Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 of 2010


10. UCYC Camping trip July 2010—this was a great trip with our high school students. God did some good things this trip.

9. Family Camp September 2010—I had the opportunity to be the youth speaker at a family camp in Yosemite. Marissa and I had a wonderful weekend, full of adventures.

8. Vegas Trip August 2010—Marissa and I had a blast in Vegas at the end of summer. I love the Vegas.

7. Surf Camp June 2010—I loved this camping trip because of how all of our youth leaders came together to make this camp work. We surfed, ate wonderful food, sang songs around the campfire and soaked up the sun.

6. San Diego January 2010—Marissa and I celebrated our second anniversary in San Diego. I ate lots of Mexican food.

5. Thanksgiving/Duke Game November 2010—I went to my first Duke Blue Devils game and got to share the experience with my dad and my brothers. We also had a great time in Washington for Thanksgiving with family.

4. Half Marathon November 2010—I made it a goal to run a half marathon in 2010. I finally got to it in November. I had a blast running in the rain and finishing the race.

3. Living a Better Story Conference September 2010—I attended the Storyline Conference with Donald Miller in September. I learned a lot that weekend and had a blast.

2. Hawaii Trip May 2010—Marissa and I had an awesome time in Oahu. We played in the ocean, ate seafood and went to a pineapple plantation. Hang loose.

1. Family, Friends and Partying—I took the time to hang out with the people that matter a lot to me—my friends, family and students—and saw God work in my life because of them. We had so many great get-togethers where we simply celebrated life. 2010 was a great year. I know now more than ever, that I am deeply loved. Here’s to 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Kingdoms


“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came 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



The Christmas narratives have much to teach us about the mission of Christ. Part of this teaching is that the birth of Jesus presents us with a beautiful contrast between his kingdom and the kingdoms of this earth. As readers, we are presented with a choice: which kingdom will we belong to?

In one scene of the Christmas story (Matthew 2:1-8), we are introduced to a group of characters known as “the Magi.” We are told these visitors are from the “east” and have traveled a great distance to find a king whose star is shining in the sky. They confront a king named Herod and ask where this “other” king can be found. The text says that Herod and all of Jerusalem with him were disturbed by this question. Why were they disturbed? Perhaps a little background can help illuminate their dismay.

Herod, known by the epithet “The Great” was in many ways just that—he was great. His greatness was displayed in his vast building projects, influence and notoriety. Herod was a ruthless leader…and a bit paranoid too. He guarded his throne like a toddler guards his toys. He put to death those who opposed him, including his wife, sons and mother-in-law. There is even one account that says Herod ordered the imprisonment and execution of a group of prominent and well loved citizens of Jerusalem close to the time when he was about to die. He thought this would ensure mourning and sadness on the day of his death. All in all, he was not someone you’d confirm a friend request for on Facebook. Being that Herod is sort of a tyrant, his kingdom is marked by power, violence and fear. If he could dominate others through force, he would remain in control. The thought of another king threatening his throne would surely cause him, in the words of Rihana, “disturbia.”

The story continues in Matthew 2 with Herod deciding to go after this “king of the Jews.” His first attempt is to coerce the visiting Magi into telling him of the child’s whereabouts. When this plan falls through (the Magi never report back to him), he orders a mass slaughtering of boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity (2:16-18). Indeed, a very interesting contrast has appeared: the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Jesus.

From the beginning stages, Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t look anything like Herod’s. Herod rules over his people. His palace is heavily guarded; it stands as a symbol of his position and power. He spends his time walking down the marble hallways of his home, constantly being “removed” and “separated” from the people he serves. Jesus, however, is not born in a palace or born into riches. He is poor. His first nursery was a cave shared with animals. He does not look like your typical king. And, yet, he is the king the magi seek out. Eventually, they find him, present him with gifts (fit for a king), and worship him. They recognize that he is a king unlike Herod or any other earthly king for that matter. Hence, he is worthy of their worship.

Gregory Boyd in his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, calls this distinction between an earthly kingdom and a heavenly one the “kingdom of the sword” versus the “kingdom of the cross.” Herod is a perfect example of the kingdom of the sword. His kingdom is built on power, manipulation, violence and oppression. Jesus’ kingdom on the other hand, is grounded in love, peace and service to others. Kingdom of the sword participants, similar to Herod, look for ways to maintain power through any means that benefit themselves. They justify violence and hate, as long as their positions remain intact. They practice lording their power over others in order to retain control. Herod learns that there is a new king in town and he seeks to silence this king by the only means he knows—the sword. Jesus, however, vehemently opposes the use of the sword.

Jesus’ first century Jewish followers believed he would be a messianic-type warrior, bringing freedom from political oppression all the while restoring a Jewish kingdom on earth.  They believed he would be a conquering military-like king, yielding a powerful sword. His mission, however, was the antithesis of this belief. He stood in stark contrast to nationalistic hopes and ideals, and instead offered reconciliation and freedom for all people. He was a king who didn’t looked to be served, but chose to give, sacrifice and serve others. His final act of service, of course, was laying down his life on his own accord. The kingdom of the sword used its greatest weapon (the cross) against Jesus. The cross was the most painful and humiliating way for someone to die. It not only silenced your enemies for good by taking their life, but made an example to all those who watched that this, too, could be your fate. How ironic that Jesus used the ultimate symbol of the kingdom of this world as his way to defeat it. He surrendered his life to the sword, and in doing so, granted us freedom from living under its curse.

I’d like to suggest that there are still “Herod’s” vying for our attention today. Daily, we make the choice as to which kingdom we want to belong to. Do we choose to operate according to the kingdom of this world, a kingdom based on power, violence and control; or, do we choose to follow an unlikely king, who shows us a better way to live?

This is a tale of two kingdoms. Which king will you choose to follow? Perhaps you’ve noticed the signs of living in the kingdom of Herod. It looks like only loving those who are easy to love; it looks like caring more for oneself than for our neighbors; it looks like allowing prejudices to determine our thoughts and actions; it looks like allowing anything—be it love of money, love of country, love of power—to supersede our love and devotion for Christ. Living in the kingdom of God, however, looks like loving without conditions; it looks like practicing forgiveness, even for our enemies; it looks like practicing charity unconditionally; it looks like choosing to ignore the requests of Herod (much like the magi did) and choosing to pledge our allegiance to our true king, Jesus.


Matthew’s Christmas narrative is a reminder that we serve a king whose kingdom is not of this world. We, then, allow our minds to be renewed, and consciously choose to ignore living in the pattern of the sword that is presented to us daily. Instead, we boldly and confidently proclaim that our hope is not found in the power of sword, but in the truth of the manger.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Goals


My life feels like that song Fly like the Eagle. You know, time keeps on slipping and slipping into the future. (Seal is a prophet and Space Jam is one of the greatest movies ever made.) The brevity of this past year, though, has been redeemed by the memories and good stories that I’ve had the privilege of being apart of. At the beginning of the year, like in years past, I made the infamous list of “New Years Resolutions.” Every year has been the same pattern for me: write a list, discipline yourself for a few weeks, and then forget about the resolutions by February. It’s easy to see why these “resolutions” became a point of frustration—I never complete any of them.

This year, however, was different. I was inspired to try a new way of framing my goals. I am a daily subscriber to Donald Miller’s blog and was influenced greatly by his perspective on goals. Goals by themselves can be good, but they can also be lifeless and without purpose. He suggested writing our goals in the form of a narrative. Goals, then, aren’t simply tasks to check off a to-do list, but are integral to your personal development. Your goals can help you tell a good story with your life. I thought that was mind blowing.

I took Don’s advice and came up with three goals that fit into the narrative of my life; three things that would help me be a better person and pursue the dreams I have for myself.

Blog

My first goal was to start this blog. For the most part, I am hyper critical of anything I say or write. So I decided I needed to do something that would force me to write and allow my family, friends and foes to respond to my thoughts and also create some meaningful dialogue about life and faith. And I also really like finding pictures on the internet that go along with my topics.

Be Spontaneous

Secondly, I wanted to be more spontaneous with my friends and with how I spent my time. There are many moments when my schedule gets so rigid and I live my life according to my calendar. I realized that this way of living is dumb. Real dumb. So, I’ve tried to incorporate more spontaneity into daily living—talking to the stranger at the Post Office, staying out late on a work night, taking more time for long conversations and trips to Starbucks—and have, honestly, been surprised by the results. I’m starting to realize that God works through us when we allow ourselves the time to be open to Him.

