If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Is

Keeping Sane & Productive in an Insane World, Principle # 6: If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Is

Growth in skills, acquiring wealth, building relationships, and growing in character all take time, and there is no substitute. But we often want it all without the work, and there are many people who will promise rapid shortcuts.

A few years ago, we were looking for a car. My Dad found a Toyota CRV with low mileage and in great condition. They wanted only $2,000. The person, the ad claimed, was moving to another country to serve as a missionary and simply wanted to get rid of it. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. They wanted money up front without giving us the car. It was a scam.

Experiences like that have multiplied because of the internet and social media. For that, I developed a basic rule: “If something seems too good to be true, it is.”

One of the most common experiences on the internet is the romance scam. Thousands of people give thousands of dollars to criminal organizations that pretend to be a person who loves you and is attracted to you. If you are a 60 something person, don’t believe that a 30 something knock-out with a lot of money is randomly interested in you. If something seems too good to be true, it is.

We all want the quick fix. But most things in life do not happen like that. Most things that are valuable require a lot of work over a long period of time. That’s why it’s much better to get to work than to look for an easy way out. As Henry Wadsowrth Longfellow put it, “Art is long, and time is fleeting . . .”

Now, one thing that does seem too good to be true but is actually true is God’s offer of grace and forgiveness. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is something God offers us freely, and it does seem too good to be true. But it is true.

But many people make a mistake based on this. They think that because the Christian life is rooted in God’s grace that therefore it is free from effort. Not so. We read in the letter of James, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (1:3). The Christian life involves much suffering designed to grow us in character.

The Christian life also involves effort. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue . . .” says Saint Peter (2 Pet. 1:5). It takes a lot of diligence. Other versions say, “make every effort.” It’s work to develop character, even in the context of the grace of God. God can change us by a miracle, but most change involves a combination of God’s grace, challenging circumstances, and effort on our part.

When I was a teenager, I started to take a real interest in foreign languages. I was fascinated with communicating in other ways. From time to time, people would come up to me and ask, “What’s the secret to learning a foreign language?”

I would always answer the same, “Hard work.” It doesn’t matter what you do to learn, you just have to work at it . . . a lot.

And that’s how most things are. So, if it seems too good to be true, assume that it is. Give up on the quick fix. Embrace the long but extremely rewarding grind to sanity, growth, relationships, and productivity. It’s the long path and the sure path.


Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #1: Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” Say, “I can’t do that today.”

Principle #1: Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” Say, “I can’t do that today.”

It’s easy to look at hard things and say, “I can’t do that.” That’s only partly true. You can’t do that today. But there are many things that you can’t do today that you could do if you worked at them over a period of time.

Many of the things that we admire in others are things that they worked at for a long time. Obviously, certain people’s bodies are better built for professional football than others, but those who become pro football players have put in thousands of hours of work to get there.

Whether it’s playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language, delivering a speech, writing a book, or running a marathon, these skills take time to develop. You may not be able to run a marathon today, but you could run one if you worked on it over a long period of time.

What is true in the area of physical skills is also true in relationships. You may not feel like you are good at connecting with people. However, you can work at it. You relate better to people. For example, you may think that your relationship with your child is not good. Say instead: it’s not good today, but it can be better in the future, if I work at it. Continue reading “Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #1: Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” Say, “I can’t do that today.”

5 Steps to Grow in Faith, Hope, and Love for Greater Joy, Peace, and Hope

Key thought: when we grow in the characteristics of faith, hope, and love, we will have greater joy, peace, and hope. But how do we do it?

Over the past couple of months, I have explained that the book of Romans is a book that is designed to lead us to greater joy, peace, and hope. As Paul wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13). This was Paul’s prayer for what this letter would accomplish.

The key to growing in joy, peace, and hope was greater faith in what God had done in Christ to forgive us and will do to transform us. The key was greater hope in a brighter future for ourselves individually and for the world. The key was greater love that would love others better, even when it was hard. The key was growing in the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Becoming people of greater faith, hope, and love is much harder to do than to say. So, how do we do it? I want to conclude this series on Romans with an explanation of how to grow in faith, hope, and love so we can feel greater joy, peace, and hope. I hope that this will serve as a guide for you to study and review the principles of this great letter to the Roman Christians. This advice is derived from what the Apostle Paul is doing in this letter.

If you want to read the rest of the series, you can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here. You can read part 8 here.

How to Grow in Virtue
1. Pray specifically to grow in faith, hope, and love. This is what Paul is doing at the end of his letter in the blessing he declares over them. He is asking God to increase the faith of the Roman Christians. That’s what we should do. We have not because we ask not. Ask, and it will be given you. God delights to give us the gifts of greater faith and love. Pray specifically each day that God will give you faith, the gift that opens the door to all other gifts. Continue reading “5 Steps to Grow in Faith, Hope, and Love for Greater Joy, Peace, and Hope”

Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #2: Ask, what can I not do today that I could do if I worked at it for five years?

Over the years, I have found myself struggling and not able to move forward. After reflection and prayer, I have come to certain principles that helped me keep going in the midst of leading a congregation, raising seven kids, earning three degrees, trying to be involved in the community, and trying to make my mark on the world. Here are some of the principles that I have found to keep me sane and productive in an insane world.

Principle # 1: Ask, what can you not do today that you could do if you worked at it for five years?

“I wish I would have learned to play the piano when I was young.” That’s a statement I’ve heard from many people over the years.

My question is, why don’t you learn now? Probably for the same reason you didn’t when you were a kid. It’s a lot of work, and there’s other things that you’d rather do that give you more pleasure right now.

This is certainly not to say that it can’t happen. I have seen innumerable people grow, learn, and change in big ways.

I also believe in the grace of God. Change is not simply up to us. God is not just letting the world go to hell in a hand-basket. The God of the Exodus and the Resurrection still intervenes to liberate people from darkness and bring them into glorious light.

Sometimes change happens in a flash of insight. Sometimes people just walk away from destructive pathologies and never return. But usually, change is hard and time-consuming, though worth it.

Our body, brains, and relationships work hard for equilibrium. Busting out of that equilibrium will result in a thousand forces working to pull you back.

Change of our character is like learning to play an instrument. It is hard, and it takes time. But if you can work at it, it is a really good thing that can provide you with tremendous meaning and enjoyment.

How People Change
So, what can get you up and sailing out of the doldrums? I think there are really only two things apart from a miracle. Continue reading “Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #2: Ask, what can I not do today that I could do if I worked at it for five years?”

The Great Blessing of Counseling

When people get in deep trouble, they often realize that they need to talk to somebody about it. It’s a correct instinct. There is tremendous help in talking to people about our problems and hearing their perspectives on it. Sometimes, the mere act of sharing our problems can reduce our anxiety significantly.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is the story of Jonathan and David in the Bible. Jonathan’s father Saul was seeking to kill David. Eventually, David got wearied and was, understandably, discouraged. 1 Samuel 23:16 says, “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” How did He do this? Jonathan reminded him of God’s promises. “Don’t be afraid. . . . My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (v. 17). David knew this, but the promises had new power coming from the lips of a friend.

I have had this experience myself. One time I walked into church and was discouraged about some difficult relationships I was experiencing. One of our deacons saw me and asked, “Are you OK?”

I told him, “Not really. I’m struggling with some relationships.” Continue reading “The Great Blessing of Counseling”