“Jesus may have been a nice guy and a good teacher, but that was all he was.”
Honestly, I’ve always had a touch of rebellion in me. Growing up in a small Bible-belt town, I was one of very few people claiming to be an atheist. One huge reason I rejected religion (and particularly Christianity) was a lack of evidence.
“I only believe what I can prove with science,” I boldly claimed. “The Bible is a bunch of stuff a bunch of guys wrote. They were trying to explain things they didn’t know. We pretty much know all that stuff now. Science has explained it.”
I didn’t exactly go on a quest for truth. I didn’t seem necessary. None of the Christians I talked to could answer my questions. They had one consistent answer for me. “You just have to have faith.” I felt like they wanted me to turn off my brain. If they didn’t have answers, I assumed answers weren’t out there. My worldview was largely unchallenged, so I thought I must be right. Plus, it was kind of nice to live a life free from the fear of some controlling, cosmic grandpa who delighted in punishing us when we stepped outside his completely unreasonable lines. No thanks. Not for me.
Obviously, I wasn’t the first person to wander this path. I now know that countless others have clung to similar views. It’s even in vogue now.
A couple of decades before my high school years, Josh McDowell had many of the same objections to the Christian faith. Unlike me, he dove into it for himself. His quest was to empirically prove his Christian friends wrong, once and for all. Years of meticulous, global study into the historical evidence led him to a surprising, undeniable conclusion. It was true. Not only was Jesus a real historical figure, there is compelling historical evidence he performed miracles, was crucified, and resurrected. The Bible is a historically reliable book. Our Old Testament was accurately transmitted from generation to generation, and this is provable. The Biblical contradictions I found in my atheist literature were easily explained with sound, reasonable, repeatable, and consistent interpretive techniques. Piece after piece fell into place for Josh. He wrote it all down and published it a couple of years before I was born.
In all those years of arrogant posturing, I had no idea such a resource existed. McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” is a presentation of an accumulation of facts that must be faced and dealt with by any seeker of truth. This evidence lead him to a clear conclusion…Jesus was not merely a good man and good teacher. He was exactly who he claimed to be…the son of God, sent to earth as the redeemer of mankind. The claims of Christianity are true. Empirically and undeniably. Even the miracles.
The reason I tell you all this is because I finally got my hands on the book. A new edition has been released, which has been expanded and updated by Josh and his son Sean. While largely building a case based on historical evidence, it also addresses popular philosophical questions too. It touches on the post-modern claim that there is no such thing as absolute truth, or that if there is, it can’t truly be known. It addresses objections to miracles by stating and answering objections by Hume, Spinoza, and countless others. It’s a comprehensive guide for both skeptics and believers.
Even with all this content, my favorite part of this book is Josh McDowell’s testimony, which opens the book. As compelling as the objective evidence is, hearing what McDowell endured as a child and then seeing how God has redeemed those lost years and healed his heart is powerful. To understand the broken view of fatherhood that Josh knew as a child, and then read his testimony in a book coauthored by Josh and his own son…it brings tears of joy.
Someday I’d like to write a conversation between my old and new selves. I’d like to be that person with answers that the younger me never could find. Perhaps it could help open a few eyes to the truth behind the hope that I have within me. When I write that, this book will likely be by my side, providing clarity as I respond to that young man…the young me…who so desperately wanted the truth but didn’t know where to look.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, you owe it to yourself to explore these topics. If there is even the most remote chance that Christianity is true, it’s the most important question in life. Plus, it is even more critical that a believer today be able to rationally defend and share his or her faith. Non-believers must ask themselves “if Christianity were proven to be true, would I convert?” If the answer is yes, this one book contains most of the evidence for you to examine and decide. If the answer is no, you aren’t seeking truth after all. That, by itself, is incredibly enlightening.
Check out Josh’s site here. Grab your own copy of the book here.
Disclaimer: I was honored to be on the launch team for the new edition of “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” While there was no direct compensation for participation on this team and my enthusiasm for this volume is very real, I wanted to mention that I was given an advanced look at this work.
A side effect of a summer full of travel surfaced recently. Hours after midnight, I’ll sit straight up in bed and fumble for the lights in a mad panic. My disoriented mind attempts to discover if I’m in a hotel in Brazil, a condo by the ocean, or a sleeper train on my way to Scotland. In the dark, I could be anywhere. As the light suddenly fills the room, two questions pop into my head:
Where am I? How did I get here?
