#GospelChallenge, Part 1

#GospelChallenge, Part 1

This summer, I took part in an amazing conference hosted by CRU Inner City. It was called the Creating Options Together Conference and took place here in Minneapolis.  The aim of the conference was,  “To come together to declare God’s glory, to lift up and empower the church, and to demonstrate the power of the gospel to create options for those in poverty…fresh options that address real needs.”  It was humbling to share a stage with noted leaders like Dr. John Perkins and Dr. Carl Ellis.  It was also  incredibly meaningful to spend time hearing from new leaders (new to me) like Pastor Adam Edgerly and the brilliant Karen Ellis.  I was a speaker and presenter, but I learned much more than I could have ever imagined!

I have realized over the last few years that I have some pretty unique and varied groups of friends and colleagues.  I also realized that they often don’t interact with each other.  That means that the conversations that I have with one group of friends doesn’t always get carried over to another group of friends. It happens sometimes, but it’s not guaranteed.  Additionally, I’m hardly ever present with friend group A and friend group B at the same time.  I’m constantly looking for ways to bridge that gap. Hopefully, this blog has been and continues to become one of those ways.

To that end, in my next few blog posts, I’ll share some of my messages from the Creating Options Together Conference 2014.  I hope that it sparks a dialogue between my different groups of friends and leads to some deeper connections.

The title of this particular talk was #GospelChallenge: Addressing Racial Strife as a Threat to Your Ministry.

Here’s Part 1 of 3…I’d love to hear your thoughts!


(July 2014 – Bethel University Underground)

Good Afternoon,

Friends, you may have noticed a social media trend over the last few months. I’m referring to something called the #GospelChallenge.  #GospelChallenge is where one person is “called out” by another and given 24 hours to record a personal video singing a gospel song. The videos were everywhere, and some of them were excellent!

Unfortunately, for every one singer with actual talent…There were 100’s upon 100’s of singers with voices that only their mothers could love…There were others with voices that were made for sign language or for a tightly sealed, soundproof shower…There were many others that gave new interpretation to the verse, “Jesus Wept!” As funny as some of these videos were and as inspiring as some the others were, I wasn’t invited here today to talk about THAT kind of gospel challenge but about another reality that we are called to be aware of and respond to IF we really desire to see the good news of Jesus Christ reach the inner city, take root, and bring about kingdom transformation.

Later this week, each of us will leave the comfort of this conference and head back into our communities, cities, and neighborhoods, and there, waiting on us, will be a troubling reality. Waiting for us in each of our cities is a challenge that is as old as this nation itself and is entrenched in the fabric of this great experiment that we call America.  I’m talking about racial strife, the struggle that exists in our past and even today, that makes it very difficult for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to connect, trust, and grow together. Friends, I wish that I could talk about this racial strife from a strictly historical & sociological perspective and say that this is an issue that exists strictly in society.  I wish that I could stand here and describe this as a situation where the Church is poised to step in and correct what is wrong, but the reality is that when it comes to racial strife, American society and the American church share matching scars. These are matching, ugly scars that cannot simply be ignored.

The reality is that when it comes to racial strife, the church, has “dirty hands,” and those dirty hands stand as a challenge to the Gospel.

At best, the church in America has been “impotent” when it comes to being an effective agent for healing racial strife. At its worst, the church in America has been an active accomplice, a tool, used to create and maintain racial strife and artificial racial divides. Even without looking too hard, the very people that we would seek to engage and minister to in urban communities, ESPECIALLY BLACK MEN, can see that the church has not always been a trustworthy institution.

So what exactly am  I talking about when I refer to our #GospelChallenge?

When I say that we have a #GospelChallenge, I’m saying that our history, even our present existence as the church, has become a stumbling block, an obstacle to the spread of the gospel among the lost and hurting in urban areas. I contend that we cannot simply ignore the church’s history and expect it to simply go away. Instead, I propose that must we repent of our brokenness and intentionally rededicate ourselves to the work of reconciliation. Doing so is a critical first step towards creating space for the healing of racial strife, and it must be a part of any Christ-centered strategy for seeing the Gospel reach every corner of every urban area in America.

Question: Would you agree that racial strife has been a “stumbling block” for the American Church? I’d love to hear your thoughts and explanations.  As always, feel free to disagree!

