The Power of the Church

“Church.”

It’s a word that has the power to evoke many different emotions.

Sadly, a lot of them are negative.

For many people, the church is a symbol of repression, discrimination, and boredom. I get it. There is a lot of bad history there and I’ve fallen asleep in church a bunch of times.

Despite the negativity, the history, and the bad stereotypes, I have a different story to tell.

A story of hope, a story of generosity, a story of love.

That is the church Jesus intended.

That is the church Jesus loved.

That is my church.

A family at our church has been going through some really tough times. The unwanted trifecta: medical issues, unemployment, and the loss of their home. They asked for prayer, so a lot of people prayed. However, I felt like we needed to do more. These folks have amazing spirits, are always willing to serve, and their church should be there to help in their time of greatest need.

It was.

In a way unlike anything I could have ever imagined.

Last fall, one of my good friends, Teddy, and I went out to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. We once lived in the same small town in Texas about 25 years ago and so we both have a passion for Mexican food. Work, technology, and to-do lists occupy so much of our time, so it was priceless to just sit down, eat tacos, and talk with a friend face-to-face.

We invited more guys from Capital City Church to join us for Mexican food the next month. We’ve gathered together every single month since last November. I started to call it “Dude Date.” About 25 of us hit up a local Mexican joint, bond over tacos, give out a coveted “Dude of the Month” award, and raise money for a different charity each month. We usually raise about $125. We also raise a lot of eyebrows when we roll into a local taco joint 25-deep on a Monday night.

The Church

Dude of the Month

These two separate stories converged last week. Instead of raising money for a charity, I decided to use this month’s Dude Date to raise money for the family at our church who needed some hope. I emailed the group of guys and asked for help. I thought we’d raise $300. I was really hoping for $500.

We raised $5,160.

(drops the mic)

(picks the mic back up because there is more to say)

I’ve never seen such unbridled generosity, enthusiasm, or love from a community. I was moved, I was shocked, I was honored to call these guys my friends and this church my home.

Most of these guys didn’t know the family we were helping. It didn’t matter. One guy said God was pounding on his heart when he heard there was a need. He gave $1,250. Someone mailed me an anonymous $800 money order. Another guy paid for everyone’s bill at last week’s Dude Date and encouraged the thirty other guys to donate to the family what they would have paid for their meal.

I gave all that money to the family today. It has felt like the week before Christmas since Monday. I was so excited for that moment. It was priceless. It was powerful. That money will be used to make sure this beloved family has a place to live.

That is the power of the church.

The church Jesus loved. The church I love.

The Power of Shame

I started writing this blog one year ago. I was feeling directionless and needed a place to coalesce my thoughts. I also hoped to make people laugh by sharing my not-so-deep thoughts about life and insignificant pop culture issues. Most of all, I wanted to use this blog to fight back against the culture of shame that permeates so much of our world.

For years, I was ensnared by the shame of my past mistakes. I was filled with regret. I felt damned to a seemingly hopeless identity and future.

Of course, I told no one.

That’s why I started this blog.

I believe that many of us are bearing burdens that are too heavy to carry alone. Those burdens have the power to crush hope. Those burdens can become our identities.

Yet, we tell no one.

Shame is a powerful force. It hurts to pull down your mask and let the world know that you don’t have it all together.

Well, neither does the rest of the world.

When I started writing about our past marriage problems, I had many people reach out to me and say they had faced similar failures, obstacles, and regrets. It was priceless to know that we were not alone and that others had fought similar battles. I just wished I had shared my story earlier.

That’s why I started this blog.

I thank God for a patient wife, a God who forgives, and two little babies who remind me that what once was broken can be restored.

The Power of Shame

Lost and Found

In case you didn’t notice the creepy bunny at the mall or the absurd amount of yellow candy at CVS, Easter is almost here. I’m really excited about Easter this year because we’ll actually be able to go to church. It’s been five years since we’ve been to an Easter service because we were either gallivanting through Thailand or Hungary or visiting my brother in jail. I’m also really excited about Easter because I have a new pair of teal and orange shoes I want to wear.

Oh, and because I have a new appreciation for the story of forgiveness that is central to the message of Easter.

Like every human being ever, I am my own worst critic. I magnify my mistakes and replay the memories of my stupid decisions over and over again like they were Katy Perry songs on my iPhone. I’ve struggled with a lot of the same issues for so many years. It’s tiring. It’s frustrating. I feel defeated, I feel like a loser, I feel condemned. Thus, if I feel that way, then God, OMG, must really feel the same. It has to be a horrible movie for Him to watch me screw up again and again (but it is still a better movie than Cloud Atlas; that was a waste of three hours this week). I feel like the weight of my mistakes is so heavy and my shame so great that I am unworthy of God’s grace.

