There are three basic ways we learn to become good or evil.
1. By Teaching "Learning what's good and bad"
2. By example "Having Moral Heroes"
3. By practice “Forming virtuous habits.”
The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi, “What you have learned and received and heard (by teaching) and seen in me (by example)—practice these things (by practice), and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, ESV)
Therefore, becoming a virtuous person is an all encompassing affair. It requires our minds to be filled with good content and our intellects challenged by good teachers. We need to be taught what is good. We need to learn what it means to be virtuous people and we need to teach our children words like patience, self-control, justice, and courage. If we can, we should wax eloquently about such topics.
But the development of virtue isn't isolated to the mind. It is also cultivated in our hearts, where our desires and imaginations pull us along and move us toward what ever it is that is capturing them at the moment. This is why we need good examples. We need heroes whose moral courage captures our imaginations and create in us a desire to emulate them. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien knew this, that is why their stories are full of heroes who inspire us to live for something greater than our own comfort and security. Now this is where we often fail as parents. Do you know who is capturing your child's imagination right now? Who are they looking up to and wanting to emulate? Is it a braggadocious professional athlete? Is it a sexually provocative entertainer? Is it a snarky teenager on some Disney show? You might be spending a lot of time teaching your kids the difference between good and bad but if you are letting them be influenced by immoral heroes you are going to miss their heart from which the rest of their life flows. Proverbs 4:23 "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." Parents that aim only at the head through teaching or lecturing, will miss their kids heart and wonder why they aren’t growing in virtue and seem to be so attracted to vice. Now listen, the "tee-totaling" parent will simply try to take away all of the immoral heroes and think their job is done. But that is not enough, As virtuous parents it is also our job to fill our kids lives with appropriate heroes. Read epic books to them. Watch epic movies. Tell epic stories. Capture your child's imagination with the wonder of God and the Epic story of the gospel. One of the things that I have done in the past is watch Dispatches from the front, with my children. These are video stories of current missionaries doing great work for God and the good of people in some of the most difficult places on earth. It is always inspiring and starts a great conversation with my kids.
But Tolkien and Lewis also understood that virtue needed to be practiced. No one is born virtuous, and no one becomes virtuous without a lot of conflict. Even our Lord Jesus Christ needed to be "made perfect through suffering" (Heb. 2:10). Both Lord of the Rings and Narnia are based around unlikely characters, who are lacking in many virtues and possess more than a few vices, being drug along into some epic story where they learn how to do extremely difficult things that require a great amount of self-sacrifice. It is here where we see the third way we learn to become good or evil. We practice it. We practice it on the playground and in the home. We practice it when we would rather sleep in but we still set our alarm and arise to read our devotions or make it to church on time. We practice it by telling the truth when we would rather tell the lie. We practice it by putting limits on our technology when we would rather scrub through Instagram or hand our kids the iPad to watch YouTube videos. We practice it by serving the poor and standing by someone who is being bullied at school. No one learns to be patient, just, courageous, or temperate without the habitual practice of virtuous behavior in all of life.
And this leads me to my last point, Paul says, as we are developing virtue, "The God of peace will be with you." Doing a virtuous act, and becoming a virtuous person are two separate things. The former can happen by chance, the latter comes only through a lifetime of effort, failure, grace, repentance, forgiveness, and the Spirit infused courage to saddle back up and try again knowing that the God of peace will be with you in this endeavor.
In my last post, I wrote briefly on the importance of the development of virtue and concluded that post by saying that it would have implications for the iPad. Our use of technology and the development of virtue can be at odds with one another. I have read a few books on the impact technology is having on us as humans and there is ample reason for us to be concerned. This post is an amalgamation of what I have learned from these authors into 10 principles for the wise use of technology in our home.
First, let me try to summarize the top tech books I have read in the past couple of years into one brief sentence each.
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. Here's my one sentence takeaway (OST), the more absorbed in Tech (constant flow of images) a person becomes, the less words (logic, meaning, truth) begin to matter and the less able they become to reasonably interact with things of substance.
Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson. My OST, some technology, including some video games, are actually making our kids better problem solvers and more apt in dealing with complexity. The popular game Minecraft is an example.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. My OST, Mediums for gaining knowledge inherently shape us into their image. Books require sustained effort and creative thought while the internet encourages "the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources." The more tech we use the more prone we are to scanning and skimming, thereby losing our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. My OST, Technology is inhibiting true human connection and conversation "at work, at home, in politics, and in love, we find ways around conversation, tempted by the possibilities of a text or an email in which we don’t have to look, listen, or reveal ourselves."
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch. My OST, 10 practical chapters on how to use/limit tech in a healthy, human way while living out a Christian worldview.
Everything I have read thus far has emphasized how damaging the extended use of technology is upon children, especially in their early developmental years. This is tough for parents to hear because we know how easy and tempting it is to give a kid an iPad or turn on Netflix so that we can get some things done around the house without them clinging to our legs. But if we want to raise virtuous kids, who have the ability for substantive sustained thought, we must not hamstring them by hijacking their brains with a constant flow of entertaining images for hours a day. Thus, moderating our kids tech use can actually help us develop virtue as well. So without further ado, here are my families 10 principles for the wise use of technology in our home.
What do you think? Have we missed something?
First off, let me begin by saying that I think that God wants us to be happy. In fact, I preached a whole sermon series on this topic last year and you can find that here. God is happy and He created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him (Find Him Happifying) forever. That means chasing happiness is a large part of what it means to be human. But our immediate personal happiness isn't everything. In fact, there's a lot more to life that just seeking happiness. Don't we also want to be people of virtue? Now, I realize that the word virtue is not used very much today. But I think it needs to be.
Virtue (n.) 1. Moral excellence; right living; goodness. 2. A particular type of moral excellence. 3. A good quality or feature. 4. Purity, chastity. 5. Effectiveness.
Plato and the Greek Philosophers formulated the four virtues of Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Self-Control/Temperance into what they called the "cardinal" virtues from the Latin word for "hinge." Meaning all other virtues hinge on these four. These virtues are extolled throughout the New Testament as righteous and embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was more than happy, He was righteous and good. Catholic Philosopher Peter Kreeft says, "Virtue is simply health of soul."
This leads me to ask, can a person be happy in a unjust, foolish, apathetic, and materialstic culture? If you didn't catch that, those were the antithesis to the four cardinal virtues also known as vices. Honestly, I think the answer to this question is yes, for a little while. But eventually the failure to develop virtue will destroy our own happiness and the happiness of others. As Proverbs 18:6 says, "A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating." Foolishness is fun, until it isn't.
Therefore, We want to be more than happy, we want to be virtuous. Now I want to apply this observation to one specific area of our lives, Parenting. Our kids will be ruling the world some day. They will be leading our government, businesses, academic and religious institutions, and of course their own families. Will they have the virtue necessary for such tasks? My contention is this, if we base our parenting around the unilateral goal of their happiness they will not be prepared, virtue will go undeveloped, and in fact our children will eventually be desperately unhappy. As a Father of four, this thought is leading me to reevaluate some of our family practices. I want to raise more than happy kids. My wife and I want to raise virtuous kids. The question is, Are we creating an environment in our home that values the development of virtue over personal immediate happiness?
And yes, this will have implications upon the iPad.
What’s Best Next. How the gospel transforms the way you get things done. By Matt Perman. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan, 2014. Hardback
How should a Christian think about the topic of productivity? The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has already performed perfectly on our behalf, he alone has fulfilled all the law’s commands, paid the enormous debt that we owed to God because of our sins, and “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son1.” The message of the gospel isn’t advice, it’s news of work that has already been completed. It is the good news of the redemption and rescue of all things (Ephesians 1:10) by Jesus Christ without the contribution of any of our effort or work. So in one sense the main message of Christianity is Done, not Do. But everyone lives in a world where things need to get done. So what does the Bible have to say about this topic of productivity? Or more specifically how does the gospel change the way we work and get things done? Matt Perman in his book, What’s Best Next: How the gospel transforms the way you get things done, believes that every Christian needs to have a theology of productivity in order to be a fruitful and effective disciple of Jesus. Perman believes the essence of discipleship is getting the right things done, the right way, for the right reasons. But unfortunately many Christians have not thought long and hard about the topic of productivity in light of the gospel.
