Category Archives: Christianity

Fueling Positivity

A couple of days ago, I was asked what fuels my positivity. The thing is, I don’t consider myself a consistently positive person. I’m a man of faith. And as much as a man of faith can be, I’m a realist. And I get irked by any number of things on a daily basis. So if you’re reading this as some sort of expert testimonial… stop. I am not that guy. I do know a few wildly positive people and thinkers, and between their daily lives and me at my best, I think I can answer that question fairly well. But for clarity, in my spirit and true for my life, positivity is fought for. It is not natural. Ok, onto the meat…

What Fuels Positivity?

What are you feeding on? The idea of fuel is that it nourishes a thing. Good fuel is a combustible element to an already existing flame. So before I discuss what fuel is, and how it can be used to fuel daily positivity, lets talk about what fuel is not.

Fuel is Not Flame

That is, in all honesty, the whole point. Fuel catalyzes the flame. Fuel can power the fire, but it is not the fire. And it is also not the spark. I could go on a long tangent about what sparks the flame, and the flame itself. But this would go on forever. So here’s a quick delineation of those terms.

Whatever gets you going or motivated, that is your spark. It can be a little thing, used daily to launch you into whatever you do. It can also be a mountaintop moment that set the course for your big life choices (marriage, profession, passions, philanthropy, etc.). And in my life, those big sparks have come from outside of myself. I didn’t initiate the big events, and in many cases, didn’t realize their true value until long after they occurred. However, the smaller sparks, those daily moments that get me going – I own the majority of those. I wake up trying to create that spark. And the effective sparks in my life are a wide variety of consistent thoughts, fun events, momentary hopes, and excitements over a number of things.

But the fire is a whole other thing. Simon Sinek might call this your “Why? I think of it as the things that personally inspire and motivate us. What are those big plumblines that penetrate into our guts? And again, there are a lot of right answers. Off the top of my head, here are a bunch: family, sense of duty, happiness, patriotism, and truth. But here’s a word of caution about the flames inside of us — sometimes our flames are kind of ugly: fear, hatred, self-preservation, and elitism come to mind.

Defining Your Flame

Not a Webster’s definition. You can google that.

What keeps you moving? What propels you in the direction of your most basic desires? Do you know? Have you even evaluated those basic desires? Let’s define your flame with a quick thought experiment:

When someone around you experiences something, what is your response? Because that immediate reaction to someone else’s experiences is a solid indicator of both your influences and your fire. If you complain or promote a negative, you’re likely miserable, and your fire might be ugly. If you immediately move to top their story/experience, you’re probably really self-centered and nothing lights your fire like… yourself. If you engage and express a proper response (laughter at a joke, empathy to a hardship, encouragement to a challenge, advice to a request for help, etc.), then you’re likely others-minded and you probably have a solid social circle. This isn’t a blog about friends and how to make them, but here’s a quick tip… genuinely care about other people. They love that stuff!

If you are able to take an honest look at how you respond to others, you likely got a solid indication of the composition of your internal fire. If you don’t like it, change it. If you dig it, engage it! Feed it. And take advantage of the knowledge you now possess about yourself. Fuel the best parts of your fire.

If Positivity Be the Flame…

Three key elements to fueling positivity:

  1. Fight Negativity – nothing hurts a positive like a negative. Right? Ground-breaking. And we can’t control all the negatives around us, but we can control some. Negative people… don’t need em. Negative environments… avoid them. Negative thoughts… fight them. And again, I am no expert here, but I don’t follow people online or in life that are consumed by negatives and expressing ‘anti-‘ views all the time. I’ve also all but stopped watching the news. It gets to me, and while blaming the news for being negative is very fashionable, it’s pointless. So I just don’t allow myself to feed on that stuff. And then thoughts… the best advice I’ve ever given on thought-life is this: The removal of a negative is not a positive. Just because you ‘unfriended’ a bunch of people and turned off some combination of CNN/FOX/MSNBC, doesn’t mean life becomes all roses. You need…
  2. Wide-Open, Insatiable Gratitude – buckets filled to the brim of things that make you smile, feel fulfilled, extend purpose, make you feel good vibes, get a good cry going, or remind you of all the things you love. I am intensely grateful for my wife and my parents. So I call on them for no reason. I send them messages. I say thank you for no clear reason. I tell them I love them when I can’t think of anything else to say. I tell them that I love them when I know exactly what I want to say. And I think about them when I’m doing something I love, something I don’t love, something at work or just hanging out with my sons. And what’s so great about gratitude is that you can spread it around without ever losing an ounce of it. Gratitude multiplies. For instance, my sister and I have always been close, but we have not always been great for each other. But right now, as she rocks out being a mom and a wife and a person dedicated to helping people professionally and personally, she’s become significantly more positive to and for me. She may have been on this path for years, but I just figured it out over a year ago. And once I did, she started getting more phone calls. I started asking her advice more. We updated each other more on life, and we said ‘I love you’ more. And we don’t do those things because we love each other more… I just have more gratitude for her today. And I want my life immersed in reasons to be grateful. You should too.
  3. Seek Goodness – I don’t mean that we should all be on some philosophical journey to inner-peace. I’m too busy for peace. And oftentimes, the burn of my inner fire doesn’t let me rest. I don’t want peace all the time. I want passion. And my passions are birthed from my fire. So if you’re in business, and growth lights your fire, fight for that with every inch of your being. If you’re a teacher, and seeing a child awaken to some kind of knowledge is your jam, pour your life into those chances to sit front-row for that awakening moment. And it goes on and on…. Know you! Know what lights your fire, and feed it with the same. Tirelessly hustle to accomplish the good you know, to find more good around every turn, and to breathe that goodness into others.

