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God is Found in Sunsets, Not Formulas

“Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little time is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder.” -Donald Miller

I’m a sunset guy. I never tire of watching the sun fade into the horizon, as I’m regularly snapping away, adding to my ever-growing collection of majestic sunset photos. No matter how many times I’ve seen one, I can’t get enough. There is something about the beauty of the sun radiating those brilliant colors while slolwly dipping below view to cap off another day, a day never to return. I think it must be God’s way of saving His most masterful brush stroke for the grande finale.

One of my favorite places to watch the sun put an exclamation point on the day in Virginia Beach is by the Chesapeake Bay near the Lynnhaven Inlet. While most of our beaches face towards the east, this stretch of sandy shoreline curves back around the Chesapeake Bay, facing to the northwest. This allows for breathtaking views of the amber hues fading behind glistening waters and the spectacular 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. I could visit this magnificent spot everyday for the next year, but no two sunsets will ever be exactly the same.

“The Heavens declare the Glory of God,
and the sky above declares his handiwork.”
– Psalm 19:1

God is the Creator. He’s continuously providing us with fresh artwork, all for our pleasure and to proclaim His awesomeness.

And yet we try to box this same author of art into well-defined formulas so that we can comprehend how He will show up in our lives, mostly for our own benefit. We need a means to understand things unseen so that we’ll know what buttons to push to derive the answers and outcomes we want.

Yet, the next time we’re tempted to believe 7 Steps to a Fulfilled Life or 224 Methods of Discovering God’s Favor, let’s instead bask in the glow and splendor of His sunset and reflect on the wonder of the life He’s given. While we’re busy searching for His perfect will, He continues to say “I’m here.”

Who Am I to Allow Fear to Stand in the Way of the Bigger Story?

It’s kind of silly when I think think about. One of my biggest fears involves initiating conversation with people whom I’ve never met. I can say “hello” first without a problem. “How are you?” No sweat. If they take the conversation further, then I quickly become relaxed and engaged. But if they don’t, my head commences worrying about simple things, concerned about annoying people, coming off as too inquisitive, interrupting them, appearing anxious, or being rejected. So often I move on far too quickly after the standard, “Just fine, how are you?”

It’s one of those fears that I’ve diligently been working to overcome. In fact, I made a conscious effort to go out of my way and introduce myself to a couple at church this past Sunday. I had seen them many times, but never taken the time to get over myself and speak to them. This is the second time I’ve done this in the last month. I’m not trying to prop myself up here, but I’m hopefully demonstrating that the way to overcome fear begins when we stop thinking about self and the fear and instead, face it head-on.

In reality, this fear of mine boils down to one simple truth: I spend too much time dwelling on myself. As much as I pay lip service to the idea of putting others first, I’m often looking out for number one. How can I get my relational needs met? How can I fill my stomach? What adventure can I seek to fill this need to be entertained and fulfilled in the moment?

In relaying his own story of being awakened to the notion that how we live matters in the bigger story, Donald Miller came to what should be an obvious conclusion in his bestseller in Blue Like Jazz. However, I don’t think it’s so apparent to most of us by the way we live. “I realized, late that night, that other people had feelings and fears and that my interactions with them actually meant something, that I could actually make them happy or sad in the way I associated with them.”

photo courtesy: Kuba Bożanowski on FlickrWow! Stop and consider what he wrote for a moment. In essence, we have the ability to be a positive (or negative) influence with the people we encounter through the words we speak and the actions we take. What a powerful responsibility we’ve been given simply when we interact with the people who are placed in our path! Doesn’t that make you want to take seriously that unfulfilled promise to get coffee? Maybe it causes you to consider that when you feel a prodding inside to speak to that stranger you’ve passed on numerous occasions, that’s probably a sign you should. Or it could be time to make that phone call that you felt could wait because you had more important things to do.

It’s not by accident that people cross our paths. We have a chance to be the listening ear that they need, the friend who was previously missing from their world, and the encouragement they long for in the midst of trials. Who am I to allow fear to stand in the way of the bigger story?

