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Entries in sin (3)

Thursday
Apr182013

opportuniticity

Last night, in week four of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, one of the things we discussed was "opportunity cost." I've heard of the concept before, but in light of the things that have been on my mind lately, and the changes that are happening in my life, it struck a chord with me on more than just the level of financial education.

Here's a simple definition to start with:

Opportunity cost  n. The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

In other words, what are you giving up when you make the decision to buy or do something else? 

From a money perspective, this is a handy way to talk yourself out of making a significant, pricey purchase of something that doesn't add value to your life. "If I buy this television, I lose the opportunity take a trip to Disney World." Or maybe "If I buy this car, I lose the opportunity to put a down payment on a house." Or maybe "If I spend $30 on lunch at this restaurant I'll lose the opportunity to take my wife to a movie tonight." 

This idea makes great sense to me. I'm a "consequences" kind of guy. I know that every action has a consequence, and the secret to having a good and happy life is to decide, in advance, the types of consequences you want to cultivate. So thinking in terms of opportunity costs works well for me.

It isn't limited to money, of course. Everything in life is an opportunity, and most of the time accepting one means losing out on another.

If you date this cute girl, you miss out on the opportunity to date her best friend—so which girl do you like or connect with better? 

If you choose to gossip about someone, you miss out on the opportunity to build a strong friendship with them—so do you want to be their friend?

If you choose not to exercise, and instead eat lots of junk food and do nothing but watch TV, you miss out on the opportunity to be fit and attractive and have lots of energy and strength—so do you care more for chicken wings and the latest episode of "Complete Trash: The un-Reality Show" than for your own body? 

If you cheat on your wife, you miss out on an opportunity to have a loving and trusting marriage—so do you love your wife more than the affair?

Looking at life from the perspective of "opportunity cost" can change your perspective on daily decisions, big and small. This is long-tail thinking, far-reaching perspective. This is you looking ahead at the life you want, rather than the life you have.

I'm a believer, so I see this from the perspective of God's will for my life. I think that one of the best ways to weigh opportunity costs for my daily decisions is to pray for wisdom and increased faith and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. With God's Word as my guide, I have something to weigh my choices against. It gives me a compass point, a life to aim for.

Maybe for you, that isn't the case. Maybe you value family values or professional success or personal integrity more. I respect that, because I know how powerful those things can be as motivations. I think, personally, you'd get all of those as part of a strong relationship with God, but I understand if you see it differently.

This is life-changing advice, and it's advice I'm following myself. Look at every decision in your life from the perspective of opportunity cost, and ask yourself if what you're choosing is leading you away from or toward your goals.

Which begs the question: Have you set any goals?

You can't weigh your opportunity costs without knowing where you're trying to go. This tool only works if you have a plan. So sit down, right now, and jot down three things you want to accomplish with your life. They can be anything, from "Lose 20 pounds in six months" to "Win a Pulitzer Prize before I turn 30."  Just make sure they're specific and that they have a timeline for completion. 

Once you have those three goals, use them to determine the opportunity costs of your decisions. Will Choice A get you closer to or further away from your goals? Will Choice B? Go with the choice that gets you closer, and you'll never regret the choice.

Last parting advice—choose the opportunity God has opened up for you. This is a chance to have a life that outlasts your time on Earth. It's a chance to have joy that makes your best memories seem like the least of your good days. It's a chance to experience love that goes deeper, farther, higher, and wider than any you've ever experienced, or ever thought you could. 

If you need help or advice about reaching this opportunity, let me know. I want to help you see it, if you're curious. And maybe I can help you see some other opportunities in your life, too. Sometimes we need someone who loves us to point out what's right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.

Monday
Apr082013

failureocity

You are a complete and utter failure. Me too, actually.

Ain't it great? Wow! What freedom! What a wonderful gift! Can you believe that we ... err ... some of you have that "look" on your  face. OK, let me back up a bit.

A while back I was thinking about my life. Mostly I was thinking, "Wow. I really haven't accomplished anything worthwhile, have I? And I'm overweight. And I'm in debt. And I tend to make some bad choices. I'm pretty sure God's unhappy with me."

Best. Thought process. EVER.

Because it was around that time I started to realize I have to actually change something if I want to live the life I want to live, and that God intended me to live.

Haven't accomplished anything worthwhile? Did I plan to do anything worthwhile?

Overweight? Was I adjusting my diet, and was I exercising more often?

In debt? Was I improving my financial education and making to changes to how I think about and manage money?

Bad choices? Was I learning from them, and consciously deciding not to repeat them?

God's unhappy with me? Can I blame Him? What have I done to please Him? What have I done to glorify Him? What have I done to be obedient to Him?

Thank God I finally woke up. I spent the first 40 years of my life vacillating about right and wrong, about wealth and poverty, about health and sickness, about all the aspects of my life I was unhappy with, and whether or not I was unhappy enough to CHANGE THEM. 

I wasn't. Or rather, I was, but I wasn't willing to change them. I hadn't made the decision to make changes in my life. I hadn't asked God to change me, because I was afraid of the pain that would come with change. But above all, I was afraid of failing.

