Seagull Syndrome

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Everyone has those movies that they could watch time after time and always feel entertained and satisfied. For me, that movie is “Finding Nemo”. If you have never seen it, first, do yourself a service – go find it and watch it. Second, a quick synopsis – Nemo (a clown fish) gets lost and we following his father, Marlin, embark on a journey out of his undying love to find his son. Along the way both Nemo and Marlin make new friends that teach them new lessons.

I believe that one lesson that is evident is when Marlin is becoming discouraged while pursuing his son, his new friend Dorie encourages him to just keep swimming. She encourages to not give up not matter how hard it may be. We all need “Dories” in our life – someone who will walk alongside of us and motivate us to never quit on what we have set out to do.

Growing up and watching this movie, I noticed one thing that is pretty blatant – compelled by love a father will do anything for his child, even if that means swimming across the ocean and facing near death experiences. Marlin is clearly symbolizing the good shepherd – someone willing to risk it all for the sake of his lost child; a child that may or may not be found. Marlin is the father or even person I want to be in life and in the Church. Shouldn’t that be our goal – to seek the lost, like Marlin, and to walk with them in accountability, like Dorie?

Man that would be awesome!

However, I find my role in the church to not reflect Marlin or Dorie at all. In fact, I find myself to be more and more like the seagulls, “MINE! MINE! MINE!” This is one of the ugly truths of my life and I believe we all have some “seagull” in us. Now don’t get me wrong I volunteer in the church I attend. What I have to check my guard about are my motives of my heart for serving.

It’s just our human condition to see what we can get out serving for ourselves. I find myself trying to find fulfillment for myself, searching for self-satisfaction and joy out of my service to the Church. But more often than not, when I’m serving in the church I would sometimes leave feeling empty. Now there are two kinds of empty:

  1. Empty – serving to the point of exhaustion for the glory of God. Being tired after investing and pouring into lives for the Kingdom.
  2. Empty – laboring to find something you can gain or satisfy yourself due to pride in your service. But ends up like scooping up water – empty handed

I thought I was accomplishing the first empty, in reality I was achieving the second “empty”. Only by the grace of God I found out how I fell in the second category rather than the first. I wasn’t producing fruit in my service. The fruit I did produce was labeled, “MINE!” I wasn’t getting anything out of my service because I was doing it for myself, that people would see me “doing something” which ironically was doing nothing. Jesus tells us that if we want to find life in our service we have to die to everything that we find self-fulfilling.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25

When we serve others to subliminally fulfill ourselves we’ve missed the goal. When we serve others to fulfill the sake of Christ, we find life and joy in who Jesus is and how He works in the Church. Let us die to our “seagull syndrome” and selfish desires; and become more like Marlin and Dorie – seek the lost at all costs and walk in encouraging accountability.

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What’s For Lunch?

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I don’t have many “adventurous” quirks about me. I’m not often known as the spontaneous guy. However, I am always down for trying out new restaurants; listen to what I’m saying though. I’ll try out new places but I’m definitely not promising you I’ll love it. I’m a creature of habit. I love routine. One of the most fulfilling parts of my days is waking up and knowing exactly what I’m doing that day – I have it all planned out. More often than not, part of that routine is watching a couple episodes of Seinfeld. One thing I appreciate (and quite jealous) sitcoms in general, which they all have a certain place to gather and eat at any given moment.

  • Seinfeld: Monk’s
  • Friends: Central Perk
  • How I Met Your Mother: McLaren’s Pub
  • Frasier: Cafe Nervosa
  • Happy Days: Arnold’s
  • Family Guy: The Clam
  • The Simpsons: Moe’s Bar
  • Everybody Loves Raymond: Nemo’s Pizza
  • Saved By The Bell: The Max

Ok, the list can easily keep going, but I’ll stop there because I believe we have seen two distinct patterns. The first one being that I watch way too much TV. The second, every strong community of friends have a place they all go to grow in relationship, but also to eat while they do it. I believe this is something that needs to hold true in all of our lives. When we eat and break bread together we let our guard down and stumble upon revelations like from C.S. Lewis,

 Relationship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’

I mean this is the whole premise to one of the most successful sitcoms to date – Cheers! We all want to go somewhere where everybody knows our name. Somewhere we can open up talk about our struggles, our ideas, our dreams, our pet peeves, our observations, our ideologies and still be loved by others.

It goes without saying that communication is the key to understanding. Although we are friends and want to help the other succeed, each member is at a different point in life. When we spend time together over meals it helps us keep in touch and enables us to encourage each other. Joseph Califano, Jr, of Columbia University said,

 One of the simplest and most effective ways for people to be engaged in their other lives is by having meals together.

