Eking Out a Living in the Midst of a Breathtaking Setting

September 15, 2010

I have been re-reading the book, Discipling Nations: The Power to Transform Cultures, by Darrow Miller.  I first ran across this book a little more than ten years ago and was captured by the simple yet comprehensive why Miller explained the differences and effects of worldviews.  This is a great book to help in our becoming “rooted” as Jesus mentions in the parable of the seed and the sower.

Here is a fascinating passage from this book:

“When I first came to Food for the Hungry, I visited some friends who were working in a beautiful, almost alpine valley called Costanza in the Dominican Republic.  It has many farms and a temperate climate year-round.  As we drove in, I remarked, ‘This almost look like paradise.’  The people we were working among were some of the poorest in the country, yet I saw some beautiful villas on a hill with a majestic view of the countryside.  ‘Who owns those houses?’  My companions replied, ‘There are some Japanese families here.’  It turned out that these Japanese had come to the Dominican Republic right after the war, with nothing.  Like the locals, they labored as poor farmers.  Yet after just a few decades they were prosperous, while the Dominicans still struggled to eke out a living in the midst of a breathtaking setting.  The difference was not physical; it was worldview.  The Japanese settlers have a social value called ganbare, which roughly translates, ‘Try harder, don’t give up, never give up!’  The local farmers were fatalistic, believing ‘whatever will be, will be.’  A lie.  Ideas have consequences.  As the Bible says, ‘As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.’”

Everyone possesses certain desires that describe the life they were created to live, the effect and offering of their life.  Some men and women simply go for it, with or without God, while others dream but never dare to move toward those desires.  Why?

I think Miller’s story gives us a partial but significant answer – a person’s worldview.  He says, “A worldview, like a road map, sets our direction and guides us through life.  Like wind blowing through the trees, it cannot be seen, yet it enlivens and animates.  Worldview infuses a community [or individual] with life and establishes its dynamic.  It says, ‘This is who we are [or I am].’” Parentheses mine.

This book has really made me think about my worldview.

In the deepest part me (my heart), do I believe that there really is no transcendent purpose for my life, for my desires and abilities, for my relationships, my time?  Do I believe that life is about doing the best with what you’ve got, making the most of it, life is what you make it, if it is to be it’s up to me?  Therefore, if my life is to be meaningful at least to me, I must create my own purpose statement, my own meaning, my own destiny.

Or, do I believe in my depths, that this earthly life is unimportant at best and evil at worst, so God is displeased and staying uninvolved until judgment day?  Do I believe ideas like “whatever will be, will be”, God will do what He wants and He does not care about the things of this world, effort is of no consequence.  Therefore, there is no use in investing my life in anything of this world – community, nation, business, government, education, entertainment, environment, law, science, technology, etc.

Do I really believe, really believe that I am made in the image of God, that He deeply loves me as his son, that He wants me to rule, subdue and bring to fruitfulness His creation, that He is producing in me both the desire and ability to do what pleases Him, and that He is with me in every aspect of my life?  Do I believe that He is a loving father or distant taskmaster?  Therefore, I am fully engaged with this world and my heart because God has created me, rescued me, is restoring and releasing me as His intimate ally in the creative enterprise of life on earth.

The first belief is Secularism.  The second is Animism.  The third is Theism.

“Biblical Theism says that if you want to understand man, you must first study God, because man is made in the image of God, and his primary identity comes from God…God has many personal roles we can infer from the design of the universe.  God is Creator, Designer, Artist, Mathematician, Architect, Composer, Poet, Lover, Communicator, Developer, and so on.”

As an image bearer, you and I have a role in this world, which God cares about.  Let us pursue the development and deployment of our glory (our particular weightiness, splendor, beauty, strength, abundance) because we know that we were created for a great, transcendent purpose in which God is lovingly and intimately involved.

