You can stay stagnant, or you can get agitated

you-can-stay-stagnant-or-you-can-get-agitated

There’s a part in many washing machines called the agitator.  It’s job is to…well…agitate.  It does so by swishing back and forth, stirring up the water and detergent and clothes.

If it weren’t for this particular part, the clothes would never truly get clean.  Filling up a tub with laundry, soap, and water, then letting the whole concoction sit still for an hour, won’t make them as spotless as you’d like.  You have to shake things up–literally.  It’s in this chaotic swirling that things are made right again, and your clothes come out as fresh as a spring rain.

Isn’t the same often true of our lives?  We don’t like to be agitated, but it’s for our own good, because the opposite of agitation is stagnation.  So many of us get bogged down in the same-old-same-old of everyday life that we feel like we’re standing still while the world around us is pressing forward.

Here’s the thing: The situations we lament as inconvenient obstacles are often God-given opportunities in disguise.

I was recently speaking to the students at my church, and I told them that good friends always tell the truth.  Sometimes truth is painful to receive, but in the long run it makes us better.  I used Jesus as an example, showing them how he constantly shared truths that, even to this day, pierce the hearts of men and women, revealing their sin and their need for a Savior.

Jesus’ words are agitating, because if they weren’t they wouldn’t benefit us.  If he didn’t challenge our way of life, we wouldn’t have known there was a better way at all.  He made us uncomfortable for a moment so we could experience eternal comfort with him later on.

So don’t just endure the agitations in your life, identify and embrace them!  Ask God, “What do you want me to learn from all this?”  Discomfort is a friend of progress, so if you want stop being stagnant you’ll have to start getting a little agitated.

Advertisements

A letter to me

a-letter-to-me

What are you waiting for?  What is holding you back from doing what you need to do to get to where you want to be?  You have to stop waiting for the planets to align.  It’s just not going to happen.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant.  If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.”  We root our excuses in reason, but at some point you have to step out in faith.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan and prepare for whatever your dream is, because you should.  Proverbs says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (21:5).

But I suspect most people get stuck in the planning stages of their dreams and never get to the execution part.  Why?  Because they’re waiting for everything to be perfect.

Listen: The road to your dreams is not paved and perfect. It’s muddy and messy and, at times, miserable–but it’s worth it.

Don’t delay.  Seize the day.  Live without regrets.  Execute well.  Trust God.  Remember what matters.  Keep a good perspective.  Breathe…now go get it.

Be Helpful, Not Just Clever

welcome_to_fight_club_14317627100Pastors are tasked with shepherding the flock, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost, but there’s an additional pressure we often feel that has nothing to do with our calling.  We often feel like we have to be clever on top of everything else, offering a performance that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking, and when we can’t come up with just the right tweetable phrases we feel like our sermons are somehow inadequate.

That feeling reminds me of the scene from Fight Club (the movie) when the nameless protagonist (Edward Norton) meets a rebellious soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on a flight.  Norton’s character is an empty shell of a man who tries to fill the void in his soul by attending various therapy groups and by shopping from catalogs, and when he puts on a facade for Durden (who sees right through him) he gets called out for it:

Narrator: Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I’ve ever met… see I have this thing: everything on a plane is single-serving…

Tyler Durden: Oh I get it, it’s very clever.

Narrator: Thank you.

Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?

Narrator: What?

Tyler Durden: Being clever.

Narrator: Great.

Tyler Durden: Keep it up then… Right up.

[Gets up from airplane seat]

I want to ask the same question to pastors: How’s that working out for you?  Lately, I’ve been asking myself the same thing.  I will say this: there’s nothing wrong with being clever, as long as it isn’t our end-game.  Jesus was insanely quick on his feet and delivered some strong, punchy statements that are definitely clever, but he was also helpful, so that is what we should all strive to be too.

His words were not empty.  They weren’t powerless.  They were marinated in meaning, and ours should be too.

The delivery is imp
ortant, but even more so is the substance.  So let’s be people of substance, in our lives and our words.  Whether we’re a pastor or a plumber, let’s make sure our voices are saying what matters, not just what sounds good, interesting, or entertaining.

Strength and Beauty Are Not Opposites

“Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with magic.”

-Herman Melville

untitled-designThe above quote from Moby Dick refers to a whale’s tail, of all things, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the same could be said of God.  He’s almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, the one who holds the universe in his hands.  We describe him as omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere at once), and omnipotent (all-powerful).  He has no equal, and there’s nothing within reason for us to compare him to.  Our minds simply cannot comprehend his wisdom, presence, and might.

