Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
Sign up to receive blog posts via email and receive a free eBook!

Self-Help Can’t Help Enough

“It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Romans 7:18-19

Paul’s encouragement to the believers in Rome—read by us in Romans 7—is filled with an explanation of their own demise. But he does this by describing his own demise, something directly opposed to how their society believed leaders should function. Leaders were supposed to be the ones who had it all together, not the ones who shared their struggle.

Not much has changed since then. The fastest growing genre within book sales is “self-help.” Most bookstores now have whole sections to house this genre of books now making up over 5% of all book sales. What is most astounding is that this genre didn’t even exist 20 years ago. Today’s leaders are the ones who provide a picture of the life we want, and they teach us how to get there.

The overly used self-help picture of liberation

The overly used self-help picture of liberation

But the premise behind it all deserves to be questioned: how much can we help ourselves? Does becoming more efficient and having better self-awareness and knowing how the most successful people run their lives, actually help you become a better person?

There’s also the Christian self-help genre that encourages you to be brave, that you’re stronger than you realize, and other encouragements that place you at the center of the story. Self-help pushes a narrative that says the best life possible comes through personal fulfillment—a 21st century adaptation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Read through Romans 7 and you’ll get a picture of Paul shaking his head, as if to say, “You’ve totally missed it.”

At one point the middle of chapter 7 Paul begins to describe the good things that sin was able to distort, turning them against him: “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me” (Romans 7:11). What he’s saying is that there are plenty of good things in our lives that Satan can use to deceive us into thinking we’re a big deal, or we can do this on our own, or that the good thing should be the main thing.

That hobby you enjoy on the weekends? What if it becomes the focus on your life? The thing you lived for? See how easily something good can be turned around into something harmful? It’s true, we’re each one step away from turning a good thing into a harmful thing.

Thankfully Paul doesn’t end Romans 7 with bad news, and he doesn’t tell the Romans how to fix themselves. No, God has stepped in to fix our problem:

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

None of this means you can’t work on becoming a better follower of Jesus, or a better employee, or a better boss, or a better husband, dad, student…you can obviously make an effort to improve, but you will never improve in a way that ultimately matters if you do not realize you cannot improve by yourself.

By yourself you’ll constantly be losing a battle to Satan by making good things ultimate things. What you need instead, is a God who stood in your place to deliver you from that ongoing death sentence.

Thanks be to God!

From Tyler: Today’s post is taken from Renew Daily, a devotional app I help produce. We’re up to nearly 150 daily devotionals for under $5. If you have a device on iOS, be sure to check it out. 

  • Share on Tumblr

The Best Quotes from Strange Days by Mark Sayers

Back when Mark Sayers was releasing the book Facing Leviathan I had the great privilege of endorsing it (you can read my endorsement on the first page of the book), and I still believe it’s the best book on Christian leadership I’ve ever read. Mark’s next book, Disappearing Church, was equally as helpful for me as well. So you can imagine my excitement to read Mark’s latest book release titled Strange Days.

strange days sayersOn a podcast John Mark Comer described Mark Sayers as the most brilliant cultural commentator of our day and that is most definitely not an overstatement. I have a short list of authors I read no matter what and Mark is on that list. Strange Days is most definitely a worthy book purchase and read. Here are the best quotes from Strange Days:

Like Cain, our selfish rebellion, thrusting us into the fleshly condition of fear and mortality, seeks to find security and stability in the spaces, places, and social structures that we create.

Lost, wandering east of Eden, we, like Cain, scratch out imitations of home in the dust of where we find ourselves. Unable to return to Eden, we create a place for ourselves. (pgs 26-27)

Our nations, our cultures, our places, and indeed our religions—buffers against the flesh—soon turn into barriers distancing us from God, which is an essential component of the flesh. These systems take on a life of their own and go rogue, becoming destructive rather than protective forces. (pg 33)

The miracle of the resurrection was not just a once-off, individual miracle reserved for the risen Christ. It was and is an invitation to join God’s salvation project, to be resurrected, to live fully human lives through the work of Jesus, minus the corruption of the flesh. (pg 36)