Run a Half-Marathon

My third goal was to run a half marathon. I used to run in high school (although my true passion in sports has always been swimming and basketball) and was never very good at it. I wasn’t fast, or part Kenyan, so I was just an average runner. I realized, however, that running was a sport that I could do no matter where I was. Furthermore, it would require some real discipline on my part to complete a half marathon. I wanted more discipline in my life and I figured the necessary physical training for a race of this proportion would be a great exercise in self-motivation and discipline. I was right. I’ve run more in the past three months than the past five years. Last Saturday, I ran across the finish line of my first half marathon. Covered in dirt and sweat, with weak knees and a throbbing left ankle, I stood victorious over the 13.1 miles. It was a great feeling to accomplish a goal, not simply for marking something off my to-do list, but realizing that the journey was where the true satisfaction came from.

In fact, all three of my goals were about the “process” more than the production. Disciplining myself to write my blog monthly; choosing to be a little cheesy at times to enable more spontaneity; and taking the time to train for a half marathon. The process was a good story that I wanted to share with the world. For the first time in my life I actually stuck with my New Year’s Resolutions. I am proud of this year and the person I am becoming. It does, however, beg the question: what’s next? The year 2011 is wide open.  Is it time for me to pursue other dreams? Should I write the novel? Will this be the year that I try out for the Clippers? Can I finally muster up the courage to ask John Mayer if we can go on tour together? Time will tell I suppose.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weak is the new Strong


“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

I've been thinking lately that weak is the new strong. Everywhere I turn, I meet people who are overwhelmed by life. They are stressed, worried and anxious about everything. We are overworked and under-relaxed, and most of us feel just a step ahead of total burnout. I know I fit this description too. It seems like we’ve tried the route of being strong and competent, feeling like we could take on the world, but somewhere along the way, we recognized we couldn’t maintain the pace.

I realized over the past few months that I tend to live my life like I am unlimited. I ignorantly and foolishly live like there is no amount of work or stress that I cannot handle or conqueror. I quickly learn, however, that there is point where I reach my limit. Running has taught me this valuable lesson. Several times a week I lace up my shoes and go for a run. I try and push myself, increasing mileage as well as the pace. Truth be told, though, there is a certain limit that I cannot cross. No matter how hard I push myself, at this point in my training it is impossible for me to reach beyond that breaking point. This has been a good reminder for my life lately, too. I have to remind myself that God is the one who is unlimited, not me.

That is why I'm beginning to think that weak is the new strong. If I can learn to live from my place of weakness, how much more dependent will I be on God’s strength? Rather than place the focus on how strong I am, I can learn to live and move in how strong He is. Perhaps, then, I will be at a place where I truly understand strength.

“All dear friends everywhere, who have no helper but the Lord, who is your strength and life, let your cries and prayers be to him, who with his eternal power has kept your heads above all waves and storms.” George Fox

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Positive and Negative Turns

“Man fully alive is the glory of God” Irenaeus



This past September I attended the Storyline Conference with Donald Miller in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. The entire trip was inspirational and nostalgic. Don was great. I sat in the second row of the conference’s theater and just smiled for two days straight like some star-struck teen in front of the Jonas Brothers. (Christian fame is funny isn’t it? It was kind of like the time I saw Rob Bell and I was like “Oh my gosh, there’s Rob Bell!” Oh wait… he is just an ordinary guy with some cool glasses.) For the past two months, I’ve been going back over my notes from the conference and putting into practice some of the things we learned. One of the most effective exercises, for me, was to map out my life thus far on a storyline. On a sheet of paper, I traced my life (as best as I could remember it) and made a timeline of all the positive and negative events that have transpired in my 25 years of life. It was eye opening.

Using the form of a narrative, Don says that every story (and every life) has both positive and negative “turns.” A story “turn” is a point in the story where you walk through a doorway and can never return. This is the moment where Frodo accepts his duty to destroy the ring. Or, as a personal favorite, the decision of Bill and Ted to do whatever it takes to complete their history report. By the time someone is in their 30’s they’ve had an average of 20 of these “turns” in their life. This could be a new relationship, the completion of a degree, a new job, or the loss of a loved one.

Don suggested we map out these “turns” in the life of Joseph in the OT and then our personal lives. Joseph’s life is a great example of positive and negative turns and since I’ve started viewing his life as a narrative, I’ve come to appreciate it more. Joseph’s tale begins with a dream and then what follows are many positive and negative events that could derail him from that dream. For example, Joseph has a dream that one day he will rule (positive); he tells his brothers of this dream and they get jealous (negative); he is sold into slavery (negative); becomes a slave at a wealthy man’s house (positive); is harassed by this man’s wife (negative); ends up in prison (negative); meets a cupbearer who hears of his gift of interpreting dreams (positive); the cupbearer forgets about him (negative); Joseph eventually fulfills his dream (positive). The goal of Joseph’s dream of ruling is summed up in Genesis 50: “what you intended for harm, God intended it for good...to save many lives.” That was the point of Joseph’s story. God wanted to use Joseph’s life to save many lives.

As I’ve looked back over my life, it was incredible to map out the positive and negative aspects that are apart of my story. Interestingly, it was both the positive and negative turns that have brought me to where I am today. It’s odd to look at your life on a piece of paper and see every detail fitting perfectly together. You have a number of those “aha” epiphany moments where you say, “That makes sense.” I’ve completed the exercise about three times now, adding more detail each new time I’ve tried it. And my response has been the same as I’m able to look down upon the storyline of my life: gratitude. I can’t help but be thankful for where I am today. Every event and experience has taught me something. I can celebrate the good and the bad times, even rejoice at the places where I’ve suffered because without them, I don’t know where I’d be.

In her book, Managing Stress, Kath Donovan said: “In the order of God, pain is one of the best facilitators of the process of transformation.” How true is that statement. Joseph’s story would be incomplete without the negative turns. He would have never reached his dream if he didn’t have conflict and suffering along the way. Furthermore, a story with only positive turns would not be a very interesting story. And as Don has said numerous times, “if something won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”

Since the conference, I’m beginning to own my story. It’s my story and no one else’s. I’m thankful for the places I’ve been and the places I’m going. Who knows what the future holds. And who cares. It will fit perfectly into my storyline.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The 10 Miler


Going for run is kind of like going to the dentist. No one wants to do it. You begin this venture consciously knowing that some form of pain is involved; and yet, when it’s over, you’re glad you ran…or went to the dentist. Well, in theory that’s how it works.

This past Saturday I participated in a 10 mile run at Huntington Beach. It was a great day spent with friends and students from my youth group. As the race started, I found myself at the very end of the pack and slowly moved up past the joggers and positioned myself somewhere in the middle of this large group of runners. About four miles into the race, I noticed that I was running by myself. I began focusing on this kid ahead of me who looked like he was eleven. I made it my goal to pass him.

It wasn’t too long after this that I met Jeff. He ran up next to me and asked what my pace was. I replied: “No idea.” Truthfully, I didn’t care. I just wanted to finish the race. Jeff told me he wanted to run under 9 minutes a mile and I thought that sounded good. So, for the next six miles I ran with Jeff. We made some small talk, and spurred one another on. This was my first “race” since high school when I ran cross-country. For Jeff, though, this was just another typical Saturday morning. He likes running and participates in a number races throughout the year. I thought Jeff was a little crazy, but nonetheless, a nice guy.

Around mile eight, I realized that I was going to finish the race. Furthermore, I realized that Jeff was playing a huge role in helping me run. Maybe it was his enthusiastic remarks or the fact that I had somebody to keep in step with. Whatever the reason, my run that day was better because of Jeff.

Jeff’s willingness to befriend me and run with a complete stranger taught me a little bit about encouragement. There have been numerous spiritual gift questionnaires I’ve meticulously filled out and received encouragement as one of my gifts. I don’t know how accurate those tests are. I had a junior high student fill one out once and his number one gift was “speaking in tongues.” He asked me if that meant Spanish. I told him yes and it also meant the ability to speak Elvish.