What We’re Missing in a Culture Obsessed With Celebrities, Politicians, & Athletes

Photos courtesy of Gage Skidmore, bradjward, & www.chicagofabulousblog.com on Flickr.com.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a long-suffering Tennessee Vol fan. I grew up in Knoxville, raised in the religion of the south, college football. I can still recall being a sophomore in high school the day that Peyton Manning announced he was returning to play his senior season for the Vols, rather than bolting to the NFL after his junior year. Classes came to a halt in every classroom that day, each eye fixed on a TV and anxiety running through every Vol fan’s veins. Peyton’s words reverberated throughout the hallways, “I’ve made my decision. I’m going to stay at the University of Tennessee.” Shouts of jubilation and thunderous applause echoed throughout the school. The  entire city was abuzz with hopes for the coming football season and chance to see Manning put on the orange and white for one more season.

We’re a culture that identifies with successful people. We are drawn to them because of their accomplishments, but are quick to condemn when they don’t live up to the god-like standards we set for them. We’re seeing this play out today in with the up-and-down polls of presidential candidates, the rise to glory and the rapid descent of legendary football coaches, and the in-your-face celebrity gossip.

All of which begs the question: why is our culture so fixated on the minutiae of celebrities, politicians, and athletes? Why do we spend so much time watching and criticizing other people’s each and every move?

When we don’t live satisfied lives through the pursuit of our individual callings, we look to fill that void with other endeavors. Part of the reason sports are so popular with men and celebrity culture with women is because we vicariously live out success through other individuals without any sweat equity on our part. Yet, we can share in the joy of victory and experience the emotions of defeat with a remote in one hand and a bag of chips in the other. It’s also much easier to talk about the latest politics or sports score than offer our true selves in relationship.

Donald Miller, in his classic book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” reasons, “I’ve wondered, though, if one of the the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage.”

God made each of us to reflect His glory in our own unique story. Yet, we can’t reflect that glory when we’re constantly consumed with watching others live out their stories.

What Does ‘Live Intentionally’ Mean?

I started this blog several months ago as an experiment. I sought to explore topics that were meaningful to me, as well as create thought-provoking content that would both challenge and encourage my readers. Out of my initial writings, I perceived a recurring theme – intentional living. Hence, I’ve tried to sum up my blog with the tag line found across the top – “Live intentionally. Change the world.” After the past year of studying various books, listening to podcasts, interacting with successful people, and mentally wrestling with the direction of my life, it became apparent that a life isn’t really a life lived unless it is lived with intention. Typically, we witness individuals changing the world for the better as they live with intention.

So if changing the world relies upon our living a life of intention, we must first define what the phrase means. I recently posed the question “What does an intentional life mean to you?” and received some wise answers.

- “Intentional for me means pursuing Life ‘on purpose’.” – Jack

- “To me it means only doing things that give me energy.” -Dan

- “Deciding what I want in my life, not being reactive to what is happening around me.” -Dave

- “An Intentional Life means that we find the optimal intentions and goals for our own lives and live them out – and even if we do not live them out, to know assuredly in our hearts what those goals are.” -Jeff

All of these answers help us to see that an intentional life is one with a definite direction. We have a specific God-given calling and purpose. It’s similar to a business that has a mission statement. If that organization remains true to its mission, then all (in a perfect setting) of the activities, resources, employees’ time, and money will be spent in pursuit of that specific mission. The mission statement does not change. Similarly, we must define the specific mission in our own lives. Otherwise, we typically end up meandering aimlessly while fending off that persistent feeling of emptiness.

I love Don Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, as he shares his own journey, progressing from a directionless life to discovering a meaningful story. If you haven’t read his book, I would highly recommend it. Throughout this work, he conveys that each one of our lives is a story, and we ultimately choose whether or not we live a powerful story that matters. He offers, “It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as through God is saying, ‘Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.’ ”

Hopefully we begin to understand that satisfaction comes from living intentionally. In order to pursue this journey, we first have to discover our core purpose, or our mission, in this world. This will be different for everyone, as God has uniquely created each one of us. Once our core purpose has been defined, we embrace the mystery before us. Finally, we must commit ourselves to take regular, specific action. I’ve found that most successful people utilize goal setting to keep their actions in line with their core purposes.

Those who seek to change the world usually don’t transform it by accident. They bring change through a life of intention. I look forward to continuing this journey with you as we seek to live intentionally!