Monday, September 30, 2013

The Grand Story of the World

If I can venture to make a claim, at least for the purpose of this blog, I would like to pose the thought that no matter what our beliefs, everyone believes that they are part of a story.

The story that we find ourselves involved in will depend upon our beliefs and ideas of the world and how it works. G.K. Chesterton is quoted as saying:
“I had always felt life as a story: and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.”
Allow me to make another claim. If life is a story then God is the story-teller. For those of us that claim this to be true, do we believe that God has each of us in mind as He is telling His story? 

If it is God’s story then what role do we play? And does the Bible do a good job at answering this question? 

Knowing the story of the Bible is to become acquainted with the story-teller. If I personally know the story-teller and the story He is trying to tell then most likely I will not only know my role, but I can be better prepared to play my role. 

I think Biblica says it best in their introduction to the Books of the Bible. They have written, “The Bible was written so we could enter into its story. It is meant to be lived... We are all invited to take up our own roles in this ongoing story of redemption and new creation.”

Do we follow the script that He has written for us? Because no matter how big or how small, there is a part for each of us to play.

Growing up in theatre my director’s used to tell me how important each role was, from the extra who simply walks from one end of the stage to the other, to the stage crew changing sets in the dark never to be seen by anyone in the audience.

Each part intertwines with all the others and God has a plan to tell a grand story. The parts are casted and the script is set. Our job is to tell the story as best we can through the role that we are cast.  

What part do you play in the story? What strengths and abilities do you have that God wants to use to tell the story? Comment below and continue the discussion...

This post was written by Colin Heasley. Colin leads an Axis Team around the country helping students and their communities move from apathy to compassionate action. You can follow the Axis Teams on Twitter: @axisteams

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pop culture isn’t the barometer of America’s health; we are | A Rant

by: Melanie Mudge

“Why do we have a culture that promotes filth?” we ask.

“Why can’t we go back to wholesome media?” we wonder.

“Will this ever stop?!” we lament.

Then we get on Twitter, notice that #mileycyrus and #twerking are trending, and proceed to spend the next 45 minutes looking at each 140-character tweet about her VMA performance. When we’re finally jerked out of our trances by our overly full bladders or something equally annoying, we decide to add our voices to the cacophony with a thought-provoking tweet, a Vine of our reactions to the performance, an Instagram photo of our dogs looking shocked, and a link on Facebook to our blogs about how her performance is the barometer of the health of America, complete with a link to the performance. Whew! Oh yeah, and those bladders are still calling...

The phrase “If you ignore it, it will go away” keeps coming to mind. Of course, the phrase isn’t always true. Case in point--this recent interaction between my mom and younger sister:

“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. 
Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom! Mom! 
MOM! MOM! MOM!!!!!!! MOTHER!!” 

(Or this video of Stewie from Family Guy)

Obviously, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” became a cliché for a reason. However, an annoying gnat in your ear (i.e. a force outside of our control) is different from culture (i.e. a force which, despite our misconceptions, is controlled by all of us collectively).

Pop culture is 100% driven by dollars. If a song sells, we will soon see a music video, a movie of the same title, TV shows featuring the song, magazines articles about the artist, 13.452 songs exactly like it, and t-shirts, mugs, necklaces, and other paraphernalia featuring the lyrics (remember this?) because it’s all guaranteed to bring in even more dough.

Who buys the song in the first place? We do. And who buys the resulting spin-off paraphernalia? We do. So when an artist has a provocative performance, who’s responsible for the ensuing media hype and social media buzz? We are--because we watch it, watch the news reports about it, find it on YouTube to re-watch it, Tweet about it, and on, and on.

Lest this devolves into a “chicken or egg” sort of argument here, let’s instead figure out the solution. We can’t control the artists or the media companies. But we can control the demand; we can control what we watch, spend money on, talk or tweet about, or follow on social media. 

And, most importantly, we can control what we teach and model to our kids. Instead of immediately adding to the noise about the latest appalling performance on every social media platform available--hence giving the artists and the media companies the hype they want--let our first thought be to disciple our kids. There are enough people tweeting and blogging both positive and negative things about it. And we might get a grand total of 7 “likes.”

But we can have significant influence on our children, their values, and their desires. We can show them what it means to esteem things besides shocking, sex-filled media. We can teach them to love what God loves and hate what He hates. And we can show them that doing so is much more fulfilling than anything else in this world.

If we raise a generation to value, support, and create media that helps everyone to love God more, culture will change. If we continue as we’re going now, we’ll raise a generation that becomes part of pushing the boundaries even further, all the while valuing social media interactions over real-life relationships.

Sex sells...but only because we buy it. Pop culture isn’t the barometer of America’s health; we are.