That’s it. Fight the Negative. Set Your Mind to Gratitude. Hustle to the Positive.

Share

Quick add-on here at the end. Share the fire. People share a negative without a thought. It’s a weird compulsion to point out awful. I’m sure we all have the compulsion. But there has to be more to positive than trying to filter out the negative. Again, the removal of a negative is not a positive. So take every ounce of positive you have and share it. Teach. Tell. Try.

And feed on the positivity of others. People are awesome… well, a lot of them are. I don’t really see the others too much anymore.

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“The ‘N’ Word” – Unwanted Parenting Moments

Parenting is a trip. It’s normally, at least in my experience, a fascinating experiment set that tests the depths of my affection and impatience, somehow simultaneously. And I have been tested this week, as a parent for sure, but also as a people-loving man.

The ‘N’ Word

My oldest is nine. He’s tender-hearted, compassionate, and deeply engaged in family and friendship. I love him, but not just because he’s mine… he’s just awesome. And recently, a friend at school told him about a movie he watched and a weird word he’d heard.

My son heard the ‘N’ word that day.

First, and important that I state it up front, the little boy that my son learned it from didn’t have a definition for the word, and seemingly didn’t understand the context it was used in. So basically, an innocent kid told another innocent kid an awful, awful thing. And their teacher and school principle did an exceptional job walking both boys through the awfulness of some words.

Second, it breaks my heart that a word that has historically dehumanized humans, extended prejudice, supported racism, and proved to be a conduit for hatred and evil now rings around in my child’s head. Yes, it was going to happen ‘one day’. And yes, it’s normal for him to hear bad words. But profanity is one thing [full disclosure – I love Jesus, but I cuss a little], as those words can have a lot of contexts: offense, insult, humor, emotion, emphasis, etc. But the ‘N’ word only has one context outside of black American culture. And the other contexts within black American culture don’t really make sense to me, which is fine. See, I’m not black, so an explanation isn’t needed. As a white guy, that word has a single context, and all of its meanings are atrocious.

So, what do I do with that?

Intentional, Clueless Parenting

I beat him. The end.

Just kidding… we talked. And any worry he had about the discipline associated with doing bad things evaporated when his dad cried. Yeah, I cried. I really hate that word. And I really love that boy. I will never be ok that anyone knows that word, but especially my sweet children.

So then came the daunting task of explaining centuries of hate and racism, marked by initial enslavement, war, defining people with dark skin as 3/5 of a person, hate groups, sanctioned violence, into today and how it has persisted with horrible words (among many other things) like the one he had just learned.

I still don’t know what to tell him. We talked, but I don’t feel like I crushed the discussion. But if you’re reading this and you think your brown-skinned child is a friend of his, trust that I tried my hardest to raise the brilliance and beauty of your son or daughter to the light, while casting racism and prejudice into the darkness it belongs to.

Excluding v. Including

The problem with defining something like an insult, is that you attach the group(s) associated with the insult to the insult… and that’s just stupid. In order to tell my kid why that word hurts my hurt and deeply offends people that we love, I have to explain the association.

If there’s a better way to explain it, I don’t know it. But man, I wish I did.

We have such a bad habit, humanity, of excluding people. We are against so many things, and our language so often reflects who we exclude. And oftentimes, we are so proud of our uniquenesses that we create strange factions of belonging. All the while, we are creating large groups of the excluded.

I bring that up because I am now faced with the reality that my son just created two awful groups: people who use the ‘N’ word, and people that could be labeled by the ‘N’ word. And I don’t want him to have either group in his head. I want my son… my family… all of us, really, to speak life into a group that hates and to speak life into a group that’s hated. But not because we can tell the difference.

