Everyone is a youth leader

Photo by dynamix

Photo by dynamix

It is not solely our job descriptions or involvement with youth that determine our youth influence. In fact, I believe we are all youth leaders, insofar as our actions affect those who are younger than us.

A friend of mine is a “youth leader” at church, particularly on Wednesday nights when the youth group meets. I recently challenged her to think of her role as a 24/7 commitment, not just a Wednesday night one, and not just to a particular group of 20 or 30 kids.

The truth is, people look up to us and watch what how we live. It could be our younger siblings or younger friends. It could the neighbors’ kids, or the 8 year-old standing behind us at the supermarket. It could be our students, grandchildren, or the girl scouts who stop by our house to sell cookies.

The example we set with our daily actions will speak to those who are younger and who, knowingly or unknowingly, have created a little data file in their brain of how we acted and treated them.

Photo by lusi

Our words have particular power as well. I remember being in grade school and secretly admiring the cool, older kids. I would have taken just about any of their counsel. Even now, I feel a particular reverence for the advice of my elders. I wonder who is looking up to you and asking (perhaps not explicitly) for advice.

With this responsibility, it is important to live lives worthy of emulation. “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech…” Titus 2:7-8.

Let your actions be noble and your words be kind and true. Speak, live, and guide others as your heart leads you. Remember that you have influence. Be the one to make a difference.

Be a great youth leader!

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Avoiding smartphones

Click to watch the video "I Forgot My Phone"

Click to watch the video “I Forgot My Phone”

A few days ago I walked into a busy Verizon store. While waiting for an employee to address me, I checked out the phone selections and even played with one or two. A few moments later an enthusiastic employee cheerfully asked me what he could help with. “I’m here to upgrade my phone,” I replied.

With the familiar salesperson charm he asked which phone I had in mind. I told him, bluntly and without hesitation, “A basic phone. I’m avoiding the smart phone movement because I think they turn people into cyborgs.”

His whole demeanor and physical posture changed. He loosened up. Perhaps he assumed that, like many other kids my age (22), I was a fanatical social media enthusiast, compelled to be connected 24/7 with the latest, cutting edge technology. Perhaps he approached me with high hopes of selling an expensive phone (iPhone or Droid anyone?) with the non-negotiable, inflexible, and, in my humble opinion, outrageous $30 per month data fee. (I have a feeling that Verizon executives make a good living.)

It was clear I had no intention of changing my mind or being sold to, so he dropped the salesperson shenanigans and let out a huge sigh of relief. All of a sudden he started talking about “the lost art of conversation.” Over the 20 years he has worked with Verizon, he described a noticeable deterioration in the ability of people to communicate face-to-face. He seemed to echo my original sentiment that we are turning into cyborgs. Finally, I sensed, he was able to have the conversation he was longing to have but had to repress. Who could he talk to? When you’re a salesperson and a customer wants a $300 phone with a $30 per month data plan ($720 over two years), is it really wise to say, “have you thought about the social implications of this?”

I’m interested to know what you think! How do smartphones affect our interactions with each other? Are they for better or for worse?

Love each other deeply

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Photo by falconreid

The more we love each other, the more we can fully accept one another. With love comes the ability to look beyond a person’s shortcomings and to see the good within.

With little or no love, it’s easy to exaggerate someone’s failures, weaknesses, and deficiencies, and use them as reasons to feel bitter or even dissociate with them.

Think about someone you love deeply. For me it’s my mom. I love her so much that despite any wrongs she commits, I’m going to call her beautiful and give her a hug at the end of the day. Can you relate?

Without love, however, even the smallest offenses can become unforgivable trespasses. Accordingly, if we find ourselves bitter, struggling to forgive, or just hesitant to accept others, we can focus on our ability to love them. We can love people like we love our dearest friends and family. The more we love, the more we will naturally look beyond the wrong and see what is right.

Worship at Creation Festival!

Despite an ominous forecast and unsettling clouds in the distance, Michelle and I continued our westward journey yesterday toward Agape Farm. We were literally praying for the weather to hold off.

