced, theologically accurate, biblical description of God’s grace. I can sing about “amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” I can direct you to the grace chapter in Grudem’s Systematic Theology. But I’m learning that there’s a long way between my head and heart. There’s a massive difference between knowing about grace and being transformed by grace.
How do I know when I’m starting to truly, fully grasp grace? Here’s how…
I’M STARTING TO TRULY UNDERSTAND GRACE WHEN GRACE SURPRISES ME
The grace of God runs counter to every impulse in me. The desire to earn, merit, and purchase God’s grace is woven into my DNA. I instinctively try to push my way into God’s presence by law-keeping. Yeah, I’m saved by grace, but after being saved, I go into salvation-maintenance mode, which, according to my thinking, hinges on my good works.
This is why God’s grace is so befuddling to me. God doesn’t give me grace because I’ve earned it; he gives me grace because he is gracious. Here is the brain-busting reality: God’s grace has absolutely ZERO correlation with earning. I know, I know, this kind of talk seems reckless, even a little dangerous. If this is really true, I might take advantage of God’s grace. I might start backsliding. I might go all apostate on God. Surely a little bit of earning is good, right? WRONG!
If I don’t get pound this fact into my head, I’ll never truly understand grace.
Jesus makes this crystal clear in his parable about the workers in the vineyard. Those who worked from the beginning of the day assumed they would receive higher pay than those who worked only one hour at the end of the day. They assumed that the master operated according to principles of “fairness”. They had worked harder than those who only worked one hour, therefore the “fair” thing to do would be for the master to pay them more.
But the master paid everyone the same amount, which caused a fair amount of grumbling among the workers. The master then said:
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:15-16)
Everyone was surprised by the master’s pay scale. Those who had worked all day were surprised that they had only received one denarius. Those who had only worked one hour were surprised that they had received one denarius.
Grace is wonderfully, surprisingly, delightfully not fair! Fairness has nothing to do with God’s grace! Today, God will give me a lavish, ridiculous, completely unfair, completely surprising amount of grace. Today, God will give me a surprising, unexpected, wonderful amount of grace. Today God will give me way more grace than I’ve “earned” (as if I could ever earn God’s grace). Today, God will surprise me with grace.
If I’m not suprised by grace, there’s a good chance I don’t understand it.
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
The ESV Study Bible comments on this passage:
“Note the amazing logic of grace: God’s people forsake him for a false salvation (vv. 1–17); therefore, he is gracious to them (v. 18). But he waits, for the Lord is a God of justice, i.e., he knows the perfect way to achieve his purpose, the perfect time to go into action, and the perfect disciplinary process that will awaken Judah.”
Judah had taken refuge from her enemies by turning to Egypt for protection – “a false salvation”, rather than turning to God. But God wasn’t finished yet. He was waiting for the perfect time to be gracious to them, the perfect time to “awaken” them, the perfect time to pour out his mercy. And when he did be gracious to them, he would “exalt himself” – he would display his glory.
Are you waiting on God for something? Praying and praying yet the answer seems to not be coming? God has a perfect timing. He is waiting until the perfect time to be gracious to you. The time that will be best for you and bring the most glory to him. He is a God of justice – he won’t fail to answer prayer. He won’t fail to treat you justly. He won’t fail to be true to his promises. He would be unjust if he told us to trust him and wait for him, then fail to be gracious. But blessed are all those who wait for him.
Why should we keep waiting for God? Because he is waiting for the perfect time to bless us. He has bags and bags of grace stored up for us. He’s just waiting for the absolute best time to heap them upon us. So keep watching for the One who plans to be gracious to you. Keep asking, seeking and knocking. Keep trusting him. Keep your mind stayed on him. Don’t go running to Egypt for salvation. Don’t go running to the world for relief. “Blessed are all those who wait for him.” When God does pour out his grace you’ll appreciate it more than ever. Who knows? Today might be the day he answers your prayers.
When it comes to giving and receiving gifts, I have a one track mind. When people ask me for a Christmas list, the list I give them is books, all books, and nothing but books. And when I start shopping for gifts, my first thought is, What have I read lately? I have to work to be creative here, otherwise my gifts will all end up having dust jackets and ISBN numbers. Maybe you know someone like me. Every year you get the same generic card with a hastily scrawled signature, the same subscription to the jelly-of-the-month club (you don’t even like jelly), the same kind of hideous tie with Walt Disney characters on it. Money was invested, but certainly no thought! None of us want to be that kind of gift-giver. But, as a Christian, have you ever thought about why creativity generosity is a good thing? Here’s the short answer: creative generosity reflects the character of God.
