7 Things I’ve Come to Love About FUMCR in My First Year

7 Things I’ve Come to Love About FUMCR in My First Year

Ok, so technically I’ve been on staff at First United Methodist Church Richardson for longer than one year, but this week I’m celebrating the one-year anniversary of being given the privilege to lead our modern worship service.  And I’m taking this opportunity to brag on my church a bit.

Let me also give the disclaimer that I have a deep love for each community into which God has called me into ministry over the past 15 years.  The good things I’m about to say about FUMCR are not in contrast to the previous churches I’ve served.  I’ve had previous opportunities to brag about the wonderful people of Mt. Carmel Church of the Nazarene, of Crossroads Christian Fellowship, of First United Methodist Church Duncanville, of Christ United Methodist Church, and of Wellspring Free Methodist Church.  Well, now it’s FUMCR’s turn.  So here goes:

1) I Love Our Podcast

When I first learned that I was going to be appointed to FUMCR, one of the first things I did was listen to the church podcast, More Than Sunday.  Eric and Julie sounded great, and the interviews were so intriguing.  I remember thinking, “This is so professional! That would be a ton of fun to be on the podcast someday.”

Shortly after joining the staff, I learned the truth.  Yes, Eric and Julie had been doing a good job, and yes, the guests were really interesting, but the real star of the show is a guy who never gets credit: our producer, Kyle Henson.  He takes good content and makes it sound amazing!

And although scheduling guests, writing interview questions, conducting interviews, and recording bumpers takes a lot of work (let’s just say we have a lot of outtakes!), the podcast has introduced me to some of our most incredible church members, allowed me to dive into the stories of a variety of guests from our local community and given me a front-row seat to the wisdom of theologians and pastors from around the country.

2) I Love Our Staff

We have right around 60 people on staff at FUMCR.  This is the largest staff I’ve ever been a part of.  I had been curious to see what the dynamic of a church staff would be like with this many people.  What I’ve come to learn is these 60 people deeply love Jesus and are doing everything they can to work as faithful stewards of God’s calling on their lives and of the resources with which they’ve been entrusted by our church family. And they’re succeeding with flying colors!

Shortly after joining this team, I was immediately impressed with the balance of the FUMCR staff between professionalism and collegiality.  There is sense of professional motivation and drive to do excellent work that motivates everyone to bring their best to the table.  And yet, there is also a sense of humility and teamwork that recognizes that each of us can only do our best when we get to know one another, support one another, laugh with one another, and even disagree with one another in love.

Our Senior Pastor, Clayton Oliphint, has created a staff culture that is “seriously fun:” we’re serious about the mission to welcome people for Christ, grow people in Christ, and serve people with Christ, and we have a lot of fun executing that mission (I just made that term up… but I might use it again in the future!).

3) I Love Our Church Family

From day one, the church family at FUMCR has welcomed Megan and me and our children in with open arms. They’ve extended me grace after grace in doing my best to learn their names.  They reach out on a regular basis with encouraging phone calls, emails and even cards in the mail.  But even more significant than the care that they’ve provided for me is the care that they consistently provide for others, and for each other.

It seems like each week—particularly during our current Year of Service—I hear new stories of the amazing work that our church members are doing in the community.  They take this “love your neighbor” thing seriously, and it shows!  In an effort to assess the effectiveness of a church’s impact on its community, church leaders often ask, “If this church disappeared tomorrow, would the community miss it?”  In the case of FUMCR, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

It’s also been fun to see the persistent drive of our church members to expand the capacity of our church to reach new people for Christ.  Countless members do this by volunteering on a weekly basis, giving up their own time to usher, to greet, to run slides and lights and video, to serve food to the homeless, and to participate in the many ministries of FUMCR. Additionally, I regularly have people come to me with new ideas they have for ministry.  The cool part is, they don’t just drop the idea in my lap and forget about it, they willing to step up and serve to bring those ideas to fruition!

4) I Love the City of Richardson

Ok, so this one isn’t directly about FUMCR, but it has definitely become a part of why I love doing what I do.  I’ve quickly come to learn how unique the City of Richardson really is. Its primary growth came from the telecom boom, with employers like Texas Instruments and Collins Radio bringing in top engineers from around the country.  One line that I’ve heard several times since we moved here—and I’ve come to affirm its truth—is that these engineers didn’t stop working when they clocked out at 5:00pm; they simply redirected their energy and talents into creating the community systems that support our city still today.  PTA’s, civic clubs, nonprofit cooperative groups, city governance and management, neighborhood associations, churches, I could go on and on.

