Soapbox Shoutout Saturday -God: "I will help you speak"

Find Your Voice

“Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” –

                                                                                                           God, to Moses (Exod. 4:12)

Why You Should Be Informed

We live in the age of information.  Between 1750 and 1900, the total expanse of human knowledge had doubled .  At that time of pre-technology human history, it took 150 years.  Today, the growth of knowledge is occurring some 100 times faster.  It is said that the entire sum of all known information, i.e., human knowledge, doubles every 1.5 years.  By 2020 it is estimated that it will be doubling approximately every month and a half (72 days).  Think about that…

This Information Age is one in which the average illiterate person, one unable to read or write– but who can understand language and watch videos, can easily learn more about science than those towering figures of centuries past like Louis Pascal and Isaac Newton.  Another example: a 5 year old child holding a smart phone possess more technology than was required to send a man to the moon only 40+ years ago.
In a recent study by the University of California, San Diego, researchers found that we swim in a boundless sea of information, one in which the average person consumes 16 hard drives (3.6 zettabytes) of information every day– be it through TV, radio, the Internet/computer, reading, and other digital devices.  Ironically, with this enormous access to literally UNLIMITED data, one in which we can learn everything about everything, the average American is not very informed about the world in which we live.
Note that I’m not saying that Americans don’t know very much– because we do.  It’s just that the “average American” is simply uninformed to a large degree about the ultimate things that matter and that affect his or her life.  Whether this ignorance is apathy, indifference, or something else– I do not know, but it’s hard to believe such a high level of societal ignorance exists in this world awash in an infinity of information.
For example, while most people have instant recall on trivia like their friend’s speed dial numbers, their favorite TV shows’ times, nuances of their favorite wines, beers, coffee beans or marijuana strains (I live in California), most live without a working knowledge and, sometimes, only a vague familiarity about civics, economics, and politics– not to mention spiritual truth.
You might say– “Who really cares?”  It may seem that not knowing virtually ANYTHING about the stock market, the strength of US currency, trade deficits, political processes, the separation of power, representation and taxation, and things like that “makes no difference.”  Some think that ignorance is bliss because, they reason, we can’t do anything about it anyway.
Why should someone take the time and invest the energy to stay informed?  Especially in this Age of Information where it’s already impossible to keep up– it seems overkill and exhausting to even try.  So why worry about being informed?
My response is many-fold, but if I were to reply, I would give three primary answers.
1. Christians shouldn’t be ignorant about the world, because Jesus wasn’t.  For Christians, we should keep in mind that (of all people) Jesus himself had a working knowledge of those things, and he informed His disciples about them.  He spoke more about money than he did “heaven!”  In the gospels, Jesus shows familiarity with the Roman Empire and its government, the geo-political set up present in Judea and greater Jerusalem, and a deep familiarity with law, justice, economics, and even taxes.  If Jesus did that– and frequently taught his own disciples on issues of those sorts, it can be argued that we must do the same as Christians.
