The Good News that Comes from the Good News (Part 1)

Last week, I talked about the bad news that comes before the Good News: that God’s wrath will one day be poured out against all sin and unrighteousness of mankind; that religious practice is useless at taking away our sin or giving us sufficient good standing before a holy God; and that every one of us stands guilty of breaking God’s commands and failing to worship Him as we ought. But then I also said that, for those of us who embrace these truths and come to Jesus in complete desperation and dependence, we are made into new people. The Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is good news for sinners who confess that they need a Savior.

So how is the Good News really good for those of us who believe in Jesus? Here are 2 ways today, and on Wednesday, I’ll share 2 more:

1. God loved us before we were good.  Our natural instinct is that we must earn God’s favor by doing good works, and that our good works will give us merit in God’s eyes. But the Gospel says that before we were sinners, Christ Jesus died for us—not for righteous people, not even for good people, but for filthy, rotten, rebellious, worthless, sinful people (which are the only kind of people that exist, truth be told). It wasn’t our good works that captured God’s attention or earned his affection. God chose to rescue sinners who didn’t deserve to be rescued, and sent Jesus the Son to live as a perfect, righteous man, to die in the place of unrighteous people, and then to rise again victorious over our great enemies, sin and death. God demonstrated His love by sending Jesus. So now we who love God do so precisely because He loved us first.

What does this mean for you, Christian? God initiated a relationship with you while you were still in your sins. He rescued you and adopted you as His child. So now, do you think your sin is going to separate you from that love? Do you think the work of Christ is so limited that your sins as a Christian will undo what Jesus has done? By no means! If you have sinned, repent and be restored to right relationship with your Father, because we are called to obey God; but know that those who have truly come to Jesus will never be cast out, and those who repent will be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.

2. Jesus saves children of wrath by grace through faith — not by their works. Remember, you were spiritually dead in your transgressions and sins. You were not weak, you were not wounded–you were spiritually dead. D-E-A-D, dead. You were opposed to God, destined for destruction, facing His righteous wrath. But God who is rich in mercy made us alive together in Christ, the text says. God’s mercy initiated this relationship, and He saved us by grace through faith. Remember, grace means we received something we didn’t deserve–and that is the only sensible way we can view the love of God.

We are not saved by our works–remember? Our best deeds are still stained by sin! How can we, who were spiritually dead and unable to produce any true righteousness of our own, ever bring about our own salvation? Answer: it is the gracious gift of God, received through faith–a faith that shows us to be the spiritual children of Abraham, the man of faith. Abraham believed God’s promise that through his line would come blessing to the entire world, and when Abraham believed, it was credited to him as righteousness. We then who believe the promise that God will save those who call upon the name of the Lord, that faith opens the door to our redemption. And even that faith is a gift! How could it be anything else? How can spiritual corpses believe, unless God enables them to do so?

What does that mean for you, Christian? We are accepted by God because of what Jesus did, not because of what we do. We receive Jesus’ righteousness, credited to our bankrupt account, by putting our faith in Him as our Savior and our Substitute and our Risen King. The works you do are done as a tribute to God’s mercy, not a payment to appease Him. The sacrifice of Christ was not loan consolidation, to give you a lower and more manageable monthly payment of good works; it was complete debt forgiveness, as the impossible amount you owed was stamped “PAID IN FULL” in red letters. We receive that amazing grace by faith.

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On Wednesday, we will look at 2 more ways the Good News of the Gospel is exceedingly good. See you then.

And in the meantime, think about this: God chose to rescue rebellious men and women, transform us, and adopt us as His children. Not because He needed us, but because He chose to demonstrate His glorious grace through us. Isn’t that…amazing?

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Three Stars out of Five.

It is a fact widely ignored that noteworthy people about whom one may share opinions on social media are flesh-and-blood human beings capable of responding to such comments directly.

I realized this all too well when I wrote a fair but critical book review last fall and the author left me a kind but lengthy rebuttal in the comments section.

I’m starting to dip my toe into the waters of book reviews, and with that comes the reality that authors sometimes read what reviewers write. Sometimes they even respond.

And sometimes, in the bizarre case of Kathleen Hale, they go to great lengths (some would call it stalking) to contact negative reviewers who post on social media sites and then write confessional pieces about said “pursuit” in (inter)national papers. Spooky.

