Achieve It…

“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have,” – 2 Corinthians 8:11-12, NIV

Tonight brought about another one of those “What am I doing with my life?” moments. Only hours after I had finished a long day at work, which capped off a rather exhausting work week, I sat down with my roommate Mikey to watch one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries, Without Bias.

Most people my age know all about Michael Jordan and have at least heard of Larry Bird. But what about Len Bias? Does that ring any bells? Until tonight, I had no idea who he was, but apparently he was a pretty big deal. He competed with Michael Jordan face to face in college. And beat him. What he is most famous for, though, happened the day after he was drafted as the overall number 2 pick in the 1986 NBA Draft to the Boston Celtics.

He died.

Celebrating the dawning of his professional career (and a brand new endorsement from Reebok), he and some friends were drinking in their apartment. Not long after the drinking started, cocaine was presented to him and his friends and they started snorting it. Minutes later, Bias started having seizures and was soon rushed to the hospital. Early the next morning, he was pronounced dead.

Flowers were first delivered to the funeral by Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, which seems to indicate that great athletes know their own; Len Bias would have been one of them. But there was something else that stood out to me beyond Michael and Larry’s response; something that was repeated throughout the documentary, from different people and in their own words.

“Dream come true.”

No, dying from a cocaine overdose (one snort of pure cocaine with no alcohol in his system – apparently he had not been drinking that night) was not the dream come true. What his former college and high school teammates and coaches – and even the guy who would have been his next coach, Red Auerbach – kept saying about Len Bias was that he was a kid who, on the night of the draft, was so ecstatic because he had accomplished his goals. In high school he told his teammates he was going pro. Some four years later, he proved it.

Len Bias’ story to me isn’t only one of heart-wrenching tragedy; it’s a story of how crucial it is to set your goals in life high – much higher than everyone else around you. As the verse at the start of this post indicates, it’s not just a worldly belief that tells me this. It’s a Godly thing. It’s a Godly thing to harness your energy and focus to cultivate your gifts and talents for something greater than your own rewards – something greater than your own gain. Even if you fail. Even if you work day in and day out for almost 20 years of your life for that one goal and die a day after you reach it.

God doesn’t care so much for titles and fame. He cares for the pursuit. It pleases God to see His creation striving for something beyond monetary gain or worldly accolade. It pleases Him when He gives His servants varying amounts of talents and they set out to do something with it. They set out to make good of what they’ve been given.

“[Success is the] peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.” – John Wooden.

With Wooden’s (one of the greatest college basketball coaches – UCLA) definition in mind, it’s apparent to me that Len Bias died a successful man. How he died – despite its overwhelming depth of tragedy – is proof enough to his success. He died in celebration. He died knowing that what he had set out to do years before was accomplished. He did it. It was done. And moments later, he was gone.

Paul urged the Corinthians to finish what they started so that their desire could prove fruitful. What I find most important in the quoted passage above is verse 12; “For if the willingness if there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” In other words, desire makes or breaks success.

What do you desire to do? Have you done much to cultivate that desire? Can you say that you are giving your all to see your dream through? I’m not really asking you, though; I’m asking myself. I desire to be a published author – be it a magazine, newspaper, or (as I hope) book. I write a blog to cultivate that desire – somewhat. But I know that I am not giving my all. I know that I am not making the effort to do the best of which I am capable.

I don’t write all this to beat myself up; just to straighten myself out. Like I said, it’s a “What am I doing with my life?” moment; it’s a self evaluation intended to redirect one to the proper course of one’s life. As Paul says later on in 2 Corinthians, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves,” 13:5, NRSV. It isn’t so that we become depressed about what we haven’t accomplished; it’s so that we are able to make sure that no moment in our lives is wasted. It’s to make sure we are striving for that which we set out to do – even if we’ve already failed at it.

To many, Len Bias’ story is one of “what not to do”; don’t do drugs, kids. To me, though, it’s a story of what to do; find your dream, find your passion, find your desire, and achieve it. Giving the effort to do the best of which you are capable is what God wants.

