Category Archives: Goals

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

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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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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Dear Trump Supporters & Voters

The immediate shock of the election is wearing off. People are still protesting, arguing, name-calling, & complaining about the people protesting, arguing, name-calling, & complaining. And we all blame the media for not saying what we want them to say the way we want them to say it. And then we get online so we can be mad at other people for saying what they want to say however they want to say it. 

Really, we are all a little absurd right now. And sensitive. And good God in Heaven, we all think we are right. But I know that for some of you…

You’re Mad At Me

I think I’ve lost a few friends over this election & my responses to it. Now, when I say friends, I use the term broadly. I’ve lost the respect of a few people I knew a long time ago, connected back up with on social media, & recently had them call me names or argue with me, & then disconnect. I think it means we’ve broken up. But I don’t know the rules for internet friendships. Others have silently deleted me or used the brilliant ‘unfollow’ option wherever available. I’ve also found myself at a distance from people I know back home in NC or people that know me as a pastor, etc. Those are challenging losses for my heart to handle. And I’ve also lost some folks that I call true friends, which is painful. And so far, the number one reason I can gather for the disconnect is this…

You think I’m calling you a racist because you voted for or support Donald Trump.

To be clear, I’ve never said that to anyone. Almost half the people who actually voted, voted for Trump. So I can’t make that accusation & consider myself an intellectual or a thoughtful person.  I also know people that voted for clear reasons that don’t have a direct racial implication. We disagree, but I know their reasoning. So my bottom-line statement is this: if I know you, I love you. I’d never call you a disrespectful name & never accuse you of hate. And racism always comes from hate… & insecurity. If you are a racist, you probably know it, but I don’t. 

But it begs the question, what’s a racist? Literally, a racist is someone that believes a certain race is superior to another, & inversely, they believe that a certain race is inferior. And it’s more subtle than stating the belief itself. In fact, I believe you can say racist things without recognizing yourself as a member of a superior race. Think of this: If you think white men are better drivers than anyone else… well, that’s racist & sexist. It’s broadly assuming that one race & gender is superior in an area that you have no data to prove. The assumption is based on stereotypes & prejudice, & the bias is almost always in the favor of the person expressing the assumption. 

My example is a small one. And there are thousands of other examples that are equally valid. Some are seemingly harmful, while others are outright demeaning, dehumanizing, & godless assumptions about other humans because they look or sound or come from a place different than you do.

I can also be honest & admit that some of the things that we call racist can also be seen as overreaching. I see that. I know it can get silly. But does Brad think you’re a racist? Brad does not give a crap. You be whoever you are, & if a real look at humanity & faith permit you to be that person, carry on.  

Voting for… Not Supporting

Tonight I got to hang out with some people that I like. As is the case with everyone in Washington, they are new to us, but our kids like each other, and as a couple it’s kinda rare that the husbands are buddies, the wives are buddies, & together there’s an ability to talk funny, talk family, & yes… talk politics or other serious topics. And we don’t agree on present political issues. They cast a vote… but it was cast in hope.

And if you’re reading this, voting as I voted, but believing that a lot of good people voted for the new President-elect, then there’s only two reasons they (the good ones) could have done it: belief or hope. 

  • They believe in the guy. They believe his record, his speeches, his plans & his promises. And candidly, I don’t know a ton of these people. 
  • Or they have placed their hope in this guy. They are worried about our nation. Our security, our economy, & maybe even our marginalized, & they think that his plans helps better, & if he does what he says he will do, America will be better for it. 

They voted. They may or may not be supporters. But they’re voters. And if I’m honest, & I’m usually honest to a fault on here, I’m a Bernie guy that placed my hope in Hillary Clinton. I’m not a Clinton guy. I just liked her plan better, trusted her D.C. connections better for her Cabinet, & really didn’t like the other guy. 

And right now it is super important that we see each other, because I’m not in this to be right or a Democrat or smart or any of that useless garbage. I’m in this for hurting people. 

Someone Needs Help

For me, that’s the bottom-line. People need people, need encouragement, need a hand, need support, & need… love. 

And yes, for some of us, we struggle with the marginalized people groups that need help right now. And that must be so awkward. And I don’t have a lot of really good advice for that. Maybe just get over it. Maybe pray about it. Or fight to see past their skin or orientation, gender questions or income, disability, poverty, addiction or whatever they have that makes you see them & want to look away. But see them.

See them like Jesus sees them. Made in the image of God, imperfect & sinful, but created for a purpose. The have a divinely inspired purpose. They matter. They matter to another human, & they matter to God. And if you’ve ever held open a Bible for personal growth, direction, hope, or guidance through hardship, you should know more than anyone that people need the Lord… but before the Lord reveals himself to anyone, His Word says that he sent divinely appointed humans to love others, encourage them, sacrifice for them, share their lives together, & to go to the hard places & find them. He sent you, Christian. And as a pastor, here’s some advice: step out of the homogenous mess that you call church, where everyone looks the same, talks the same, & hopes the same because right now, somehow is hoping for a meal. Someone is praying for a sign that they aren’t damaged goods. Someone needs hope. And you’re supposed to be the light of the world. Go shine. 

