raw thoughts Category
DMVs, airports, Post Offices, the doctor. What do these places have in common that causes me to cringe even typing the words? Waiting. Standing still. Not being somewhere else. Having zero control over anything. Never mind the fact that nowadays we have the entire Internet at our fingertips and can read a book, creep on the activity of all of our friends who are not presently stuck in a waiting room or purchase something on Amazon. It is an awful feeling to have to sit in a holding pattern and have no guarantee when the waiting will end.
Life these days is more and more being engineered to where we don’t have to wait. New phones show up in the mail without having to go stand in line at Verizon or the AT&T store. New movies are downloadable without even having having to go to a RedBox, much less a Blockbuster store where you would rent a VHS tape that had to be rewound like back in the day. (To my younger readers, yes that actually happened.) Arguments are easily settled simply by asking Siri or spending ten seconds on Google. Less and less is gratification deferred. More and more everything we want is available on-demand. That phrase is telling. On-Demand. We strut about like little emperors receiving everything we want simply by pushing a button or voice-cue (a buggy feature which we complain about when it doesn’t works as though life were just oh so cruel.)
There is no doubt the world has violently changed and it will only get crazier in the days to come. One has to wonder what impact this will have on the invisible parts of who we are. One obvious downside is that the less we have to wait the worse we become at waiting when we have to. Flight delays, full queues, and lines of people stress me out to the max. I went to the DMV needing to renew my drivers license a while back. When I saw the crowded waiting room and began to comprehend the fact that there was no way around this line, I genuinely felt myself panic.
What about the upside of waiting? The character that it builds. The way our souls are stretched and honed through it. The way it gives us the opportunity to exercise faith and build patience. In the book of Proverbs we are told that when hope is deferred it makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes it is a tree of life. Translation: Good things come to those who wait.
I saw a special on Tabasco sauce recently that was stunning. What was most amazing to me was hearing that it takes four and a half years to make a batch of the hot red condiment! They put it into barrels and let it age for almost five years. Talk about patience. Why? You just can’t rush perfection. Think about that next time you douse your eggs with a bottle of the stuff. No, it is no fun to wait. But if you feel like you are in limbo today, know this, God hasn’t forgotten you, He is trying to grow good things inside of you. I don’ t know about you, but I want to be like Tabasco.
Have you ever seen an indecisive child trying to jump rope? They have two friends swinging it round and round in a circle and they are just off to the side trying to feel out the rhythm of the rope. Their head and hands bob up and down every time the rope passes by and it seems as though they will dive in at any moment, but then they don’t. They just stand there telling them self they will hop in the next time the rope passes by, but each time finding some reason to wait for a better swing. The problem is that the longer they wait the more they psyche them self out.
There will always be a reason not to take action on a daring plan or bold idea. Whether it is something you want to create, like a company or piece of art, a brand new approach to an area of your life needing renovation or something you sense God wants you to do to bless someone; if you wait for everything to fall in place and line up perfectly to take action, you will never do anything. Birth involves both beauty, agony and mystery. Without uncertainty there is no need for faith. Risk is essential for reward.
If the dream that lies in your heart is something the world truly needs to see. If it will inspire people or be disruptive in an industry, it is probably somewhat shocking, will most likely be misunderstood, and doesn’t look, feel or sound like anything anyone’s heard before. If there is nothing new, unfamiliar or foreign about it than dream bigger. Don’t peddle a carbon copy of someone else’s passion. There is greatness inside of you waiting to come out and the only way that will happen is if you face your fear and take a risk.
The downside of being original is that until people love it, they won’t understand it and will not see the need for it. There was a day when air travel was seen as impossible, computers unnecessary and rock and roll controversial. We take for granted their place in our life now but that’s because people were willing to press on in spite of all the reasons why they should stop and just accept the world as it is. They stuck to their guns, took reckless steps of faith and changed the world as a result. Never forget this; conventional wisdom can keep you from a miracle.
Perhaps you are not supposed to do something entirely new but do something you are already doing with an entirely new mentality. Zacchaeus didn’t do a different job once Jesus rocked his world. He approached his same old job with a fresh set of eyes and a new value system that flew in the face of the prevailing best practices of tax collectors in that day. Instead of greed he was fueled by integrity and generosity. It would have been shocking to his peers and there would have been many shiny, gold reasons why he shouldn’t tip over the apple cart or wait until the end of the fiscal year. He took action. The right time to do the right thing is right now. If you wait until you have answers to all your questions or can guarantee a favorable outcome you will still be standing there forever, the rope swinging by again and again while your life passes you by. You just gotta go for it.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. (Ecclesiastes 11:4 NIV)
The only way to get to victory is to be willing to fail on the way there. True overnight successes are rare. Far more often you have people who kept showing up day in and day out until the hard, unglamorous work added up and paid off. It’s easy to misunderstand what you are seeing when you look at people who are taking a victory lap or receiving attention or promotion. What is happening there in that moment is only the tip of the iceberg. Invisible to your eye is what’s under water —the hell they went through on the road to success.
