Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

A Wise Men History Lesson

Note: This post coincides with the idea of Epiphany, though it wasn’t my focus when I wrote the post. If you’d like to know more about Epiphany, check out this article: What is Epiphany / Three Kings’ Day and should Christians celebrate it?

wisemen

Who were the wise men?

To understand the significance of the wise men’s role in the Christmas story, let’s go back to the time of Daniel. The Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon in 539BC. The Persians were the dominant power, and the Medes were eventually integrated.

The Magi (wise men) were the hereditary priesthood of the Medes (knows as the Kurds today) and known for profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. They proved to be experts in interpreting dreams, which is why Darius made them the supreme priestly caste over the Persian Empire.

How did the wise men know about the Messiah?

Daniel eventually received the title of Rab-mag, or Chief of the Magi, because of his superior ability to interpret dreams other Magi could not. This led to his stay in the lion’s den (Daniel 1:18-20, Daniel 9:24-27, & Daniel 12).

As a result of this interaction, the Magi knew Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah. Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den as well as his part in saving the Magi’s lives significantly impacted them too. They probably also knew about the Messiah through Balaam, one of their ancestors (Numbers 24:17).

The Jews and the Persians (including the Magi) eventually fell under Seleucid control. The Seleucids eventually fell to the Parthians. The Magi continued as the dominating ruling party through the Seleucid and Parthian Empire and also through Sasanian rule (224-651BC).

Why was Herod afraid of the wise men?

The Magi traveled 800-900 miles & originated from what is modern-day Iran. They arrived in Jerusalem probably with a large entourage. They were the wealthy, ruling class of the Parthians, after all. As a result, they would have traveled protected and in relative ease.

Their arrival frightened the whole city, not just Herod the Great. The people of Jerusalem likely thought the Parthians came to besiege them again. Herod’s and the people’s fears were justified since there many people (including Herod) were in Jerusalem when the Parthians invaded Roman Judea a few decades before. They basically kicked out the Romans for several years.

Though they took back Judea, the Roman Empire never completely defeated the Parthians. The two groups went back and forth between war and diplomacy from 53AD-217BC. In addition, the Parthians had a sophisticated culture of commerce, significant wealth, and some of their cities stood as the largest in the world.

The Romans and Herod feared the arrival of the Magi for more than just their bringing emphasis to this child called “king of the Jews”

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east cam to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Why should we care about the wise men?

The Magi grew in knowledge about the Messiah. Their interest began just before the silent years between the testaments and endured from one generation to the next. And they weren’t even Jewish.

We also can’t overlook the fact that the Magi looked for Jesus’ arrival for hundreds of years. They expected it and knew the signs when they saw them.

The Magi set an example of what seeking Christ truly means still for us today.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”(Matthew 2:1-12)

How does the Magi’s drive to discover the Christ child change your perspective on what it means to seek Him?

How to Have Consistent Focus Even When No One Is Watching

how-to-focus-hacks-infographicFocus Determines Reality

The object of focus as well as the existence or absence of focus itself determines the reality of a person’s life. Do you believe this?

The truth that focus determines reality drives me. I believe it to the point of frustration when focus remains elusive. When my mind continually engages distraction, anxiety and frustration set in and depression approaches.

Establishing & Keeping Focus

When I transitioned from working in an office where others held me accountable for my productivity to working for myself at home where only I truly knew my level of accomplishment, the discipline of focus taunted me while at the same time taught me a great deal about establishing and keeping focus. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Know your purpose. This requires regular (daily) Scripture study & prayer before moving on to the specific tasks of the day.
  2. Eliminate distraction. Leave your phone in the other room. Work in a room without a television. Go for a walk or bike ride to brainstorm and plan. Find ways to reduce the temptations of distraction.
  3. Simplify. Reduce possessions to regularly-used items. Keep calendars simple and clutter free. Focus on simple, healthy meals. Establish routines to reduce decision-making. When overwhelmed, this one word – “simplify” – works wonders for refocusing.
  4. Talk. Working alone means I’m in my head a lot. Regularly scheduling exercise time or coffee with a friend gives opportunity to get out of my head and process thoughts in more tangible ways. Evenings with my husband and time with my boys also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom God regularly offers.
  6. Take small steps. Staying focused happens through small steps (choices) that over time add up to make a huge difference.
  7. Establish accountability. Voicing my goals creates one level of accountability. Partnering with others creates another. Creating deadlines takes accountability up another notch. Make accountability a reality and not just a good idea.

