I Want To Be A Garbage Truck Man When I Grow Up

Growing up, I wanted to be a garbage truck man. Not a garbage truck driver mind you. THE MAN. The one hanging on for dear life on the rear of the trash dispenser truck as it perilously weaves in and out of neighborhoods. Like the Indiana Jones of city workers. The man who hops off when the truck stops and heaves buckets of mysterious waste into the mouth of a massive trash transformer.

When I was eight years old my dad would ask me.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Some kids say Astronaut. Or Michael Jordan. Or President.

I said half jokingly (I was a sarcastic turd back then too), “A Garbage Truck Man.”

And he would say without missing a beat, “Be the best garbage truck man you can be then.”

Even if I was being a bit tongue in cheek, there was a curious draw to that ancient occupation. The risk of falling off into oncoming traffic any moment. The adventure of the open road ever winding before you. The weighty obligation of rummaging through a whole city’s secret junk. The wind and sun and elements falling on your face and running through your hair.

We had a basketball goal at the end of our neighborhood cul de sac. If we were playing a pickup game the Garbage truck man would sometimes stop a moment and substitute himself in. We’d feed him the rock and he’d drive the lane and throw down a highlight reel dunk. With his jeans and work boots on. And then he’d walk away and hop back on his truck. Like a boss. It was only a 9 foot goal but that was big deal to 9 year olds.

I’ve been a public high school educator and coach for five years now.

I enjoy it.

That being said, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

It’s easy to get caught in the perilous mental trap that conflates who we are with what we do. Success is found in titles, numbers, grades, stats, and bank accounts. We find our worth in our works. This is our born default, and if we’re not careful, our every morning default. “I do this = I am this” is the modern equation of personal identity.

The gospel offers a totally different approach to our fallen math.

Christ did this with his person and work, and based only that, we are now beloved adopted children. Our highest identity is purchased by another. What He did makes us who we are. Our doing was no variable in the equation. At all.

He did this=I am this now. It’s simple beautiful math.

Who knows: I may be an educator, astronaut, coach, doctor, or garbage truck man when I grow up.

Doesn’t really matter.

I know what He’s done.

I know who I am.

Bryan Daniels

Advertisements

Idol Factories and The Beautiful Calling of Lay Ministry

 “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”-John Calvin

My propensity to prop men up on unwarranted pedestals knows no bounds. You could call this personal bent “idolatory” if you aren’t in to word mincing. So far from being shiny portable statues, my golden calves look more like the mega conference pastor/speaker with book deals and podcast fame. I functionally bow down to them with my time with every perused blog and heard sermon. At conferences, sometimes these anointed men sign bibles and babies on their way to a five figure honorarium (do I sound jealous yet?).

I’m thankful for these men of the Word who throw down the gospel hammer like Thor on their speaking circuits. I aspire to be as bold and clear with my gospel presentation as they are.

There’s nothing wrong with being a keynote public speaker, and there’s nothing wrong with making some green for your services. We should feed the oxen well for its gospel labor (1 Timothy 5:18). What is awry is our cultural inclination to ascribe the cult of celebrity to a normal dude who burps after meals and puts his britches on like the rest of us. Like Jesus sprinkles a little more Holy Ghost dust on his words than anyone else’s.

We don’t have a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem but we’ll frequently follow the same conference headliners around like fundamentalist fan boys.

And this pernicious worldview has seeped into the church where the leading servant (pastor) has become the leading CEO, Educator, and “professional” minister.

The lay ministry hemorrhages when an assumption is made that real ministry is for the pros and not the Joes. This may not be an explicit message but it is implicit in the way any church handles the pulpit, worship, or prayer ministry. Who dominates these positions on Sun AM, Sun PM, and Wednesday nights (or whenever)?

Are the average saints being equipped to serve or are consumers being fed to fatten?

One unintended consequence hardly ever considered when vocational ministry becomes cultural Christianity’s main path to real ministry:

Young men quietly resolve they are either “called” to seminary/pastorate or they are left with a life less significant. A vocation less meaningful. A calling less radical.

As a result we’re left with fledgling pastors in the pulpit who could have been excellent businessmen, artists, public servants and teachers in the world. Because they’ve accepted the false dichotomy of ministers/members a lost world is a little less salty. Yet it doesn’t get more radical than shedding gospel light in offices, neighborhoods, stores, and the particular corner of community they’re in Mon-Sat.

