gospel

3 Reasons to Read “What’s Best Next” by Matt Perman

What's Best NextDoes God actually have anything to say about getting things done? Is it even possible to have a biblical perspective on such a practical subject like how to get things done? And should we even care about it as Christians, or is it unspiritual?

That’s the question Matt Perman wants to answer in his new book, “What’s Best Next.” It releases on Tuesday, March 4, and I want to commend it to you.

A short disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy to read and review, but am not being compensated in any way to provide a favorable review. These are my honest thoughts about what Matt has written and how it might interest you.

Here are three reasons that normal people (not just executives, managers, or productivity buffs) will enjoy this book:

1.It’s easy to read

Brevity: (Most of) The chapters are short, and this makes it a breeze to read.  A quick look at the table of contents will show you that the chapters are mostly 10-15 pages long, which means that the average reader can manage about a chapter a night. This helps.

Clarity: I would say that Perman’s writing style is informal, but precise. The most important ideas are easy to find, thanks to grayed-out boxes on the pages that highlight key terms, main points, and important quotes. This not a book that you’re going to struggle to understand. Most chapters end with a “core point,” “core quote,” and “immediate application.” I was never left wondering what to do with the stuff I’d just read.

2. It’s God-centered

It’s unfortunate, but the phrases “God-centered” and “gospel-centered” have become a bit of a buzz word in Christian circles. If you say that something is “gospel centered,” you’re in the club/circle. It’s also unfortunate that, in light of this, you can find yourself surprised when a book actually lives up to the claim, “this is a God-centered take on [insert an issue here].” What’s Best Next actually does. So, what does a gospel-centered perspective on productivity look like? Here are some quotes to give you a feel for the way it’s presented in the book:

As Christians, we are here to serve (Matt. 20:25 – 28). When we are being productive, we are actually doing good works, which is part of the purpose for which God created us (Eph. 2:10). A good approach to getting things done reduces the friction in doing good and also amplifies our ability to do good.

… getting things done, making ideas happen, and being productive are all ways to make a difference in people’s lives. As Christians, we ought to care about this and be excited about it, for it is not only exciting in itself, but one of the chief ways God is glorified in our lives.

And the paragraph that struck me most:

The essence of GDP [gosepl-centered productivity] is this: We are to use all that we have, in all areas of life, for the good of others, to the glory of God—and that this is the most exciting life. To be a gospel-driven Christian means to be on the lookout to do good for others to the glory of God, in all areas of life, and to do this with creativity and competence. Further, being gospel-driven also means knowing how to get things done so that we can serve others in a way that really helps, in all areas of life, without making ourselves miserable in the process through overload, overwhelm, and hard-to- keep-up systems.

Or consider Ephesians 5:17, the fundamental New Testament passage on time management. This passage speaks of time management as not being chiefly about applying correct principles to our lives but being about understanding “the will of the Lord” and doing it. Productivity is specifically about doing “the will of the Lord.” It’s about specifically orienting our lives and decisions around God’s will.

3. It’s practical

Theology ought to be the most practical thing in the world. What has more relevance to everyday life than the God who made it? In What’s Best Next, you’ll find a gospel-centered perspective on productivity that’s actually practical. This shouldn’t be noteworthy, but it is. Here are 2 things that Perman covers:

  • email. I’ve been using his system to deal with email for a few months, and have saved myself an absurd amount of time. He outlines this process in the book. If you’d like a preview you can find his blog post on it here, or get it as a pdf here.
  • weekly plans. This is one of the key ideas in the book. A whole chapter is dedicated to helping the reader figure out, “how can I plan proactively for the upcoming day/week/month so that I’m doing what I really need to do?” This is about as practical as it gets.

Get the book!

Again, I’m not getting paid to blog about this book. But I can’t recommend it to you enough. Matt Perman’s blog, which goes by the same name as the book — http://whatsbestnext.com/ — has been an enormous help to me as I figure out how to organize my life and work. My guess is that

  • if you’ve got more to do than you think you can handle
  • if you find youself fogetting important things
  • if you want to be able to more projects and tasks better

then you’re going to love this book. Pre-order it on Amazon here, or you can get it WTS books here for 4$ less!