2. Being Uninformed Leaves You Open to Exploitation and Victimization.  Second, ignorance of the primary currents of our culture leaves us vulnerable to those things. Being unaware and disengaged of what is happening in any given area (say, government spending) is a sure-fire way for those who have authority in those areas to act with impunity.  An informed populace means that people can rise up and protest, shape public opinion (through free speech such as this blog), communicate with their senator, hold rallies, organize political movements, or a host of other things as a response.  If we are ignorant, we don’t respond because we are, well, ignorant.  We should keep in mind that an INFORMED MINORITY is always more powerful than an apathetic majority.  For example, in the former Soviet Union, only 24% of citizens were Communist, but they controlled approximately 1/5 of the world.  Informed minorities are always stronger than apathetic majorities.  What is funny is that some people say “I can’t do anything, so why bother?” I say that we can do more than we think– but even if that were true… even if we were powerless subjects being acted upon by the powers that be, at least by understanding what is going on we can play defense and perhaps be better off than if we didn’t.  Let me give an example.  If I were to be an 85 year old man and have to face a 23 year old Mike Tyson in a boxing ring– I may not be capable of successfully fighting him, but the fact that I couldn’t win by playing offense doesn’t mean that I would lower my arms and take a merciless beating… instead, I would AT LEAST put up my gloves and pull in my elbows and try to protect my vital organs and my face, head, and chest.  Then, even if I didn’t WIN, I might at least survive.  Similarly, when we don’t know much about our world, we are defenseless because of our indifference.
3. Be Informed Because You Are Greatly Affected By These Forces, Simply Because You Are a Living Citizen. Third, we need to be informed about the world– because we are citizens in that world.  It is where we live.  It is where we exist.  The condition of the world affects our lives.  The things happening in our world affect our families.  These things affect our children’s children and loved ones, friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors. And when I say that these things (civics, politics, economics, and so on) affect our lives– I mean that decisions made by people having authority who are not held accountable by informed, thoughtful, engaged people, affect you nearly every moment of the day.  So while we live in an apathetic state being brainwashed by time-wasting novelties, decisions and actions in the stock market, bond market, futures, congress, judiciary, by the President, governmental agencies creating regulations, and on and on and on– while those things are going on, together they affect EVERYTHING in life: gas taxes raise your gas prices, Standard & Poor’s downgrade makes loans for a car or school harder to get or to pay, new regulations on coal means higher prices for air conditioning at home, OPEC trade imbalances means it costs more for trucks to bring products to your favorite stores, raising the price of Mac & Cheese– do you see what I mean? All of that to say that being uninformed doesn’t make you invulnerable to these bad things– it makes you and your family and everyone you care about MORE vulnerable and, yes, victims.
Truth: Being Uninformed Always Makes Us Gullible. 
The irony of being a victim, however, is that those who are both victims and who are uniformed OFTEN (almost always) blame the wrong people for their problems.  Instead of kicking themselves for being willfully ignorant– and instead of holding the right people accountable– those who actually caused the problems– their ignorance typically makes them unable to discern what actually happened.  When this happens, we become gullible.  That gullibility makes us vulnerable to slick slogans and simplistic explanations, where we are more likely to believe someone because they speak with passion or eloquence, and we begin to believe certain things because the person is “speaking loudly” or pounding his or her fist.  Gullible people are defenseless to these things because they are ignorant– and since they don’t know the facts, they fall for rhetoric and emotion instead of believing things because they are actually TRUE.  Does that make sense?
The Challenge: How to Become Informed