And then Luke 15 slaps me all up in the head. In this chapter, Jesus tells three stories:

The first is about a sheep that got lost from the herd. Jesus emphasizes that a single sheep is so valuable to the shepherd that he will leave all the other sheep to find the dumb one that went astray. After he finds it, the shepherd invites all his friends over to celebrate the return of his lost sheep. I’ve been to a few awkward parties over the years, but a “I Found My Sheep” party sounds like the worst. Despite that, I still love this story.

The second story in Luke 15 is essentially the same as the tale of the lost sheep, but it is about a lost coin. Thus, there is less poop and fleas, but still the same awkward party at the end to celebrate finding the lost coin.

Finally, there is the story of the prodigal son. I like this one the most because sometimes it is hard to relate to a sheep or coin. However, a dude who lived it up, made some poor life decisions, and found himself full of regret and laying face down in the mud, yea, I get that. Although the prodigal son blew a bunch of his dad’s money on booze and prostitutes, the dad still welcomes his son back with open arms. Yep, the son screwed up. A lot. Yep, he hit rock bottom. Yep, pops still threw a rocking party to celebrate the fact that his son came home. It didn’t matter that the son was filthy. He was home.

I love these stories because they remind me (1) that we should throw more parties; (2) that God isn’t up there excitedly waiting to smack me down each time I screw up; and (3) my mistakes will never be too great for His grace.

I am the sheep.  I am the lost coin.  I am the prodigal son.

I am also hungry for some McDonald’s breakfast. BRB.

Christmas Conflict

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas yesterday.  We had a great time hanging with Amanda’s family:

Christmas Conflict

We laughed.

Christmas Conflict 2

We cried.   Baby gifts are emotional.

Baby Pants

We ate too much.

We got a lot of wonderful presents.  Amanda even got a Twinmobile.

Christmas Conflict 3

We watched home videos.  They made me feel old.  The 1990s were a long time ago.

We ate some more.

Despite all those awesome moments, I always have a tough time with Christmas.  I think about the mistakes I made over the past year, the dumb things I did, and my own selfishness.  Those memories and images are in stark contrast to the story of Jesus.  He was born amid great fanfare and cow poop, but He later selflessly made the ultimate sacrifice so that a severed relationship between God and His second-favorite creation (after Chihuahuas) could be restored.  On Christmas, I repeatedly think that I am unworthy of such a gift and that I’ve screwed up way too many times for such incredible grace.

But then I remember that is exactly why Jesus came.

Christmas in the Capital

Christmas is pretty cool (other than non-rap Christmas carols).  I like Baby Jesus, weather that gives me an excuse to wear cardigans, and people buying me presents.  However, other than watching “Home Alone,” one of my favorite Christmas traditions is our annual “Christmas in the Capital” dinner.

Christmas in the Capital

Here’s how it usually goes down:

(1)  We ask some good friends or family to go out to dinner at a nice-ish DC restaurant the week before Christmas.

(2)  We eat dinner.

(3)  We laugh a lot.

(4)  I try to get a friend to pay the bill.

(5)  He or she declines.

(6)  I eat way too much.

(7)  I later regret those decisions.

(8)  We walk over to the National Christmas Tree.

(9)  Sometimes the tree is still lit.

(10)  We laugh some more.

(11)  We take pictures in front of the tree.

(12)  We make fun of each other.

That’s how it went down last Thursday.  A group of 15 of us hit up Chef Geoff’s Downtown.  I ate five pieces of bread before we ordered our food.  I’m classy.  After a three-hour dinner full of calories and laughs, we hustled over to the National Christmas Tree.  For the second year in a row, it was closed when we arrived and the lights were turned off.  We asked our friends Barack and Michelle to flip the lights back on, but they didn’t respond to our text messages.  Oh well, we still took this fun picture:

Christmas in the Capital - 2

…and here’s some photos from past “Christmas in the Capital” dinners:

2012:

2012

2011:

2011

2010:

2010

2009:

2009

2008:

2008

Okay, all those old pictures make me feel depressed for being old.

In more exciting news, the first ever “Awkward White Guy Christmas Rap” is dropping tomorrow.

Holla.

Doodles

The Bible is full of wild stories.

There are tales of giants, awkward family relationships, dramatic miracles, and even a talking donkey.

Although many of those stories are ripe to be made into a Hollywood blockbuster (or a bad Kirk Cameron movie), my favorite story in the Bible is a subtle tale involving some sand and a woman cloaked in nothing more than her own desperation.

Here’s my version of the story.  My apologies to the Bible scholars.

A fun group of lawyers, priests, and professors broke into a house and found two people getting it on.  They dragged the woman outside, threw her at Jesus’s feet, and threatened to kill her for committing adultery.