Gary


Trust That God Knows What He Is After

September 2, 2010

The world sets the agenda for the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man.” John Piper

I want to share a remarkable story that involved a friend of mine, John Moorhead.

I invited John to attend a Calling Intensive in Colorado this past month.  Though he wanted to come, he was unable because he was taking a friend to a Wild at Heart retreat that same weekend.  At the last moment, things changed.  He emailed me a week before the Calling Intensive to say that he was now available.  With sorrow, I had to tell him that there was not room.

Two days after the Calling Intensive he wrote me this email:

“As you might recall, a good friend and I were waitlisted for a Boot Camp, and he dropped out, leaving me terribly disappointed.  I then tried to catch what I previously missed in your offering last weekend.  That didn’t work out, either.  In the midst of my frustration and confusion, while seeking God one morning, he moved me to turn on the TV and watch a re-run of Gunsmoke. Yep…it was as clear as pulling me to a Scripture, a book or a movie.  It was weird, but I did what He asked.

The story was about Doc Adams, who was kidnapped, in danger, then emerged risking to trust a young man who was involved, but whom he believed had a good heart.  Doc began mentoring the young man in medicine, and at one point the young man asked him why, at his age and with his experience, he did not return east and join a medical school to teach.  Doc’s response went straight to my heart.  The words were for me:  I believe you should stay where you’re needed and do what you can.” I immediately thought that had something to do with dealing with family issues, which are big.  I was wrong.

Three days later, a man I have known for over 30 years, one of my best friends, previously healthy and only 59, had a cardiac arrest at home.  The EMT’s could not get a pulse for an hour, and the ER doc failed for another half-hour, and came to tell us (family and friends) that he wouldn’t make it.  I have never been more convicted of God’s assignment for me…in this case to lead the family and bring healing prayers to Jack (my friend).  Jack finally got a pulse, was found to have huge damage to his heart, and almost died that night.  He was shocked 4 times, and was stiff, white, cold, and lifeless, except for the blips on the monitor.

Today, 8 days later, he is sitting up in a chair, fully awake and oriented.  He is expected to go home on Friday.  Gary, as a physician, I used to take care of patients like Jack.  They almost never survive something like this, and if they do, there is brain damage.  The power of Jack’s healing has shaken everyone around him, including me.  In my 34 years of practice, I’ve never seen anything like it.  To state the obvious, if there had been room for me at your retreat last weekend, I would have had to cancel.

One of the names God has given me is ‘Compassionate Warrior, faithful and true…apprentice to Christ, called to bring healing in his name…’ As a physician no longer seeing patients, he nevertheless is calling me up.  I now believe it; I now will live out of it; my best days are ahead of me.”

One disappointment leading to yet another, in which God speaks in an unexpected way, positioning him unknowingly in a critical moment that would require the glory (weightiness, splendor, strength) of his life, and revealing at a deeper level the effect of his life – his calling.  Wow.

Sometimes the genesis of disappointment is actually the origin of deeper joy, clarity, restoration and release.  Many times I am somewhere between puzzled and upset with God when something I think ought to have happened doesn’t.  Though I still often respond poorly to my plans and desires being blocked, I am becoming more and more patient, curious and attentive to God in the midst of changing circumstances.

This email from John Moorhead and the personal reflection he inspired reminds me of something we hear from God’s lips frequently:

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on our own.  Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.  Don’t assume that you know it all.”  Prov. 3:5-7 Message Version

Becoming more patient, curious and attentive to God with you,

Gary


Taking Another Look

August 5, 2010


Your Life: A Great Story

July 15, 2010

I just read a great book – a book that I have heard about but never picked up until friends in Australia gave it to me while I was there – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.

They told me that it was because of this book that they were getting married and going to England for a year of training right after their honeymoon.  Wow, that’s a big effect from a book.  Once I got back home, Leigh and I wrestled over the book for 3 days to try to finish it first.

The subtitle is, What I Learned While Editing My Life.  This, to me, is the real title.  It’s about what makes a great story…with your life.  Here are a few excerpts.

