Sunday, March 6, 2016

Rostock. Update.

Rostock - March 6th, 2016.

Well, again I have posted far less than I had intended to. I continue to strive to be the man that has a one to one resolve to product ratio. Oh how much easier it is to have a good idea than to sit down and do the dang thing. But here I am toward the latter part of my time in Rostock to update those who are interested in my life.

As I hoped, my role as a player has increased greatly this season. Here in Rostock I average the second most minutes on my team and feel like I am a valued asset to the organization. I am averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds. Although I felt like I had a very mediocre start to the season, lately I have found my groove and consistency on the court. Whenever it's time to practice or play a game, I have a confidence now that I didn't always at the beginning of this season.
I have made many memories on the court that I will treasure for a long time. Some of them are not so good, like losing more than 5 games by single digits, a couple of them on a buzzer beater. Others are more positive, like being a big contributor in big wins, feeling the support of a gym full of 2300 cheering people, and concluding the regular season with home court advantage for the playoffs.
I can happily say that I continue to love this game. I am motivated to be the best I can be for these brief years to come. The game is here now, but will pass quickly. To enjoy every second is my goal. One of the things I love most about basketball is that it is bigger than itself, as all things in life must be in order to have lasting meaning. The game teaches me about life, and it teaches me about my walk with Christ. Here are just a few: 1) It has taught me that "you reap what you sow" - the mundane and daily work you put in (or do not put in) will certainly reveal itself in time to come, no matter what you do. Either there will be moments of sadness that clearly point to the fact that you did not sow hard work when you could have, or there will be moments of gladness that reveal the sowing you have done. 2) It has taught me that change is a process of vision and discipline - bad habits are replaced only by a vision for something greater, and then disciplinary steps to attain new habits and ultimately realize the vision. That means that the first few weeks of change will involve many things that seem unpleasant and not fun at all; things that need to be embraced. I watched the movie Creed the other day, and the old Rocky Balboa looked into the mirror and said words, "This guy right here - I believe he is the toughest opponent you will ever have to face. I believe that's true in the ring, and I believe that's true in life." Even with our spiritual life, though Christ fuels it by his constant grace and our abiding in that vine, disciplinary steps must be followed for any lasting change to come. 3) It has helped me understand key verses better - "Rejoice in your suffering, for suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces hope"; Training has given me a real life example of how suffering is a key process of growth. "Practice these things, immerse yourself in them," is Paul's advice to young Timothy in his role as a spiritual example of love and kindness. Being immersed in a sport and practicing it daily helps me grasp what Paul is getting at. "For the joy set before him, he set aside..." Jesus sacrificed in an incomparable way to take his seat at the right hand of God. As an athlete I must set aside things to attain my goals. As a Christian I must set aside many things in this world to attain the joy ahead. I could go on and on... but this is a big part of what I love about basketball: how it transcends itself. God is involved in everything if I only see it.

Life in Rostock.
Off the court has been an interesting journey in Rostock.
Slowly but surely I have gotten to know people out here. Primarily with my teammates I have heard stories, shared my story, explored new restaurants, made memories on the court, shared laughs, and simply spent a lot of time. It has expanded a little bit to people in the organization and Seawolves supporters. I get invited almost weekly to dinner with one of the supporting families that also work with the organization on the media aspect. When this began, I realized how much I missed being in a family home, hanging out with their two kids, having a home cooked meal, and just interacting away from the "business" aspect. I look forward to this every week now. I also have started coaching young kids ages 8-13. It has been fun getting to know them and encouraging them. Some days I don't have to rush to my own practice after kids practice, which allows me to pick up a quick bite to eat with the kids and drive some of them home after. They have appreciated that, I can tell, and it has made for some good conversations. It's amazing to me how kids want to share their lives. I coach once a week and I look forward to this time as well.
I have also discovered a few spots I really enjoy. I love going to the city in Rostock. It's a small, quaint inner city that preserves the feel of an old fashion German town. In the city there is coffee shop called Meyerbeer where I like spending my time and reading. The ladies know me by name by now. I also recently (to my shame) discovered "Karl's Strawberry Farm" and "Adventure Land." This place turns out to be only 6 minutes away from my apartment and is a kids dream (my friends know I'm a big kid). I go there and get to watch people make their own chocolate, candy, ice cream, strawberry jelly, and many other things. All of it happens in a huge wooden shed (I don't know if you can call it a shed because it's so big), and inside you hear the sound of birds tweeting all over. Real life birds just fly all around this place, and to this day I haven't found any bird poop, it's amazing! Outside there is a huge slide overlooking part of the city, trampoline like gadgets, a goat farm, an ice museum, a giant plastic strawberry to hang out in, a pony riding station, and some bumpy car rides. I love to just go and sample all the sugary things and bring my Bible. That place has made my time here more fun. Now that I'm typing all of this out, I might just head over there today since it's a day off.

