7 – Dream

Don’t let anyone tell you what your dreams should be.

God gives every one of us a dream. Most people ignore the dream, belittle it, or even throw it in the trash—because they think it’s impossible. Because they think it’s impossible, they tell themselves it’s unreasonable. Once they belive it’s unreasonable, they rationalize dismantling their dream as “irresponsible” and “a waste of time”.

But, they can’t stop at stopping their own dreams.

Anyone bent on eradicating their own dreams can’t allow themselves to think that dreams can have any value, including other people’s dreams. By allowing other people to dream big they would have to accept that their own dreams might have value. They attack other people for dreaming so they can sleep at night, dreamlessly.

They say that it can’t happen, taking ten minutes, hours, even days to finally get to their point that they just don’t like dreams. “We must be practical,” they preach, though everything starts as a dream.

Why do anti-dreamers do this? Perhaps they once had a dream and were attacked by anti-dreamers themselves. Like being bitten by a vampire, they turn into what they once despised; having been dreamers, they become the greatest persecutors of dreaming.

The secret about dreams is that they come from somewhere. Just like morals, dreams for a life greater than we  imagine must come from above.

We can’t achieve our dreams on our own. Those who try fail and become the party-poopers, the rain clouds on parades, the cynics who shoot down other people’s happiness to avoid remembering what they forsook.

It takes God’s help to achieve a God-sized dream—the same God who gives dreams.

Don’t let people tell you what your dreams can be. Don’t daydream of small, covetous, “average” ambitions that only seem worthy to “reasonability”.

Think of the unthinkable. Lay down whatever mediocre ambitions you strive for and accept a much wider, larger vision. Dream big. Dream for others—not to conquer them nor to induct them into your own dream, but to inspire them to chase whatever dreams you could never grant.

True dreams only come from God and no other and only He can make them reality.

2 Chronicles 15:7, Psalm 20:4, Psalm 37:4, Galatians 6:9

12 – Arguments That Change the Subject

Whenever talking, stay on topic; don’t change the subject.

First, you must know your subject of discussion, which many people don’t. Second, understand that trying to change the subject is just as dangerous—yes, dangerous—as allowing other people to change the subject. But, if you don’t first know which subject you are discussing, then it’s hard to stay on topic at all.

People who change the subject either don’t know the subject much at all or know the subject all too well—and are doing it intentionally.

When answering questions at a Q&A, educated teachers will often begin their answer by explaining the broader subject that the question relates to, usually a section and row of books in a library. One of the best textbook examples is Ravi Zacharias. Every question relates to a topic that has almost always already been written about in exhaustion. People ask those questions, usually, because they may not even know that the subject itself exists. So, identifying the subject of the question is the first part to a proper answer.

When you say, “That employee does a bad job,” don’t accept the answer, “He worked here for 20 years.” It is not on topic. Your initial statement was about job performance; the response was about history, familiarity, defense of personal character, perhaps even cronyism or even nepotism; “He is my friend, my own son.” Of course, it might not be your place—you might not have enough information—to be accusing an employee of doing a bad job in the first place. In that case, a more appropriate response to your initial statement might be, “He has worked here longer than you.” In that case, it is you who are off topic—the topic of focusing on one’s own job performance.

By knowing your subject, you will avoid switching topics in conversation. That will help you avoid unnecessarily ugly arguments and to be resilient against populism. For this, it is good to familiarize yourself with “logical fallacies” on your own: red herring, straw man, emotional appeal, ad hominem, appeal to the stone, argument from ignorance, illicit minor, argumentum ad populum, appeal to authority, appeal to hypocrisy, and many more.

Proverbs 19:8, John 9

13 – Arguments That Don’t Change the Point

There is such a thing as a distinction without a meaningful difference. When a Muslim or Jew is asking about the food, clarifying whether the roast beast is ham or pork won’t matter since it all comes from a pig.

Knowing what things don’t make a difference is a sign of education and upbringing.

In high school, I sat on a committee voting on my school’s curriculum. A pastor on the committee made a motion and I seconded the motion. After discussion, when it came to a vote, I voted against it. The pastor was far more entertained than insulted and gave me a comical look during the vote. After, and over a good laugh, we decided that I was not allowed to vote against a motion I had seconded, but that had I first withdrawn my second, someone else would have made a second second, and the vote would have passed just the same. So, in the greater rules of procedure, that absurd process could have been deemed moot at best and, more likely, at worst an interference with order.

