Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The People Who Inspire Me

I've always had big dreams--from my very earliest memories, I knew I wanted to do something great. I've gone through dozens of possible career options (at one point I was convinced that God wanted me to be an astronaut, though I thank God that He didn't actually want me to pursue that...), but the overwhelming passion behind my desire to do something big has never diminished.

I believe that now, at the age of nineteen, I am pretty sure what direction God wants me to take on this crazy journey called life. And it's not some cut and dry thing like I thought it would be--it's going to be messy, involved, probably painful, but I am more sure now than I ever have been about what God wants me to do with my life.

I'm going to create things. For Him. For other people. Writing, songs, art in general... Creations that will glorify God and touch other people's lives. But this is all a tangent. It's not what I'm here to talk about.

Sometimes, even though I have these dreams, even though I know God wants me to follow those dreams... I get distracted.

There always seem to be those things that are more pressing. Things that demand my time and attention, things that seem just as important as any dream when I'm faced with them. Sometimes those things are important, and I should be paying attention to them, but more and more frequently I've let these things--the normal, everyday living--get in the way of living a life of purpose and meaning. I need to have focus. I need to be so driven on living my life for God and for others that everything I do is done through that filter.

No more getting by. No more being lazy. No more doing only the minimum necessary to pass. I need to live. I need to look at every task as a challenge, a chance to honor God and serve others in a way that will change the world, if only by a small margin. One of the ways I remember to live like this is because of the people in my life who constantly inspire me to be more than I am.

My parents, who have always told me to do everything with excellence, and have always tried to do that themselves, not just with the big things, but with every little situation that has ever come up in their lives. My parents are not idle, they don't half-heartedly do things. If they take up a task, they do it right. They learn what they need to learn, they do what they need to do, they try to the very best of their ability to complete something with excellence, and you might say that's rubbed off on me a little bit.

My brothers, who continue to inspire and challenge me with the way they live out their faith. Connor with his unshakable faith and conviction. Chase with his unending servitude and friendship to those around him. They humble me and test me and point me towards God more often than they could ever know. Connor and I have had many a conversation where I was being lazy or being a jerk and he has challenged me with God's Word and made me realize my mistake. And I believe I've done the same for him.

My friends. I have a lot of them, and they all inspire me, every single last one of them. The more I get to know people, the more I realize how much there is to know about people. To quote Gandalf: "You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you in a pinch." I am constantly learning, being challenged, inspired, convicted, tested, and amazed by my friends. People have so much to teach, if you are willing to listen. I love hearing about people's dreams, their desires, what makes them tick. And this in turn inspires me to reach out, to live big, to be a better person, if for no other reason than to join this multitude of dreamers and explorers who want to change their world for the better.

In closing, thank you to everyone who has been a part of my life. I guarantee that you have inspired me in some way or another during my time knowing you. Everyone has something to share, something to teach, and most often the lesson I learn is that life is short, and dreams do not just magically come true. You have to work for them.

And so, I will look to the next page of the narrative. That in itself inspires me. The adventure. The journey of life that I get to go through with God and the wonderful people I know on this Earth. Living inspires me. I too easily forget how enchanting and special a single day can be. It takes days like Tuesday, March 24th, to make me realize that life isn't about getting by. It's about giving your all.

You all inspire me. Thank you for that.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I Could Be Doing So Much More

This past weekend I attended the Dare 2 Share conference in Chicago for the seventh year in a row. This was, however, the first time I attended not as a student, but a young youth leader. Of course, I got just as much out of it as I always have, but for some reason this year was also significantly different. You see, I realized with shame that I had been wasting a lot of time.

Let me back up. My favorite part of the weekend was undoubtedly the drama that was performed on Friday night. It portrayed a young girl trapped within the dark room of her mind, with all of her doubts, fears, and struggles. This young girl heard whispers from two distinct voices. The first voice is the voice of demons trying to drag her down into despair. They tell her that she is crazy, she isn't worth anything, everything that is wrong with her life is her fault, all in an attempt to try to drag her so low that she will commit suicide. The second voice is the voice of Jesus Christ. This voice seems to be haunting her like a ghost at first. It continually whispers "I am coming for you. You are mine." But eventually both the audience and the girl realize that this voice is not a ghost or a halllucination, but Jesus Christ himself. He tells the girl that she is loved, and the voice begins to grow less frightening, but its intensity does not waver.

