The Good Life (Fakin)


“We started from the bottom. Now, we here!”

So goes the tag line of a very popular song from Toronto-born rapper, Drake.  The song is not one of his most creative projects, but has become wildly popular in no time, especially among many of the urban youth that I serve. Like a lot of other rappers, Drake will profit handsomely because he was able to create an anthem for an army of young people who are unhappy with their current station in life (the bottom) and want to do something about it! Drake and his partners in the hip hop industry have successfully been able to tap into this yearning that many young people have for “the Good Life.”  They’ve been able to dangle a carrot before these kids and lead them in circles chasing an ever-evaporating sense of fulfillment.  Shoes. Jeans. Headphones. Tattoos. Gangs. Hustling. They’re all desirable because, at some point, someone has said to these kids, “___ is the key to the “Good Life. Get ___ and get the good life!”
Think back to Kanye’s hit, “The Good Life.”  The lyrics are not PC, so be warned:

 

Welcome to the Good Life
Where niggas that sell D
Won’t even get pulled over in they new V.
The good life, let’s go on a livin’ spree,
Shit, they say the best things in life are free.
The good life, it feel like Atlanta
It feel like L.A., it feel like Miami
It feel like N.Y., Summertime CHI, ahh
Now throw your hand up in the sky…
 
In Kanye’s estimation, the good life is about dealing drugs without fear of being caught, lavish living, and a general party atmosphere. Throughout the rest of the song, he paints this elaborate picture of the good life as jet setting, having sex on planes, stacking piles of money, all sorts of other irresponsible behaviors. To call it ridiculous is being nice!
My immediate concern, though, is the effect that these messages have on impressionable youth like the ones in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston. Far too many of these kids find themselves at “the bottom” based on family of origin, broken school systems, and multigenerational poverty. By the age of 12, many of these kids have seen more pain, dysfunction, abuse, and struggle than any one person should have to endure.  They look at their environment and often see no immediate cause for hope.  So, they REACH…looking for hope wherever it can be found!  Unfortunately, it is often found wrapped up in the thumping beat of a song and a music video.  With kids cramming as much as 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media into their day according to recent studies, the messaging of the good life and the “bottom to the top” narrative grows deep, deep roots. I could give examples of 10-15 students, male & female, who have gambled and lost big time in their pursuit of “the good life.”
 
Read More

Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

Have you ever been discouraged?  Unless you have some serious antisocial tendencies, I’d guess that you have been discouraged at one point or another in your life.  For those of us who serve in ministry, discouragement is very real and present danger.  The very nature of our work makes us more susceptible to discouragement because we are often so heavily invested in the lives of others.  The average person can go out of their way to live insulated lives, shielded and protected from “mess,” but not us.  The very nature of our calling seems to demand that we give others access to our lives, while at the same time wading into the murky waters of their lives.  Can you imagine a pastor who refused to care about others? How about a minister who openly expressed her lack of concern for the condition of those around her? Wouldn’t she risk being called a sociopath?  Nobody wants to be called a sociopath…so we dive in! Loving, trusting, forgiving, all the while believing that this is the God-honoring thing to do!

Discouragement comes in when even your most sacrificial efforts fall flat, and the expectations that you had of something or someone bite you in the butt.  It happens to every minister that I’ve ever known…that’s not the point.  The issue that I’d like to wrestle with is the proper Christian response to discouragement.  Do we curl into a ball, lick our wounds, and whine?  Worst than that, do we lash out at those responsible?  Both of these are pretty damaging responses that will ultimately do more harm than good.  How, then, do you deal with discouragement in ministry?

