Home on the Road…

About two years ago, a church I was a part of closed the doors and moved on to other things. Well, actually, we sold the building to another church and several members still attend, but for the most part, what we had with Calvary Fellowship is over. At the time that everything came to a close, I was somewhat numb to it all; I didn’t really feel the pain of the loss until some months later. It wasn’t until this past week, the beginning of my seminary career with George Fox, that I was able to figure out why.

At Calvary, I had a strong family of believers. They cared about what I was doing, where I was going, and, most importantly, how I was doing. It was a place where I felt more than known; I felt loved. In the months leading up to the closure, I knew that I would still be in communication with many of the members, so the family aspect wouldn’t really leave. What I didn’t know, though, was how much I’d miss the intellectual environment that Calvary also was.

Not everyone who went their was interested in theology. In fact, most people cared more about football than theology, which was totally fine. I love football. But what I loved about the atmosphere is that even if they didn’t give theology much thought, they wouldn’t think less of you if you happened to believe in something they didn’t. More often than not, they really wanted to hear what you had to say not because they were going to argue with you, but because they were interested in how you processed your thoughts. They were interested in how you interacted with Jesus with your mind.

Calvary Fellowship was a place where I felt safe to think in ways I hadn’t thought before. I doubt very much that I was thinking in ways that had never been thought before, but I knew I hadn’t done the intellectual exercises. When Calvary closed, I think I lost that safe place.

Sure, I was still meeting up once every other week with one of Calvary’s former pastors, but because both our schedules grew busier and busier, neither of us were able to spend as much time as we used to in studying Scripture the way we did at Calvary. We couldn’t have the classes that Danny taught, which beckoned us to see Scripture – and thereby see Jesus – through a different lens. We didn’t have the sermons that promoted communal involvement above communal self-righteousness. And we simply didn’t have as much fervor as we used to.

In the year between Calvary and Emmaus, I struggled to remain engaged with God on an intellectual level. Some might see this as a good thing because intellectualism is a bad thing anyway. But Jesus was clear; we’re to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And Jesus was very deliberate with His words.

Flash forward to a week ago, I was attending my first seminary class. And as I listened to my classmates’ questions and heard little tidbits about their experiences in communities where asking questions is almost shameful, I knew that I picked the right school. I knew that commuting for the first two days of class was worth it. And I know, full well, that I have found a home in seminary.

During each of my three classes yesterday, the professors took a moment to remind the class what George Fox is really all about: formation. One professor said that we could memorize all the answers, get nothing but perfect grades on the tests, but if we don’t emerge from this program formed more like Christ, then we didn’t achieve what George Fox’s primary goal is. The only time I’ve heard a similar message was when I was sitting in the pews at Calvary, listening to Danny share a story about Jesus.

Learning about God has less to do with answers and more to do with questions. When we’re given an answer, we don’t seek anymore. We don’t explore. We don’t put ourselves in a vulnerable position to trust God. We become one of the eleven disciples who stayed on the boat when Peter stepped off. But if we’re given questions, if our curiosity is piqued in some significant way, then we seek. We step out of our comfort zone of “knowing” and walk on the water toward Jesus.

Jesus said that if we seek, we will find. But He never said that how long it’d be before we found that which we sought. In our generation of instant downloads and live-streaming, we’ve grown to expect things immediately. So when we ask God a question, we expect an immediate answer. But God doesn’t work like Google; He doesn’t give us links to instant downloads of love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. Instead, He gives us a map of a journey we’re supposed to take in order to develop all those things.

George Fox Seminary is my map because it is a place where I am free to explore, free to step off the boat and walk toward Jesus.

What’s your map?

God bless.

“It’s the little things…”

“If you do this, you’re going to keep doing it.”

Minutes ago, I canceled my Netflix membership. I know that it won’t take much to start it back up, but with my first day of classes at George Fox Evangelical Seminary coming up, I figured it’d help not to have immediate distractions. Between work and school, I won’t have much time to enjoy the shows I’ve enjoyed over the summer. I won’t have much time for anything.

