Friday, December 25, 2015

3 Underrated Life Lessons from ‘Elf’

Every Christmas, I somehow, some way...find myself taking in another round of 'Elf'; after all, you leave your TV on long enough during December, it's bound to happen.

Although the movie isn't exactly my cup of tea, I'd be a cotton-headed ninny muggins if I said there weren't any truths tucked within the movie's many memorable moments.

So in the spirit of modern day parables, here are three underrated life lessons inspired by the movie worth eating up this holiday season.



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Jovie: “It IS a crappy cup of coffee.”
Buddy: “No, it's the world's BEST cup of coffee.”

Believing the best isn’t always easy. I know for me, I’d rather ‘get real’ with what’s in front of me than entertain what’s outside of me. Yet, I also know, while honest assessment is certainly a fair practice, when it becomes boxed in by circumstances, opportunities to shine hope into them can be missed.

In the case of Buddy the Elf, his innocent ignorance, though awkward, actually opens the door for humility…

…humility for the coffee shop to step up to its potential…and humility for Jovie to believe it could happen.

Thus, I can appreciate how Buddy, though slightly delusional, speaks life into what could be, rather than reduce an entire identity to one subpar sip.

Bottom line: While there’s a time to be honest, a time to be transparent, there’s never a time to doubt, even if the best is out of sight, out of mind.


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Buddy: Deb, you have such a pretty face, you should be on a Christmas card.”

Like point #1, showing encouragement isn’t always easy either.

Political incorrectness...missing the punch-line…poor delivery mechanics…futile grudges…

…I mean…it’s crazy the excuses we tolerate all for the sake of not looking like a moron.

But with Buddy, not only do you find a model of self-security, but you also see what happens when driven joy and childlike faith collide in a relational context.

So despite his lack of filter, Buddy ultimately reminds us it's better to encourage as a function of determined giving as opposed to convenient action.


Bottom line: If you have something good to say, don’t just say it…give it.

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Buddy: “SANTA! OH MY GOD! SANTA'S COMING! I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM!”

I’ve often wondered why so many wear their faith like a security blanket, only to ditch it when the ‘heat’ is turned up.

It’s like…we have no problem investing in eternal insurance…but also have no problem catering to indifference whenever the ‘rubber meets the road’.  

But truth is: when we ‘selah’ on simply Jesus…and the joy set before us, it makes perfect sense to get excited…and to share that enthusiasm with those around us.

Thus, it’s interesting how Buddy’s reaction here captures the true spirit of Christmas…in the sense it reminds us how we’re to celebrate God’s past, present, and future faithfulness.

For when we consider the fact Jesus is coming again, to once more redeem humanity from depravity, we ultimately set ourselves up to trust Christ in a way that fuels an eagerness for that coming.

Bottom line: Stand up, be proud…live your faith out loud.

‘Cause seriously…we have the privilege of knowing the King of Kings & Lord of Lords.

How freakin’ awesome is that?

Photo creds: BuzzFeed, The Odyssey Online

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Prepare Him Room

I don’t know about you, but I love this time of year.

Granted, it’s 70 freakin’ degrees and our only hope for a white Christmas lies in a water and sodium polyacrylate amalgamation (thanks, El Niño blowtorch).

Then again…it’s not like Christmas hinges on what can be tangibly felt…be an emotion, a moment, or an unfavorable teleconnection with ridging tendencies.

Of course, you know me; I could go on about the Grinch-like weather and other seasonal interferences like a mopey cotton-headed ninny muggins.

But I figure a) nobody got time for that and b) there’s way too much goodness worth discussing.

‘Cause while the weather outside is NOT frightful…with certain situations far from delightful…truth is: God has given us a place that is rightful…
…where all is still well and all is still bright.

But perhaps you’re like many who aren’t feeling so hot1 right now, fatigued from a difficult year and/or stressed by the perilous times in which we live.

If so, then I encourage you: take heartfor you are not (or ever) alone

…nor are you hopeless, helpless…or unworthy of receiving the kind of rest and peace this time of year has to offer.

‘Cause when we talk about Christmas, we’re not talking about some annual tradition, a candlelit spectacle, or an excuse to be off work. Rather, we’re talking about an expectant hope made possible by God who has set things right for us (Jeremiah 33:16), who remains true to His promises2…all the while giving us a reason to know joy and fear not.

Thus, when we pause to consider what Christmas really means, we ultimately set ourselves up to look up…and experience a joy that merges with a peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

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Consider the innkeeper in Luke 2…a character in the birth narrative who gets a bad rap due, in part, to his lack of mention.

As a kid, I had this idea that the innkeeper was this snarky, Arab Ken Jeong type who opened the door, glanced at Mary and Joseph, and blared, ‘No room for you’… only to slam the door in their face.

But as I’ve revisited the story in recent years, I’ve come to realize the innkeeper was not only fulfilling his part in the prophecy (Micah 5:2), but was also doing his best to extend joy into Mary and Joseph’s situation through hospitality.

You see…at this point in the narrative, we often underestimate the contrast between what was being felt versus what was being done.

Personally, I believe the innkeeper was being true to his word (i.e. ‘there’s no room in the inn’), based on the time of the day, the time of year…plus you never lie to a pregnant woman who’s dilating on a donkey.

