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Church Letters to Maddie

Being a dad

Tonight I had to go to the home of someone I love on Easter, because the dad of the family just raged-out and left in a fit. Said he wasn’t coming back that night. I went over and prayed with them, helped finish the meal that the dad had started, and just got some normalcy restored as much as one can do in those situations.

But truth be told I’m still mad about it. The dad claims to love Jesus, and I believe that he does, but the choices he makes routinely are options I think should be off the table for men who love Jesus.

I’ve been a dad for a very short period of time, only almost 2 years at this point. But I definitely know what I want, what my goal is:

I want my daughter to be primed to hear one day that Jesus loves her like a father without her earthly father messing up what that means.

I pray often for my little girl while I hold her at night before she sleeps- God let the way that I love her through the years- with a firm commitment to the truth and what’s right, with a grace and mercy and love for her. So that one day, when someone tells her she is loved by God the way a dad loves his daughter that my actions don’t mask or disfigure that beautiful analogy.

My dad is a good man. He works hard, provides for his family, and lives honestly. But we don’t have much of a relationship. The idea of him knowing me, or even more, the idea of me knowing him, seemed so far fetched to me growing up. So when someone told me about God, and I heard God constantly referred to as our father figure, I spent years laboring to earn a love, of a being I didn’t expect knew me or wanted to know me. But rather a figure who wanted my respect and obedience. While God does want my obedience, and my respect, He wants so much more than that. It took me years to begin to see the fuller picture of our God by combining my view of my biological dad, with my surrogate father, Bob Lane. With other dads I watched.

Those are all things I had to unpack and learn when I grew up with an honest, good tempered, hard working father! So all the more, when a dad decides he’s had enough and just needs to go “cool off” for a few days to blow off steam, I get righteously angry! That man has two sons, learning daily from his example. Not just for how they will one day lead their families, but also in what God means when he talks about forgiveness, mercy, love, long-suffering, patience. And they’re gaining a warped view of God in those things!

One day someone is going to tell Maddie about Jesus, and I want to not get in the way of that. I want to live in such a way that she says if God loves her as much as her dad, and in the way her daddy does, then she wants to hear more about God!

And my twist for the evening- I know that I have it in my heart, on my mind and in my actions, to live this way for my daughter. But I know that Jesus is just waiting for us all to figure out that it’s supposed to be this level of vigilance for how I interact with all people! Would years and years of people be more interested in Jesus because of how I love them. Would my actions not leave a wreckage wake behind me, but people hungry for the gospel. Would God use my deep passion and concern for how I influence people spiritually to grow beyond the walls of my home and instead reach round the world.

God, forgive me for my narrow focus. Let me love Maddie with all I have and all I am. But also let me see those around me, those that I will one day make the gospel easier or harder to see, and help me to serve you in every relationship I have, not just the one where love flows so freely, and not just the days where I find it easy. Overflow me with concern for the gospel, for Maddie and the whole world. And prepare me for the hardest of days to still live this out, not for my own accomplishment, but for your glory and usefulness. — Amen

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Church All God

Identity

I can be such an idiot sometimes. I feel like I have to re-learn the same lessons over and over. Maybe that’s you too, because the more I grow older the more I see all people needing reminded far more than we need educated.

I used to work at a computer store in the bay area. I prided myself on being a part of a small and ultra specialized group of people that lived on the cutting edge of computer hardware and software. It was the early 2000’s and to live in the bay area in that time and place was to be a part of the movement- it wasn’t just a job, we really felt like we were leading the charge in changing the world. From old and busted to new and online was everything! We were cord cutting before it was cool, streaming before there were hulu and netflix. We were living the digital lifestyle before iphones were a dream. And it wasn’t just about stuff but about change. We wanted to see the world more connected, more informed. We knew that if we could get the internet in every pocket nothing would ever be the same.

So obviously, if this was my mindset, I didn’t just sell phones, I didn’t just sell computers- I knew this wasn’t a job, it’s who I was. It was at the very core of my being. Sure I was also a christian, a husband, a person, but all of those were just side descriptors to my life.

That’s why when I got arrested for stealing computer parts, I didn’t even consider it out of character. If you believed in the ideas truly that information should be free, and that objects are just the ramifications of ideas in the real world, it wasn’t self contradictory to steal computer parts for my own use, but it was rather the logical outflowing of my identity. Because how could I do that all on old tech?

I spent my time in jail pondering WHO I was far more than what I’d done. I recall that at one point one of my lawyers asked “why’d you do it? You made enough money you could have bought it all anyway?” And I really didn’t even have an answer. It’d never crossed my mind.