I have a fear of responsibility. Okay, much of that “fear” is actually a habit of procrastination, but there is a portion of it that is fear. I’m not afraid of paying bills, showing up to work or school, or even keeping my room clean. I’m afraid of moving off to a city to attend seminary only to find that I’m not cut out for it.

There is no logical reasoning for this fear; my favorite professor recommended me for this school, a professor at George Fox awarded me six credits based upon my undergraduate work, and deep down I love a good challenge. But ever since I was a kid, despite receiving good grades, I always had this fear that I wasn’t smart enough. In a society that tended to value young men based upon their athletic abilities, I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up intellectually.

Over the years, though, this fear has almost dissipated entirely.

Almost.

It creeps up every now and then – especially when I’m faced with a subject I know nothing about.

And maybe we all have some degree of this kind of fear?

Maybe many of our athletic or extra-curricular achievements are really our efforts to compensate for what we think are our academic shortcomings?

I can’t answer for anyone else, but thinking through my scholastic history I can see plenty of times where I used sports, new clothes, or even my Lego creations to cover up areas where I believed I was less than intelligent in. I can recall plenty of times where I was afraid someone might think of me as stupid.

Obviously this fear of mine has less to do with my level of intelligence and more to do with my image problem. Thankfully enough, we talked about hypocrisy last night.

“We” being a few members of Emmaus Life meeting at Scott’s place for our Villages group – it’s kind of like a Bible study. Scott had us read through Luke 12:1-12 and we discussed various verses we liked, didn’t like, or didn’t understand. We ended the night by talking about an application from the passage (and by eating ice cream).

What stood out to me were Jesus’ words in the opening passage of chapter 12:

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (vv. 1-3)

My immediate reaction was not to think about the things I’ve said when no one else is around, but rather what I’ve thought. People can sometimes guess what you’re thinking, but more often than not, they have no clue. So if you’re thinking about how funny looking they are, they won’t have a clue (of course, they could be thinking of how funny looking you are). Yet what Scott pointed out was the importance of context: What did Jesus say before verses 2 and 3?

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

Jesus was warning his disciples about the Pharisees because they epitomized what it means to be afraid of how people view you. Jesus says the religious elite are making long prayers, taking the best seats in the synagogues, and always positioning themselves in places of power. And what is social power? Isn’t it entirely public opinion? Isn’t it entirely based upon how others see you?

Jesus is telling his disciples that what others think of them doesn’t matter. Instead what does matter is being a genuine person by simply being honest. Be honest when you mess up. Be honest when you don’t know something.

Be honest.

Plain and simple.

Obviously it’s not that simple – otherwise wouldn’t more people be honest? But what makes it so difficult? What hinders us from being honest? Maybe our friends will think less of us? Maybe our employers won’t think we’re capable? Maybe we experience every bit of social rejection there is to experience?

And that’s Jesus’ point.

“At the end of the day, what can man really do to me?” Scott asked us in rhetorical fashion last night. If, like the very next passage teaches us, we’re supposed to fear God because of His ability to cast us into hell, then why would we ever want to fear man? And yet Jesus says, “Fear not.”

Our reaction to God should be that of awe, yet not to the point of being terrified over everything we do because of what God might do to us. Why is that? God loves us. He cares enough for us to count the number of hairs on our head. If He knows how many hairs on our heads and has the ability to cast us into hell, then why hasn’t He? If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know that we deserve something much less than heaven.

God keeps us around not for His own personal gain, but for every bit of our own gain. God is delighted in the act of giving, especially to those of us who cannot do anything by our own power, which includes all of us because we can’t make our own hearts beat or our lungs breathe. And the lives we’ve been given are watered down and stifled by our fear of anything other than God – in a word, hypocrisy. After all, isn’t hypocrisy merely a reflection of our fear of social rejection?

How do we stop it, then?

Jon Derby, a member of Emmaus Life and someone I’ve known for about a decade, gave us a wonderful piece of insight last night. He said that it’s the little things we do that change how we live and who we become. A little fib here, a little misrepresentation there and all of a sudden we have people believing we’re someone other than our actual selves. As Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” (Gal. 5:9).

Yet Jon – or as we call him, “Derb” – said it’s the same thing to counter our bad habits: the little things. When we encounter those moments where we have a choice to act in a way that reflects God or act in a way that reflects an image we want for ourselves, if we choose God’s way, little by little, we’ll have the habit of choosing God’s way more often than not.

