Digging Up Dirt…

Finding community in the Portland area has been difficult. I have hung out with friends here and there, but I have not yet found something consistent – something week to week. I don’t think I have much of an excuse since there’s a church right across from my apartment complex, but finding community is more than simply going to church. It’s about investing in friends – both new and old – and engaging people on a relational level. And because I’m lacking genuine person to person community, I’ve gravitated toward the online communities.

As many social media users know, outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even LinkedIn allow us to present ourselves as we want to be seen. We make sure we aren’t picking our nose in our profile picture (or that we are – depending on the image you want to present), tweeting things that shouldn’t be tweeted, or listing previous jobs that didn’t work out so well (where we were either fired or laid off and we still don’t want to talk about it). It’s like social media is a paperless résumé; a small medium through which we present ourselves in the best light possible.

Problem is this isn’t reality.

Editing our profiles so people see us as we want to be seen isn’t allowing them to see us as we are. Everyone knows that you’re supposed to wash your car before you sell it. But, as I learned this past summer, what really matters is how well things work under the hood. In the same way, who we are underneath the masks of Facebook, Twitter, and even our blogs is most important.

A side effect of having online community as one’s primary source for social involvement is that one develops the habit of being someone other than who they truly are. Over time, this develops into a disability; being someone else for so long that one cannot be honest and real with one’s self. As I wrote about before, this is oftentimes why we can’t deal well with silence; because it causes us to deal with who we really are.

Joshua 7, as referenced last post, highlights a moment when someone took something he shouldn’t have and was punished for it. Moral discomforts aside, I can’t help but notice what he did with the something he stole:

“Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and make confession to him. Tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.’ And Achan answered Joshua, ‘It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. This is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.’” Joshua 7:19-21

He buried it.

Jesus tells us that a wise person is one who builds their house on the bedrock, but notice what he says in Luke 6:47-48:

“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.”

Years ago at a CCF (Collegiate Christian Fellowship) retreat, a pastor named Brett Gilchrist shared a message about this passage and he slowed things down. He pictured both the wise person and the unwise person building their houses next to each other. While the wise one kept digging, the unwise was already putting up walls. When the wise person had finally reached the bedrock, the unwise had finished their three-story house. As the wise one began laying the foundation, the unwise was decorating. While the wise finally began building the house, the unwise was putting in a pool. Finally, as the winds began to blow and the clouds covered the skies, the wise person finished their simple little house while the unwise was adjusting their new satellite dish. You can imagine the shock and horror of the unwise person as the water washed underneath their home and carried it away, while the wise person nervously watched, but was safe.

The wise person was safe because they had put in the work to dig up dirt and lay the foundation the right way. Christ wants to build a home for Himself within us, but He needs us to dig. Yet we don’t want to because it means we’d be unburying all the skeletons, lies, addictions, abuses, and all the other things we didn’t want people to see. We can’t hide behind our Facebook page when we’re facing God; He knows something’s wrong.

We bury things that we’ve either done wrong or hurt us in some way. For years I used to hold my emotions in when talking about my childhood. Even to this day, I still have physical reactions to the memories. For instance, in The Blindside (the movie), Michael Oher has a flashback to when he was a kid in the backseat of a police car crying out for his mom who was being restrained outside her apartment. Although my memory is slightly different, I still recall when I was in the back of a police car while my mother was outside her apartment crying. Every time I see that scene, I begin to shake uncontrollably; in most cases, I have to skip it. And I still have the teddy bear the police officer had given me.

Hiding who we are is oftentimes because we have a painful memory we’ve tried to erase. We seek all sorts of means to erase that memory, but ultimately wind up causing more bad ones – not just for ourselves, but for those who love us as well. If we devoted our time to engaging them and letting them in to see what Christ is doing within us, we may not feel anymore comfortable, but we’d be healthier.

No, I’m not saying delete any of your social media profiles; I’m saying share a meal with some of your friends or family members instead Instagramming what you cooked (or do both if you must Instagram). Instead of posting pictures and status updates about how miserable or awesome your life is, tell somebody in person or over the phone about how much they mean to you.

Practice authenticity – for your own sake and for the sake of those around you. It makes digging up your dirt much easier if you have someone to help.

God bless.

