Social Media Control

social media icons

Imagine a typical weeknight, probably around 11:30 pm. You’ve managed to get into bed by now, exhausted from the busy day. Instead of setting a literal alarm clock for the next morning and going right to sleep, like people did back in 2005, you reach for the smartphone to set an alarm app. 

Before you know it, 30 minutes or more have passed, you’re still looking at the phone, but you still haven’t even opened the alarm app. What happened? Why is it happening so often? Why has this become the norm for so many people? Social media. 

Chances are you or someone you know has at least considered taking a break from social media at some point. You might have even tried it, and maybe even learned some things from it. I want to share what I’ve observed and experienced during my own breaks from social media. 

Social Media Sucks

Hear me out. Social media doesn’t just suck on its own. It’s actually a really powerful tool. We can instantly communicate with just about anyone, see what they’re up to, share what we’re up to, and even provide feedback about it all (likes or dislikes, etc). When used properly, it can be a great tool. But who decides what is proper? 

How we define proper use of social media for ourselves determines whether or not social media sucks. We all have choices in the matter. What content are we going to consume or post? Who are we going to interact with? How much time and energy are we going to spend on those things? 

When we find ourselves unable to reasonably answer those questions and we catch ourselves mindlessly scrolling, possibly even losing sleep, then we’re letting social media suck the life out of us. 

Nobody Cares About Your Social Media

That’s probably a little extreme to say, but you’d be surprised how true it is. The times that I’ve taken a break from social media, I haven’t done a post to let everyone know, so it was not a big deal to anyone but me. 

You’ve probably seen what I’m talking about. The post that goes something like, “Hey friends, I just want to let you know I’m taking a break from social media because I need to focus on ____ (God, family, career, something of priority).” What makes us think anyone cares so much that we have to make an announcement like that? 

I’ve taken so many breaks from social media. The longest and most recent was a six month period where I vowed not to post anything other than about my anniversary and kids birthdays, all of which took place in a 30-day window. So for all those other months, I didn’t post a single thing. 

Not one single person cared that I was virtually non-existent, or digitally. No one reached out to see if there was some reason I hadn’t been around on social media. 

This makes me believe that announcing a social media break is somehow self-serving. It seems to be a way of provoking a reaction from the digital connections so that we will feel as though they care. We’re only deceiving ourselves. 

Real Friends Don’t Need Your Social Media

The reason no one even noticed that I was inactive on social media for months is the people who actually care about me most are in touch with me regularly offline. They call me, text me, invite me, and see me where we’re doing life together. 

It is incredibly important to know the difference between actual friends who really know us and really love us despite our imperfections and those who only know of us and maybe love an idea of who they perceive us to be. 

I’ve learned that true friends don’t care what I can or can’t do, or what I’ve done or haven’t done. They might celebrate my accomplishments when I have done something, but they love me even when I’ve done nothing. 

I’ve learned that true friends don’t care what I have or don’t have. Some of my best friends in life have known me through plenty and poor and it doesn’t matter either way. They love me for better reasons. 

True friends are not digital. They’re real reel, which brings me to the next learning. 

Our Highlight Reel Isn’t Real

The beautiful profiles of beautiful people going to beautiful places and living picture perfectly beautiful lives is unbelievably deceitful. Comparing and aspiring to that is always going to be an empty and disappointing pursuit of a fantasy that does not exist. 

Life is hard, and sometimes ugly. Everyone has something they are dealing with, the kinds of things that aren’t sexy on social media. The kinds of things only those closest to us are likely to know about. 

When we find ourselves more interested in highlight-reel social media interaction than we are in real-life relationships, we’re on a very slippery slope. Anyone can hide who they really are or what they’re really going through from a digital audience. 

Becoming obsessed with highlight reels is both deceiving and being deceived. It’s leading others to believe partial truths at best, or at worst outright lies. It’s being led to believe that the people who interact with or like the highlight reel really love who we actually are when they really don’t even know us. 

Pursuing Popularity Is a Sign of Insecurity

Teenagers everywhere are competing for follows, likes, comments, or any other indicator that might mean they’re popular. Adults are doing it too. The platforms themselves are designed to prey on our desire to be accepted, which leads to a comparison contest of who is most accepted, aka popular. 

This is again a deceptive distraction from the relationships that actually matter. If we’re constantly pursuing popularity among people who don’t really know us, we will never appreciate the love we already have from those who do really know us. 

To choose the pursuit of popularity over the pursuit of true intimacy is a big sign of insecurity. It is a fear that we’re not enough. It is a fear that our real relationships are not enough. It is a fear that we might be missing out on something better, and believing the lie that digital connections are somehow better than real ones. 

Good Intentions Aren’t Enough

Many of the popular profiles on social media are well known for good reasons. Their intentions are good. Their messages are good. 