Perman has his Masters of Divinity from Southern Seminary and served for 13 years as the Director of Strategy for the Web Department at Desiring God Ministries. His approach to writing on the subject of productivity is deeply theological while also pragmatic and practically applicable. He aims at not just teaching you how to do things best, but how to do the best things, in the best way, for the best reasons. In order to do this one must talk about God for He alone tells us what the best things are. Perman weaves these subjects together throughout the book to create a theology of productivity that should lead a Christian to make the best use of their time (Ephesians 5:15) to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8).
Perman organizes What’s Best Next into 7 parts. The first two parts are deeply theological and offer Perman’s most unique contribution to the topic of productivity. Part 1 First Things First: Making God Supreme in Our Productivity is the foundation for the entire book. Perman argues that because there is no end to work, efficiency cannot be the primary goal in productivity. For, if you are efficient and doing the wrong things you will only do more of the wrong things faster. Biblical Productivity is “about getting the right things done” (43). Therefore, true productivity is first driven by effectiveness which means doing the right things (49). Perman believes that in order to be truly effective a person’s life must be centered on God. “God is, by definition, the most important reality in the universe. Consequently, it makes sense that if we care about living in line with what matters most, we need to center our lives - and therefore our attempts at productivity-around him (55).” To be able to do the most important things, we must do the things that God wants done, in the way that God wants them done.
In part 2 Gospel-Driven Productivity: A New Way to Look at Getting Things Done Perman gives his most distinctive contribution to the topic of productivity. The glory of God seen in the gospel should motivate and move a believer to center their entire life around the single purpose “to do good for others, to the glory of God” (74). Perman does not want us to minimize this or shrink his meaning down to just “spiritual things” - he means anything good a person does for the glory of God. “Since good works are the things we do everyday in faith, then things like clean parking lots, swept floors, and even Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches can indeed be good works” (79). Here Perman swings his theological sledgehammer at the old gnostic wall that seeks to separate the sacred from the secular. God wants us to be productive and doing good works in all of our lives not just that which we think is spiritual. This also means that being productive isn’t a selfish endeavor. To be productive is to bring glory to God and to help others. Perman grounds this in Matthew 5:16 “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Therefore, a poor work ethic, haphazard productivity, and overall ineffectiveness isn’t just a work problem it’s a worship problem. It is a failure to glorify God and a failure to love others (97). But Perman would be remiss if he didn’t address the question of justification in light of productivity and doing good works. Perman makes it perfectly clear where your works stand in regard to your justification and sanctification. Perman argues for justification by faith alone as the grounds from which all future good works will spring. “Embracing the truth that God accepts us apart from good works is the precise thing that causes us to excel in good works” (104). In other words, productivity is a sanctification issue, it springs from the reality and finished nature of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Gospel Driven Productivity is good works motivated by gratitude for all that God has done for us in Christ and therefore Gospel Driven Christians should be the most productive people on the planet.
Part 3 begins Perman’s four step productivity process he calls DARE. DARE is an acronym with the first letter meaning Define what is most important. Perman says a Christian must Define their mission, vision, roles, and goals. For a person’s mission to be truly God centered it must be motivated by the gospel, worked out in community, and contribute to the mission of God in the world. An example of a biblical mission would be to “make disciples” (Matt 28). A Christian’s vision should be their life goal that can be completed and has a specific aim (171). An example of a Christian’s vision could be to make disciples in my neighborhood through the planting of a new church. The next step is to clarify your roles which Perman defines as an area of responsibility (179). Following the above example a pastor seeking to plant a new church to make disciples in his neighborhood could have the roles of husband, father, pastor, and friend. All of these roles interconnect with each other and the Bible has specific things to say about each of them. Here is where your life’s mission and vision impact each Role that God has called you to and you set and accomplish goals through your roles. What are you goals as a husband, father, pastor, and friend? These goals should be in line with your life’s mission and vision.