We all have areas of ignorance– I know I do.  But the key is to do something rather than nothing.  My advice to those who feel unable to discern what is happening in our world and who are at a loss to understand what to do is this:

  1. Read God’s Word and ask for Wisdom (James 1:5)
  2. Reserve judgment, avoid giving opinions, and stop yourself from assigning blame until you know what you’re talking about
  3. Begin to be informed by trustworthy sources (people and institutions who, by having a long track record of being fair and informed, have earned and kept your trust
  4. Build your knowledge solidly in a number of areas, as they are all interconnected (the areas all influence one another)
  5. Check your thinking against others of like-mind and who disagree, then reassess your thinking
  6. Be sure to evaluate ideas based on their underlying assumptions (the basic commitments and beliefs that led them to reason a certain way and come to certain conclusions), then evaluate whether your assumptions about things are correct or need adjusting
  7. Test your ideas with both scripture (does it agree with God’s Word/truth) and reality itself (if it doesn’t work in real life, there’s something wrong with what you’re thinking)
  8. Be slow to come to final conclusions prematurely.  But when you know that you have finally discovered what is true, become unshakeable in your convictions.

Do Your Dream

Everyone has dreams. We all have things we would like to see materialize in our lives.
But for most people, their dreams are elusive. Their goals don’t seem to come together. After all, it isn’t like the vast majority of people around us are all making a great impact. And it’s not that high impact performance is “commonplace.” Actually it’s quite rare.
So what does it really take to “do our dream?”
Personally, I think that (the variables of life notwithstanding) we can “do our dream” if we can learn to leverage the fulness of ourselves to that end. After all, God has placed eternity in our hearts and has given us great potential. And to the degree that we are willing to align ourselves to the pursuit of our dream, our goals begin to materialize. Here’s how I think about it all…
To “Do Your Dream” you must:
Fully Train or Focus Your Mind on Your Dream. The size of your dream in your thinking affects nearly everything about how you respond to that dream. If your dream is tiny, you stay unmotivated– because you’re playing small ball and you know it. We simply can’t get really motivated for small dreams. They don’t inspire us and they don’t pique our interest enough to invest our sustained energy in reaching them. My advice is to ask God to expand your thinking and to grow your capacity to believe. As you nurture your dream, it feeds your imagination.
Put Your Heart on the Line. You’ll never reach your dream if it’s not IN you. You need motivation. You need conviction. You need the burn. You need to go “all in.” You won’t change the world without this type of commitment. Taking the “I’ll get emotionally involved when things start working out” approach isn’t going to cut it because seeing a big dream come to pass takes lots of emotional energy. And that energy is needed right “NOW”– so you can’t hold out emotionally.
Act with Resolve. Dreams scare us. Fear causes us to lock up. That’s because big goals come with big price tags– they cost us a lot. But action extinguishes fear. The best way I know to overcome the threat of potential failure is by choosing not to fail and then doing something. Sometimes the fear of failing is enough to give us the motivation we need to “not fail.” So work like it all depends on you, and pray like it all depends on God.
When we nurture our minds with the virtue of our dream, it inspires us to greatness.
When we cultivate our hearts with the grandeur of our dream, it motivates us with the motivation to act.
And when we give ourselves completely to our dream and act with faithful abandon, that unleashed will of ours imposes itself on the forces that work against us, and that dream is powered forward toward completion.
 
Image: Joe Penniston

Thinking Like Einstein (Part 2 of 2)


Today we finish the remaining five elements of learning to Think like Einstein.
The first post of this two-part series discussed general principles of building one’s mind.  This second part gives a step-by-step approach to developing a powerful understanding of a great many subjects.  Each of the five remaining elements may appear complex, but they make a lot of sense to the discerning reader.
 
We Only Have “So Much” Time for Building Our Knowledge
They are built on my insight a few years back that each of us have time in life to read only “x number” of books and none of us are getting any younger.  So whatever our plan, we better get “on it” if we are serious about learning and growing intellectually.   Think of it this way, the average person reads almost nothing or at least nothing of real intellectual value.  Of those who do read important things, their primary mistake (in my opinion) is that the read (a) the wrong things, (b) do so in the wrong order, and (c) exhaust the number of books they can realistically read before they know all they should-could have known.
So, let’s assume you can consistently read 12 serious books a year.  If you live another 20 years, that’s 240 books.  See what I mean?   240 books is about what you can get on a bookshelf.  That’s it!  My point is that with all of the books available, you must be unusually judicious on what you spend your time reading—otherwise, you’ll burn through your 240 books and have wasted (not invested) much of your reading time on trivial tripe.
 
