Because of Jesus…

Some may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as much lately. I wish I could blame it all on the workload of being a full-time seminarian mixed with a couple of part-time jobs, but the reality is all of that busy-ness actually makes me want to blog more. Of course, it doesn’t suddenly create the time to do so, but nevertheless the desire to blog isn’t the reason I haven’t blogged.

Honestly, my lack of blogging is due more to the fact that there are heavier things to blog about. For example, this summer I took American Church History with one Professor Randy Woodley and while we would read speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., a news story would break about how another black individual (or nine individuals at a Bible study) was killed at the hands of white men (usually police officers). Or when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages must be recognized in every state, how quickly many Christians responded with messages of mourning and lament even though the founders of many of the conservative institutions fought for equality of all. In those situations, my words would not do much to improve any situation or to lessen the pain within these communities. All anyone who is not directly involved can do is draw attention to the voices who are directly involved.

And basically that’s what I have been doing: re-tweeting and sharing the voices who have been speaking against injustice in these arenas as well as others. But sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes it seems as though my friends on Facebook or Twitter won’t pay any attention to what I share because they don’t believe racism exists or they believe a “biblical marriage” has a simple, straight-forward definition contrary to what the Supreme Court thinks. What does it take for these perspectives not to be changed entirely, but to be challenged a little and given the space to think or process for themselves? What is needed in order for the voices of the slain black men, women, and children at the hands of police to be heard? What is it going to take to value each other’s life equally?

I will not even begin to pretend to have the answers, but I have a few hopes. One hope is that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have a little more room to talk. Both Republicans and Democrats can be (and often are) seen as the enemy – as the group that is trying to ruin the country. Our political atmosphere has long been removed from the realm of equal dialogue and sharing of perspectives because it has become so fused with the need to beat one’s opponent that we’re reluctant to admit where we have agreements – or even worse, where our political parties are actually wrong. Removing the politics from the discussion enables for voices to be heard.

Which leads to my second hope: that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have room to listen. This is by far the most important aspect of removing the political labels because in either political party the people who are less likely to be heard are the underprivileged black, Latino/a, Native, LGBTQ, and female voices. So the opposite of these categories – the cisgender, heterosexual, white male – is primarily the one who desperately needs to listen. But the same challenge can extend to others who are not this category and yet retain some aspect of privilege. For example, I’m not white, but I am a cisgender, heterosexual male, so in conversations revolving around sexuality or how women are treated, I desperately need to shut my mouth and listen. It doesn’t mean I can’t ask questions, but it does mean that I better spend more time listening than asking.

And this leads to my third hope: that we would sweat it out as we listen. Randy Woodley challenged the class with this idea in an (unpublished?) article he wrote, but the idea is basically that when it comes to “sitting at the conversation table,” we must remain seated as our privileges are exposed. And yes, we may even be guilty of abusing these privileges, in which case it is even more imperative that we remain seated and sweat it out. If we are seeking to be true allies and help those who are underprivileged, then we can’t say that we’ll listen and get up from the table after five minutes because we got too uncomfortable or we found the words directed at us to be offensive. Here’s the thing: if we are privileged, then we are not in the right to be “offended” when this privilege is called out. We’re merely experiencing what happens when our privileges are removed. So if you’re white and hearing about “white privilege” for the first time, remember that it is not racism to call out the dominant race for the systems their ancestors put in place that subordinate other races. Like John Metta talks about, race is a difficult topic because it is almost always centered around white feelings. We must sweat it out when our privileges are called out.

When all of the above is implemented, then comes one more hope: that the privileged do not suddenly become the leaders/experts in the issues of the underprivileged. An example comes from male feminists or white guys in the Black Lives Matter movement: they read a book by a feminist woman or hear a sermon from a black preacher about police brutality and think they ought to take up the leadership of those causes. This is not how systemic oppression changes. It is merely the reincarnation of the same systemic oppressions with new masks of equality. So when a man points out his own feminist leanings and proceeds to take over a conversation, that man then undermines his feminist values (because feminism seeks the equality of all specifically by focusing on the inequality of women). So yes, this means that I cannot take over the discussion about women’s equality; we must empower the underprivileged to have equal footing as the privileged.