The world is becoming a construction site where walls—physical, cultural, and spiritual—are being simultaneously erected and torn down. All in an effort to keep the chaos at bay, to reach for the purity of a utopia, to find a sense of home, and security. (pg 45)

Globalization integrates cultures, expanding our ability to reach around the world and move across boundaries. For traditional societies, meaning is found in the correct and sacred ordering of space and time. Globalization radically rearranges both. (pg 47)

Part of the reason we feel as if we’re living in strange days, like culture is decaying and the world is moving into greater conflict, is because of a fundamental and implicit assumption. The assumption is that we have reached a new era of human history, a post-conflict world in which we’ll gently slide toward a future both diverse and tolerant. (pg 52)

The reason we feel as anxious as we do is that we don’t see what we expected. We came running into the new world with arms raised in triumph, like a boxer waiting for flowers to flood the ring. But as the darkness swirls around us, our posture shifts. Our arms slouch in confusion, as if to ask, “What is this?” Expect utopia, and dystopia is jarring. (pg 60)

We fear commitment and don’t want to be bound, preferring instead to travel relationally light. Thus we have more freedom, but the cost is a sense of lostness, isolation, and an absence of meaning. (pg 64)

Melancholic, anxious, and pining for the warmer days of the past, churches, Christian organizations, and believers can find themselves retreating from their God-given mandate, forgetting their prime place in Christ’s mission to win the world. Instead of providing a shining alternative to the anxiety and despair of the surrounding culture, we can simply be a mirror reflecting its worries. (pg 117)

Our unhindered comfort not only makes us spiritually sick but mentally and physically weak…Our lack of hardship weakens our resilience. We are born for struggle, created for a cause, formed for a great battle. (pg 121)

Christians, formed by the church, shaped by its relational rhythms, abiding with Christ, fighting flesh and living in the Spirit, are built for the real world. (pg 143)

We settle in with culture to try and influence it for Christ. We contextualize so heavily that we dishonor—usually subtly and unknowingly—the biblical distinctions between the church and the world. (pg 152)

The Christian who lives by the grand story in our strange days becomes like the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32). (pg 170)

  • Share on Tumblr

The Punishment of Parenthood

Almost 5 years ago I released my first book, only to become a father for the first time a few months later. Now, as the dad to two children (ages 4 and 2) I can’t imagine having to move my life around to have the time and energy to write another book. Some days of raising two toddlers it’s hard enough work just to eat three meals, much less have time to write.

Last week, while my wife was busy at work all day, I spent the day with our kids. After she got home they were hanging out in the kitchen, I told her I needed a couple minutes just to sit down on the couch. I fell asleep for 30 minutes. This is not an anomaly.

Recently I heard someone instruct a group of soon-to-be-parents that their productivity would drop by 15%-20% for each kid they welcome to their family. I thought that sounded about right, to be honest.

I tend to poke fun at couples who are soon-to-be-parents or who are about to add another child to their family dynamic. Statements like: “You think you don’t have free time now? It gets worse.” Or, “Better enjoy getting your sleep now because that’s about to go away.” I do this in jest, to be sure, but part of it is the harsh reality of parenthood—it’s part punishment.

brauns easter

But this isn’t the full picture of parenting. Sure, becoming a mom or dad is signing up for exhausting days and sleepless nights and the unending array responsibilities that exist for raising a human being. But this is obvious. Everyone knows this.

Too often parenthood is seen only as a chore, rather than a joy.

The Bible describes parenthood as a command (Genesis 1:28). It’s not so much a command that those who do not become parents are operating in some sort of sinful behavior. Some people don’t get married. Some couples are not able to become pregnant. In God’s Kingdom parenthood is a corporate church responsibility, not just a father and mother responsibility, so no one is really exempt from its requirement.

In my church, we often perform what we call child dedications for infants and young children. While much of the charge to raise the child is given to a parent(s), a charge is also given to the extended family and the charge at large.