On the other hand, my time here has not been without struggle.
Never in my life have I had more questions about my story in God's plan. With the absence of church involvement, long distance education financially not working out this year, basketball being my only job, and relationships that have yet to evolve into significant depth, I have had more time by myself to just think and be alone. I seek to start new projects in my life to fill my time and be productive, but I still lack some of the same discipline to follow through with things that I want to do, and say no to things I'd like to do (Ironically this is the same sort of discipline I mentioned before. Even those who learn that it's necessary still need to learn to put it in practice). In the end this often leaves me in a place where I've done nothing at all. That can be so so discouraging. Sometimes it leaves me in tears and it feels like the Enemy pounces on me in that moment with half truths, shame, and thoughts of despair: "You're 25, at the height of life, and you're wasting it!"... "All your meaningful relationships are back home and you're here playing with an orange ball!"... "You want to be disciplined!?! You still haven't even done the dishes, you fool!"... "What in the world will you do when basketball is over!? You're not even setting yourself up for the future"... "You haven't even spoken with your teammates about eternal things in months! They don't care."... etc, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. Worries about my faith, worries about my future, worries about my lack of discipline. It can be tough and it can quickly take me from being at the feet of Jesus, yet I remembered my first joy recently: I was a 20 year old entangled in sin and I realized what Christ did for me on that cross. He took all my shame and all my failure and took as far from me as the east is from the west. He called me clean and gave me new life in him. He made me a child of the Father and I was adopted with an eternal inheritance. He said you need not worry about the future, just follow me and be faithful this day. Do the things that enrich your FAITH, which is more precious than gold and will result in glory and praise to the Father, and let the future be in my hands. "You do not know what tomorrow holds."
These are the truths that gave me joy when I first came to Christ, and they remain to be my joy. From this place I can gladly go do my dishes, to the glory of God, without coming from a place of shame, working off the list of things to do to make my life "the meaningful life of a 25 year old" in vain. Christ has done it, and it is forever finished. That is what gives my life purpose.

Smiling as I go do the dishes now...

May Grace be the fuel of all of our lives.


ps. Here's a little nugget of Gold (in my opinion), from CS Lewis' "Screwtape Letters," in regards to being worried about the future. It has helped me as I consider my uncertain future post basketball. The demon Screwtape is advising a junior demon, Wormwood, on how to paralyze his patient (a human) and keep him from doing their Enemy's (God) will by being anxious about the future:

"My dear Wormwood,
I am delighted to hear that your patient's age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do [like the dishes]; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy's will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him--the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say 'Thy will be done', and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them as his crosses: let him forget that, since they are incompatible, they cannot all happen to him, and let him try to practice fortitude and patience to all of them in advance. For real peace, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible, and the Enemy does not greatly assist those who are trying to attain it: resignation to present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is easier and is usually helped by this direct action."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Back to Blogging. HAMBURG - SUMMER - ROSTOCK (+pics)

Hi everyone! 

First I must apologize to those who have been kind enough to keep up with me via this blog. There is one good reason I haven't posted in so long and that is that my gmail account was hacked. I had to go through the Biola IT department to recover my account and I finally figured it out. Another not so good reason is that I have been quite lazy about writing. There is nothing really to add to that reason. 

As my second year in Germany is rolling, I feel convicted again to update you first about my time since the last post and then get back into the flow of blogging regularly. One thing that I have missed so much about blogging here is being able to express my thoughts from a perspective of faith. For those who know me you know that God has changed my view of everything, including my life, to be seen in view of his existence and purposes. I realize that every person who reads this may not share the faith that I have, but since this is a glimpse into my heart and my mind, and since no one is forced to read this, I take great pleasure in sharing exactly how I think through my days in Germany. That will always mean trying to see life through the lens of scripture and the advancement of his kingdom. Also, since I do not like to force my perspective on people and have not come across too many people here in Germany who share my views, this blog serves as a sweet way to be able to express myself. Even if just one person cared enough to hear my heart, that would be enough for me.

So, here we go, let me try to fly over my time since the last blogpost:

Closing chapter in Hamburg

            In many ways it was hard for me to leave Hamburg. I made great friends, felt like I was being used there, and grew to feel comfortable in the city. As a team we made great memories, won many close games, exceeded expectations, and established the “Hamburg Towers” as a brand, not just a basketball team. Yet it is in the nature of this job to be regularly uprooted from the place you have invested in. To me this primarily means leaving the relationships that you built there. Sadly it was just as I began to feel like the root was being established that my time ended. Ultimately the decision to not return was a business matter. It would be better for my basketball future to move on. As much as I would have liked to stay, God had his perfect plan for me and I was there exactly the time he wanted me to be there. He needs no one but he can use anyone. The tears shed when I left were prayers that the time was not in vain; that the relationships were meaningful; and that, even if in a tiny way, it was God's good pleasure to use me to point to him.

