Paintings & Mirrors

Am I trying to be a painting or a mirror?

I think this question is tremendously important… So important, in fact, that I think the future of Christianity hangs on this question.

For most of my life, I’ve tried to be a painting.

Paintings are beautiful. They capture the attention of others and often invoke emotion in the hearts of those who gaze upon them. Millions of paintings have been painted over the course of history, some even lasting for centuries and centuries.

I think people want to be paintings… Especially the more ambitious of us. We want complete strangers to look at our lives and stand in awe of our accomplishments. We want every person we encounter to think to him or herself, “Wow… So-and-so is one remarkable person. He’s so talented, gifted, selfless… I wish I could be more like him.”

People everywhere, especially young evangelicals, are challenged to stand out. To be a remarkable painting. To live a life worthy of recognition and honor. To stand at the front of our peers and be more bold, humble, gracious, compassionate, patient, kind, ambitious (fill in the blank!) than everyone else.

So many of the choices I’ve made over the course of my life were made in response to my desire to be the most beautiful painting around.

I didn’t want to have more followers on social media than So-and-So… I wanted to have the most out of everyone I knew… To be the most beautiful painting. I wanted to have the greatest reputation as a leader and all-around-good-guy among everyone I knew… In pursuit of becoming the most beautiful painting. I wanted to live the greatest life and accomplish the most under the illusion that I was doing it “for God”… when in reality I was really doing it for me… In pursuit of standing alone in the front as the most beautiful painting there ever was.

But I’ve realized something incredible recently… It’s completely flipped my perspective.

The people I admire most… The people the world admires the most… The people who are lifted high as examples for living the greatest lives… Are not paintings.

They’re mirrors.

The people who make the greatest impact on the world aren’t the ones who spent every ounce of their time, money and energy in pursuit of making themselves the most beautiful painting…

They’re the ones who choose to lay down the paintbrush and pick up a mirror… reflecting the glory of something (or Someone) greater than themselves.

While paintings say, “Look at me!”,
Mirrors say, “Look at this!”

Mirrors don’t add anything new or special to the image of the person looking into it. They simply reflect everything that’s already significant and worthy of remark the person looking into it already possesses.

I could name any number of people over the course of history whose lives served as mirrors… Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln… but the most significant example of this life is found in the life of Jesus.

Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

Casting aside the opportunity to take glory, fame, recognition, power or credit for Himself, Jesus spent every single moment on earth reflecting the unmatched, unlimited, incredible glory of His Father… His example shows us where the greatest joy in life is found!

And for driven, motivated, competitive people like you and me, the temptation to live our lives as a painting rears its head practically every single hour of every single day… But we must get such a clear image of the wonder and life of Jesus in our minds and hearts that we don’t reluctantly become mirrors.

Quite the opposite… We jump at the chance to do so!

I think that if young believers like us become more preoccupied with working on our individual paintings (whatever that may look like for you or me), outsiders to our faith will cease to see the magnificent grace, the tremendous power, the “love like an ocean” of the God who saved our lives.

We must resolve to be the clearest, purest reflections of the grace, love, power and love of the God whose glory is best reflected, not challenged.

A mirror reflecting the Sun is still a million times brighter than even the brightest, most beautiful painting.

What a privilege it is to be a “mere” mirror!

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Life Is…

It is the soldier coming home from war, beaming ear-to-ear as he kisses his wife and gleefully scoops up his little girl for the first time in months.

It is the timeless scene in a film that we love. When the story consumes us and the world stops spinning… and we forget for a moment that we’re watching a movie.

It is the orange glow of the morning sun peering over the horizon. The feeling of hearing the perfect melody… Where every single note is exactly where it should be. It is the line in a song that brings tears to your eyes.

It is the timeless words of a good book. The blissful experience of laughing and weeping along with the characters in a story we have come to adore.

It is fall on a college campus. The explosion of colors that dance high in the trees. It is the deafening roar of a crowded stadium after a glorious run for a touchdown.

It is the crisp air of the beach and the cool air of the mountains. The sense of smallness one feels while looking out over the ocean.

It is the thunderous crash of a thunderstorm and the breathtaking rainbow that fills the sky afterward. The spectacular sight of millions of stars brightly lighting up the night.

It is a great laugh. Not a giggle or smirk, but a moment of side-hurting hilarity shared among friends. The kind of laugh that can only be experienced, as it is impossible to put into words.

