Author: odellcs

Roles: Aroma. Husband. Father. Pastor. Business Leader. Hobbies: Tech. Reading. Running.

Can you teach me to be an optimist?

Recently, someone texted me, “Can you teach me how to be optimistic?”

BACKGROUND RESEARCH

Of course, if you search this on google, you’ll come up with some great ideas, like this blog:

– Avoid getting hung up on one thing

– Remember that there’s always a silver lining.

– Get over the past.

– Be thankful.

– Use positive affirmations

– Surround yourself with positive people

– Watch your language

– Remember that even a positive life has ups and downs.

Out of interest, I’ve also started reading a book called “Attitude is Everything,” which has challenged me to think about how a posture or disposition of pessimism or optimism could actually be learned based on how we think and our attitudes can be reprogrammed. The book has these chapter titles and quick thoughts

  • Success begins in the mind (think)

    • Your attitude is your window to the world

    • You’re a magnet

    • Picture your way to success

    • Make a commitment

    • Turn problems into opportunities

  • Watch your words (speak)

    • Your words blaze a trail

    • How are you?

    • Stop complaining

  • Heaven helps those who Act (act)

    • Associate with positive people

    • Confront your fears and grow

    • Get out of there and fail

    • Networking that gets results

Essentially, your life is like this set of dominoes:

Thoughts > Words > Beliefs > Actions > Results

I’m particularly fascinated by how this book describes “mental movies” and the important role they play in your eventual success or failure. I think there’s something powerful about the ability God has given us to envision something.

We should keep in mind that depression and negativity can be physical (needing medication), can be mental/emotional (needing therapy or counseling), can be spiritual (needing deliverance from demonic oppression) and can be mixtures of all three. I’m aware that people aren’t necessarily born with a disposition that makes it easy. I’m also aware that our upbringing, certain traumatic events that happened, education, etc. can all play a factor in how we look at the world.

But I had the sense that I wouldn’t satisfy my friends’ request without digging a little deeper.

CONTEXTUAL CONVERSATION

I happened to be staying with a pastor friend, Ed, and asked him the same question. He immediately shot back: “You can’t teach optimism, but you can teach faith.” His thoughts revolved around perspective and trust. He argued that “optimism” might be a genetic or some sort of a personality predisposition, but that faith is something grown in us based on trust. For him, the big idea was trust.

When Enoch was little and we were training him to sleep in his own bed and room, he screamed a lot when he was alone. He didn’t know what do do. He felt lost, scared, alone. When daddy came in the room and held him, everything worked out. I still remember putting him in the baby carrier. Sometimes, I couldnt’ get him to sleep any other way. But once he was asleep, I could walk, talk, even bump into things, and he stayed quiet. He was safe. He could trust. It’s like anytime you hold the hand of a child as they jump off a high ledge. It’s no problem if they’ve got your hand. But on their own, it’s deemed impossible. Trust is knowing the one whose hand you’re holding. Trust is understanding that He’s walking with you in it.

BIBLICAL PRECEDENT

I would like to expand this idea one step further: Biblical Hope. Biblical hope doesn’t avoid the facts of whatever difficult situation we’re facing. But it is aware of the future. Like Kris Valloton says, “He works all things for the good (Romans 8:28), so if it’s not good, then it’s not the end.” From the very beginning of time when the first sin was committed, Father God showed he was in the restoration business (Genesis 3:15, Galatians ). He’s in the business of creating new life, cheering that life on, and correcting that life until it walks in the fullness of the abundant life He created for it (John 14:1-31). He gives us hope as an anchor (Hebrews 6:19).

So, where does that leave us?

FORWARD MOTION

Ultimately, I submit that being optimistic is about holding onto the anchor of biblical hope, developing trust, and partnering with God to reprogram your body, mind and soul to be in tune with His Word. Faith comes from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), so I’ve got good news for you: you can be a “biblical optimist” who knows that all God’s up to something good!

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Macro Patience, Micro Speed

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Recently, I’ve been into a character on the internet named Gary Vaynerchuk. I don’t necessarily recommend you google him, because some of the things he talks about or words he chooses to use. But there are two things I’ve been gleaning I wanted to share.