But at the same time, Jesus showed us God is no power-crazed war-monger.  In Christ, God stepped down from his throne in heaven, taking the form of a servant, in order to extend his grace to us.  He showed his gentleness by not roaring in like a lion ready to devour us because of our sin, but by laying down his life as a lamb so as to take the hit for us.  His gentle gesture was the most beautiful the world has ever seen.

I love the way the wise woman from Tekoa put it for David in 2 Samuel 14:14.  “All of us must die eventually,” she said.  “Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.”

How much more gentle could he be?  Despite being able to easily “sweep life away,” he instead makes plans to gently reconcile us with him — now that’s beautiful.  Although we’re undeserving, he gives us a chance to be made right with him.

Like God, I aspire to be tough and tender too.  I enjoy training and competing in boxing and mixed martial arts.  I like movies like Gladiator and Ip Man.  I want to be strong and be able to protect my family from people who would try to harm them.

But I also want to be gentle in the way I speak and act toward my wife.  I want my son to know I’m not afraid to be affectionate, and that it’s okay for a man to show some emotion.  David was a vicious warrior who played the harp!  I think I’m in good company if I can both fight and enjoy a good sunrise.

So be strong and beautiful.  Be tough and tender.  They’re not the antithesis of each other.  In fact, as God has shown, there are few characteristics of a person that are more complementary!

Destiny, David, and Kung Fu Panda

Po_Kung_Fu_PandaWhen I think of the concept of destiny I think of Kung fu movies, and one of my favorite Kung fu movies is Kung Fu Panda (yes, I’m still a kid at heart). The movie’s main character, Po, is a fat and clumsy panda who dreams of being a Kung fu legend but is stuck working in a noodle restaurant with his father.  One day, through a series of funny and strange events, he is identified as the legendary Dragon Warrior by a Kung fu master named Oogway.

Once identified, the characters express three different beliefs about the situation:  Po seems to think he was chosen by accident.  The other Kung fu warriors seem to think he was chosen by mistake.  But Master Oogway, the wise, old tortoise of the bunch, believes that which looks like an accident or mistake is actually destiny intervening.

The rest of the story (spoiler alert) is a familiar one.  A great enemy — Tai Lung the snow leopard — escapes from prison and will surely destroy everything the other characters know and love, and Po the Dragon Warrior is expected to stop him.  But for the longest time it seems the panda will never amount to anything, and the situation seems so bleak that the other warriors try to stop the enemy before he can reach their town.  They’re defeated, of course, and Po becomes the town’s only hope.

Fortunately, he realizes just in time that the things he thought were holding him back (namely, his size and weight) are actually assets when used properly.  The things that make him different from the other fighters are actually to his advantage, and he eventually fulfills his destiny in dramatic fashion (don’t mess with the wuxi finger hold).

Destiny is a powerful idea because it is a guarantee on something that hasn’t yet been delivered.  In movies and literature a character who is fulfilling his destiny is one who is not only accomplishing the task he was created to accomplish, but he’s also becoming the person he was created to be.

But just as there was a period between when Po was announced as the Dragon Warrior and when he began to act like the Dragon Warrior, so there is often a period between when we learn of our destinies and we actually experience them.

For example, after King Saul disobeyed God a number of times, God finally rejected him as king of Israel and decided David should become king instead.  In fact, according to 1 Samuel 16, Saul was still on the throne when the prophet Samuel anointed David as king!  For a long time the newly anointed king of Israel lived like an exile, fleeing from place to place in order to avoid being killed by Saul.  But all the while he knew it was just a matter of time before he took the throne.

Here’s the principle: Often you’ll be anointed long before you’re appointed.  God calls things that are not as if they are, and in David’s case he called him king long before David actually took the reigns to the kingdom.

What is God saying about you?  What is he telling you to do?  What is he saying you should become?  If there seems like there’s a gap between you and where he wants you to be, maybe it’s because there is.  Just because he’s anointed you doesn’t mean he’s ready to appoint you just yet, probably because he wants to develop patience and trust within you.  The same is true of our salvation.  He calls us children long before we receive our promised heavenly inheritance, but we don’t have to worry about whether or not he’ll deliver on his promise, because it’s guaranteed thing.

God calls out our potential long before we ever see it achieved.  Has God called you to something?  Don’t be discouraged; be patient.  He will see you through in his own timing, and the wait will cause you to praise him even more when he delivers.

Pithy is powerful

hway8According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was once eating a meal with some fellow writers when he bet all of them $10 that he could write an entire novel in six words.  Six words!  It seems ridiculous at first, which is why the other writers were probably pretty quick to take up his offer.  Hemingway then took his pen to a napkin and wrote these chilling words:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

He then passed the napkin around the table and, one at a time, each of the writers payed up.

