Reacting like a Christian
Reacting like a Christian

December 18th, 2013

Matthew 7 talks of knowing Christians by the fruit of their lives. The Bible promises us that we can distinguish the truth by looking at deeds, so you can imagine that Christians ought to look like Christians because they act like Christians.
 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply that living Christianly is all an “acting” job. It’s about striving after the actions we believe are most in-line with what the Bible teaches. However, I think there’s another important question we should be asking ourselves as Christians:
 

Do you react like a Christian?
 

If we have time to plan out our actions, it’s much more feasible that we will respond with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But reacting like a Christian is so much harder. Our instincts are overwhelmed by Original Sin, and snide remarks or derogatory phrases are often our first instincts. In fact, a lot of advice for Christian living will talk about how you can recognize your sinful nature and learn to live by the fruit of the Spirit consciously, instead. There’s nothing wrong with that. I fully support that reflection and self-control. However, I think it’s wise to look a bit further and seek more in the pursuit of the righteousness Christ showed us. Our conscious actions should always seek to mirror Christ, but why not strive to have our unconscious reactions do the same?
 

Think about it this way: in the New Testament, how often did Jesus respond to a question by saying he needed a few days to pray about it to make sure he considered all the possibilities and gave the most Scripturally-accurate answer? Instead, Jesus responded immediately, and his answers were spot-on each time. Now, with a healthy dose of reality we can quickly recognize that we are not perfect like Jesus and will never be able to respond perfectly every time, but that’s no reason not to strive after what Jesus demonstrated.
 

So if we’re supposed to react in a Christ-like way, how do we reprogram our instincts? Those are supposed to be hard-wired, right? Well, by the world’s standards, they are hard-wired. The mind is very complex, and as was already mentioned, Original Sin tends to fight against that goal our whole lives. This world cannot offer you the opportunity to choose your own instincts, but God is greater than this world. Therefore, if you want to overcome something in the natural, seek the only power that goes beyond this world. Seek better instincts through prayer and meditation.
 

In Scripture we see some inspiring examples. Two often-quoted examples are “turning the other cheek” and “going the extra mile.” Those are both fantastic principles by which to live. I, however, just read out of Acts 5 this morning, and there I find my favorite example:
 

“And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
Acts 5:40-42 (ESV)
 

The apostles were flogged publicly, and their first response (their reaction) was to rejoice that they were worthy to suffer. They suffered, yet they were thrilled about it because it was an honor to be treated like Christ in that manner! I can say that reacting to suffering with rejoicing just isn’t normal. That’s not the world’s way of doing things because that’s not our typical instinct. Clearly, the apostles’ instincts had been transformed. They were so focused on God and so passionate about preaching the Gospel that suffering triggered the exact opposite reaction as we might expect.
 

So ask yourself, how do you react to suffering? Are you excited by a future in which you have the opportunity to suffer for your faith? And beyond just suffering, what do your instinctual reactions say about your priorities and your desires?

‘Tis the Season

December 3rd, 2013

It has been far too long since my last post, and I apologize for the long absence. The semester definitely ramped up in intensity, and I chose to prioritize a few other things. Now that it’s December, I find myself constantly thinking about the joy of the Christmas season. I keep telling people around me that December is my favorite month, and that’s purely based on the joy I find in the expectation of Christmas. It’s advent. I love the anticipation of the Christmas season, the fun of holidays with friends and family, the smiles and sounds of the carolers, and the refocusing on the most wonderful gift the world has ever been given: Jesus Christ.
 
In this time of year we often hear the phrase, “‘Tis the season,” and admittedly I always want to respond with, “To be jolly. Fa la la la la, la la la la.” (I really hope you sang along as you read that.) Whether or not you think of the song, it’s a wonderful reminder, and I love its open-ended nature. “The season” for what? It could be a season of giving, of joy, of rest, or peace, of selflessness, and much more. Now, if you’ll allow me to hijack that phrase, I think it has an even deeper meaning that transcends just one month of the year.
 
God puts us in different seasons our entire lives. Looking back, I’m sure you could label a majority, if not all, of the last ten years of your life as a variety of discrete “seasons.” Some of those seasons thrill us. Sometimes we have a turning point in our careers and find that we experience a newfound fulfillment in our work that brings us joy. Perhaps it’s getting married or having kids that brings a new season. Getting into a certain school or graduating from school might be an accomplishment that brings a new season as well. Unfortunately, not all seasons are quite so blissful. Some of them really aren’t even remotely fun. It could be a death of a loved one that brings a prolonged period of sadness. Perhaps things at home with parents, spouses, or kids are tense and unhealthy. Maybe loneliness or depression creep in and overwhelm for a time of life. In the Bible we see Jesus tempted by Satan in the Wilderness (Matthew 4), Job experiencing unfathomable trials (Job 1-2), and many other examples. Seasons define pretty undeniable ways of dividing up the significant chunks of our lives, and they come in many forms.
 