Summer - A treasure of memories

            The summer I so anticipated came and went like a flash. What a wonderful flash it was! Reconnecting with so many people I love and missed so much was a joy beyond words. Beginning with my family and all of the dinners, movies, and game nights we shared, to all the church family and old friends I got to share hugs with; they all made me feel so loved and missed. I don’t think there are many things sweeter in life than feeling loved and missed by people. What if, like some of the teammates I’ve met, home was a place of sadness, conflict, and turmoil? A place to be avoided rather than a place to be longed for? I thank you Father of all good gifts that this is not so. I have a whole new set of good and happy memories from my time back home. This summer I also made brand new relationships. In fact, I spent lots of time with people I had never met before coming home. These are people I dearly miss now and pray for; people who I already love and care for deeply. It’s funny how we have our own vision of things and God has his own secret plans. If someone had told me before I left for Hamburg that I would come back in nine months to start new relationships which will play a significant role in your life, I might have chuckled and said that “I’ll have plenty of old ones to focus on.” 

Life in Rostock, and the "Rostock Seawolves"
            In the first few months I have learned a few things about Rostock. The beach city located by the Eastern Sea has a beautiful downtown area with many old buildings and remnants from an ancient castle. I love to see walls that have stood for hundreds of years to remind me how my life is but a breath and generations have come and gone. The people here tend to be very private but don’t seem unfriendly when they can sense that you care for them. As some may know Rostock is located in the old eastern side of the formerly divided country, so it is not surprising that people would be very cautious of others. Understandably there is still much pain that dwells with the older generation since they did not receive the best treatment during the communist days. However, the large population of young people here (being a “university city”) does not seem too affected by the pain of those days. Someone as outgoing as me might have to learn the social norms here, but I think I have grown to understand the culture a little bit.

I have been settled in for a while now, spent significant time with lots of new teammates, and started the basketball season. I spend most of my days back in the routine of pro sports: Wake up, eat, work out, eat again, nap, eat again, practice, eat again, and go to sleep. It could easily get very repetitive and dull but I try to fill my free hours investing in teammates by going downtown for coffee and conversation, reading things that will open my mind to God’s purposes in the world around me, and keep up with people’s lives back home (though this is a continual challenge). Every now and then FIFA and Playstation find their way into my day too. My "Ultimate Team" is getting pretty good I must say.

My teammates are all guys I enjoy spending time with and for that I am thankful. Of course we look forward to having some space from each other when we can, but it is always a blessing when there are no significant relationship problems to speak of; especially the guys you end up spending hours after hours with. More than anything else this job consists of the relationships you have with teammates, and I praise the Lord that this is my second professional season with guys I enjoy being around. If anyone has seen any of my social media you know that the teammates love to goof around and dance a lot, but I’m happy to say that, with some of the guys, I’ve also shared deep and stretching conversations. For example yesterday was the first time one of the guys asked me about my story and I had the privilege of recounting the amazing work God did to pull me out of darkness into new life in him. Franz is actually one of the guys who wants to go grab coffee regularly now and talk about more some deeper things in life, rather than constant talk about basketball, that new funny video on instagram, or how my FIFA team is doing (please don’t get me wrong, these are all things I love to talk about!).
All in all, a big part of my focus is how I’m growing in relationships with these guys. Basketball is something I am daily improving in and so very thankful for, but at the end of the day I want to learn from these guys and, Lord willing, share with them what God has taught me. In old age I imagine that a championship ring would be a sad thing to look at if it were not connected to memories of meaningful relationships.

Speaking of Basketball however, there is a new chapter of my career now in process. Some of you may know that I moved down one league (from ProA to ProB) to join a team that is aspiring to compete for a championship this year. Personally my role in this team has changed a lot in comparison to last year. I have started the last six games and coach has made me a big part of the rotation. I am averaging over twenty minutes a game and it feels nice to be back out there a lot more. With this new role I have been very up and down in my performances in the beginning stages. Perhaps the biggest early roller coaster I have ever been in regards to stats, I have had 20-point games to be followed by 1-point games. My rebounds have also been up and down. I hope to be more consistent in every way, even beyond the stat sheet, but I’m glad coach is giving me the trust the feel free out there. As a group we have started the season with 4 wins and 2 losses. We feel like there is plenty of room to improve on and believe that we should win every game. Tomorrow will be the next test, and we are planning on bouncing back from a tough road defeat last week. 


Final Thoughts. 

I continue to pray that my life would be one of being an aroma for Christ. It is challenging to know that these people may not be the same guys I’m surrounded by just a year from now. Sometimes I am tempted to protect my own heart from investing so much into guys that may very well be distant friends again next year, but I know that would be foolish. I continue to miss people that are dear to me back home. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t get sad about my dear niece, Addison, and her growth and development. It is tough to be gone for such precious days in her life. She is just one example of the many people I think of. However, if this job has taught me anything at all, it has impressed on me that we are sojourners in this world. There is no lasting home on earth and “my citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). As much as I would like to be with all the people dear to me and avoid the heartache of being taken from place to place, I fall back on that the truth that I am a visitor here anyways. On top of this, the relationships I have in Christ will last for millions of ages to come. Oh the wonder and glory of that thought! I also fall onto the great comfort of the sovereignty and wisdom of God, who orders all my steps in this short life. “Many are the plans in [my] heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). He has me in Rostock now and there are still many sheep here that have not been gathered yet. With that, I know that I am right where I belong. May I embrace and love the people in this place more and more. Please pray along these lines.