One of loudest accusations made about Jesus is that he would break bread and eat with sinners.

  • Matthew 9:9-11
    • As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
  • Luke 15:1-2
    • Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
  • Luke 19:5-10
    • And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Even on the night He was betrayed Jesus broke bread and shared drink with his disciples, for them and for us. At that moment, Jesus knew we all would betray Him and He still didn’t make us eat alone. So let’s find a local diner/café, order a turkey club, put our phones away for one hour and live life together in a gospel-centered community. Stealing the title of Keith Farrazzi’s book, we should “Never Eat Alone”. Let us set out to make meals about “us” and not “I”. I’ll leave you with the words from Paul, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

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Why “Nothing” Matters

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Why does “nothing” matter? It’s remarkable to think that one of the most watched sitcom’s of all-time (and one of my favorites) is a show about “nothing”. For almost a decade, Seinfeld entertained audiences with High-talkers, Low-talkers, a Soup Nazi, Puffy shirts, and Vandelay Industries. Their secret weapon was “nothing”. I believe the show was such a success because it allowed us to laugh about our lives, that even if life may feel like “nothing” is happening – something could come of it.

Unfortunately, when we feel our lives are in a state of “nothing-ness”, it tends to weigh heavier than that of a sitcom. You may be dealing with the loss of a loved-one. Maybe you have lost your job and just want to give your boss a piece of your mind. Perhaps you’re to the point of just giving up. I often find myself going through the day feeling numb – feeling the same ole thing everyday and wake up to do it all over again. It makes you want to just yell, “Serenity now!” at the top of my lungs. No matter how many times, you have tried to pick yourself up and start over, you somehow manage to fall into the same pattern of “feeling insignificant”.

We are able to identify ourselves and see we are like Samson. Samson was a man of great power and great responsibility (sorry for the Spiderman reference), however his pride often got him into trouble. But his pride and sin finally got the best of him. After this dude, flat-out manhandles the Philistines for years, Samson tells Delilah the source of his strength and she betrays him. The Philistines raid the place, and we read one of the most terrifying verses in the Bible:

“And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” – Judges 16:20

First, Samson was stripped of his talents and strength, and all because he put his sin and ego before his relationship with God, he never knew God had left him. We find ourselves in the same trap Samson set for himself. We go through our systems and patterns thinking that we can defeat our enemies like we have every other time. But without the power of God and his favor we are nothing.

To borrow a quote from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes: “The remarkable about life is that it’s never so bad that it can’t get worse.” This became true for our friend Samson. Now that the Light had left him, so did his sight. The Philistines gouged out his eyes and held him as a prisoner. Samson had lost. He was defeated. A man who once had everything – power, status, favor, influence, provision, and family – threw it all away and now a joke and a disappointment. While being carried out of his cell to be mocked, Samson prays to God to grant him strength once more, as a sacrifice for the glory of God. And God heard and answered Samson’s prayer. It was when Samson had been humbled to nothing; God used him for his greatest feat.  That day Samson killed more Philistines than in his entire life.

How did Samson wind up in this position? Our boy Samson lived a life lacking reverence of God and His law. Before we go ahead and throw Samson under the bus, let’s check ourselves. We often live a life of exception instead of conviction. This is especially true for Christians, I don’t want to sound legalistic in this but I can’t count the number of times I have told myself, “others shouldn’t do this or can’t do this. But my relationship with God is so intimate and close, that I’ll be fine.” This is a dangerous road that resembles the one Samson travelled. We are not the “exception” to any of the rules or conviction that the Bible lays out for us. Samson knew God’s word; he knew the restrictions on his life. When he started believing that he was the exception, and not living by conviction, his life turned from black and white to gray.

This series of ignoring convictions also leads us into a lifestyle of “nothing-ness”. When we sacrifice our convictions to be an exception, we create a false standard of what it means to be like Christ. And isn’t that our goal – to become more like Christ?

It was out of Samson’s “nothing” that God used Samson. This story is just one example of God’s restoring power. This takes place all over the Bible. As we study his word, find out that restoring nothing into something isn’t just something God does; it’s who He is. It is God’s character to restore the old to become new. We could go into story after story but I only want to share two. The first is quick an easy, you don’t have to go too far in your Bible either.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” – Genesis 1:1-4

It’s simple, while there was nothing, “without form and void”, God spoke to nothing and creation took place. And it was good. It’s important that we don’t forget that when God transforms our “nothing” into “something” it is good. We may not like our outcome at times, but remember when He creates it brings glory to His name. Which leads us to our final story, Luke 1.