My eyes quickly find familiar objects…my lamp. The picture on the wall. My dresser. My wife. Those answers give me perspective. Context. Even though my heart is racing, the adrenaline begins to subside. My breathing slows. Awareness of my situation helps me move on. I am not entirely unchanged…even though I’m safe at home in bed, this is disruptive. I’ll be a little extra cranky tomorrow. The memory of panic will return throughout the day. Yet the truth shines through… I’m home.
Experiencing the same grief again is a similar emotional process. Self help sites and well-meaning friends may tell us grief is something we process, move through, and get over. At some point we should be better. We can expect life to be normal again. The truth is, when we lose someone we love dearly, their absence leaves a hole in our world. It’s possible to stumble into that hole again and again for the rest of our lives. When we do, we find ourselves disoriented and confused, like my panicked fumbling in the middle of the night. To find our way through it, we ask those same two questions:
Where am I? How did I get here?
Recently I found myself in that familiar pit again. Like most of us, I’ve experienced loss. Grief is familiar. I’ve recently learned that when it comes, accepting and pressing into it is much healthier than denial or avoidance. Acknowledge it for what it is without minimizing it or giving it more control than it deserves. Understand that the deep hurt is a reflection and validation of love known, experienced, and lost.
Just like the whimsy of love can drop in at any time, grief can as well. That’s what happened this time. I was staring blankly at my screen. When my screensaver kicked on, my mind snapped back to the present. “This is a familiar darkness…hello again, grief.”
Although the weight had settled into my soul the day before, I finally recognized it for what it was. I was in the pit. Oh, but I knew that first key answer. Where am I? I’m in the pit. I’m mourning. Recognizing my surroundings was vital.
There hasn’t been a personal loss in my life lately, though. So the next question became key. Just like in my jet-lagged panic, I first had to answer: How did I get here?
Our minds work in strange ways. Although mysterious, they aren’t entirely unpredictable. As autumn approaches and the daylight hours decrease, I tend to drift toward melancholiness. This was different. It was triggered by something. I realized social media had been showing me memories of my past.
This time, it wasn’t the anniversary of a loss that led me to the pit again. Instead, it was the anniversary of the beginning of a relationship that ultimately left me heartbroken. I had been revisiting the start of a life-changing relationship that would be cut short mere months later. Seeing the beginning prompted my mind to revisit the entire journey, including those familiar feelings about what might have been.
The wounds became fresh again. I’ve heard a broken bone become stronger than the original once it has mended. I don’t think that’s true of our emotional breaks. Years later they can still be uncovered and be once again raw and sensitive. Falling into the pit of grief reminds us that the wounds on our heart never fully heal. The pit remains because the love remains, which can be a freeing thought. Grief is a consequence of love, and love is worth it. Understanding this key helps validate our time in the pit, even years later. It frees us to feel the pain without the self-condemnation that often accompanies it.
It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to mourn again. In that way, these wounds that remain fresh do ultimately strengthen us emotionally by allowing us to revisit that love and acknowledge the loss. When we allow ourselves to feel the loss again, we also give ourselves permission to experience the joy, too. The scars we live with aren’t unlike those on Christ’s hands and feet, which the Bible tells us are eternal. Those scars are a reminder of the permanence of love. He thought it was worth it. We should, too.
My time in this particular pit had a wonderful outcome this time. By allowing myself to feel the loss, I began to remember why the loss was so deep. It wasn’t because of the way that relationship ended. The reason I find myself in this pit again is because of the joy, good times, and love. I don’t miss the ending, I miss the during. So I reached out, because in this case I can. An incredible conversation followed, and a bit of a reconnection happened. A ray of light broke through the darkness of that pit.
Even though revisiting the pit is ultimately beneficial, it’s important to remember that life does go on. Although it is vital to allow ourselves to feel the emotions of grief and loss when they return, it is just as important to press forward into the remaining days we have been given.
Although we glance back over our shoulder at times, our life is meant to be lived looking forward. The keys to the journey out of the pit are similar to flipping on the lights in my confused state in the darkness. Answering where am I and how did I get here was the first step for me in this new journey through this old pit.