It is easy for us to believe that because our social media is good or well-received that it is needed. What will people do without our online presence to encourage them? 

The truth is our motivational speech is only as effective as our relational reach. It doesn’t matter how good our intentions are or how well-received our messages may be without real-life relationships. 

If our best relationships are social media connections we will eventually be void of authenticity, completely unmotivated, and thus unable to motivate anyone else. It just isn’t worth it to be so wrapped up in social media that we believe those connections are more important than real relationships. 

How To Take A Break From Social Media

The dopamine that fires in our brain during social media engagement is powerfully addictive just like literal drugs. The time that I’ve spent denying social media dopamine hits has taught me a lot about myself, our social media culture, and the dangers of the vortex. That’s exactly what it is if we let it be, an energy-sucking vortex. 

If you or anyone you know has a difficult time putting down social media, consider the following tips to regain control:

Remove the drug. The best way to detox from unhealthy dopamine addiction is to cut off the supply. That means take a break from social media. 

Challenge yourself to take a break from social media without announcing it on social media. Set a strong tone for yourself. Draw a line in the sand to tell yourself that you will not be controlled or dependent on social media engagement from this point forward. 

It might not be enough to have the good intention of staying off social media for some time. If we can’t resist the temptation, we have to remove it. For many people that means completely removing access by removing the apps. 

Request accountability. For some of us, removing the apps is still not enough. A really close friend of mine noticed their tendency to just reload the apps and log back in, so they asked me to change their password so they couldn’t log back in. 

Retrain the brain. The point of all these things is to retrain the brain to think differently about social media. We have to learn to keep it in proper perspective and keep our priority on the real people in our lives. 

Remind yourself that when you do go back to social media (if you do) that you will be more aware of the effects that lead to the vortex. Remind yourself that it’s worth enduring the moments of feeling left out or overlooked by the digital world, because ultimately that world isn’t as real as what’s all around you in real relationships. 

There are invaluable positive results from being diligent and vigilant in the effort to maintain a healthy balance with social media. My hope is we all make that effort not only for our good but for the good of everyone around us. 

Open Letter to Millennials From a Gen-X’er

Dear Millennials,

You ARE special.  Your individuality IS a blessing.  You DO have the potential to be the greatest generation ever.  I am personally pulling for you, and thought that I’d offer an apology and some insights that you might consider along your journey to greatness – from one awesome generation to another.

Allow me to briefly introduce myself.  I’m a later model Generation X’er, born in 1978, only 4 years before 1982 which is the year someone decided should be the year to define your generation “Y & Z”, Millennial, or whatever.  I don’t pretend to fully understand all that generational line stuff.  What I do know is we’re all the same in some sense.  We all want to live life to the fullest, with purpose, passion, and prosperity – however we each define those things individually.

My generation boasts of being the best of both Baby Boomers and Millennials with none of the downside.  We boast that we work hard but play hard too, that we created, or least developed, the internet, pioneered cell phones, and  transformed culture in the 80’s and 90’s.  Like the Boomer generation before us and your Millennial generation that is following us, we Gen-X’ers have plenty of reasons to believe we’re awesome world changers.  But among us are people like me who are willing to admit there are some things we totally screwed up.

For years your “Millennial” generation has been under scrutiny for many particular things, but generally speaking for the hard shift in thought process, beliefs, and values that you’re bringing into adulthood.  Some of the differences are pointed out as good things but most of the things being said about your generation are negative.  It’s typical internet.

That leads me to the apology.  I won’t speak for everyone in my generation, lest I instigate a cowardly internet word-lashing on myself, but I will apologize for a few who I believe would agree with what I’m about to say.  Hopefully it comes across as intended and is received well.

You deserve an apology.  One of the most negative things that has been said about your generation is that you have a terrible sense of entitlement.  I have to say that I agree, to some degree, that there is merit in that accusation.  It is unfortunate that the matter hasn’t been approached with more grace, but it is a matter worth addressing.  The one thing you are entitled to, and I believe this firmly, is my generation and the “Boomer” generation owe you a heartfelt and sincere apology.  So on behalf of myself and any others from mine and my parents generation, here it goes.

I apologize that our (older) generations have been so lackadaisical in leading your generation.  That is the over-arching statement of apology.  Allow me to explain in more detail.

The Boomers are your grandparents.  We Gen-X’ers, your parents, should have collectively done a much better job modeling respect for our elders, and instilling that value in you.  Human nature is to be impatient and frustrated when things don’t go as we think they should, or when things don’t change as quickly as we want them to.  Things have changed quite rapidly in recent decades, but for good reasons it is sometimes necessary to pump the brakes to watch and see how we as a society will adapt to change before moving on to more change.  We all should do more to listen to and learn from each other.

