What’s My Worth?

When you’re a 30 year old adjunct psychology professor with a Master degree in Counseling, depression is no foreign thing.  Except for me, it was.

Trust me, I know the subject matter well.  Not only do I know the symptoms, I’ve taught them to a number of students over the years.

Experiencing them is a different story.

Please know, I am not claiming to be dealing with depression or any particular mood disorder.  That’s serious talk, and by no means do I wish to take away the seriousness and importance of those wrestling with depression. What I am claiming is that I have recently experienced a certain prevailing symptom of depression that, up until this point, had remained a subject matter I could teach from a book, but not from experience.

That symptom? Worthlessness.

When you are a people-pleaser like me, you hold yourself to a high standard of performance.  You want to make sure everyone is happy, and in particular, you strive to ensure that everyone is happy with you.  In just about every role I have found myself, I’ve relied heavily on my skills of humor, confidence, adaptability, and general intelligence to ensure those around me were satisfied in me, and in the particular role I was asked to perform for them.  For the most part, I’ve found much success and satisfaction in my endeavors.  I’ve mostly played it safe, or adapted quickly to any challenging situation (parenthood, anyone?).

Over time, I’ve imagined myself in many roles, and a good imagination is always a good way to prepare.  Just about every form of imagining has brought joy and excitement.  Husband, father, student, teacher, youth leader.  These are all things I highly anticipated, and have equally (if not more-so) enjoyed the experiences themselves.

But Pastor?  The idea was crippling.  How could I possibly lead a church made mostly of folks with more life experience than me?  How could God possibly expect me to be responsible for the spiritual well-being of a body of His believers?  On top of that, I could never shoulder the administrative and executive responsibility that comes with the pastorate.

If any of you reading this are part of the church I pastor, then I’m sure that last paragraph was just the injection of confidence and hope you were looking for in your rookie leader, right?  Well let me try again.

I am worthless.  I can’t do this on my own.  I have struggled countless times in recent history in the area of my worthiness in God’s calling. At the same time, I have never had a more formative couple of months like I have had these last few.  “Doing it on my own” had become a normal way of life for me.  Why not?  If I want to make people satisfied in my performance, who better than to perform but me? I have made it 30 years with this mentality, surely it could continue.  But this? Being a Pastor?  That’s a whole different ballgame.

The thing is, I am not meant to be able to do things on my own.  In fact, none of us are.  For one, we are surrounded by a fellowship of believers, each gifted in his or her own way in order to strive for the common good of Gospel ministry (see 1 Corinthians 12).  At North Lake, I could not have been surrounded by more gifted men and women.  From being discipled by our previous Pastor, to working alongside the elder team, the leadership team, and the entire body, I am blessed.

Hebrews 12 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

More importantly, though, I will continue to be worthless if I continue to lean upon my own strength in order to please others.  Galatians 1:10 says “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Again in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Like many of my people-pleasing species, this is not something of which I am particularly proud.  This is a shameful aspect of my personality, of which I’ve buried behind layers of sarcasm, attempts of intellect, and even apathy in some cases.  This is a weakness.  This is a thorn.  But as Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses.”

Am I worthy? Absolutely not.  But that’s okay…

As a post script to this post, you must know that I am not fishing for any sort of compliments, pity, or reassurance.  Though this blog is admittedly self-serving, I am not writing it with the ulterior motive of social affirmation.

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Escape to Hyrule

It’s no secret that I love fantasy.  I’ve been escaping to fictional worlds for as long as I can remember.  I’ve spent quality time in Narnia, Middle Earth, Hyrule, Mushroom Kingdom, Hogwarts, Guardia, and many others.  I loved my time in these worlds, and I oftentimes miss them dearly.  To this day, whenever I feel overburdened and stressed, I have to consciously fight the inundated urge to grab a random edition of Zelda and whichever platform necessary for my virtual adventure.  But I’m an adult, I have responsibilities.  I have committed to higher truths that I believe take priority.  And thus, I hold back my childish tendencies, and continue “adulting” (most of the time 😉 ).