Melanie Mudge has been the Associate Director of Research for Axis since 2011. She is passionate about seeing the next generation love what God loves and hate what God hates. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

What Are You Great At? What Are Your Strengths?

“What are you good at?” That was a question that completely stumped me while attending Focus Leadership Institute (FLI) in the spring of 2011. I remember sitting in my professors office just speechless and the only thing that came to my mind was, “I can make brownies.” Driving back to my apartment after that conversation I was still trying to figure out what I was good at and getting frustrated that I could not think of anything. I could list about twenty things off the top of my head that I was bad at, but not one single thing that I was good at. For the next four months I was determined to figure it out and go back to my professors and tell them.

Recently, the Axis staff got a chance to sit in on the newest FLI class and hear my former leadership professor talk on strengths. He began with a challenge, “Write your full name five times as fast as you can.” I never realized how long my full name is. My first name has seven letters, my middle name has nine letters, and my last name has six letters -- it took me a while to finish. The next part of the challenge was to do the same thing, but with our non-dominant hand. I got through two and a half times before he told us to stop. My team members and I were laughing as we compared our names.

I’ve heard people tell me many times, ‘you have to strengthen your weaknesses’. Which has always
forced me to focus on what I am bad at. But if you think about the writing challenge I just mentioned above, why would I focus on writing with my bad hand when I’m already so good at writing with my good hand? That doesn’t make any sense. In working on what we are bad at we are neglecting where we are strong. But on the other hand (pun intended), by focusing on our strengths we become good at what God created us to be good at. You grow more by focusing on your strengths not your weaknesses. One of my teachers in high school used to say “perfect practice equals perfect” just by practicing something does not mean we will become good at it. Practicing my weaknesses will make my weaknesses (a little bit) stronger but practicing my strengths will make what I am already strong at…a lot stronger.

Let me finish the story I began this blog with…At FLI we took the StrengthsFinder test. After taking the test I called my mom and told her that the test said my five top strengths are: Includer, Developer, Adaptability, Positivity, and Belief. I didn’t trust the test, and figured my mom knows me better than anyone else. After reading them off to her she started laughing and said, “Those words describe you perfectly.”

Many times we cannot see our own strengths or if we notice them we do not see them as great or important. I know sometimes my fears have gotten in the way of my strengths and me using them. Really successful people thrive because they use their strengths with purpose and intentionality. After taking the test and learning about where I am strong I was able to focus on that instead of dwelling on where I’m weak.

Now if anyone asks me what I am good at I can tell them. But I may also respond by saying I am pretty good at making brownies too.

What are your strengths? How can you build on them? And did this blog make you want to eat brownies too? Comment below and continue the discussion…

Kaitlin is a member of Team Colin, and travels around the country helping students and their communities move from apathy to compassionate action. You can follow her and the other Axis Teams on Twitter: @axisteams

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Need A Rest? | Sabbath Part 2

As a follow up to our last blog on Sabbath...

Unfortunately, sometimes rest on the Sabbath is taken as something that I do for me, myself and I. In the book, The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton explains what honoring the sabbath day is:

“If we have to be reminded or coerced to observe it, it ceases to serve its function. Sabbath isn't the sort of thing that should have to be regulated by rules. It is the way that we acknowledge that God is on the throne, that this world is his world, that our time is his gift to us... Worship is a great idea, but it can't be mechanical, and it may only be the beginning. It is up to the individual to determine his or her personal response to give the honor that is due. The more gratitude we feel toward God and the more we desire to honor him...the more we will seek out ways to observe the sabbath.”
Sabbath is about worship, not for me to get something out of it, but for me to proclaim what God has done and what He is doing. It is about His goodness. Keeping the sabbath is a blessing because it allows me to stop amidst the chaos and refocus my eyes on who is in control. Working is important, but taking time to rest allows me to place my trust on God being the one in control. I may need that extra day of work, but if I rest I am placing my full reliance on God taking care of me so that I can give praise where praise is due.

If you find yourself overwhelmed this week don’t forget to rest. Rest in the assurance of God’s goodness and all that He has done and is doing. 

Why is it so hard to rest in today's culture? Comment below and continue the discussion...

This post was written by Colin Heasley. Colin leads an Axis Team around the country helping students and their communities move from apathy to compassionate action. You can follow the Axis Teams on Twitter: @axisteams

Monday, September 16, 2013

Working to Work or Working To Rest: Examining Sabbath

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or any day. When do you celebrate sabbath?

What does it mean to remember the Sabbath Day? For some it is only celebrated on a specific day of the week. Others might say that it can only be celebrated by attending church. And some consider it sitting in a La-Z-Boy and watching football.

Since God was the one who created the Sabbath, perhaps His idea of it would be best to follow. The words of Isaiah paint a great picture of what the Sabbath is to be. In this passage he is teaching the Israelites the importance of being obedient and the wisdom that comes from keeping God’s commands. 