What if we just spoke the language of belonging to everyone? What if the measure of our speech was quantified by the number of people that felt like they belonged to our groups, and we belonged to theirs too? Even if it’s not true!! What if Christians/Muslims spoke so lovingly to all people, that everyone just loved Christians/Muslims in spite of the differences that we know we have? What if the poor/wealthy in our nation were so welcoming that the wealthy/poor just liked being around them? What if, instead of untrue monikers like ‘colorblindness’, we all wanted to know everyone else’s cultures? What if differences were lauded? What if we loved… just loved… all the time. Love.

Reality Bites

I know, I know, I know… I sound ridiculous.

But this morning, I got a phone call I didn’t want. A mentor in my life died just last night. [To CJ’s family and friends… thank you for sharing him with me for the last decade.] And I am running out of mentors. I am running out of leaders who can speak into my life and guide me as I balance the disappointments of reality with the joys of… reality. And while that is a bit scary, to feel like I am down a rudder while the flow of life is not slowing down, I am grateful.

I’m grateful that the mentors and friends and family in my life have pointed me to a place I didn’t know I was prepared for.

My son heard the ‘N’ word this week, and I got to be the voice of love, inclusion, and faith to one of my favorite people.

Not a bad way to have a tough day.

Go love people. All the people.

– Brad

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The Myth of Balance

What if we stopped pretending that any of us was trying for balance? The more I think about it, the less it makes sense. And it’s so stress-inducing, because it is just impossible: a constant maintenance of a scale that’s not meant to bear the weight of our whole lives. There’s no flow in balance, unless you’re talking about ch’i, and even then, I don’t think ch’i is nearly as much about balance as it is about harmony.

I started a new job about a month ago. I love what I do. Basically, my job is to make other people’s businesses better through consultation, development opportunities, and top of the line design and production services. It’s a blast! Check out Olive Group if you’re interested, or just shoot me a note with any questions you have.

The Bad Advice of New Ventures

Hands down, the worst part of starting anything new is the bad advice that comes with the news. If you announce an engagement, someone tells you how to endure engagement or gives you some nightmare story about how awful theirs was. As a newlywed, you’re bombarded with phrases like “honeymoon stage”, “first year” ignorance, or pressing thoughts about having children. And once you have children, someone will always be there to tell you what they think, how many more you should have, or what the algorithm of their age gap means for your entire future.

It’s insane.

As I begin my new job, I’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement, affirmation, and positivity from so many friends, new colleagues, and family members. But there’s a buzzword that is just driving me crazy.

Work/Life Balance

I know what they mean. But it’s an absurd premise. At the very least, it’s terrible phrasing, but more than a danger to our already wayward take on English, it speaks to a cognitive dissonance we have with work, home, our own abilities, and reality.

Balance: an even distribution; a steady, maintained position; staying the course without adjustment.

Could you imagine taking the time with my wife and boss, to try to articulate a 50/50 system for how to do the jobs of marriage and business equally? It’s just not a thing. Why do we talk like this? Why do we force ourselves into untenable, living contradictions. Let’s not pretend for a minute that we don’t all have a full set of priorities that force a shift in the myth of ‘balance’: the kids are sick; the fiscal year is about to end; your anniversary; that one project is due; Mom has called twice or WAY worse, Dad just called… we all have that list. And we all know that it’s much longer than what I’ve listed.

Work/Life Harmony

If you aren’t familiar with ch’i (or qi), it’s a foundational principle of Chinese medicine and martial arts. Bruce Lee talked about it all the time. You’ve mentioned it… although, you likely meant balance. And ch’i is not balance. It’s an energy, an internal force, that permeates existence, regardless of things around it. Ch’i is the thing you want to balance, not balance itself, because you aren’t meant to balance life.

You were made for harmony. Taking the notes of work, life, love, growth, and disappointment, and using your energy (ch’i, if you prefer) to harmonize them all together. And there is no formula for that, but here are some things that I think make the process more fulfilling and consistent.

  1. Honesty – Are you ok working late? Be honest about it. Would you drop everything if your buddy calls? Know that about yourself. And then find appropriate ways to be honest with your family, colleagues, and extended connections.
  2. Communication – My wife knows I like my job. She’s also known when I didn’t like my job. She knows when I’m working longer hours, or when, like today, I’m dedicating a few hours to work and growth, then I’m with my family for the afternoon. My boss knows too.
  3. Adaptability – I have a former boss that is going to read this, and right about now, he knows I’m going to talk about him. Because I had a great job with him… a great job that I didn’t enjoy. And he knew it. He knew it because first, he’s smart and perceptive, and second, well, I told him. And that was not great for my career…. but it has been incredible for my work/life harmony. I lost my job, but I was a better husband and father, almost immediately. I had energy again. I dreamed better. And within a month, we were making huge life plans that got us where we are right now. But make no mistake, I lost my job. I didn’t run to some utopian state where severance met security. Harmony isn’t a fairy tale. We had to adapt to the results of honest communication. I was honest about work. My boss was honest about expectations. And the consequence of honest communication might not be what you want, but you have to grow through and beyond it.
  4. Resolve – If you really want harmony in your life, you have to be resolved to it. It has to be a priority. Because it is up to you. Harmony isn’t dependent on how much you love your job, how understanding your spouse is, how well-behaved your kids are, or how things break for you. Harmony in life depends on you, and your resolve to pursue it.

