Monday, July 18, 2011

Camp Blog

 I had the immense pleasure to speak at a youth camp last week. It was my first time. I spoke four times. It was very, very fun. It was a blessing. It was grace. Not coincidentally, grace was what I spoke on…four times. Let me start from the beginning.
I received a phone call about 6 weeks ago. It was a (562) number, so I let it go to voicemail. Actually I think I was teaching when this (562) number called (wouldn’t be amazing if I was talking about grace when it rang? I don’t remember what I was teaching on; I probably wasn’t even teaching, I was probably having a one on one conversation with a student about something significant while the rest of the class talked for the one-millionth time about the new Nikki Manage album. That tended to be how about 90% of my classes went. Junior Highers. Need I say more? No. I’m not complaining, I’ve come to accept that this was the best and probably the only way to run the sort of class I was appointed to teach. And I grew very fond of my students and they of me. It was awesome.) Anyways, so this number calls and I let it go to voicemail, as I do with 9/10 calls that come through with a foreign number. So I get done with class and I listen to this voicemail that this faceless (562) number has left. I find out that it is someone named Daniel, who assured me in the message that we had not met, and who is the Middle School pastor at a neighbor church in Long Beach. He wants me to teach at his camp this summer because his previous speaker fell through. My first reaction was that it was a mistake. Really? Me? Teach at a camp? I’ve never done this. I must call him back and tell him that whoever gave him my number must have misled him—I’m very inexperienced at camp speaking, and by inexperienced I mean experience-less. He should probably find someone else. I tell him this up-front and he just asks very frankly, “Well, are you any good? At teaching?” My response was equally frank, “Yes, I believe I’ve been gifted to teach. But I’ve only done it a handful of times at church” “Well, as long as your confident I’m sure you’ll do great. Lets meet this week to talk about it.” Just like that, I was on my way to doing my first camp. Right away I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t know if I could. What if I wrote a bunch of sermons and none of them connected? What if I don’t relate well with the students? The worry started instantly. The unrealistic questions flooded like a tsunami. But there was also this immense desire deep within to do it. This was an amazing opportunity, and I couldn’t deny that. I’d been wanting to get my foot in the door in some ministry but I wasn’t sure where and I wasn’t even sure when I could happen. Summer isn’t always the best time to join a ministry. Again, there were worries and anxiety…everywhere.
            It was all very providential and it continued on that path for the next 6 weeks, all the way up till the end of camp. This Daniel fellow turned out to be a real champ, a complete kindred spirit. He bought me books to help me study. He prayed for me constantly. He encouraged me and helped me brainstorm ideas. He trusted me with his flock. He was continuously confident that I’d do great things and that God would use me. I on the other hand was continuously worried and anxious. There were moments of confidence and brightness where I felt like God was going to use this week to teach through me, but even on the drive up to camp, although I felt pretty good about my talks, I was worried about my car breaking down, not the one that was in the shop recovering from the small fire that had started in it, but the new one that I was driving. Yes, my car caught on fire on July 3. I had a fuel leak and it sprayed gasoline on my spark plugs, and natural chemistry followed its course. However, although I was disappointed, this was grace at work, and I kind of knew it. That’s why I didn’t get angry or shake my fist at God, and I didn’t even worry about it that much. I knew it was providential and that God was going to use his grace to redeem this for his glory and my joy. But I was afraid of God, I was mixing his grace with his discipline. You see, there was something specific in my heart that God was using his grace to change. I’m a greedy person. More specifically, I’m a very dissatisfied person. Nothing seems to be good enough for me. I’m always wanting something better than what I have. So even though God was so gracious and answered my prayers to give us a new car that got good mileage, that was safe and reliable and affordable and that had less than 100k miles on it; sadly it wasn’t enough for me. So God called my bluff and in a sense said, “oh so you don’t like it? Well then you won’t really miss it.” He doesn’t do or say this maliciously. He is simply giving us what we want. It’s true, I didn’t want that car, even though it ran and was clean and safe and carried my surfboards and was a total ace (Ranger Danger). So my vehicle was taken out of the game. And God waited for me to come to my senses. His grace was working to make me content, like Christ, who had far less than I do. This is what God’s grace does for us, it rescues us from stupid crap like silly feelings of malcontent and rings out our heart to reshape it into one more like Christ’s. This ringing hurts sometimes; I was feeling a little pain when the mechanic said,  “Yea, I don’t see this car getting fixed for less than $600.” By the way, that’s not how much it’s going to cost. I actually still don’t know how much it’s going to cost because the mechanic still hasn’t found the necessary part. But it is going to be less than $600, which is already a sign of God’s gracious and redemptive power. But there was greater grace still that I had yet to see.
