Why We Do What We Do

6 01 2012

One of our High School students recently showed me the essay he wrote for his college application. I asked him if I could post it on my blog because of how much it encouraged me and the reminder for us “why we do what we do.”

Here it is:

Pepperdine University is a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership. How are you prepared to contribute to Pepperdine’s mission and community of faith, learning, and service?

“What? Why?” my mother said. Her question was not rhetorical. I had just announced my plans to go Haiti. I hadn’t even approached my father yet. Telling them why I wanted to go, I heard myself professing faith.

Although raised in a Catholic family, I was not actively involved in the church until I began attending a Christian church with my best friend. I was 15 and attending church with my friend was more an act of fun than act of faith. Before I even realized it, I was embedded in the system, frequently attending trips, activities and retreats with the youth group. I hadn’t recognized the progression in how or why I was choosing church events over other activities. Over time, I was choosing events with less rock walls and sports courts and more food banks and shelters. Service had become a part of my personal pursuits and I had not recognized the changes in how I felt or acted toward others.

On one retreat at Hume Lake I was up late staring at the sky waiting for my personal burning bush. I acknowledged in the night’s quiet, there would be no sign. I realized that an emptiness I had never named, was now a presence. That was the relationship with Christ people spoke of, the feeling within. I said to myself in that moment, I am a Christian, now what? I began wondering about values and commitment. I knew that I needed to discover more, and try to live life for the man that died on the cross for me. So, I brought my church to school where I founded a faith leadership chapter at my public school focusing on service and leadership and continued to attend church and youth group service activities.  The Haiti project was soon realized and I worked to raise money for a building project and service trip.

Once in Haiti I wasn’t off to a great start. I wasn’t taking things seriously, was obnoxious and had accidentally broken the only Haitian toilet leaving everyone without a restroom for two days. The Pastor sat me down for some re-direction. I questioned him, “What is the big deal? I didn’t do anything.” As if that wasn’t making his point for him? That was a long night in one of the poorest countries in the world, realizing that it is ridiculously easy to be ridiculous. It is so easy to get caught up in your own reality, to be afraid and dismissive instead of kind and curious. As Charles Hall, Dean of Seaver College wrote in an article in Pepperdine magazine (2011, Vol 3, Issue 3 p.5), “what people do most when they are confronted with difference- they stay with each other”…you could live a whole year in another country without knowing anything about people outside your own group”.  Faith shouldn’t be insular or afraid. Service is an act of faith, it has heart. Faith is an act of love, it has arms.  Leadership is loving with that heart and helping with those hands.

 





Reduced to Rubble

1 12 2011

This morning I was reading Micah 3 and when I read through verse 11 I stopped and reflected on it for a little while.

Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the LORD’s support and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us.”

Micah is addressing the leaders of the house of Jacob, or Israel, and gives them a stinging depiction of their sins and downfalls. These leaders are motivated by their greed and appetite for wealth and they are warned in verse 12 that their actions are leading to devastation. While doing so, the leaders are looking to God for support and trusting His protection and provision. If they were truly allowing God to lead them then their lifestyle would not have projected the greed and treachery that it did. But my question is, how often do we find ourselves in similar situations? Situations where we have chosen not to be faithful, where we fulfill our selfish desires and then when ruin and destruction are looming we say, “We’re good, God is with us”?

How often do we get sick after choosing to not care for our bodies?

How often do we struggle financially after choosing to spend lavishly?

How often do we feel lonely after choosing not to sacrifice or give attention to those around us?

How often do we feel disconnected from God without choosing to pursue Him?

Andy Stanley wrote in The Principle of the Path, “Your direction, not your intention, leads to your destination.” If we want to be healthy, if we want to be secure financially, if we want to be loved, if we want to grow closer to our Creator then it takes work on our part. We have a responsibility. It means listening to what God is telling us before it’s too late. Too often I see individuals who aren’t willing to put forward any effort and are entirely focused on fulfilling what they desire in the moment. It’s weird how often those individuals then wonder how God allowed them to get to where they are now.

Look, we have hope because God is a God of grace and He will be present and active in our lives no matter what, but that doesn’t mean He always has to be there to put a band aid (or stitches) on our problems. Sometimes it takes us falling flat on our face to realize that we need to do our part. We don’t live a dormant faith. Our faith is very active and there will be times where we need God to rescue us from ourselves or our circumstances, but let’s choose to listen to God now. Let’s listen to God before we get to the depths of disaster and follow the direction He is taking us now. Let’s ask for God’s guidance, direction, and provision now so we don’t have to ask Him to put together a destroyed temple. Let’s plug away at the work in front of us and ask God to build up the temple we have been given.