Yet, while it’s very brief in text, what the innkeeper does between the lines in offering his only ‘stable’3 option is actually super profound.

‘Cause what he did, in purest essence…was prepare Him room (i.e. He offered the only thing he could offer in the moment, wrapped it with humble honesty…and counted it all joy).

So when you think about it…the innkeeper, despite his minor role, captures what Christmas (and joy for that matter) is all about: being intentional in making room for Jesus in the midst of our chaos...and laying our burdens before the Lord so that the voids left behind can be filled with expressions of honor.

Therefore, be encouraged, my friends, to consider your Christmas contribution to Jesus this year…whether it be your time, your walls, your fears...and to seal it by preparing Him room in your hearts...

… all for the sake of saying, ‘Jesus, you are my joy, the answer to life…and the reason for the season.’

For when you ready yourself to receive Christ, you repeat the sounding joy by also receiving the continuous outflow of His blessings and grace…which is exactly why God sent His only begotten Son in the first place.

On behalf of Lyssah & I, we want want to wish you a very...



...and a Happy New Year! May you all be overcome by the richness of God's favor and love in the season ahead.

Blessings,

~ Cameron

Footnotes

1) Pun intended?
2) The celebration of this = Advent
3) Ha, ha…see what I did there? 

Photo creds: costamesa.rockharbor.org, http://data.whicdn.com

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Turning 30

They say turning 30 is a watershed moment in a person’s life, ushering with it a greater sense of confidence and clarity.

But for me…at least right now…I have no clue where to begin.

 After all…it’s not every day you phase into a new decade.

Granted, I can appreciate the hearty buzz of a “happy new year”, the cordial texts from family members, not to mention the amusing Facebook comments from “friends” you’d least expect.

But this year…I can’t help but feel clouded, caught amid a ‘spectacular now’ and the rocky roads far past…yet faintly visible in the rear-view mirror.

*Sigh* I suppose what I’m trying to say is: I’m not ready to be 30.

I don’t feel it, don’t look it, and quite frankly, want nothing to do with it.

Not to sound cliché or anything; I get why people audit their value1 when they approach meaningful age markers.

I guess it’s just…though there’s much to look forward to and much to be thankful for…I just don’t know how to process my 20’s. I figure if I find a solution…any solution… maybe I’ll be able to look back and smile without it rooted in the contrast between what is and what was2.

Yet, while I admit there’s much I don’t understand, what I do know is:

I’m not yet where I want to be, but I’m no longer who I used to be. 

And that’s okay, ‘cause I know despite what anyone says…I’m well on my way...
...in this inlet of transition.

Yes, it’s true I’ve been labeled before.

Unworthy, hopeless…even fake…

   …but deep down, I know who I am now

…even if it took me 25…26 years and a couple wildernesses to get there.

So here’s to turning 30 as one burning the boats back to who he used to be…

…whose journey is still young as he. 

I may be a shadow of man undone…

…but praise God, my life has just begun3.

                                    20                                                                        30                                            
 
No doubt...the best is yet to come...

Footnotes

1)      Or better yet, their sense of value, meaningfulness, etc.
2)      And the evidence of having moved on
3)      Inspired by Neulore’s ‘Shadow of a Man’
Photo creds: theblowoff.com, linkedin.com, Désirée Ayton

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Living ThanksgivINg

I’ve always found Thanksgiving to be one of the more “amusing” days of the year. 

We get the day off, we immerse ourselves in good food and tradition...not to mention we have a valid excuse to give sweatpants a workout.

But perhaps you're like me and  have wondered why Thanksgiving is so undervalued in spite of all this.

I mean...yeah, Thanksgiving gives camaraderie and healthy dialogue a platform.

But at the same time...it's still a mere shadow of what it used to be (i.e. a partial celebration of individual fulfillment2...with an emphasis more on what we do for one day than who we are...and have the privilege of being... 24/73 ) when we compare to its original intent.

Thus, I'd submit it's fair to re-evalute Thanksgiving and to consider the day as more than an appreciative celebration over what we have. After all, we call the day Thanksgiving (as opposed to ‘Thanksgetting’; cough, Verizon, cough) for a reason.

And hear me...I'm not saying we can't voice gratitude on behalf of those in our midst, the roof over our head, being in good health, etc.

I'm just saying if our gratefulness is solely content on interim pleasures, then it's probably fair to say our thanksgiving is limited at best.

Consider Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves…admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peacef himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:12-25

Note how Paul sets a foundation as to how we’re to live with one another (i.e. gives a template on what profound/other-centered action looks like), integrates instruction on how we’re to build upon it, and uses thanksgiving as a steel rod to uncover some meaningful application.

For instance…often times, we treat thanksgiving as an emotional response to fortunate happenings...or [what we consider] a positive manifestation of God’s will. 

But this isn’t at all what Paul suggests, as evident in v. 16-18 when he says, “Rejoice always; pray continually, and be thankful in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Now...I don't know about you, but I love how Paul combines clear-cut language with his structuring here...specifically, how he uses thanksgiving as a pivot point for the letter's conclusion...and the glue tying his whole point together.

What is the point, you say?

I’d submit it’s this: to be at peace is to be thankful…and to be thankful is to delight in what God desires.

Pretty cool, eh?

Granted...easier said than done, but still…there’s much comfort to be found here.