            Up to this point, I wasn’t feeling like I had really grasped the fullness of grace, conceptually speaking. I understood it to a great degree, but there was still something missing. And the whole car fire situation opened my eyes to the grace that was currently being interwoven into my life. And it became so real to me, in an instant of gracious understanding that God opened my eyes to!
But I was still a little worried about my sermons. My main concern was that literally every single student would fall asleep because my messages were too hard to understand and far too boring. But I couldn’t think creatively at all leading up to the camp! I couldn’t for the life of me find a freaking illustration or a little word picture. It was really annoying! Little did I know that this lack of confidence would be the key to my success, or rather, to the Lord’s success. I went to prepare for my message, read through it, made some notes, and God gave me a few more insights into the topic of grace. Whew! Okay, this might just work. Maybe only a few of them will fall asleep. My first message was shaky but very logical and it flowed well. I was nervous, I had just met the students. I didn’t know how to connect. Am I going too long? Why are my hands so sweaty? Good lord, this is almost as bad as my wedding day. And then it was over. Only one fell asleep, but I chalked that one up to a long day of recreation and too much sugar, and he was only asleep for maybe 5 minutes. I sat back and thought back over what I had said. Made sense to me, and it seems like it made sense to them too. Awesome! Wait, I still have 3 more of these to do. Crap. Well, hopefully God will provide some more insight tomorrow. I already felt more confident, like I had talked out my jitters and a good portion of my anxiety. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling like I was really dispassionate when I spoke and that I had stayed completely monotone for the entire message. I have to show them that I’m excited about grace! Once again, Daniel came through the next day and encouraged me further. “Bryce, just be who you are. You don’t need to be some fiery speaker, because I don’t think that’s who you are. Is it?” “No, not at all really.” “Then don’t fake it. You sounded like you up there, which is great!”
            Okay, lets do this again. God provided more insight, a lot more and the second message was really sweet. I got a glimpse of the rest of the week, and I saw that God wanted to keep me unconfident. He desired that I stay weak and anxious, because He is a God who wants nothing to be left to doubt: He is the one that is speaking. It is his truth that he has privileged me to comprehend. These are his lungs and his mouth. I am just the vessel. Not a identity-less robot, but a working, thinking, feeling craft. And I felt it. My passion was there and it showed. Later, a student came and asked me questions about the message. It was just what I needed: affirmation that this was indeed providential. God knew I was not yet fully convinced of this truth; my eyes were not fully open to what was really going on. Even though they probably should have been, God was not angry with my lack of progress. He was cooperating with me, he was meeting me where I was. This is how I know that I’m not a robot. God cares about his vessels. He doesn’t see us as disobedient or rebellious pieces of machinery. The next two days I looked forward to my preparation because I couldn’t wait to see what God provided, what illustrations he sent to me, what stories he would remind me of. And he provided so well. I was able to share from my heart the amazing truth of grace that I had experienced so many times throughout my life. I was able to be real and honest about how I had been blind to so much of God’s grace and the ways God had humbled me when I had been too proud to see it. And I was able to share how I had been blessed to give grace to so many people and how they have the hope and privilege of doing that as well.
            I was also reminded every single day that volunteer youth leaders are some of the most amazing people on God’s green earth. I recalled daily that wonderful year and a half when I was part of Bethany Jr. High staff. Those were amazing days, and so formational and significant for me personally, and not just because that’s where Molly and I met. I bonded with people under the common flag of leading young people away from the wide path of destruction and onto the narrow and winding path of righteousness. We were united under God’s call of grace, the call to be and give grace to others, to participate in God’s will to rescue mankind from his slavery to sin and offer him a free life of joy, love, hope and significance.
