The Tortoise Always Wins

Two years ago as Britt and I were preparing to get married we were looking at our finances and making plans for how to pay off her school debt.  We thought we might be able to pay it off within a year or two because of Britt’s diligence to keep her debt to a minimum and God’s blessing for me to make it through school without incurring any debt.  The plan was going well until we had an unexpected C-Section when Jonah was born.  The hospital bills backed up our plans significantly, or so we thought.  As I am writing this, Britt and I are completely debt free!

This is our filled debt thermometer.

This is our filled debt thermometer.

How did this happen?  If you are a listener or reader of Dave Ramsey (as we are), you have probably heard Dave say that the tortoise always wins.  This is a reference to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  In the story the Tortoise and the Hare are competing in a foot race.  The Hare has the obvious advantage in speed and flaunts it in the beginning of the race.  However, the twist is that the Hare gets distracted and stops racing for a little while allowing the Tortoise to catch up and eventually win the race. What Dave Ramsey means by “the Tortoise always wins,” is that if you are patient, persistent, and diligent with your plan to get out of debt then you will always succeed, just as the tortoise succeeds in beating the hare every time you read the story.

Honestly, I agree with Dave, it took Britt and I almost two years of focused budgeting and saving to pay off all of our debt, but I think that there is more to the story than that.  The story of the tortoise and hare is static and never changes and it only focuses on the power of will and determination.  There is much to be said about persistence and determination, but the story also speaks a lot about the danger of getting distracted from your goal.  Like I said though, I agree with Dave.  There was however a greater power at work in our story I believe.  It was because of God’s provision and plan that we were able to pay off around $11,000 worth of hospital and school loan bills in under two years, not just my and Britt’s persistence and determination.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

In His perfect timing God provided the money that was being held in an account from the previous year.   Last year I was only getting paid a portion of my full support that was available.  All of that remainder was dispensed to me at the first paycheck of the year.  This “bonus” (if you want to call it that) was actually deposited into our bank account on my birthday.  What is more incredible than the coincidence of the day it was deposited was that it was deposited when we needed it the most.

Only a couple of days beforehand, I sitting at our church staff meeting and looking at my bank account online.  The posted balance was just over $13. As you can imagine, this caused me to get a little nervous about our financial situation.  With $200 dollars in cash leftover from Christmas gifts and $13 in the bank I began to see the beautiful picture that was about to be painted. At our staff meeting, the other pastors and I began discussing my salary and how much money was left in my account from the year before.  Acting as advisers, both Mat and Jason recommended that I take as much as possible from the left over while still leaving a couple months worth of paychecks for the period of time that I was going to be securing my funding for the next year.  This way Britt and I would be able to pay off our most expensive monthly bill and keep that much more money in our wallet each month.  At this point I thought that all we had to do was make it to the next Wednesday and then the money would be in our account and give us comfort again while we continued to pay off our smaller debts.

As I left our staff meeting I was comforted by the fact that we were going to be able to survive without over drafting into our savings.  Then I began to think about the phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  I thought it seemed appropriate for our situation, going from $13 to paying off our hospital bill was quite an encouraging thought.  Thinking about this I was reminded of Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection.  To his disciples, the crucifixion must have seemed like the darkest and worst imaginable scenario.  In their eyes the person that they had been following for three years that had sufficiently proven his divinity as God in the flesh, had just been executed as a criminal.  Jesus was supposed to be the savior of the world.  All of mankind had been waiting for him to come and reunite them to God and then he came.  However, he was killed before he got a chance to establish God’s kingdom and reunite people to Him.  Jesus was dead and his enemies had won.  Or so it seemed.  Three days later the sun rose and brought the dawn after the darkest hour.  When Jesus came back to life, he validated and proved everything that he had ever told the disciples.  The disciples joy must have been immeasurably more powerful than their previous sorrow had been.  So the crucifixion made the world the darkest just before the resurrection had caused the dawn to come.

This is the greatest story ever told.  Jesus overcame even death itself to bring joy, love, grace, and truth to all of mankind.  I’m not comparing my paying off debt to Jesus’s resurrection, but I am saying that I was reminded of it when I thought of our situation.