There are many studies out there that show the strong correlation between one’s openness to fantasy stories and one’s strength of faith.  C.S. Lewis himself clearly subscribed to this notion, as many of his writings were fantasy allegories to his Christian theology.  What better way to explain and understand believing that which we can’t see than extending our creative minds within worlds full of magical and supernatural beings and events?  Lewis grasped this.  Tolkien understood this as well.  Exercising our brains in the practice of creativity and imagination is a powerful motivator of spirituality.  If you are seeking God only in the known physical and scientific world, I’m sorry, but you will come up wanting.  I’m not saying God can’t be seen in these things, so please don’t read that into what I’m saying.  He absolutely is evident in what is seen (Romans 1:20).  Please also understand that I am not suggesting that an active imagination is necessary for salvation and faith.  That is absolutely untrue.

What I am saying, though, is that believing in a real, triune God who is supernatural, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent can be very difficult for our small brains, and imagination can be very helpful.

And don’t forget about Christmas.  The one time a year where many of us are encouraged to tap into our childlike imaginations, and dive head first into the joys of fantasy.  Obviously, Christmas is not everything it used to be when I was young.  Even still, the nostalgia is strong, and the escape into one’s imagination is enticing.  How does Santa do it? Magic. And the reindeer? Magic. The emotions and spirit of it all? Magic…and Hallmark.

And the true reason for the season is no less.  The historical accuracy of Christ’s birth is far from natural and believable, but theologically speaking, it is essential for the Christian faith.  A virgin, pregnant with God’s son, preceded by heavenly messengers, fulfills the prophetic texts of a coming messiah.  Oh, and the star and the Wisemen?  What’s up with that?  How did they know what to look for? (insert shameless plug for my previous blog post).  And this is all just the beginning of Christ’s supernatural life on this Earth, which ultimately leads to the defeat of the most natural and humanly thing we encounter: death.

I know the difference between fantasy and reality.  I know that Frodo never held the ring of power.  I know that Harry Potter is not the “boy who lived,” but in fact has never actually existed.

I know too that Christ DID exist, and I believe that the biblical account of His birth is true.  I can separate fantasy from reality, and that is something we should all impart upon our children.  In fact, it is the separation of fantasy and reality that makes an escape to Hyrule, Westeros, or even a galaxy far far away so compelling.

It’s also what makes the reality of heaven and God’s presence so hopeful and exciting.  A real Narnia.  A real Shire.  And the opportunity to go there began, in a way, in a manger in Bethlehem.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

-Colossians 1:15-20

Merry Christmas.

We Three Kings…

I love Christmas time.  The smells, the sights, the sounds…it’s all good.  I know I’m definitely in the majority on this one, at least among my readers.  Christmas is special.  Christmas is emotional. Christmas is nostalgic.  Christmas is meaningful.

Growing up, I always had a fascination with nativity scenes.  I loved seeing each of the different individuals involved with the biblical account of Christ’s birth creatively portrayed either on a coffee table or on the side of the road.  I especially enjoyed going after sunset to see live nativity scenes.  My grandfather raised donkeys and mules, and every year one of his animals was sure to find its way into a live nativity somewhere in the tri-county area.  No matter the size or location, nativity scenes always got my attention.  In our home, my mom set out the same nativity scene every year.  It was a simple set.  Wooden figurines, strategically placed around the manger underneath a shabby-looking stable roof.  My brother always found humor in rearranging the figurines in ways fit for his vast imagination, but it was irritated me when he disrupted the display.  Rarely neurotic, it was odd for me to value the organization and purpose of a particular thing, but nativity scenes were different.  Christmas was different.  Christmas was sacred.  You don’t mess with Christmas.

As a child, I rarely considered the realness of the nativity.  Even when getting to “Jack” the donkey be ridden by a stranger dressed in shepherds clothes, I never quite grasped the historical, theological, and practical truth of Christ’s birth.