Going back to the “‘Tis the season” that got this all started, how should we respond to our own seasons? Joyous, blissful seasons are pretty easy to tackle. Experience the happiness God has granted you. Frankly, in a season of joy you probably won’t find the need to remind yourself to be joyous. It’s a pretty natural and inevitable response. It’s the other seasons that are tough. It’s the other seasons that often leave us most introspective, most wondering how we’re supposed to respond, especially if our default response is difficult to manage.
 
So let’s tackle those tough seasons. Honestly, I can’t think of anywhere better to turn than Ecclesiastes:
 
1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
 
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
 
There’s so much to glean from this passage, so I really hope you find the time to study the wisdom this holds for work, joy, and appreciation. For now, I’ll just focus on the parts most relevant to seasons.
 
There is a time for every matter under heaven. We’re under heaven. That’s our time, the seasons of our lives. First and foremost, we need to recognize that in our time there is a season for every matter. No matter how joyous or frustrating, supportive or destructive, everything has its season, and God made it just so. This can be really tough to grasp. No one likes to think about the fact that there is a time to die, a time to kill, a time to refrain from embracing, a time to lose, a time to cast away, and a time to hate. That’s plain unpopular, but we’ll never break out of cycles of anger and rebellion if we fail to recognize that everything has its season. Instead of rebelling against a season we don’t naturally like, we need to learn a different way of responding.
 
The use of the word “toil” in Ecclesiastes is immensely rich. It has such a wonderful application in the context of work and careers, even now, thousands of years after it was written, but more than that, it seems to really get at the heart of the near-pointless struggle we as humans often feel. We toil for years and find ourselves bemoaning the fact that we ended up right back where we started. How useless it feels to be so unproductive! We see here in verse 9 a very reasonable and pressing question: what is there to gain from all of this? If everything has its season and it all seems to even out in the end, how should we approach our toil, our work? Beauty and eternity – that’s the answer we’re given. Personally, I believe beauty is more than enough of an answer. The original text of this passage does a wonderful job of expressing that God’s creation is beautiful because God is beauty. Therefore, everything God creates reflects that beauty in some way. We can find the approach and response to our seasons in beauty alone: press on and seek God, no matter the circumstances, because we will come to find and understand new beauty through it all. Eternity is also mentioned because God has placed a certain desire in our hearts, yet not given us full understanding, so that we might persevere in the midst of good seasons and bad seasons.
 
We then find three more suggestions: be joyful, do good, and take pleasure in toil. All easier said than done. However, there is much to be said for setting your heart on the pursuit of joy. If you desire joy, you’ll be much more likely to appreciate the little moments of joy around you. If you pursue goodness, you’ll find joy in serving others. If you seek pleasure in your toil, this circles back to the beauty you will discover in what God has given you.
 
Seasons can be tough, but one thing I know is that I want to be able to handle all seasons well. I want to prepare myself to respond well to whatever God chooses to give me because that’s the only part that’s up to me. I don’t know whether Tolkien fully recognized the power and wisdom in this part of his book, but I’d like to end by sharing one of my favorite quotes from all of The Lord of the Rings:
 
Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.”
 
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
 
I encourage you, then, recognize what you do and do not have the power to decide, and choose how you are going to respond to your season.

Doing What You Love

September 4th, 2013

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’ve probably been asked this question at some point in your life:
 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

 
How did you answer that question? Six-year-olds give answers like “fireman,” “astronaut,” “president,” or “doctor.” Some people still have the same answer as they get older, but for many people it changes. Later you might hear things like “social worker,” “author,” or “lab technician.”
 
Did you notice anything about those answers? They’re all professions. Did the original question ask what profession you wanted to hold when you grow up? No, it said, “What do you want to be.” So the implication, then, is that our profession is extraordinarily significant in who we are for the large part of our lives. There’s an interesting point about the source of our identities wrapped up in that, but that’s for a different post.
 
The point here is that professions are extremely important to us in our lives as a whole. Many people spend 40 (and often very many more) hours each week in the workplace, and many careers last 40, 50, or even 60 years.
 
If we’re going to invest that much of our lives into something, and if that thing is so important that we let it define a large part of who we are, we want the best we can get. We want to love what we do.
 
Enter Confucius. Here’s his solution:
 

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

 
I’ve heard this one plenty of times before, and recently I realized that this quote is entirely unhelpful. His conclusion is nice and romanticized, but the problem is choosing a job we love. Sure, if that were so easy we’d all be happy, but the problem most people face today is the struggle in identifying what job we will truly love!
 
Work, understandably, gets talked about a lot. Here are some different perspectives on work:
 

“By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.”

- Robert Frost

 

“Work is a necessary evil to be avoided.”

