In Memory

I watched a special this morning on HBO entitled “Last Letters Home”. It profiles families that have lost loved ones in Iraq. Although each story was moving, this story in particular touched me the most. We should never forget those who have served and are serving our country.

Excerpt of a letter from Army Pfc. Jesse A. Givens, 34, of Springfield, Mo. Private Givens was killed May 1 when his tank fell into the Euphrates River after the bank on which he was parked gave way. This letter was written to be delivered to his family if he died. Melissa is his wife, Dakota his 6-year-old stepson and Bean the name he used for his son, Carson, who was born May 29, just a few weeks after Jesse’s death.

My family,

I never thought that I would be writing a letter like this. I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings, though and, well, if you are reading this. . . .

The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when you quit taking life so serious and smiled. The sounds of a beautiful boy’s laughter or the simple nudge of a baby unborn. You will never know how complete you have made me. You saved me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never dreamed existed.

Dakota . . . you taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile again. You taught me that life isn’t so serious and sometimes you just have to play. You have a big, beautiful heart. Through life you need to keep it open and follow it. Never be afraid to be yourself. I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can play. I love you, and hope someday you will understand why I didn’t come home. Please be proud of me.

Bean, I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I know you will be strong and big-hearted like your mom and brother. I will always have with me the feel of the soft nudges on your mom’s belly, and the joy I felt when I found out you were on your way. I love you, Bean.

Melissa, I have never been as blessed as the day I met you. You are my angel, soulmate, wife, lover and best friend. I am sorry. I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A lifetime’s worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with you. Please keep my babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone. . . . Teach our babies to live life to the fullest, tell yourself to do the same.

I will always be there with you, Melissa. I will always want you, need you and love you, in my heart, my mind and my soul. Do me a favor, after you tuck the children in. Give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don’t forget to smile.

Love Always,
Your husband,
Jess

Messed Up People

It’s time for some positive reflection. I know, don’t freak out. After this post I will return to my cynical, skeptical self… but you should know that in all honesty I am a fairly positive person. At least I once was. I have always seen the good in people, looked for the positive in others and trusted people until they gave me a reason not to trust them.

In the midst of all this stupid churchiness and crazy personal life stuff this past year, I have been surrounded by some ultra cool people who have befriended me and cared for me in ways that I have not quite experienced before.

The other morning I was talking via instant message with one of these friends and something hit me as we said goodbye. I am very fortunate to have this person in my life at this time. Without people like this in my life I would not be able to have made it through this past year. Last night I was with another friend who has offered me unconditional friendship over and over again.

Even when I am sure I don’t deserve it, people like this have entered into my life and sustained me at just the right moment. Not to mention my children who represent the epitome of grace in my life. Being outside the church has opened up my eyes to the possibilities of sharing life with people I might have never noticed before. Now the goal isn’t to try and find a way to get these people into my church…it’s just to get to know them as they are with no “end game” of finding a way to turn my conversations into an opportunity to invite them to my next “hip and relevant” church event.

It has been said by some friends that we shouldn’t give up on God’s institution just because it contains messed up people. So, I guess the question is, why do I need God’s institution since messed up people like me are everywhere to befriend. I do not feel far from God when I spend time relating with people wherever I go.

Here are some examples of the “messed up people” (a.k.a. normal people) I have talked to recently:

• This week I have had spirtually related discussions with a group of my co-workers. They were talking about TBN and all the nuts on there that “give the Lord a f***ing bad name” (their words).
• I ate a meal with a friend that is just discovering the SCP site and we talked at length about the recent interview we did with Shirley Phelps Roper.
• I was eating dinner at a restaurant bar where I met a young couple and talked with them about their relationship, encouraging them to not sweat the small stuff. We discussed the importance of not taking for granted the friend they have in the other person and invest highly in that relationship.
• A few weekends ago at a work event, I talked with the security staff (big bouncer type guys) about broken relationships and the effect it has on children, and the effect it had on them as kids.

Listen, if you would have told me five years ago I wouldn’t be going to church, I would have said you are crazy. The church was my life. I was there when it opened and closed, several times a week. All of my friends were church friends. My work was church related. I thought non-stop about how to help my church grow, how to expand my ministry, how to reach people for Christ, how to motivate people to church events…and I must say that all of that seems silly now. It seems so narrow-focused. It sounds so short-sighted.