Finally, the demons have driven her to a point where she is at her lowest. She is right on the verge of taking her own precious life. But she remembers...there is another way. She says the name of Jesus. The demons hiss and recoil. She falls to her knees and begins to beg God to save her, to rescue her, to forgive her for all of the horrible things she has done. The demons are pushed further and further away, and finally with a resounding call to her Savior, the lights and music that have been building throughout the scene reach their crescendo and blaze into glory.

I shiver.

Everything goes quiet. The door from which the voice has been calling to the girl opens, and out walks Jesus Christ. He runs to the girl, holds her, takes her arm and sees the scars of her self-harm. "I have scars too," He says. And then He embraces her.

End scene.

It was so much more vivid and intense than a simple write-up can do justice to, but it moved me in such a way that left me breathless and in awe of God's grace and in wonder of His majesty. Afterward, Greg Stier, the head of Dare 2 Share, asked the youth leaders of each group at the conference to pray over their students. I bowed my head and listened to the multitude of youth pastors praying for their beloved youth.

It was a moment I will never forget. I was reminded again of how much God loves us, and how much he cares for every single teenager, every single child, every single person in the entire world. And then I remembered that I was supposed to be caring for people too.

The prayers broke off as Greg closed with his own prayer, asking those who had not received Jesus Christ to do so in the silence of their hearts, and then I looked around to see the hundreds of students around the building--some crying, some still praying, some hugging each other or their youth pastor. I heard a noise that was somewhere between a shout and a sob, but tinged with such joy that I knew with certainty what it had meant. Someone had found out that their friend had just accepted Christ. I smiled at all of the amazing work I was seeing God do around me, and at the thought of all the work God would continue to do in the lives of the students and teachers in the room.

And then I thought deeper than that, looked into my own heart and saw what I had been missing. So often in the past I have said that I would be all in for God, and that enthusiasm wavered. It wasn't that I didn't still love God, or that I wasn't a true follower of Jesus Christ. I know that I am, and that I will be with Christ in heaven. But I was being distracted. I was wasting time.

I don't want to waste any more time.

I thought of all of the numerous opportunities I have every week to talk to people about Jesus, or even to just try to have deeper conversations with them than just a superficial surface level relationship would require. I thought of all of the times when I saw reading the Bible as a chore or a task rather than a privilege. And I was ashamed.

That's what matters, in the end. Doing whatever you can do to love God and love others. To serve God and serve others. To make deep relationships, to nurture those relationships, to be a part of people's lives in a positive way.

One of the things that has been crucial in my understanding of the necessity of being in the Word of God is this simple fact: Reading the Bible is being nourished spiritually. We are taking part of the Bread of Life. Do we skip our physical meals? Do we put them off? Do we tell ourselves that we can eat later? Of course not! We eat when we're hungry.

I'm always hungry, spiritually, and yet I find excuses to starve myself for a bit longer. How morbid is that?

Life is about love. I'm going to make time for the things that are important. If I see someone that I know God wants me to talk to, I will. When I go to the grocery store, I won't always put in headphones and try to ignore everyone. I'll go out of my way to be kind and courteous to everyone I come in contact with. Find a way to make people's days.

I'm going to make it a priority to be reading the Word, not the required "once per day", but whenever I'm "hungry". I need to learn to identify that need in myself and specifically memorize and seek after verses that will help with specific areas.

I'm going to take the time to pray for the people I meet, the people I interact with on a regular basis. I'm going to pray for the little things, the things that I might not think matter that much...but it's like, why not? It's not like God is saying "whoa, that's too much prayer, I'm getting a little bogged down here." I should be praying constantly throughout a day. I need to be in communication with God. That's the only way I'm going to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

So, I'd like to say: Thank you, Dare 2 Share, for yet another weekend of conviction. I needed that. Here's to you and your ministry. I pray that God would continue to bless you all as you continue to bless so many others.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The People Who Have Kept Me Accountable

There is a term that very neatly defines a significant portion of Christian fellowship. This term is accountability. It's one of the most important things to have a handle on as a Christian. What is it? Well, simply put, in the Christian meaning of the word, being accountable is having people around you that keep you in check, that make sure you're on the right path and expect you to live up to your responsibilities as a follower of Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we must have accountability with people. We need their iron to sharpen ours, so to speak. Being a Jesus-follower is not a solo deal, it is a community effort, a church effort, a family effort, a group effort. It takes a cloud of witnesses to raise up a young man or woman and put them on the right path. Without those checks and balances, it would be infinitely harder to follow God's Word.

And so, I'd like to acknowledge all the numerous people in my life who have kept me accountable. Who have called me out when they saw something in my life that was out of place with the example I should be setting as a young Christian man. The people who have had the guts to say things that might be considered as harsh, because they knew that was what I needed.