I’ve walked this road before. I’ve been in this particular pit before. Although it’s not exactly pleasant, the familiarity makes it easier. Remembering the love that was found…the special times we shared…these things cast light into the pit. Light illuminates the path.
Today will be spectacular. For the first time in decades, a total solar eclipse will be visible for a substantial portion of the United States. My family is among the thousands who have made road trips to get a better view. For astronomy enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, this is a special day. For many it’s a once in a lifetime event, and it is a much-needed opportunity to gather together in unity and celebrate a shared experience.
But I have a bold prediction. The world will not end today. This solar eclipse is not a sign of the beginning of the end. I realize this doesn’t conform to the expectations of what an evangelical Christian is supposed to say on days like today. Truth be told, I’ve seen the posts and read the articles about how eclipses and earthquakes will lead to tribulation and second coming, and it all begins today…August 21, 2017.
The truth is, I do believe God has a purpose in this. The alarmists have it wrong, though. Instead of turning to the book of Revelation, today is a Psalm 19 and Romans 1 moment.
As we stand in awe of the moment when Day becomes night, reflect on the fact that the sun is approximately 400 times the size of the moon, but is also approximately 400 times the distance from the earth. Those ratios are the only reason the teeny tiny moon can occasionally block the massive ball of nuclear energy we call the sun. While contemplating those ratios, think about the fact that our planet is the only planet in the known universe where a solar eclipse can be seen from the surface. Why could that be? Psalm 19 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands.”
Think about the history of man made religions. How many have worship the sun? Countless. But these enormous orbs flying through space bring us more than life. They move us to a states of awe, wonder, and even occasionally fear. Even so, the unique design of the heavens is such that our planet receives regular reminders that even the sun can disappear. Every object in the universe is moving in an ordered way, and it all is submitting to and singing the praises of something more majestic and powerful than anything within creation. It all points to the uncreated One, who designed and created it all.
I’ve heard it said countless times, “if God is real, why does He remain so hidden?” For decades that was my go-to objection to theism. But today, as we stare to the sky and marvel at the unlikely and spectacular convergence of heavenly bodies above us, pause a moment to contemplate Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Paul goes on to warn that people “have exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
So yes, I believe that today’s eclipse is Biblical. I believe it’s a sign. But it isn’t the end. For many who look to the sky in amazement and for the first time comprehend that this isn’t simply random chance but is instead our Creator once again reaching out to us, putting on a glorious display for us in yet another effort to call us to Him… today is a glorious beginning.
As I stood worshipping during the final chapel at Moriah Christian Academy, one single, simple quote came to mind. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Quickly grabbing my phone, I took a pic to capture this moment. Both my boys were up on stage, one strumming and singing, the other pounding the keys. This bittersweet moment was fleeting and would never come again.
“I want to hear voices of angels above singing as one, ‘hallelujah, holy, holy.’” As those words echoed through the sanctuary, gratitude overwhelmed me. Smile because it happened, indeed. Our eight years at MCA have been miraculous. We were told on our first visit the school was named for the biblical Mount Moriah, which means “the Lord will provide.” He has.
The music fades. The last reverberation of this fleeting moment slowly becomes silent. Through the years I have often stood outside with my back to doors that God has closed. Jobs, ministries, and even friendships. “What’s next” is a question I face with uncanny frequency. The experience is familiar but never easy. Each ending is a reminder that life is a journey and each season is only for a time. Smile because it happened.
But oh, these precious times and memories go deep. Tears carve a canyon in our soul. The heart longs to return to treasures of the past. Remembering first days, first friends, and first adventures….Science fairs and talent shows. Yes, we smile because it happened. We thank God for the incredible times we have had. Letting go is oh, so hard, though. The smiles we now share are through tears. Even as we rejoice for all God has in front of us, we grieve for those times that will never come again. We mourn that these halls will soon be empty and “what’s next” for each of us lie down different paths.
Our oldest son is graduating, which is a beautiful thing. At last week’s chapel I mentioned that He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20) certainly did so with my sons. Each are unique, but each is immeasurably more than I could have ever dared to ask or imagine. I’m often humbly driven to my knees, wondering what I ever did to deserve this kind of blessing. These young men are like “arrows in the hands of a warrior,” (Ps 127:4) ready to be launched into the world, guided by divine providence to make an impact on the world. Now is their time. First one, followed quickly by the other. My role is quickly transforming from coach to cheerleader to spectator as they step fully into manhood.
