Jesus

First, I need Jesus. Not like, I used to need him, then I got him, now I don’t need him anymore. No, not like that. I still need him everyday. Why? Because I’m still a sinner. So, to my non-Christian friends, I’m not better than you. To my Christian friends, I’m not better than you. To those who have cheated on their wives, I’m not better than you. To those who had sex with their girlfriends before marriage, I’m not better than you. To the arrogant, the insolant, the pervert and the pagan, in the same way I think you need Jesus, I need him. Any Christian pretending to be better than anyone is behaving in a non-Christian manner. The whole premiss of our faith prevents us from acting better than others. We cheated on our God, murdered him, and though he rose from the dead and saved us from our sins, we continue to fail him everyday. We are better than nobody, and only better off than everybody because our God shows us grace in an unending and incessant pursuit of love that cannot be stopped. I’m not a holy man, but an unholy one clothed in the holiness of my God who died for my sins, and changes me everyday. As my Pastor likes to say, it’s not my job nor my goal to impose Jesus on anyone, but to propose him to everyone.

Second, because of God’s grace I’ve managed to pursue my fiancé in a manner that I can point to and say, “this is one of many awesome ways to do this well.” I haven’t walked the only path nor the best, but a real good one. I learned everything about this from Jesus and those who follow him, and I have been able to follow through because I relied on his Spirit to empower me and his people to look out for me. That’s how it works.

Third, it’s not over. I have a six month engagement and then a lifetime of marriage. I’m still going to need a community of Jesus-Butt-Kicking-People to rock my world from time to time. I still need to take all the emotional risk in our relationship as much as possible, and I still need to be praying and preparing for our future. This is far from over, and I’m just as dependent on Jesus right now as I ever was.

Last, I was single for a long time. There’s nothing wrong with being single, there’s something wrong with idolizing it. You get absolutely nowhere in ministry by trying to make yourself unattainably holy. There are legitimate reasons for being single, but if you’re not mature enough, rich enough, healthy enough or just generally not ready enough, then start working towards those things. Some of the best wisdom I received was that everyone is either called to celibacy or marriage. The problem is thinking that being called to marriage means you have a divine right to it, you don’t. I had to accept that, and I personally prepared myself as best and as fast as I could by God’s grace trusting that even if I never married, the spiritual growth that would come from preparing for it would be worth it because it would mean being closer to Jesus. To be honest, that’s how I’m still functioning. Jesus is my teacher, and I run out on him all the time and he is nothing but patient with me.

Jesus is the man, and he’s the point of all this.

I just want to make that clear if I can.

Update: Originally I wrote this the day after I proposed to Ashley on Christmas day 2012. I added the videos of our engagement above and wedding below from Watertown films because it compliments this story. I hope you enjoy it. 

Well, I’d like to write about it, so you’re in luck.

I’m 27 and until this year I haven’t had a romantic relationship with anyone since I was 18. In the meantime, I became what I now refer to as a monastic-pharisee. What is that? Well, it’s someone who is into poverty, singleness, martyrdom, and knowledge, and feels a bit superior to those who aren’t. It’s not a particularly joyful, nor a particularly Christian way to live.

About two years ago, I felt convicted about this. I came to see my way of living in conflict with what I found to be true in the Bible and from following Jesus, which as a Christian is something that is important to me. I began to see that I wasn’t being like Christ, who stewarded his resources, sacrificed himself for his bride, lived until he had accomplished all that was prepared for him to do, and humbled himself as a human servant though he was God.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for her; — Eph 5:25

I want to be like that, like Jesus.

Though I had not set myself up for success to find a normal job quickly and a lady, being a monastic-pharisee and all, I prayed that God would guide me, that I would do his will, and that by his grace he would allow me to be more like Jesus.

Then one day I drove from Indiana to Portland. I was planning to attend grad school there. On the way an idea wafted into my mind like a soft whisper, that I would find my wife soon. I waited and looked for a lady. All the while fighting to find a job that would provide, and praying for God to make me more like Jesus.

Time went on, more than a year, and I grew weary and depressed, because I’m not good at being like Jesus. He forgave the people that beat and murdered him, and even died for their sins. I tend to complain when things don’t go my way at any point.

During this season of stupid sadness, I did one thing very well by God’s grace. I found married people I respected, I befriended them, and I learned everything they would teach me. I even moved in with one of them, one of the best to be honest. I’ve been to several theological schools, but let me tell you, there is nothing like the Seminary of Matrimony. That’s what I learned, among many other things. I also invited these couples deep into my life, at that time a dark and depressing one, and I gave them the right to tell me truth when I was believing lies. I basically gave them a license to kick my butt whenever I needed it. There are dozens of them. My butt is still sore….I needed a lot of kicking. Sometimes, I think that’s what God’s grace looks like, especially for a young guy like me.

Then one day, though I had known her for a little while, I found myself interested in this lady. I realized this when I noticed myself working to get everyone to shut up but her so that I could hear her talk more. That’s when I knew I needed to step up or shut up. I went to the couples I respected, the ones that looked like Jesus and who kicked my butt all the time, and I told them of my situation. I didn’t feel right starting something I wasn’t yet in a position to finish. When Jesus put his cards on the table, he was prepared to finish the game. I wanted to be like that. The Jesus-butt-kicking-couples said that I was on the right path, and some of them actually convened on my behalf and then gave me their blessing to pursue when I was ready.