PS. Hearing your responses, thoughts, prayers, encouragement or anything else is so very valuable to me. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me. 


Along with the update, here are some glimpses from the "Hamburg - Summer- Rostock" days:

Parents visit during Hamburg time

They have "Murillo" jerseys!? Lol.

Final moments in Hamburg uniform. "More than Basketball"; namely, friendships.

Summer Fun with my girl. 

Family time in Cali

Summer days in Rostock

Precious long distance Skype times with my Addi Baby

Downtown Rostock

New Chapter of Basketball as a member of the Rostock Seawolves

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Little Update

Hey dear people who are interested enough in my life to check my blogs! Just wanted to let you know that I'm still here (waves).

Little update:

My mother arrived last week and she's been a great blessing to have here. She made me a little lunchpack for after my practice a few days ago. Felt like her little boy all over again :) Yesterday we did a "tourist day" in Hamburg - took a boat tour through the harbor with amazing weather (rare), went to a miniature museum where whole countries are displayed in miniature form, and ate the proclaimed "best pizza in Hamburg." It was glorious! Mama has also enjoyed a couple of basketball games by now. She's into it as always! Feels good to look up in the crowd and see my mama and give her the routine 'I see you' wink ;) I think it's funny for her to see her son have his own place, with his own car, and his own job. To her I'm still that little son of hers (mothers can relate I'm sure). Can't wait for my dad to join the fun on thursday. They are both staying until the 23rd of march. 

I continue to be amazed that I get to do what I love and live off of it. That feeling of gratitude comes pretty consistently. On the other hand this season continues to be a personal battle. In many ways I feel like I have earned more playing time than I receive. I struggle with the limited minutes I receive. Can't knock on my coach too much though because he's done a great job to get us in the position that we are in, considering it's a first year club. We remain in a playoff spot going into the last 4 games. I hope my role can still increase in regards to playing time through the final stretch, but more than this, I pray that I continue to keep my eyes fixed on that which God values. This year, with all of the on court challenged, has been a great spiritual parable to me. "Worry about that which you can control" has an entirely deeper meaning to me now. In life and in the game of basketball I will have circumstances that are entirely outside of my control. I am slowly learning how to focus on the process, even when the outcomes are not what I hope for; and more importantly, how to keep doing this through negative results. 

I enjoy my teammates and I think couldn't have asked for an easier group to get along with in the world of egocentric professional sports. Everyone can talk to everyone on this team and I am thankful for this. I have made many acquaintances and some friends away from the court as well, who have kept life full. The one void I continue to feel is the connection to a local church. Sometimes I feel disoriented in my walk by not having a community of believers around who encourage and strengthen each other in their walks. Nonetheless I continue walking, blessed by my fellowship with God himself. His constant presence and my constant access to the holy place have never before been such source of meditation for me. Jesus remains risen, and he continues to be the best friend I could ever have. Thanks to him I don't really remember ever feeling truly lonely here.

The enemy tries to freak me out about the unknown future, especially pertaining to my job. I love Hamburg and could see myself returning after some conversations about my role as a player, but all of that is uncertain. It could very well take months longer to know where I will end up next season. I'll just keep fighting to trust God with all of that. Today I am in Hamburg playing for the Towers and God is calling me to live life this day. That means get ready for practice tonight and enjoy his presence. I do not even know what will happen to me tomorrow. If you will, pray that I can keep all my focus on that which is beneficial to me, not anxiety producing. 

While I feel like I want to take advantage of the few days that remain here, I simultaneously feel a great excitement about the planned return home this summer. Miss so many people.



Friday, January 16, 2015

Poem: Glory Misplaced

I have not written many, but tonight I wrote a poem inspired by my heart posture in connection with my most recent basketball game. 

With the starting big man unable to play, I was given my first opportunity have significant playing time as a professional. Surprisingly, my coach even called on me to start the game. I was nervous. Despite feeling a bit sick the previous days and facing tough competition, I hoped that I would be able to use this opportunity to prove my worth as a basketball player and show coach that I belonged on his team (most my rookie season has been quite frustrating in this regard). Knowing how weak I felt at seemingly the worst time possible, I prayed earnestly that God Almighty would grant me strength and favor that night. He answered the prayer in an obvious way. I was the top scorer of the game with 19 points on 80% shooting in just 24 minutes. My previous average was 3 points a game in 8 minutes. 

This poem, however, is about a far far bigger battle that took place than a basketball game: 



I am weak.
            “I seek you,
               I need you.
            Come fill me,”
I entreat.

This task
            “Too hard for me,
               too tough for me. 
             Achieve it, Lord,”
I ask.

