Prince of Peace

This devotional originally appeared in Sterling College’s 2015 Advent devotional.

Isaiah 9:6-7

I typically try to avoid talking about politics, but it’s hard for me to read this passage without drawing parallels to our current election cycle. The prophet Isaiah (hundreds of years before Jesus was born) prophesied that one day a Savior would rise up and rule, “and the government will be on His shoulders” and “the greatness of His government and peace will not end.”

This was just one of many prophesies made in the Old Testament about a coming Savior. The Jews of Jesus’ time knew these passages well, and most—if not all—expected a powerful, militant, and political leader. They had been taken advantage of, abused, and ruled unfairly for hundreds of years and were understandably anxious for the powerful leader Isaiah and the prophets promised them.

Strangely, a few chapters later, Isaiah also predicted that this coming Ruler would be “despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” He would, indeed, save the Jews, but He would do it because of His willingness to be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.” The punishment we deserved was put on Him, and “by His wounds we are healed.”

That’s an interesting political strategy.

SterlingDevoQuoteI doubt many people initially expected a humble carpenter born to a simple couple in a manger to become this leader who would eventually have the government on His shoulders. Jesus wasn’t vocal about overthrowing military regimes or taking power from the upper class. He wasn’t a successful CEO, influential politician, or controversial reality TV star. Instead, this Savior attracted people no one else cared about, routinely spoke about loving our enemies, and eventually sacrificed Himself so we could spend eternity with Him.

All of this started with a baby in a manger, predicted hundreds of years in advance.

Jesus’ power and influence wasn’t what anyone expected, but I, for one, am grateful that He is the leader we ultimately follow. He had no desire to gain fame or tout His agenda; instead this humble King came to claim these titles: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That is a leader worth following and devoting your life to, and we have assurance that His reign of peace will never end.

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Truth on the Internet

TruthInternet

This article was originally published on COLLIDE Magazine.

The best and worst thing about the Internet is that anyone anywhere can post whatever they want any time. It’s a great and horrible thing.

Recently, a few of my friends sent me an article they found online dissecting the dangers of drinking a particular soda that I occasionally enjoy.

… Ok, I drink a lot of this particular beverage.

The article itself was not a great example of stellar reporting or accurate grammar. The comments section of the article was filled with people questioning the author and pointing out flaws in his logic.

That drinking copious amounts of soda is bad for me is now reinforced. But the reporting discrepancies I found in this publication about pop bring up a real issue that I fear will only get worse in our culture: It is increasingly difficult to discern the truth online.

Wild, Wild Web

If you’ve never built a webpage before, you may not know how easy it is to create a site that can publish your words to the entire wired world. For less than $20, even a web novice can build a professional page complete with a classy-sounding URL and snazzy graphics. There are no background checks prior to checking out at GoDaddy — you can claim to be whoever you want to be on your shiny new corner of the web. After only a few minutes of setup, you could easily publish all kinds of buzzy headlines that might just end up on someone’s Facebook page.

“Scientist: Outer Space Actually Isn’t Real!”

“Donald Trump Claims Obama Was Never A Baby!”

“House Plants That Listen To Ariana Grande Grow Three Times Stronger!”

In 2012, the satirical news site The Onion published a comical article claiming that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was named the Sexiest Man Alive. The silly piece made ridiculous claims that most people would clearly and quickly identify as sarcasm.

But humour doesn’t always translate.

Soon after the article was published, the Chinese news outlet People’s Daily Online reprinted several of the comments as if they were facts. They published their own 55-page photo gallery to accompany the text documenting Jong-Un’s “impeccable fashion sense,” “boyish charm,” and “famous smile.” With a simple Google search, you can find several other humorous instances when The Onion fooled the general public with their satirical reporting.

But it’s not just The Onion. Just recently, the news site Politico came under fire for publishing some potentially misleading comments about presidential candidate Ben Carson. In 2013, several news networks had to backtrack after making claims about the Boston Marathon bombing that ended up not being accurate. Whether you’re reading The Onion, CNN, or random links from a friend’s Twitter feed, the line between “reporting” and “opinion” and “news” and “gossip” is increasingly thin.

