Pushing Through

I’m trying really hard to actually write a post on here every week, but this is only the third week of that and I’m already hitting an impasse. I started writing a post earlier in the week, but I just couldn’t find the words to finish it. And you know what? Sometimes, that’s just how life is. You’ve got all of these ideas about how you want things to be, and they even seem like realistically attainable things to go after…but they never fall into place.

This basically describes me. I have all of these ideas on what my life should look like, whether it’s about my fitness or my creativity or heck, even my sleep patterns! So I come up with a plan of action to tackle the issue, and then I’ll commit to it. Or at least I try to. My plans normally aren’t total failures, I just lack the resolve to see them through to the end. I could go through my old notebooks and my files on my computer and find you at least five or six novels that I’ve started, but never finished. A couple of them never made it past the outline phase, but for most of them I even wrote a few chapters and started getting into the story, but I lost my motivation.

Maybe you’ve faced something similar. I don’t know what your aspirations are, but I know you have them. Everybody has dreams, but most of us just let them stay dreams instead of actually trying to make them a reality. Sure, we make a token effort, but we never really go after it. We’re afraid to chase after our dreams because we’re either afraid that it won’t live up to our expectations or that we aren’t good enough to make it happen, so why even bother? But that’s just fear talking, it isn’t truth. Are you capable of making your dreams come true? I don’t know, and neither do you. You can’t know until you try. And not just try, but give it your all. We are capable of so much more than we think we are, but we continue to limit ourselves because we’re afraid of failure. But failing at something isn’t the end of the world. In fact, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes more often than not.

So what are your dreams? Where do you see yourself down the road? For me, I want to be a youth pastor and an author. I’m already moving forward on the path to become a youth pastor, and I should be credentialed within the next few months. But writing? Like I said before, I’ve started so many different projects, but I’ve never made it very far with any of them. I actually am working on one right now, and I’m hopeful for it. I’m doing something a little different, trying to transform a short story that I wrote a few years ago into a full length interactive fiction piece. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I’m going to keep trying.

If you know what your dream is, great! Pursue it, don’t let anything stand in your way. I mean, be smart about it, don’t kill yourself trying to make it happen, but also understand that you will definitely need to sacrifice things you’re used to doing in order to chase something new. If you don’t know what your dream is, don’t freak out. There’s nothing wrong with being content where you’re at.

Two last little things, and then I’ll be done: one, talk to people about it. Whatever your dream is, tell people about it. Speaking it out loud will make it more realistic to you than any amount of hours spent fantasizing about it. And two, don’t let fear make your decisions for you. You won’t ever accomplish anything significant in life without taking a few risks along the way. As a Christian, you’ve got the God of the universe backing you up, so there’s literally nothing that you can’t handle. God created you with the desires you have, so don’t just write them off as hopeless. Never give up.

An Introverts Survival Guide to Worship Time

For those of you who don’t know, I work at an Assemblies of God church, which is a Pentecostal denomination. If you know nothing about Pentecostals, here’s the basics: we believe that the gifts of the Spirit (the ones given to the disciples on the day of – wait for it – Pentecost) are still active in the modern-day church. That’s the one thing that unifies all Pentecostals, but every church is different. I’ve been to churches that go off the deep end into “charismania,” but I’ve also been to quite a few that you wouldn’t even know were Pentecostal if you went to a regular Sunday morning service. 

I’ve been part of a few different denominations in my 23 years here on earth, and although there is variety among Pentecostals, they are generally a bit more, well, extraverted compared to others, especially when it comes to worship. What I mean by this is simply that in many Pentecostal churches, there are more expressions of worship: there’s more hand-raising, clapping, dancing, occasional flag-waving, stuff like that. So if you want to fit in, you do those things. But if you know me at all, you know that I’m not normally an outwardly expressive guy, so to do those things would make me really uncomfortable under most circumstances, and maybe you feel the same way. 

And you know what? It’s ok to not worship exactly like everyone else. God isn’t worried about who’s singing the best or who’s clapping the loudest or who can dance more elegantly or who’s raising their hands the highest. In fact, if you’re worried about those things, then you’re making your “worship” more about you than about God. Give God your best, but don’t worry about how your best measures up to the best of anyone else. 

In Mark 12, we see Jesus waiting and watching where temple offerings were given. Many rich people walked by and put in large sums of money, but then a widow came up and placed two copper coins into the offering. At this, Jesus spoke to His disciples, informing them that, despite appearances, this widow offered more than anyone else because she gave all she had. And I would argue that this principle holds true for any form of worship, not just monetary giving. Whether you’re just not a very extraverted person or you’re just having an off day, don’t feel like you *need* to engage in specific behaviors during worship, just give what you can authentically give. 

