Tuesday, June 14, 2011

welcome home

I was out of town last week for our organization's yearly staff conference and had a great time, but I REALLY missed the family. Praise Jesus for FaceTime video chat though. There was no wifi where we were staying so it took awhile, but on I finally got them halfway through the week and even though Keight hid behind the camera for the first 20 minutes of our conversation, it was amazing to be able to talk face to face with Judah from another state.

I learned some great stuff that I can't wait to share from the conference, but first let me share what I found when I came home.

be still my heart:)

Friday, May 27, 2011

questions to light the way

There have been several really significant moments of clarity in my journey thus far that have indelibly changed the scope and character of my story. I love the image that my friend Brian uses to describe these moments: he calls them clearings.

Sometimes in my life, its been like I was walking alone through a fog, or along a densely wooded path. The path had started innocently enough, but at some point I'd look up and realize I'd lost sight of the markers and was in uncharted territory. And in those times, right when I get to the point of seriously considering turning back for something safer, or just giving up altogether, God has opened my eyes to see something much larger than just the little path that I thought I was walking on.

The Clearing
further up and further in

It's like all of a sudden the whole world opens up, and fog rolls back, and you can see the entire landscape of what God is doing. He simultaneously shows you why He was leading you through all this wilderness along the way, and to where He is leading you in the future.

Recently, these clearings have come because of some fantastic books that I've read. One huge shift for me came when I had just finished my first summer of being as interim youth minister at our church and I picked up Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. I was at a crossroads in ministry because after a summer filled with pool parties, rafting trips and mission trips, it was time to get serious. I was going into the school year with a 10 step plan, and sermon outlines, and intro videos, and I was going to change the world by teaching these kids what it meant to be a real Christian. That book helped me see that unless I was willing to live life as an ordinary radical, anything I taught would be seriously stripped of its meaning. It showed me how much I thought I knew, but how little I actually loved people that weren't just like me.

I had only agreed to be the interim youth minister while our church searched for another (which would have been the kids 4th youth pastor in 3 years). In fact, K8 and I were still praying through going onto the mission field. So in response, I wanted to do something BIG. Move to Pakistan, sell all of our stuff, move in with some homeless people, use our dirty sink water to flush our toilets...

But as I meditated on what my big response would be I heard God say, "Would you be willing to do something small... for me? Would you be willing to stay here and teach these students how to live like Jesus in the everyday mundane stuff of life; and not just teach them, but show them how with your life?"

And in that clearing, I saw that I wouldn't only be doing that for my youth group kids, I would be doing it for my own kids that I would have one day.

That started a chain of events that would lead me down another difficult path, and eventually to another clearing. I constantly felt the pressure from many people around me to do BIG things, host big events, look for a bigger church, demand a bigger salary, make a big name for yourself, but I keep hearing God whisper, "Are you willing to be small for me?"

I'd now been doing youth ministry for 3 years, and had a 1 year old son, and daughter on the way. And I knew that I was going to have to decide soon whether I was going to make youth ministry a career or a choose a different path.

I ended up going down to the Exponential Church Planting Conference down in Orlando, FL with my pastor. I'm still not sure why I went, because I really had no desire whatsoever to do church planting, and I'm pretty sure my wife really didn't want me to go at all. But I went nonetheless, and sadly everything there was BIG.

I heard some amazing speakers (Shane Claiborne, Francis Chan, Matt Chandler) who were hugely inspiring, but as I talked to most of the church planters there I became pretty disillusioned. As I walked around the sponsor tables, it seemed like there were 50 different booths marketing things like "Church-in-a-box!", Portable Church, INSTA Church, Church Marketing Gurus, AWEsome Church, Lazer Church, Jesus Wore A Lapel Mic... okay I'm making up stuff at this point.

And I guess there's really nothing wrong with those groups, but what left me disquieted was this underlying notion that if you raised a bunch of money, did a bunch of marketing, and got the appropriate sound equipment/performing troupe, then you had CHURCH! And that if you could just "get people to the show" then somehow you would also end up fulfilling the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples. It felt like the formula was, if you create church, then disciples will just naturally happen.

Which was shocking, because it seemed exactly backwards to me. It seemed to me like everything that Jesus said and lived was: if you make disciples, then church will naturally happen. Jesus didn't spend his time looking at real-estate for a building, or doing market research, or even planning sermons (at least I don't think he did, I have no proof of this). From the gospels, we do know that he spent all most all of his time with 12 guys; developing, equipping, empowering, training, debriefing and just hanging out with them. So to see and hear all this methodology that seemed to completely fly in the face of that was very hard. I felt like I was nuts.