It took some time, but I came to the conclusion that my view of who I was turned out to be mistaken. I wasn’t a revolutionary changing the world. I was a guy who looked in the mirror and didn’t see reality. I thought I was a part of some cause, but instead I was a person who just used things others believed in genuinely so that I could justify doing whatever my selfish heart wanted in the first place. I genuinely did believe in that cause, but any cause was secondary to using that cause to satisfy my selfish desires.

I had to come face to face with my real identity – who I am. I’m not just a computer guy, I’m a child of Jesus, adopted into his family, and loved by him before the world began. I’m a selfish person, struggling to subjugate my whims to the commands of my king. WHO I AM is not a computer store manager, it’s a child of the King.

Now here I am, 15 years later, and I work at a church. Talk about causes I believe in! I know, I believe, and I am all-in for the knowledge that Jesus is who he claimed to be- the way, the truth, the life. I’m banking on Him and Him alone for any chance I’ve got- not just in this life but in the next.

But I am also still an incredibly selfish person. I’m still tempted to make a cause my identity rather than facing who I really am. I can start thinking I’m doing pretty swell, because I can check of the christiany type items we’re supposed to aim for. I’m talking about God constantly with others, I read and reference the bible often with others. But when no one is looking, when it’s the silence at the end of the day, and when judged by my inner monologue, how all-in am I?

I think I’m becoming less selfish, but I sit on the edge of a cliff in needing to be validated by others. I’m so insecure that the affirmations of others count far more for me than they aught to.

I’m working a job I truly love again for the first time since the computer company. One that I can be proud of, believe in not just what I’m doing, but the goals and aspirations of the organization. But I find myself thinking that’s WHO I AM. I’m Jim, the church IT guy. The online ministry guy. I know the right answers to say that it’s not my identity, it’s not who I am. But to say it, and to dwell in that truth are two completely different things.

I preach to my small group guys in high school that your job isn’t what defines you, that your chosen political party can’t define you. But I define myself by what I am or am not just as much as aim for them not to.

This week I’ve had meetings with my SCUBA shop team, and my Church Team, and in both I find they think they need me far more than they actually need me. I could stop doing what I’m doing and things would be fine. They don’t need me, for sure not in the long term.

So here I am, judging myself by my work, by what I do for dollars. Knowing at the same time, that what I’m doing could be replaced easily. Falling into the same trap as before, but with a new label, and better motives.

I need reminded, hopefully not through radical circumstances this time, that God is the core of who I am made to be. Not my job, not the list of tasks I accomplish, not how many people are fond of what I do. God. God is enough. Not me, not what He has me do. Just Him. That is enough.

God would you help me in this season, to remember well what you have shown me, what you have taught me. Would I love others so well, that my daily shrinking or expanding role or paycheck or respect should play no part in my contentment, because I should never have been content because of those things to start with. I should be content in the best and worst of days because of YOU and you alone. That you love me, and that you chose me. Would that be enough, always that and only that.

Amen

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Church All God

The worst Dream…

Man, I just woke up from the worst dream. I felt like it lasted years, and like most events, it’s not even believable, and sounds so zany and stupid when I say it out loud.

In it, America elected a reality TV star as president. They were all so mad a black guy had been president that they elected Donald Trump- a guy with a laundry list of sexual assaults under his belt, and zero presidential qualifications. Now I know this part sounds even dumber, but it wasn’t democrats…. This supposedly ultra wealthy new york elitist ran as a republican man of the people, and they bought it.

That part was dumb enough, but it really was less about who was president but what happened while he was-

I found out many of my friends, family and loved ones were either racist, or OK with racism.

I found out many of my friends, family and loved ones were either sexist, or OK with sexism.

I found out many of my friends, family and loved ones didn’t mean any of the attacks they used against Obama, if it was applied to a white guy.

I found out many of my friends, family and loved ones were so logically inconsistent that the only explanation the world could use was “cult-like behavior.”

I found out many of my friends, family and loved ones bought into conspiracy theories and bullcrap without a moments hesitation.

I found out many of my friends, family and loved ones who weren’t among those who accepted all this crap rejected Christianity in waves- not wanting to be a part of a religion that increasingly seems to hate everything and everyone.

I shook my head in rage and anger and sadness because I couldn’t fault them for wanting nothing to do with Jesus, if the representation of Him by churches was at all correct. Mainstream beloved Christian leaders telling women to “go home and shut up.” Local Christian friends posting online that black people were inherintly more violent and thus brute force from cops wasn’t disproportional, but proper for dealing with “animals of a more base nature.” (I wish I was making this up).