If you were to catalog all the ways God has blessed you in the last week, the last month, the last year – how creative has God been as he lavishes his goodness on you? Think of examples from every sphere of life: favor with a co-worker or client. An evening of joy and rest with your family. A vacation that refreshed you in body and soul. A good conversation with a friend. A sermon that spoke to you or a song that brought your hope. God’s goodness is not one-size-fits-all, nor is it a short playlist set on “Repeat” mode. In countless ways –often small and unnoticed by us – God litters our lives with expressions of his creative care. “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works,” David says in Psalm 145:7.
There are two ways we respond to the creative bounty of God. First, take notice of it! Look for those small kindnesses of the Lord that brighten everyday life. An example: recently I realized at 8:30pm that I needed a prop for a teaching I was giving the next morning at 8am. I ransacked my house but couldn’t find what I needed. I called a friend – no success. A second friend thought he might have it, but wasn’t sure where to find it in his storage shed. He gave me permission to come try my luck. I don’t want to be up all night looking for this, I thought as I drove to his house. Please let me find this quickly, Lord. I stepped into his building, and the first thing I saw was my prop, sitting out on a bench in plain sight. Was it life-changing? No. Was it a genuine expression of the care of my Father, who knew it would stress me to be up late looking for my prop? Without a doubt. He is kind in all his works.
But there’s a second way we respond to God’s creative generosity. Imitate it! Look for the small ways you can bless those around you. If you have someone stay the night at your house, leave a chocolate on the guest room pillow. Do a little investigative work to find out their favorite dessert and serve it. Discover that daily chore that your spouse hates and take it for them. Make note of the book a friend says they want to read, and buy them a copy (sorry, the bookworm is back). Our days contain hundreds of opportunities to show creative kindness and generosity to the people God brings into our paths. And those actions, done in faith, have a deeply theological value: we are imaging God, our Creator who providentially orders all our days, and our Redeemer who graciously uses every situation to bring about good in our lives. He is kind in all his works, so be eager for opportunities to be kind in all your works.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:1-2).
Recently it came out that Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll hired a marketing firm to purchase additional copies of the book Real Marriage in order that the book would show up on the New York Times Best Seller List. In this episode of “Happy Rant”, Barnabas and I disagree about whether or not it is okay to buy your way onto the list.
We tend to think of fear as bad thing.
As something to be avoided. We don’t want to live in fear. And when it comes to the fear of the Lord, we tend to think of it in negative terms as well. We tend to think of the fear of the Lord as fear that he will punish us for sin. A dread that if we get out of line he’ll backhand us or hurl a lightning bolt at us. But the fear of the Lord is a wonderful, amazing, positive, desirable blessing that God gives us to produce joy and gladness in our lives.
The fear of the Lord is to delight in God’s awesomeness. To marvel at his majestic power and glory. To contemplate his infinite might and breathtaking holiness. To fear God is to love him and take great pleasure in obeying and serving him. When we contemplate the beauty of the Lord and taste and see his goodness, we will hate sin and filth and impurity and anything else that robs us of our delight and joy in God.
Here are a few verses to contemplate:
Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! PS 33:8
To fear the Lord is to stand in awe of him. To marvel and be amazed at his glory and power.
Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! Ps 112:1
The Psalmist tells us that fearing the Lord isn’t so much a fear of punishment for breaking God’s commands; rather it is positively delighting in God’s commandments.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. Pr 14.27
Fearing God brings life, joy, satisfaction, contentment. It is a fountain of life – a constant source of refreshing and fulfillment. Because we delight in and stand in awe of God, we turn away from sin, which brings misery and death.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” Dt 10:12
God tells us that to fear him is in reality to love him and serve him wholeheartedly.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. Prov 19.9
The fear of the Lord is always positive. It is clean. It endures forever. It has to do with loving God’s true and righteous laws.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18
The fear of the Lord has infinitely more to do with loving God than fearing his punishment. We are not to fear punishment from God, because he punished Christ in our place. Rather, because of all God did for us through his Son, we should love God and delight in him with all our hearts.
So fear God today. Love him. Delight in his awesome, infinite power. Contemplate his sovereign rule over all the angels, over every demon, over every nation. Marvel at God’s providence and wisdom in directing all things from galaxies to lightning bolts. Praise him for his steadfast love and his mercies that never cease. As you drink from the Fountain of Delights, you’ll hate the putrid waters of sin. You’ll hate the snares of death that rob you of joy and satisfaction in the infinite beauty of the Beautiful One.
I have a business idea that is going to make me millions of dollars. If you promise not to steal it, I’ll share the idea with you.