There was however a miscalculation on my part.  I thought that we would be able to pay off our hospital bills and have a little left over to pay off some of Britt’s school loans.  I was wrong, but in a good way.  We actually had enough to pay off all of Britt’s school loans after the hospital bill was paid.  I think this miscalculation was even a way that God was trying to reveal Himself to me though.  You see, I was anticipating paying off the hospital bills and having a measure of comfort and a plan to finish paying off the school loans.  However, Jesus’s resurrection wasn’t intended to give us a measure of comfort from the pain of sin and provide a plan to work out our salvation.  The resurrection was for complete freedom from sin.  In the same way, God didn’t want my “bonus” to give us comfort and a plan, He wanted to give Britt and I complete financial freedom.

Because of the faithful giving from our ministry partners Britt and I are freer than we have ever been to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and broken world.  We are extremely excited to be able to share with others the story of how God provided for us all along so that we could enjoy his blessing of abundant giving at one time.  This all happened after we returned from Mississippi to find that our pastor had installed a new (used) refrigerator and stove in our home while we were gone.

It took patience and diligence for me and Britt to see financial freedom, but we are focused on something much bigger than financial freedom.  We want to see students find spiritual freedom.  If you have been following my newsletters or blog for a while you might remember that I have been meeting with multiple students that claim no religious belief.  I just wanted to share with you all that some of them are now reading the Bible.  None of them have committed their lives to following Jesus yet, but God is working in their lives, even if they can’t see it.  With your prayer I hope to see “the tortoise” that is God’s unfailing plan, win these ones too.

Engage Conflict Part 2: A Theological Affirmation

Last week I wrote about how engaging conflict can be more beneficial than avoiding it all together.  In that post I decided to cover only the heart of the idea and omit some of the more nuanced arguments and refutations that probably should be discussed.  I left those parts out of the original post in order to keep the post from being monotonous and too lengthy for the casual reader to enjoy.  In this post I seek to address one of those previously omitted topics.

Here is a link to the original post: https://openspacetothink.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/engage-conflict/

If engaging conflict can be more beneficial than avoiding it, then should it be recommended that we seek out conflict?  This is a valid question worth considering on more than one level.  It seems that on the surface deliberately seeking out conflict would be inadvisable, and it is, but the real question is why is it so.  This is an especially important question to ask when reflecting on how overcoming conflict can be viewed as an opportunity to display attributes of God and thus glorify Him. My conclusion would at first seem to be inconsistent or (probably more likely) actually contradictory.  That is if it were viewed that overcoming conflict is glorifying to God and I am now advocating that we not deliberately seek out conflict.  After all if overcoming conflict is glorifying to God then shouldn’t be take every opportunity to overcome conflict?  And how should we do this more often, but to seek out opportunities to do so?  This line of thinking is easy to follow, but I think at the heart of it exists a misconception about the very essence of conflict.

I want to issue a warning that I suspect you might not need, but should be mentioned nonetheless.  This discussion is about to become very theological. From my perspective, the understanding of why conflict exists is deeply rooted in Biblical history and theology.  If the word theology seems too academic or impractical, I assure you it is not my intent to put on an appearance of academic superiority.  I only aim to be verbally accurate, and this by all intents and purposes will be a theological discussion.  That being said, let’s continue with the topic of conflict and its origins.

A major part of the Christian worldview is the idea that conflict has not always existed nor will it always exist.  In the beginning of the Bible there exists a brief account of the creation of the world and what it was like in perfection.  The first two chapters of the book of Genesis describe what a world without conflict is like and how it operates.  Then in the third chapter of Genesis sin enters the world when both man and woman decide to deliberately disobey God’s command to not eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This is precisely when conflict enters the world.  Previously, there had not yet been a conflict between any man, nor had there been a conflict between man and God.  From this point forward conflicts would exist between God and man and between man and man, and for that matter between man and nature.  Conflict exists because the world is not perfect.  If all things were the way that God created them to be, then there would be no conflict.  Unfortunately for us, conflict exists.

The incredibly short summation of the rest of the Bible is that God is in the process of bringing all of creation back into perfection by defeating all evil and conflict.  As a result of which we are promised is a world that is free of sin, evil, and conflict. This picture is described in the last two chapters of the book of Revelation.  In other religions it is thought that good and evil are both eternal concepts or forces that are locked in an eternal struggle against one another.  This idea however is not one that exists in Christianity.  It is clearly seen in the Biblical text that God (that is the Trinity) alone is eternal. The concept of evil is clearly portrayed as having a beginning (Genesis 3) and an end (Revelation 21).  It is in understanding this important idea that we can begin to answer the original question of whether we should deliberately seek out or conflict.

