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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Does God Get What God Wants?

I was reading a book a few years ago and was challenged with a very tough question: Does God get what God wants?[1] At the time, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question. It seemed like somewhere in the Bible I had read that God wants all people to be saved, but I also held the belief that not all people will be saved. If both of these beliefs are true, then God doesn’t get what he wants.

The author of the book concluded that God does get what he wants, and since he wants all people to be saved, then all people will be saved. Of course I wanted to believe that everyone will be saved, but I couldn’t accept that answer seeing as there are numerous passages in the Bible which clearly contradict universalism.[2]

Yet, I couldn’t get this question out of my mind. It haunted me. Some of my friends encouraged me to stop wasting my time trying to answer the question. But I couldn’t. Its implications were far too great. If God gets what he wants, then we can say he’s sovereign. But if he doesn’t get what he wants, then we can’t say that he’s sovereign. This isn’t a “makes-no-difference-to-my-life” type of question. Answering this question is absolutely foundational to my understanding of the character of God. If God isn’t sovereign, if he isn’t in control of the entire universe and is incapable of doing whatever he pleases, then he’s not God and therefore is unworthy of our worship. As you can see, the implications of answering this question the way most of us would tend to answer it, that God doesn’t get what he wants because not all people will be saved, leaves us in a very difficult conundrum.

This article is the result of many hours of research, study, and heartache which led me to the belief I hold today: God gets what God wants.

God Desires All People to be Saved

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”[3] Peter also wrote in a letter to the church, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”[4] Taking these verses at face value, as I did for many years, it seemed obvious that God desired for everyone throughout all of human history to be saved. Not only was it written in the Bible, it also aligned with my beliefs.

As I began studying these passages more in-depth, I consulted the commentary in my Study Bible to see what it said. The author explained how the Greek word which was translated “all” really didn’t mean all, but meant all types of people or all of God’s chosen people. I quickly dismissed this thought with the assertion that he was twisting the Greek in order to make it conveniently fit his own theological beliefs which revolved around God choosing to save some people and not others. After all, God gives everyone a fair and equal opportunity to accept him, right?

But after all my study, I failed to arrive at an acceptable conclusion. The only conclusion I could draw was that God didn’t get what he wants, meaning that he’s not sovereign. I wasn’t willing to accept that he wasn’t sovereign, but was unable to prove otherwise. So I tabled my study for a couple years, hoping that maybe a break would eventually lead me to the answer.

God’s Chosen People

In the meantime, the Holy Spirit began one of the biggest belief shifts I’ve ever experienced. By no means did it happen overnight. And in no way was it overt that the Holy Spirit was at work. But slowly, over the course of about a year, the Holy Spirit began unveiling my eyes to clearly grasp portions of the Bible that had formerly passed right over my head. Here’s a bullet point summary of what I began to see with astounding clarity:
  • Everyone who has ever lived is a sinner through and through and there’s nothing they can personally do to escape God’s eternal punishment.
  • God chose to rescue a select group of people from this fate. This promise was originally made to a group of people who were descendants of Jacob (Israel), but after Jesus was on earth, was extended to specific people of every ethnicity around the world.
  • Jesus took the place of these people by enduring their punishment. This allowed them to be in a relationship with God.
  • God gives all of his people the gift of faith to both believe in and follow him.
  • God will accomplish all of his purpose saving those whom he has chosen to save.

I can’t even begin to tell you how hard I fought the Holy Spirit on these beliefs. I didn’t like them and didn’t want to believe them. I wanted to believe that everyone has an equal opportunity to receive salvation by faith in Jesus. After all, the Bible says, “whoever believes in him will not perish”[5] and “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[6]

But after I started reading the Bible through this new lens, I couldn’t deny what I was reading. Over and over again, I saw these same beliefs being manifested in some way or another. How had I missed this for so many years? God no longer looked like a homeless beggar pleading with us to accept him into our hearts so that he doesn’t have to send us to hell. Instead, he began to look like the sovereign King who “does all that he pleases,”[7] whose purposes cannot be thwarted,[8] and who accomplishes all of his purpose,[9] both in carrying out salvation for some and punishment for others.

When I resurrected my former study which sought to answer whether God gets what God wants, the question appeared far less challenging than it had a few years earlier. As the sovereign King of the universe, of course God gets what God wants. The Bible says so over and over again.