I’m glad I’ve never had to deal with that level of crazy intensity, but it does give the online reviewer pause: what if the author actually reads my review? Am I being critical or just cruel? Are my critiques justifiable or personal?

I will freely admit, being snarky is fun. It’s easy to go for the cheap dig and the harsh slam. But critical red-meat and ad hominem attack doesn’t make for a good review. What matters are things like style and content, not cheap shots. I’m not writing clickbait for Buzzfeed here. [#Irony]

When I wrote my recent review of The Art of Work, I wrestled with this tension a little, even though I really liked the book. I was part of Jeff Goins’ online launch team. He sent me a free copy of his book to review, and I knew that he and others on the team would see the review. Of course the temptation to write a puff piece was high! But I had legitimate critiques and I owed it to you (and to Jeff) to be honest about that.

A short time after I shared my review on the Launch Team Facebook page, Jeff reposted an article about handling criticism and  ignoring haters. As i read the post, I felt dread and a little shame rise up in my gut. I went back over my post to see if I made a mistake, and decided that I still stood by it. I was honest but very positive on the book. In the end, I realized that Jeff’s post was written years prior and had nothing to do with me; but it nevertheless made me reconsider how I write about others’ work. After all, someday soonish, I’m going to be the author tempted to read people’s reviews of my work.

Which brings me back to my original point: the people we talk about online, whether book reviews or blog posts or Twitter updates, are real people. So if we criticize, we must be careful to do so lovingly, wisely, and only when necessary.

This may sound like a Pollyanna policy, but it’s not. I’m not advising you to say nothing if you can’t be “nice.” Sometimes “nice” isn’t loving, if stern words of correction are needed. But what happens more often in social media interaction is that we reach for sabres over scalpels because sabres are easier to swing. Unfortunately, that often reveals who’s more interested in being a swordsman than a surgeon.

The Bad News that comes before the Good News.

A few years ago, at lunch after church, a friend invited me to sit with her and another girl. They asked if I could take a few minutes and explain what it meant to be “saved.” The only place I could think to start would be answering the question, “Saved from what?”

That conversation and others like it have affirmed in my mind the vital importance of helping non-believers understand the Bad News.

No, that’s not a typo; I’m very serious. If people do not seriously consider the Bad News, then the Good News (the Gospel) won’t mean what it should. Without the Bad News, the Good News won’t seem as good or as compelling.

So what is the Bad News?

1. The Creator God of the universe is storing up wrath against His rebellious creation. No one likes talking about the wrath of God. Everybody’s on board for the love and mercy and grace of God, but the wrath of God is the theological equivalent of a long record scratch in any conversation. However, the Bible doesn’t shy away from it.

The story the Bible tells is that God created the universe and everything in it, including mankind. However, our first parents rebelled against God’s rightful authority, choosing to disobey His command and be their own gods. Because of that, every one of their descendants has been born with the natural bent toward rebellion against God. All of us desire to sin, and all of us willfully commit sin. We not only sin deliberately (sins of commission), but we also fail to do what God has commanded and give Him the honor and glory He deserves (sins of omission). We deny the plain truth of the God who made us and give our worship to created things. All the evil and suffering of the world is the fruit of humanity’s sin. And because God is a just Judge, He must punish lawbreakers. So His great wrath is being saved up for the last day against all wickedness. Including ours.

You may think, “Come on, Dave, is one little sin that serious?” Well, James writes that anyone who keeps the whole law of God yet fails in one small piece is still considered a lawbreaker, as if he had broken all of it (James 2:8-11).  In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the people of God are told to be holy as God is holy, perfect as God is perfect. A perfectly righteous and just God cannot turn a blind eye to sin. It must be punished.

That’s pretty bad news—but it gets worse.

2. Religious practices and good behavior won’t take wrath away. If you grew up religious or moral, you may feel pretty good about yourself, compared to the rest of humanity. You see the wickedness of mankind reported on the nightly news and think, “I’m glad I’m not like those people.”  Well…the Bible says differently. Even the people of Israel, who were given the Mosaic Law and the prophets and the writings of Scripture were still guilty of breaking that law over and over.  Those outside the people of Israel didn’t have the written law, but they had the law of the conscience—God’s law written on their hearts. Yet our consciences cannot keep us on the narrow path; we make excuses for our behavior, or find ways to justify what our consciences and God’s Word clearly call sin. If you grew up in church like I did, you might try to convince yourself that exterior righteous deeds are sufficient to please God, but your righteous works will do nothing to take away the stain of your sins. Even your righteous deeds are like filthy rags.

