Dogovan’s War

Check out this book my friend Will Mari recently published on Kindle!!!


Dogovan’s War: Dueling the von Tamms

If you’re an Amazon Prime member and Kindle owner, you can checkout the book for free!

Otherwise, if you buy it through that link, I get a small cut for things like Halloween candy, and…

  • You’re helping launch the career of an awesome budding author
  • You’re helping a generous grad student feed cookies to a community of aspiring authors (the Notion Club) every Friday night
  • You’re increasing the likelihood that other Amazon customers will enjoy his action-packed, WWII thriller.
  • You’re getting a fun book to brighten a gloomy autumn weekend (or if you’re in a place like Hawaii, to enjoy on the warm beach)

And if you’re feeling generous or really enjoyed the book, don’t forget to share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Pinstagram, PinnedIn, Twitbook, … you get the idea (I think you can use the buttons at the bottom of this post to do it :-))

Thanks!

Lonelyphobia

After a tiring week at work, I wanted nothing more than to relax at home alone, but a gnawing anxiety crept through my heart on the bus ride home. I’m calling it lonelyphobia.

There are all sorts of causes for lonelyphobia and in my case, I felt “lame” for not wanting to socialize. I felt like a loser for staying home on Friday night and feared that I actually didn’t want to be alone, but was simply too “lazy” to seek company. Thankfully I could share these feelings with my sister and she said that barring the miraculous appearance of a girlfriend I should buy a dog.

I think most dogs are excellent emotional capacitors. You lavish them with affection and when you’re down they can return it to you in full measure. Their cute faces act like mirrors of the soul, reflecting back to their caretakers the feelings they have been nurtured with. Unlike humans, you can almost be sure that the delight you express towards a dog will be happily reciprocated without making the relationship confusing or awkward.

Yet with all its joys, the dog-man relationship falls short of human companionship. My friend Will recently noted that loneliness wasn’t so much, “a lack of society, but a lack of like-minded society–people who you can share your heart and interests with.” His thoughts echo the Scriptures:

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

I think we often mistake socializing for companionship. How often have you been to a gathering where you made smalltalk, but never connected with anyone? Have you had lunch with a friend, but felt miles apart in conversation? Although “it is not good for a man to be alone“, it seems better for a man to know he is alone than to confuse superficial relationships with true companionship. There’s no point getting demoralized over not socializing enough, but it seems good to be “anxious” to find loyal friends.

Do you have true companionship?

Sign up here if you’re looking (don’t worry, it’s private :-)):

I think lonelyphobia is particularly common among goal-oriented people. We feel frustrated if we hang out at the expense of making progress on our goals, but we feel guilty if we don’t socialize because we are pursuing our goals. The goal could be as simple as doing well on an exam or as complex as creating a company, but whatever it may be, we crave companions who share the same mission (by the way, please leave a comment if you care about technology entrepreneurship for the gospel!).

As I wrestled through writing this post, I realized that although I could suggest visiting meetups around common interests, attending conferences or joining a small group, I didn’t really have any answers. The only hope I have is God. If he has called you or me to a mission, there’s probably going to be plenty of loneliness (and joy) along the way.

God sent Paul to preach the gospel and he was deserted by his ministry team. Elijah’s passion for God made him the target of an assassination so that he fled into the wilderness alone to save his life. Jesus knew his disciples would all leave him when he faced his deathly mission to save the world by sacrificing his own life. In every instance the only hope they had was that God remained with them. No wonder the Scriptures ring with refrains of:

  1. I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5Joshua 1:5)
  2. I am with you always (Matthew 28:20)
  3. Be strong and courageous, for I am with you (1 Chronicles 28:20Joshua 1:9)

So if you feel lonelyphobia, trust in God! Don’t feel guilty over not socializing (that’s my merit side saying I don’t deserve friends if I don’t hang out…). Don’t feel lazy self-pity over having no true companions (they are a grace we should ask God for and take responsibility for loving). Buy a dog, attend a meetup, invite a friend to dinner, but always remember that God is with you and that he alone can fully satisfy your desires for companionship, intimacy, and adventure.

Note: This post was really hard to write because the topic felt way too big. I didn’t get to address dating, fellowship, leadership, the etymology of companion (breadfellow), and so much more. If you’d like to add more the conversation, please leave a comment!

PS, Here are affiliate links to books you might find helpful:

Why Captain America leads the Avengers


Why do all the Avengers follow Captain America?
He isn’t the strongest–maybe because he’s the oldest :-)?

