Archive for June, 2019

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, shared the story on his blog of a young Swede named Ingmar who started selling matches from his bicycle. He found a source for inexpensive matches and began to sell them at reasonable price, and still make a tidy profit. Eventually he added a few other items to his product line. In 2013, Ingmar’s company made $37 billion. You see Ingmar Kamprad’s company is called IKEA.

Inspirational story, right? Why can’t we do that? Well the truth is, maybe you can. The problem with a lot of us creative entrepreneur types is we want to have IKEA but we don’t want to sell the matches. We have to grow and build our skills all along the way. Show me an overnight success, and I will show you someone who labored in obscurity for years building the skills that one day shot them to the top.

James Clear says it much better on his blog. Check it out.

I’ve been called upon to do a 6 foot by 8 foot live painting for a camp here in PA. This is a different situation for me in some ways, because usually when I do a live painting I am also the speaker, so I’m also there to talk the viewers through what I’m thinking. This time I’m only doing the painting. My first run at a sketch just didn’t work so for the next run, I went classic. Their theme is on finding fulfillment, so I just did a straight up Jesus, since He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, He is the fulfillment of the OT law, of Scripture and, at least in my view, the ultimate source of fulfillment.

Why am I cross posting this one? Art is communication. If we want people to get our meaning, we need to make it speak clearly. My first run at this was misunderstood or maybe more correctly was just not understood and while, as I stated above, had I been the speaker, I would have been able to explain the piece to the audience and they would have gotten it. That’s all well and good if that audience is the only group to see the piece, but this piece will be kept and displayed probably for quite some time to be seen by people who were not in attendance when I made it. They need to get it too if I want the art to fulfill a greater purpose. Sometimes it’s best to keep a piece simple so it can be understood. An open armed Christ speaks volumes.

The old adage says a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe that’s true, as a matter of fact the word count may be a little low, but what about pictures with words? I’m of the belief that when we add words to pictures, their power can increase exponentially. No I’m not talking about adding captions to masterpieces. I’m talking about memes and cartoons. I don’t think we really understand the power in these little pictures with words. Hitler did.

It’s said the among the first moves Hitler made against the Jewish people was to begin dehumanizing them through cartoons and caricatures, slowly desensitizing the populace to the atrocities he intended. Dehumanizing people makes them easier to vilify and even kill and it all started with words with pictures.

Consider our social media culture and be honest. How much of your world view is influenced by the memes you see? Face it we live in a chaotic, “sound-bite” world. We don’t have time to read the whole article and get the big picture, so we settle for the bite from the little picture. We used to call it the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version” but today’s media culture gives us the RDCV condensed even further, and the results have been devastating to our culture, at least in this writer’s opinion. What’s even more concerning is people used to have to find someone to publish their nastiness, but now it can spread to the world for free with the click of a button.

So why do I share this? I mean most of you know my favorite art form is cartooning, the combination of words and pictures I have been lamenting. Am I shooting myself in the foot? Hardly—no what I am saying is that the same things that have the power for great evil can also be used for great good. We can use our work to communicate simple messages of peace, love and hope, maybe even the Gospel! If these little bites can be used to tear people down, they can also be used to build up. The can be used to shine light on goodness and life and truth. Why not use what some mean for evil to communicate that which is good and right and true. After all, the evidence is really clear.

Words and pictures combined have great power, and with great power comes great responsibility. Let’s go do some good.

Today on my way out the door, I put on my Wallace the Lucky Rabbit T-shirt. I got it on deep discount at the Disney Store clearance rack. It was probably on clearance because a lot of people don’t know Wallace, which is a shame, because he paved the way for what might be the most famous cartoon character of all time. You see a long time ago a young animator got his big break. One of the largest animation studios around contracted him to begin making shorts of his original character, Wallace the Lucky Rabbit. I never believed in luck and the young animator shouldn’t have either. The studio made a shady deal with the young animator, and basically stole his beloved creation out from under him. Wallace turned out to be not so lucky after all. Legend has it the young animator pretty much decided at that point he would not work for anyone else ever again and set out to create another character. That character starred in a short called Steamboat Willie, but his real name was Mickey Mouse. The young animator of course was the legendary Walt Disney.