“But surely, Dave, there are good people in the world, even outside of your narrow religious belief system. You can’t pin all this on them. What about the noble Muslims and devout Hindus and God-fearing orthodox Jews and good, moral people of no faith? Are you saying that all of them are going to Hell?”

Well…let’s check what the Bible says.  *looks* Uh-oh…

3. Everybody’s guilty. Everybody. Every single one of us. We’re all lawbreakers before God. Even the tiniest infraction makes us guilty, and if we’re being really honest, we know that we’ve done much, much more than that. What the Bible teaches is that none of us are “basically good, deep down.” We are in fact by nature “children of wrath.”  What the Law of God, revealed in the Bible, has done is show us the depth of our sin and our rebellion against God.

Oh, you still think you’re a good person? Do you mind if we test that?

  • Have you ever told a lie? What do you call someone who tells lies? (A liar)
  • Have you ever taken anything that doesn’t belong to you, no matter the value? What do you call someone who takes things? (A thief)
  • Have you ever looked with lustful intention on another person who is not your spouse? Jesus said that one who looks with lust has committed adultery in their heart.
  • Have you ever used God’s name flippantly as a curse or exclamation? That’s called blasphemy.

How are you doing? Still a good person? Or, if you’re like me, have you admitted that you’ve been a liar, thief, adulterer (in heart, if nothing else), and blasphemer?

Let’s be gut-honest, you and I: if that’s all true, how can we honestly claim to be good people? And if God is a just judge who punishes sin, do we really expect Him to just “be a pal” and overlook our many sins?

At this point, reader, we have a choice:

If we reject what Scripture has said about our true nature and standing before God, then let us go on with our lives. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. But keep this in mind: on the last day, we all will give an account before the God of the Universe, the One who judges justly. If we decide to stand on our own merit in the face of that Judge, we will receive the full measure of justice.

However, if we accept what Scripture says about our true nature and standing before God, we must admit that each of us are by nature sinners and deserving of God’s wrath against our rebellion. And for those of us who recognize the Bad News that we are facing a divine wrath we have earned…there is also Good News.

What is that Good News? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to save sinners.  He lived the perfect life you and I couldn’t, by completely obeying God’s Law, and then died as a sacrifice in our place to pay for our sins. The wrath we deserve was poured out on Him for our sake. The justice of God was satisfied, and the mercy of God was revealed, in the cross of Jesus. And then, 3 days later, Jesus rose again from the dead, defeating death itself and demonstrating for all time that He is Lord.

Friend, if you know you are a sinner, and you have never turned from your sinful rebellion, confessed that you need God’s forgiveness, and believed in Jesus who died and was raised for your sake, today is the day. There is no time to waste.

My email address is the4thdave at gmail dot com. If you want to talk about this, shoot me a message.

#ArtOfWorkBook: Hear from Jeff Goins himself about how to discover your calling!

[This is the final post in a series inspired by Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work. Until March 23rd at 11:59PM, the book can be pre-ordered for only $6.99, the cost of shipping, and it comes with a ton of online bonuses. That’s less than 24 hours away, people–no time to waste!!! Check it out at www.artofworkbook.com.]

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I was planning on doing a few more posts about The Art of Work, but I thought, “What better way to help the readers understand the book’s concepts than to let the author himself speak!”

Jeff has a fantastic weekly podcast called “The Portfolio Life” that addresses topics like creativity and calling. One of his recent episodes was about the seven stages of finding your calling, which he details in The Art of Work.

If you want to get a taste of his overall message in the book, this is a great way to do just that. The episode is less than 30 minutes long and gives you lots of great content to think about and apply to your own journey.

Here’s the post from Jeff’s blog with the links to the podcast episode. Check it out!

