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.

Love,
Andre


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,
Andre


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

 
         

Friday, July 18, 2014

Signed!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” - James 1:17.

This past week I signed a contract to play professional Basketball in Hamburg, Germany. I now get to call my sport my job! The game that I have so loved since my youth now gets to be my career for a little while. What in the world!? Although I've thought of the possibility of this moment for a some time, it still feels like a dream.  

There is a lot of extra blessing that has come with this 1 year contract. Not only did I get to sign with any team, but I signed with a team that is located in the north, close to my family. This means that my grandfather (who has been one of my best friends since birth) will be able to attend my games, along with my grandma, uncle, aunt, cousin, my old nanny, and many more friends. I actually have some friends who live directly in the city. Also, I get to live in a lively city with close to two million people, which means that there are many people to meet and even some solid churches in the area. Ironically, the big city did not have a high level basketball organization before this year. The "Hamburg Towers" are a brand new organization this season. They purchased a multi-million Euro gym that is currently being built and a 75,000 Euro license to jump directly into the 2. Basketball Bundesliga. On top of this, they hired a coach who I have known for the last five years, and who was the one who connected me with my agent three years ago (quite the cool story behind this). Unlike other coaches who had to rely on tape, he knows my game from watching me play in person, and liked it enough to want me on the team. All of this is plain old extra! To be in such an ideal location with the relationships in place, is sheer extra grace. Here are some links for more information on the city and the team (some content may only be in German, lol): 





It's all a bit overwhelming. As mentioned it is hard for me to grasp that the game is now my job. What a dream come true! As a little kid I hoped for this. As I wrote about in the last blog post, I feel a big call on this endeavor. This is bigger than just basketball and I think often of the many souls that are in Germany. God is doing his work there and I eagerly want to be part of it. I am hoping to have much deep and meaningful fellowship with the church in Hamburg. I am still praying that I can find the community that will constantly remind me of my true identity over there. Walking this walk alone is something I feel far too weak to do. I will need my brothers and sisters who see me not primarily as an athlete, a “nice” guy, or anything of the sort, but as a sinner saved by grace, an image bearer, and a brother in the family. More than this, I just want to be a part of God’s working body over there. 
I will dearly miss Grace EV Free. Oh the many people that flash through my mind when I think of that church. Oh the many memories. How three short years feel so full, yet so swift. Among many other things, God has taught me the value of the church through Grace. There are so many people I am so grateful for. I share the feeling of David when I think about them; “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Ps. 16:3). This feeling also extends to all the dear brothers and sisters that I’ve met at Biola and elsewhere. All of my dearest friends are part of this group. My teammates, friends from Biola, friends from home, and even friends at rival schools [Love you Noel]. There has hardly been anything more refreshing and enjoyable to me than the fellowship I’ve had with like-minded brothers and sisters. Thank you church for being who you are! 
Perhaps the hardest thing about this adventure will be leaving my immediate family. If you’ve known me for any length of time you probably know how dear my family is to me. I’ve never lived too far from them and I anticipate a lot of nights of just wanting to drive home to see them. They’ve loved and accepted me even though they know all of my crap (that is amazing!). Their love has been steadfast and has stood through lots of testing (on my part). They have been my biggest supporters. Just thinking of basketball, it’s due the many sacrifices and financial investments that my parents have made that I have the opportunity to keep playing. I would never have been able to write about this if it wasn’t for their support. No question, my parents are the biggest fans I have. Only in extreme circumstances have they ever missed one of my games; and that’s not just regular season. My sister has become one of my closest and dearest friends. I love her very much and I will miss the frequent phone calls we have (Skype will be of regular use). She has become one of my heroes as she has become a wonderfully nurturing and caring mother to her baby girl. Her boyfriend, Tyler, is someone I will also miss. Seeing him sacrifice to provide for his family is inspiring to me. I am proud of him and love seeing him work hard through less than ideal circumstances. The other person I have to say goodbye to in my family is hard for me to even mention. Watching my niece, Addison, grow these last fourteen months has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. To think that I will be across the ocean for nine months at a time is hard to fathom when I think of her. I will miss those big blue eyes and that nearly constant smile. I will also miss watching the wonder of her development. Truly we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 119).  There have been countless times I've marveled at God’s creativity because of some little part of her developing personality. Even the attitude that is becoming quite apparent, I will miss. Skype won’t allow me to toss her in the air or play hide and seek with her, but oh will it be of use. That last hug and kiss I get from her before I go will be very bitter-sweet. 