Naturally, Jesus’s response was to draw some lines, words, and pictures in the sand. This should encourage everyone who spaces out during boring meetings and aimlessly doodles because the next words Jesus said were brilliant:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This is the first mic drop in human history.

The angry mob sheepishly walked away. Jesus just went back to drawing that cool “S” symbol in the sand.

Friends in Low Places

Of course, in true baller fashion, Jesus acted like none of it was a big deal.  He eventually looked up, saw an empty street corner, and asked the lady where everyone went. She told Him that they all pulled an Irish Goodbye and bounced.  He told her to leave her negative past behind and to start over.  

I love this story because Jesus’s response to the crowd is so perfectly worded that he confuses, frustrates, and humbles the angry mob of religious elites with one sentence.  I also love this story because it is a beautiful reminder that God’s unrelenting grace is not dependent on whether I’m good enough.

That’s really important. Because I’m not.

I’m rude.  I’m lazy.  I’m jealous.  I’m selfish.  (My wife can list a dozen more negative attributes.)  I tell myself that I’ll change and that things will be different next time.

(Seventeen seconds later)

I screw up again.

I grow frustrated.  I get mad at myself.  I get mad at God.  I want to quit, throw my hands up in the air, and walk away.  Why bother when I have so much to be ashamed of and my future failures seem so certain?

Because Jesus doodled in the sand.

For me.

Not the perfect, holy, or righteous me.  But the broken, the prideful, the real me.

Faithin’ Ain’t Easy

Although my wife says I’m perfect, I’ll admit it, I have a lot of flaws.  For example, I talk too much.  That probably means I annoy some people.  It also means that I don’t have many secrets.  Well, here’s one:

I think believing in God is kinda crazy.

I’ve spent most of my Sunday mornings at church.  I paid attention “most” of the time.  I go to a dynamic church here in the DC area.  It has helped transform my life and my marriage.  I pray a few times a day.  Occasionally, I even pray for things other than the Washington Nationals.  I try to read the Bible each morning.  However, I often fail and the snooze button gets the best of me.  My days sometimes end in disappointment because I desperately want to live a bold and passionate life like Jesus lived, but the stresses of life consume me.  Plus, I waste too much time looking at Facebook.  And Instagram.  And Twitter.  And sports websites.  And pop culture blogs.  Meanwhile, the things that I know matter most, the things that I desperately want to pursue, are pushed off until “tomorrow.”

In short, faith has always been a challenge for me.  Outside of sporting events and Sarah McLachlan pet adoption commercials, I’m not a very emotional person.  I conduct a calculated cost-benefit analysis before making life decisions.  I don’t take dramatic leaps of faith or do risky stuff.  My wife doesn’t like watching movies with me because I point out all the plot holes or stupid things that make no sense.  Meanwhile, she just wants to admire Ryan Gosling’s incredible “acting skills” in peace and quiet.  I’m also a lawyer.  I love facts, evidence, and reason.  None of those things mesh easily with a belief in an infallible God who has always been, and forever will be, chillin’ somewhere in a palace made of gold.  When I pray, I sometimes wonder why I’m sitting around talking to myself.

Despite the doubts, the struggles, the tragedies, and the endless questions, I still believe.  Here’s why:

1.  One of the greatest rock bands told me to “Don’t Stop Believin’.”  I don’t know about you, but I do what Journey says.

2.  I have traveled to 30+ countries, met my ultimate celebrity crush, hung out with a President, married a great lady, get to kick it with the best BFF EVER, have attended some awesome concerts and sporting events, work across the street from a froyo joint, and own a “few” pairs of fun pants.  However, the only times I’ve felt that I’m truly living life the way it was meant to be lived is when I’m following the two rules Jesus said are the most important:  Love God and love others.

3.  Why do I believe in God?  Because these things exist:

Faithin' Ain't Easy

Faithin' Ain't Easy. Yo.

SPKs

TB

4.  I know that I’m in good company.  Whether it was a Bible dude building a big boat or a modern hero of the faith like Martin Luther King, we’ve all had our doubts and we’ve all made mistakes.  My struggles are nothing new.

5. Finally, I refuse to believe that my life is the result of random chance.  I refuse to believe in a world without purpose.  I refuse to believe in a world without redemption.  Yep, really bad stuff can happen that shakes those ideals, like today’s tragic DC shooting, but I still believe there is a God who made us and loves us.  I wish I had some impressive theological explanation about why God allows bad stuff to happen.  I don’t.  All I know is that God has given us a priceless freedom.  We can use that freedom to do incredibly beautiful things.  Sadly, some will use it to do unspeakably evil things too.

So those are the five reasons I believe in God.  That might make me kind of crazy.  However, that’s nothing new.

Sonogram