Thursday, May 26, 2016

What's Going On?

What’s Going On?

Wow, it has been a while since I have done this.  I had a massive case of writers block, summer laziness, and GRE study stress to even think about writing 500 or so words.  Ok, here we go.

So I have been reading a lot of Henri Nouwen lately and a lot has been put on my heart while reading his work.  One of the biggest things I read in his book, Here and Now, was about conversion.

This quote really stuck out to me and I think it was a good word in 1994 when this book was written and even still now in 2016.

Nouwen writes, “Once we start reading the events of our times as calls to conversion, our perception of history changes radically.”


How perfect is this right now for Christians in 2016 United States.  There is so much going on in our country right now that could drive us to insanity (and has driven many to insanity) if we took a few seconds to think about it.  Presidential races, ISIS, Target bathrooms…everything! 

There is a lot going on.

But think about that Nouwen quote again, “calls to conversion.” He does not say “calls to long facebook statuses.” He does not say “calls to biased news stations on both sides of the issues.”  He does not say “calls to boycotts of or standing in solidarity with company opinions.”

He says a call to conversion. 

How easy is it in a cultural climate like this that we can get caught in the mindset that God isn’t involved in what is going on?  We kind of forget that God knows exactly what is going on right now in the World and understands it a whole lot better than we do.  The omnipresent omnipotent Lord of the Universe knows that the United States is in an interesting spot right now.  He also knows that the world is a whole lot bigger than just the United States (but that is a novel and a half, not a blog post).

Maybe that is because he wants us to interpret why this is going on.

No place is ever Godless because God is everywhere.  I forget that.  We need to constantly be conscious of that.

God is at Trump/Clinton/Sanders rallies

God is in the Middle East

God is in the bathroom at Target

One of my favorite quotes is Abraham Kuyper's where he states, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

So why aren’t the people of God trying to reach every square inch?  I know I'm not trying. I am the guiltiest at this.  Why do we shy away from these difficult places where God calls us to spiritual change.  God knows what’s going on and he wants us to better understand him by having a better understanding of the World.  We can’t live a life for God if we are not willing to live a life with God. 
So very few of us will actually be called to these physical places.  I doubt that I will ever have a conversation with the CEO of Target, or an ISIS member, or one of the presidential candidates, but I will always have conversations about them. 

Am I honoring God in those conversations? Am I understanding God in those conversations? Am I growing closer to God in those conversations?

Or, am I honoring the left or the right? Am I better understanding the left or the right? Am I growing closer to the left or the right?

God is not a God of the left or the right, God is a God of EVERYTHING!

God knows what is happening in the world and the United States right now.  None of this is a surprise to him.  He understands why this is happening, and he wants us to too.  The way we better understand the world is we try to have a better understanding of God.

 We are called to live a life of constantly finding new conversions in our life.  So instead of seeking anger, seek the Lord. Instead of looking for a new department store, look for God.  God works in mysterious ways and works in even more mysterious places, seek those ways and find those places.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ice Cream and Broken Bones


It’s the week before finals week, some of my best friends are graduating and if I could eat Oreos for every meal this week, I probably would.  It has been one weird week of emotions so far.  I don’t want to write and am honestly forcing myself to sit down and write this because I can’t miss a week.  Here comes my study break brain flush, turn back now.

One thing I’ve really been thinking about is how little I love things.  Like I can say “I love ice cream” or “I love the Packers,” but that’s not true love.  

I was listening to John Mark McMillan’s Live at the Knight album tonight while writing this and in one of the songs, Guns/Napoleon; he pauses to talk about love and living a life of love.  He says,

“Love means sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes you need to lay down something of yourself for something greater.  It’s not easy, but it’s the best way to live.  Love can break your bones, but broken bones tell stories and broken bones sing songs”

(I could probably write a book on the impact John Mark McMillan’s music has had on my life, but that is beside the point.  That quote is so beautiful and vivid.)

Ice cream hasn’t ever broken any of my bones, maybe it has for you, but I don’t think I’d eat ice cream for a while if it ever hurt me in that kind of way. 
How many things do I love enough where I’d let it break me to the bone and still love it more the next day?  Not many that is for sure. 

It’s probably just the anxiety of cleaning my dorm room and my Biology 100 Final next week, but life feels like it’s breaking me.  I definitely don’t love those two things.  How am I supposed to love those?  They’re the worst.

In reality, I don’t love a lot of things because I don’t want to get hurt by them.  I might like something, but once it turns on me I ditch it and go and try to find something else.  I don’t love the way the Lord teaches me to love because I am lazy, apathetic, and scared.  Love is work, work I am not always willing to do.  A loving life is an exhausting life.

Like most things in my life (cleaning my room), I don’t want to do it, but it is important to do it.  If I don’t clean my room, the mess will only get worse.  The other day we went to a local nature preserve and pruned invasive species.  If you don’t cut away the weeds, they will suck the life away from the good plants.  We need to fix problems early on before the problem grows so large that it overwhelms us.