We’ve made quite the spectacle out of something so humble, haven’t we?  I was present for the birth of both my children.  Beautiful? Yes.  Something that should be memorized in living rooms, in front of churches, and on the side of the highway? Um…..no thanks.  On top of that, neither of my children were put in a feeding trough.

But Christ’s birth is different.  Christ’s birth is sacred.

I am a man of favorites.  I have favorite movies, books, characters, sports teams, foods, etc.  The personality characteristic doesn’t end with the nativity scene.  I have a favorite there as well.  As a young child, I was always mesmerized by the blue garb worn by one of the Magi in our family’s nativity set.  This particular figure had a cloak of blue (my favorite color), and was accented by silver and white, which was more than enough to always catch my eye.  As I studied the actual nativity story, the Magi became more and more intriguing to my inquisitive mind.

Where did they come from? Why did they follow the star?  How did they know it was leading them to the king of the Jews? Why did they want to worship him?

None of these questions will be fully answered this side of heaven.  I know many have theorized, and I’m sure some have arrived at the proper conclusion. Either way, the Magi are clothed in more than fancy clothing, but in much mystery as well.

Of all those involved in the nativity story, I now realize that I likely have more in common with the Magi than any others.

Foreigner? Check

Affluent? I’m an American, so…check

In need of a king and a messiah? Check

Searching for answers? Check

I am reminded this year of the incredible example given to us by the Magi in Matthew 2:1-2:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

O come let us adore him.

A Name for the blog

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

-Matthew 9:23-27

I’ve come up with a name for my blog: “Perfectly Imperfect.”  I took it from my friend Angel Garrett, who happened to use the phrase in the first ever comment in my first ever blog post.  Her instructions were for me to be me, perfectly imperfect. At first read, I assumed I knew what she meant:  For me to celebrate my uniqueness, and in my perception of my imperfections, embrace it as perfection.

But this got me thinking.  What does that even mean?  Is this just a lie we tell ourselves in order to deal with how broken and incredibly imperfect we are? That if faced with the truth of it all, our sins and imperfections should shame and depress us to a point of despair, and through sophisticated defense mechanisms, we’ve chosen to redirect such imperfection, celebrate it, and relabel it perfection? An oxymoron at best, how can one be perfectly imperfect?

Truthfully though, that’s exactly what I am. An oxymoron.

I grew up in a culture that taught me that confidence is something to seek after, as it may very well be the key to great success.  For me, it’s never been hard to find confidence.  From a young age “smart” and “funny” were two words by which I often defined myself. It has always been my impression that those around me affirmed and celebrated these two qualities in me.  I quickly learned that intelligence and humor were two very strong tools in getting what I wanted, and feeling confident about it along the way.  If I could solve problems, gain knowledge, and make a lot of people laugh along the way, then life was going to be good.

And life has been good.

I was 8 years old when I gave my life to Christ.  It was an easy decision.  If what I was being taught in church were true, then it was the logical choice to choose Christ.  There wasn’t much emotion to it at the time, and my faith was based mostly in the truths of God’s Word, and my appropriate response to them- acceptance.  Life continued, and for about a decade I lived the life of a typical white Christian from rural America. It wasn’t until my college years that I had to develop a real faith and relationship with Christ.

My freshman and sophomore years at Southwest Baptist University were one of the most formative times of my life.  I came to college with a load of confidence, and with it, the adolescent personality that got me that far.  I was met with mixed responses, and for the first time in my life, my confidence wavered.  For some, I was not the hilarious person I thought I was. I think the word “obnoxious” was commonly used to describe me.  The lazy intelligence that got me to be the Valedictorian of my high school class was out-matched by others who were not only intelligent, but hard-working as well. My confidence went on a roller coaster of pride, insecurities, back to egotism, to doubt, and everywhere in between.