            I’M JUST DAVID.
            I CAN’T MAKE IT.

            “BRING ONLY TEN!
            STRENGTH’S NOT WITH MEN.”]


I am called.
            “I’ve pleaded,
               Lord, lead it!
             It’s up to you.”
Scared of the fall.

In the process.
            “I feel you,
               Still need you.
            You’re in this,”
I confess.

            THE STONE WAS FOUND.
            MEN TO CONFOUND.

            HOW COULD IT BE!?”
            THAT ALL MIGHT SEE!]


I prevail.
            “I was the best.
               None would have guessed.
            But I knew I could!”
By men I’m hailed.

I reflect.
            “With hard work earned,
              this day deserved!
            My worth is proven.
Sinful neglect.

            LEST YOU FORGET,
            YOUR FEET TO SET.                                

            THOUGH IT MAY SEEM
            IN YOUR DARK DREAM.”]

PART 4. 

(days later…)
I recall.
            “I was weak then.
               So am again.
            Who really did cause this?”
Oh did I fall?

I repent.
            “Oh God forgive!
               How dare I live,
            as glory thief?”
Grace; heaven sent.

            THEIR GLORY CHOSE.

            TO SING THE SONG
            TO JOIN THE THRONG

            “OUR GOD ADORE!” ]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Steadfast Love in Transition

My time at Biola University was rich. When I left I called it "the Shire" because of the feeling of 
home I had there. As the months have gone by, I realize that it may just as well be called the Shire for its fertile soil. Any of you who are familiar with the land of the hobbits know that it "yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither" (Ps. 1). It is a green and lush place, filled with life and abundance. 

While being at Biola I was constantly surrounded by God's truth. Even when I had rough days, and felt the tugs of deceitful sin, there was always a stream of truth coming toward me whether I took the initiative or not. Either theology class was on my schedule, a bible saturated student was my companion for lunch, a Christ-centered teammate was icing his knees with me after practice, or I was headed to youth group at my church to hear the word of God preached. All of these, and so much more, made up a continual tide of "streams of living water" coming to give life to my soul. My meditation on the God's truth was day and night whether I took the initiative or not, and just like the shire, I felt that my time there was fruitful and full of life. 

God has placed me in a radically different place now. Germany is more of a spiritual desert than I have been in since becoming a Christian. I have been here for over four months now and I am slowly adjusting. This place is different from my time at Biola. For most everyone I have met, the word of God is ignored, mocked, doubted, and far from being the real spoken word of a personal and loving God. The other day I was walking out of the subway station and looked up at the advertisements on the wall. Among all of the promotion posters for concerts and clothes there was a great big poster that simply read, "THE BIBLE IS A BOOK OF FAIRY TALES." I thought, 'Yep, that about sums up the spiritual climate here.' The lies that necessarily follow this conviction have replaced the stream of truth that was coming my way at Biola. If I don't take initiative about filling my mind with truth, there is always an overwhelming wave of lies seeking to woo me. The pilgrim must be earnest about his search for water when he knows that he is surrounded by shrubs. 

The Christian knows that his mind is easily drawn to lies. It isn't difficult to believe lies, we do it naturally. In this flesh we fight the good fight of faith. We need not fight to believe lies. All we have to do for that is relax and do nothing. We must fight to believe the truth. We must use our means of grace (our water bottles in the desert) and be vigilant. Jesus is found in his word and he is to us life, breath, water, and bread. The church of God is built on the word and the gates of hell can't prevail against it. The saints carry with them the treasure of God's word in jars of clay, and thus they become "excellent ones, in whom is all my delight" (Ps. 16:3). All of these are sources of water that have to be sought if they aren't always surrounding me. 

In a sense, my time in Germany has been a realization that while it was awesome to have truth handed to me at Biola, life outside the shire requires much more devotion and discipline. I must pursue truth and not rely on it to come my way. I must be active in my pursuit of the fountain of living water. 

In the midst of this transition I have felt God's kindness and patience. I struggle more with besetting sins than I did during my time at Biola, and I have realized how undisciplined I am in many regards, but God has been good to me in reminding me of his grace. I am thankful and encouraged by the cross. My savior came for the flawed man that I am, and he loves to be with me. If I neglect him (to my own harm) for a day or two, he runs to meet me as I stumble back. I am reminded again and again that he came for sinners, not the healthy. The Gospel of Grace has been my hope and comfort in this time of transition, just as it was in my time at Biola, and just as it will be for eternity. While I have felt weak, I realize how strong my savior is. He is my high priest and my representative in the holy place. And just as he started it, he will see through the work that he has done in me. 

