Responding to Silence

My church has recently gone through a series on prayer. We have been walking through the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and among many things we have discussed how the act of prayer itself is an act of love, of faith, and of surrender.

This series has been a great challenge and renewal for me as I am attempting to revitalize my prayer life. Through various discussions with my community group and my wife, though, I have come across a question that has stirred my thoughts and I thought I would share some of those here.
The big question that has hit me during this time is this: How should we take comfort from unanswered prayers?
Unanswered Prayer
I’m sure we’ve all had those times when we’ve come before God and asked for something, that He would move or heal or rescue in some way, and then nothing seems to happen. We may even go to our knees for months constantly asking God to intervene in a specific way, a good way, only to never see fruit come from it. Seemingly, our prayers fall on deaf ears.
These experiences unfortunately can lead to a host of dangerous effects. Little by little, or depending on the situation, all at once, some people start believing that God is not as big as they thought he was. They think that God does not hear as well as them, care as much as them, that He is not as powerful as they thought, or even that maybe He does not exist at all. These are all gentle temptations that can slowly chip away at our faith.
The truth that we find in Scripture, though, is clear. God cares for us and the details of our lives1. He is all good2 and all powerful3. He intimately knows the desires of our hearts and the pain that we feel4. He’s aware of every sickness, every struggle, and every strife.
But the fact remains, that sometimes we don’t see the answers we want from our prayers. We still pray about things and nothing seems to happen. What do we do then in the face of unanswered prayer?
Game Plan for Unanswered Prayer
I’m no systematic theologian, but I do feel like there are a few things that we can all do in face of these circumstances.
  1. Realize that Every Prayer is Answered
If you have been around Christendom for any length of time, you may have heard the admonition that we cannot come to God as if he’s the Big-Vending-Machine-in-the-Sky. We give Him prayers and He rains down his blessings. Obviously, this is not how it works.
While every prayer may not be answered with a “yes,” though, every prayer is in fact answered. We believe that God is good, and, like a good parent, sometimes it is best for Him to say “no” to His children. Sometimes we ask out of wrong motivations or we ask for things that will actually harm us and God looks down, hears our prayers, and shakes his head. However, we also believe that God is sovereign. working all things to his glory and the good of those who love him. In this respect, every “no” is not a strict negative. Rather, in this monosyllabic word, we hear “wait and see.” For in the end we will be able to look back and see the harmful or simply wrong things that we prayed for and see that God’s supposed silence did in fact turn out for the best.
So the first thing we can do in the face of unanswered prayers is realize that God truly never ignores our cries. Rather he answers with a glorious “Yes!” or he knowingly whispers “wait and see.”
  1. Continue Praying
The next thing we can do (in obedience to 1 Thessalonians 5:17) is to simply continue praying. Today we live in a culture of instant gratification. If something does not seem to “work” then we put it aside and move on.
But as we have said in the point before, God does not work like a vending machine. Our relationship with God is just that, a relationship. If our spouse does not respond to us in a way that we expect, do we simply give up trying to communicate? Not at all!
Of course praying to God is different than communicating with our spouse or close friends, specifically when it comes to requests. When we bring something before God and ask him to come into the situation and make a change, we are in effect trusting that He has the power to make the change and that He is good enough to desire the change. Just because God may be seemingly silent, though, in some situations that does not mean that either of these things are untrue. And so we should keep praying in faith that they are true.
  1. Ask God for Change
The third thing we can do then in the face of unanswered prayer, is to ask God for change. Chip Henderson, who has led us through this prayer series, has mentioned many times throughout his sermons that sometimes, before God wants to do something through or around you, he wants to do something in you.
And sometimes that is just what we need. Often times we continue to pray (see point 2) over a situation and over time our prayers become directed in a completely different direction than when we started. That is because, not only does prayer have the power to change the world around us, but it also is sometimes the most powerful tool God uses to change something inside of us. And as we spend more and more time in prayer, God through his Holy Spirit can mold our hearts and minds to be more in line with what he is doing, helping us to join with him in what is doing.
So sometimes we need God to open our eyes to things that we cannot see5. It is a good thing to be fervent and persistent in our prayers, but we should also not neglect to ask God to show us what is his will and to align our hearts with his.
Comfort in Waiting
So we have talked about what we can do in the face of unanswered prayers. But as anyone who has gone through serious struggles in this life knows, action is not always a salve for the pains of the heart.
When we are praying for something we know to be genuinely good, something we are sure would glorify God and bring about a mighty good in the lives of others, and we are met with an opposite result or even silence, it is in those times that our pain can be most vivid in this fallen world. But, and this is the main reason for this post, I want to tell you that there is comfort to be found in the silence.
These comforts are echoes of the actions taken above. In the silence we must know these three things:
  1. God hears our prayers
Not one tear drops from your face that God does not see6. Not one hair on your head has been left uncounted7. Not one whisper has been unheard8. As our heavenly Father, God cares for his children9. When we are in pain, He invites us to seek His face. He loves us with an enduring love.
All this means that our prayers never fall on deaf ears. God always hears us. He always knows the details that we bring before him. He will never leave us nor forsake us10. He knows the pain we feel over a loved one’s death, an enduring illness or disease, and torn relationships. Take comfort in the fact that we do not have a distant God, he is oh so near11.
  1. God is good and sovereign
Not only is God near and does he hear our prayers, but he is good and sovereign. Even when it seems that evil prevails, God is good. Even when it seems tyrants rise to oppress, God is in control. Even when health spirals, houses burn, or relationships fall apart, God still reigns and loves. In the darkest of times, God is our refuge and strength12.
This is an immensely important point to understand. If He was good and not all sovereign, then we could have no hope of Him being able to work in our lives. If He was all sovereign but not all good, then we could not trust Him to do what was best. Since He is both, though, we can take comfort in the fact that He does have His glory and our good as His intent and He has the power to bring it about.
  1. God is at work
The last truth that we must be instilling in our hearts is that God is always at work. Not only does He hear our prayers. Not only is He good and sovereign. He is constantly moving and working all around us.
The danger we come to here is to start thinking of God strictly as a clean-up crew. After a major disaster, He comes in and makes everything better. He cleans up the debris, rebuilds houses, and passes out meals. I will be careful to not say that He does not act as these things, but the truth is that He is so much more than these things.
God does not merely insert goodness into a bad situation. Rather he turns bad situations into good. He does not want to only provide for you when your house burns down, He wants to use the razing of your home to build something completely new. And trust me, when He builds and constructs, it will be a glorious orchestration.
This is how we should act and find comfort in the face of unanswered prayers. Unfortunately, these are no easy things to accomplish and keep in mind, to keep faith in the storm. Part of the problem is that it is so hard to see past our own personal narrative, but even when we’re in the midst of trying times we have to understand that God is bigger than our past, our pain, and our perspective. There is a better narrative that exists out of our immediate site. And when we get to the end of all things, which will really only be the beginning, we will hopefully be able to look back on the story that was woven and only be able to say with joy in our hearts, “there could have been no better way. Praise be to God!”
Scripture References:
  1. 1 Peter 5:7
  2. Psalms 34:8; Psalms 107:1
  3. Ephesians 1:11
  4. John 10:14-15
  5. 2 Kings 6:15-17
  6. Psalms 56:8
  7. Luke 12:7
  8. Psalms 34:17
  9. Matthew 6:25-34
  10. Deuteronomy 31:6
  11. Psalms 145:18
  12. Psalms 46:1