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What Is Productivity Really About?

Matt Perman, author of the forthcoming What’s Best Next making an incredibly helpful distinction:

Myth#1: Productivity is about getting more done faster

When most people think of productivity, they think of efficiency—getting more things done in less time. While efficiency is important, it is secondary. More important than efficiency is effectiveness—getting the right things done. Efficiency doesn’t matter if you are doing the wrong things in the first place.

Truth: Productivity is about effectiveness first, not efficiency.

You can read the whole article here (over at catalystconference.com) and part two here.

The New Testament & Old Testament in 10 Minutes

These two videos has been making their rounds across the Christian blogosphere. In them you’ll see two trustworthy and articulate thinkers presenting the essence of each Testament. The essence. See, for yourself, if the Bible is an amazingly unified whole:

The Old Testament in 10 Minutes

The New Testament in 10 Minutes

The Unforgiveable Sin: What is it?

Mark recalls Jesus speaking about the “unpardonable sin” this way:

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” [Mark 3:28-29 ESV]

Is it possible for a person to commit this sin? Is there really an action terrible enough to merit this kind of condemnation? How do I know if I’ve committed this sin?

Questions swirl around this teaching of Jesus. And it’s not likely that Christians will stop wondering anytime soon. For one thing, it shows up in Matthew, and Mark, and Luke. You can’t simply pick you favorite Gospel (unless, I suppose, yours is John), and avoid it. It’s going to come up if you read your Bible. And secondly, because eternity is a long time. I know that “eternal condemnation” is a laughable (and even pitiable) idea for people who don’t follow Jesus — but to those who have seen and believed, this teaching of Jesus is sobering. Forever is forever.

So, what is it?

Context Is Key

If you don’t read this passage with the before-and-after material in mind, you’re going to misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Here’s what happens before:

    [14] Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. [15] But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” [16] while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.
(Luke 11:14-16 ESV)

Here’s what just happened: A group of people watch Jesus heal a man who was possessed by a demon. This group of people respond in two different ways. One group “marvels” because they’re sure that Jesus did this with God’s power and authority. The other group scoffs. They’re sure that Jesus did this with the demon’s power and authority. We see this in the next verse:

[15] But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,”
(Luke 11:15 ESV)

One group says: Jesus heals with God’s power. The other says: Jesus heals with Beelzebul’s (Satan) power. Jesus’ ability to heal is understood in two different ways. One says it’s from God. The other says it’s from Satan.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – In Context

Jesus answers this evaluation of his ministry by saying that 1) it’s illogical, and 2) it’s inconsistent. It’s illogical because no ruling authority attacks it’s own members. How and why would Satan cast out his own demons? And it’s inconsistent because there were many other Jewish rabbis who had done similar acts of exorcism and never experienced this kind of criticism.

It’s in this context that our “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” or unforgivable sin, shows up. And if you’ve followed along so far, I think you’ll begin to see why this context of healing->evaluation->differing conclusions, is so helpful.

Jesus goes on to say:

28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

If you want to understand what the unpardonable sin is, then you have to understand this verse. This verse is what we might call “the interpretive key.” Put this verse in the lock, turn it, and things begin to open up. If Jesus really is doing things with God’s power and authority, then the observer (us, and the original audience) must be very careful about how we evaluate what we see in Jesus. If God really is in fact empowering Jesus to do these incredible things, then to say, “he’s doing this by Satan’s power” is to misjudge him, and call God’s acts through him, “evil.”

Craig Blomberg sums it all up brilliantly in his book Jesus and the Gospels (pg 280) by saying,

“In context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit means the persistent equation of Christ’s power with the demonic by those who refuse to believe him.”

When you take a few minutes to read the before-and-after material, this unforgivable sin becomes much clearer.

But there are still one issue I want to address: What if, at one point, you decide in a fury to yell out, “I deny the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus”? Is there any way to repent, or have you crossed a “point of no return”?

(This is the first installment of two posts on the “unforgivable sin.” The first post answers the question, “what is it?” The second post will answer the question, “Can I repent of the unforgivable sin?”)