Parenthood is a command, but we must also hold closely to this command the reality that God never commands something not meant for our ultimate good and flourishing. You wouldn’t have to look hard to find many words written about the punishment of parenthood, but what of its blessing? Does this not deserve even more words? And what if we could be honest about the struggle of parenthood while also acknowledging its blessing?

God’s Word is clear about the blessing of work, of suffering, and of sacrifice, but parenthood is a unique blend of these and many more.

Here’s some unique blessings I’ve been learning through the punishment of parenthood:

Shared Purpose

While certainly, this is a tension to manage with jobs, relationships, marriages, and hobbies, parenthood forces you to learn how to keep your purpose as an individual while also giving up some of your self-drive agenda for someone else. Raising children is all-encompassing, for it to be less would miss the mark, but the hardest part is figuring out how to maintain your own life within it.

As I’ve learned to give myself to my children, I’ve also found it easier to care for others around me. Slowly but surely I get more comfortable letting go of the desire I have to build something great out of my life and I shift it toward building something great in others. Parenthood pushes the opportunity to experience this others-driven purpose forward at a faster rate.

Identifying Selfishness

You’ve been waiting all week to watch this game, but your daughter just got home from school and she wants you to take her to the park. Every fiber in your being just wants to sit on the couch.

Every parent has been there. You know you have a responsibility to say yes. Every good parent would, you think. But sometimes you want to do what you want to do.

Nothing exposes your underlying self-inspired desires like parenthood.

Expansive Reach

Each of us wants our lives to make an impact. This doesn’t mean we should desire fame and fortune, but it is a godly desire to influence the lives of people. Many people want to change the world, but the greatest opportunity we have for change is with the people we are invested in right in front of us.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Our impact on the community around us is most forceful through the children we raise.

mothers day photo booth

Maybe it’s my own personality bent toward a “glass half empty” mentality in my weaker moments, but I think it’s easy to look at the punishment of parenthood, all the while missing out on its great blessings.

-For those of you who are parents, spend a little more time considering how God has blessed you through the command of parenthood.

-For those of you who aren’t parents but are involved in the raising of children around you, be sure to point out the blessings a child brings to your life.

In all this let us strive to remember the wise words from the Psalmist:

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb a reward.

-Psalms 127:3

  • Share on Tumblr

Is the Church Easily Deceived?

abstract-painting-banner

In 2nd Corinthians 11 Paul makes reference to men he calls “super apostles” because they think highly of themselves, but he also says they are false apostles. In fact, he comes on quite strong about who these men are, saying, “deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:13-14).

What makes their teachings and leadership false? Well, Paul doesn’t say. No specifics are given. You could make some educated guesses, but the fact is Paul is vague about how these apostles masqueraded as of Christ.

While understanding the specific situation in Corinth becomes more difficult because of this, this vagueness provides with an opportunity to think about our own situations. And I think that leads us to this question:

What commonly held perspectives in the church today are masquerading as of Christ?

I’d like to identify two that jump out to me, and then discuss how to avoid other deceptions of the truth. 

1. God rewards increasing levels of faith with greater amounts of health and wealth.

You might hear this kind of perspective referred to as the prosperity gospel. And let me be clear, churches that champion this kind of perspective often seem on the outside to be quite healthy, they often have a lot of people and a lot of resources to build up something that looks nice and flashy on the outside.

There’s a number of issues with this kind of perspective.

1) If wealth and health are a result of the degree of faith a person has, this leads to the conclusion that the poor are poor because they are spiritually deficient. While personal sin may result in poverty, the prosperity gospel ignores the effects of the sin of others and structural evils that may be the cause of poverty. Believing harder fails to eliminate poverty and advance human flourishing.

2) The prosperity gospel overemphasizes the importance of wealth on the individual. Monetary gain rather than obedience is seen as the sign of faith. While Scripture records examples of faithful rich men (Abraham), it also records examples of people who were poor or sick, yet were also faithful (Paul). 

3) The biggest issue with this perspective is that it places suffering and difficulty under the heading of lacking faith and giving into sin. There is an absence of teaching or emphasis on a right understanding of suffering, which is not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced, according to the Bible.

A prosperity understanding of the gospel avoids weakness, and poverty, and suffering, rather than embracing such hardships to the glory of God.