On Fatherhood, the Last Four Months

Well it certainly has been a while since I posted anything. Of course there have been a couple things that have happened since that last time, over four months ago, but I must say that the introduction of this little guy takes the cake.
There are so many things that I could say about fatherhood at this point, but let’s be honest. It has become quite clear at this point that I know very, very little.
But I did sit down and reflect a bit ago on the past four months and I wanted to share a few things that I have learned (and am still learning) and a few things that I am looking forward to.

Well on June 27 of this year I officially assumed the title “father” and trust me when I say that I feel there is more weight in that title than I can properly bear. But isn’t there truth in the fact that there are so many situations in life where we assume the title and then we become what we have been declared? The first thing that I have learned is that, though I am now a father, I will continually become a father for hopefully the rest of my life.
The second thing is not so much something that I have learned but rather as if a curtain has been drawn further back to reveal more of how great my wife is. Elizabeth is the most encouraging, sacrificial person I know and that was before she was the mother to Samuel. These past four months have pushed both Elizabeth and I well out of our comfort zones in many ways, but over and over again I have been blessed with how much Elizabeth loves us and rises to be the best mother and wife ever.
The last thing I will mention for now is probably cliche and pretty obvious, but babies grow so fast! Samuel has officially doubled in weight since he was born and it definitely shows. Four months have transpired and it kind of scares me that there will only be 54 more increments of this time span that he will (probably) be under our roof. I have learned of the importance of using my time wisely.
Looking Forward

And that leads directly into the first of what I am looking forward to. With such a short time span to raise this person, Elizabeth and I have discussed something that we had never fully thought of before. We tell ourselves that we have to be intentional with raising our son, but just as important we think is having the correct goals within that intentionality. So we have asked ourselves, “what is our goal in raising our children?” and we look forward to making the most of the time given to us.
As a part of this journey, we had the joy of dedicating Samuel to the Lord a few weeks ago along with family and friends. During this time, Elizabeth and I entered into a covenant with the Lord to raise Samuel in a way that will give Him the glory. It was a beautiful ceremony and I am so thankful for the family and friends we have who are supporting us in this adventure.
For three fantastic years I have had the privilege of being the husband to Elizabeth. The second thing I am looking forward to, though, is learning how to be a husband to a wonderful mother. You can know a person for decades, however when you introduce another person into the mix you can see in them brand new characteristics that had never surfaced before. And so in that respect, I am looking forward so much to discovering more of who God has made my wife to be in these next decades.
And finally, as mentioned before, there is so much for me to grow in becoming a father and I am looking forward to the challenge and opportunity.
Through the crying, eating, and having no idea what to do next, I have this comfort that I will not be doing this alone. Though I’m still looking out for my guidebook to come in the mail!

