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.

6 Ways Loving God is Like Dating

6 Ways Loving God is Like Dating

The last thing you want in any relationship is to experience a moment of sudden realization that causes you to say, “Who are you?  I feel like I don’t even know you!”

In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about people who try to do all the right things, but they miss the essence of a relationship with Christ.  As they ask to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus looks at them and says these haunting words: “I never knew you.”

How do we avoid reaching this point in our relationship with God?  The same way we avoid reaching this point in a healthy dating relationship.  Allow me to explain:

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1) Communication

Good communication is a vital element of a healthy relationship.  You cannot possibly have a good relationship with someone without talking honestly and often with that person.  Although you will have times when you don’t feel like talking with your significant other, you cannot hope to make progress until you do.

This is just like prayer.  Communication with God is a vital element of a healthy relationship with our Creator.  Just like a dating relationship, if you want to stay in love with God, you have to keep that line of communication open and engaged.  Will there be times you don’t feel like talking to God?  Sure!  But just like dating, your relationship won’t make progress until you start talking again.

And don’t forget—when you’re on a date, you can’t be the only on doing all the talking.  This is even more significant when it comes to God!  You must listen more than you talk.

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2) Story

Do you remember when you started dating someone and you couldn’t wait to hear more about that person?  You’d ask all about their family, where they were born, how they got to where they are today, what their passions and interests in life are.  You wanted to know everything there was about this person’s story, so you continued to ask and learn and ask and learn some more.

It’s the same with Scripture.  You want to know God well?  Spend time with God’s story.  Ask and learn, and then ask some more and learn some more.  Find out about where God’s people came from.  Find out about God’s passions and interests.  Find out what has led God’s story to where it is today.

Just like you can’t have an intimate knowledge of someone without knowing their story, you have to know God’s story in order to know God and to open yourself up to being known by God in return.  You have to spend time in Scripture learning and appreciating God’s story.

Think about the result: the more you learn someone’s story, and the longer you’re together with that person, the more it becomes your story as well, doesn’t it?  In the same way, the more time you spend with Scripture, the more familiar you become with God’s story, the more if becomes your story as well.

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3) Community

Think about the first time you met your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s best friends.  You can learn a lot about someone you’re dating by getting to know the circle of people with whom they surround themselves and spend the most time!

This is just like the Church.  We can learn a lot about God by spending time with the people God calls his children.  Will we like them all?  Probably not, but that just goes to show us even more about God’s grace and love for all humanity.

And just like a rocky time in your dating relationship when you go to your significant other’s best friend and beg, “Please help me understand this!” we have the Church around us to turn to in those rocky times of life when we can’t understand God.

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4) Affirmation

A staple in any healthy relationship should be words of affirmation.  The obvious go-to is “I love you.”  Simply telling someone you love them affirms their role in your life.  But even more than those three words, healthy relationships involve constant affirmation and encouragement, telling your significant other how amazing they are, how proud you are of them, how much you want to be like them because they inspire you.

And the cool thing is, as much as our partner receives from our words of affirmation, they also serve to remind us of that person’s value in our life.  It is nearly impossible to pay someone a compliment without reminding yourself how incredible they really are.

This is what we experience when we gather to worship.  When we worship God together through music and song we are lifting our words of affirmation toward our Creator—and it’s not for God’s benefit, but it’s for ours!  It serves as a reminder to us just how incredible God is.

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5) Reminiscing

Any good marriage counselor will tell you that reminiscing is a great strategy toward reconciliation between two spouses.  It’s really difficult to remember the good times of a relationship without re-experiencing at least a sliver of those original feelings.

When Megan and I were in college we had the privilege of studying abroad in Florence, Italy.  One evening, we ate at this phenomenal little restaurant called Aqua al Due.  As we were leaving, we were surprised to see a sign that said, “Please visit our other location in San Diego, CA!”

Following our return to San Diego—where we were living at the time—we celebrated our anniversary at the San Diego location of Aqua al Due.  I’ll never forget how fun it was to reminisce about our time in Italy while we were not only enjoying a great meal together, but we were enjoying the same meal that brought us straight back to those memories.

This is exactly what happens with communion.  When we partake of the Lord’s Supper together, we are reminiscing over a meal that brings us straight back to the memories of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  That habit of participating in this meal of remembrance keeps us intimately tied to God.  Through communion we receive God’s grace and any brokenness in our relationship can experience God’s healing and forgiveness.

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6) Sacrifice

The last way that loving God is like dating is through sacrifice.  A healthy relationship is built on the idea that the other person’s needs are more important than my own.  Without losing our own individuality, identity and value, good relationships thrive when each partner is constantly seeking ways to out-serve the other.