Or see them like you’re an actual patriotic American. Yes, I’m calling out the flag-waving folks too, whether you practice a faith or not. If you stand for the pledge of allegiance & boast that men & women have died for our unique freedoms, then stand for the people that aren’t experiencing those freedoms to their fullest. Some of those people have made mistakes, I know that. But so have we. We just didn’t get caught & go to jail. We didn’t get pregnant or get her pregnant, so we don’t live that life. We aren’t addicted to whatever it is that has crippled their joy, but we could have been. And beyond those who’ve made mistakes, their are people that really do believe they were born to love someone that shares their gender, & it’s not un-American to love someone. And please, fight for the people of this country that make us the coolest, most diverse, most beautiful nation in this Earth’s history. You are an American, beholden to a constitution that says all men & women are created equal. And the ideals of our nation proclaim that for all whatever their language or faith, the pledge is to fight for the them. On the Statue of Liberty, where all who hope to become Americans one day can pass by, an inscription boldly calls the world to give us the tired, hungry & poor; those huddled masses yearning to be free. And we are called to embrace them. So embrace them.

The Road is Long

Yes, I know there will be disagreements. I know we will fight. You will try, & jerks like me will call you to try harder or do more. You might offer help & get met with rejection. You might offend someone or be offended in the process. 

But you might also find an ally where an enemy was just standing. You might find some hope that you didn’t know you needed. And four years from now, when we are yelling once again, I hope we are fighting together, with different ideas of how we reach the same goals. That’s actually what our politics is intended to do.

And I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you by the things I’ve posted. But I’m going to keep posting. You matter to me, I promise. But Christ compels me to the hurting, & I’m jumping in. And maybe one day people will no longer care about what I have to say, but today that’s not the case. People are listening & reading. I hear about it every day. And while I’m a little overwhelmed, I’m not going to back down from using the privilege of being an educated white, middle-class, straight man for the good of humanity. God made me this way. Now I just want everyone else to feel the same privilege, without having to become someone they aren’t. 

So even if you’re mad at me. Go ahead & cut me off. But love someone that isn’t like you. And know that some of you already do! And keep at it!! It matters. Here’s a quick story, & then I’ll leave you alone…

I have a heart for homosexuals. That’s a weird sentence, I know. And it isn’t because I have family that are gay, but I do. And it isn’t because I have friends that have come out to me or shared life with me after they came out, though I do have those people in my life. And it isn’t because of any gay person at all. 

I took dance as a kid. And my dance instructor was a loud, hilarious, radiant, married straight lady with a daughter I was in school with. She had so much faith in me & my friends. And given the nature of her profession, she was surrounded by a vast diversity of people. The first ‘out’ gay man I have ever met danced beside me for 3 years before I ever had a clue. And he called me clueless for not knowing. But he was just one of us. Ok, he was significantly better at all things dancing than all of the other guys, but he was just a guy. So when I found out he was guy… I didn’t care. Yes, I know what the Bible says. But he was a guy. My friend. Someone so ridiculously gifted at a thing I struggled to keep from embarrassing myself in. And I liked him. I like good people. Always have. But that dance instructor is a conservative Christian! I haven’t seen her voter registry ID, but I’m certain she’s a Republican. So what in the world is a conservative Christian Republican doing with a dance school??? Loving people. That’s what she does. Oh, she’s demanding, but she’s demanding to everyone. And she compassionate… to everyone. And that’s how we do it. We love people. We have our beliefs & our opinions, & we love people. And Nina, if you get around to reading this, thank you. You taught me that a person was a person no matter what. And while we may disagree on politics today, we love people. And I will take that every day, all day, any day.

I’m not upset that I live in a country that nominated & will appoint a candidate I didn’t choose. I’m upset that there’s more to be done & not enough people doing the good work that’s waiting to be accomplished. 

So I’m in this fight. And I will call out discrimination & prejudice when I see it. And if you’re up for it & feel compelled, I’ll still argue with you. And whenever I can, wherever I can, I will help the hurting & maringalized that are right here in America. And I believe in my heart that some of you already do, & that more will come. Because I don’t think you’re a racist or horrible. I think you’re human. And the election is over, but people still need one another. 

So to a better future on a wider, fairer road for my country…

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Influence & Our Lil Boy

We have two kids. The 6 year old is just like me. I’ll post about him eventually, & it will likely revolve around passing on bad habits or something equally humbling. But this post is for Elliott, our gorgeous, precious, 16mo. old. He’s great. With 10 teeth, he has an incredible smile. He’s learning, growing, into cuddles, & adventurous. And just this week, he taught me something so valuable.