“I found myself wanting even better stories.  And that’s the thing you’ll realize when you organize your life into the structure of story.  You’ll get a taste for one story and then want another, and then another, and the stories will build until you’re living a kind of epic of risk and reward, and the whole think will be molding you into the actual character whose roles you’ve been playing.  And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

I think this describes the discontent we all feel with routine, ordinary, traditional life and the desire we have for more.

“A story is made up of turns, Robert McKee says.  Once an ambition has been decided, a positive turn is an event that moves the protagonist closer to the ambition, and a negative turn move the protagonist away from his ambition.  All stories have both.  If a story doesn’t have negative turns, it’s not an interesting story.  A protagonist who understands this idea lives a better story.  He doesn’t give up when he encounters a setback, because he knows that every story has both positive and negative turns.”

Our reaction to circumstances will change as we desire to live a “good story” and understand that “negative turns” make your story even better.

“It’s true that while ambition creates fear, it also creates the story.  But it’s a good trade, because as soon as you point toward a horizon, life no longer feels meaningless.  And suddenly there is risk in your story and a question about whether you’ll make it.  You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Finding and pursuing our true ambition, our greatest desire will make our life a “great story”.

Let’s live a great story together…starting this summer.

Gary


“This is that for which he was made…”

June 3, 2010

“There is a chamber in God Himself, into which none can enter but the one, the individual, the peculiar man, – out of which chamber that man has to bring revelation and strength for his brethren.  This is that for which he was made – to reveal the secret things of the Father.”  George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons

What an amazing way to look at our life and calling – our being with God in that place and manner that only we have with Him, as a child with their father, from which we offer to others what was given to us. 

There is a particular way that you and I like to be with God.  For one person it is taking walks with Him, for another it is pouring over scriptures in isolation and yet for another it is worship music and movement.  I can easily trip over people’s ways of being with God until I think about how each son and daughter is different with the same father.

I love to be alone with God, in quiet place, for a block of time, with a stack of books around me and my laptop with which to write and connect my discoveries.  It is from this time with The Artist that my artistry flows (see the previous eLetters about living like an artist).  I need to admit that I do not do this all the time – it’s on and off, hit and miss.  I can easily get caught into the day’s work first thing in the morning, losing my individual time with God and eventually losing sight and source of my artistry. 

This idea of bringing “revelation and strength” for others from my secrete place with God is both freeing and motivating.  To offer revelation, insight, truth, light, clarity and strength, hope, heartiness, vitality, passion to other’s throughout our days is a wide-open proposition.  I believe that it means simply having our life from God on the tip-of-our-tongue and on the tips-of-our-fingers ready to offer at the appropriate moment.

May we come to greater “knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake” (Philemon 1:6), working “with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col 1:29), “spurring one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 3:13) by “warning those who are idle, encouraging the timid, helping the weak and being patient with everyone” (I Thess. 5:14).

Offering out of my time with God,

Gary


Wearing Out Our Soul by Attrition

May 20, 2010

My friends,

I open my personal journal to you, my expeditions and explanations with God, this morning. 

I was reading an excerpt from C. S. Lewis’, The Screwtape Letters.  In this selection, senior devil Screwtape is instructing junior devil Wormwood how to defeat followers of God.

“The long, dull monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather.  You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives, and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it – all this provided admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.  If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger.  Prosperity knits a man to the World.  He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him.  His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on Earth, which is just what we want.”

As I read this I was stunned by the accuracy and pervasiveness of these assaults on a man or woman.  I know this to be true by my own experience as well as conversations with others.

It is so hard for these creatures to persevere.”  This is so true.  Perseverance is more essential to the Christian life and our calling than we’d like to believe.  You and I can do or be just about anything for a moment, but over time who we truly are and our level of fitness will be revealed.  We don’t persevere for an instant or a moment, we persevere a season.  Only time can give birth to perseverance.  Those who possess a “noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it” and who persevere “produce a crop”.  (Luke 8:15)  There is no fruitfull life with perseverance…in the right things.

