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Let’s Talk School Shootings

Let’s talk school shootings.

I’m a teacher. I haven’t been at it long – it’s my second year. In this short time I’ve seen, and continue to see, a lot of things.

I see hurt. I see children living in broken homes without a sense of stability. On many separate occasions kids have told me they want to live with me, or said they wished I was their dad. Others have asked me whether I’ll take them if they are abandoned. These children are hurting and they don’t understand why. They don’t even know that the hurt isn’t normal.

I see violence. I see kids on a hair trigger, lashing out from the slightest provocation. I see kids transform from sweet to volcanic in moments. It is well said that “hurt people hurt people”. The effects of such violence is hardly visible in elementary school – some hurt feelings, a bruised shin perhaps – but that is simply because the offending student does not yet know how to cause pain. Lack of hand-eye coordination and lack of martial knowledge practically ensures no real damage will be done. But make no mistake: children lash out with vicious and brutal intent.

I’ve seen malicious creativity. At times, children would use whatever tool was at hand to harm another student. Usually the tool was just that – their hands. Sometimes, though, the children would get creative. They might use words to throw insults. Or feet to kick. Or a teacher’s authority to get another student in trouble. Or a pencil to stab. Or their own voice to scream in another’s ears. I’ve seen parents use their own children as tools against teachers, and I’ve seen children manipulate parents so that the parents’ wrath is turned from the child to a teacher.

I’ve also seen redemption. I’ve seen healing. I’ve seen a child cry when he told me that his friend (a former enemy) was transferring to a different school. A child who was once feared by an entire class became reconciled to them and made friends in the class. Child rageaholics gained self control and learned to choose a path without rage. Children who thought they were worthless have discovered that they are valuable and they have something to offer. Students have overcome incredible challenges, and have been delighted to discover their own prowess. Children have tried to help the people around them and have shown that they care about others in that guileless, faltering, precious way common to children everywhere.

I teach less than 20 miles from where the Parkland shooting occurred – too close for comfort. My own class has kids who are full of potential, and full of pain. Every day I work to tell them how valuable they are, how powerful their choices can be, and that I want them to live fulfilled, successful lives. These kids need hope. These kids desperately need meaning as they grow up in unstable or neglectful homes. Like it or not, these kids won’t be cute forever – one day they’ll grow up. They will become successes or they will become failures. My job is to give them the biggest boost possible towards success, by teaching them to make the right choices in life.

You want to stop school shootings? Combat the nihilism and agony that cause such things. When politics take precedence over children’s mental health, things like murder and suicide become much more likely. If guns didn’t exist, we would probably have mass poisonings or something similar. Evil will find expression. We can never take away absolutely everything that could be used as a tool for violence. But what we can do is tend to the needs of our children, making choices that will be tougher for both us and them in the present, but will result in our children’s future well-being.

At the end of the day, people are looking to influence either the root of this issue or the fruit it brings forth. Is it more important to suppress people’s actions, or to change their hearts so they don’t want to do evil in the first place? Do we care about guns, or do we care about children?

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Beauty, Friendship, Emptiness

Beauty, friendship, and that emptiness that shows up in the pit of your gut. All compelling topics. They may not be the easiest topics, but somehow discussing them with friends makes them more interesting and less overwhelming. So, friend, let’s begin.

The Setup

A friend of mine posted this link on facebook: http://elitedaily.com/life/greatest-moments-clarity-life-realizing-things-didnt-work-youre-better/773523/

It’s an interesting article, and there were a few phrases that jumped out at me as I read it. I’d like to discuss those phrases a bit more. Here are my unabridged thoughts on those thought-provoking sentences.

Beauty

“Things that never die can never really be appreciated for their beauty, as they don’t beckon to be seen and loved before their end.”
– I disagree. In the second avengers movie, Vision mentions to Ultron that “…A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” I think that the opposite is also true: a thing isn’t beautiful because it doesn’t last. There are things in this world that are with us for a short time: people, pets, jobs, sunsets, etc. They all “beckon to be seen and loved”, regardless of how long or short they will be with us. We tend to take these things for granted because we believe that they will be there forever, and when we don’t love that which calls out for our hearts, the mistake is ours. In a way, death is a gift. Not because it makes something beautiful, but because the sudden loss slams the consequences of our own neglect home. Death makes it easier to look outside yourself and to understand another’s need for love once you see the terrible regrets that come from not loving enough.