My Final Dilemma

Getting to this point was a very important first step. But now I was faced with the question of how God could get what he wants if not everyone gets saved who he desires to save. Wouldn’t you know it, the answer was right in front of me all along, but I was too stubborn to accept it when I first read it. The answer was found in my Study Bible’s commentary! Who was the one twisting the Greek to conveniently make it say what he wanted? Not the author of the commentary, but me!

The Greek word pantas is often translated “all” in our English Bibles. Although “all” is probably a good word choice in translation, the word pantas has nuances associated with it which get lost in the translation. Have you ever heard someone in our society say that everyone showed up to an event? What was their definition of the word “everyone?” Did they mean everyone in the entire world showed up to their event? Did they mean everyone in the United States showed up? Did they mean everyone in their city showed up? Or did they mean a lot of people showed up? The word everyone is a relative word which can mean lots of different things depending upon the context in which it’s used. The Greek word pantas is the same the way. It’s a word which can take on different meanings depending upon the context in which it’s used.

In 1 Timothy 2 when Paul said that God desires for all people to saved, he’s in the midst of a discussion on praying for a variety of different types of people, including kings and those in positions of authority. One possible definition of the word pantas is “every kind of.” Based on the other verses around it, it’s a good guess that this was Paul’s intended definition in this verse. If this was Paul's intent, then this verse does not in any way stand in contradiction to God getting what he wants.

How about 2 Peter 3? The same Greek word, pantas, is used here when Peter said, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Once again, we need to look at it in the context of the verses around it. Peter began the discussion by talking about the day of judgment for nonbelievers. Then he contrasted it with the day of judgment for believers. Based on the context, we can conclude that “all” in this verse is most likely referring to “every applicable part,” yet another way the word pantas can be translated. In this case, all the application parts would be all of God’s chosen people. This verse, then, also does not stand in contradiction to the belief that God gets what he wants.


I came away from my study more convinced than ever that God is sovereign because he always gets what he wants, even if what he wants isn’t always what we would think he wants.

Do you agree that God gets what he wants? How does your conclusion impact the way you live? What other implications naturally flow out of your conclusion?

[1] As asked by Rob Bell in his book Love Wins.
[2] For a more in-depth look at some of these passages, I’d encourage you to check out my article titled, “Will Everyone Be Saved?”
[3] 1 Timothy 2:4.
[4] 2 Peter 3:9.
[5] John 3:16.
[6] Romans 10:13.
[7] Psalm 115:3.
[8] Job 42:2.
[9] Isaiah 46:10.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Rethinking the Sacred/Secular Divide

Shortly after I began working at Marathon Petroleum, I had a chance to go on a site visit to Charlotte, North Carolina with a coworker. As we were driving to the Dayton airport to hop on a plane, he and I got to talking about our ministry work. I told him about all the activities I was doing at my church including being a member of the leadership team, acting as the Treasurer, singing in the praise band, and being the pastor’s right hand man. When it was his turn to share, he told me about his involvement in Findlay Young Professionals (FYP) and how he saw that as his ministry.

I forget exactly how I responded, but whatever I said wasn’t very understanding. And I say that because I clearly remember the thoughts going through my head. “What do you mean that’s your ministry? FYP isn’t a church. You need to first be serving at your church. Then if you have extra time, you can serve in FYP.”

The Sacred/Secular Divide

In America, Christians often separate activities into two categories: sacred and secular. Going to church on Sunday mornings is sacred. Going to work throughout the week is secular. Attending a Bible study is sacred. Playing recreational sports is secular. Serving on the church leadership team is sacred. Being on the FYP leadership team is secular.

Do you see the common thread running through these examples? In church circles, participation in church-sponsored activities is often considered sacred whereas participation in non-church-sponsored activities is often considered secular. The perspective held by many Christians, and especially church leaders, is that sacred activities are better than secular activities. Therefore, when faced with a decision between a church-sponsored activity and a non-church-sponsored activity, both of which might be good activities, we feel like we should choose the church-sponsored activity.

This was my mindset as I entered into that conversation with my coworker seven years ago. I couldn’t understand how he thought his participation in a secular group was better than serving on a ministry team at his church. After all, given his talents and spiritual maturity, he could’ve easily led a ministry team. Think of all the great work he could’ve been doing to grow church attendance.