Why do I share this story? To show you that no one is truly an overnight success and the road to creative glory is usually littered with many bitter disappointments. The ones who succeed are the ones who jump right back in, maybe a little wiser, and keep going.

No one promised that the roads of creativity or faith would be easy. The race goes to the ones who persevere. Learn from your mistakes and your disappointments and keep going. Your next creation might be the one that opens the door, or it might not, but you’ll never know if you don’t create it.

There’s no such thing as luck. Keep working! (The above piece of art, is just a little fan art digital sketch I did, in case you’ve never seen Wallace.)

Today is our last day of vacation. Later this morning we will start the long drive home. We’ve been away. It’s been a time of refreshing. There was a time for me when this was a day filled with dread, but these days, not so much. Oh, it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed being away, because I really have. It’s more that, other than the aforementioned drive home, I really do enjoy what I’m going back to. We stayed in a condo at the beach this year. I don’t know how it is in your part of the world but around here, hotels at the beach have become so expensive that you can actually rent someone’s vacation home cheaper than being cramped into a way overpriced hotel room. I do like this. All the comforts of home with none of the responsibilities.

Every year, I stop to wonder, “Could we do this?” Could we buy a little place and rent it out most of the year, allowing others to pay our mortgage? After all, my wife and I love the beach. The answer is probably not. I’m not sure that would be good stewardship, and besides if it was ours, would it still feel as if we were away? In spite my love for all I do all year long, there is something to be said for time away. It’s a time to rethink and reassess. It’s a time to read and think and pray. It’s a time to let your mind wander and imagine. It’s a time to ask “What if?” Sometimes stepping away for a week is all it takes to get a little quieter and find that idea that change everything.

The truth is, I love it here, but I couldn’t live like this. Everything is more expensive, the food is richer. (The one thing I dread about “re-entry” is getting on the scale.) I’ve often wondered if this place would be as special if I was here all the time. Yesterday I saw a pod of dolphins playing, and most likely feeding, at the place where the bay feeds into the ocean. I could have watched them for hours. I never want to get to the place in life where that is ordinary and, dare I say, boring. No, I’ve been away, I’ve been to see and experience something I really enjoy. I’ve been away. I’ve rested and thought. I’ve dreamed, and I’ve imagined and been inspired. Now it’s time to take that, and do what I can to see some of the things I’ve dreamed become real. I’ve been away, now it’s time to go home and do what create a better reality for the people I’ve been given to love.

At the end of the day, that’s the real purpose of being away, isn’t it? To get recharged so we can go back and make our part of the world, that blessing from God we call home (for now), a better place for the people He has given us to love. I think it is.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of me giving a review. I guess they are wanting more than, “Wow, just wow!” but that’s pretty much what I have to say. This book does a careful dance between heart-wrenching and uplifting and it does it flawlessly. You’ve no doubt heard the stories of the “Lost boys” of Sudan, but have you heard about the lost girls? The book is the autobiography of Rebecca Deng, who was one of the first group of unaccompanied refugee children to enter the U.S. after Sudan’s second civil war. The book begins with an almost idyllic description of her very early life in a small village. While they did not have much by western standards, she felt blessed and loved. That all changed when her village came under attack when she was just four years old. Her mother died in that attack. Later she lost more and more family members and ended up in a refugee camp.

Things were unbearably hard there, but it was also there that Rebecca grew in her Christian faith. Her story is a rollercoaster of pain and redemption, but it led to a life of helping others to overcome what she had experienced. This is the story of a real person who went through real tragedy but who came through it all and managed to see God at work. If you have ever wrestled with your faith or doubted whether or not one person can really change the world, this book is a must read. Five stars and I’d give it a sixth if I could.

I am writing this from the screened in porch next to a nice pond with a bubbling fountain at the place we rented for our vacation. I just finished my morning Scripture reading from the chaotic book of 2 Kings and the adventures of Paul from Acts 18. It’s almost ironic that I am reading about such upheaval while in such a serene place, but that’s what vacation is supposed to be, right? The chaos in the world around you still exists, but time away recharges us for what lies ahead.