            However, although I taught all of this, my mind was limited to camp in many ways. So when I came home I was surprised that there was grace waiting for me there. I got home and the very next day went back to work. My heart was slightly rebellious and bitter about this. I’m still not sure why, when planning this week and asking for the time off, I was thinking that I would be so zealous to return to work and why I wouldn’t, you know, want a day to recoup. Also, I saw Harry Potter 7 at midnight the night I got back, so I only got a few hours of sleep before going back to the green coffee giant that pays my bills. (If you’d like to read a review of the film, I’m sure my wife will have one up in a few days. I’m actually quite surprised that she hasn’t put one up yet.) So grace was at work immediately. It was amazing to do something that I know for a fact I'm supposed to be doing for the rest of my life and then come back and do something that I don't want to do for even another week! This is where grace becomes most powerful. God was testing to see if this message had really sunk in. Was I trusting that his grace would be sufficient, if his power was truly perfected in my weakness? And it was. I survived my weekend of early mornings and grace was there each morning when I awoke. Grace reminded me that I still have to fix my car, which is still at the mechanic, going on 2 weeks. Grace reminded me that I still have to register for classes for the fall. Grace also reminded me that I still don’t know how my wife and I are going to both go to school part time and work and still pay the bills. Oh yea, and grace also reminded me that I’m still not in the career I desire to be in, in fact, I’m not in a career at all. God’s grace is very exciting, because just like how I looked forward to the ways that he provided for my sermons, I’m also looking forward to how he provides for all these needs. I know for a fact that, just like the last Harry Potter movie, everything will be made clear and every question will be answered and every worry will be put to rest.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Things My Dad has Taught Me

I've learned a lot from my dad. My dad is smart and wise and humble. I won't bother getting into petty arguments about who's dad is bigger or stronger or smarter, because it's honestly no use. My dad is simply the best. And I'm sure your dad is too; that's what makes them "dads". They're radical just by nature. They always ranked right above our favorite super hero as far as admiration and shear awesomeness; because they were right there and we could see and experience them much more than the Ninja Turtles or Spiderman or He-Man. It's almost as if we are born and immediately know that there's no one better than dad. Unfortunately, I know that for many, that as time goes by experience proves otherwise. For some it becomes that there's no one worse than dad. I sincerely believe that dad's have the power to make or break a child, moreso than moms because by nature fathers are more authoritative and therefore demand more respect and we try harder to please them. They are the image of certainty and protection and refuge, but when we don't experience that side of them as a child, that image is skewed and damaged. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord God has compassion on those who fear Him." (Psalm 103:13) Without compassion and love, dad's do not fulfill their God-ordained design.
I am blessed with a wonderful father. As a kid and still to this day, my dad is the my #1 hero. But especially when I was young. I mean, my dad could throw the football so far! Seriously, for miles it seemed! And he could throw the baseball so fast! Like, probably 100 mph! And my dad was the funnest dad ever because he would play freeze tag and jump on the trampoline literally all day long! And...he knew everything, about everything!
I still hold my dad with much esteem and he's still way better than me at pretty much everything, and that's what makes him all the more my dad. And even when he gets old and can't beat me at those things, I'll still know that he taught me about 96% of the things I know.
This is by no means an exhaustive list nor is it in order of importance—I plan on learning much more from my dad because he has much more to teach me and many more years to live. Lord willing, I will pass along these lessons to my children. I hope this stirs you to think about all the things your dad has taught you and to be thankful for him. I am so blessed by my dad and am thankful to the Lord for him and everything he has taught me.
So without further ado, here are just a few things my dad has taught me:

How to ride a bike
How to chew sunflower seeds
How to brush my teeth
How to do a summersault
How to throw a curveball
How to hit a baseball
How to throw a spiral
How to cross a basketball between my legs
That losing isn’t all that big of a deal
How to do a lay-up
How to use a piece of bread as a utensil
How to make a meal out of anything in the fridge
How to grill a steak
How to plant a flower
How to use a leaf blower
How to mow a lawn
How to start a fire
How NOT to chop wood
How to play “guys”
How to fix “just about anything” with electrical tape
How to balance a Christmas tree stand with plywood and various other household objects
To fear not because of evil doers in the way
How to read the Bible
How to write a sermon
What to do when you visit someone in the hospital
How to talk to a child
That making good friends is of the utmost importance
How to change the oil on my car
How to change a flat tire
How to pray
How to buy gifts for my future wife
About the “birds and the bees”
How to treat my mother
How to predict the end of most movies within the first 15 minutes (he’s still way better at it than I am)
How to make a farting noise with my mouth
How to do my taxes
How to tie a tie
How to be patient
That some people require extra grace
To never trust a chiropractor
Various ways to “stick it to the Man”
That “sticking it to the Man” is always the best way to go
How to bait a hook
How to clean a fish
How to swing a golf club
How to bodysurf
How to get yourself out of a “pickle” in baseball
How to “box” someone out to get a rebound
How to bargain with people for products
How to pick weeds
How to catch a troublesome gopher
How to make a toy gun out of PVC pipe
How to find a hole in your bicycle tire
How to do Algebra
How to create a nickname for anyone I meet
How to create non-words and/or shortened versions of actual words (actual examples: Tree McGee, Chillin McGillin, Vay-Kay, S-Bag, etc.)