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And I want to make one more quick appeal: if you or someone you know are wrestling with what to do with your life, Jeff Goins’ book The Art of Work is a great resource that gives practical steps for discovering and pursuing your calling. Until tonight at midnight, you can order the book and pay only the cost of shipping, plus you get a ton of online extras and bonus content. Go to www.artofworkbook.com and order yours today!

#ArtOfWorkBook: “The hard is what makes it great.”

[This is Part 3 of a series of posts inspired by Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work. Until March 23rd at 11:59PM, the book can be pre-ordered for only $6.99, the cost of shipping, and it comes with a ton of online bonuses. That’s only 3 days away, people–get on it!!! Check it out at www.artofworkbook.com.]

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“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

–Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) in A League of Their Own

Chapter 3 of The Art of Work is probably one of my favorites. In it, Jeff talks about the “myth of talent” and the importance of painful practice. He suggests that it’s practice, not talent, that makes the difference in an endeavor, and that even those who have natural ability owe it to themselves to push themselves past the point of what comes easy in order to discover what they’re really capable of achieving.

He writes:

In an era of human history in which we prize comfort above nearly every other virtue, we have overlooked an important truth: comfort never leads to excellence. What it takes to become great at your craft is practice, but not just any kind of practice—the kind that hurts, that stretches and grows you.

A question I wrestle with from time to time is, Am I really a writer? Don’t writers…write? There are different views on this question of legitimacy. Some would argue (pretty convincingly) that if you’re not driven, if you don’t have a compelling need to write, then you need to quit kidding yourself and move on to something else. I see the logic here—writing is challenging and lonely work. There’s no instant feedback and recognition. It’s an act of faith that what you’re doing means something, is worth something. If you’re not willing to sacrifice the time and sleep and energy to create, you may be more enamored by the thought of being a writer than the actual writing.

The counter proposal is that sometimes writers need time away from writing in order to figure out what is worth saying at all. The longer this season lasts, however, the more important it is to take a hard look at what you love and what you don’t. Your passions are often revealed in how you spend your time, money, and energy (unless these resources are tied up in other necessary things, and you’re living under constant frustration—that’s a different conversation).

More from Jeff Goins:

I don’t know where this idea that your calling is supposed to be easy comes from. Rarely do easy and greatness go together. The art of doing hard things requires an uncommon level of dedication. You have to love the work to be able to persevere through those difficult times, those painful moments when you would probably rather quit. How do you do that without an uncanny amount of passion? It’s not possible. You must love the work. Not until you find something you can do to the point of exhaustion, to the extent that you almost hate it but can return to it tomorrow, have you found something worth pursuing.

I can admit: this is how I’ve felt about church ministry from time to time. As I’ve expressed recently, there have been moments in the last year when I was ready to throw up my hands and say, “This clearly isn’t my calling.” But the love and the Lord have kept me going.

And I think I can say the same for writing, to some extent. I’m not as prolific as some of you, dear readers, but I’m working on it. I keep blogging. I keep writing poetry. I can’t seem to quit this, because it won’t let go of me. I’m still getting bursts of inspiration for stories to tell, and I’m scribbling down all those notes until I can start fleshing them out.

So I’m just going to keep moving my fingers and making the clickety-clack sound, and hopefully you’ll keep reading what I share, and one day, I’ll hold up something made of physical paper and ink and say, “Mine.”

Until then, I need to keep practicing and keep posting. Thanks for taking the ride with me.

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Your Turn: Have you ever reached the point of painful practice, when you both hate and love the thing you’re passionate about doing? How did you break through that temptation to pull back and stop?

Your Horoscope for Today

Let me cut to the chase: Horoscopes are utterly stupid.

My favorite horoscope joke/cartoon is the one where every space is filled in with the same sentence, over and over and over: “The relative position of stars and planets on the date of your birth has no actual bearing on the circumstances or decisions of your life.”

I don’t believe in blind luck or impersonal Fate. I believe in a personal, righteous, sovereign Creator-God who brings about all circumstances of human existence to accomplish His purposes and result in His greater glory. Why do I believe this? Because that’s. what. the. Bible. says.

This is why it makes me bonkers when I see Christians posting about and talking about horoscopes on social media. It isn’t harmless fun, gang; it’s error and confusion, and you’re just sowing it into your life. UGH. Anyway.

