Living in the tension.

Probably my favorite poem right now is Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” It’s a few stanzas, has some clever rhymes, and has a pretty great rhythm. But more than that, it alludes to virtues that characterize great men – being honorable, taking risks, not complaining, being well-balanced, etc.

Every time I read that poem, my heartbeat picks up, and I feel that urge to embody each of the virtues mentioned. What’s more, I see the areas alluded to that I lack in my own life, and long to have more of that virtue in my life. What this poem, great preaching, and good friends do to me is remind me of the tension I think we all face: the tension between who we are and who we would like to be.

Whether your goals are financial, physical, spiritual, or in any other area, having them keeps that tension alive, and I think that’s a healthy tension to keep. Without it, I know I can easily become complacent, thinking I’ve done well enough and don’t need to keep pushing forward. I’ve been there, and it’s not a healthy way to be.

To progress, though, requires discipline, and that’s something not easily attained. It takes work, time, energy, commitment, dedication, sacrifice… and there are no shortcuts. You need to do the work, and you need to keep going when it gets difficult (perhaps especially when it gets difficult). And that’s something I think our generation needs to grasp (but that’ll get me started on a blog post for another day).

It’s a few months into 2014 now. Perhaps you’ve fallen on the wayside on some of the commitments you made at the beginning of the year. Perhaps you’ve gone back on some of your Lent commitments. What’s past is past.  Begin again today.

Decide today to get back in the fight with the Holy Spirit alongside.

Decide today to work hard and pray harder.

Decide today to stop making excuses. You can make excuses, or you can make progress.

Decide today to set and keep your priorities.

Decide today to take on the God-sized challenges you’ve been shying away from but that God has put in front of you.

Decide today to start becoming who God made you to be.

Forgetting the truth.

Do you think perhaps sometimes we choose to be lost? That we choose darkness over the light we’ve experienced and tasted for ourselves? I do. I think it happens all too often, and unfortunately, I don’t know that anyone is safe from this tendency. It’s this tendency that has plagued us from the very beginning, the tendency that introduced sin into the world when there was only one law.

Think about it – only one thing that God said to follow. Don’t eat from that tree. Eat from all the other trees, as much as you want. There is plenty to eat, and you’ll never run out if you just trust that God has your best interests at heart. Just don’t eat from that one in the center.

But we fell then, and we fall now for that same lie. Or set of lies. First the temptation…
“It’s not that big a deal.”
“Everyone is doing it, so it can’t be that bad.”
“God is trying to keep something good from you.”
“God will forgive you; go on ahead!” (the most sinister lies are mixed with truth)

Then, after the deed is done…
“That…was a big deal.”
“You’re the only one who struggles with this. Shame on you. How can you even call yourself a Christian?”
“Now that you’ve screwed things up royally, God is going to withhold blessings from you.”
“Do you really think God is going to forgive you…again?”

Today’s reading in Every Word with PAC was Ezekiel 16-17, where God speaks to Israel about their waywardness and straying from Him. In Ezekiel 16, particularly, God compares Israel to a whore, except that rather than accepting payment for her lewdness, she actually gives gifts to her adulterers and puts herself out there more than even a prostitute would. At the end of the chapter, though, God renews His covenant with her.

This Scripture today spoke to me in a way I’d been craving for a while. I’ve noticed that even though I’ve been pretty good with getting my reading in each day, many times it can be just in and out without really taking much effect. Also, as I mentioned the last time I was at Immerse (young adult group at PAC, meets on Wednesday nights at 7 in the Chapel), when I begin to drift in my attention to, love for and application of the Word of God, I get more lenient towards myself when it comes to sin. I can find myself becoming like Israel as described in Ezekiel 16 – moving in a direction I ought to stay away from and rationalizing it under common grace.

What really gets me, though, is that despite all the reasons God had to just throw His hands up and give up on Israel, He didn’t. And despite all my mess and your mess, He didn’t give up on us either. He went really far the other way, in fact. God be praised.