This is like fasting.  When we fast, we give something up; we sacrifice something to spend more time listening to God.  We fast so that we can spend selfless time with our Creator because we recognize that God’s desires for our life are so much more important than our own.  And when we do, our relationship with God is strengthened.

Communication like prayer.

Story like Scripture.

Community like the Church.

Affirmation like worship.

Reminiscing like communion.

Sacrifice like fasting.

John Wesley called these means of grace.  They are “acts of piety” (as Wesley said) that keep us in love with God.  The minute we begin to neglect the intentionality it takes to stay in love with God, the minute our love begins to feel stale… just like it does in any relationship.

Doing Good Well

Doing Good Well

We live in a “watch me” world, don’t we?

I mean, really… that Whip, Nae Nae song? It has a whole section where the words “watch me, watch me” are sung over and over and over.

Particularly with the rise of social media, we want the world to know what we’re doing. Is that always bad? No, not always, but I do think it makes it significantly more difficult to “do good” well.

Matthew 6:1-4 says this:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

There are times when it is good for the world to know what we’re doing. I think the world can be inspired by what we do. All throughout Scripture the People of God embody their Creator to the nations of around them, to their neighbors who are watching. The world knows who God is by watching the People of God and what they do differently.

And I truly think there is a place for this on social media. Social media is a new vehicle for Christian witness.

But the trick is the motivation. As we all know, there’s a fine line between wanting to share something that we think our friends will want to see, and wanting to share something because we want our friends to see it.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone! When you have a three-year-old daughter who is constantly doing cute things, it’s really difficult to not share photos from the wrong motivation. It’s easy to think, “I don’t care if people want to see this or not.  I want them to see it, so I’m going show it off!”

We get so caught up with this need to share everything we do that sometimes when we’re doing something amazing all we can think is, “How can I take a photo of this to share with the world?”

Or if you’ve ever missed an opportunity to share something great you say, “Oh man, I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture to share on Facebook!”

But when was the last time you experienced something amazing or did something good, anonymously?

When was the last time you helped someone, or volunteered with a local nonprofit organization, or made a donation, or collected clothes around your neighborhood to give to the homeless, or treated someone to a meal, or took an underprivileged friend to a baseball game, or whatever it is…

…and you didn’t tell anyone about it?

In this Matthew passage, Jesus isn’t saying that everything we do needs to be done in complete secret, but he is saying that our motivation needs to be pure—so pure, that it doesn’t matter to us if anyone knows about what we’re doing or not.

That’s a great test, really. The next time you “do good” ask yourself, “Do I care who knows about this? Will I be content when I’m finished with this and no one finds out?”

If you’re able to genuinely answer “yes” to that, then you know your motivation is in the right place. You know that what you’re doing is for the glory of God and not for your own attention.

Then if people do find out what you did, it’s not bad! Again, it might inspire them to do good as well, but at least you can know that you started from the right spot: from a pure heart that was not motivated to bring attention to yourself, but to the One who is the source of all good in the first place.

 

 

The Fallacy of Freedom

The Fallacy of Freedom

One of the most common hesitancies I hear from people who are not yet ready to become a Christian is, “I don’t want to lose my freedom. I can’t imagine giving up everything I like to do in order to submit to some sort of higher power with a bunch of rules.”

The problem is, this assumption about Christianity is based on a fallacy of freedom.

Throughout Scripture—particularly in the writings of Paul—we read a lot about the freedom that is provided through Christ.

For example, in Galatians 5:13 Paul writes, “You were called to be free, but don’t use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature.”

In fact, the entire fifth chapter leading up to this verse is about freedom.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

The reality is this: when we live our lives as God has designed us to live our lives, we don’t lose freedom. We actually become freer than we have ever been before.

Think about it: You really like to drink? You go out every night and party? Or you have a casual drink before bed every single night? You think you’re just exercising your freedom until one day you realize, “I don’t remember the last day I didn’t have a drink.” And we call that freedom?

What about shopping? The way of the world says, “You need everything you see.” If it’s new, you need it. If it’s beautiful, buy it. If it’s on sale, you can’t afford not to get it. And why not? You’re an adult. You can make adult decisions to buy whatever you want. You make your own money. It’s your freedom… until it’s not. Until one day you realize, “I don’t remember the last time I didn’t give in to my impulse to buy something.”

I could go on and on and on. We all have our vices, those things we struggle with and yet we justify by saying, “It’s not that big a deal. I’ve got the freedom to do it, so why not?”

