Thoughts on “Ploductivity” by Douglas Wilson


Right around the time I finished Quit Like a Millionaire, an acquaintance of mine posted about this book. Since my mind was already mulling over personal finance from the perspective of a believer, this title seemed like it may have something interesting to add. No, that’s not a typo; the book really is called Ploductivity, which I thought may hint at the author’s overall approach to work and wealth.

Firstly, I’ll be transparent and say that this book did not address the topics I hoped it would. I envisioned concrete instruction on how one ought to grow and handle resources from the Christian worldview. Other than a couple of passing references to growing wealth slowly over time, there wasn’t much to say about the topic. I will have to look elsewhere for that.

With that out of the way, I’m glad to share my thoughts on what the book did cover. Though I wasn’t familiar with Wilson, apparently he is a prolific author, well-known in certain circles. His main project here appears to be to discuss how Christians ought to live in the fast-paced age in which we find ourselves, which is a worthy question. He notes that almost everything man has devised since Eden is good, the outpouring of the “dominion” charge given to man in Genesis, and I tend to agree. The idea of Rousseau’s “noble savage,” seemingly popular in our age, is a Romantic notion not grounded in reality. In particular, however, the author is interested in the question of how believers should use the incredible technology at our disposal.

He points out that, indeed all of the powers at our fingertips are a form of wealth handed down to us through the ages. (He sounds this note quite a few times throughout.) We all know that the smartphone in our pockets provides us with more information than the largest library ever could. What responsibility comes with that? To the author, there is little distinction between money sitting in the bank and other resources we have access to, such as the Internet; the Lord expects us to steward all wealth wisely for His glory. From that viewpoint, it is wrong to assume that any advance is inherently bad, as some Christians have through the ages. Jesus and his friends rode around on boats, which are a form of technology. What we have today just looks a little different.

From this mindset, the author lays out some of his personal practices for making the most of what we’ve been given. He mentions filling spare moments with reading Kindle books on a phone, or carving out fifteen minutes each day to write a novel. None are bad ideas, though I’ve had mixed results with such efforts in my own life. He correctly points out that if you wait for the “right” moment to tackle important work, it will probably never come. At the same time, I cannot sit down and develop a useful app in such a short time each day. This gets at the “deep work” concepts I’ve read about before, but some efforts truly do take dedicated time to dig into and make progress. Depending on the type of work, the tactics the author mentions may be more or less effective, so give them a shot.

Overall, Wilson certainly has some good thoughts on the nature of work and wealth for followers of Jesus, though I ultimately found this work a little more high-level than I had hoped. In my twenties, I was much more interested in books abstractly exploring big ideas and themes. Now that I’ve largely settled on a framework through which I see the world, I tend to gravitate toward more practical and concrete non-fiction. For someone wrestling with the intersection of work, technology, and Christianity, Ploductivity could be quite beneficial. For my particular situation, I will reflect a bit on the weight of his analysis, then move on to more tangible instruction.


Thoughts on Honduras 2013

Distributing water filters at the Baxter Institute in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

I recently got back from a mission trip to Honduras, my third time in as many years.  The group I go with has decided to distribute as many water filters as possible in the country where many lack access to safe drinking water.  This approach has proven very effective to restoring the health of whole households, and even neighborhoods, as those who receive the systems share the blessing of pure water.  It vastly reduces illness and malnutrition caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  We partner with a clinic in Tegucigalpa and an excellent team of local Hondurans who help us find places and people to serve.

If there is any such thing as a routine trip, this one felt like it in some ways.  Our team of locals did such an amazing job of organizing and planning that virtually everything went off without a hitch.  With so many moving pieces trying to come together from thousands of miles away, there are usually bound to be a few snags.  This time there were no miscommunications, everyone showed up when and where they were supposed to, and even the weather cooperated perfectly.  It was almost strange, but it led to some more time for reflection.

Early on in our trip, as we were preparing filters at the clinic, I noted a large map of Honduras with some dots on it.  They were marking the locations of churches planted by Ambassadors for Christ, the organization which runs the clinic.  I had always assumed when we took two or three hour car rides outside the city that we were traveling to far reaches of the country, but the dots denoting the impact of the program spanned only a few inches on the enormous map, probably five feet across.  My ignorance of Honduras geography suddenly hit me like a punch in the gut.  The diligent efforts of the local AFC team and numerous American brigades had probably reached only a hundred or so miles into the rough countryside terrain, where living conditions are often the worst.  I felt so small.  Our work felt so small.  I imagined deep reaches of mountainous jungles unreachable by vehicles, children chronically sick when a simple $60 filter could change their life.  And that’s just Honduras.  There’s the rest of Central and South America.  And Africa.  And much of Asia.  We’ll never fix this, I thought.