Josh Griffin, one of my favorite youth pastors/bloggers shared some thoughts that I’d like to pass along.  You can read the full article here, but here’s my recap with some personal thoughts:

  1. Identify the Source of the Discouragement – What is the perceived root of the discouragement and what is its real cause?  It could be deeper than any isolated incident.  Discouragement can show up after “mountaintop experiences” as someone seeks to bring you back to earth, set you straight, or  “read you,” as my people sometimes say; however, in most cases, I’ve been able to trace my own bouts with discouragement to something deeper than an incident.  The truth is that I like to be liked.  I like and respect people, and I expect them to like and respect me back.  When that does not happen, I’m often caught off guard.  I’ve come to accept that the majority of the discouragement that I deal with in my life comes out of misguided expectations of others and some insecurity on my part.  Being so, each period of discouragement that I face is now seen as a chance to confront my own issues, as well as the issues of others that may be involved.  
  2. Employ the Appropriate Response – Even in discouragement, I am accountable for my response.  My response will say volumes about who I believe God to be and who I am in God.  In every encounter, I have the option to be either the crazy person driven by carnal emotions or I can bear witness to the Spirit’s power to overcome my fallen nature.  In my discouragement, I have learned to cry out to God who encourages my heart, grants me wisdom and strength through His Word, and sends me back into the game.
  3. Search the Criticism for Truth and Grow From It – If God can speak through a donkey, surely he can use the harsh words of another human being to reveal truth to us.  In the course of facing the discouragement, take the time to search for God’s voice in the criticism.  Is there something tucked away behind the ugly words that could help you become a better leader/minister/pastor?  Be courageous enough to sit in the criticism and mine for nuggets that might be valuable to your future.  It may be uncomfortable, even humbling, but it can help produce a better you in the end.

Discouragement is not new.  Discouragement will be with us for as long as we live.  Jesus knew this and told his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble.”   That has not changed for the modern believer.  The encouragement, though, is that Jesus also said in that same breath, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!”  Although discouragement is real and painful, we find encouragement in knowing that Jesus is victorious over discouragement in the same way that He is victorious over sin, death, and the grave.  In Christ, our grief becomes joy.

To know and believe this is the key to dealing with any and all discouragement!

Grief 2 Joy

Read More

Start Acting Like a Kindergartener!!!


A few years ago, I discovered a book that affirmed a long-held suspicion of mine: most adults are way too serious!  Before you curse me out and begin to think of concrete examples of why my “immaturity” makes it ok for you to ignore the rest of this post, let me explain! The book that I’m referring to is a little text written by Robert Fulghum, and the title says it all, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

I love this book for its simple, straightforward honesty.  Here is an excerpt:

—–

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.  These are the things I learned: 

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Read More

4 Essentials of King-like Service

4 Essentials of King-like Service
King2013

Photo courtesy of BlackEnterprise.com

Today, many around the country and many others around the world will take part in a day of remembrance and service in honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.  I’ve said for many, many years that Dr. King tops my list of the greatest Americans.  His life’s work, his strategic leadership on behalf of the oppressed, and his supreme sacrifice place him in a sphere that only few other leaders can even begin to approach. No other public figure has had a greater impact on my life!  Later this morning, I’ll be serving with Samaritan’s Feet International to bless 300 Minneapolis kids.  We’ll wash their feet, give them a new pair of shoes, and pray with them and their families.  I’ve never done this before, and I’m very excited about the opportunity!

As I prepare to serve this morning, I wanted to spend a moment reflecting on a few of the attributes that I aspire to daily as I work to live out the Gospel and carry on the prophetic work of great leaders like King. 

  • Courage – I pray regularly that I would have courage to see what is happening in the world around me and have the fortitude to respond well.  Sometimes, responding well demands an act of compassion, a simple encouragement, speaking up for someone else, or denying myself some bit of comfort.  At other times, responding well means identifying and working to dismantle systems and traditions that feed into cycles of oppression and inequality.  Whatever the case, I want to have the courage to speak up, even when being quiet seems easier.
Read More

My Story…To be Continued!


Recently, our church began a new series called, “Light In the Darkness.”  It was a look at “real life” redemption and deliverance.  For many people, those are ideas reserved for Disney movies or childhood Bible stories.  Regrettably, too many people look at their lives and struggle to see any chance of a positive outcome or even the possibility of better.  Many others claim no evidence of God at all.  In some real ways, it seems that darkness reigns supreme for many.  This outlook runs counter to the narrative of the Christian faith.  Of all the overarching messages of our faith, a central one says that things in this world are not as they should be and that God is actively working to restore the creation.  Whether spiritual or physical, the broken things are being fixed.