The importance of naps
That driving 5-10 mph under the speed limit on your day off is totally fine because “there’s no need to rush”
That you increase your chances of getting something 83% or sometimes 84% if you ask
How to spot a “pot of croc” a mile away
That “starting the process clarifies the calling”
The importance of being honest during a conflict and never surrendering just for the sake of ending the conflict
That cars kill more people every year than guns do
How to drive a car with a manual transmission
How to parallel park a car
How to make a milkshake by mixing milk with your ice cream
That Oreos and most other chocolate candies are best served frozen
That “extra brains” can be a proper excuse for any physical abnormality
That singing songs around the house at the top of your lungs is really awesome
That cars are a necessary evil
Righty tighty. Lefty loosey (except on plumbing)
The importance of having a good level

However, the best thing my dad has taught me isn’t even something that he told me, it’s something that I've learned just from having him in my life, and that is that the one of the best gifts God can give you is a father who loves and supports you.
Happy Father's Day, Dad Rad Fad Sad Mad Rad Lad

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Glimpses of Future Blessing

            I used to hate roller coasters. Absolutely hate them. They scared me to death because I hated going fast and not being in control of where or how fast I was going. I disliked the idea of being forced onto some predetermined track and then being shot into unknown territory by way of sharp turns and dark tunnels. It completely baffled me that people would find them in any way thrilling or fun. It wasn’t until high school when on a church trip I went on my first real roller coaster (Viper at Magic Mtn) to impress a girl so that she wouldn’t think I was a wimp. Even after that I still didn’t like it completely, but it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought it was going to be. Screaming helped a lot.
            The last few months have felt like a really smooth roller coaster, almost like the Monorail at Disneyland. Things are, for the most part, looking pretty optimistic. I’ve received some major guidance from God and He’s been really gracious to me in over and abundant ways. The last week, on the other hand, has felt a little like that first real roller coaster. You see, He still has completely laid out my bath before me yet. He’s pulled back the curtain just a smidge and there are rays of light, glimpses of future blessing, peaking out. When I see them I get really excited and anxious and just want to scream, “JUST PULL IT ALL THE WAY ALREADY!!” Within the last week God has answered one of my major prayers: my wife Molly has been really stressed out for the last 6 months, mainly over her thesis. Lately, she hasn’t had any motivation to write it, and in all honesty I don’t blame her. I mean, who wants to just up and write a 50-page research paper? I understand that it would have been a wonderful trophy and something to be really proud of; and Lord knows I would have been first in line to congratulate her. However, she was stressing out over it so much because she just couldn’t seem to find the time or the energy to go research. It didn’t help that she was working 2 jobs and going to school, either. Anyways, I was praying and praying that God would provide a way out because I just couldn’t stand for her to continue on stressing like this. I wanted to see her enjoy her education like she used to and to simply enjoy learning. It wasn’t at all that I didn’t think she could write it; on the contrary I had full confidence that she would be able to do it. I just didn’t want it to be overly difficult, especially if she it didn’t have to be that way. Well, the Lord was merciful as He always is and provided a way out, and already the old bubbly Molly is back again, footloose and fancy free. It’s absolutely wonderful and I can’t thank God enough. (Just to clarify, Molly is not dropping out, she’s just choosing to write the comp exams instead of the thesis. She’ll still be Master Molly Keating at the end of this year. Stoked, bro…) Even better, she’s decided to get back into doing ministry at our church. I’ll let her tell you about it when she’s ready, I don’t want to jump the gun.