As we traveled about the country during the week, I noted numerous large-scale projects that seemed a bit out of place in the developing nation.  There was a huge dam, electricity-generating windmills, and other civil engineering feats.  Each one bore the flag of another country or government.  Italy had assisted with the dam.  We were told Germany installed the windmills.  The European Union had chipped in on infrastructure projects.  To me, this made the reality of the situation even more overwhelming.  The largest and most powerful governments in the world have poured resources into the country on a scale that common man, and even the global church could not match.  Still, the poverty persists.  I’m glad for the way those governments have aided the people of Honduras, but it seems their projects stand as testaments to the failure of the secular humanist worldview.  Powerful governments with seemingly unlimited resources cannot fix their plight or the human condition.  I was reminded of these lyrics from “All the World Is Mad” by Thrice:

We can’t medicate man to perfection again
We can’t legislate peace in our hearts
We can’t educate sin from our souls
It’s been there from the start
But the blind lead the blind into bottomless pits
Still we smile and deny that we’re cursed
But of all our iniquities
Ignorance may be the worst

I understand that suffering in the world is far from a new thing.  My generation may even be poised better than any other in history to eradicate it, but without a coherent worldview, without Christ, there is no hope.  The human heart is broken, selfish, and corrupt.  We see this in the life of every person.  Christ showed us how to truly be human, how to properly bear the image of God.  “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:40 – 42).  The way of Jesus is the only hope for humanity, and I am more convinced of this now than ever before, even as I admit my woeful shortcomings.  Only in a world where everyone strives to live as Jesus would true redemption be possible.  Throwing money at problems does not eradicate corrupt government, economic exploitation, and evil intent.  The grace of Jesus in transforming the human heart, however, can and will bring Heaven to earth.

In conclusion, I’m certainly glad to have gone and spent time in Honduras.  Nothing I did personally scratched the surface of the issues gripping the country, but God’s church in action brings small slices of the Kingdom to the lives of people.  Yes, there are 135 more long-lasting water filters in use, but it is my hope that they are more than buckets, tubes, and better health.  I hope they are a glimpse of God’s love to the people and communities who received them, and that love begins healing Honduras and our world.

Thoughts on “Just Do Something” by Kevin DeYoung

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung

Everyone wants to know what we’re supposed to do with our lives.  We all want direction.  For the Christian, it may be particularly important to know “God’s will” for his life.  This excellent analysis by Kevin DeYoung points out that we may look at that question the wrong way, especially in light of scripture.

After a brief foreword by Joshua Harris (which I found ironic due to his rather passive approach to dating), Just Do Something begins by exploring the different things believers mean when they speak about God’s will.  The author explains that there are actually three different aspect to the will of God as we describe it:  His will of decree, His will of desire, and His will of direction.  It’s not as technical as it sounds.  The will of decree describes the truth that nothing will happen unless God allows it to, therefore it is His will.  The will of desire describes His will for all people as revealed in the instruction of the scripture.  Lastly, when someone is referring to God’s will of direction, they infer that He desires a particular path or set of events for their life.  DeYoung leans heavily on the first two but is skeptical of the third.  Most believers would agree that God’s ultimate will for history will be accomplished, and that He has clearly shown us His over-arching will for man, but there is less scriptural evidence to support the idea that God has one particular path for each individual’s life.  This quickly turns into a much deeper discussion about free will and God’s sovereignty, but I tend to agree with the author.  If there truly is just one exact outline God wants for each person, then anyone can irreparably foil their own destiny and that of others.  Kevin gives the example of marriage.  If “the one” exists for every person, what happens if I use my free will and take someone else’s soul mate?  The whole house of cards comes down.  Yet if we are given the freedom to choose whom we marry, and there are several with whom we can form a godly household, the stress of choosing the singular “right” person evaporates.  From this perspective, God retains His sovereignty in that his will of decree still cannot be violated, but humanity also retains free will.  I believe this best describes reality.