A Lesson from the Bible

When Jesus was on earth, he planted the biggest megachurch this world has ever seen. At age thirty, he began preparing to plant his first church. He gathered seventy-two people to serve on his ministry teams, hired twelve of them to be pastors, found a location to meet, picked a date, sent out mailers, and had the greatest first-Sunday launch ever. He taught them all to spend as much time as possible at his church doing church-sponsored activities. And his church thrived! People from all over the world would ride their camels into town to attend his church services!

Wait a minute…that’s not what happened. Actually, it’s not even close to what happened. Jesus didn’t plant a megachurch, let alone any church. He didn’t even have a home church. He didn’t serve on a ministry team. And he certainly didn’t instruct his disciples to spend as much time as possible doing church-sponsored activities. Yet, Jesus was actively engaged in ministry every day of his life and instructed his disciples to do the same.

Jesus’s ministry looked more like my coworker’s ministry than it did like my ministry. He didn’t coordinate hundreds and hundreds of church-sponsored activities and then invite everyone he knew to come to them. Instead, he went to where the people were. He spent time with them. He listened to them. He empathized with them. He wept with them. He even went into their homes to have meals with them (this was culturally taboo during his day).[1]

By all appearances, Jesus didn’t separate his activities into the categories of either sacred or secular. He recognized his ability to glorify God (worship God) in everything he did. He worshiped God while spending time with people. He worshiped God while listening to them. He worshiped God while empathizing with them. He worshiped God while weeping with them. And he worshiped God while having meals with them.

Ultimately, our purpose, the reason God created us, was to bring himself glory. And this happens when we worship him. Therefore, God is most glorified in us when we wholeheartedly worship him every minute of every day.[2]

Is worship isolated to an event which takes place in a building on Sunday mornings? Is it isolated to attendance at church-sponsored activities? Is it isolated to serving on ministry teams at our churches? If it is, then there’s absolutely no way we can worship God 24-7-365 unless we give up everything we’re doing and become monks and nuns who reside in a church building.

We know that Jesus worshiped God 24-7-365, yet we also know that he didn’t reside in a church building. Furthermore, Jesus once said that we would worship God wherever we are, and not just on a particular mountain or in a particular building (the temple).[3] God-worship is not isolated to church services, church buildings, or church-sponsored activities. Nor is the ministry to which we’ve been called isolated to those activities.

A Changed Life

Since my initial conversation with my coworker, I’ve had a complete change of heart. Although God took me through a lot of fiery trials to bring me to this realization, I’m so thankful he opened my eyes to understand this truth. And my life has completely changed since then.

Almost four years ago now, God began showing me the depth of the mission field in the Findlay Men’s Hockey League. There are a number of people in the league who associate with Christianity, and there are a number of people who will never darken the doors of a church building. In my old way of thinking, I would’ve been quick to invite them all, even the ones who have a church, to attend my church’s Sunday morning worship service. I would’ve been looking for ways to get them plugged into one of our ministry teams. At one point, I even considered giving up playing hockey in order to spend more time doing church-sponsored activities. When I’d enter the locker room, I quietly shuffled my way to an open seat and rarely talked to the people beside me. When games were over, I challenged myself to see how quickly I could get changed and make a beeline for the door.

But after God changed my perspective and my heart, my outward actions began to change too. I stopped looking at people merely as assets that could offer something to grow our church (as an aside, I also stopped looking at them as projects). I began using my locker room time to build relationships with the guys. I learned how to be their friend rather than their counselor or pastor. In the process, God has revealed the ways he’s working in their lives and has invited me to be a part of it. How awesome is that! And instead of giving up hockey to have more time for church-sponsored activities, I’ve given up a host of other good activities, some of which were church-sponsored activities, in order to participate more with God in this mission field.

I share all this not to gloat about my work or to bash church-sponsored activities, but as an encouragement to those of you who think God is calling you to a ministry outside of the four walls of the church building, yet you feel like everyone else around you is telling you you’re crazy. As I’ve been on this journey, there have been a number of people who have been a huge encouragement to me and I hope my story will be an encouragement to you.

To clarify, I’m not claiming that church-sponsored activities are bad. They’re not bad, nor does God call us to always make them secondary to non-church-sponsored activities. I’m merely encouraging you to broaden your definition of God-worship to recognize that he can be worshiped in any activity including working, eating, playing, and participating on the leadership team for FYP. The last thing I would want is for a narrow definition to hinder you from participating with God in his work.


