Church Actually Helps

I used to love church.

I was one of those kids who couldn’t wait to go to church every Sunday. If that sounds strange, maybe it is. I know a lot of people who hated church. People whose parents would drag them by their feet into service. And I understand. Not all churches are the same. Some are toxic environments disguised as sanctuaries. It truly sucks.

My first church was CEMC, Chinese Evangel Mission Church. For the first seventeen years of my life I called it home, and still do. My parents met there when they were teenagers, new to the faith. The generation before me created a space where I felt loved and accepted, a safe place for me to grow spiritually as a child. I made my first movies here. I made my childhood friends here. Most of all, I learned who God was and what He meant to everyone around me.

My second church was LCC, Life Covenant Church. As I grew up, so did my faith, and Life was the perfect catalyst. Here I encountered God’s tangible presence for the first time. I could list all the times I knelt on the floor sobbing, overcome by the Holy Spirit. If that sounds weird, it probably was. Yeah, we were a little charismatic. Jesus wasn’t just a historical figure to be studied. He was someone real and alive, and I discovered that being a young adult at Life.

Then I moved to California.

I visited several churches and liked a lot of them. They had good music. Engaging speakers. Friendly people. I tried serving at one of the churches for a few months.

Remember how I mentioned kids whose parents drag them by their feet into service? That was me in Los Angeles, except my parents weren’t here. My spiritual ghost would drag me to church, telling me I needed to go because church was important. But my heart wasn’t there. One Sunday, I drove half an hour to church, slept for the entire service, then drove straight home. It was getting ridiculous.

Was it the church’s fault for not being “right” for me? Well, I’m supposed to serve the church, not vice versa. Should it matter that I didn’t feel comfortable in the community?

I called my mom the other day. She asked if I was going to church. I told her no. I sometimes played a Francis Chan sermon on the TV and I went to bible studies on Thursdays, but that was it. I wanted something like my home church family, but was too lazy to invest in one. During our conversation, my mom pointed out that all the churches I had been to were megachurches, ranging from five hundred to thousands of people. Yet all my life I had never been part of a community larger than a hundred or two.

It suddenly hit me. I had a friend in Torrance who is a worship pastor. Why don’t I just attend his church?

I didn’t tell him I was coming. When worship started and he saw me in the crowd, he smiled. Mind you, there wasn’t more than a fifty people in the service. We started off with a praise movement song for the kids. Wow. I hadn’t done hand motions to a kid’s song in a while. It felt weirdly…freeing.

The pastor was great. I noticed how much he talked about supporting missionaries. It impressed me, considering the church wasn’t huge, how dedicated they were to missions. Like CEMC.

As we went to the closing worship songs, I felt an invisible glue drip over me, stiffening my movements. I realized I hadn’t been in a worship service in a while; at least, one where I felt comfortable in. One that was a simple band playing songs to God, not some EDM concert that felt designed to please the congregation instead of their Creator.

I often get this picture in my head whenever I’m in worship. I imagine the world around me dissolving into millions of tiny cards, flipping over, transforming my reality into a blank, white void. In that moment, all distractions fade away. I see Jesus, standing before me. Nothing exists except Him and me. And I worship.

My body loosened up. I raised my hands and sang.

I still love church. It helps my life, it really does. Something mystical happens there, not because a song had the right lyrics, or the pastor said something that related to my life. But it’s because I encounter the presence of God there.

And that changes everything.

Gotta Take Leaps Of Faith Sometimes, Bruh

A few days ago, I got boba with a friend who noted how much I had changed in the past three years. Not change as in, “Oh, you grew your mustache.” Change as in, I’ve matured a lot. Mainly in the way I handle relationships.

Filmmaking used to be my god. My master, or whatever analogy works. I used to suck at collaborating because I liked being a one man show. Yes, it was stupid. I remember pacing back and forth, alone in a room, after a fight with my editor. He thought I was being too controlling, practically editing the entire film for him. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t just want the film cut my way; I wanted to cut the film myself. Enter my internal monologue.