For there will be times when life doesn’t make sense, when we won’t have explanations or results to justify where we find ourselves.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be thankful.

Why? Because thanksgiving isn’t defined by our circumstances…or chained to the things solely seen. Rather, it’s a declarative heart response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us.

Therefore, when we engage thanksgiving, we’re ultimately positioning ourselves to better see how God sees…all the while renewing our motivation to let people see Jesus in us as well.

My encouragement to you, my friends, is to examine the state (and direction) of your thanksgiving…and seek to make it your thanksliving…with the goodwill you employ a consistent outflow of what you believe (see 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).

After all, who wouldn’t want some a slice of peace to go with their pumpkin pie?

Just sayin’ ;)

Footnotes

1)         Seriously, am I the only one who wonders why we call it Thanksgiving anymore? It's not like our culture truly values the day. I mean…you'd think we would have started calling it "Black Friday Eve" a long time ago.
2)         As opposed to fullness; HUGE difference between the two (see Ephesians 3:16-19; Colossians 2:1-3)
3)         I mean...you talk about irony intersecting sanctity…and Thanksgiving taking home the [pie]. Man…

Photo creds: thisjoyfuljourney.com, free-wallpaper.us, pinterest.com

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Do You [Elihu]?

Have you ever had to “get real” with a friend in distress? Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where saying what needed to be said felt like threading a needle with a haystack...or a roundhouse kick to the trachea.   

No question, we’ve all been there at one point or another. 

But while stirring a storm in [seemingly] tranquil seas is never fun1, there’s something to be said about the willing word spoken at the perfect time.

‘Cause truth is: when verbal courage2 is expressed through patience and fearless articulacy, it carries the power to inspire change.

Enter Elihu, the unsung hero in arguably the most underrated book in the Old Testament (i.e. Job).

While most of the chapter’s content surrounds Job and his three misguided amigos, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, it’s not until chapter 32 until Elihu breaks in and gives them counsel worth adhering to.

For the next six chapters (32-37), Elihu puts on a ‘confrontation clinic’, where he constructively critiques Job’s assessment of his own suffering as well as the faulty theology of his three friends.
Breaking it down...
  • In Job 33 Elihu turns his attention to Job. He declares Job wrong in saying he was without any sin and that God would not answer. Elihu says, “But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than any mortal” (Job 33:12).
  • In Job 34 Elihu shifts to declaring God’s justice. Verse 12 specifically states, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, / that the Almighty would pervert justice."
  • In Job 35 Elihu turns again to Job in condemnation. In verses 13–14 Elihu says, “Indeed, God does not listen to [the arrogant person’s] empty plea; / the Almighty pays no attention to it. / How much less, then, will he listen / when you say that you do not see him, / that your case is before him / and you must wait for him.”
  • In Job 36-37 Elihu highlights God’s greatness. This lengthy portion declares many of God’s attributes. In Job 36:26 Elihu states, “How great is God—beyond our understanding! / The number of his years is past finding out.” Elihu rightly points Job to God’s might, saying, “Listen to this, Job; / stop and consider God’s wonders” (Job 37:14).
After dropping the mic in 37:23-24, note how Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar respond.
For Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, the truth significantly mutes their coerciveness, evident by the fact their speeches shorten (Bildad finishes with six verses in chapter 25), and ultimately die out at the end (Zophar can't even manage a closing comment)3.

As for Job, he not only agrees with Elihu, hence his initial silence, but is spurred to repentance (42:1-6), fittingly concluding matters. And God? Considering Elihu was echoing his sentiments exactly, it should be no surprise God had no direct response for him, though God’s recognition of Job’s godly sorrow (v. 7) is certainly indicative of a job well done on Elihu’s part.

My point in summarizing this random passage of Scripture…?

Though I could settle for…
  • Truth breeds truth.
  • Truth in love leads to repentance.
  •  Truth stands firm.
  •  God speaks to and through man for his highest good. 
…I suppose what grips me the most is the belief that the truth should always point in the direction of God who is greater than whatever we’re going through.

Yes, we can be correct in our theology and speak it coherently…but if it’s detached from God’s fatherheart of mercy…and fails to lead one towards grace…can we honestly say we’re living as God’s mouthpiece?

And look, I know courage doesn’t necessarily imply perfect execution of proactive action. After all, the truth can get messy. But I guess this is why I love the story of Elihu so much.

For starters, Elihu doesn’t look for the platform; the platform finds him. Case and point…Elihu doesn’t speak until the lack of truth compels him to (34:18-20). Thus, before Elihu even utters a word, he’s allowed patience and self-control to brew the truth in God’s perspective4.

Furthermore, Elihu coated his words in humility. For instance, though Elihu was angry against Job’s pride and the deception of his companions, he still refers to them as “wise men” (34:2), though they were anything but in this context. In addition, Elihu establishes his words in confidence knowing they were from God, but also in caution, knowing the goal was not to prove himself right, but to set the table (roll the red carpet, if you will) for God’s opening rebuttal (chapter 38)5. In short, Elihu knew his place as God’s embouchure and didn’t allow himself to swerve off course, despite his arousal…and despite his security in how God was using him. Pretty cool, eh?

My encouragement to you, friends, is to consider how Elihu spoke approached the truth and apply it in your own life, regardless of whose (i.e. Job or Elihu) shoes you’re in.