Friendship

“Throughout life, we go through more friends than we go through pairs of jeans.”
– I wish someone had told me this when I was a kid. It would’ve made the transitions between friendships easier. Though on second thought, I don’t. I’m glad that I cared so deeply about my friends growing up. If I had distanced myself because I knew they would be temporary, it would have made those memories shallower and less meaningful. I am truly grateful for the friends and enemies I’ve made, because in a small way they’ve each made me.

The Void

“The thing to keep in mind is that beauty, success and prosperity are only as good as their counterparts: the lack thereof. It’s the void that we feel moving along our path in life that allows us to truly appreciate what our lives become.”
– This is a concept I’ve heard but never really understood. People like to describe loss and emptiness as if they’re constant, tangible things to value your life by. But they’re not. Constant? Yes. Tangible? Definitely. But something to measure your life by? That’s just foolishness. The voids and pains in life aren’t measuring marks. They’re more like wounds you receive, or if you’re very lucky sometimes they are like the soreness you feel after working out. They are temporary, and when they heal you are a better person for having endured them. Of course you get more in time, but that’s a good thing. The only way to avoid those wounds is to live a sedentary, unconnected, callous life – unattached to anything worth caring about and avoiding anything worth doing. Living this way is like living with a piece of life willingly removed – as if you were able to handicap yourself from seeing color or hearing music.

The other problem with the void inside you is that it tends to draw you inward. I’ll be honest. It’s so easy to shut yourself off from the world in a desperate attempt to stop feeling that void within. It’s also incredibly easy to make your struggle the defining feature of your life. Most of us do it without even thinking about what we’re doing or why. But the void doesn’t go away, and its presence inside you refuses to be ignored. It doesn’t make you happier, and it certainly doesn’t make the good things in your life seem any better. If anything, it tends to suck the meaning out of the good things your life holds. It’ll never make you happy, so don’t let it define you. I’ve only found one way to stop feeling the emptiness inside me: live in spite of it. Love in spite of it. Give all you have to give, especially when that darkness inside you is counseling caution. The constant hunger is inside of you, so live outside yourself. Go beyond what you think you can do. Do things that benefit others.

Does the void go away forever? No. You and I are selfish; when we start behaving selfishly again, the void will pop right back up. But isn’t that a good thing? It means we have a sure indicator for when we are not living and giving in spite of our own flaws. That’s a tool we can use. Not as a measuring stick for our successes, but as a compass that tells us whether we are living selfishly and punishes us for doing so. That’s a valuable tool to have.

 

Those are my thoughts on these subjects. Now it’s your turn! What is beauty? What is this loneliness we all feel?  Is the nature of friendship a blessing, or a curse?

Whose Fault is it Anyway?

 The Setup

I just read something that challenged my entire view of the world.

It was… A bunch of comments on the internet.

They weren’t full of snappy one-liners. They didn’t sound inspiring or encouraging. And they certainly weren’t deep or hopeful, or really even all that thoughtful. No, these were just the everyday run-of-the-mill comments we’ve all come to expect. So what happened that  challenged how I see life, people, and everything else in the world? I’m glad you asked.

Brock Heasley (a great guy for many reasons) wrote a blog post titled Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt (which you can read here). Long Story Short: his daughter is 13 and boys at school make comments about her body. He wrote an article about how that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable.

And then the internet happened.

Brock received quite a few comments indicating that the situation was either normal and acceptable, or his daughter’s fault. So he wrote another blog post titled Stop Calling My Daughter a Slut (which you can read here). Long Story Short Again: Brock questioned why so many people who didn’t know anything about this situation would declare that the actions of one person (one of the boys who commented on his daugher’s body) must be caused by another person (his daughter). And his questions were both tasteful and well thought out. What an achievement, when the topic must hit so close to home!