The fabric of our community is strong.  It has become more and more obvious as I’ve been involved with Richardson Interfaith Alliance (RIA) and Helping Agencies Serving Richardson (HASR).  When hate speech rears its ugly head in one corner, the community rallies to denounce it and show solidarity with the victims. When a tornado devastated several homes and businesses last October, organizations like Network of Community Ministries stepped up and mobilized the hundreds of volunteers who wanted to lend a hand in the relief efforts.  When the hospitals, or the school district, or the nonprofits addressing homelessness and mental health (as just a couple examples) need the community’s support through fundraising, residents of the City of Richardson rise to the challenge, every time.

5) I Love the Freedom to Innovate (and Fail)

Back to the church—I love that there is a culture that allows space for innovation, knowing that new ideas won’t always succeed.  I am definitely an “idea person.”  We have an ongoing “joke” on staff that for every 20 ideas I come up with (which can be accomplished in just a matter of minutes sometimes J), one of them will be a good one.  So if I say something that obviously isn’t a good idea, I’m just 18 bad ideas away from the next good one!

In all seriousness, it has been so much fun to experiment and innovate with our modern worship service.  And yes, even in just the first year, there have been things that we’ve tried that didn’t work.  But there have also been some things that we’ve tried that have worked really well, and it’s so energizing to see how God is using those new ideas to bring more people into our community of faith.

6) I Love the Genuine Care for All People

Again, this one comes from the “top-down.” Granted, the “top-down” concept doesn’t really work here, because of the intentional lack of hierarchical structure.  But my point is this: Pastor Clayton genuinely loves all people.  You can see it in the way he speaks with congregants following each service.  He looks them directly in the eye and listens to them as if they’re the only person in the room.  He constantly preaches about the importance of being a “big tent church,” not because he doesn’t want to say anything “political,” but because he can’t imagine a church that doesn’t provide a safe space for people of all political persuasions, all backgrounds, all struggles, all perspectives to gather and worship Jesus Christ together (which I believe is a “political statement” in and of itself). 

What’s really cool is to see how this gets translated to the staff, to the church family, and into the community.  As we plan programs and ministries, our staff is constantly asking, “Who are we leaving out?  Who doesn’t have a voice at this table?  What are we saying/doing that might unintentionally be causing harm to someone?”

Our church family seems to get it as well.  It’s one thing to serve “those people” (whoever “those people” are). It’s quite another thing to invite “those people” to become a part of “us.”  Over and over, I am blown away by the stories I hear of how people joined the FUMCR family, invited by those who have had the humility and courage to invite “those people” to become a part of “us.”  This is only made possible when a congregation sees all people as children of God.

And lastly, this gets translated into the community.  The more I get to serve alongside my friends at Richardson Interfaith Alliance, the more I hear about their respect for FUMCR and our openness to support our community members from other faith traditions.  It’s also really cool to hear the reactions of non-church-members when I tell them I’m a pastor at FUMCR.  They usually say things like, “I love FUMCR! Pastor Clayton probably doesn’t know me, but he did this one thing for my family a few years ago that made such an impact on us.”  Or, “Our neighbors go to FUMCR.  They are such great people.”

7) I Love that Our Big Church Feels Small

Needless to say, going from a church plant that started with literally zero members to FUMCR that has 6,500 members came with a bit of culture shock. Part of the shock, however, was that as big as FUMCR is, it really does feel small.  Quite often, when I tell newer church members how many people worship at FUMCR on a weekly basis they are surprised by the number, saying, for example, “Oh wow! I never would have guessed.  I’ve felt so seen and welcomed and invited in, a feeling I usually associate with smaller churches.”

There are many different reasons for this, and each congregant has a unique experience that shapes his or her perspective.  For some people, it feels small because of the accessibility and personal attention from the church staff.  For others, it feels small because of their connection to a small group or Sunday school class.  Still for others, it feels small because they’ve received a warm welcome upon visiting.  This is obviously one of the most significant challenges for a large church, so I love that FUMCR has created this type of culture.

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No, this list is not exhaustive.  I could probably write an entire book about what I love about this church, but these seven will have to do for now.  All this to say, I feel so blessed to be a pastor with the people of FUMCR and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our future!

To find out more about this wonderful community of faith, visit www.fumcr.com.

Jesus “Flattened the Curve” and We Should Too

Jesus “Flattened the Curve” and We Should Too

Covid-19 is throwing us all for a loop.  As we practice “social distancing,” people are spending more time than ever on social media, posting opinions and graphs and memes and complaints and pictures of empty toilet paper aisles.  One comment leads to a heated reply, which leads to another heated comment.  And just when we thought we couldn’t be more polarized and divided as a nation, we find ourselves confined to our homes without any sports to cheer for!