Thing is, I actually made a thinking error right from the start. See, I made this assumption that God was unhappy with me based on the fact that I was unhappy with me. And sure, maybe God would have preferred I make better choices. Maybe He was displeased with the choices I was making. But "unhappy" is a long way from "not loving," which is how I was thinking of it. I was thinking, "I haven't done anything to earn God's love."

Brrrrt. WRONG! Back to zero. Re-read the rules. You are playing the wrong game. No wonder you're losing!

God may well be unhappy about your life and your choices. But that isn't the same as not loving you. He loves you, no matter what, because He made you to be loved. He sent Christ as a sacrifice, the embodiment of God and man, to die in our place for the evil and sin in our lives, and to be reborn to prove God's power over evil and sin and death. He did that so that He could just love us, straight up, without us having to do a thing to "earn it." 

We do not have to earn God's love. We have it. We do not have to earn God's forgiveness. We have it. We have only to accept Christ as the guiding force in our lives, the strength in our hearts, the rule for how we think and behave and decide. All of that, it's what Christ came here to make available to us.

And we fail.

Oh yeah, we fail. Big time. We lust. We envy. We lie. We steal. We cheat. We experience wrath and anger. We are gluttonous. If you don't fall somewhere in that list, I bet we can dig for a bit and find something that applies to you. Because we fail. It's what we do.

And God knows that. And He's OK with it. He loves you "even though."

That phrase has special meaning for me and my wife, Kara. When we were planning our wedding, our minister sat with us to counsel us about marriage and the decision we were making. And when he wrote our vows, he included something in them that he had brought up during those sessions. "God loves you even though." Even though you sin. Even though you become angry. Even though you doubt or disbelieve. Even though you fail. God loves you even though.

Look, we're all falling on our faces, all the time. It's going to happen. You should try your best to avoid it, try to make changes, try to be a better steward of the gifts God has given you. But you're going to fail sometimes. It's part of the package. 

God loves you, even though.

And God is your only way to improve. It starts by asking him to change you.

I recommend reading Lord Change Me, by James MacDonald. I first encountered this book when I started attending Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land, and it was a great start for changing my life to the glory of God. It offers very practical advice and a structure for asking God to change your life, and for turning away from the sin that has dominated you in the past. 

Short version: Ask God to change you. Repent (turn away) from the sin in your life by proclaiming, "I'm dead to that. And Christ is alive in me." And act on what you know to be good while avoiding what you know to be sin. 

You're going to fail. God knows I do, every day. And when you fail, your first impulse will be to feel an overwhelming guilt and shame. Go ahead. Feel it. Then pray a sincere apology to God, and start again with "Lord, change me." Make the request every time you fall, and make your best effort to die to sin and live in Christ. The effort is worth a lot.

Failing does not make you a failure. In the end, every failure is just a chance to learn and grow and become stronger and better than before. When you pick up and keep going, the failures in your wake become the steps you climb to reach new heights. God is waiting for you at the top, but he's also walking along beside you, to help you get to where you're going. Trust that. Trust that even in failure, God has your back. 

You are amazing. God made you, so you know it's true. 

Tuesday
Feb262013

choiciness

This morning, despite hitting snooze a couple of times, I actually managed to get myself pulled together and out the door a little earlier than usual. I decided to detour from my route a bit and drop by Starbucks. This always takes me about 12 to 15 minutes out of my way. Sacrifices must be made.

On the drive out of my neighborhood, down a long, heavily populated street, walled with nice homes and manicured lawns and well-groomed trees and medians, I had a chance to see the full moon. It hovered slightly to the right of the line of the street, and it was an enormous, shining disk in a slowly brightening blue sky.

It seems so long since I've left the house in daylight on a work day, so maybe the slow sunrise made things a little more special. Or maybe it's the crisp, cold air, the cloudless sky, the light breeze. Before I climbed into my truck I heard owls in the distance. I heard leaves rustling in the breeze. I felt the chill of the air, and it made me feel pretty good. 

I worry about things, sometimes. All the time. And it's tough to get out of that habit. Because worry, fear, anxiety—these are killers. They're sins. Maybe not the kind you're used to, like lying or sexual immorality or stealing. They aren't the sins you normally hear about in a church sermon. But they represent a choice you make, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. And that choice tears you down, makes you useless and pointless. God doesn't want that for you.

This is one of the things I struggle with, pretty regularly. It's what I'm struggling with right this second, actually. There's a fear, trickling down my esophagus. A worry that's starting small but threatens to widen. An anxiety that is slowly sinking its claws into me. "Will I turn off my readers? Will the people I know roll their eyes, turn away, think less of me?" See that? Fear and worry and anxiety that I'd NEVER feel about anything else I'd say or do, but for some reason fear when I'm talking about my faith, about sin, about God.

And that's a choice I make.

So I'm making a different choice. This morning is beautiful, and that's a gift. Every moment is beautiful, and that's also a gift. And right now, I'm choosing to be dead to the sins of fear, worry, and anxiety and alive in Christ. I'm asking God to show me how I can server him better. I'm asking for wisdom, for a light on the path to righteousness and love. I'm asking how I, wretched sinner, can make a better choice.