SMEAGOL-JOSH
Look, you idiot. This isn’t the first time this has happened to you. You need to stop being so power-hungry and let others contribute to this project.

GOLLUM-JOSH
HE’S RUINING THE PROJECT, PRECIOUS! Your editing is so much better! This film could be our ticket to success, and you want to leave it at the hands of this dude we met a couple weeks ago???

SMEAGOL-JOSH
You were once a bad editor as well. How do you expect people to learn if they aren’t given the chance? Besides, what’s more important? People or the project?

GOLLUM-JOSH
THE PROJECT, ME PRECIOUS PROJECT!

SMEAGOL-JOSH
(sigh) You’re hopeless. You need to make a decision. Like, right now. Either trust your editor and let him do his work, or completely take over the film and ruin your friendship forever.

GOLLUM-JOSH
WE KNOW WHAT TO DOOOO!!!

SMEAGOL-JOSH
Someone get this dude a breath mint.

Sadly, this wasn’t too far from the actual dialogue inside my head. It took a while, but I finally understood how unimportant projects were compared to deep friendships and great collaborations.

You know, come to think of it…I’m not sure if I ever officially apologized to the editor. I’m going to do that right now.

(break)

Okay, I’m back. Apparently I did apologize already, and that was kind of awkward and kind of funny. We’re still great friends.

I never want to hold back from apologizing, though. Never. Especially to Jenine. Wow, I’ve owed her a lot of apologies.

Being that she’s my first official relationship, I was bound to make mistakes and I knew it. The problem was that her previous boyfriends were pretty awful, making it easy for me to go, “Hey, at least I’m not doing what so-and-so did!”

It took a while for me to learn that being “not as bad” doesn’t make you “good.”

I thought I was self-sacrificial. Humble. Godly. But my definition of those words came from a twisted narrative that put me in the spotlight. This was MY story, and everyone else was a side character.

For example, my definition of humility was someone telling me, “Wow Josh, that was such an amazing film you made!” to which I would reply, “Oh, it was nothing. God gave me the gifts!”

Pause. That’s not actually humility. I’m still getting praise and glory. Yet I lived in this egotistic bubble for quite a while.

The big change in my life was moving to California. I always knew it would be a huge transition, but I never realized how much moving to the other side of the country would affect my emotional and spiritual maturity. In fact, I barely recognized it as it was happening.

See, it was easy to be surrounded by friends and family who knew and loved me since I was a child. And I knew them as well. I knew the right things to say that would make them go, “Josh, you’re a great guy.” I never had any major conflict that would push my limits of being a good person.

I’m not saying I was a total a**hole. I’m just admitting that I had a lot of growing to do. And still do.

It’s scary, isn’t it? To realize that you’re not going to be the same person in a few years that you are today?

Or maybe you will be. There’s a way that can happen. Stay in your comfort zones. Live within your limits. Surround yourself with people who are easy to love. You’ll feel like a fantastic person.

When I moved to the West Coast, I met a lot of people. More new people than I had ever met in my entire life. EVERYONE I met was a new person, except for Brian. Many of them were not like me. They weren’t all Christians. They weren’t all Asians. They weren’t all homeschooled or had an East Coast mentality. Yes, most of them were filmmakers, but that’s beside the point.

For the first time in my life, I had to deal with people who didn’t know me as Josh Jackson from CEMC, or Josh Jackson from Life Covenant Church, or Josh Jackson, friend of my relative, relative of my friend, and so on.

They just knew me as Josh Jackson, stranger. I had a lot of first impressions to make and relationships to build.

It was difficult. But it formed me. It made me realize that not everything, ha, is about me! And I’m so thankful that it did.

I still can be a selfish person, but I’m slowly becoming more aware. And like they say, knowing is half the battle. One that I intend to fight.