Tears meander toward the earth as I turn for one last look at that closed door. I smile. Unlike that famous quote, though, I believe it’s okay to cry because it’s over while you smile because it happened. We carry both grief and joy on our travels down the road to where He is leading us next. Denying one or the other is an injustice to our past and undermines our future. We trust that it will be as profound, impactful, and significant as the roads we have traveled so far.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but …against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:12
As a kid one of our favorite games was to have breath-holding competitions. It was generally a battle of wills. We learned the human body can go longer without breathing than one would think. Somebody always won, nobody ever passed out, and we didn’t have any fatalities. Oh, but that first victorious deep breath after the contest ended was sweet.
In the journey of life, there will be moments that take our breath away. There will also be moments that find us frantically gasping for air. I have exercised induced asthma that is triggered by cold. So, while it only happens rarely, I am intimately familiar with the feeling of my body betraying me, closing down my airways as I gasp to take in the oxygen that so abundantly surrounds me. What happens when life is that way?
There is fuel for our soul…just out of reach. We are gasping for breath but disconnected from the source.
When running, the most effective response is to slow down. Open the airways. Rest. When it’s time to return to the fight, work into it slowly. Our battle is not the road or the race, it’s our airways.
In our life, too, our battle is often not what it seems. When we find ourselves gasping, our gut reaction is to try fight harder. We pull back from relationships and positive habits to focus on regaining our footing. But our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood. We easily forget the battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our struggle blinds us.
Let’s draw a lesson from my asthma…
Slow down, but keep moving forward. Don’t wander from the path.
Open the airways. “All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.” (1 John 4:15) God is never far from you. Recenter on Him. Breathe in grace. Breathe out praise. Pray.
Rest. Even God rested. Not because He had to, but as an example to us. Trust Him.
Plod forward. God has called you to something. But He didn’t say you had to get there today. Small steps are still forward progress. Forward progress is better than quitting the race. Trust His guidance and strength.
Find a running partner. When we can’t find God, our trusted companions can point us to Him. Speaking the truth in love can challenge us, but reorients us.
The moments of panicked gasping never last. We can learn to navigate them. God has called us to boldly step into His plan. Keep. Moving. Forward.
This post is the fourth entry of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.” You can visit part one here, part two here, and part three on my Facebook page here.
Journeys have twists and turns, hills and valleys. Moments are spent basking in the warmth of the sun after a spring rain. Others are moments of panic, desperately grasping for an anchor…something…anything…in the blackest night. Most of the journey is somewhere in between. We move forward one small, inconsequential step at a time, our eyes on our feet and the path immediately in front of us.
Most people I encounter believe God has a plan for their lives. The journey is leading somewhere. Their eyes get serious as they contemplate the mystery, “sure, God has a plan for me. I just don’t know what it is yet.” We tend to think God has big but elusive things in store, perhaps just around the next bend in the road. Meanwhile, we plod along trusting God with our tomorrow while we focus on our daily tasks. What if we’ve got it backwards? Could our perspective be upside down?
“I look up to the mountains–does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.” Ps 121:1-3 NLT
Stop. Right there. Breathe. Lift your eyes to the mountains. Their creator is your creator. God’s plan is not a someday endeavor, it is an everyday infusion. Instead of concentrating on our steps and hoping for the future, look to the future and trust Him with each step. Focusing on the eternal makes today’s obstacles insignificant.
We don’t find God’s plan by waiting. We find it by stepping into it with Him, learning that someday is merely an accumulation of todays. The big plan is accomplished by stitching together a tapestry of countless small plans. Invite Him into your everything. Surrender each moment and each breath to Him. Enjoy the beauty. Treasure the journey.
This post is the second of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.” You can visit part one here.
“…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Gen 2:7
The words of a fictional scientist decades ago stuck with me. Long before Jeff Goldblum brought the character of Ian Malcolm to the silver screen, the phrase “life will find a way” leapt from the pages of a borrowed book and lodged in my cranium. Life will find a way. It doesn’t just apply to dinosaurs, but to you and I.
As life finds its way, how do we find it? How does this general inevitability become personal and passionate?