Approaching Fatherhood, A Psalm

I stand upon the cusp
Within a week
Life will beget life
And life will change

What words can prepare a man
for crossing that eternal boundary
between husbandhood and fatherhood?

How does one prepare
To bear the burden of another soul?
What is man made of that he
Can preside over another’s life?

Who are we that we may be
Instruments of eternity?
Who are we that we may be
Partakers in that divine act of creation?

Insufficiency rears, inadequacy knocks
Insecurity leers
But by the grace of God
I will stand firm

For He is my refuge
My strength and my solace
My reason for rejoicing

The Lord is good
Beyond all measure
To give us humans
Such a treasure as this

The day draws near
And I will praise the Lord
The bearer of gifts
And all things good

A life is formed
Dreams are woven
Adventure awaits
And love’s surrounding

The Lord is good

Living with the End in Mind

What if we lived like we knew the ending of our story?

I was reading (well rather listening to an audiobook of) the Inheritance Cycle for the first time in years. As a young kid the story of a young Rider and his adventures in Alagaesia was riveting. And it helped that I was fascinated that a young man of 16, just a few years older than myself at the time, and a home-schooler to boot wrote such a tale. 

As I was listening to the events that surrounded Eragon, I realized that every new scene or interaction that came about I was putting it into context in the bigger story. You see, with having read the story before and knowing the ending, I had a perspective on the story that the characters had no idea about. 

I caught myself being exasperated with the missteps and wrong turns that were taken by the main hero. Then to every deed and conversation I saw a deeper meaning as I knew that it was going to be important later in the story.

What if we lived our lives like this?

Of course we cannot know exactly the events that will occur in our lives. But what if we we lived our lives in full knowledge of what the ending will be?

What if we viewed our life with an eternal perspective? What if we took the daily struggles and aggravations we face and processed them as if they were but blips along the road instead of the life-altering events that we sometimes make them out to be?

In a time of microwaves and on-demand everything and a growing expectation of instant satisfaction, our focus and perspectives are often limited to such short-term results and events. As a result, we are taken aback and put off at every little thing that may remove or delay us from our myopic goals. 

We live as if we are beginners riding a unicycle, set off balance by every bump and obstacle when we need to live life driving a dune buggy. 

What does that look like, though? It looks like being anxious about nothing but praying about everything (Philippians 4:6-7). It looks like recalling that we are citizens of heaven and no longer children of wrath (Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:3). It looks like holding loosely to the things of this world and keeping our eyes fixed on what is to come (Philippians 3:8, 14). 

When we do these things, the storms of this life will come and go, but we will stand strong (Matthew 7:24-27). The winds of this world will blow fast and hard, but by drawing close to Christ, having our mind fixed upon his return and the waiting kingdom, we will have an anchor to hold us fast.

We have to live with the end in mind. 

Five Reasons Why We Tithe

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10
No matter how much you make, it is important to make wise decisions concerning your finances (a truth we have learned especially well with me working for the government!). A while ago, though, I had a conversation with a coworker about finances. With him having worked with DEQ for many more years than I have, the conversation was pretty enlightening.

Almost everything that he talked about including retirement contributions, budgeting, and investing I was on board with. What was so interesting was what happened as soon as I mentioned that I had read one of Dave Ramsey’s books. Out of all of the topics that Ramsey teaches and talks about, my coworker quickly honed in on a single principle: tithing.

He said that one thing he would disagree with Dave Ramsey on is the concept of tithing. I did not delve into his complete ideology on the subject, but I heard enough to get a picture that he was okay with people tithing and giving to the church as long as they had plenty to go around.

Honestly, I can completely understand where he was coming from but the idea also struck me pretty hard and it made me revisit the reasons why I make it a point to tithe. The following is certainly not a full doctrine on the subject, but they are the reasons that weigh the most in my motivations.

Before I go too much further I want to lay some groundwork. To tithe literally means to give a tenth of what you have which is where we get the association that to tithe means to give 10% of your income. Many people think of it as an obligation to tithe, but traditionally to tithe was simply the baseline of what someone was giving and was not even considered a part of their actual income. But I do not want to get too far ahead of myself. Now that we are clear on what tithing is, here are a few reasons as to why we should do it.