At least in the Bible belt, we’re no longer just seeing a church on every corner, we’re seeing a church plant on every corner. The traditional First, Second or Third Baptist Church has given way to more catchy titles. Buildings bloom but the deficiency remains.

I’m only submitting this: Maybe we don’t need more men ordained into vocational ministry but more men enthralled by a vision of anointed lay ministry.

People need to hear and be empowered by the gospel of grace, and then live it towards everyone they meet. They need to know that this everyday ministry of grace is every bit as significant as the church elder’s ministry.

Beloved, your ordinary faithfulness to Christ is extraordinary. Your name may never be on a marquee but it will assuredly be written where it matters most (Luke 10:20)

So take heart my lay brethren and sistren.

Bryan Daniels

Uzzah and The Only Reason God Doesn’t Tase Us

As a child (ok adult too) I struggled with the biblical rationale of when God goes all old testament in the Old Testament. In certain narratives He seems to strike down folks on a whim, with the precise fierceness of a Thor hammer. A Volvo sized hailstorm here, a mauling bear there, an invisible Angel with a flaming Samurai sword over there.

God was creative with His OT smiting.

In the OT, God shrouded His Holy presence with Israel with clouds and fire and tabernacles and veils and even arks. A baby ark, that is, that could be transported as long as you read and followed the instructions carefully. And these instructions weren’t written by a Chinese toy maker, but the perfect holy Universe maker. Attention to His detail was paramount. When the King David and the ark of the covenant rolled into town, a worker named Uzzah had a brief lapse in judgment that cost him dearly (2 Samuel 6:1-7).

The ark topples a bit and Uzzah reaches out to brace it up. And, like the divine instructions promised, Uzzah was toast (Numbers 4:15).

Now, should such an innocent mistake warrant a knee jerk tasing by the  Almighty? we may ask. Like He’s a mentally ill mall cop with a titanic chip on His shoulder.

Well:

1. No one is innocent (Romans 3:23). Not even Uzzah. God clearly promised one would die if he took lightly His holy presence. Before he even put a finger on it, Uzzah was already trifling with the transportation design of God; he carried the sacred piece on a cart instead of with the prescribed poles (Exodus 25:14-15). The ark wasn’t just a fancy gold cabinet, it was the concrete illustration of God’s holy presence with His people. Holiness and sinful man cannot mix. Uzzah transgressed the law, and God gave him what he deserved. God cannot break His promises.

The law gives no wiggle room for man (James 2:10). If no man can see His holiness and live then certainly no man can touch His holiness and live.  In reality, we all deserve what Uzzah got (Romans 6:23). We sin against His revealed will everyday and God could strike us down right now and be righteous for doing so. His holiness, his otherness, is real and awe inspiring.

But

2. In the New Testament we see something(One) better than the Old Covenant. Better than any arks or tabernacles or priests or types or shadows. The only place where God’s holiness and grace can coexist. Forever.

In the person of Jesus Christ we find the manifest presence of God (Isaiah 7:14). Look at the juxtaposition:

God shows up in the flesh as a Jewish carpenter’s Son. When His public ministry reaches rock star status the public throngs press against Him and seek Him.

He’s touches. A lot. He usually touches the dirtiest and the diseased. And far from people being soul smited by His perfect fingerprints they are supernaturally healed (Mark 1:34, Luke 17:11-19).

And interestingly,

On some occasions He’s touched.

A ritually unclean woman with a nasty blood disorder reaches out to touch His garment in the clamoring crowd (Matthew 9:20-22). Jesus feels her faithful graze and turns to address her. She’s not served up a wrathful bolt of indignation, but rather a warm word from the holy Healer,

“Daughter take courage, your faith has made you well.”

A prostitute bursts through religiosocial boundaries and clings to Christ’s feet during a formal party. She bathes His feet with her tears and kisses them in broken adoration. Far from scolding her for a colossal faux pas, Christ speaks restoration to her,

“Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

In modern American churchianity these encounters may be taken for granted, but the ancient Jew would have been shocked by a God so accessible and gracious to the scum of society.

After spending centuries of bloody Old Covenant history clarifying how offensive sin was to Him, the Father sends His only Son to enact a bloody New Covenant for us. To take the offense away. Without the stark picture of God’s holiness revealed in the Old Testament we’d be inclined to trifle with God’s grace revealed in the New. Thankfully, the unapproachable God can be touched through Christ. He was not just touched with reverent acts of love but also violent acts of hate: He was beaten and scourged and murdered by sinful men. To die the death we deserve (Isaiah 53:5-11).