Let’s take a step back. For those of us who are radical enough to believe that in the beginning God created, every object in this universe exists for a purpose. That purpose has more depth and richness than our textbooks present. For example, rain is much more than the arrows drawn in an Earth Science textbook can convey. Sunset is more than masses in motion and energy interfering with molecules in the atmosphere. You and I both know it at a level ingrained deep in whatever make us “us.” Afternoon summer showers and quiet evenings watching the sun fade can be profound. We experience a touch of the divine. That’s where we find life…In our creator, the source of it all.
Let’s step forward now. Like the clouds at sunset, you and I are also much more than simply molecules in motion. To think we are merely a complex set of chemical reactions responding to stimuli is to miss the profound purpose our lives are and can be. It diminishes our significance and misses our own intersection with the divine and the possibility of knowing Him. Just like the earth, birds, and the trees, our lives were created to point to the one who made us all.
In the beginning, God breathed life into mankind. Man knew the creator personally and intimately. We knew our purpose and delighted in it. Then we turned from it. Now we seek purpose and fulfillment everywhere but Him. Jobs, relationships, art, entertainment, diversions, education, and a myriad of other pursuits. All fall short of fully filling us, because all fall short of what we were created to be filled by.
Let that sink in. Breathe in deeply. Exhale slowly. Whatever you’ve thought about God in the past, consider this now…He created you. Lovingly. He cherishes you. The One who splattered the Milky Way across the night sky also knit you together. His creativity shines through you when you are grounded in Him. His plans for us are always more incredible than our plans for ourselves. He sees in full what we only see in part, and He is the architect, artist, and engine for it all. When we return to Him, we learn that He freely gives. We find purpose, creativity, and meaning. We find life.
Breathe in. Breathe in and live.
This post is the first of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.”
Below is the text of my Launch Out St. Louis presentation. I’ve had a few people request I post it somewhere. Although it is written specifically to be delivered verbally, hopefully it makes sense as text. The cadence and inflection were an important component of the delivery. If you’d like the full experience, the video is here.
Pondering Purpose: Perspectives of a polymath paralyzed by potential and possibilities
(this presentation is brought to you by the letter “u”)
As a young child I woke up at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning. I would bolt out of bed and sit under the glow of the television, eating my cinnamon toast and watching cartoons. After solving crimes as I rode with the gang in the Mystery Machine, I’d get together with my super friends to battle the legion of doom. I’d grab a picnic basket with Yogi before running through the desert with the Roadrunner. This life was full of adventure…it was a good life. A simple life. And then… then I would find myself in space. Zooming into the earth, I discovered a city built on stilts. In those houses in the clouds, a car would fly by. This car held one of my favorite families. The Jetsons.
Even as a young boy, my head was in the clouds. I love looking to the future and imagining the possibilities of all the things that could be. In the world of George, Jane, Judy, and Elroy, not only were there flying cars, but robots would brush your teeth or clean your house. People moved from room to room by being sucked through large tubes, often while a machine dressed them for the day. There were moving sidewalks. Kids could actually talk to each other through their televisions. The future was Rosie, so to speak.
As enamored as I was with this shiny future, I always felt sorry for George. It wasn’t because his boss yelled at him so much or because he was accident prone. No, I pitied George because of the work he had to do. George’s job was to push a button. One button. Sure, he might have been good at his job, but that’s all his job was. Even sitting on the floor in my batman underoos wearing my Chewbacca house shoes under the glimmer of that cathode ray tube, I knew I wasn’t wired that way.
When I grew up, I wanted to be a duck, flying freely through the sky and floating lazily on the ponds. I wanted to be an astronaut, exploring space. Discovering new life and new civilizations. I would be an inventor and automotive engineer, shepherding in a new era of technology. I wanted to be a marine biologist, sailing on the Calypso and diving to the unexplored depths of the seas. These weren’t phases I went through, I wanted to be all of them at the same time. You see, we aren’t all wired to be like George.
I’m a polymath. A polymath is someone who passionately pursues many different things. It’s different than ADD, but there are similarities. If you ask my community of friends what it is that I do, you’re likely to hear that I’m a photographer. Someone else might tell you I’m a pastor, or maybe a missionary. A different person might tell you I’m a writer. Someone might say I work in information security. So which is it? All of the above. That’s what a polymath looks like.