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Church, God, and Rest…

It’s been three weeks since I last went to church. This is the longest streak of not going to church that I’ve ever had (since becoming a Christian) and honestly, I’m a little bummed out. Sure, it’s kind of a self-inflicted wound when you work so much that you’re either scheduled for a shift on Sunday morning or you’re so exhausted that you need the rest. But church, not so long ago, used to be a major part of my every-day life – not just Sunday morning. Yet now it isn’t.

As I have come to find out the hard way, being apart from a church community will leave you very alone. If it wasn’t for my roommates and my occasional visits to Cross Training (an athlete’s ministry) I probably wouldn’t have any contact with fellow believers at all. I might run into an old friend from Calvary or CCF at some point, but brief encounters are not enough to sustain one’s spiritual life. We need family.

This hit me hard late last night. Within the last five days I’ve worked 49 hours – 33 ½ of which have come in the last three days. Safe to say I’m a little exhausted. My roommates are staying up in Portland for Spring Break and have been gone since Tuesday night. So last night I was physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually drained and had no one to hang out with. Not sure if it was just the stress, the exhaustion, the loneliness, or all the above, but I wept last night.

A few years ago I lived with 8 other guys. No matter what time of day it was or which week of school we were in, there was always something going on. A birthday party, a movie night, a beer night – whatever – there was never not something to do. I miss those days because I was hardly ever alone. And with that many guys (all of whom were involved with a church in some way) there was also always someone to talk to about spiritual stuff. Once again, I didn’t have that last night.

I could go on to talk about how much I miss my close friends from high school, Calvary Fellowship, my brothers and sisters, or even the dorms, but you see my point: You can’t go very far in life without family and friends. You might think you’re happy, but if you’re constantly alone, at some point you’re going to realize your happiness was simply a façade. Money, possessions, reputations all mean nothing when it comes to receiving love. They can’t be there for you when you have a rough day at work; they can’t take away whatever painful childhood memories you may have; and they definitely cannot give you any kind of peace. People, however, can.

No, I’m not saying we don’t need God; I’m saying the exact opposite. We do need God – He’s the one who provides everything we have, even the stuff we thought we earned for ourselves. But we also need people, which is why the church exists. It’s God moving through His people – His faithful children – to bring about His kingdom of peace.

It doesn’t really help me that I’m sort of without a church home. Yeah, I have plenty of friends attending various God-loving churches throughout Eugene, but no matter where I go I’m still going to feel like a guest instead of a member (and by “member” I mean a family member; not an official “member” of a church). And yet this is the exact thing God is challenging me with: Make new friends and become part of a new family. In years past, I had it easy, but now is a season of life where I have to work a lot to keep my faith in God strong and active.

It’s like Donald Miller says in Blue Like Jazz; if we were alone, we’d go crazy. If we didn’t have someone to talk to, someone to open up to, someone to listen to, someone to pray with, or someone to challenge us, we’d become lost within ourselves. And we would never change.

Friendships and relationships are difficult to make and keep, but without them, we’d have no real life at all. Our hearts might still beat, our lungs would still breathe, but there would be no real, genuine rest. We’d have days off and be able to sleep in, but rest isn’t simply a break from work, although that helps. Rest is a Person and His family. It is God and His children – Christ and His body. Even if we were homeless and had only the clothes on our backs, if we have Christ and His church, we’d still have everything.

God bless.

My Senior Message…

When you’ve been in one place for a long time, you tend to have flashbacks every now and then. Most of mine in the past couple of days have been from freshman year – a time when I didn’t have the slightest worry in the world and had nothing figured out. I miss those days. No, I still don’t have much figured out for my life and I’m not really worrying too much about my future (key words: “too much”), but what I miss from those days is the constant presence of other people in my life.

There are still quite a few people in my life these days, but we’re mostly all busy and have our own schedules. Back in those days our schedules were wide open and often intertwined. Whether it was a dorm-hall hangout, CCF soccer pick-up game, or a trip to the movies with a few from both crowds, there was always something to do and people to hang out with. Of all my five years of college, I’m going to miss hanging out the most.

Ever since last Thursday night, I’ve been thinking of what I’d like to tell the people who are still in college. Back in the eighth grade we left our “wills” to various people in the grades behind us, which entailed dumb things like “To So-and-So I leave my locker and all my dirty gym socks,” or “To So-and-So I leave my unparalleled swagger.” But this isn’t what I had in mind here (although, if I had to leave something, I’d leave Brian Teague my enthusiasm for proper grammar – you need it buddy ;)).