She was surprising me with a trip to Creation Festival, which I was informed of half-way through our three-hour drive. It was part of an entire day she planned for me and what a lovely surprise it was! Thank you, Michelle πŸ™‚

Creation Festival is the largest Christian music festival in the country, spanning several days, and yesterday was an extra special occasion. My favorite rapper, whose lyrics have impacted my walk with God in profound ways, was the headliner on the main stage: Lecrae.

We made our way to the front of the audience over an hour early and listened intently to Tony Campolo, the evening’s speaker, who gave a compelling message about love, connection, and doing God’s work. After several more minutes of anticipation, Lecrae took the stage.

For the first few songs I was a raving fan in the audience, ecstatic to finally see him in person. After a few minutes of jamming out, I remembered all of the times in my room or car when I would turn on Lecrae and worship the Lord, singing the lyrics and focusing on God. It occurred to me that in that moment I was so excited to see Lecrae that I was focusing more on him and less on God!

I quickly refocused and reminded myself that I was worshiping with Lecrae, not at Lecrae or for Lecrae. I maintained my enthusiasm, closed my eyes, kept my hands in the air, and sang out the lyrics to God, thrilled to be in His presence.

What elation it was to worship with Lecrae. Hundreds of times I had listened to his music in solitude, but now him and I (as well as thousands of others) could all sing the powerful lyrics in unison as we looked to the sky and gave God praise!

Sometimes it can be easy to focus on people, especially “stars” or “celebrities,” but always remember that God put them where they are! Further, no matter how cool, talented, attractive, or intelligent a person may be, God is infinitely greater! It is easy to worship Him when we remember not just how incredible He is, but that He delights in every one of us!

Pictures below! πŸ™‚

 

 

Right before the concert!

Michelle and me right before the concert!

High energy!

High energy!

After a wonderful day πŸ™‚

 

Giving your best effort

If you have ever played sports, you may have a memory of your mom or dad comforting you after a tough loss and saying, “At least you tried your best.”

Photo by Ambrosjo

Photo by Ambrosjo

These words can be a gentle support for the broken spirit. They can also be a jolt to the ribs if you, like me, have ever disappointedly feigned a smile and inwardly confessed, “But I didn’t really try my best.”

Sometimes we sell ourselves short of our potential. We know what to do and how to do it, but fail to prepare or follow through. Although we may initially be motivated to do something, it can be enervating to consistently give our best effort and push ourselves to reach our (sometimes unreasonably) lofty goals.

Giving our best effort is something we can all strive to do. Often, it is independent of the result. For example, I can desperately try my best to win a marathon, yet finish last, or I can lazily study for a test and still do well. Which scenario comes with more dignity? It’s a matter of self-respect to commit to our best. It doesn’t have to be the best, but if it’s our best, we can honestly respect our effort and the outcome.

One particular Bible verse has changed the way I view nearly every task. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Everything we do is an opportunity to work for God. Sure, it’s honorable to organize a charity event or visit seniors in the hospital, but we can also honor God by doing the dishes or writing an essay. Through our own diligent effort, we can show His greatness.

Photo by F. Cohen

Photo by F. Cohen

Martin Luther King echoed this advice when he said, β€œIf a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

What are you working on in your life right now? I encourage you to give it your best effort and reveal the God-given potential inside you!

Changing things around!

Hello my friends!

The last few months have been a time of great change in my life. Sadly, other priorities (mainly school) have kept me from blogging, and, every time I wanted to continue, a little identity crisis kept blurring my focus.

As many of you know, I love personal development; I love to read about it, write about it, and of course, practice it! That has not changed. However, my walk with God has changed a lot, and I want to start writing about Him, too! To complicate things even more, I love looking at social issues and facets our society and offering contradictory (often Christian) perspectives. My major in Sociology has largely prompted this. Many of these perspectives I want to share on a public platform (hey – how about here!).