It is the thoughtful note from a friend and the whispered words of a lover. The wonderful tension that hangs in the air when two people start to fall in love.

It is the flutter of a young boy’s heart when he locks eyes with the girl he likes from across the room. And the unique mixture of courage and terror he feels in his chest when he talks to her for the first time.

It is the kind of love shared between a mother and her son… Or between a father and his daughter.

It is the thousand silent words that are said when a proud father hugs the son he loves so dearly.

It is the thrill of the ultrasound and the soft cry of a newborn in the arms of new parents.

It is the dream of making a difference in the world. The short moments of pristine clarity when all of life’s questions and doubts seem to vanish… And everything seems so clear.

It is the soul-crushing loss of a loved one and the stinging pain of betrayal. It is the piercing knife of loneliness and the paralyzing fear of failure.

It is the ache of being so far away from the person you can’t stop thinking about.

It is the warm embrace of a friend and the tears cried into the shoulders of brothers.

It is both the heartwarming love story and the tearful eulogy. It is the wedding announcement and the obituary. It is success and failure. Fear and trust. Joy and pain.

It is every man’s battle with God. The lifelong search for Truth and the ceaseless wrestling of doubt. It is pondering the grand mystery that lies beyond the door of death.

It is seeing a person act selflessly. It is both the immense weight of guilt and the extraordinary experience of Grace.

It is the quiet longing for hope and the freedom in finding redemption.

It is found in the moments we never forget. The memories we tell one another over and over with great big smiles on our faces.

It is the space between what has been, what is and what is to come.

It is having the patience to wait and the humility to trust.

These words attempt to paint a picture of life as we know it.

And this writer believes that above all else…

Life is Love.

Fear

Fear is the voice that lives in me.

He is quiet, yet loud. Small, but strong.

He is a whisper commanding an army of thoughts.
The dense fog that makes it hard to see.

He is the gate between where I am and where I’m going.
The guard who stands at the door of my dreams.

He is a master of lies — The best lawyer I know.
He is awfully cunning — The slyest of foes.

Though he speaks with timidity, his words carry far.
Bouncing off the walls of my heart, they leave many a scar.

Fear is a parasite attached to my life.
A leech — the cause of much sorrow & strife.

A brilliant orator with the hardest of hearts,

Those who listen stand frozen — Paralyzed from the start.

But fear himself is fearful — oh the irony!

A small man with a large shadow…

He is forever intimidating, yet terribly afraid.

A small burst of faith is all that it takes
to knock fear from his post — And his words have no weight.

Oh, that we would all see (though it is difficult, indeed)

That fear is a but a wolf — a wolf without teeth.

To the few who refuse to answer fear’s tempting call…
Fear is but a loud voice in an empty room

With no power at all.

The Storm

 

Today my soul is restless —
A storm with thunderous waves
The water crashes against the boat,
And I know I’m far from brave

The wind is growing louder,
The ocean air turns cold —
The waves are getting stronger,
And I fear the worst will soon unfold

I cry aloud, “Why won’t it stop?”
As the tears stream down my face —
I clutch the boat with trembling hands
And dream of a loved one’s warm embrace

Hours pass. Then days. Then weeks —
I fear my heart can’t take much more
This storm will take me — I know it so,
For I am weak and numb and sore

And just as I fear the end is near,
A light appears — behold, the shore!
I looked once more, and truth be told,
It was as if my heart felt fear no more

A light pierced through the darkened clouds
As I was carried to the sand
I wondered why I ever worried —
My Lord holds the Earth in His hand.

Then a voice from heaven said to me
(Or was it in my mind?),
“Will, why did you fear?
Don’t you know that you are mine?”

That voice I heard — so strong, so calm —
It brought me to my knees
And I tried in vain to say a word
To the One who rescued me.

“Why did I worry? What did I fear?”
That was all that I could say
My God commands the winds and waves —
There is nothing in His way

And so I learned from that great storm
That when the waves grow tall,
There is but one thing I can do —
To trust the One who reigns over all.

Oh, that I would remember this lesson from that storm —
It seems I forget all too often when the clouds above darken…

That from Him my life was formed!

A Plea to Live Like Martin Luther King, Jr.