First, Gary Vee sees the big picture of patience. He frequently tells new entrepreneurs to “eat ‘stuff’ for 10 years,” meaning it’s going to take a long time before you’re actually going to make anything happen. You have to understand that the game is one of patience; one of willingness to hold on and not give up.

Second, Gary Vee is all about the hustle. He talks about how much he loves work. He says he loves the process. He loves the game. He has an end goal in mind (buying the New York Jets), but he says the process of getting to that point is more intriguing and even if he does buy them someday, he’ll never stop. He defines an entrepreneur as someone who“dies if they don’t create new businesses” (a paraphrase). He works 15+ hours a day.

He says you need “macro patience, micro speed.”

But what does this mean for me as a follower of Jesus. On the one hand, you could just slip into a performance mentality that says you’ll do it all on your own. You might actually get somewhere, but Jesus says, it’ll essentially be worthless (John 15). This, leads to burnout. We run hard, but without Him. We don’t know how to rest in His goodness. We think sabbath is watching tv, hiding away medicating our hurt hearts with overeating, or video games, or exercise, or whatever it is we think will make us feel better. All of that stuff can be good, but it doesn’t actually keep us connected to Jesus. It doesn’t actually allow us to experience His love in a transformative, restorative way. Here’s a paragraph I wrote to someone recently (and edited for content) that I believe sums it up well:

I’m glad to hear how you’ve been been able to process and learn and grow from the last year. How do you think you can maintain those healthy perspectives while you’re in Taiwan? There are certainly new challenges in our society today that past people didn’t have to deal with, but they also didn’t have our luxury of escaping almost seasonally. One quote that’s rocked me recently: “burnout happens when our attempt to output for God eclipses our input from God.” Thus, I would say that for me one way to keep the perspective of peace internally regardless of what happens externally is to “get more input from God than I’m giving output.” This may be a capacity thing, but I heard a similar quote concept that Jeremy Riddle (worship leader at Bethel) shared by a friend: Riddle always spends more time in private worship than he does in public worship leading by a factor of two (I might not be remembering exactly the amount he shoots for). That means, on a busy week if he’s got 10 hours of worship leading publicly, he spends 20 hours in private worship! I wonder what would happen if I spent 2x time in prayer, worship, study of God’s Word than I do in my times of work. It does mean I’d sleep less, have less time for TV and socializing. But it also means I’d be getting a lot more input :-).

So, I think I’m gleaning this from Gary: we have so much on the line that we need to hustle, with micro speed. But we also have so much on the line that we need to (actually ) rest with macro patience.

An odd day… but does it have to be that way?

I hate when I don’t wake up before the rest of the family. There’s something in me that just loves getting up early. I like the quiet. I like the time to be in the Bible. I like sipping a coffee. I like thinking about my day. I feel like I often hear from God during those times.

But, the other day we were at our family reunion, and I just couldn’t make myself get up early enough to beat the boys. It was tough. And then I found myself battling with thoughts. Frustrations. Judgments. Little things felt bigger than they were. Emotions were running high.

As I discussed this with Jamie, I came to a realization: This was absolutely not the issue of anyone around me. This was an issue that I had. It’s what happens when we don’t take everything captive. It’s the result of fractures in our understanding of our identity, which is largely based on on our understanding of God. If we understand who He really is, then we begin to see who we really are. We can live from a place of peace and rest, not fighting and striving. And even when the day seems to get the best of us, that’s absolutely ok, because it’s not based on us; it’s based on Him.

The two biggest lies I believe and struggle with are:

– I need to prove myself; I have to figure it out, because I don’t have what it takes. This results in a performance mentality.

– People don’t like me; I have to make people like me, because I start from a place of rejection. This is a people pleasing mentality.

Which means, there’s a war inside my head; there’s a fight that’s going to go down. It’s my job and responsibility to take these thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). In fact, we have some clues for how we can handle and win this fight.

> 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

We read here that there’s an enemy with an agenda. But God’s plan is that we would have “divine power” to destroy the strongholds. Through obedience to God’s Words, and the continued fight, we can be victorious. It starts out that we’re attacked by these thoughts every 3 minutes. But then, it’s 10 minutes. And then 30. Finally, we go a whole day. And then there’s a time in the process where we get breakthrough and this particular thought fight is not a struggle anymore.