To be clear, I’m not poking fun at anyone who has fallen for click-bait, and I’m certainly not criticizing the Chinese news media. My point is simply that it is really difficult to know who you can trust today — especially online.

So how can you know who to trust?

Think Before You Click

The answer is simple, but not easy. Be careful. Do research. Talk it over with people you trust. If you read something that sounds outlandish, don’t accept it at face value. Remember how easy it is to broadcast silly fiction. Before you post or retweet something you read, take a minute to check a few more sources. Even if it turns out to be true, assess your motive. Are your words going to be hurtful or misleading? Are you trying to further your cause without researching the opposing view? Would you be ok with someone publishing a similar sentiment about you or a cause you believe in?

Of course the Internet didn’t exist in biblical times (Or did it? Check your sources.). Still, I think several verses are helpful in this discussion. In Proverbs, Solomon warns, “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” In 1 Corinthians, Paul instructs us not to think like children, but rather “in your thinking, be adults.” Possibly among the best advice for life in the 21st century also comes from Paul in Ephesians: “Be very careful then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.”

Whether you’re researching side effects of soda consumption, the attractiveness of Korean dictators, or maybe something a little more important, be wise. Double-check facts. Exercise discernment. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Thankful in the Age of ISIS

ThankfulInTheAgeOfISIS

So far I’ve purposely remained pretty quiet online about the recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, Baghdad, Turkey, Chicago, and everywhere else. Because of my profession, I’ve learned it’s better for me to not broadcast my initial knee-jerk reaction when big news breaks. I’ve been asked to defend and explain specific tweets and blog posts in job interviews in the past, and I want to be sure I really believe anything I publish.

Now that I’ve had some time to process my thoughts, I’ve realized my overarching emotion in response to the events of the past few weeks is outright sadness.

I’m sad for the friends and families of the victims.
I’m sad for the terrorists who are sometimes captured, tricked, and brainwashed to believe they have to do this.
I’m sad for the Muslims who will likely forever be unfairly linked to terrorism.
I’m sad for my non-Christian friends who must think most Christians lack compassion and are mostly irrational and angry.

With all of this bouncing around in my brain, last Friday a gentleman walked into our church asking for money. While this isn’t typically my responsibility, on Fridays it is my job to interact with “walk-ins” and follow our procedures for people seeking assistance. This specific man was asking for gas money so he could visit his mom in the hospital in Texas. I followed our procedures, and unfortunately we were unable to help him.

And that made me sad.

In response to these recent attacks, I’ve heard and read a lot of people saying that all of us need to do a better job at loving our neighbor. Here in the middle of Kansas, I feel pretty helpless in fighting worldwide problems, but I really do want to be intentional about loving my neighbor.

Later that day, I received an email warning me that there was a man going around Wichita asking for money to visit his mom in Texas, and it was all a scam. He faked his name and situation, and he wasn’t in as dire of a need as he claimed. My heart broke when I couldn’t initially help this man, and I later found out it was all a lie. We have a very generous church, and this man tried to take advantage of that fact.

And that made me sad.

I don’t want to be sensationalist, but I really do believe the world has changed the past few weeks. While we don’t want to give in to fear, the world is scary. Bad things happen. A lot. I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed to admit this, but when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling the 4.7 earthquake that hit Oklahoma last week (by the way… uh, what?!), my first thought was an earthquake, but my second was ISIS. We live in a broken and hurting and dangerous world.

Today my mind has shifted again as I begin processing and planning for Thanksgiving. I really like Thanksgiving. I enjoy the time with family and the football and the food and (…yes) even the shopping. I’m ridiculously blessed, and it’s very easy for me to quickly spout out a long list of things I’m thankful for.

But for some reason, this year feels a little different. Of course I’m thankful, but the darkness of this world is also more palpable than usual. I’m sad about Paris and Muslims and Christians and the man asking for money. So how do we be thankful in the midst of such a mess?