By the end, it just kept getting more and more zany- Los Angeles was lifting smog creation measures so crematoriums could run round the clock- the backload of bodies from a global pandemic mismanaged was literally blotting out the sky.

Pro-Trump mobs rejected the fact that their president had never polled over 50% in any time in his presidency, and lost the election- and they started an armed rebellion against the govt, even invading the capitol building with guns, and with makeshift gallows set up on the front lawn.

Really, as I sit here, I meant to write a something funny about these last four years, put a satire spin on it. But really, I’m spent. I still love Jesus, with all I am. The savior represented on the pages of scripture is my hope, my only hope. But I genuinely feel like increasingly, churches have no part in that person. We twist His words to serve our agenda, use a God who commanded love as a requirement as justification for hatred and evil. Truly, my faith is stronger than it’s ever been and I’m more sure than ever that Jesus is the only way. But my belief that churches are a necessary evil is largely clouded by now thinking they may be just evil. Our part in these last 4 years hasn’t been ignorant, but willful. Joyful, and proud of our “accomplishment”

What the American church needs now is wholesale repentance. Masses of people falling on our face, apologizing to God and the people around us for calling one guy an antichrist because we disagreed with him, but when a man comes along who stands against all that Jesus stood for-

saying he never repented for anything because he’s never been wrong on anything.

Making fun of the handicapped

Making fun of the poor

Insulting the weak

Insulting the foreigner

Insulting women

Insulting his enemies

and so many more, it drives me to sadness.

When that guy came along, we bowed the knee, we swore allegiance, and we supported that cause.

I spent 8 years hearing Christians say Obama wasn’t “presidential” without quite being able to put their finger on it. Then God used Trump to strip away every quality they claimed to hate, and leave the only “bad” thing that Trump wasn’t that Obama was, was black.

Jesus I’m sorry. I’ve helped and propagated systems of hate. I’ve allowed or encouraged people in my life to feel safe or comfortable in evil. I’ve failed to lead well. A real spiritual leader would have been able to convey to my friends, family and loved ones that YOU and only YOU are the one to put our hope and trust in. Real leader would have more emphatically stood against hatred. Would have called out the evil being called good in our midst. Instead I have kept my head down to whatever extent I think I am capable. I have been respectful, and shown deference and honor where it was not due. God, forgive me. God, forgive us. We have decades of effort to regain ground ahead of us, if we ever want the world again to believe a word we say about you.

Categories
Church God

The unknown

I watched last week as Rudy Golbert of the NBA made fun of the Covid19/Coronavirus and played bongos on each of the microphones in front of him to demonstrate how unafraid he was of the next big threat.

Then one day later, the NBA was shutting down for the first time ever over health reasons. As I started to laugh at what a moron he was, I recognized, “That’s exactly what I would do!”

That same Wednesday, we were talking amongst the staff about how there were elevated worries, and we’d call that level one. Maybe possibly over the next month it might move to level 2- where they in any way restrict travel or groups, shut down big events. Level three would be home lockdown. We all kind of chuckled at John wanting to develop a plan for such an unlikely reality (or maybe just I did) but we humored him and did it, thinking wed file it away with overhyped plans for actualizing issues.

But then by that night the whole world screeched to a halt, and now, just a week and half later, we’re moved to online only services, with home lockdown seeming to be imminent Monday.

If not for finances, I’d chalk it up to hard times and a joy to serve Jesus in the midst of a new and crazy time.

But instead, I am brought back down to a worldly reality that our church just was riding out from the storm of the last couple years, and had only a couple months of stable finances under our belt. We weren’t yet putting into savings or restoring cut salaries, so now with online only giving, and no church service to drive that giving, our leadership has been good and clear in communicating where we are, and how we are doing. If we are to need to make cuts, there will be no suprises.

So I’m at home, working from my dining room table, fully expecting that by this time next month I’ll be doing this as a volunteer. Doing what I love for the Church is easy, that I’ll always enjoy. But the dire thoughts that within months we’d lose our house, our income, and be worrying for how to provide for my lovely wife and child.

BUT in all this, I trust you God. You have been good and faithful, even when I have not been. You have seen me through harder times and wonderful times. So even in this, I’m not sure I’ll make it through financially, I’m not sure I’ll keep my house or find another job that can pay the bills, but that’s not what I trust God for. I trust God that even if I am to suffer, and even if I am to writhe, it’ll be for his glory. That He will use my life, my good and my bad and bring glory and honor and praise to himself, and if even this season I appear to be stepping into does indeed suck, I trust that it’ll suck to the Glory of my King.

So God, there’s my prayer, that even my hard times would serve a purpose, that they’d be useful to you. I love you.