Ok side rant.  How amazing of an analogy are weeds?  They look good, they look natural, but they   We invite weeds into our life so often, but they end up sucking the life out of us until they are removed forcefully and cut out of our lives.  They grow thorns and make it harder for us to get out.  It hurts at first, but life is much better when they are gone.  Definitely not the first person to see this analogy, but it is just so good.  Ok, analogy/rant over.
are so bad for the ground and surrounding plants.

I’ve never broken a bone, but I have been around a lot of people who have.  One thing that has always perplexed me about broken bones is the fact that the bone comes back stronger than it was before it was broken after the healing process. 

This is why a love that can hurt us is important.  Love is a war.  It is a constant battle between what will help me and what will help the person next to me.  Like makes us feel good, but love makes us feel cared about.  If the people around you truly care for you, and you truly care about and love them, you are going to get hurt. 

The best example, just like the best example for everything, is Christ.  We physically and spiritually broke Christ's bones on Good Friday.  Christ died a death that was physically crushing, but even more so spiritually crushing.  Christ was so broken down but loved us enough to endure it.  One thing I always forget when thinking about Christ's love is that he enjoys us.  Christ wants to spend time with us.  He always has time to hang out.  He doesn't flake out at 6:30 for your 7:00 dinner plans.  Christ loves us so much that even though our sins crush him, he wants to spend every single waking moment with us.  

That amazes me about Christ.  Someone could give me a weird look and I won't talk to him for a week, but all the wrong I have done, am doing and will do is known by Christ and he still wants us to hang out.

Getting hurt in love is ok, because if something hurts it shows how important it is to you.  We hurt Christ more than anyone could ever hurt us and He sees us as important and "very good."  

Love should break us down.  Love should be hard. With brokenness comes healing and with healing comes strength.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Kobe Night


Yesterday might have been the most historic day of the NBA regular season ever.  Not only did the Golden State Warriors finish their quest for a 73-9 record, the first team to ever do so, but it was also Kobe Bryant’s last NBA game ever…and it was one for the ages.  Kobe Bryant ended on top. 

Kobe’s 60-point showcase was vintage.  It felt like watching the young 20-something Kobe again, the one that I watched in some of my first NBA memories.  Being drafted in 1996, when I was one, made it so Bryant’s basketball career has eclipsed my entire life.  It will be really weird watching an NBA season that Bryant is not in.  But this weird phenomenon happened with me and Kobe this finale season…I actually liked him.

My whole life I have been an outspoken Kobe Bryant hater like the ones in that Nike commercial that was everywhere yesterday.  

Isn’t it weird how much more we like something when it is ending?  That’s how I felt about Kobe Bryant.  Once he announced his retirement at the beginning of this season, I all of a sudden found myself loving Kobe Bryant. 

It is really easy to celebrate the end of something.  It is easy to change our opinion at the end of something.  We become fans of something when the threat is over. 

One of the reasons I disliked Kobe Bryant so much was because he was really good.  I’m a cynic and critic by nature and can never find myself cheering for the best at something unless I have some other emotional attachment to them.  Kobe was a threat every night he played for 17/20 of the seasons he played.  That’s why I found the “Kobe Farewell Tour” so comical because it felt more of like teams weren’t just saying “Thank you,” but saying, “Thank you for retiring Kobe so you won’t singlehandedly beat us at least twice a season.”

I feel this same way about the tough times in my life.  We look back when it’s over and think of how thankful we were for it, but we never are in the moment.  Hard seasons of life are what shape us.  They are where we learn the most.  They also suck a lot!

Seasons of depression, loneliness, apathy, laziness (all the fun words) help us when we are out of them, but are the absolute worst when we are in them.  We need to be aware of these seasons and be thankful for them.  When we get to the end we need to realize that a difference is coming.

Just like the fact an NBA season without Kobe Bryant is going to be strange, so is the next stage after a season of loneliness, or whatever it may be.  Speaking from experience as someone who has battled loneliness my whole life, I know how to be lonely a lot better than I know how to be in community.  I never know what to do when community comes my way and I seclude back into my old ways.  It is hard to handle new and different, but we need to exert the effort to do so.

Did I compare the end of Kobe Bryant’s career to depression? Yes I did and it’s a little weird, but changes happen in our lives and I’m the worst at prepping for them.  We can’t fully prepare for them, but through prayer and scripture reading we can try our best.  We never know what this life is going to give us, but we know who gave us life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Augustinian Joy of the Golden State Warriors

QUICK DISCLOSURE: This is an article I wrote for Think Christian magazine and I just wanted to archive it here and keep the weekly posts up since I missed a week do to illness.

Saint Augustine once wrote, “When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.” I don't think there is a better example of this than the Golden State Warriors right now.

With five games left in the NBA regular season, the Warriors are four wins away from breaking the 72-10 record currently held by the Chicago Bulls. Way back at the beginning of this season, when the Warriors were 15-0, ESPN ran an article by Ethan Strauss describing the "joy" that surrounded the team. It caught my attention because joy is one of those "Christian" words. It is rarely used in the sports world. Strauss even acknowledged this: “Joy? Sports aren’t supposed to be about joy. …Happiness is viewed with suspicion in a hypercompetitive world.”

