Learning to Focus on the Future as a Direction, NOT a Destination

Carefully read Ed Catmull’s words:

“I couldn’t have put it any better.  My goal has never been to tell people how Pixar and Disney figured it all out, but rather to show how we continue to figure it out, every hour of every day.  How we persist.  The future is not a destination–it is a direction.  It is our job, then, to work each day to chart the right course and make corrections when, inevitably, we stray.” 

From the book Creativity, Inc.:  Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

As one of the founders of Pixar, Catmull is talking business.  But if you set that aside for a moment and hear it from a spiritual perspective, it takes on new meaning.  Read it again with a slight word change:

I couldn’t have put it any better.  My goal has never been to tell people how [other Christians and I] figured it all out, but rather to show how we continue to figure it out, every hour of every day.  How we persist.  The future is not a destination–it is a direction.  It is our [calling], then, to work each day to chart the right course and make corrections when, inevitably, we stray. 

 

Do you hear it?

 

Learning to Move from Obligation to Passion

How do you feel when someone starts with, “You should…?”

You should read this book.

You should taste this food.

You should watch this movie.

You should listen to this song.

You should workout.

You should read the Bible.

You should pray.

You should go to church.

You should” isn’t the most motivating.  It lacks inspiration.  It can feel patronizing or judgmental.  Even if it causes you to do what is suggested, chances are you are doing it out of obligation.

Doing something out of obligation is barely sustainable.  It leads you to do something because you feel you have to, not because you desire or want to.  Guilt plays a major factor.  If you don’t do it, then feel you will let someone down.  Or worse yet, if you don’t do it, you fear losing a relationship.  You do it out of duty.

Passion is different.  It motivates.  It inspires.  It energizes.  With passion, you don’t have to be told to do something.  You are already looking for opportunities.  If there seems to be none, you will create your own.  Passion is authentic.  It comes from the depth of who you are.  It flows out of a deep love.

You know what I am talking about if you’ve been on the receiving end of an apology that was forced.  Someone (a brother, sister, colleague) tells you they are sorry because they think they should, not because they truly feel sorry.  It happens to most of us as kids.  A parent orders your sibling to tell you, “I’m sorry.”  You know she doesn’t mean it.  It’s the times when she says it without mom using it as a form of punishment that have the greatest impact.

The more obligation is replaced with passion in your life, the greater impact you will have in the world.

Are you living out of obligation or with passion?

 

 

 

 

 

Learning You are Not a Weed

No, I am not talking about “weed,” as in the special ingredient your granny puts in brownies.  If you need to, go ahead and get all the jokes out.  Take a minute to recover, if it is required for you to focus again.

I am referring to the pesky, resilient, no-good-for-nothing plants that pop up out of nowhere and ruin your lawn, garden, and even the cracks in your sidewalk.  If you own a home, you know what I am talking about.

You probably have recognized the use of the term “weed” in some of Jesus’ agrarian parables.  In most cases, the weed isn’t the protagonist in the story.  The fate of the weed usually ends in a bind.  Literally, they are tied up in preparation for burning.  Read Matthew 13:24-30.

In an article for Christian Century, Terra Brockman begs the question, When is a weed a weed?  The answer given is  profound, yet simple:  “a weed is a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Anywhere else, and it’s a plant.

When not in the wrong place at the wrong time, a plant-weed holds great value.  Their chemical makeup produces a fertilizer effect.  They fight against erosion by holding the soil together in the face of copious amounts of rain or wind.  They are sunblock for the ground.  They deter certain insects and animals from completely destroying the good stuff.  They are even an exceptional source of nutritious food for humans.  (See Brockman’s article for a more technical explanation of the benefits I’ve listed).

Who knew, right?  Up till this point in my life, a weed is weed.  Bad news.  A nuisance.  Problematic, and nothing else.  But they aren’t.  Weeds are plants too.

Chances are you’ve been defined as a weed at some point in your life.  You’re annoying.  You’re a hindrance.  You don’t belong.  You’re a problem.

The truth is, you are not.  God doesn’t see you that way.  You may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Not sure how you got there?  Maybe a string of decisions landed you in this place.  Maybe not.  Maybe you have been coerced into this situation by abuse or mistreatment.  Regardless, it’s not who you really are.  You are God’s beautiful creation.