My understanding of spiritual gifts has changed over the years. I’m not sure if encouragement is a gift some people have and others don’t. I think we often equate “being nice” with encouragement. (However, I know some really nice people who are not encouraging.) Real encouragement, though, is deeper than good manners and sentiments. True encouragement has less to do with the actual words we use and more to do with the time we’re willing to share with someone.  It has to do with presence. When we can say we’ve shared life with a friend and stood by their side through thick and thin, perhaps, then, we understand encouragement. I have people in my life who are constant like that. I know they will stick with me as the miles add up. Encouragement happens in those moments when someone asks us where we're heading. It continues when they stick by our side for the remainder of the journey.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thoughts on Phantom of the Opera


I’ve only been to a few musicals. It wasn’t something I did growing. I mainly stuck to things I was familiar with like sports and action movies. All that changed, however, when I met my wife; a true thespian. She has shared her love of theater with me and I am grateful. Moreover, I feel slightly more sophisticated these days. The other night we went on another musical adventure, this time to see Phantom of the Opera.

While watching the production live, I realized that Phantom is a good story, full of themes that touch the human spirit. The main character, the Phantom, is a confusing and remarkable character. Throughout the musical he appears to be searching for something. Through allusions in the play, as well as knowing the background to the story, we figure out he desires acceptance. His life has been defined by failure and rejection. As a viewer, you don’t know what to make of him. Is he the villain or the hero? He does both heroic and villainous deeds in musical—murder, extortion, sacrifice, stalking—and you are drawn to ambivalence about him. I heard one writer describe the Phantom as a “Parisian Batman.” (After all he has a cool lair and some sweet gadgets. Furthermore, he has his own Phantom-boat which sort of looks like a gondola designed by Tim Burton.) What do you do with this character? You are mesmerized by him and scared of him. Kind of like Carrot Top.

The ambivalence continues as the story proceeds. You feel compassion towards him because of the facial scarred, Harvey Dent look he’s sporting. He desperately longs for compassion and your heart goes out to him. On the one hand, he has this bad boy image. He’s dark, elusive and has a great singing voice. This makes him romantic. And then you have to deal with his creepy stalker persona. Needless to say, he is complicated. My wife made a really good point about the “emotion” portrayed by different actors who play the Phantom.  At times, the Phantom comes across as defeated and weak. In the movie version, though, Gerard Butler does an amazing job of showing the Phantom is not a helpless, pitiful creature; rather, he is a tortured soul, in deep agony over his predicament. He is in love, even though he finds himself unlovable.

The ending scene I found particularly powerful. After the Phantom has unleashed his villainous rage on the opera house, he kidnaps Christine and takes her once again on his scary gondola ride to his secret lair. When the man she professes to love, Raoul, comes to her rescue, the Phantom puts a noose on his neck. He then tells Christine to make a choice: live with the Phantom and spare the life of Raoul or reject the Phantom and Raoul dies. A dilemma indeed. Christine, though, has a different plan. She pleads with the Phantom and then makes a bold move: she kisses him. The kiss causes something to change in the Phantom’s mind. It is a pivotal, musical-altering moment.

In writing and film, a kiss is often a symbolic gesture in many ways. A kiss symbolizes affection, love, even sacrifice. In this instant, the kiss reveals that Phantom has finally been shown acceptance and compassion. Until now, he’s only known rejection. He has become a slave to finding some way that he can be complete. Earlier in the musical when rejected, he lashes out on those around him. He has tried through the power of music and seduction, but was denied. Acceptance has always been his pursuit, his endeavor and his initiative. In the final scene, though, Christine chooses to share this kiss with him. The Phantom receives it. In all of his efforts to attain the one thing he desired, it happens without his initiative. He releases Christine and Raoul, and the musical comes to an end.

An easy way to figure out if a play is a comedy or tragedy is whether or not the main character gets what he wants. Although the Phantom doesn’t win the affection of Christine, it doesn’t mean the musical is a tragedy. He certainly pursues her and we can assume desires her, but there is something deeper that he as longed for: freedom. The Phantom has lurked in the shadows for years, searching to be free from his predicament. It becomes his obsession to the point of stalking his protégé and threatening her in order to find acceptance. But he doesn’t get it in this way. He becomes even more estranged. Finally, though, acceptance is given in the form of a kiss. Something he could never take, but only receive.

We want to live free. Perhaps this freedom we desire is from a sin or compulsive behavior. Maybe we desire freedom from the voice of self-doubt or low self-esteem, or even from our past. No matter what the desire, freedom will not happen by working harder or striving further in our lives. We cannot do enough to acquire it. Just the opposite is needed—to stop trying and start accepting. True freedom happens when we choose to receive from God.

Freedom is a byproduct of receiving life in Christ. Can we accept what Christ has done, and start a process of transformation, partnering with God’s Spirit at work within us. Can we choose not to take, but rather to receive what the Father has already done for us? 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Run for the DR

It's interesting how often Scripture describes our lives as being short and fleeting. Our lives are described as "blades of grass, surely fading fast"; or, a "mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." It really makes you think about how you spend your time on this earth. If we only have one life to live, how will we live the best way possible? Or, think about this: what if you knew you only had one year, or even just one month left to live?  Would that change how you viewed each day? Would that change how you spent your time on this earth? Kris Allen, winner of American Idol a few years back, has a song called Live Like We’re Dying. It’s a catchy song, but also has a profound message: Would our lives look different if we lived each and every day like it was our last? We asked our youth group a similar question this fall: How can we live the best lives possible for God? We came up with a few ideas.

This October, our youth group, The BURN, is raising funds for the Dominican Republic. This past summer we met a missionary named Andrew Butz. Andrew is traveling to the Dominican Republic to build a Christian camp with the Eastern Dominican Mission (www.easterndominican.com). We thought that was awesome. We love going to camps in the summer and think kids in the DR should have the same opportunity. So, we decided we would do something to help. Our plan is to run. Now, we are not necessarily a youth group of runners or superb athletes; however, we feel that anyone can walk or run and that this simple activity can be used for a greater purpose. On October 23, we are participating in the Huntington Beach Distance Derby. We will run, walk, and crawl either 5 or 10 miles. Each student and leader is collecting sponsorship from family and friends to support the Eastern Dominican Mission.

For many of us, this will be a challenge. The last time I ran even close to 10 miles was in high school. That was a while ago. That was a time when I didn’t have any aches or pains, or a full-time job. Needless to say, this will not be easy for most of us. We are sacrificing our time. Some of us are changing our diets to help accomplish this goal. Nevertheless, we are doing this because it is going to make a difference. We know that partnering with Andrew and the Eastern Dominican Mission is going to bless God’s people. This is a small, simple thing we can do to make a difference in someone’s life.

I'm sharing this on my blog becasue I'd like to invite you to partner with us in ministry this fall. Perhaps you want to join us in this run. My doctor tells me exercise is good for me, so maybe you want to train with us and collect sponsorships as well. We would love to have you! Or, maybe you don't want to run, but want to partner with us financially. You can choose to sponsor one of us per mile we complete, or make a one time donation. I assure you, any amount will help the DR! I will be updating my blog (weekly I hope) with insights that we’re learning as we train together as well as the progress were making financially.

This fall, we are attempting to live like we’re dying. We’re running for the DR. Ole!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Memorable Scenes

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am kind of cheesy. Don’t worry. It’s cool… I’m over it. I realized long ago that I like corny jokes and the occasional pun. Plus, I am still a fan of Disney movies, happy endings, and idealism. Yep, I am inherently cheesy and corny. I often think of my “cheesiness” in relation to how others may view it. Whenever something momentous happens, I feel like I have to make a speech. Or, when saying goodbye to a friend or loved one, I have the strange urge to write them a poem or a sonnet of some kind that reveals my love for them. I can’t say I’ve ever done this, for fear of their reaction to such a grandiose gesture, but I have certainly thought about it. I’m trying to work on not caring so much about what other people think. It’s like what Bon Jovi said, “It’s my life. It’s now or never...I just want to live while I’m alive.” I guess I’m starting to realize that the moments that make up my life are worth remembering. Further, I don’t want to be the kind of person that lets a significant moment pass me by. Life is too short for that and I want to live while I’m alive… even if it means that I get labeled as “cheesy” once in awhile.

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller talks about creating memorable scenes in your life. These are the events in life that you make a point to remember. Moreover, these are the ordinary, every day happenings that you choose to make memorable. I remember a buddy of mine in college asked me one day what God thinks when we say, “I’m bored.” He wondered if saying, “I’m bored” frustrated God, and God was confused Maybe God said, “How could my kids feel bored when they’ve been given so much life to live? How could they not enjoy the creation of another day of life?” I, too, wonder how I get bored at times when there are so many scenes to create.