A few years ago, I had lunch with the same coworker and during our discussion I recounted the story of our Charlotte trip. I went on to tell him about the ways I initially discredited his ministry, but had since realized the courage he had to step out against the grain to follow God to the mission field at FYP. Once the ice was broken, we spent the rest of our lunch hour mutually encouraging one another to continue worshiping God in our respective mission fields.

How could a shift from categorizing everything as either sacred or secular based on its connection to the church to categorizing it based on the God-worship you do in the midst of it change the way you live? Where’s the mission field God is calling you to be? What will it take for you to fully embrace this calling?

[1] In first-century Israel, to eat a meal with someone was communicating that you accepted their lifestyle. So, when Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, it would’ve been interpreted by outsiders that he was accepting of their lifestyles. He recognized their sinful lifestyles, yet ate with them anyway.
[2] Don’t get confused here between this statement and another statement I once quoted from John Piper which said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” The two statements are in complete alignment with one another. Being satisfied by something causes us to worship it. Therefore, these two statements are saying exactly the same thing.
[3] See John 4:19-26.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Choosing between Better and Best

Every day, we’re bombarded with hundreds of ways we could spend our time. In the midst of all the options in front of us, how do we choose which ones will get our investment and which ones won’t?

It’s often been said that the way to make the best use of our time is to disengage from unproductive activities and engage in productive activities. This approach can give us a good start, but it fails to give us enough propulsion to reach the finish line. What happens when we’ve eliminated all the unproductive activities, yet we still don’t have time for all the productive activities set before us?

This is where I propose adding another approach into the mix which I call choosing between better and best. I strategically chose these two terms rather than the more common leadership terms good and great. Good and great are absolute terms whereas better and best are relative terms. Since we’re dealing with a competition here, where hundreds of activities are competing with one another for our time, an approach which employs absolute terms, like choosing productive over unproductive, will fail to offer us a holistic solution every time. The only way to fully address this challenge is to address it with relative terms. Therefore, my proposed approach, which I’ll be discussing more in depth throughout this article, is to choose the best activity over the better activities.

Recognizing a Good Activity

Here’s a paradox for you: I just got done explaining why I chose not to use the terms good and great, but then I chose to start my discussion using the term good. I believe it’s necessary to start here because we first need to recognize a good activity from a bad one.

So what is a good activity? It depends. What is your objective in life? The answer to this simple, yet challenging, question is going to help guide your answer to the first question. Any activity which supports your life objective is a good activity.

Here’s an example. Let’s say my objective in life is to become a millionaire. A good activity for me would be to spend lots of time working a job that pays a good salary. Another good activity would be to spend time learning how to invest my money wisely so that my investments can grow. A bad activity would be to go shopping at Easton Town Center. Another bad activity would be to go on a two week cruise in Hawaii.

All of these activities, by themselves, are neither good nor bad. They only become good or bad if they support or oppose our objectives. In this way of thinking, an activity which may be good for one person may be bad for another and vice versa.

Recognizing a Better Activity

Have you ever had a situation where you’ve done a thorough analysis of all your daily activities and found that all of them support your objective? Yet, you still don’t have enough time to do all of them. In these situations, we need to be able to choose the better activities.

How do we know which activities are better? Honestly, it’s all one huge experiment. But we can make informed hypotheses about which activities will be better than others. What I’ve found works well is to weigh the alternatives side by side and ask which one will support your life objective more. That’s the “better” activity.

In order to make an informed guess, you may need to gather more data. That’s fine. Gather as much data as you need before making a decision. But also don’t put off making the decision so long that you miss out on the opportunity.

Recognizing the Best Activity

When I was younger, I had one best friend at a time. For me, the term “best” has always implied one. There’s only one best hockey player. There’s only one best employee. I think you get the picture. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized some people think they have 20 best friends, or 20 best hockey players, or 20 best employees. Regardless of how many bests you think you can have, for the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to define “best” as one. What is the best activity?

This question cannot be answered lightly because your answer will greatly influence the direction of your life. This is why I’d encourage you to take a few steps to get there. First, I’d encourage you to list out the places and ways where God is currently and has previously invited you into his work. Second, I’d encourage you to ask God where he’s calling you to participate with him in his work in the future. Third, I’d encourage you to weigh all your options side by side and make a list of the ways in which each one will support and oppose your life objective. These steps will hopefully at least start you in the right direction towards finding the best activity in your life.

