Immanuel

Immanuel.  This single word describes the miracle and the beauty of what we celebrate at Christmas. God with us. The very Creator of the world and everything in it with us. Becoming fully human and yet still remaining completely God, He came to be with us.

Us. The ones who intentionally sinned against Him. The ones who dishonored Him. The ones who replaced Him with others. The ones who broke fellowship with Him. The ones who deserve nothing but eternal separation from Him. Us. God with us.

Think about that choice. Think of the sacrifice. Think of the humility.

And He did this why? One word. Love. Not because we loved Him, but because He loved us. And He loved us that much. Not because He had to. But because He wanted to. And He took a step further. He didn’t just come to be with us. But He then paid the ultimate price so that we could be with Him forever.

What will we give in return for that beautiful, marvelous, costly gift? What can we give Him? Our hearts. Our love. Our everything.

Immanuel. God with us. May this picture remain with you as you celebrate this week. Have a blessed and merry Christmas!

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Social Media and Self-Worth

social media

I love social media. I have a presence on most major social media/networking platforms; I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. Not quite all of them, but a good majority.

I think that social media is an incredible tool and has definitely benefited me in many ways. But I’m frustrated. Not with the tool, but with how it’s being used/viewed (by me included. I don’t believe for a moment I’ve got all of this figured out). I’ve noticed that a lot of social media users are just looking for attention. It’s all about how many likes we can get on our Facebook post or Instagram picture or how many favorites and retweets we can get on that Tweet. We seem to think that our “performance” on social media is a reflection of who we are and that our self-worth is directly proportional to how “popular” we are on social media.

That is not true. It’s just not. Your self-worth has nothing to do with social media. Nothing.

Posting more often, posting less often, posting completely random stuff, posting a ton of pointless photos, posting a ton of meaningful photos, posting only deep quotes, posting only “important” information, none of those “tactics” are going to make you a better person. They’re not going to affect your self-worth.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that social media is about connecting with people. It’s about communicating with them, talking with them, getting to know them. Don’t use social media just to get, but rather to give. 

I’ve found that when I do let myself slip into the mindset that I need to “perform well” on social media, I tend to be more discontent and more frustrated. But I when treat social media as the tool it’s supposed to be and  just enjoy it for what it is, I’m a whole lot more satisfied and much happier.

Think about it this way. In the long run, which is going to matter more? The number of likes you get on your profile picture or status? Or the lives you impact and bless because you care about others?

Use social media. Don’t let it use you or define you.

P.S. – In a previous blog post, I discussed a video that looks at the connection between social media and loneliness. Here’s the video again if you’re interested. It’s very thought-provoking and helps explain some of the challenges that come with social media.

Just a Few Sentences…

I analyze everything. I pay close attention to what’s going on around me and have to take time to think through and process things. So when it comes to making quick decisions, I don’t typically feel very comfortable. I’ve often tended to view this aspect of my personality negatively.

About three months ago, I was having a conversation with an adult leader about streamlining some different systems and processes for an event. When we came to one of the responsibilities and how to improve it, I made a passing comment about how I wasn’t very good at that job because I need to think through things and this job required thinking on the spot. And then I just made a small comment about how I viewed this part of my personality as a disadvantage. And the leader stopped me. She said, “Matthew, don’t say that. It’s important and valuable think through things the way you do. We need that!” And she went on to explain how my perspective could actually contribute to improving this responsibility. This took me entirely by surprise and completely changed my perspective!

I took away a few big lessons from this discussion with that leader.

I realized that it’s all about perspective. I looked at this certain situation from my assumption that my personality was a disadvantage, while the leader viewed it from a different vantage point. While it’s true that sometimes that part of my personality can be negative, I shouldn’t start with that belief. I should begin with a positive perspective.

I also realized how different personalities work together. If everyone was just like me and analyzed everything deeply and took time to process everything, we’d be in deep trouble. And if no one was like me, we’d also be in deep trouble because so many details would be ignored. But when people with all of the different personalities that God has created work together, everyone contributes and adds value.

But the biggest lesson I took away from this conversation actually had nothing to do with my personality, or the issue we were discussing. From this conversation, I realized just how powerful words are, if they are spoken. That leader didn’t have to stop me and encourage me and help me see things differently. She could have easily said nothing; the conversation would have continued and neither of us would have thought anything about it. It wasn’t that I thought this “disadvantage” of mine was that big of a deal. It was a “small” opportunity to encourage, but she chose to affirm me anyway. Now I wonder how often I miss out on opportunities to affirm and encourage people, not because I’m not paying attention, but rather because I see the chance but don’t think it’s really that important. But that leader thought it was important. And it meant a whole lot to me. Those couple of sentences made a world of difference.