This past Labor Day weekend, my wife and I were at a family camp near Yosemite. We had a wonderful time there with some great people. On our final day of camp we took out a paddle boat and were enjoying a relaxing time in the water. We paddled about the lake watching kid’s splash around and picked blackberries near the water’s edge. As we were making our way around the lake, something on the other side caught my eye—the flume. It was a giant water slide that launched its passengers several feet in the air, before they crashed into the water below. It was probably the coolest thing I’d ever seen. My cousin happened to be standing next to shore and suggested I give it a try. I didn’t have my swimsuit on or even a towel with me. This bit of information, however, didn’t seem to stop him from encouraging me to ride the flume. “After all,” he said, “if you try it, then you won’t have any regrets.” No regrets. That was all the motivation I needed. I was ready for the flume.

A few minutes later I was handing over my cell phone and wallet to my wife and climbing the hill for the flume slide. I rode the flume, screaming the whole way down at the top of my lungs. I made a sound, actually, a screech, that I’m sure will be similar to the sound of Justin Bieber’s voice when he hits puberty. It was thrilling and it was definitely memorable. I’m not going to forget the giant flume slide, in my clothes, and the ability of my vocal chords to hit such high notes. It was a scene worth creating.

I had another moment happen recently that I wanted to capture as well. The other night, I said goodbye to some of our friends who were leaving. It was a surreal moment, the kind where you think, “This is not happening. Life is not about transitions and change, which sometimes require people to leave—you’re kidding me, right?” It’s the same kind of moment we all experience when we realize that we can’t change something or someone for that matter, and we have to accept the outcome for the way it is. It’s a reminder to relish in those moments because they are gone as soon as they appear.

Life tends to be full of moments to be experienced and memorable scenes to create. I’m pursuing what I feel is the best way to live. This means that I have to be cheesy sometimes. I have to be that guy who dances at weddings when no one else is on the dance floor, and the guy who goes down giant water slides with his clothes on. I need to speak what is on my heart and say what I want others to know. If my life is a story that I’m writing daily, then I want to create as many memorable scenes as possible. After all, I have to be true to myself. In the words of the great philosopher, Popeye, “I yam what I yam”; that seems to be enough motivation for now to keep creating memories.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Have you practiced tzedakah today?


"Our works of charity are nothing but the overflow of our love of God from within." Mother Theresa

I really like the television show Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory. Rob is awesome. If I saw him walking down the street I would ask him if we could be friends. He is cool guy. I don't know what it is about Rob Dyrdek, but he seems to live life to the beat of his own drum. He invests in all sorts of odd real estate including a fantasy factory that has a foam pit and a zip line. (I guess if I was rich I would probably do the same thing--build a sweet place for all my friends to play around in.) I was watching an episode the other day where he asked Lamar Odom to invest in a restaurant because a true "mogul" needs a restaurant. The restaurant will serve Asian fusion food. I want to go to there.

 It's pretty obvious that Rob spends a lot of money on extravgant things. But he also practices charity. I like that about Rob. In his abundance he, in some form or another, has understood that many around him don't have as much. I remember an episode from Rob and Big, where Rob chose to give from his abundance. Rob was driving through skid row and handing out bags of brand new clothes. He gave from what he had to those who had nothing. Rob Dyrdek practiced tzedakah.

There is a great teaching in the Old Testament about charity. It is captured in the word tzedakah. God commanded his people to give to those who had nothing. They were reminded that the poor would always be among them; therefore, they should always be ready and willing to give (Deuteronomy 15:11). Tzedakah is often translated as "charity," and is based on the Hebrew word for righteousness and justice. Many Jews practiced something called "acts of righteousness"--the right ordering of relationships and resources. Tzedakah can be translated as charity, but is is more than that. Charity implies that your heart motivates you to give and maybe give a little extra than you normailly would; tzedakah, however, means doing the right thing no matter your feelings. I guess tzedakah might look like giving to someone in need even if your heart is not in it because it is the right thing to do.

Jesus embodies this teaching in the gospels. He gives of his time and resources to those who are in need. He makes relationships right by his many healings and his radical inclusion of outsiders. Perhaps we can even say that the ultimate example of tzedakah happened when Christ chose the cross for us. A gift of grace and love, to make things right (Romans 4:22-25).

God has called his people to make things right in this world. It should be known that the world is full of people practicing tzedakah. Maybe they don't realize the connection between their charity and the heart of God. When you see someone give and serve, tell them they are making things right and that God is pleased. Show them that our God is a God of compassion and justice. Live in such a way that you overflow with compassion towards others. We can all do something. We can all live with tzedakah. And we can even learn a valuable lesson from Rob Dyrdek.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Arizona Adventures: What we learned from exercise DVDS

Theologians are everywhere. Sometimes the most profound statements about God and faith are found not in books, but in a life lived and experienced together. These insights just seem to happen. Suddenly, during our regular and ordinary lives, the extraordinary occurs. God reminds us that He is with us.


It was like that in Arizona. God reminded us that He was there, working and ministering to us through His Spirit. We were in awe. There was so much healing that took place that week in the mountains. We confessed sin, admitted that we had fallen short, and replied unanimously, “Me too; I’ve been there, and I’m struggling with you.” We were reminded that this journey of faith is not a yellow brick road that leads to a life of prosperity and ease. Sometimes the road is marked with suffering, confusion and loss. Sometimes we forget that the gift of following Jesus Christ is not Cadillac’s, cash, and no colds; rather, the gift of following Jesus is Jesus. And he is worth the struggle.

One of our students made a profound statement while at camp. He remembered it from the P90X exercise DVDS that are so popular. He said, “I have not failed; I have not given up. Instead, I am currently struggling with this…” I thought that was incredible and I think we can all agree…me too! We are struggling but we have not given up. We are in need of grace and acceptance. Our sights are set upwards and no matter what happens we are not quitters, losers, or lost causes. Instead, we are those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39).

I smiled that evening as I looked upon a group of high school students who were genuinely living life together—no pretenses, no facades, and plenty of humility. We realized that we are struggling together, along with our King. And we will continue this fight because Jesus is worth it. We will pursue grace. Our Savior is not looking for us to attain awards, fame and accolades in this life. No, it is quite the opposite in fact. He is looking for scars and battle wounds as we struggle upwards, continually pursuing the Light.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arizona Adventures. Part 1: The Road Trip

About a week ago we loaded up a few vans, piled in some high school students, and headed east to the land of deserts, and heat and Steve Nash. That’s right, we went to the AZ. It had been a while since I’d driven for so long and I was reminded of the many reasons why I like road trips. You get to deal with back pain, people getting car sick, high way patrol officers, and… did I mention people getting car sick? Yep, road trips are awesome. One thing is for certain, though: no matter what happens, a road trip is always an adventure.

I think one of the simplest things a road trip does is remind you of all the analogies you can make between traveling and life. There are some great songs that tie in this idea too. For starters, there are country songs like, Life is a Highway. Or classic rock ballads like Journey’s hit, Wheel in the Sky. And then there are Lady Gaga songs…well, I don’t really learn anything from her songs; they just end up creeping me out like clowns and trips to the dentist. Anyways, I think at the core, a road trip reminds us of something we already know to be true: where we started is not where we will end up. Our road trip began in Downey, and a few hours later we ended up in Blythe (gross) and then finally found beautiful Prescott. A road trip reminds us that the same is true for life. We are constantly on the move, preparing for the next part of our journey. Where we started is far behind us, and the future is closing in on us. Our lives are filled with the memories of the roads we’ve traveled, and the pit stops we’ve made.

Interestingly, our youth group’s summer theme this year is “Join the Journey.” We’ve been talking about how every person is on a spiritual journey and how God is revealing himself to creation. (And, coincidentally, we went on a mini journey to Arizona, and listened to a lot of Journey music to help us truly realize this theme. Everyone loves Journey, right!?) I believe Scripture teaches us that every person, no matter what, is on this spiritual journey and is being made aware of His presence. We, then, have a choice to make: How will we respond to Him? We’ve asked our kids some tough questions this summer like, “Where are you really at in this journey with God?” Do you feel you are trying to follow God’s path, or are you following your own? And, will you follow God even when things don’t go the way you’ve planned?” Needless to say, it has produced some very honest and candid conversations. Out on the open road, I was reminded of this truth over and over again. As I sat in this driver’s seat and watched the miles add up, I couldn’t help but wonder “where is my life heading? What kind of adventure am I writing with the miles I travel?’