I started writing this piece about the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, the more I wrote, the more I discovered that the very things that made King’s life so profound find their roots in the life of Jesus. To illustrate the parallels between the two men, I’ve included a few links to passages in the Bible. You’re welcome to skim over these links or explore them more if you so desire.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is a symbol of greatness to men and women all over the world.

I spent much of today reading through blogs and articles that have attempted to capture the essence of this extraordinary pastor-turned-activist from Atlanta, Georgia.

Many writers mention his charisma. Others bring to light his unusual boldness and resolve in the presence of relentless opposition. His impeccable character and unquestionable integrity remain a constant theme in article after article as well.

They all agree that Martin Luther King, Jr. was, by anyone’s definition, a great man. It would be hard to find a person who would not include him among the ranks of men like Lincoln, Roosevelt and Gandhi.

But what is perhaps most striking about Dr. King was his unusual, at times downright strange attitude toward the greatness that was thrust upon him. In fact, King’s words and actions seem to reveal that he genuinely believed he was not worthy of being called ‘great’. The posture King took when describing himself comes across as apathetic at best and self-deprecating at worst.

Upon reading his speeches, sermons and books, one must conclude that this man was not concerned in the slightest about his personal interests, well-being or future legacy. Over forty years have passed since his martyr-like death and it seems that not one person has been able to provide evidence that this man was not as selfless and genuine as his public and private life revealed him to be.

King truly was blameless in the purest sense of the word.

And yet, despite all his efforts to minimize his own contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and lift up the sacrifices of his fellow brothers and sisters in the fight, society has lifted him up to the small, lofty pedestal reserved only for those men and women who are truly great.

This is astounding… It would seem that the men and women whom we esteem to be the most courageous, the most loving, the most compassionate, the most humble, the most authentic and the most selfless were, by their own standards, worthy of none of those claims.

The men who stand on the godlike pedestal of true greatness were the men who cared the least about achieving such a status.

The extraordinary paradox of human greatness is this: The most humble (truly humble) of men are esteemed to be greatest (truly greatest) among men.

Wow.

With this truth in mind, my eyes turn to my life and the lives of my friends. As I write this with trembling hands, everything within me fears that we’ve forgotten what it means to be truly great, and thus what it means to truly live.

Our gifts, skills and talents have become merely tools we leverage to increase our earning capacity.

Our grade point averages, famous colleges and degrees have turned into tiny, shoddy pedestals on which we proudly stand a little bit taller than those around us.

Those around us have been reduced to scaffolding (temporary and replaceable) in our individual quests to make our lives as successful as possible.

Throughout our lives, we’ve been told to get a job (for ourselves) and make a living (for ourselves) and work for forty years (to earn a pension for ourselves) and then retire (so we can have more time to ourselves) and then die of old age (sadly, often by ourselves).

I have a sinking feeling that we’ve been lied to about what life is really all about.

Dr. King taught us that the greatest life lived is not the one spent serving our own interests, but the one lived down on our knees, serving and washing the feet of those around us.

Dr. King taught us that a short life is not a meaningless life. In fact, his untimely death proves that life is not measured by how long we live or how much we have, but about how much we love. Does anybody scoff at how little King likely made as a pastor? Does anybody even care?

My fear is that most of us will spend our entire lives placing our stock into a fund that won’t pay out. Putting our trust in towers that are destined to crumble. Weaving the fabric of our lives in accordance with societal “truths” that are actually lies.

The lie that the best (meaning most meaningful) life is the most comfortable life.

The lie that the best jobs are the ones that pay more than five figures.

The lie that the best relationships are the ones we don’t have to commit to.

The lie that the best nights are the ones we can’t even remember.

The lie that the best friends are the kind who exist to help you get to where you want to go.

The lie that the best God is the one that doesn’t exist.

I fear that many of us are in danger of spending our lives relentlessly pursuing the wrong things.

My fear is not that you are one of those people. My fear is that I am one of those people.

Please understand my heart in writing this to you today. It is not my place to judge anyone’s decisions except my own. You have your reasons for living how you live, and I have mine.

But if I may plead before you today…

Let us at least count the cost before we build the lofty towers of our existence on the foundations of our own selfish desires.

Today, Dr. King reminds us that the most meaningful lives are not constructed on the cracked, cheap, common foundations of “What’s in it for me?”

The most meaningful lives are built on foundations that can’t fail.

My prayer is that all of us would take a moment today to examine the foundations of our lives.