This is Where I Join the Party

Ok. So the article is great. The topic was refreshing and challenging. What more could I ask for in a blog post?

Time to read the comments.

There are only a few comments right now, but two of them got my attention right away.

The first comment that made me look twice read, “Welcome to the wild world of Mormon feminism.” The second one made a comment on how fathers need to take responsibility for teaching their sons respect.

I have a problem with comments like these: they draw lines. They define the world in terms of “us” and “them” – which really means thinking of everyone who agreed with us as “the good guys” and everyone else as “the bad guys”. And most importantly, they give “the bad guys” no slack.

In both his articles, Brock acknowledges the struggles a young man faces growing up, while still maintaining that there is a standard of behavior that a young man must live by. He does not excuse the young men who heckle his daughter, and he does not spew vitriol at them either. He walks the line, acknowledging their inexperience while at the same time calling them to live with excellence. He becomes selfless by putting his desires aside to help young men become better. Reading his blog posts gave me a crash course in maturity.

I want to be like that when I grow up.

So Who’s at Fault?

The phrase ‘Someone ought to do something’ was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider ‘and that someone is me‘.” – Terry Pratchett, The Hogfather

Most people acknowledge a problem, but are unwilling to do anything about it besides point the finger of blame. When I first pondered these posts and quotes, I searched for who was wrong so that I would know who needed to do something. But that’s wrong thinking. Too often we think of the person doing wrong as a “bad guy” who needs to be fixed, when the truth is that the person who hurts and breaks is hurt and broken. Situations need to be fixed, not people. People need to be healed. And healing takes time.

It doesn’t matter who is at fault. What matters far more is: who is willing to make a difference? Next time you think “If only [group I’m not in] would [do something that doesn’t involve me], then [problem I care about would be fixed]”, stop. Ask yourself, “Do I really care about this?” If not, then maybe it’s an issue not worth caring about. That’s fine – there are plenty of little things that eat up our time by convincing us they’re important. But if so, then ask yourself: “How can I show that I care – instead of just broadcasting that I’m right? How can I really make a difference?”

Homeward Bound 5

Basil felt the stranger’s approach before he saw it. He had been huddled by the campfire waiting for the stranger’s return, warming himself by the fire and reciting poetry to pass the time. Suddenly the air around him filled with a bitter chill. His breath came out in clouds. Raw currents of frozen energy cut through the camp in random and wild arcs. Only the small part of the fire which was under his shaking hands remained lit. Alarmed, Basil slipped his mother’s ring back on his hand (it was his habit to place it beside any fire he was warmed by) and looked around anxiously.

And then Basil saw him.

When Basil had first met the stranger, his features were full of depth and merriment. Oaky brown hair had thickly encircled his sharp features. His face had lit up with green eyes tinted with gold, shining of their own accord as if they offered secrets for the adventurer who dared to venture into their depths. His face had been an invitation – but not one of rest and safety. It was an invitation rarely given and even more rarely accepted; an invitation for wild adventure, for dangerous freedom, for great and terrible things, for good or ill and no way to know which come until they presented themselves.

But the man who set his feet down on the cliff’s end had a shockingly different appearance from the one who had so lightly left it that morning. His head was covered with a brilliant white shock of hair which blew with the chaotic gusts around them. His skin was transparently pale around his gaunt face and figure, and his motions grew abrupt and erratic. His eyes pulled his face down with age and trouble; the lightest azure hue was all the color that could be found in their watery expanses until they slowly swirled into the black holes at each center. The eyes that looked on Basil were windows into an empty winter sky.

Basil closed his eyes to protect them from the freezing gusts all around him. Shivering all over, he shouted, “Stop it!” with as much breath as he could muster. The man looked senselessly at Basil for a moment. Then he blinked, then focused his gaze down to his own translucent hands and breathed in and out slowly. After a few moments, the winds died down. Basil looked up and saw that some color and strength had returned to the man’s complexion. The man held out his hand, but Basil stayed huddled by the fire’s few still-burning embers. “Are you coming?” the man asked. “We don’t have much time left.”

