The moment when…..

*This is a true story but due to the nature of the accounts in this story I’ve changed names.

 

I can tell you the exact moment when my love affair with Jesus started.

It didn’t, strangely enough, start when I got saved at 12. I will admit that there was something in Jesus that I knew I needed and wanted but I don’t think salvation really took. I often ask myself the question as to whether or not I was really saved, I don’t know the answer to that question. I know my heart was in the right place and I know that I wanted nothing more than to be a Christian but I also know that I struggled with a lot of things in High School and well yeah my 20’s were spent in a fog of doubt, fear and anger. So I cannot honestly tell you whether I was ‘saved’ or not or even what being ‘saved’ really means.

The time I knew I needed Jesus happened not long after I decided to give faith another try. My friend and boss Beth gave me a book called Blue Like Jazz, it was a book I had heard of many times but it wasn’t something I was interested in reading when I first heard the title. That changed after some conversations with my wife and a few church visits. It’s weird because I don’t remember Beth ever bringing up the book I had actually been the one who asked about it and she just happened to have a copy of it. That’s how God works, through coincidences that are so convenient you slowly realize that there is no such thing as coincidence.

There is a ton of great stuff in that book but the thing that impacted me the most was the story he shared about a soldier. I don’t remember the specifics, what war it was or where, but a soldier broke into a prison where captives were being held and he came into a room and freed the prisoners there, he told them they were all free to go. Except that they didn’t. See these poor people were so terrified, so ravaged by the horrors they’ve experienced that they didn’t even get up off of the ground where they had been cowering in absolute fear. The soldier came back and again told them they were free but still they didn’t budge.

He could’ve left them right? I mean he had done his part, it was now their choice with what to do next, isn’t that how so many Christians treat salvation, once the gospel is presented the ball is in their court. If they choose to stay in the pit of their sin there is nothing more that can or should be done, God has already provided the way out and it’s up to us to take it.

What a lowly, sad, incomplete and downright disgusting view of grace.

That’s not what the soldier in the story did though. He comes back into the cell and he puts his guns down and then he gets down on the ground among these people. He kneels there with them in solidarity. He reaches his arms out and touches them gently and just kneels there with them until they can see that he is no enemy he is truly there to save them.

One of the most popular topics that people seem to ask me about, whether they are Christian or not, is my views on hell. It’s a topic that I admittedly have a hard time sharing my views, because they are not clear cut and they are not black and white. They are views which have been formed by my understanding of theology, and my own life experiences as someone who has rebelled and who has been woo’d back by a loving Christ.

I think there is some sort of hell, I think there are people there. I think there will be people there after this life. I don’t know where this hell is or who exactly will be there or how long the duration of that stay will be but I believe in it and I hope that no one experience it because it’s a terrible place.

Having said that I think that Jesus takes people out of hell all the time. I think that there are some aspects of hell that we experience in THIS life in much the same way that everyone regardless of their affiliation experiences what is called common grace. Common grace are the good things we experience in life, food, shelter, family, good times. But we also experience the ramifications of the fall. All of our bodies are perishing, the aches and pains we experience as we get older, our failing eyesight, colds and flus, make no mistake we are all slowly but surely dying. Some of us experience this in profound frighting ways.

I have a couple friends who I had a dialogue with this week. One is Rick and his father used to work for a church organization in the state they lived in. The other is Joseph and he is guy I knew in HS.

Rick’s dad was accused of horrible things, things he simply did not do. The accusations are so heinous that even though I’ve changed names I won’t repeat them. Because of the backlash of this Rick left the church and has lost his faith though he doesn’t really know how to label himself anymore.

Joseph grew up Mormon but he also grew up confused. He feels as if he is a woman trapped in a mans body and this has been absolute torture for him. To look in the mirror and not see who he believes that he is. Because of this he hates God because God has not fixed him either way and he has become a WIccan.

I guess this is where I differ from some Christians, I have no doubts of either Rick’s or Mitch’s place in the kingdom. Jesus isn’t standing outside of their prison cell with his exasperated hands in the air saying “Well I’ve set them free but they have decided to remain in prison, I can do no more”. No, like the soldier in the story he has come into the cell. He is sitting, kneeling, crying and suffering with my friends. When they are pissed at him he listens to their curses, he allows them to hit him if they feel the need, and when they are ready, and only when they are ready. He’ll take their hands and they will storm out of hell together.

How do I know this?

That’s exactly what he did with me, he allowed me to sit in my anger, my doubt and my fear for 10 years. Then when I was ready he led me into the sunshine of a life so abundant I could never imagine it, not even when I first got ‘saved’ when I was 12.

That’s why I want to be a pastor.

So I can be there to watch Jesus go into prisons. Prison of hate, of addiction, of anger, of grief and of ruin. See him get down on the level of these people that some would label as enemies. See him sit there in the midst of them and then watch them link hands and storm the gates of hell together.

I believe in Hell I just don’t believe it has a very good security system.