Some may not find any of this to be in accordance with Christian values, but the truth is that it has been my faith in Christ that has led me to all of these issues (and for what it’s worth, treating them only as “issues” is a privilege in and of itself). It was Jesus who led me to feminism and womanism. It was Jesus who led me to accept the marriages of the LGBTQ community as God ordained. It was the suffering and lynching of Jesus that led me to lament the suffering and lynches of the black community (yes, when a black child is shot dead for playing with a toy gun, that is a lynching). It was Jesus who taught me that every person was made in the image of God. All that I have been challenged with is really expanding my definition of what God looks like.

Even with this brief outline of why these things matter to me, I am drained. Why? Because it is quite likely that as I have written these words, someone in the U.S. has been killed because they’re black, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, Native, Mexican, Muslim, a woman, or some combination of these. Or some prominent Christian leader has said another racist thing about people he does not understand or care that much about to begin with (*cough, cough* Franklin Graham *cough, cough*). With as much as I could write about these issues, change still seems incredibly far off. But that does not mean that I can not hope in God who has poured the Spirit into us through Jesus of Nazareth.

May we all find the courage to follow where the Spirit leads and end oppression.

God bless.


On Being a Seminarian: I am “Mr. Put-off-ski”…

My grandpa liked to make up odd names for me and this was one of them. It came up every time that I chose not to do something when he thought I should do it – like mowing the lawn, taking the newspapers to the recycling, or doing my homework. Yet no matter how much he called me “Mr. Put-off-ski,” I always chose to do whatever chore I had to do at a time that was convenient to me. Of course, this was especially the case when I arrived to college and came across my first assignment. And sure enough, I brought this habit with me to seminary.

He passed away on the 11th of this month, which is why I haven’t been blogging for the past two weeks. When I first received word that he had been taken to the hospital because of his severe difficulty to breathe, I was in the middle of starting my research for one of two papers. After that phone call from my brother, I couldn’t focus. In fact, I just sat in my chair for several hours drinking cranberry apple juice mixed with a healthy splash of rum (one of my favorite drinks). I had begun to anticipate the worst and three days later, the worst came.

Grieving my grandfather has been such an emotional ride. On one level, I miss him so much – especially when I need his wise guidance and he’s not on the other end of the phone anymore (like on this past Sunday when I got in my first car accident, I pulled up his contact info on my phone out of instinct). Yet on another level, I know that he’s no longer alone and no longer hurting. And I can celebrate the great things he taught me in his short time in my life (like how to laugh at yourself lest you take life too seriously).

As this semester of seminary draws to a close, I have another research paper to write. I’ve done some work on it and know, in general, what I want to discuss. But I should have been working on both the essay I turned in last night as well as the essay I have yet to finish months ago. I wouldn’t have to speed-read through articles and books. I wouldn’t have to cut my revision time short (literally a little over an hour for the essay last night). And I wouldn’t have that one more bit of stress when the back end of my car was smashed on my way home Sunday.

I know this sounds like I’m beating myself up, but I’m not. I’ve gotten by just fine by putting things off to when they’re convenient to me. But such a habit is not sustainable in the seminary level. I submitted an essay last night, but it was not my best effort. My thoughts were jumbled and somewhat incoherent and not just because my mind has been elsewhere lately, but mostly because I hadn’t spent the necessary time considering the things I wrote about.

My grandfather taught me much more than not putting things off until the last minute, but it’s a lesson I’m relearning again and again in recent days as I continue on through seminary. All of my professors have been more than gracious with whatever I’ve needed as I mourn my grandfather’s passing, but frankly, he taught me to be a more self-reliant adult than to allow handouts. Now maybe that reflects his lack of will to be helped (my grandpa didn’t like being a burden to anyone – even when no one felt that he was). But I think my grandfather wanted us to learn to how to care for ourselves for the days when no help was available.

It’s as they say, old habits die hard. But I think it’s even harder now with his passing. No, there’s nothing I regret doing in my life for my grandpa’s honor; I know full well he was always proud of me and what I’ve accomplished (even if he was initially against me trying in the first place). Yet if there was one thing I wish I could have shown him that he taught me, it’d be how I don’t put things off anymore.