The sports arena isn't the most Christ-centered aspect of our culture, but it is not the least either. Christianity usually isn't spoken about in relation to sports unless there is a polarizing athlete — say, Tim Tebow — who is very outspoken in their faith. Steph Curry, current NBA MVP and star of the Warriors, is an outspoken Christian athlete, but it’s his team’s play, not necessarily his personal faith, that I want to consider (though of course they may be related). Why joy, exactly? Why is joy the motivator for this team and the word used to describe it?

The Warriors’ style of play reminds me of Christian joy in that it is not bound to individual success or happiness. Christians find joy in God, in His blessings and in the shared blessings of the people around us. Christian joy is self-giving. It is communal. It expresses gratefulness for God’s good gifts. Our joy is not our own because our lives are not our own. And neither are our accomplishments or our talents.

Why is joy the motivator for this team and the word used to describe it?

The Warriors are unlike any other team we’ve seen before. They (and Curry in particular) make long-distance shots far beyond the usual range. Their passing is especially fast, crisp and on-target. Draymond Green, who is 6 feet, 7 inches tall, plays center, a position usually reserved for 7-foot players. They celebrate on the court in ways that suggest a cohesive camaraderie. When Steph Curry recently hit a game-winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the celebration was almost as magical as the basket. Curry was the one who made the shot, but the reaction was collective and wonderful. The team joined together. They were joyful.

The joy surrounding the Warriors can also be experienced at the stadium in which they play. The Oracle Arena is one of the loudest venues in sports. The Warriors have lost only one home game this season. A communal, Augustinian joy takes place there, where thousands of people share a joy for their team, which in turn encourages the Warriors, adding fuel to the other's flame. The Warriors know how much they mean to their fans because of the joy the fans express for them. We know how much we mean to each other because of the joy we share with each other.

As the NBA season comes to a close and the playoffs begin, we can enjoy watching the Warriors’ unique brand of basketball and be reminded of the joy we have as Christians. Joy does not come from our own, individual efforts. It comes from the Lord, through His gifts and through others around us. When we are surrounded by such joy, our joy is only heightened all the more.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Apathy of Opening Day


Today, April 3rd, 2016 is what is known as Opening Day in baseball.  What comes with Opening Day is a lot of excitement and joy for baseball fans all over the United States.  What I am feeling this Opening Day is complete numbness to these next 162 games for my beloved Milwaukee Brewers.

The Brewers are currently in a rebuilding stage and traded away almost all of their players from last year.  To put it bluntly, they are going to be bad this year…really bad.  At least going into the season knowing that means I don’t have any false hope right? 

There is something really weird about the knowledge of being really bad.  

I had this thought the other day while watching the Oklahoma Sooners and Villanova Wildcats playing in the Nation Semifinal in the Final Four.  The Sooners got crushed.  It was embarrassing but not crushing to me as a fan.  It was the worst loss in Final Four history, but instead of feeling heartbroken as a Sooners fan, I felt numb.  If they lost on a three-point buzzer beater, I probably would not be able to write today and my emotions would be all over the place.

When we are closer to something, we have more of a connection.  If the Brewers were supposed to be contenders this year I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight thinking about their game tomorrow, but since they are projected to be the third worst team in Major League Baseball, it is easier to just enjoy the wins they do get and know they will be fun, but few and far between.  

If OU and Nova played a close game, the loss would have been harder to cope with.  

Since both of those teams got so far from their goals, as a fan, it is hard to not be anything more than apathetic.

How often do we do this in other areas of life?  The farther the distance we have from something, the more apathy that is present.  Think about it.

There's a band you kind of like, but it’s not your favorite so you don’t care that they broke up.

The TV show you watch the last 15 minutes of before your favorite one got canceled, but it doesn’t change your life. (Crazy to think this feels kind of like an outdated analogy because do people even watch live TV anymore?)

The acquaintances that come into our life who we only kind of care for, but they aren’t our best friend, so when one of their relatives passes away it doesn’t faze you all that much.

The biggest example of this in my life is my relationship with Christ.

The less I pray = more apathy

The less I read my bible = more apathy

The times I sleep in instead of going to church = more apathy

Christ is someone we need to be close to for the relationship to truly be substantial.  We can’t just kind of have a relationship with Christ and find true fulfillment.  Seeking a substantial relationship with Christ is a lot of work, but it is well worth it.

The apathy that comes from my times of not actively seeking Christ is infectious into other areas of my life.  I stop caring about school.  I stop doing my best at work.  My room gets really messy (it's true, ask my roommates). 

This is because Christ is the source of everything in our life.  He is the source of our success, which doesn’t always look like the success of the world.  He is the source of our joy, which doesn’t always look like the joy of the world.  He is the source of our strength, which doesn’t always look like the strength of the world.

The closer we are to something, the more it impacts our life.  The closer a baseball team is to the World Series, the more they will be driven to want it.  If a basketball team is in a four point game, a lot more emotion will be involved compared to if they are losing by forty.  If we are in an everyday seeking the Lord relationship with him, it will impact our lives much more than if it just a Sunday morning thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Selection Sunday vs Palm Sunday


As a college basketball fan (and if you are too) can we just acknowledge how amazing the tournament this year has been? Upset after upset, buzzer beater after buzzer beater, unless you bet your life savings on Michigan State winning it all, it is almost impossible to not love this March Madness. 