Achieve it.

God bless.

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Jesus: A Relationship in Progress…

Last Monday was a great day. It was sunny, I got to ride my bike to work, and when you breathed in through your nose, you could sense that spring had actually arrived. Of course, the next day was met with sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and a new bottle of Zyrtec, but hey, Monday was cool.

Spring often leaves me feeling rather nostalgic. Two years ago I wrote a post about how this season is a sort of mile marker for my faith. In it I talked about how, during my freshman year of college, I had finally come to see Jesus as a person – a person with whom I could have a relationship. What has changed since that post isn’t Jesus’ relational aspect, but rather my commitment to that relationship.

As I quickly found out after graduating last spring, my relationship with Jesus was much easier in college. It was much easier to get some daily reading in. It was much easier to meet up with some friends for church. And it was much easier to pray on a regular basis. I was only working two or three days a week and school had only taken up a couple hours of my time each day. With several Christian roommates and a lot of free time, it was much easier for me to dive into Scripture, or pray, or worship, or whatever else God led me to. Since I’ve been out, though, I’ve really had to work.

What I mean by that is, like most meaningful relationships, you really have to work at it to make it the best it could be. With Jesus, you really have to go out of your own way to meet with Him. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve only had a few moments where this actually happened. Monday and Tuesday of last week were really good, but ever since it’s been a strain. Praying with Jesus and actually focusing on what I was praying about and why has been difficult. Why? Because my responsibilities around the apartment, with my two jobs, and with my finances often interrupt my time with God. Not to say responsibilities are evil (though they often feel like it); but to say that in order for any relationship with God to be meaningful, to have an impact, He must be our primary focus. Everything else must fall in line after Him.

I say all this because I haven’t approached my day-to-day with Him as my focus. Sure, I’ve had plenty of days where He was, but I think I’ve had more days where He wasn’t. I try to blame it on work, chores, and whatever else I can, but the bottom line is there is a responsibility that comes with a relationship with God. And it’s one that I haven’t fought for.

As I’ve said, it was much easier in college to surround myself with Christian friends, Bible study groups, and fellowship. With work, however, I find very few Christian friends, little time for church or Bible studies, and hardly any time at all for fellowship outings. And honestly, it sucks. Sure, I love my coworkers, work can be fun, and nights alone are often needed. But as I’ve written about recently, fellowship with Jesus freaks is essential for one’s spiritual growth and, most importantly, with one’s own relationship with Him.

This spring, as I see it now, might bring fewer working hours and hopefully more time to invest in a church body. In the mean time, what I hope to focus on is my own time with God. It might mean getting up a little earlier every morning to read and pray. It might mean hanging out with my Christian friends even when I’m completely exhausted. And it might even mean accepting fewer hours of work each week. Relationships (with our friends, spouses, future spouses) require certain sacrifices. Why should we ever think that it’d be any different with God?

If success is defined by something beyond financial well-being, then why should we work so hard for it unnecessarily? Instead, perhaps we ought to use that energy toward an authentic relationship with God.

God bless.

Just Do It…

No, I’m not advocating anything for Nike. I already do enough of that with the clothes I wear. Instead I’m thinking about the spiritual aspect of just doing it, just getting stuff done – not because you want to, but because you need to.
Between my two jobs, I worked 11 hours yesterday. And apart from discovering that both listen to the same radio station and thereby doubles the amount of repeated songs I listen to on a daily basis, I also discovered what kind of man God is recreating me to be: A responsible one.

Maturity is not how old you are; it’s the ability to discern the difference between the things you need to do and the things you want to do, and then acting accordingly. I had to work two jobs yesterday, which isn’t something I really want to do. But it was something I needed to do because I need the money to be able to make a living on my own. What’s a little crazier than working 11 hours between two jobs in one day is willingly getting up at 6:30 the next morning to get coffee with some friends.

I asked myself why I was starting my coffee pot when the sun hadn’t even come up and I didn’t really get an answer until after coffee with my friends Courtney and Ivy. It felt as though I forgot something – something important. What I realized was that my sense of laziness – that urge to cancel your coffee meeting in order to sleep in a little longer – had been sacrificed.