Again, he probably saw more in me than I ever have in myself – especially the elements of his own influence (like golf, bowling, cribbage, and coffee). But getting things done ahead of time and not waiting around until it’s convenient is something simple, yet extends to so many areas. I only wish “Mr. Put-off-ski” would have had the effect he desired.

Yet if it had, I probably wouldn’t think of it now and get the chance to share a bit of his legacy with all of you. So maybe it was better this way after all?

Rest in peace, grandpa…

This is part of a weekend series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Be sure to check out other posts by other bloggers, especially if you’re interested in biblical studies.

Valentine’s Day 2014: Content Being Single…

What I find difficult when writing about my single status is avoiding the self-deprecating, whiny, woe-is-me tone. It seems that no matter how nicely you phrase things, it somehow still sounds as though you are bitter for being single. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of times when I have felt bitter and whiny about it. Most of those times were when I was in a bad mood and lonely. Sometimes at work I get some pretty mean customers and they oftentimes have an influence on how the rest of my day goes. Or maybe I spill my coffee, forget my car keys, sleep through my alarm, or any other really annoying thing that can set me out of focus. If I’m lonely on those days, it’s really difficult to come home at the end and not feel bad that I don’t have someone to vent to.

Most of the time, this is how it is.

Yet there are other times when a pastor gives a sermon about men “manning up,” which usually means finding a girl, marrying her, and having lots of babies. It’s what “Godly men” are supposed to do, apparently. Or maybe you have a friend who just got back from their honeymoon, so the next time you see them, they’re obviously going to ask you if you’re seeing anyone. Or maybe another friend asks you about a third, mutual friend and asks you why you haven’t asked her out. And before you can really say anything they drop that infamous “it’s not good for man to be alone” line on you, as if Genesis 2 was only about finding your Eve and rearing children.

Those times suck.

They suck because no matter what reason you give as to why you’re single, the under-lying assumption is usually that you’re supposed to find your spouse. Especially if you’ve graduated college. Especially if you’ve recently turned 25. And if you’re over 30 and you still haven’t found your spouse? Well, tough luck, bro. You probably missed your chance.

I’m targeting a sub-cultural mentality within Christianity that I do not agree with. Okay, let’s be honest here, there are plenty things within Christianity that I do not agree with, but since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’m highlighting this one. It’s this idea that God put us on this earth to find spouses and make families. Even though this is one of my deepest desires, I read the Scriptures just as much as anybody and know full well that this is not the universal purpose for everyone who follows Christ.

By “Christ” I mean Jesus – the 30-ish year-old guy who, for all we know, never married. Some say that’s because the ministry he was called to didn’t have room for a spouse – same argument goes for Paul, another prominent, single figure in Scripture. But what if it wasn’t because of their ministry? What if it was because they simply didn’t want to? What if they were more content being single? Do you know those passages where Jesus’ family is trying to track him down or when he says that prophets aren’t even welcome in their hometowns? Well, what if those were places where Jesus felt pressured most to marry and live the culturally-accepted life?

I know, I know, the Bible doesn’t say that. But what does the Bible say?

“So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better,” 1 Corinthians 7:38, ESV[1]

I tell you this much, I have never heard a sermon on the benefits of being single – even though one of the most prominent figures in all of Christianity (you know, apart from the aforementioned single fellow named “Jesus”) said it was the “better” thing. Instead there are countless sermons about how you should date or court or set up an arranged marriage. After that, there are countless more sermons, seminars, and conferences devoted solely to marriage.

Don’t get me wrong, the married lifestyle, from what I’ve seen in my married friends, is difficult. Exceedingly so. It’s immeasurably important for married folk to have healthy, constructive marriages. But my argument here isn’t knocking marriage down; it’s pointing out that every single person has an identity that is not defined by their relationship status. We singles have a place at the table – just like Gentiles did at the Jewish tables. We aren’t better than the married folk, but our single lives aren’t less than the married life, either.