Where Do I Start?
So, where do you start?  Well, it’s not where you think. 
Most people would assume “Oh, so I should go to the great classics and just read the top 100 or 200 or 300 classics of all time…,” and that’s what is called a “great books” approach.  I think this is a healthy approach, but not the best one. 
Below is my suggestion.
Summary Thus Far (Steps 1-5)
If you follow my advice, by this point (using steps 1-5) you will have:
1. Developed a commitment to really KNOWING and learning, not just “being familiar” with lots of things.
2. Identified the major area(s) you are interested in knowing about
3. Discovered the best resources in each area(s) of knowledge you want to discover or master
4. Studied the “large general fields of study” from a Christian perspective.  Meaning, instead of studying “details about” or “different disciplines within the major area of knowledge” you begin to study summaries of the entire body of knowledge in that area… LIKE “theology” ITSELF (summaries of what ‘theology’ is) and LIKE “philosophy” ITSELF… NOT areas WITHIN theology or philosophy or what have you.
5. You then, having a good Christian perspective (if you are a Christian and, in fact, if you aren’t I’d still suggest it), study these topics broadly through other authors.
Now What? (Steps 6-10)
6.  Begin Studying the Major Areas Within Each Area of Knowledge.  Now that you’re “beginning” to understand each major subject area (theology, philosophy, history, leadership, management, psychology, whatever), now (since you actually understand what these subjects ARE), begin to study each major secondary area or “sub-set” of these subjects.  For example, in Philosophy—you’d only now begin to really study the major areas within philosophy, such as: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics.  In Theology, you’d begin to study those major areas, like Biblical, Historical, Philosophical, Systematic, and Practical Theology.  And so on.  Of course, you might ask—how would I even know these major areas within my fields of study?   Well, if you have done steps 4 and 5, you will already have an intimate knowledge that these are the major areas of study within that discipline.  But, if you don’t take this approach, you could read 40 books and maybe never realize these truths.  See what I mean? 
I know… this isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those who are serious about knowledge at a high level, keep reading.
7.  Now Focus Your Study on Each of Those Primary Branches “In Detail.”  Meaning, take your growing understanding of each of these individual fields (like biblical, historical, systematic theology… and so on, or metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and so on) and CRUCIAL, begin to identify the major movements, power brokers/idea makers/books & eras/time periods of those branches.  In fact, why not work to memorize these—commit them to memory?  Need an example?  OK, let’s take Existentialism.  Here, you might study each of the major Existentialists and their works—like Jeremy Bentham, Soren Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mills, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sartre, and what each wrote.
8. Now Begin to Focus on Each of Those Fields and Think About The Differences Between The Major Thinkers, Books, and Movements.  For example—If you were studying the philosophical area of Existentialism, ask yourself—among those major players (identified in #7 above), what were the major differences between each of their works?  Let’s say that they all agreed on 90% of their ideas—but what distinguished them from one another?  That’s what I mean.  And you could do that for each of the major areas that interest YOU and that YOU really want to learn about in detail.
9.  Now, Finally, Begin to Read Individual Books Written By Specific Authors of Interest. Now, think of it… after all this, you have a SIGNIFICANT BREADTH AND DEPTH of understanding of all areas of your field of study… and know you are getting into the nitty-gritty of these areas.
10.  Document Your Knowledge.  Now, having invested this time—do whatever it takes to help others understand what you know.  Make and record, in retrievable form, summaries of these ideas and people and books –record insights, draw images with diagrams and tables and graphs, then identify and record relationships between and across fields of knowledge. 
Finally, most important in all of this is an often-forgotten idea: Slow Down – and THINK more than you read.  Most people spend all their time READING and little or no time THINKING.
The result of all of this? 
You will develop profound and intimate knowledge into the deep nuances of your field of study—you are becoming an EXPERT… because you have done what others have not done.

Thinking Like Einstein (Part 1 of 2)