However, He has still reminded me, by way of unseen sharp turns and dark tunnels that have popped up in the last 2 days, that this is the way that He best prepares me for the journey ahead: one part Monorail, one part freaky loopy roller coaster. Uncertainty is, without a doubt, God’s greatest tool for shaping his disciples. If He told us everything we would have no reason to trust Him and without Him to trust, the only thing we have left to lean on is ourselves, which is the ultimate folly (Prov 3:5-6). So…the Lord hasn’t completely pulled back the curtain, and I don’t think He will for a while. And even when he does there will only be a small production set in place, with another curtain behind that. His full plan for my life will be unveiled in stages, with the final act being the most glorious. I won’t lie, there are times when it really irks me. Those glimpses of future blessing that he shows me every so often are sometimes like a teaser trailer for a movie I’m really looking forward to (Harry Potter 7.2!!), but other times they’re blurred road signs along a dark path that are frustrating to me. And then there are other times when I think I’m fooling myself and I begin to doubt his glorious and blessed plan for me altogether and I think that I’m reading too much into just random circumstances. And as much as I hate the uncertainty of it and the fact that to some degree it’s predetermined, it’s not as bad as I originally thought it was going to be. Screaming helps a lot.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Heaven, Dear Reader

I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven recently. Lets be clear, these are not suicidal thoughts in any way. I would never be that selfish. Let me give some context as to why I started thinking about this. We were in church about a month ago and it came time for communion. The elder chosen for prayer said something in his prayer about having peace because our sins our forgiven. It got me started on a train of thought that was so glorious. The more I thought about it the more excited and peaceful I felt. I should have eternal peace because of the salvation that I’ve received as a result of Christ’s atoning death. My soul, the most important and valuable thing I have, has been taken care of. It’s security in eternal paradise has been bought and guaranteed. If God can handle the weight of my sin and purify my eternally iniquitous soul, it follows then that he is powerful and gracious enough to handle my pitiful day-to-day trials. This gives me great comfort because like most people, I get overwhelmed with the trials of this life. I get tired and weary of everything that I see and experience on a momentary basis. I’m tired of working, and I’ve been in the country’s work force barely a decade. I’m tired of temptation and sin. I’m tired of seeing human suffering on a world-wide scale. I’m tired of politicians and their sneaky and dishonest ploys. I’m tired of seeing the ones I love struggle and fight for joy on a daily basis. I’m tired of pain and worry. However, the more I contemplate my soul’s guaranteed fulfillment, the more this life and it’s struggles seem to fade in importance. The eternal, as always, matters more than the temporal. I long for the eternal. I long to be united with my Savior and spend eternity being overwhelmed by his glory and goodness. My soul is consistently hungry for eternal peace-it was created there and it’s knocking at the inside of me, begging to go home, reminding me that this life is not all there is. As the old hymn goes, “This world is not my home I’m just passin through.” Let me give you a concrete example of this. I live in Orange County but the rest of my family lives in San Diego County. Every time I go home, I unfortunately have to take I-5, but as soon as I get to the San O power plants and I see the sign that says “San Diego County Border”, I get this overwhelming sense of peace deep inside. It’s like my heart is whispering, “You’re going home. You’re almost there.” It’s a wonderful feeling and I imagine that the moment I pass from this life I will get that feeling on a much, much grander scale. I often think of that old Sunday school song, “When I get to heaven gonna walk with Jesus. When I get to heaven gonna see His face. When I get to heaven gonna walk with Jesus: saved by his wonderful grace.” Every time I sing that song I can’t help but grin. I get somewhat giddy too and I get this great feeling of anticipation and expectancy. Often times it brings a tear to my eye. I really want this feeling to last. It gives me peace in times of struggle to know that this pain will only last a little longer. Most likely I’ll live for another 60 years, but even that isn’t that long in comparison to eternity. It also gives me wonderful hope.