Boomers should adapt to new ways of thinking and advancements in technology, etc.  Millennials should accept that some things are the way they are for good reason.  One of the things your generation has been accused of is disregarding hierarchy at work, feeling entitled to jump rank or advance more quickly, or that there should be no rank at all, and it’s been attributed to the fact that you received participation trophies your whole life.

There’s a reason rank and hierarchy exists.  In the adult world there are difficult situations that require someone to make difficult decisions that they have to take responsibility for, and that is why we put people who, through experience, exemplify the ability to make those decisions and then take responsibility for the outcome.  I understand that sometimes the wrong people get put in those positions, sometimes they get put there for the wrong reasons, sometimes their motives are self serving, sometimes they do more harm than good etc etc.  I understand that there have been failures to hold people in those positions accountable and that has enabled some really bad things to happen in the past.  But for the most part people in positions of authority are there and got there for good reasons and they’re capable of doing good things.

As for the participation trophy part, the hard truth is there are real winners and losers in many areas of life.  The participation trophies we (your parents – Gen-X’ers) gave you were intended to teach the value of getting in the game and staying in the game, because the only thing worse than losing is not even participating.  Unfortunately, that idea was not executed well through intentional teaching of the moral behind the method.  Again – poor leadership.

Another area of serious concern, for us older generations, is the massive shift in our culture to a virtual reality that is not real, and it is our fault.  We created it with wonderful intentions and made it a monster in the process.  As this technology developed it became increasingly easy to pacify you with devices and justify it as helping you learn, and it worked, but it did as much harm as it did good.

One of the most consistent claims of every generation, particularly in our younger years, is that the generation before us just doesn’t understand us.  I completely reject that claim for all generations.  From the day iPhone was invented I’ve been saying the greatest difference between our generation and your generation is the devices, having unlimited access in your pocket to too many pitfalls – the same pitfalls every generation deals with in some form or fashion.  Dealing with fear, failure, rejection, comparison, peer pressure, sexual urges, etc – timeless.  Doing it all via a device – still brand new.  The trials and temptations are all the same, only the tools have changed.

Now, Gen-X’ers are as bad as anybody about spending countless hours consuming digital media and engaging in virtual connection.  But many of us still remember the virtues of the pre-digital age that should be carried forward.  There is so much more to the real world and real connection than what the digital world has become, and it has completely altered the way you think – both good and bad.

In many ways, the world, both real and digital, cannot be trusted.  It is wonderful but corrupt, delightful but deceiving.  We threw you into the digital world before we really even knew ourselves what could happen, and we didn’t keep what you were learning and experiencing rooted strongly enough in real world principles and values.  We didn’t prepare you well, and I apologize.

I could go on and on about the negative matters everyone is shouting about that seem to divide your generation from those before you, and I’m willing to apologize for our failure in every one.  But part of the point of this apology is to make it clear that dwelling on negative isn’t productive, and shouting, bickering, and complaining isn’t helping anyone.  The bottom line – we, the Boomers and Gen-X’ers, failed you in many ways.  We failed to parent you well while we were off working and partying so hard.  We failed to lead you well by exemplifying values and virtues that matter most, molding your understanding and belief in those things, and reminding you often how those things are tied to the greater purpose and passion we long to live for.

I also apologize that we older generations once again demonstrated poor leadership in how we have expressed our concerns.  We as a collective group have obviously done a poor job communicating – which involves listening as much or more than talking (or shouting online).  I’m trying to change that.

You Millennials are an interesting bunch, and I’m learning to love our differences more all the time, especially as my own kids get closer and closer to adulthood and I want them to have the best qualities of your generation and our generation and the generation before.   Just as my parents heavily influenced many of my positive characteristics, your parents influenced many of yours.  None of us can take full credit for who we are.  We’re all influenced by someone.  Who, is the question you have to ask yourself.

We older folk might have failed you in some ways, but in so many more positive ways I’d say we’ve succeeded.  Your creativity is amazing and your generosity is inspiring.  Your sense of adventure is exciting and your value of acceptance is encouraging.  We can’t overlook those and many other positive things that you exemplify.

Leading well is something I personally strive to do, even when “leading” only myself.  I personally screw up more than I like, but I hope that more often than not my example to others influences positive change.  So, as part of that effort, I am committed to setting an example of listening, learning, and adapting to change.  I am committed to having open, honest, respectful, and encouraging dialogue.

If we’re going to make significant change that prevents repeating the failures of the past and moves us forward to a brighter future we have to become better leaders together, starting with leading ourselves and letting the positive results of that influence others.  One of the greatest lessons you’ll learn in the years to come is how to TRULY identify a good leader vs a bad one – not by political standards or media narrative or Hollywood glamour – I mean real people who make a real difference in your every day world.  The majority of them are not on a stage with a microphone and a camera in front of them.  They’re in your community, all around you, and I bet they’re willing to listen and learn with you through face to face conversation.   You just have to approach them with respect and humility.  If you need some pointers about how to do that I’m here to help.