But none of this would’ve happened if I hadn’t moved out of my comfort zone, or taken a leap of faith. I am so grateful for everyone in my life, family and friends, old and new, who have stuck with me on this journey. Thanks to you, I think I’m finally learning what it means to love without limits. My friends on the East Coast gave me the foundation. My friends on the West Coast helped me put it into practice.

Anyhoo, enough about me. I hope you all have a fantastic day or night, depending where in the world you are. I want to make a joke or something to end this on a light note, but…nah.

Josh out.

Love Doesn’t Have Opinions

Ugh, I probably shouldn’t be blogging at three in the morning when I have to be up in five hours. I’m seeing Avengers at ten thirty tomorrow…well, technically today, and I don’t want to fall asleep for a second. Not that I think I will. Sorry, off topic.

I’ve been reading this book called Everybody Always by Bob Goff. Just a simple book reminding me to love everybody. Always. Hence the title. But a small line in the book blew my mind.

We start to see that our time here isn’t meant to be spent forming opinions about the people we meet. It’s an opportunity to draw the kind of circles around them that grace has drawn around us, until everybody is on the inside.

I have a terrible habit. Whenever I meet someone new, my mind starts flagging them for good or bad qualities, like a TSA agent scanning for metal objects. This helps me form an opinion about their character, to see if they’re someone I’d like to hang out with in the future, or avoid.

Does this person seem like they have an agenda? Red flag. Are they talking about themselves too much? Red flag. Do they not have a sense of humor? Red flag.

I tell myself I do this out of self-defense, but really it’s just fear.

I don’t always do this. Sometimes I pour myself out to people when I feel like it. I have a lot of great friendships that were born this way. One time, I was at a party where I knew mostly everyone, except this new guy. Let’s call him Hester. Hester only knew one person at the party. For some odd reason, I decided to strike up a chat and be the friendliest, most welcoming person I could be. I honestly have no idea why. It was one of my good days.

Hester continued to come to our future parties, even when the one person he used to know moved away. He’s just a really cool dude who’s fun to hang around.

I never did my flagging thing with Hester. We just got to know each other as friends.

What if I treated everyone like that? Even people I might have heard iffy things about.

What if I stopped trying to form opinions about the people I meet and just tried loving them instead?

I think I’d have a lot more positive encounters. And a lot more friends.

Josh out.

Starting Day With Emotional Prayer

Early on in my blog, I wrote a post about jumping out bed. I’m a hypocrite. I’ve woken up around noon every day this week.

I have a sign on my bedroom ceiling, aligned with where my head would be as I sleep. It reads:

Did you just wake up? PRAY TO START YOUR DAY, YOU SINNER

prayer sign

I’m not joking. It’s effective fifty percent of the time.

Not gonna lie, when I write these posts, I stare at my laptop for a good five minutes, trying to think of a topic. Unless I have one already in my head. That’s always nice. But if I’m writing every day, I can’t patiently wait for inspiration to hit me. I have to hit it. Where am I going with this? NO IDEA.

My point is, today is one of those days where I felt uninspired. Then I remembered. I’m having a boring day due to inactivity. So I need to be active. But I don’t feel like being active. So I should pray.

Yup, that’s pretty much my thought process. I took out my guitar and started strumming some praise songs. For me, praying isn’t limited to getting on my knees and asking God to bless my day. It includes singing worship songs. Being silent in His presence (note to self: do this one more often).

Okay, now it’s time to hit the prayer list. I have a bunch of sticky notes on my wall with a prayer item on each one. Hm. Odd. I suddenly felt overwhelmed. By sticky notes.

Just pick one. I chose to pray blessings over my parents today. Cool. Now time to continue my day.

Every time I start my day with prayer, it’s already a good day. So why don’t I do this every day? Well, I try. It’s not instinctive, unfortunately. To me, prayer is humbling myself before God, letting Him know that I can’t do life without Him.

But I don’t like being humbled sometimes. I get impatient. I have ACDC, no ADD, whatever it’s called. I don’t want to admit that I need God because I’m a proactive protagonist and can do whatever I want.