With as much as this mentality focuses on the positive aspects of marriage, its difficulty gets glossed over almost entirely. Marriage is not just something you can do casually. It takes commitment. It takes sacrifice. It takes trust. And all those things (and many more that I do not now know of) are heavy on the heart. I haven’t had much of a dating life at all, but even the bits I have had (or all the times I pursued a girl and got shot down) they’ve been rough. They’ve been painful. Many of them left me in tears. I can only imagine it gets more severe the closer you are to someone. There is a reason Scripture places so many demands on married people.

Trust me, the single life is hard, too. But being single does not mean being alone. In fact, even though most of my friends are still in Eugene, I’m doing quite well. I have an atypical community that mostly revolves around GFES[2], but it’s a good community. I care about my classmates and they care about me.

When I read Genesis 2 and hear God say, “It is not good for man to be alone,” I no longer think God’s talking about me. I no longer picture myself in Adam’s shoes (or sandals or whatever he wore back then). Getting to this point in my life – this point where I can confidently say I am content being single – is something I once believed would never happen. I used to think that I was never good enough for anyone and that I’d never be content being single. But not anymore.

Yes, I deliberately chose to post this on Valentine’s Day. Not to ruin anyone’s plans, not to vent my bitter feelings about being single, and not to put a negative vibe in anyone’s day. I posted this today because I know there are other singles who share these feelings I’ve had and have hardly anyone who will listen without shaming them – by saying it’s their fault or they need to try harder or pray more or tell Jesus that they don’t want it and then it’ll happen. I’m writing for those who, for whatever reason, can’t write or speak for themselves. Those single people who are living incredible, normal lives just like all their married friends.

Forget what people say; it’s perfectly normal to live your entire life single. And even if it wasn’t, Jesus did it. So did Mary Magdalene. Paul did it, too. Without them, we wouldn’t have Christianity.

One’s love life should not be exclusive to dating or married folk. Singles have love lives, too. They just look different.

Happy Singles-Awareness Day!

[1] I know, I quoted one verse. Frankly, though, it’s overlooked or downplayed time and time again. And I really wanted to quote the whole chapter, but this sums it up well.

[2] George Fox Evangelical Seminary

2013: Crazy & Chaotic…

Although it is now 2014, I don’t think a review of 2013 would be too late. And considering how chaotic and stressful last year was, I think it’d be best to reflect over everything before gearing up for the rest of this year.

At the end of 2012, I decided I was going to apply for seminary. So during January of last year, I filled out my FAFSA and requested an application from Western Seminary. I figured Western was my best route since I had several friends who had attended there and they are pretty smart people. But toward the end of January and beginning of February, I started thinking I should at least put in an application to George Fox – on the off chance a miracle occurs and I get accepted there. Once the application for Western was finished and sent, I started rounding up recommendation letters and working on the essay for Fox.

I had submitted the George Fox application with less than a week to spare. If you’ve never filled out an application for seminary, it’s not an easy task. You’re forced to reflect a lot on your reason for applying and what you would want to do with the skillsets you’d acquire at seminary. You’re forced to articulate what you believe and why – and, more specifically, how your own personal theology would fit inside their particular seminary. And with everything these seminary applications ask, you realize you can’t even begin to answer them without spending some time alone with God. The start of my 2013 caused me to revise and refine my own mission statement.

Toward the middle of the year, after many baseball games and track meets working with the Duck Store, I received an email informing me that I had been accepted into George Fox and that I would begin classes in the following Fall semester. I cannot recall the last time I had felt such an excitement in being accepted into something I had only dreamed of before. Yet it was right around that time when things started to get really chaotic.

I now drive a 2008 Chevy Cobalt. But I started last year driving a 1996 Chevy Lumina – the car both I and my brother drove in high school. Throughout the near-eight years I had been driving it, it had had a few mechanical problems. First was the alternator belt back in 2008, which kept me from going home for Thanksgiving that year. Next problem were the brakes in 2011, a couple months before graduating from the University of Oregon. After that, which brought about the final straw to my time with the Lumina, was the blown head gasket. And of course, it had to happen while I was parked at a car dealership in Eugene.