My parents, first and foremost. They have constantly encouraged me, uplifted me, and strengthened me, but they have continued to point me to God's standard in every situation, to challenge me to be responsible, virtuous, loving, bold, unyielding in the face of hardship or adversity. I haven't always listened to their advice. I've screwed up many times and let them down. But I would not be half the person I am today without their perseverance in my life.

And to the dozens of strong men and women in Christ who have counseled me over the years. The people who have poured their lives into me. Jonanne, the children's minister at my church, who has been such an influential and inspiring force in my life, even years after I was no longer a part of the children's ministry (at least as a student). She had patience with me when I was a rambunctious little boy who would not sit still for a moment, and she had the wisdom and clarity to know exactly what I needed to help me grow as a young man taking his first steps in a journey with Christ. There are many, many more teachers, pastors, leaders in my life that have made an impact on me, but it would take much more space than I reasonably had to name them all.

Finally, to my friends. The people I have simply done life with over the past nineteen and a half years of life. My brothers. My childhood friends. My fellow youth groupers. The young men and women I get to call my people. They have challenged me, inspired me, and driven me onward in a way that makes me smile, looking back on the years we've had together.

Thank you all for thinking I was worth it. For taking the time and energy to patiently correct me. For being willing to say whatever needed to be said for me to grow. And for loving me all the while. I cannot thank you enough.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

We're All Growing Up

So, one of my best friends is getting married...and I'm still kind of in shock. When I first found out that he had proposed to his girlfriend, I freaked out a little bit. I was utterly ecstatic, dancing around the basement and talking to everyone I knew and mutually being excited with them. The best part is: I get to be in the wedding. I'm not entirely sure what my role will be yet, but I know I'm going to be a part of it, and that truly makes me happy.

And it makes me start thinking about the future. About how this is the beginning of a time in my life and my friends' lives when we'll be growing up, moving away, getting married, buying houses, being grown-ups. That's an exciting, yet nerve-wracking thought. It means that our decisions are going to continue to have more and more weight to them, and there's nothing we can do to stop that.

Things are changing. Luckily, for most of us, they're changing for the better. But that doesn't mean it will always be like that, that we won't run into hard times down the road, or even that tomorrow will be assured. But it does that mean that for right now, we can be content with where and who we are. And the best thing about it all? We all know that God's gonna be with us through it all.

Sometimes I wonder how people who don't have that ultimate hope get through life. I couldn't imagine not having God as a foundation to cling to. I'm so grateful that I do have this life, with these wonderful people in it, and this wonderful God guiding me through it.

We're all growing up. That's pretty darn cool, when you think about it. I'm excited to see where all of our lives are headed. What plans God has for all of us.

Time to turn to the next page. I can't wait to see what happens next.a

Friday, February 27, 2015

Role-Playing Games

So, I have this hobby... It involves rolling dice.

There are some people who believe it is Satanic. Most people think it's incredibly nerdy. But as a person who has played role-playing games for over ten years now, I am standing before you (figuratively, because this is the internet) and saying that both of those views are incredibly wrong and harmful to society. I believe that everyone should be involved in role-playing games (and that parents should really be pushing their kids into it), and I'll show you a few reasons why. But before I do that, I should probably explain what role-playing games (RPGs) are.

I like to explain it to people like this: RPGs are a perfect mix between an interactive storytelling experience and a board game. You want to tell a story with some friends, and the game sets up the rules to make that experience as fun as possible. The rules help you to be creative and come up against interesting challenges to make the game worthwhile. Otherwise the story would be boring, because it would be so easy to win.

Now, there are a lot of different RPGs out there. Hundreds in fact. The classic Dungeons & Dragons, of course, lets you play as warriors, wizards, priests, thieves, and a host of other things in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world in which you fight demons and dragons and go on numerous adventures in an attempt to make your character better and get rich. One of my personal favorites: The Hero System, is an incredibly diverse rule system that allows you to control every facet of character creation through the assignment of points, and as such, allows you to play in any genre imaginable with any sort of weird powers or gadgets imaginable.

Now that you have a basic idea what RPGs are, here are a few of the reasons why I think everyone should play them:

Social Interaction. Role-playing games are an incredibly social experience, and you get to know people really well when you have to work together to defeat that massive dragon that you just stumbled across. You learn social skills playing this game: conversational skills, teamwork, leadership, and so on.

