Perspective

I had a really cool opportunity yesterday. A good friend of mine asked me to shoot a couple head shots for some of the staff of the non-profit he started, Help One Now. (It’s awesome, by the way. Click on the name for more info.) What’s even better is that he paid me in coffee, which is usually an acceptable form of payment for me, by the way.

Anyway…while I was trying to think about a good place to take the pictures one of the guys on the team said, “What about the roof?” It was a beautiful, bright, sunny day and even though I knew the roof probably wouldn’t work because of all the shadows it could cast on them, the fact that they would probably squint a lot, and because it was super bright…I still wanted to see the view.

One thing you should know about me…I love Downtown Raleigh. I love living here. I love the people and the community. And even though it’s not the biggest city with the biggest skyline, I love the way downtown looks. Lucky for me, the rooftop I was exploring was right in the center of downtown.

I climbed the ladder to the rooftop of their office building and fell in love with my city all over again:

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One of the things I got to thinking about during the short time I was up there was, “What if we could do this with our lives?”

It’s pretty cool to find a new spot in the city and to be able to see it from a different perspective than you have before. It gives you a new appreciation for what you love and lets you in on nuances you may not have known before.

Like when you’re flying, for example. Up at 30,000 feet you have a view that you don’t normally get that gives you a different perspective on the world.

There comes a time in our lives when we need to step back and try to view what’s going on around us from a different perspective. To get that 30,000 foot view so we can get the whole picture. To do an honest assessment of the people around us, the direction our lives are heading, the choices we are making or getting ready to make and the way in which we are handling life’s situations.

Sometimes it takes drastic measures in order for us to do this. You may have to go away for a couple days. You may have to really start asking yourself some tough questions. Questions like, “Is this where I want to be? Are these decisions going to get me where I want to be? Are the people around me going to help me or hinder me from being where I need to be? If I’m not where I want to be, what changes do I need to make in order to get there?”

Maybe you’re not able to answer those questions objectively. Of course, only you are able to answer the overall question of where you want your life to go, but another thing you might try doing is asking others around you. Ask your spouse, your kids, your best friend, your girlfriend or boyfriend…whomever you’ve given permission to speak into your life.

If you change your perspective on life, things really begin to change and your life can really be transformed.

Don’t forget though…at some point we have to climb back down the ladder. At some point the plane has to land. We have step back into the first person perspective of life and work hard to make the changes and choices each and every day that will get us where we want to be.

The view is pretty on the rooftop, but the work gets done on the ground floor.

The challenge for both of us today is to get on the rooftop of our lives. To step back and view life from a different perspective. To dream and look towards the future and see if what’s going on around you is going to get you to where you want to be in life. Then to climb back down and get to work.

Let’s do it.

No Pressure…

Funny how things change. One minute I’m just writing to write. Writing about the things going on in my life and things I care about and then all of a sudden it seems like people are paying attention. Things change when you actually have an audience don’t they?

Thanks to being featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed, in the past 24 hours my readership and my subscribers to my blog has gone up almost 10 times.

There’s actually a bit of pressure. I’m almost scared to write. What will people think now that they’re actually paying attention? What do I write about now? It’s questions like that that have been running through my mind through the past 24 hours.

Each of us deal with pressure in different ways. When you get any kind of notoriety or people start to take notice of what you’re doing it’s easy to start to compromise and do whatever you’re doing solely to get more people to take notice. Because it’s a rush. I’ll be honest…I’ve looked at my wordpress stats more in the past 24 hours then I ever have. Because it feels good to have someone notice your work.

But, it’s in those moments where we have to make a decision. The decision between living for those fleeting moments of success, praise, approval…or to choose to stick to your values. To stick to the game plan.

We have to choose the feeling of being valued or remaining true to who we are. That’s called integrity. That feeling of being valued is like nothing else. It really is. And it feels good. But it is just that…a feeling. And if there’s anything that feelings have taught us it’s that they’re misleading. As humans we have demonstrated over and over again that what seems right to us is not always a good indicator of what is right.  What feels right is not always a good indicator as to what is the best decision and what’s the wise thing to do.

Don’t get me wrong. Pleasing people is something that makes me very happy. I know we shouldn’t care what people think about us, but I like people to like me. Call me vain or whatever, but I do…just being honest here. And I’m sure you have feelings like that as well, to some level. But at no point should we sacrifice our integrity or character in order to gain any kind of notoriety.

The challenge, to you, and, more importantly, to myself is to not buckle under the pressure. Whether it’s the pressure of what you want to become, the pressure of who you’ve already become or the pressure of what others want you to become. You be you.

When you do that…there’s no pressure.

Bad Coffee Makes Me Sad

It’s no secret that I love coffee. Over the past couple of years my relationship with coffee has gone to a whole new level. We used to be just friends who would meet every once in a while and only when I was really tired. Also, I never really let coffee be itself around me. I always forced it to take on different appearances and flavors. I never allowed it to be who it really was. It was a very selfish relationship.

Things have changed now. I’ve repented of my ways and really feel like coffee and I have gotten to a level of our relationship that we can both be proud of.

Coffee represents something much stronger to me than flavor.