‘Cause bottom line: whatever sole6 your soul is in, if you walk in humble obedience and the firm belief that God will use it to reflect His very best, then He’ll undoubtedly guide you whenever you have to speak the whole truth…and nothing but the truth.

Footnotes

1) The irony here lies within the heart of the “corrector” seeking the exact opposite (i.e. peace in the place of turmoil, clarity in place of ambiguity, etc.)
2) Both in the giving and receiving of it
3) From Job: Rebuked in Suffering, Desiring God, Publication 1985-07-21
4) Again, the truth knows its time and ceases the opportunity when it arrives.
5) Seriously, how awesome is 38:4-7? To think one day we’ll know how the angelic host felt when they watched God create the universe
6) It’s a pun. See previous sentence ;)

Resources: Desiring God, GotQuestions
Photo creds: www.thebricktestament.com, giving.yale.edu


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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Braking Forgiveness


Have you ever had a revelation shortly after a favorable cinematic or musical experience? Perhaps the delight and insight seemed disjoint at first, but after mulling it over, you realized, ‘Hey, I can string these two together to capture a powerful metaphor?

Well...let’s just say that’s where I am now as I write this.

First, allow me to divulge the insight…

Lately, I’ve been reading about the wounding/forgiveness relationship and how unholy tolerances of [seemingly] minor deceptions can lead to deeper heart issues. As a guide, I’ve been soaking in Terry Wardle’s Wounded: How to Find Wholeness and Inner Healing in Christ, where he not only shares testimonies of people who conquered unforgiveness, but provides a sequential, biblically-based prescription on how to defeat it as well.

His first point, in particular, caught my eye: “Do not move to forgiveness too quickly”.
Now, could Mr. Wardle have been looking for a contrarian perspective to kick things off? Perhaps.

But having pondered the point for a couple days, I believe there’s legit biblical value to be found here.
For starters, we tend to want to heal as soon as possible…which makes sense considering our innate inclination to self-preserve. Just get me a freakin’ Band-Aid and I’ll be fine, we say to ourselves.

But truth is: what we often need in those moments is a willingness to go under the knife.
Yeah, it may string more…yeah, it may take longer. Then again...shouldn’t we want this? To be intentional in fully processing the profundity of what/whom we’re forgiving? After all, it's not like we have anything to lose taking forgiveness seriously.

And hear me: I’m not suggesting we can’t get right in a moment with God…or that we can’t declare mercy from the onset; however, we must remember: forgiving our brother is a marathon, not a sprint…a process, not a destination. Thus, if we’re rushing forgiveness, then chances are, we’re doing it wrong.

To illustrate the fact, I call upon one of my favorite adventure movies: Apollo 13. As some of you may recall, towards the end of the film, as the crew prepares for re-entry, we’re made aware of two obstacles:

1) The lunar module will have to contend with its damaged heat shield (and breakup potential) as a result of the oxygen tank explosion.

2) The module will have to enter the earth’s atmosphere at just the right angle to avoid deflection into space (too shallow) or a total burnout (too steep).

Of course, like any decent ‘90’s action movie, the conflicts culminate into a happy ending (which I won’t “sin” in this case since it stayed true to history). But I suppose my point in referencing Apollo 13 is: forgiveness is like a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. If we procrastinate forgiveness (come in too shallow), we shun mercy in favor of entitlement, self-justice…even withdrawal. On the flip side, if we rush forgiveness (come in too steep), then we empower suppressed emotion and self-preservation, in turn, burning away the opportunity for vulnerability and keeping our insecurities in limbo.

So what do we do when we’re in a forgiveness pinch? Well, if we want to extend forgiveness the way God would have us, then I’d say we must find the balance between patience (strategically seeking the Lord first) and honesty.

You see…in my experiences, far too often, I see people trying to cover up the past, sweeping opportunities for reconciliation under the carpet…basically doing whatever they can to hide and avoid confrontation.

Granted, I believe it’s wise to get away with God to glean His gameplan for reconciliation; however, this doesn’t mean we make quiet time something our forgiveness can hide behind. ‘Cause at the end of the day, extending mercy must be realized internally and externally. So if we’re not willing to live grace demonstratively, then our forgiveness will remain partial at best.

Whatever the situation, forgiveness must be an evident, continuous reality in our lives. I know in this day and age, it ‘s easy to want a clear-cut, 5W1 forgiveness formula. Yet, when it comes to discerning the immediacy of our forgiveness, the best thing we can do is draw closer to God and inquire His timing.

My encouragement to you, friends, is to not rush forgiveness just because you fear the guilt of grudge-holding. Instead, why not reference God first in every challenge, make running to Him a daily habit, and relish the opportunity to empty yourself before Him…all the while, watching His grace permeate the space where unforgiveness once occupied.

After all, you gotta admit…it beats burning up or shutting down, am I right?

Footnotes

1) 5W = What, when, where, who, why

Photo credits: timmilburn.com

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

LEGACYouth: The Importance of Being Excellent

One of my favorite 80’s movies is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I mean…you talk about a blast from the past in more ways than one. This movie, man…it definitely qualifies. Not to mention you get to see Keanu Reeves show some actual emotion for once in his career.  