“Not until you tell me who you are”

“Do you want my name, or are you trying to get to know me?” Basil remained silent.

“You never did like that joke” the man grumbled. “Are you sure you want to know now? To tell you the truth, I was hoping you’d figure it out on your own in a little while”.

Basil felt himself growing hot with irritation. “Can you just tell me who you are already?”

“Fine, fine” the man said. “I am Peregrine, Steward of the Air.”

Homeword Bound 4

The fight was over in less than a minute. First there was a blur of furious blows, neither assailant giving ground. Then the stranger jumped to the roof behind him. He whispered a word as Emil leaped to follow him up there. Suddenly, the staff flew from the rooftop and slammed into the side of Emil’s head. He began to descend, a pile of limp bones and meat. In a flash, the stranger was there to catch him as he fell. He set him gently down on the road and slowly picked up his staff.  As he straightened up and looked around at the guards who still formed a semicircle around him, the air shimmered around him, sending waves of heat like malice incarnate into his would-be assailants. “Anyone else? I just betrayed my closest friend, and I could Really use some therapy right now.”

No one moved a muscle.

“Thought not. But so I won’t be followed…” He took a deep breath. The next sentence wasn’t shouted, wasn’t whispered, wasn’t anything but a sentence, simply spoken. Yet everyone heard it for miles around. “Come to this town and lay waste to it. Leave no building standing.

And that’s when the winds started changing. First there was a stillness in the air. But slowly, the stillness became a gentle breeze. Every part of the town felt the wind wandering toward its center The breeze became a rush. The rushing, a roar. The roaring wind shifted slightly; it began to work toward the center of town at a curved angle, culminating into a circle at its destination. And it continued to circle in the center of the town as it worked its way up and up, making a cyclone in the middle of everything.

This is probably going to be the least polished post I put up on this blog. That’s because I’m just writing; the post itself is an example of it’s subject (pretty meta, eh?). This post is not about efficiency, or doing a job well. This is about doing your job in the first place. If you want to read about how to do your job better, I recommend the book Letters From a Self Made Merchant to His Son. It’s incredible and it’s free on the Project Gutenberg website. Here’s the link: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21959/21959-h/21959-h.htm

So anyways, here’s how to be diligent when everything around you (and if you’re like me, everything in you) tells you to just do what feels good.

1. Make a list of reasons why you need to step up and be a man (or woman)

In the book of Nehemiah in the Bible, the main character Nehemiah wanted to rebuild the walls of his hometown, Jerusalem. But before he started working on the walls, he knew why he wanted to take on such a difficult task. And when the people he worked with got tired, he was able to motivate them by reminding them that God was on their side and that their families depended on them:

[Nehemiah 4:14 NIV] After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

Nehemiah knew what would motivate the workers, because he knew what motivated him. Who has called you to do what you do? Who depends on you? Find sufficient answers to these questions. If you don’t like the answers you get, either change your outlook or change your lifestyle.

2. Just Do It

This step requires very focused thinking. You must keep moving. Taking a break can be fatal to your progress. Imagine that you’ve just finished a two-hour job during a day that is scheduled full of manual labor. If you decide to sit down and have a soda, it will take far more effort to get out of that chair and start on the next job than it would have to simply keep working. Now, everyone needs a break, but they need to increase your progress by giving you a quick recharge, instead of slowing you down and stopping you from getting anything done. In any football game, a team only has a maximum of three quick timeouts per half plus the halftime break in the middle. That’s probably a good structure to follow through your workday. Allow yourself a maximum of three “timeouts” in the morning. Use these for a bathroom break, a snack break, or even just a bit of time to pull yourself together. Then let lunch be your halftime. This is when you can devote a good chunk of time to some hard core R&R. And after lunch, allow yourself three more “timeouts”. This plan will only work if you keep two things in mind. The first thing to remember is that no team uses its timeouts flippantly. Each coach decides to use a timeout only when it will benefit the team the most, and he saves his timeouts for moments of crisis. If his team needs a few minutes to get it together, they can do that because the coach didn’t blow their timeouts something ridiculous like an unnecessary drink break. The second thing to keep in mind is that since the timeouts are your designated time to rest, every other moment is time devoted to work. There is a difference between work and a break, and that difference is defined by what happens – not, as some people would believe, by what it is labeled as.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t take a lot of brain power to make this step work. Just the other day, a friend of mine beautifully paraphrased Newton’s first Law of Motion: “A body in motion stays in motion; a body at rest stays at rest”. And that’s all I need to remember to keep working. Find a phrase that is easy to remember, and repeat it to yourself when it gets hard to keep going. It doesn’t have to be anything deep, just find something that works for you and stick to it. Maybe this will help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WVoC_CJbow