Except that whatever I want usually entails sleeping in until noon.

It’s a habit I’m building. Still working on it. I’ll keep you guys updated with how it goes.

Josh out.

P.S. If the title seems oddly worded, it’s because I used this site to analyze the emotional marketing value of my blog posts: http://www.aminstitute.com/headline/ 

My original title was “Starting My Day With Prayer.” That only scored 20%. This title scored 40%, which apparently most professional copywriters will get. Woohoo. Let all my future titles be dictated by a computer. If this blog gets a lot more traffic, maybe there’s something to it.

Work For Granted

I’m a video editor slash motion graphics and visual effects artist. There must be a way to condense my job title.

Some people just want a video edited. Some people want their logo animated. I can do it all. And I can do it well.

Sometimes I work better when I don’t get paid. I’m doing visual effects for my friend’s senior thesis film right now, and not to brag, but I’m kind of killing it. The fun part about my job is that I have to digitally create things that don’t exist. I have no reference to what a demon barrier shield looks like. But I have to figure it out and create.

I like to imagine that God created the world using Windows 97. He didn’t have to, but maybe He just thought it’d be fun to harness His infinity power and wisdom through an operating system visually similar to a 90s personal computer.

CLIPPY
Greetings, I am your Office Assistant Clippy! To begin, click ‘Start Universe.’

GOD
Alrighty. This should be fun.

CLIPPY
Congratulations! You’ve created a new universe. Would you like to save your progress or continue without saving?

GOD
Eh, I’ll save after day six. Thanks Clippy.

CLIPPY
You’re welcome, holy_trinity_3_in_1.

GOD
What else can we do here?

CLIPPY
Would you like to create a human? If so, go to File > New > Human.

GOD
Neat. I’ll name him Adam.

CLIPPY
Adam.exe has been created. Just a warning, his social health is very low.

GOD
Hm, it’s not good for him to be alone.

CLIPPY
You do not have enough resources available to create a new human. Would you like to allocate some of your .rib files?

GOD
Sounds like a plan. Clippy, I’m getting a warning that some devilware has infected my universe. What’s that about?

CLIPPY
Sorry, I’m unable to help in that manner.

GOD
Looks like I have some work ahead of me.

Okay, that was fun. Sorry, I got sidetracked from my original topic. Work!

I like work. I like being good at something. As stated earlier, I’m pretty darn good at visual effects. Now all I have to figure out is how to translate that skill into money.

However, even though I like working, I don’t like being told I have to work. Does that make sense? I don’t approve of this instinctive response within me. I much rather be a hard work all the time, regardless of whether I feel like it or not.

Yet sometimes, even when it’s a job that I enjoy doing (e.g. video editing), I don’t like the thought that I HAVE to do this NOW. It’s immature, I know. That’s why I’m blogging about it. To get over it. Usually works.

If you can’t tell, I’m a huge procrastinator. I’m procrastinating right now on a job due tomorrow morning. It’s not a hard job. I need to design some video titles. It’s fun.

I think I take work for granted too often, forgetting that many people would love just to have a job, or skill they can monetize. I’m lucky and blessed by God to be able to work in Los Angeles.

Sigh. I think I’ve blogged long enough. It’s time to do some actual work. Sorry I don’t have a satisfying ending to this post, but I’m not going to think about working any longer and just work. Overthinking can be a dangerous excuse to be lazy.

Josh out.

Life’s A Ten

I was chatting with a friend in a college cafeteria:

COLE
How ya doin’ Josh? How’s life? Scale of one to ten.

JOSH
Hmm…I’d say ten.

COLE
Really? I ask people that question a lot and I think you’re the first person to say ten.

JOSH
I mean, I can’t complain. I still have a dreams and goals I want to achieve. But hey, I’m here in Los Angeles, working toward my ambitions and—

Our conversation got cut off. It’s been about an hour and I’m back home. I haven’t exactly had time to process why I answered “ten” so quickly, but I’m going to do that now.

