Tag Archives: purpose

Interview with the Newton Part 2: Questions from Tek

I finally watched that Daniel Ingram interview (which was splendid, by the way), so now my subconscious seems to be content to sit in the corner humming the new Coldplay single and let me write in peace.  Hooray!  Now if I can just stay away from Hyperbole and a Half for more than fifteen minutes at a time…

Anyway, since I answered all those stellar questions from my friend Adam Swensen in yesterday’s post, I’m finishing off our little interview today with some equally inspired queries from the broniest of bronies, Tekaramity!  Let’s do this!

1. What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of your life? Yes, “God’s plan” is an answer, but I’m looking for a certain specificity. Have you established yet any goals you’ll be looking to reach long-term? Do you know yet what approaches, tools, talents, and allies you’ll need to reach those goals?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a best-selling author.  I still have a book bound in cardboard that I dictated to my mom when I was three years old.  It featured a brave knight and a princess and a baby named Penelrocker, and at the end I told her to write “look for more adventures of the prince and princess coming soon!”.  Sadly, that series was discontinued, but I held tightly to my love for  storytelling and my desire to be a famous writer.  As I matured, however, I realized that becoming famous is never an end, it’s a means,and if I were to gain all the fame in the world and use it as a means to make myself feel good then I would have utterly wasted my life.  In God’s hands, however, fame becomes such a powerful tool for influencing the culture, and as I caught the vision of how He could use me if I were both a best-selling author and a sold-out, fully-surrendered Christian I knew that that was what I wanted to pursue.  In many ways, I’d like to live a life much like that of John Green, a successful author who leverages his fame to, in his words, “decrease worldsuck and increase awesome”.  I want to proclaim the gospel, help the hurting, challenge the apathetic, and encourage the disheartened, and I want to use my passion for writing to do it.  I want to reach the world in big ways, and the only way I can do it is through perseverance, dedication, the support of my friends and family, and the power of my God.

2. Why do you write this blog? Put simply, why do you believe what you say matters to your reading audience? This isn’t a confrontational question, mind you, nor is it an assault on your writing or mindset therein. This is simply opening a venue that allows you to explain the blog’s purpose and the dedication driving it.

This is a question with which I’ve been wrestling for some time.  I started this blog as a place to post samples of my writing, and it’s slowly evolved over time into the eclectic mixture of posts that it is today.  Lately, I’ve really lost track of what exactly I’m trying to do here, and my writing has suffered as a result.  I’ve been overcritical, like if there’s any chance that someone might not like what I’m writing then it’s not good enough, and I end up spending hours writing stuff I don’t even like.  Finally, I sat down and thought about it for a while, and I realized that I’ve lost sight of why I started writing this blog.  I don’t write to impress anyone or to garner a lot of views or to become some kind of Internet celebrity.  I write to practice, I write to stretch myself creatively, and I write in the hopes that, by sharing my life and my experiences with others, I can bring them some measure of the encouragement or inspiration or laughter or guidance that God has given me.  This blog’s purpose is to brighten the day and nourish the soul of anyone who happens to stumble across it, and the best way that I know of to do that is to be myself and love God with all of my heart, and to let that come out in every post I write.

3. Suppose there exists someone you’ve personally known for quite a while (preferably much of your time alive) whose contributions into your life you really ought to acknowledge verbally more often. Acknowledge that individual, describe what that person has done for you, and explain what you hope you can do to return the investment. Be bold.

As it just so happens, someone like that really does exist, and his name is Pastor Derek Max.  Pastor Derek, I first came under your leadership as a cripplingly insecure Junior Higher.  I had almost no friends and even less confidence, but you saw that there was more to me, and you gave me the encouragement I needed to open up and overcome my shyness.  As I grew as a person and as a Christian you took time out of your life to study the Bible with me, to take me out to lunch and talk about life, to push me to reach for more.  Even when I couldn’t make it to youth group for two years in a row because of other responsibilities, you made it your mission to include me in your life.  I remember one year when I didn’t want to come to Fall Retreat.  You called me up at home and asked me why not, and you wouldn’t take any of my weak excuses.  That weekend turned out to be one of the most important of my high school years.  You gave me opportunities to use my gifts to serve the youth group, and you worked alongside me as I wrote and taught and offered me advice on how I could be better.  Your love and guidance have been fundamental in making me the man I am today, and I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever thanked you for it.  So let me say it now: thank you, Pastor Derek, for showing the love of Christ to a loner and helping him to become a leader.  I know that the only way I could adequately return your investment is to pay it forward, to invest myself in the lives of hurting youth and give to them the same gift of friendship that you’ve given so abundantly and selflessly to me.

4. Why is Photo Finish so amazing!? (I want lots of mature analysis on this one!)

One ridiculous accent + one pair of fantastic sunglasses + several quotable catchphrases + epic personal background music that follows her around everywhere = best secondary character of all time (sorry, Luna fans).
In layman’s terms, she has… DE MAGICKS!