Ashley and I were in the same small group at our church. She is quiet most of the time, so normally I didn’t hear her talk much, but I liked being around her as a friend. Once I joined the small group she was in, I heard her talk, and I didn’t want her to stop. What ultimately did the trick was when I heard her laugh out loud really hard. After that, I realized I wanted to hear that laugh all the time forever. Less than twenty-four hours later, I was sitting down with our group leader and his wife, one of the Jesus-butt-kicking-couples, and told them everything. I made it clear that since Ashley was away from home, I was treating them like her spiritual guardians, and that they had the right to tell me to back off. They had been with Ashley all year and they knew her well. They decided it was best that they let Ashley know I wanted to go on a date, and give her the freedom to turn it down without the embarrassment or shock of having to do it on the spot. It seemed like something that would honor and protect Ashley’s heart, so I was ok with that.

She had actually been interested in me for while. Our first date went really well. We were already friends, but after this date, we were good friends, something that has grown, and that we intend to develop. I told her exactly what I was doing, pursuing her with marriage in mind, that as soon as marriage was off the table for any reason, there was no longer any point to dating for me, that I thought she was attractive, funny, smart, and that she had a clear passion to be like Jesus, the selling point. I gave her a list of some of the key couples who knew me well with their contact information, and told her she could call them at anytime for any reason if she ever felt uncomfortable coming to me with something. I made it clear that I was under authority and accountability, and that guarding her life, purity and heart were my priority. I told her she had an eject button she could push at anytime for any reason, that I was trying to be like Jesus, and he had taken all the risk and hard work upon himself. I wanted to do that, I wanted to be like him, but I needed help so I had an army of Jesus-butt-kicking-couples for backup.

Apparently, when a lady loves Jesus, saying this is like pouring gold into her soul. Jesus had that affect on me, so I took it as a good sign.

It has been the best thing I have ever done. I have learned a lot about how to be like Christ through pursuing Ashley’s heart and learning to love her. I believe it was him who told me where to look, and who brought me across the country to find her. I can’t really take any credit. I was blind until I heard her laugh.

On Christmas Eve, I took a ring that my grandfather had put on my grandmother’s finger long ago, and I put it on Ashley’s finger.

Me and my fiancé, Ashley, right after we got engaged.

Me and my wife, Ashley, right after we got engaged.

Now I look back at this crazy year, and I see that God has graciously been faithful to answer my underserving requests for a lady and job to provide. He has made this recovering monastic-pharisee a little more like Jesus.

2013 and beyond…..more Jesus please!

That’s my love story.

….to be continued…..

If you are interested in one of the primary books that Ashley and I have found very helpful for our marriage, please check out Tim Keller’s “Meaning of Marriage.”

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Year

A year ago this week, I moved to Portland, Oregon. It has been the hardest and best year of my life.

I’ve been extremely reflective all week thinking about everything that has happened in such a short amount of time. I’ve also thought a lot about the future. What will another year bring? In a lot of ways I’m still waiting for the dust to settle since I first arrived. I moved here fast, and everything after that just kept getting faster.

I started out with a roommate I found on Craigslist. While I knew I’d be getting involved with Mars Hill Church and was still planning to attend Western Seminary at the time, he was my first real contact in Portland. For two months I got a crash coarse in Portland culture. Lets just say I made a lot of curry for folks who had the munchies. It was an incredible learning experience. In the meantime I got a job at Starbucks the second week I was here, got plugged in to the church which shortly turned in to an internship, decided against school for time’s sake, and moved twice.

The job is a floating schedule, and high volume sales due to having both a lobby and a drive thru. So, massive moving spurts of immense latte making. It can be fun and stressful, and is usually both.

The church has been one of the craziest and greatest things I’ve been apart of, where lots of people meet and get close to Jesus, near death experiences aren’t far off, and where I’ve been personally challenged to weigh the value of traditional theological education versus actual fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom… still working out the details but it’s looking pretty lopsided…

Two months in, a couple I knew from my years in Ohio offered me a spare room in a city on the southern boarder of Portland called Happy Valley. We had lost track of each other, but they found me on Facebook and one thing lead to another. It was nice to get around familiar faces, have some fellowship, and make curry for folks who weren’t having out of body experiences. Their hospitality is probably one of the main reasons my budget isn’t in the trash right now. However, by New Year’s, living on the far southeast side, working on the far northeast side, having a community group on the west side, and going to church in the middle was starting to make my brain go in the trash. One of my pastors and his wife who live more centrally offered me a room, and that’s where I’ve been since then. Since I’m his intern, it saves a good bit of time actually, and they basically get curry whenever they want it, and sometimes even when they don’t.

Honestly it’s been a character furnace. For years I’ve focused on theological clarity, being able to articulate doctrine as well as I could. This season has been about personal clarity, articulating my sin, repenting well and often. I got pretty good at defining the Gospel, as good as 7 years of theological education can buy. Somewhere in there I got not so good at experiencing it. When I can’t articulate my sin, I don’t really know what that Gospel is good for, so I don’t really know it. Thankfully God’s grasp on me is always better than my grasp on Him.

So what’s up for this year… well, hopefully a slower pace. At this point a slower pace will still break the sound barrier, but at least not be light speed. I hope to nail down a specific direction to my life. I was aimed hard in one direction for a long time, and moving away from that has made things far more open then I like. Many have told me recently how great it is to have my options open. I don’t want them open, I need one option so I can start saying no more. I’d like to see my life head in the direction of starting a family, which strangely enough starts with a wife. My prayers are there, but we’ll see if the rest of my life gets there or not. In the end, whether any or all of these things happen, if people keep meeting Jesus, and I still get to know Him better, I’ll run around this town until I die with a smile on my face, or at least a smirk.