#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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It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part IV)

It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part IV)

A Generation of Fathers

I’m an 80’s kids.  The 80’s and 90’s, for a number of different reasons, seem to have been a turning point where fatherhood began to decline tremendously, especially in urban areas and communities of color.  The war on drugs, mass incarceration, even certain welfare reforms led to remarkable changes to the family structure, as more and more fathers found themselves either locked up and/or separated from their families.  I was one of countless young men who grew up without their dads, having to navigate those early years without the guiding hand of their father.  I fear that the negative effects of this won’t be fully understood for many decades to come!

Even with that being the case, I see a growing trend that gives me great hope.  Many young men who grew up without the strong hand of their fathers have grown up and are now making pledges to reverse this debilitating trend.  Nearly every one of my friends is a young, active, ambitious dad.  The others are young husbands with real dreams of someday becoming dads that are present, active, and involved.  We have ongoing conversations about raising our kids together, as an extended family.  We dream about our kids playing sports together and bringing championships to the city.  We mentor and counsel other teens and young adults, giving them a vision for the day when they will become husbands and fathers.  My friends and I are working to exponentially increase the number of good fathers.  We’re serious about legacy, not just for our families, but for so many others that cross our paths.  We really are working to raise up a generations of “good dudes,” as my buddy Jesse often says!

It’s Not About Me…It’s About You

I get teased from time to time about my passion for fathers.  Some wonder if I’m being a little self-serving. I’m a good sport about it…often it comes from one of my sisters and I give them that privilege of ragging on me! In the end, though, I remind them that what’s good for the father is, ultimately, good for the family. A good father is a blessing to his family, his community, his city.  My passion is to see my city saturated with good fathers, men who are present, active, engaged, and….celebrated! I think raising up good fathers is one of the secrets to transforming our communities!

So go for it…let’s do a better job of celebrating dads and watch what happens.  Maybe one day, the norm will be that children will be able to celebrate their dads like this young brother, Joseph, does in a poem called Words for My Father. You’ll find it at the end of this post.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here now: Much of what we believe about God is impacted by what we saw in our earthly father.

May we build a generation  of fathers who will represent Our Father well!

 

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It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part III)

It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part III)

Over the last week, I’ve been sharing a 4-part blog about our collective need to do a much better job of celebrating dads.  In Part I, we tried to get some explanation for why we hesitate to celebrate dads.  In Part II, we tried to discuss what’s at stake and the question of why this even matters at all.  In this 3rd part of the series, the conversation will move to a more practical place and offer some tips for getting started. Feel free to read it, share your thoughts, and pass it along!

 

Father & Child

 

Start Somewhere and Just say Thanks 

 Knowing that I will alienate a few of my feminist friends, I think that the journey to celebrating fathers well begins by acknowledging that men and women are not the same, and that we contribute distinct things, especially within the context of family. On his best day, a father is not a mother.  The same rule applies to a woman attempting to replace a man.  If you need help working through this concept, try wrestling with this question: What abilities/skills/quirks/traits/etc. did you get from your dad that your mom could not have given you? Contrary to what society seems to be leaning towards, there are some very unique and valuable things that a father contributes to the family.  Recognizing that one small truth will begin a process that will allow us to move to the next step – look for those praiseworthy things and affirm him for them. 

Begin by spending some real time discovering the unique contributions that your husband, your dad, your brother makes to his family.  Discover the ways that he blesses his family and celebrate those things.  Maybe he’s a fixer who goes to great length to keep the house functioning and moving along. I’m not that kind of dad, but I appreciate those kinds of dads.  Maybe he’s an encourager who cheers his kids along in everything – academics, sports, hobbies, even relationships. It’s ok to let him know how that adds to the life of your family. Maybe he’s a strong, silent type who brings a certain calm to every situation.  You’d be crazy not to acknowledge that! Maybe he’s the hardworking dad who sacrifices so that mom can stay at home and care for the kids.  More and more these days, I even see dads that stay at home while mom has the career.  That’s incredibly courageous and deserves some thanks!

To the question of how, let’s remember that the “right” way to say thanks is as unique as each dad is.  My wife would never spend $1,000 on a power tool as a gift for me.  She knows that it would never get used.  Much more awesome in my book is the assortment of random e-mail or text messages that she sends me out of the blue to say thanks for being an awesome husband and father!  When I read them, I feel like there is nothing that I can’t accomplish!

Honestly, there is no one image of fatherhood and no universal “right way” to celebrate fathers; However, there is one common desire that I’d argue all men have and that is the desire to know that what he is doing is appreciated and is worth something!

 

Ladies, you’re welcome in advance!!!

 

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It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part II)

It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part II)

We Recreate What We Celebrate

Values are, in my opinion, both taught and caught.  With our words, our corrections, and our daily actions, we are communicating our values to others.  Most would probably agree with me there.  What we often overlook, though, is the fact that the things we celebrate are the things that we, ultimately, recreate.

Here’s one way to think about it. When a child is young, they quickly learn that certain actions will earn them positive attention from the people around them.  Over time, they can be seen repeating those actions, often hoping to earn more positive attention and praise.  As parents, teachers, and others with influence over young children, we learn to celebrate certain things, rewarding desirable behaviors and attributes. At the same time, we withhold celebration and reward when that child exhibits some undesirable behavior or attribute. In doing so, we are teaching that child, communicating certain values.  The goal is always to pass along those desirable values and behaviors, getting that child to internalize and reproduce them. I’m convinced that this manner of teaching and passing along of values does not end with childhood.

If this true, what are we communicating to young boys, teenage boys, young adult males and young dads about fatherhood? I would argue that our society is sending a resounding message to boys that says fathers are expendable. The message seems to be that fathers are a “nice to have,” but not essential.  We give the impression that what the father brings to the family is dispensable, nonessential, extra.

Here is one simple truth that every woman would be wise to figure out: Not one man in this world flourishes in an environment that tells him that he is simply extra!  

All that being said, I’m admonishing the wise people among us to begin to think critically and act swiftly to start celebrating fathers.  Let younger males see that fatherhood matters and is desirable.  Better yet, let them know that our expectation is that every father would be present and active in the lives of their children.  Only when we change expectations and become more thoughtful and intentional about what we celebrate will we begin to see meaningful change.

After all, the things that we celebrate are the things that we eventually recreate!

 

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