At first it didn’t feel good. It felt like I was making a mistake that I’d eventually have to pay for later today. But when my lazy urges were overcome by the act of getting coffee started and hopping in the shower, my habit of procrastination had been broken. It’s a habit I lived off of in college – leaving all the important assignments and study sessions until the very last day (sometimes hour) to complete them. But I now live in a world where procrastination has no place.

I can’t put off going to work until I feel like it. I can’t put off writing Sunday’s message for the high school kids until Sunday morning. And I can’t keep canceling get-togethers with friends just because I want to sleep. Getting up at 6:30 didn’t just mean I was getting coffee with friends; it meant I was changing into a person who does what needs to be done. It meant God is turning me into a person of self control.

Another way of looking at this just-doing-it thing is practice for future responsibilities, like being a husband and a father. My two friends, Ray and Sarah Schafer, have been living at the Derbyshire from time to time this summer and I’ve learned a lot about being a good father from Ray (they have twins, Solomon and Sophia).

Schafer Babies...
Bath time...

If I had to sum up what that is, it’d be simply doing what needs to be done. If diapers need changing, he changes them. If babies need to be fed and Sarah isn’t around to feed them, he feeds them. And even though his personal comfort might be sacrificed, he never fails to show his two kids affection – to play with them, hug them, and kiss them often.

I want to be that kind of man – a man who surrenders his own desires to fulfill, as much as possible, the desires of others, mainly his wife and children. I want my future wife to love me not only because I’m so attractive and athletic, but because I’m committed – because I have the “just do it” mentality and it’s directed toward loving her and our future kids. Such a love reflects God.

Following the Light…

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been blogging much this month. Honestly, I haven’t had much time to really do anything. Between two jobs and teaching Sunday school every other week, my mind has kind of been in constant go mode. That means my pensive, reflective, and blogging mode has taken the back seat.

The only reason I’m writing anything at all today is because I had the day off. And I need to write something. Work has been crazy and awesome on all fronts (Duck Store, Putters, and church) and I’ve really enjoyed this past month. And yet, within the past couple of days, I’ve been wondering if I’m really going to be ready for what’s to come.

At the end of the month, I’m supposed to be leaving the Derbyshire. I promised them four months ago that my stay here wouldn’t be longer than September and I mean to live up to that promise. But that’s just it; I’m kind of clueless as to where to go. Normally I have roommates to live with, but it’s already too late with everyone tied up in their own living situations. My only option besides staying here longer than planned or promised would be to live alone and I don’t really want to do that.

I don’t want to live alone because, well, I believe being alone is what makes people crazy. I don’t want to go crazy. Two summers ago I was living alone for an entire month as I waited for my two roommates to get back from their summer breaks. It was absolutely miserable. Of course I didn’t have a job back then, let alone two, and summer school was over, so I really didn’t have anything going on to get me out of the house. Usually I just wound up at the nearest Starbucks drinking coffee and reading books… which wasn’t so bad, come to think of it.

But I don’t want my life to be spent at coffee shops reading books for leisure. I want to do something. I want to make some sort of significant impact on somebody else’s life and I’m not sure I’ll be in the most supportive environment if I’m living alone. What I mean is, I need people there – even if they’re always in their room or the living room. I just need them there to ruffle my feathers a little, get on my nerves every now and then, and maybe even get a beer with me after a stressful day. If I’m living alone, I’m not so sure I’ll really have that at all.

There are two things that my current mindset is overlooking. The first is that I’m never truly alone. No matter what the situation, God is here with me. This is something that I’ve often told other people who have issues with being alone like I do, which I guess might be why I’m often taking it for granted. Even so, it’s just as true for them as it is for me; God never leaves us. Another way of putting it is: We never fall so far that God cannot reach us. Not even when we’re living alone.