The cost of being personal to us was incalculably high for God. In Christ, His heart jerk reaction toward us is not to tase, but to heal.

So we can now without fear

reach out to the God who touches,

and the God who is touched by,

sinners.

He’s close. As close as faith. So

“Go in peace.”

The gospel of Christ has turned a righteous Judge’s smite into a gracious Fatherly smile.

Bryan Daniels

“Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Have A Daughter?” And the “Boys Will Be Boys” Fallacy

 

A lamentable piece of juicy gossip is making the rounds of our little big town. The students of my school are abuzz about a former fellow female student who is making national news for the wrong reasons. I won’t divulge the situation’s specifics as the exploitation of it locally has already reached an unnecessary height.

But one of my female students asked me a question yesterday that struck me as a regrettable microcosm of current youth culture. After a brief mention of some of the unfortunate details she asked,

“Coach Daniels, aren’t you glad you don’t have a daughter?”

To which I replied “No,” and quickly changed the subject to more school appropriate matters.

But I had to force back down a latent rant I had rising up in my chest cavity (which shall be spewed upon you now):

Why do we only typically single out the young girl? In this incident there were others involved of the opposite sex, and their actions were every bit as shameful (I say more so as supposed young “men”) as hers. We have an unspoken bias in our culture against adolescent girls who act in appalling or loose ways against their family or church upbringing. Yet when adolescent boys violate their conscience and code we kind of shrug and wink at it and say

Well, boys will be boys,” or

“You know boys are just wired differently.”

Like we need to chastity belt the little girl until she’s 35 and yet we give the little bugger a long leash to work out his newfound testosterone. That’s dumb.

And we feed the natural born predators within male nature by our omission as much as our commission. We’re only concerned when these boys become 18-30 year olds stuck in this perpetual adolescence. When they begin to encroach on mom and pop’s retirement plans with their joblessness and credit card debt. What we have is this: Peter Pans with beards and a mean streak of sociopathy. Weak little boys will invariably end up feasting on the weaknesses of women.

These boys have conflated their masculinity with machismo.

And we’ve enabled them.

I will try not do this with my sons. They better, to the best of their God given ability, learn to protect and provide and lead women with gentle strength and most of all: respect. I’ll do my God given best to model this with their mother, albeit imperfectly. But they’ll know their position of strength as a man should be used to serve the weaker among them.

Mostly I’ll try to point to another man. The perfect man. The One who treats His bride the way every woman really wants to be treated (Ephesians 5:25-32)

To protect the abused.

Heal the wounded.

Pick up the broken pieces.

Physically or emotionally. To make the most insecure women feel valued inwardly as the souls they are, not just as the bodies they offer.

To answer my student’s question directly: It should be just as fearful a responsibility to raise up sons as daughters. The fleshly whims of pseudo men are largely responsible for the damaged modern female psyche. The godly leadership of real men will largely repair and restore the flourishing woman in every little girl.

God help us raise up men and women who have submitted to the One perfect Man. And may they realize they can always return to His open gracious arms. No matter the public shame, guilt, and shock attached to what they’ve done. Sons and daughters will return to the family table.

This man will never reject them (John 6:37).

Bryan Daniels

It’s My Second Love’s Birthday Today

He is my second love.

The years have changed him.

His hair from bald to reddish to sandy blond. His size from fitting on my forearm to being tall enough to ride the Miracle Strip plane rides solo. His vocabulary from grunts to “Transmurners” to telling me how “ridiculously” fast the neighbor’s car passed our front yard. His smile from gums to baby teeth to that big missing front tooth grin today.

The years haven’t changed him.

He’s still got his mama’s brown eyes and long eyelashes. He’s still got a sensitive streak, one that’s concerned for any soul who cries or shows a tinge of sadness. He still holds the same “Blue” at night-time, the stuffed puppy he had in his baby crib and is now jumbled amongst the Spider Man pillows and Hot wheels in his top bunk.

And he challenges me with his childlike wonder and love and faith everyday.

“We forgot to pray!” he’ll remind me before supper time when my first world hunger strikes and I’ve hastily wolfed down a bite of grilled chicken.