Isaiah 58"If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD.”

In the beginning God works for six days and then He rests. In our busy lives many adults find themselves working to work more or working just to survive. Many teens find activities like sports practices, school work, or music recitals filling up their weekends. In each of those scenarios there is no time to take a break. God, on the other hand worked to rest. God saw that His creation was SO good that He rested in it. He enjoyed the fruits of His labor and celebrated all that He had done by dwelling in the cosmos that He had created.

Working to rest and to celebrate -- what a great idea! 

Are you good at taking a Sabbath? Comment below and continue the discussion...

This post was written by Colin Heasley. Colin leads an Axis Team around the country helping students and their communities move from apathy to compassionate action. You can follow the Axis Teams on Twitter: @axisteams

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Humble Pie Served Cold

On a recent trip, a teacher thanked me for coming to speak to the students. As is my custom, I tried to respond by pointing to God, not myself. "We're only the vessels, God gets the glory," I said. I thought the conversation would end there. But it didn't.

Let me give you some background information. On this particular trip, our team spoke at a retreat for a Christian high school in Michigan. This was Axis' second appearance at this school, but this time we spoke at the school retreat. Instead of spending time in their classrooms and chapels, we participated in their small groups. I had some interesting conversations with many students during this retreat, but one group of students felt a little disappointed at the end. 

The teacher whom I already mentioned was the leader of this particular group of disappointed students. She said she had asked them what they thought of presentation. Many of them thought the presentation was great, even better than last year. Yet this teacher and I both noticed that these students seemed apathetic during the sessions--they laughed and joked, some leaned their heads back on the chairs, gazing at the ceiling, and others curled up into the fetal position on their chairs and fell asleep. In short, there were several students who blatantly exhibited their disinterest. 

So why did they say the presentations were good after acting in this way? Their explanation was that my team's lack of participation in their worship service bothered them. You see, all of the students and even many of the teachers were actively engaged in the worship services, singing, raising their hands with eyes closed, and tears falling down their cheeks. But I was sitting down with my arms folded, probably with a disenchanted look on my face. And that didn't go unnoticed.

Growing up, the part of the church service that usually uplifted me and got me excited were the sermons, not the music. I loved singing in choir, but outside of choir, you usually wouldn't see me standing or clapping. It wasn't because I didn't love God or enjoy singing; it was simply because that wasn't what made me feel most connected to God. So I rarely stand or participate in any praise sessions. I use that time to focus on what God wants to teach me and to prepare my mind in different ways.

But another reason that I didn't participate was that I was upset with the students. As I already mentioned, throughout the presentations, many of the students seemed indifferent to the content. Content that challenged them to own their faith through action and lifestyle, not simply feelings. They were engaged during the songs, willing to show their emotions and to abandon themselves before the presence of God. But as soon as we began to move beyond emotions and engage their intellect, they were bored, disinterested, and distracted. I couldn't help but feel that they were missing the point. So the frustration on my face during the worship services probably disclosed how I was feeling. 

To me, they wanted to feel good and be entertained. But after the teacher told me what the students had said, I began to wonder: Did I earn their respect or the right for them to listen to me? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, 

"For although I am free from all people, I have enslaved myself to all, in order that I may gain more." He later continues, "I have become all things to all people, in order that by all means I may save some." 

Paul isn't advocating compromising the Gospel message through syncretism or blending everyone's beliefs together. Instead, the lesson that Paul is teaching here is that sometimes we have to consider what people value and their expression of those values in order to connect with them and show them that we care. We have to participate with them in life and walk alongside them on this rough journey. Moreover, God uses our compassion to win people and influence them. I didn't recognize how much these students valued our participation with them. And why wouldn't they? It's not always about what I prefer; if I am to be like Jesus, then I need to meet people where they are.

In my experience with Axis, students just want to know, "Are you coming to talk my ear off and force your views down my throat or do you really care about me?" That’s why Axis teams don't just speak to the students --we spend time with them. We get to know them, even to the point of remembering all their names within a couple of hours. We want them to know that we work for Axis because we care about them and their futures, not because we want to preach at them. We have been harmed by our own mistakes and care enough about them to help them before they are affected by the consequences we brought on ourselves. I'm not saying that we participate in life with them by being like them and acting immature, but we should consider what they value, and, when appropriate, even participate with them in things they value while encouraging them to be mature. 

The students at this Michigan school taught me a lesson: Our actions often preach the Gospel more clearly than what we say. 

When have you connected or not connected with people based on your ability or inability to relate to them? 

Patrick Wallace has been working for Axis for two years. He leads a team of speakers around the country to help move students and their communities from apathy to compassionate action. Follow Patrick and other Axis Teams on Twitter: @axisteams