(Note: all product links in this post are affiliate links–I just learned the FTC started requiring disclosures on every post since 2009! I’ll try to keep them as unobtrusive as possible.)

This question came up in a conversation with my friend Marco after church one week. I was lamenting how rare it is to experience the camaraderie exemplified in the Avengers in real life. If you’re like me you’ve probably encountered group projects where slackers ride on the coattails of 4.0 GPAddicts, team sports where star players hog the ball, committees where most people seem noncommittal, and teams where everybody is focused on their own deliverables (I admit I’m to blame in many cases!). In fact, I can’t recall the last time I’ve experienced the kind of teamwork where Iron Man blasts at Captain America’s shield while he turns 180 degrees to wipe out a wave of saurian aliens.

Marco said he experienced this frequently.

How? It turns out that he was referring to DOTA, a wildly popular battle arena game (now succeeded by LoL). He explained that the way to win was to know your teammates so well that you could instinctively coordinate attacks as one unit. The initiator of these attacks was typically a “tank” player who had enough health to absorb heavy damage. The rest of the team would follow him into battle and unleash their powers while the opponents were focused on him.

Now you might think that the Hulk is the Avenger’s “tank” because he gets stronger the more damage he takes, but it turns out that Captain America is the one everyone follows despite being one of the weaker characters. Marco thinks (and I agree) that Captain America is the leader because he is the guy who will sacrifice himself for the mission and for the others. They know he always has the mission and their best interests at heart. Iron Man is too self-centered. Thor is too self-absorbed. Hulk is out of control. Hawkeye and Black Widow are best in supporting roles. But together under the Captain’s leadership, they save the world.

Joss Whedon wittily revealed this quality in his screenplay:

Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?
Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
Steve Rogers: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire.

Even though Iron Man won this debate, he and all the other Avengers end up submitting to Captain America’s leadership because sacrifice is more important than strength or skill.

No where do we see this more clearly in real life than in Jesus Christ:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)

What is incredible about Jesus is that having all strength, skill and authority, he exhausts himself on the Cross, giving up all he has to save those under his authority (including rebels who for the longest time refused him). This is why Jesus Christ is leader of everything. How would you like to have a leader like that? One who uses all his powers completely for your good? By believing in him, you can.

My big weakness as a leader has been my overemphasis on strength or skill (merit). I viewed leadership as an achievement, something earned by excelling above one’s peers. My achiever mentality fueled envy towards those in authority who I felt were less meritorious than me. It made me frustrated when others would not follow me despite the skillfulness and wisdom I demonstrated. It also made me anxious and insecure when I held a position of authority that I didn’t think I deserved (e.g. middle school concertmaster). I thought getting people to follow me was as simple as showing them I was worth following–and it made me a very self-centered and self-conscious person.

Now I am learning that leadership is actually grace. God decides who is in charge and he gives and takes away delegated authority as he pleases. You don’t earn the right to lead, you are given the responsibility of leadership and this simply means that you are to use all the merits you have been given to finish your mission and love the people you are leading. When you do, I think people will follow you even if you aren’t the smartest, strongest, or savviest leader–just like Captain America. (And Jesus, except that he is actually the omni-est :-)).

Are you having trouble getting people to follow you? Could it be because your merits aren’t being used for their good?

Do you feel inadequate or unworthy to lead? Isn’t it relieving that it doesn’t depend on your performance, but on God’s grace?

And for those of you who believe the kind of leadership I described is unnecessary for success, I close with the words of Napoleon Bonaparte:

Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. (from Jesus Among Other Gods cited here)

If people are following you, are they following you by force or by love?

Please share in the comments!

Acting the Miracle Together

This year’s Desiring God conference was titled Act the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification, which (as you can guess from the title of this blog) got me really excited. I found Russell Moore’s message particularly funny, challenging and helpful. In Acting the Miracle Together: Corporate Dynamics in Christian Sanctification, he explains every believers’ responsibility to grow each other to maturity and uses 1 Corinthians 5-6 to build a compelling case for church discipline/discipleship not merely as excommunication when someone does something really terrible, but as a regular way of life in the Body. Many of his examples hit home and have left me reconsidering the nature of my relationships and responsibilities with others in church.

