Does Location Matter? [Pt. 1]

“Location, Location, Location.”

Like an ancient statue wrapped and lined with green, twisting vines, this mantra has remained steadfast and true throughout the years. Even as the landscape of business has shifted, with the old oaks of advertising falling and the saplings of social media slowly growing into middle-aged trees, this one word, location, repeated three times over, has stayed stoic, echoing a seemingly ageless wisdom for every new sojourner who seeks success.

Yet if we move from business to spirituality, location’s staying power is suddenly rendered in a different light. Does my location – where I am – matter when it comes to knowing God? I often hear students and friends ask, “Am I only saved because I grew up in a Christian home?” The corollary question comes soon after: “Would I still believe in Jesus if I lived in a remote island or happened to grow up in another country?” These questions, and questions like them, are legitimate. They need to be asked because they unearth our curiosity about this God who is love and justice, mercy and grace.

Does location determine salvation?

Dallas and Rochester are very different. 110 degree summers scorch the flat, concrete roads of the South while those living in the North enjoy the fresh blooms of lilacs and outdoor concerts at Central Park.  Texas cultivates a culture that thrives on religiosity; New York finds its religiosity in business, success and a restless ennui. Having grown up in the Bible belt and later experiencing the cultural dynamics of New York and the East Coast in college, I’ve tasted the flavors of religion and spirituality available to us in both places. Nuances abound, but generally, Christianity is fairly accepted in one place (you can guess which one) and more opposed and questioned in the other.

Given the stark contrasts between Texas and New York, I can’t help but wonder whether my location growing up ultimately affected my salvation. Of course, environment and culture cannot be ignored. They do influence, and quite substantially, too. But do they corner my spirituality to reflect my surroundings?

At first glance, God’s Word doesn’t directly reveal much clarity to our question. There are no verses that address hypotheticals like ours. But we’re not left completely in the dark either. Acts 17 says, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

In these verses, my questions are relativized before a wise God, who has determined when and where I should live, so that I might seek him and perhaps reach out to him. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that beautiful? God ordains our specific circumstances and specially designates them for us, that we might know him. And he does that for all us – the one surrounded by Christian culture, the remote islander, the seeker and the outcast!

“‘For in him, we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”

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Random Birthday Thoughts

brothers

Not sure why we took this pic after watching Avatar.

It’s been a long couple of months. It feels disorienting to celebrate my 28th birthday in the midst of a taxing season (sorry I couldn’t resist throwing a cheesy pun in the midst of our most beloved April 15th deadline – I have to keep myself entertained somehow). But as they say, “life is good.” I still can’t believe someone trademarked that phrase. What a great way to brand.

So even though it’s been a bumpy 2013 so far, I know God’s still leading the way and inviting me to trust him in deeper ways. Here’s a few unedited thoughts about life, birthdays and randomness:

Why Starbucks gets it right: 

  • As much as people might dislike conglomerates like Starbucks, you gotta admit, some of them know how to celebrate their customers. A free starbucks treat – any size – on your birthday is pretty awesome. I hate to admit it, but my Venti Java Chip Frap really does  make me feel celebrated, even if it’s coming from a global organization that stores my personal information in a database and automatically sends me a gift on my big day.

Unsorted:

  • Sometimes, I wonder what it’s like to have a real twin connection (yes, I’m a twin). I mean, I’m thankful that Tim and I don’t have some crazy psychic link, but it would be cool to jump into a cold shower and know that your twin could potentially scream in the middle of a class lecture or a presentation. That would be such a great prank.
  • Jack Johnson is always a great artist to bum to. I feel like I’m at the beach as I sit next to a parking lot outside of Starbucks.
  • Riding my bike on a cool day like this makes me happy.
  • I need to learn how to worry less and trust more. So much of life’s worries don’t change if I just mull on them. I wonder how much more freedom God has for me if I would first depend on him instead of living into my fight or flight patterns or desires to solve things beyond my control.
  • There’s a couple kids running around near me. Kids really know how to have fun =) We can learn a lot from them.

To my family and friends: 

  • Thanks, Gloria, for being a wonderful wife who helps me to see all that God has created me for! I’m so thankful that God brought you into my life to pinch me when I’m trying to relax =)
  • Thanks, Mom and Dad, for getting married and having me and Tim. I wouldn’t be here without you, literally. Thanks for your love and support throughout the years.
  • I’m really thankful for good friends. Ministry has been a joy, but one of the sacrifices and costs of being in college ministry is not being able to connect as regularly with friends or people you could see being really good friends. It just comes with the territory when you have to be on campus when everyone else is grabbing dinner with friends or having happy hours.  Thanks to my friends who have loved me and met me where I am throughout the past several years, and thanks for all the bday wishes!
  • Thanks to my partners in ministry for your prayers and support through the years!
  • I’m glad I won’t be getting caked by Clee and Dan this year.