After defining terms, the book goes on to examine how various figures in scripture viewed the will of God and sought direction for their lives.  The audible voice of God is incredibly rare in the scope of human history if one stops to think about it.  Though it is relatively common in the Bible, it is still infrequent, even within the focused story of God’s people.  Most importantly, DeYoung points out that the voice of God always appears without being sought; He speaks when He wants to speak.  This gave me pause as I evaluated times in my life when I begged God to just tell me what to do, asking Him to speak clearly into my life, whatever that looks like.  There doesn’t seem to be a scriptural precedent to support this.  Yes, we are admonished to seek wisdom (James 1), but we should not expect to have God’s explicit, personalized instruction at our beck and call.  The author resolves this tension by stating that God has given us rational minds capable of wisdom and understanding, and He expects us to use them.  He will still instruct and give counsel through the Spirit, but to ask for signs may actually signify a lack of faith in God’s will and goodness.  For example, the quintessential illustration of Gideon’s fleece takes place in the book of Judges, a time of marked disobedience in Israel’s history.  It can be seen more as a second-guessing of the message delivered to Gideon than an act of faith.  This can be a tough pill to swallow, but with the biblical references cited, again I believe this to be the view most consistent with scriptural truth and my experiences.

A section of Just Do Something which particularly struck me was when DeYoung notes that the idea of “seeking God’s will for one’s life” is utterly rare in the scope of humanity.  Wealthy Westerners are really the first people to have the luxury of asking this profound question.  The thousands of generations before (and most in the world today) don’t have the paralysis caused by an over-abundance of choice as we do.  Even the author’s grandparents didn’t wrestle with this most important question; it’s a development of roughly the last half century, fifty years in the scope of tens of thousands of human history.  With that in mind, perhaps what my generation needs most is simplicity.  Rather than agonizing about whether to go to med school or marry a certain person, we should follow our inclinations, use our God-given minds, make a decision, and stick with it, all along pursuing God’s will of desire revealed in the Word.  This worked for the countless people who came before us, and indeed almost every person in the Bible.  For me, this is a very liberating revelation.  If I can’t violate God’s will of decree, there are few wrong paths as long as I foremost obey His will of desire.  Seek first the Kingdom of God.

I recognize this can sound somewhat like a Deist worldview, that God doesn’t actively intervene.  The author does not espouse such a viewpoint.  He is quick to say that the Lord can do whatever He pleases, and He does answer prayer.  Indeed, it is Jesus himself who prays “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  Yet, we are not to sit around waiting for God to speak to us as our short lives tick away.  Instead, we should actively and passionately pursue His will for creation as so many before us have, not passively wait for the right circumstances or the answer we want.  It is challenging to shoulder such responsibility, but as image bearers equipped with the revelation of God’s goodness, I believe it is our calling.

In conclusion, this is an excellent book for anyone who questions what they are supposed to do with their lives.  It lends a wonderfully broad perspective of that question, leaning on scripture all along the way.  Even if one does not end up agreeing with the author as I have, it poses great questions to think about in regards to God’s will.  For its clarity, accuracy, scope, and brevity, I give it four out of five stars.

You can find Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung on Amazon.

Thoughts on the arrest of Tim Lambesis

As I Lay Dying

It’s been a weird day.  The front-man of my favorite band, who by all accounts has penned some of the most meaningful lyrics I’ve ever read, was arrested.  When I first saw the headline, I assumed he was taken in for protesting an unjust cause, or violating a noise ordinance at the worst.  (Such was his esteem in my eyes.)  No.  He has been charged with trying to hire someone to murder his estranged wife.  And the evidence seems quite damning.  What do we do with this?  What do I do with this?

I could have told you immediately how mainstream culture would deal with it.  They would revel in the chance to call another Christian a phony, a hypocrite.  And they have.  Main-stream outlets would go out of their way to make sure readers knew he identified himself as a follower of Jesus.  Indeed, some would take the chance to tout the message that all of that heavy metal is “scary” and evil, that it’s no surprise he would do something like this.  But how can I  react when a brother I held in such high esteem has instantly fallen so far?  How should I?

The truth is that the fall wasn’t instant.  Nothing of this magnitude is.  My initial reaction is to want details.  Maybe the police are wrong.  Maybe someone set him up.  Give me details.  But why do we ever want details when it comes to someone else’s wrongdoing?  It’s because we want to judge.  We want to assess whether we would be capable of such an act, and often the more information we have, the more we are able to convince ourselves we aren’t.  The news stories cite that his wife had filed for divorce last September.  We want more details to see who was at fault, to judge who is right and who is wrong.  Details.  They distance us from the heinous acts of others.  But we’ve all done things we didn’t think we were capable of, things we hope no one ever finds out about.  It’s just that the earthly consequences are sometimes heavier, both legally and culturally.