Do I have lower expectations for my life? Is that why I said ten? I’m not rich, sure, but would a rich person answer with ten?

Could my life be better? Sure. I could have a full-time job, that’d be nice. But I believe the big reason I’m content with my life right now is that I’m changing. Evolving. Growing as a person.

One of the most “eh” years of my life was 2014. I did quite a lot then. I published my novel, completed two short films, learned a ton, made enough money that I was able to move to California the next year. However, despite finishing a bunch of projects, I felt stagnant, like I wasn’t going anywhere.

Life is so different now. I’m surrounded by so many great people and artists, yet still have a strong, rock-solid community back East. I’m developing new habits. Like this one! I’m painting a clearer picture of who I want to be. Every day feels like an adventure. Sure, there are days when I think, “wow, I did nothing today,” but at least I’m not thinking, “welp, this is my life now.” If I waste a day, I know that’s not normal.

No adventure story begins with the protagonist going, “man life sucks. Everything sucks.” It begins with Luke Skywalker staring at the two moons over the horizon, content with his life but knowing there’s so much more. Besides, if I can’t be happy where I am, how will I be happy with where I’m going to be?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2a

I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m fully loved by a God who accepts me just as I am. It already can’t get better than this. With my eyes set on the ultimate prize which is Christ Jesus, I’m ready to live…ugh, my best life possible. I hate that phrase. But it’s accurate. My best life is my happiest life, but my happiness is not dependent on circumstances that change like the wind. It is grounded in an all-knowing, all-loving God who sent His Son to die on the cross for my sins, so I could live eternally with Him.

If none of that made sense to you, sorry. I’m just typing my thoughts as they come. If you don’t already know the gospel, I’d love to share it with you. How it’s changed my life and made me the person I am today. Sorry if this sounds preachy. It can be a little awkward sometimes, saying my deepest beliefs out loud. But it’s worth it.

Okay, I have to get back to editing. Josh out.

Alternate Versions of Josh

I’m at a croissant and boba shop called…Mini’s Croissants and Boba. Who would’ve guessed. They have this photo of a scrumptious looking strawberry banana and nutella crepe on their wall. I ordered it, not realizing it was the size of a puppy. So I’m gonna blog for a bit while I devour this monstrosity.

These blog posts will get shorter the busier I am. That’s okay. As long as I’m writing every day. Hey, that’s rhymed. Yay.

I’m not even sure if writing every day is making me a better writer, if you couldn’t tell by the poetic masterpiece in the previous paragraph. But writing is better than not writing, right?

Sigh. What am I doing with my life. I need a real job.

I’ve been working pretty consistently. Freelance, though. There’s no end of people who need their short film finished, or a client who wants some cheap visual effects. It’s a relief, knowing that I contribute to society in some odd way, compensated with money.

I think about alternate universes a lot. I don’t believe they exist, but it’s fun to imagine. Somewhere outside our space time continuum, there exists a Josh who is still chilling on his parents’ couch, dreaming up another novel. Stuck in a minimum wage job in New Jersey. Ironically, that Josh probably has more money than this version of Josh. Los Angeles is expensive.

The crazy thing? God loves that version of Josh just as much as He loves me. God loves the version of Josh that never did anything with his life and died a lonely death. God loves the version of Josh that ate three hundred chicken nuggets and died from overconsumption. I’m not sure why all these examples end in death. I think I’m trying to make a profound statement, but it’s missing the mark.

My point is, there’s nothing you can do to prevent the love of God. You can only reject it. That’s kind of deep.

I wonder how many of these blogs posts will actually be “good.” I thought the one about me needing to be popular was pretty dang awesome. Whatever. I enjoy writing either way.

Since I’m writing new content every day, I’ve been thinking of vlogging once a week. It’d be as simple as reading out any post I’ve written that week. Probably wouldn’t be one as random as this, but you get the point. It’d be good practice for public speaking, a skill I enjoy and want to develop. Become a “Youtuber.” Gosh, no. Or…yes? I do need money.