LGBT, Equality and Faith

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Hey bloggers,

I need your help, thoughts and input. I’ve been invited to speak to a Christian group about relating to the LGBT community. I know those two groups usually may not mesh together very well in our minds, but as I’m learning and exploring perspectives, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, especially in light of the recent US Supreme Court hearings. Whether you identify as Christian (or another faith tradition), LGBT, heterosexual, etc., here are some questions:

  1. How have you been hurt or misunderstood by others (Christian, LGBT, etc.) who are different from you? What do you wish were different?
  2. How can faith and sexuality intersect, if at all?
  3. What are your thoughts, opinions and questions regarding the US Supreme Court hearings?
  4. How can the LGBT and Christian/faith communities better dialogue together?

Thanks!

“You can write the obituary. I’m not.”

I’m an avid basketball fan. Ever since college, my friends and I have competed in fantasy basketball, and if you’ve ever played it, you know how time-consuming it can become. For the most part, I have to admit that for all the time I invest into this hobby of mine (I’m not even sure you can call it that), there is little to no real significance. But every once in a while, I come across a quote or a line that cuts across the narrow sports spectrum and connects to my life of faith.

The story of the post-Rondo Celtics is a picture of the powerful effects of belief. When Rajon Rondo’s season ended with an ACL injury, talk about the Celtics’ potential fall from prominence weren’t just whispered but outrightly proclaimed as fact. Without their point guard, how could an aging roster compete and win? The pundits quickly pointed out that a 36 year old Kevin Garnett, a 35 year old Paul Pierce and a 35 year old Jason Terry couldn’t stand up to the likes of Miami or OKC. There seemed to be doubt even among the Celtics. Trade speculations ensued, and everyone wrote off the Celtics. Everyone – except for Doc Rivers.

“You can write the obituary. I’m not.” Rivers, known as the ultimate players’ coach, has always demonstrated a supreme faith in his roster to show up and play to their highest potential. Even in the face of conventional logic, troublesome injuries and the impossible opponent of time, Rivers continues to churn out the same messages of enduring belief into the ears of his men – “We can make it. Someone will step up. We will endure. We will succeed.” Thus far, the results after Rondo’s injury have been 7 straight wins, including one over the Miami Heat. In every possible way, Doc has demonstrated extreme confidence in his players, and the Celtics, in turn, have risen to match the belief of their coach.

Tonight’s loss to the lowly Bobcats may result in yet another test as the team awaits news on a potentially serious injury. But whatever the outcome, I expect the Celtics to dig even deeper as Rivers drive them forward in confidence.

If we move away from the Celtics’ world for a moment and hold onto Doc’s words, we will discover that we too can encourage each other for the sake of Christ. Every day presents us with fresh opportunities to see in others what God sees in them. We are called to build each other up in grace and to believe that God is not yet finished with any one of us, even when the stuff of life happens and trust in God’s transforming work becomes illogical. This is the privilege and blessing of being in community as we become more like Christ!

Os Guinness writes, “For those who live life as a journey and see faith as a journey, calling has an obvious implication. It reminds us that we are all at different stages on the way and none of us alive has yet arrived. Trouble comes when we forget this fact and pretend that life is static and settled, as if everything were a matter of sharp lines, clear boundaries, precise labels, and final assessments. So that some are in, some out; some have arrived, others not.” (The Call)

1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

Advent Reflection #2: Fit For Us

It’s borderline distasteful how Christmas has become so central to our country’s economic health and our individual sense of worth. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for our economy recovering and each of us finding our worth. Yet there’s something backwards about what Christmas has become. With strange familiarity, we have blended consumerism into this time of the year….in the hopes of creating a season fit for us. Like the imprints left by our boots on a fresh blanket of snow (man, if only I were in Rochester right now), the landscape of this season is being shaped by our desires and our hearts. So what do we see each year around this time?