And there’s this term we keep hearing in response to Covid-19: “flatten the curve.” You’ve undoubtedly heard it by now. If for some reason you haven’t, the idea is that if we were to chart out the rate that this virus is spread, without any intervention, the rate would potentially have a very sharp increase, leading to a very high peak on a bell curve.  Meaning that a lot of people would get sick really quickly.

And if a lot of people get sick really quickly, then our hospitals and clinics get overwhelmed and are not able to handle the demand.

So, the argument to “flatten the curve” is that by practicing “social distancing” in creative ways–like hosting church services online instead of in person–we are able to slow down the rate that this virus is spread.

This doesn’t mean that the number of people who get the virus is necessarily decreased; it’s just that they don’t all get it at once.  And by slowing the rate, or by “flattening the curve,” we give our hospitals and clinics a much better opportunity to respond effectively in treating people who become ill.

This idea essentially illustrates the difference between feeding the momentum or breaking the cycle.

Now I don’t know about you, but this was a new concept to me.  In fact, if you would have asked me a week ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what “flatten the curve” even meant.  And yet today, I’ve heard it so many times that it’s become a second-nature phrase in just a matter of days!

It struck me this week as I was spending time studying John 4 in preparation to preach about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well–while also watching and listening to the news–that this idea of flattening the curve isn’t new.  In fact, it’s something that Jesus was doing 2000 years ago!

Think about it.  Again, when you “flatten the curve,” you’re choosing between feeding the momentum or breaking the cycle.

Over and over throughout Jesus’ ministry, he is constantly “flattening the curve,” choosing to break the cycle of momentum in a variety of ways.

In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus could have followed cultural norms and fed the momentum of patriarchy by not associating with a woman, but he doesn’t.  He breaks the cycle.  He flattens the curve.

Jesus could have fed the momentum of tension between Jews and Samaritans, but he doesn’t.  He breaks the cycle.  He flattens the curve.

Jesus could have perpetuated the division caused by the argument about where true worship was supposed to take place (v. 20-24), but he didn’t. He breaks the cycle.  He flattens the curve and instead says, “You’ve got it all wrong.  You don’t understand.  True worship of God isn’t about this mountain or that. It’s about worshiping God in spirit and in truth.”

Over and over, when given the option to perpetuate the momentum or to break the cycle, Jesus chooses to flatten the curve, to do something radical that would completely change the trajectory of the future.

And the truth is, we are called to do the same. 

Practical example: While my mother-in-law was town last week she decided to make a grocery run (which, as many of you know, has been quite an adventure recently).  She made her way through the chaotic aisles, between people who were fighting over the last of this and the last of that–kind of like shopping the day after Thanksgiving. When she finally made it to the checkout line–which was enormous–there were two, young Asian women in line in front of her.  One of the women turned around to my mother-in-law and out of the blue says, “Thank you for smiling at us.  You have no idea how much that means to us.”

How terrible is that? That simply because they are Asian, they have been treated so poorly during this outbreak that a simple smile means the world to them? How is this real life?  How have we come this far?  How have we let this virus sicken us in ways that go way beyond the physical symptoms of illness?

I read an article from a local news agency that affirmed this notion.  Covid-19 is perpetuating the momentum of racism in our own backyard.  People are giving into the lies of fear and anxiety in ways that are not flattening any curves.  Instead, they are increasing the rate of hatred toward one another.

So, we ask what does John 4 have to do with us today?  The reality is, today more than ever, we are faced with decisions and opportunities. Are we going to feed the momentum of racism, division, and hate?  Or are we going to step into our calling to flatten the curve?

Ask yourself, how can I help flatten the curve of division?

How can I help flatten the curve of irresponsible social media posts?

How can I help flatten the curve of social isolation (which is different than social distancing)?

How can I help flatten the curve of misunderstanding people with different abilities, or beliefs, or political perspectives?

How can I help flatten the curve of anxiety?

In the same way that Jesus constantly flattened the curves of division and hatred in the first century, we, too, have an opportunity to change the trajectory of the future of our homes and our communities.

It’s my prayer, that God would give us a sense of peace and purpose in this moment, that we could become the non-anxious presence in a world that is flustered, that we would have the courage to call out the things that people are saying that just aren’t right, and that as we do so, people might look at us and say, “Oh, that’s the church.  I see it now.  They might not be meeting in a building these days, but they’re more clearly the church now than they’ve ever been.”