2. It’s All About You

A few years ago a study was released saying for the previous four decades the number one career aspiration of children ages 12 to 16 was to become a teacher, but that in 2009 this was replaced by a desire to become famous through sports, music, tv, or movies. On the surface it’s not surprising but I think it highlights a shift most recognize: a teacher seeks to build into the lives of others, but the goal of being famous is first and foremost a goal for the individual.

“Discover who you are” and “be who you are” are the anthems of our society today. Anything that impedes this process for individuals is often seen as discriminatory and thrown into the pile of things that bring about the rage of social media. And this me-first kind of attitude is quite prevalent in church too. Church shopping is a commonly held thing, where people look for a church that meets their needs.

And it is quite often what you hear in church. It’s all about you. “You’re going to change the world!” While God loves you and pursues you, an overemphasis on self leads to narcissism, which often leads to anxiety and depression.

A self-centered reality is not a healthy way to live. Us being created in God’s image means that our lives must look to and extend beyond ourselves, in order to be fully who we were made to be.

How do we know which messages are deceiving?

Or another way to put it would be, how do we know which messages and messengers within the church to trust and which ones to ignore? I ran across some advice John Piper shared relating to this subject that I found to be helpful. Here’s some questions to ask when deciding who to trust:

  • Do they make the greatness and majesty and glory of God their focus? Is that their sole aim, or are they more focused on themselves?
  • Do they talk about themselves more than God and others?
  • Is their heart broken over sin? Is there noticeable repentance? 

When these questions are posed against the two teachings shared above the truth shines brilliantly.

Each day presents opportunities to buy into something new. Every day we’re inundated with various pictures of what a good life looks like. Over time the church can become compromised from teachings within and beyond that deceive us away from the truth that leads to life. Each of us must examine the things invading our lives so that we can protect that which is held dearest to us (Proverbs 4:23).

[Image: NAFA]

  • Share on Tumblr

Rage Against the Opposition

Any given week you choose among two or three of the latest controversies. At this point, it’s no longer worth discussing which ones are warranted because there’s too many to keep up with. Rage fatigue is now a thing. Companies lose millions of dollars in stock value because of tweets deemed to be bigoted. Spend a few minutes on social media and you’ll quickly realize EVERYTHING IS WRONG.

The issue with this is, of course, if everything is wrong, nothing is wrong.

But what’s the outcome of this rage against the opposition? Back in the early days of online rage Joseph Kony was the object of scorn (just 5 years ago, but you get the point), for plenty of valid reasons. But I bet you haven’t heard that name in years. Did you know he’s still at large despite an ongoing international manhunt?

Our attention spans for online rage are short. Often our rage produces little to no recognizable difference. But in a partisan society, where middle ground is a wasteland, it seems our rage is increasing not decreasing. I find this quite troubling.

I’ve been thinking a lot about online rage. You have to live under a rock to avoid it. In my decade of online writing I’ve been blindsided by a few controversies, all from things I’ve said.

Was the rage warranted? Depending on your own perspective, I would say yes, it was.

Did the rage do any good? No. Simply, no.

What rage against the opposition misses is that it leaves no room for conversation, charity, or learning opportunities.

The key to discourse among opponents in an increasingly online society to space for understanding.

So how do you go about allowing your disagreement to lead toward conversation, charity, and learning opportunities rather than rage? A few ideas:

Tell Your Story

John 9 tells the story of a blind man who was healed by Jesus. After the healing the religious leaders go after the previously blind man, sensing the whole thing was a farce. The man simply replies by telling his story, over and over again, because the religious leaders do not relent in their questioning. His reply is consistently just telling the story from his perspective.

In the face of great opposition, or when facing great opposition one of the best things you can do is teach your own context. This is different than a “what is true for you must be true” mantra. This is simply setting the scene for why you have a certain perspective.

One recent online rage storm has been about changing health care coverage in the United States. As with much of the rage, there’s been a lot of noise, but one thing that broke through the noise was Preston Yancey’s Washington Post article describing how the proposed changes would dramatically affect the life of his son. In the middle of a rage storm, a personal story provides the opportunity for continued conversation.