On the grand timeline of eternity our lives here on Earth seems like mere milliseconds in comparison to everything else.  That means the majority of eternity will exist without evil or conflict.  It is because of this that I propose that we should engage conflict as it comes to us while we are pursuing God in His perfection, instead of pursuing conflict to overcome or even creating conflict to overcome. I propose that we should strive for the things that God desires.  If the story of this creation is that God wants reunite us in perfection with Him without evil or conflict, then we should desire Him without evil or conflict.  Likewise when conflict did come to exist God did not avoid it, but rather He became human in the person of Jesus in order to engage conflict and overcome it permanently.

This I present this case for engaging conflict that comes to you instead of seeking out conflict in a lengthy explanation that probably can best be summed up in Paul’s words:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:18

Engage Conflict

For as long as I can remember I have been the kind of person that avoids conflict.  I have been able to get along quite well without taking any seemingly unnecessary steps that might result in conflict. Recently however, I have begun to think of conflict in a new light.  I have been learning that when I avoid conflict I might actually be avoiding a beneficial experience.

I used to think that conflict could only result in someone being offended and another person having to ask for forgiveness or in the event of a business relationship, the relationship would end altogether because neither party has a personal connection to the other.  With this perception about conflict, I thought it an event that would best be avoided if at all possible. The problem with my view of conflict is that I was only seeing part of the story. Many times this can be true of conflict, it can result in hurt feelings or strained relationships.  However, these outcomes are not always the results of conflict.  Conflict, if handled properly, can be benefit me as a person and have an eternal impact that displays attributes of God’s character.

To unpack this somewhat scandalous idea, I want to begin by establishing an understanding of conflict.  Conflict is anything that prevents a person from achieving his or her goal.  Conflict might be a tornado the destroys your home and prevents you from living in peace or it might be a difference in opinion of organizational strategy.  Both of these can prevent a person from achieving a goal that is set.  In these examples there exists an additional truth about conflict.  In some circumstances it can be avoided (not discussing organizational strategy with your boss avoids conflict) and in other scenarios it cannot be avoided (one cannot prevent a tornado).  Because this world is not perfect, conflict will always exist and people will have to choose how they react and interact with it. Avoiding conflict is not necessarily a bad thing to do, but it might not be the most beneficial.  After all when we avoid conflict we are merely trying to accomplish our goals with as little interruption as possible.  Morally we have committed no treason by avoiding conflict, assuming our goals are righteous from the outset.  What is or is not a worthy goal is not a topic I wish to discuss here, I am merely pointing out that avoiding conflict does not have to be associated with any sort of cowardice.

Often the word conflict brings to mind connotations of fear and struggle, but I think that it is possible to think of conflict in a new way that might result in wanting to engage conflict rather than avoid it.  When we run into conflict we can either choose to fight through it and persist in our efforts to meet our goals or we can give up on our goals and let the conflict prevent us from ever achieving the goal.  If we choose to fight through the conflict we are affirming to ourselves that our goals are worth fighting for and that we will remain motivated to see them achieved. In the fight against conflict we will often gain a new perspective that will prepare us for similar conflicts in the future.  So the result of engaging the conflict (assuming we win the fight with conflict) is that we have renewed and strengthened motivation and a new perspective of our goals which prepares us to continue fighting for our goals.  If we avoid the conflict we neither strengthen our motivation nor gain a new perspective.  Therefore it is more beneficial to engage conflict than avoid it.

However, just stating that it is more beneficial to engage conflict does not make it an easier to do so.  Herein lies the another benefit of engaging conflict.  Often times when faced with conflict we might not be actually equipped to engage and defeat the conflict by ourselves.  We must either turn to those around us for help or trust that God will somehow provide a way for us to overcome that conflict.  I believe that this last option is perhaps the primary reason that conflict exists most often.  I believe that God wants all people to realize that they are completely helpless to overcome anything apart from His help or provision.  At that point God wants us to turn to Him and ask for the help needed to defeat the conflict at hand.  In this exchange of our will and power for His will and power we allow God’s power to be displayed as well as His desire to show His love for His people.