“We need to pick some flowers for mama,” he firmly suggested last week as we walked through the empty lot next door (putting my husbandly duties to shame.)

“You look beautiful mama” he’ll commonly catch my wife with this heart melter whether she’s on her way to church or just waking up in her pajamas (he’s always trying to show me up!).

“Man, we’re so blessed!” he’ll exclaim with a high pitch on special occasions, like when he was opening his Easter basket full of cheap candy the other day.

and many more.

Josiah Evan Daniels is six years old today.

I held a precious little 7 pound 11 ounce swaddled soul in my arms six years ago this evening and made an instant covenant to die or kill for him. He’s my Red Power Ranger. My football player. My Spider Man. My worker man. My speed racer.

Most of all, he’s my second love. The second one I fell in love with head over heels, after his Mama and before his little brother Gideon.

Happy Birthday Jo Jo.

Bryan Daniels

 

When Your Gold Glove Performance Begins To Rust

 

When I was eight years old I played machine pitch baseball for the Southern Electrical youth team. I was a chubby kid with a bowl cut and a penchant for daydreaming about the free post game Capri Sun while playing center field. Sometimes I was relegated to the dreaded right field where MLB aspirations and souls of children die.

But I found myself kicking dirt in the center field the night of “the catch.”

I heard a metal pop and my eyes focused on the white comet approaching my little atmosphere. I started running full tilt, the fastest my Pony’s have ever run, towards the descending ball. It was about to touch down in no man’s land, the dubious region between the left fielder and I. A sure double for the batter.

But not tonight.

With the ball feet away from the ground I dove head first, full extension, glove outstretched Ken Griffey Jr style. My eyes were tightly shut as I heard the smack of leather and felt the grass and dirt rub past my cheek. I was so shocked I caught the ball I almost forgot to hit my cut off man to hold the bases. Blind dumb luck of a catch.

It was early in the season and it was one of those catches that wedged in the memories of my coaches and teammates. Every line drive or flyball within a mile of me was expected to be hunted down effortlessly with the skill of a trained assassin. My coach even gave me a nickname after the game: Bryan “Sure Hand” Daniels.

The moniker didn’t stick for long though. I could never replicate my amazing anomaly of a shoestring catch. Routine fly balls were routinely fumbled and line drives were misjudged enough to turn singles into triples. “What happened?!” my outfield teammate would ask, perplexed at my sudden lack of basic hand eye coordination. I still get a sense of anxiety catching practice pop balls to this day.

My short-lived identity as a circus catch artist took the wind out of my sails. My waning passion for baseball flatlined as my sports value before my coaches and peers plummeted. My performance didn’t live up to their expectations. And deep down I knew their expectations were built on a fluke catch.

I still struggle with this performance mentality.

The fight of our Western age may be the fight against this performance mentality.

Not the fight against hard work mind you.

Performance.

We are hardwired to conflate what we do with who we are.

We earn “As” in school so we are bright. We earn a nice paycheck at work so we are succesful. We workout at the gym so we are fit. It doesn’t get much better than being the most athletic, rich, and smart person in the room.

What others have labeled us becomes our identity and soaks deep down into the soul level. And we’ve earned these labels. With sweat and ingenuity and talent. With our performance.

This ethos has seeped into the church under the pseudo name of “excellence.”

Nothing can be more lethal to our spiritual life than adopting this performance mentality into the gospel of grace. We’ve earned nothing and are given everything through Christ. We bring nothing to the table yet we are given a seat of honor at the Wedding Banquet table to eat of pleasures forever.

Performance is damned before the Son who perfectly performs our salvation for us.

Yet we try to impress people with our performance in religious matters. With our knowledge of Scriptures, church attendance, giving, serving, or even our children’s obedience. Or the fact that our family looks like a Stepford model of the American Dream. At least on Sunday mornings and important social functions we can pull off this tenous facade.

We’re not fooling anyone. Especially not the One that matters.

So my fellow right fielders can take heart:

We don’t have to keep despairing on the stage of human approval. We can quit acting out an identity we never truly believed. We’re broken, insecure, dense, weak, flat-out failures sometimes.

We may even be notorious for watching ground balls dribble between our legs.

But we’re loved no matter what. And we’re forever beneficiaries of the performance another. So sit back and drink that in. The Capri Sun will be worth it at the end of this treacherous game.

Bryan Daniels