Inward First

Inward First

An observation as one who spends his days making disciples…One challenge in discipleship is that most adults have never been taught to pay attention to their inner life.

Whenever I am troubled in any way, the rush is to find external explanations for what I am experiencing. In that sense, the cause of my discomfort is always outside of me – someone or something else has caused it. In my mind, I tell myself that if I could just change that circumstance, go to a different place, surround myself with different people, all would be great. That’s what I tell myself, but I know all along that it’s not actually true.  The truth is actually much closer to me than I’d like to admit.

There’s an old adage which says, “wherever you go, you are there.” Do you remember that one? Sobering words, right?

 
In the rush to find an external cause for our every discomfort or misadventure, we forfeit the golden opportunity to look inward. Though often avoided, looking inward is an incredibly powerful practice that we must discover or rediscover if we are ever to mature spiritually and emotionally. Learning to look inward and inward first, is an essential part of living a “whole and holy” life.

As a pastor and leader, this is especially true for me. Tending to my inner life is a 24/7 gig and it’s not easy at all. Yet, I lean into this practice because of the reality that who we are internally will eventually show up externally. Rather than being paralyzed by the fear of how your inner brokenness might eventually show up and wreak havoc on your life and the life of those around you, why not get started on the work of becoming aware of your inner life and working to transform it? As you getting started in this work, may I suggest a resource?

 

The single best modern resource that I’ve come across for practice of inner transformation is a book called The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzero. Helping leaders to see a connection between their emotional health and spiritual health is a part of Pete’s life work, which that you can learn more about at EmotionallyHealthy.Org. The Emotionally Healthy Leader is an incredible resource that helps the reader pay attention to their heart, their past, their motivations, and many other elements of the inner life. You’ll explore topics like sabbath, leadership shadows, marriage and singleness, boundaries, and more. I highly recommend this book and the workbook that goes with it!

Regardless of your career or stage of life, your inner life matters. You’re never too late or too early to begin this work. Today is a good day to get started!

Questions:

  1. What do you think keeps most adults from doing that needed inner work? 
  2. Over the years, have you learned any helpful strategies for looking inward? 
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2 Plants

2 Plants

Now & Later

2 potted plants.

One is in full bloom. The other is only recently planted.

Many people will extol the beauty of one and denigrate the other. Other people will see that they’re both beautiful in their own way. They’re just in very different stages of growth.

I look at the one on the left and imagine that, at some point, it looked like the one on the right. I look at the one on the right and smile because with patience and care, it can one day bloom as fully as the one on the left. 

Think about your life. Think about the lives of those around you. Think about the institutions and organizations that you belong to. Are they the plant on the left or the one on the right? Or both?

What’s true about these two plants is true of much of life. At our best, we see that. We get that…and we experience the richness of life because of it! 

Grace & Peace!

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#GospelChallenge, Part 2

#GospelChallenge, Part 2

In my previous post, I proposed that when it comes to discipleship in urban areas of this country, there is a major obstacle that cannot be ignored. That obstacle is racial strife, the struggle that exists in our past and our present, which makes it very difficult for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to connect, develop trust, and grow together. 

Check out part two of this series and please share your thoughts…


In 2013, an amazing film was released to theaters called, “12 Years A Slave.  The film was based on an autobiographical book written in 1853 by the same name. The book told the story of Solomon Northrup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1840’s New York. The film allowed audiences to catch a glimpse of the horrific conditions of slavery and this man’s struggle to regain his freedom. It was a gripping story, shining a light on the brutal system of slavery. 

Beyond what it teaches us about history, there was a huge theological thread woven throughout the film.  In the film, we saw two images of Christianity and neither of them were especially pleasing.  On one hand, we saw Christianity presented as a tool of the slave master used to coerce and keep slaves obedient to their masters.  You see the slave masters preaching to their slaves about obedience, as if that were THE central message of the scriptures.  When I think about that, I recall an often-quoted thought tossed around by some who dismiss Christianity. The saying goes, “If your faith comes with instructions of how to treat your slaves, you need a new faith.” It’s not enough to simply dismiss that as rhetoric.  The other image of Christianity that we see in the film is that of Christianity being used by the slaves as a coping mechanism to survive this ruthless system.  This is not to say that their faith was not authentic. I believe the very opposite to be true.  Even so, it’s unsettling to think that some may have come to faith, primarily, for the sake of numbing the pain of their lives.  

Here’s how this is relevant for us today: When churches engage urban communities, the question that is directed at you, either verbally or nonverbally, is: “Which Jesus are you selling me?”

  • Is it the Jesus that keeps me weak, docile, and controlled?

                                                      OR

  • Is it the Jesus that is only good enough to get me through my week? 

For far too many people in urban communities, the church is not trustworthy, on one hand, and has no real power, on the other hand. We have a #GospelChallenge!

So have I lost hope? Am I saying that we should throw in the towel and give up our efforts to reach urban communities with the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ? 

Heck No! 

Even with these vast and far-reaching challenges facing us, there remains what Reinhold Neibuhr calls “a resounding cry, calling the Church back to her mission & purpose.”

Two things are absolutely clear to me: 

  1. We, The Church, must address our troubling past when it comes to race, culture, & ethnicity.   
  2. We, The Church, must begin to reimagine what it means to be “the people of God” in urban areas. 

I feel a clear and profound calling to help the church figure out what those two things could look like.  

In the third & final post of this series, I’ll share a bit of my story, highlighting what may have brought me to this place.  Finally, I will offer up some practical insights of how we might move towards this challenge together!   


QUESTION: When you think about iconic portrayals of the Christian faith in film, past or present, what do you recall as some of the more memorable ones? Have those portrayals shaped how you see the church at all? 

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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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2014. Elevate.

2014. Elevate.

As  2014 wakes up and stretches its limbs, I’m excited to share my vision for the year.  Unlike past years, it is not elaborate.  In fact, it’s a single word, ELEVATE, accompanied by a single image shown here:

Michael Jordan Playground…Pic Courtesy of TheShoeGame.Com

Michael Jordan Playground…Pic Courtesy of TheShoeGame.Com

For years, I’ve been a shrinker.  I’ve been overly concerned with the opinions of others.  In many cases, I would shrink to avoid the possibility of standing out or making someone else feel uncomfortable.  It ‘s exhausting.  So, I’ve decided that I won’t do it anymore.  In 2014, I plan to be more fully me.  I plan to give myself the same consideration that I give others.  I plan to pursue things that I’ve postponed due to fear or worse.
A few years ago, I stumbled across a piece that set me on this journey towards this new place.  I would often end my time with a group of young men in our youth group by having us read this aloud.  I thought it was impacting them.  In fact, it was impacting me, as well.

Here’s to 2014, friends!

Our Deepest Fear — Marianne Williamson

 Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

 

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