In last week’s episode of Suits a scene came up that was also brought up in last night’s discussion on hypocrisy. It was a flashback to when Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen were working at the District Attorney’s office. They were talking about how Harvey’s boss made him bury evidence that might have set two criminals free (burying evidence is against the law):

“Now why don’t you tell me why you didn’t tell me?” (Donna)

“Because you hated me when I was working in the gray; this is the black.” (Harvey)

“I didn’t hate you; I was trying to stop you… If you do this, you’re going to keep doing it.”

What Donna told Harvey that day saved his entire career as an attorney. And all she advised him to do was not to do this once. Not even once. Since that day, Harvey Specter developed a sterling reputation as an undefeated lawyer. If we make up our minds not to do the sinful things once – not even once – and to do the God things instead, imagine what kind of lives we’ll be living.

At the end of the day, we may not have very many friends, a job, or really anything when we choose to act out God’s ways in the little things. But we’ll have a much easier time standing before Him attesting for all the things we did and didn’t do. And we’ll have Jesus to back us up.

“And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn,

To listen, to love, and to pray and discern,

And to do the right thing even when it burns

And to live in the light through treacherous turns.” – Josh Garrels, “Beyond the Blue”

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.

Why I Play Soccer…

Tonight there is an alumni soccer game going on Voris Field, the home of the Taft High Tigers. Since I’m not quite the spry young athlete I once was, I decided to start practicing a couple weeks ago. I had planned on running every day, doing foot drills every other day, and trying to play in a few pick-up games whenever I could. As it turned out, I ran like once and kicked a ball around twice… Not two separate days; two times in one day.

During the self-enforced practice, though, I met a guy named Muhammed from Saudi Arabia. We had both been waiting for the lacrosse camp to clear the turf fields at U of O and for all we could tell, we were going to be the only ones playing soccer that night. So we took some shots at each other and then chatted for a bit. He asked if I played much and I told him that I normally play football or baseball when I’m at the turf fields and then I asked him if he played much. He told me that in Saudi Arabia, everyone plays soccer. Some play basketball, he admitted, but no one played anything else. Soccer and basketball.

In high school, like so many teenagers, I wanted to play football. I wanted to be a running back scoring countless touchdowns every game and have cute girls giving me their phone numbers. Instead, I stuck with soccer. Okay, it wasn’t so much me deciding to stick with soccer as it was my grandpa telling me he was never allowing me to play football, but even so, I kept playing “kick and chase.” I enjoyed it all the years I played, but even so, I wanted to play football.

Yet if I had done that, if I had dropped soccer altogether and pursued football (technically “American football”; “football” means “soccer” in most parts of the world), I wouldn’t have met Muhammed. I wouldn’t have had that unique opportunity to connect with someone outside my American lens – outside my realm of familiarity. Because it wasn’t football, baseball, or basketball (the three main sports in America) that enabled us to meet Muhammed. It was soccer.

It was a similar experience I had when I worked the Olympic Trials for Track & Field last summer; encountering different people, cultures, and ways of living than what I’m familiar with. Time after time I was at a loss when they told me what event their relative or friend was competing in or how far they could throw a javelin or what meters were. I couldn’t say much about my previous experience because there wasn’t any. But when I played soccer with Muhammed, we got to relate to one another for no other reason except soccer.

I don’t know what his beliefs are or if he’s politically minded or not. But I know that he and I have something in common because I played soccer in high school. This isn’t a post knocking football, baseball, basketball or any other prominent sport in the United States; it’s a post about connecting with someone beyond your own cultural understanding. Playing soccer – or at least learning about the game – has gone a long way in helping me step outside my comfort zones.

At my church, Emmaus Life, we’ve talked a lot about loving and caring for people with no strings attached; not having them become members of our church or submitting to our belief statements or signing off on the doctrines of our denomination or whatever. The life of Jesus – the real life that two disciples encountered on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) – goes beyond doctrines, belief statements, denominations, religious affiliations, political interests, or national identity. It goes beyond the mentality that one sport is better than another and instead invites newbies to play whatever game is being played, much like Muhammed inviting me to take shots at him while he played goalie.