All my life people have asked me what I want to be when I grow up. People are still asking. As if I have to pick. As if there is one thing. To tell you the truth, I still haven’t decided and I know now that I never will. I’m perpetually undecided.
From my perspective, I was paralyzed. Those infinite possibilities have that effect on a polymath. Our cultural narrative tells all of us we should find one thing to do. Find that one thing and master it. They tell us that is the secret to finding value, meaning, and significance in life. The world tells you to find that one button to push and then push it with all of your might for all of your days. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell observed that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to be world-class at any one thing. But what if I’m not wired that way? What if you’re not? When I focus on just one thing, something tragic happens. I’m fighting against my built-in programming. If I sell my camera to buy a typewriter, a piece of my soul dies. When that happens, I’m not as good a writer. Because I’m a polymath, I need the interplay between all these different disciplines in order for any of them to be good. That tension must exist, it provides the spark for creativity and the fuel for the journey.
My perspective had to change. Paralyzed is no way to live. But what can I give up? What one thing should I choose? I wasted years this way.
When I quit my day job to be a writer, I experienced the longest dry spell of my life. When I stopped writing to focus on photography, words burned in my head and in my hands, consuming me until they found an outlet.
It was only when I accepted myself as I am–the way that I was knit together by our creator–it was only then that I discovered the joy of being a polymath. Within the tension created by balancing writing, photography, preaching, and information security, I found life. Exhilaration. Instead of feeling pulled in a thousand different directions, I looked for the common thread uniting them all. In this new exploration, I discovered the beautiful journey my life was designed to be. I became unstuck. I became free.
Perspective. That common thread I found was that our lives have significance and meaning. We were each created for a purpose. Everything I do points to that truth in some way.
That first step…the one that took years to discover…is acceptance.
To step into a life of meaning, we begin by accepting the beautiful tapestry that we each are. You were designed to shine, but first you have to step away from the things that hinder. For me, it was that big button George Jetson pushed his whole life. I had to stop looking for that button that would complete me and instead look at myself. I had to discover my own unique shape and then accept it.
I had to accept my polymathedness. I had to understand my own composition and trust the one who created me. I had to accept that I’ll never be the best at any one thing, even though I could be pretty good at many. That was a difficult truth to swallow, but I found freedom on the other side. I discovered room to flourish. A space to be me. That freedom to explore flows from self-acceptance. Instead of trying to be like someone else or living up to someone else’s expectation I learned to trust God with the way He wired me.
All my life I’ve heard it repeated: you can be anything you want to be. The uncomfortable truth is, you can’t. You see, we are each uniquely designed. We’re customized. When we accept that the possibilities aren’t truly infinite, we begin to understand that the options still left on the table mesh with our internal composition. Instead of mourning the loss of all you can’t be, embrace the satisfaction of doing what you were created to do.
Moving forward into a life of meaning, even after we have accepted our own uniqueness, is still a struggle. For me, even when I accept that I can juggle multiple gifts, I still think I need to focus on a single one. I’m a high achiever, I want to be the best at what I do. Over the years I found myself turning opportunities down because I feared failure. I feared I would never be the best. I sat on the sidelines, waiting for the day I would discover my true calling. Waiting to discover what I could be the best at. Eventually, I found it. I overcame that paralysis when I understood that the only thing I could be the best at is being me. When that clicked into place, I found even more freedom. Freedom to truly explore my own unique design and purpose.
This is integration.
We naturally tend toward elimination instead of integration. We try to cut out all the little things in our lives that don’t contribute directly to our dream. But all of us here are human, and humans are complex.
In my journey, when I focused solely on writing, my perspective was that my day job was hindering me. It was my big obstacle, so I eliminate it. What I found out, though, is that income helps. Later, I thought photography took me away from graduate studies. Public speaking interferes with my ministry. My struggles with physical pain and clinical depression undermine everything. But I learned to integrate it all into my message and my mission. It is all part of my story, and that story is glorious. Through everything I do the core message remains…life has purpose. Life has meaning. I believe that. And I believe in you.
My words, photos, ministry, and entire life are crafted to point to the truth about our creator and ourselves. We were custom crafted by a glorious and beautiful creator who loves us very much. As we learn to embrace this, we learn to step boldly into all we were designed to do. There is nothing as satisfying as integrating all you are into all you do.