Even now as I write this I’m staring a 5lb bag of coffee that the coffee club I helped start (Raleigh Coffee Club) purchased for an organization that works with the homeless and at-risk population here in Raleigh (Love Wins). That’s the sort of thing coffee represents for me. Something much greater than a hot cup of black liquid.

It represents community. It represents hard work. It represents friendships. It represents love.

Every time I brew coffee at home, which takes me longer than most people, I’m not just trying to get caffeine in me…I’m participating in an act that not only supports people I care about, but supports employees and farmers I’ve never met, but because they are human I care about them.

It represents to local roasters that I’ve created such good friendships with. It represents the passion they have for their product.

That’s why bad coffee makes me sad.

Because I know how good it can be. And I don’t mean bad just on the basis of flavor and taste, which I’ve had my fair share of, but also bad in the sense of where it comes from and how the workers are treated where it’s roasted and farmed. When you drink “bad” coffee you are supporting that.

And I say without shame, what you buy, eat, drink and do shows what you support.

You can’t say you care about people and serve bad coffee. And again, I don’t just mean by flavor, because that is incredibly subjective…but having coffee that tastes good isn’t a bad idea either.

Don’t take this as a guilt trip, because I, by no means, buy every single thing that supports the right things…but I am making an effort.

Drink good coffee. Good tasting. Good supporting. Good.

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Does Practice Make Perfect?

I’ve played sports almost my entire life. All different kinds of sports. Baseball, basketball, track, tennis, wrestling, tae kwon doe, ultimate frisbee, etc… And throughout all my years of playing sports I’ve been coached by many different kinds of coaches. I’ve had the ones that yell so much their voice is gone before practice is halfway over. I’ve had the passive aggressive ones, who just let you fail till you start paying attention. I’ve also had some great coaches. My dad being one of them.

Despite their coaching style, almost every coach I’ve had used some of the same terminology. This phrase, “practice makes perfect,” has been something I’ve heard since I was a kid. It doesn’t matter the sport or the team this phrase was almost always used.

And now that I’ve had the opportunity to do some coaching for wrestling teams over the past few years I’ve found myself using phrases like this. More specifically the phrase, “perfect practice makes perfect.”

I always tell my kids that how you practice is how you’ll preform when match time comes. Just yesterday we were telling the kids, “matches are won here in practice. Not during the tournament, not during the match, but here in practice. You may get recognized for that win at the match, but you only won because you practiced well.”

I think this goes the same way with our lives whether we are in sports or not. Because when it comes time to preform, when it comes time for the battle to happen, when that choice between good and evil is put before you, you will perform the way you practiced.

And it’s not just about going through the motions. We have to practice well to perform well. I’ve seen kid after kid who went through all the motions during practice. They did the moves. The seemed to be listening, but when it came match time they were never able to perform well.

They didn’t practice well.

The same goes to us. If it’s important for you to be kind to others, to make good decisions, to love people, to pray, to read your bible, to eat well, to not compromise on your integrity, etc…then you have to make those kinds of decisions day in and day out in the little, seemingly meaningless choices we have everyday.

Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything to pray about today. Practice. Maybe you don’t feel like being nice to that person who annoys you. Practice. Maybe you’re trying to read through the bible and you get to Leviticus and you just want to take a few days off and skip it. Practice. Maybe you have a situation where you can compromise a little and no one will ever know about it. Practice. Maybe you got a coupon for a free doughnut in the mail. Practice.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Don’t be fooled by thinking you can continually make bad decisions and then all of a sudden change. You are training yourself for decision making.

So, train well.

Why Sunday?

Believe it or not, I’m actually a big fan of Sunday gatherings.

Not only do I think it’s biblical for us as followers of Christ to gather together in large group setting for the purposes of preaching, teaching, taking of the sacraments, encouragement, worship, etc… I also think it’s an important part of our journey and helps us know we are not alone on this narrow road.

With that said…I also think it’s important for us to ask the question, “Why do we gather on Sunday?”

Is it the end? Does everything we do throughout the week culminate in a worship gathering on Sunday morning?

Sometimes it feels that way. It feels as if we work so hard to make sure everything is so right with Sunday that we tend to forget the opportunities we have Monday through Saturday.

Or…is Sunday the beginning? Like we see in most calendars, does the week start with Sunday morning and everything we do throughout the week flow out of that?

Are the things we hear and do on Sunday mornings reflective of where we’ve been or where we’re going?

It’s a great question. And while I tend to like the idea of Sunday being the beginning of what’s to come, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Something like both/and.

You see, for us to really live out this idea of being The Church then it cannot be confined to an hour on Sunday. We have to see our lives as a living, breathing temple. And when we gather together with other followers on mission then we are being the Church. Sunday has a hard time fulfilling that.

We need to see Sunday morning for what it is. Not as the time for worship, fellowship, teaching, encouragement, participating in sacraments and scripture reading, but as another time for that to happen.

If we claim to be followers of Christ and our only exposure to him is hearing someone else talk about him on a Sunday morning, then it’s time to renegotiate the terms of that relationship.