Who knows if I ever see Muhammed again. What I do know, though, is that I am glad I played soccer in high school and that I need to keep playing this game as long as I can because it is a unique way of connecting with other people. I’ll still play football, basketball, baseball, golf, or really any game that involves scoring points. But with soccer comes a connecting platform to countless others. Playing it enables insight into the lives of others.

If you get the chance, kick a ball around and see what kind of people you meet. You might be surprised.

God bless.

(And yes I’m excited about living in Portland and attending Timbers games)

Meeting People at Their Well…

I’m relatively new to John Green. I think I knew of him for a while, but never actually listened to any of his vlogs or read any of his books. But when I moved in with my current roommate, I was practically forced to watch Green’s “Crash Course History” videos, which are pretty phenomenal and in no way do I regret watching any of them.

One video that I recently watched was Green’s commencement speech to the graduating class of 2013 at Butler University. If you have twenty minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching it. It is well worth the time. What I love about this particular speech, though, was how he described the college graduate life – or as he said, “the hero’s journey.”

“We are taught the hero’s journey is a journey from weakness to strength. [From having no money to having a lot of it, etc….] The real hero’s journey is a journey from strength to weakness.[…] You are about to be a rookie.”

The idea here is that the college graduates he was addressing are about to go from being the most informed at one of the best colleges in the country to being a nobody (to paraphrase his words) – someone who gets coffee for other people “if you’re lucky.” And even though he was talking to the 2013 Butler graduates, I couldn’t help but listen as a two-year graduate from Oregon. Much of what he said throughout that speech is still true to this day despite being out of school for two full years. But where he turns next, the advice that he bestowed upon the Butler grads, was where I listened as a follower of Christ.

“The gift and challenge of your … education is to see others as they see themselves.”

This morning at Emmaus Life we read from John 4:11-18, which is in the middle of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I’ve written about this story before, but it is worth re-visiting. As Scott told us, it wasn’t common for someone to be drawing water from the well in the middle of the day. Because of the heat, people typically drew their water either in the morning or at night when it was cooler. So it was particularly strange that she was there at midday.

As Jesus converses with her, talking about living water and becoming a spring of water that wells up to eternal life, we come to find out this woman had been with five husbands and was then seeing someone who was not her husband. The text isn’t explicit; we don’t know exactly why she had all these men in her life, but we do know that she had them in her life. And it isn’t going too far to suggest that perhaps her “well” that constantly made her thirsty was relationships; perhaps she thought that if she just found the right husband, she’d be okay. She’d be happy. As it turned out, though, her pursuit of the right husband led her into a life of avoiding public ridicule – hence why she arrived to the well when she thought no one else was there.

How do we find out about this, though? How do we come to know that she had had five husbands? Jesus tells it to her. Because he saw her as she saw herself, Jesus was enabled to tell her what she needed to hear – that the well she kept drawing from was never going to satisfy. But she was also enabled to listen to what he had to say.

Of course there are several lessons within this passage of Scripture (e.g. What well are you drinking from?), but what has stood out to me today was how Jesus shared Himself with others; how there was no contract to sign, no belief statement to make, no ritual or sacrament to conduct, no strings attached. All she had to do was ask for the water which Jesus freely and richly supplies.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water,” 4:15

Scott pointed this out; that Jesus doesn’t require this woman to prove her faith in Him like we might in our modern day with baptism, communion, belief statement, tithe offering or whatever. He gives it out freely. “Isn’t it interesting that Jesus is more liberal with salvation than we are?” as Scott asked.

Why is that? Why is it that Jesus, who we say we’re following, often ends up being more freely loving of others than we are? Why do we demand that people come to our church to be saved rather than us going out to them? Jesus met this woman on her level, in her weakness, where she sought escape from the realities of this world. And that’s where He turned her around. If He hadn’t done that, then it’s quite possible that none of the people with whom she shared the gospel would have ever heard of Jesus. Instead of being the strong man and seeing people from the outside, He took the weak approach and saw them how they saw themselves.