Even our obstacles. Those things that seem to so painfully hinder us…lack of money, lack of time, lack of support, sickness, loss… all those things shape us. They refine us if we let them. The struggles give our lives focus. They help us prioritize. As we persistently push through the pain, we emerge stronger and wiser. If our perspective lets us. A healthy perspective tells us that every obstacle is temporary. Even our darkest and most painful moments can be endured. They can be integrated into our story.
Perspective. Acceptance. Integration.
After gaining this new perspective of acceptance and integration, another struggle still remains. This one is particularly troublesome for the polymath. Distraction.
A polymath that has accepted his own design easily rationalizes a lack of focus. It can resemble an attention disorder. It’s easy to only write when inspiration strikes. To only minister when on a mission trip. To only take pictures when conditions are perfect. If every aspect isn’t ideal, we always have something different to tinker with. What I’ve learned, though, is that discipline is the one habit that differentiates between average and exceptional. Significance versus meaningless. And who wants to live a meaningless life? I certainly don’t.
Hopefully none of us do.
So once we discover that common thread connecting all our various pursuits, it’s important to find the discipline to focus. It can be okay to jump from thing to thing, as long as each is working toward the larger vision, allowing the natural tension between disciplines to feed each other and the message. Andy Stanley once said that our direction…not our intentions…determines our destination. We can’t let our diverse interests divert our eyes from the end goal, a life of significance that impacts the world in a positive way.
Perspective. Acceptance. Integration. Discipline.
That’s the point of this presentation about polymaths, potential, possibilities, and paralysis. The truth is, you might not be a polymath at all. But, just like me, you have a unique design. You have a purpose…a work to do that is significant and meaningful. You might feel the tension …between what you’ve got to do and what you’d like to do. You can’t let go of your current circumstances to step into the new, but you can’t let go of the new stuff either. All of us end up there some time.
And when you do, remember to adjust your perspective. Accept who you are. Integrate everything you have into everything you do. Keep stepping in the direction of your dream.
I love filling Instagram and Facebook with pictures of light and beauty…scenes from where my journey takes me. This past year we saw the beaches of Texas and the mountains of Brazil. Even with this, my favorite views are in my own home state of Oklahoma. This year, I’m bringing a hand-picked assortment of these photos from your screens to your walls.
This calendar is special. Not only does it feature all twelve months of 2017 (which, according to my sources is supposed to be a phenomenal year), it also features one of my photos on each of the twelve months.
I first did a calendar in 2016 as a fundraiser for my family’s mission trip to Brazil. The calendars completely sold out and I even had to turn a few people away. This year I’ve printed a few more, but they are still a limited quantity.
Below is a gallery of the pictures in this year’s calendar. If you’d like one, shoot me a message on the social media of your preference: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. They are $20, plus shipping (typically $5).
Brazil 2016 was phenomenal, but I’ve written about it elsewhere. Brazil 2017 looks like it will be another incredible trip, with a return to the state of Sergipe and passage through Aracaju on our way to our to our final destination in Itabi. It’s always a special time time to partner with the local congregation to help build a chapel in a week! The impact we have on the community, kingdom, and each other is immeasurable. As always, I appreciate any and all support I can get. Every prayer and every dollar counts.
The morning news has broken my heart. Every day. It isn’t that he won the election or that she could have. It is the division and divisiveness. Tears. Grief. Riots. People claim our country will return to the dark ages, or perhaps worse. They say bigotry will once again be the law of the land and fundamental individual rights will cease to exist. Millions across the nation are living in fear, wondering if our country can survive this.
As the nation reacts on social media, I continue to be confronted by one question: What is the response of the Christian? Although I know many Christians who voted for each candidate (including third parties), everything that people fear will happen in the next four years is being placed at the feet of the evangelical Christian. Regardless of how we actually voted, we are being looked to for guidance in making sense of the mess we’re in and finding a path forward. So where do we go from here? How do we heal a nation? How do we avoid repeating the mistakes of the now infamous “moral majority” movement from decades ago?
Interestingly enough, who sits in the Oval Office does not change the mandate of the Christian. God’s kingdom is much bigger than our country. But, since a nation is looking for answers, let’s revisit a few key points of our faith.