  1. I tithe because I am commanded to do so
This is the most obvious but does take some getting around to. The first time tithing is mentioned in the Bible is when Abraham offers it to Melchizadeck for his blessing. Later on God actually commands the Israelites to offer a tithe to support the priests in their work as well as care to for orphans and widows. Then in Malachi 3, the prophet writes the words of the Lord saying, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse…”

Under the old covenant it was generally accepted that at least ten percent of a person’s wealth was to be given back to God as a minimum. Some argue that now that we are under the new covenant, tithing no longer applies to Christians. In the strictest form of the idea I would agree. However, even though we may have been freed from the letter of the law we are in no way free from the spirit of it which was to support spiritual and physical ministries as well as the poor and destitute as evidenced by Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24.

From this passage and others, it is clear that God cares about how we spend our money. And though we may not be explicitly commanded to give ten percent of our wealth to the local church, it seems that there is an expectation that Christians will be the ones to support the body of believers through the giving of their resources.

  1. I tithe because it is a practice in generosity
I do not know about you, but in all honesty I will let you in on a little secret: I am not the most generous person. And further I am not even sure that this culture truly knows what it means to be generous. When you think of someone generous, who do you think of? Most likely that person has a lot of money, right? But where we err in thinking is that only people with a lot of money can be generous. This is simply not true.

Generosity is not a bar that we might meet one day. Generosity is a lifestyle whereby one holds loosely to those things we are given in life. Generous people live their lives with open hands, not closed fists holding tightly to those things we think we own.

By stepping out in faith and giving consistently and even sacrificially at times (which sometimes tithing definitely seems to qualify as), I am training myself to be more generous. We have to realize that generosity is not something to attain by first gathering in plenty, it is an attitude that we can have every day no matter how much is in our bank accounts.

  1. I tithe because it aligns my perspective with God’s
As evidenced by my conversation I referenced previously with my coworker, there is definitely a type of wisdom that says to only give out of your excess. I call this wisdom “airplane wisdom.” Whenever you fly in an airplane and tune into the in-flight safety speech there is a section that concerns the oxygen masks. Hopefully you never have to use these, but the airplane explicitly instructs you to place your own mask on yourself before assisting others with theirs.

Obviously there are good reasons for this, but this is airplane wisdom: taking care of yourself before you take care of others. In other words, airplane wisdom tells you to focus on yourself and then give others your leftovers if you are so inclined. However, heavenly wisdom is in direct opposition to this way of thinking.

Heavenly wisdom leads us to give when we are asked (Matthew 5:42), to share freely as in the first days of the church (Acts 2:44-45), to give in secret (Matthew 6:3-4), and to care for the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27). Heavenly wisdom teaches us that every single penny we own belongs to God and so in many ways we are only giving back to Him a portion of what is already His.

Money is not only the currency of our times, in many ways it is an indicator of our trust, desires, and perspectives. We spend our money on people we value, places we believe are trustworthy, and things that satisfy needs or wants. When we turn over a portion of our money directly to God in faith we are indicating that we trust Him. And truly, why would we not trust Him with what He has given to us in the first place?

  1. I tithe because it fuels the Kingdom
The fourth reason that I will bring up today is this. When we tithe, when we give to the church, we are fueling the kingdom of heaven on earth. Can God create money out of thin air and suffuse believers with riches? Absolutely. But instead of doing this He allows the world to operate through resources (in fact there is a whole science that is devoted to this topic called economics!).

Why does He do this? I have to answer you in faith. I do not know why He allowed the system to operate the way it does. But what I do know is that if God allows it then it will be to our ultimate good.

God’s kingdom is a spiritual one but He allows his followers to use their physical resources in such ways that allow for the extension of this spiritual kingdom. The institution that God has created in order to bring this kingdom to earth and use His Spirit to work is the Church.

When we tithe we are supporting the local body of believers, the Church, and therefore furthering the Kingdom of God. Going briefly back to the previous point, when we give of our time, talent, and treasure and commit it to God’s able hands, we have no idea how He will use it to bless others as well as yourself.

  1. I tithe because it is rewarded
This brings me to the final reason that I tithe. I kind of feel convicted even putting this in here, but in all honesty it is hard to avoid the idea. Listen to just these two passages previously mentioned in this post:

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10
“…and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:4
I am not saying that a reward should be the main motivation for giving through tithes and offerings, but Scripture definitely seems to promise such!

Any one of these reasons would probably be good enough on their own. But stack them up on top of each other and it is more than enough reason to give back a portion of what God has entrusted to us. If you have made it through all of the above, I applaud your perseverance and thanks for reading. Feel free to comment on other reasons Christians should be tithing!
There are so many articles, news pieces, and other media floating around concerning the transgender phenomenon. There are many leaders who have more wise words than myself on the matter, so mostly I set about writing this blog as a way to orient myself and to get all my thoughts down on “paper.” If you have any constructive feedback feel free to leave it in the comments!