No, what’s been on my mind since last week is a message. It’s been difficult to put to words and has several aspects to it, but one that I want to give to all those coming back to U of O, NCU, or LCC next year. It’s simple, easy to remember, and aligns perfectly with the words of Jesus: Invest in each other.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

What has gotten me through the difficult emotions in life, what has deepened my walk with the Lord, and what has propelled me to the point I’m at now has been not only the presence of other people, but the intentional love these people have shown and shared with me. Had Cross Training’s men’s group not discussed Blue Like Jazz in a relatable way, I may not have become so passionate about writing. Had my roommates in The Revolution not been so interested in my story, I might never have felt inclined to share it. And if the generations before me had not been so honest with me, I might never have been so honest with them – or even with myself.

In my doubting days, I wondered why a good God would let bad things happen to good people. I wondered where He was and what He was doing when thousands upon thousands were dying around the world. But then a couple friends would call me up just to see how I was doing, a pastor would text me about coffee the next day, and a roommate would walk in my room asking how things with God were going. As I sought a definite answer to the world’s pain, God was working on my own healing through the people around me. No, they weren’t perfect – none of us are – but that’s just it; they were so relentless in sharing this selfless love with me that I could see something within them propelling them forward when everything else seemed to be falling behind.

“Ekklesia” (ek-clay-see-uh) does not mean a church building or sanctuary; it means a gathering, an assembly, a congregation of people. Originally it was used to describe political gatherings or assemblies watching the great orators of ancient Greek culture. But the earliest Christians began to use it to describe their own meetings; gatherings of a Kingdom much greater than the world’s. In some cases risking their lives, they met up to pray with each other, learn about the Lord from each other, and share a meal with each other. They saw each other’s smiles and felt each other’s tears. Living out Christ’s commandment to love, they invested in each other.

And this is what I wish the groups behind me will do. No amount of private devotionals will bring you as close to God as the prayers and presence of others around you. You can’t operate as a full body if you’re just a hand or foot; you need the other parts attached to you if you want to function well. You need others to keep you sane.

There’s another aspect, though, to being an “Ekklesia.” A little over a year ago I described the church as a fleet of ships at sea – each ship representing the smaller congregations. The people on these ships, the crews, are needed in order to make the ship move forward. But yet they aren’t traveling in any random direction; there’s a purpose within each crew, an objective to carry out. Invest in each other, yes, but do something with each other.

Get outside, go places, meet new people, talk about life, talk about faith, talk about Jesus. My five years of college, despite my procrastination, have seen a lot of productivity. And yet, there was so much time wasted in front of the TV, on Facebook, and just lounging around being bored.

A parable in Matthew’s Gospel contains a tidbit of detail that I’ve always found indirectly convicting; “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too,’” 20:6-7. When I first considered that word “idle,” I felt as though Jesus was asking me that question: “Why are you wasting your life on Facebook, Twitter, watching TV, or just lounging around? There is work to be done!”

As the saying goes, you’re only young once. These college years of your life could be some of the most exciting and most memorable. Life was given to us not for the purpose of suffering and then dying; it was given to us to enjoy. Such joy, though, comes from the Lord, which is amplified in Christ-committed communities, which are sharpened and strengthened when focused on a goal – when seeking to work in Christ’s vineyard. Then and only then “work” loses its dread and instead grows intertwined with joy.

Paul’s Christian life was spent in prisons and under house arrest. As the Scriptures say, he was beaten and bruised regularly, but he always had someone with him investing in him and was always investing in others. And he was always focused on the prize at the finish line.

Write songs, sing songs, dance, write stories, share stories, live stories, and love each other through it all. Life is more than degrees, jobs, and careers. Life is Jesus. And Jesus is within you.

God bless.

Easter’s Resurrection Experience…

Today was my last Easter celebration as a college student. Well, at least as an undergrad. When I think back to my first Easter Sunday here in Eugene, I recall skipping both services of church and even the Easter celebration at CCF (Collegiate Christian Fellowship). Why? I missed church in the morning because I wanted to sleep in and I missed CCF because I had some homework to catch up on. For whatever reason, I just didn’t feel like partaking in the festivities this day brings. It took me five years to finally take seasons like Easter’s seriously.