I hope what I have written thus far doesn't paint a false picture of my time here. I love being in Germany and feel that I'm right where God wants me. I can't imagine having a better job than I do; I'm meeting so many people and my relationships are deepening in the church and out; And Hamburg is a beautiful city with so much to see. Even if God is not on the minds of the people around me, I think of him throughout my days. I try to stay attentive to his glory within the beauty of this cold winter season and its leafless trees, the joy of athletic ability and daily improvement, the people bearing his image all around me, the church plant that I'm involved with, the packed out gyms of 3,500 spectators on game-day, the soothing hot wine at the annual Christmas market with friends, and in everything else. As professor Jerry Root reminded me last summer, "The question is never whether God's glorious presence is around us, but only whether we attend to it." I smile as I write that, because it is a truth has brought me much joy in my time here. 

I will continue to adjust and learn what life is like outside of "the shire." I will continue to embrace all of the challenges and all of the joys. Most of all, I will continue to rejoice in his promise to me: "Surely I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

Missing all of you, especially in this thanksgiving and Christmas season.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Update: October 2nd

Family and friends,

            Some of you have been faithfully praying for me and asking me to update you via email, Skype, or this blog. I’m sorry this has taken so long. I am now moved into my apartment, however things are slow still. For one, my wifi will not be set up until October 9th and there aren’t many locations or times for hotspots. Now to the update:

Basketball preseason is over! After nearly two months of hard work we are now in the swing of things. The team is not just excited because we have official games now, but also because the rigors of preseason are over. Boy, that was a tough couple of months! As the preseason ends, I feel that I have just become used to the grind of playing basketball multiple times a day. There was a week or so when I lost some motivation, but now that has grown back. The practices are fun, the competition is exciting, and the improvement is apparent.

As a team we are playing well. I feel like we have a relatively unselfish bunch, who understands that winning is the most important thing for us. Winning our first game on the road was a big statement last week. The team we beat was a semi-finalist last year and, as we will consistently be, we were the underdog. We love the fact that people are skeptical about the “newcomer.” It has motivated us to prove people wrong and I think it makes us play better as a team. With the first win last week, “Hamburg Towers” has become a bit more of a topic of conversation in the city. The curiosity is growing in town. All of this is quite fun.

Personally, Basketball has been humbling. In our first game last week I only played 7 minutes. Though a loss would have made it much worse, I was disappointed about my time. My role is much smaller and I feel what it means to be a rookie. In some ways I’ve had to think back on my early days of basketball. Just as it was then, I believe in myself but need to convince the coaches of my ability. This week in practice I think I made a small step in that direction. Multiple times my coaches told me I was sticking out, and that I was playing dominant inside. That has been encouraging. Tomorrow we go into our second game and I think I may play a bigger role. Nevertheless, I have prayed that I would honor the Lord in whatever role I play. Ultimately he has me right where he wants me – on the bench, or on the court – and I have been fighting to remind myself that his glory is the highest priority. The bench and the court are equal playing fields of God’s glory.

Besides basketball, life is moving along... with growing pains. I am now moved into my own place and for the first time in my life I’m learning to live in my own place. God is quickly showing me how much growing up I have left to do. The Lord has already made it apparent that there is great value in being an ocean away from the people and things I depended on in the States. Especially if I ever get married, it is good to be away from my parents, the Biola caf, and a college campus for a while before that ever happens. May I vow to live a clean, responsible, and organized life before I vow to be a grand burden to a spouse (though that will be unavoidable). Things like losing my keys, forgetting my scouting report, misplacing my debit card, are just some examples of “growing pains.” 

Another adjustment has been my spiritual life here in Germany. I miss the church, but I hate to use this as an excuse. I felt like my affection has waxed and waned too often. Though I have had great moments with the Lord, I have also had dry spells in recent weeks. One great moment came out of a dry spell about a week ago. I will share a journal entry here:

            I have felt dry. Since being in Germany it has felt like a great battle to remain spiritually alive. I have been away from the church, in stretches away from the word, entangled in besetting sins, unsure about my own holiness and decision making in being a minister to the team, and feeling unsure of any sanctification in my heart at all. Perhaps I have not written about this explicitly because I haven’t had a spark of life to reveal my own state to me. Graciously, my gracious King in this last hour you partially answered my cry to ‘restore to me the joy of thy salvation.’
            It seems clear to me at this moment, after reading the testimony of Monica’s death (the mother of Augustine - Confessions), that Jesus, you alone are mighty to save. This phrase often carries limited meaning to me, but now it is full. Christ Jesus seems to me now as the powerful savior that all must lean on. In my prayers for teammates and family members it is clear again that Christ you are the only hope. Indeed, you are the hope of the world. You alone lived a perfect life, able to atone for the sins of those who call on you. In this broken ‘valley of death’ you are the only one able to provide eternal life, and it is found only in knowing you and trusting your work.
            My pride has placed me in a fog. Nothing I do, good or evil, can produce in me a spiritual vigor. Indeed what is truly ‘good’ for me to do is solely that which causes me to lean heavily upon you. Dare I admit that I have been pursuing the word, the saints, the communion of the spirit as ends in themselves, having a mysterious sustenance in themselves, apart from their leading me to the foot of the cross, and keeping me there. Is not this what your means of grace are for?, to cause in me a deep humility and a constant posture of leaning on the King of salvation, the conqueror of death. Only in him am I a conqueror. Only in offering him to those around me do I render them true love and the greatest service.
            I have fooled myself into thinking that good deeds and ‘becoming all things to all people’ are needed in ministry, apart from these leading to the offering of Christ and him crucified— the only ground of hope, grace, new birth, and eternal life.
            Father forgive me for my pride. Forgive me for thinking I have capacities which lie in your holy son alone. Forgive me for forgetting Christ in my Christianity. Help me to abide in him, Oh Lord. I am forgetful and frail. It is likely that I will hope in things beside the precious Savior in only minutes. My mind leaves the things above too quickly for those things that are passing away. Only your grace can sustain life. I bow at your altar oh king. I beg for more of your holy spirit. Indeed I feel comforted and freer at this moment than I have in days. Add to this, Oh my gracious Father. Cause my cup to overflow. All of this for the ultimate purpose, that thy name would be hallowed in my life.