The routine of adversity

The gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes

The quiet despair of ever overcoming chronic temptations

The drabness which we create in their lives

The inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it

Being knit to the World through a sense of being really at home on Earth

Check, check, check, check and check…I am familiar with these assaults and know how effective they are.  We must recognize that this is not “the way life is”, accepting it and thereby letting the enemy wear out our soul by attrition.  We must not fall under his evil spell.  I believe that the way we overcome this assault is to fervently guard our heart, stay close to God and live like an artist in the fellowship of artists.  Paul wrote, “I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake”.  (Philemon 1:6)

Winston Churchill said, “Virtuous motives, trampled by inertia and timidity, are no match for armed and resolute wickedness.”

Fighting inertia and timidity with compelling and courage (I guess that’s what a movement is),

Gary


What Then Is Genius?

May 13, 2010

God continues to speak to me about how we are to live like an artist.  This morning I read this excerpt from The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer.  These words ad depth and color to the quote I concluded with in my last eLetter:  “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist…” –  André Gide.

The Pursuit of God, by A. W. Tozer – The Speaking Voice, Chapter 6

When God spoke out of heaven to our Lord, self-centered men who heard it explained it by natural causes: they said, “It thundered.”  This habit of explaining the Voice by appeals to natural law is at the very root of modern science. In the living breathing cosmos there is a mysterious Something, too wonderful, too awful for any mind to understand.  The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, “God.”  The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things. Just now we happen to be living in a secular age.  Our thought habits are those of the scientist, not those of the worshipper. We are more likely to explain than to adore. “It thundered,” we exclaim, and go our earthly way. But still the Voice sounds and searches. The order and life of the world depend upon that Voice, but men are mostly too busy or too stubborn to give attention.

Every one of us has had experiences which we have not been able to explain: a sudden sense of loneliness, or a feeling of wonder or awe in the face of the universal vastness.  Or we have had a fleeting visitation of light like an illumination from some other sun, giving us in a quick flash an assurance that we are from another world, that our origins are divine.  What we saw there, or felt, or heard, may have been contrary to all that we had been taught in the schools and at wide variance with all our former beliefs and opinions.  We were forced to suspend our acquired doubts while, for a moment, the clouds were rolled back and we saw and heard for ourselves.  Explain such things as we will, I think we have not been fair to the facts until we allow at least the possibility that such experiences may arise from the Presence of God in the world and His persistent effort to communicate with mankind.  Let us not dismiss such a hypothesis too flippantly.

It is my own belief (and here I shall not feel bad if no one follows me) that every good and beautiful thing which man has produced in the world has been the result of his faulty and sin-blocked response to the creative Voice sounding over the earth.  The moral philosophers who dreamed their high dreams of virtue, the religious thinkers who speculated about God and immortality, the poets and artists who created out of common stuff pure and lasting beauty: how can we explain them?  It is not enough to say simply, “It was genius.”  What then is genius?  Could it be that a genius is a man haunted by the speaking Voice, laboring and striving like one possessed to achieve ends which he only vaguely understands? 

Listening to His Voice,

Gary


Live Like an Artist

May 5, 2010

Several years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night worried by the uncertainties in my life… Am I doing what I’m supposed to do? Am I where I’m supposed to be? Am I doing life the right way? Are my motives right?  I decided to go into another room so I could pray out loud and journal my thoughts with God.  After forty minutes of mumbling and stumbling my way into the issues of my heart, God answered me with one sentence – “Live like an artist”.