In his book, Western Theology, Wes Seeliger says that there are two types of people who give rise to two types of theology. You are either a “pioneer” or a “settler.” You either view life as a possession to be guarded, or a gift to be explored. A settler is someone who desires security. They build fortresses, establish towns complete with court rooms and law offices, and construct forts. A settler is a person who establishes themselves, and dares not to move. They protect themselves from danger and make sure they uphold the rules. A pioneer on the other hand, is someone who blazes trails. They aren’t content with building monuments, but would rather explore the unknown. They don’t spend time building systems to protect themselves from outside forces; rather, they are out in the wilderness, confronting and facing danger head on. Think about it: are you a settler or a pioneer? Is your life an adventure to be lived and experienced or something to be guarded and kept tame? Truthfully, I probably act more like a settler at times, but in the deepest parts of my soul I desire to be a pioneer. I don’t want to accept something just because someone says it’s so. Likewise, I don’t want to secure my life just because it’s easier. I want to be in the wilderness. I want to face the open road. I want my journey to be marked by reckless abandon, and ruthless trust in God’s leading, not my own.

I guess it comes down to a choice on how I want to view my life. Comfort is a nice thing to have in your lazy boy chair, but a lousy thing to settle for as a follower of Christ. I have to remind myself that Jesus didn’t come to make my life comfortable. He came to invite me on a journey. He tells me that sometimes this journey will be unsafe and dangerous. And he invites me to live like a pioneer, a traveler who is not afraid to face the open road. A road trip reminds us that we are travelers, apart of an epic journey. We are not the same people we were when our journey began, and we won’t be the same when our journey ends. We already know the beginning and end of our story (you know the whole creation and heaven thing). The middle, though, is left up to us. And I for one want to go on more road trips.

Friday, July 9, 2010

To Stay or Leave: what I learned from Bron Bron.

It was the most highly anticipated free agency ever. Where would “King” James choose to go next season? It was funny because all I had to do last Thursday was say, “is it 6:00pm yet?” and everyone knew what I was talking about—even people who don’t watch basketball were tuned into the news. It was that big a deal.

Here's the truth: I am biased. I am a Lebron James fan (this doesn't mean I will ever sport a Heat jersey). I believe he was the undisputed MVP this past year. Yes, his team didn’t make it the finals; and yes, he had a rough series against the Celtics, but he was and still is incredible. I am biased because I love watching Bron Bron. We are the same age (even though he looks like he is like he’s in his late thirties; not the youthful twenty-five that he is). I remember the first time I saw Lebron. I was an eighteen year old preparing myself for four years of college; Lerbron was entering into the NBA. The first time I saw him play was at the McDonald’s All American Game. There were tons of people there, and a myriad of good players that year, but no one cared. All eyes were on Lebron. Truth be told, they still are.

I guess that’s why he shook the nation Thursday, declaring where he’d play next season. The gauntlet was dropped that evening when he announced he would no longer play for his home state’s team, the Cavs, but would instead, sign with the Miami Heat. In Cleveland mayhem ensued. Grown men cried in the streets, the GM of the Cavs reacted like a jealous girlfriend who just got dumped via Facebook and reamed Lebron with hate speech, and let’s not forget the biggest crush: a city’s heart was broken. Who knew the departure of a professional athlete could cause such despondency? Seriously, there was more crying Thursday than the night of the season finale of Friends. There was sadness in Ohio, but move a few miles to the south (South Beach to be exact) and people were dancing in the streets. And everywhere else in the country, well, the reaction seems to be mixed. A superstar joining a trio of great players is not as sweet a story as a local kid making his hometown great. I think there was a part in all of us that wanted him to stay. But what did we really expect from Lebron? It brings up an interesting point, and perhaps even a theological one: when is it right to stay, and when is it right to go?

I know what it’s like to have someone you respect and care about leave. Undoubtedly, we’ve all experienced the sting when someone leaves us whether it’s a teacher, coach, pastor, or loved one. Let’s be honest. There is pain involved. We may feel betrayed, abandoned, and not important. We question the individual’s loyalty and motives, and usually, we respond to their exodus with anger. I remember suffering a stint of fleeing youth pastors in middle school and high school, many of whom only stayed for a short while. After about a year they scattered quickly, like a dog when he hears the sound of the evil vacuum cleaner. It was rough for me personally and also for my church and youth group. Certainly, you communicate a lot to an organization and the people in your life with the amount of time you give them. The quantity of time truly communicates the care you have for them. But like in Lebron’s situation, does there come a time when it is right to leave? It’s difficult to answer this question when you’ve been “left” but if the situation is reversed, you may understand the importance of moving on.

Seven years ago when Lebron was signing with the Cavaliers, I was signing loan documents to attend college. While Lebron put on a Cav’s jersey and signed his multi-million dollar contract, I moved away from family and friends to start a new life in California. Even as an eighteen year old fresh out of high school, I knew wasn’t going back. I knew I had to leave. It was on my heart, and it was the direction God was calling me to go. Leaving the people you love and the security of what you’ve known is an arduous task to say the least. It is not a pain-free path to go down. However, in hindsight, I know it was the only option that I could live with. Henri Nouwen explains in his book Here and Now, that following Jesus is really an adventure in leaving. He asks the question:

“Are we able and willing to unhook ourselves from the restraining emotional bonds that prevent us from following our deepest vocation? Jesus wants to set us free, free from everything that prevents us from fully following our vocation…to come to that freedom we have to keep leaving our fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, and dare to follow him…”

Do we dare to follow Him even if it means we have to leave? Even if that means the people around us will be upset, and feel betrayed? Can we live with the disapproval of our peers and the ambivalence of our emotions (wanting to stay and knowing we need to go) in order to pursue what is best? Jesus challenges us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), and the necessity of “leaving” in order to attain the life he came to give us (Luke 18:29-30). That is a tough pill to swallow. But even in the difficulty of knowing when to stay and when to leave, there is hope. At the end of the day, we have to live with our decisions. Lebron said Cleveland will always have his soul. He gave them seven years of his life. He is not betraying a city, he is following his heart. That is something no one can judge him for.

We may never fully understand the reasons people need to leave in our lives. Likewise, we may also not fully comprehend those reasons when we’re the ones to leave! The truth is, however, that there is a time to stay and a time to go. It sounds cliché, and is probably worded more poetically and eloquently in that series about love and vampires and werewolves, but there is a time to listen to your heart. God gave us the ability to do so for a reason. We can’t fault Bron Bron for making the choice to leave. In life, there is a time to stay and a time to leave. We all have to make that choice eventually.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fields of Gold


Every once in a while you hear a song that speaks to a deeper part of you. Words aren’t enough to describe the feelings; you just know something is happening in your soul. One of these songs for me is Fields of God. This song is a little old school, so I will attach a link for you to check it out--Fields of God. The song was written by a creative, English gent named Sting. I like Sting. He has one of those unique voices that you couldn’t copy, even if you moved to England to develop an accent, and owned a karaoke machine. He is one the few artists that can take me to another world when he is singing. Regardless of what I am doing, I get lost in his music. Besides his incredible voice, his songs tell stories.

A couple years ago I was heading to Arizona with my wife and family, driving across the desert to her aunt’s house in Prescott. Not to bash on the AZ, but I’d visited several times before and left unimpressed. I even wrote a poem below:

Arizona

It was hot

There was sand

There were cacti

And Steve Nash

Arizona

We’d been driving for what seemed like forever in road trip time, and I was cramped in the back of a mini van… and my legs were restless. (I’m pretty sure I have some mild form of restless leg syndrome.) To say the least, I was ready to be done with the road trip thing. I decided to get lost in some tunes. I put my headphones on, closed my eyes and let the i-pod do its magic. After some time, the song Fields of Gold started to play. Around the same time, our minivan traveled around a canyon of some sorts, and to the right side I saw fields of yellow grass, gracefully bowing to the wind. The cinematography was impeccable, almost like it was a movie. I had a moment in the back of the mini van, listening to Sting, watching this field of gold sway to the rhythm of the music. Arizona was beautiful when Sting was singing to me.

This memory stuck with me for some time. I was reminded of it recently when I went to Barnes and Noble. Inside the everything-is-only-$5-section, I found a book written by Sting, explaining the meaning of many of his songs. Immediately, I turned to the index and found Fields of Gold. I turned to the page to read the lyrics, and Sting’s brief commentary. He said he used to watch tall, golden barley stocks sway in the wind in his countryside home in England. He said it was poetic, like the sky was telling a story to the golden barley field that it would never forget: earth and sky participating in a great love affair, touched by the heavens. I believe the song is about more than Sting’s affinity for agriculture; it’s a tale of love.