“The weakness of God is stronger than men,” – 1 Corinthians 1:25

As John Green described the hero’s journey, Jesus exemplifies as the Christian’s journey; that we’re supposed to empathize more than everyone else, to utilize our revelation in Christ to see others as they see themselves, and to make that journey from strength to weakness. In so doing, as Paul says, we become strong in the Lord.

John Green describes this whole process of becoming weaker as the college graduate’s journey (through a metaphorical use of “the hero,” of course). But Jesus shows us that if we wish to follow Him, this is the sort of thing we must do. We must cast aside our poster boards and signs telling others they’re going to hell and instead pick up our cross – willfully carrying that which makes us weak in the eyes of society – and share the living water, the abundant life of Jesus.

Maybe we’re not the judgmental type of follower. Maybe instead, we’re the ones continuing to come back to our particular well, despite never being satisfied by it. In that case, perhaps it’s time to step back, look around, and engage the people there with you – just like Jesus.

Meet people like Jesus did: At their well.

God bless.

Leaving Well…

Something occurred to me on my way to work this morning: Exactly two months from now, I will be living in Portland attending my first week at George Fox Seminary.

Okay, technically classes don’t start until September 5th, but by September 2nd I’ll have moved up there and (hopefully) gotten settled in. I’ll be meeting new people on a daily basis and learning my new surroundings. My day to day routine will be completely different from what it is now, except for coffee. I will never cut coffee.

What I’ve been thinking about all day is how I intend to live these final two-ish months in Eugene. No, it isn’t like I’ll never be back, but I am leaving for at least a couple of years maybe longer. And the fact that I’m leaving for an extended period of time makes me focus on how well or not well I’m interacting with the people around me now. Essentially, I’m wondering what my exit strategy is.

“Exit strategy” is a term used to describe the plan for closing out military operations. For example, if President Obama were to lay out a plan for 10,000 troops to come home from Afghanistan or Iraq every month – that is an exit strategy (I have no idea what Obama’s exit strategy is or if he even has one; just making an example).

But it’s also used for when CEO’s or GM’s retire. They have exit strategies as to what they’d like to do with their final few months of influence within the company; ideally, these things would assist in setting up that company for success. How I’m using the term in reference to my current situation is something like this.

Currently, I don’t have one. I mean, there are some obvious things that need to happen; finding a place to live in Portland, packing up things here, and taking some time off of work to get moved out of my current apartment and into my new one. But those are just things that I have to do; they aren’t components to an overall strategy of how I’d like to live the day to day here in Eugene.

What I think are components to an overall strategy are things like hanging out with friends more often, being as efficient as possible at work, or helping my soon-to-be-former roommate find someone to replace me or find a new place to live altogether. Essentially, components to an exit strategy are basically intentional things I do between now and September that are in the effort to leave well.

Of course, these types of things (spending more time with family and friends, working well at my job, and helping people) are things I should always be doing. But when seasons of life change, so do relationships. Sometimes they’re strengthened, but sometimes they’re weakened. Maybe there was an argument right before someone moved away or one person did a selfish thing that negatively effected the other and it left a bitter taste to their relationship that they never sought to mend. What I think of, when it comes to an exit strategy, is doing things that not only end things on good terms, but strengthens the relationship so that it lasts.

Simply because I’m moving to a new location to study at a new school and meet new people and make new friends doesn’t mean that my current friendships aren’t valuable to me. It is this fact that drives my desire to leave well; to spend as much time as I can with my church family, to care for the people I work with, and simply to let those who’ve known me know that I care about them, even though I’ll be living two hours north.

The Apostle Paul is a great example of what it means to have a presence in someone else’s life while not being physically present. What I hope to do in this time of transition is make it possible to have a presence in someone’s life while not being physically there. It means showing someone you actually care about them by listening to them and showing compassion and empathy. It means doing kind things even if they aren’t needed. And it means, while I have the ability to do so, showing up whenever I can – because I won’t have as many opportunities to do so later.

What I really hope for in carrying out this exit strategy is to get a phone call late at night from somebody here in Eugene who, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to get a hold of anyone else and they just need to talk to somebody. I want to be that person they talk to despite however many miles are between us.

Leaving well, in essence, is a greater focus on loving well.