In this particular case, Lambesis had long been a shining light in a genre of music notorious for darkness.  While others wrote songs centered on violence and hatred, he poetically expressed of the plight of the poor, of dying to one’s self for the betterment of others, and of struggling against sin.  For years he had been meek and humble in interviews, even as the popularity of the band exploded.  How much this magnifies his downfall.  I probably have more material from Tim than any other lyricist in my music collection.  Does this negate the impact of those albums full of inspirational words?  Can I ever listen to those songs the same way again?  Some, like “Whispering Silence,” almost seem too close to home.  These words from “Upside Down Kingdom” ring with such truth and profundity, but such hollowness at the same time:

For a kingdom is offered
Beyond that of golden streets
We can represent now
What will one day be complete

More than just writing deep and thought-provoking lines, Tim also seemed to walk the walk.  He and his wife had adopted three children from Ethiopia.  He often used his platform to champion charities and humanitarian efforts.  But this…  It stands in such stark contrast to everything I thought I knew about him.

Someone in a comment thread over at Indie Vision Music put things into perspective for me, at least partially.  “The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures.  He restores my soul.”  Stop and think about who wrote that.  The man who composed those verses did have another man killed.  After he slept with his wife.  King David, the man after God’s own heart, who did things that make our skin crawl, wrote the majority of the Psalms.  We study them in quiet time.  We craft prayers and worship songs from them, the words of an adulterous murderer.  God used someone who broke the biggest commandments to create art that turns our hearts toward Him – not just before, but after his downfall and the consequences that came with it.

It will take me a while to process all of this.  But I have to believe that if God can redeem the life of David, he can redeem Tim’s too.

When evil seems to win – a Good Friday reflection

Smoldering Wick

When it comes to participating in religious traditions, I often struggle to “feel the right things.”  I’m not much of a feeler by nature.  My faith is a solid framework through which to view the world as much as anything else.  It’s how reality makes sense to me, and it may or may not always invoke strong emotions, for better or worse.  Yet, I still seek to appreciate the liturgical traditions which have been celebrated by my brothers and sisters through the ages.  If countless others have found the practices valuable, I would feel like somewhat of a fool to dismiss them wholesale.

It is from this frame of reference that I went to a Good Friday service tonight.  It wasn’t liturgical in the exact sense of the word, but it was an observance of the Christian calendar nonetheless.  While sitting in the audience, attempting to focus my thoughts and feel the appropriate response to the sacrifice of Jesus, something the leader said struck me.  He asked us to reflect on how we had given up hope.  That was when it hit me.

This Good Friday in particular found me in a place where I honestly had begun to give up hope that the Kingdom of God would come on earth as it is in Heaven.  Events of the week had left me feeling as if evil had prevailed, that it would have the last word.  I had a small taste of what Jesus’s followers must have felt that night after seeing him brutally killed and buried.  The principalities and powers had won.  Humanity had seen the beauty of Jesus yet rejected his lordship, abhorred his teachings, and despised his perfection.  His flawless nature so enraged them that they not only plotted his murder, but ensured a torturous and humiliating death.  Is this not the story of our world today?  Is this not only the story of those who vocally hate Christ, but also all of us who throw him to the mob so we can do as we please?  As soon as I see the glaring brokenness in the world which seeks to extinguish the True Light, I am reminded of my own contributions to the fallen state in which we live.  It seems hopeless.  How can the Kingdom ever come and redeem it all?

If this truly were the end, there would be no reason to hope.  Evil would have triumphed and guaranteed the downward spiral of man into destruction.  But we have the benefit of knowing that it’s not the end of the story.  The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.  Though darkness may gain ground in cultures, governments, and nations, the Kingdom of Heaven is forcefully advancing.  Though some led astray by the enemy may seethe with hatred at what is pure, we need not fear those who can destroy the body.  One day all things will be made right, all things will be made new, and we are to bear witness to this coming truth.

So this Good Friday I’m reminded that no matter what victories evil may claim in a week, or a year, or a lifetime, the redemption of all things is assured.  The price is paid, Sunday is coming, and that changes everything.