A good friend of mine pointed out the second thing for me. What is it? Opportunity. She told me not to think of living alone as a terrible thing, but rather an opportunity in which I could grow substantially. Or rather, in her words, “You’d be surprised what you could find out about yourself when you’re on your own.” With as much as I’ve learned about how much I need other people, I could learn quite a bit about myself and how much I desperately need a solid relationship with the Lord.

Are the Derbys really kicking me out of their place? No. And I’m sure that if I asked nicely they’d let me stay longer just to get my footing financially. But am I still going to be here when October 1st rolls around? I don’t know. With what my friend told me earlier today, I’m actually warming to the idea of living alone. I might be able to read all those books I said I’d read this summer, maybe even write a book myself, or I might watch all the episodes of How I Met Your Mother… again… for the third or fourth time…

What I’m about to say might sound terribly odd, but hear me out: I don’t know where I’m going to be in two weeks, but no matter what I’m looking forward to it. A very thick cloud of fog has camped itself on my road and instead of turning on my brights and making things worse for myself, maybe I ought to just look for the Light of the Lord. And then follow.

God bless.

Employed by a King…

Every ounce of energy that I had this morning desperately wanted to return to bed at 8:30 am. My first class wasn’t until noon, so I certainly could have gotten away with an extra hour, but not really. You see, taking the two classes from Falk that I’m taking requires a ton of reading. And not only reading, but a relatively good understanding of what’s being said in the readings so that even though I may not fully understand what’s being said, I’d know how to ask the right questions to find out, which basically means that I read certain passages of the text(s) over a couple times. And I took notes. And I edited my notes. And I read the passages again. It’s all very exhausting and I’m only in week one of winter term.

What helped me immensely today, though, is noteworthy. This term, unlike last term, requires a different approach to the college life. I have to be much more dedicated, much more serious about my studies. Like, I actually have to study. So what I’ve decided to do and have been doing for more than a week is read a chapter of Proverbs in the morning, meditate over the text for a good fifteen to twenty minutes, and then do the same thing at night before I go to bed. Usually there are tidbits of things that I carry with me throughout the day, but today’s was something that I hope to carry with me throughout this term, especially when I’m exhausted and drained. It’s this theme of working as for a king.

Proverbs 22 doesn’t have too much towards the end and I didn’t really catch on to much when I was reading this morning. But right at the end was verse 29; “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Jumping down to the footnotes, I didn’t get much of an explanation or commentary on this verse, other than how it didn’t blatantly copy from The Instruction of Amenemope – an ancient Egyptian text. But I thought over the words themselves for a moment and really tried to envision the imagery. For whatever reason, I pictured myself studying the material I have for my classes as though I was employed by a King named Jesus.

I think I have too much of a focus on merely getting the work done and getting by. More often than not, I go through school with this survival mentality; or at least I did last term. But right here in the Scriptures is an indication that God wants us to care about the quality of our work; not just getting it done. Yes, we have deadlines and due dates for assignments, but they shouldn’t encourage us to lax the quality of our work just to get it done; they should stir us to take what we do seriously and to become skillful, to become a quality worker, with what we do.

In my Dead Sea Scrolls class, we’ve been studying the community of Qumran and many of their rules that they created to live by. From today’s class I felt there was one thing troubling my mind and challenging my heart; diligence. This community had nightly prayers, frequent nights of studying Scripture, and nightly meals together. They were dedicated, to say the least. Though they believed there would be a different Messiah than Jesus (if they ever even heard of Jesus), I have to respect that they fought to live out their convictions and remain steadfast and diligent. When I walked out of the classroom, I saw this as a challenge to my faith; to become a skillful follower of Jesus, to truly and passionately walk with the Lord as though he were my King, as though I was writing my research papers and preparing my presentations for Him.

In reality, I am. But it’s not something that’s constantly on my mind and reading this morning’s chapter of Proverbs mixed with today’s Dead Sea Scrolls class really beckoned me to embody what I believe, to live it out as diligent as the community of Qumran lived out their beliefs. Granted, they didn’t really survive in trying to live out their beliefs, but then again, they lived in ancient times when living anywhere in general was difficult. Where I am at and where I’m heading, I really don’t have much of a concern for dying out in the wilderness. It could happen, but it’s unlikely.