3. Stack the Deck in Your Favor

Change isn’t easy. Once you stop procrastinating and start working with dilligence, your life will get very hard, very quickly. You will also begin to get thoughts in your head such as “who do you think you are? You think you can do this?”. To fight against the overwhelming pressure to resume that comfortable lazy routine, you can do a few simple things to ease a little of that pressure and increase the odds of you coming out of this as a better person.

  • Get Backup

Chances are that you’ve tried to tackle this alone. And experience has shown you that it doesn’t work. If laziness is something that you can’t beat on your own, find some good friends to help you! One saying my mom taught me is “You’re only as sick as your secrets”. You have to swallow your pride and admit that you need help, but if these people are really your friends then they already know who you are. Chances are, the only person you’ve been fooling is yourself. I’ll never forget the time I admitted something I thought was a secret to my good friend, who promptly smiled and replied, “I know”. And the best part is that when your laziness gets out in the open, it’s not only not a secret anymore, but you also have friends who will help you to be a better person!

  • Write Your Manifesto

Your friends can’t be there for you all the time. You need to be prepared for the times that no one is around to help you (at 1:30 in the morning, for example). One great tool that you can always carry around is your manifesto. This is basically a pretty term for a piece of paper which says who you are, what you have already accomplished, and what you plan to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be anything incredible or complicated, so long as it reminds you of who you are and what you are doing. This idea actually comes from The Hobbit, when Bilbo gives himself titles which describe his varied accomplishments over the course of his journey. These titles both strengthen Bilbo and keep away the dragon who first asks him who he is, and when you get people or thoughts that ask “who are you, anyways?”, you can pull out your manifesto and give a great answer. Here’s a sample of my manifesto:

“I am awesome whether you like it or not. I have an incredible calling and a name rich with meaning. I am an author, I am a warrior, I am a leader. In Christ I am dangerous and I am good. I am worthy to lead, worthy to serve, and worthy to love. I bear my brothers’ name on my hand and my heart. I am a man of wisdom and humility, and I will be a great husband, father, and mentor. I am not who I was. I am obedient to God today. I will become the man God has called me to be.”

What helps you fight laziness? What’s your manifesto? Let me know!

Elements

The wind is lonely. 

It dances around the fire’s warmth, giving a show of the mirth it wishes it felt. It envies the fire’s warmth and light. On cold, dark nights the wind cries, waiting for someone to listen. It howls in solitary places where no one can hear.

 

The fire gives.

There are two kinds of fire. The fire that takes, to add to its brightness, and the fire that receives, so that it may give warmth. This fire checks its hunger, hoping that more food will come soon.

 

 The water waits.

Water is organized. It knows its limits and stays level at all times. Water knows that one day, fire will reach out for what doesn’t belong to it. It will take. The water will be ready.

 

 The land slumbers.

The land closed its eyes at sunset, and will only be roused by the coming of a new dawn. One day, the land will be remade. One day, the land will be reshaped like clay in the hands of a master potter. But tonight as the fire dies down, the land slumbers – and those made of earth begin to follow its example.

 

 

Tonight the wind sits in a tree, wistfully gazing at the stars.

 

Tonight the fire will dwindle.

 

Tomorrow the water will comfort the wind.