You only need to find yourself in the right situation to realize it.  God created you with a huge capacity for good.  In the current environment, it may not be visible.  It’s there.  You are created to love.  You are created to protect others who are exposed to the elements.  You are created to block others from the hardening effects of this life.  You are created as a source of joy and inspiration.  You are created to deter the bad and protect the good.  You are not a weed.

Don’t let the world define you as one.  Don’t let your past or present define you as one.  Don’t let the fear of tomorrow define you as one.  Let the One who created you define you.  You are a beautiful creation.  Find the place where this is true and plant deep roots.

Do you feel like a weed?

Learning to Empower Single Mothers with Self-Defense

We asked single mothers at Highland Park Church, “What skills would be most beneficial to learn as a single mother?”  The highest response was self-defense.

A team of amazing and passionate leaders responded.  They planned a training event for self-defense.  All women in our church and community were invited, free of charge.  A special invitation went out to all single mothers.

With a vision to see beyond a time-bound event, the team created a way for the training to transcend time.  The goal being to make the training available to as many women (and men) as possible, even if you couldn’t attend the day of event.  The shape this took is in the form of a video.

I am excited to be the first one to share the resource.  Here it is:  Self-Defense Training Video.

Please feel free to share it with as many people as can benefit from it.  It’s a tool in your hand to use for greater good.

I need to thank Sherri Swartz, Wendy Wyers, Mr. Jason Troyan, Warren Davis & team, and Josh Leisure.  You guys rock!

 

 

Learning How Easy It Is To Use the Bible to Justify an Argument

BibleI normally don’t think of an Atheist using the Bible to justify an argument.

In the Christian world, it is called “proof-texting.”  Proof-texting starts with an idea or argument you hold, first.  From there, you move to the Bible in search of verses to support your position.  If found, you use the verses as a foundation to support your agenda.

Sometimes the verses are completely misinterpreted.  They are taken completely out of context.  For example, take Colossians 3:18 “Wives, be subject to husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”  History tells of men using this verse to subjugate women to situations of oppression.

It is also happens that proof-texting sticks with an accurate interpretation of the text.  It is possible to read your argument into a verse(s) while remaining true to an orthodox explanation.  Take for example, Proverbs 18:15 “An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”  A perfect verse for an Atheist seeking Biblical support for elevating the power of reason.

Consider 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”  Better yet is the translation “prove all things.”  This is great support for an Atheistic emphasis on rationality.  If it can’t be proven, then it must not be true.  The Bible says it.

Seems easy doesn’t it?  It’s no problem to use the Bible to justify an argument.  Even an Atheist can do it.

Here’s the point.  It’s so easy that sometimes you may find myself doing the same from time to time.  You turn to God’s Word looking for what you need rather than the truth you need to hear.  You seek to build your argument, not your relationship to God.  You speak first, then listen for only those words that give credence to your idea, your belief, your habit, your prejudice, your lifestyle.

Let the Bible speak first.  Listen.  Ask God’s Word to interpret you.  Be open to change in your perspective.  Pay attention to the whole story of God.  Seek to be transformed by love.

It’s tempting and easy to use the Bible to support an argument.  Resist.  Cherish the power it has to change you, and in the process, transform our world.

How do you resist the temptation to use the Bible to justify your argument?

Learning to the Best Way to Take the #icebucketchallenge

The challenge finally came to me in the form of a text:

icebucketchallenge_textMy first exposure to the #icebucketchallenge was a video on Facebook.  It was posted by a friend I haven’t seen since high school.  I had no idea what to expect.  I was curious enough to find out.

What ensued was a video replay of my friend standing in front of a trampoline with his daughter’s holding a bucket of ice water.  He called out three of his friends, giving them 24 hours to donate $100 to the charity of his choice or be the victim of a bucket of ice water.  He closed his eyes, braced himself, took a deep breadth, and his daughters dumped the ice water on his head.  The challenge was officially on.

I’m assuming news of the challenge has made it to your neck of the woods.  If not, then I recommend you check out this and this.

It’s pretty simple.  Either donate $100 or drench yourself in ice water on video and pass the challenge to others via social media.