We need macro patience to know God’s faithful in the end and completes every good thing He starts (Philippians 1:6) and micro speed (Thanks @garyvee) to respond to each opportunity God gives us to disrupt the enemy’s agenda with God’s awesome plan.

The battle is in your head. You can win it. Offer yourself as a living sacrifice. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2). Today was an odd day. I felt like I did in that picture I took of myself during a 13k run. But the day didn’t end like that. And it doesn’t have to for you.

_________ is dead; what’s next?

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Our lives are constant transition, or so it seems. We are constantly seeing the “circle of life” lived out. One thing starts with blazing fury and seems to faze out with equal vigor. When products fail, when leaders step away, when marriages end, when things don’t go as planned, when it feels like everything is exploding (or imploding) right before our eyes, what do we do? We often ask ourselves, “what’s next?”

The great news is God is not a God of confusion, but clarity. And what’s more, God is not accustomed to change. He’s dealt with more change than anyone else. He’s had to initiate a plethora of plans in order to accomplish His purposes. One example of God’s ability to execute His purposes regardless of the situation is that of Joshua. Here’s how God commissions Joshua to accomplish His purposes after a huge transition (the death of Moses, the leadership staple of Israel for nearly a century).

Joshua 1:1-9 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success[a] wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

One thing is clear: God’s plan is Joshua. He wants to partner with Joshua to lead Israel into the Promised Land, a place replete with blessings. But how does Joshua get there? What’s next?

A Culture Worth Remembering

The first step is actually a look: a look into history. In the first few verses, God recounts the current situation and what He’s already promised to Joshua and subsequently Israel. God recounts that Moses is dead, but God still has active promises waiting to be fulfilled. God already promised Moses (v. 3) and will still go good on His promises. The first thing Joshua had to do was remember where he came from, both physically and spiritually. Joshua was born in Egypt. He knows what it’s like to be in slavery and that God’s freedom is better than slavery any day. Joshua’s also been one of the few who’s always stood for God’s truth. He was one only two of the 12 spies who gave a good report in Numbers 13. Spiritually, Joshua learned from some of the best. In Exodus 33:11, we see that even after Moses departed from His times with God in the tent, Joshua still kept hanging around. Joshua was bred in a culture of honoring God’s Presence in His life. He’s heard the stories. He’s lived the stories.

What stories have you heard? What’s your culture? Where did you come from? Physically, you’ve got a heritage. I’m sure it’s not all daisies and roses, but there is something of value there. What has God already given you through your physical family? friends? coworkers? classmates? What’s your culture? What’s more, what’s your spiritual heritage? Ephesians 1:5 tells us that we were adopted into God’s family. If you believe in Jesus, your spiritual heritage is adoption. God, who saw you clearly and knew everything good and bad about who you would be, choose to love you unconditionally and pour out His grace and mercy on your life. Further, Romans 11 says we were grafted into the blessing that God had planned for Israel. As believers in Christ, we’ve been connected into all the Promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). That’s a culture worth remembering and cultivating.

A Connection Worth Maintaining

The second step is also less active: a connection with God. The middle verses of Joshua’s commissioning are ripe with God’s invitation to intimate connection with Himself. He says things like “just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (v. 5) and “you will have good success” (v. 8). At the same time, this connection is contingent largely on one thing: keeping in line with God’s Word. He says, “do not depart from it either to the right or to the left” (v. 7). Remember, Joshua is accustomed to time with God. He’s heard all the words Moses has written down. And God says, “Your success, Joshua, is based on one simple thing: stick on the path I’ve already outlined.” This connection is the single most valuable thing Joshua can hold onto.

It’s also evident that as believers maintaining our connection to God is of the utmost importance. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “remain in me and you’ll bear much fruit” (John 15:5). An orange tree doesn’t have to work hard to produce oranges. An orange branch connected to a tree doesn’t have to work hard at all. It’s a natural result of connection. But if you cut off that connection, try as it may, that branch is not going to give you an orange. 100 years from now, most of what we do will not matter. In fact, 1,000 years from now, the only things that truly remain will be the things we’ve done in love through our connection with God. One of the most beautiful things about this is that it absolutely abolishes the idea that we have to prove ourselves or prove our honor. Instead, we see that our honor comes through Jesus, and we have no need to fight for anything else than that. We’re above disappointment; we’re beyond failure, because our God always has another plan to accomplish His purpose if we are willing to stay in it with Him.