Well, not surprisingly, economics always seems to be involved in the conversation as we try to meet deadlines, get into the black and shore up our financial holes. Christmas registers high on the priority list of anyone in business, and the shopping of this season serves as the last measuring stick they have to determine how well their businesses faired in 2012.  Then, there are those Christmas gifts we’re either shopping for or anticipating. Recently, my wife and I had a conversation about the phenomenon of Christmas gift-giving. In short, it was a referendum on our souls. We noticed how quickly we were prone to fall into the trap of coveting that which we do not currently have. Or finding our identity in what we might or might not receive. Questions quickly surfaced: Why is it all about what we want? What does that reveal about our character? What is Christmas really about?

Then, when I woke up this morning, I ran across this verse. It’s a familiar one, something that I’ve memorized several years ago: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45). Classic words for this time of the year. What might it look like if we entered into this Christmas season as Christ entered this world? Not to be served, but to serve.

Maybe then we’ll see a season fit for the Servant-King. And maybe then, we’ll finally see a season fit for us – the way Christ calls us to love Him and love others.

Check out the Advent Conspiracy if you have the chance: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All

Partnering Organizations: Living Water International, International Justice Mission

advent conspiracy

 

Advent Reflection #1: Dishwashing

It’s humbling to know that Jesus, whose arrival two millennia ago came in the humble fashion of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, still comes to us in the ordinary and the mundane. This is the first year that I’m attempting to celebrate and observe Advent. I don’t particularly have a compelling reason to start now, except that I have witnessed God’s coming in so many ways leading up to the conclusion of 2012. As we celebrate Christ’s birth and patiently wait and hope for the Day when He comes to renew and restore all things, I hope these Advent reflections glorify God and encourage our faith.

One thing I’m growing to love about Advent is how it’s a time for us to celebrate how God shows up for his people. In my marriage, God has shown up in dishwashing. Yes, dishwashing! Here’s a little background: Growing up, I was the spoiled brat who loved using 10 cups a day. There was a cup for breakfast, a cup for afternoon snack, a cup for after the afternoon snack. You get the picture. But to the degree I unconsciously used cup after cup, I consciously hated washing them. I deemed dishwashing the worst of all household chores, and it was something that my brother and I left undone more often than not. My mom, being the gracious woman she is, washed those dishes day-in and day-out without complaint. It was her labour of love for us, her children, and through it, she modeled God’s sacrificial love for us.

Thankfully, I’m not that boy anymore. By His grace and especially since getting married, God has taken my brattiness and slowly transformed it into something that He molded in my mom so long ago – servanthood. Through the joyful crucible of marriage, He is putting to death my selfishness and raising up in me selflessness. He is teaching me that our marriage really isn’t about me. It’s not even about us. Instead, marriage is intended to be a reflection of Christ’s love to the Church. Just like Christ, the Servant-King, loved us and was (and is) ultimately for the other, even at the sacrifice of His very life (what great lengths Christ has traversed to love us!)we are to serve and love each other in Christ and be ultimately for the things of God in each other, dishwashing or otherwise. It’s only as we love God and others that we can begin to discover all of who He intends each of us to be. This is why marriage cannot be reduced to good feelings and romance. Of course, it includes those things, and they are very important. But far too often, we confuse them as being love’s foundation rather than love’s overflow.

It is beyond this blog post’s purpose to try to get at love’s foundation, but maybe we can just start with 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Dishwashing has become a chore I’ve learned to enjoy in marriage; it’s a way for me to love Gloria. I didn’t always think this way (and to be honest, sometimes, I still complain and procrastinate). But somehow God keeps showing up in this ordinary and mundane task: I’ve learned to use 2-3 cups a day now – having to wash and dry them has a funny way of producing conservative efforts in me…. I’ve also discovered more of what it means to love without any real gain for myself. In Christianity, we call this agape love, or the love of God that meets us for no other purpose but to be ultimately for us. Isn’t that an amazing thought? Our God is for us! Dishwashing even serves as an act of worship as I remember how Christ has washed me clean and continues to renew me.

I still have a long journey ahead of me as His Spirit molds me more into the image of Christ, but I’m grateful that I’ve witnessed Christ in something as simple as dishwashing. As we wait for the coming of Jesus, let’s remember and recall how He has shown up in each of our lives.

dishes

For a free Advent devotional, check out John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy, click here or use the links below:

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Without You

Without You,

The silence in me screams, it cries out,

For the needs of an unmet soul reduced.

Without You,

My arms wander, they flail,

For nothing but a false reflection removed.

Without You,

My heart slows, it drops,

From distanced dreams long lost.

Without You,

My eyes fail, they grow tired,

From watching a world wronged.