Lord willing I will be on a plane to start a new chapter of my life in less than two weeks. What I have been fighting to keep in mind is “Lord willing.” My Father rules and reigns, and he gives and takes away. He has given me a dream, but that dream is disposable to his will. His will is always better than anything I could dream up for myself. If he so chooses, may I be content when he takes this gift away. 
As my mentor reminded me, becoming a pro basketball player is but a “detail” in my journey of being conformed to Christ’s image (Rom 8:29). This season of life will pass. I will embrace it and pour myself into this game, but I pray that I can keep my eyes above it. Basketball will end, but his Kingdom will never end. As I seek for much success in the sport, may I be more focused on the battle Christ has already won. He has despised the shame, endured the cross, made a mockery of the evil one, and won our salvation (Aaaaahhhhhhh, BEAST!). As I enjoy the platform that has been given to me, may I remember that being known by God my Father is infinitely better than being recognized by many people. Were the devil to offer me all the kingdoms of the world and the praise of multitudes and say “All this I will give you” (Matt. 4:9), it would pale in comparison to the friendship I have with God. As I hope to make a living through my sport, may I remember that God is my portion and my cup forever and ever. The treasures of this world reside with moths, rust, and thieves, but I am a co-heir with Christ, having a guarantee in my Father’s “everlasting” Kingdom (Ps. 145:13). Surely “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Ps. 16:6). 
          Basketball is cool, but it is nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. It might end in a blink of an eye, but my Father will glorify his name forever. The latter makes the former but dust. Reader if you are willing, please pray that God would remain my delight always and more and more every day while I am in Germany. Does this mean that I will not delight in this gift that he has given? Does it mean that I will not seek to work hard every single day to become the best player I can be? No, not at all. But God forbid I cherish the sun’s rays without tracing them back to the sun! 

"The good which you love is from him. But it is only as it is related to him that it is good and sweet. Otherwise it will justly become bitter; for all that comes from him is unjustly loved if he has been abandoned. With what end in view do you again and again walk along difficult and laborious paths? There is no rest where you seek for it. Seek for what you seek, but it is not where you are looking for it. You seek the happy life in the region of death; it is not there. How can there be a happy life where there is not even life?" - Augustine, Confession IV.18

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” - Psalm 73:25-26




Friday, March 14, 2014

On A Mission

On A Mission

"Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world." - 18th Resolution of Jonathan Edwards

"And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!'" - Revelation 5:13

"I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice" - John 10:16

Last night, in the night session of the annual Biola Missions Conference, I believe I regained clarity about my plans to leave for Germany in August. The clarity was brought forth by the word of God of course, but more specifically it was the combination of all that last night's session entailed. Beginning with the reading of Revelation 5:13 in about fifty different languages, to Afshin Ziafat's message on Thessalonians 1 - how the Gospel compels us to global missions, to the worship in song, to the prayers for the local church and the world around; all of these elements were a part of a night where God met his people; and he met with me.



Revelation 5:13, "And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!'," reminded me that there will be a time when all I will hear around me, all I will see, and all there will be, are God's praises resounding from all of God's creatures. In that day, I will turn to my left and to my right and there will be brothers and sisters praising God for who he is and what he has done for us. Everywhere I look God's people will be gathered and overwhelmed with joy. 'Every creature' will be praising and not one shall be disinterested in, or blinded to, God's overwhelming glory. No one will need to be exhorted to delight in our God. Nothing else will be heard but the praises of 'him who sits on the throne and the Lamb.' No man will be consumed with themselves and none will be seeking to build their own kingdom. Glory will be deferred to God alone. All "blessing, honor, glory, and might" will be ascribed to the one to whom it is due. My own heart will no longer seek to steal glory for myself, and I will be completely fulfilled in worship.
This will be a place of love. There will be no more violence, nor destruction. No lack of love and insecurity in relationship. No hurt, no pain, no tears, no shame. Perfect love will reign and cast out all fears. All will be resounding the praises of the one who created us. The sun and moon will be no more, for God will be light sufficient. This I will experience soon. This is the description of my end. And all who have 'kissed the Son' will be together there.


"I am Basketball but I am also a disciple." -
 (Although I would probably rephrase it to "I am a disciple, and I also play basketball," the point is a good one.)
I grew up wanting to become a professional basketball player overseas (the NBA always seemed a bit out of reach when I decided to be a 6'6 post player). My god was my ego and at the thought of professional athletics I imagined glory, fame, money, women, and pleasure. My name would be lifted high and I would be able to leave my mark. For those of you who know anything about me, you know that God (oh so graciously) threw a wrench in those plans in the Summer of 2010 when he decided to save my soul and give me a new identity. In fact, I was saved just weeks after I lost my sport by getting kicked out of my former school. I did not know if I would ever get a scholarship back (disciplinary expulsions never look good on a resume'). After getting saved it was ok though, because God gave me a new hope. I found a pearl in the field that far outweighed anything the world had to offer me, including basketball. After I realized a call to ministry that year, God provided me with a full scholarship to one of the best schools of theology I could imagine, Biola University. Ironically it was just as I was getting peace with saying "goodbye" to basketball that God provided a theological education through a Basketball scholarship (humorous). In this way I learned that sometimes the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, and then gives back again. My Basketball journey continued.
Three years later and my college career has just ended. Biola basketball has been a great joy to me and I will never forget some of the memories that were made. Now it looks like the next detail will be professional basketball in Germany. I have been in discussion with teams and agents this week and it looks like that dream I had as a kid will come true (only it has a new nature). This means nine months out of the year I will be in Germany, living in the country I grew up in. Basketball may continue, but the reasons for playing this game are now far bigger than just statistics and wins. This is far bigger than Andre. Basketball is a vehicle to proclaim life changing truths.