Example from My Life

It’s one thing to talk about all this stuff. But it’s another to apply it in your life and watch it work. Here’s how Amy and I have applied these steps in our lives.

First, we created a mission statement which reads: To glorify God by worshiping him through love, obedience, and discipleship. Sound a bit broad? We purposely made it broad so that it won’t limit the work God wants to do through us. At the same time, such a broad mission statement can be unhelpful. As you set your own mission statement, go for one that’s broad enough to not be too restricting, but narrow enough to still be helpful. The last thing we want to do is find ourselves throwing darts in the air hoping they land on a target.

Second, we eliminated all the activities from our lives which weren’t supporting our mission statement. One of the things I did was to cut way back on the time I was putting into our financial investments. But the biggest thing we did was make the intentional decision for me to not seek out a full-time job after I left my previous full-time job. This was a very hard decision with all the pressure we feel from our culture for me to have a full-time job, but we decided that our mission statement would be best supported in other ways. And God has continued to affirm that decision by shutting doors for full-time job opportunities that would’ve usually been open for me.

Third, we weighed our good activities side by side to determine which ones were “better.” This part of the process was very challenging because we had to make an intentional decision to stop doing some activities we enjoyed doing and supported our mission statement. However, by eliminating these activities, we reduced our stress levels and have been able to dedicate the necessary resources to the activities which are better supporting our mission statement.

Fourth, we decided which activity was our best activity. To say it another way, we made a priority list giving each activity a specific level of importance. The absolute best activity, number one on our list, is spending time with God. No matter how many other activities I have in my day, I always make it a priority to spend time with God by reading a few chapters of the Bible and communicating with him throughout the day. Since we look to God to set our priorities for the day, some of our other priorities can change on a daily basis, but if he’s not calling us to invest our time in something specific that day, we stick to the rest of our priority list. Our second-best activity is spending time with each other. Third is spending time in the mission fields in which he’s placed us such as with our friends, families, work-places, neighbors, and my recreational hockey league. That doesn’t mean we don’t allot time for eating, sleeping, reading, video games, etc. Those activities are necessary to refresh us so that we have the energy to do the better activities; we just make sure we don’t get carried away with spending too much time there.

Last, we regularly evaluate our activities to determine whether we’re still staying true to our mission statement. When certain activities don’t seem to be supporting our mission statement as much as we thought they would, or when another activity begins to support it better, we won’t hesitate to drop an activity. For example, I gave up my leadership role in Backyard Mission Trip a couple years ago because it wasn’t supporting our mission statement as much as other activities. And when my term on Habitat for Humanity’s board expires at the end of the month, I will be giving up that activity. Both of those activities are good activities, but they aren’t supporting our mission statement as much as other activities. Regularly evaluating our activities can be frustrating at times, but it’s necessary to keep us focused on our end goal.

As you chew on the contents of this article, I’d encourage you to think about how you prioritize the activities in your life. What is your life objective? Have you written it down in a simple, memorable statement? Do the activities you’re currently doing support or oppose your objective? Are there other activities which might support it more than the ones you’re currently doing?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Consequences of Winning

Winning can be satisfying. It can make us feel good that we accomplished something we set out to achieve. Winning can cheer us up when we’re having a bad day. And it can make what we’re doing more fun. These are a few of the positive consequences that can come from winning, and the ones we most often focus on because we experience their direct impacts.

If we were to step back from the glory of winning for a few moments, would we find that everyone around us shares our excitement? Or would we find that while we’re celebrating our victory, someone else is grieving his loss? This topic has been on my mind for the past few months and I wanted to share some of my thoughts as I wrestle with this difficult life challenge.

The Dark Hole of Winning and Losing

I’ve dug deep into the rabbit hole of life’s experiences to uncover the mysteries of winning. And what I’ve uncovered in my quest is far more disturbing than I imagined. My conclusion is this: When there’s a winner, there’s also a loser.

When the New England Patriots competed against the Los Angeles Rams in the most recent Super Bowl, the Patriots won and the Rams lost. When Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, Hillary Clinton and a host of other candidates lost the election. When an entrepreneur opens a new business and gains a loyal customer, another entrepreneur loses a loyal customer. When someone interviews and is offered a job, a host of other applicants are denied the job.