But in all seriousness, with all the ‘Back to the Future’ talk this week, I couldn’t help but think about the movie, particularly the iconic speech scene when Abe Lincoln proudly proclaims: “Be excellent to each other… and party on dudes!

Granted...you’re probably wondering why the random movie reference.

Well, let’s start with the word “excellent”; specifically…what does it mean to be excellent?

When we talk “excellence”, we normally associate the term to satisfactory or above satisfactory performance…which isn’t too surprising considering we’re conditioned as kids to think as such. Even as adults, the tendency is to discount excellence as a quantitative assessment. Yet, when we consider excellence is more an integrity virtue than a performance appraisal, we find its true core has more to do with giving your best than anything else.

Consider the following:

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Excellence is not a level of perfection we hit. It is your very best right now with what you have.” ~ Jad Gillies

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” ~ Pat Riley

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.” ~ Ralph Marston

"Excellent people exceed expectationsYou can run into mediocrity accidentally but you have to purpose to be excellent." ~ Joyce Meyer

"Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…[working] at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." ~ Colossians 3:17, 23-24

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Note the common threads…particularly how excellence is just as much (if not more) pursuit as it is outcome.

But here’s what really rocks me having processed these passages: Excellence is one of the few things in life we’re meant to strive for.

But wait, Cam, isn’t striving a bad thing?

Well, not necessarily. Yeah, I get how the word “strive” tends to rub people the wrong way, especially in a “grace vs. works” context.

However, when we define excellence as “giving it your bestshot1, then we can understand spiritual striving as living faith determinedly and living strength enduringly.

In other words, when we strive for excellence, and make the desire known to God, He not only provides the day-to-day strength (present courage), but the steadfastness (continued courage) to see it through. Pretty cool, eh?

You see…far too often, we focus on just one end of the spectrum. For instance, whenever I used to feel lost or challenged, my default would be to ask God for endurance…to stay the course…to press on no matter what; however, once I recognized endurance as the follow-through to what I wasn’t asking for, my whole perspective changed. More specifically, once I realized my joy had latched on to a future hope as opposed to present striving, I was able to re-center my faith into the “now”, which in turn, renewed my commitment to be more excellent with the tasks God had given me (#gamechanger).

Of course, I still messed up from time to time; however, whenever obstacles came, I was able to conquer them more quickly since I had become more equipped to not give up/give in.

How, you might ask? By believing I had been given the present strength to do all things through Christ...and the steadfastness to continue doing so! By His grace, I discovered I could be what I prayed in the moment…while giving others the opportunity to trust in what I believe.

And it's this truth...this reality, dear ones, that captures the essence of excellence. To live as Christ (Philippians 1:21) is ultimately what being excellent is all about.

So next time you’re tempted to wave the white flag in the face of adversity and/or apathy, consider the relationship between effort and testimony. ‘Cause if to be excellent means to strive for the best, then that best should point people to a better place. Thus, it makes perfect sense to be excellent in what God has assigned for us considering it cannot be removed from our testimony.

Footnotes
1)      Bam! That’s what I call marrying the secular to the sacred!
Photo credits: brianknittings.com

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

LEGACYouth: 3 Ways to Better Communicate with Your Parents

A parental relationship is one of the greatest gifts we're given in this lifetime; unfortunately, it's one of the easiest to take for granted as well. While reasons may vary, no question, the majority of youth-parent dysfunctions feature some sort of breakdown in communication. The big question is: what's really driving it? Certainly, like any stronghold, there are roots feeding the heart of the issue...but though identifying them can feel like an insurmountable challenge, the process is undoubtedly freeing when fully dialed into.

What this post will seek to do is give credible, practical solutions on how young people can better communication  with their parents for more holistic relational improvement.

1)      Be quick to listen, slow to speak…

Being at odds with your parents is never fun; however, if you think about it, what drives a disagreement has more to do with a fear of being misunderstood than a difference in perspective.

Case and point: whenever I’d disagree with my parents, especially when I was younger, the spark would often come in the form of fear, whether it was a fear of disappointing (not meeting their standards/not being in right standing), a fear of misinterpretation and/or a fear of punishment. In almost every case, my greatest concern centered on a ‘what if’ (i.e. what if my parents don’t understand, what if there’s no reconciliation, what if they stop trusting me…I could go on).

However, as I’ve mentioned before, fear doesn’t get us anywhere, considering it’s a paralyzing stronghold, a toleration of pride…not to mention it’s the exact opposite of love and the greatest “self-ed” concept known to man.

Thus, when we talk about a fear of being misunderstood, especially with respect to our parents, we find it’s human nature to speak out…to “will” our point across at all costs in hope to find a common ground. The problem is we were never created to remedy an argument in this way (i.e. forced, unprocessed speech). Contrarily, we were designed to be other-centered (see Philippians 2:3-4) and to yield to one another in word and in action. So when we fear being misunderstood and blast out as a result, we risk creating a defensive, accusatory environment…counterintuitive to our original design.  

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When we look at the book of James, we find powerful solutions (as well as metaphors/illustrations) to the question of, “How do we bridge the communication divide with those in authority?” But perhaps none speak so potently as the following trio: “quick to hear”, “slow to speak”, “slow to anger”.

