Monday, March 23, 2015

March Madness

It's one of my favorite times of the year.

NCAA March Madness.

Ever since I was a little kid, my family has eagerly awaited the tip-off of 3 weeks of almost 24/7 college basketball.  There's something about the "one and done" atmosphere, the Cinderella stories, the inspiration, the extreme athleticism, the "One Shining Moment" video when the championship is all over.  I am basically guaranteed to cry at least once and to yell at the TV screen a lot more times than that throughout the tournament.

I don't know if you follow basketball like I do, but one of the coolest moments from the tournament so far (in my opinion) has been Georgia State's upset of Baylor in the first round.  As sad as I was that the Bears lost (Abby's alma mater), Georgia State has a really cool coach, and, come on, who doesn't love the underdog to some extent?

Ron Hunter, the coach, actually tore his Achilles' Tendon celebrating the week before in his team's conference championship...which they won. His son R.J. is one of Georgia State's best players and made the shot that propelled the Panthers to upset Baylor. Coach a.k.a. Dad fell off his stool when the shot went in! This is not a coach lacking in enthusiasm. I've been reading Emerson lately (#thingsEnglishgradstudentssay), and I love this quote from "Circles": "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful; it is by abandonment."

It was awesome to watch this coach in victory, but I think he really stands out in the way he treats his team, himself, and the entire March Madness experience in defeat.  Georgia State lost their second round game to Xavier, but check out this little bit from his post-game interview: "I told them not to be sad, what a great week, what an unbelievable week, there's nothing to be sad about...As a coach, best time of my life, and as a father...I love this kid, man."


I played basketball in high school. I definitely never felt this way after losing, especially immediately after a season-ending loss. But Coach Hunter made me consider something that extends far beyond a basketball court: how do I act in defeat?

I'm talking about defeat in life, when it feels like everything is going wrong, like nothing and no one is on your side.  That's tough.  And that's real life, it's not a game. Sometimes "winning" might not even be one of the options.  How do you act in these situations?

Honesty hour: I've felt pretty defeated this semester. I've felt like I bit off way more than I could chew. I've felt like everything I'm doing is less than my best. I've felt inadequate at school and in ministry. I've felt like a bad teacher, friend, and follower of Jesus. And I've acted like it. My enthusiasm and energy for things I love has plummeted. And I've tried to go it alone. I've tried to figure it out by myself. I haven't always been pleasant to be around - ask my roommates, bless their souls!

Enter Jesus.

Saturday, I read Psalm 63, seemingly on a whim.  This is what it says:
"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you...My soul clings to you..."
David, in this Psalm, is the picture of the way I want to be in defeat. I want to seek God, I want to thirst for His Spirit, I want to look up and praise Him in the desert land instead of moping around like Eeyore or snapping like Oscar the Grouch.  In the midst of defeat, I want to be learning and growing and moving forward.  I don't want to be a sore loser.

Winning, so often, is a team effort. I think I "bench" Jesus an awful lot of the time. And because He's a gentleman, He doesn't check Himself in. But He is always ready, and He's the best player I've got - WAY better than me. He's also a great teammate - you know, the one that sticks by you in defeat and celebrates with you in victory.  Because Jesus knows that we feel defeat most poignantly when we're lonely.

Let's look back at Coach Hunter's statement - look how he finishes that comment.  He talks about loving his son.  March Madness was "unbelievable" for him because he loves his team, and he loves his son. Maybe I can take a lesson from that, too.  Even when I'm struggling, I can set love before me.  Even when I'm struggling, I can set joy before me.

And as my soul clings to Jesus, I can learn to be gracious, loving, and enthusiastic.

Even in defeat.

Peace and blessings, y'all!

Monday, March 16, 2015

wash away the mud

Recently, my sister-in-law recommended I read a book by Erwin Raphael McManus called The Artisan Soul. She said in this book, Erwin argues that everyone is created to create and thought I would really enjoy it since I believe the same thing. I haven't read it yet, but I watched two sermons by Erwin and they gave me a lot to think about. This will be my attempt to share my thoughts on what Erwin talked about.

I've been spending a lot of time reading the gospel of John, trying to learn more about the character of Jesus. I try to always be reading a gospel alongside another book in the Bible at all times. If I want to know more about Jesus and be like Jesus, I should always be studying His life always. In the two sermons I watched, Erwin used John chapter 9 in what he had to say about what it means to be created in the image of a creator.

First, this chapter is close to my heart. It's a story about healing, giving a blind man his sight back and for a while I was blind and desperately needed Jesus to help me see again. When I was 15 years old, I started developing back pain which soon became chronic body pain, over the years growing worse. When I was 20 years old, a close friend of mine called me and told me he was frustrated for me. That he couldn't understand why this was happening to me. But then he read John chapter 9:

      As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Now, I wasn't born with this pain, and no one really knows why the pain occurs. My close friend said he believes that this has happened to me so that the works of God may (if I respond, if I'm obedient) be displayed in me. 

Erwin broke down this passage from another perspective and I loved it. The way Jesus heals shows His creativity. Jesus, being God and God being a creator, must be a creative person. The way Jesus healed this man was interesting because, since I believe Jesus is God, he could have just healed Him by thought or saying so. He did this sometimes for other people but not for this man. Instead, Jesus spit in the dirt to make mud. He rubbed the mud into the blind man's eyes and instructed him to walk over to the Pool of Siloam and wash himself.