I want you crazy Millennials to know I love you.  I’m not shouting at you or condemning you.  I want great things for you.  I believe in you.  My kids are among you or coming along right behind you!  I trust you can sense my sincerity and be willing to follow the example I’m trying to set.  Listen, learn, adapt, and patiently wait for the best and most meaningful changes to happen in proper time as we all find productive ways to work and progress through life’s journey together.

Love,

Mark

Three Thoughts From Recently Reading Proverbs

The book of Proverbs – challenging, encouraging, instructing.  It teaches us wisdom, discipline, and moral choices.  I love the book of Proverbs.  I’ve read it more times than I recall, and I believe it would change the world if everyone would read it and try to apply it to life.  Regardless of spiritual or moral beliefs, or age or gender or race, everyone can learn from Proverbs.  No matter where we are on our journey there’s something we can learn from Proverbs, and even if we’ve read it multiple times there’s always something that stands out to us differently than the time before.  If we’re applying what we’re learning then we’re growing, and as we grow we change and see things with a different level of wisdom, discipline, and maturity.

As I read through Proverbs again a few months ago I made some notes and highlights of things I thought I’d share here.

IF/THEN but Jesus

In our high tech world there is logical programming all around us.  It reminds me of the first simple computer program I wrote in a high school class teaching us how computer logic works.  It involved some very basic IF/THEN logic.  IF”X” happens, THEN”Y” happens next.  There could also be and OR added to the logic making it IF/THEN/OR, so IF “X” didn’t happen, “Z” could happen instead of “Y”.  The X,Y,Z could be whatever we told the computer it should do.

As I read through Proverbs this past time I seemed to see a lot of the wise instructions and warnings as IF/THEN/OR statements.  A great example of this is Proverbs chapter 2 (NIV).  Read it and notice the IF’s in v1-4.  Now notice the THEN’s in v5-9.   There’s even an OR at the end of the chapter (v22).  There are warnings about wicked men and adulterous women in the middle, but from beginning to end we could summarize Proverbs 2 with this IF/THEN/OR statement of logic.  “IF you accept, apply, value wisdom;  THEN you will find knowledge of God, blessing, and protection;  OR you will be cut off and torn from the land.”

Look for places where IF/THEN/OR can be applied to what the scriptures are saying.  Proverbs 3:3-4, IF you commit to love and faithfulness, THEN you will win favor.  Proverbs 3:5-6, IF you trust in the Lord, THEN he will make your paths straight.  I don’t want to completely dumb down the scriptures to computer logic, as though I’m a robot, but I must say that looking at it this way is a new way to engage myself with the instruction it offers and commit it to the choices I make.

Before I move on to my next observation I want to point out that none of the IF/THEN statements remove God’s love for us or Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.  Also, none of them are standards or behaviors that can save us from our own sins.  But ALL of them are truths, that either draw us closer to God or push us further from Him.  They move us along His path or down other deceitful and destructive paths.  The most important IF/THEN in the bible is, “IF we accept Jesus as Lord, THEN we will have eternal life.”

God is Wisdom

Wisdom comes from God.  It is the foundation on which all life is built.  It is His first creation before all other creation.  God IS wisdom.   (Proverbs 8:22-31)

Wisdom comes with time and experience, so it makes sense that it was with God, and is God, since the beginning of time.  Wisdom with God the father, son & holy spirit should be a constant desire in our pursuit of Jesus if we really believe in Him and want to follow Him and serve Him.

Gaining wisdom is knowing God.

Wisdom is…

As we know and understand God more and more during our pursuit of wisdom we learn the characteristics of God and wisdom that should be exemplified in our lives.  Here are some that I made note of as I read Proverbs in recent months along with the chapter/verse that brought these to mind:

  • Wisdom is humbling – 1:22-33
  • Wisdom is discernment – 2:9-11
  • Wisdom is obedient – 3:9-10
  • Wisdom is discipline / self control – 5:23
  • Wisdom is listening / speaking wisely – throughout the book of Proverbs, but especially noticed these instructions in chapter 10.
  • Wisdom is righteousness – 11:8
  • Wisdom is protection – throughout, but 13:6 stood out
  • Wisdom is contagious – 13:20
  • Wisdom is rewarding – 13:21
  • Wisdom is content – 13:25
  • Wisdom is patient – 14:29
  • Wisdom is generous – 14:31
  • Wisdom is planning – 16:3
  • Wisdom is action – 16:9
  • Wisdom is honest – 16:11
  • Wisdom rules – 16:14-15
  • Wisdom is invaluable – 16:16
  • Wisdom is just/fair – 21:12-15

This list could go on and on, and I look forward to future readings where I recognize more wisdom nuggets throughout the book of Proverbs.  The point of this list is to recognize that God is the epitome, he sets the standard, for all of those things.  To pursue God is to pursue wisdom, and vice versa.  The purpose of Proverbs is to teach us to pursue God by pursuing who He is, His character, to be drawn closer to Him, and continue to become who he created us to be, made in His image.