Most people choose the ice, and the videos have gone viral.  The original purpose has been reached and far surpassed.  Millions of people have been made aware of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  I imagine significant funds have been donated as well.

Choosing the ice bucket is a fun way to take the challenge, but it could be better.  The best way to take the challenge is accepting the ice AND donating anyway.  Make a memory with the ice, but take it one step further with your generosity.  It’s not just making a video, it’s making a difference.

ALS awareness is the inspiration.  You can give to it.  Or you can give to a cause you believe in.  But give.

Have you taken the challenge?

 

 

Learning 7 Reasons Talking in Person is Better than Messaging

textCommunication can be complicated.

You are not sure if you understand what he is trying to say.  You are not sure if she is interpreting correctly what you are trying to say.  You’re not sure if the message received is positive or negative.  You aren’t even sure if the message was received.

It happens at home, at work, at school with friends, family, and coworkers.  Something needs to be communicated, but it is failing at some point.  Now, you’re confused and upset.  Or, you’ve made someone else upset.

Yes, there are times to communicate with messaging (ie, texting, email, IM, social media).  But, the majority of situations of miscommunication could be have been avoided by talking directly to the person.  Here are seven reasons why:

  1. Facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and inflection gives contexts to words.
  2. Questions can be asked and answers given immediately.
  3. Seeing a person’s reaction helps you know how to clarify appropriately.
  4. Emotions are nearly impossible to interpret via messaging.
  5. Talking doesn’t hold your emotions hostage because you don’t have to wait for a reply.  With talking, there’s no waiting game.
  6. It’s more natural to show compassion to a person than a device.
  7. Talking makes it difficult to ignore.

There’s no denying that messaging can make communication more efficient, if used correctly.  There are many times when messaging is a great idea.  But, it will never be able to replace the power of talking face to face.  When communication starts faltering, it is better to talk it out in person.

What form of communication do you rely on most?

Learning 2 Ways to Understand the Root of Evil

rootI drove by a bank with several police vehicles in the parking lot, and two officers hanging crime scene investigation tape around the front entrance. My daughters (7 & 4 yrs old) noticed the situation as well, which led to the question, “What happened daddy?”

“Someone might have tried to rob the bank,” I replied.

“What does that mean?,” they inquired.

The best answer I could offer was, “That means someone tried to steal the money. A person might have taken a gun into the bank and forced the bankers to give them money.”

Then, both girls wondered out loud, “Why would someone do that?”

My answer was, “Sometimes people make bad choices.”

The conversation went silent for about 30 seconds, and was broken with a tiny voice from the back seat, “Wait a minute, bad guys are for real.”

 Without saying the words, I was thinking: “Yes, honey, evil does exist in our world. I wish you didn’t have to learn this reality.”

A day later, and I’m still thinking about our conversation. Someday, my little girls will also realize their own potential for evil because to be human is to be a sinner.

In the beginning, God created everything good (Genesis 1 & 2). With particular care, God made Adam and Eve (humanity) in God’s own image. This perfect and innocent existence is interrupted by an act of defiance, which you know as their decision to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Most refer to it as the “Fall.”

The story of the “Fall” in Genesis 3 tells the message of the universal scope of sin. We learn that every human must acknowledge their sin. The Biblical writer, Paul, declares it in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “all die in Adam.” Then in Roman 3:23, it is written that “all have sinned, and therefore have fallen short of the glory of God.”

So, all humans, including my precious daughters carry the burden of sin. The potential for evil lies within all of us, not just “the bad guys.”

But, what is the root?

I want to focus on two ways of understanding the root of evil. Both have practical consequences.

The root of evil is pride. This is the most common understanding. Adam and Eve resigned their will to ambition in the moment of a promise to be like God. Pride caused them to reach for more than they already had.

The root of evil is forgetting the image of God in us. Genesis describes Adam and Eve as already like God. They were made in God’s own image and likeness. Sin is not a matter of ambition. It is forgetting or not believing what was true, that they were “like God.”