One thought I also have this time of year is why do we love underdogs and upsets so much.  This can be seen in so much more than just college basketball. 

Almost every superhero started as a loser before some freak accident.

We love Cinderella and she is probably everyone’s favorite Disney Princess (Mine’s Rapunzel in Tangled but I feel like that is cheating).

We cheer for the nerdy girl in the rom-com and hate the cheerleader.

The reason we do this is because we often see ourselves as underdogs.  We live lives and undersell ourselves and our experiences.   We compare ourselves to the dorky guy or the quirky girl, but not the other characters. Don’t tell me you didn’t watch 500 Days of Summer for the first time and be like, "This is too real. I'm just like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this."

We can view ourselves as the underdog, but really we can be the exact opposite.  We can be prideful and jerks and not even notice it.  We can be cynical from afar and justify that it is ok because we are doing it from afar.  Sometimes we live like Duke basketball but think of ourselves as Mercer (Sorry Duke fans).  It is easier to want to be the sad person who succeeds than as the happy person who fails.

If we are honest with ourselves, the "big guy" in the tournament, and life wins way more often.

The lowest seed to ever win the tournament was an eight seed when the 1985 Villanova Wildcats did the improbable and upset Georgetown in the championship game.   One seeds in the tournament have won the championship significantly more than any other and the Final Four is usually built up of seeds one through three.

 Upsets do not happen that often in life either.  The strong get stronger and the weaker get weaker. 

The rarity is another reason we love them so much.  It is why we want a lot of things in life to look like an underdog winning because it is a lot cooler than what usually happens.

I think we do this with Jesus a lot.  We make it seem like Jesus' victories are an upset over the evil powers of the world, but they are not, because he will always have more power than the world.  God will always win.  God is a "one seed" and the world is a "sixteen seed," but I feel like we, myself included, sometimes flip that script.

Palm Sunday (which is today) and all of Holy Week are a perfect example of this.  During Holy Week, Jesus appears to go from a “one seed” on Sunday to a “sixteen seed” on Friday and back to a “one seed” on Sunday, or so it appears.  John Mark McMillan describes this in his song, Death in His Grave, as "On Friday a thief, on Sunday a King."

Christ was still a king on Friday, but human perception of him was as a thief.  During the crucifixion, it appears that Jesus is powerless, but that is when he is the most powerful.  That was when His love was greatest.  That was when His humility was the greatest.  That was when He had the greatest victory…the victory over death.

Maybe we make the appearance of the crucifixion and resurrection being an upset so it seems better because upsets in our human life are better. 

Upsets aren't really an upset, though.  Middle Tennessee for one day was better than Michigan State.  Before and after that day they most likely aren’t a better basketball team, but for that day, they are (sorry that was kind of meta). 

Most teams that have a first-round upset do not go on past that.  Middle Tennessee can beat MSU, but get beat by Syracuse in the next round, but Christ's victory is eternal.  Christ is strong every day.  That is what is so great about Christ.  Christ can, and does, beat death every single day and that victory is not an upset.  It is easier to see the power of death than the power of Christ some days, but just because that is what we see does not mean it is true.

We need to stop selling Christ short.  He has so much power; more power than we can comprehend.  Christ does not lose.  Our human perception might view his victories sometimes as an upset and other times as a predicted blowout, but they are always the later of the two.  Christ's victories are consistent and great.  Christ helps us upset the world with his love because we are weak and he is strong.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Stop Hating Trump

Cool, I was a dumb blogger with a click-bate-esque title…time to go drown in self-hatred for a little bit!

So as 99% of America is aware of the riots and protesting in Chicago last night, I just had a few thoughts about this current election and the state of our country.

The events that happened in Chicago last night were very disheartening.  Most everything Trump has done has been pretty disheartening, but last night topped it all.  The riots between Trump supporters and protestors was sickening.  Neighbors fighting neighbors, friends ruining friendships…It makes me sad.

What is going on America? Just like in hockey, both sides involved in this fight need to go to the penalty box for five minutes.

The worst part about this is we are losing an unwinnable war as a country.  There is so much rhetoric filled with hatred on both sides of this fight.  I have said it myself that I hate Trump, but I am no longer going to put myself in that group.  I dislike Trump, I do not support Trump, a lot of things Trump does infuriate me, but I do not hate Trump. 

Hate vs. Hate is a war that only ends in a loss, but it is understandable.  We can't stop hateful people by hating them.  Hating a hater only makes more hate.

Hating is so easy.  It is effortless.  It goes without any time passing.  I can hate so many things at the same time and exert no effort.  Hate seems almost natural.  That is why it is so dangerous to continue to be in a country that seems to be filled with so much hatred.

Romans 12:9 says to "hate what is evil and cling to what is good."  But if you say "Trump is evil."  You need to admit to yourself that you are too because we all are terrible (Total depravity for the win). 

So if we are called to hate what is evil and people are evil we need to hate people right?

WRONG.  We are also called to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," in Matthew 5:44.