I am on a Mission. It would be a lie to say that basketball has been purely a gift to me, solely for the glory of God. I am in a tug of war all the time when I play the sport. The key difference between my past and now is that I am in the struggle; there actually is a tug of war to be had! When I have moments of clarity, "and the clearest notions in the things of the Gospel," I know basketball is a platform for truth. Now that this platform has been taken down for me in college, I am preparing for it to be set up across the globe. This was something I kept in mind all along, but sometimes the realization seems truer to me than other times.  Last night it was more true than ever. After reminding all people of the Gospel that has saved us, and emphasizing local discipleship, Afshin Ziafat asked those who feel called to global missions to stand up. In the midst of being so thankful for the local focus of the missions conference this year, and how it would impact Biola's students, I realized that this call applied to me (oh how I love times of self-forgetfulness!). It hit me, I was going global! I am going across the globe. He is calling me out right now. Wow, this is not just an emotional response, this is an impending reality in my life - nine months out of the year in Germany. I got goosebumps. 'I can't believe I'm actually going,' I thought. And I was reminded why it is I am going to play basketball.

He has other sheep! The name of Martin Luther is familiar to most. His life is indicative of the spiritual passion that existed in Germany 500 years ago. Since then much has changed. Germany and its rigorous intellectual pursuit has fallen prey to its own brilliance. While the great wisdom of men has lead to philosophical, scientific, and mathematical discoveries that have benefited the academy across the world, it has led to a country mostly blinded to see that 'his invisible attributes and his divine nature are clearly perceived' in creation. You can't give a scientific explanation for the creator of Science! This is what this country, by and large, does not understand. Ironically, the enlightenment has darkened.
When I think of going over there I tremble at the thought of the spiritual warfare that goes on. When I go lord willing in August, my family members will not be the only ones that scratch their head when they hear that "Andre loves Jesus and the Bible and the church." Yet, this is why I am going! People need to see and meet their Savior. Jesus has other sheep who have not yet received the good news that he has come to save! God will bring his people to himself in Germany and I get the privilege of being involved in his sovereign plan. The thought is overwhelming.

My end will come soon. My life is a breath. All flesh is like the grass, it sprouts up and dies away quickly. My glory is like the flower of the field which blossoms for a season and then its glory fades. Shortly I will join the myriads of angels. I will look around and Revelation 5:13 will be my reality and there will be no more 'mission' to be on. All the sheep will be in the fold. The time is short.

I want to work hard at my job. I want to train my body well and work every day to get better at my sport. When I will get tired, and my workout schedule will get routine, I want to persevere. I want to win games. I want to enjoy the great blessing of the sport that I so love, as the gift that it is.
In the midst of this and far more than anything basketball related, I want to point people to the Savior. I want people to know the truth, the way, and the life, whose name is Jesus. I want the people in Germany to be freed from sin, destruction, prostitution, pornography, violence, drug addictions, the idolatry of wealth, and all of the other shackles that the enemy has been chaining people with. I want people to be One as God is One. I want people there to 'Taste and see that the Lord is good,' as I have been tasting and seeing for the last three and a half years. I want Germany to have life! May my life there be just a tiny little sliver of God's revival work in Germany. May his Kingdom come, his will be done, in Germany as it is in heaven! This is why I am going overseas.



I am so thankful for last night. God spoke and met with his people. What I have written was inspired from Echo 2014. I am hoping this blog would be a blessing to those who read it, a way to inform people how to pray intelligently for me, and simply a way to stay connected with the people I love as I leave. Also, I hope it would be a reminder for me when my vision gets blurred; an ebenezer of sorts. Lord knows I'll need 'stones of help.'

Ways to pray:
- Peace about the transition and all its details - I find myself worrying about contract details, financial concerns, and location.
- A solid local church! - Please Lord provide a family that is passionate about your word!!! The thought of leaving Grace family in La Mirada brings tears to my eyes.
- A brother on the team - Afshin told us in his message about his prayer for a Christian roommate. The answer to this prayer was amazing! Like the brother the Lord provided for Afshin, I would be so very thankful for a brother on a basketball team. The locker room will be a mission field on its own.