A Courage Worth Acting Upon

The third step, however, is the crucible of life: being courageous. God concludes his time with Joshua with this phrase: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). If you read through the rest of Joshua, you’ll see all of life isn’t peachy keen. Joshua faces many difficult and even terrifying situations. It’s no wonder, God has to say, “Be strong and courageous” a number of different times! And yet in the whole Bible, Joshua is one of the only main characters who has nothing bad written about him. This is a man who knows his culture, maintains his connections, and acts with courage. But not just Joshua, whenever God gives us a command, it actually comes with the seed of grace to fulfill it. God doesn’t ask us to do anything that we’re not capable of because we’re in Him.

So it goes with us: anyone willing to act in courage will be someone who is used greatly by God. Thus, God is inviting each of us to make courageous decisions. Maybe it’s the decision to begin a relationship with Him, or the decision to let go of an idol or sin-pattern holding you back from the Promised Land. Perhaps, there is truth you need to share in love, or someone from the next generation (physically or spiritually) you must invest in. It could even be the decision to leave the safety of your current job for something else God has for you.

Even with all of the great things that happened in Joshua’s life, he was still just a glim reflection in a mirror of what God did through Jesus (1 Corinthians 13:12) as the fulfillment of all of God’s work. Perhaps, one of the most amazing mysteries of our lives is this: “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). If you’re facing something in life, the chances are good that you’ve already been empowered by God to accomplish what it would take to solve that problem or bring that breakthrough. But before you say no because it looks overwhelming, please first take a good look at the culture and connection into which God’s invited you. And then thoughtfully ponder which courageous decision you’ll make today!

Are you a designated survivor?

Sometimes, my wife and I have been known to watch a little TV. Recently, we’ve been into a show called Designated Survivor (click for the trailer). The basic premise is that the least likely candidate to be president suddenly finds himself in the oval office after an act of devastating terrorism. I believe one reason why we like the show is because we see and relate to the struggles our protagonist, Tom Kirkman, goes through. He’s constantly questioning if he’s doing the right thing. And it seems that when something is going well, it’s only a matter of moments before something unexpected hits. At one point, I turned to Jamie and said, “This show is like leadership therapy.” Perhaps, it points to an issue that we all face. Aren’t we all feeling that we’re in the fight of our lives? Don’t we all have days, weeks, sometimes even months, where it seems like one thing after another and we just can’t seem to get a break?

Recently, it does feel a little that way. We’ve been having difficulty in a couple areas of the ministry. There are struggles in the cafe, whether it be figuring out adequate staffing, meeting goals we set out for ourselves at the beginning of the year, or confirming that we’re accomplishing meaningful, impactful ministry. And we’ve been struggling with church ministries. It seems a lot of people are feeling drained and overwhelmed with ministry responsibilities. Across the board, many of our staff are transitioning or preparing to transition within the next year. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic. In fact, I love my life and really am thankful for all the wonderful things I get to experience. Yet, sometimes, I find myself questioning: am I really the person for the job? Is this the right spot? What’s even happening? And will tomorrow be worse? Perhaps, a lot of this is my fault. What could I do differently?

So, I’ve been taking more time to ask these big questions. What’s my calling/purpose/passion? Who are my friends? How am I supposed to accomplish what I’m called to with who’s in my life? A couple things have happened to me in response to this recent line of questioning.

First, I heard an awesome sermon about prioritizing God above all else, because, as the pastor says, “Our priorities are much different when we’re on the front lines. We don’t have time to worry about what’s not important.” Our calling is first and foremost to Him. We must hold on to that fact. Around this time, I recalled my dad’s life verse, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Second, I read an article on frustration. In a nutshell, frustration helps us know a few things: 1) we’re getting close to breakthrough, 2) we still have passion, 3) we’re still in the game, 4) we know what not to do :-), and 5) we can find a better way. The one that stuck out to me most was regarding passion. Our frustrations help us see where our passions are and help us know what we need to press into. Yeah sure, there are struggles. Who doesn’t have struggles and frustrations? And if you have some of these, congratulations, you might just be onto something good (spelt G-o-d).