Part 4 is entitled Architect: Create a flexible structure and is the second letter in the acronym DARE. This is where Perman amalgamates many different leadership writers, most notably David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. There is a lot of wisdom in this section in regards to how to set up your schedule for maximum personal productivity without being selfish. He offers six core routines to being productive.
1. Get up early or stay up late. This enables you to work when most people are asleep and it gives you several quiet hours for your mind to think.
2. Create a daily workflow by planning your day, executing your workflow, doing your most important activity, and then taking some steps on the next project on your list (210).
3. Create a weekly workflow around tasks that aren’t completed on a daily basis.
4. Make Prayer and Scripture reading a part of your daily schedule.
5. Be sure to make reading and personal development a normal rhythm in your day.
6. And lastly Rest. Unfortunately, I found this section to be painfully lacking behind the other sections of this book. Perman says we should “take at least one full day off each week” (216) but just a few pages before it he was arguing for sixteen-hour work days that begin at 5am each day. To work like that 6 days a week seems to be dangerously close to making an idol out of productivity. What’s Best Next would have been greatly improved and balanced if Perman would have spent a considerable more amount of time on the benefits of rest or a theology of rest.
In part 5 Perman wants to Free Up Your Time For What’s Most Important by Reducing. I found this section especially helpful. Perman insists that leaders should reduce the amount of things on their schedule. He suggests about 75 percent of capacity (225) to make room for the chaos that life always seems to bring into our well planned days. With this topic of reduction comes the need for delegation. There are some things that must be done but we do not have to be the one to do them. These things must be delegated. Perman makes a helpful distinction in regards to delegation, it is not primarily a self-serving way to get the things off of our schedule that we do not want to do. Instead, delegation is about building up another person and training and equipping them for leadership (230). To do this effectively Perman says responsibility must be delegated and not just tasks.
Part 6 is all about Executing. Perman makes this simple. He says plan, organize, and do (256). I appreciate how Perman weaves prayer in and out of this process. Christians who are ready to get things done should prayerfully consider, “What do I need to do this week?” (259), and, “What would I like to do this week?” (259). These questions should be processed through a biblical worldview that places the mission of God at the center and not our personal comfort. This enables a person to get creative about doing good (260) and puts what is most important into your weekly schedule creating room for discipleship relationships, helping a neighbor with a project, or volunteering that we might not normally have time for. Perman spends a whole chapter on managing email (265) offering some sound advice on how to use your email effectively and keep your inbox empty without constantly monitoring it and letting it distract you from getting things done. I found Perman’s chapter on Managing Projects and Actions very similar to David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) process and fits well within most digital apps made for that purpose. The one noted difference was that the GTD approach classifies a project as anything with more than two steps required which means you often have dozens of projects needing your attention at the same time (276) which creates another layer of complexity. Perman’s approach is simpler. In fact, the author’s daily execution plan is one of the clearest and most compelling systems I have seen. It is a simple list with nine rules.
1. Plan your day (290).
2. Schedule your day at only 70 percent capacity or less (291).
3. Consolidate your time into large chunks (291).
4. Do the most important thing first (292).
5. Do one thing at a time (293).
6. Focus on outcomes, not activities (294).
7. See your day in terms of people and relationships first, not tasks (294).
8. Ask in everything, how can I build others up (294)?
9. Ask, What’s best next (295)?
The last part of What’s Best Next might be a surprise to the reader. In every book on productivity that I have ever read the focus is on personal success or at most organizational success. Perman takes the subject of productivity and applies it to the public sector and to the common good of humanity. Perman argues that we should all be concerned about being more productive because more productive Christians would mean a more productive society that would increase human flourishing in the world. This expands the concept of productivity into four different dimensions (302). 1. Personal life 2. Work life 3. Organizations 4. Society. Perman says, “Management matters immensely for the health of society. Free society is not ultimately sustainable without effective organizations and, therefore, effective management” (306). This would also lead to the expansion of the gospel through more productive Christians, Christian organizations, and churches in the work of world missions. This makes productivity not just a personal or business concern but a gospel issue.