  1. Locating Truth
We are all trying to find truth and how we relate to it, how it impacts our lives. We all try to find out how we fit into this world and what part we are to play in this grand narrative.

The fight of those who consider themselves transgender (or any other part of the LGBT community) is a fight that wants to legitimize their beliefs and feelings and therefore their identity and place in the world. I admit their struggle and I admit that there can be oppression, hardship, and pain associated with such beliefs. I would want to be clear that I do not lay aside any individual’s feelings or experiences. However, where I would like to engage them in how they process those feelings and experiences.

From my small observances, it seems like the truth that transgender people have accepted is the truth that they find within themselves. They fight against what they are told or what is on their birth certificate in order to become who they feel they are. This sounds really self-empowering does it not? But what they are fighting for is a shaky foundation.

Our gender identity is interpreted through biological, psychological, and sociological lenses. I understand that there are people who grow up with all three of these lenses in harmony with each other. However, I also understand that there are many for whom these lenses do not act in harmony. Either there are physical complications which do not fit into a neat category or someone for whatever reason feels as if they do not “belong” in the body in which they were born. In such cases the world seems warped until they alter the other lenses to come into focus with each other.

The question is, “what lens are we focusing or calibrating all the others to?”

Or in other words, what will be our measuring rod for our life? You see, we have a choice in what lens we will use to view the world. But with all this talk about lenses we forget a major point. Just because we may see the world through a specific lens has no bearing on how the world actually is.

Truth is completely independent from how we view it.

I may view a red light as a green light but that does not change the fact that the light is red. So how do we know what color the light actually is? Well, to me it only makes sense to base my identity on the evidence that I have been given from my Creator. If you are trying to build something, why would you not look at the instructions created by the manufacturer? Unfortunately, not everyone believes that there is such a Manufacturer or for that matter any Instructions at all.

  1. Legislating Truth
This has broad implications, though, for how the law of the land is created. No matter what you believe, laws are always affirming or denying some type of worldview or morality. Some non Christians and even some Christians say that we should not try to legislate morality and “force” our opinions/beliefs on people who don’t believe as we do. And while I think what they’re trying to get at (that we can’t expect non Christians to live like Christians or that there should be separation of Church and State) is correct, I don’t think sitting back and giving way is the loving thing to do.

If you genuinely believe that America and therefore the people who live here will end up in a worse condition due to some legislation, would it not be unloving to not be a prophet crying out in the wilderness? If beliefs are going to be forced on people by law (which all laws do) then it would be unloving of me to not fight for laws that I believe would result in the greatest good.

And to be absolutely fair, I would not expect anything else from people who believe differently than I do. My hope here lies in the power of civil debate, the willingness of men to compromise, and the sovereignty of God.

I realize that not everyone agrees with this. But as soon as you become angry at me for fighting for what I believe in then you become a hypocrite, do you not? You can be frustrated at what I believe and we can debate the points but as soon as you deny someone the right to fight or get angry at them for what they believe then you are starting down a dark path.

This is why I am saddened by our pigeon-holing methods we use today. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and moderates, we are all much too quick to label someone and once labeled dismiss any arguments they may have even if they may be completely valid.

I believe in absolute truth. I believe that truth is worth fighting for.

But I also understand that there is nuance to every argument and that we should all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19) and that leads to my final thought.

  1. Living Truth
Ultimately, though, we want to move beyond locating and legislating Truth. These things things are necessary and good, but it has to go further than that.

Truth has to be lived out.

And the broader truth found in Christianity is that everyone in this world has fallen short of the glory of God and His standards. People who consider themselves transgender along with thieves, liars, adulterers, the prideful, the conceited, the greedy, me, and you are all sinners and deserve eternal punishment and separation from God. 

The good news of Christianity, though, (otherwise called the Gospel) is that even in this pitiful state in which we all find ourselves, God sent his one and only Son who became flesh, lived among us, died on the cross, took our punishment upon himself, was buried in a grave, rose again three days later, and ascended to heaven after defeating death and conquering sin paving a way for all those who came to him to enter into a saving relationship with the Father. Yes, that’s the best run-on sentence I’ve ever written.

In short, though, what this means is that I do not make this argument or any other out of hatred towards any person. I strive to say what I say out of love towards someone who has been created by God and who He longs to have a relationship with.

God is a God of love and truth.

Love without truth is naive while truth without love is cruel. God is neither naive or cruel and my hope is to only become more of a mirror of who God is and shine His light into a searching world.

Transgenderism and Truth

A Confluence of Ideas: Love

A while ago I was pondering, I’m not sure where and don’t remember exactly when or why. The idea that I was mulling around, though, was this idea of falling in love. 

