Iron Sharpening Iron

iron-sharpens-ironOn Wednesday, I had lunch with my friend Brandon. I’ve known Brandon since he was in preschool, and even though there’s several years between us, we have a lot in common.

Anytime Brandon and I get together, we wind up talking about many of the same topics. We share our passion and excitement over the growth of the church and our desire to see people grow in Christ. We discuss politics – he and I are pretty much on the same side politically, but the ways we express our political beliefs show the generational differences between us. And we talk about sports, particularly the most important sport in the world: Georgia Bulldogs football.

Whenever I spend time with Brandon – whether it’s an hour at lunch or a day at a Dawgs game in Athens – I walk away feeling refreshed and challenged both intellectually and spiritually (and I hope Brandon feels the same way). I’m grateful for our friendship and what it means, not to mention the good that results from it.

The Bible puts it best:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

Brandon is just one example of this principle at work in my life. I’m surrounded by men and women who challenge me, encourage me, lift me up, and help me develop in my faith. I don’t lack for people who laugh with me, pray for me, and hold me accountable, and I am grateful for each and every one of them.

Do you have one or more people in your life with whom you can be iron sharpening iron? If so, let them know that you’re thankful for them. If not, I challenge you to find somebody. The results are worth the effort.

Uncommon Service

Last week, we lost our mail carrier. I’m not sure if Mary was transferred or if the left she Postal Service altogether, but she left us a note letting us know that she’d miss us and hoped to run into us around town from time to time. When she ceased being our mail carrier, we lost a level of service that was far above the norm. Since my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and I live within steps of each other, all our mailboxes are next to each other. We got to know Mary pretty well over the years in which she delivered our mail.  Continue reading Uncommon Service

My Ten Best Songs of 2010

In conjunction with my albums list, here’s my list of what I think are the ten best songs of 2010. This list is always a little bit more difficult than the albums list. I’ve revised the list a couple of times before I even started writing it, and I’m second-guessing it as I write. There were so many great individual songs, and it’s hard to choose, but most of the selections coincide with my albums list. Here goes… Continue reading My Ten Best Songs of 2010

My Ten Best Albums of 2010

Here’s my third annual blog tradition of counting down the ten best albums of the year (check out 2008 and 2009). I’ve actually done this for years, and if you know anything about me and the listmaker that I am, that should come as no surprise.

2010 was actually a decent year for music, though largely you wouldn’t know it looking at the charts. A lot of the best music this year was off the beaten path, and it’s always fun to discover new stuff. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired by this list to dig into some artists you either hadn’t heard of or hadn’t considered listening to before.  Continue reading My Ten Best Albums of 2010

Do You Care About What You Do?

I’ve written about this before, but I’m a big fan of Gordon Ramsay. Those who dismiss him do so because of use of profanity and (what appears on the surface to be) his abusive treatment of contestants on Hell’s Kitchen. What people miss when they don’t see his other programs (particularly the shows on BBC America) is the fact that he is passionate and absolutely sold out about food. Gordon Ramsay absolutely cares about what he does.

If any of us is to be truly successful at what we do, we have to be passionate and care about it. Whether it’s a job or a hobby or even a task as mundane as cleaning the house, what we do has to have significance for us. Otherwise, we won’t achieve excellence.

The Bible gives us a pretty clear mandate:

“Whatever you do, work with it at 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.”

Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

It’s not about simply “doing your best,” or even being the best at what you do. It’s about caring enough to do what you do with excellence. You don’t have to be chef with 12 Michelin stars to be a good cook. You don’t have to have a Pulitzer Prize to be a good writer. You just have to care enough about what you do to do it with excellence.

Christianity & Creativity

I’ve written about this before, I’m sure, but I don’t listen to a lot of “Christian music.” Most of it doesn’t challenge me, especially musically. That’s not to say I don’t listen to any of it; I like a lot of what’s happening in contemporary worship, and there are quite few Christian songs from over the years that I’m very fond of.

I’m just more inclined to listen to and be interested in Christians who are making music in the general marketplace. Artists like Over The Rhine, Bill Mallonee, Melanie Penn, and Peter Mayer generally have a more to say about life in general, so their music is more interesting and challenging. Much of that is because they don’t have to keep it “safe” for the Christian marketplace.

It seems like there’s a lot of mediocre art of all kinds out there with the “Christian” label on it. Why do we believers let that happen? Why do we let so much make the cut that wouldn’t make it anywhere else? Why should we as Christians sacrifice excellence for content?

I’ve said it many times before…and it’s not a thought that originated with me…that we who are believers in Jesus Christ ought to create the most compelling, beautiful, and interesting art. If we serve and love such a creative God, we should be creative people. Christians who are artists should realize that all of their lives belong to God and that they honor Him through excellence, not through how many times His name is mentioned or how many scriptural truths are shown or quoted. I believe that art that purports to bear the name of Jesus Christ but is mediocre is no art at all and that anything a believer does that is less than excellent does Him a disservice.

It’s long overdue for Christian artists to step up and achieve excellence, and it’s high time that Christians expect excellence in every creative field.

“Excellence Every Time”

Last week, I printed out a coupon for my brother for the Blu-ray of The Princess And The Frog. The coupon had a slogan on the bottom of the page that I hadn’t seen before and that intrigued me: “Genuine Disney Movies…Excellence Every Time.”

OK, so even a hardcore Disneyphile like myself can admit that it’s a bit of hyperbole to state that Disney hits the mark on excellence every time. I bet there were plenty of times when Walt begged God to rain down plagues upon Michael Eisner for the cheap, direct-to-video sequels that Disney Animation had to do in the 90’s. And I think in the last decade or so, they’ve worn out the premise of the middle-aged man who has to take care of the child he never knew he had. And don’t get me started on Lilo & Stitch.

But the other side of the coin is that Disney achieves excellence more often that not. The Disney studio in its various forms has produced consistent entertainment for nearly 90 years. The most highly revered of the classic animated films, including Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Aladdin, and Toy Story, carried the Disney name. Live action films from Swiss Family Robinson to Seal Island to The Sixth Sense to The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe are all Disney productions. Disney created innovative television series going all the way back to the Disneyland series in the 50s up to shows like Lost today. Cast members at five Disney theme parks on three continents ensure an immersive vacation experience for hundreds of thousands of guests each year.

All this got me thinking…how often to I achieve excellence in what I do? I know I don’t reach the heights of Disney, but do I create excellence more often than not? I’m sure that there are even times when I think I’ve done something with excellence and I haven’t come anywhere close to hitting the mark.

Paul makes it pretty clear that we should achieve excellence no matter what our tasks are:

“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.”

Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

If we all thought about our jobs…our lives at home…our everyday existence in those terms, I think we’d all do better at everything. I can’t help but think that we’d truly see excellence every time with believers who live out those verses. And I truly believe that the world would take notice of us more as well.