As many fellow bloggers know, it’s good to have a clear focus. However, I’m not sure that if I combine all three (personal development, God, and social issues) that this will be the case on my blog. On that note, I am completely open to suggestions on how to either merge the three or how to separate them. (Please help me!) Part of me says, “George, if your life is about God there should be no separation from your every day life.” In that case, what does the title of the blog change to? If I keep them separate or make a separate blog, I feel that I’ll be insincere if I censor myself in certain posts because God does not “fit the theme.”

On a positive note, I cannot bear another day without writing. The (new) banner might not be perfect, the theme might change a dozen times in the next week, and the content may still shift around. This post may have typos, but like I said, I have a writing itch I need to satisfy. Imperfect action is better than no action.

Any suggestions to help me move forward? Thank you!

 

 

Talk to people, including strangers (in person!)

Photo by terciof

Photo by terciof

On the bus home from class recently I witnessed a interesting phenomenon. I was sitting in the front section (facing inward) and across from me were four students facing my direction.

In the least creepy way possible, I watched them intently the whole eight-minute bus ride. All four of them, for the entire time, had their heads down and eyes glued to their phones. Without exaggeration, not one of them looked up a single time except for one girl as we neared our destination. They didn’t have headphones in, either.

Now, I recognize the possibility that these students could have had urgent text messages to send or respond to. Or perhaps they’re introverted. Or maybe they just downloaded the hottest new apps (Angry Birds?) and were desperately trying to level up. Who knows? But hey, they are free to live as they’d like. This is just my commentary on the overarching phenomenon: not even proximity can keep up from drifting apart. As Sherry Turkle asks, are we “Alone Together?” On the bus, it certainly seemed like it.

Here is what I found most troubling: unless it was indicated by other people on the bus, Albert Einstein could have been sitting right next to these students, resurrected from the dead, and not one of them would have noticed (except for maybe his smell – but let’s assume he was smelling fresh). My final thought before leaving the bus was, “Geez, if I were Barack Obama right now, I’d get off the bus in a moment and not a single one of those students would have even known!”

There are incredibly talented people at Penn State (and in your life, too). Any one of those four students could have been an award-winning athlete, scholar, entrepreneur, business-owner, visionary, and so on. And there they were, right next to each other for eight minutes, with conversational riches at their fingertips, yet choosing to remain isolated and uninterested. How often do I see this? Too often 😦 How often do you see this?

Photo by lusi

Photo by lusi

How many unbelievable encounters do we miss out on every day because we’re preoccupied with ourselves…and our phones? How many incredible people, with incredible stories of triumph and hardship, even miracle workers, have we sat next to and ignored?

Am I saying we should initiate conversations with random people? Well, yes. Can it be difficult? Yes. Can it be enlightening, rewarding, and life-changing, too? Yes! I know many of us grew up with the “Don’t talk to strangers” advice drilled into our heads, but let’s hold that thought for a second. Looking back at your life, how often has this advice proved beneficial? How often has someone violently responded to you asking, “Hey, how are you?” Not often? In most cases, being ignored is the worst possible outcome.

Just recently I began a conversation with a complete stranger; perhaps this example may provide you some comfort. I approached a female at a coffee shop downtown and asked, “Hey, are those leisure books you’re reading? I love to read.” She said, “No, they’re actually for class,” to which I replied, “Oh, well what are they about?” Coincidentally, they were about education systems (I love education) and she was an Education Policy PhD student. We ending up talking for nearly a half-hour about education systems all over the world, and of course, our own ideas on the subject.

It was a learning experience for us both, and I left feeling absolutely elated. She wasn’t a spooky, dangerous stranger. She was a student with a story, a real human being who enjoys other human beings; it was great! And the best part of all – when I checked my phone after 30 minutes of being away, the world was still spinning!

Photo by marczini

Photo by marczini

Run your own race

Photo by thegnome54

Photo by thegnome54

We all have unique gifts, talents, and personalities – our own special blend of blessings that create who we are.

But sometimes we can become complacent in our individuality and start to desire the gifts and blessings of others. Many people even go to great lengths to change who they are in an attempt to be more like someone else. It’s easy to lose focus of how special we are, and to say things like, “Look at John’s gifts, look at his blessings!” Why not look at your gifts and your blessings? Let John be John. You be you!