I tried looking up when this phrase or usage first came into mainstream culture but unfortunately could not find an exact source. However, I think we would all agree that this idea has become ubiquitous throughout America. The idea of falling in love has been taken up by the entertainment industry and it has been ingrained in us that it is romantic to do so. Not only is it romantic, though, it is actually the objective of life. We are led to believe that falling in love is imperative to a great relationship and that if we don’t feel this way then it must, as a matter of fact, not be love. 

Putting this thought aside, I didn’t dwell on it too much. That is until I broke into a chapter in a new book that I am reading by Voddie Baucham Jr. In this chapter he confronted four myths about love. He outlined the myths as defining love as a random, overwhelming, uncontrollable, and sensual force. In words much better than I can conjure, he went on to debunk these myths one by one and ended up with a definition of love that defines it as “an act of the will accompanied by emotion that leads to action on behalf of its object.”

There is no hint of “falling” in this definition. In fact, I found that this was a perfect explanation of what I was trying to get around to in my previous thinking. Love is nothing to be passive about. There indeed exists strong feelings that should accompany love but it is not these feelings that will carry you through a committed relationship. Love can indeed be romantic, but rather I would posit that love leads us to act in ways that are romantic but is not romance itself. Love can indeed be powerful, but the real power of love comes through commitment and intentionality, not feelings. 

Falling usually involves accidents, loss of control, and fear. Why would we want to pair this with love? Instead let me introduce you to the concept of diving. Honestly, I am a terrible diver but I do know that diving involves intentionality, precision, and confidence. Feelings may come and go like the waves upon the ocean. And if love is that ocean, then I would much rather dive than fall. 

Which is More Important: Goals or Systems?

Consider This

Picture this scenario. There are three men stranded in the ocean each on his own row boat. The first man realizes that he has to make it to land or his supplies will run out so he starts rowing. Unfortunately, he does not know how to row a boat so he picks up a single oar and ends up spending his days rowing around in large circles. The second man also realizes that he needs to reach land and so he sets out in the direction that he had initially been traveling rowing strong and he makes land in 30 days, 5 days after all of his food ran out. The third man, in the same plight as the other two, through careful consideration knows that he came to this spot from the east only two days ago and so he sets off towards the rising sun and makes it to land in 5 days. (For those considerate few, this man sent a rescue party back for the first and all of them survived.)

How does this relate to systems and goals? Well think about it such that rowing is a system to accomplish the fairly obvious goal of getting to land.

All three men had the same goal and used the same system. What happened then that they all had different results? Well the first man is an example of focusing on his system but failing to realize his system was flawed in that it was not getting him any closer to his goal. The second man had a good system but failed to clearly define his goal which would have contributed to the success of the system. The third man had a clear goal and created a system that achieved that goal as efficiently as possible.

A Few Definitions

What’s all this about? I read an article earlier called “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.” and actually rather enjoyed it. On the flip side, though, I felt like something was missing from the post. Even though the article gives examples of systems and goals, the author never went into an exact definition of such. The American Dictionary of the English Language defines a goal as “the end to which a design tends, or which a person aims to reach or accomplish” while a system is “a whole plan or scheme consisting of many parts connected in such a manner as to create a chain of mutual dependencies.”

Though these might be a bit wordy, I feel like everyone has a general feeling of what these ideas are. Goals are those things that we set down to accomplish and systems are the methods that we use to reach those goals. However, if you break systems down, what are they if not a set of cohesive, successive goals? If you think about it, systems are merely sets of micro-goals that lead up to some type of macro-goal. Macro-goals given purpose and direction to micro-goals. While micro-goals give traction and form to macro-goals.

The author states towards the end of his article that “goals [macro-goals] are good for planning your progress and systems [micro-goals] are good for actually making progress.” This sounds really good, but ultimately focusing on your systems is like building a house without laying a foundation. It may look good, but when it comes down to it the house is doomed to falter.

Why Both Matter

Your goals in life matter and how you accomplish those goals matters. However, what matters far and away more is what your goals actually are.

The author gives examples of goals as winning a championship, writing a book, running a marathon, or building a million-dollar company. These are all great goals, but as the author points out there are flaws in these goals and that is that they are not ultimately satisfying.

If you wrap your whole self into these goals it may be electrifying to achieve them, but they will, in the end, leave you dry and wanting. You can try to avoid the problem by focusing on your systems, but in reality you will actually end up in the same position. You see, the problem is not that these goals are not big. The problem is that they are not big enough.

Many of us go through life focusing on the big outcomes, but usually we neglect the things that matter most in life. What if instead of focusing on the championship, book, marathon, or business, we focused on using the time, talent, and treasures we have been given to make an impact on those around us through our leadership, words, efforts, and skills?