How does this apply to our parents, you might ask? Well, for starters, abiding by these themes gives God a significant footstool into the interaction. Yes, it may take time for the personal wrinkles to iron out, especially if bad communicational habits have been fostered. Yet, if you are willing to go all in on James’ challenge, you’ll ultimately defuse Satan’s ability to perpetuate disunity, even if you come from an abusive background. Sprinkle in a little Colossians 4:6 (“Grace is the salt which seasons our discourse, makes it savory, and keeps it from corrupting” (Matthew Henry Commentary) and suddenly you’re in prime position to experience relational healing/improvement with your parents.

2)      …but still say what you need to say

Although this is a tangent off the prior point, I wanted to give it separate attention since it’s often underrated. When it comes to being “slow to speak”, it’s important to have some sort of game-plan established, considering a “listen first” approach is contradictory to the flesh. For example, when my wife was a teenager, whenever she had arguments with her parents, she found it helpful to hear her parents out first and then write out her feelings in a post-processing letter (with the intentional of giving the letter to her parents at the right time). This “self-editing” practice ultimately allowed their relationship to strengthen, since it detached offense from the communication. Furthermore, by using “I statements” instead of “you statements” (i.e. “I feel uncomfortable when…” versus “why did you ______”), she was able to express appreciation and encouragement in addition to her side of the story.

You see…far too often, if young people aren’t blaring hurt out to their parents/authorities, then they’re harboring it in. Granted, some will do the “write thing” (#punintended) and seek to find clarity when chaos strikes; however, if pain and/or strongholds are only dealt with by “Dear diary…”, then the root of the issue is constantly avoided…not to mention emotions are continually bottled up along with the opportunity to find agreement…peace…you get the picture.

Remember…the truth must come out at some point. You may think silence is the same as self-control. You may assume holding it in/a lack of fighting is equal to victory; however, when we consider what David says in Psalm 19:14 and 141:3, where he’s basically saying, “Lord, take control of what I say”…we discover how real control is giving God control to help us live in control. See the difference?1

In short, truth doesn’t deny dialogue; it initiates it...at the right time. Thus, if you find yourself in the heat of a tense feud, pursue quiet time with God first, then once truth has replaced twilight, find your parents and actually talk to them (bonus points if you do this without an iPhone/headphones, etc.).

After all, it’s not like you have anything to lose when you seek to cut tension with humility, while also setting yourself free from potential guilt at the same time.

Just sayin’…

3)      Believe the best

Whenever I'd struggle to see eye-to-eye with my parents, what deterred me from distrust more than anything was the belief they had my best in mind…and that my attitude with respect to them, in large part, reflected my attitude to God. Of course, my parents (like your parents) are far from infallible; however, I found giving them the benefit of the doubt was always the better move, even when I had a hard time believing their intentions.

Like me, there may be times when you question your parent’s discernment and disagree with their final calls; however, if you’re quick to render their wisdom obsolete, then you'll risk extending such cynicism to other authorities who may also have your best in mind. 
At the end of the day, you got to remember: your parents want what’s best for you...just like God does. Will they slip up every now and then? Absolutely. But even when this happens, it doesn’t mean they’re not pursuing God’s best for you. So why not pray into the situation, tap into the heart of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and see where God takes it as opposed to harvesting resentment?

Again…just sayin’…

Footnotes

1)      i.e. how one approach is passive-aggressive and the other is active-aggressive

Photo creds: zg12.wikispaces.com, rentscouter.com

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Flash Weather: 2015-16 Winter Weather Forecast

Well, folks. We’re only one week past the autumnal equinox…and I think we all know what that means…

…break out the fall décor, have yourself a very merry pumpkin space latte, and check Cameron’s blog for yet another preliminary winter weather forecast.

Now, I’m not gonna lie...my winter weather forecast for middle Tennessee last year held up rather well. Granted, I normally don’t toot my own horn considering I’m just a humble, amateur meteorologist in it for the love of the science; however, after the multiple ice storms and ankle-biter snow events we experienced between January 23 - February 21, I’d have to say my “B+” grade, in terms of activity and magnitude, was the correct call.

So as the leaves start changing and the days grow shorter, I’m sure many of you are wondering: what can we expect this winter. Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Last year, I itemized and graded certain atmospheric criteria to obtain an overall grade for the winter. This year, I’ll follow a similar approach (with slightly less technical jargon and definitions) so you can better see how each teleconnection works together.

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ENSO – We start off by checking the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean where things have really heated up since last winter. Note the extensive coverage of red (which represent positive SST anomalies (departure from average) in °C) on the animation below.


After some underachieving El Niño episodes in recent years (i.e. the neutral ENSO winters of 2012-13 and 2013-14, plus the borderline weak El Niño episode of last year), it’s impressive to see this one maintaining its intensity. In fact, the CPC (Climate Prediction Center) has already issued an El Niño advisory with a 95% chance of El Niño continuing through Northern Hemisphere winter before weakening next spring. Thus, with a strengthening moderate El Niño already in play, it’s no question Mother Nature has reshuffled her deck.

Of course, you’re probably wondering what this all means. Well, for starters, a moderate to strong El Niño can provide more emphatic impacts for various regions, such as more rainfall in California, more persistent drought in the northwest and Great Lakes, and stormier, unsettled weather in the southern plains and southeast. But as the case with snowflakes, no two El Niño’s are ever alike and as the 2015-16 El Niño comes into focus, it’s becoming clearer this year’s version will be far from typical. 