It goes like this. I’m going to gather all the living authors of parenting books together into one room. I’m talking Dr. Spock (is he still alive?), Dr. Phil, the people who wrote those What To Expect When You’re Expecting books, Paul Tripp, that lady who sneaks vegetables into her kids desserts, and every other parenting author. Then, I will invite parents throughout the world to attend this gathering of authors. And here’s the real kicker: I’m only going to charge one dollar per person. One dollar! How will I make millions of dollars if I’m only charging a dollar per person? Because every parent in the world will come. I’ll probably need to rent out a couple of stadiums, because this is going to be bigger than the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and Taylor Swift combined. How do I know every parent will come? Because I’m going to offer every attendee the opportunity to slap every parenting author in the face. Repeatedly. With something cold and wet, like a piece of fresh salmon.
Genius idea, am I right? I’m going to be filthy, stinking, diving-into-giant-piles-of-dollar-bills, rich. I’m finally going to be able to do what every rich athlete does: buy his mom a house. Granted, my mom already has a pretty nice house, but that’s beside the point. The first rule of getting rich is that you always buy your mom a house. I’m pretty sure that’s in the rulebook they hand out at gatherings for rich people.
Now, if you’re not a parent, my idea might sound somewhat insane, and perhaps even a bit pathological. After all, slapping is a tactic usually reserved for terrorists, guys who ask women if they’re pregnant, and people on the verge of a nervous breakdown. To the non-parent, the idea of slapping someone probably sounds a bit extreme. And you’re absolutely right; my idea is insane. But what you don’t understand is that every parent is insane, and would jump out of their suspenders at the opportunity to slap a parenting author in the face.
Buried treasure. X marks the spot. Pirate’s chests and coded maps. This is the stuff kids dream about! But if you’ve been reading the headlines (here and here), you know long lost caches of gold coins are occasionally more than a childhood fantasy. Last year a couple in California was strolling along their property when they noticed some half-buried rusty cans. They started digging. Turns out these weren’t your average rusty Campbell’s soup containers. The eight cans contained over 1,400 US gold coins dating from 1847 to 1894. The mere face value of the coins is $28,000, but due to their age they could sell for up to $10 million. That’s right. This couple had $10 million lying in the dirt in their back yard.
Now unless you live in northern California and have been stepping over a certain pile of half-buried canisters every time you walk the dog, I wouldn’t recommend rushing off to buy your metal detector just yet. Instead, let’s imagine a slightly different scenario. You have just bought your own property in former gold rush country. You’re not that familiar with the land, so you hire a surveyor to mark your property boundaries and tell you what you have. As it turns out, you hired the Honest Abe of surveyors. His written report tells you that you have 1.74 acres of land and oh, by the way, there are eight cans of antique golden coins buried beside the third cactus on the left. Honest Abe says they’re probably worth another $10 million, and since he has an allergy to high quantities of gold coins he didn’t touch them. They’re sit sitting there waiting for you. Grab your shovel.
Except you don’t. You’re too busy to dig up the treasure. It’s tax season so you’ve got to fill out your 1040. And it’s almost March Madness, and you have a bracket to fill out – so much to do! Or maybe you don’t believe your surveyor. There’s not really a $10 million cache of gold on my property, you think to yourself. That’s too good to be true! And so the gold sits there, unclaimed and unused.
All right, so what’s the point of all this? Even though I’m pretty sure none of you have buried treasure hidden on your property (although if you do, remember I told you first), every single Christian has been given better promises than even mountains of gold-coin filled cans. We have promises like these:
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”(John 14:13-14)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Listen to what John Calvin says about the gift of prayer: “To know God as the master and bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of him, and still not go to him and not ask of him – this would be of as little profit as for a man to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to him” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.xx.1)
Now I know there’s a danger here. By the way I told my imaginary story I could leave you feeling condemned for not praying due to busyness or unbelief. That’s not my intention at all. Prayer is never the grounds for our acceptance for God. If you’re a Christian and barely prayed at all last week, you are no less acceptable before God than the guy who fasted and prayed for 24 hours straight. We have access to God always and only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. (And incidentally, there’s nowhere in Scripture says a 24-hour prayer vigil is intrinsically more pleasing to God than a 30 second “Help me!”) So banish all condemnation from your mind!
Instead, let this thought encourage you: there’s more waiting for you in God. More joy. More power of the Spirit. More wisdom. More opportunities to share the gospel fruitfully. More comfort in trials, strength in weakness, peace in chaos. You have not even come close to exhausting the riches contained in just one of these promises. There’s more. So ask for it!
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:19-20)
Photo by David, Bergin, Emmett, and Elliot.