Danny’s message this morning was a quick summary of Jesus’ narrative, more specifically the passion. Taking bits and pieces from each of the Gospels, we tracked from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to the disciples. The main thing Danny wanted to highlight was what the news of Jesus’ resurrection meant for the disciples. It wasn’t a mere “Oh, glad you’re okay” type of mentality; it was something much more. There was a message delivered to the disciples beyond the basic news of the empty tomb.

Mark’s Gospel is probably my favorite gospel for tracking the story of Jesus. It’s simple and to the point. Its original ending, verse 8 in chapter 16, cuts off at the empty tomb and the women being told to inform the disciples, but ultimately running away in fear. Such an abrupt ending to the gospel, though, might make some feel uneasy. And thus we stumble upon the rhetorical value of Mark’s account; its short ending was meant to cause a stir amongst the early readers.

It was meant to cause the reader to reconsider the story leading up to this point of resurrection. What the news of Jesus’ resurrection did for the disciples was very similar; it caused them to reconsider all the teachings He had given – especially the predictions about rising on the third day. As Danny said this morning, the disciples experienced a resurrection of their own on Easter Sunday: The religious systems they had grown up with were killed on Friday and raised to life in a completely knew understanding – a new faith.

On my way home, I considered what it really means to have a resurrection experience. N.T. Wright discusses this very issue and, drawing from Romans 6, says that our souls experience this death and resurrection in the act of baptism. Our old ways of understanding how the world works and how God works were killed in going under the water and we were given a completely new life – not a mere refurbishing of the old – in Jesus Christ. In many ways, I think our experiences with Jesus’ resurrection ought to be like those of the disciples; a complete alteration of everything familiar.

What I’ve been trying to do throughout this weekend is power through Luke’s Gospel and do so in way that I’d feel, as best as possible, the severity of the situation. I wanted to feel the pain, confusion, and pure anxiety of the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ death. I wanted to wrestle with the day in between where I’d be in limbo with wanting to return to my old life but having an overwhelming compulsion to live something new – based off my experiences with Jesus. And I wanted to experience the confusing and bewildering joy of hearing about the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Instead of my freshman-year Easter experience, I wanted to milk this one for all it was worth. When it was all said and done, I came back to Starbucks, plunged through the rest of Luke, and came across a simple verse that I think encapsulates Easter weekend and what it is meant to do.

“Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation,” – Luke 22:46.

In the hour I first truly saw what it meant to be a follower of Christ, it was a spiritual awakening. Here Jesus was rebuking His disciples for literally falling asleep, but in light of Danny’s message this morning, I felt the spiritual implications. As N.T. Wright says in Surprised By Hope (discussing Paul’s understanding of the resurrection), “It’s time to wake up,” (248).

But haven’t you already had this spiritual awakening, this resurrection of the soul? Haven’t you already felt the powerful revelation of God? I would answer “Yes” to those questions, but with one clarification: Just because I’ve experienced a spiritual resurrection doesn’t mean that I’ll always be awake for time immemorial. As even Jesus’ disciples struggled, strained, and stumbled in the wake of His resurrection, so we also are prone to slide into a comfortable form of Christianity that demands little from us and yet gives us all the reassuring about living forever that we could need. “You’ve been saved; there’s not much more than that,” is the message we might here. And yet the Scriptures indicate otherwise; in fact, Jesus indicates otherwise.

In His foretelling of future trials and tribulations for His disciples, Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives,” – Luke 21:19. Or as Matthew says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved,” – 10:22. So then this race of salvation doesn’t just stop with the believing; it continues on until we can run no more, until we pass from this world to the next. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow we run, but rather that we run and complete it.

If you, like me, were moved by your pastor’s message this Easter Sunday, that’s great. But we would do these messages injustice if we were only to apply them on Easter Sunday and no other day. N.T. Wright suggests that we ought to strain to live like Easter people – people of the resurrection, people of the very kingdom of God.
If Jesus’ teaching in Luke 8 about the word of God taking root is any indication of what our lives are supposed to be like, then perhaps we ought to pray that we are the good soil – fertile enough to be fruitful for a lifetime.

Happy Easter and God bless!

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” – Mark 16:6