God bless.

“I Remember the Day…”

Writing admission essays to seminaries is, in small ways, declaring your identity. In the act of answering questions or prompts, you find yourself defining what you believe as concisely as possible and mapping out what you hope to achieve with a degree from the seminary you’re applying to. Who I am and what I hope to do have been milling through my mind a lot recently, which I think is why I haven’t written anything for a small while. Yet during Sunday morning’s message from Scott Lamb, I think I finally got something settled.

He was speaking out of John 3:1-8, a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. This is also a passage I had studied a while back when I was writing a research paper on Christian baptism. Although most of the scholars I read who had commentary on this passage said Jesus wasn’t discussing baptism in literal terms, it’s still an important passage for Christian identity. As Scott told us Sunday morning, there is more going on in what Jesus says to Nicodemus than baptism or any religious rite for that matter.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3

Such a puzzling thing to say. You see, Nicodemus didn’t inherently understand Jesus as saying that one needs to become a Christian in order to see God’s kingdom; “born again” did not yet equate with “Christian” – if “Christian” was even a term used in their time. So what on earth could Jesus possibly mean by telling Nicodemus he needs to be “born again”?

Something Scott mentioned later in his message gave me a clue. He was talking about identity and how we try to find it in strange places. He said, “Do you find your identity in what you can do or do you find it in what Jesus did?” In other words, do we try to find our identity by what we do, what we have, who we’re friends with, or what people say about us? Or do we find it in what Jesus did, what He has, who He is, and what He says about us? Being born again isn’t simply getting baptized; it is accepting Jesus’ words over us.

Earlier, before Scott’s message, we sang a song that hits pretty close to home for me. A couple years ago I was on a retreat with Cross Training and when we sang that song, which I had only heard a couple times before, I had certain flash backs to earlier points in my walk with God. The song is called “I Remember,” and it was written by a few folks from Enter the Worship Circle and mostly by a man named Aaron Strumpel. According to their website, the song was inspired by Psalm 77, which, after reading it late last night, I have found to be a wonderful declarative statement. As for the song, though, its words and melodies struck chords in my heart as we sang on that retreat two and a half years ago.

“I remember the day You called my name, You said I was Your child” reminded me of the night I had been praying at another retreat and saw visions of myself as a child running into my Father’s arms – a sensation I had never experienced. It was a night I wept for joy at being named a son of God.

“I remember the day You wrote the words, You wrote the book of love” stirred deep emotions over the numerous times I’ve read verses and passages that moved me beyond words and drove me into deeper studies of God. As many of you know, I love to read, but there has never been nor ever will be a text that evokes so much emotion and intrigue out of me as the Bible does. I know it’s confusing and mysterious and sometimes outrageous with what it says, but I love it. I cannot not read it.

“I remember Your deeds, O Dad, my God, I think I’ll trust in You” stirred so much in me that night. “Your deeds” sent a flashback to the night in middle school when I sat alone in my room with a pair of scissors in my hand ready to kill myself. “O Dad my God” is such a painfully wonderful phrase. Painful because I’ve never called anyone “dad” and wonderful because I get to call God my dad. Even writing about that last line now simply stirs so much inside me.

Heading into Scott’s message, I was already emotionally engaged due to that song. So when Scott asked us if we find our identities in what we do or in what Jesus did, I knew what Jesus was talking about when He said we need to be “born again.” Whatever we were, whatever we had, whatever we did, whatever other people once said about us (and we believed) – it’s been tossed in Jesus’ empty tomb. We are sons and daughters of God.

“If there’s anything you take away from today’s message – know that Jesus is desperately in love with you. And that is all you need to know,” Scott told us yesterday.

We live today because God loves. He loved us before the world saw the light of day, before sin came along and messed it all up, and before we decided to turn away from Him. He loved us in the most crucial moment: on the cross, begging that we be forgiven for we know not what we do. So whatever job we have, whatever profession we give ourselves, or whatever degrees we may attain – we are sons and daughters of God.

Our identities begin and end with Him. Not us.

“Doves You send to fly overhead/My son I am so well pleased,” – “I Remember,” Enter the Worship Circle

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?” – Psalm 77:11-13

God bless.