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This is an excerpt adapted from a sermon “Encountering Jesus: The Woman at the Well,” preached at First United Methodist Church Richardson, on 3/15/20.  Click here to view the sermon in its entirety (as well as the rest of the worship service).

Avoiding Temptation: Say “Yes” to Say “No”

Avoiding Temptation: Say “Yes” to Say “No”

I just recently joined a Crossfit gym that is really near our house here in Richardson, TX.  Every night, they post the next day’s workout on their Instagram account so you can dress appropriately.  On a recent Wednesday night, all the Instagram post said was “5K.”

I turned to Megan and said, “Surely we can’t just be running a 5K.  It’s supposed to be 30 degrees outside! Plus, we never run that far all at once in Crossfit.”

Megan said, “Well, you better dress warmly just in case.”

So I dressed warmly and brought my running shoes.  Sure enough, when I walked in and asked, “Are we seriously about to run a 5K this morning?” the coach smiled and said, “Yep!”

Now I don’t mind running when there have been times in my life when I’ve tried to be a runner.  But it takes some practice and some training.  When I’m not in “runner mode” then I really dislike making my body run.

When the coach outlined the course for the morning I noticed that the path was going to take us from the Crossfiti gym, through the neighborhood, passing right in front my house along the way.

So we stretched and warmed-up a little.  When the coach said, “Go,” we all just started running.

Now, this wasn’t a very big class, so it didn’t take long for us to all get separated by our individual paces.  Just a few minutes into the run I found myself running alone.

And that’s when the voices of temptation began…

“Josh, what are you doing?  This is crazy.  Just start walking.  You shouldn’t be out here.  It’s too early.  It’s way too cold.  You’re too out of shape.”

And all I could think of was Dory from Finding Nemo:  “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.”  That was me: “Just keep running.  Just keep running.”

But then where it got really hard was when I was all alone, running right by my own house.  At 6:00 in the morning.  In 30 degree weather.

Those voices were strong… “Wow, it looks warm in there.  You should just stop and go home.  There’s coffee in there… warm. coffee.”

It took everything within me to keep running, but I had my goal in mind, and I knew if I just kept my feet moving, I could do it.  So when I reached the end, I felt like a million bucks!  But wow, the temptation to give up was real and strong!

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In a recent sermon, we talked about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, found in Matthew 4.  Immediately following Jesus’ baptism where God affirms Jesus’ identity and purpose in the world, we recognized that the temptation of Jesus was less about enticing him to do something evil, and more about distracting him from living into his true calling.

The same is true with us.  More often than not, our temptations are not merely drawing us toward something “bad.”  More importantly, they deny us from living into the whole person that God has designed us to be!

With that slight change in perspective, our approach to avoiding temptation changes as well.  Instead of always saying, “No, I will not do that.  I will not give in,” and always running away from the things that tempt us, we should look to say, “Yes,” to something else that can take its place–“yes” to something else that contributes positively to the work that God wants to do in our lives.

Instead of constantly saying, “No,” to compulsive shopping, what about saying, “Yes,” to establishing a regular time of prayer?  Instead of just saying, “No,” to another drink, what about saying, “Yes,” to spending time in God’s Word?

Kind of like running right in front of my house on that cold, COLD morning.  It was one thing to say, “No,” to the temptation to stop running and go inside for a cup of hot coffee, but what really kept me going was saying, “Yes,” to the goal of finishing.

Think about the things that you’ve been struggling to say, “No,” to recently.  And then pray that God would open your eyes to the things that you need to say, “Yes,” to in its place.  Don’t continue to let temptation draw you away from your true calling as a child of God.  Instead, with that goal in mind, keep running–one step in front of the next–toward the person that God has designed you to be! 

9 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Crossfit

9 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Crossfit

For the past 9 months I’ve been secretly doing Crossfit.

Ok, so it hasn’t been a complete secret, but I haven’t posted much online about my involvement.

For one, I wasn’t completely sure I could stick with it. So, nine months in, I feel like I’ve been committed enough to “own it” now. Secondly, I haven’t wanted to be one of “those Crossfit people” who are constantly posting about and talking about how they do Crossfit. But on this side of my Crossfit experience, I can see why “those Crossfit people” are always posting about and talking it. The truth is, I love it! It’s the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. And the reality is, the more you do it, the more you realize that the rewards are about so much more than just the physical and athletic development.

So, for fun, here are nine life lessons I’ve learned (or have been reminded of) through Crossfit:

1) Just Show Up

This has been my motto from day one. When my schedule allows, my preferred Crossfit class time is 5:30 AM. I hate when my alarm goes off at 4:50 AM. And every time it does, a voice inside my head is doing its best to coax me back into bed: “You can take the day off. You’ll go tomorrow. Go back to sleep.” I have to mentally tell myself, “Just show up.” I know that if I can just get there, I won’t regret it.