Finally, a friend encouraged me to read Matthew 6:25-34. It’s that passage that says don’t worry. We usually gloss over that, right? We know not to worry. But do we really? Do I really trust that God has treasures in heaven (6:19-24) that far outweigh anything this world has to offer? Do I really believe that generosity (6:1-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18) will make a difference? It seems, then, that this life is pretty straight forward. We put our eyes on Him, seeking His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and in turn he prepares and provides everything we need (6:33). He provides the calling, the season, the anointing, the friends, the ministry strategy, the everything!

What does all this mean for me? It means that even when things frustrate me, lead me to feeling desperate, or to want to quit, if I’m still here, I’m the designated survivor. I’m the one God has chosen for this hour. If that’s true, then with God all things are possible (Mark 9:23). And what does that mean for you? Whatever you’re facing. Even if it seems everyone else is gone, you’re not sure if you are the right person, you’re not sure about much and everything seems to be creeping in on you, tell those lies to stop and remember, you’re God’s chosen designated survivor and He’s going to provide everything you need as you seek Him and His Kingdom!

Who’s decision is this?

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How are decisions made in your world? Does someone from the outside just dictate everything? Are you on a team of people that decide together? Do you have areas and projects in which you get to exercise authority? What does the day to day look like?

A couple of years ago, we found a decision making grid that looks something like this.

You can see that the grid looks at a person’s latitudinal authority + the step at which they are in the process. It’s helpful, especially as leaders, to clarify this as early as possible so that everyone understands who has authority and how close we are to a decision. I find this grid useful and hope maybe you will, too.

I was recently challenged to think more about the overall structure of an organization as well. There are some key terms we often think about: leadership and management. In some contexts, we talk about governance and administration. Perhaps, it’s important to make distinctions between these two so that we can understand our roles within organizations. A plethora has been written on leadership and management already. I’ll only add white noise, if I try to add to the conversation. I’ll just point out the metaphor of a ship. Some are responsible for the direction of the ship (leaders). They look ahead to the next steps and attempt to guide us that direction. Others are responsible for the inner workings of the ship in the present (managers). They do a great job of making sure everything is smooth sailing, so to speak. Governance and administration might be thought of similarly. When given governance authority, you’re responsible for the general direction of the ship. When you are given administrative authority, you’re responsible to make sure we continue in the direction as smoothly as possible. Distinguishing these types of roles can help with clarity and communication in your organization.

That’s Interesting (and Important)

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We’re all going somewhere. We don’t always think about where we’re heading or what our final destination is, but we’re all heading somewhere.

In a conversation with a friend, we started talking about how the world works.  We looked around and saw lots of interesting, fun things that ended nowhere good. That’s part of the enemies plan: to entertain us out of and away from anything of lasting value. The Bible says lasting fruit comes from connection with Him. At the same time, we know that people who desperately need Jesus (all of us 🙂 aren’t aware of it. We’re constantly looking for other things and misplacing our ultimate desire for God as a desire for _______ (you can fill in the blank).

So, we devised a plan, to help people go from “interesting” to “important.” We were doing this in Chinese, so I want to give a shout out to the fun Chinese phrase we came up with: 從有趣到有意義. We decided that many times people aren’t really interested in what’s important. They settle for what’s entertaining, or what’s urgent, or what’s on their Facebook feed. We too easily settle. But what if there were things that were meaningful but started with something interesting. I see examples of this in things like Aroma’s weekly event, Coffee Talk, where students “interested” in learning English begin to discuss meaningful topics. The challenge, however, is in doing both sides with excellence. Some people want to focus all their energy on the meaningful side and end up with something that’s not interesting at all. Others like fun, but have nothing meaningful on which to focus.

I dream of a day when people with meaningful work to be done can see an increasing number of people investing in their work creating pathways from “interesting” to “important” for society. I believe it will take a number of things:

  • We need understand the meaning of important. It’s not always the most urgent. It’s not always what’s in front of us.
  • We need to stop shooting charities in the foot. Read Uncharitable or watch the author’s TedTalk for more on this matter.
  • We need to free ourselves to think creatively about how to approach the important issues.
  • We need funding models that allow interesting and important to co-exist.

Here’s to interesting and important together towards a better future!