You’re never too far from the grace of God through Jesus. He’s never given up on you, and He never will.

Punching out for true independence

In the spirit of Independence Day, I thought I’d write a little something about some thoughts I had this morning surrounding what I might consider true independence.

I have a pair of boxing gloves that I picked up a few years ago when some friends and I attended a Muay Thai class that required them. After that class ended, though, I didn’t really have much of a reason to use them, so they ended up collecting dust for quite a while. I would look at them every once in a while with longing, but without really the wherewithal to find and sign up for a gym where I could use them, they stayed neglected.

Last Sunday, I joined a new gym that will be more convenient and economical for me, since it has many locations and doesn’t charge extra for going to other locations. One big bonus I saw right off the bat is that the one closest to where I currently live has an area in the back for boxing. So the times I’ve been there this week, I went through a workout, then spent some time in the boxing area hitting the bag.

I’ve mentioned this to some friends already, but I do find this pretty therapeutic, as it’s a good way for me to channel frustration, since I tend to be pretty even-keeled in most situations. It’s good to get it out somehow, and I rather like taking it out on an inanimate punching bag. There are folks who choose to use people as punching bags, but that’s a whole other story I’m not trying to get into in this post.

I have found that when working out, channeling anger can help with adding adrenaline or something to enable me to do a little more than I could without that extra boost. I’ve seen this work sometimes with lifting, and it certainly helps with boxing. I find that I have more endurance and more force behind my punches when I can channel some anger into it.

In the interest of improving my boxing this morning, I started to think about situations that are causing me some frustration right now. I have to admit that channeling my thinking in that direction did help my game a bit, but it was temporary, because I couldn’t truly bring myself to be angry with people in my life. What happened next was interesting, though.

As I pondered on the things that were frustrating me, I took a step back mentally and looked up to see a mirror. In that moment, I realized that while I can choose to be angry with this or that person or be upset about this or that situation, the only influence I truly have is to change myself, and that is often the biggest obstacle. I realized there that my worst enemy aside from the devil himself is not someone or something outside of me, but myself – my pride, my sinful tendencies, my desire to do things my own way instead of submitting to Christ, my selfishness. So instead of thinking about a person or a situation to get mad about, I looked in the mirror and saw my worst enemy, and channeled my energy into beating him up.

Of all the things I tried to improve my boxing, I think that helped the most. Focusing on myself and my need to change, my need to be better and more Christ-like, that more than anything gave me fire to hit harder and faster.

Now to bring it back to true independence. As a Christian seeking to follow after Jesus wholeheartedly, I think the way we define true independence is the ability to deny ourselves and recognize our own sinfulness, and to deal with it harshly, while being gracious to others. It’s being ruthless with sin in our own lives and sorrowful over sin in the lives of others, but exhibiting grace in our interactions with others, as well as accepting God’s grace for ourselves. It’s refusing to allow people, situations, or things to affect our relationship with Jesus, and guarding that relationship above all else.

Just a few thoughts for this Independence Day. Now to TURN IT UP!

Stepping in.

I just started a new job the other day, my first full-time job since my quarter-life crisis a year and a half ago. Pretty great so far. One interesting experience to share…

Our building is equipped with the best in energy-efficient technology, and I’m told we spend an insanely low amount on energy for the amount of people we have in our building. One of the energy-saving measures is that lights are motion-activated.

Disclaimer: I drink a lot of water/tea/coffee, so I run (don’t walk) to the bathroom pretty frequently. I used to receive comments about that, which did sometimes get strange.

I entered the men’s room and saw that it was pitch dark. Thought process:

  1. Did we forget to pay the bill?
  2. Hmm… this is not going to work…
  3. Hmm… I really have to go…

And so I went forward, expecting to grope around blindly to find the appropriate station for my needs at that time. But lo and behold, as I took a few steps in, the lights came on! It was a miracle!

OK, so why do I share that rather mundane story? Why have I wasted a minute of your time to tell you about lights turning on in the men’s room?