This is the same with most things in life. We always have a voice inside our head trying to talk us out of the things that matter, and yet, we also have the power to fight that voice off. We may not always be motivated by the end result of something because it seems so far off, but if we tell ourselves to “just show up,” we’ve already taken a major step toward that goal—whatever it is.

2) Coaching Helps

One of the major elements of Crossfit is the coaching. At Crossfit OD, we have some wonderful coaches who are chalk full of valuable information. If I’m not in a particularly good mood for some reason, it’s easy for me to ignore what the coaches are telling me, or to even get offended that they’d suggest I’m doing something incorrectly! But every time I open myself up to their wisdom, I see results. The truth is, coaching helps.

The same is true in life. As much as we’d like to think we can do things our own way, it often takes an outside observer to point out areas for potential growth and to suggest practical steps of development. If we aren’t open to coaching, we find ourselves ignoring the wisdom of those who have gone before us, and we get offended when they offer help. However, the moment we invite someone to speak into our lives, we allow our potential to be taken to new levels.

3) Community is Key

What brings someone to Crossfit is the workout; what keeps someone in Crossfit is the community. The first time I showed up at Crossfit OD, I had no idea what I was doing. I actually showed up in regular clothes during a class, just to ask about what Crossfit is, and how I might go about signing up. Little did I know that all these people I was staring at in awe would soon become my teammates and biggest cheerleaders. I’ll never forget the first time one of the “pros” asked my name, welcomed me to class, and then encouraged me in my workout. From that point forward, I’ve found myself finishing workouts and lifting amounts of weight that I could never do on my own. And when I miss class, they notice.

This point is very pertinent in my line of work in the church. While many different elements of the church experience might bring someone to a particular congregation, it’s always the community that keeps them coming back. The same is true in most aspects of life. Unless we surround ourselves with people who will constantly cheer for us and encourage us, we will never reach our greatest potential.

4) Excuses are Limitless

I can always think of an excuse to not go to Crossfit—the trick is listening to that excuse or not. “It’s too early.” “I’m sore.” “I’m tired.” “I’ve got a full day today.” “I’m just going to make this an ‘easy week.’” “I skipped a couple days already, so what’s one more?” This part of Crossfit is mental. I’ve learned that I must exercise my mental strength to get past these excuses, as much as I exercise my physical strength. And those are just the excuses to show up! There are even more excuses once I’m in class. “There’s no way I can lift that much.” “I’m not going to be able to finish this WOD.” “I’ll just scale this one today.” “There are only 30 seconds left, so I might as well stop now.” Again, the difference is made when my mental strength allows me to ignore these negative thoughts in my head.

Life is full of excuses as well. Whatever your situation, you can always talk yourself out of it. Particularly as we give in to the temptation to constantly compare ourselves to others, we make excuses about why we don’t “measure up.” STOP DOING THAT! You can be great! You just have to get past the mental battle that is holding you back.

5) If At First You Don’t Succeed, Keep Failing Until You Do

In Crossfit, I fail a lot. But honestly, I probably don’t fail enough. Failing isn’t fun, so I often stop just short of failing. The problem with this method is that I’ve probably missed some PR’s because I didn’t try “just a little more weight,” or “just one more rep.” On the other hand, when I have allowed myself to fail, I’ve recognized the things that I need to work on, and I’ve been able to improve as a result, leading to success at bigger, higher, and faster levels.

I wonder how much potential we eliminate in life by being afraid to fail? I bet it’s a lot! Instead, by viewing failure as an opportunity to learn, we keep pushing the envelope past what we know we are able to do, into the realm of surprising ourselves by what we are capable of doing. When we give ourselves permission to fail—or maybe even when we pursue the point of failure because we know it’ll help us grow—we find ourselves surpassing expectations, sometimes the expectations of others, and sometimes our own.

6) Humility

Prior to doing Crossfit, I had never worked out seriously or regularly in my life. In fact, that was one of my biggest excuses to overcome before starting: “I’m going to be so much weaker than everyone else there.” And you know what? That was true! I was so much weaker than everyone there. The key word is “was,” because once I humbled myself and gave in to that reality, I opened myself up to growth. Was it humbling? Yes! At times, I’d even try to set up my bar in the furthest corner of the box so no one could see how much weight I wasn’t lifting. Crossfit also has a natural way of reminding you that you are human. The moment I begin to think, “This is going to be easy,” I’m re-humbled by the challenge. But again, through humility I’ve grown.