What’s Best Next succeeds on many fronts. Perman does a great job at making the case for every Christian to be concerned with their productivity. The first two sections and the last section are hard to find fault with. Perman lays out a theology of productivity that is well grounded in the scriptures and the glory of God and shows how that theology should drive and motivate the believer to do good, God centered work in the world. The ramifications of that work are a more just society and the expansion of the gospel around the world. The rest of the book would have to fall under the category of good advice. Perman offers his strategies for being more productive. This of course is based upon his western context, his specific career (knowledge work), and his temperament. There is much to be emulated and adopted here. But I would be remiss to not say anything about the weaknesses of his application. Perman is only speaking to the western world and ignores the rest of the world. This is understandable, one must know who their target market is. But we must also differentiate between good theology that drives our practices and the practices themselves. Many of the practices Perman suggests only work in the western world where we are a technology driven and schedule oriented people. For the pastor working in Kenya, which is still a more tribal society known for their lack of punctuality, to attempt to apply these principles would only create frustration towards the people he is called to serve. Perman’s productivity process also seems to be targeted to the type A person who likes lists and details. Though the creative person would benefit from parts one, two, and seven and could possible glean some principles from the rest of the book they most likely would be overwhelmed by the amount of lists, details, and structure Perman outlines.
The greatest flaw in What’s Best Next is what Perman leaves unanswered. How much productivity is too much? When does productivity become an idol? Also, this book seems far more applicable to a center city mega-church pastor than a small town rural pastor. I can imagine a small town pastor reading this book and wondering, “Am I doing enough? Is my church big enough? How full does my schedule need to be in order to be productive?” That said, for knowledge workers in a fast paced western context that are seeking to maximize their effectiveness for the glory of God and the good of others I have read no greater work on the subject of productivity than What’s Best Next. Perman does the job of a first rate theologian and productivity guru weaving gospel centered theology with the best of todays tips and tricks on getting things done.
The Problem of distraction.
Email dings, Texts buzz, Phones ring. Twitter tweets, Facebook refreshes, and bloggers blog. This is the way of life in the 21st Century. It is common in this day and age to pause mid sentence in a conversation, pull out your cell phone and scan the text that just buzzed in your pocket while the real person standing in front of you waits for you to return. We are there, but not all there. We have become acclimated to distraction. I have found it incredibly difficult to write anything of substance because my brain is so distracted by the constant onslaught of dings and buzz’s coming from my pocket. This problem is not isolated to our cell phones it encompasses all of our technology and media. Technology has hijacked our brain. I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs reaching for my pocket every thirty seconds. I really noticed this a few years ago on my Sermon Preparation days. I would spend some 30-45 minutes in a text and/or commentary, then like a trained animal, I would check Facebook, twitter, and my email. Why? I grew up blaming it on my ADHD but now I believe that I had become acclimated to distraction.
The cultural effects of distraction.
According to Todd Gitlin, Author of Media Unlimited, Media saturation and technology has caused us to become obsessed with the inconsequential. He writes,
“To put this another way: alongside specific effects, much of the time the everyday noise of media is the buzz of the inconsequential, the just there. This is neither the media’s downside nor their saving grace. The buzz of the inconsequential is the media’s essence. This pointlessness is precisely what we are, by and large, not free to choose.”
Distraction acclimates us to the inconsequential. We become obsessed with trivial and meaningless things at the expense of reflection and contemplation. During a battle with Cancer, when life seemed very fragile Dr. T. David Gordon wrote these words in a small book called “Why Johnny Can’t Preach,”
“What kinds of ministers does such a culture produce? Ministers who are not at home with what is significant; ministers whose attention span is less than that of a four-year-old in the 1940’s, who race around like the rest of us, constantly distracted by sounds and images of inconsequential trivialities, and out of touch with what is weighty. It is not surprising that their sermons, and the alleged worship that surrounds them, are often trifling, thoughtless, uninspiring, and mundane. It is not surprising that their sermons are mindlessly practical, in the “how-to” sense. It is also not surprising that their sermons tend to be moralistic, sentimentalistic, or slavishly drafted into the so-called culture wars. the great seriousness of the reality of being human, the dreadful seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificance of the present in light of eternity - reality that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon - have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.”
