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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#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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Lead Through Sideline Criticism

Lead Through Sideline Criticism

If you’ve ever created anything, led anything, done anything worthwhile, consider this quote:

“It’s not the critic who counts. It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And, who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

Overwhelming dude language aside, President Roosevelt was 100% on point. There will ALWAYS be sideline critics, contrary voices of people who are not in the game at all. When you’re not in the game, you have tons of free time to pick apart the work of those who are. If you’re battling these voices, don’t let fear of what they might say or do keep you from putting it all on the line everyday. Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by desires to please sideline critics. Instead, refocus on the assignment before you. Dare greatly and be willing to fail on the way to success. When all else fails, dare to turn to these critics and invite them into the game. The best way to silence a lazy critic is to invite them to join you in doing what needs to be done. Chances are that they will decline and soon disappear. Then, you can get back to work and turn your attention back to the people (and things) that really matter!

Question: What advice would you give a person who is struggling because of sideline critics? 

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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 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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