It’s a lot of fun to end up on the winning side. But how do you think the people on the losing side feel? How do you think the opposing hockey team feels when you win 10-0? How do you think the person feels who didn’t get offered the job because it was offered to you? How do you think the business owner feels when he loses a loyal customer because you won over that customer? How do you think your spouse feels when you seek out sexual satisfaction from adult movies rather than with her?

Do you think the losers feel discouraged, let down, or hopeless? Do you think they feel like they don’t have what it takes to be a man or woman? Do you think they feel shame? Of course we all hope that the people around us wouldn’t take a loss so personally. And many times we try to brush it off as if the other person is in the wrong for feeling that way, but we don’t even have to look beyond ourselves to realize how great of an impact winning and losing have on our identity. We seem to be impacted more by the outcome of competition than by anything else in our lives.

Why Is Our Identity Wrapped Up in How We Compete?

I think it’s important to do some self-introspection to ask ourselves why our identity is so wrapped up in how we compete. Although I can’t answer this question for you since you know you far better than I do, I can tell you where it comes from for me which I explained in more detail in my previous article titled “Winning Isn’t Everything.”

For me, winning has always been associated with acceptance. If I win, I feel worthy of being accepted by others. Losing, on the other hand, has always been associated with rejection. If I lose, I feel unworthy of acceptance. And my level of acceptance is what has always seemed to drive my identity, value, and self-worth.

Our Response

Once we can answer this question, it’s time for us to move on to figuring out what we’re going to do about it. Honestly, I’m still wrestling with this one. Maybe you have some ideas that you’d be willing to share in the comments section. But here’s where I’ve landed so far.

I want winning and losing to have less of an impact on my identity. I don’t want them to run my life anymore. When I first came to this conclusion, I decided I needed to do one of two things: (1) break my mental connection between winning and acceptance (and losing and rejection) or (2) break the dependence I have on acceptance for my identity.

As someone who used to have a lot of faith in my own abilities to change myself, I attempted both of these solutions. The summary version of the story is that neither option panned out for me. When I tried the first option, I did nothing more than starved myself of acceptance, which left my need for acceptance unsatisfied. When I tried the second option, I found no purpose to my life. Both of these options proved to be nothing more than black holes.

So I decided to go a different direction: I looked to the God who created the universe to find relief from my struggles. In the midst of seeking him, I learned that the reason my identity was so intricately tied to acceptance was because he designed it that way. As long as I remained sinless, I would be accepted. But there’s one rather large problem with this realization: I was born a sinner. It wasn’t my choice to be born a sinner. It wasn’t even my parent’s choice for me to be born a sinner. It was the choice of two people many many years ago that made it so that I was born a sinner. Right from the start, I was already out of God’s favor and there was nothing I could do to earn it back. No infant baptism or resumé of good works could wash away my inherent sinfulness. My situation was hopeless. How’s that for being dealt a bad hand?

But God, made the conscious decision to do something about it: He sent his Son, Jesus, to earth in the form of a human being to live a sinless life, yet he suffered my death penalty and paid for my sins. To say it another way, he took my place. Now when God looks at me, he no longer sees my sinfulness, but instead sees the righteousness of Jesus. The consequence is that he accepts me and there’s nothing I can do to lose his acceptance, no matter how many times I’m a loser.

I guess in a way you could say that both of the options I was trying to accomplish on my own are being fulfilled in the work God is doing in me. He is breaking my mental connection between winning and acceptance since he accepts me regardless of whether I win or lose. And he is breaking my identity’s dependence on acceptance from others and is replacing it with an identity I find merely by being his child. My hope and prayer is that God would perform this same work in you.

Final Thoughts

Does this mean I let others win all the time? Not at all. I don’t lay down like a door mat and let people walk all over me because I want to spare them from a painful experience. Of course I hate seeing other people experience the identity crises they often face when they lose. But I also see God working in the lives of the people around me and he often uses pain to draw his people to him. If I spend the rest of my life intentionally letting everyone around me win, I’d be trying to play God for them because I’d be manipulating the outcome of the competition in order to produce the results I want to see. That’s called having faith in ourselves rather than in God. Instead, no matter what I’m doing, I’ll give it my best effort and trust in God to produce his desired outcome, something which he has proven time and time again that he is both capable of doing and will do.[1]

Do you agree that whenever there’s a winner, there’s also a loser? What situations can you think of which either support or deny that claim? How will your answer to this question impact the way you live?