The question is whether the result is the same.

Quite often, children argue with their parents about technical details that would not affect the outcome. It doesn’t matter if you hit your brother because he hit you first or called you a “silly face”, you shouldn’t ever hit your brother.

Unfortunately, many people do not outgrow this practice. It is not a mere question of adulthood. Parents easily know that their children’s attempt at filibuster are beside the deciding point. But, lawyers and judges debate among themselves the value of specific points in the final decision, even into senior years, even at the highest of courts.

Know yourself whether a distinction will make a difference. Limit yourself to ideas that affect the outcome. When others make non-differentiating distinctions, politely and comically call them out on it. Be proactive in policing your own conversations, especially your own thoughts.

Years of practice in knowing what distinctions matter will help you make better on-the-spot decisions and give you better direction in your goals, vision, values, mission, choosing friendships, settling disagreements, or even simple decisions in grocery shopping.

Proverbs 3:13; 17:28, 1 Timothy 6:4-5

17 – Recognize Fruit

One of the most difficult things for anyone to learn is to recognize results. The more we graduate the more we think that a diploma is a form of results; it is not.

Certification, effort, intentions, experience—all of these prove nothing. A tree is not known by the official label burned into its bark—no right thinking person would do such a thing for fear of being labeled “absurd”. No! We know a tree by what grows on its branches. Oranges do not fall from apple trees and they certainly do not grow on them.

What financial planner is most qualified except who is financially independent and does not need clients? Which artist should you hire—the sincere one or the one with a huge portfolio, collected since childhood, and having the style and flair you seek? Which operating system is more reliable than the one that doesn’t appear in “virus email” warnings from your bank? The engineer who can design the bridge for your city is not the one who graduated from the most prestigious college, but the one who built countless bridges already, with zero of them collapsing.

Despite the simplicity of the idea, companies still hire an MBA to lead a business of engineers or some other specialized talent. An MBA would be more suitable to lead a company whose main product or service comes from the department full of other people with MBAs. Claiming qualification to manage based on a degree in management itself is comparable to helping people know a tree by its label—just as absurd as the stock market at times.

Learn to look at results. Pick the mind of the coffee shop owner or the shoe repair man or the local gadget dealer who has been in business 20 years. Ask the man who has the numbers in the bank. Money doesn’t lie, accountants do. Follow the money.

A degree may open some employment doors, but not all jobs lead to stability, career or financial. Who gains from pop culture superstitions that value certification over results?

Certificates can be good if preceded by results. To see results, one must learn to think critically even without the certificate.

Matthew 7:15-20; 15:1-20

18– Chivalry

The long legacy of chivalry sprouted from the unwritten Noble Habitus noted in the twelfth century: loyalty, forbearance, hardihood, liberality, Davidic ethic, and honor. These habits were for all people.

Chivalry customs change with time and were never exempt from exploitation. But, the mature and strong must always look after the young, elderly, and weak.

Bull sessions and rowdy friendship—at proper times—are indeed collective virtue. Hardiness with cheer encourages others by implying that they are tough enough to take it. But, never steal another’s thunder, overstay your welcome, nor let play interfere with work.

Do your own work well and honestly. Work unfinished or badly done makes work for others, even danger. Honor is about self-sacrifice, not saving face. Sacrifice yourself for others, merely because they are near you. Obey God above mortals and angels, pay respect to all, and expect respect from none.

Elbows off the table and napkins on the knee save space. When you must retrieve from across someone’s plate, always say, “Pardon my reach.” Who goes through the door first is not so important as making the passage best and pleasant. Whether to talk at the table changes with occasion and each house has different rules. But, never spit your food at others and never be difficult for any friend.

Never break promises, never betray friends, and never associate with those who wish to. When your friend slips in his chivalry, offer your shoulder to help him stand.

Forbearance and forgiveness make for flexibility and resilience. If your opponent plays fowl, object if the referee blows his whistle. Chivalry ’tis not only about being a good loser, but also not quibbling over fowl play.

When late, make haste, but not so much that ye make waste. Be punctual, don’t get in others’ way, but weep not at interference or tardiness of others. Unlacing over a faux pas is bad chivalry, whether yours or not; it’s best to “not even notice”.

Never lodge complaint over tone of voice. Anyone can practice gruffness or bad grammar if he worked to pay for his own plate, especially if he pays for everyone else’s. Carelessly sharing is most caring, as any chevalier knows.