And yet, today, I fell into the error of horoscope-thinking myself. How, you ask? I was on the bus-ride into work, and I pulled out my Bible because, honestly, that’s the only time of day when I stay still long enough to concentrate on anything, including Scripture. I had just finished reading Galatians and wasn’t sure where to go next. (Not following a plan might be my first mistake.) So I flipped open to the “Proverb of the day.”

The first several verses of Proverbs 18 deal with sins of the tongue and how foolish speech can bring all sorts of trouble. I thought to myself, “Hmm, guess I need to watch my mouth today.” I even imagined possible scenarios that may arise today, and how this text was, in a sense, predicting what was going happen.

And right then, I had the thought: “Stop using the Word of God as a horoscope, Dave.”

(Now, I specifically didn’t say that “the Holy Spirit” said that or that I “received a word from the Lord.” I am not a prophet or an Apostle, so I don’t think it works like that. If I were looking for a “word from the Spirit,” it turns out that I already had everything I needed for life and godliness–I was holding it in my hands, bound in brown leather. What more likely happened is that my mind recalled my own words from a past Sunday School lesson. That’s the blessing and curse of the Bible teacher–you’re responsible for living up to what you teach. In any case, the thought was clear in my mind.)

We do that, don’t we, Christian? We still believe that the Bible is God’s Word, inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. But we forget that the benefit of God’s Word is not simply a “horoscope of the day” approach, in which we pull a random text out of its context and try to twist and turn it until it matches up to our circumstances, like it’s a puzzle piece or a bad preacher analogy. The benefit of taking in God’s Word every day is that it saturates our thinking and directs our steps, so that obedience to the precepts and commands of God becomes more natural to our redeemed minds and hearts. (That’s called “sanctification,” for you folks keeping score at home.)

But, hey, do still you want your horoscope for today? Here you go–I’ve got just the thing for you:

Today, you will sin against the holy and righteous God who made you, by disobeying His commands and not giving Him the honor and glory He deserves. That sin results in wrath, condemnation, and death–either to you, if you stand on your own “works” before God, or to Christ, who stood in the place of sinners and absorbed the curse and condemnation and wrath that sin deserves. If you have repented of sin and believed on Jesus the Son of God, because of Christ’s work you now stand acceptable before the Judge of all the Earth, legally declared “Not-Guilty,” clothed in the righteousness of the sinless Savior, and set to share in the inheritance of the Son. And because of this glorious truth, today you should seek to please the God who rescued you from eternal darkness, by obeying His commands with a thankful heart, through the power of the Holy Spirit residing in you as a guarantee of the inheritance to come.

Hope that helps you figure out what to do today.

The Curse of Captain Buzzkill

A month ago, I talked about my superpower–my ability to ruin people’s enjoyment of certain Christian teachers, authors, speakers, and musicians by pointing out the theological squishyness (or downright wonkiness) of what they believe or profess. But I have learned that having such a fine discernment filter can lead you down a challenging and lonely path, fraught with peril. Yes, “fraught.”

The particular peril in question? Too much energy poured into the task discerning error can turn one into the theological equivalent of Grumpy Cat. Nothing is praiseworthy, nothing is excellent, nothing is of good report. This isn’t Phariseeism exactly, but it’s closer to Curmudgeon-ism, and can be just as unsavory.

I’m not at all saying that discernment is unimportant or harmful–just the opposite; it’s vital, as in necessary for healthy Christian living. But if all we do is discern error, we will begin to lose sight of the joy that comes from knowing the truth (and knowing the One who is Truth).

Joyless warriors are weary warriors. I’ve seen that firsthand in the eyes of ministers I’ve met who have spent so much time in rhetorical battle with theological opponents that they look like an old fighting dog that’s always ready to snap at the first sign of aggression. Rather than finding joy in even imperfect church situations, they nitpick things that don’t really mean much. That kind of approach dries out your heart.

I saw this play out in the aftermath of the murder of 21 Coptics by ISIS. In the theological circles that I run with, there arose a sometimes-heated discussion about whether or not  Coptic doctrine was theologically orthodox. (To be honest, I’m still not sure I can confidently call those 21 men fellow believers, because I don’t know for certain if they had a right understanding of salvation–that it is by grace through faith and not by works. I want to believe, but I just don’t know.)