[1] For an example of God producing the outcome he desires, see the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Examples similar to this show up throughout the Bible.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Winning Isn't Everything

I played my first tee ball game when I was six years old. To this day, I can still distinctly remember the yellow jerseys we wore that sported the name Lions Club of West Carrollton. I don’t remember anything about what happened in the game, except that the other team scored more runs than us.

As my dad started our four-door sedan and began to pull out of the parking lot, he asked me a simple question: Did you have fun? Etched somewhere deep in the fabric of my DNA was a strong desire to win. I was extremely attuned to the strong emotional correlation between winning and having fun. So in my six-year-old mind, I thought my dad was asking me a stupid question. We lost; of course I didn’t have fun. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to understand the profoundness of his question.

The Desire to Win

We’ve all encountered people who can turn seemingly everything into a competition. They turn eating into a competition. They turn working out into a competition. They turn work projects into a competition. They even turn going to the bathroom into a competition. And the rules of the game always seem to change in order for that person to win.

I hate to admit it, but for a long time, I was one of those people. I took everything, including all the simple, noncompetitive tasks of life, and turned them into competitions. Competition can be a healthy thing. It can motivate us to step up our game and prove to both others and ourselves that we’re capable of performing at a higher level. But competition, and specifically the desire to win at all costs, can be extremely destructive to both us and our relationships. This was the place I found myself.

After getting my first taste of what it felt like to win, I eagerly awaited the next competition, and the one after that, and the one after that. I became so enamored with the feeling I got from winning that I turned everything in my life into a competition so that I could experience that feeling again and again. I competed with my friends and family to see who could eat the most food at the all-you-can-eat buffets. I competed with my sister for my parents' attention. I competed with my classmates for the best grades. I competed with my little league baseball teammates for the best batting average. I needed competition because I needed to win.

In the midst of my hard-core competitiveness, I only recently realized the depth of the negative impacts it has had on my relationships. Let me put it this way: there’s a reason I’ve never won a sportsmanship award. When I used to engage in competition with someone, even if it was my best friend, I’d villainize the person for the duration of the competition. Growing up, I had a friend down the street who was about my same age and both of us were uber-competitive. When we competed against each other, which was every time we hung out, we were bitter enemies. In the same way, when Amy and I first started dating, we became bitter enemies when we competed against each other. Both of us wanted to win so bad that we’d turn everything into a competition and then fight about which one of us was the winner.

I’m not proud to admit that this was how I behaved for most of my life. And I wish I could go back in time and change the way I treated the people around me because I’m certain I hurt a lot of them in the process of trying to win.

The Mystery Revealed

A few years ago, the mystery behind my strong desire to win began to unravel. Up until that point, I’d never really contemplated the mystery behind why winning felt great; I just knew it did. But through a number of fiery trials that took place in my life, I began to gain some insight into my perpetual struggles.

Although none of us want to admit it, you, me, and everyone else struggle with massive amounts of insecurity. We all seem to wrestle with a very simple, yet defining question: Are we good enough? This question gets asked in a million different ways, but the same basic question remains at the center. Are we good enough to earn acceptance?

It’s no coincidence that we experience a close correlation between winning and being accepted. Think about an athletic event. When the home team wins, the fans cheer. When the home team loses, the fans boo. Do you see the natural correlations our minds draw from these experiences? Since we associate applause with acceptance and booing with rejection, when we win, we think people will accept us. When we lose, we think people will reject us. As someone who deeply desires to be accepted and having, from a young age, correlated winning with acceptance, I wanted to be a winner.

My life could’ve continued exactly the way it had for many years. But God, out of not only knowing what’s best for me but also acting upon it as any good parent would, decided to show me the immeasurable greatness and worth of his acceptance of me. He did two things.

First, God starved my winning idol. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. I was continuing to hone my skills in order to win more, but instead of winning more, I was winning less. It seemed completely counter-intuitive. If I was dealing with random chance, then I’m certain the results would’ve been as expected. But I’m not dealing with random chance; I’m dealing with the God who spoke the universe into existence. If he can part the waters of the Red Sea, cause a shepherd boy to slay a giant, and shut the mouths of hungry lions, certainly he can also cause me to lose more even though my skills have become more developed.