 

Tomorrow the land will rise as the great fire greets it.

Story Time: Doing the Impossible

I thought my second post would be a continuation of the Heroes Path series, but then I had another idea. A lot of times after I go to church, I have questions and comments on the sermon. When that happened, I’ll be posting my thoughts on here. Please realize that what I write is the sum of my thoughts and conjectures, and I’m likely to be wrong in some or all of it. Even if I am right, I might only have the smallest seed of a greater truth. Translation: I’m just thinking this stuff through. Instead of just reading my words and taking my thoughts for truth, I encourage you to do some researching – along with thoughts and prayers – and come to a conclusion for yourself. And feel free to comment! I can’t wait for the day when we will need discussion forums!

So without further ado:

Doing the Impossible

This story is about Jesus and a rich young man who came to him for advice. It can be found in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18. I’m going to copy the story from the book of Mark, NIV translation. However, there are some differences in how the story is told, so you need to read it yourself. A great resource that I love is www.blueletterbible.org. It gives you lots of translations and some great study tools (want to know what a certain word means in the original language? Click the blue C to the left of the verse you’re reading).

Anyways, Jesus is approached by a rich young man:

“Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

What does “Good” Mean?

Let’s start from the top: Jesus is approached by a young man. The young man asks the “good teacher” what he needs to do to get eternal life. Honestly, for the longest time I liked the young man more than Jesus in the beginning of this conversation. You see, Jesus was asked questions day in and day out, but most of them were trick questions to try to make Jesus trip up. So when I used to read this verse, I would think something like this: “Really Jesus? Here comes a man who actually wants to learn from you, and you correct his definition of the word ‘good’? What’s up with that?” As it turns out, there’s a lot more to this than simple nitpicking. Jesus said this to correct the young man’s perception of goodness. The young man wanted to do something that would make him good enough to get into Heaven, but goodness isn’t a tally or a checklist. It’s absolute purity, with no connection to the slightest trace of evil. Even irreverence toward the good God can get you killed. It’s not like saying that God is up there and we are down here, it’s more like saying that our goodness is like a dim candle, and God’s is like a white-hot laser beam. You’d best not get too close if you’re not prepared for it. That’s the reason God comes to us: we can never approach him.

Obeying the Rules

Next, Jesus tells the young man to obey the commandments, and the young man replies that he has done this his entire life. The commandments that Jesus mentions are actually the last five of the Ten Commandments. If you haven’t read the Ten Commandments or if you need a refresher, you can read them here.

It’s interesting that Jesus only quoted the commandments that tell you how to deal with other people. He completely skipped over the first five. I honestly don’t know why he did that, and I’m going to keep looking into it. Hopefully later I’ll be able to update this with the answer. The best I can come up with is because the young man’s question indicated that he was caught up in obeying the rules, and in his focus he ran the risk of ignoring the practical applications of the law. The Pharisees were known for doing this. They got so caught up in obeying the rules that they forgot their lawgiver. They didn’t see his heart ache when they led his people down the path of pride, and they didn’t feel his anger when they proclaimed their own righteousness in the streets. Jesus had some choice words for these guys. But when this young man responded, he showed Jesus that he wasn’t one of those guys. This young man had faithfully followed the law, without forgetting about the one who made the law.

An Impossible Love

Mark 10:21 – Jesus looked at him and loved him. This is my favorite verse in this whole story! The word that Mark uses for “love” when he writes the story is agapaō. It can be written as “agape” (uh-GOP-ey), and it roughly translates to mean ‘unconditional love’. In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes as a connection which is mostly intellectual. It sounds to me like Jesus was impressed with this young man. The way I imagine it is Jesus looking at this young man who just walked into his life and saying: “This guy! This is a good guy. He’s got it.”

And in the spirit of love for his newfound friend, Jesus tells him the answer to his question: “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

And the result: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

This breaks my heart. This man made it all this way, actually got the answer to his question, and on top of that, got a personal invitation to follow Jesus (this is the last time the Bible records Jesus inviting someone in this way)! I mean c’mon, the guy had diligently followed the law since he was a little kid! So why didn’t he follow through and do this one last thing? It’s because Jesus had asked him to do the impossible.