I have so many more specific things I’d love to share from Proverbs, so look forward to those on future posts.

3 Reasons to Be Hung Up on Stewardship

Why am I so hung up on stewardship? Nobody has ever asked that directly, but I often feel like some of the comments and attitudes aimed in my direction are dancing all around that question.  So here are three quick reasons I get hung up on stewardship.

1 – Our life is not our own.

Living my life to bring honor to God, managing Gods blessing Gods way for Gods glory (as Chris Brown says it) – whatever you want to call it if we claim to be followers of Jesus then we should be stewarding everything in our life for Him. I’ve seen how financial stewardship affects my own walk with Jesus and I don’t ever want to let being a poor steward hinder my faith. AND I want other Christians to experience the same peace and joy in their walk with Him.

2 – We’re called to share the gospel.

The gospel itself is an act of generosity where Jesus gave His life for our sins. We’re supposed to share it by how we live it. The early church shared Gods love through extravagant acts of generosity and people were so blown away they knew there was something different about followers of Jesus and they wanted to experience it. Being generous requires being good stewards. Sadly not enough of us have let the 2350 money/possession related verses in the bible get into our head and hearts deep enough for our behavior to demonstrate our belief in those scriptures. The world is watching and our generosity is the gospel for a lot of the world. I don’t have to be the one leading people through the prayer for salvation to know that how I steward my resources is part of their experience with the gospel.

3 – Ministry costs money.

A lot of people are vocational ministers and evangelists and, as the body of Christ, it is our responsibility to take care of the needs of those vocations as well as the needs of the ministry organizations they work for. God’s church has to be funded and that requires the diligent stewardship and generosity of His people. We often hear “God doesn’t need your money” followed by “it’s not about what God wants from you but for you” etc. That’s true. God’s plan is gonna happen either way, but shouldn’t we want to be a part of it anyway?

So the short answer is that teaching financial stewardship is part of my calling for spreading the gospel.  If the reasons above aren’t good enough to get every Christian a little bit hung up on stewardship shouldn’t we be concerned why not?

Character Development Paper – Discipline for Tweens and Early Teens

Our two oldest kids are both in middle school – the tween and early tween years.  They are beyond spanking, naughty corner, and to an extent, they’re even over being “grounded”, or restricted, from things.  So I remembered that when I was their age one of my good teachers would punish my fellow misbehaved students and myself by making us handwrite what was called a “Maturity Paper.”  It was a creative correction of that time, and it must have been at least somewhat effective because I remember it all these years later.

I don’t have a copy of the maturity paper and couldn’t remember everything it said, but I remember the gist of it being to outline what it means to be mature and why it is important.  One point it made that I remember being very impactful for me was, “Maturity doesn’t have to say ‘I told you so’.”  I think I still struggle with that one because, well, it’s a fact, I’m right a lot, and when that becomes obvious in situations people tend to never admit they were wrong so it’s hard not to tell them.  The same is true with ideas, there is always someone claiming an idea like it was their own when it isn’t.  Anyway – I’m definitely not an expert which means I’m wrong sometimes, and I’m telling you now that this idea was not all my own.  I’ve come a long way 🙂

Since I couldn’t find a copy of the maturity paper that helped me when I was a kid, I decided to make one up on my own, and I’m calling it a ‘Character Development Paper’.  Just so you don’t read this and think that I’m a terrible narcissist (everybody has some narcissism – at least I admit it), I’m going to walk through each part of it and explain my thoughts and intentions for why it is written the way it is.  And don’t forget – you are the expert at what your kids need, so you are completely free to customize this how you see fit.  So here’s how it starts:

I,   (name)   , as a Christ following believer, understand that my life is a journey of becoming the best version of who God created me to be.  I understand that developing strong character is one of the fundamentals of my journey, and it is especially important to build a foundation of strong character in the adolescent stage of life I am in.

Ok – obviously we’re identifying the victim, I mean the offender deserving of this consequence.  The part about being a believer is because I know that my kids have professed their belief in Jesus Christ as our savior, so I am tying the purpose of this paper to their pursuit of God’s plan for their life which includes being a living example of Jesus.  The reference to “the adolescent stage of life” is because if you haven’t had kids this age yet you will find out that they think they are much older and much more mature than they really are, and I included that language in this paper to remind them very factually – they’re still kids.  People often mention that teens want to be treated like adults and I think they confuse the point that to mean that having the freedom of an adult without having the responsibility of one.  So I’m starting to treat my kids like adults by letting them know that to be responsible with the freedom of an adult requires having strong character.

