My intent all week long was to pop by with a blog post to update everyone on the latest goings-on at the farm. (We have a house chicken now - that demands an update.) But, per usual, the week slipped by without a peep. (Ha - did you catch that?) In the mean time, I'm thrilled to welcome Jim McNeely to my blog. He's an author, a pastor, a former magician, a musician... if ever there was someone with a unique skill set to make the world a better place, he's the man.
Jim's new book, Grace in Community: Real Life Grace from the Book of 1 John, is now available on Amazon. Enjoy getting to know Jim and how he uses his talents to share the message placed on his heart. ~Heather
My wife and I are musicians, and one of our favorites songs to perform is “God bless the Broken Road” made popular by Rascal Flatts. It has been a broken road, but it led me straight to Jesus. He really does cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
I came to Christ before we were married the summer after I graduated from High School, and through the help of a small local house church I dived deeply into a heavy discipline of study in the scriptures. I began my habit at that time of going very very slowly and deeply through a single book of the Bible, carefully observing and asking my own questions and reading everything I could find on the text in question. My book "Grace in Community: Real Life Grace from the Book of 1 John” is truly just an extension of this very long standing habit. I’ve never been as good at those year reading plans; it never soaks in like slow study for me.
I remember when I first met Betty, I was pretty much of the “bachelor until rapture” mindset. We met at a Christian coffee house where i was playing some songs I had written. She wanted to get together, and I said, let’s meet at 6 AM to study Romans together. I was such a romantic! Unbelievably, she showed up and we started plowing through the book of Romans. The next summer we were the only believers in a program at the university which housed troubled youth. I was smitten with her because she has this constant joy that never seems to stop. To this day I am in complete awe of her easy and wonderful relationship with God!
After four years (the delay was all me!) we got married. I remember that year we drove from Denton (DFW area) Texas to the Grand Canyon four times! What a crazy year! I was working as the city puppeteer at the Denton Public Library, and soon Betty was pregnant! I had to get a real job, and after a dismal failure at a sign factory (which felt like prison), I started doing children’s entertainment at daycares and schools, doing children’s songs we wrote, magic tricks, and storytelling. I did that for about 12 years! I was averaging around 30 shows a week, and even more during holidays. Adult crowds are easy to capture after learning to seize and control a roomful of five-year-olds! To this day I know how to project my voice, position myself on a stage, and pace a performance so I don’t lose anyone. I’ve yet to see anyone fall asleep in one of my sermons!
During that time I began working on a database to manage my entertainment business, and I started getting so interested in the database that I changed careers and went into database development. For a time I worked for a database consultancy, and then I went on my own and started my own custom enterprise software development company. We ended up with clients like Washington Mutual and Lockheed Martin and American Airlines doing large projects. I learned a lot about marketing ephemeral things like custom systems that didn’t even exist yet, and I learned to manage teams of people that were very smart and gifted. One of my employees went on to work at Sandia National Laboratory doing some kind of massive parallel computing with nuclear simulations. It was a great time but also a stressful time. Big corporate projects may be exciting to start, but they are, to say the least, often stressful to complete. It is not easy to carry a team of talented and expensive people and keep them constantly and consistently working and profitable without overloading them. Further, there was tremendous stress in my personal life which was probably linked to the number of hours I was working.
So I laid off everyone, shut the doors on the business, and took a job in Bellingham WA with a group of radiologists. I worked in a basement rescuing an old home-brewed database system and linking it with other medical systems, and all of this was a frequent if not daily challenge. The database itself crashed countless times and had to be reinstated flawlessly with people’s precious medical data. I worked there for 7 years until they purchased a nice standardized system and laid off much of the IT support for the older systems. It was during this time that I started my writing ministry at thereforenow.com and began writing The Romance of Grace.
All of this laid the foundation for my entry into ministry. I have been a serious believer for over 30 years, with an obvious call to full time ministry. I resisted the call because I thought that someone had to be a serious believer and work in the secular world, and that someone would be me! Also, I felt that I was too sinful and brash for vocational ministry. I probably am to sinful and brash! However, after 30 years, we’ve started a church in Lynden WA called Bread and Wine Fellowship, and I’ve published two Christian books which now have readers all over the world! I think that if I had not been a children’s entertainer, i would not have such a love for the children in our church and I would not understand how to grab the attention of people when I teach. I also think that if Betty and I had not run a business for all those years, we would not know how to think about running a church logistically. As well, if I had not labored for 7 years in a basement at a job I disliked, I don’t think I would understand the kinds of stress and disappointment that people experience in their careers and lives.
So it has been a broken road that has led me to this point. Our personal struggles and life challenges have all come together to forge a compassion and love of grace and mercy that have become the cornerstone of our ministry. I think most people are well aware of how far they’ve fallen short of glory, but they have not heard the good news forcefully pressed that there is a strong and unbreakable love which God bestows as a gift by His grace through Jesus that trumps everything. That is what we are excited to offer in our ministry, and it is really the central point of all of my writing. God, in Christ, truly loves us no matter what. He offers us unconditional and unbreakable love, if only we say yes to Him. This is the message of the cross, the message of the gospel, and the core message of the church for the last 2000 years. We are very excited to repeat this to our generation in a fresh way.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.