 

How to Rebuke a Friend

The look on his face said it all. A stiletto tongue emerged from his rage contorted countenance,  launching a barrage of words accusing me of misinterpreting, badmouthing and misjudging. Words designed to stab the heart and twist hard. Words designed to shift blame and attention away from the issue at hand to protect a vulnerable ego.

I’m sure almost everyone has experienced something like this. You have someone’s best interests at heart. You notice something they did wrong, which damaged themselves and hurt others, indicating a deeper problem in their lives. You want to help correct them, but three barriers keep you from diving in.

First, you wonder whether or not you rightly appraised the situation.

Did I misunderstand that e-mail? Maybe it sounded mean to me, but the others found it funny. Maybe I should be more understanding since he was tired from staying up all night.

Once you get over all the possible excuses and decide you care enough to bring it up, you think about what to say.

What if they take it the wrong way? Maybe I should overlook the problem–it’s not worth the trouble.

You dither between taking action and leaving well enough alone. You wrestle through every word to say and then go overboard trying to address every possible objection. Eventually the mental chess softens your arguments like Downy and you have a sweet-smelling, fluffy rebuke, but fall asleep exhausted before you can deliver it.

In the deep of the night, your heart psyches itself out on the third question.

Who am I to rebuke my friend about this? Why should he listen to me? He’ll probably bring up stuff I’ve done wrong in the past. Maybe I should just ignore the problem since I’m not one to talk.

Come dawn, the anxieties wear you down and you choose to pretend like nothing happened. No conflict, everybody is happy (at least on the surface) and you didn’t have to do a thing :).

This has happened in my life more times than I can count, even though I know the frequent exhortations of Scripture:

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (Proverbs 27:5-6)

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:18-20)

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)

It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
than to listen to the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:5)

Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor
rather than one who has a flattering tongue. (Proverbs 28:23)

So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. (Luke 17:2-4)

Most of the time, I am okay rebuking a little kid when I see him do something wrong, but when it comes to peers or superiors, I would rather keep my mouth shut than endure the consequences of calling out problems I see. It’s a lot easier to whine to sympathetic friends since feeding the gossip monster is far safer than risking a friendship or taking the heat for rebuking someone in power.

When we forget that God alone can change a person’s heart we agonize over our responsibility to rebuke and preemptively give up because we feel powerless to guarantee a positive response. This anxiety often expresses itself in sympathy seeking gossip. When we ignore the fact that God commands us to rebuke and restore, we may only pray about the problem, expecting God to fix it for us and so continue in a passive-aggressive holding pattern without ever taking the actions that God prescribes for healing the relationship. Thus we have the vicious cycle of courage burying anxiety producing despair-fueled laziness.

Instead of giving practical advice on “10 ways to be an awesome rebuker” or “20 tips for making your friends listen to you” let’s see what a biblical view of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility can do for us (I’m totally preaching at myself here). God is in full control of every human being, including wayward friends/leaders. This is a big relief since we know that it’s his place to change them, not ours, and when he chooses to do so, it never fails. Even so, God holds us responsible to speak the truth in love, which inevitably includes upbuilding rebukes (pretending like nothing is wrong, is a form of lying!) because that is how He planned to grow his children to maturity. Since God’s plan cannot fail, our efforts to follow him in this matter are guaranteed to grow his children to maturity as well.

So instead of succumbing to anxiety or despair, let’s make rebukes a healthy part of our relationships with superiors, peers and subordinates. If a person responds poorly, we discover early that we may need to follow the advice of Proverbs 9. If the person responds well, our relationship can only get stronger.

If you’ve had a difficult situation confronting people you care about, please share about it in the comments. Thanks!

PS, I found Pastor Sam Crabtree’s book Practicing Affirmation a helpful balance to these thoughts on rebuke. He recommends an “affirmation ratio” of 10 affirmations for every rebuke you give a person to demonstrate that the rebuke is truly given in love. (Note: this is an affiliate link, so I benefit if you buy the book through this link).

Starting with a story

The title sucked me in like a spider up the tube of a vacuum: “How to weave a story that instantly captivates your audience“. My finger automatically slid across the glass of my touchpad and clicked the link. I was greeted by a cute picture of shoes hanging off a nail by their laces and an opening line that did exactly what the title said it would. Then I realized I should share this link on my blog :-).

This is just a mid-week post to keep the content flowing, but I hope to explore the dynamics of merit and grace in writing in a future post. We can work really hard to craft great headlines, compelling stories and delightful prose (all forms of merit), but to actually change a person’s mind or impact their life through our writing is a gift from God.