The Virgin Mary is told she will give birth to the Christ. Now, I maybe wrong but as much as this is “good” news, this is also a terrible outcome for Mary. Who really wants to be pregnant as an unmarried 14 year-old? Mary had to have faced ridiculed, exclusion, rejection, and frustration during this pregnancy. Let us be like Mary though, when are transformation becomes discouraging and seeming like an empty promise:

“For with God; nothing is impossible” – Luke 1:37

This has always been an encouraging statement to me. And you maybe thinking, that may have been the most obvious insight I’ve given. But humor me for a second. We know that it is nothing is impossible with God. Therefore we can assume that it is impossible for God to do nothing. Remember Samson, when you have failed God and others you love, and it’s resulted to you begging for God. He can turn you nothing into your greatest achievement.

So, why does “nothing” matter? Because it reminds us, when we are down to nothing and we feel like our lives are going nowhere; God is up to something. He has not forgotten you. We don’t have to live out Seinfeld; we don’t have to have “a life about nothing”. Let us die to our exception mentality and allow God to work in our lives like never before. We may not enjoy the process, but in the end He will call it “good”.

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3 Ways I Know I’m Not Superman

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Turns out I’m not Superman. I’m not faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive. Most of the time I’m unable to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s a hard pill to swallow – I can’t do everything on my own. The other day I was cleaning out a little storage space, that a friend is allowing me to borrow. He told me that if I needed any help moving something to just call him. Let’s face it a real man doesn’t need help. But turns out my pride and independence ended up hurting me in long run. I tried moving something that I had no business moving by myself. Due to it’s awkward positioning, I had to lift with my back, next thing I know I can hardly move. It felt like I had someone swing a sledge hammer into my back and it got stuck.

I came to find out, no matter what phase of life we are in: we will always need community. I learned that day; there are three things that often lead me away from admitting I need community in my life.

Pride: This one is the given. The outcome often punches a whole in Nietzsche’s “Superman” philosophy. No matter what I think of myself, I can’t do everything on my own. I will suffer and deal with pain. Without relationships in my life, I wouldn’t want to go through those times of heartache. I need to lay my pride down and just ask for help.

Insecurity: I never realized my insecurities played such a role in my life until I went to college. For so many years, I had tried to prove to myself and to others that I could do it. Whatever it may have been I was good enough and strong enough to tackle it on my own. Building on your insecurities is sheer ignorance. The Church no longer needs strong people that struggle in the weaknesses and insecurities. We need Christians that in their weaknesses and insecurities become strong. This links back to getting rid of our pride, so that we can admit within gospel-centered community, “I cannot do it; but in Christ, I find my strength.”

Inconvenience: In order to get to that point, many of us need to overcome this mentality of being an inconvenience to others. This is a huge reason why I never ask for help, I don’t want to bother them with my problems or issues. If you’re around people like that, you need to find better friends. Paul rebukes that type fellowship in Galatians 6:

“…if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

In Matthew 10 and Luke 9, we see Jesus send out his disciples to preach the good news together. I find it remarkable that he sends them out to do ministry and life together. He proceeds to tell them that throughout their journey they will face suffering and persecution. We need to know that we cannot go through this life by ourselves. We need to get rid of all pride, insecurity and inconveniences. Let us live a gospel-centered life together.

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When the Paint Mixes…

My first two years of college, I had a roommate that I will never forget. Ethan was an art major – but before you go ahead and stereotype, you need to understand that he wasn’t you typical “art major”. He was a man and quite entertaining for that matter. But that’s a conversation for another time.

One of my favorite parts about living with him was when he would do his “homework”. It was amazing to watch a blank canvas turn into a masterpiece. It was a piece of work that nobody else could complete other than Ethan. He was able to envision the “finished” product the whole time, even when it was blank.

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It would amaze me when he would mix the paint colors, he always knew how much to add, and which colors to add to find the shade he needed. Watching him create would always inspire, and I remember thinking: we are all paint in the Artist’s hand. He’s creating something bigger than myself, but I’m lucky enough to be a part in it.

Now stay with me, I may be the color red, but in order to perform they way God intended me, I need to be orange. If you know your color wheel, you know that I need to have yellow added to me – not orange.

Sometimes yellow is no fun at all. There have been times when the yellow has meant various things. God will and does put things in our lives, that we don’t want to happen: we lose a loved one, get let-go from our job, may receive tough news from a doctor, the list goes on. But God and His beautiful mercy, uses these things for our good. Yellow can be awesome! God is finally putting the cherry on top to unleash you into your calling. It’s that finally step towards finding your fulfillment in Christ! You are no longer a blotch of paint sitting and waiting to be used.

We often don’t see it as good though. We must trust the Artist though, He is creating something beyond our understanding, and it’s higher than our ways. When we do see it, we can rejoice in it!