The mystery of love is that the heart has the capacity to give it and receive it in great quantities. Moreover, love has the capacity to change people. One of the peculiarities of love is the propensity of it to come and go. In this journey of life we love and lose, and give and take. Heart-break occurs and futures change. It’s almost like the inevitable pain of young romance, prepares us to love more deeply and more truly one day. It makes you wonder, though, if there could be a love affair so pure and so strong that it gets trapped somewhere between heaven and earth.

At my wedding, I watched my beautiful bride walk down the aisle—our eyes, fixated on one another. We danced at our reception, swaying to the music, caught up in the story of us. I had a great uncle and aunt who attended the wedding. They’d been married for over 50 years. The entire guest list cheered wildly when they were announced as the longest married couple in the room. Everyone loves a good love story because it points us to something deeper than the temporary. Great love stories never go to the grave; they live on in our world, reminding us of its great gift.

One of the lines from Fields of Gold describes the sun in the jealous sky. That line has always haunted me. I know my days are numbered, and as the Bible says, my life is but a blade of grass, a vapor that will quickly vanish. After a few years, my body will decay and disappear. Give it a few more years and my pictures will slowly come off the walls of family and friend’s homes. My memory will be relegated to a cardboard box in someone’s garage. But I believe a part of me will live on—that part of me that beheld love. I may pass on many things to those who come after me: old t-shirts, a guitar, a few dozen books…maybe even one of my Star Wars Pez dispensers. But the only truly meaningful memory I will leave behind is the memory of love. Hopefully, those who knew me best will remember my love and that will bless them. No matter how jealous the days will be of my life, how short my life on earth may be, a part of my love will never be forgotten. That is the part of me that will live on years after I’m gone. Love is the gift we can all leave behind.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What I've learned these past years



Today is my three year anniversary as youth pastor at Downey First Christian Church. In all honesty, I can say the past three years have been an incredible journey. I decided to blog today about what I’ve learned over these past years.

Time
I think we grow up thinking differently about time. When you’re younger, life goes by slowly, and then suddenly, all of that changes after high school. It’s weird. I’m sure people have theories about this that are very scientific. I don’t. I just think after a certain age we start to realize how short life really is. Anyways, looking back at the past three years, I am still a little dumbfounded and even at a loss for words, at where the time went. It’s actually sort of amusing. If you would have asked me three years ago about my thoughts on time and minsitry, and if three years was a sufficient amount of time, I would have answered "Absolutely." I was dead wrong. It’s taken three years to break into the culture. It’s taken three years to truly build relationships. Three years is not a sufficient amount of time. This is both a scary and exciting thought. Ministry takes time, and it’s important to take your time when starting out.

Ministry success
I think my idea of what ministry success is has changed as well. I’m pretty sure most of us go into youth ministry with a grand vision and a copy of Purpose Driven Youth Ministry in our hands, and we think we can change the world. Then we begin to realize that every church is different, purpose statements are catchy but don’t produce miracles, and to be frank, ministry can suck some times. (Yeppers, it can) I’ve noticed there are a lot of comparisons made in youth ministry and ministry in general. What was your attendance last Sunday? How many students do you have in your high school group? Then, of course, we all use our numbers to boast and point to our ministry’s effectiveness. Regardless of numbers though, I’ve started to realize that true success in ministry is about relationships. It’s about creating a culture where people find intimacy with Christ and one another, where outsiders feel welcomed to come and explore the message of Jesus. If this can happen in a group of a hundred kids, awesome. Way to go for having that big of a group and shepherding them in discipleship. If it happens in a group of ten kids, kudos once again. You can’t let numbers be the only way to measure success. There are a lot of big churches out there that are doing incredible things in the kingdom. Likewise, there are a number of them who act like they’re hosting the Teen Choice Awards, and Jesus is an afterthought. In our ministries we need to help students live the way of Jesus—feed the poor, welcome in the outsider, and change our world in whatever ways we can.

Facing Opposition
This has been the most fun lesson I’ve learned—the art of facing opposition. Truth be told, it’s definitely tough at first, but then it kind of grows on you. You learn to take criticism, disrespect, and realize you’re still okay with yourself and your vision for the ministry. I know I sill have that “I need everybody to like me” syndrome, but still, I am able to function when people don't like me. Moreover, I am able to serve them and show kindness even when they are manipulative and demeaning. (Okay, so it still stings a little bit, but come on, there is real progress here!) No matter what, every person in ministry is going to face some kind of opposition. It might be a parent who thinks you’re the antichrist, or a volunteer who has sworn herself to annihilate you within your first three months of ministry. Awe, the list could go on and on. But none of that really matters. Opposition is natural. You learn to roll with the punches and you come out a better leader and more mature person because of it.

Group trends and changes
Youth groups change over time. It seems like with every graduating class, you see certain attitudes and behaviors leave the group—sometimes this is bad and sometimes it’s great! There may be months where you have a lot of new kids coming around. Other times, you wonder if students have friends outside of the church. There are seasons when girls outnumber the guys and times when the guys seem to run the girls out of town. Youth groups, like all things in life, have trends and are constantly changing. I’ve celebrated with our youth group as attendance soared, and new people came to faith. I’ve also embraced our committed students when they were the only ones who decided to join a small group. Change is natural…and it’s a good thing. Churches change over time, and usually this means a youth group will change as well. It’s all part of the process. You have to remain positive and continue pursuing your vision, even when everything feels like it may be falling apart. Realize its part of the change process.

Leaders
Finally, after three years I’ve learned that I’m not Bill Hybels. (And that's a good thing because that guy kind of annoys me at times.) But that’s okay, because I’ve surrounded myself with a team of incredibly talented and dedicated adults who love hanging out with teenagers and spending time with one another. I couldn’t have asked for more: I get to do ministry with my friends. A youth group or church for that matter should never be about a single person, giving a star performance. A church should be a community, a family that wants to seek God and life together. That is beginning to happen in my youth group. It’s taken three years to get to this point. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worth it.

God is good
Looking back over the past three years, I can genuinely say this has been a good ride and I’m excited for more. We’ve started a movement. It’s not a movement of thousands, or even of hundreds. Nevertheless, it is a family of people wanting more of Jesus in their lives, and desiring to see his kingdom built on this earth. There have been moments where I’ve doubted God, and even more moments where I’ve doubted myself. However, even in these moments of confusion, God has been faithful. This life and this thing called ministry...well, it’s all good because God is good. He continues to surprise me and fulfill His promises. I pray for many more years of exciting ministry, partnering with the Spirit and seeking His direction. Despite the inevitable ups and downs of ministry, we need to remember that at the end of the day, God is still God...and He is always good.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hang Loose

A few weeks ago my wife and I vacationed on the beautiful island of Oahu. I specifically use the word “beautiful” because when you’re in Hawaii, you can’t help but notice how stinking picturesque it is there. While I was there, I had this ongoing epiphany about every five minutes, where I would turn to my wife and say “Can you believe it!? We’re in Hawaii! Who else in the world is experiencing this beauty!?” Then she would turn to me and say “Well, everyone else on the beach right now.” I guess that was true

I’ve been a fan of the “island life” since our honeymoon two years ago in the Caribbean. I absolutely love the tropics—the water, the wildlife, and the people are simply amazing. It literally is paradise. One evening on our vacation we decided to attend a very authentic luau. Okay, well it was specifically for tourists, but still, it felt pretty authentic. During the evening, our luau guide taught us something. He told us that in Hawaii, there is a presence, an attitude, a way of dealing with life called the “Hang Loose Spirit.” Undoubtedly, most of us have seen the “Hang loose sign,” (very similar to the Rock N Roll hand gesture), shaken from side to side. Hang loose promotes a sense of belonging. It is a welcoming gesture to be who you are and to not get too uptight about life. In the Caribbean it was the saying “No pressure, no problem.” In Hawaii, it was hang loose.
I like the idea of being calm and chill in life. No pressure. No worries. No need to try and impress anyone. Just hang loose. It made me think about how often I live more to please others, and how I still find myself fearing rejection. I tend to live with umpteen amounts of pressure and anxiety. I don’t find the hang loose spirit in my life. I find the super-uptight-very tense-spirit instead. And truth be told: that is not how I want to live.