Ask Good Questions

Online rage is fueled by those who wish to pile on. Pointing fingers is always easier than extending a hand. Questions extend a hand because they continue the conversation. Sure you can ask accusatory questions, or overly simplistic questions, but good questions benefit both parties involved.

Ask open-ended questions that force others to provide something beyond yes or no.

Ask clarifying questions if you think there’s something ambiguous about the other perspective.

Good questions help people of all perspectives think critically about the subject at hand. Good questions force people to reflect in unpredictable ways (“why would your perspective work best?” is one way to get at this). Good questions challenge the preconceived notion of the opposition. Good questions de-escalate the rising pulse of rage, something easily missed as things ramp up.

More than likely you will find plenty of opportunities to rage against the opposition this week (or even today), but I hope you’ll consider your own place in the story and I hope you’ll utilize thoughtful questions as a way to prompt conversation instead of an argument.

We can do better.

  • Share on Tumblr

The Best Quotes from The Curious Christian by Barnabas Piper

Note from Tyler: 

I’ve blogged about books a lot over the last decade, using various formats to do so. I’ve blogged through books, chapter by chapter. I’ve written book reviews. And I’ve simply plugged books I enjoyed. But I’ve struggled in recent years to keep up with sharing about books I’ve read and enjoyed. For the foreseeable future, rather than posting lengthy posts about books I’m simply going to share quotes from books I’ve enjoyed. This is certainly not a new or unique idea, but it fits with my reading style (because I underline a lot), and will hopefully help you discover some more books I would have previously not had time to send your way.

I’ll be choosing quotes that stood out to me in my reading of the book. Pick up a copy of the books whose quotes pique your interest. Now to today’s book.

Now to today’s book.


 

curious christian cover

In what is now his third published book, Barnabas Piper has shown an ability to take a seemingly overdone or obvious topic and turned it into an area of intrigue. Just like his first two books, when I heard the topic at first I thought the subject seemed trite, but upon further exploration, I see the value of devoting a book to the subject. I think the value of curiosity is easily overlooked, and because of that I think Barnabas has done us a great service in writing The Curious Christian.

Here’s a good chunk of what I see as the best quotes from the book:

Do you find yourself asking questions often? That’s not a sign of being dumb; it’s a sign of being curious. (pg 1)

Most people avoid most complex ideas and happenings that do not directly relate to their immediate needs or interests. They go about their business living in their narrow view of life. (pg 2)

Curiosity asks what’s next, what not, what if, what about, what’s that, who, when, and most especially why. It asks and asks and asks in part because it knows a surprise waits and in part because it harkens back to childhood. (pg 17)

Curiosity seeks truth. (pg 20)

Godly curiosity keeps us from becoming simplistic legalists who just label everything as either good or bad. This is discernment, a trait all wise Christians have, and one that relies on curiosity so that it can deeply understand. (pg 31)

If we entrust our children to schools alone, we are setting them up to be warehouses of knowledge with little idea why it matters and what difference it can make in the world. (pg 42)

Curiosity enlarges the world. It opens our eyes to experiences of others, to celebrate or to mourn. It moves us to think about what someone else needs or might like instead of only what we need or want. (pg 49)

Real curiosity is not frivolous…curiosity takes the mundanity out of the mundane and breathes life into the most intellectual of pursuits. (pg 70)

Who are you? Who are you becoming? Active curiosity will help you find the answers. (pg 109)

The same people who consider curiosity a dangerous or foolish endeavor are the ones who want to keep their distance from the world…They write off much of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable because of its proximity to that which isn’t. (pg 114)

Be willing to listen to arguments carefully and process them honestly, but do not move from a conviction without ample reason to do so. (pg 119)

The Christian faith should be curious, not blind. It should be full of questions, not fear questions. (pg 131)

Curiosity watches for all the same reasons it listens—watching is listening with the eyes. (pg 143)

  • Share on Tumblr
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. © 2014 by Tyler Braun. Designed and coded by Paul Bae...