As believers, we our response is informed by Scripture. At times like these, my Bible naturally opens to Micah 6:8:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Before I was a believer, I would have guessed this verse was a mandate for believers to judge others and punish them for violating God’s standards. When read in context, though, a deeper meaning is revealed. God has always commanded His people to look out for the downtrodden and oppressed. We are to find those who are being discriminated against or overlooked in society and advocate for them. We are often reminded to take care of the widows and orphans, but that is only the starting point. Our understanding of humanity and the human condition is that ALL humans have an inherent and infinite value. The implication is that not only do we personally seek to refrain from oppressing the basic human rights of ANYONE, we also sacrificially stand up to combat oppression everywhere we see it. Yes, that means that I absolutely will take a stand to defend the rights of my Muslim neighbors to freely practice their beliefs. It means I adamantly fight racism, bigotry, discrimination, xenophobia, and misogyny everywhere I find it and by any method I can. It also means if you disagree with me on my political, religious, social, or other beliefs, you have nothing to fear from me. This is how the believer is designed to live. Anything less is not Christianity.
Once again, this is fueled by our deeply held belief that every person is of infinite value. When things get heated, take a deep breath. Take a look around. Every individual you see was uniquely and lovingly hand crafted by our Creator. Each person is deeply loved and each life has meaning and purpose. As Christians, we believe that God loves “that person” so deeply that He willingly paid the ultimate price to reconcile that relationship. With that in mind, how can we not treat our fellow humans with kindness? Yes, we are still human and prone to outbursts fueled by anger and outrage. But love kindness. Seek reconciliation. Apologize quickly and seek deeper connections with those who aren’t like you.
Many of my evangelical friends had deep and valid concerns about the election. There was nothing about this year’s voting choice that was clear cut or easy. I have quite a few friends breathing a sigh of relief right now. Right or wrong, their perception was that the country would take an irreversible turn away from issues that they held dear if the result had been different (and the issues they care about are not the ones making the news). Even so, God reminds us to walk humbly. That means entering into the fray not to gloat but instead to understand those who are hurting, to let them know they are deeply valued and truly loved. We humbly reach out to those who grieve and assure them that there is hope and that they are not forgotten. If our posture is not humble, our posture is not Christian.
These three themes are present from Genesis through Revelation. This is the ideal and standard for a believer’s life. Yes, we aren’t perfect, but striving to embody these principles are how we outwardly display our internal beliefs. We don’t look to politicians or even celebrity pastors to lead us in this, we look to God alone and then walk this out together. The church, like the country, is still at its best when we work together as “we the people,” finding common ground and moving forward with unity.
To my fellow Christians…
Yes, we believe in absolute truth. We believe in right and wrong, even if we don’t always agree on every nuance. But I ask you to remember your own past and journey…show others the grace you have been shown. There isn’t a single Christian who has “behaved” into a right relationship with God. We were saved by grace and our lives were transformed by grace. Let’s not expect those outside the faith to embrace our own ideals. Our greatest goal is to win people for Christ. We do that relationally, often listening more than we speak. If the perception others have of Christians is of a hate-filled bigot who spews judgmental and ignorant rhetoric, they will certainly miss the beauty of God’s love for them. This is the image we must fight against. With our lives. We must be painfully aware that we are ambassadors of Christ, sent to bring good news. We are not His mercenaries. We are not the judge, jury, or executioner. We are messengers. Never lose sight of the bigger picture and the deeper calling on our lives.
To those who don’t yet share my faith…
I hear your cries. I understand that you are grieving and worried, and it breaks my heart. I value your perspective and deeply want to know it more fully. I readily admit that there have been Christians on the wrong side of oppression and injustice at every era of history. But those who take our beliefs seriously instead of politically have been on the right side of it. Remember people like Williams Wilberforce who, compelled by his belief in the Christian God, spent his life ending the British slave trade. People like that still exist. They just don’t make the headlines.
I’m not going to ask you to trust us. I’m certain you have stories of deep hurt inflicted by people claiming to be on God’s side. I do, too. Honestly, that’s what kept me an atheist for 20 years. But I ask you to hold us accountable to standing up for injustice and oppression. Reach out to us. As you fight, you will find many of us standing beside you. As a Christian and an American, I wholeheartedly believe that all people were created equal. Equal value, equal worth, and equal rights. No matter who is in the White House, this is something for which I pledge to always stand and for which am willing to die.