How you do something definitely matters and I strive to do everything I do with excellence. But it is the reason behind and the object of that striving that matters so much more than how I actually do it. The important distinction is that I am not pursuing excellence. I am, however imperfectly, pursuing Him who is excellent.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Paul (Philippians 3:14)

An Attempt at Elevating Social Media

Christian, what is your purpose in Social Media? What does your relationship with social media look like? Is there a right way to approach this cultural phenomenon? If there is a right way, that must mean there is a wrong way too, right?

I bet that right now you can even think of several people off the top of your head and point to them and say, “That’s the wrong way to use social media.” Everybody is different and everyone approaches social media with different goals. Social media is an extension of what would happen if you placed 100 people into a 1,000 square foot space and simply left them to talk. Everyone’s cramped and milling around seeking out like-minded people while steering clear of or purposefully antagonizing those they do not quite see eye to eye with. Every once in a while someone gets up and stands on a stage to shout out an opinion, idea, or story and all of a sudden the whole room is talking about it.

Simply put, though, social media is a medium, a platform, through which relationships are strung. The best of all relationships are defined by a unifying purpose and then work themselves out by spending time working towards that purpose.

So I started wondering to myself. Why do I use social media? Bear with me as I attempt to explore this question.

  1. Why do we use social media?
The very first question we have to ask ourselves in order to examine this is, “Why do we use social media?” Obviously this question can lend itself to a myriad of answers many of which are valid, some of which may be more useful than others. However, I feel like it really comes down to these three types of people: Consumers, Seekers, and Engagers.

Consumers (a boat I will admit I fall in often) mainly use social media so that they can consume content. All they want to do is to get on, see what is happening in their social circles or around the world and then leave. Seekers are those people who mainly get on in order to find a community. They want a place to belong and feel noticed, and social media offers to them a place where that can happen. Then you have Engagers. These are the people who, let’s be honest, probably stir the pot the most but do so by getting people involved directly or indirectly.

Now I want to say that there is a dark and light side to each of these categories, but that might be too much for this time. Suffice it to say, none of these categories are necessarily bad or good, but it is important to understand why you are using social media so that you can use your strengths and avoid your weaknesses.

Ultimately, though, no matter if you fall into one of the above categories or some other category or a mixture of categories, the goal should be to always give God the glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

  1. How do we engage with others on social media?
That seems like a lofty goal for something that seems so common place as social media, right? Well that’s what brings us to this next big question: How do we use social media?

In order to glorify God in even the little things in life (i.e. eating, sleeping, relaxing, etc.) what matters is how we are doing it. We have to ask ourselves, “Is how we are treating our bodies honoring to God? Is what I listen to giving Him glory? Is how I consume content, seek out community, or invest in people’s lives Christ-like?”

And that is the ultimate question for how we use social media. Is how we conduct ourselves on this platform bringing us closer to a Christ-bearing image?

That can be a convicting question. We have to expel, though, the errant notions of what we think that means. I feel like our first instinct is to think of Jesus as being really timid or gentle and though we have been called to a quiet life (1 Thessalonians 4:11) Jesus was honestly quite a firebrand sometimes (remember Matthew 21:12-13?).

All this to say, that we want to use social media in a way that is God-glorifying and we can do that by drawing close to Christ and attempting to become more like Him in every way.

  1. What should we do on social media?
But for me, I would want to take it a step further. We have worked on why to use social media and how to use it, but when it comes down to it what should we actually do on social media?

If you are anything like me, there are a lot of things that you can do. I scroll through my feed and there are so many things that I could respond to in joy or frustration, with opinion or affirmation.

But before we get too far, we want to go back to the Word. How can the Word guide us in this? Yes, social media wasn’t quite around back then but the desires that social media meets are not new and human beings have been finding ways to commune, share ideas, and interact with each other for millennia.

As evidenced in those times, the most common places that I could think of that this type of platform occurred was at the city gates, the city squares, or the synagogues. With these three scenarios my mind drifts mostly to Old Testament prophets, Paul on his missionary journeys, and Christ himself.

Though it is most definitely not cut and dry, each of these I feel represent three distinct methods of what to do on social media. The first is that we can confront our culture with the truth. God sent prophet after prophet to His people the Israelites in order to turn them away from their sin and back to Him. And in one way, this is how we can view and conduct ourselves.

The second way, is that as Paul reasoned with the people around him we can do the same and engage people where they are and attempt to convince them of the truth.

But the third way, and what has been a critical point for me, we can stand where the people are gathered and simply hold out the Gospel. Christ would stand before congregations and teach them from the scripture, but besides giving them head knowledge like the Pharisees, he pointed them to a hope that others had missed: himself.

We can confront the culture and try to convince them of the truth every day of the week, but if we are not holding out the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Him crucified, buried, and risen) then we are missing the entire point of our faith.