Is the foundation shaky… or sturdy?
Is it destined to fail… or never-failing?
Is it the best (really the best) foundation on which to build my life?

As long as we still have breath in our lungs, it’s never too late to start over. But my suspicion (for I would not be telling the truth if I said that I knew without a doubt) is that one day it will be too late. And our towers will be tested.

On that day, we’ll have only ourselves to blame if they stand in strength or fall in disgrace.

My prayer is that every man, woman, boy and girl on this earth will discover this truth before it’s too late:

The greatest life is not the one lived in the selfish pursuit of me, but in the selfless pursuit of we.

A life that extends past death… and into eternity.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” — Martin Luther King, Jr

I Wrote a Book. Well, Kind Of.

This is something I’m really excited about.

I’ve compiled a few of my favorite pieces from this blog over the last couple years into a short book (29 pages or so) that can be easily read and shared online. I really have no idea if writing in this format will work, but I thought I’d give it a go so that I can figure out if it would be a feasible option for future works.

I’ve realized that the things I write (ie. longer, storylike pieces) might be better suited for a kind of book-esque format. Granted, 29 pages is hardly the length of a typical book, so I realize I may be stretching things here. Booklet might be better term. I’ll let you choose. 🙂

I’d love to ask you for a favor. Would you take fifteen minutes or so to read this work? That would mean so much to me. And if you enjoy it, I’d be very grateful if you considered passing it along to a friend who you think would enjoy it as well.

If you don’t like it, it’s all good. If you’d rather not share it, it’s all good. We’re both new at writing and reading online “books”. It’s all up to you.

I’ve embedded the piece below, but you can also download the book and read it at your leisure.

Lastly, thank you for taking the time to read my writing over the last several years. My life has changed so much since I started this blog almost two years ago, and I thank you for graciously reading the genuine (albeit sometimes too-honest!) thoughts of a teenage guy wrestling with the intricate workings of his faith.

You guys are the best.

Will

A Little Boy and His Bike

This story is part of a collection of works I self-published in a short book. You can download the collection here.

It was early Christmas morning, and all over the world millions of children were waking up, bounding down the stairs and eagerly tearing colored paper from the presents that had somehow magically appeared in the night.

One child, a 6-year-old boy named Michael, ripped off the brightly colored paper of a particularly large present and a great big smile beamed across his face. In a moment of pure joy, the boy wrapped his arms around his daddy’s neck and slurred several excited bursts of “thank you” as his dad beamed from ear to ear.

Michael begged his dad to take him outside and show him how to ride the bike. The boy’s father did what any loving father would do—he hurriedly put on his robe and carried both the little boy and the bike outside into the cold December air.

With the help of his father, Michael got on the bike and carefully placed his tiny hands on each of the handlebars. “I want to go fast, Daddy!” he squealed as he sat down on the bicycle, held upright by the strong arms of his father.

Michael had already learned how to ride a bicycle with training wheels, but this was his first “big kid” bike—the kind all the other first graders had started to ride.

The boy’s father said, “Okay buddy, but let’s take it slow at first.” Michael grumbled and whined a little bit, but something inside him knew (although he would never admit it) he needed his daddy’s help if he was ever going to learn to ride that bike on his own without falling over and getting hurt.

Michael’s daddy took some time to show his little boy how the bike worked. He took out the manual (although Michael insisted he would be fine without it) and flipped through it, showing Michael all the different parts of the bike. He showed him how to push the pedals. He pointed to the pedals and explained how pushing them would move the wheels. He turned the handlebars and showed Michael how to steer in the direction he wanted to go. He adjusted the height of the seat so that the little boy’s feet rested neatly on top of the pedals. Then Michael’s daddy carefully made sure his little boy knew that pedaling backward would stop the bike quickly when he needed to stop.

But like any other energetic little 6-year-old, Michael wasn’t really paying attention. He caught a little bit of what his father was saying, but he couldn’t stop thinking about how fun it would be to ride that bike all by himself. To go fast. To cruise down his driveway and feel the wind rush past his face and push his hair back.

Michael just wanted to get on that bike and ride.

Michael’s father lifted his son up onto the seat. With his hands securely on the shoulders of his little boy, the two rode around the driveway as Michael pedaled excitedly, beaming with pride.

