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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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.”

What Am I Living For?

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

I’ve seen two movies—Dead Poets Society and Lincoln—over the course of the last month that have prompted a very serious question to surface in my heart.

I’ve seen Dead Poets Society a number of times, but I always find myself swelling with emotion every time I watch it. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you find it and take an evening to watch it with a friend.

In one particular scene, Robin Williams’ character (Mr. Keating) takes his class of prep school teenage boys into a room filled with pictures of the school’s alumni.

Mr. Keating begins to tell the boys something I’ll never forget…

“Believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die. Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. Do you hear it? Carpe… Carpe… Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

And if that movie wasn’t inspiring enough, I saw Lincoln just a week or two later.

I would venture to say Lincoln is my favorite movie of all time.

Every time Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln character opened his mouth to speak, I found my heart swelling up with something. Admiration? Maybe. Love? Perhaps. Respect? Undoubtedly.

But I think it’s something far more meaningful— a distinctly human desire to make my life count. To matter. To leave a permanent imprint on the soul of human existence.

Both times that I’ve seen Lincoln I found myself unable to sleep the night after watching it. The poignant words of Lincoln’s history-making monologues always find a way of reintroducing themselves to my soul hours, even days after first hearing them.

One particular scene completely overwhelmed me both times I saw this film. (Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler.)

Lincoln is preparing to leave the White House just a day after passing the historic 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. His African-American right-hand offers him gloves, and Lincoln takes them reluctantly, only to place them right back down on the side table as soon as he presumes his right-hand is no longer watching him. This quirky example of Lincoln’s stubbornness resurfaces several times throughout the film.

The right-hand calls to Lincoln as he’s leaving the room that he’ll be late to the theatre if he doesn’t hurry up. The audience knows what is inevitably about to happen next. My eyes (and the eyes of so many more in theaters across America) start to water.

Lincoln walks out of the room and begins the long walk down the White House corridor toward the front door.

And then…the audience sees the African-American right-hand watching Lincoln take his long strides down the hall. The image of Lincoln wearing his iconic top hat while he walks to the carriage that is waiting to take him to the theatre where a man will take his life is one I’ll never forget. Lincoln of course, has no idea his right-hand is still watching him.

And the camera captures a certain look in the African-American right-hand’s eyes, a look that will be very difficult for me to put into words.

The eyes of the right-hand scream with admiration—a rare kind of deep, soul-capturing, whole-being admiration. They gleam with a level of respect that very few men ever garner from another human being (let alone millions) over the course of their short times on earth.

In the eyes of that one African-American man, I can see into the souls of millions more who were freed from the bondage of slavery. And in those eyes, it’s almost as if I can hear the voices of untold millions say in one fantastic voice…

Thank you.

That moment in the film has been seared somewhere deep within my soul. I’ll never forget it.

And inevitably, my heart fills with wonder. What if Lincoln hadn’t given his life to abolishing slavery? What if he had chosen the easier path over the one everyone told him would be (and inevitably was) the source of his demise?

What if Lincoln hadn’t cared so deeply for the people he was called to lead?

And so, I look at my life.

What am I living for?

Am I living for something as valuable as the freedom of human souls living in bondage? Is what I’m living for going to die with me after my friends gather to remember my life and bury me in the ground?

What is worth doing in this world? I mean, really worth doing?

What am I living for?

At the end of the movie, I stuck around for a minute to gather my thoughts. Midway through the credits, I grabbed my jacket, stood up and started to walk out of the theater.

For whatever reason, I stole one last glance behind my shoulder at the people who remained in their seats.

To my amazement, the only people left in the theater were three or four couples of African-American descent, just sitting there. All of them were holding hands.

I walked out of the theater with my face buried deep in the sleeve of my jacket.

Lincoln was able to reach down deep into my heart in a way that very few movies are able to do, and the film was remarkably meaningful for me.

And at the risk of sounding presumptuous…I cannot imagine how much more meaningful the film was for those people still sitting there holding hands in the theater.

A hundred and fifty years after his death, millions of Americans are being reminded of a very human desire that I’m sure many of us had forgotten was there.

A desire to live — not just survive.
A desire to thrive — not just get by.
A desire to dream big — not just settle for normal.

A desire to make our lives count for something far grander than ourselves.

Not all of us will be privileged with creating as grand a legacy as Abraham Lincoln was able to leave behind.

But what’s to say we can’t try?