Confession

29 09 2011

Here is a poem a student wrote on confession:

My father,

You’re love, it burns

Casts out my ensuing darkness

You deliver me from the shadows that stalk me

The lion crouches at the door

You hold the key to that sunken wreck

A ship crushed in the waves of my disobedience

So unlock that trove

Take all that you find

My secret skelotons are there

In that hidden closet of mine

Bury them away, in a distant dimension

As far as heaven reaches

And as deep as hell falls

From now on, when thy Spirit teaches

Your child shall listen

Your sheep shall follow





i am…

15 06 2011

I am passionate. I am proud. I am arrogant. I am blessed. I am impatient. I am hurtful. I am married. I am broken. I am a pastor. I am a brother. I am a liar. I am joyful. I am a son. I am a friend. I am a sinner.

We can be defined by a lot of different words. We are complex individuals and most people don’t know how complex we actually are. Our stories are but a sentence, or maybe even a word, or letter, in the story of God. From that perspective  the stories our lives tell really don’t have too big of an impact in the long run. But that doesn’t mean they won’t leave an impression. I actually think our stories are pretty important.

I believe our stories can and do point to the “I AM”  (Exodus 3:14). However, we are often afraid to tell or share our stories with those around us. It takes too much vulnerability, too much honesty, and there are too many reminders of pain and struggle. We forget how powerful our stories can be. Stories of transformation, growth, triumph and victory. Examples of the ability to overcome. Evidence of what Christ has done and is continuing to do in our lives.

This month in our High School Ministry we are telling stories. I shared who I am last week and over the next few weeks our volunteer staff and students will be opening up as well. Our hope and prayer is to connect to one another in community, to grow and transform through vulnerability, to create the space for students to be honest with someone they can relate to, and to experience first hand what God is doing in and through the individuals in our ministry.

I can’t wait to see what comes of this series!! I am excited. I am hopeful. I am ready…





Hesitations 19:16

28 04 2011

I was reading through Genesis 19 today and came across the story about Lot and his family. The city they lived in was about to be destroyed and when the angels (or “the men”) told him to leave, we read:

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.

This makes me wonder. When God asks us to move, why do we hesitate? What makes us wait? I think there were a few things causing Lot to hesitate when God told him to move on. Whether it’s a new opportunity, a new direction, or a new vision, when God asks us to move I think we struggle with some of the same things…


Risk- Lot had to leave in the midst of turmoil and move towards something new and unknown. People are comfortable with the familiar. Change isn’t always easy. Especially if it means packing up your bags and leaving everything you know. There are even times where God is calling us to something and we literally have no clue how we are going to get there and that risk can be scary.

Relationships-Lot had future son-in-laws in Sodom. Not that I’m saying we should leave people behind to die. It’s never easy to leave community. We are designed to be connected to other people and when God tells us it’s time to move on from those relationships, we hesitate. We are also very aware of how many people are dependent on us within those relationships. We are also nervous about burning anyone through the process. Maybe what God has called us to do is differs from what someone else expected. Definitely a potential problem.

Responsibilities- Lot was a good man. I’m sure he wanted to save the people of Sodom. A lot of us have that same hero mentality. We think we are the ones who are going to take care of it all. “I will save the people, I will make them change.” We don’t like leaving things unfinished and we think there are still responsibilities we HAVE to control/lead/take care of. I’m sure if God is asking us to move on or work towards something new, He’s got the rest of it covered.

Risk means movement, relationships and community can be formed elsewhere, and we can’t save or change anyone. That’s God’s area of expertise. I don’t want to minimize these reasons (they will undoubtedly be a struggle), but so much of our hesitations are rooted in fear, which is probably why we constantly read “Fear Not” in the Scriptures. When there is clarity in what God asks of us LET’S GO!! I hope we don’t hesitate and I pray we are not afraid. Salvation is real, obedience is key, and as we live out of the abundance of God’s grace and provision let’s always remember that He can do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine!!





The night I got arrested…

24 03 2011

Last weekend I shared a story with about 50 parents about a mistake I made when I was 15 years old. I point to this experience as the beginning of a tumultuous 4 years in High School.  But not for me (at least, not at the time). My parents experienced the most hardship and difficulty during this part of my life. I know it’s true because they told me. Staying up late at night arguing what to do with me and how they were supposed to move forward in the midst of a pretty solid amount of dumb decisions.

The night I went to my first ever High School dance I was filled with excitement, fear, and anxiety. Mostly the latter two. I succumbed to peer pressure (which would turn out to be a trend for me) and invited a girl I didn’t know all that well because “we were part of the same group.” We dressed up, I placed the corsage on her wrist, we ate a delicious dinner, had our parents drive us to the school, and I suffered through the actual dance- only dancing during the slow songs. To my wife’s chagrin, I still treat most situations involving and form of dance this way.