Without You,

I am lost; I am lost,

For not losing myself in You.

photo cred: AVphotography262

“We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone.” – Os Guinness, The Call

On Significance: The Tale of Two Plants

Significance.

On my window sill, a tree grows. Its leaves soak in the light streaming through the cutout window of my home office. Moment by moment, at an imperceptible rate, branches spread and fledgling leaves emerge. Planted in an Asian ceramic pot, this former branch my parents cut off and gave to me has more than survived. It has grown new roots. Now, as a new set of green reaches towards the ceilinged sky, the air around it invisibly retreats to make more room.

Outside, on my 2nd floor balcony, another plant droops. Its withered leaves cling onto a listless and brittle branch. It is a shell of what could have been. Intended to bloom beautiful, white Jasmine flowers, these transplanted branches serve as a cautionary reminder, a sign that growth and rooting are not always guaranteed. Even with watering and a makeshift greenhouse (we placed a bag over it…), it has escaped life. Or perhaps life has escaped it. A gentle breeze whisking away its browned leaves into the air – this is all that remains to happen.

Potential, Vision, Dreams, Purpose. We call it many things, this search for significance. We want to believe that our humanity has intention, that our lives matter. Plants, after all, are meant to grow; they are designed to express their freedom by expanding their root systems, reproducing and participating in photosynthesis. What, then, is our design? What are we meant for? Answers abound:

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The golden girl. The funny and caring guy. Sex. Prestige and acknowledgement. Success. Pointlessness. Enough money to pursue our dreams. Making our parents proud. Personal satisfaction. Carpe Diem. Family.

Is it all these things? Is it some of them? Confusion sets in, and yet, hope and truth remain.

Genesis 1:27

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

I will admit that there are long stretches of time when I do not reflect on life’s significance. Then, there are seasons when this is all that I think about. In those times, I often find myself looking inward instead of upward, searching myself instead of God, who crafted my very being. But if Genesis is true, then how I come to understand divine intention holds even deeper meaning than personal significance. Why? Because it goes beyond finding something that fulfills me in the present. It becomes about living and dying, growing and withering.

Where then is this mysterious hope of life? It is found as we begin to meet the One who has sought us out this whole time, the One whose image we bear. In Him, our significance and our life are found and restored. Christ be glorified.

Crafting Creativity

It seems so long ago. That art studio. Among other emerging 7th grade artists. It was in that place where metal stools, paints, pencils and clay dust all came together to cultivate my creativity, my mind.

Now, 27. Almost 14 years removed from my last art class, the memories of past projects are vague. They are only recalled by old art pieces that my pack-rat parents have saved for one reason or another. Sometimes, it’s because they actually liked a piece, and at other times, it’s because they felt guilty after I caught them trying to throw something out, like the Happy Mother’s Day clay pitcher I made. None of these works will ever be showcased in a museum. The best I can settle for is a kitchen back in Allen, TX, where my mom now proudly displays that pitcher – high above the ground on top of her dark cherry oak cabinetry. Museum or not, my legacy stands solidified.

And distant. When was the last time my pencil and my fingers combined to skate across the white surface of an empty page? It has been too long.

Art, they say, is a means to escape home without running away. It is creativity that is developed, chosen and kept. It is the expression of the human soul revealed tangibly and understood variably.  Art is all these things, and yet it is still more. It harkens back to past memories. It expresses and elicits strong emotions. Art weaves the 20th century African American Great Migration to the modern day understandings of ethnicity and culture. It celebrates the ordinary things of life as seen through the world’s Norman Rockwalls. It memorializes tragedies like 9/11. Art, in these iterations, becomes part of our shared stories and identities.

Then there is art that goes beyond its normal forms and cuts through the disciplines and even life itself. I may not paint on a canvas anymore or sketch a scene at the park, but art still remains in me. Art takes the English language and makes writing into a craft that I love engaging with now. It helps me appreciate the offensive sets of a basketball team – artistry in motion. It transforms the way I think about the world, the way I try to capture a scene in my mind or understand someone sitting across from me.

That art studio still sits inside the school I once attended. Hundreds of students have probably sat in the same stool that I once sat in, breathing in the same clay dust I once breathed. I am sure I will never enter through its doors again, but gratefully, I don’t need to. Just as art moves between history and culture, somehow, it has found a way to move between my life and reach across memory’s distance.

It’s humbling to know that learning something like art (or _________) is a blessing and an act of both grace and empowerment. To my parents, my teachers and my Father in heaven – what a great gift. Thank you.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

– Matthew 7:11-12