Why your tweet soaked brain needs to read John Calvins’ Institutes.
A few years ago, Pastor Bob Thune encouraged the men in our second year of the Porterbrook Institute to read through Calvins’ Institutes together. I think we were all under the age of 35 and pretty well acclimated to the inconsequential, myself more so than others. Reading Calvin was fresh water to my thirsting soul. It was like stepping off a busy subway train into a pristine forest with nothing but nature for miles around. My soul has had to change, shift, and adjust to a different climate. In my day to day life, I crave the short, 140 characters or less chatter. I used to scour Facebook statuses, tweets, and trivial blog posts but in Calvin I found that which is substantial and profound. I couldn't scour, I had to read slow and digest. My mind couldn't skim, I couldn't speed read and expect to get anything out of it. I was forced to slow down and engage my mind fully. In my day to day life, reading a tweet or Facebook headline gives me some kind of minute sense of accomplishment, some sense that I know what's going on int he world, but that immediate gratification is not found in Calvin. It takes months to read, I must stay disciplined if I am going to get the joy at the end of this book. Calvin’s writing follows a logical flow which is systematic and thorough not just brief, catchy, or clear. There's no click bait here. He gives over one thousand pages to His topic because it is that weighty and means that much to him. He outlines and expounds because His topic is highly nuanced and that cannot be communicated in a tweet.
Yesterday, Ray Ortlund said, "One of the easiest ways I get my distracted heart rejoicing in God again is to pick up a book of solid theology and just start reading." I would give a hearty Amen to that and say this is exactly why your social media soaked brain needs to read John Calvin or some other work of solid theology right now.
When John the Baptist first laid his eyes upon Jesus he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, ESV) Here John the Baptist is giving his view of the atonement. Jesus would be the sacrificial/passover lamb, that spills His blood, to cover the sins of the world. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are paying a ransom or redemption price that will take away the sin of the world. As the Israelites found shelter under the blood of the passover lamb, and the wrath of God passed over them, so will the world find shelter from the wrath of God under the blood of Christ.
The question is, who is the world? Some would be quick to say, it is everyone all over the earth. If that is true, then Jesus' death has been counted to all men and everyone’s sins have been forgiven. This is the heresy of universalism and not true as Jesus says in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Others would argue that Jesus death covers some of the sins of all men, but they must believe in Jesus death and resurrection to have all of their sins forgiven. This is illogical, isn’t a person’s unbelief also a sin? Did Jesus not die for that sin as well as all others? If this was the case, Jesus’ death could have been for naught. It would have been a theoretical possibility that Jesus’ death actually saved no one, it simply made salvation possible for some. What actually saved a person was them placing their faith in Jesus. So Jesus could have died and been resurrected only for the whole world to reject Him and that would have accomplished nothing and would not have “taken away” the sin of anyone.
Then just what did John the Baptist mean by “the world?” I contend, that John the Baptist meant that Jesus died for all the sins of some men from all around the World. Namely, Jesus died for all of his elect who are from every tribe, nation, language, age, gender, ethnicity, etc. Jesus' death and resurrection made certain the salvation of all of God’s people. This view of the extent of the atonement is called Particular Atonement.
In the 17th Century, John Owen broke it down like this:
The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"
Jesus and Limitations, Now this is a dicey issue.
Jesus, as the second member of the Triune God, has no limitations. He is God (John 1:1). He has always been God and will always be God. But in the sovereign plan of God, Jesus added humanity to His divinity. This is called the Incarnation. Jesus became a man (John 1:14). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of His mother, Mary. Thus Jesus became the God-Man. He was still God, but He chose for a time to limit Himself in the form of a Human man.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8, ESV)
This is not like Superman who came to earth but merely dressed like a human man. If you shot Clark Kent, the bullets would still bounce off of him. He only looked human, he did not share in the limitations of the human race. Jesus actually became a man. He added the weakness, frailty, dependency, and limitations of humanity to His divinity. To use the Taxonomy we used last week in discussing Moses’ limitations, Jesus was emotionally limited, He was physically limited, and He was relationally limited.
Jesus was physically limited.