Here’s why this matters. If pride is the root of evil, then people in situations of poverty, oppression, or injustice should not aspire to anything more. They must accept what they already have and who they already are. “If the root of evil is forgetting the image of God in us, then these same people must demand respect and justice precisely because, like every other human being, “they are like God.”   **(Gonzalez & Perez, An Introduction to Christian Theology, see footnote at bottom of post)

As my daughters mature in their faith and learn the potential of evil in their own life, I pray they never forget the image of God is already in them. It’s who you are created to be, and God works every second to restore the image to it’s original state.

I also pray we, as Christians, will be the reminder to all of humanity who they were are created to be like.

What can we do to be a reminder?

 

**Justo L. Gonzalez and Zaida Maldonado Perez, An Introduction to Christian Theology. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2002

Learning Why A Christian Should Be Like a Nurse Log

nurse logJesus said to Andrew and Philip (two of his disciples), “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Through death comes new life.

Not a preferred subject for most of us: death. In our hearts and minds, it represents all that we try to avoid. It’s the one thing every person will eventually share, but spend your whole life trying to avoid. Death has a sting whose poison seems anything but life-giving.

Yet, new life made possible through death is a central message of the Bible. It is the culmination of Jesus’ story. We call it resurrection.

A nurse log tells the story of resurrection.

If you have seen a colonnade of trees in the forest and wondered how they could align so perfectly, then you’ve witnessed the effect of a nurse log. It starts out as a normal tree. Healthy, strong, and full of vegetation, it stands among the canopy of other towering trees.

Eventually, the tree falls victim to deaths pell. It could be lightning, an infestation of insects, a takeover by animals, or some kind of deadly disease. Most likely, it’s a combination. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable. The tree will die.

The tree stands tall as long it can, while it’s roots slowly deteriorate. At some point, gravity wins out and the tree falls to the ground. A whole in the canopy opens up. Rays of light break through the darkness for the first time in years. The thick undergrowth on the ground that has been choking out any hope of a seed’s survival lays crushed below a gigantic log.

Through death, the stage for new life has been set. The blockade of undergrowth is held down. The energy of the sun is let through. As the tree decomposes, it becomes a fertile source of soil. All that’s left is a seed from a sister tree.

Seeds will fall. Rain will come. Rays of light of will shine. On the surface of a dead tree, new sprouts will break through. Reaching toward the sky, new trees are born. Through death comes new life. Resurrection.

A Christian should be like a nurse log. Allow your own way of life to die so that new possibilities can take root and spring forth. You can become soil for seeds that desperately need a safe place to take root.

Jesus said to Philip and Andrew, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)

Are you willing to let things die so that new life can spring forth?

 

Image by Larissa Sayer, CC via Flickr

Learning to Study God with Others Who are Different from Me

world artIn college (Mount Vernon Nazarene University), I was taught theology is “the study of God.”  When you parse the word, it literally means God (theos), the study of (ology).

The question was raised, “Can you do theology apart from a relationship with God?  Can you study God without a desire to know God personally?  What can you truly begin to understand about God without a hope in it’s healing power for all of creation? 

Most answers to the first question were “No.”  You can’t.  As an academic discipline, you may study and learn about God.  But, your knowledge will be cut short.  To truly know God, you must be intimately aware of the saving work of God in your life and in our world.  God is not a subject to be studied.  God is a subject to be experienced.

Seminary took me a step further.  Thanks to my professors at Asbury Seminary (Hugo Magallanes and Zaida Maldonado Perez), I learned one of the most important principals of studying God.  You are not meant to do it alone.  God is best known in collaboration with others who are different from me.

In Spanish, the term is teologia en conjunto.  Translated it means “in conjunction” or “conjoined in.”  Studying God is an intimate process of sharing with others.  It is collaboration in diversity held together by the hope of experiencing God’s saving work in our lives and world.

Theology, studying God, knowing God isn’t an individual exercise.  It’ not meant to be done alone.  It’s not meant to be done with people like you.  God is most revealed in the diversity of God’s people mutually sharing their voices as a witness of God’s saving work.

To know God is to come together in the rich diversity of God’s people with a readiness to learn together.  Doing it alone will only cut yourself short.

If you want to know God more, find others who aren’t like you and seek God together.

Do you study God alone?

 

**To learn more, read Teologia en Conjunto:  A Collaborative Hispanic Protestant Theology edited by Jose David Rodreguez and Loida I. Martell-Otero