And now, it’s time for me to sleep.  After all, tomorrow I have the thing at the place, and I don’t want to be late.  Thanks for the great questions, Tek and Adam!  I GO!

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What’s Not To Like?

We’ve all been there before.  You’ve just finished watching a movie or reading a book and there was just something about it that left a bad taste in your mouth.  You can’t quite put your finger on it, you just didn’t enjoy it.  Unfortunately, in most cases we don’t give it any further thought.  Our only concern in entertainment is whether or not it successfully entertains us, so the reasons behind our reactions are often left unconsidered in favor of simple like-or-dislike assessments.  That’s a shame, because we could glean dozens of lessons by stopping for a moment to question why the things that please us please us and why other things don’t.  Which parts of the story failed to hold your attention?  What lines made you cringe?  Which characters annoyed you and which did you wish had gotten more attention?  What is it about those things that you find boring, unnerving, obnoxious, or appealing?  For a story-lover like myself, these questions perform a double purpose.  Not only can they offer boundless insights into what makes me who I am, sometimes even convicting me of things that I need to change, but they also unlock a wealth of truths about what separates the great stories from the weak.

One example is yesterday’s new episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, “The Show Stoppers”.  A lot of fans didn’t like it, but they were awfully vague as to why.  Most of them gave one or two reasons at best, and many of those were superficial, but I have to admit that I agree with the general consensus.  There was something about the episode that didn’t work well, and my writer’s mind had to know what it was.  I spent a little time thinking through those critical questions, and pretty soon I had an idea of what was off about the episode: there was no focus.  One of the things that I loved about many of the previous episodes was their clarity and focus.  Each episode was moving toward a goal, a moment of character development, and each scene served to build up to that moment, developing a theme and moving the story toward a satisfying conclusion.  In “The Show Stoppers”, though, a lot of scenes seemed tacked-on.  Instead of weaving jokes into scenes, they added unneeded scenes as platforms for their jokes, and there were a couple of montages that really could have gone without saying (or showing in this case).  Because of all of that time spent on scenes that didn’t add to the theme, any attempts at character development felt rushed, and by the end of the episode there was still no real theme.  None of the characters changed, none of them learned anything, they simply experienced the events of the episode and moved on.  Every good story needs a goal toward which to move, and it needs to ignore the details that don’t move it there, and that’s where “The Show Stoppers” fell short.

If I’d just shrugged and written off the episode as “lame” or “boring” from the moment the credits rolled, I wouldn’t have learned anything from the writers’ mistakes.  By thinking through what I didn’t like and how I might have done it differently, I got some great mental exercise in pacing and theme development.  Think about all of the opportunities that we pass up when we settle for merely being entertained, and imagine all we could discover if we approached entertainment with our minds engaged and probing questions at the ready.  Every story we experience could become a chance to think and learn and grow, and what’s not to like about that?

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Do Stop Believing?

Today, as I was playing around with the AMAZING grand piano in the Lake Ann Camp chapel I decided to try and figure out “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.  As I listened to the song to get a feel for the notes, I couldn’t help but think about the message it portrays: Just keep believing in… well, something, you know, that feeling, with all the streetlights and the people… as long as you don’t stop believing you’ll find what you’re looking for in the end… right?

Or wrong?  Could it be that we are believing in a whole lot of things that won’t make us happy, and we refuse to stop because we just KNOW that if we hold onto that feeling we’ll find true happiness at the end?  What if we were to sing “DO Stop Believing”?  Stop believing in entertainment and relationships and dreams of stardom.  Stop believing in people to never let you down and always lift you up.  Stop believing in what’s here today and gone tomorrow.  And start believing in something real, something eternal, a hope that will never disappoint.  Start believing in the promise that evil men are ensnared in their own sin, but the righteous can sing and be happy (Proverbs 29:6) or the one that says that the lions may go hungry, but whoever seeks the Lord lacks no good thing (Psalm 34:10).  Start believing that although people will sometimes let you down, God will hold you up and work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28).  Start believing that there are eternal consequences for every choice you make, and let it show in the way that you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-17).

There is a life full of purpose, joy, satisfaction and wonder.  But you won’t find it in a smoky room or with the streetlights and the boulevards.  You’ll find it in the Word of God,  in doing God’s will and honoring him with every choice you make.  And if you don’t stop believing in Him, you’ll reach the end of your race someday and find Him waiting for you with open arms.  And that’s a feeling you’ll want to hold onto.