My car troubles didn’t end there, either. I traded in my Lumina, conveniently dead in the parking lot at Kiefer Mazda, for a 2005 Nissan Sentra, which only had 70,000 miles on it. I signed the papers, got the keys, and drove it around Eugene frequently. It was the first car I ever purchased on my own, so of course I wanted to drive it a ton. And after a trip to Lincoln City, Portland, Lincoln City, Portland, and back to Eugene, the Sentra started having problems. The engine kept flooding and I had to keep going back to the dealership to figure out what was wrong – since I only had the car for three weeks. Whatever the problem was remains to me a mystery because I gave up and traded it in for what I’m driving now. Yet during all this I was working two jobs and trying to find a place to live in Portland (hence the trips up there and back). “Stressed” is putting it mildly.

As the summer came to an end, though, we had found a place to live with only one catch: The apartment wouldn’t be available until after I had started school at George Fox. In fact, my move-in date was set for the 10th – the day after my second day of classes. I commuted to and from Tigard for the first two days of class and packed up all my stuff in between (as well as finishing homework).

Moving day was by far the most stressful day I’ve ever had. For one thing, I have way too much stuff. For another, moving it all mostly by myself (special thanks to Brian Schaudt and Sierra Stopper – I would be homeless without them… probably) was not the best decision I’ve made. What was really the backbone to the stress that day was time. I left Eugene right around 3:45pm. Our apartment office closes at 6pm. The drive from Eugene to Tigard is close to two hours, especially in a U-Haul, which was also towing my Cobalt. Safe to say I did not have time for any rest stop. Yet I made it with five minutes to spare and, despite exhaustion, got all my stuff moved in (again, not entirely by myself). After a couple of weeks, I had my room as settled as it possibly could have been, which then enabled me to focus on studying more.

Once that happened, things calmed down quite a bit. I was still busy, but I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t stressed because I was finally doing what I love to do: study Scripture. Of course, that is an over-simplification of my seminary experience thus far, but it is at the core of what brought about my less-stressful life. Reading the Bible, studying various schools of criticism, and then listening to my classmates discuss various points is what draws me to pursue God. And I am most certainly in the right environment for that pursuit.

Not everything that happened in 2013 could possibly be discussed in one post, but I believe I got most of the main points. What I started to thoroughly enjoy toward the end of the year, though, was the new friendships I had made since moving up to Portland. Classmates, coworkers, and friends of friends suddenly started to function like a family and reminded me that the purpose to any degree I might acquire from a seminary should always include an aspect of developing and enhancing these types of friendships. I can only see these friendships growing stronger in 2014.

I hope to write about my first semester at George Fox in the coming days, as well as what I hope to do in 2014 (resolutions of sorts). For now, though, I conclude that 2013 was a chaotic year and grew more chaotic when I chose to follow my passions. Such chaos, though, simply forced me to focus on accomplishing each task as needed and yet enabled me to enjoy those passions all the more.

What was your 2013 like?

Happy New Year to all!

God bless.

Worry’s Wound…

On this coming Friday, I’ll be driving up to Portland for orientation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. When I had my interview with George Fox back in June, August 23rd was the date they told us to remember because it’s the mandatory orientation: It’s where we get registered for our classes. So, I put it in the back of my mind and made sure I requested for that day off from work. Ever since then I had thought of it as something “down the road” and I told myself that “I haven’t crossed that bridge yet.” Well, I’m at that bridge on that part of the road.

Realizing that your life is about to dramatically change oftentimes has an overwhelming weight to it. When I moved down to Eugene for college seven years ago, the weight of the realization felt a bit lighter. I had no debt, no car pay off (insurance included), and the University had a place for me to live. None of those things happened this time around, which changed the dynamic of the weight to this realization. Instead of nothing but delighted excitement, I often have bouts with worry.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m more than excited about exploring Portland one day at a time, experiencing a new school, and studying subjects that I actually care about. But underneath that excitement is a heavy sense of anxiety trying to bind me to fear – fear of bankruptcy, disease, and endless vehicular mishaps. I fear I won’t be able to make payments on my car, that I’ll develop some type of cancer, and that I’ll never find a car that doesn’t break down within 30 days of driving it (quite a legitimate fear, given my recent experiences). And while I’m planning on how to cross bridges that aren’t even in my eye-sight, God is waiting for me to cross the bridges right before me.

