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.