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#FatherFactor

#FatherFactor

Last year, I was contacted by a guy named Andy from the Pacific Northwest and asked if I’d be interested in contributing to a book that he was working on.  The book he described was focused on the two topics that I write/think most frequently about, faith and fatherhood.  After a quick google search, I realized that Andy was not a hacker or a serial killer, that he had an epic beard, and that this was a real book project.  Of course I had to be a part of it!

I’m happy to announce that the project is done and that on October 14, 2014, Father Factor: American Christian Men on Faith and Fatherhood is set to be released!!!

father_factor_cover

 

The Father Factor project is part of the I SPEAK FOR MYSELF book series, published in partnership with White Cloud Press.  The book explores the intersection between faith and fatherhood, which is core to who I am. The book contains forty essays by forty men all under the age of forty. We represent a wide variety of Christian faith perspectives: Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Baptist, Church of God, United Church of Christ—and a whole host of different ethnicities: Korean, Mexican, Pacific Islander, Egyptian, Chinese, African American, and Caucasian. We represent all sorts of professions – ministers, professors, a real estate agent, an actor, nonprofit leaders, stay-at-home dads, and a call center representative. We can be found in cities as far apart as Honolulu, Hawaii and Paris, France, and many all points in between. Each of us shares a compelling story about faith and fatherhood…The finished work is amazing!!!

I’d highly recommend the book for your personal library and for small group discussions.  The website is here…Take a look around and take advantage of a great discounted price between now and October 13th!

Thanks to everyone who helped bring this project into being, and I look forward to all of you engaging on some level with the book!

Grace & Peace!!!

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Silence Says Something

Silence Says Something

Note: Back in April 2014, I wrote this post as a part of an online series on Race and Justice for Transform Minnesota, a local, evangelical organization here in Minneapolis. Since that time, several things have happened that have deepened my resolve to call for cross-cultural dialogue among Christians:

  1. Death of Eric Garner – On July 17th, a 43-year old New York man died after being placed in a prohibited chokehold by police as they tried to question and arrest him. In video of the incident, you can hear Garner screaming that he couldn’t breathe. The incident is under investigation.
  2. Creating Options Together Conference – CRU Inner City, a Christian organization with partners in nearly every urban center in the country, hosted a week-long conference designed to practically equip leaders to minister in urban areas.  It was a great week that provided a glimmer of hope in the midst of evangelical culture.  
  3. Death of John Crawford – On August 5th, a 22-year old Ohio man was shot and killed by police in a Wal-Mart store while holding a toy gun, a BB/Pellet gun that he had picked up in the store.  Witnesses report that Crawford screamed, “It’s a toy,” just before being shot by police. His death has been ruled a homicide and is under investigation. 
  4. Death of Mike Brown – On August 9th, an unarmed 18-year old Missouri teen was shot multiple times and killed by police.  The incident is under investigation and details really are unclear.  The incident, however, has set off several days of protests and confrontations between police and residents. 

Each of these events has impacted me in its own way, and they leave me more determined than ever to keep sharing this message. Grace & Peace! 

——-

I love communication. I feel it is one of the greatest abilities given to humanity. Be it the cry of an infant, the excited squeal of a group of teenage girls at the mall, the cheerful banter of a family over a meal, even the sobbing that accompanies the loss of a loved one—I can’t imagine what life would be like without the gift of communication.

“In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?”

The things that we say—our spoken words—are probably the most recognizable form of communication, but many people would agree that everything about us communicates something: our facial expressions, outfits, posture, choice of friends or spending habits. They all communicate something about who we are, what we value, where we are headed.

Even with all of that being true, there is an aspect of communication that we often misunderstand or overlook altogether. I’m referring to silence. Silence communicates.

When I think about the nearly 13 years since I met my wife during our college years and the eight years that I’ve served in vocational ministry in Minneapolis, I’ve had to become a much better communicator. Being married and being a pastor have taught me to listen for words, to watch for nonverbal cues, and to pay attention to moments of silence.

I’ve become acutely aware of the ways in which silence can be just as effective an indicator of a person or group’s thoughts, feelings, values and intentions as a mouthful of words. At times, silence conveys a message that causes one to have great hope. At other times, silence is deafening, harmful and cowardly.

“Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians.”

Let me explain one example of the latter.

Jordan Davis is a name the average American probably had never heard before 2012 and probably had forgotten again until last month. That’s understandable, though. Jordan was a regular young man from Florida. His life was not in any way remarkable or noteworthy. He lived the life one would expect of a teenage boy: full of music, sports and time with his friends.