A few weeks ago I went to a health club and started my workout in the dumbbell section. Usually I exercise alone in an empty gym, so this was the first time I saw other people in a while. Two guys near me had muscle-shirts on, revealing their giant arm muscles, and I couldn’t help but notice. “Wow, look how much weight they’re lifting…” A feeling of weakness crept into my body as I looked down at the 20 lb. dumbbells in my hands – “Psht – those guys are so strong.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been between 138-142 lbs., no matter how much I ate, went to gym, or drank protein shakes. When my workouts are consistent, my size does increase and my muscles gain definition, but I’ve never come close to being “big.” Frankly, I will never be like those guys unless I stop living my life and spend all day pumping iron. Instead of feeling inferior though, I thought, “Look, they have their blessings and I have mine. I won’t ever have Hulk-arms, but God has blessed me with other amazing gifts.”

It’s not worth it to compare yourself to others, wishing you had what they had. It’s mentally draining and just produces insecurity and doubt. That’s not to say you can’t have a role model or learn from other people. Of course you can, but do it for the right reasons, and maintain your individuality. Run your own race! Even if you pursue the same career as someone else, your path will be different. Don’t use others as a benchmark, use yourself – your potential. How are you harvesting the offspring of your own gifts? Don’t worry about John, let John set the Rubik’s cube record and run marathons. That’s his thing. What’s your thing?

Think of it this way: You are the best you in the whole world! In other words, if all 7 billion people on earth auditioned for the greatest (_insert your name here_) contest, you would win. Wow. Congratulations! See? You’re a champion. But if you auditioned to be someone else, guess what? You would lose and they would win. Be you! You are a winner if you are you.

That’s not to say, “I’m perfect the way I am so I’m just going to sleep all day and eat donuts! I’m the best in the world so why change?” Clearly, we all have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to address them appropriately. But the motive should be personal growth, not defeating others or keeping up with the Jones’.

Photo by thomasje

Photo by thomasje

Have a plan, not a resolution

Photo by ba1969

Only two days until the highly anticipated new year! (Phew, we made it!)

As the tradition begs to remind us, the new year serves as a fresh beginning and renewed opportunity. It’s a time to evaluate our lives and deliberately take control, particularly in the form of resolutions.

Sadly, every day of the year serves that same opportunity, yet we only recognize one (January 1st)! Any given Tuesday can be the Tuesday we begin anew, even if it’s some random day in May. Instead of having “New Years Resolutions” we should have “Thursday Resolutions,” “April 11th Resolutions,” “August 18th Resolutions” or “Today Resolutions!” Actually, we do. They’re called goals (a resolution is just a fancy goal).

I’d like to challenge all the would-be resolution makers this year to try something new: have a plan, not a resolution. Here’s why:

1) A resolution is hopeful; a plan factors in the cost.

Why do a lot of resolutions fail? We sometimes neglect to count the cost before we begin. If someone says, “My resolution is to eat healthier,” but didn’t sit down to think about what that entails, he or she might have a reality-check upon realizing how expensive healthy food is. Or, perhaps they will find the taste of healthy food unappealing. Now the resolution seems daunting. That should have been thought about in advance! Find the obstacles and plan for them, don’t just have a hopeful ideal πŸ™‚

2) A resolution is vague; a plan is specific.

Example 1: Resolution: “I want to get in shape.” Plan: “I will go to the gym four times a week for an hour, alternating cardio and strength training.”

Example 2: Resolution: “I want to read more.” Plan: “I will read every day for fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes before bed.”

The more specific we are, the easier it is to follow along and assess our progress, which leads to…

3) A resolution is unbounded; a plan is measurable.

Many people will have a resolution such as “I want to be a nicer person.” What does that even mean? You can’t measure that! Instead, have a plan: “I want to do one act of kindness every day, and keep track of them in a journal.” Or, “I want to call one friend every day to keep in touch.” All of a sudden the progress can be measured. Don’t say “I want to blog consistently.” Say, “I will publish two blog posts every week.” If our resolution can’t be measured, how can we know how we’re doing? If we can’t know how we’re doing, where is the encouragement?