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Love, Silence, and Escalators (or, Why I Don’t Matter Anymore)

For a while now, God’s been sort of nudging me in the ribs. “I want you to stop,” He said. “Pause, rest, slow down, shut up and listen for a change.” It took me some time to make out what He was saying over the noise of my TV, computer and MP3 player (not to mention my self-preoccupied mind), but on Monday I heard three words loud and clear: “Turn it off.” So I did. Starting Wednesday, March 31st, I shut down, turned off, and set aside all of the distractions in my life and committed to a week of quietness, focused on Him. The effect was staggering. It’s truly incredible how much easier it is to hear God when He’s the only one you have to listen to – and how convicting some of the things He has to say can be. As a sort of focal point for the week of the media fast, I decided to go through the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. From day one, the message of that book hit me straight in the heart, and it hit me hard. My mind had been so focused on me – what I wanted, what I needed to do, what I had to say – that I had lost sight of who God really is. In my mind, He had become a sort of add-on to my daily life. But as Francis Chan puts it, “God is not someone who can be tacked on to our lives.” This passage from “Crazy Love” sums it up perfectly: “It’s easy to fill ourselves up with other things and then give God what’s left. Hosea 13:16 says, ‘When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.’ God gets a scrap or two only because we feel guilty for giving Him nothing. A mumbled three-minute prayer at the end of the day, when we are already half asleep. Two crumpled-up dollar bills thrown as an afterthought into the church’s fund for the poor. Fetch, God!” It was shocking to see my soul mirrored in Chan’s writing, not because of how scarily accurate he was, but because of how scary the picture was that I saw. How could I have shoved God, my Creator, so far to the side? How could I have ever thought that giving Him my leftovers was okay? The answer lies in my view of God. I thought I knew so much, that I understood God, but that was my first mistake. God is too much for any human to understand, just as surely as the ocean is too big to fit in a shot glass. In assuming that I understood God, I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did not. In essence, I had forgotten what God is really like. As I read the chapters in “Crazy Love” that detail the immenseness of God, the chorus of a song kept running through my head: “What do I know of you who spoke me into motion? Where have I even stood but the shore along your ocean? Are you fire? Are you fury? Are you sacred? Are you beautiful? What do I know? What do I know of holy?” Those words became my cry to God. “What do I know of you? Who do I think I am to claim that I am greater? How foolish, pretentious – even evil – is it for me to throw to you the leftovers of a life that you give to me in the first place… and could take away in an instant? I don’t want to be that way anymore, but what can I do about it?” Again, Chan is spot on: “If life is like a river, than pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream. When we stop swimming, or actively following Him, we automatically begin to be swept downstream… We are on a never-ending downward escalator. In order to grow, we have to turn around and sprint up the escalator, putting up with perturbed looks from everyone else who is slowly moving downward.” For about a month now, God has laid on my heart the idea of living life on purpose, not wasting it. But in order to truly not waste my life, I have to chase Him with all that I have. And I have to do it now. I have to choose not to waste today, this hour, this instant, because that’s really all the more life I’m guaranteed. I’m not invincible. This body is not immortal. My window of opportunity to truly love God and others, to make a difference in this world, is incredibly small. I have to seize it now. And that means I have to change the way that I live, the way that I spend myself. I have to run up the escalator, to undergo the transformation from lukewarm to obsessed, from self-serving to all-out, crazy, obsessive, compulsive God-loving. And I need Him to help me, to show me how to love, to keep me on the course so that I can finish strong. Because one day, I’m going to stand before Him, and He’s going to ask me, “What did you do with what I gave you?” And suddenly, any answer but “I loved” is going to seem foolish, because in the end that’s all that matters.

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A Love That Feels

Why is it so easy for Christians to be suspicious of emotions?  Let me explain: last Saturday I attended a meeting of Prayer House, a group of young people who meet for three hours every week in Grand Rapids to worship and pray.  As I listened to them singing and praying, I noticed the emotions begin to run high.  The prayers were powerful and the music moving, people lifted up their hands and even wept.  It really was beautiful, but my gut response was doubt.  “Are these people just putting on a show?” a voice in the back of my mind asked.  “Are they sincere?  Or are they just looking for an emotional high?”  As I examined myself, I could see that the seat of my suspicion was in the cynical, legalistic part of me, the part that insists that following God is a dry business of just doing the right things in the right order and staying away from sin.  But as I listened to two young women sharing their thoughts about God’s love, I was reminded that God gave us our emotions, and just like everything else he built into our beings they are there for one purpose: to love and praise him.  God has been pursuing us from the beginning of time.  He loves us with a fierce, jealous, passionate, emotional love.  He sings and he weeps over us.  So maybe there’s nothing wrong with the man standing in the corner, his hands raised and eyes teary with gratitude  to the God who gave His Son to save him.  Maybe the problem lies with my broken perspective on what loving God looks like.  Sure, emotions come and go, and we can’t depend on a warm feeling to keep us close to God.  But how could our hearts not be moved when we think of how deeply God treasures us?  How could we not think about him like a lover obsesses over their beloved, trying to find every possible way to bring a smile to his face – the way he thinks of us?  How could we refuse to give him our love in return, a love that weeps when we hurt him and rejoices to see him honored?  A love that touches the deepest emotions of our hearts and harnesses them for his praise and glory.  God asks us to love him not only with our minds and our strength, but with all of our heart and soul.  He has created us for this great romance, and he has done all within his power to win our hearts.  Have you surrendered to the overpowering wonder of his love – a love that can both unleash the deepest emotions of our souls and carry us through the times when they run dry because we know that he still loves us the same?  Have you opened your heart to a love that feels?

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