I’m thankful my parents are also Christ following believers who love me and care about my best interests.  They have reasonable expectations of me with the intention of helping me develop strong character, learning ability and working skills.

Our world is full of people telling our kids that parents are lame, we don’t understand them, and we’re unnecessarily protective or restrictive.  By including this section in the paper I’m having my kids put in writing that we share a faith that drives us and I do understand that.  I have a saying that goes, “I don’t have to be an expert at trends to be an expert a sins.”  Don’t tell me I don’t understand what kids are facing just because it’s on a digital device nowadays, and besides that I’m not so old I don’t see the pressures of all the ways ‘things are different’ now.  In this section I’m having them write that we love them and every decision we make is because of their best interests, and I’m making it clear that part of my job is to teach them character, teach them what they need to know to have a learning ability that enables them to learn whatever they need to know throughout life, and teach them how to work and apply their character and learning ability.  With character, teachability, and work ethic they can go figure out what they love and are gifted to do and they can accomplish great things.

It is up to me to respect my parent’s knowledge, experience, and authority;  to learn from their example of striving to develop stronger character in our family, including themselves.  It is up to me to discipline myself to follow my parent’s expectations to the best of my ability at all times.  Failure to do so not only hinders my own development, it might also hinder the impact I have for God.

The point of this section is to help our kids realize that we all have to take ownership of our own character development.  Writing this lets them know that we are working on our own character just as much as they should be working on theirs.  It also reminds them of the verse about honoring your mother and father and failing to do that is sin and sin hinders not only their development, and not only their relationship with us and God, but it can also hinder the impact they have for God.  Yes, we’re all forgiven and God can use our mess for His message and our pain for His purpose and any other preacher tagline we can think of right here.  But even God would rather us not have a mess and pain if we would simply choose not to, so it is ok for us to want our kids to avoid mess and pain.

Romans 5:3-5 states:  “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Suffering through hand-writing this serves as a reminder that I owe it to God, myself and others to stop denying my development by choosing

         (fill in behavior or choice to correct)       

Writing this signifies my choice to rejoice in the suffering required to develop the character that produces hope I am not ashamed of – hope in God’s purpose for my life.

In this section I want my kids to start learning that being a Christian isn’t just a get out of hell pass and that we’re not supposed to act however we want just because we’re forgiven.  I want my kids to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit in us that causes us to feel conviction.  I want them to learn to embrace the process of accepting consequences and allowing the suffering to strengthen their endurance through it so that their character is shaped on the other side of it and that keeping our hope in God’s love and purpose for our life is the point of it.

Some other things to note.  I don’t use this all the time.  In fact, I’ve only used it a few times.  I find myself going to it in situations where I feel very frustrated with the behavior I’m observing – usually repeated behaviors rooted in a lack of character that is not changing with other forms of correction.  It seems to be very well received and we’re believing it is effective.  Developing character is a lifelong process – time will tell.  Here’s what I know with great certainty.  If my kids have to write this as much as I had to write that maturity paper, it will leave a lasting impression.

Go ahead and download a copy by clicking this link:

Character Development Paper

 

character building

One Way to Keep Our Heart Believing

It doesn’t matter whether we’re long-time Christians or brand new, when life gets difficult and money is tight it is only natural to question things with regard to biblical stewardship.  We wonder if it’s ok to not give, or to give less, even if only for a little while.  We don’t even flinch at the thought of stopping our saving (if we were doing any to start with).  When it comes to spending we might wonder if it’s ok to still spend on this or that non-essential thing while we’re in tough times.  The struggle is real, and the juggling act of decisions is difficult.

As we seek direction from the word we find scriptures to remind us that giving is first and it is an act of faith and obedience.  We can also find that the purpose for that obedience is not just to follow rules but to act on our profession of faith in God the owner and provider of everything.  Here’s an example of that reminder for me.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:10 (NIV)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

Believing with our heart is where our faith starts.  Professing it with our mouth is how we are saved.  Acting on that belief and profession includes the choices we make with our treasure.

Believing is one thing, professing is salvation, but to maintain a big audacious faith in the loving God that forgives our sins and saves our souls we have to ask ourselves some tough questions.  Whether things are good or bad or ugly, where is our faith?  Do we really believe with our heart or was our profession all talk?

We have to stand firm on something or we’ll give in to anything.  One way to keep our heart believing when the enemy challenges our faith is to keep our treasure professing that our faith is in God.