Life can be humbling as well, right? There are experiences in life that level the playing field, reminding us that we are ultimately not in control. We can do our best to pretend we are tougher than those challenges, relying on our own “pretend strength” to fight through them (which never leads to growth), OR we can humble ourselves, ask for help when we need it, admit our faults and areas of weakness, and start the intentional process of growth—whether personal or professional.

7) Looking Like You Know What You’re Doing is Half the Battle

I say this one kind of “tongue in cheek,” but it’s actually true. My high school chemistry teacher told us to “dress for success” on test days and he claimed that we would score higher as a result. I think there was something to it. I just invested in a new pair of Crossfit shoes, and even though they can’t automatically make me lift more or run faster, they do give me a new sense of confidence that translates into positive energy as I workout. Compare that to the days I need to do laundry because I’m at the end of my workout clothes and I find myself wearing some running shorts that are a little on the short side… shorts that I can’t exactly do hand-stand-push-ups in… if I’m not comfortable and confident in what I’m wearing, then I’m already operating at a deficit!

Again, this might seem a little vain, but when we feel comfortable in the way we are presenting ourselves (even if we “fake it ‘til we make it”), we operate with more confidence. This is why it’s important to dress up for a job interview. This is why I like preaching in my “preaching shoes!” This is why wearing a tuxedo in a wedding makes you automatically feel like a “baller.” This is why the people I’ve golfed with think I’m a good golfer when I show up (but then they learn the opposite truth as the round progresses). Looking like you know what you’re doing is half the battle! (Disclaimer: while this is half the battle, it’s always the half that immediately precedes the workout that humbles me and puts me in my proper place)

8) The Perceived Problem is Not Always the Real Problem

One major thing that I’ve learned about physical fitness is that nutritional fitness is 80% of the challenge. While I might think to myself, “Wow, I’m just feeling weak today. My muscles must be fatigued,” the truth is, it’s probably my nutrition! The perceived problem is not always the real problem.

This is definitely the same in life. We often diagnose the problems we see based on just that—the things we can see. More often than not, there is something that lies deeper beneath the surface that is causing our perceived problem. The trick is being able to think abstractly and introspectively as we try to determine what is really going on. Often, it takes an objective third-party, like a therapist or counselor, to draw those answers out.

9) Don’t Worry About What Other People Think

This circles back to a couple previous points about humility, excuses, and community. Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to working out for those of us who haven’t done much of it in the past is the intimidation factor. When I first walked into Crossfit OD and saw all of those athletes doing hand-stand-pushups, pull-ups, box jumps, and throwing weighted barbells above their heads, my first thought was, “They are going to laugh at me.” As childish as this sounds, you have to understand, I was really weak when I started. I absolutely had to decide not to care what other people thought, or else I would have never given Crossfit a chance. Of course no one ever did laugh at me, but this temptation to care what others “might” be thinking (even though my mind paints it inaccurately toward the negative) is something I have to remind myself to ignore on a regular basis.

In life, I’ve found that the people who might struggle with this the most are also those who have some of the kindest hearts. It’s this same innate desire to please others that creates a person of compassion, but also a person who may tend to create false ideas in their own minds of what other people may be thinking. Sometimes we just need to throw those thoughts to the wayside and say to ourselves, “Even if they are thinking negative things about me, I’m not going to let their thoughts hold me back from my potential.” Depending on your personality, this is sometimes easier said than done.

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So there you have it. I do Crossfit, and I’m proud of it. I still don’t think I’m going to start posting about it constantly, but I certainly have a better understanding of the motivation behind those who do!

A special thanks to Carrie Wageman and all the wonderful coaches and athletes at Crossfit OD for your continued encouragement and growing friendships.

What about you? Do you do Crossfit? What life lessons have you gleaned from your experience?

13 Things I’ve Come to Love About Bakersfield in My First 8 Months Here

13 Things I’ve Come to Love About Bakersfield in My First 8 Months Here

1) History

Bakersfield has a lot of history (relatively speaking, that is… nothing in California has THAT much history). I particularly love the history of country music in Bakersfield, having introduced the “Bakersfield Sound” to the world. Stories of the gold rush and Mr. Baker’s original “field” are fascinating as well.

2) Food

One of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised by in Bakersfield is its array of good restaurants. It’s not hard to find amazing Mexican food in Bakersfield, but it also doesn’t take much more than a quick search on Yelp to find numerous hotspot eateries around the city.

3) Weather

Having moved to Bakersfield from Dallas, we have definitely experienced differences in weather. Don’t get me wrong—the weather in Dallas is far more desirable than many parts of the U.S., but there are three things I do not miss: humidity, ice storms, and tornadoes!