Woo-hoo two stereotypical Bible verses! But the most stereotypical are usually the most important to remember because they are some of the hardest to actually live.

This week I told my friends that I was going to take a week off thinking about politics because I was just getting so exhausted by it.  This is the first year I am allowed to vote and I don’t know if I actually will, because I can’t get behind any of these candidates.  I was getting so riled up by the fact that our country is letting someone like Donald Trump continue to rise, but then I had a thought.  This is probably the most awfully cheesy, Sunday school sentence I have written in a long time, but my thought was this. 

Jesus loves Donald Trump. 

That felt weird to write, but it is also the truest statement I will ever write.  Jesus loves Trump, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you and he loves all the people on this earth. 

The reason I know this (Besides the multitude of Bible verses on the fact) is that love is sacrifice and Jesus lived the most sacrificial 33 years anyone ever has, or will, ever live.

Love does not exist without sacrifice, but in hate the only thing we sacrifice is love.  To be able to love we need to sacrifice our opinions, our ideologies and a grocery list of so many things, but we don't want to because that is difficult.  We don't want to do difficult things.  It is against human nature.  It is why the Christian life is so difficult because it is a life with love and not hate and love is hard and hate is easy.

Love does not mean support.  I can love my friends, but that doesn’t mean I support everything they do.  Love involves condoning each other.  The only people you can tell they are wrong (outside of a comment section) are the people you love most. 

So as I saw America continue to hurt last night and have so much hate it just reminded me that this is understandable.  We can hate all the want, but it will never get us anywhere except to more hate.  As Americans, especially as Christian Americans we need to remember that there is another option and that option is love.  Hate is simple and that is why it is so attractive, but love is complex and so are the issues our country is facing.

Pray for America.  We need it.  We are hurt.  Christ is the answer to world problems, not politics.  RANT OVER.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Woah Woah Woah, DON'T Stick to the Status Quo


It is early March and I am currently sitting OUTSIDE of a coffee shop in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI.  Anyone from the Midwest knows that this is not something that occurs normally.  As I sip on my iced coffee on this lazy, hazy and 65 degrees day I can't help but think one thing; in a couple months, a day like this might feel a little chilly.

We get used to something we have been saturated in for a while.  Weather is the perfect example of this.  A 40-degree day in October feels like I am going to die of frostbite, but on the same, or similar, temperate day in February or March, I'm ready to hit the beach.

The similarity in these two is that they both mess with the status quo.  I know this is the perfect time for a High School Musical reference, but I wasted my one for the month on the title.  When the status quo of our life is shaken it can either be really good or really bad.  65 degree when you’re used to 35 is awesome, but 65 when you are used 85 is a little different.

This happens a lot in our life.  Abnormality is pretty normal...we just don't always notice it.  We get texts sent all day every day, but getting a text from an old friend who you haven't talked to in a while is special.  Getting the "We need to talk" text from a significant other or parent is a little different story.  Both of these shake up the consistency of our inbox, but both send us in completely different realms of emotions.

The biggest problem with the two different status quo bumpers is that we dwell on the negative ones a lot more than the positive ones.  We are more worried about the negative text than we are thankful for the positive one.  We complain about it being cold more than thanking God when it is gorgeous.  We focus in on the negative instead of realizing that in both ways an inconsistency is being added to our life.  We think the good is a part of our normal life, but it is not.

Life is found in the inconsistencies.  If life was linear, it would be very boring.  It is about loving the highs and overcoming the lows.  We catch ourselves in linear motion because it is the easiest place to be.  Riding a bike uphill is much harder than riding a bike on a flat terrain.  Riding a bike downhill is easy and enticing, but what goes down must go up.

The problem with consistency is that we might not be going down, but we are also not going up.
Consistency is effortless. Christ calls us to a life of excellence and life of excellence requires exerting large amounts of effort.  It takes a crazy person to want the harder option than the easy one, but the harder option is the more fulfilling.  Times of consistency are needed for relief or we will be exhausted, but it is unrealistic for our life to stay that way forever.

The norms of life are a choice.  We can choose to live a life of ease and comfort, but the comfort will eventually run out.  When consistency in our life is shaken, we must look at it with perspective.  If we are shaken to a low, we must learn and grow to climb out, God helping of course.  If we are in a high moment, we must enjoy the view and thank the Lord for it, but realize it will not last forever.  All of what Christ gives us in life is for a reason: the good, the bad and the indifferent.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Life Lessons in the Inconsistency of College Basketball


Yesterday I was "practicing" one of my favorite "rituals:" watching college basketball on a Saturday afternoon.  I was watching the Big East matchup between Butler and Georgetown.  Butler has been a consistently good team in the recent past and Georgetown has been one of the more historic college basketball teams, but this was not the case.  This game was hard to watch. The first thing I thought of was "Wow it is weird to see a Georgetown team this bad."

For those that follow college basketball, you might have similar thoughts about this college basketball season.  There are a lot of historically good college basketball teams that are really bad this year.  The 15/16 college basketball season has been filled with parity and has been an anomaly all year long.  No one is great, so everyone is pretty good.  If you have never bet on March Madness before, this is not the year to start.  Predicting how the tournament will play out will be nearly impossible.  It has been so hard to analyze.  The best word for it is "weird."