The Generosity Effect of Gravity CEO Decision to Pay $70K

Over a year ago the CEO of Gravity Payments, Dan Price, made the decision to raise the minimum pay for every employee to $70k while reducing his own pay to $70k.  It sparked a huge debate with polarizing opinions ranging from ‘brilliant’ to ‘idiot’ with a full array of doubt and interesting circumstances in between.  I’m not interested in being a part of that debate, but I do want to point out what I saw when the decision was made and what I see now over a year later.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook when I read about the decision last year, because I believe when you take care of people they take care of others, and this case helps prove that point (screenshot linked to article):

Gravity CEO Announces Minimum Pay $70K for Employees

Again, I don’t want to be part of the debate.  We can argue that $70k is a crazy amount of money to pay certain roles or that ‘$70k is nothing in Silicon Valley.  Apparently, going by all the noisy articles that ensued this decision, there’s a lot of detailed circumstances everyone could argue.  I don’t care about all that noise.   My point in posting this has nothing to do with the arguments and everything to do with the effect of valuing people and leading by example.

Here’s what the employees did for Dan Price because of his decision to pay them well. (article)

Video:

Again, we could get hung up on thoughts about circumstances or say things like, “It’s easy to make decisions like Dan if we’re going to get something in return”.  But I’d be willing to bet that Gravity employees are more generous to people all around them than they were when they were being squeezed by the common practice of paying the most qualified people the least possible amount for the purpose of increasing profits – a practice that is a downfall of leadership in this world.  If Dan Price is as good a leader as his example of generosity suggests he might be, then I bet he is as happy to see how others are being blessed as he is to receive this blessing the employees gave him (well, maybe not AS happy, but at least happy).

 

Strengthened Faith Through Finances

It’s been a long time since I shared a keeping-it-real update of our financial journey, so I want to use this post to fill in a little bit of that gap. God is always at work – let me tell you…

In October of 2013 a side gig, a business I helped launch and worked with as an outside contractor for 5 years, came to a fork in the road that resulted in an abrupt ending.  The back-story is a long one and there’s no reason to go into too much detail for the purpose of this post. It was a wild ride full of lots of adventure and learning, and I loved it.  The parting of ways was painful not only emotionally, but financially as well.

A lot of reflection on lessons learned has helped us grow in so many ways, and clarity comes with time and patience and willingness to have open eyes to see the big picture as it unfolds.  We now realize that the Fall of 2013 was the beginning of a two year chapter in our financial life.

You see, right before the parting fork in the road situation, something very significant in mine and my wife’s journey had just taken place. We had asked God to show us what He wanted us to give generously (above tithing), and He answered. It was more than we had ever committed, but we committed it anyway – to God and to our church.

We made that commitment literally a matter of a week or two before the unfortunate parting of ways with the business. The business wasn’t a huge source of income, but it was a source of income significant enough to impact our ability to fulfill the commitment we had made.

A few months later an opportunity arose to sell our house and move into one more accommodating of our growing children’s needs. It was another test of faith. Either God wanted that move to happen or I didn’t come up with enough ‘only if’ contingencies for Him to perfectly align.  It HAD to be God because everything aligned just as we asked for it to.

A year passed and work was going ok. We were adjusting well to the new housing, and our generosity plan was coming together nicely despite the loss of side-business income. Because of the pay structure from my full-time job, the plan was to save monthly toward what we committed to give during 2014 and then give it all during 2015 on a monthly schedule. We had a plan and we believed it was God’s will.

Some months it was extremely difficult to save money for the purpose of giving it away, but we did it anyway. The plan was working. We began to realize that God will provide a way to do what He wants us to do as long as we are willing to take steps of faith and make choices of sacrifice. It is always encouraging to not only trust that God is with us but to see and feel His hand in the things happening around us and in our hearts.

The end of 2014 rolled around, business was so-so, but our resolve was strong. We were still on track with our plan. The beginning of 2015 rolled around. It was time to start giving on the monthly schedule according to the original plan. Everything was working out fine for the first three months, and then life got crazy.

Our 36yr old brother in law suddenly and unexpectedly passed away and rocked our entire families’ world. Then the company I was working for suddenly and unexpectedly went out of business. Then my wife’s grandfather died. All this happened in a two week period of time. We were emotionally down for the count AND had no income.

Between the business fallout, deaths in the family and loss of job, I had what some would consider good reason to be hurt, confused, and angry at God. I had what some would consider a good reason to back out on the giving commitment we had made. But I’m not a child of God only when I’m good. I’m a child of God ALL the time. He is with me and never forsakes me even when I don’t deserve it. How could I be for Him and obedient to Him only when things are good? So we did not lose heart. We did not back out on our commitment.

For two and a half months we had no job income, but we gave. For two months we watched our savings deplete in large sums, but we gave. And for two months we watched God pour out blessings all around us, while we gave. Friends, family, and members of our community, some who we barely know, rallied around us and contributed to our needs. We didn’t miss a single meal, and we didn’t miss a single bill. We were able to complete the giving commitment exactly as planned, and we’d go through it all over again knowing the outcome now.