Above my toilet, next to the latest copy of National Geographic and the Handbook for Ministers Wives (Yep, a handbook) is a book entitled Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. It’s a small book, almost like it was made for the sole purpose of bathroom literature. Nonetheless, it’s a great read. It’s sort of like taking the concept of “Hang Loose” and writing a book about how it applies in everyday life. As you read the book, you start to realize that many of the things that cause us stress and pain are the very things that really don’t matter. The guy, who cuts you off on the freeway, although he may be a bad driver, is not worth get upset about. Choose to hang loose. The spilling of the coffee all over your white shirt; sleeping through your alarm clock; even the words of a friend that come over as harsh and bitter, do not forever alter the course of your life…you just need to hang loose.

I was looking through my journal the other day and I found a page where I had written “Don’t turn molehills into mountains.” Don’t let the little things in life, alter the big picture things. In John 16:33 Jesus says “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jesus reminds us that life will never be easy and never be without frustration and pain. However, He has already achieved the ultimate victory through the cross. Perhaps the cross not only allows us to be victorious over sin and grant us eternal life, but also gives us the ability to hang loose. It creates a different perspective on life. I can spend my time, worrying and fretting over the most infinitesimal detail that goes awry. Or, I can accept life for what it is. I can choose to hang loose, no matter what comes my way.
There is power in a choice. We can choose to take a little piece of paradise and carry it with us. We can Hang Loose.


Friday, May 21, 2010

There will be dancing in heaven

I’m not an art guy. I wish I were because artists are cool. It really is not fair because half of the men on my mom’s side of the family paint and sculpt, and ooze artistic creativity and swagger. The last time I tried to paint, I really wanted to do a good job and follow proper painting instructions. So I spent about an hour searching in my closet for the right supplies. My wife asked what I was doing and I told her “the paint can said, “for best results, to use two coats.” (I know, I know… it’s cheesy. Get over it.)

Like I said, I’m not an art guy but I saw this painting at the Getty museum in L.A. The painting is entitled “A Walk At Dusk.” (It is pictured here on the right) I liked it so much I bought a print of it and have I hanging up in my house. The painting shows a man standing next to a grave, with a new moon forming in the sky. The artist was trying to show the balance, moreover, the interrelationship of life and death. This man is staring down upon death in the grave, while the new moon representing life, shines down from above. Life and death wedded together.

Death is a subject we tend to shy away from. In our minds, death represents the end; it is the unknown, the final frontier. As Peter Pan once famously said “Death is the only great adventure.” Our life on this earth is but a dash, a sprint to the finish line that is over as quick as it started. The Bible says that our lives are like a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes (James 4:14). Or that we are but blades of grass, surely fading fast (Isaiah 40:6). All this talk about the brevity of our existence doesn’t make me want to jump up and down for joy. Honestly, there is a part of me that is saddened by this reality. Furthermore, there is a part of me that wants to prolong life as long as possible. I still have so much I want to do and see and be. Death seems to put an end to our pursuits.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one (whether it be prematurely or even after a long life), the sting and pain of that loss is real. Our family and friends do their best to comfort us with reassuring words and promises, but the truth is we just miss that person. Perhaps, we find ourselves living with certain regrets about the final moments we shared with them. Maybe we ask a number of questions: “Did this person know how much I truly loved them? Did I miss my opportunity to say what I really wanted them to know?” I know this for a fact because I’ve asked myself these same questions. And every time I revisit these questions, the sense of loss comes back. There was a part of me that seemed whole when this person was with me, and now, I feel empty. I tend to see a great disparity between life on earth and existence elsewhere.

But what if there was another way to understand the passing from life on this earth onto the next? What if we could see death and life like more of a connection? I say all of this from a position of faith. I believe when I die, that is not the end; rather, it is the start of a new, eternal existence in heaven. That gives me hope. Moreover, I am able to accept that the reality of heaven is a constant reminder that life, death, and the afterlife are all connected.

If there is such a connection between life on earth, death, and life afterwards, then when someone dies, they never truly leave us. There is just a little bit of a delay before we will see them again. I often think about my grandma who passed away when I was in college. It was a trying time for me, because I felt a lot of regret. I wondered if she knew how much I appreciated her and loved her. The last conversation I had with her was over the phone, hours before she passed away. I miss my grandmother tremendously. It will be six years this September since she passed. She is gone from an earthly perspective, but her words and her presence are still very much alive in me. The memories and lessons she gave me will never be forgotten.

I realize that there is no way to make someone feel less pain when mourning the loss of someone they loved. And there shouldn’t be. There is only a different perspective that says death is not goodbye, nor it is not the end of the story. Recently, I spoke with one of my students who just lost a loved one. He told me how this person was always there for him. She was the kind of person who would listen to his jokes, take him out for ice cream, and even listened to his favorite music when he shared it with her. One of his fondest memories was that they used to dance together. It didn’t matter the genre of music be it rock, dance ballads, or even heavy metal, they just danced. As we were sharing memories and he was telling me about their affinity for busting a move, I couldn’t help but think, “She is still dancing with you. She is not really gone, but still here."

Revelation 21:4 says “[In heaven] there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” I take that to mean that there will be a lot of people celebrating and dancing in heaven. (Except disco. I’m pretty sure heaven will not have disco.) To me, that is a beautiful picture of the connection between life and death—an existence that carries on after grave. It’s like that song in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: “In time, we’ll be dancing in the streets all night.” Even though our dance on this earth will eventually come to an end, we have to remember to keep dancing….all the way to heaven.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It’s a love story



I have a confession to make. Okay, here it goes: When I’m listening to the radio and a Taylor Swift song comes on, I don’t change the station. Sometimes I even turn the volume up…but just a little. She has a song called “Today was a fairytale.” And if I can be vulnerable and honest, I like it. I think it is full of the kind of youthful idealism we need more of: fairytales, true love, and romance in high school. It’s great.

I mention all of this because it is spring and love is in the air. There is a breeze blowing through, dropping particles of romance and candy-coated butterflies that will later end up in our stomachs. It is the season for proms, weddings, and the Marriage Ref, all here to show us this wonderful thing called love. We talked last week at church about love and sex, and a lot of good conversations developed from it. It really made me think about how love applies to our youth group.

When my wife was in first grade she wrote a poem about love. The reason I know this is because her best friend found a box of her old poems and read one of them at our wedding. Truth be told, she had a lot of great poems that she wrote in first grade. She had a poem about inviting dogs and hamsters to her birthday party, and another one about her disdain for cats. Her best poem though, was the one she wrote about love. In one of the lines from her poem she wrote: “I love LOVE. When I fall in love, it will be forever.” Now, between you and me, I think she might have plagiarized that last line, but still, there is a blatant truth sticking out—she loves love! When I heard that poem, I thought, “Well, who doesn’t love or at least really like love!? Love is great!”

Love is something we’re all pursuing either intentionally or inadvertently. Ingrained in all of us is a desire to obtain love or at least what we think “love” is. It is difficult to articulate or define love. At best, we just summarize it with vague, poetic descriptions or describe feelings like warmth, tingling sensations, upset stomachs, and so on. But love is more than all of that, isn’t it?

I love that Scripture begins with God sharing a vision for love with his people. In Genesis 2, we see that God has created the universe, all the animals, the flora and fauna, and he has created Adam. God gives him a task; a little job to keep him busy. God tells Adam to name the animals. Adam is like the first zoologist. He is Jeff Corwin on steroids. I wonder how long it took Adam to name the animals. Perhaps it took him a few years or a few decades. Eventually though, He begins to feel lonely. He feels tension. He has a desire to find beauty and to celebrate in it. He longs for love. While naming the animals he is beginning to realize that there are no other creations like him. He is probably a little anxious, but he has no need to worry… God has a plan. (And maybe God has been planning this all along and was just letting Adam sweat it out a bit and live with the tension.) God decides to create Eve. When Adam sees Eve he says: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” I envision Adam is sort of like a Looney Tunes character at this point. His eyes are popping out of his head, his heart pounding, his jaw dropping as he says “Hubba hubba, bow chica bow wow.” His longings for a mate are now fulfilled. His love is now able to be experienced. After years of waiting his desire is now met.