You repeat whatever you hear the most.

It seems so simple. Mommy talks about Daddy, & before long we heard “Da-da”. Daddy talks about Mommy, & “Ma-Ma” sticks. And along with those two staple terms, he’s got variations of these words: up (for being held), yes, no, baby, boo, mwah (to make a kissing sound), & countless indecipherable terms that I’m certain are brilliant. But for the most part, he’s learned what we intended for him to learn. But that changed this week, when he was in our living room, just all of the boys…

“Bubba”

For those from the north, this probably evokes a giggle & some slam on being southern. Go ahead, we don’t mind….

But what makes this even more precious is that he said it to Parker, his big brother. And I’ve been calling Parker “Bubba” since he was a baby. I don’t know why. I just have. And now it’s a family-wide thing. I say it. Grace says it. I’ve heard other family use it. Even a friend called our oldest “Bubba” at breakfast last week. And somehow, Elliott caught on. And he heard it enough for it to become more than a term her recognizes. It’s now a term he says. So it went from foreign to familiar, then normal to repeatable. It was great to hear. And now he says it all the time.

What are your influences?

Influence is tricky. Aristotle said that ‘We are what we repeatedly do’, but I think he may have missed the real impact of influence. Yes, what I do may very well define me, or at least my character. But what I read, hear, & take in trains me. Whoever I go to for counsel, accountability, gossip, or fun are my teachers. The inescapable reality is that we don’t control all of our influences. 

So what influences you? Do you have mentors in your life? Now I don’t mean blogs you read or podaasts you listen to. I mean, who are the people that directly lead you? No one? Go find someone. And in my experience, ask someone hugely important or impactful in your life. They just might say yes! And beyond mentors, what do you read, listen to, or spend your time on? I am in no way speaking against the fun things in life! To be transparent, I love all sports, country music, woodwork, pro wrestling, joking around, competing, winning, & going out with Grace, my wife. I am certainly not against enjoying this great life we’ve been given. But let’s be honest… If you are immersed in negativity, you become negative. If you are surrounded by hopelessness, your outlook becomes progressively more hopeless too. If you are neck-deep in relationships that promote something unhealthy, the impact is just damaging. It just IS!! I didn’t make up influence. I just want to repeat & lead positivity, hope, health & growth!!

Who do YOU influence?

Unfortunately, influence is not the exclusive property of leadership. You can be influenced by countless combinations of things, people, objects, & ambitions. And in return, you can influence countless people.

This is the one that convicts me the most. I influence my wife. I’m pouring something into my sons. I’m training the people that work with & for me. And as I prepare to send this out, I’m seeking to influence friends & strangers alike. It is daunting to think about how easily I influence anyone I come in contact with!

In my anger, influence. When I’m openly discouraged or disappointed, influence. When I’m unfocused or silly, reckless or off-center, I am an influence on the lives around me. And those people are… well, they’re people. Humans who love & hope & have plans. And in a moment, I can leave an imprint.

What will our influence imprint be?

If you’re like me, this is both encouraging & kind of a bummer. People are watching. Some of those people are learning. So it is up to me to try & control what they’re learning, & what they are learning from me is seen in my responses to life, challenges, happiness, disappointment, trials, failure, success, etc. & only I can control it. 

So be intentionally influential today. There’s a person that’s about to blurt out a “Bubba” that your life has taught them, so lead well!!

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Losing Your Calling, Learning to Dream

This is 2 years in the making, & could probably be edited, added to, & then completely deleted & rewritten for the rest of my life. But I’m 35 as I type this, & I don’t know my personal calling/purpose, & I haven’t had a dream for myself in well over a year. Closer to two years now, I guess.

I was in a car accident late into 2013, with my, then 4 year old, son. We walked away, & so did the lady that didn’t see her red light. All was fine for a month or so, & then I just started ‘drifting’. Losing focus at work & home. Tired all the time. Wildly unmotivated. And the numbness in my hand grew to a numbness throughout my whole left side by Christmas. And then in early January, I fell down a flight of steps because my left leg just lost its strength. 

There are details I could explain, but if you’re interested, look up hydrocephalus & emergency shunt revisions. The shunt had punctured my thalamus on the right side of my brain, & slowly the left side of my body turned off. I remember pieces of October, 2013 – March, 2014, but for the most part, it’s a lot of blanks. And somewhere in the surgeries, recovery, rehabilitation, & recovering feeling where it had been gone (the left side of my mouth still droops a bit), I lost the hope I had in my own future. 

A minister losing hope is a special kind of tragedy. 