All that roller coaster of events could be simply explained as life happening, but I believe it was meant to strengthen our faith. God honors our faith and trust in Him, and He always has good plans, often times plans we cannot foresee. The plans He has for our generosity is not only for the good that can be done for others with that generosity. It is also for the good that it does in our own heart and life. Our intimacy with God is deepened. Our faith is strengthened. He is made stronger through our weakness.

 

10 Ways To Be a Real Man

Years ago I sent an email to my son, knowing that one day he would be given access to that email account, and hoping that email would be a valuable lesson for him. I don’t recall where I read this, but I’ve been delighted to now know that my inclination about it was right, because my 13-almost-14 year old son not only loves the lesson, he has been sharing it with his friends.  When I mentioned my delight on FACEBOOK some folks were interested in knowing what the lesson was, so here it is:

 

Hey Son,

In a world where there’s mixed messages about what it means to be a real man I want to help you learn the truth.

There are three false ideas of masculinity: athletic ability, sexual conquest, and wealth accumulation. Instead, true masculinity is defined by two principles. One is relationships…to love and be loved by your family. The other is to live for a purpose bigger than yourself.

Here are the some things you need to know about true manhood:

  • Being a gentleman is still worth the effort:
    • Hold the door.
    • Stand up when a woman leaves or joins the table.
    • Walk on the “splash” side of the sidewalk.
    • Attempt (gently) to pick up the tab.
    • Go get the car when it’s raining.
    • Offer your hand…
  • At the same time, be respectful: All the above “gentlemanly” actions must be offered subtly, and  – if necessary – set aside graciously when refused.
  • Take responsibility: In a word (well, two), “step up.” True manhood takes responsibility for its actions, choices, values and beliefs. And – while taking responsibility, manhood is also willing to admit – with grace – when it is wrong.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable: Real strength allows other people in. Manhood is honest about feelings and not afraid to be known. True manhood never builds a wall where there should be a window, or a fortress where there should be a sanctuary.
  • Actually “being” a man is more important than “talking” like one: Real men don’t just stand up and speak up – they “put up” too. Loud talk and tough posturing don’t cut it. True manhood involves finding a need and doing something about it. Real men don’t complain about social problems – they go out and do something about them. Real men don’t point fingers – they work for solutions. Real men get calluses on their hands – not from flapping their lips.
  • Listen respectfully, disagree politely and never exclude women from conversation: True manhood is inclusive. It may be strong, but it’s unfailingly polite. Men who equate bluster or machismo with strength are typically covering something up. Men who think women have nothing to contribute to the conversation need to wake up and smell the 21st Century.
  • Love is stronger than muscles: True manhood understands that brute force is less compelling than self-giving love. The best solutions to difficulties involved applied love.
  • The first shall be last: True manhood puts others first. Jesus is quoted more than once as saying something like this: If you want to be a leader, then the place to be is on your knees, with a towel in your hand, washing someone’s feet.
  • Manhood is – sometimes – more about what you could do but didn’t than what you could have avoided but did anyway: There’s a lot of restraint – a great deal of “Quiet Strength” in true manhood. Real men tend to always have something in reserve.
  • True manhood is more about giving than about getting: Our culture often touts a “men see what they want, then they go out and get it” view of manhood. But true manhood is more along the lines of “see what the world needs, then go out and do it.” Strength leveraged for the benefit of others.

I want you to know I’m here to help you understand these things and make them a part of the man you’re meant to be.

I love you,

Dad

 

 

Halftime 2016

So, if you’re like me, at the beginning of the year, you set out to accomplish some particular goals this year. For most of us somewhere in the middle of February we start really slipping on those goals, getting behind, maybe even losing hope that we’ll be able to reach them. That’s unfortunate, though, because time and time again people who consistently reach their goals attribute their success to simply being disciplined and determined no matter what, even when things aren’t going well.

How are you doing? Are you reaching those fitness goals, financial goals, family and career goals? It’s very difficult, I know. If you’re like me there are some goals you’re making great progress toward, others not so much, and some not at all. It can be so demotivating to think about the failures, so I want to encourage you.

Whatever it is you’re striving to accomplish is not what defines you. Whatever it is that is holding you back from accomplishing everything you’ve set out to do is not what controls you. Unless you have quit God is not done yet. So don’t.

Maybe whatever you’re aiming for will take longer than you thought. Maybe the target will change a little bit. What are you learning in the process? Who are you becoming? What halftime adjustments are you going to make to keep working toward those goals?

It’s only halftime. There’s still time, and God is still capable of doing miracles on our behalf. Go do what you do.