In each person’s life, there comes a time when God commands him to do something that is beyond him. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman is commanded to bathe in the Jordan seven times so that his leprosy will be cured. In Numbers 13 and 14, the Israelites had to attack the inhabitants of the promised land (who were giants). In my life, it’s not playing online computer games. Given the circumstances, each of these things seems so doable that it would be silly to disobey. And yet, it’s not in us to do these things by ourselves. We need help. Let me be absolutely clear: I CAN’T do the thing that God is calling me to do. Trust me, I’ve tried. Like the rich young man, I’ve eagerly asked God what it is I can do for him. And like the poor young man, I’ve been bitterly disappointed by the realization that what I’ve been commanded to do is impossible. Jesus takes us all to a place in our lives where we say, “But that’s impossible!” And like the young man in the story, we each have a choice: stay disappointed and walk away from Jesus, or say, “Jesus, help me to do the impossible”. And he will. He’ll help you to do the things he has commanded, giving you his strength and allowing you to do things that you could never do on your own. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27b). He’s not waiting for you to do enough to get to him; that’s not the point! The point is to ask him to come to you. And he will! Do it with God, because with God all things are possible.

When God calls you to do the impossible, will you be discouraged and give up? Or will you look to the one who gave you the command and ask him to help you do it? I encourage you to ask God to help you. He’s not surprised that you can’t do what he commands. He’s just waiting for you to ask for his help.

Hello world!

My first post ever is about two of my heroes: Aragorn from Lord of the Rings and King David from the Bible. This is the first part of a series about living out your dreams. Each of these men held on to his dreams, and each was faithful to do his duty and live out the calling that was placed on his life. As a result, each man was able to live out his his great destiny when he needed to.

This first part is about holding on to your dreams. It’s about these heroes’ backgrounds, mostly before they did anything noteworthy.

Aragorn

Alright, a word before we begin: I’m gonna paraphrase this, so for the hard core Lord of the Rings enthusiasts out there, your hero’s past is about to get butchered.

The story starts the same way it did in the movie: with the war against Sauron (the big bad guy, also known as the evil floating eye). When Sauron tried to take over the world, it was Aragorn’s great-great-great-great-you get the idea- grandpa who got the lucky slice that cut Sauron’s ring from his finger. Gramps beats Sauron, takes his ring of ultimate power (yes, THAT ring), and rules the world of men for a while. Eventually the ring corrupts and betrays him, ending in king gramps getting killed and the once-united empire of men splitting up.

Hundreds of years later, Aragorn is a young man, and he’s living in Elrond’s house. For those of you who don’t remember, Elrond is the father of Arwen, a girl elf. In the movie he’s the guy who healed Frodo’s knife wound, and he was Agent Smith in the Matrix (am I the only one who can never get that out of my head when I see that guy?).

Anyways, young Aragorn is walking in the woods one day, sees Arwen, and they both fall in love. Elrond hears that his daughter is in love with the new kid on the block, so he has a talk with Aragorn. It goes something like this: “You want to be good enough for Arwen? Rule the world, and then we’ll talk.” Basically Elrond tells Aragorn that he can’t marry Arwen until he gets Gramps’ old empire back together, and becomes the king over the whole thing.

There’s something else you need to keep in mind here when you read this: Elrond can see into the future. I don’t know if Aragorn realized it right then, but when Elrond challenged him to reunite the old empire, he was telling Aragorn a secret that he probably couldn’t have come out and said plainly: that it wasn’t just in Aragorn’s ability to rule the world. Ruling the world was his Destiny. It was in the future, if Aragorn would pursue it. And the choice that Elrond had set before him would either propel him down the path to that destiny or make it almost impossible to acheive.

This is the first defining moment of Aragorn’s life. It’s a moment where he has to choose between living the life of an ordinary man and pursuing an ordinary woman (both of which are well within his ability), or wildly pursuing the girl of his dreams and a destiny that seems impossible. Most guys would be discouraged and forget it. Fortunately, Aragorn isn’t like most guys. He dares to dream that one day he will acheive the impossible, and he is willing to pay the prices it takes to get there.