I was a pastor once. I’ve seen saved & baptized people of all ages & walks of life, in Ohio, S. Carolina, Tennessee, & N. Carolina. I love preaching & teaching. And I really love being with people who want to grow closer to God. But I haven’t preached in a pulpit since August, 2010. And before the accident, it was a calling ‘on hold’. God had placed me in a season of growing & listening, & at that moment, I was enjoying it (if memory serves… & it might not. So forgive me if I’m ‘misremembering’ that). But then the doctor thought I had a tumor. Or I thought I was having the longest stroke in history. No matter what, I was breaking down physically, & the me I knew was gone. 

There’s a big scar on my head where a little one had been since 1985, when I had a surgery I can’t remember. I used to sleep comfortably on my right side. Now I wake up in the middle of the night in pain, because the right side of my head & neck is not what it used to be. I’m still trying to learn how to lay down comfortably. I worry a little just before I pick up my ever-growing 6 year old. I watch my step when I’m carrying his little brother, because I don’t trust my feet as much as I used to. And I wear out every day. It’s wild to see. And usually I can hide it at home. But last month, my boss & I were meeting & we were chatting about intentional growth for our team, & it hit me. The lights just dimmed so fast. I think I fell asleep. And I’d been working a normal 7-8 hour day. I just wear out. I’m trying to control it. I’ve pulled over on the drive home from work multiple times. I stand up in meetings sometimes. I can’t read while I’m reclined, & that was my favorite. But of all the things I’ve either lost or had changed on me, I miss my dreams the most. 

I was a dreamer, a ‘big ideas’ guy with my head up in the clouds. And I liked it up there. Quasi-philosophical, deeply theological, often surreal in my thoughts & expectations, & always guided by my wide-open passion for Christ. The flip side is that I was distant, rarely productive, scattered, & I hated trying to focus on stuff that didn’t interest me. But I was fun, I think. Goofy might be the best word. And I miss that guy. I wonder if Grace, my wife, misses him too. Because now I’m a pessimistic realist a majority of the time I wonder when the next big medical emergency is coming. (We’ve been married 8 years. I’ve had 3 surgeries, & 2 of them were pretty serious.) I worry a lot. And coincidentally, stress is great for your body & general health. 😳 But I see what has happened, & I’ve tried some things over the last year.

Goal-setting is not easy, & most people do it really incorrectly.

Being a recovering dreamer myself, I have found a good definition to my old ways of dreaming. I used to exclusively set Outcome Goals. For instance, I’d say I wanted to write a book, but never trouble myself with coming up with topics, writing often, or planning at all. ‘I’m gonna lose weight!!’ But I had no plan… Just a massive void of big ideas & fantasy-inspired dreams. And now I’m working on a new strategy, grounded in realism, but not bound to the pessimism & hopelessness that I’d define most all of 2014 with. Researchers & strategic analysts call this idea creating Input Goals. The plan is fundamentally very simple.

In order to write a book (outcome goal), I’m going to write for 15 minutes every day (input goal). In order to lose weight (outcome), I’m gonna walk/run/lift 3 times a week (input).

Simple right?

Setting goals is key to regaining your dream/calling… I think. 

So this is where I’m at now. I want my dreams back. I’d like to have some big goals, some long-term plans that don’t sound like a dude wondering about seeing his kids grow up (& that has been the entire goal set for longer than I care to think about). And I don’t really have a set destination. So here’s what I care about, & what I’m doing to achieve some things in those areas.

Family – We are paying into the debt that we have every month. Ultimately, I guess being debt-free is the desired outcome, but I’m sure there will be more to come for that. I also try to talk to Parker every day. He’s our oldest, & I don’t mean I’m trying to greet him or give him a life lesson a day. I mean a conversation. I want him to hear that I’m invested in him without me telling him that I am. And I want to go on dates with Grace. I like dating her a lot.

Leadership/Influence – I have 5-6 people that I intentionally speak to weekly about their lives, decisions, goals, & growth. I also have 2-3 that I ask for help from, as mentors of mine. I’m also trying to read/listen to something that stretches me every day (devotional, article, book, podcast, etc). And all of those because I want to lead well, & be a positive influence on all whom I come in contact with.

Faith – Simple. I want to open the Bible every day. I want to pray multiple times a day. Outcome goal… Forget ministry. I just want to be closer to Christ. If ministry is in my future, I’ll let Jesus tell me himself.

Social Media – I know it’s silly to some, but I love the stuff. So I’m trying to stay connected to this cultural tidal wave through several outlets, staying both relevant & true to myself. It’s fun. My newest adventure is Periscope. Find me there at brad_caldwell. 

Life is hard. Living ain’t so bad.

It’s been a bumpy season in my life lately. But I’m still upright. I’m still standing, though I lean a little to the left in some places. I feel better right now than I have in over a year. And I just blogged… one more input goal down.

Booyah. Leave me some wickedly inspiring comments!

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