After the dance I went to my friend’s house with 2 of my best buddies and began to watch TV and talk about girls and eat a ridiculous amount of food. At about 2 am one of the less intelligent members of the group informed us that he had smoke bombs and it was our duty to light them in front of the Carl’s Jr. down the street. We agreed. We put dark clothes on and set out for our adventure. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it very far.

As the lights flashed above the police car our immediate reaction was to run. All of us except for the guy whose house we were staying at. He decided to sit on the curb, so we had no choice but to join him. The four of us were piled in the back of the police car and I thought my life was over. We ended up having to pay a hefty $20 fine and take a 4 hour curfew violation class on a Saturday.

The part I remember most about the whole experience was probably mom and dad’s reaction. That and the horrible feeling in my stomach the next morning. Like I said before, this was the start of a string of stupid decisions I would make for the next 4-5 years and my parents had to deal with the headache of it all. However, in their response and reaction to my dumb decisions they ALWAYS communicated love. I knew they cared about me, I knew they loved me, I knew there would be consequences, I always got disciplined and I always knew they had forgiven me.

This week I am teaching on forgiveness and in preparation for the message, one of the first things I grabbed out of Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God was that forgiveness costs something. It cost my parents a lot of sleepless nights and it caused arguments and disagreements between them. But the price they paid for me is the reason I am sitting in an airport getting ready to go with my dad to our yearly March Madness games. I have a great relationship with my folks. I respect them and love them and I am so thankful for their sacrifices.

But, as much as it cost my parents to forgive me, it cost Jesus a lot more. As much as my parents sacrificed for me, Jesus sacrificed a lot more. As much as my folks longed for me to come home, Jesus desires for me to come home that much more. Without any kids of our own, I think this is part of the way I understand forgiveness. And I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am. Hopefully our students grab onto that as well.

 

 





Identity Crisis

10 03 2011

Everyone has struggles and obstacles and different issues they are trying to overcome or resolve. A good friend of mine is currently in the process of sharing his fight with bi-polar disorder.  (I really want to encourage you to read it on his blog as it has been very freeing and powerful for a lot of people). As I’ve read his story I am reminded of something the very same friend and I asked High School students to take part in back in March of 2010.

We were in the middle of a series entitled “Identity Theft” and as we closed the series we asked students to share their secrets with us. We thought if students had the ability to voice their pains, regrets, struggles, or fears it would help them move even closer to finding their identity in Christ. I don’t think we were really prepared for the response that Sunday.

As the cards flooded the stage we began to recognize a momentary sense of relief. A burden was lifted. After that weekend, I decided to take all of the cards the students wrote on and put them in my office. I wanted our students to know I wouldn’t forget their struggles.

Well, two weekends ago I learned something about those struggles. I learned they won’t forget them either. During the last weekend in February our lead pastor, Steve Madsen, asked the congregation to bring their struggles to the cross. It proved to be a powerful message, as hundreds of people wrote their struggles, regrets, pains and fears on note cards and nailed them to the cross. All last week our staff prayed over these cards and as I sat there reading some of them I began to get the feeling like I had heard these somewhere before.

“I can’t believe I went through with the abortion.”

“I fear being a teenage mom will become my identity.”

“I have an addiction to pornography.”

“I no longer want to live.”

These people’s stories break my heart and I’ve come to understand even more through this experience that it doesn’t really matter what stage of life we are in, we still hurt. People are broken, people are in pain, and most people don’t know where to turn.

My favorite part about my friend’s story is that Bi-polar disorder is not who he is. It does not define him. I think he would probably say he has surrendered that part of his life to Christ and has found freedom in the surrender.

***Side note: I want to be clear and make sure you do not think I am comparing bi-polar disorder or any other illness with sin, because it’s not. I’m essentially talking about pain, sorrow, regret, and struggles as a part of our lives and as they become more prevalent, we have tendencies to allow them to define who we are. ***

I think surrender is the key here. The only way to be completely healed is to nail our pain and afflictions to the cross and leave them there. Jesus didn’t die to borrow our transgressions and our hurt, he died to remove them. There is freedom in Christ because he conquered the cross and when we find our identity there, we experience that freedom. I hope our students and our congregation continue to surrender and find healing. I hope as people share their burdens and struggles we come alongside them in love. I hope we trust God, amidst confusion and emptiness, for His never ending grace and love. And I hope we choose to find our identity in Jesus Christ and not the hardships we encounter.