Beyond balance…. or circumstances, breaks, good fortune, or bad timing…. there lies a capacity within all of us to live in harmony with all the things around us. But it’s up to us. It’s up to me. And when we just can’t get there, what do we have to change?

I don’t want anything to do with balancing my daily changing life. I want harmony. I want all the things in my life to be all the things in my life. Take the good, and grow. Take the bad, and grow.

Good luck to you!

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A Christian in America

This is the weirdest, saddest, most distressing time of my life, as an American Christian. I believe that the church has strayed so far away from the needs of the ethnic minority, the poor, and the disabled of our own nation, that my generation is forced to choose a strange paradox: Do we vote for and actively pursue equality, knowing that eventually the exclusivity of Christianity will come under very strong fire in American Liberal politics? Or do we cover our right to religiously assemble, and by default (if not intentionally) perpetuate the divide that sees a Klan rally justified by an anti-biblical expression of “free speech”, to say nothing of the horror that blatant racism and willingness to harm other ethnicities reveals about our nation and its systemic racism as a whole?

Yeah, I think those are the two options. And they both suck.

That is not to say that there aren’t Conservatives standing opposed to the events of Charlottesville, and rightly condemning white nationalism, white supremacy, and the groups that represent those ideologies. But for the majority of those standing up now, there was silence until a white woman was murdered as a peaceful protestor or the leader of the nation made outlandish claims equating the KKK with people demonstrating in response to them. And why the silence? I think because American Christianity has largely become a game of safety and security. But why?

Patriotism Run Amuck

George McKenna, in his book The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, wrote that the idea of patriotism is in effect, “an affection rather than a syllogistic process, it is a highly evocative word, recalling all kinds of memories, stored up in images”. He goes on to address the origins and true adaptable nature of American patriotism in the 17th century. And I think he’s right on all accounts. My first image of patriotism is my grandfather’s Purple Heart, that he earned as a soldier in the Army, fighting in WWII. And I remember the first time I stood at the Vietnam Memorial, overwhelmed by the length of that wall, and the small print still needed to fit the names of soldiers lost on it. Oh, and the first time I read Letters from a Birmingham Jail, as a student at Elon University. These things, for me, ring of American patriotism.

But I also believe that the adaptability of American patriotism has neutered what it truly means to love our nation, and learn about and FROM its history. Somehow people have so bastardized American ideology that ethnic cleansing is taught by some as permissible and beneficial. And churches can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but most don’t know the Nicene Creed, or even that it exists. We study the news, but not the Bible. We know what we are against, but we have abandoned so much of what Jesus was truly for. We’ve traded in true belief and biblical conviction, for memes, prejudice, and the conviction to be right and loud. We don’t evangelize because we don’t want to be offensive or counter-offended, or we’ve just completely forgotten how to. We can’t be real in the world or “do life” with people because we’ve been so busy condemning gay people and Muslims, or standing for things that Jesus apparently forgot to make as pillars of his ministry. In so many ways, we’ve just stopped being the church.

So if you’re still reading this, you’re either in agreement so far, completely fuming but hanging in there, or you just came to see the fireworks. No matter what, I do believe that social media has influence. And as unbelievable as it may seem, altogether, roughly 5,000 people ‘follow’ me. And because I make everything I post public, many more can follow along too. So while I’m a pretty insignificant cog in the machine, I have a voice. And this is what I think needs to happen in American church and within the hearts of Christians soon.

Evangelism Lost

My sweet and brilliant wife reads my posts. She proofs some of them, and parts of all of them. In the introduction, where I mentioned evangelism and our fear of it, she rightly pointed out that we largely misunderstand it too.

We’ve lost American evangelism to a handful of unbiblical ideas. Here are a few that drive me insane:

Attraction – Being well-liked, or in a pretty building, or having an affable reputation is nice. It would be a whole lot more effective if that was coupled with being engaged in the community, financially invested in helping the hurting within that community, or being known as a haven for the hurting through programs or availability. But even then… if we poured money into the poor, and had a beautiful building, and were well thought of… none of that is evangelism. None. It’s nice. But it’s not evangelism. It may be a tremendous catalyst TO evangelism, but if you think it’s enough, well that’s called an idol.