And yes, you do have the freedom to do it… for a while… until you realize that what the world has defined as “freedom” has gradually become something that is keeping you captive. We tell ourselves this lie that we aren’t harming anyone, not realizing the real harm these things are doing to our true freedom in Christ.

That’s why Paul says, “Don’t use your freedom to indulge in sinful nature.” Because when we do, we are actually losing what we call freedom without even knowing it.

However, when we do decide to commit our lives to Jesus Christ, and to live by God’s set of rules, we don’t lose freedom, we gain it! When we decide to live by God’s rules, we open ourselves to the possibilities of living the fullest life possible—the life that God has designed for us to live from the beginning.

When you say, “Ok, God, I’m going to start living my life like you want me to, and not like I want me to…” then you actually might start seeing more money in your bank account—NOT because God directly blesses you with finances for being good—but because you cut yourself loose from your addiction to buying everything, or you cut yourself loose from drinking so much, or you cut yourself loose from the pressure to always look better than your neighbor!

Living life as God intends actually gives you more freedom to be YOU.

To those who are still hesitant to give up their “freedom” I say, “Just try it. Give God’s way of life a ‘test run,’ even if it’s just to see the pragmatic results it will have on your life. Just try it out and let me know what you think afterward.”

I guarantee you will feel freer than you have ever felt before.

Welcome to the Future

Welcome to the Future

A couple years ago when Megan and I moved from an apartment into a house, we needed to have our satellite TV hooked up. The guy who installed the system was an older gentleman who I could tell just really loved his job. As I watched him putting it all together, he kept talking and telling stories the entire time.

When he finished configuring it he said, “All right. You ready for this? Now I’m going to show you how to use it.”

He was so excited and passionate about it that I didn’t dare tell him that it was the same exact system I had been using for the past five years. I was caught in a tension between two choices: “Do I waste this man’s time and let him tell me about all the features? Or do I just stop him and tell him I already know everything he’s about to show me?”

I didn’t have the heart to stop him, so I just let him start showing me everything. He had the whole script memorized. He was making jokes as he showed me how to access the menu, how to change the channels, how to turn the volume up and down.

But then, out of the blue, he pointed up across my room and he said, “Wait, what’s that?”

When I looked toward the ceiling where he was pointing, he said, “Oh I guess it was nothing.” But he had this really giddy smile on his face like a kid who can’t wait to spill the beans about something.

I looked back at the TV and noticed that he had it paused. Then in a very serious and dramatic voice he said, “Josh–welcome to the future. You can now pause live TV!”

He said it with such confidence that he could have just dropped the controller right there like a mic drop and walked away victorious.

It took everything within me to keep a straight face and pretend that my excitement matched his, as I said, “That is unbelievable!”

Again, I had been using that same system for the previous five years, so pausing live TV wasn’t anything new to me. But in that moment, it was as if this gentleman had just paused life; he was so excited! And I… well, I just had to pretend that I thought it was exciting as well.

The reason I wasn’t excited about pausing live TV was because it was old news to me. It had been a part of my reality for several years at that point.

However, if I were to bring myself back to the first day that I did witness the new technology that allows us to pause TV, I would have to admit that it really is a fascinating technology! It just didn’t seem as “futuristic” as it once did.

Here’s the deal:

We do this type of thing ALL. THE. TIME. We live in a fast-paced world where yesterday’s news might as well be last year’s news. The last person to become aware of a news story that has been circulating on social media for a matter of hours is deemed “out of the loop.”

Now think about how that affects the way we view stories of Scripture. If hour-old news is “old news,” then stories of Scripture become seen as so ancient they’re obsolete.

I think about the Easter story, in particular. When Jesus walked out of the grave, it was as if God paused all of life and said, “Welcome to the future.” As NT Wright likes to put it, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect future came crashing into our present reality.

But to many of us, this story is either so familiar that it becomes a fairy-tale, or so old that it loses its factual integrity.

The truth is, it is a true story. Is it hard to believe? Yes. That’s what makes it so powerful! But we can’t lose sight of its power to transform our lives here, today.

Just like my experience pausing live TV, sometimes I wish I could return to the first time I really grasped the significance of the Gospel. Maybe then I could avoid my human tendency to allow the good news of Jesus Christ to become “old news” that has lost its impact.

And at that point of retrieving its original impact on my own life I would have no other choice but to tell the world about this thing called the Gospel, the good news of a God whose experience as a human and subsequent resurrection from the dead allowed God to essentially tell the world, “Welcome to the future.”

And then I might be able to say, “All right. You ready for this? Now I’m going to show you how to use it.”