As I’ve written about earlier, I have friendships to invest in while I’m still here in Eugene. And when I wrap my mind around things that may never even happen, I can’t invest in those friendships. Those are the bridges before me; how to leave my church family, friends, and coworkers that live here in Eugene in such a way that when we see each other again some days, months, or years down the road, it’ll be as though I had never left. Such a bridge requires every bit of my attention. And yet I’ve been concerned with what lies ahead.

On Monday evening, my Villages group (through Emmaus Life) got together again. Instead of doing a barbecue, we read a passage of Scripture. And of course, just as these worries about months and years from now were raging through my mind and heart, we were reading through Luke 12:22-34, where Jesus tells us to “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to [us].” But what does He mean here, exactly?

We touched on it on Monday, but what Jesus is really getting at here has less to do with material possessions and more to do with living with the peace of God’s provision. As Americans, we often hear a different message from Jesus’ words. When He says that God will provide for us, we start thinking of cars, houses, computers, or jet skis because, as we often say to ourselves to justify buying things, we’ve earned it. We’re entitled to it. God’s just the one making sure we get what we’re owed. Yet what we often don’t consider is that God is withholding what we are owed (death) and giving us what we could never earn on our own (life).

Here is where I’m floored. All my worries regarding my future revolve around the question “What am I going to do?” What am I going to do about my student loan debt? My car payments? My lack of health insurance? My grades? And while I begin to sweat and pull my hair out, Jesus is saying, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Touché, Jesus. Touché.

Jesus also says, after talking about “treasure in heaven,” that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” (Luke 12:34). In the particular passage this verse is grouped in, I believe Jesus means these words in the positive sense – that He wants us to be consumed by the things of heaven; not the worries of earth. But I also think He wants us to focus so much on the positive sense because He knows the negative sense – that if our “treasure” is in the material possessions, money, and notoriety, then our hearts will sadly be there as well. We cannot have peace in God if we’re not even paying attention to Him.

Last Monday’s discussion about this passage also brought something else to light, something about God’s desire. We often treat this passage or the similar passage in Matthew as if Jesus is simply saying, “God provides.” Yet, as my pastor Scott pointed out, we don’t let the weight of verse 32 hit us: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We often pour so much blood, sweat, and tears into our careers, families, and personal well-beings only to realize we can’t create a world in which nothing goes wrong. And every time our efforts fail we wonder where God was and why He didn’t provide. Turns out He’s waiting for us to turn around. He’s waiting to give us a robe, ring, and the fattened calf – every symbol that defines us as heirs to His kingdom. He doesn’t want to provide for us so that we flourish in this life; He wants to provide for us so that we flourish beyond this earthly stage of life.

Again, it’s less about things that fade away and more about things that last. And what lasts is His life – it defeated our death. He wants us to have His life so that we need not worry about death. And if we don’t need to worry about that, then what good are we doing by worrying about money, possessions, and how long we live?

No, I’m not saying we should neglect our finances, possessions, and health; God wants us to take responsibility for what we’re given. But He does not want us to worry about it. After all, He gave it to us, so He most certainly could take it away. And if we’re wrapped up with His Life and filled with the peace that comes with it, then why should we ever be bothered if or when He takes back what He’s given? It’s His already; we’re just caretakers.

Worry’s wound is a belief in a lie; that we’re able to make our own heavens and be our own gods. Yet none of us can live longer by anything we do. We might be the healthiest person in the world one day and die of an aneurism the next. So, what we actually should be focused on is stewarding what we’ve been given until we’re asked to give it back. And if what we treasure in what we’ve been given is the Life God freely and richly supplies, then we should have no problem in giving it back.

When Jesus tells us “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” He’s not just teaching His followers to have treasures in heaven; He’s telling us about where God’s treasure and heart are: us. Jesus is telling us that God risked everything for us because He loves us that much.

God bless.

Answer the Toy Phone…

Ever since I started working with the Ems, I’ve often thought of what my walk-out song would be. Walk-out songs are small snippets of songs for when players go out to bat, so basically you have to pick a cool part of the song – not a boring part of the intro. You see on one hand I’d want my song to be something intimidating to the other team, something that would let them know they should back up a couple steps, something that’d make them say, “He’s a hitter,” something from Eminem. But on the other hand – the hand that is more in tune with what my heart’s telling me – I want John Mark McMillan’s “I Dreamed There Was a Fountain.”