2 Samuel 19:1-8, John 2: 1-12; 6:1-14; 19:26-30

27 – Accept Compliments

It’s a normal thing in life to receive compliments. Giving compliments is a lesson all to itself, but while it is more blessed to give than to receive, where compliments are concerned receiving is more difficult than giving.

In summary, say, “Thank you.”

If you find that monotonous, try, “I’m honored,” or, “Well, it means a lot.” Practice in front of the mirror if you must. It is no work of forgery to practice receiving a compliment.

Selfless people do not work to receive compliments so they do not naturally enjoy them. But, celebrating with those who are happy is part of good chivalry, as is being the life of the party thrown in your favor.

People give compliments because you have helped them and want to return the favor in what small way they can, unless it is flattery. One way to outsmart flattery is to give a true, real thank you—not conceit or thinking that you deserve the compliment, but genuinely being appreciative.

Just be real and assume the best. Be a blessing to those who want to grace you with appreciation. Ask them if they have any stories to share.

Learning to accept a compliment is a step in humility. When you don’t care for the affirmation of others, but you are willing to give up caring about the things you care about not caring about—that takes self-sacrifice!

People giving a compliment are opening their hearts to you. When a stranger, young or old, walks up to you and tells you that your work is good, they are making themselves vulnerable. Reward them for their risk; return the honor by receiving theirs; don’t make them regretful.

Not all compliments are diplomatic and well polished. People lavish gifts from their own cultures and villages, parts of town and sides of the mountain. They may throw sarcasm or strange humor. They may imply a sideways joke.

Learning to accept a compliment is more than about humility and a real response, even if you need to practice yours. It also includes recognizing disguised compliments, or when someone wants to give a compliment, but just doesn’t know it yet. So, always say, “Thank you.”

32 – You Get What You See

Everything starts in the mind. Our plans, our goals, our directions—all we accomplish begins by what we envision in the  mind’s eye.

It’s impossible to climb over a wall that you have convinced yourself you can’t climb over.

Many people take this type of wisdom one of two wrong ways. Either they claim that we can truly climb over every wall in the universe merely by thinking we can or they claim that is what we are claiming. The problem here is practical: We can’t do whatever-the-heck we whimsically feel like, but we can’t do anything at all if we believe we can’t do anything at all.

There’s a lot more we can do than we give ourselves credit for. In all fairness, there’s also a lot we can’t do that we probably don’t know we can’t do. Pessimists especially think themselves “pragmatists”, but they also attempt things they don’t know they can’t do, such as trying to be happy by overspending, all while thinking they don’t need to learn healthy “success oriented” habits first.

Know your limits and your strengths; make neither artificial nor false. Don’t say you can’t when you can. Don’t say you can without getting your mind right first. And, for Heaven’s and Earth’s sakes both, please don’t decide that you can do what-the-heck-ever without proper preparation or with enough preparation. There are some things no one can do, but don’t overuse that truth.

Not all, but most of our problems come from some boundary we limit ourselves with. Don’t just work hard; also evaluate your progress to ensure you work smarter every day. We need both hard and smart work; each day is new.

Take time to educate and familiarize yourself with your goals. Consider that your goals might not be best, but the goals behind the goals behind the goals could point you in a better direction that you will be more happy with. Do your homework, then envision the path all the way to the end.

Watch your language, eradicate negative speech. What you say reinforces and rewrites what you think. Whatever you end up with—whatever you have even now—began with what you already saw.

Proverbs 23:7

37 – Words Have Power

Words gain their power because of their effect on the mind.

We have three main ways of communicating ideas into the mind: sight, touch, and audio. When we speak, we use two; when we read aloud we use all three.

When writing, we see our words and feel them written through our fingers. In speaking, we feel what we say through our mouths and hear our words with our ears. When we read aloud, we also see the words, thus using all three inputs. This is one reason punishing a student by writing a sentence multiple times can be effective. Usually those students will whisper the words while writing them, even without knowing.

Whatever you say, write, and even type is sent back into your brain through at least two communication methods. This has the effect of self-programming.

You program your mind with your words, whether spoken, written, or even typed.

In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt explores whether a child’s name can have power. Two children were given somewhat negative names and they lived negative lives. But, incidentally, two brothers less than a year apart were named “Winner” and “Loser”, respectively. Winner became a failure and Loser became a big success. While Levitt argues that this defuses the theory of names making a difference in the life of children, I argue that it shows the power of words spoken.