Saturday night painted a different picture for the sport of basketball.  The Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors, two of the top teams in the NBA, played one of the greatest regular season games in recent history, all topped off by a pull-up 35ft three-pointer by Steph Curry.  The 15/16 NBA season has NO parity in it and is dominated by four teams.  The Warriors, Cavilers, Thunder, and Spurs are the only teams (barring a miracle) that have a chance at winning the NBA Championship.  The Warriors are the clear favorite, but the other three still have a chance.  The NBA is consistent and the exact opposite of their college basketball brethren.

These two leagues can be broken down very simply this year

NCAA = Inconsistent

NBA = Consistent

The NBA's popularity has been on the rise this season, the NCAA's has not been, it has actually dropped significantly.  In my young life, I have never seen one regular season basketball game talked about as much as Saturday night's Thunder vs. Warriors game.  People love the Warriors this year because they know something good is going to happen when they watch them.  People are struggling to watch college basketball because it is in disarray.

We as humans love consistency.  We keep our morning routines.  We have our days, weeks, and months planned out in dozens of calendars.  We want to wake up in the morning and know what is going to happen that whole day.  Roadblocks (Literally and figuratively) throw us into a tizzy.
 Anytime inconsistency comes into human life, we lose our minds.

I am the worst at this.  I had an assignment the other day that turned out to be a little longer than I thought and I freaked out.  My mind was all over the place and the inconsistency that came with that assignment almost destroyed me.

That is an over exaggeration, but it was something I wasn't expecting.  This is a very small-scale example, but there are very large and very real examples of the pain that comes with inconsistency in every single person.

We get mad at God when inconsistency comes into our lives.  We expect God to keep our life consistent because He is constant, but that is not the case.  There are countless verses in the Bible where God is telling us that we will have trouble.

John 16:33 ESV
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

1 Peter 2:21 ESV
"For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."

Romans 12:2 ESV
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

God does not bring trouble to us, but he does not always stop it.  The world brings trouble and inconsistency.  We want God to fix all the uncertainty we deal with, but he is strengthening us.  Refinement requires a fire, not a tanning booth. As it says in 1 Peter 2:2, we have been given an example to follow on how to live life, even with the speedbumps of life.

Jesus dealt with the most inconsistency of anyone to ever walk the earth.  In one week he went from riding into Jerusalem to cheers to being crucified on the cross.  He went from loved to hated.  Christ was celebrated and persecuted, sometimes all during the same day.  Jesus life was not linear.  Looking to Christ is how we handle the inconsistency of life because He lived a life filled with them.

We want to control our lives and want things to stay consistent.  Just like we want to know who is going to win the game, we want to know how are life is going to go.  When things are not good, we see it as weird and when things are good, we get too comfortable.  We need to praise God in the good and the bad and praise God for the consistencies and inconsistencies in our lives.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Season Shifts


Yesterday, my third season of college basketball ended.  Basketball has always been an important part of my life and this season was particularly impactful to me.   It was my eleventh year being a part of a basketball team, which is crazy to think of. 
The Lord has taught me a lot.  Not only have I learned to be a better coach and heightened my basketball IQ, but I've also grown as a man.  But one of the ways I grow and still fight with basketball is fighting low confidence and insecurity.  A lot of that happens during the season, but it seems to be the worst once the season is over.

With the end of a season comes the start of a new one.  After summer, the season of autumn starts.  With sports, it is referred to as the offseason, but no matter what season it is, it must always end and another must start. 

Sometimes you want seasons of life to hurry up as fast as they can and be over with, but others, you want them to last until the last drop of joy is sucked out of it.

If anyone watches the NBA this might resonate with you.

I have always wondered what it must be like for the Golden State Warriors right now.  They are on track to have one of the best seasons in basketball history and look unstoppable.  I still do not think they are the 95/96 Bulls (That is a conversation for another place), but for both of those teams, there must be a feeling within them where they never want that season to end.  They want the magic of winning games and being adored by thousands to last forever. But, just like every season of life, it will end.  There must be a time of feeling devastating low at some point after that enormous highlight of a season.

The end of the old, the start of a new – A transition for talking about transitions.

The best life lessons can be found in the transitions of life.  That being said, they can usually be some of the suckiest times of life too.  Being freshmen in high school or college, your first real job, the first months of a relationship or marriage or having a first child appear to be some of the most lesson filled times of many lives.  Whenever there is something brand new to us, we have a lot of learning in a quick amount of time. 

Transitions seem to be a season in-between season, which I guess if you think about that too hard will dizzy your mind like it did mine.  Maybe they are a sub-season?  Whatever it doesn’t really matter.  They are some of the hardest times for us because they are times with the most unknowns. 

Uncertainty can kill us.  Uncertainty kills me and with the end of a season into a transitional time, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty.

“What is my life going to be like now that my girlfriend broke up with me?”

“Who are going to be my friends in college?”

“How am I going to afford rent with an entry level salary?”