Now, I’m inspired to do the same for others. My words have impact, and I shouldn’t ignore that. I don’t want to waste opportunities I have to be an encourager. I want to encourage and affirm, no matter how “small” I think the opportunity is. Those words from that leader blessed me, and I want to pass that on.

We never know the impact we can have on someone because of a couple of sentences in a conversation!

Decision Time

Making decisions is just a part of life. Some decision will be bigger, some smaller. But they’re all important. Here are a few thoughts on making decisions and not regretting it later.

  1. Be practical. Take a look at the facts and be honest. Facts aren’t everything, but they provide a whole lot of insight into situations. By viewing the issue from a pragmatic perspective, you’ll be able to weigh the facts and look at the pros and cons from a balanced view.
  2. Get advice. Don’t try to make decisions on your own. Proverbs 15:22 says that “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” Talk to others to hear their thoughts. You may not necessarily take their advice, but talking to them helps you think through the issue and also see things from perspectives that aren’t your own.
  3. Feelings do matter. Just like facts aren’t everything, neither are feelings. But it’s true that gut instincts are important to pay attention to. How do you feel about each option? What does your gut tell you?
  4. Talk to God. Ultimately, a decision isn’t really your own. It’s God’s. Read His word and talk with Him. I recently spoke with my uncle to get his advice on a decision I needed to make, and he told me that God will not hold me accountable for the results if I follow what God tells me. If you make the decision God tells you to make, you’ll have no regrets.

Once you’ve made the decision, stand confident in it. If you’ve chosen the path that God has directed you to, go forward knowing you’re doing the right thing.

Decisions are exciting and challenging at the same time. But don’t view them as obstacles; view them as part of the journey!

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Image courtesy of jev55 on Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/jev55/

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Deeper than Dreams

What do you really want? Really. What is it that burns deep inside your soul? Deeper than your dreams, deeper than anything else?

I’m a big believer in following the dreams God has given you. But when determining the direction of our life and the next steps we should take, sometimes I think we tend to only focus on the dreams, and not go deeper.

What if we went deeper?

What is it that drives you? What’s more important to you than anything else in the world? What values do you hold above all others? That’s what’s going to help you find where God is taking you. I have a lot of dreams. And I believe that they’ve been given to me by God. But I’m realizing that if I only focus on the dreams and only seek to fulfill them, I could get really lost. Overvaluing one dream. Undervaluing another. But when I step back and go deeper, I find direction. When I go to the most fundamental, foundational passions that God has given me, that’s when the pieces of the puzzle start coming together.

And the cool thing is that the pieces come together in ways I never imagined or dreamed! That one dream that I thought was super important and was going to look a certain way changes and become less “important” and takes on a different form. And that other dream that I wasn’t sure about at all starts taking shape.

What do you really want? What’s the deepest passion that God has given you? Find it, and follow it. Be ready for your dreams to take different shapes or change levels of importance. They might look different. But that’s the cool part. You’ll find God working in your life and orchestrating it all. It’ll be scary. But you’ll find purpose, satisfaction, and peace in life.

Go deeper than your dreams.

Giving and Receiving

I really like analyzing people and their behavioral habits. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed something really interesting about people. As a general rule of thumb, people can be classified into two groups: givers and receivers.

Givers are the kind of people who tend to invest more in other people. They’re the ones who encourage and are more focused on other people, instead of themselves. They can often come across as independent and as the kind of person that doesn’t need any help.

Receivers are the kind of people who tend to seek encouragement instead of provide it. It’s not that receivers don’t focus on other people, but they can often interact with others with the purpose of wanting to be affirmed by others. They can often come across and “needy” and less self-sufficient.

Now, the two types of people I just described are extreme examples. But I’ve noticed that most of us fall into one of those two categories, even if we’re not as extreme as what I just described. I’ve also noticed that it’s easy to view both of these types of people and their actions incorrectly.

You see, givers are often viewed as independent. But they need encouragement just like receivers do. They might seem like they don’t need anyone’s help, but they really do. They’ve just realized how important it is to be outward-focused. And receivers can come across as needy and dependent, people who only focus on themselves. But receivers can encourage others. They’ve just realized how important it is not to drain oneself and that it’s okay to focus on yourself sometimes.

Often it is easy to get caught up in focusing on others (being a giver) that we exhaust ourselves. Or we get caught up in taking care of ourselves (being a receiver) that we stop thinking about others.