Why Being A Christian Is Hard

Our experiences today do not reflect God’s inattention or unfaithfulness, but his jealous love. He is exposing our wandering hearts and foolish minds and the way we trust our passions more than the principles of his Word. He is calling us to forsake our own glory for his, and teaching us that the idols we pursue will never satisfy us. He is making us wise to temptation and aware of a lurking enemy. He is teaching us to live for treasure that moth and rust can’t destroy and that thieves can’t steal. He is teaching us to live open, approachable, and humble lives.

We forget that God’s primary goal is not changing our situations and relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations so that we will be holy.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Handspg 241.

Don’t Offer People False Hope

Real comfort is more thank thinking the right things in times of trouble. It involves having my identity rooted in something deeper than my relationships, possessions, achievements, wealth, health, or my ability to figure it all out. Real comfort is found when I understand that I am held in the hollow of the hand of the One who created and rules all things. The most valuable thing in my life is God’s love, a love that no one can take away. When my identity is rooted in him, the storms of trouble will not blow me away. …

This is the comfort we offer people. We don’t comfort them by saying that things will work out. They may not.

… Giving hope is more than convincing people that things will get better, or helping them decide what to do. Giving hope introduces them to a Person.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Handspg 151-152, 157.

Personality and Ministry: Perspectives

In this “personality and ministry” series, I’ve sought to provide my own answer to the question, “how do I fulfill my duties in ministry in a way that is (primarily) faithful to the gospel and (secondarily) faithful to the kind of person I am?”

The question hints at my priorities. I want, most of all, to be faithful to the gospel. On the last day, I want to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Don’t we all? But I realize that I’m living out this faithfulness with a particular set of strengths and weaknesses. Everyday I have to deal with me.

Thankfully, other people have worked through these issues before me. I’m not the first person to ask that two-fold question. In this post I’ll be pointing your attention away from my little blog and toward some articulate and thoughtful men who have wrestled with this issue.

1. Gavin Ortlund: We Shouldn’t Moralize Strengths and Weaknesses

In his article, “Why I find the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator Helpful,Gavin Ortlund makes a really helpful observation about the relationship between personality and morality:

No personality trait has any moral superiority to any other; God simply makes people differently. And yet it seems to me that we all tend to think that the way we operate is the “normal” one. … while the disputes that can occur between a J [judging personality type] and a P [perceiving personality type] can touch upon moral issues, they are not necessarily moral issues. The line between “personality” and “wisdom” or “personality” and “right/wrong” is not always crystal clear. … They remind us that not all of our differences are moral differences, and thus help us not make unnecessary judgments. They help us leave room for God-given differences, and thus learn from others where we might be tempted merely to criticize, and be cautious to assume our way is always the right way.

Do you see what he’s saying? The ways we operate as extroverts and introverts, perceivers and judgers, or whatever, are not always moral issues; though they can be. This is an area where discernment and caution can save us a lot of trouble.

Orltund makes two other helpful observations, and the rest of the article is worth your time if you’re interested in this subject.

2. John Piper: Awareness does not excuse complacency

John Piper I’ve had about seven Jiminy Crickets (Pinochio’s “official conscience”) walking around on my shoulders while writing these posts. They’re reminding me that I like, love my comfort zone, and that I better not slack off in my areas of weakness simply because I know they’re areas of weakness. I can’t let myself say, “I’ll leave those things (I’m not any good at) to other people.”

John Piper would agree. There is no reason for any sensible person called to ministry to settle for what they find themselves with. Piper, the man who has had more influence in my life than almost any other, wrote about this issue early in his days at Bethlehem Baptist:

When I came to this church I knew that I was not gifted in evangelism and personal witnessing. I have never been very good at turning a conversation with an unbeliever into a serious spiritual discussion of his condition before God. I suppose I could content myself under the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit and say that he has called me to be a pastor-teacher, not an evangelist. … [but] unless the Lord makes it very clear to me that I must, I am not going to accept my lack of giftedness in evangelism. I have been praying and will go right on praying and ask you to pray with me that God will give me the gift to win people to Christ, one-on-one and through my preaching.