And what was even worse, it felt like The Church was being drug through the mud as well. I felt like I had tasted what the body of Christ could be like at times, at our campus ministry, with my family, even sitting around the dinner table with amazing friends just reveling in the life and joy that we have in Christ. But no matter where it is, its always full of grace, full of the Spirit of Jesus, full of love and friendship. And it sickened me to think that THAT could in anyway, be bought, or mass produced, or systematized. It would be like trying to a family, or systematize the magic of a first-kiss.

Like I mentioned, this was an ongoing hardship that I had with ministry in general, and the current obsession with BIG-ness, so it felt like I was coming to another crossroads, and I had to choose between discipleship or community, and I hated the idea of giving up either.

But sometime during that trip, I heard the Lord gently say to me, "My way is to build disciples IN community. My way of growing people up hasn't changed, and rather than a factory it looks a lot like a family, but one where I AM the Father."

And on the last day, during the last breakout session, I sat in on a session with a random Asian pastor that I'd never heard of before and he really caught me off guard. I loved his humility and I loved his commitment to this thing he called third-culture. Which is the mindset to love, learn and serve in any culture, even in the midst of pain and discomfort. He also stressed that we were to do this as a unique diverse and radical body, not just as individuals. He had my attention.

So I bought his book The Monkey and The Fish and out of it God showed me Three Questions that I believe are some of the most important questions that a community of disciples can ask. These questions help me get back to the clearing. They help me remember what is important and what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.

I'll be sharing my own answers to the three questions in the future to help tell some more of my story, but I've found more and more that the answers are not nearly as important as the questions. My answers will change throughout life, but the questions will be lights the guide the way home.

Question #1: Where is Nazareth? As you seek to live out the life and ways of Jesus in your life, look for Nazareth, the place to which people will ask, "Can anything good come from there?" This was what Nathanael said when he learned that Jesus was from Nazareth. The point is that in Nazareth, you'll most likely find the poor and the needy, the broken and the helpless, the lost and forgotten. And if you want God to be in the midst of what you are doing, you'll find that often loves to use the foolish and broken things of this world, to build his kingdom upon.

Question #2: What is your pain? Its feels so natural as Americans to work out of our achievements, and to move forward in success. But it takes humility, and poverty of spirit to lead with your pain. The amazing thing is, people are rarely moved by our strengths and inspired by our greatness. They can often relate to use most honestly in our pain. Perhaps because that's where we are most honest. Our pain makes us human and breaks down the walls that divide between class, education, race and age. Pain is universal and is a tie that binds us together.

Question #3: What is in your hand? Meaning, what do you have at your disposal right now that God can use to accomplish his purposes. Instead of asking what else do you need, its asking "What has God already given you?" Its what you can use right now with my available resources, history and relationships. This not only keeps us from the dangerous game of comparison with other people, but it teaches us to value our own story. The unique narrative that God has placed only YOU in, because He has given us everything that we need for life and godliness in Christ.

Answering that question was in large part, what led me down the road that started this blog about being a father. Because what's in my hand these days is very dear to me, and I believe its something worth sharing. Thanks for checking in.

Walk On

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A heapin' helping of humble pie

Two days in and we've already got a gut check.

Let me explain. So, I decided to do this blog for a couple of reasons. 1. To have a place to share my thoughts and experiences from being a young dad of two. 2. To hopefully create community among emerging fathers/parents committed to raising kids who passionately love God and prove it by loving all of His children in spite of the consequences to the American dream 3. To promote dialogue about the crisis of fatherlessness that I see in the world, and spiritual fatherless in the American church.

But going into this, I've had several important people in my life encourage me to tread lightly into the blogosphere.

And now, more than ever, I realize that's really really good advice. The whole daddy blog world is pretty crowded already, and is not really lacking for the voice of a know-it-all 28 year old schmo, who's been in the game for 2 years and is raising two ridiculously easy kids.

Also, while I am very passionate about healing the wounds of fatherlessness; I did not grow up without of father. In fact, I come from a stellar home with an amazing father who certainly wasn't perfect, but who continually modeled deep love and humble submission to his Heavenly Father, in spite of growing up with a dad who gave him his fair share of wounds along the way. My dad's steadfast faith, humble leadership, and continued friendship, along with the grace of God, are what has brought me to where I am today.

So all of that is to say, several healthy doses of humility would probably serve me well in this whole conversation.

Which brings us to yesterday. My wife, who is a much better writer and blogger than I will ever be, came home today with some thoughts about my post. While I may have been intending to come across as light and humorous, whilst offering thoughtful critique to a polarizing topic in current events, she informed me that to her I came across as snarky, arrogant, and close to downright mean.

She lovingly reminded me that these were people that loved God (and that God loves!), and were just trying to heed the words of the early church who continually urged their followers to:

"Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." Luke 21:36

My first thought was, "Yeah right, she's just being overly critical". But going back and reading what I wrote, I had admit with horror that she was right! In my haste to quickly write something, and be funny or something, I didn't think through it, and certainly didn't pray through it.