The Obligatory “Da Vinci Code” Post

So here are my thoughts on “The Da Vinci Code” movie….everyone has an opinion, I feel I should share mine.

1) It’s only a movie… it’s meant to be entertaining whether it was or wasn’t…so all of the Christians that think the “Christian Faith” hangs in the balance need to chill. (SIDEBAR: I’m banking that most that hold this view about Da Vinci Code also believe that marriage is under attack because gays want to make life commitments to each other. If you haven’t noticed straight marriages have been messed up for years and it has nothing to do with the so-called “gay agenda”.)

2) If your Christian Faith can be shaken, damaged or altered by a movie, book, work of art, song, philosophical principle, website, blog or Eddie and Eddie over at Edge of Faith… it wasn’t much of a faith to begin with now was it.

3) If anything like a movie, book, work of art, song, etc causes you to examine, evaluate, investigate and even question what you believe… or dare I say doubt what you believe… it’s a blessing not a curse.

4) On one hand, some Christians disdain movies like “The Da Vinci Code”… yet embrace fictional movies like Chronicles of Narnia and Passion of the Christ (passing out tickets and inviting friends to talk about it in small groups)…. to me there is such an inconsistency in the whole thing it is laughable. Hey SCP… you can’t have it both ways.

5) Finally… I didn’t really want to write about the Da Vinci Code at all… but I am just hoping for a really high volume comment count and an opportunity for us all to chase a hell of a lot of rabbits.

So it is written, so shall it be done!

An Open Letter to Pastors

Dear Pastor,

I have been where you have been. For eighteen years I served as a pastor at churches in various parts of this country. From small churches to the “mega-church”, I rose the Evangelical ladder to success and then back down again to obscurity. It’s been an honor to stand in “the pulpit” of one of the largest churches in America and a privilege to lead a youth group of only 25 or so week in and week out for five years. I have spoken at camps, retreats, church growth conferences, run my own non-profit ministry, written materials that have been published, and taught church leaders all over the country.

I believe I have had all of the experiences so that I could communicate to you whereever you are right now.

Pastor… your job is tough

Purpose Driven Pastor Season

It’s Purpose Driven Pastor Season here in Southern California. Pastors from all over the world are here to visit Saddleback Church and learn how to help their churches grow.

Every year around this time the tell-tale signs appear in our area (a stones throw from Saddleback).

• Unusually long lines at Starbucks, Denny’s, Chili’s, donut shops and other eating establishments.
• Men in their 40’s and 50’s with slick backed hair, jeans or pants pulled up too high, wearing Hawaiin shirts like all Californians do. ||wink, wink||
• Women with big hair, lots of makeup, wearing knit slacks, with lots of big jewelry.
• People gathering together at resturants, holding hands and praying loudly with reverberating resonance.

I can only imagine that most of the conversations in and around these conferences include many phrases such as:

“Where you at brutha?”
“How many ya runnin’?
“How many you got on staff?”
“How many small groups you got?”

And of course the old standbye, “Well, Praise the Lord” or “God Bless Ya!”

Standing in line at Starbucks the other morning and watching these people interact, I was so thankful not to be a part of the theatrical drama that is played out in ministry conferences like this and others like it around the world. Everyone puts on their best face, smiles their best smile and places that best foot firmly forward. But like the Hollywood sets located about an hour north of here, once you walk behind the door and peek behind the curtain you discover it is only a facade… it looks good on the outside, but it has the same problems, shallowness and sin that your church has. It’s just bigger, that’s all!

Dinner with Josh

I had another great time with Josh last night. I love that guy.

We toned it down last night on the drinking and had a really good time doing what guys do (sorry what is said at dinner with Josh, stays at dinner with Josh). We have been using these dinners as a chance to get to know each other outside the podcast and deepening our friendship. Oh, we talk about the podcast, things we want to do and accomplish…but more importantly it is a chance for us to dump on each other, encourage each other and strengthen each other. We also do an inordinate amount of people watching and laughing (at the people we watch, that is).

I have few other friends in my life currently that I can share with and be transparent towards to the level I can with Josh. Thanks buddy… you crack me the hell up!