3. Justin Taylor (observing John MacArthur and John Piper): God does not create all pastors equally

Justin TaylorAt a conference in 2007, Justin Taylor led a discussion with John Piper and John MacArthur about a range of subjects related to ministry. In the video below, Taylor asks the two men how they deal with depression. Their responses are as different as is possible:

MacArthur: I don’t get depressed.

Piper: I get really depressed really often.

God uses the ministries of both these men to bring the truth of his Word to lives all around the world, but he does so through their black-and-white different personalities. I’m filled with hope when I realize that personality is not an obstacle to God’s grace — it is a conduit of God’s grace.

Conclusion

I begun by saying that I approach this whole issue with two goals, 1) I want to be faithful to the gospel, and 2) I want to be faithful to the person God made me to be.

These goals are not equally weighted. Like Paul, I am a servant of Jesus Christ. He has bought me with his blood and I am belong to him. Jesus begun his public ministry by telling people: repent and believe. Both of these are self-effacing actions. They both require that I look to Another. My most important calling is to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ — to repent of my sins and believe in the Good News.

But I’m daily submitting to Jesus’ kingship as the person he made me. Which means that my “repent and believe” will look slightly different when compared to yours. I daily have to repent (per point 1) of judging people for not being organized and self-disciplined, daily believe (per point 2) that God is intent on transforming me by his grace and not content to leave my in weaknesses, and I’m daily reminding myself (per point 3) that God will use me in whatever place I am. It’s never that neat and tidy. But it happens. There are moments of repentance. Sweet moments when I’m aware of God’s grace and his ability to use me wherever I am.

What have you heard people say about this issue?

What are your thoughts about the call to this two-fold faithfulness?

What Hope Do You Really Have?

Mark records Jesus’ words this way: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). It is tempting to think that this is merely Jesus’ way of introducing himself, but his announcement is more than that. It gives all of us who endure the harsh realities of the Fall the only valid reason to get up in the morning. If offers hope that is wonderfully practical and intensely personal. … God had not forgotten or lost interest in humanity. Since that horrible first fall into sin, he had been bringing the world to this day. What looked pointless and out of control was, in fact, the unfolding of God’s wonderful story of redemption, which reached its crescendo with the coming of Christ.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Handspg 3-4.

“There are no doghouses in the Kingdom of God”

I hope you’re benefiting from the articles I’ve been posting. Today’s comes from CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. They are, bar none, the most Christ-centered Christian counseling organization in operation today, and this post is no exception. 

Read. Inspect your heart. And then pray for his help. He will gladly give it (Romans 8:32). 

“I Am Disappointed in You”

gospel amnesia

Don’t forget about justification.

In an ordinary chair in an ordinary room sitting in the same old chair I was broadsided with grace by Romans 3.

…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
(Romans 3:22 ESV)

Lets do a bit of exegetical footwork for a moment. What it is that Paul talking about? For two chapters a charge has been leveled against all of mankind: Every person on the planet has exchanged the glory of God for the glory of man.

God is glorious. And instead of worshipping him and being satisfied by him, we’ve worshipped ourselves. We’ve taken our glory and put it in throne of worship that God alone deserves.

As a result, God stoops. He stoops in grace. He condescends (what a wonderful word!) and lowers himself, taking our place and bearing our punishment. Jesus substitutes himself on the cross and pays the penalty for sin. On Monday, unaware of what would come next, I knew that much. But I had forgot (are you prone to forget?) that there is more.

God provides His own righteousness.

His own. For us. That’s what Romans 3:22 means.

In effect, God provides the righteousness of God. That’s why I said, “Don’t forget about justification.” It’s at the heart of the gospel. If you are a Christian, your sins are forgiven, and what glorious news this is! But there is more!

You stand on the righteousness of Christ. Like an oxygen-desperate climber stands on the peak of Everest, or like how a scuba diver sits on the floor of the ocean, you and I won’t stay there unless we have help. But the oxygen is there. See it in Romans 3. And don’t forget about justification.