What is the one name you are likely to say more than your own—other than your brother’s who is less than a year different in age?

The Bible is also clear about the power of the tongue, not only of humans, but also of God the Creator. All Creation was made through the Word of God, Jesus is the Word made flesh to deliver us of our sinful situation, the Bible is the Word of God. As the Image of God, it only makes sense that our words also have power of some kind.

Cursing and fowl language are mainly matters of word power. Whether words have supernatural power is moot. Words evidently affect us all. Whether we harness or neglect our tongues, the results will show in our lives. Watch your words; train your tongue.

Proverbs 6:2, James 3:2-12

49 – How to Do

How do you do something? Seriously, don’t do anything half-baked. The only exception is a steak roasted to medium, but that’s a part of perfection.

There is no shortage in this world of things done badly.

Many times, people’s problems were inherited from other people.

Most of my own problems are from a domino effect of other people not doing their jobs correctly. Things break, those broken things break other things, the chain continues until it reaches my stuff.

At times, I think all of life is a swim through a river of problems from upstream. Don’t complain about the problems you get and don’t complain about other people’s problems unless you can explain that they are upstream from you.

There is a marketable demand for things finished not badly and not half-finished.

The need for excellence extends to thought itself. Many things would not be done so badly if the people doing those things would not only do a good job of what they were doing, but also do a good job of thinking about what they were doing.

God is the Master Craftsman because He makes stuff and He doesn’t make it badly—including you.

Your problems are a consortium of interferences from rebellious angels, your ancestors, and your own stupidity. As for God’s work to create and redeem you, just the fact that you’re alive is a miracle and testament to the fact that He’s not only awesome, that He’s not only ain’t finished with you yet, but that He’s only just gettin’ started.

You are God’s work in progress and, all things considered, you’re doing quite well—especially in light of your problems.

God likes nice things. He celebrates factory workers and hard laborers. Jesus himself was a carpenter. With nearly 2,000 years of work on New Jerusalem, that just makes sense.

The pastor, prophet, apostle, and theologian do not understand God more than the good, hard worker. Their studies away from craft can inhibit their ability to understand and identify with the Master Craftsman. Paul moonlighted as a tentmaker, not only for ethical and financial reasons, but also theological.

To understand our Most Excellent God, do a most excellent job.

Proverbs 22:29, Ecclesiastes 9:10, Colossians 3:23-24

In loving memory of “Uncle Dave” Eckman

57 – Finish Wisely Every Journey

When you begin a journey, finish it, even the ones you shouldn’t have started.

“Finishing” can mean different things, but it never means “giving up”. Many times our eyes get bigger than our stomachs and we ask take more food than we can eat. “Finishing” in the food analogy does not mean stuffing yourself, but eating the left overs for your next meals until they are gone. If you decide that you can’t eat it, save it for someone who can; don’t just abandon the food and throw it away.

Finish.

Sometimes, we start out on a path leading to death. We don’t know the path will eventually kill us because it seems good and all at the outset. But, later on, we may discover it was a seduction of evil all along. “Finishing” that path might mean turning around and going back, perhaps warning others that the path seems good, but ends in a death trap.

Usually paths that lead to a death trap require us to tell “white lies” and break “insignificant” moral rules in order to star them. Eve was the best example because the fruit looked delicious and knowledge “isn’t that bad of a thing”, right?

My father once started a “selfish” motorcycle trip he shouldn’t have. His motorcycle broke down. Exhausted, he knelt in the desert sand and believed in Jesus. He didn’t finish as planned, but he didn’t take a bus home either; he rode his motorcycle all the way back.

His pastor, who always asked why dad wouldn’t become Christian, never even noticed, possibly because dad didn’t believe in Jesus the “traditional” way. Knowing dad, he probably learned more about Jesus and carrying his own Cross than the pastor learned at Seminary.

When one hasn’t finished hard journeys oneself, however regrettable those journeys are, those who do seem boring.

Dad didn’t finish his journey the way he first intended, but he did “finish” it, taking responsibility for the situation he got himself into. Because he “did the right thing”, Jesus changed his heart.

Learning means finishing. Abandoning the unpleasant is easy, but you’ll never learn that way. When the going gets tough—when your choices hurt—finish wisely.

Genesis 3:6-7, Jonah 1:17; 2:1, 10; 3:1-5, Luke 19:1-10