It should not be thought that I am prescribing a reliance on divine intervention to overcome conflicts that seem entirely conquerable by human means, but rather the idea that God wants us to realize that it is by His provision that we possess the ability to defeat the conflict at hand.  And in defeating that conflict thank Him for giving us the abilities and resources that we needed to defeat the conflict. In this way, God is correctly credited with the conquering of our conflict whether He directly intervened or He gifted us with the tools needed in advance.

Taking the idea of God’s role in conquering conflict a step further, it be said that all of the small conflicts remind us of the story the God has been writing for all of human history.  Ultimately God is to reuniting all of creation, specifically mankind, to himself.  The universal conflict is that mankind is guilty of rebellion from God and must be punished.  It is in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that God is overcoming the conflict in a complete and permanent way.  Thus each small conflict that we encounter can remind us that God has overcome the conflict that separates us from Him.  In the end it is the everyday conflict that can remind us of the power that God possesses and the love that He has for us.

When we choose to engage a given conflict rather than avoid it we actually have the opportunity to glorify God as well as grow into the person that God desires for us to be.  When we avoid conflict we can alleviate our immediate stress, but we can also miss out on a great opportunity.

My Sub Plot Stasis

Author Donald Miller has written a book called Storyline that is intended to help readers understand their purpose in the life that God has given them.  Miller begins the book by discussing that God is the author of all life and is writing the story of saving humanity by reuniting them to Himself.  After establishing this overarching framework for life, Miller continues to tell about how each individual person gets to choose how he wants to live his life as a subplot in the grand narrative of life.  The rest of the book describes the process of how to determine what your life should be about and how to gain clarity in living for that purpose.

I am currently reading and working through the process myself and when I came to the section that about the roles I play in my life these were my initial thoughts: “As I am identifying the roles that God has given me to fill in life, I find myself hesitant to live them fully.  I pretend as if they do not exist at times.  Other times I find myself trying to focus on roles that are not my primary roles.  I have two options: focus on the roles that I know are my God given ones, or find new roles.  Finding new roles seems to be quitting on what God has asked me to do so it is not really an option, nor do I have a desire to give up on my given roles.  So then the only option is to focus on my primary roles in life.”

After writing that a couple of days ago I would describe my situation as “Sub Plot Stasis”.I have been given specific roles to play in life such as father, husband, and minister.  For each of these roles I am working toward specific goals which all coincide with my life theme which is to know God and make Him known.  At times it becomes quite easy to get distracted from what my goals are in life.  When I observed my recent complacency in fulfilling my roles in life, I began thinking about ways to go about breaking through my complacency.  To my frustration I couldn’t muster any good ideas, nor did my prayer yield a miracle dose of motivation.  To be clear, I believe the time I spent in prayer was beneficial, it just didn’t produce the motivation that I desired. I was willing to give myself a few days to figure out my lack of motivation because I am still visiting Britt’s family in Mississippi and won’t be returning to work until the next week.

A couple of days after my initial observations, I found myself sitting in the car alone in the parking lot of the church where Britt’s mom Patty works.  To be honest, the only reason I didn’t go into the church to join Britt and Patty in introducing Jonah to Patty’s coworkers was that I had ripped the seat of my pants and didn’t want to look like a fool (real life, real problems).  Admittedly I wasted most of my alone time looking at Facebook and Twitter, but in the last five minutes of my time in the car I resolved my Sub Plot Stasis and renewed my motivation.  What was the secret that helped me in this break through?  Nothing, literally nothing.  I stopped mapping out the next steps I needed to take in achieving my goals.  I stopped thinking about “what if” scenarios.  I stopped talking and interacting with people and media.  I rolled down the window and I enjoyed the sunlight and the breeze and I relaxed alone. I don’t think there was anything special about the breeze, but the result of my time alone was a renewed desire to return to the work that God has laid out for me.

It might seem a little backwards and I’m not prescribing it for all instances, but for this time the thing that helped me push past my complacency and stasis was taking a break to relax and enjoy the breeze that God had given me.  No big revelations or paradigm shifting epiphanies were needed- just a moment to relax.  This isn’t a surprise though, after all one of the major commandments that God gave His people in the Bible was to commit an entire day to this every week.  Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

Storyline By Donald MIller

Storyline By Donald MIller

Your Weakness is Your Advantage.