Moral Superiority – I don’t know where to begin here. Christians are not superior in any way to anyone else. The moral superiority of Christianity resides entirely in the person of Jesus Christ. To posture that the rituals, habits, and platforms of faith cast a shadow on our cities that compel people to Jesus is absurd. Again, a positive reputation might lead someone to you, but if your excellence is your platform, again, that’s an idol that you’ve made in your own image.

Anti-Secularism – I grew up hearing the phrase, “no one has ever been argued into salvation”, and I’m 37, so the phrase has been around a while now. But we’ve gotten so good at being against things, that I think we’ve convinced ourselves that a Facebook video about what we find unbiblical or evil is some kind of evangelism. But it’s not. It never has been. It never will be. At best, it’s my opinion, gleaned from interpreting scripture, but at worst, it’s bullying that pushes people away from Jesus.

Lawless Love – My last one is the one I’m generally most accused of. As a registered Democrat, now living in Washington State, I get it. Since I don’t rail against things that are not permissible from Scripture, maybe I appear complicit. Maybe it seems that I treat people as though they are sinless, and that Scripture doesn’t really say hard things. But that’s not true of me, nor is it evangelical. The Bible is true for Christians, and it says hard things. In my experience, the best way to talk through them with people who do not view Christ as I do, is through (1.) earning the right to be heard, through loving them as they are and as I am, (2.) being humbly honest about Scripture, (3.) and reminding them that we are all on the same footing, as sinners. And then, after that, be consistent and steady. Scripture guides me as the Lord is my Savior. To reduce Scripture for the sake of love is not love at all.

Evangelism Reclaimed

It simply means that we bring the Good News. That’s it. And since, for Christians, that good news is the story of Christ and his sacrificial atonement, it means that evangelism is telling someone about Jesus. That’s it. All of that other stuff is either secondary or self-centered.

Period.

Choose For Yourselves

So yes, I’ve stepped beyond that crossroad of choosing which fight I’ll fight. But I do understand the real angst over potentially losing our freedom of religious assembly. I’ve been to countries where my function as a pastor and teacher was illegal. I’ve heard the knock at the door and watched a few dozen faces turn immediately from focus to fear. I have shaken the hands of a man who was disavowed, then condemned to die, and then martyred for simply believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And America is a long way away from that kind of existence… I think. But I could be wrong. I laughed at the idea of Trump as President.

Whether I’m right or wrong about the trajectory of faith in America, I’m captivated by Joshua’s call for covenant renewal: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the god that your fathers served… and serve the Lord… choose this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:14-15a]

My dad loves Jesus. It’s a humble affection that I’m forever grateful to have grown up under. But it’s not my faith. Same Jesus. But I’m not my dad, and his faith doesn’t save me or fuel me. It saves him and only him. And for me, I choose the God that says we are all equal (Gen. 1:27; Eph. 2:14; I John 2:2), and that our chief aim is to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; Hab. 2:14; Ps. 115:1) through loving one another (Rom. 12:9, 13:10; Mk. 12:31; I Cor. 13:1-3), even those who feel the need to oppose me for my faith (Luke 6:35), because I must fight as someone that has been called out by God to those who need him, need hope, and need help…

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Aggressively for the Love of People

Maybe you still disagree with me. That’s fine, but I think I’m standing on Scripture here. So unless you can convince me that Jesus isn’t real (& you cannot), that we have not been called to bind up the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1) and that somehow does not include black Americans right now, but other minorities, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the refugee, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the foreigner, and that the eventuality of religious persecution in America is justification to hide, or defend the love of Christ that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:35)…. what are you standing for?

A fight just broke out in the cafeteria of the American consciousness, and everyone wearing a WWJD? t-shirt just collectively stood up and picked a side. And with the whole world watching, but more importantly, our neighbors, classmates, family, and friends saw us rise, and they saw us run to defend the hurting, as Jesus did, or to the defense of anything else.

So if one day, I lose the right to freely claim that Jesus alone is the way to God and that the Bible is uniquely true…. well ok then. I’ll go to jail for that. I’ll go to the mat for hope and faith. And until then, I’ll stand for Christ’s love for all people.

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As You Were: Remain IN GOD

I get so restless lately. And for me, maybe not everyone, but certainly for me, restlessness is akin to faithlessness or hopelessness. So my devotion this morning kicked me right in the stomach. 

“So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” I Corinthians 7:24

Paul is speaking to the church at a dizzying clip here. Sandwiched in between some fundamental principles on marriage and deeply challenging thoughts on singleness, Paul throws in our calling. It’s honestly a little confusing, because the illustration Paul uses for calling is NOT marriage. He uses enslavement and being bound to serving someone else. It’s not a pretty illustration at all, especially when commitments to marriage or singleness are such a seemingly easy segue to our calling in Christ. But no… slavery. 