However, when some of the online discussion became rancorous, even among brothers in Christ, I found myself more bothered by seeing my brothers argue than I was about the murder of the 21 (which said something troubling about my heart, I’m afraid). I watched a zeal for right doctrine sour into nay-saying and name-calling.

Don’t misunderstand: this wasn’t the product of doctrinal zeal; it was the fruit of theological joylessness.

Two weeks ago, my wife (whom God has given to me to keep me from becoming a jerk) asked me a pointed question. I was telling her about a sermon by a major evangelical leader that got my dander up, and she asked, “Don’t you ever listen to good sermons? What’s on your iPod?”

I replied that I had a few discernment-style podcasts, a few other Christian shows, some silly geek stuff, and several productivity/creativity podcasts.

“You need to stop listening to all that other stuff and listen to some good sermons for a while. It’ll do you some good.”

My wife, she is wise. And patient. And gorgeous. (I love you, beauty.)  And she was right. I was spending a LOT of time listening to bad sermons being critiqued, and not enough to good sermons being preached.

So for the last 2 weeks, I’ve been pumping good sermons into my ears–proper exegesis, in-context textual references, and above all else, teaching that is focused on how the gospel of Jesus Christ makes a difference in what we believe, how we think, and how we live.

How did this small change help? I immediately recognized that it helped fuel my love for the Bible. Good preaching and teaching is Bible-drenched. As a result, it’s still polishing and sharpening my zeal for truth. I can focus on what’s good and true, and love it just as much. This is, in turn, helping me become a better teacher, because I’m delighting in the truths I’m teaching.

But don’t worry, fine citizens–Captain Buzzkill is still watching over our fair city, keeping a steely eye focused on any heretical ne’er-do-wells who may be hawking their terrible theology in religious bookstores. However, like all heroes, he must always be careful to avoid becoming the villain he’s trying to stop–a Bible teacher who has taken his eyes off of the beautiful, powerful, glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

After These Messages (and Maybe a Nap), We’ll Be Right Back.

So I missed posting on Monday. Sorry about that.

Over the last 4 or 5 months, we’ve been shooting for a consistent Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule. But I kind of hit the wall this past weekend. There were too many demands, too many deadlines, and to be honest, I was just physically and mentally exhausted. And I’m running into the same problem this week. My schedule is swamped, and I’m just wiped out.

It’s been a recurring temptation in my life to say “yes” to too many things, and end up stretching myself so thin that I wear out and get sick. My energy bottoms out, my emotions run ragged, and my mind is focused on mere survival instead of pursuing what honors God. This is not who I want to be anymore—especially when it affects my incredibly patient wife who sometimes has had to pick up the slack for my lack of planning and eventual collapse.

So I’m posting this as both explanation and request for prayer. Work’s been particularly draining, school is ramping up, and my off-hours have been mostly spent with friends and family. Something needs to give, and that something, for this week, is the blog.

(For those of you who pray, I’d just ask you to remember me in your prayers, that God would give me rest and help me to be effective and obedient in what He’s given me to do. Thanks.)

I’ll be back next Monday (hopefully better rested) with new content. We’ll look at more ideas from Jeff Goins’ great book, The Art of Work, as well as one of the downsides of being “Captain Buzzkill.”

See you next week, friends!

#ArtOfWorkBook: Unexpected Influences

[This is Part 2 of a series of posts inspired by Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work. Until March 24th, the book can be pre-ordered for only $6.99, the cost of shipping, and it comes with a ton of online bonuses. Check it out at www.artofworkbook.com.]

In Chapter 2 of The Art of Work, Jeff Goins tells the story of Ginny Phang, a woman from Singapore who, when faced with a crisis pregnancy, found a calling she didn’t expect: becoming a doula (birth coach) for other women in need. What’s interesting about Ginny’s story in the book is that she didn’t have the typical family support network to encourage her calling; in fact, her support came through unexpected people at several key times in her life.

Jeff uses Ginny’s story to talk about “accidental apprenticeships,” in which we encounter people who influence us or mentor us at key moments in our quest to discover our calling. He writes, “Every story of success is, in fact, a story of community.” Each of us has people around us who will often provide what we need when we need it–though not always in the way we expect. Even those who seem most frustrating and challenging may be giving us a gift. Jeff writes:

Chances are, your apprenticeship will not look like you imagined. Your mentor may not be the teacher you dreamed of, and that’s the point. This is what your education is, not what you think it should be. A teacher who challenges you, who doesn’t meet your expectations, who forces you to think and act differently, is exactly what you need. That is, after all, the job of an educator.