Learning to Focus

When talking to others struggling with focus, I hear excuses like, “I’m not just good at focusing,” or “I just get distracted easily,” as if they lack the ability to focus like some lack musical ability. In this ADD-culture, many seem to believe focus comes only for those blessed with unique ability or at the very least live absent of attention deficit.

My personal success in achieving a focused life convinced me that focus is not a special talent like athleticism but is instead a learned ability. If you’re not yet convinced, consider the story of a young boy diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD & FAS at age 8.

All three of these disorders rip apart one’s ability to focus. Yet, in the past six years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner and in a stable environment, this boy went from being several years behind in reading to reading just above grade level. He also gets As and Bs in school and stays out of trouble as much as any other teenage boy.

My youngest son taught me anyone can learn to focus. While it may exist as more of a struggle more for some people than for others, anyone can improve their ability to focus.

A Biblical Formula for Focus

Let’s look at one more element involved in one’s ability to focus. Scripture provides a great deal of help on the topic, but let’s look at two passage in particular to finish our discussion on focus.

Focus all energy on one thing: Forget the past, look forward toward the goal, and work to reach the end and receive the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Refuse to focus on the temporary and instead fix your focus on the unseen, the eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Focusing where God tells us to focus results in an extraordinary ability to hone our effectiveness. Keeping eternity in mind as we plan our lives results in living productive and meaningful lives. No longer do we wonder if our daily activity matters because we know we’re connected with the eternal, with what matters most to God, so all we do matters.

Remember the question in the beginning of this post? Go ahead, take a look again.

When we truly believe – because we know for certain – that focus involves choosing to have it as well as placing God as the object of that focus, we find that our ability to focus grows in supernatural ways. We discover that an inability to focus may simply mean a wrong focus. We realize that an overwhelmed life often means a life focused on the wrong or too many different things.

No one can convince me that consistent focus ever exists as impossible for anyone. Learning to focus without being under constant watch by others taught me about the possibility, and my youngest son’s progress over the past 6 years further confirmed the truth. And both leave me excited to live a future focused on God and pleasing Him.

DISCUSSION: What struggles do you have with focus? How does the above advice provide hope for learning to focus?

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Guest Post: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Today’s guest post comes from Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure, and become fully alive. Chris’ posts offer creative insights and new ways of examining life, our callings, the Christian journey, and relationships. 

Also be sure to check out Chris’ new book Blaze Your Own Trail.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Back in October, my wife and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary by taking a cruise to the Bahamas. During the final moments before departure, I took a photo of the ship’s main deck and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “Let’s go cruisin’!”

no phoneIt was the last time I would be connected to the outside world for six days. Sure, I could have paid the cruise line’s exorbitant fee just to check email, Facebook, and the web, but why did I need to? We were sailing in the open seas surrounded by crystal blue waters, headed toward magnificent tropical destinations.

Since most of my fellow cruisers were also unwilling to undergo voluntary highway robbery in order to stay connected, a most unusual thing happened. People stayed present in the moment. Strangers spoke to strangers. In turn, strangers quickly became friends.

Nearly every night at dinner, my wife and I made conversation with the new faces at surrounding tables. While lounging on the deck, we engaged with people. In addition, we made a point to nightly stop by the photography area just to talk with our new photographer friends cruise line employees from all over the globe, including South Africa, India, and Serbia.

Even today, we’ve maintained contact with a few of our cruise friends through the magic of Facebook.

After a week at sea, it hit me. This is way life is supposed to be. God designed us for community and to experience life right in front of us.

Social media cannot replace in-person interactions and the deep satisfaction we receive by being in the company of friends and family. When kept in proper balance, social media offers a number of incredible opportunities. Unfortunately, our constant connection with the outside world has a dark side, as well.