In the Gospel’s we see Jesus get hungry (Mark 11:12) and tired from walking (John 4:6). Jesus knows what it feels like to be us. He knows what it feels like to put a hard day in at work and come home exhausted. He was not Superman. The most glaring example is the way that Jesus died. He was punched in the face, had his beard plucked out, was brutally tortured and crucified in the most humiliating display of his physical limitations as a human man.
Jesus was emotionally Limited.
We see Jesus get emotional and weep at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), we see Him get angry in the Temple (Mark 11), that takes emotional energy and is draining. We also see Him abandon the crowds who were needing more from him, to seek silence and solitude with His Father (Matthew 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-46, John 6:14-15). Jesus knew when to pull away to recharge with the Holy Spirit and His Father.
Jesus was relationally Limited.
When Jesus put on flesh He was also no longer Omnipresent. He was born in Bethlehem and was raised in Nazareth. He grew up in one family, and only chose twelve apostles. Because He could only be in one place at a time, Jesus was limited in his relational abilities.
But unlike us, Jesus, though in the flesh, never sinned in response to his limitations. He never raged against His limitations. When confronted with His limitations Jesus leaned on the Father, trusted in the Spirit, and prayed in faith.
Interestingly, I haven’t found any place in Scripture where Jesus was frustrated with his limitations and wished he could do more. Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me (John 5:30).”
Jesus was okay "just" being Jesus and living dependent upon the Father. He didn’t desire to be the Father. He didn’t desire to be able to heal everyone, or speak to everyone, or minister to everyone. Jesus let God be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent and while in the flesh he was okay with limitations.
Are you? As I have said over the last few weeks. I am not okay with my limitations most of the time. But I am slowly learning the blessing in them. I am slowly learning what it means to rest in Christs' perfect obedience for me and be okay in my limitations. God is God and I am not. This is the sacred bedrock upon which everything in life is to be built.
There is no rest anywhere else.
Last week I said that we need to learn how to embrace our limitations or we risk spending the good portion of our lives feeling frustrated and stressed out. It is my contention, that if we are going to learn how to live happy/holy lives to the glory of God, we must learn how to embrace our limitations.
First off, let me remind us that having limitations is not bad. It is a result of being created. Everything created is meant to function within its limits. Engines break down at certain speeds and temperatures. They run out of fuel, oil, and other fluids. These are not bad engines, they are simply engines that were created to function within certain limits. The same is true with us, we were created to function at certain speeds and temperatures. We need food, water, and sleep. If we run low on any of these things we begin to break down. But the Human Being is so much more complex than an engine. We were created "imago dei" in the image of God, and therefore, we have a complex body and even more complex soul. We are an embodied soul full of contradictory desires, complicated emotions, and mystifying thoughts. The reality is, the more complex something is, the more opportunity there is for it to break down. So it is of vital importance for us to embrace our limitations. To ignore them, would be to ignore the oil light on the dashboard of your car. Eventually, you will break down and the break down always costs more than the preventative maintenance.
Today, I would like to look at three "warning lights" from the life of Moses regarding his limitations.
In Exodus, 17, Moses' emotional dashboard light goes off.
Moses briefly loses faith in God, and the people of Israels' complaining gets the better of him. He loses his patience and cries out to God, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." The man who watched God split the Red Sea, and kill the Egyptian Army through the raising of his staff, is now afraid of the very people that he is leading to the Promised Land. More than that, "God's people" have been denigrated to "this people." What happened? Moses is getting tired. He's getting worn down. His attitude and emotions are the first things to go. Moses is learning the hard lesson that he is emotionally limited. When he is emotionally depleted, the complaining of the people seems more personal. The stress and pressure of leadership feels far too much to bear and he sins as a result. But it was in the Midst of Moses' emotional limitations that God gives grace through Jesus. God speaks, and then uniquely, the only time in scripture, He stands before the people, and tells Moses to strike the rock with the "Rod of God." The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 10, that this Rock was Jesus. So it is in Moses' emotional limitations where the grace of Jesus is put on full display. The people and Moses both deserve judgement for their lack of faith, but instead, Jesus stands before them and takes a blow that gives them the waters of grace.