After a few minutes of circling the driveway, Michael squealed, “Let go, Daddy!” Michael’s father thought for a moment, then turned to Michael and told him, “You’re not ready yet, buddy. Let’s take a few more days to practice with just you and me. I’m not sure you’re quite ready to ride on your own. You still need me to hold you up.”

But Michael didn’t see it that way. He threw a tantrum right there in the driveway and started to cry. He didn’t want to ride the bike with his dad holding him up. He wanted to ride that bike by himself. He wanted to proudly show his friends that he could ride the bike (and ride it fast!) all by himself, without his father’s help.

Michael’s daddy tried with little success to calm the boy down. As everyone knows, it’s no easy task to rationalize with a 6-year-old boy. Michael wasn’t going to let up until he had a shot at riding the bike by himself—until he was free from the annoying hold of his father.

So, even though he knew the boy wasn’t ready, Michael’s father agreed to let his little boy have a chance at riding the bike all by himself. Once again, Michael started to ride and his father ran alongside him, still holding the shoulders of his little boy to keep him from falling over.

“Let go, Daddy!” Michael squealed with excitement.

With a little hesitation, Michael’s daddy let go of the boy and slowed down to stop and watch him ride down the street. Somehow, he already knew what was going to happen next.

The little boy rode down the street, pedaling that bright blue bike faster and faster.

Michael beamed with glee. He was riding the bike all by himself. And he loved it. The whooshing sound of the wind flying past him grew louder and louder, and for a few minute he was as happy as could be.

But as he neared the end of his street, he saw the curb at the end of the asphalt approaching quickly. To his dismay, he realized he was going too fast to slow down to avoid the bump at the end of the road. His eyes grew wide and he let out a frightened scream as his bike slammed into the curb at a tremendous speed.

The little boy was thrown from the bike onto the hard asphalt, scraping both his hands, knees and one of his cheeks as he came to an abrupt stop.

Michael sat there for a moment, somewhat shaken up, and his eyes welled up with great big crocodile tears. He whimpered for a moment and began to cry as he lay there, his brand-new, “big boy” bike lying in a heap just a few feet next to him.

“I’m coming, Michael! I’ll be right there!”

The reassuring voice of his father was to the little boy like the taste of fresh water is to the lips of a tired traveler. The sound of that voice, the voice the little boy had tried to ignore—and even resented—just a few moments earlier, made the tears stream down his face with even greater intensity.

Michael’s father ran up to his little boy and scooped him up into his big strong arms. He held the boy close to his chest and whispered into his ear, “It’s okay, buddy. I’ve got you.” The little boy buried his face into the chest of his father, and the tears flowed like waterfalls from his little pale blue eyes.

“Everything’s going to be okay, buddy. Daddy’s got you now. Let’s go home.” And together, father and son walked back up the road to the house.

“Everything’s going to be okay.”

In this story, the little boy is me. And you. The bicycle is life.

Michael’s dad is God.

We all want to ride the bicycle of life on our own.

We don’t like it when someone tells us we need to do something differently or change the way we ride our bikes.

We don’t like training wheels, because that means we’re not totally independent.

We want to go fast and feel the wind in our hair.

And going fast is fun. But we want to go faster. We get too confident, and sooner or later we’re going too fast to stop when the curb approaches.

And we crash.

We lose a friend. Someone close to us dies. Our parents get divorced. We take a risk and fail miserably. We hurt someone. Or someone hurts us.

And whether we like it or not, it’s not a matter of what will happen if we crash. It’s when.

Crashing hurts. The tears may go away over time, but the scars and bruises don’t. And we’re in pain.

But our Father is not far behind.

“I’m coming, buddy.”

Our Father does not say, “I told you so.”Or, “You should have listened to me.”Or, “This one’s on you.”

“Everything’s going to be okay, buddy. Daddy’s got you now.”

This is life. A seemingly ironic, back-and-forth story about riding fast and crashing hard…until we learn to swallow our pride, listen to the loving words of our Father, and do it His way.

And when we feel His strong arms pick us up, a peculiar thing happens.

We’re at peace.

We’re still in pain, but somehow we know everything’s going to be okay in the end.

My prayer is that you would come to know your Father the same way millions (if not billions) of people have come to know Him. To know what it’s like to bury your face into His chest while the tears continue to flow. To feel His arms around you, and to know deep down that it will all work out in the end.

“Everything’s going to be okay, buddy. Daddy’s got you now.

Let’s go home.”