What lies ahead for me? Well the stuff I know about is exciting. I’m heading into a busy season of ministry. One of the busiest I have had so far, and that excites me. There is much work to be done, both at the church and “on the road” and there is a real temptation to dig into it even now, but I find I must resist that, and depend on the Lord. I need to be present for my family, they deserve no less. Over the next two months, Lord willing, there is a lot of travel in store and there will be some time apart. I need to invest this time in them and in rejuvenating me. Just because I love what I do, does not mean I don’t get tired. I’ve often wished I’d have had this life in my 20s when I was more energetic, but that’s a pointless exercise. I was nowhere near ready. Even today, this all depends on God.

God has blessed me tremendously and I praise Him. I praise Him for busyness, because it provides the opportunity to bear fruit for the Kingdom. Please pray that I will be used to do just that. I also praise God for this time away. Please pray that I will use it well and come away recharged.

Want to understand the human condition? “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than man which will make him happy. The reason it can never succeed is this. God made us, invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way, without bothering about ‘religion.’ God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Yesterday, I shared a call for champions. The more I think this through the more I realize we all need a team. Let me explain with a personal example.

The other night, my world’s collided. I was leading a paint party. One of the people at the paint party is also a fairly long time Facebook friend. She started talking to me about some of the pop/creature art I’ve been posting. This are looks very different from the work I do in my speaking ministry, but I came to the conclusion a long time ago that all that I do creatively is ministry. Some is for the church and some allows me to reach beyond the walls, but it’s all ministry. Well my pop/creature art is very much the beyond the walls part. It allows me access to a part of the world my more overtly Christian art won’t necessarily reach into. In these projects, it’s all about Proverbs 22:29 “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings…” I am trying to build my skills to the point where I can speak into the art world with the Gospel.

Lately I have had a vision for a kind of web portal to open that door. It is a unique interactive website that would show the work in a unique way and I really think it could yield some pretty cool results. I know it could benefit and reach a lot of people. I can see it really clearly, but I don’t have the technical skills to pull it off. The thing is, even though I already have a pretty huge body of work, generating the art for it will be extremely time consuming. Now I have some experience in web design, and I have very little doubt that I could learn the skills I need to do the “programming” myself, but is that the best use of my time? And will it be as good as what someone more gifted in that area can do? After all there are people out there that already have all the skills to do this work and do it better than I can. On the other hand when it comes to the art, I am the only one who can create what is going on in my head. Why should I do what others can do at the expense of what only I can do? It makes more sense to build a team. Understand, I am not talking about finding people to do the grunt work. To make this thing the way I envision, it requires an artist who works in code and programming. What I’m talking about is working with someone or even a group of people for whom this project could be their masterpiece. I’m talking about a group of artists of all sort of disciplines doing their very best to create something earth-shaking. I’m talking about a team.

This is really God’s vision when He speaks of the Body of Christ.

The other night I had a dream. In the dream a woman came to me telling me about a book the Lord laid on her heart to write. It was weird, as dreams often are, but it felt like this same woman had come to me before, maybe in other dreams, telling me about this same book. I made the promise to her that if she wrote the book I would move heaven and earth to help her get the book published. I would champion her cause.

Now the truth is, I have written and/or illustrated quite a few books and have self-published them, so that part I probably could actually do for her. Where I have always struggled is in getting the self published books to sell. Most of the books I have sold have been sold after my speaking engagements, and even this has been sporadic and that’s when it hit me. We could all use a champion. We could all use others to help bring our creative dreams, not to mention callings, to reality. I could help someone get their book ready to publish and even to self publish, but from there I could really use a marketer to take it to the next level and get those books into the hands of people who need to read them.

Similarly, I was speaking with a young friend online the other day, who desires to be a speaker. She has had some experiences that could be used to benefit a lot of people. We got into a conversation and I laid out some tips and ideas that would help her refine her message and begin to make the connections to begin getting her message out. Now that’s not to say everything is one size fits all, and she has a lot of left work to do, but I was at least able to give a little direction from my point of view.

What if we all did that? It’s really not that difficult. You have a piece of the puzzle that someone else is missing. It might even be the piece that completes the picture. I would love to figure out how to build this into a community of champions where people can come and say, “Here’s my vision. Here’s where I’m stuck. Who can help?” This is ultimately “Body of Christ” stuff. We are more together than we are apart. So how about it?

Any champions out there?