About a week or so ago I stumbled upon a video of a discussion of the Biblical battle between David and Goliath.  In the video one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, discusses how the idea of David being an underdog who was far out skilled and disadvantaged in every way is actually a misconception.  For a number of reasons, it can be believed that David was actually the one at an advantage in the conflict. The lesson that can be learned from it all is that sometimes the things that we perceive as disadvantages and setbacks, can in fact be the things that provide us our greatest advantages.  Here is a link to the video, which I highly recommend watching if you have 12 spare minutes.

After I watched this video, I began to think of how I have observed this phenomenon.  If this idea seems a little too far fetched or fantastical to be true, let me present an example that might make it a little more tangible and realistic.  Take the hip-hop artist Eminem for example.  I used to be quite an Eminem fan back in my high school days.  Eminem is probably one of the most popular and successful hip-hop artists of all time.  Regardless of whether you enjoy his music or think it is vile and offensive, it cannot be said that he has not been commercially successful.

If you have ever listened to an Eminem album or know anything about his life, you probably know that he did not grow up with a favorable home life.  While, I am not ready to believe everything he says about his young life in the music he sells, I am willing to believe that there is an amount of fact in the songs that is based on real life events.  Among the things he talks about struggling with as a kid are: growing up in a single parent home, having a drug addicted mother, being a victim of Münchausen syndrome by proxy, and being poor.  With these kinds of issues to overcome it would be hard to succeed in any area of life, especially the entertainment business.  Not only did Eminem have to deal with these issues growing up, he also had a passion to succeed in field that was dominated by primarily black artists, when he was white.

The interesting thing about Eminem’s career is that he can attribute much of his success to these very issues.  As I mentioned previously it is impossible to listen to any of his albums and not hear a song about dealing with the issues that he had growing up.  This might be perfectly explained by a song off of Eminem’s most recent album, Marshall Mathers LP2.  In the song “Legacy” Eminem raps about his childhood and how it is the reason for his success.  The first two verses of the song are used to talk about the physical and psychological difficulties that Eminem faced growing up. These are lyrics from the third verse his song “Legacy”:

I used to be the type of kid that would always think the sky is falling
Now I think the fact that I’m differently wired’s awesome
‘Cause if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be able to work
Words like this and connect lines like crosswords
And use my enemy’s words as strength
To try and draw from, and get inspired off em

Eminem has realized what Malcolm Gladwell talked about in his video.  The things that were seemingly very detrimental in Eminem’s childhood, were the things that were fundamental to his success as a hip-hop artist.

Thinking about Eminem’s career in this light is entertaining for a few minutes, but I think there is an even more applicable action that we can derive from this line of thinking about setbacks and disadvantages.  Wanting our disadvantages to become events that provide us the ability succeed in our lives and careers is comforting and ambitious.  Achieving this success despite setbacks is something that requires hard work though.  That hard work must begin with realization that we face the same fight in much smaller ways almost every day.

Yesterday I was at the airport and things were not going smoothly.  There were several inconveniences that would have given me reasons to be angry or at least frustrated.  Then it hit me, the very inconveniences that give me the most frustration also provide me with the best opportunity to make someone’s day better.  When we were checking in and things were not going as planned with our flight time getting closer and closer it would have been very easy (and probably understandable) to respond to the airline employee with anger and frustration.  If things go poorly, you are entitled to react poorly (or so we think).  However, when circumstances and events are not favorable, I am in a unique position to bring peace, appreciation, and love into the situation.  When I am at the ticket counter and there are frustrating complications, I can do the unexpected and continue to show appreciation and trust in the employee when they are growing more stressed.  This type of reaction requires more self control and work, but in the end it is a unique opportunity make God’s love known.  This position is more unique than reacting well when things go well the whole time, then your good reaction is only perceived as a matter of being polite instead of loving.  As a Christian, when things go poorly I might have a better opportunity to make God’s love known than when all things go well.

Whether David and Goliath, Eminem, or an airport, all of these things reminded me of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (emphasis added)

Paul is glad to boast about his weakness because he knows that it will bring an opportunity for God to be praised.

AFTER THOUGHT: Much of this writing has been influenced by my reading of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath.  It appears that I must have been following with Gladwell’s line of thinking more than I thought.  Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians were quoted in the book in a chapter that I had not read at the time I wrote this.