Creativity. If you have ever played a role-playing game, you know what I'm talking about. There is something about the freedoms (coupled with the constraints) of an RPG that gets your mind working. You combine things you didn't think would work together before. You try new things in an attempt to solve your current problem. And that is creativity at its finest. As a player, you learn how to get into the mind of a character and make them unique. As a gamemaster (the storyteller who controls everything except the players' characters), you learn how to build a story, build a world, build an entire universe that you can play with.

Education. You learn so much through playing role-playing games. Most of the big words I know I've learned through reading books (mostly fantasy books) and playing role-playing games. Those game manuals have complicated words, man! And not only that, you learn acting skills, improvisational skills, and a host of other things that are invaluable later in life. RPGs encourage you to be creative, to have fun, and to learn.

And that is why I will always play them, and I will encourage my future kids to play them. They help you. They're fun. They're creative outlets. And I wouldn't be the person I am today without them.

Oh, and to all the people who say D&D is Satanic... Please, do your research. Don't just judge without context. I'm sure there are weird people out there who are already involved in that sort of thing and then put weird mystical stuff into their D&D sessions...but most people don't. And you shouldn't be blaming RPGs anyway, since they aren't responsible for that kind of thing. Satan is.

So, I'll raise a glass of orange juice and toast you, Mr. Gary Gygax (rest in peace), for paving the way for the rest of us to roll dice.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The People Who Forgive Me

I'd like to acknowledge all of the people who put up with me. The people who have to deal with every stupid mistake I make, and yet continue to love me and cherish me despite my flaws. I love you all so much, and I can't begin to thank you enough for the grace you've shown me. I'm not a good person--I mess up daily, saying things I don't mean, saying things I do mean but that should never have come out of my mouth, doing things that hurt other people deeply--and yet these select few people have decided that I am worth it. They see a potential in me that I have trouble ever seeing in myself, and that, more than anything else, is what keeps me going day after day. I thank God for those people. I don't know what I'd do without them.

And of course, I thank God for His own amazing grace and forgiveness in my life. He, more than anyone else, has such a right to just hate me, to wipe me off the face of the Earth, to want to have nothing to do with me because of my continued disobedience and selfishness in the face of his unending mercy. And yet with every mistake, with every step in the wrong direction, His love is the same for me. He continues to cherish me as an adopted son in His kingdom, and I have no response worthy enough for that kind of great, unfailing love. The best I can do is try as hard as I can to put on my red shoes and walk in the way He has called me to walk, sing in the way He wants to me sing, and live in the way I will honor Him by living.

There is nothing I have ever done to deserve even the slightest bit of grace or mercy in my life, not when you compare it with my ever-present failings. And yet, I am forgiven by those that I love. And I am so grateful. Here's to the people that forgive me. The God that has forgiven me. I hope you know that I will always try to do the very best I can to make up for the love and grace you've shown me. And if any of the people in my life ever fall down, fail in their own way, just know that I will be there to pick you up. I owe you that much at least. I will love you right back, and I'll forgive you like you've forgiven me.

Like He has forgiven us.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Ways We Experience Music

I find it endlessly interesting the different ways people experience music. We're all just so different. Some people listen to classical music when they want to be de-stressed, others (such as my brother, Connor) listen to hard rock. When I listen to hard rock, I feel determined to accomplish things, but my brother and a lot of my other friends listen to it, as I said above, to calm themselves down. They described it as letting the music be angry and stressed for them so they didn't have to be.

Again, I find this so interesting.

Also, with the way people transition to different types of music: I hop from band to band and go through a phase where that's all I listen to--usually new music that I've found on NoiseTrade or something--and really get to know that music until I find a new artist to love and move on to that. This keeps me feeling refreshed in terms of music, and though I'll always come back and listen to songs from the bands I love (especially in playlists that are themed, like a love song playlist), I often get tired of some artists and can't listen to any of their music for a while. Sometimes the bands I switch to will be old bands I haven't listened to in a while, and then I listen to them almost as if for the first time, because it's been so long and I've been filling my head with so many other songs.

Others that I know find it harder to switch to new music. They'll listen to the same music they've always listened to on shuffle all the time, and they have to be in a certain mood to invest in a new song. Once they do, they'll add it to their list of music they like and shuffle it all together.

This goes into what I just love about living--finding out how people operate, discovering their interests, tastes, how they view the world, how they experience things. It's one of my absolute favorite things to do--get to know people on a personal level. Understand where they're coming from, how they got there, and what they strive for.

And music is such a dynamic thing in most of our lives...you can tell a lot about how a person experiences music. If you want to, leave a comment or two about different ways you experience music! When you're feeling a specific emotion, you listen to ...what? And so on. I'd love to read them :)