Safe within the ark

No matter your background, your past or current religious affiliation we all know the story of Noah’s Ark. Humans finally mess up to the point that God regrets making them so he sends rain onto the earth for a full 40 days destroying everything that he had made and killing everyone and everything in the process. Everyone except of course for one man and his family named Noah. God loves Noah because he walked his entire life with God, he treated God as if he were a close friend and when the rest of the world turned away he turned towards him and God rewarded him by giving him an escape plan from the coming destruction. He instructed him to build an ark that would save him, his family, and 2 of every ‘kind’ of animal. He gave specific instructions as to the dimensions of this ark and Noah followed the directions to a T. The rains came and Noah and his family survived because of the grace of Gods grace towards them.

We all know the story, did it actually happen? Who knows, I am not concerned about that, what I love is the truth found within the story. It’s a truth that I can hold onto even now. It’s a truth that before, when I heard the story as a kid I didn’t latch onto but now as a man with the history that I have I can.

The story is that life with God is much sweeter than life without, because no matter what happens in this life you’re always safe in the ark.

Now what exactly is that safety? Does that mean that life is always going to go my way? I don’t believe so, do you think life always went Noah’s way? Do you think that he felt safe following instructions from an invisible God that he couldn’t see? Building a boat while on lookers mocked him and laughed? The story says they stayed in that ark for over 100 days, I doubt that felt safe. No dry land, no food save for what they were able to gather before the floods came, I’d probably wonder if I’d end up dying on that ark.

Kind of like how life is when living with autism and an anxiety disorder

Life is not safe, I know this as well as anyone but there something beautiful that happens when you are safe within the ark of Christ. It doesn’t matter what happens.

For the last year I have dealt with one ailment after another. I’ve had unexplained dizziness, I have had chronic shoulder pain that comes goes but never fully goes away. I have had digestive issues and panic attacks and good ole fashioned generalized anxiety. I have had allergies so bad that it feels like I swallowed a golf ball. Some days are better than others but I don’t feel all that great. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been noticing knee and hip pain. less than 2 weeks before my 36th birthday and I feel as if I am literally falling apart.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because it is so much better than it used to be.

Back in my 20’s I didn’t feel like I had any major ailments. I was carrying 360 lbs on my bones, ate whatever I wanted to, drank whatever I wanted to, I gave into my every hedonistic desire and drank deeply from the cup of pleasure. It is probably because of some of the escapades that I am dealing with some of the things I am dealing with now. You can’t treat your body like a garbage disposal and expect it to hold out forever. But back in my 20’s I felt restless and fearful and disconnected and angry and unsafe. I felt like there was nothing to live for save pleasure, there was nothing real, there was only every individual moment. I had less pain but more angst.

If I had to choose between living free of pain but also free of God or the life I have right now with the ailments I’m dealing with but also with the peace of knowing God I’d choose this life every single time. It doesn’t even compare. It doesn’t matter what happens, I could lose my house, my job, life could fall apart all around me, I could even drop dead but it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter

I am safe within the ark

Jesus will see me through every trial, right on through till he calls me home.

Nothing that this world could offer me compares.

Becoming (in)significant

I want to be someone

I haven’t always wanted this, it’s not a longing I was born with in fact when I was small all I wanted to be was me. I did what I did because I loved it not because of who I would become because I was doing it.

But as I got older and I became more aware of the cruelness of the world, and I became a product of the cruelness of this world I developed a demand that I become someone, and by someone I mean someone of significance

I want to be someone that you talk about

I want you to be envious of the life I lead

I want you to want to be me

I want a story that is compelling, I want for the whole damn world to look on me with awe and wonder. It’s ok that my life has had pain and suffering as long as that pain and suffering is redeemed by me become famous.

It never mattered what it was I became famous for, as long as I was the one that received the adoration of the world.

So I chased after various degrees of significance for most of my life. Radio, acting, music, as long as it made me the center of attention, as long as it let me feel what it feels like to be significant than I was happy.

But here’s the problem, and this is why this blog post is nothing more than a confession, I wanted this because I didn’t like who I was.

I don’t like me very much, I often wondered why I should, no one else seemed to. So if I could make myself someone that was loved by everyone then maybe I copuld learn to love myself too. If everyone else changed their opinion of me bnecause of how great I became than I figured that my own opinion would change too.

Do you see the faultiness of these arguments? I do now but I didn’t for a long time.

See I had an interesting conversation with my pastors wife last night at church. She told me that the one thing that she wanted to be was anything but a pastors wife, and that was the very identity that God had invited her into.

That resonated with me because the one thing that I wanted to be was something, or to put it another way, I wanted to be anything other than nothing.

Yet Jesus has invited me into nothingness, into insignificance.

Into the identity of this life not being about me, who I am, what I’m about but instead, who He is, what He has done.

I am no one

nothing

insignificant

without Him

If I try to tell my story without talking about how He redeemed me, how He was there when I suffered the psychological blows of being bullied than my story will not end well.

But if I tell the story and I focus it not on myself but on Jesus than it’s a story that is not only significant but it is a story that never ends.