Part Two of David and Goliath

Part Two of David and Goliath

I Don’t Have Time.

I don’t have time…  It’s a pretty easy excuse to use when someone asks us to do something that we do not want to do.  It also comes in handy, when we are asked about something that we were supposed to do. “I didn’t have time.”  If I am honest, I have used this excuse more times than I care to confess.

I remember trying to hide behind this convenient truth once as a college student.  When I was asked why I had not completed the assigned reading for the week, I responded that I did not have time to complete it.  On this occasion I definitely used the line as a weak justification for being lazy.  Inwardly I thought that this was a bulletproof excuse.  “Surely no one can know how busy my schedule really is.” “Right?”  Not that time.  I used the wrong words with the wrong person on that day.  I was greeted with a long lecture that included a white board, pie charts, and a short statistical analysis of the time which college students have at their disposal.  You see, I was not talking to a professor, but rather my pastor, or perhaps more adequately described that particular summer as my internship supervisor.  I told the guy who literally made my schedule for each week that I did not have time to do something that he required me to do.  A slight oversight in judgment on my part.

I would like to say that I learned a valuable lesson about time management that day, but I didn’t.  Or at least I didn’t learn the more important lesson that I could have learned  I learned that, as a college student you have more free time than during any other time of your life.  I also learned that I shouldn’t make as many excuses.  However, there was a lesson that I could have (and probably should have) learned then that I have just been learning recently.  The lesson I should have learned that day is this:

I should tell people that I don’t have time, but it should not have to be an excuse or a justification.

Not having time to complete a task or perform a favor that is asked of you is not sin.  In fact, it’s a completely legitimate reason to not do something.  After all, humans are finite beings that operate within time.  We actually physically cannot do all things, we can only accomplish a limited number of tasks within a certain period of time.  This is not a wise insight, but it is a fundamental fact in the lesson about not having time.  When you acknowledge that you do not have time for every task, favor, assignment, or activity you then (often implicitly) begin to prioritize the activities on which you want to spend your time. How we prioritize the things we spend our time on is probably one of the most under appreciated activities in which we partake.

Many times we make decisions about how we spend our time based on what is most convenient at the moment, or what needs to be completed next or it will not get completed, or simply what we will enjoy the most.  I cannot say that there is anything inherently wrong with making decisions in any of these ways, but I can say there are drawbacks and disadvantages to doing so.  One problem with making decisions this way is that often it is inconsistent.  We don’t always choose the most enjoyable of options when faced with a choice of how to spend time.  If so, the dishes in the sink would never get washed.  Another problem is that this decision making process is completely self-focused.  The list could go on, but the idea remains the same.  There must be a better way.

In order for us to avoid using time as an excuse or justification for a short coming, we should decide what it is that we want to spend our time on.  It might seem simple, but it requires a little more work than you might think.  What I am suggesting is that we decide what we want to spend our time on, on a grand scale.  We need to decide what we want our life to be about at the end our lives.  If we have an idea of what we want to do in life, then we can begin to make decisions to get us there.  Consider this like having a mission statement for your life.  Mission statements define what the goal and purpose of an organization is.  If you have a mission statement for your life, you will put into words what you goal and purpose is for your life.

When you have understand that goal and purpose then you can begin to have clarity and consistency in your decision making process.  When confronted with a choice about how to spend your time, you simply ask whether or not it will help you accomplish your goal and purpose for your life.  If the activity in question does help you accomplish your goal then you should say “yes”, but if it does not help you accomplish that goal then you should say “no”.

If I would have understood the importance of prioritizing my time around completing goals back when I was a college student perhaps I would have been able to learn more, or at least make fewer excuses.  I now realize that not having time for something does not have to be an excuse or a justification, but rather an affirmative statement that helps you make informed and wise decisions.  I would have been better off to learn this lesson years ago when I was confronted with it, but better late than never.

Honest Advice #4: Say Hi To People

Though it is almost always the more difficult choice to make, I think it is very beneficial to always say hello to the people that you encounter during the day. When you choose to acknowledge someone’s presence with a simple “hello” and a smile you automatically assign value to the greeted person. I do not imagine that most people would assume to give no value to all of the people they don’t interact with during the day, but without intentionally showing our value of others we often passively communicate that we are indifferent to their presence. We communicate that it would be the same to us if they were there or if they were not present at all. I’m not going to talk about whether or not it is our responsibility to grant everyone a sense of value, but it certainly seems a better option to grant that value given the choice.