Later in Exodus 17, Moses' physical dashboard light goes off.
The Amalekites attack the people of Israel and they are outmatched. So God gives Abraham a unique battle strategy. Lift up the "Rod of God" above your head, and as long as it is up the Israelites will be victorious. If it falls down, the Amalekites will prevail. It doesn't take Moses long to realize, he's not superman. He has physical limitations and he cannot keep his hands raised for long. As Moses tires, and his hands come down, people begin to die. Now it should be noted, that God can do whatever He wants. He could've given Moses supernatural strength to keep his hands permanently lifted. But He didn't, instead, God gave Moses, Aaron and Hur to support him in his efforts. It was in Moses' physical limitations where God's grace was found in the support of friends. Moses' limitations reminded him that he needed others and so do we. We are all physically limited and need others to come along side of us. We all need help.
In Exodus 18, Moses' relational dashboard light goes off.
Apparently, it was bring your Father In Law to work day. Moses' Father In Law, Jethro was inspecting the way that he was leading the people, organizing the fledgling nation, and structuring his day and gave the encouraging pronouncement "What you are doing is not good." Moses was working from sun up to sun down. He was having meeting after meeting. He was the touchpoint for every single person. If they wanted to hear from God, they had to meet with Moses. Jethro, quickly saw that this was not good. We are all relationally limited. This would wear out Moses, prevent new leaders from being developed, and discourage the people seeking justice because it would take forever to stand before Moses and have him hear your case. Jethro, gives a lesson in leadership 101, he says recruit and delegate. Find men with a competency for leadership and godly character and hand off leadership responsibilities to them in proportion to their relational capacities. Some should lead 10's, 50's, 100's, and 1000's. Let them judge the people, and you deal with the difficult cases that are beyond their ability. Moses was learning his relational limitations. This is a lesson we must learn as well. We cannot have a thousand friends, no matter what Facebook tells us. We must embrace our relational limitations and live within them.
If you want a more comprehensive treatment of these three lessons on limitations from the life of Moses you can watch the two sermons I preached below.
This is one of my favorite pictures from my sabbatical this summer.
I am climbing a mountain with my two year old daughter on my back and my four year old daughter in my hand. This is leadership. But if you look closely, you will see that I also have a knee brace on my right knee. I injured my knee the first day of our trip while trail running and was in a lot of pain. This is leadership with limitations.
The reality of being human is that we all have limitations. We get tired. We get hungry. We get stressed. Our emotional resevoirs run dry and yet we are still required to lead. We get sick and yet the Earth keeps spinning and our repsonsiblities rarely take a week off. Isn't it frustrating? How many times have you said something like, "I just don't have time to get sick right now?"
If you are anything like me, you spend a lot of time pushing the boundaries on your limitations. "I think I can handle one more thing" is our mantra. Sometimes, we can. But other times this one more thing leaves us feeling frustrated, depleted, and in a perpetual state of impatience. Boy, aren't we fun to be around!
As I was sitting in my Barber's chair this week, we were talking about why we feel so discouraged when we bump up into our limitations in life. I think the answer we came up with is because "I think I can handle one more thing" sublety shifts into "I should be able to handle one more thing." The first thought is a possibility, if I fail then I was wrong, I couldn't handle one more thing at that time. Not really that big of a deal. But the second thought is a kind of law that I make for myself, and if I fail, then I believe that there must be something wrong with me. It's this second thought that is so discouraging.
Unfortunately, I have spent far too much of my life convinced that there was something wrong with me because of my limitations. The "I should be able to do this" thinking has been a lying slavemaster that promises significance on the other side of some accomplishment and the work is never done. What I am learning is that this type of thinking is actually a rejection of the Doctrine of Creation. The DOC tells me that there are some things that I should not be able to do, and that is good news. I am a created being and not the unlimited Creator.
Over the next few posts I would like to examine our limitations from a biblical perspective. First, from the life of Moses and then from the life of Jesus. But for now, What are your thoughts? Have you noticed this tendency to shift into "should be" thinking in yourself? How does it make you feel and how do you deal with it?