 Readers, please pray for me. 

            On another note, I must mention that I finally read through all the Lord of the Rings. Having never seen the movies, this was a wonderful journey for me. I will forever love hobbits. Like the late Chris Mitchell, who described himself as a hobbit, I think these books have also made me love goodness more. This world finds far too much pleasure in evil while there is so much good to be delighted in. Things like courage, love, self-sacrifice, honor, redemption, relationships, and more, are put on display in this series. Tolkien masterfully presents the beauty of goodness. Knowing that Middle-Earth may only exist in imagination, I am thankful to know that goodness in its truest form is not fictional. Indeed all rivers of things that are praiseworthy can be traced back to the fountain of goodness. While I may never meet Gandalf, Sam, Frodo, or Aragorn, Jesus is wiser than the wizard, more loyal than the hobbit, more courageous than the ring-bearer, and more royal than the returned king, and unlike them, ‘My Redeemer Lives!’

All in all, I am doing well. I'm not homesick, despite the many people I miss. While there are "growing pains," it is good to feel like I am growing. I am enjoying Germany and seeing the autumn leaves fall to the ground. Cold and rainy days are not a bother to me. I did finally find a church community that I hope to plug in to when I have Sundays off. I am healthy and playing the sport I love. Most of all, I am chosen and marked by my Savior and I bear a treasure in this jar of clay.

 Tomorrow its off to Cuxhaven for game #2! Go Towers.

Miss you people!
In Him,

Monday, August 18, 2014

Update: First three Weeks in Hamburg

Hey friends,

Here is an update:

            Becoming a professional athlete took some getting used to. I thought I was in shape when I got here, but quickly learned that there is much more conditioning to be done. I've never lost 15 pounds in just a week and a half. I also can't remember ever having three workouts a day. The first week of practice was rough on my body. I could hardly walk from soreness when practice wasn't going on. Finally, as the end of the week came up I felt myself starting to get used to the practices.
            That lasted only a few days because on Sunday, our first day off, I woke up feeling rather sluggish. I visited a church that morning and despite many cups of coffee, my body cried for me to take a power nap during the sermon. I don't advise this since the Word of the God is worth paying attention to, but it turns out that those were the first symptoms of a flu, which I would have for the next three days. I only slept, drank tea, ate soup, and slept more until wednesday.
           Thankfully I came back to practice Wednesday night, and despite my fears, Donna's words in an email proved true, "Your training has been consistent and long term - you will not lose all your conditioning over a few days of sickness." I came back feeling lighter and within a couple days my wind came back to me. Now it's monday and I feel healthy and somewhat adapted to the rigorous training.
            We had our first two preseason games this past weekend. We played lower league teams and won handily. It's tough to judge how we are as a team from those games. It seemed we played well together, but more adversity will have to prove that. We are playing a first league BBL team next week which will be a tough matchup. That should be revealing.
             Personally, I felt ok with my performances. As of right now I am in stiff competition for playing time and nothing is guaranteed. There are three other guys besides me competing for the 4 and 5 positions. It's humbling and good for me to know that I am very replaceable if I don't work hard. At this point, I feel confident that I would be in the rotation if season started today.
            Fear of injury has tried to creep up on me. Since my job pretty much hangs on my health, I guess I see where its coming from. I have found peace, though, in knowing my God is the loving ruler over every occurrence. He will always do what brings him most glory, and what is best for me in light of that. Nothing is outside of his control.

            It has been quite a nice adjustment not having any other formal jobs besides athletics. It still feels odd that I actually don't have any homework. Study and learning has become such a part of me these last three years. "God's greatness is unsearchable" and there is always more to learn about him and his creation. It's quite nice to not have official deadlines, or the pressure of trying to graduate, but this has not removed my passion for learning. God's Word, for one, is filled with infinite treasures. Apart from working out, I've just been spending most of my time thinking and reading. I'm still easily distracted, but there has been much more quiet time available since I've been here. I've already had many times alone where I have prayed, wept, laughed, shouted, rejoiced, and found great rest on account of God's word. With brother Lawrence, I've been able to try and practice the presence of God throughout my days. In some ways life in Germany has been to me a grand retreat, and I've been feasting with the Psalmist, saying "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth" (Ps. 119:106).