How do we express gratitude when CNN constantly warns of more imminent attacks?
How can we be thankful for all of the incredible blessings we have as Americans when so much of our country is angrily fighting each other?
How can we celebrate our ancestors coming to a new nation when so many of us aren’t willing to extend that same opportunity to refugees?

Today I realized one thing I desperately need to work on: I need to be really careful what information I allow myself to ingest.

I’ve watched the news a lot the past few weeks, and while I may be more informed, it also makes me more paranoid.
I’ve read a lot of Facebook and Twitter posts this week, and while I care for all my friends who posted them, I’m frustrated by most of their attitudes.
I’ve started listening to a new podcast, and while I admire and enjoy the panel, their snarky and sarcastic tone is hard not to emulate.

I’m not putting very thankful thoughts into my brain. I’m reading, listening to, and watching a lot of angry noise, so it’s hard not to be sad.

Even today, in this dangerous world of imminent attacks and angry people yelling at each other about politics, I have so much to be thankful for. You have so much to be thankful for. And we have so much to be thankful for.

So just do it. Be thankful.

I unsubscribed from that podcast.
I “unfollowed” some friends on Facebook (I don’t have the heart to unfriend them).
I need less CNN and Fox News.

I don’t have time for that nonsense. I have a lot to be thankful for. I don’t need to be distracted.

You know what will really drive terrorists and doomsday politicians crazy? Just be thankful for what you have. Don’t let them win by causing you to fear. Don’t get angry about what you can’t control or what you disagree with. It usually does no good. Yes, you should stay informed about what’s going on and you should vote and you should engage with people who hold opposing viewpoints and get involved with causes you believe in. Of course. Just keep the ratio in check. Reflect on God’s goodness. Even if you don’t believe in God, you have a lot to be thankful for, so thank whoever you want to thank. I think you’ll feel a lot better about your life and the world, and you might just help me feel better, too.

Thanks.

Since people seem to care about logos this week…

I’ve had an idea for a while now where I would occasionally blog about my work and our processes within the Creative Arts team at First MB Church. Don’t get me wrong; we definitely don’t have everything figured out, and sometimes my/our work is less-than-stellar. Trust me.

At the same time, over the past few months it has also been fun for me to see some noticeable growth and improvement in our work quality and team processes. I’m always looking for ways to improve and I love reading stuff like this, so maybe something I post will help someone out there. If not, go read something else. The Internet is big.

To kick this off, I thought I’d share a little bit about our logo. As you may have noticed, this week Google has received a lot of attention for unveiling an updated logo. Google has made very few changes to their original design created in 1998 until this week.

GoogleNewLogoBefore we get deep into typography and design jargon, let me go ahead and address those of you who may be feeling like this:

I get it. I really do.

I’m a geek about fonts, colors, and design. If you are too, you are among friends. If you’re not, go read something else. The Internet is big.

Back to Google, the new logo utilizes a sans-serif font and is a good example of flat design (of which I am a huge fan). It also follows the cultural trend of attempting to portray the parent company as less academic or corporate and more youthful and fun (which I also like).

The timing of this change is fun for me, because we have been in the process of slowly unveiling and utilizing an update to our logo as well. Here’s a comparison:

NewLogoWe’ve actually been using this new logo on some projects for several months. Just recently I’ve switched all of our social media accounts to this new look, and we’re getting ready to unveil an update to our church website. Overall I really like the clean, simple, refreshing feel it provides compared to our original logo, which has always felt a little clunky to me. We recently changed our branding guidelines to encourage (… that’s too nice of a word. Maybe ‘force‘ would be more accurate.) our designers to use Open Sans instead of Franklin Gothic.

Our church’s tagline has also recently changed to “real people | real faith | real impact.” I have to admit: this part of the process was… lucky, but I love how it turned out.

Our old logo above was what the church was using when I was hired. I changed the color scheme a bit to feel more current, but I liked the blue, orange, and brown boxes. I studied color theory in college and have read up more the last few years. Before we officially landed on the new tagline, I realized this about our colors:

In color theory world, blue is typically used to portray emotions like trust, loyalty, and understanding.
Orange is typically used to portray boldness, excitement, energy, and creativity.
Brown is earthy and often evokes feelings of reliability and service. Makes sense, right?