My point is basically this; our lives on this earth are not meant to be mundane accounts of how we survived college, work, or whatever else. Our lives are meant to be novels of adventure, stories lived out in dedication and honor of a King. We were meant to persevere over the trials and challenges this world throws at us because we know that we have a King who has conquered already. All that remains for us is to live lives of diligence, of serious devotion, serious passion, as though we were trying to please our Father, our King. No, it’s not all serious as though we were separated from love; it’s a diligence towards God and His ways that stems from His love.

With the heart of a child, the wisdom of a sage, the dedication of a relentless soldier, and the diligence of a skilled worker – like the craftsmanship of a carpenter – we are called to follow Jesus – called to be walking pillars of faith. I have many goals for this term, but the one atop them all is to work as if what I produce will be displayed before my King.

Thriving Day to Day…

I slept in too long today. I didn’t really need the sleep, either. I don’t think I fell asleep any later than maybe 12 or 1 this morning, so sleeping in until about 11:30 wasn’t necessary. I hate it when I do this because it leaves me to be lazy about everything. There were several books on my desk waiting for me to open them up, but I lacked the will to do it. And there are stories, blogs, and notes waiting to be written, but my mind simply doesn’t want to work.

I think there are many correlations between the physical state of being and the spiritual. Whenever I’m feeling physically lazy, I’m usually feeling spiritually lazy, too. I don’t pray as much, read my Bible as much, and I definitely don’t talk about God with much of an honest heart. When I left my house this afternoon to come here to Starbucks – basically my office – I was thinking about how I haven’t done much praying in the last couple of days. As I pulled out of my driveway, I realized that it’s partially because I’ve been hanging out with friends a lot, but it’s mostly because I’ve been spiritually lazy.

When I think of a solution to the problem, I immediately conclude that I should just read my Bible more. But I doubt that’s it. Reading the Bible is great, but if you’re mind, heart, and soul isn’t engaging with what you read, you probably aren’t getting very much out of it. At best you’ll strike a verse or two that sound great and might keep you from sinning for that day, but that’s not the point of being a Christian. Our lives are not about sin-management where if we keep ourselves “clean” from sinning, then we’re good to go. It’s about taking up our crosses and following Jesus wherever He leads us. It’s not about spiritually surviving; it’s about spiritually thriving.

To put it another way, I think it’s the difference between the movie extras – the actors who have no lines or no real contribution to the story – and the main characters – the actors whose roles change how the story ends. Committing your life to Jesus doesn’t mean rescheduling your week to include more Bible studies, prayer groups, and Bible seminars; it means seeking Jesus with your heart, receiving His truth from Scripture, and then doing something about it.

“Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” – James 2:17.

Throughout history, there have been ordinary people doing extraordinary things not because of some ability they’ve helped themselves to develop, but because they encountered Jesus with their mind, heart, and soul and then did something about it. They took what they had been given and multiplied it for God’s sake. This probably meant that they didn’t sleep in, didn’t allow themselves to be lazy, and that they were disciplined in living by the Spirit. When I step back to view the grand scheme of things, when I look at the big picture of my life, I realize that I’m not lazy because I lack energy; I lack energy because I’m lazy.

Being lazy is an attitude, not a physical condition. Yes, one can be tired and physically exhausted, but when it comes to matters of the heart, matters of spirituality, it’s about how much effort you’re willing to put forth. If you aren’t willing to commit to something, that’s laziness, not fatigue. I would have to imagine that the ordinary men who have achieved great things were at some point exhausted, fatigued, and drained beyond belief. But that’s what made them great; they were still willing to push through their own fatigue.

This all makes my morning laziness seem very silly. Well, that’s because it is. Proverbs 6:10-11 and 24:33-34 say the exact same thing; “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” This is speaking on a basic, common-sense level; if you aren’t willing to get up and do something, you will be poor. Jesus ups the ante by saying, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me, daily.” Every day we must surrender our wants, our desires, our plans and embrace God. He’ll test us, He’ll push us to limits we didn’t know we had, but in the end, He’ll say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

As my first employer once told me when advising me how to do my job better, “You just gotta want it.”