            A sweet dish that God has graciously served me these last days is that He is more satisfying than anything the world has to offer. I am a Christian Hedonist! I believe God ought never to be served out of heartless duty, but I believe he is satisfying above all else - a person to be enjoyed and loved! I cannot serve God simply because Jesus did soooo much for me, I'm far too weak for that. I don't just deny the temptations of sin because "sin is so bad," I believe the opposite far too often. I don't just seek to live a set apart life because it's the virtuous thing to do, I don't have the courage for that. When I do walk in faithfulness, God enables me to do it because he reminds me that, in himself, he has far, far more in store for me than the world could ever offer. Just as sin makes promises, God makes promises; Only His promises are superior and true! The superior promises of God nullify the promises of sin. "[God] makes known to me the path of life; in his presence is there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasure forever more" (Ps. 16:11). Though sin claims to do the same, it does not. Why would I settle for half joy, or fleeting pleasure, when FULLNESS and EVERLASTINGNESS is offered to me?
              "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:24). This made no sense at all to me when I first read it. The son of Pharaoh's daughter!?!? Moses, don't you realize, you would have been served all your life. You would have had a great and famous name. You would have lived in great wealth and great prosperity. So much pleasure would have been yours! Isn't that the goal of life for so many - Money, power, success, fame? Why would you trade that in and choose to be mistreated with the people of God?! Well, the answer lies in the next verse. "He considered the reproach of Christ GREATER WEALTH than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to THE REWARD" (Hebrews 11:25). Christians who forsake the pleasures of the world ARE NOT SACRIFICING ANYTHING! They actually choose greater wealth! Even if it means taking on the "reproach of Christ." Some people will laugh, mock and maybe even kill you for loving Jesus, but there is no real sacrifice in being a Christian even if that happens. It's a great investment! God's people have a glorious future. We say goodbye to the world, "for [we] are looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). "Whatever gain I had," Paul says of his worldly accomplishments, "I count everything as loss." Not because that's what good Christians are supposed to do, but "because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:7,8). A relationship with Jesus is WORTH MORE than a great life here and now. "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). God is our reward, we have eternal life, and I can't wait to see him face to face!

              Perhaps the hardest part of being here has been the inability of rejoicing with the saints over these things. I told many that by the end of my time at Grace I could actually relate to David when he said, "As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight" (Ps. 16:11). I truly delight in God's people.
             Every relationship is about something, and since I'm absolutely obsessed with the God of the Gospel, my closest friends are usually those who share this love with me. And they love to talk about it! (Skyping and praying with Cody Wittick and Karl Holmlund was a sweet gift for me this past weekend!) It feels a bit like getting the wind knocked out of you when you feel greatly affected by God, and look up only to realize that you are surrounded by people who can't relate. Don't get me wrong, I like all the people I've met here so far and I enjoy times with my teammates, but still I long for people who share my greatest love.
             I have not been completely deprived, however. I was able to visit a church last week where I met dear brothers and sisters. They reached out to me and I quickly learned that they loved the God of the Gospel and treasured his Word. Despite the early symptoms of illness, I felt very refreshed being there. Unfortunately that church meets about 40 minutes away and we very often play on Sundays. I know it would be hard to plug in there. There is another congregation in my part of town that I hope to visit soon. The next few weekend we will be traveling, which makes it hard to know when I will be able to connect. I have the pastors email so I will try and get in touch with him this week. I am eagerly looking forward to meeting the family there.

            As far as my living situation goes, I am happy and well taken care of. Even though some things are moving slow and I have not gotten into my apartment, I have been staying in a 5 star hotel since I arrived. The breakfast, rooms and services are incredible! The luxuries might be stunting my growth a bit, but it's just a season ;). When I texted my friend Tessa about how I've gotten "so much earthly blessings," she wisely asked if that was a good thing. I love friends who remind me to be humble and prayerful! I should be getting my apartment next month but I know I will miss aspects of the hotel life, so I'm in no hurry. I have not gotten my own car yet. I am sharing a rental car with three teammates who are also temporarily staying in the same hotel. However, the public transportation system is so good here in Hamburg that I am considering trading in my car for extra cash and a monthly public transportation pass. That will depend on how close my apartment is located to the gym, among other things.

          All in all, I feel glad to be here. I am only homesick for my heavenly home. Though I have much alone time, I don't feel lonely very much. Skype is an amazing blessing and has made things much easier, especially with my family. Please add acmurillo22 if any of you ever want to Skype me. I would love to see faces from home.

Things I would love you to pray for:
- Church community and fellowship
- Deepening relationships with the people God has placed in my life
- Discernment and boldness in these relationships
- Continued health, but more than that, trust in all circumstances.
- That I would abide in the vine
- That I would be prayerful for this city