As part of being “real people,” our goal is to admit our brokenness and engage in authentic relationships. Blue.

Having a “real faith” means we want our church to be bold and passionate about what we believe. Orange.

Making a “real impact” means we’re willing to do the hard work required to serve each other and our community. Brown.

giphy

… I couldn’t have planned that better if I tried.

All that to say, it’s encouraging to me that our change seems to reflect the same trends Google is following and the colors follow conventional design theory.

Very few–if anyone–from our church family have probably noticed the changes we’ve made so far, but that’s ok. I’m really passionate about making good art that makes it easier for people to encounter God and the things in life that really matter. It’s a small change, but I think it was a good one.

At the very least, it’s better than Comic Sans or the Sopranos font.

Make A Pirate Ship Instead

Doug Dietz designs medical imaging equipment. I’m sure he’s brilliant. I think you have to be if you design MRI machines.

In my mind, I would guess people like Doug wear white lab coats and goggles while carefully mixing chemicals in labs somewhere. Math and science and equations and parabolas and beakers sound necessary. Brilliant work, but not necessarily the picture we have in mind when we think about creativity and art. This is a horrible stereotype that I wish I didn’t have, but I’m guessing you had similar images in your head when I said he designs medical equipment.

A while back, Doug found out that almost 80% of children who had to go through his MRI machine were terrified and had to be sedated. The kids were already sick, and now doctors they didn’t know were forcing them to go through a very loud and scary machine they didn’t understand.

So Doug got creative, and turned his MRI machine into a pirate ship.

Now instead of 80% needing to be sedated, that number dropped to 10%. Heck. I want to go through that pirate ship.

I also want to be like Doug and find creative ways to solve problems and make life better for people.

Hear more of Doug’s story from David Kelley here, and then go build a better MRI machine.

I have the same problem as Michael Jordan

Lately I’ve felt a heavy load of clutter in my life. There is always so much stuff. Sometimes that takes form in projects at work, sometimes there are freelance projects that seem more complicated than they’re worth, and sometimes I hate having to try so hard to just relax with my wife without my phone buzzing or our dog throwing up on the rug.

The world is so noisy, and the draw–for whatever reason–is to always add more. In my work, I’m tempted to want to be great at everything. I want to be a great graphic designer, a brilliant web designer, an innovative film producer, and somehow figure out how to scrap some random materials together to build a huge stage design with tools I don’t know how to use.

I’m slowly beginning to realize I need to make some changes. In my work and in my life, there is too much everywhere, and it’s leaving me drained. The life I want to live isn’t sustainable. I need to take my own advice and intentionally change course.

I think we all have the tendency to expect more of ourselves than we expect of other people. Michael Jordan wasn’t a very good baseball player, but he was the greatest to ever play basketball. Both of those things are sports that require similar strengths both physically and mentally, but it’s absurd to expect someone to excel triumphantly at two fundamentally different games.

I don’t have to be great at everything I ever try. What I need is focus. Without it, I’ll be mediocre at several things. With it, maybe I stand a chance to grow and do something better.

Lately I’ve discovered a brilliant artist and author named Paul Jarvis. A few quotes from his blog resonate extra strong with me this morning:

“It seems better to fail at something that truly matters, rather than succeed at something that doesn’t.”

“Are we aligning with an actual purpose or direction we believe in, or are we robotically moving forward simply because that’s the direction we were initially pointing?”

“Busy work isn’t always important work.”

Choose one thing to be great at today, and force yourself to focus. From my experience, it’s just that simple. 🙂

Personality & Gifts

PersonalityAndGifts

Recently everyone on our church staff took a very detailed personality test. You’ve probably taken quizzes like this before where you end up with some sort of acronym, symbol, animal or number that categorizes you as a certain type of individual. The idea is that once you understand your specific combination of characteristics, you can work with your peers more effectively and manage your time more efficiently.