But I do think that there is a subtle truth to be grasped for here: Sometimes that calling to Christ is not a pretty calling to paradise. We can be called to things or people or seasons of life that do not encourage. Or we can be called to Christ, but not out of the weird darkness we were facing the day before. 

I have been there. Following my last brain surgery in 2014, the cloud over my head and heart felt more real than anything else at the time. I was still called to be a pastor. Still a husband to a great wife. And within a few months of surgery, our son was going to be a big brother, so the call to fatherhood was obvious. But the cloud was all I saw. It was all I felt. If you’ve never experienced that, I don’t think I can explain it any better. There were lives being lived all around me, but I woke up every day to meet a cloud that would stay all day and keep me up all night. Sometimes I would panic, thinking I was done ever being productive again. Sometimes I would be so deeply sad that I felt unlovable and worthless… things I knew weren’t true. But that cloud was everywhere.

If you’ve ever been there or your are there right now, here’s the best advice I have: Keep getting up. Louie Giglio has a great book called The Comeback. Read it. And, as he instructs, find a song to sing in the darkness because if we can sing in the darkness, we can worship God anywhere.

But Why Slavery?

I like to think that if I was born in the 1800’s, I’d have been the white guy fighting against slavery in America. I’d like to think that I would see the evil for what it was and fight it. I’d be holding my Bible close, and doing whatever was appropriate to advance individual freedom and national emancipation. That’s what I like to think.

Because slavery is heinous. So when Paul tells a bondservant to remain in that place and to “not be concerned about it.” [I Cor. 7:21] I lose my lunch a little. Why would they stay in that place?? Why would God want that for them? What’s the point of remaining in an awful place?

Oh. Sometimes, you can’t get out. 

2014 was a painful year in my life. We bought a good house, had a beautiful son, started a new business using a talent I didn’t know I had, and ended up back in a familiar and encouraging place by year’s end… but there was that cloud. And I would love to tell you that God lifted it all at once or there was some grand miraculous thing that happened or that there was a turning point to the darkness, but that’s not true. It required a long, hard walk in an obedience that I often despised. It took a lot of people praying for me, even when I wasn’t praying very much myself. It took a good church. It took family. My wife was a rock. And all I could do was fall back to the basic things that I loved when I became a Christian. I read books I hadn’t opened in years, and I read them slower than I’d ever read in my adult life. But I read. Bonhoeffer and Sproul and Piper. And I sang old songs. I remember coming to Christ not long after hearing Jesus, Lover of My Soul, and I sang it to myself quite a few times during that darkness. And I talked to people when I could find the strength. No plan, just confessing my hurt and hopelessness. 

So Today, I’m Restless

Some people are called to hard things for their entire lives, but I don’t believe those places are intended to define us. The depression of 2014 does not define me. The comeback doesn’t either, but there was a comeback. I’m simply defined as a Christ follower. In the darkness, in the comeback, in the sadness, in the joy, at the pulpit, or in private… Jesus. Jesus and loving people. 

In my last blog, I talked about throwing darts and trying to maintain the hope of my calling in Christ to preach and teach and love people. And I’m still throwing darts. And I’m admittedly restless. I love being a pastor and I miss it. 

But in this place, there’s a memory of 2014 and that darkness. Keep calling on Christ. Read. Pray. Speak the truth of my heart to trusted people. Sing my song to God. Love my family. Above all else, remain IN God.

Maybe a lesson to learn from Paul’s writing here is that if we are married and happy, remain in God, if we are married and unhappy, remain in God. If we are single, remain in God. If we’ve lost the person we were walking through life with in marriage, remain in God. And yes, even if we are enslaved, to men or to darkness, remain in God. Because anyone can remain in God when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but can we lift our hands when the clouds begin to form?

Here’s a good reminder from Psalm 3:3-4…

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.”

Lift your head. Sing your song. Talk to someone you trust. Remain in God. 

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Filed under Christianity, depression, Discouraged, faith, Goals, Growth, Leadership, Ministry, Storm

Keep Throwing Darts

I recently saw a clip of Will Farrell’s commencement speech at USC. Google it. It’s great. And somewhere in it, he mentions his goals post-graduation, and how one of his most proud accomplishments is that he never stopped trying. He just kept throwing darts at the dartboard, hoping one would eventually stick. I respect that.

I’m in the middle of a job hunt right now. As our family has trekked across America, truly learned to appreciate a new set of cultural norms in Washington State, and bought more rain-ready clothing than I’d ever previously seen, let alone owned, we kinda want to stay around. But there’s a nagging passion that for me, for us, is inescapable. Ministry.