Because I believe that many times, we encounter moments like this in our lives, and the way we choose to respond to those times can either hold us back or help push us forward.

Living and walking by faith, not by sight, isn’t easy, but it’s what we’re called to. If we’re truly following hard after God, we will encounter times when we have no clue what’s ahead. We will run into situations where all we see around us is darkness, and hope is nowhere to be found. We will find ourselves in circumstances we never wanted, with people we never planned on running into, doing things we never thought we’d be able to do.

What do we do when we encounter times, situations, and circumstances like these?

With prayer and wise counsel, we do what I had to do in that dark restroom – we step forward. We ask God for courage, for boldness, and we move toward that ambiguous yet promising future that He’s set in front of us. He doesn’t show us the whole roadmap; if He did, we’d trust the map and not Him. But He promises to be with us and to be the light we need to navigate the darkness.

But the decision remains on us whether we will take that first step into the unknown and trust God to provide the light, or turn back and potentially forfeit that chance to experience the Holy Spirit’s guiding hand.

Jesus went to the cross to provide us the opportunity to walk with Him and live life with Him. What’s your response?

Counting blessings.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good time to count blessings and remember the good things God has given me rather than focusing on the things I wish I had.

So in this post, the things I’m grateful for:

  • A great childhood and upbringing with loving parents who taught me responsibility (still learning) and how to be helpful
  • Parents who love each other and have stayed married for 27 great years through the ups and downs of life.
  • A fully-funded, high-quality college education that was a gift from my parents.
  • A great younger sister who is not afraid to tell me the truth about myself.
  • Great extended family and friends who support me even when I do stupid things.
  • The opportunity to work for my dad’s IT consulting business, even if it’s only for a season while I get my bearings back.
  • The opportunity to pour into students’ lives through Campus Crusade for Christ.
  • A (mostly) sound mind that came only from God above.

And, last but not least, my ANQ family – the family I joined voluntarily, which has given me a great network of strong Christians to grow and do life together with. We’re not without issues, and we’re not without conflicts, but as long as we stick together and stay true to the vision, we will prevail.

Although I know that the next four years will be a lot of work, I’m looking forward to them. I’m excited about our team and what we can achieve together. We may come from different walks of life and different levels of experience within the organization, but as long as we outdo one another in love, we can put aside our differences and make some real progress for this great organization!

So Team Brown, let’s knock this thing out of the park!

Editing my life.

Don Miller wrote about this in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He was approached by some folks who wanted to make a movie out of his last famous book, Blue Like Jazz, and he wrote about the experience and the different things he learned along the way.

This has been something of the journey I’ve taken over the last year – taking a step back to rethink where my life is going and looking at different options. Learning to be more intentional about what I choose to be involved in. Reading and hearing about what it means to be a leader, even if it might be a little premature.

I’ve thought about many different options during this time, but made moves mostly in two directions – back to accounting/finance and toward vocational ministry. I’m praying for guidance and letting God take over from there.

What I’d really like to try is working at a restaurant or a cafe somewhere, but that wouldn’t be a good look on my resume. And hey, if the hours aren’t too bad where I end up, I may try doing that part-time.

But maybe this is all just a part of growing up – deciding what paths to close the door on and what paths to continue on.

 

Being present.

It’s interesting to think about the effect that the internet and social media are having on our lives. Are they making us more connected with other people or less so?

Now more than ever, it’s possible for us to be very aware of world needs.

Now more than ever, it’s possible for us to stay in touch with friends and family miles away from us.

Now more than ever, it’s possible for us to discover “everything” about a tourist destination before even setting foot there.

Now more than ever, it’s possible for us to learn just about any skill or trade if we know where to look.

But what’s the cost of it all? Maybe for the sake of information density we’ve sacrificed other things in our lives. Maybe we’ve allowed status updates to replace the human connection. Maybe we’ve become selectively detached from one another.

Technology is neither good nor evil; it’s a tool, an advantage that can be used for either. It will continue to change as we move forward, and it should. The question is – what will we choose to do with the power it buys us?

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