Not only do we communicate to others around us that they do have value (because they do) we also briefly invite others to participate and contribute to our lives. That participation might be as nominal as a greeting in return and nothing more, however; the important thing to consider is that the person that you greeted might contribute something much more substantial than a returned greeting.  Personally, I can think of several ways myself and others have benefited greatly from inviting other people to contribute to our lives by saying hello.

On of my favorite examples happened to me earlier this year.  The short version of the story features me taking an extra trip into campus for a reason that I cannot remember.  While on my way in I saw a information table and display set up along the sidewalk.  It would have been very easy for me to avert my eyes and pretend that I was too busy to acknowledge the people trying to offer helpful information about their organization.  Instead of taking the easy way out, I chose to make eye contact and say hello to one of the organization’s representatives.  The ensuing conversation led to an understanding that I was like minded on the cause the organization was advocating.  As a result we continued our communication and eventually decided to partner together to collect items for women and children at the local Crisis Pregnancy Center.2013-11-01 15.11.25

It is nearly impossible to calculate or anticipate the outcomes of opening your life to others by saying hello.  Most of our simple interactions with others probably will not lead to something as substantial as participating in the National Community Baby Shower, but we will never have those opportunities if we never open ourselves up to other people.

Sometimes I Feel Like A Train

As much as I am a believer and fan of having free will there are times when feel like a train speeding down a predetermined track.

California Zephyr

California Zephyr

I do not feel trapped by the track but I rather I have a feeling of exhilaration as I see some of the most beautiful sights a person could ever see. All of this beauty I take in as I am progressing toward a goal that is my intended purpose. If I were to desire to take a path that is not the track laid out in front of me the result would be disastrous and certainly deadly. There is comfort and joy in knowing that I need not fear derailment because I have a good conductor.Sometimes I wind up waiting longer than expected at certain stations and this can be very frustrating, but this wait surely prevented a collision further down the line.

2013-08-05 07.05.21

When I arrive at a choice in the track I find that what appears a as a choice I made was the only real option all along, as I said I have a good conductor.  Sometimes I help people get to where they are going and other times I merely haul freight. Whatever the case may be I am being used to help people. When I face mountains that seem impossible to traverse, there always turns out to be a path over, through, and around the mountain. I cannot claim to have conquered the mountain myself for I am only a train, a vehicle en route to a destination.

It’s not everyday I feel like a train, just sometimes, but the feeling persists nonetheless.

Should We Cut Toxic People Out of Our Lives?

“I would love to know your feelings about cutting “toxic” people out of our lives. Would and did Jesus do that?” This is a question posed to me in a comment of a past blog post.

(https://openspacetothink.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/honest-advice-2-be-merciless-to-sensitiveness-in-yourself/)

This question has been brought to my attention more than once recently so I will take the time to give my opinion on whether or not it is a good idea to cut “toxic” people out of our lives.

The best place to start this conversation is to actually define what or whom “toxic” people are.  My first thoughts as to who toxic people are involve people that keep you from meeting your goals in life, people that discourage rather than encourage, people that like controversy more than confidence, and people that are most happy when the attention is always on them. As I spent more time considering who toxic people are I approached the Bible to see if there was a description of people that could be considered toxic and what the prescribed action should be in the event of encountering those people.  I think I found a sufficient answer in the book of 2 Timothy in chapter 3.

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” 2 Timothy 3:2-5

These are the harsh yet honest words of the apostle Paul.  If Paul’s description of these kinds of people does not qualify as toxic, then I’m not sure what would.  I find Paul’s definition of toxic people to be more useful than my original definition because it provides a more objective definition than mine.  By my description a person might be toxic to me, but not to another.  However, by Paul’s definition a person displaying such characteristics would be equally as toxic to everyone.  While this might seem trivial, I think that there is an important concept at work here that could be overlooked.  When we are considering an action so severe as cutting someone out of our lives we need to be sure that the person is more than annoying to you based on your personality, but the person is legitimately someone that is dangerous to everyone.