- Mark Twain

 
Now let’s contrast that with a much more optimistic and encouraging opinion:
 

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 
Let’s bring in a new idea. Occupation vs. vocation. Defining occupation is relatively straight forward. It’s your job. Vocation, on the other hand, is a bit tougher. In its origin the word specifically referred to a call to ministry. “Vocare” in Latin literally means “to call.” Martin Luther, as part of the Protestant Reformation, argued that a person can be called to more than just ministry. From that point on, then, the meaning of vocation broadened. Now it refers to a strong sense of calling to any particular profession.
 
To bring it back to the idea of doing what you love, occupation and vocation, in their relationship, are right at the heart of the issue. If your occupation lines up with your vocation, assuming your vocation is your true calling, you will find yourself doing something you absolutely love. The key, then, is properly identifying our vocation. In that case we’ll know exactly what we are looking for in an occupation.
 
This is where it gets particularly tough. Identifying your vocation is no small task. In fact, I’d argue many people over-romanticize the idea of vocation. It’s as if we believe one day we will magically discover our vocation, and from that point on we’ll know exactly what work we ought to pursue.
 
I’m just going to say it: I believe that’s crap. Waking up one day and having a knowledge of your “true” vocation dawning on you and solving all of your problems is unrealistic. Finding your calling is messy business (with just a few exceptions.)
 
So here’s my challenging question: What if vocation were less about obtaining something that instantly makes up happy and more about learning to love what we are already doing?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not condoning complacency. If you’re in a job you hate, don’t just stay there and suffer. There is a time and a place for change. That being said, I believe many of us change too much, jumping from one job to the next, one plan to the next, hoping that if we try enough we’ll eventually find the “one.” (Hint: the “one” doesn’t really exist.)
 
I don’t presume to have the catch-all answer for doing what you love. However, I do want to leave you with a quote:
 

“If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music… sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 
Where have you been called to sweep streets? Maybe finding joy in work is less about waiting for the job to make you happy and more about creating your own joy where you are right now.

“Guys and…”

September 2nd, 2013

This one might seem nit-picky, but stick with me. This is important.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s talk about pairs. There’s my first example, “Ladies and Gentlemen.” I’m sure you could make a list of pairs yourself (feel free to try it now). Here are some that I think of:
 
- Men and women
- Male and female
- Boy and girl
 
Now that you’re thinking in pairs, let’s do an experiment. How would you finish this pair?
 
“Guys and…”
 
 

 
 
If you said “girls,” you’re wrong, but don’t feel bad. The actual pair to “guys” is “gals.” We just don’t use that word very often colloquially.
 
So why does this matter?
 
Let’s examine some of the pairs. “Men and women” are terms used for adults. “Gentlemen and Ladies” are very formal and offer a certain level of respect. “Guys and gals” are generic terms. I would say they aren’t really age specific, and they communicate a similar sentiment to “male and female.” All of these examples are complementary.
 
Now here’s the crux of the issue: relative to the other pairs, “boys and girls” implies a lesser age or maturity. We use those terms for children.
 
Let me explain the importance of this with a pretty potent example. In our society if a man is acting foolishly or immaturely, we say, “He’s not a man. He’s a boy.” That’s an insult, is it not? And it’s an insult simply because “boy” means childish, so no grown man wants to be called that.
 
Now bring this back to the pairs discussion. If we insult a man by calling him a boy, what are we implying when we refer to women as girls? It’s rarely explicit, but using “girls” implicitly communicates a belittling concept, and it’s disproportionately applied to women over men. “Guys” gets paired with “girls” all the time!
 
If you’re curious, try doing a Google search of “guys and girls.” You’ll get a lot of hits like “20 Things Guys and Girls View Completely Differently,” “Guys and Girls’ Cast Photos,” and “Rules That Guys Wished Girls Knew.” But if you Google search “guys and gals,” you’ll find “Guy’s and Gal’s Hair Salon,” “Guys N Gals Sportswear,” and “Gals & Guys Hairstyling.” Did you notice the difference? “Guys and girls” is used commonly in language, whereas “guys and gals” only appears in the name of a business. Suffice it to say, most everyone uses “guys and girls” in common language, as if that’s the normal pairing. The problem is, that pair isn’t complementary. It elevates “guys” above “girls.”
 
Am I being too picky? I don’t think so. This is a really subtle thing in language, and I believe it matters a lot. Language carries meaning explicitly and implicitly every day, and there’s a power in words that is often underestimated. “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21), so I think even the smallest choice of words deserves care and consideration.
 
I used to say “guys and girls” all the time and I thought nothing of it. But now, whenever I hear that pairing, I think of what is getting communicated subtly and subconsciously to every woman who hears it. Even if women aren’t directly offended by the use of the pair, it’s repeated use starts to imply a hierarchy that isn’t fair or just.
 