But…wait!  WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE IN REAL LIFE?

As a part of the messages, I had the chance to share a bit of my personal story with our community.  I wanted to help others see that in some very real, tangible ways, God is restoring brokenness, often in ways that we would not associate with the Kingdom.  My prayer was that my story could help people to open their eyes and ears to the “everyday miracles” that are happening all around them.  Here’s that video:



Yesterday, I took a picture of my wife and my daughter as we were preparing to leave home for the day.  It was one of those small moments where I was able to pause and reflect on God’s amazing work in my life.  My prayer for all of you, regardless of your place in life, is that you would find time daily to see the everyday miracles, the small places where God is at work in your life, fixing the things that are broken.  As you notice them, be sure to share them.  Ready…Set…Go!!!
Read More

Stuntin’ Like my…Uncles!


This past weekend, I spent a lot of time thinking about my uncles. My mom has 5 brothers, and when I was growing up without my own father, they really became my examples. James (Jr.), Rommie, Ronnie, Joe, and Roc…sounds like an old-school soul group, and their pictures add to the confusion! I love those guys because they were there. They weren’t perfect…far from it, actually. I saw each of them struggle, even fail, but I learned so much from them. That’s one of the mysteries of life for me – that in order to influence someone, perfection is not necessary. Presence is.  


Fast forward to today. I’m a dad now. So, how do you think I would choose to prioritize my time?

Read More

365 Days…4 Things I’ve Learned

365 Days…4 Things I’ve Learned

A few days ago, I celebrated one full year of serving on staff at The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.  I came into this season with some very high expectations and, honestly, I was also carrying some baggage. I needed God to heal some of the disenchantment and skepticism that had built up inside of me concerning the Church. I needed to see that living as followers of Jesus still meant something.  I needed to see fresh, vibrant expressions of the Kingdom of God.

The last 365 days have taught me a lot…here are 4 lessons learned:

Spiritual Discontent is Acceptable; It is often the Holy Spirit’s operating system. 

That inner whisper that says that this is not God’s Best for you, whether personally or as a community, is not some emotional brokenness.  That discontent could very well be the Holy Spirit pointing you toward’s God’s standard, a standard that is higher than what you’re currently experiencing. Don’t ignore it.  “Harden not your heart,” as King James might say.  Instead, look for ways to move with purpose towards that higher place without settling.

Biblical Reconciliation is not a passive journey. 
If the goal of a multiethnic church is simply getting 2-3 races of people to sit near each other in a worship service, that cannot be accurately called reconciliation.  In fact, I’m not sure what you would call that.  True biblical reconciliation is an active, intentional journey where people’s lives intersect with the lives of others, made possible and spurred on by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It won’t happen by accident…our natural tendency is to flock to our own tribes, those like us. The challenge is for reconciling churches to intentionally invite people into those intersections, leading by example, and affirming over & over the biblical mandate of reconciliation. I’m excited to be a part of that work at The Sanctuary.

Ministry to Families matters more than we can imagine. 
There are countless areas of concern for the future of the Church, but this one is particularly critical because it affects generations.  If we fail at ministering to parents and others who are leading families, we will negatively impact the spread of the Gospel in this generation and the next.  Parenting is an incredible blessing, but with it comes challenges that are unimaginably complex.  The idea of being responsible to care for, protect, shape, and develop another individual causes great anxiety, pain, even anguish at times.  Healthy churches will regularly and intentionally look for ways to pray for, encourage, equip and empower families.  Similarly, healthy families will prioritize and take full advantage of opportunities available to them through the church, believing that Godly wisdom is essential.

Passion without commitment and community is fleeting. 
Few things have become clearer to me over the last year than the fact that a part of my calling is to be a blessing to young adults that cross my path.  Like never before, God has opened my eyes to so many young brothers and sisters who have serious needs and serious questions about faith and life.  Here is a troubling reality that I see, though: a troubling number of the young adults that I see are overflowing with passion, ideas, and will, but many of them struggle in the area of commitment & connection. How does that play out? Often it materializes in passionate displays of concern for any number of issues & causes, as long as the cost is low. As the costs associated with engaging that particular issue rises – time, resource, regular participation, accountability, etc. – there seems to be a genuine struggle for many young adults to pay those costs. I’m speaking in generalities, of course. There are many young adults who are passionate, reliable, consistent, and disciplined.  The challenge, especially for the Church, is that we must rethink the ways that we engage, minister to, and commission young adults to serve.  In the coming year, I’ll be sharing more thoughts on how we can do this.