This story about Hemingway, it turns out, is nothing more than a legend, but it proves an important point: pithy can be powerful.  You don’t have to be long-winded to make an impact with your speech or writing.  Preachers don’t have to spend hours and hours drawing out every little detail of a story, because the human imagination is powerful.  Allowing it to fill in the blanks actually adds more color to a story than a communicator could ever add on his own.

In the economy of words, less is more.

Jesus seems to have understood this.  Some of the sermons we consider the most powerful ever spoken are just a few sentences long.  Like Hemingway, Jesus got to the heart of the issue in a quick and memorable way.  His use of parables and short imagery allowed him to paint a broader picture without wasting his breath.

If you are a communicator by trade this kind of thing might really interest you, but what if you’re more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person?  Well, in Matthew 6, Jesus also told us the word count on our prayers doesn’t affect whether or not they’ll be answered:

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”

The Bible also encourages us to be better listeners than orators, and seems to suggest those that fail to listen well are more likely to be angry people too.  James writes, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

Proverbs 17 suggests the same, saying, “A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.”  It also goes on to say even fools seem intelligent when their mouths are shut!

So be wise and learn to do the same.  Listen well, allowing your thoughts be well-formed before they leave your mouth, your keyboard, or whatever.  And when you do speak, remember an entire novel can be written in six words!

Living in the Moment – A Lesson from Leo Tolstoy

Good stories are more than just entertainment; they have the power to be life-changing. Jesus understood this, and at times chose to let his illustrations be the sermon rather than just a part of it. In his parables he spoke of what were most likely some fictional characters and events, yet his works of fiction conveyed more truth than the combined contents of stacks of autobiographies.

From now on that will be the focus of Faith Nerd Blog: keeping an eye out for God’s truth in stories, especially works of literature. It’s a blog at the intersection of reality and make believe, reading everything through the lens of the Gospel.

Tolstoy’s Tale

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy wrote a great little story called “The Three Questions” in which a king theorizes he can avoid failure if he knows three things: the right time to begin everything, the right people to listen to, and the most important thing to do at any given moment.  

He surrounds himself with wise men who try to answer the three questions, but they have conflicting ideas so he decides to consult a hermit who is known far and wide for his wisdom.

The king disguises himself in order to talk to the hermit because the wise man will only receive “common folk.”  The hermit is digging in the ground in front of his hut when the king approaches to ask his questions, but when the hermit doesn’t answer, the king takes the spade and offers to dig a while so the hermit can rest.  

After hours of working the king becomes impatient.  He demands the hermit answer his questions, but just as he does so a man runs out of the woods bleeding from his abdomen.  The king washes and bandages the wound as best he can, but the blood keeps flowing.  So again and again he washes and bandages the wound, until finally the blood stops and the man’s life is saved.

By this time the sun has set and the wounded man is thirsty, so the king brings him some water and, with the help of the hermit, carries the man to the hermit’s bed to let him rest.  Afterward the king is so exhausted from his hard day’s work that he falls asleep.

When he awakes in the morning, the king finds the wounded man already awake.  The man apologizes to the king, not because he had been an inconvenience, but because he had actually come into the woods to avenge his brother’s death (and the loss of some property) by killing the king!  He had been wounded by the king’s bodyguard while on his mission, but is both grateful and astonished that his enemy would take such good care of him.  

The king not only forgives the wounded man, but says he will send his own servants and physician to care for him and will restore the lost property.

The king is happy to have made peace with his enemy, but still has some unanswered questions.  He asks the wise man one last time to answer his questions, and the man responds, “You have already been answered!”  The king, still confused, seeks more clarity, so the old man explains:

“Do you not see…If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.

“Remember then: there is only one time that is important– Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!

Learning from Leo

I love the message this short story delivers: one of the most important things you can do is live in the moment.  Even believers, who have the hope of eternal life in them, have to keep in mind that while heaven and perfection are our future we still live in the now, so we can’t neglect it or the people in front of us.

The most important time for you is right now.  One of my personal mantras is, “You only have today.”  It’s a constant reminder that you can plan ahead and reflect on the past, but you can’t possess any moment but the present.  So go out and carpe the crap out of your diem!  Don’t rest on the laurels of your faith by over-reflecting on what God did yesterday or get stuck waiting on what He’ll do in the future.  Today is the only opportunity you have to act.  Right now is the only time you have any power.  Use your now wisely!