So I challenge you to think about your words. When you use the phrase, or even when you hear it used, think about the implication. Language is a powerful tool, so try and see how you can use it to empower others, rather then tear others down.

Masculinity

September 1st, 2013

“Be a man.” You’ve probably heard that phrase and used that phrase plenty of times (even if you are a woman). But what does it mean? I believe there are two things packed into that expression. Firstly, what is masculinity? And secondly, what does society imply to men with those three little words? Let me tackle those two in reverse order. I’m going to use a TED talk I found by Joe Ehrmann, which is fantastic. If you don’t have 14 minutes to watch a video, that’s fine.  Just keep reading.  However, if you have the time, check this out:
 

 
Ehrmann points out that our implication with the phrase “be a man” is extremely out of line with what masculinity actually means. He says it’s the most dangerous phrase we use today, and he emphasizes that physical prowess, sexual conquest, and a number of other falsehoods accompany society’s incorrect implication with that phrase. He follows that up with a beautiful definition of what masculinity really is. He based these conclusions in large part on his experiences with counseling others, especially men on their deathbeds. Masculinity boils down to two, enormously valuable goals:
 
1. Relationships – to love and be loved
2. Cause – to make the world a better place
 
I really like using the word “legacy” with the second goal up there. I heard this talk by Ehrmann just a few weeks ago, and I remember being blown away by how simply, yet aptly, he put the true nature of masculinity. Society has really messed with what relationships and identity look like from a man’s perspective, but I can attest to the accuracy of those goals. Loving, being loved, and leaving a legacy have always been on my mind when I look to the future. When I try to imagine my life two years from now, wondering just what adulthood has in store for me, relationships and cause are unparalleled priorities.
 
The best part is the realization of how faith is inextricably tied to both of those goals. Relationships ought to always submit to God’s will, and cause should always defer to the destiny and direction God places in a man’s life.
 
Let me finish with an example. This story inspired me when I first saw it, but going back and watching it again, in the midst of training for a triathlon, it carries another layer of meaning to me. This man is demonstrating a passion for relationships and cause that I can hardly imagine, let alone describe. If you haven’t seen this video, please watch it:
 

 
To me, personally, this is one of the most Godly examples of a father’s sacrifice for his son. When I think of being a father, I pray that I might be able to show love like this. Do you want to know what it takes to be a man? Sacrifice, service, love, passion, dedication, commitment, and more. Ultimately, like Ehrmann says, it all boils down to relationship and cause.
 
How do you (or those you consider to be men) relate to others and live to make the world a better place?

The Logos

August 28th, 2013

The ancient Greeks came up with this term, the “logos,” which is a beautiful idea that sparks imagination and original thought. In its simplest form, the word refers to the purpose, function, or meaning of a thing. The Greeks were fascinated with the meaning of things, and eventually they began musing about the meaning of life, hoping that a fuller understanding of the meaning of life would bring them happiness.
 
They pursued a number of definitions for the meaning of life, and as you might have guessed, there wasn’t much consensus. If you read John 1:1, the original text refers to the “Logos,” which John used specifically because of its meaning in the philosophy of the times. That was an immensely powerful assertion. Unfortunately, translated into English we just say, “In the beginning was the Word.” English doesn’t really do that text any justice.
 
I bring up the logos because I think it is a fitting discussion for this first post. If I’m going to write blog posts, I had better clarify my purpose. I’ve been thinking about social media and internet presence a lot recently, and for quite a while now I have avoided much of an investment in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or a blog. Earlier in my life, I tried investing in each of those in different ways, but I found it unproductive and frustrating. Now that I reflect on those experiences, I’ve realized something very humbling. The main reason for those frustrations and my failure to make anything productive out of social media was my own immaturity. I’d like to think I’ve grown up some since then, and I’d go so far as to say that I’ve done more growing in the last two or three years than at any other point in my life. That’s not to say I’ve “arrived” at some admirable level of maturity, but merely that I am more prepared to tackle something as complicated and unwieldy as social media.
 
So that’s what this is, in its broadest sense. This is my attempt to pursue a more mature approach to social media. To go a bit more specific, I intend to blog about whatever I believe will be most edifying for someone else to read. This is not going to be a platform for me to whine, or even a page for me to showcase myself. On the contrary I hope that whoever reads this blog does so in order to find something valuable, learn introspectively, and provoke much-needed conversations.
 
And one last point: I love Jesus Christ. Seeing as how everything we do is shaped by our worldview in some way, you should expect my blogging to reflect that as well. I’m constantly trying to be a better Christian, not for my own glory, but for God’s. I hope that is evident in the content I share here and the manner in which I share it. If you would like to learn more about my faith or just ask me some questions, I would love to talk to you. When it comes down to the things in life that matter most, my faith in Christ is unequivocally at the top, and that’s not something I say lightly. So ask me about it. Read about it here. Try it on, and let me know what you think.