Your “teacher” may not be a teacher at all; he or she may be a family member, colleague, pastor, or author.  I’ve had a handful of unexpected influences. I will mention one here.

I mentioned in the last post that, throughout my early schooling, I wrote creatively and was supported by my teachers. They encouraged my creativity and praised my efforts. Then, when I went to college, I ran into the buzzsaw that was Joe Hall. Dr. Hall was my professor for the Honors-track freshman composition class. He graded with a cruel green pen, and my papers bled green for weeks. As laughable as it is to look back upon now, I was indignant when he shredded my freshman papers. Didn’t he know that I was the best writer in my high school? Didn’t he realize I had real talent? Answer: he didn’t care. He significantly raised the bar of expectations, and it crushed my seventeen-year-old ego. It also challenged me; I was going to have to become a better writer. I ended up taking a creative writing class with Dr. Hall later, and while we never saw eye-to-eye on some things, I came away from the experience a better writer. I grew to have great respect for the man, because he expected much from his students.

Maybe you have someone like that in your life. Someone who came along as you were trying to pursue a dream or calling, and knocked you down a peg or two.

Maybe you had a friend or teacher who loved you enough to call you out on your hypocrisy, or stick a pin in your foolish idealism or arrogance.

Maybe you encountered someone who encouraged you at just the right moment, or pointed you to the resources you needed.

God brings people into our lives for His purposes, and sometimes those people seem to be our enemies or obstacles rather than our teachers. But if we walk humbly with our God, and seek to learn from our difficulties, we can find the toughest critics (with their wicked green pens) can be some of our greatest benefactors.

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Your Turn: Have you had unexpected allies, accidental apprenticeships, or difficult teachers come along in your life? How have they helped to shape who you are and how you pursue your calling?

#ArtOfWorkBook: Listening to Your Life

[This is Part 1 of a series of posts based on Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work. Until March 24th, the book can be preordered for only $6.99, the cost of shipping. Check it out at www.artofworkbook.com]

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How do you figure out what you’re meant to do with your life? One clue might be to look at what you have already done, or what you used to love doing.

In Chapter 1 of The Art of Work, Jeff Goins talks about Jody Noland, a woman who, in the midst of a painful circumstance, discovered a way she could help families cope with the pain of terminal illness. Jody said, “One way of knowing our gifting is when something that seems easy to us doesn’t seem easy to others.” Jody was able to start an organization that has helped many families, and she did it by looking at what she was passionate about in her own life.

Goins then asks the question: what if you don’t know what you want to do in your life? This is how he answers it:

We often think of a calling as something that comes to us, an epiphany that arrives when we least expect it. But the truth is, in some ways, it’s already come. You already have some sense of what you’re supposed to do with your life, even if you aren’t sure what it is. The trick is to find your vocation hidden in your life.

If we’re paying attention, we can start to see threads of a calling that are present throughout our lives, going as far back as childhood. For me, it was storytelling. I was a lover of books from the time I could decipher words. I used to get in trouble for staying up too late reading, and would sometimes hide under the blanket with a book and a flashlight. In middle school and high school, when assignments in English class called for ten sentences using our new vocabulary words in context, I wrote a serialized adventure story about spies and treasure-hunters, turning in a new chapter each week, and my teachers encouraged me all along the way. I often wrote for fun in college, filling notebooks and floppy disks (remember those, kids?) with short stories or story fragments. In my adult years, I never lost the love of words, and have been blogging on one platform or another for well over ten years.

What’s amazing is that I can also see how God has used and is using my love of story to minister to the lives of others. My prayer is that I will continue to grow in this area, so that I can write blogs and books that point to the Greater Story, and honor the God who has woven all of history around the scarlet thread of His redemptive work in Christ Jesus.

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Your Turn: If you “listen to your life,” what can you learn about your gifts, talents, passions, and calling? Is there something buried in your past and in your heart that might be worth taking a risk and exploring? Comment below!