So don’t be a giver. And don’t be a receiver. Be both. Be an encourager, but don’t wear yourself out. Invest yourself in others. But also be willing to receive encouragement and help from others when they offer it. Don’t be independent. Don’t be dependent. Be interdependent. Give and receive. Don’t be one. Be both.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

– Galatians 6:2

Chain. Image courtesy of Max Klingensmith on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/

Image courtesy of Max Klingensmith on Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/

Willing to be Wrong

I’m a very different person today than I was five years ago. And much of that I can attribute to one factor: the willingness to be wrong and the willingness to change. You see, I used to be extremely closed-minded. But I never would have considered myself as such. I thought I was a good Christian who was willing to obey God and follow Him wherever He might take me. But that wasn’t really the case.

I limited God. Not consciously. But I did it nonetheless. I held strong opinions and thought I was right. And I firmly believed that the Bible was on my side. And for a lot, that was true. But my view of the world was small, extremely limited. And so I limited God to the world I saw when in fact I was missing so much.

So when God started shaking things up in my life, I was really stubborn. I thought I was right because I looked at the world so narrowly. But slowly my perspective began to broaden. I began realizing that life was so much bigger than just me and what I could see. I started realizing that my life was just one piece in God’s amazing kingdom. And as my view of the world began to grow, my opinions on issues began to change.

I’m still in the process of realizing how much bigger life is than just me. And when I try to look at the world through God’s eyes, I see things so differently. When I look at issues from other people’s perspectives, I see things so differently.

I’m learning not to allow my perspective to make the rules. Because my perspective is just that. A perspective. It’s one way to see something. I can’t base my beliefs merely on what I see. Everyone has a perspective. And I have to recognize that.

Try it out. Look at life from another perspective. Try to see the world the way God sees it. It just might change your opinions on some things. It’s an uplifting feeling, though, because you start realizing life is so much bigger than you ever could imagine! Be willing to be wrong. And be willing to change.

 

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Don’t Wait to Be a Hero

I think this is my favorite TED talk out of all the ones I’ve ever watched.

As I re-watched this video, I got goosebumps at the end. This message really hits home for me. How often do I not do something because I think it won’t matter or because I don’t think it’s big enough?

Don’t wait. I love what Mark Bezos concludes with:

Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save somebody’s life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one.

It’s not the accomplishment that matters. People matter. It’s not the size of what we do. It’s that we do.

Don’t wait to be a hero. Who can you be a hero to today?

The Time We Have

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine shared this video with me. It’s incredible how a video that’s less than three minutes can communicate such a powerful and challenging message.

I found this video sobering, because it really put things into perspective. What am I doing with the time I have? It’s a really good question to ask ourselves. But it’s a tough question to ask. And the even harder question to ask is, “What am I spending too much time on?” It could be anything. It could be your favorite TV show(s). It could be reading books. It could be texting. It could be social media. The list goes on. That’s not to say that the item is bad in and of itself (it most likely isn’t). But is it worth the amount of time you’re spending? Could part of that time be used for something better?

Ultimately, the question is this: Is what I’m spending my time on going to matter for eternity? Is what I’m doing with my time honoring my heavenly Father?

God gives each of us a certain amount of time on this earth. Each minute of each day matters. What are you investing your time in?

hourglass

A Tangled Journey – Let’s Review

While the Disney movie Tangled is not a perfect movie by a long shot (there are definitely themes I disagree with in the movie), it has provided some neat insights into life. Today’s post concludes my five-part series examining Tangled and our own lives’ stories. In this post, I want to review some of the highlights from my past posts and leave you with some key takeaways.

  1. While “When Will My Life Begin?” is a really fun song, we should view life a little differently. God has placed each of us where we are for a reason. If we are living according to His will, His plan for our lives, then we’re right where He wants us to be right now. The future is always a day away! We shouldn’t life our lives waiting for our life to begin. It’s already started! Live your life in the center of God’s will now. Live it doing what He’s called you to now.
  2. Our dreams should be bigger than just us. Flynn and Rapunzel give us great examples of this. Both of them had dreams that were all about themselves. But they realized that life was bigger than just them. And ultimately each of them were willing to sacrifice themselves for someone else. Our dreams should be the same way. God gives us dreams, and we should fulfill them will all of our heart.
  3. Everyone has a story! The reason stories like Tangled connect and resonate with us so much is because each of us has a story! But our stories are a part of a bigger, grander story – God’s story! Your story matters!
  4. We get a storybook ending! Life can be frustrating at times. But we know the end of the story! At the end, we will spend eternity with our Father That’s a “happily ever after” ending if there ever was one. Live today with confidence in tomorrow!

But here’s the really cool part – each of our stories are still in progress! Live life in the center of God’s will, and you’ll never go wrong. You’ll be writing His perfect story for your life. We can keep the end in sight, knowing what we’re living for.

Just imagine all that we get to accomplish between now and the end of the story! Think of the chapters to fill; the adventures to be had! Go, tell your story!

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