Without question, a plan will take more time and energy to create than a resolution. We could all think of 10 resolutions in the next two minutes, but in that same time we could barely even start one thorough plan.

However, if we are willing to invest the time, energy, and thought into creating a specific, measurable, and detailed plan, I can promise that while others are saying “Psht, my resolution went down the tubes last week,” we can say “Mine is still going strong!”

Best wishes for a new year. Peace, love, and happiness to you and yours. God bless!

Photo by kristja

Photo by kristja

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all!

I pray this day brings peace, love, and happiness to you and yours! Cherish every moment and give thanks for all the wonderful blessings in life. With so much turmoil around the world, let us also pray for those who may be struggling or suffering, that they may see brighter days!

God bless!

Some fun with amazing friends to generate the holiday spirit!

Giving with love

Gifts

My gift for mom!

Only one more day until Christmas! Who’s excited?

Just 24 hours from now many of us will be huddled around a tree saying, “Here, mom, this one is for you!” as we pass a box in snowman-themed wrapping paper to an anxiously awaiting mother. Yes, I did just describe one of my gifts (shh!).

When I was younger, I didn’t understand when some adults said, “I don’t want anything for Christmas, I just like to give.” My parents used to always say this and it never quite made sense to me. Psht, suit yourself! I’ll take the gifts!

Over the past few years I’ve come to understand the selflessness of giving to others. It’s a noble act to put aside our concerns with self (“Do I have the money?” “I’m too busy!” “Was he/she nice to me?” “Is it convenient for me?”) and give from an open heart. True giving comes from love. It comes from the desire to benefit someone else, to make them happy, or to show them our appreciation. It takes effort, thought, and sometimes, even requires planning!

Give with love! Photo by mspurity

Give with love! Photo by mspurity

Accordingly, giving isn’t always easy, which is why it takes love. Anyone can give a gift, but the motives of the heart determine its value. Have you ever had to give a gift to someone you didn’t like? Did you give it out of love or obligation? Love is free from obligation; it’s always genuine and sincere. Obligation can lead to apathy or even contempt; have you ever said, “Ugh, I have to get my in-laws a gift or I’ll never hear the end of it!” What does a statement like that say about our hearts?

When we give from obligation, there’s no connection, emotion, or attachment. It undermines the value of the gift for both parties involved. But when we give from love, when we know it and the recipient knows it, a relationship grows. Few things nurture a bond more than the selfless act of giving from one to another.

It’s not just about tangible gifts, either. We can give our time, resources, ideas, affection, and love. Giving can be free! More often than not, I’d rather have those free gifts than a new pair of pants! After all, I can buy a pair of pants on my own; I can’t buy your ideas or love.

I remember two times in the past when someone gave me their time and attention in such a loving way that I still vividly remember both encounters, neither of which lasted five minutes. If love is at the foundation, people will notice!

Photo by nosheep

To be clear, I don’t think receiving is wrong, but the desire to receive may be the result of selfishness or pride. It may come from an unsatisfied heart, whether that means doubt, insecurity, fear, or so on. However, we can also receive with love.

Understandably, receiving will be inevitable for many of us tomorrow. Let us receive graciously, however, recognizing that we already have so much abundance in our lives. Let us receive in love, thankful to the giver, noting that we are lucky to have such generous friends and family. For those not receiving gifts tomorrow, strive to give instead, and let me know if the feeling isn’t just as rewarding!

Give with love, from a true desire to benefit others without any need for credit or praise. Knowing that we gave in love is enough. It will come back to us in the end, I promise!

Finish strong

Photo by garwee

Photo by garwee

It’s the third day of finals week. Stress is steadily rising as examinations come and go. Only a few more left!

Sleep deprivation is rampant across campus (but, on the plus side, caffeine sales are up).

This week is testing our character, our perseverance, and our determination to succeed! How are you handling it?

I’ve noticed two common philosophies among students regarding final exams: 1) “I have to ace these tests and finish the semester strong,” and 2) “I don’t care anymore…I just want to go home!”