And second, God showed me an overwhelming glimpse of the unconditional love he has for me, a love which I not only read about in a book, but one which I personally experience every single day. He doesn’t work the way most people work. God’s love isn’t contingent upon my ability to perform a certain way. He has decided to love me and his decision is final; it will never change based on what I do. At the same time, as a good father, he isn’t content to leave me where I am. He wants me to have the best. And because he wants me to have the best, he’s starving my winning idol. I wait in eager anticipation of the day when that idol is completely removed from my life.

In the meantime, although God is not yet complete with his transforming work in my life, I’m amazed and excited about the difference that his work has made in my life. It’s so freeing to wake up every morning and not see everything I do as a competition. It’s so relieving that Amy and I have stopped fighting about everything we treated as a competition. And it’s so refreshing to realize that I have a Father who loves me no matter what.

Final Thoughts

When I think back to the question my dad asked me twenty-five years ago, I realize that maybe his question wasn’t so stupid after all. Maybe he was trying to teach me that winning isn’t everything. And more importantly, maybe he was trying to teach me that he loved me unconditionally, regardless of whether I was a winner or a loser.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Sand Castles

Shortly after Christmas, Amy and I packed our bags and hopped on a plane for Florida to spend some time with her family. I have to say, Florida is pretty nice this time of year. I got to wear shorts and a t-shirt every day, sit by the pool, play tennis and basketball, and go to the beach.

During one of our beach excursions, I found myself watching our nephews try to construct a primitive sand castle right along the shore line. Having learned from previous sand castle building experiences, our eight year old nephew decided to add an extra-large wall on the ocean side of his sand castle to prevent the waves from overtaking it. However, as the afternoon waned on and the tide continued coming in, I watched as it beat and battered his extra-large walls, slowly tearing them apart and washing them out to sea. By the time we packed up to head out that afternoon, there wasn’t even a small trace of his sand castle remaining. It was as though his castle had never existed.

On the way home, I got to thinking about how similar my nephew’s sand castle building experience is to our own personal achievements. Many of us spend our entire lives building a sand castle that gets beat and battered by the storms of life, and within a couple hundred years of us passing away, there’s not even a trace that our sand castles ever existed.

When I look at my own life and all the stuff I’ve spent my time working on, I’ve seen the same thing happen to quite a bit of it. Most of what I’ve accomplished no longer exists. For example, in previous jobs, I spent hours developing numerous processes and procedural documents to help the projects I’ve been working on to succeed. When I moved on from those jobs, I passed my processes and procedures along to others so that they could continue to implement them, but I highly doubt any of them are still being used.

As another example, when I was on staff at Apex Church in Marion, Ohio, we spent lots of hours and lots of money trying to open up another campus in Findlay. Then the building caught on fire and was eventually torn down. A few months later, the congregation in Marion decided to move buildings, so I designed and led the effort to move our worship space to a different building. Five years later, the church now meets in yet a different building and our former worship space has been transformed into a barber shop. You’d never even know those buildings had at one point been set up as houses of worship.

On the other hand, there are a number of projects I worked on that still exist today such as Tiffany’s and the Lego store at Easton Town Center, the Wexner Medical Center at OSU, and my various tank farm projects at Marathon. But in fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years, I wonder how many of those projects will still exist. Will there be even a trace that any of these places ever existed?

At first, this realization may sound depressing. After all, who wants to spend their entire life building a sand castle that’ll get washed away when the tide rolls in? I have to admit that it’s kind of discouraging to think about these projects disappearing after all the sacrifices I made in order to accomplish them. But I’ve recently had a mindset shift which allows me to see my story differently. I don’t think my time spent on these projects was in the least bit worthless. After all, my work on these projects drew me closer to God, gave me lots of great learning experiences, and enabled me to build relationships with numerous people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Later that evening, I couldn’t help but think about all the projects I’m currently undertaking and recognize that one day all of them will also disappear. In that moment, I found myself being challenged to consider whether I’m currently spending my money, time, and energy building worthwhile sand castles, or whether I’m spending my most valuable resources building worthless sand castles.

I want to challenge you to pause briefly to think about your life. If you knew that all the things you’ve accomplished and all the projects you’re currently working on will one day disappear, would you still continue doing the things you’re doing? Would you continue to build your sand castles, knowing that even though you may build extra thick walls, the waves are still going to beat and batter them until there’s nothing left? Or would you choose to build a different sand castle, one which is still going to get beat and battered by the waves, but which is going to add so much value to your life and the lives of those around you in intangible ways that it’s worth spending the time to build?