There is, however, another side of this that is hard for me to consider sometimes and I know I’m not alone in this. I know for a fact that pain increases my trust and faith in God, that I'm perfected through weakness and suffering. Christ himself “learned obedience by the things that he suffered.” Furthermore, I know that this life is not completely useless and I shouldn’t just throw it away and wait for Christ to return or for death to occur. I must take advantage of this life, since I only get one shot at it. Also, my salvation is bought with Christ’s blood and to waste my life would be to waste his death. One can’t underestimate the eternal value of Christ’s blood. I’m also very confident that God has some very great things planned for my future, some of them probably very painful, but still good in the end. I’m identifying a lot with the apostle Paul when he writes about being torn between this world and the next. This is the balance and tension that I believe every Christian should consistently seek. It gives one great hope and stimulates one towards perseverance, at least that’s the effect that it’s had on me. As the brilliant author Shaun Keating once wrote, “Hope, true hope, the kind that you sense almost physically like steam rising from your mouth; the kind you know has soaked in the misery from which it promises to save you–does not appear and disappear at random. It also cannot be conjured by any will or inner meditation. Hope is as much a part of human existence as breathing. The very fact that we exist and have free will and free minds: incites us to hope. We hope and have hope because God loves us and, secondarily, that we can improve our station in this world or at least our outlook on the station to which God has assigned us.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. God help us all…to live in hope and to celebrate Christ’s purchasing of our souls, in preparation for the ultimate celebration in the next life. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quick product plug

I love Whiskey. More specifically, I love Scotch Whiskey. American Whiskey (Bourbon) is my second favorite, but nothing comes close to Scotch in my personal opinion. I enjoy Scotch not for the sake of getting drunk, but simply for the taste. The smooth, syrupy texture at the entry with a bite on the tongue as it washes down. I feel intelligent and refined when I drink Scotch, the way it swirls in the tumbler and then rests, looking like amber colored glass. Intelligent people drink Scotch, so it makes sense to me that I should relish it's exquisite and complex flavors. Another reason I enjoy Scotch is simply because I just feel cool while drinking it, and I'm confident that I look really cool as well. I've gotten super hooked on the AMC show Mad Men. The guys on the show drink whiskey non-stop and they all look really cool, so I'm sure I do to. I received my first bottle of Scotch as a graduation gift from my brother Shaun. Ever since then I've been interested in the beverage, trying a new brand every chance I got. I've always enjoyed Scotch "on the rocks" with one or two ice cubes and have never really thought of trying it any other way, even though it displeases me that the ice dilutes the flavor. However, my problem was solved about 6 months ago when I took a trip to see my wife on her lunch break at Barnes & Noble. She was late getting on her lunch so I cruised over the magazine section to check out the latest issue of Surfing Mag. While on my way up the isle, a men's fashion magazine popped out at me because my careful eye caught the word "whiskey". I stopped short and looked closer. The title of the treasured article that would forever change the way I consume my favorite liquor was "How to Make Whiskey Better". I quickly consulted the index and found the correct page number. Among the tips, most of which I found to be quite helpful, was the advice to stop using ice to cool your whiskey, but instead to use "whiskey stones". They are exactly what they sound like: stones or rocks that will hold a cold temperature but that won't dilute the whiskey. Genius, yes? Yes! The ones the article recommended were made out of soap-stone, a soft stone mined in the Northeastern US, soft enough that it won't scratch your tumbler but hard enough that you can't brake it if dropped. You cool these little cubes of stone in your freezer overnight, then just drop a couple in your glass, and BOOM! You've got yourself a Grade A cocktail. The whiskey is just cool enough to enjoy properly. Anyways, my wife was super awesome and got them for me as a Christmas gift and I can't stop raving about them. Even more insane is that my sister got some whiskey stones for her husband for Christmas too! The ones she got were made by Johnny Walker and are made out of a different type of stone, but they still work great. Anyways, if you're into whiskey and are looking for a way to enjoy it more, I would highly suggest getting some of these. Here's the link for mine:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Have you ever...(part 2 of 2)

I’ve been confused for a while now. Prior to last week, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life. I felt the pressure of providing for my family, but I’m not trained to do anything besides what I got my degree in, and that’s out of the question…or at least it was. My degree prepared me to do church ministry. I thought that’s what God wanted me to do, but through a series of events and church jobs, I felt less secure in that. So I’ve pursued other options, all to no avail. Plus, there has been this rebellion inside me ever sense I felt a call into ministry to not do it, and the main reason is because it’s what my dad does. I feel like the kid in all those movies that’s supposed to “take over the family business”. It’s not because of anything that my dad has done; in fact my dad has always been my greatest supporter in everything. I’ve always known that my dad would be happy with whatever God led me to do. I’ve realized that my rebellion has come from a response to people throughout my life that have “expected” me to go into ministry. You see, my dad is very good at what he does. He’s an excellent pastor and God has given him all the necessary skills to do that. And for whatever reason, people think that his legacy should live on in one of his offspring. It’s a somewhat natural assumption that people place on great individuals. Great athletes are supposed to breed great athletes, and if they do, the expectation is just as high if not higher for that offspring. “Out-do your daddy!” is the motto. People used to always ask me when I got to a certain age what I was going to be when I grew up and their first expectation was for me to say, “I want to be just like my dad!” Again, it’s a natural assumption. Most young boys want to be just like their dad, especially if their dad is as awesome as mine. And it’s not that I don’t want to be just like my dad. My dad is my greatest hero and if I desire to emulate any individual besides Christ, it’s my father. However, when people asked me that, my first response was one of bitterness and anger. “Why do you assume that? I’m NOT my dad!” is what I would think in my head.