Honestly, I cannot explain how incredible these last 365 days have been! I’ve been able to realize dreams that I carried inside of me for years.  I’ve felt an amazing amount of support and freedom that I had not known previously.  I’ve never had so many people walk up to me and pray for me on the spot! It’s been a tremendous encouragement.  I’m looking forward to the next 365…I’m expecting that God will exceed even my greatest expectations!!!
Read More

Deja Vu: Little Black Boys & Guns

Deja Vu: Little Black Boys & Guns

Deja Vu – the impression that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, even though the exact circumstances of the prior encounter are unclear and/or were perhaps imagined.

Safe places seem to be increasingly rare.  When a little boy eating spaghetti is programmed to run towards a closet to escape gunfire and dies from a bullet to the head, there’s a problem.  In his house. At the table eating spaghetti. Bullets don’t belong in that story.  When a little boy sleeping on his grandmother’s couch dies from shots intentionally fired at the house, there’s a problem.  Grandma’s house.  On the couch. Asleep.  Bullets have no place in a situation like that.  Regardless of the ethnicity, class, education, or addresses of those boys, their deaths are despicable tragedies that go against all that is natural and good.

Read More

5 Reasons Being a Dad to a Toddler is Great

5 Reasons Being a Dad to a Toddler is Great

Go Gamecocks!!!

I had so much fun celebrating Father’s Day that I forgot to post anything.  Don’t judge me.  Here’s a little something…somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but rooted in truth.  I love being a dad, and I especially love being the dad to a toddler.  There are countless benefits to this elite fraternity…here are just a few:
  1. You’re guaranteed that at least one person will be happy to see you when you get home.
  2. The idea of seeing a little version of yourself walking around is the best feeling in the world! It feeds that little area of healthy narcissism that we all have!
  3. You have an excuse to watch cartoons, play with bubbles, and eat Goldfish!
  4. Even when they mess up, it’s still funny.  Flashback to the first time they went fishing in the toilet. 

Attempts at humor aside, the best part of being a dad to a toddler is simple: You get the chance everyday to speak into their lives and see it have a positive impact on them.  They are looking for your affirmation.  Your voice is a source of comfort, peace, and protection for them.  They are looking for your boundaries, and those boundaries shape them for years to come.

As men, we seem to always be in search of a battle to fight, a challenge to conquer.  Well, know this: there is no greater challenge for a Godly man than to love his wife and father his children!  There’s no higher calling.  It seems that Mothers will always be more loved and celebrated (another post for another day), but a father’s presence, a father’s protection, and a father’s voice are absolutely vital to a child’s well-being and development!

Father’s day is gone, but let’s celebrate fathers everyday…cartoons, bubbles, and Goldfish for everybody!!!

What are your thoughts???

Read More

Junior Seau, Desire, Vanity, & Wasted Lives

Junior Seau, Desire, Vanity, & Wasted Lives
Junior Seau was a beast at linebacker!!! He was one of the most talented, passionate guys ever to play in the NFL! Somewhere in my mom’s house is a stack of Junior Seau trading cards from my Sports illustrated for Kids magazines. Don’t judge me.  Seau was strong, fast, and relentless.  That made him a superstar.  He was a leader…a brown one. That made him a hero to this kid.  Seau gave his everything to the game that he loved – enduring countless injuries, limitless pain, and unknown mental strain.  It’s hard to imagine that anything or anyone was more important to him than playing the game he loved at a high level.


Last month, Seau was found lifeless in his Oceanside, California home.  The gunshot wound to his chest is believed to have been a self-inflicted injury.  The news shocked the community of Oceanside, sports fans everywhere, and seemed to punch me in the chest. Repeatedly. The investigation is still incomplete, but I think about only one thing whenever I think of Junior Seau now:  All is Vanity!

Read More