The results of this particular quiz were disturbingly accurate. Like usual, there were certain statements that made me feel a sense of pride (like my ability to organize and accomplish tasks), and others that left me with hints of embarrassment and shame (like my desire to please others and my desperate need for approval).

While I found it interesting, this was nothing I hadn’t heard before. But towards the end of my automated report, I read two things I didn’t expect to see. According to this test, I am not creative and I am not a good leader.

For some reason, those two statements computed by a robot somewhere hit me really hard. Over the past several years, those were two of the first words I would have used to describe myself. I have quite a bit of leadership experience and my career field requires me to create several new projects every day.

All of a sudden, I began to question my identity. Was I wrongfully over-confident in my leadership? Maybe I confused “creativity” with the skill of successfully mimicking other people’s ideas. Maybe I was given leadership roles just because I went to a small school. Maybe my view of myself was skewed by a supportive community coaching me to believe I was good at something I really wasn’t. If I couldn’t lead and I wasn’t creative, maybe I needed to completely re-think my career path. Maybe I wasn’t really who I thought I was. And even scarier, maybe everyone around me already knew it.

It may sound silly to you, but I think we all do this to some extent. Regardless of any amount of success we may have experienced in the past, one small setback can trigger all kinds of doubt in our human minds. We’re fragile creatures that can easily be convinced that we’re not as special as we thought we were. Even the most confident and boastful leaders out there are vulnerable to one critical review from someone they trust.

Now that I’ve had a couple months to process this situation, I’ve come away with two lessons I think we all could benefit from.

Parts of the body

First, we all have unique gifts and personalities. For people like me raised in the church, a lot of biblical truths like this become so cliché that we often forget about their practical applications. In Romans 12, Paul describes spiritual gifts by comparing them to parts of our bodies. In his example, he explains how ridiculous it would be for an eye to be jealous of a hand, or for a head to try to get rid of its own feet. If any individual function isn’t working, the body doesn’t work as completely as the Designer originally planned.

I know you’ve probably heard this before, and I had too. Forget about the over-used analogies for a second and think about this from a business sense. There has to be some sort of hierarchy and structure in a company in order to be successful. If every employee had equal responsibility and equal job descriptions, one of two things would happen: either nothing would get done, or the same small task would be completed over and over again with no opportunity for growth. There has to be a leader that others look to, and there has to be specialized workers who achieve individual tasks they are skilled at. It doesn’t work to have 1,000 eyes and zero hands (unless you’re a character in Monsters, Inc.).

It may seem a lot cooler and more glamorous to be an eye or a CEO, but every body and every company also relies on hundreds of other parts that are crucial to success. While society values some roles over others, we can’t forget the importance of a complete team.

Strengths and weaknesses

Second, it’s important to embrace who you are. Whatever labels or titles you use to identify yourself, there are positives and negatives that go along with each one. Our greatest strengths also come with potential weaknesses. Great innovators may not be the best people to handle your financial spreadsheets. Your legal advisor may not be able to come up with a great logo. Interns and new employees may have great ideas that older management leaders wouldn’t have thought of, but their lack of experience and knowledge of the industry can also lead to avoidable mistakes.

When I was processing my test results, I began to realize that I actually like who I am. Sure there are things I would like to change, but I also remembered how much it drives me nuts when things are unorganized. I may not be the creative genius I wish I was, but I can knock out several projects a day when a vision is passed on to me. My compassion and desire for unity may make it difficult for me to be the central leader, but I can rally the troops with a friendly approach that senior leaders probably couldn’t.

Trust the Creator

When we criticize our own gifts and talents, we’re essentially saying that we don’t trust God to use us the way He planned. The Bible repeatedly proves that God has specific plans in mind for each of us, and He has gifted us accordingly. We all have inadequacies and insecurities, but we also have strengths and beneficial characteristics that other people don’t have.

Remember the body analogy from Paul. Instead of living in regret wishing you had more ears, embrace your role as an elbow. If you are an eye, think about how hard it would be to do your job without feet. Both in your job and in your role in the Church, take advantage of your gifts and personality to make the body function at its best capacity.