Last fall, when my buddy passed away unexpectedly, his dad called me and asked me to fly home. He called me their pastor. Some of you reading this consider me your pastor. Or maybe I’m the only pastor you know, or the only one you willfully talk to. Or I’m one of the many pastors you know. Or maybe you have no idea who I am and you accidentally stumbled onto my blog because you like darts… and you are so disappointed right now. My apologies. But to someone, to a few people for certain, I’m their pastor. And that absolutely lights my fire. I’m Parker and Elliott’s dad, and that gets me up and going every day. I’m Grace’s husband, and that stills my heart when I’m hurting and lifts my heart higher, even on great days. And to God, I got picked to teach and love people, and that gives me a purpose for all of this extroverted energy inside of me. But to those who think of me as someone trusted enough to call Pastor… well, that keeps me throwing darts. The idea that someone would listen to me, seek me out for advice, in triumphs, in sadness, or in doubt, or trust me to teach them about the role of Christians in the world and how following Christ gets us to those right places… that’s just humbling. Thrilling. Horrifying. Humbling. 

The prophet Jeremiah contemplated quitting. His path was hard, on a scale that I cannot fully comprehend. He was against a nation that liked the comfort of their brand of disobedience, and despised being told they were wrong. And sometimes, I can’t tell if I’m Jeremiah, fighting to keep the fire burning in my own ministry because I cannot stop if I wanted to [ref. Jeremiah 20:9], or if I’m the defiant Israel, shaking my fists at the idea that I might not be on the right path, because ministry is hard, finding work is obnoxious, and the idea of moving my family again weighs so heavy on my heart. 

Centered-Set & Preaching

Somewhere around 40-50 years ago, a man named Paul Hiebert theorized that missiology had truly become a study of two methods of expressing Christianity, based on two ideas of how Christians become Christians: Bounded-Set and Center-Set. Basically, you’re taking Set Theory from Applied Mathematics, and laying it over how we view missions, belief, and the requirements for belonging to Christianity. Dumbed way down, you are a Christian either because you meet certain criteria [Bounded Set] or you’re a Christian because you are moving toward Jesus [Centered Set]. Admittedly, I don’t think it’s so cut and dry. If anything, I’m probably a Centered-Set guy that recognizes that some boundaries (profession of faith, exclusive belief in Christ, etc.) must exist, but not nearly as many as we often try to lay on top of faith. 

So the goal has always been to get people moving Christward. In my relationships, teaching, training, counseling, the aim has always been to point in the direction of Jesus, and draw the necessary connection between Him and us. So when I got the chance to preach at First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma last Sunday, my goal was to point all of us toward Jesus. And I had a blast. I love all of the stuff that comes with preaching. The over-studying, gathering too much material, tying to fit a message into a time constraint that allows people to eat all three meals on a Sunday, and the nervous tension between doing what I love and fearing that I’m not that good at it… love it! And no one walked out mid-sermon, thank God, but the pastor hasn’t told me yet if anyone emailed about that awful preaching on Mother’s Day. If you want to hear it, bless your heart, and you can find it on the website (linked already) or the church’s app.

And now, sermon behind me, job applications and copious resume dissemination in front me, I’m throwing darts hoping that one sticks. 

So Thanks…

If you’re reading this, I appreciate you. Maybe you disagree. You might be opposed to faith, to me as a pastor, or still disappointed that this isn’t a blog on dart-throwing. But you’re here, allowing me to point, whether you agree or not. Thank you.

To that faithful group of folks that claim me as a pastor. As their pastor. I keep you closer to my heart than you will ever know. To the Ted’s crew, lifelong Durham friends, some family, everyone at Clements, and people from Cornerstone, Guess Road, Patterson Park, and Lakeview – you keep me hopeful that I’m not done, there is still a word to be said and people willing to hear it, and I might still be a man for the job.
So until the darts run out or one lands, I’ll just keep throwing. Grateful. 

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Filed under America, Christianity, Discouraged, faith, Goals, Growth, Leadership, Storm, Uncategorized

Why I Can’t Stop: Was I just racially profiled?!?

It’s been a challenging week or two. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lost friends over the last 2 weeks of my responses to American current events. Additionally, I’ve gotten some tough notes & comments from people that think I should get back to blogging about faith & posting pictures of my kids, the Tacoma sites, & woodworking projects. And I will. But I will not stop speaking on the needs of others…

I’m Working On It

I just don’t know what that means yet. I’ve attended meetings, talked with friends, & spent a good portion of my prayer life asking God what I should be doing. I’m reading books & articles on ethnic conciliation (not racial reconciliation… because I think DA Horton is brilliant), & I’m trying desperately to unpack the responsibility of the church & a Christian man in this season of hurt & newfound awareness of the ethnic divide. 

I do not have a ton of answers. As Tony Evans once challenged, our pursuit is not sameness, but One-ness. We are called to be one in the body of Christ. And I personally love the diversity of our multi-ethnic nation; the celebrations, traditions, customs, patriarchy/matriarchy, holidays & praise Jesus, the food!! I don’t want everyone to be the same. I don’t want churches to be the same. The homogenous nature of our worship stifles Christians & their response to the goodness of God significantly more than instrumental preference. What if our churches were Gospel-centered & community focused, rather than being Gospel-centered & preference focused? Community revival. I really believe that. 