Last night after the Em’s game was the Fellowship Night. I’ve been to one of these before, but that was way back when I had just finished my freshman year at UO and games were still being played at Civic Stadium – an old ballpark here in Eugene. My ticket was like six bucks or something. Last night, however, I was working while Fellowship Night was happening. And as I swept away the old clay around home plate and packed in some new dirt, I couldn’t help but listen in to Eric, Maddie, Michael, and Casey all share tidbits about their faith and journey with the Lord.

Eric Dungy, Maddie Magee, Michael Miller, and Casey Martin have all been in unique opportunities to play a sport at the collegiate level or higher. Eric, son of Tony Dungy, plays football for Oregon; Maddie plays volleyball for Oregon; Michael plays for the Emeralds; and Casey is the men’s golf coach for Oregon. While each one had something encouraging, thought-provoking, or wise to say, Casey said something toward the very end that has really stuck with me.

When asked about what he does now since he’s no longer competing professionally, he replied saying that he still plays a lot. He said that he often teases his players, which means he has to back up his words by playing better than them. Why he does this, though, is to have fun. He said he likes to have fun with the opportunities and gifts that God has given him. All I could think of was 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

When we think of doing things to the glory of God, we often think of working harder, being more responsible, and finding ways to avoid sinning. Yet how often do we think of having fun? Jesus says that if we don’t “become like children,” we’ll be missing out on His kingdom (Matt. 18:3). And what do children do? They have fun.

On Saturday, I gathered with a couple dozen other people to send off two good friends; Jesse and Candice Coffee. They’re leaving Eugene (and the US) to teach English over in South Korea. They were a part of Calvary Fellowship all the way to the end and they were there at the beginning of Emmaus Life – so I’ve had the privilege of getting to enjoy life with them. But it is precisely that – joy – which I learned a lot more about from them. What I mean is, I learned how to have fun.

Sure, I’ve known how to have fun – anyone who has ever been a kid knows how to have fun. But what adulthood oftentimes does is dull down the fun with mortgages and car payments and jobs and this overarching thing called “responsibility.” It’s not long before you come across a five year-old imagining himself an airplane pilot calling out to you, his wingman, and you don’t know what to do because, as we often hear, “life happens.” We justify our lack of fun-having by hiding behind our responsibilities. Jesus never says responsibilities aren’t important; but He certainly doesn’t say they’re the only thing, either.

Life is starting to get crazy for me; I just bought a new car, I’m packing up to move to Portland, and I’m about to begin a Master’s program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Along with all of these things are a ton of responsibilities – usually dealing with finances – and I imagine they’ll feel overwhelming. Yet what I am guarding myself against is being so caught up with all these things I need to take care of that I’m not actually enjoying any of them. As Candice Coffee has often said, God wants to give us the desires of our hearts and then enjoy those things. But how can you enjoy something that you’ve simply made into another item on the to-do list?

Today is Monday – a day full of unforeseen contingencies usually in the work place, involving coffee spills, and “fun” is usually not the common F word of the day. But how much easier would it be to focus on enjoying the job, class, sport, or whatever that you’ve been given instead of the to-do list with all its responsibilities? No, they’re still important. But are they so important that you’d rather spend your time stressing over every little responsibility that doesn’t get done or isn’t done the right way instead of having fun with what you do?

There’s a Facebook meme with the caption: “It doesn’t matter how old you are, when a kid hands you a toy phone, you answer it.” Having fun with what we do – making ourselves like children – is enabling ourselves to answer that phone and enjoy our adult lives as little kids who just escaped with their parents’ secret stash of Oreos.

Get done what you need to get done, but have fun with it. After all, you only get to do it on this day, in this season, in this life. Our next life with Jesus is going to have all sorts of new things to enjoy, which we’ll only be able to do if we figure out how to enjoy what we’re doing now.

Believe it or not, having fun is glorifying God. So be ready to answer that toy phone.

God bless.