However, I’m not saying that just because you don’t feel comfortable raising your hands during worship that you have a free pass to participate to a lesser degree. There is definitely something serious and intimate about becoming physically involved with worship, so if you’re feeling it, don’t let your insecurities stop you from doing something that will enable you to experience God’s presence in a way that you’re not used to. And even if you don’t do it, that’s not an excuse to not push yourself to be actively engaged in worship. 

I guess that’s what I’m really trying to get at here. Engagement. It doesn’t matter how you appear during worship, but it matters how much you engage with God during it. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you engage better with God by jumping and shouting, do it (but please, don’t intentionally cause disruptions, that’s just annoying to everybody); if you engage with God better by quiet reflection on the words you’re singing, do it! But don’t think that just because somebody engages differently than you automatically means they’re being unauthentic, and whatever form your worship takes, that doesn’t guarantee authenticity either. You need to actively pursue God no matter what way you worship. 

So the next time you enter a time of worship, whether that’s later tonight, Wednesday, next Sunday, or any other time, let go of your worry about how other people will perceive you and just be present with the God of the universe. 

The Power of Offense

It seems like everyone is offended these days. It seems that you can’t hold an opinion on almost any topic without offending someone. And that’s utterly ridiculous. When did we become so fragile? When did we become so incapable of hearing an alternate viewpoint? When did we, as a culture, decide that it was more important that we appease our own emotions than that we tell the truth?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the result of them frightens me. Our culture is being strangled in the name of “tolerance.” Many – not all, but many – of the left have tried to transform the meaning of this word. It’s intended to mean the acceptance of the existence of ideas that are contrary to your own, but now it’s being used as a way of saying “we accept those who you don’t accept, but we don’t accept you,” which is not the same thing. They’ve made an instrument of peace into a weapon. And please understand me here, I’m not trying to put down liberals. That would be the height of hypocrisy after just talking about what tolerance is supposed to be. There are people out there of all political beliefs that believe in true tolerance. People who don’t hate you just for looking at the world differently. Sometimes they’re hard to find, but they’re out there, I promise.

Unfortunately, those people don’t seem to be the norm. Instead, we see what appears to be a large (or at least decently-sized) portion of the population that refuses to even pretend to listen to an alternative point of view. And this happens on both sides of the aisle (the only point favoring the right is that they don’t shout “Tolerance!” as their battle cry, so they at least avoid that hypocrisy). Instead of having a healthy discourse between alternative viewpoints, anything contrary to what we believe gets shut out. We’re practically begging for groupthink to become the dominant form of communication here in America. And if that idea doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

We need the voice of dissent. Part of what makes America so great is that we’re made up of so many different parts. Our unity only lasts so long as the one who thinks differently is allowed to speak. As bad as things seem now, if the power of offense is allowed to fester and grow, the United States is going to continue to polarize. We’re going to see an escalation in violence between ideological groups. And I’m not talking about extremists here. We’re going to see friends and family turn against each other over the smallest of things, because we’re idolizing our views, allowing them to become more important than the people we’re fighting for.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for the rights of those who can’t stand up for themselves. On the contrary, I think more people should! But we can’t allow our passion for the causes we take up to cause us to forget that those we argue with are people too. They have their reasons for believing as they do, most likely having to do with experiences they’ve had or the testimonies of people close to them, just like how you came to your beliefs. So to spout wide generalizations or rude names at people simply because of a conviction they have is absolute folly. Not only is it most likely not true of the person – no matter how despicable their views seem to you – but by behaving in a hostile manner, you’ve effectively cut off any chance of actual communication with this person, giving you no chance to let them change their minds on their position.

If all you want out of your arguments is to make some noise and give yourself a pat on the back for putting someone in their place, then go ahead, keep being offended. But if you want to change people, if you want to see the world become a little bit brighter, it needs to start with you. Even when other people are trying to start arguments with you, when they’re intentionally pushing your buttons, take it as a challenge to keep a cool head and respond with wisdom, not anger. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Allowing offense to control your words will only bring you to your own ruin.

The peaceful road is a hard one to walk. It requires humbling yourself, allowing others to attack without striking back. Forgiveness without seeking retribution. Turning the other cheek when all you want to do is leave that one snide comment to “destroy” their argument. It isn’t easy, but it becomes easier with each person we convince to join us. So join me, and let’s become better people together.