4) The All American Barber Shop

Truthfully, I dropped in on the All American Barber Shop because I thought their Instagram feed looked cool. Eight months and several haircuts later, I’ve come to love my regular visits. All the barbers are super down-to-earth and they treat every customer like one of the family.

5) Crossfit OD

If you would have told me 8 months ago that I’d be competing in the 2017 Crossfit Games I would have told you that you were crazy.  I’ve always enjoyed being active and playing sports, but weightlifting?  Yeah… we didn’t do much of that on the high school tennis team!  Thanks to Carrie Wageman, the amazing team of coaches she has formed at Crossfit OD, and the culture of encouragement and positive competition they all create together, I’m finding myself in the best shape of my life, surrounded by a ton of genuinely good people.

6) Friendliness

Which leads me to the general friendliness of Bakersfield. It truly feels like a little piece of Texas in the middle of California, Southern hospitality and all. People smile at each other while walking down the street, conversations begin in the middle of checkout lines, and everyone seems to have a one or two-degree connection to everyone else (even though there are almost 400,000 people living here!).

7) Downtown

Every downtown has its pros and cons, and maybe for a time the negatives of downtown Bakersfield outweighed the positives, but I think that tide is beginning to change. All it takes is a cup of coffee with one the many residents who have chosen to make the downtown area (and its surrounding neighborhoods) their home and you will have your eyes opened to the charm and appeal of our city center. From the restoration of historic homes, to the investment in community-encouraging development, to a pervasive appreciation for the arts, downtown Bakersfield has a wonderful momentum building up from within it.

8) Fox Theater

Speaking of jewels in downtown Bakersfield, my wife and I went to see Brian Regan at the Fox Theater a few weeks ago and I was blown away by the venue! It is intriguing on the exterior and absolutely beautiful on the interior. What a treasure to have had this theater preserved so well over its many years in existence!

9) Innovation

In my 8 months here, I have met more people who are thinking innovatively about Bakersfield’s future than I have ever met in the several other cities in which I have lived. These are people like Darci Atkinson who owns The Kitchen, a business that offers cooking classes to school children, hosts private parties and offers incredible prix fixe meals, or Alyssa Haas, of Kern Innovation and Technology (KIT), who hosts hack-a-thons and other events to get children and young adults excited about advancements in technology, or Daniel Cater and Austin Smith, whose recent additions to downtown Bakersfield—17th Place Townhomes and Café Smitten—have positively tipped the scale of public perception almost overnight.

10) Optimism

Just like the chicken or the egg, I’m not sure if the innovation in Bakersfield is driving the optimism, or if it’s the other way around. Either way, there is a palpable excitement about the future of Bakersfield slowly growing in the hearts of its residents. Bakersfield is a city with a ton of potential, and for the first time in a long time, those buds of potential are beginning to bloom.

11) Landscape

One line that we have heard over and over is, “Bakersfield is two hours from anything: two hours from the beach, two hours from the mountains, two hours from Los Angeles. You can’t beat it.” And while that sales-pitch does hold true, I would also argue that Bakersfield isn’t just two hours from good things, great things exist right here! The landscape here has actually blown me away. The rolling hills that lead up to Tehachapi, the mountain ranges that seem to emerge out of nowhere (not something you see in Texas…), the variety of colorful trees all around the city, and the sunsets! I have been so surprised at how amazing Bakersfield sunsets are; they’re gorgeous!

12) Compassion

I already mentioned the sense of Southern hospitality that exists in Bakersfield, but that can be done just in passing. More significant is the longer-term sense of compassion that is not hard to find amongst Bakersfield’s residents. This city is not hurting for non-profits. There are tons! And they are doing great work to make Bakersfield a better place.

13) Pride

Lastly (for now, anyway), I have come to love the sense of pride that exists in Bakersfield. It’s so fascinating to me what a quick Twitter search can find: tons of teenagers longing to get out of this city and explore the “real world.” However, after meeting many young professionals in Bakersfield, I’ve found that most share the same story. They, too, once longed to leave Bakersfield, and they did. But for some reason or another most felt a pull back to the city in which they were raised, and upon their return, they discovered a new appreciation and sense of pride for this city they call “home.”

 

What is it that YOU love about Bakersfield? What have been your pleasant surprises about this city?

To My Dearest America, on Valentine’s Day

To My Dearest America, on Valentine’s Day

To my dearest America,

It’s Valentine’s Day and I feel the need to express my feelings for you, even though our relationship has been rocky as of late.