What separates Jordan’s story from that of the vast majority of other American teens is that in November 2012, he had an encounter with an armed adult at a Florida gas station. At the end of that encounter, Jordan Davis lay in the back of a friend’s SUV with two gunshot wounds in his legs and another that had ripped through his liver, lungs and aorta.

Jordan died that night and his shooter drove away, returned to his hotel and had a drink before falling asleep. The shooter was later arrested, but not until he and his fiancé had driven 130 miles the next day back to their home.

Fast forward to February 2014. Just months after handing out a not guilty verdict in the murder of another young black Florida teen named Trayvon Martin, the state sat on the brink of another pivotal legal decision in the trial of Jordan’s killer. Despite the testimony of Jordan’s three friends who were also in the vehicle that night and the damaging testimony of his own fiancé, Jordan’s killer was found not guilty of first-degree murder.

In a strange legal ruling, the jury convicted the shooter on the charge of attempted murder for firing 9-10 shots into the vehicle, but did not convict him of first-degree murder when three of those bullets found their target. The public outrage was immediate and fierce. Unfortunately, it was mostly divided along racial lines.

In the weeks since the verdict, there has been a lot communicated by men and women who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. There have been calls for boycotts of the state of Florida, appeals to the moral conscience of our entire nation, prayer for the safety and protection of our children and much more. Cries for God’s justice have echoed from pulpits, pews, prayer benches and street corners.

Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians. In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?

I believe there are a few reasons, some understandable, others a bit more difficult to excuse. Here’s my best estimation of why many white evangelicals chose silence in this and other cases of racial injustice:

Fear

Many white evangelicals realize that confronting racial injustice is dirty, messy work. The terrain is full of land mines and any misunderstanding—any comment taken out of context, any assumption made—can potentially “set things off.” I’ve seen situations where well-meaning friends have been accused of being prejudiced, ignorant, even racist. For many, that possibility is enough to keep them quiet, even when biblical justice calls for them to do otherwise.

Perceived Lack of Skills

Similar to the previous reason, many white evangelicals don’t believe they have the right skills to navigate this type of situation. They believe they lack the right words or the necessary experiences. Being silent often seems less treacherous.

Distance

Some white evangelicals are so emotionally disconnected from the likes of a Jordan Davis that they really have no reference point in which to identify. The idea of their teenage children leaving home and losing their life at the hand of some troubled adult just isn’t a reality for them. They remain quiet, often while harboring thoughts like, There must be more to the story. Stuff like this doesn’t just happen. Social distance makes it difficult for us to identify with those in other stages of life.

Unresolved Guilt

Finally, many white evangelicals remain silent about racial injustice because in order to address situations like the Jordan Davis case, we would have to address the historic, systemic roots of racism and injustice based on race in this country, including in the American church. Unresolved guilt, even for Bible-believing Christians is a struggle.

One of the underlying reasons that evangelicals are more committed to international missions than they are to missional living at home is that in order to do the hard work of justice in America, it would require us to acknowledge the deep, dark legacy of racism and racial injustice that haunts the American church. It’s easier to do compassion work on the other side of the globe than it is to let justice roll down our own streets.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood well the complexities of balancing the call to follow Christ with the challenge to fight injustice. In fact, his work to eradicate racial injustice was fueled by his love of God and his proper understanding of the Imago Dei. In 1956, Dr. King said: “There are not gradations in the image of God. Every man, from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that.”

I join Dr. King in pointing us toward a day when every human life is equally valued in our churches, our communities and given equal protection by our justice system. Even more so, I look with eagerness to the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, freeing us from all vestiges of sin, death and hatred.

Until then, let us not give in to any impulse that would keep us silent! Until then, let us refuse to be silenced by fear, ability, distance or guilt!

Silence

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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

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The Sanctuary aka The Safehouse

The Sanctuary aka The Safehouse

A few weeks ago, a trip to the movies raised some internal questions for me that I thought might be worth examining.  The movie was called Safehouse, and starred Denzel Washington.  He’s been one of my favorites since he squeezed out that single tear in the 1989 movie, Glory. Friends of mine who had seen Safehouse promised me that it was full of fights, explosions, and excitement…that sounded like my kind of movie!

Something strange happened, though.  A few days before I saw it, I began to think deeply about the name of the movie.  Safehouse.  I had a sense that it would be a great movie, but that there would be much more to my experience.  I knew that I’d leave with something to wrestle with spiritually.

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