Hey, I totally empathize with the latter. The semester can be so draining, and when the last few days arrive it’s easy to mentally “check out” and let our motivation flee like a bandit. It’s easy to say “I’m so done with this,” or “I don’t care!” But remember, 15 weeks of hard work led up to this moment. Weeks of late nights, hours of homework, 8am classes, and 20-hour work days.

Don’t take the easy way out now; finish strong and end with both personal and academic success. I know there’s temptation to ease up, but if you ease up now, it affects more than just your exams – it affects your personal philosophy. It’s a message to yourself about what you stand for, about whether or not you’re willing to compromise.

In any area of life, it’s not just about starting and making progress. We need to finish, follow through, and complete the job. What if your hair stylist stopped half-way through your haircut? What if a movie was only good for the first 80%? What if Santa Claus only visited most of the houses?

How we finish says something about us. What it says is up to us.

My advice: finish strong. You’ve come so far, complete the journey by boldly taking the final steps!

Photo by dlritter

Photo by dlritter

Birthdays are a collaborative effort!

Photo by babykrul

Photo by babykrul

I’m so blessed to be celebrating my 22nd birthday today! But, I can’t take all the credit for this.

First, shout out to my mom who carried me for nine months! Nine months? I once carried someone for five minutes and said “Psht, I’m done with this!”

Shout out to my dad, who is the sole provider of my Y chromosome (is that statement biologically correct?).

Shout out to God, who provided all my other chromosomes and the precious breath of life!

Shout out to the delivery-room doctor! My mom tells me every year that she yelled at this guy with a vengeance (she was in lots of pain) but he persisted and helped her through to the end. He was greatly encouraging despite her verbal assault (thanks, Doc). And we can’t forget the team of nurses as well.

Finally, shout out to all the family members who raised me, grandparents included, and the friends who supported me. I would not be where I am today without you.

Take home message: Recognize and give praise to the people who have contributed to your success! We are not alone in this world. Even our birthdays are the result of so many amazing people helping out in some way.

Thank you!

At a local restaurant, The Tavern, with some friends to celebrate :)

At a local restaurant, The Tavern, with some friends to celebrate πŸ™‚

Advice on longevity from a near-centenarian

manwalking

Yesterday at the barber I met a 96-year-old man named Max. He was able to walk well (with no cane or support), talk well, and even drive his own car to the barber! Don’t worry, his eyes are 20/20!

In the parking lot we started a conversation, and I had to ask the question, “What have you done throughout your life that has kept you in such great health?” He thought about it for a moment and replied, “I’ve always been active and I’ve always walked.” He told me that he would walk to work, to see friends, to run errands, and even when others took a car he usually walked. He has continued to walk through old age, as well, and believes it is largely responsible for his good health.

It probably isn’t the only way to add a few years, but it’s probably the easiest and cheapest! If you’re looking for a health improvement, take a tip from Max and start walking!Β 

Have a goal at the start

Photo by blary54

Last week I did my first P90X workout with my brother. Side note: It’s intense; I was sore for several days!

For those unfamiliar, P90X is a video-based home-fitness system created by Tony Horton. It’s a series of DVDs with exercises, and all the viewer has to do is follow along!

Tony effectively coaches throughout the whole workout. He’s always giving advice, encouragement, motivation, and practical tips.

A key success principle I took from watching him is the following: before every exercise, push-ups for example, he’d say to his workout companions, “We’re doing one minute of push-ups, what’s your goal?” Before every exercise, he’d give a quick explanation and then ask, “What’s your goal?” Again, “What’s your goal?” It almost became annoying! Push-ups, pull-ups, lawnmowers, it didn’t matter, before starting, he’d ask, “What’s your goal?”

Of course, I thought of how this can be applied elsewhere. If I’m doing math homework, what’s my goal? When do I want to finish by? Before taking a test, what’s my goal? How many do I want to get right? Writing this post, what’s my goal? To finish by noon!

We might not always meet our goals, but sometimes we’ll exceed them. Both are okay! The important thing is challenging ourselves to strive for something. The end result is a greater and more positive growth experience. Try it out!