There’s something about fulfilling other people’s expectations that just didn’t sit right with me. I think it’s because as much as every little boy wants to be just like their daddy, there’s an impulse in them to do something completely different: to blaze new trails and conquer new territories, and just be DIFFERENT than their dad. There’s nothing wrong with that impulse, but there is something negative about “taking over the family business”. The job is forced upon you because none of the other siblings wanted to do it or the sibling who is least capable takes it on because it’s their last option and they don’t want the business to go under. And I think I’m especially susceptible because I’m the youngest and none of my other siblings have chosen ministry as an occupation. As I grew up, I really hoped that one of them would so that I could do something different. However, it didn’t turn out that way and it appeared that the lot fell to me. Even after I felt a “call” into ministry, my heart rejected it. I wrestled and argued with God for a while. I took my crap degree as proof that I was right. It’s this weaker man in me saying that if I go into ministry, there will be no new trails blazed; I’ll just be falling in line with expectations. And I couldn’t stand doing that.
So I spent a while running away from ministry, trying to find something else to do, hoping that something would fall into my lap that would guide me to some other field. Even though I knew I was really good at ministry and that I had a blast doing it; I had all these excuses to convince myself that it wasn’t for me: the job doesn’t pay enough, my dad does it, my degree still sucks, etc. Plus I just didn’t like the fact that I was good at ministry. I think it’s because in my mind, it’s really not that hard. The only thing that I’m really good at is talking. Communication comes really easy for me, but that’s not that big of a deal! And so I have good relational skills and I love getting to know new people! Everyone has those skills and they’re so not-fun and not-cool skills to have. My friends are good at marketing and business and photography! Those are cool skills, man! I wanted God to make me good at those things. Anybody can communicate and hang out with younglings for 3-4 hours a week! Psh. Big deal!
This is how I’ve felt for a while, up till last week when I had somewhat of a divine experience. I was writing out the first portion of this blog, kind of throwing up on the page (the step prior to editing it for posting-that’s just how my brain works) when there was almost an audible voice that I know was the Holy Spirit that simple said, “Bryce, you know what you’re supposed to do with your life-ministry. It’s what you’re best at. It’s what I’ve gifted you to do. Don’t be concerned with the gifting of others. I’ve given you some really special gifts that can only be used to spread my message of love and salvation!” It was very startling since I’ve never experienced something like this. The reality and truth of the message kind of floated down into my heart and my heart was satisfied. It just kind of resounded with a very matter of fact, “huh.” But it wasn’t the huge uproar that used to arrive. As I’ve mulled over this, I’ve come to accept it more and more every day. I have been gifted with some very unique and very cool gifts. If the #1 fear in the world is still public speaking, then I’ve got a one up on almost everyone else out there. And the truth is, not everyone can handle younglings or difficult people, but God has gifted me with an exorbitant amount of patience (one of the many things I learned from my dad). Furthermore, some people are just really awkward in social circumstances and I’ve been granted the ability to be super easy to be with and really fun to talk to. My wife reminds me of that every day ☺. These gifts and talents combine to be a pretty stacked deck when it comes to ministry and God seems to be pointing me there. And so far there has been no crazy fear that everyone will be watching to say, “I told you so.” There is also no fear that I’m just doing this out of obligation-there is much joy in my heart, in fact. So I have a great amount of clarity and great amount of confidence in my future. I still don’t have a perfect picture of it, but…all in good time. God is good. God has helped me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Have you ever...(part 1 of 2)

Have you ever felt insecure? I would venture to say that every person has felt insecure at least once in his or her life. As a middle school teacher, I witness insecurity on a moment-by-moment basis every weekday. Kids are insecure about how their body looks, so they eat less or sometimes eat more. They’re insecure about how they dress, so they make fun of others for how they dress. They’re insecure about how they talk or about their opinions so they end every sentence with a questioning inflection or the word, “right?”, or they don’t talk at all. Retail clothing stores make a killing in sales every August when school starts up because young people must feel secure in their social standing by exhibiting the latest trend or brand. But young people aren’t alone in their insecurity. Adults do the same thing. Men experience a “mid-life crisis” because they’re insecure about their future. So they go out and buy a sports car or a motorcycle to reinforce their masculinity and give them a sense of security in that feeling. Women are consistently battling the signs of age because our culture holds a viewpoint that once a woman starts to get wrinkles and gray hair, she is no longer attractive. So they’re insecure about how they look and they get plastic surgery or they continually die their hair back to its natural color. Cosmetic companies are making money hand over fist by putting out a new product once every 6 months that claims to hide wrinkles and then they throw up a digitized picture of a 50-year-old celebrity to “prove” that it works. I’m not bashing the cosmetic companies or the retail stores, in fact I applaud their marketing endeavors and their desire to sell their product. Nor am I angry with people who feel insecure. Insecurity is a natural process of trial and error.