The truth is that we are all faulty human beings. The Lord knows that I have wrong ideas and beliefs and therefore whatever reasoning I hold out to others for why I believe what I believe has the capacity to be flawed. However, when you hold out Christ, who is perfect and ever working through the Holy Spirit, then the kingdom of heaven will come. And it will be a glorious coming.

Social media allows us to reach audiences our forefathers never dreamed of. We can use this platform to make the name of our King great. So my final question to myself is, “How am I using my voice?”

Books of 2016

With the coming of the new year I have been trying to plan out what books I want to try to tackle in 2017. Before moving on to that, though, I took a glance back at the books I read in 2016. Here’s a list with a brief synopsis to boot, not necessarily in any order.

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

Started this book as a study in leadership as part of my MBA program. As the author claims, this is truly the tale of an American life. I came away from the book having a liking of Franklin more so in his younger days than his latter (mostly due to the fact that I disagree with what he may claim as success [i.e. family matters]). Well written and exhaustive, this book was worth the read and certainly explores the ins and outs of a hyper-interesting founding father.

Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood by Jonathan Parnell and Owen Strachen

In a culture that is so confused by the idea of sexual identity, this short read from Desiring God was pretty refreshing. Written by various authors, the book was a brief introduction to Biblical complementarity and included applications of complementarity to various current issues relating to manhood and womanhood describing the purpose of sexuality, how our identity is shaped, how feminism has shaped our culture, and much more.

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

As with any book by Keller, contained within is deep insight and cutting thoughts. He spends the first half breaking down arguments against the existence of God and then the second half is spent on the plausibility of the beliefs of Christianity. A fantastic read and definitely worth offering to others who may have questions about the faith.

1984 by George Orwell

Honestly, this book was a little scary and depressing, but I think that was the point. Orwell did a great job in analyzing history and government and extrapolated what would happen given man’s base desire for more and more power. Could this world ever come to be? I sure do hope not. Who is to say what the initial steps toward this world look like, though?

The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg

The brain is an amazing organ. After reading The Brain that Changes Itself, I’ve developed an awe for what the brain is capable of which lead me to dive into some of the more practical aspects of it. An entertaining book with some great insights into how habits impact individual lives as well as organizations. Duhigg, being true to his reporter nature, is thorough and well written. Studying the habits in our lives and knowing how to keep some, lose some, or create new ones is invaluable. Remember: cues trigger routines with expectations of reward.

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

Read this book with the MDEQ book club, hadn’t high expectations but it was a genuinely unique book. Follows various intertwining stories of which I favored hearing about the main character’s grandfather. Intersting for sure but with a slightly disappointing ending, I need closure!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates

My dad read this book and suggested it to me, and I couldn’t be more glad that he did. This book offers a profound perspective on the intense feelings of a black father raising a black son in this contemporary climate. It went a long way in opening my eyes to how the African American community has been and continues to be impacted by this culture. Though I can’t buy into some of Coates’ philosophy, I’m looking forward to reading some more of his work.

Same Kind of Different as Me by Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent, & Ron Hall

This book has been on the list for a long time, and since it’s about to become a movie I figure this was good timing. It was a heart warming story of two very different men crossing paths and changing each others’ lives. Convicting for how we interact with those less fortunate than ourselves. Everyone has a story. All we have to do is listen and our whole world may change.

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

This was another book that I was assigned during school (Isaacson’s pretty popular these days). It was a thorough investigation into the drivers of the digital revolution. Fascinating stories as Isaacson dives into the lives of the inventors, technicians, loners, and teams of people who collaborated, worked long hours, and continued to build on the foundation laid before them until the world was changed by what they produced. Devotion to ideas can go a long way.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

A few friends and colleagues recommended this book after talking about the world of real estate. Investing is such a fuzzy subject when it comes to the stock market, but Kiyosaki makes real estate seem almost like a game. It’s a game that requires discipline and adherance to a strict set of principles along with a pretty good gut it would seem. Success can rarely be boiled down to a few simple principles, but this book really got my mind spinning for possibilities.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was sad when I found out that I had not read this series since 2012. Truly rereading it was like visiting with an old friend. Tolkien has an astounding capacity for story telling and every time I reread these I appreciate more and more the work that he did on the detail of the books. There is so much depth in this story that it is easy to get lost of this magical world. Why do we enjoy fictional stories so much? I like to think that it’s because fiction allows us to partake in the echoes and dreams of reality.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Simply a classic. This book makes you laugh and agonize at the same time and honestly is so foreign that it’s almost unrelatable but at the same time enjoyable. I’d like to make some kind of comment on the futility of social graces, but honestly I really just liked the book. And plus, I really wish we still talked in old English.

Can’t wait to see what’s to come in the new year.