Perhaps the most pressing ENSO-related issue right now is if and when the warmest water in the Central Pacific will shift west over the coming weeks. While it may seem trivial, the retrogression of the warm core goes a long way in determining winter weather impacts in the lower 48. As the case with an El Niño Modoki, if waters off the coast of Peru cool in comparison to the Central Pacific and a west-based El Niño establishes itself (west-based meaning the progression of above average temperature anomalies move westward along the equator, rather than eastward), then the probability of a cooler winter for the southeast and mid-Atlantic will increase. If an east-based El Niño wins out (though based on SST progressions, it's looking more likely we won't be seeing a 1997-98 repeat), then we could be looking at a warmer winter.

 

As for now, we play the waiting game and monitor trends in each of the four El Niño regions (Niño 1+2, Niño 3, Niño 3.4 and Niño 4) in hope to unlock clues as to how ENSO will influence the 2015-16 winter weather landscape.

Grade: C+

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PDO/PNA – I’m linking these two telecoms together due to their interconnectedness in this setup. While ENSO (El Niño) and the AO/NAO hog the winter weather headlines this time of year, perhaps the most under-appreciated telecoms in recent memory have been the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation)/PNA (Pacific North American) pattern...as well as the EPO (Eastern Pacific Oscillation), which I won't harp on in this post since its a better short term indicator as opposed to a seasonal forecasting tool.

For those keeping score at home, the PDO has been quite positive the past couple winters after spending the majority of the 90’s and 00’s in negative territory. With the new regime in its third year, odds are, the positive trend will continue, considering the PDO shifts in decadal oscillations, as opposed to the PNA, which operates on a more mesoscale level. 

At any rate, the ramifications of an established +PDO/+PNA (note the +PNA signal for January/February coming off the Canadian SIPS) for our part of the world is huge as they can boost our snow chances,  even when the Atlantic telecoms (like the AMO) are unfavorable. 

Take the past two winters, for example, where a generous +PDO/+PNA combo and a  favorable Northern Pacific Mode helped offset the lack of Greenland/Arctic blocking, as well as the brisk nature of the long-wave pattern.

In both cases, western ridging (which unfortunately deepened droughts west of the Rockies) fueled by warmer-than-normal waters near the Gulf of Alaska promoted troughing in the eastern states, paving the way for polar plunges into our neck of the woods. Yet, despite the arctic intrusions, the lack of blocking ultimately kept the cold air in check by allowing it to propagate quickly into the Atlantic without any resistance. If anyone in middle Tennessee is curious why it has been hard to capitalize on snow opportunities during this stretch, no doubt, it’s been the transient nature of the cold air.

At least as long as we can hold to a +PDO/+PNA, hope lives…specifically in the form of a cold-air delivery mechanism. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you can’t have snow with cold…and you can’t have cold without a blazed trail for it to follow. With a +PDO acting as a dominant driver in the overall winter weather pattern, I’m fairly confident in the idea of this winter NOT being a blowtorch (i.e. above-normal in temperature), which isn’t a bad place to start if you’re a snow-weenie like me.

Note: The only reason I'm not giving this telecom an 'A'  or 'A+' grade is due to the possibility of the warm SST anomalies in the warm +PDO region backing off some by winter's arrival (though how much this happens remains to be seen). My prediction, however, is that the +PDO will hold serve and mitigate north Pacific SST cooling/Aleutian Low influences (which didn't in 1997-98 and one of several big reasons why the eastern two-thirds blowtorched).

Grade: A-

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AMO – The AMO (Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation) is basically the cousin of the PDO with positive (warm) and negative (cool) phases occurring every couple decades or so. While the main drivers of the AMO aren’t entirely known, the thought is the AMO is a major influence on the behavior of northern blocking.

With a positive AMO, the tendency for blocking lessens as areas of low heights set up south of Greenland; contrarily, in a negative regime, high heights build in, which can ignite the blocking needed for cold and snowy weather in the east.

Although the transition between phases can occur rapidly, the direction of the AMO has trended in a cool direction, which means an enhanced chance of blocking this winter. Now, as we’ve learned the past few winters, you can experience a colder-than-normal winter without blocking; however, if anyone remembers the brutal winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, northern blocking can trap cold shots over the same area for an extended period of time. If you prefer mild winters, then you’ll want to hope the AMO reverses course soon.

Grade: B+

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QBO – Like the PDO and AMO, the QBO (Quasi-Biennial Oscillation), the mean zonal winds of equatorial stratosphere, has a positive phase and a negative phase, with a positive phase favoring the progression of westerly winds and a negative phase favoring easterly winds. Since a -QBO typically weakens the polar vortex with easterly winds promoting a -NAO setup with high latitude blocking, it’s no surprise a -QBO is often linked to cold, snowier winters in the US.

Last year at this point, the QBO was trending negative, which lined up well with the developing El Niño Modoki (an ENSO feature driven by easterlies which allows the greater positive temperature anomalies to move westward (or from the east, hence the term, easterlies), away from Region 1.2.

This year, the QBO is trending positive, an unfavorable signal for cold, snowy winter prospects since it triggers an increase in westerly winds and helps strengthen the polar vortex (i.e. keeps it locked near the poles as opposed to dislodged away from it in times when a -NAO moves into northern Canada/Hudson Bay).