Rise of Christ…

Forgiving myself is probably one of the hardest things for me to do. I read in Scripture all the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of Proverbs, and all the stories of what happens when someone follows these teachings and when someone doesn’t. Throughout it all, I picture a kind of Godly man that I want to be and yet I can’t be. The man I picture when I read through Scripture is a perfect man who has all the answers and constantly exercises God’s love. I can never be that perfect man on my own. And sometimes I forget this, so when I mess up in living up to the standard I set for myself, I dwell on it and let the guilt and shame control me.

It’s a common problem, I imagine. I mean, anyone who has a sort of perfectionist attitude towards life has probably chastised themselves at some point when they fell. Sometimes it can produce something better. For instance, if I hadn’t critiqued my golf game like crazy, I would never have made varsity in my junior year and maybe not even my senior year. Picking yourself up when you fall and continuing to aim high isn’t a bad thing necessarily. But I think it becomes a bad thing when the grace of God becomes subverted by our own self-righteous pride. When we hold our own standards above God’s we miss out on the guilt-free life He wants us to live.

What’s different between our standards and His? Well, usually, I think it’s the element of humility. Instead of saying, “You know, I’m messed up,” we say, “I should be a better person,” and we take matters into our own hands and try to make ourselves better. But something came to me the other day when I was wrestling with guilt. I’ve struggled with many things; porn, gossip, pride, etc. But I think the biggest thing I’ve struggled with is properly handling guilt. The Spirit’s convicting power does have an element of guilt, but it is not intended to last very long; it’s meant to lead us to repentance. When we hold onto that guilt, that’s where we go wrong. Where we go right, though, is when we admit that we cannot do it on our own, that we need someone to walk us through it. I think we are truly Christians when we recognize that our lives do not depend on the rise and fall of ourselves, but rather on the rise of Christ.

“Remember the Resurrection,” Darrin, the pastor who spoke at our retreat for Cross Training, said to me in an email. Honestly, I haven’t thought about much else. The cross put to death our punishment while the empty tomb put death itself to death and granted the risen King the ability to give life wherever He wills. That’s the life that we receive when we embrace Him and that’s the life that leads through a life-long journey – a novel – that exceeds the man-made standards we create for ourselves.

A major theme throughout each of Darrin’s messages this last week was the denial of self, the embracement of the cross, and the following of Jesus. Notice how denial of self comes first before following Jesus. Implied within this, I think, is the message that we can’t truly follow Him unless we first surrender all of ourselves (our pride, our successes, our failures, our agendas, and even our standards) to Him. That’s what it means to cast our crowns before the throne of Jesus; we surrender up ourselves to Him, though we are truly guilty, to receive the grace that He freely and abundantly gives us. But as Paul has said repeatedly, this is not a license to keep on sinning, but rather a platform enabling us to live the lives God has always wanted us to live yet knew we couldn’t on our own. That’s why He stepped down from His throne, dressed Himself like the poorest of peasants, and devastated the kingdom of darkness.

Guilt and shame, like all the other emotions, are temporal. They come for a while, leave, and return yet again later on in life. I don’t mean to say that living the Christian life is pointless because no matter what we’ll always run into guilt, but rather to say that we must be careful. Though we’re able to surrender our guilt and shame once or twice doesn’t mean the third or fourth time will be just as easy. But I believe that if you practice something long enough, it develops as a habit, which makes it easier to do down the road. The reason why I made the varsity golf team my junior year was because I had a very disciplined short game. But if I were to go out there now, my short game would not help me at all because I haven’t practiced in a long time. Likewise we must practice the ways of Christ and discipline ourselves in the ways of truth, which means disciplining ourselves in the act of humility. Our guilt and our shame is wiped away by Christ’s promise; that if we return to Him, believe in His blood, remember His resurrection and repent with the life He’s given us, we will live honorable lives in the eyes of God.

“Remember the Resurrection.”