The Genesis account is a beautiful glimpse at why God created love. He created it to be shared in joyful and jubilant commitment with one another. It is something to be held near and dear, and also something to wait for. Many of us though, have rushed into love too quickly or perhaps we’ve yearned so very much for love that we’ve given ourselves away, only to feel lost again, realizing we didn’t find what we were searching for. Instead of attaining God’s best, we’ve settled for a replica of God’s true picture of love, only furthering our own pain and isolation. We’ve lived with the tension and felt the loneliness. Ironically, the very things our world has said will bring us love, have only led us further away. Whether it is sex, numerous relationships, or a combination of the two, we haven’t given our hearts what they’ve truly desired. God has given us love as a gift; and it is a gift worth protecting and fighting for.

If love is a great thing, it definitely is worth protecting. People who study animals say that if a tiger and a lion were to get in a fight, the win would be automatic for the tiger. Lions are fierce and agile fighters, but tigers are, well tigers. It would be like a lightweight boxer stepping into the ring with a heavyweight—really no contest. The tiger is a stronger opponent. He is bigger, faster, and more aggressive. One on one the lion wouldn’t stand a chance. The funny thing, though, is that lions do not typically hunt alone. They hunt and fight in packs; tigers on the other hand are lone rangers. If this made up jungle fight scenario was changed a bit, and it was a pack of lions versus a pack of tigers, the lions would win. The lions know how to fight together; they have strength in numbers. A pack of lions would defeat the tigers no question.

I think we can live our lives one of two ways: as a lion or a tiger. We can live as a lone ranger and do okay for sometime, or we can be a lion and live in community, knowing that we need each other. God’s ideal for love is an amazing but difficult thing to attain. Let’s face it—we need help from one another. We need to help each other in this fight. We can stand firm, united as one, pursuing God’s best. Or, we can live our lives in the shadows, avoiding the help we so desperately need, and letting the world continue to dictate our thoughts and feelings towards love.

We all love love…because we were created for it. God’s gift to us is the gift of love for Him and for one another. It is quite beautiful and it is worth pursuing and finding in Him alone. God created love for us to experience in the same Adam experienced when he met Eve. It is up to us, however, to fight for it. To find God’s ideal, we need to give ourselves for it. Like Adam, we need to fight through the tension and wait for what God has in store. We have to realize that our love story is worth it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Time to get our fast on


People in the Bible loved to get their fast on. Perhaps they didn’t love it, but they fasted regularly. God called his people to fast for a myriad of reasons. Fasts were personal, communal, and national. People fasted for the salvation of others, as an act of worship, and when times were bad. Fasting was a big deal in both the Old and New Testament.

If you’ve ever participated in a fast, then you know the experience is rich and rewarding, and somehow, brings you closer to God. As we deny ourselves the satisfaction of a full belly, we are more prone to listen to God. There is a deep hunger stirring within us, but this hunger can be directed towards a more meaningful fulfillment. Laruen Winner said “When you are fasting and you feel hungry, you are to remember that you are really hungry for God.” That is part of the experience—realizing that God is enough to satisfy us. Kind of like what Jesus reminded Satan when said, “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). Food alone is not enough to satisfy us.

It’s important to understand though, that biblical fasting is more than just the absence of food. It’s not so much what you give up when you fast, but what you decide to replace it with. Fasting is a discipline where we invite God to be at the center of our lives—spiritually, physically, and even emotionally. During a fast, we take away something we desire and use the time for spiritual purposes. When you don’t have to prepare food, or watch TV, or log onto Facebook ten times a day (a personal addiction), you have a lot of free time on your hands; free time that can be spent hanging out with the Father.

Fasting also provides an opportunity to grow in love with one another. Some of the more poignant examples of fasting in Scripture happen when the nation of Israel fasts as one, or when the early church spent their time praying and fasting as a community. Our youth group is preparing for a national event called 30 Hour Famine. We’ll be abstaining from food for thirty hours in an effort to raise money for hungry people all over the world, and also to experience what it’s like to go without. The experience will be eye opening for all who participate. John Piper said “Fasting is meant to awaken us to the hunger of the world, not just our own hunger.” That is our prayer for this event—that our group will be awakened to the powerful workings of God in our lives and community. We’re praying for a night of encounters with Jesus, and conversations with one another that will help us love and care for each other in the name of Christ.

Fasting, like other spiritual disciplines, reminds us that God can be found in our every day happenings. I love the emotion the psalmist employs when he says “where can I go from your presence!?” How can I escape you!? God is like a clingy girlfriend (or boyfriend) with no concept of personal space. God is very near. Fasting can help us open our hearts to this truth and allow his goodness to change us.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Story So Far

I've read a number of books about management and leadership. Typically, these books espouse market trends, personal development plans, and how to be a successful person. I was really into that sort of thing for a while. And, while I learned a lot about business and leadership theory, I felt I was missing something. It's not that much of this literature was lacking practicality; rather, it was lacking something deeper. It didn't feed my soul. After reading these books, I noticed I cared a lot about numbers, and spent a lot of time writing goals. I had an umpteen amount of goals—goals for practically everything. This goal obsession made me laugh when I thought about my New Year resolutions.

My past experience with New Year resolutions, or goals, was that they go in one year and out the next. They never stick. Maybe the reason is becasue goals, as Donald Miller says, need to be apart of a narrative, because then they make sense. Someone can say I want to lose 20 pounds on Jenny Craig and not be that motivated. However, if someone says they want to run a marathon or climb a mountain, they will certainly be motivated to lose the excess pounds.

One of my stories that I want to develop for 2010 is more spontaneity in my daily living. I call this “Spirit-led living.” I didn’t come up with this out of thin air; Scripture talks about this quite often. Throughout the Bible, we learn that God created us to walk with Him, never leaving his presence. So far, I’ve seen the fruit of my new sense of awareness. Conversations have gone forth, and I’ve met new people I normally wouldn’t have spoken to. In the past, I’d dread waiting in lines or eating lunch by myself. Now, it is an opportunity to obey God and share His goodness with strangers. Soon these strangers become familiar faces.

Frank Labauch said “The first business of every day is to look into the face of God and ache with bliss.” I’ve started to notice that the face of God shows up in others more often than I thought. And that is where I’ve started looking for Him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Gas Station

I usually go to the gast station to get gas. Sometimes if I'm feeling dangerous, I also get a bag of Fritos. For whatever reason, I tend to frequent the same gas station more than others. During my trips, I started to notice the awkward atmoshphere of a gas station. I don't know why, but most people seem more annoyed at gas stations than say at the grocery store, or in line at a fast-food restaurant. I met a man there a few weeks ago who was running from car to car, asking if he could pump people's gas or wash their windows for a few bucks. Sadly, most of the people just shoed him away, like he was a fly and he was bothering them.

As I watched this, I was reminded of a story in the gospel of Mark where Jesus unleashes compassion. In Mark 5, a demon possessed man walks over to Jesus as he is stepping out of his speed boat. The man is described as being strong, probably naked, and I'm guessing a bit frightening to the kiddies in the neighborhood. The man is full of demons and when Jesus asks him what his name is, he replies "Legion, for we are many." This doesn't even phase Jesus. He decides to send these demons into the non-kosher animals herding nearby. Suddenly, this legion of demons is thrust out of this man into a herd of two thousand pigs, who fall into the nearby lake and drown. Jesus then looks at the pigs and smiles and says "That' ll do pig." Okay, he doesn't really say that.

The owners of the pigs get a little miffed at Jesus, I mean, how inconsiderate to kill all those pigs at the expense of this crazed, demon possessed man. The text then says they were afraid and pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.I guess Jesus listens becasue he gets into his boat and tells this newly healed man to go and share how the Lord has shown him mercy. The man's testimony grew and people were amazed (Mark 5:20). This story causes me to pause.I wonder what people were thinking when Jesus stopped his boat and got out. There was a crazed, demon possesed man, probably naked, I imagine yelling expletives, and throwing rocks.He could have easily just stayed in the boat and kept going downstream. But he doesn't. He stops and gets out of the boat. Jesus practices reckless compassion. His compassion isn't cointingent on time or circumstance; where Jesus is, compassion exists.

I wonder how often we neglect to share the love and compassion of Christ because it is easier to just ignore people. As Robert, the man at the gas station, approached me I didn't do anything heroic. I didn't write him a check for a hundred dollars. I didn't tell him he could stay in my guest bedroom. But I didn't ignore him. The small amount of money I gave him, didn't amount to the expereince we shared talking for a few minutes in a place where no one wants to be bothered. If we are called to be like Chirst, we are called to reckless compassion.