Let me begin by simply acknowledging the fact that I am extremely lucky to call you mine. I realize my blessing, and this is why I’m writing this Valentine’s letter to you.

We have had wonderful days and months and years together. We have created memories to last a lifetime. We have dreamed dreams and seen many of them come to fruition.

On Valentine’s Days past we have felt head-over-heels in love with each other. But as with all relationships, ours ebbs and flows. This just happens to be an off-year, I guess.

In order for us to move forward, I need to get something off of my chest:

For several months I have been passive-aggressively waiting for you to admit that you have wronged me, that you messed up, that it’s been your fault. For far too long I’ve bottled up my bitterness toward you without even trying to articulate it. I haven’t been fair to you. I’ve just been sitting on the sidelines, waiting.

But now I realize that the key to any relationship moving forward is for one person to humbly suck it up, apologize, and take proactive steps toward reconciliation. That is exactly what I intend to do.

This Valentine’s Day I am making a commitment to you, to step up my game. I no longer want to wallow in self-pity. I want to return to what we once had, and I can’t pretend that we’ll become great again if I just wait for it to happen.

I also know that words and ideas can fall on deaf ears without practical steps of action to back them. I can’t fix everything at once, so here are some baby steps that I intend to pursue in the coming days:

  • I will meet my neighbors. Whether they have a different color skin, worship a different god, cheer for different team or have a family that looks drastically different from mine, our neighborhood will only be as strong as the friendships between our homes (even if all I do is learn their names!).
  • I will volunteer. There are so many nonprofit organizations doing good work in our communities. I’m done sitting back and complaining. I want to contribute to the betterment of my community using my own hands.
  • I will listen first and talk second. Both of these aspects are important. For too long I’ve been pretending to listen without engaging. OR, I’ve been talking over you without pausing to consider that I could be wrong. I intend to actively and humbly listen first, and then respectfully engage in the conversation in ways that I feel will actually help.
  • I will brag about you to my friends. Again, I fully recognize the blessing of calling you mine. Even if we don’t feel close at the moment, I am proud of who you are and I want the world to know that I love you.

Yes, this is a list of just four baby steps, but I think they have the potential to make a significant impact on our relationship.

At this point I suppose it would be customary to ask you to be my Valentine, but I’m not going to, because quite frankly, your answer doesn’t matter to me. Don’t get me wrong! I would be elated if you said, “Yes!”

What I mean is that your answer won’t change mine; I’m going to be YOUR Valentine either way.

I’m done waiting. It’s time to make up and move forward, even if I have to pull you with me, because that’s what love is. It’s not a feeling. It’s not an experience. Love is a commitment, an intentional decision to seek the best for each other on a daily basis, even at the expense of one’s own comfort and preference. That’s the commitment I am renewing with you today.

Happy Valentine’s Day, America.

Love,

Me

 

[If you live in the city of Bakersfield, CA (as I do) and you desire to step up YOUR game by volunteering with a local nonprofit, visit the index of volunteer opportunities at www.betterbako.com]

 

The Savannah House: Missional Living in a Luxury Setting

The Savannah House: Missional Living in a Luxury Setting

“A luxury apartment complex?  You can’t practice missional living there.  They don’t need help.”

That was the challenge.  That was the question and assumption running through my mind every time I drove past the apartment complex that now includes our Savannah House.

I had experienced and seen examples of missional living on college campuses, in impoverished neighborhoods, in middle-class suburbia and in many different contexts, but never in an upscale apartment setting.

“What would it look like for us to house urban missionaries in this setting in our own backyard?” I continually asked.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Young Clergy Initiative (given by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church), and a partnership with the Missional Wisdom Foundation, we, at Christ United Methodist Church, have embarked on a journey to find out.

For the past year we have housed three young women in what we’ve named The Savannah House.  Each of these residents is discerning the call of God on their life to pursue vocational ministry in some form or fashion.  Click here to read more about the goals of The Savannah House from a post I wrote when we were initially moving our residents in.

What we’ve come to learn is that injustice exists in a variety of forms, in a variety of contexts.  While the residents of this particular apartment complex may not be struggling financially, there is plenty of loneliness and relational injustice that expresses itself in the form of closed doors and skeptical stares.  By embodying the neighborly love of Christ, our Savannah House residents are living an alternative narrative of hospitality in a world that says, “I’m okay by myself.”

I invite you to watch this 7:23 video to grasp the impact of what God is doing through this missional experiment:

It’s my prayer that our experiment might inspire yours.  When you find yourself asking, “I wonder if this could ever work?” pertaining to the Kingdom of God, what’s the harm in trying?  Go for it!  And get ready to see what God has in store.