I recently read a story in the news about Kristen Anderson-Lopez that was powerful. She (along with her husband) wrote the song “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” As the father of four daughters there are very few Disney princess movies I haven’t seen, and like many of you, we have not only seen this film multiple times but we own the soundtrack as well. (And no, I would not like to build a snowman.) The song “Let it Go” is not just a great song, it is literally the best. It won an Oscar for the best song in a motion picture. It was so good that it changed the course of the movie. Apparently Elsa, a character in the movie who freezes everything, was originally going to stay evil, but when they heard “Let it Go”, the song caused them to rewrite everything so Elsa could sing it and be redeemed.
That’s powerful in and of itself, but the best part of the the article was where it said that Kristen also wrote 17 songs that weren’t included in the movie. SEVENTEEN times her songs weren’t right. SEVENTEEN times she heard “no.” Most of us would consider ourselves a colossal failure to be shut down five or six times. It would be difficult to keep pressing full steam ahead after being rejected a dozen times. But she continued writing and creating and inventing and putting herself out there SEVENTEEN times. Let that sink in. Songs #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,15, 16, and 17 weren’t good enough for the movie. Attempt number 18 was a different story. This time the movie, as it was currently written, wasn’t good enough for the song.
The point is, to envy someone’s success is to completely misunderstand the nature of it. To covet the limelight and the accolades is to focus on the wrong thing. Yes, there are those who are given every advantage and people who are raised with a silver spoon in their mouth, but far more often the recipe for success is simple and unpleasant. You persevere through difficulty, bad ideas, bad days and bitterness again and again and again until something clicks. It’s not sexy, but it’s true. What you were willing to do in secret is responsible, so often, for what happens in public. It would be nice to crank out a hit on your first attempt, but those unlucky enough to do so often end up unable to replicate their accidental success. Far better to be ok with writing some duds and be able to just keep swimming.
1 Chronicles 28:10 “…be strong and do the work.”
One of the standout moments of last year was a quick trip I took to China. There is technically no such thing as a quick anything when travel from Montana to China is involved, but I was only there for a short time. Regardless of how much of a whirlwind it might have been, it was certainly an amazing experience.
The trip was put together by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and lead by Franklin Graham. The purpose of the trip was to encourage dialogue and relationship between the Protestant church here in America and in China. Pastors and Christian leaders from both nations spent several days talking on the subject of reconciliation and the Gospel. Billy’s wife Ruth was born in China and the country has always been a place near to his heart and a focus in his ministry.
I was, by far, the youngest American pastor on the delegation. (I can’t even spell delegation.) Most of the others were not just leaders of individual churches but heads of whole denominations or presidents of seminaries. I assumed it was a clerical error that I was invited to be a part, but I didn’t ask any questions fearing the mistake would be discovered and corrected. Fortunately I have been watching Kai-Lan (basically Chinese “Dora the Explorer”) with my girls so I knew enough of the language to say “hello,” “please” and “thank you.”
We spent time in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. We made our way across the country, in between these cities, on bullet trains that fly along at 200 mph. I have traveled to Asia a number of times but this was my first trip to China and I loved it. It is an amazing country. So cool. The fact that it is home to 1.3 billion people is astounding. Getting to spend time with Chinese pastors was a genuine pleasure. Hearing what the Lord is doing in and through their churches blessed me greatly. There are somewhere over 23 million registered Christians in the state-sanctioned Protestant church. It is estimated that the true number could be over 100 million if you include those who are a part of house churches.
In Beijing, we were hosted for two formal, 14-course dinners. One was put on by the State Administration of Religious Affairs. We visited their headquarters in a building the emperor’s father used to live in (the movie “The Last Emperor” was filmed there) before eating at a hotel that 10 years ago only state guests could enter. The second was at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, a place that is their version of Camp David, where we were hosted the former Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations and to the United States. Ambassador Li Zhaoxing told us that he has hosted every American president from Nixon to Obama right there. Amazing. He also told me that he has visited every state in America and he loves Montana.
With our very limited downtime we explored, walking through the iconic narrow Hutong alleyways, watching random groups of people dance in the streets (it would be hard to get noticed doing a flash mob over there), walked on the Great Wall of China, and visited Tiananmen Square. I took advantage of being in these spots and captured some messages that we used for our seven year anniversary at Fresh Life. (Check it out here.) It’s not everyday you find yourself in China on the verge of a new year — the Chinese “Year of the Horse” — but when you are, and you are all about running with horses … well, you gotta do what you gotta do.
More than anything, the trip intensified my desire to get the Gospel to as many people, in as many places as I can before my time on this earth is done. It’s a big earth full of souls and Jesus loves and died for each and every one of them. We must do what we can to share His love and get His Word to the ends of the earth!
Praise is powerful. Worship is a weapon. We must approach every battle with arms raised and swords drawn. We are to do everything we can do but we must trust God for what only He can do. When we stop worshipping, we stop winning.