These questions and many others weigh us down during times of transitions.  But transitions are good for us.  They are the prepping state for the new season is about to begin.  You have to rip a band-aid to get it off, which hurts, but helps you in the future.  They help us get ready for whatever the Lord has for us next.

In the season

As the great philosopher, Andy Bernard once said, "I wish someone would tell us when we are in the good old days while we are still in them."

During a new season, we typically start idealizing the future or the past, but rarely embrace the current, especially when that season that is not going so hot.  Just like I wonder how the Bulls and Warriors feel, I wonder how brutal it was to be a part of the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only team to lose every game in NFL history.  That must have been brutal on the psyche of those players and coaches.

Pastor Bill Van Groningen, the Chaplain at Trinity Christian College where I attend, once told me one of the most impactful pieces of advice in my life.  I was speaking to him while I was really struggling my freshmen year of college.  He told me something along the lines of this.

We often find ourselves in the wilderness.  The wilderness is a time when we can learn.  The wilderness is not fun, but we are always thankful for it.  (and then he asked me) Which do you think is the better way out of the wilderness, the fastest way or the correct way?

Whenever we are struggling, we are trying to get out as fast as we can and just want it to end, but just like how the great season of the 95/96 Bulls had to end and the 15/16 Warriors will have to end, so did the 0-16 season of the 2008 Detroit Lions.  The Bulls and Warriors never want a season like theirs to end, but the Lions were probably hoping they had the remote from the terrible Adam Sandler movie Click so they could get the season over with.  With both teams they should not be thinking ahead.  The Warriors should just enjoy it instead of thinking about it ending.  The Lions should learn as much as they can while they are struggling.  No matter what, they should be in the moment, probably my all time least favorite clichĂ©, but one of the most important in life.

Seasons come and go, but we need to recognize whatever kind of season we are in while we are in it.  We can’t focus on what happened or what is going to happen, but on what is happening, because it will not last forever.

Our lives will not be all flowers and candy, but they will not all be wildernesses either.  We get thousands of seasons in our lifetime.  Awareness of the situation while we are in the situation and seeking God’s wisdom during our current seasons, good and bad, help prepare us for the next seasons of our lives, not dwelling on our past season or dreaming of our next one.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How I Do Lent and How I SHOULD Do Lent


It was Ash Wednesday earlier this week and it is Valentines Day and I am instantly regretting giving up sweets for Lent.  Lent is always an interesting time for me, so I wanted to write about it to hash out my thoughts.

Ever since I was about sixteen, I started to practice the “Giving something up for Lent.”  When you live in the greater Milwaukee area and half of your friends are Lutheran or Catholic, you always tag Lent as the season where your Catholic friends don’t eat chocolate and Friday Fish Fries at the local Catholic Church start up.  But Lent is something so much more than a “Catholic thing” and so much more than a sacrifice of sugary or salty treats for a forty-day period.  It is even more than a time of remembrance.  It is a time of preparedness. 

I usually like to give up three things for Lent: A food/beverage, a technology and a mindset.  This year I gave up sweets and have already failed multiple times just a few days in. The technology I gave up is Snapchat, which I am still going strong on and has been very refreshing.  The mindset I am trying to give up is cynicism, which is one of my greatest vices and seems to infect my life more than I’d like it to.

These three things have been three very big idols in my life as of late, and going into Lent I was (and always have) viewing these fasts as a sort of “Spiritual Detox.”  This is the wrong mindset to have.  This is not a forty-day famine from the tyranny of ugly ten-second filtered selfies or Reese’s Peanut Buttercups, but a time to remember the Lord and grow closer to him.

We do Lent wrong and I feel like that is why (especially outside of the Catholic circle) it gets kind of a bad rep.  I know for myself, I sacrifice for a lot of selfish reasons.  Giving up sweets for forty-days has a lot of health benefits and maybe I will put off a pound or two.  Not having Snapchat saves my brain from a time of self-loathing due to how much I idolize it.  Not being cynical might make me more fun to be around. This is all great, but it is not God honoring like the season of Lent is intended for…it is self-honoring.

When we are told no to one thing, we are told yes to many others.  Just as the Ten Commandments are a list of laws to follow, they open the invitation to so much more.  We are told to “Not steal” and in not stealing, it should encourage more giving.  This is why I do Lent wrong and why a lot of us do Lent wrong.  It should not be a time of only sacrificing bad habits, but putting on great spiritual habits.

In giving up Snapchat, I should add more meaningful conversations in my life.  In giving up sweets, I should be more willing to recognize how much money I spend on them and put it in the offering.  Instead of being cynical, I should be more loving.  Much more selfless reasons to sacrifice, than selfish.

The sacrifice is not what helps us purify our lives and I feel like that is why a lot of people view Lent negatively.  First, the only thing that can truly purify our lives is the grace of God and the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.  A Christian life is filled with sacrifice not for the sake of sacrifice, but for the sake of those voids in our lives being filled with Christ for His will.  This fulfillment is not worldly fulfillment.  Spiritual fulfilling typically looks like worldly sacrifices, but they are what define our lives as Christians.  Focusing on these sacrifices and seeking God is how we should spend this Lenten season.  Losing a few pounds and taking a break from something you are borderline addicted to is great, but seeking the Lord more is where we should find our true joy and hope during these coming days till Easter.