First, the bad and the ugly. Social media…

  1. Tends to dominate our time when we fail to place boundaries around its usage.
  2. Harms the relationships right in front of us when we lose sight of its importance. We dishonor those in our presence when we are consumed with checking our phones instead of engaging in conversation.
  3. Lends itself toward shallow connections. Many of the online discussions center around mundane topics, such as conversation about tonight’s dinner menu or the latest bathroom mirror selfie.
  4. Morphs into junior high all over again. People claiming over 2,000 “friends?!” Anthropologist Robin Dunbar of the famed Dunbar’s number has spent countless years researching human relationships. His work has consistently shown that we are designed to maintain about 150 meaningful relationships, a far cry from the thousands of people many boast as “friends” and “followers” on social media channels.
  5. Is often poorly utilized as a marketing tool. Some folks are simply in the social media game to promote themselves and their products without first taking time to develop relationships.

Now, the good. Social media…

  1. Offers a bridge to real relationship. While it is difficult to get to know friends at the heart level through social media, we are often able to obtain a glimpse of who they are. Hopefully, we take some of those friendships beyond Facebook and Twitter. One of the greatest pleasures I have had in recent years has been connecting with several online friends in the real world.
  2. Provides a convenient means to permanently maintain established relationships. Never before have we had such an incredible opportunity to stay connected and build lifelong friendships, even through the shifting seasons of life.
  3. Allows us to build connections around shared ideas, values, and passions. We live in extraordinary technological days. As a result, we have the opportunity to connect with people we likely would have never met otherwise. In fact, I originally connected with some of my closest friends through social media.
  4. Leads to the deepening of a few friendships. I have held some of the most meaningful conversations of my life online, especially through commenting on blogs. The key is to find people who are also out to build real friendships and virtually surround yourself with positive influences.

No matter how ingrained social media becomes in our culture, the medium can never replace the handshake between business associates, the eye contact across the dinner table, a shoulder to cry on, and the bear hug between best friends. However, if we engage it properly, our use of social media can lead us into an ongoing season of developing and enriching our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What other good, bad, and ugly aspects have you found within the world of social media?

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

Ordinary to Extraordinary

Most of our lives exist in the realm of ordinary. Work. Eat. Family time. Sleep. Days blend one into another as ordinary keeps us moving through life.

Ordinary makes up most of life, and don’t we find comfort there? Comfort in routines and habits and traditions. Comfort knowing that even amidst a constantly changing world, some things endure without change.

For most of his life on earth, Jesus lived a very ordinary life. He walked from place to place. He went to weddings. He took naps. He rested and refreshed as needed. He learned a trade. He travelled with his family. Yes, Jesus largely lived an ordinary life.

We know some details about Jesus’ life as a baby (Luke 1:1-2:40), and we know just a little about him as a young boy (Luke 2:41-51). But we know very little about his life in between those times and up until the extraordinary times that were the last three years of his life as a man on earth.

But here’s what we do know about that relatively obscure time in Jesus’ life:

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52 – NIV)

This verse sums up well how the ordinary part of Jesus’ life prepared him for the extraordinary. Jesus shows us that, handled properly, the ordinary prepares us for the extraordinary that life serves up from time to time. The work and play done in the ordinary moments teaches and strengthens us for the challenge of the extraordinary.

The application? Enjoy the ordinary moments. Realize that living in the extraordinary would exhaust us. Consider that the ordinary allows us to truly know the extraordinary. In fact, the ordinary prepares us for the extraordinary.

And, as the ordinary parts of our lives flow one into another, we can look back and see that many of those ordinary moments were extraordinary after all. Your kids’ laughter. An evening walk with your spouse. Bedtime prayers and family game nights. Those ordinary events contributed to growth in wisdom, strength and favor in ways only the extraordinary can reveal.

DISCUSSION: Think back over the ordinary moments of your life. What stands out now as truly extraordinary?

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Related Posts:

Permission to Have Ordinary Days at Everyday Awe.

Note: Be sure to out my guest post Rekindle the Christmas Story on Everyday Awe.