I pondered and journaled what that meant.  I believe that living like an artist means to create (to bring into form) that which is on your heart for the pure joy and curiosity of its potential beauty and benefit.  I realized that there were moments throughout my life when I lived that way, especially when I was younger – drawing, building, doing gymnastics.  Pablo Picasso wrote, “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” 

I realized that God was telling me to “live” differently, not just “do” differently.  For the most part, even though I was engaged in doing what I loved, my motivation had become contaminated by concerns about interest and income, acceptance and appreciation.  Living the “way of an artist” would mean I would create and offer simply because I am compelled to create and love to offer what God has given me.  “Art is not a thing” Elbert Hubbard wrote, “it is a way.”  I understand more deeply now what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:29) 

To live as an artist is to allow whatever it is that “works so powerfully” in you – to come out.  To refuse to let your glory (your particular splendor, brilliance, abundance) be defined, valued or constrained by others.  To live as an artist means to develop your art through study, training and experience with whatever time and resources you have, because you love it – not because others are asking for it or you are getting paid for it. Terri Guillemets wrote, “Art is when you hear a knocking from your soul – and you answer.”  

The term “art” comes from the Greek work “techně” which actually implies the mastery of any sort of craft.  In Latin “art” is “ars” which means, skill or technique with the connotation of beauty.  So art is something that you master to the point of beauty; be it photography, questions, music, organization, engaging, speech, colors, encouragement, structure, writing, conciliation, systems, envisioning or a thousand other things.

We are after all, God’s masterpiece – “For we are His masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared long ago to be our way of life.” Eph. 2:10 (ISV)  We were created to be an artist, to create “good works”.  This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “We pray…that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power. (2 Thess. 1:11)  “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist…” said André Gide.

Seth Godin, in his recent book; Linchpin, said that serious artists distinguish between their art and the stuff they have to do when they’re not doing their art.  This is a good fantasy buster – no one gets to do what they love all the time, no one gets to only do their art.  There is our art, our “good works that God prepared long ago to be our way of life,” and there are the things which create and sustain the environment of our artistry, our good works.  We can confuse these two things to the point of thinking that we love nothing, life is simply about obligation and duty and artistry is unattainable.  To break through the “unattainable” barrier, Godin suggests we finish this “if only” statement: “I could find the time and energy to do my art if only….”  Try this…really!  It’s very revealing.  The answer(s) to this question will help us to see the real issues at hand so that they can then be addressed. 

One of the secrets of our artistry (our calling), is that we possess a surprising forbearance with the mundane tasks of life when we know that they are simply a means by which we enrich our artistry.

Your fellow artist,

Gary


The Thread of Desire

April 24, 2010

I’ve just posted a new pod-cast that I know you will enjoy.  It’s titled, The Thread of Desire, with Kevin Miller and Jon Dale.  In this conversation we start with the work/job they have each created which centers on their greatest interests and desires…and then we go back into their stories tracing their route to the place they are today.  It is our pilgrimage, as it is theirs.  There is a lot of insight and wisdom shared during our conversation.

 Go to www.thenobleheart.com/podcasts

I know it’s hard to find the time to listen to something for 40 minutes, but you don’t want to miss this.  Let me encourage you to download this to you computer and put it on your iPod or burn a CD and then listen to it in your car or while you are exercising or doing the dishes.  Honestly, this and the two other pod-casts are gold!  I smile when I think about the conversations I recorded with Jeff Andrechyn and Brian Golter – I learned so much.

Go to www.thenobleheart.com/podcasts 

Gary


Search & Rescue

April 4, 2010

This is a great 40 minute conversation I had with a friend of mine, Brian Golter.  Brian recently wrote a book, Your Right Job Right Now, which is one of the most honest and encouraging books I’ve read concerning a person’s journey into becoming who they were created to be.  I know you’re thinking, “but the book title doesn’t match your description of the content”.  You’re right – his story and insights are bigger than any title can fully capture.  SO, you’ve got to listen to this pod cast.

You can either download it onto your computer or iPod or you can listen to it on-line, in which case I have broken it down into 4 ten minute segments.

You can get more information about Brian and his book at http://mybossjune.com