Lent is a time to focus on sacrifice in remembrance of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.  There are always two sides to a story.  In giving up, we can also put on.  As Christ gave up his life, he gave us ours.  As we give up something of this world, we can put on more of Christ.  Through sacrifice (if that is your thing), prayer and remembrance we can truly prepare ourselves: mind, body and soul. As we wait upon Easter Sunday to celebrate the ultimate gift of Grace from Christ, remember that gift every day and show the Lord why we are thankful for this.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

“My name is Josh…and I am Single” Confessions of a Happily Single Small Christian College Student


When you're a twenty-one-year-old male in the Christian community there always seems to be one question that always arises, "So is there a girl you're interested in?" and the answer is usually either, "Yes, my fiancé (blank)" or "No, I don't think it is God's timing for me right now" and nothing in-between those two.

Sometimes if you are that later one, like me, you feel like a leper in the town of angels compared to the first group and can spiral down into the deep pits of self-doubt and many other negative thoughts and emotions.  In a place where "love" and "finding the girl God wants for you" it is really easy to get lost in the confusion and disarray that love and dating can be.

Why does it feel like it is bad to be single at a small Christian college?  I’m young.  I don’t make a lot of money.  I don’t have a lot of free time. The list goes on and on to why I shouldn’t be in a relationship, but the hardest person to convince is myself. 

When you are in a tiny place that seems to focus on one thing (It doesn’t, but sometimes it feels like it), it can be exhausting, especially when what is focused on is "young love." 

Love is a mystery and a mystery that a lot of twenty-something can’t figure out.  Some do, and I know a lot of people who are very happy in a relationship, but just because they are able to be in a serious relationship by the age of nineteen doesn’t mean every human being is.  Comparing and contrasting with people around me is exhausting, unhealthy and just flat out wrong, but it happens.  It shouldn’t feel like I have to go to “Single Dudes Anonyms” just because I’m not putting a ring on a girl by the time I leave undergrad.

The self-doubt and negative self-talk are not worth it because the answer really is that I am not ready to be in a serious relationship.  I'm selfish.  I'm a hard worker who is focused on my future.  I'm overscheduled a lot of times.  Some people can handle all of that and give a girl what they deserve, but I can't.  

There are three things that really stand in my way of being a young man that is ready to be in a relationship.

One: I’m busy 

Two: I have big dreams

Three: I can’t give what women deserve

Part one:

I go to class, basketball, worship leading and so many other obligations every single day.  I barely have enough time to give myself what I need, let alone another person. There have been multiple times this school year where I don't eat dinner till 10:30 at night and can barely function. Like I said, I am selfish, but I think it is a healthy selfishness.  I'm not trying to take from people, but I'm doing what I want to do.  I'm getting to experience things I want to experience.  I am not trying to hurt anyone.  I am not trying to over indulge, but I do a lot that involves myself and that makes it tough to add another in.  God has given me a lot of opportunities and I need to embrace those opportunities to the fullest.

Part two:

I have big dreams for my life.  I want to go to a large Graduate school and be a graduate assistant at the Division I level right after I leave undergrad.  This requires a lot of prayers and a lot of work.  This is a big goal for myself, but everyone has big goals at the age of twenty-one.  There is absolutely nothing wrong if that goal is to be the best husband/wife and nothing more, but that is just an aspect of the dreams I have for myself right now.  Women have dreams too.  We live in a world with more and more opportunities for women every year and there are a lot of girls I know and admire who also have big dreams.  If my dream is to move down south or out west and coach basketball and a girl has a dream to help the homeless in Chicago and we are in a serious relationship, come graduation, someone is going to have to sacrifice.  I know couples who are ok with that, but I'm not.  I could never live a life where I didn't let my girlfriend/wife not follow her dream or vice versa.  We're at the dreaming age and if you aren't willing to give a dream up don’t, and that is for young men and women. 

Part three:

There is little more valuable for a young man of God, other than his relationship with Christ, than a young woman of God.  A woman who loves the Lord and pushes a man to love the Lord more and more is a woman who deserves the world and, as I have mentioned in the past two sections, I can't give that.  A girl deserves more than I am right now.  I (and a bunch of other dudes) will be there at some point, but right now I am not.  I don't want to rush the process.  I am broken goods.  I am not ready.  I am constantly being refined into the man God wants me to be. A girl will not fix a man's problem, but a Godly woman is a gift from God and it is a gift he will give me when I need it, not when I want it.

At a small Christian college, casual dating does not exist to be blunt about it.  Where wife and husband finding is the goal for many, it is ok to be single.  I'm only twenty-one, I have no idea who I am going to be when I am twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five, sixty-five, but I do know the aspects of my life that will always be there: God and family.  

Learning to love those two and growing with God and trusting God, I will eventually grow enough to start a family of my own, but at the time, I am a young dreamer who struggles to see God's will for my own life most days, let alone his will for my own and another girls.  Seeking Him and growing in Him is what I need to do.  It is ok to be single, even though the world around me makes it look like it is not, and I need to remind myself that regularly.