It was here that I really met Christ.  For so long I had relied upon my own way of doing things.  What I sought after most was the acceptance and admiration of others.  I had gotten this for so long, that when it wasn’t there as a constant for me in college, my identity suffered.  These were my darkest days.  All that I had attained in life, I had done so based upon my own wisdom, my own powers, and my own strength.  What that got me was a full-ride academic scholarship, life-long friends, a girlfriend here and there, and a decent career plan.  And these are the types of things confidence can get you.

I had also attained purposelessness, obnoxiousness, selfishness, deceitfulness, offensiveness, sinfulness, and a very real lack of humility. These are also the types of things that confidence, when placed in yourself, can get you.

And this is where the oxymoron exists.  To this day, I still struggle.  I have been taught, shown, and even experienced that it would seem I can do anything I want on my own, as long as I put my mind to it.  It seems like that so often.  The irony, though, is that I’m not alone.  Christ lives within me, and if I am to identify with Him, I must deny myself daily and take up my cross.  I am not perfect.  I may not carry the banner of drug addict, physical abuser, sex offender, any other seemingly “terrible” immorality.  But I am prideful, hypocritical, dishonest, and out-right sinful.  I am very imperfect.

But…
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

-Galatians 2:20

I’ve decided that for now, this blog is going to be about what I know best. Me.  I know, saying this blog is going to be about me is just about the most prideful conclusion I could come to, but hear me out.  I’d rather be honest, and admit that I have selfish intent in writing this blog.  I think all bloggers do.  This blog will be about my thoughts, my experiences, my faith, my teachings, my interpretation of scripture, etc. At the same time, there still exists selfless intent.

I am a Christ follower, a sinner, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a pastor, a friend, a sports fan, an American, a teacher, a human.  If you can identify with any of those, I hope you can gain from this blog as well.

The above is my story.  Yours may be similar, but likely very different. Either way, we are all perfectly imperfect.

First Time for Everything

July 29, 1987- First Breath

August, 1992- First Day of Kindergarten

Summer of 1999- First Kiss

December 30, 2001- First Cowboys Game

August, 2005- First Day of College

December 14, 2008- First Speeding Ticket

October 4th, 2009- First Day as a Youth Pastor

January 1st, 2011- First Day as a Husband

May 19th, 2013- First Day as a Father

November 20, 2016- First Day as an Interim Pastor

 

Life is full of firsts.  From the time we are born, life begins its on-going series of initial experiences. First steps, first words, first day of school, first kiss, first chipotle burrito. So much opportunity, and yet never enough time to experience them all.  We are left then to seize, cherish, and enjoy the “firsts” we are blessed to encounter.

Today, is a first for me.  Today is a day I have chosen to embrace a new experience. Today, I am writing a blog post for the very first time in my life.  I came to this decision based upon a major transition in life that occurred yesterday for myself, my family, and my church. Yesterday, our church’s planter and pastor of over 7 years announced his resignation. Parallel to this, I encountered a “first” in my life, as I assumed the role of Interim Pastor. As a stereotypical 29 year old American, I concluded that taking to the world wide web with my thoughts should be one of my “firsts” in this role.  So here I am. A blogger. A rookie blogger, but a blogger.

As many rookies do, I had a lot of questions to answer.

What do I write about? Christian Theology? Ministry? Interests and hobbies? Family? Politics?

Should I make this a personal blog, or utilize it as a ministry of our church?

How is a blog any different than a really long facebook status?

Should I be interested in getting a big audience, or consider a more direct group of people?

How do I do this in a way that does not appear completely self-serving? Is that even possible?  Can someone write a blog, by themselves, and do so in a way that has zero ounce of pride? If so, can I?

A lot of these questions still aren’t answered.  In fact, I thought that when I started typing I would get some clarity and answers.  Instead, I just got more questions.

But here I am.  Doing something for the first time. And as with many enjoyable, worthwhile firsts, I do not intend for this to be my last.