Skin In The Game

At a meeting recently, a good friend said that white Americans just don’t realize that we have skin in the game in regards to our civil rights issues. The group conversation went on to discuss how community should be actively pursuing ways, big & small, to help bridge those divides. Small things like looking into the eyes of the homeless & smiling, not staring awkwardly at someone wearing ethnic or religious clothing, & just generally treating difference as difference, not leprosy. And then a nice woman began to speak to everyone. She was different from me in ethnicity, gender, orientation, & faith. I don’t know if she was left-handed, but if she was, then we were complete opposites on the big issues of our day. Yes, handedness is a major issue. Ok, maybe not.

In the meeting, I was the anomaly. Conservative, white, middle-class, heterosexual male. If their were  5 of us there in that group of 70+, I’d be shocked. And I loved it. I loved the discomfort. But the ugly truth is that I loved it for one reason… I could walk away from it. And that washed over me the entire meeting. I could leave, step outside, & be the majority again. I could go to church, my neighborhood, the store, the mall, the park & be the ‘norm’. What must it be like to feel the inescapable reality of a minority culture, without the luxury of being able to step out of it if the fire got too hot.

In a room full of diverse ethnicities & socioeconomic backgrounds, different gender identities & sexual orientations, I’m just the white guy wearing a safety pin. And I was loved. Several people thanked me for being different. The lady with nothing in common with me, she had a great smile & gave a really good hug. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was welcome. It was just a safety pin. But it was so much more….

Coffee With a Muslim Man

You aren’t going to believe this… I’m stunned. What you can’t see in reading this is that there was a 15 minute pause in my writing. As I was typing “But it was so much more” an older white guy was stepping up behind me. I’m sitting at a high top table in a coffee shop that is mostly empty. My latte to my right, John Piper’s Bloodlines to my left, & iPad in front of me. 

“Oh, well thank God. I thought you were Arab.”

I look back, prepared to intervene for the man or woman being spoken to if the situation deemed it necessary, only to realize that this guy is talking to me. Arab? What? 

It… was… my… beard. My beard. He thought I was Arab because of my facial hair. Now first, what an awesome beard compliment!!! Part of me wanted to thank him for the compliment. But it was not a compliment. He went on to explain that under that black book (Piper’s), he saw a Bible as he was walking up. 

Wait. As he was walking up… Why was he walking up in the first place? Why was he behind me walking up? What would our interaction have been if it was my copy of the Quran or an innocuous journal? My mind was racing, so he stepped in to ease my mind.

“I see you’re a Christian & not one of those Arabs. I was nervous. [Insert horrific terror story-related insult]”

Now folks, I love Jesus, but my blood pressure was rising quickly. I pictured Hussein & his wife & kids. They practice Islam. Or Jermaine & his wife & kids. They’re black. We’ve been friends for nearly a decade, so I know how he’d have responded, & it wouldn’t have gone well. Or Ed, with his husband Tim. Or Iyesha, whose family is Hispanic, but she’s Midwest America, sharp & smart, & sarcastic with southern charm. 

So I made it known that all Arabs are not practitioners of Islam anymore than all Americans are Christian. Then I reminded him that Jesus was Arab. He tried to argue back… I cut him off. I got out of my chair, & let me be honest…

Nothing happened. He got embarrassed. He apologized. His buddy or son came over & apologized. And I’d love to say that in this moment I represented the grace & dignity of a believer. But I didn’t. 

What would you have done if I was Muslim or Arab?

I asked it a little louder than I should have. But they stopped & looked at me. 

I don’t know sir.

And I don’t either. I truly believe he had no plan. He was emboldened & clueless, not prepared for a white Christian that was ready to fight for Muslims… & bearded folks everywhere. So it ended there. No great lesson. No moral-ladened closure. No rush of people ready to apologize to me. No one asking me to leave. And no cops called. I’m still typing at my table. That gentleman left after he got what he came here for. And business is back to buzzing. 

And now I know. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I wasn’t apathetic. I wasn’t scared. I was mindful… I get to go outside in a minute & hop into a minivan, & be a white guy. I’m not different. I just have a beard that I’m shamefully proud of for a lot of macho, ridiculous reasons. 

So whatever it is that I’m going to do going forward, I will be a Christian, white, heterosexual man, fighting for the marginalized, the cast aside, the ignored & oppressed, because I don’t know how this last 1/2 an hour would have played out if I had been anything other than me. So I won’t stand by. I won’t stop. 

I believe in better days for all of us. And I believe I have a part to play.

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