One of the greatest elements of personal impact and success is the importance of developing your mind.
But how do you do it?
In my two part series, I’ll give a total of 10 key ideas to enhance your thinking as you build your mind and learn to think like Einstein. 
Here we go!
1. Redefine your understanding of “knowledge.” Knowledge is not what you happen to remember, true knowledge is that which you will never forget.  Here’s my point:  This is an area where so many people make mistakes… They assume they know more than they actually do.  But, truth told, they cannot command their knowledge and their memory of specifics (facts, details, comprehensive understandings of things, how these things relate to other areas of knowledge, etc.) is actually quite shallow.   Let’s face it, if you don’t remember it, you don’t know it.  So don’t over-estimate your knowledge.  Adopt a higher standard of what true knowledge is.
2. Identify the major or primary areas of knowledge you want to build.   You can’t know everything.  You can and should, in time, develop broad understandings of multiple areas– but you won’t be equally interested in everything.  So identify a subject/subjects, and begin to drive deeper.
3. Identify the best, most reliable sources for mastering the big picture of your topics/areas.  In other words, you need to begin studying a subject by learning about it “as a whole” and not piecemeal in small bits.  It’s hard to understand a subject if you start by trying to understand one tiny piece of the subject then try to go broader.  Instead, start by trying to develop a truly comprehensive, general understanding of the subject.
4. Start with secondary Christian sources if/when possible (of large general areas).  Some won’t agree with this- so they can write their own blog. I understand that perspective, but generally disagree.  From a Christian perspective, after one understands the big picture and broad understanding of something (astronomy or civlization or evolution or higher criticism), I think ‘most’ could benefit from reading about that broad subject from a Christian perspective– not so they can be indoctrinated, but because a Christian perspective will at least give them some perspectives and hot button issues of which to be aware.  Without this, I’ve seen lots of Christians lose their way because they stumble into dangers unawares, simply because their minds haven’t been properly trained to think critically and biblically just yet.
5. Then move to secondary “secular” sources of those large general areas.  Now is the time to move into the deep.  Now that you have a general understanding of the topic– and at least some biblical-Christian perspective, you’re ready to learn about the topic from other perspectives.  Keep your head on straight and go for it.
OK, so that’s a start… tune in next post for part 2 of this two-part series.

When You Feel Like Life's Beating You Down

Earlier today, a friend of mine told me that life was beating him down. He asked what I thought about it, and I wanted to share it with you.

When Life Beats You Down

When you feel this way,
I suggest that you determine whether what is happening is (a) God (b) Satan or (c) a little of both- – and, hint, it’s probably “c.”

If God is doing it. First, if it’s God that’s doing it, then whatever pain you’re going through is designed for your good and for your betterment. If God crushes us, it’s not for our destruction, but to squeeze the bad stuff out– those things that will drag us down and, ultimately, destroy us. Also, the crushing is allowed in order to build our character and to strengthen us for the opportunities ahead. The idea is that unless God replaces our “little boy” (or “little girl”) with “manhood” (womanhood), then the weak little boy/girl inside of us will wimper and pout when tough times come– and we won’t be strong enough and MAN/WOMAN ENOUGH to do what He wants us to do.

So this is a necessary part of making us 100% man. As you know, lots of guys who are 20, 30, even 40– are older, but they’ve never become men yet. So God places an opportunity before you. If we face it down, handle the pain and push through– then we become all He’s made us to be, and when the opportunities come– we meet the challenge and capitalize and rock it. So, opportunity WILL COME- the question is, will be ready for it when it happens?

So work hard at eating these challenges and the pain, and use the pain as fuel and allow it to capitalize and strengthen your inner being. You’re tough on the outside– you can take tons of punishment. So IF God’s doing it, then it’s for your good.

If it’s Satan doing it. You know, I’ve said many, many times to my wife Kristy that life tries to crush you in your late 20s and early 30s. God sometimes allows Satan to get to us– and when he does, two things are going on. On God’s side, it’s to push out impurities and build strength. On Satan’s side, it’s intended to crush you.

Now, remember 1 Corinthians 10:13. I’d read that. Basically the point of it is that God promises never to let us face more than we can bear. So know that IF you have these problems you’re facing– then you already know that God has determined that you are strong enough to overcome it. But that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to win and learn all you should. God will let you make mistakes and fail sometimes, as you know. But Satan is given sometimes the opportunity to work you over.

Now, while God means it for good, Satan wants to spank you and to discourage you and to cause you to settle for second (um, third, even fourth) best. These are the years that many people get the beat down– and if… IF– watch that, “IF” you can push through the pain, the disappointment, the hurt, and the frustration… and IF you make the decision to stubbornly refuse to quit and decide to get up every time– then the forces that want to force you to settle will ULTIMATELY submit. And sooner or later, you’ll make it through the woods and out of the desert. And when you do, you’ll have a type of unstoppablity that few experience.

Think of it this way– where God wants to take you in life– He knows you won’t be able to get there and be successful unless He does this major work of maturing and strengthening you. I think most people settle or God doesn’t even allow them to be tested in the ways others are tested.

So, it’s all in how you approach it.