Exhaustion by Full Engagement…

Between Friday and Saturday I worked nearly 24 hours (22 1/2 to be exact). When I woke up Sunday morning for church, it took every bit of will power not to go back to sleep (well, will power and knowing that someone was getting pranked by chocolate-covered meatballs tossed in powdered sugar – I’ll explain later). All throughout the morning I was flat-out exhausted.

In all honesty, I like those days. Working eight, nine, or even twelve hours in a single day gives me some weird sense of joy and accomplishment. When I was thinking about it on Sunday morning, though, I didn’t really understand why I was so tired. Sure, I was clocked in for a long time Friday and Saturday, but the actual amount of time that I worked was about two-thirds of the time I was clocked in. It simply didn’t feel like I did very much. And then my pastor, Scott Lamb, told me why.

“It was because you were fully engaged for that time.”

Why did this stick with me? Because deep down, mixed in with the desire to go back to school, is the desire to work. I know, who actually wants to work? Work is lame. You have to, like, work and stuff. Yet every time I envision where I am in twenty years or what I’d like to be doing, I picture ten and twelve hour days. I picture myself coming home being almost completely drained. Yet, the more I think about it, I don’t want a job or a career. I simply want something in which I am fully engaged.

Minutes after my chat with Scott, he gave a message out of John 1, talking about how Jesus became fully human and yet was fully God (still a difficult concept to grasp). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” (1:14a, NIV). There was no part of being human that Jesus did not experience. Toothaches, stomachaches, heart breaks, hunger, thirst, loneliness, betrayal – you name a basic human emotion or physical feeling and He probably felt it, “yet without sin,” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). In other words, in Jesus, God was fully engaged with humanity, yet fully Himself.

A show that I have recently been in love with is The West Wing. I know it’s fiction and I know it’s a very sugar-coated style of politics, but I freaking love it. Why? Because throughout the average day of anyone in the West wing of the White House, there is never not something going on. Meeting after meeting, speech after speech, crisis after crisis – President Bartlett and his staff always have something to tackle. “What’s next?” is President Bartlett’s go-to phrase. Every day that they show up to work, they have to be fully engaged. Otherwise they won’t be able to do their job.

Why should it be any different for me? Or for you? Or for anyone who dares to follow God to the places and people He’s calling them? Why should our purpose be pushing the cruise control button and sitting back to relax? Sure, most days are kind of boring, but that should never be an excuse not to be fully engaged with what we’re doing. And yes, I have used that excuse before; I’m not calling anyone else out except for me.

Josh Lyman, a character on The West Wing, said something during the first season that I’ve since found challenging, “The White House can affect more change in a single day than the average person can in their entire lifetime.” When it comes to living God’s kingdom and making earth “as it is in heaven,” shouldn’t the Church (the global body of Christ) be the ones saying that? Shouldn’t we be able to affect more change in a single day by the power vested in us – the Holy Spirit – than someone without Christ can in their entire lifetime?

No, I’m not saying you’re doing things wrong if you aren’t making big changes at a rapid rate. One element to the way God brings about change in someone’s life is time. He is incredibly patient and I am incredibly stubborn – having taken years and years to understand very simple truths, like loving my neighbor and regarding others as better than myself. God is all about the long-term growth, the kind that perseveres trials and tribulations. Sure, He gets excited when someone suddenly comes to Him, but only because He can begin His long-term plan with that person. What that long-term plan requires, though, is our full engagement.

Being fully engaged is at the core of being Christian. We’re supposed to be tuned in when our coworkers, friends, and spouses vent their frustrations and anxieties. We’re supposed to have the heart and mind of Christ when someone wrongs or hurts us – even when they try to blow us or others to pieces at a marathon. And we’re supposed to have the compassion of God for others as He has had for us. Being awoken to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to the presence of the Lord God should be reason enough to be fully engaged with the world around us.

No, I’m not saying everyone should work themselves for the Lord until they’re completely exhausted. I’m simply saying we ought to be ready in season and out of season to share the good news of God – that there’s something better waiting for us than the greatest things of this world. God’s got something up His sleeve and He wants us to be a part of it. All we have to do is submit our whole selves to Him. We have to be fully engaged.

“‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these,'” – Mark 12:29-31

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and whomever you’re with, fully engage yourself.

God bless.