David

David’s story starts out as a kid with no great lineage or promise. He’s the youngest of eight brothers, and he’s the one who takes care of the family’s sheep. David spends his childhood in Israel during the time of their first king, Saul. Saul has acted wickedly and the Lord has left him, so the Lord tells Samuel the Prophet to go to David’s house. The next person who will be king is there and when the Lord points the kid out to Samuel, he must anoint the kid with oil as a sign that he will be the next king. Samuel goes to the house and apparently tells Jesse (the man of the house) that one of his sons will be the next king. Jesse brings each of his sons to Samuel, starting with the oldest and working his way down. None of them have been chosen by God. After the last son is brought to Samuel, he asks, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replies, “There is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep” (Tending the sheep does NOT cancel out the great destiny you have on your life. More on that in the next post). Long story short, Samuel sees David, God says that he’s the one, David gets anointed, and the Spirit of the Lord comes on him in power from that day on. The next day he becomes king.

NOT! The next day he goes about his life, now with seven jealous brothers who are hurting because they got passed up. There’s at least one account of his oldest brother mocking his low station and accusing him of having an evil heart (1 Samuel 17:28), and I guarantee you that as a member of the male race, I would have had a hard time saying anything good to my little brother after that. But after that day, David didn’t think of himself as just a shepherd. He was a shepherd training to be King. And when he was brought into the palace as a musician, I bet he thought of it as an internship. No matter what David’s present circumstances looked like, he knew that his destiny was to be a king. And because he believed the one who told him he was destined to be a king, he didn’t settle for anything less. Through everything, he remembered who he was and where he was headed. And he acted like a king, knowing that he was one. He just hadn’t sat on the throne yet.

Is it better to play it safe and not lose anything, or to take risks and gain something worth having?

Luke 8:18 says, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”

I believe that this verse has a direct application to our plans for life, and how we view ourselves. “Consider carefully how you listen” – Are you listening to the messages that say you are ordinary? That what you do or fail to do doesn’t matter in the end? That it’s ok to settle for the ordinary, because extraordinary things are too hard or too uncomfortable? That ordinary is ok, and extraordinary isn’t that great anyway? The Bible says that if you think like this, even the things you think you have will be taken from you. I’ve seen this happen in my life and it’s not pretty. But if we listen to the messages that tell us our destiny and the messages that encourage us to pursue the greatness in store for our lives, then we will value the right things, shun the wrong things, and stand strong when the defining moments of life come. And when we’ve got that, we’ll be given more so that we can do greater things and move closer to our destiny.

I’ll be honest: If I was Aragorn, I probably would have found another girl and used the talent for leadership to rule a town or something. I would have excelled at it, and everyone would have admired me. It would have been easy and unsatisfying, and at the end of every day I would have wondered if maybe I could have pulled off the feat of a lifetime and married the girl of my dreams. And if I was David, I would have had a hard time not covering up my dreams and saying that ‘hopefully I can do that later when the timing is better’ instead of actively working towards the destiny that God had set for my life. It’s a lot easier to think that I’m an ordinary guy who doesn’t have much to add to a world of billions. But I do know that I am destined for greatness. I have been given big dreams and big promises about my life, and I will fight to remember who I am and who I will become. I see other people around me who have the mark of greatness in their lives, but most of them consider themselves to be ordinary. They have been tricked into thinking that what they do doesn’t matter. But if they can believe in the destinies that they have, and live with the goal of working towards their impossible dreams, they will radically change the world and the way it works. I hope it happens.

Lord, make me a man who sees myself as you see me: a man who is working toward greatness. When the world tells me that I am nothing, remind me that I am a man of greatness who will change the world. I’ll listen to you.

Comics

On monday, we will be starting our brand new comic strip series! Let us know what you think. This is the start of a work in progress, so we are excited to see where it goes and would love to get feedback!