Perhaps equally as harsh as Paul’s description of toxic people is his prescribed action when faced with toxic people.  “Have nothing to do with them”, is a pretty bold suggestion.  Paul leaves little room for interpretation in this concise statement.  Paul is writing this letter to his protege of sorts, Timothy, in the period of time when the Christian church was just beginning to take shape.  Paul knew that if Timothy were to allow these people to be a part of the identity of the church that it would certainly mean the destruction of the church.  In a similar way, if we allow these toxic people to become a part of our identity today, we will be putting our future in a very dangerous position.  Both Christian and secular philosophers agree on this point for Paul quoted the Greek poet Menander when he said, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ ” in 1 Corinthians 15:33.

If having nothing to do with certain people seems to be a little harsh or vaguely contradictory to what Jesus would have said, then you are probably more correct than you might think.  While it might be more convenient to simply eliminate people from your life, this is not the complete prescribed action that Paul gives Timothy in his letter to him.  If you read further in 2 Timothy you will see that Paul tells Timothy that while he should avoid the toxic people, he is also to “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)  Who would Paul want Timothy to preach the Word to?  It seems to make far more sense to be preaching the Word to those who do not know the Word and display that lack of knowledge through their actions, than to preach the Word to those who already know the gospel message and are living in accordance with it.  After all Paul does continue on to tell Timothy to do the work of an evangelist in verse 5.

So what then is our conclusion about toxic people?  Avoid them, do not associate with them, and do not let their attributes begin to shape your character, AND at the same time we should be sure to take our given opportunities to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus with them.  How will they know that they are exhibiting the characteristics of a toxic person unless we “correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction”?

This conclusion that I reach in Paul’s writing is also very similar to what Jesus taught about when a brother sins against you.  In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 18 Jesus describes the three steps that should be taken when someone sins against you.  Here is a quick paraphrase.

Step 1: Go to the person that offended you alone and show him his fault.  If he does not listen,
Step 2: Go back to that person with one or two others so that both sides of the story may be heard by a mediator or two.  If he still does not listen,
Step 3: Take the offender before the church to confront him, if he still refuses to admit wrong doing, treat him as an unbeliever.

There are two things that need to known about this course of action.  First, this is the course of action to be taken only when both the offender and offended are Christians.  Second, in the event of step three not succeeding and having to treat the offender as an unbeliever we need to remember how it is that we interact with unbelievers.  For the non-Christian our job is to display the love and grace of Jesus so that they might come to understand the gospel.

For another perspective on this issue, check out this blog post that I read a few weeks before this question was posed to me.

http://storylineblog.com/2013/10/24/what-jesus-taught-me-about-walking-away-from-people/

Honest Advice #3: Do What You Say You Are Going To Do.

Of all the pieces of advice that I have ever heard and internalized there are few that are as significant to me as living with integrity.  When I started applying this advice to my life, I began to see major changes take place that resulted in me being where I am today.

To live with integrity involves two aspects.  The first aspect is fundamental to understanding what exactly integrity is.  Simply stated, let your yes, be yes and your no, be no.  Living with integrity means that you are going to do what you say you are going to do without any hint or indication otherwise.  When you give your word and follow through with the appropriate action you will see that not only you feel a sense of accomplishment, but you will establish trust with others that rely on you.  Following through when you have given your word is often more difficult as time passes and circumstances change.  Because of the tendency for things to change, it will help to understand that when you do say “yes” to something or someone, you are in fact saying “no” to everyone else in the world.  This will not help you decide how to act in the event of changing circumstances. It will however, help you make an informed decision in the beginning, which will help alleviate any decision making pressure in the future (because you will be reminded that you already made your decision).

If the first aspect of living with integrity can be considered the “public” aspect of integrity, then the second aspect would be the “private” aspect.  Living with integrity also requires you to act in the same manner when are alone as when you are being watched.  This again sounds simple enough, but if it always came naturally it would not be worth saying.  The danger with this aspect of integrity is that there is no one to hold you accountable to it.  If we choose to act a different way when we perceive that no one is looking we are lying to those who observe our actions.  Our actions play a large part in defining who we are.  Another reason to have integrity in our actions when no one is watching is because they directly influence our integrity with other people.

The dangers in choosing to live life without regard to integrity are as numerous to the benefits of choosing to live a life with integrity.  To simplify the ramifications of each side I will say, your integrity will prove how much you value others and it will prove how much you value yourself.