The yellow that was once our pain, suffering, regrets, sin, depression, and confusion; God has used it for His glory and our good. Paul has reminded us in Philippians 4 to be content in all things that come our way. Because even though we may not see it, God is forming us into who we are meant to be, in order to advance the Kingdom.

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Fahrenheit 451 in the Church

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Hypothetically, if Christianity was proven to be false, God was an idea, and Jesus folklore, would you still attend church?

This is a question that I have often pondered.

Now, don’t misread this as a muse covering my lack of faith. Jesus becomes more alive to me everyday I walk with Him. This is more of a question regarding the position of the Church in our lives.

I’ve had friends tell me they would still attend church – even if Christianity were proven to be a hoax. The church is a remarkable entity that promotes the importance of community. They tell me why they would keep attending: “I receive great teaching on how to be a better person, husband, father, friend, etc.”, “I am building relationship with people in my community”, and the list of reasons go on.

For myself, being an introvert, those thoughts don’t pop up in my head. I could get the same type of teaching out of a book, rather than surrounding myself with hundreds of people.  Without Jesus how is there any standard of morality. C.S. Lewis asks the question: “Without an absolute truth – how do we gauge what is good or what is bad?” In short, I wouldn’t attend church if the gospel of Jesus Christ were weightless.

So if our churches are comfortable enough to just go and learn how to be better people, have we missed the mark? I don’t want to be like other people. I want to be like Christ. Isn’t that the purpose of the Church: to help people to become more like Christ?

In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag brings the last-known-existing Bible to the house of Professor Faber. Upon reading this Bible, Faber looks at Montag with a look of desperation and says:

“I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up or is it dressed him down.”

Do we see Christ in the ways we have dressed him up in our churches? We must stop dressing up the gospel with morality mumbo-jumbo. We walk a dangerous line when we try to find the balance of morality teaching and gospel-centered teaching. Shouldn’t it be a red flag that we would still want to attend a church if Christ is not at the center? Christ must be at the center or our mission is lost.

Keep in mind that this is not a slam against the Church be any means. I side with Augustine, “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

Let us always be centered by Christ, in everything we do. I believe if we become more like Christ – by default we become better spouses, parents, employees, co-workers, friends, etc.

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The Divine Riddler

I remember growing up when I would visit my grandparents, there would be an unfinished puzzle on their coffee table. We would always work on them together. I was always around puzzles, I loved piecing it together – but I hated not being able to figure them out.

It was probably all of those puzzles that developed my love for cliffhanger movies. I love walking out of the theatre and the rest of the night becomes a debate of what would have happened. The movie that always comes to mind is Inception – did Cobb’s top keep spinning or did it fall?

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I’m not writing this to determine what happened next. But I’m writing this to dig into man’s desire to problem solve. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t find satisfaction in resolving an issue. I like to think it’s our desire to always be in control, have power, and all the answers to life. I wish this were possible, the only problem with seeing this come to fruition is the Bible. We will never have all the answers.

An obvious illustration would be Job – the most righteous man on earth. God allows all sorts of destruction to lay the smackdown on Job’s entire livelihood. His business collapses, children are killed, he becomes sick, but his nagging wife remains, as well as, friends that didn’t really give a rip about how Job was experiencing. This dude is miserable. A guy who had it all is now penniless. Like any other human being that assumes they have all the answers, Job begins to question God on how He is running things.

And how does God answer Job? He tells him to gird his loins and starts with His own rapid fire of questioning! Job doesn’t even get one of his questions answered. However, when God was finally finished telling Job who is ruling the universe, Job responds:

“I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
 It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” - Job 42:1-6

Also, while John the Baptist is in his prison cell. We find him puzzled – “If Jesus is really the Messiah, then why am I about to die for him? Is he not here to set me free?” In Luke 7, we see John send his disciples to Jesus, asking if he really is the messiah they have been waiting for or if they should search for another. And what does Jesus do? Same thing he’s always done with questions – He doesn’t give a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Jesus starts quoting the prophet Isaiah. Informing them that everything that has been prophesied has been fulfilled.

After giving them a riddle, Jesus tells the crowd that John the Baptist is the greatest man to ever walk the earth. That’s right. The man we saw doubting his faith in a prison, Jesus extended love. So while we are stuck in the middle of our crossroads, problems, riddles, doubts, lack of faith, or maybe just complacency – Jesus still loves us. Don’t be intimidated by your troubles. For we have a lifeguard, who saves us while we are sinking into our own despair and doubts. When we are struggling in our faith, searching for answers, we may end up getting riddles. G.K. Chesterton once wrote:

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

Instead of focusing on what is troubling us, let us rejoice as Job did: He answered us!

In our questioning – Jesus, being rich in mercy, responds to us.

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