Here is Jesus, who can choose how to heal a man any way He wants, and He chooses spit and dirt. Erwin suggested the man standing there blind, listening to Jesus spit over and over into the dirt to make mud to smear into his eyes, may have felt embarrassed. He may have even felt humiliated. Jesus put mud on his eyes and instructed him to wash himself. If someone put mud in my eyes now, it would be nice for that person to help me out by walking me over to water at least. But Jesus said Go. Wash yourself. He took something that may be thought as ugly, like mud, and did something beautiful with it. He created sight from something that obstructs, something you can't see through. I can't help but wonder why He didn't just give the man his sight back with a simple thought. And I can't help but agree with Erwin that Jesus chose this because creativity is in the essence of who Jesus is. 

 I remember going to Jesus for healing with my pain and nothing happened. I was frustrated for years wondering why Jesus would heal so many people but not me. Why not me? I was losing hope in getting better, I was losing hope in Jesus. I was so angry with Him. Later on I thought, maybe Jesus put mud on my eyes when I came to Him for healing. Maybe I became blind to how He was going to heal me because when He said go, I felt humiliated by Jesus. Maybe Jesus put mud on my eyes and told me to go wash myself because He wanted me to respond to Him, to be obedient.

Some people came to Jesus and were healed instantly. This blind man had to walk over to the pool and wash himself to be healed. Some may be like Paul, and cry out three times to only get the response "My grace is sufficient for you." Paul wasn't physically healed but God gave him the strength to endure his sufferings - for when I am weak, He is strong. Maybe we receive all three and it's just we don't recognize how He's healed us because we're walking around with mud on our eyes because we aren't listening to Him when He says to wash. Jesus has restored my hope in Him. He corrected how I saw my pain - I realized I am not my ailment.

My obedience to Jesus will lead to healing, just like the blind man in John chapter 9. I believe your obedience can lead to healing as well. Whether it's physically healing, giving you sight where you are blind, or the realization that His grace is sufficient.

in His grip,


Monday, March 2, 2015

One Piece of Advice

Last weekend, we had a region-wide leader gathering for Young Life here in Albuquerque.  Leaders from El Paso, Los Alamos, Las Cruces, Crown Point, Farmington, and Albuquerque came together for a weekend of encouragement, community, and raucous laughter...of course!

We had the incredible opportunity to hear from Bob and Claudia Mitchell during this time.  A little background on these two incredible people.  Bob is a former president of Young Life and one of the first Young Life kids EVER. As in this dude and his family hosted some of the first Young Life clubs at their house, and his leader was Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life. Anyway, enough of the celeb status laundry list.  In my mind, this man - "Mitch" as he's known - is a pillar of faith beyond the Young Life community.  Last weekend he told us about how he fought from within the mission during the '60s and '70s to make a place for women and African-Americans in leadership.  He told us about moments of frustration and triumph as he has walked faithfully with the Lord for close to 80 years.

I was fortunate enough to hear from Bob and Claudia during New Staff Training in Florida, as well.  It was equally as cool to be exposed to their experiences there, but it was awesome to actually get to meet them, talk with them, and laugh with them on such a personal level here in Albuquerque.

I'm gonna call this as it is for a minute. I don't know about you, but when I meet "big wigs" as my mom would call them, I am often times disappointed.  Usually these people are not as terrific as they're made out to be.  Less personable, less eloquent, etc.

Not so with Mitch.  Meeting him, shaking his hand, being close to him, I saw such genuine kindness in his face, I heard authentic love in his voice.  Like who is this guy?? He rocks.  He's hilarious. He loves Claudia in such a precious way.

This personal interaction made me listen in a totally different manner this time around.  And this is what I heard and keep hearing a week later.

We had a question and answer time with Bob and Claudia.  One of the leaders asked what advice Mitch would give to a Young Life leader now. He sat and thought in his characteristic way for just a moment before continuing with no preface:  "Cultivate your own relationship with Christ before anything else.  That's the greatest thing you can do."


If anyone could give Young Life leading tips, it's Bob Mitchell.  But instead of advising us on how to run a good program and get kids to camp or enlightening us on the most effective contact work strategies, Mitch said one thing: Know. Jesus.

I was reminded of the time Jesus clarified something to us in Matthew 22:37-40 about the Law and the commandments.  He says (without introductory material, either), "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

So here we are - here I am.  We get caught up in program, logistics, doing.  We forget that Jesus gave us the CliffNotes version of the Old Testament.  And I'm not saying don't read the OT - as an English teacher, I will ALWAYS encourage the actual reading of primary material.  But here it is, the bare bones of what we as Christians are called to do:

Love God. Be with Him. That's the greatest thing we can do.
Love people. Be with them.

I think one of the reasons I am so struck by Mitch's advice is because I've heard him tell of the way he lived this out.  One story in particular stood out to me.  At New Staff Training, Mitch told of his first night in the San Francisco Bay area.  He had just moved to this city, no friends, an empty home, a new part of the country.  He drove to the top of a hill overlooking the city, the sea of lights stretching out before him and absolutely overwhelming him with where to even begin in reaching out to the kids of San Fran.  Mitch teared up as he told us of his cry to God in that moment, the raw "where do I even begin" honesty he poured out on that hill.

What's striking to me about this is that before Mitch settled in, met the neighbors, found a church, went to a school, he first retreated to be with the Lord.  To surrender his upcoming months and years in the bay area to the Lord.  To love the Lord before he commenced doing.  Mitch realized that without Jesus at the center, he would never find his way in that city.  Mitch realized that cultivating his relationship with Christ was then and would always be the most effective ministry strategy in Young Life, the church...heck, anywhere. This piece of advice was not just a repetition of a hugely important piece of the Bible.  It was a tested and lived out truth of Mitch's life.

And so that's why his words - really Jesus' words -  keep ringing in my ears: Love God with all you have.  Give Him the first fruits of your life.

This is - and always will be - the great commandment.

Peace and Blessings, y'all!