If we begin to see all of our life, all of our relationships, all of our experiences and all of interactions as worship, all as opportunities to BE the Church, then Sunday morning becomes just another opportunity to do that…not the only one.

So, why Sunday? I submit that Sunday is yet another opportunity we have, as followers of Christ, to be the Church.

Let’s stop looking forward, or back, to Sunday and open our eyes to the incredible opportunities around us to be the Church for the people we encounter.

We Must Be Better (and an apology)

It happened again today…as it does almost every day. Whether in person or via social media I can’t escape it. It’s on people’s lips, in their hearts and minds and at their fingertips. It’s not isolated. It’s at epidemic levels.

People are frustrated at, disappointed in, tired of and disenfranchised from the church.

And I have to be honest…for the most part I can’t blame them.

We deserve it. We’ve failed in a lot of ways.

As someone who serves on staff for a church I have to say it’s heart breaking. Over and over again I hear how people have given up on church because of a bad experience, because they’ve been burned by someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus or because of a decision a church made.

If you’re someone who claims to be in that fold, who follows Jesus, I have a challenge for you today.

We must be better.

According to the bible, we are ambassadors, representatives of Jesus himself. Our lives, everything we do, everything we say, how we drive, how we treat people, everything we don’t do…they let people know who Jesus is. If we claim to represent him we are telling the rest of the world, “If you want to know what Jesus is like, how he treats people, how he cares for people, then look at my life.” That’s the claim we’re making.

You’re not perfect and you’re not Jesus, but that doesn’t matter. The little mistakes you make should be far overshadowed by the good your life produces.

We must be better.

If you’re on the other side of that coin. Someone who doesn’t follow Jesus or maybe even someone who has been burned by the church or someone claiming to follow Jesus, I need you to hear me now…I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for what you’ve experienced from us. I’m sorry for the times that I’ve been the one who didn’t represent what I claim to believe to the best of my ability. I’m sorry for being the hypocrite.

I may not have been there or anywhere near the situation you experienced, but I am sorry for it. I would argue that there’s a good chance what you experienced probably wasn’t Jesus, but I wasn’t there.

What I can promise you is that to the best of my human ability I will try to live the kind of life that Jesus asks me to live. A life that’s worthy of having his name attached to it. A life that makes people think, “God is good.”

I hope when I encounter you that you are overwhelmed with the kind of love that Jesus lived with. And when I screw up (and I will and do almost everyday) I promise to learn from it and be better.

My friends I’m sorry…we must be better.

Leadership?

I had a revelation yesterday. A leadership revelation. And as most revelations come, it came during an activity that usually has nothing to do with leadership. Ultimate frisbee.

I love ultimate frisbee and I should probably write a post about why it’s one of the greatest sports ever (besides wrestling and ping pong), but that’ll have to wait for another day.

Anyway…back to the revelation. We were at a point in the game where our team had just scored and we were getting ready to kick off. At this point we usually pick who we’re guarding for that point. As it usually does, it took a minute to figure out the best match ups and because we had been playing for more than 5 minutes I was tired and knew if I slowed down I would be done.

So, I just quickly decided who would be guarding who and said “Let’s go!” I simply said, “You guard him, you guard her, you guard him.”

Immediately, someone on my team said something to the effect of, “Wow A.J., you really are a leader.” And since I make it a habit to speak before I think, the words that came out of my mouth next were, “Nah, I’m just impatient.”

And that’s when it hit me. How often do we confuse a good leader with someone who can just make a quick decision?

Now, I know why my teammate said what he did. He knows I’m a pastor and a leader at our church, so I’m pretty sure he views me in that way, but still. Just because I was able to make that decision doesn’t mean it was the best one to make. I literally just wanted to get back to the game as soon as possible.

My decision took in no other factors other than the speed at which that decision needed to be made.

I have no research on this, but I wonder if the reason that we have a leadership crisis on our hands is because we’re so desperate for good leaders that we’ll automatically place someone who is able to make quick decisions in charge.

While I see the importance of a good leader being able to make decisions when they need to be made, I don’t think that should be common practice for a good leader. A good leader, at least in my humble opinion, should probably make more slow decisions as opposed to quick, snap judgements.

My decision during the game wasn’t for the benefit of others. No other factors were taken into account. I didn’t assess the strength of my team in comparison to the strength of theirs. I simply made the decision so we could move on.

How often do we do that? How often do we make decisions with only the short term in mind? How often do we not take into account the long-term ramifications of the seemingly little decisions we make each and every day?

A good leader makes decisions in order for the people they lead to be better off. Not for quick personal gain.

My definition of a leader, by the way, is someone who has influence on someone else. With that definition in place, it means that all of us are leaders. Whether simply in your relationships, your marriage, friendships, on your social media networks or in your place of work.

If you are a leader (and I would encourage you to think of yourself as one) I would encourage and challenge you, no matter how you got your position of leadership, to think of your role not as a way to get what you want or even your specific vision. You have the great opportunity to lead people to a place that is better for everyone.

By the way, we lost that point and the rest of the game. In the same way, if your leadership style is about you getting what you want or about making a quick decision simply because you can or because you’re not interested in the long term outcome you too, will lose.

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