People feel insecure when they don’t have a clear picture of who they are. Their identity is in question. This is why adolescents, colligates, and middle aged adults all feel insecure, and people in between seem to be doing just fine. Humans are in a constant quest for identity. We attempt to identify ourselves first and foremost by the position we hold. For most men, we seek a career that will give us some sort of meaning in life and fulfill our quest for identity so that we can identify ourselves by our position. I would argue that most women identify themselves by their position as a mother-that’s their primary position. We hope that our position in life will help solidify in who we are. However, there are times in life when our position becomes insecure and therefore, we become insecure. Adolescents are learning what their position is in their social stratosphere, and feel insecure about it. College aged people have just spent 4 years studying for a career, and then they have to go out and actually do it, a step that is often very scary. When men linger at a job too long or don’t achieve the paycheck they hoped, or maybe they feel they’ve settled for too many things, their position in life gets shaken and they feel insecure. As women age, their position as a mother becomes insecure because their kids are grown and leaving the house. When we don’t maintain a clear picture of our identity, our insecurity causes us to create and project different prototypes of what we think we are. They are messy versions of what we think we could be. In most cases these prototypes are rejected by either the person themselves or the people in their social circles. In essence, these possible versions of us are all asking, “Is this who I am? Does this match who I think I am on the inside?” This is demonstrated in various ways: sometimes in depression, sometimes in anger, sometimes in just an emotional shutdown.
I myself am feeling very insecure right now, and have been feeling so for the last few months. I am insecure about my position: working at Starbucks and teaching middle school students about discipleship. It’s a meager living and I have a lot of trouble being satisfied with it. I tell people this and they say, “Well then why don’t you just go get another job?” I wish I could. I’m stuck in my insecurity, absolutely paralyzed. I’m not confident enough that I could do any job I put my mind to. I try to talk myself up and say, “Bryce, you’ve got a college degree! You graduated high school with a 4.0 and college with a 3.7. You’ve got great communication skills…You can do anything you put your mind to…blah blah blah.” It only works for maybe a few minutes and then I’m back to my paralysis of insecurity. This came as a surprise to my wife. She told me that I’m one of the most confident people she knows. I would agree with her in most other areas of my life. I learned early on that you can’t please every one and that attempting to do so will drive you mad and only decrease your sense of security in who God made you to be. It has been very easy up till now to maintain that security because I had a clear picture of what God wanted me to do with my life. Furthermore, I wasn’t married and therefore not responsible for another person’s well being. However, God has since shoved me into a giant cloud of ambivalence and uncertainty. The calling that I had once felt so secure in is no longer present. I’m grasping for straws of solidarity and permanence every day. I ask, “Is this right, God? Maybe I could do this with my life?”
The problem with insecurity is what I mentioned earlier. When we identify ourselves by our position or our capabilities, we’re placing our trust in things that aren’t completely secure. The only thing that we can really identify ourselves as with any certainty is our position as helpless creatures of a loving and sovereign God. That position will never change. I will always be a helpless creature; and my God will always be loving and powerful. Sometimes I may not see the love when its present, and many times my insecurity is my acting out and trying to take control back from Him. Kind of ironic, is it not? As I have said before and will continue to say, God help me.