It’s uncomfortable sometimes because I am still a sinful human living in a broken world. I’m in flux, and there is a part of my being that still wants you to applaud me

 

Perhaps that’s why I’m even bothering to write this post, I don’t know

But more and more, day by day, what I long for the most isn’t significance it’s love

it’s peace

and you’ll never experience those things while you spend your life chasing applause

So the more this world tries to convince me that it’s all about me, the more they tell me how important my self esteem is and how I’m the only one who can achieve the greatness that can be mine if only I take hold of it. The more I’ll step away from the spotlight, into the shadows, towards Jesus, who made himself nothing so that he might be glorified as the worlds rightful king.

 

Why I broke bad

I’ve been meaning to write a post that explains why I am such a huge fan and supporter of the show Breaking Bad, and I decided that I should wait until it was over so that I could fully express my feelings about the show based on the complete story arc. In the spirit of that there will probably be spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t seen the finale and spoilers bother you you probably shouldn’t read this post. Consider that your warning.

I will freely admit I got hooked on this show. It took awhile, it took awhile to sink in even after I started watching but once I understood what the show was saying I was all in and I had to see how it would all in. I kept watching because on all counts the show was amazing, the writing, the cinematography, the character development and the pacing. It was the best use of Television I think I’ve ever seen. Ouit of the three reason why I watched that show that’s the first that comes to mind, just based on the artistic merit alone it was something that I had to watch. One of the most pivitol moments from an artistic standpoint was the conclusion of the story arc in season 2. As we watched the planes come together on the radar, as the colided over the skies of Albuquerque, as I nearly had a panic attack because of the anticipation I was feeling for something horrible to happen, I knew that I was watching something special.

 

The second reason that I felt this was an important show was because of the philosophy of the show. There was tremendous commentary on the human condition presented by this show. Grey area, sin, brokenness, greed… it was all there. The idea that kept coming back was that there are real consequences for the selfishness we display, and after watching the finale and hearing Walt tell Skylar the true motivation behind his actions we can no longer pretend that Walt’s motivations were altruistic in nature.  Walt did what he did for himself, because it made him feel alive or as he said in the pilot “awake”

I secretly wished that the show would have ended with Hank either arresting Walt or shooting him and I was pissed when those dreams were dashed during Ozymandias. But I also understood that the world in which Breaking Bad exists would not allow for such a clean cut good guy wins over the bad guy ending. That doesn’t leave room for the grey that had been present throughout the entire season. Also seeing Walt bitterly weep for Hank’s passing was much more painful for Walt than it would have been for Hank to have shot him. The saddest moment in the show was when Walt finally lost his family. The primal scream that Walt lets loose after Skylar cuts his hand… that was not anger so much as it was grief. Walt lost everything and he spent the final 2 episodes putting into motion a way in which he could make it somewhat right in the end. Breaking Bad is in it’s most purest sense a tragedy. I did not want Walt to win but when he loses as badly as he does I felt sorry for him, because you are aware that it could have been different.

The third reason I watched is harder to share, it’s very personal. I have a history with Meth. No I’ve never taken it but I have friends, good friends who have and some of them are gone and one of them, I’ll call her M, is lucky to be alive.

I met her when we were both in HS and she was having trouble at home. My family actually let her live with us for a time towards the end of my senior year in high school as long as she agreed to not take meth. If you know anything about that drug not taking it when you are hoked is easier said than done. I still remember the morning that she came into my room with sores all over her arms and screaming about spiders that were crawling all over her. I still remember taking her to the ER. I still remember backing up her story because I was worried about her and didn’t want her to have to leave.

M told me once she used meth because she was worried about being fat and meth helped her to lose weight. She also liked the energy it gave her, she told me this one night on the phone and it was probably around 4 in the morning. SHe had kept me on the phone all night because she was too full of nervous energy to sleep and didn’t want to be alone, so I went without sleep and listened to her talk. Sometimes she would think that I was the only thing that was keeping her sane and sometimes she hated my guts and I had a hard time telling which was really her and which was the drugs. There was a sadness there that I wanted to save, the same sadness I saw in Jesse Pinkman. Jesse also reminded me a lot of M’s boyfriend who would later become her husband. He later shot himself and I am pretty sure meth had something to do with it. M is doing fine now she has been completely sober for 4 years and I could not be prouder of her. I asked her if I could write about her in this post and she said I could. What I’ve shared doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we’ve been through but it serves it purpose.

I hate meth, I hate the it exists and I hate what it has done to people I love. When Breaking Bad first started I didn’t want to watch it because I was concerned of the message it was sharing. We didn’t need a show glorifying making meth, we didn’t need to see how a Teacher lives a double life and becomes an awesome meth kingpin without his family knowing. As I came to understand that those ideas were only the surface of what the show was about I began to watch. Breaking bad is a cautionary tale and a part of me thinks that people who have used or sold meth should watch it because it is honest about the price you’ll pay. Mostly though it is a show that is honest about the state of our world, even the state of people that you would never figure to be evil. We’re all evil, we all have the potential to change from Walter White to Heisenberg. We all have the potential to destroy the very things that we hold most dear, even in the spirit of trying to protect those things. Vince Gilligan, whom I believe is an agnostic as I once was, has made the most compelling need for the gospel I have ever seen. Without Jesus, we will all end up as destroyed as Walter White was.