As some of you may recall, back in January 2014, a -QBO helped unleash the polar vortex southeastward into the Great Lakes region, which drove multiple arctic shots into in the eastern half of the conus, resulting in many states experiencing a "Top 10 coldest January".

Will this happen again in 2015-16? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. But while my expertise with respect to this telecom is limited, I do expect the QBO to fluctuate throughout the winter as the El Niño begins its descent from near-record territory down into the moderate to weak range.

Grade: C-

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AO/NAO – I know I said I wouldn't dive heavily into definitions, but due to the importance of the AO/NAO with respect to winter weather forecasting, I'll make an exception.

Just to review, the NAO, as defined by NOAA, is defined as a “large-scale fluctuation in atmospheric pressure between the subtropical high pressure system located near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean and the sub-polar low pressure system near Iceland...where the surface pressure drives surface winds and wintertime storms from west to east across the North Atlantic affecting climate from New England to western Europe as far eastward as central Siberia and eastern Mediterranean and southward to West Africa.”

In large part, the NAO is tethered to the AO, “a pattern in which atmospheric pressure at polar and middle latitudes fluctuates between negative and positive phases. The negative phase brings higher-than-normal pressure over the polar region and lower-than-normal pressure at about 45 degrees north latitude. The negative phase allows cold air to plunge into the Midwestern United States and Western Europe [often helped by some measure of high latitude blocking], and storms bring rain to the Mediterranean. The positive phase brings the opposite conditions, steering ocean storms farther north and bringing wetter weather to Alaska, Scotland and Scandinavia and drier conditions to areas such as California, Spain and the Middle East.”

So how does this apply to the upcoming winter? Honestly, we won’t really know until November. ‘Cause generally speaking, forecasters can only know how the AO/NAO will behave a few weeks in advance; however, knowing the trend of AO/NAO phasing can have a substantial impact on predicting temperature trends in the 8-14 day range.

Looking at the latest AO results from the CPC, we can see recorded observations going back to June 1, which tell us the AO has been slightly negative for the majority of the summer, only recently rising into positive territory. Interestingly, this is how the AO behaved last year, with an above average spike occurring just in time to issue in the fall season; however, as one can see on the graphic below, a crash back to below average territory looks likely for the first half of October. With all the hoopla going on concerning the strong Mid-Atlantic low colliding with Hurricane Joaquin, it’s no surprise the AO will drop some as an unsettled pattern sets up, in turn, setting the stage for below-normal temperatures for much of the east (though I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a couple more warm spells between now and November 1). 

Grade: Incomplete (rising towards ‘B’ territory)

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The Intangibles (Polar snow pack, solar activity, TNH, etc.)

As far as intangibles go, I’m going to wait and address these issues in greater depth in a later post. What I will say for now is I’ll be carefully monitoring the October Siberian snowpack to note any anomalies in its coverage throughout the month. While Siberian snowpack isn’t a primary driver of winter weather in the US, it can enhance the intensity of any arctic air that decides to move our way (Think of it as a cool filter when air masses interact with the landmass).

Concerning solar activity, there is evidence of a decline this winter; however, this doesn’t mean a flare is out of the question. Granted, I don't have much knowledge in the area of solar forecasting. Yet, with below normal solar activity on the docket, I'm not concerned about a brief spike affecting the trajectory of the upcoming winter weather pattern as a whole. Again, we simply note trends and see how they correlate to the present state of other telecoms, such as the westerly (positive) QBO’s mergence with a potentially negative NAO.

Real quick, let me say a few things about the TNH pattern. While the strongest +TNH pattern helped magnify the arctic outbreaks of 2013-14, I don't expect the TNH to be as prominent this winter. For those who may be wondering what the shrek a TNH pattern is, remember earlier when I mentioned how a +PNA helps promote ridging in the west, troughing in the east?  Well, with a +TNH, the axis of ridges and troughs shifts westward, which results in a ridge peak in the eastern Pacific (not the west coast), a mean trough over the plains/Midwest (not the east), and a parked southeast ridge east of Florida (which keeps the southeast rather mild).

All that to say...with a moderate to strong El Niño and a warmer presence of eastern Pacific waters, I believe the ridge/trough axises will resemble positions closer to last winter, as opposed to 2013-14. So if you don't hear much about the TNH this winter, this is why.

Grade: B+
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Factoring in the information above, overall, I believe this winter will go down as the fifth coldest and fourth snowiest since 2000, with Nashville seeing more “pure” snow opportunities than last winter (and less ice…fingers crossed); however, as we’ve seen in recent winters, hope must be tempered given each storm is unique and carries the potential to whiff at the last minute.

With that said, I'm still confident we'll see our fair share of cold (apparently, NOAA agrees; see graphic) and snow this winter, given the decent blocking potential, a weakening El Niño (by the time winter arrives), and an amplified longwave pattern driven (and a latter half split flow?) by warm eastern Pacific waters.

For a month-by-month breakdown, please check out my YouTube winter weather forecast video below...

Overall Grade: B
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References
  • National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
  • National Climatic Data Center
  • Climate Prediction Center
  • The Weather Centre
  • Weather Willy
  • AmericanWx Forum
  • DT WxRisk
  • Griteater
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