To add insult to injury, as I was writing this, I was looking in 2 Peter for some verses on watchfulness and I came across this in chapter 3:

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?

Ouch. Message received God.

So to whomever read what I wrote yesterday, I'm sorry. And I promise to do better. I realized yesterday that one day, I want my son to be able to read this blog and get a picture of what my heart was. For him, and for the world. And the more I think about, satire is not my heart. I would never encourage my son or anyone that I love to stand on the sidelines and laugh, I'd counsel them to enter into to people's pain rather than make light of it.

And As much as I'd love to go back and delete the whole thing, or at least edit it to not sound like such a jerk... I think I'll leave it. Something tells me this won't be the last time I say something stupid, so I'll probably need the reminder to stay humble down the road.

As I was reading my bible yesterday, God sent me one more parting shot from Peter, and I think it could be an emerging theme in this journey going forward:

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that he may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7

Stay classy San Diego. Thanks for checking in.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An Open Letter to Family Radio

NOTE: ***This post is intended to be satirical, so no derision or harm is intended. Please take it as such and please read its follow-up post here.***

Dear Mr. Camping, Family Radio Worldwide and followers,

There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee...

That is to say, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't cancel our Thanksgiving plans this year and sell our house before Oct. 21st (although if you have any ideas on how to do so in this market, I'd love to hear).

I'm sure by now someone has probably informed you that the Bible, while full of many interesting numerological possibilities, is also home to verses such as Mark 13:32. And while I'm sure its a bit of salt in the wounds to all the people who quit their jobs and jumped in RVs loaded with the canned ham let over from Y2K, I hope by now you all can see the humor in the situation.

I don't care who you are, that's funny.

But on a slightly more serious note, I would like to offer a bit of practical advice for you, your radio show, and its followers re: The Return of Jesus.

My advice is, if you really are serious about hastening the returning of Christ, I would lose the fascination with numerology and fuzzy mathematics and focus your efforts on fathering and mentoring.

Because regarding that day, God has said in Mal. 4:5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.

All it takes is a casual look at the state of families in America to realize that we need an Elijah more than ever.

Seeing as how many of you don't have jobs now, it seems to me like a much better use of your time could be teaching your children to live in this world rather than check-out or addressing the epidemic of fatherlessness that is plaguing our nation and world. In doing so, you will not only reflect the very heart and character of God, you will quite possibly heal our land in the process and hasten the Return that you so longingly await.



The Curse of Fatherlessness

Two years ago today I became a father.

Which is odd to say, because now having TWO children and being constantly inundated with Pixar movies, diapers, and scheduling life around nap-times; I think to myself, "Haven't I ALWAYS been a Dad?"

I didn't realize it at the time, but that day I joined an incredibly rich and diverse fraternity of men who have come before me. And as a member of this group, I've come to see that we're not just called to the task of fathering a child (which is often just a nice way of saying you got your sperm on), but to actually BE a father in the life of a child.

And while this has been an amazingly life-giving, faith-growing, heart-expanding, world-rocking experience for me, I've also come to realize that that isn't the story for every father.

In fact, I've learned that many fathers would rather not think of themselves as fathers at all. They see their children as more of a curse than a blessing; as mouths to feed, instead of hearts to develop and love; or pawns to move in a struggle for power with their mother. And more often than not in those cases, the father leaves.

But it turns out that they were right. There is a curse; but they were the ones who invoked its black magic.

In the last verses of the Old Testament, Malachi prophesies about the coming Day of the Lord and closes the Testament with these words:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming
of the great and dreadful day of the LORD
and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children
and the heart of the children to their fathers,
lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

And when you look at the landscape of American culture and the results of fatherlessness, its easy to see that the very act of a father leaving his children, is in fact a curse upon the earth:

Youth suicide (63%)
Teen pregnancy (71%)
Homeless/Runaway children (90%)
Children with behavioral disorders (85%)
High School dropouts (71%)
Imprisoned youth (85%)

The percentages are the number of fatherless youth that make up each group. And I won't be the first or the last person to say that this group is responsible for most of the social problems that are plaguing our society.

But who's really responsible??

Their parents? The government? The church?

I've had to ask myself that question a lot recently. I'm a young dad. I'm just 28, and I'm still VERY MUCH figuring this whole thing out. I don't have anywhere close to all the answers.

But what I do know is that I have a choice as a father right now. As I raise my two little ones, I can choose to try and be a "good father" and focus only on MY children, with a view towards raising stylish and conservative girls and boys who will learn to spot troublesome kids and stay far away, lest they be sullied by the sin-juices.

OR I can be a father to my children, while being a father to the fatherless. And model how love ALWAYS wins over evil and pain and sin in the end (no theological statement implied, thanks for forever charging THAT term Rob).

Because what I'm learning is that to be a good father these days, we're not going to be able to stay in our holy hideouts and further entrench ourselves and our families in a Christian sub-culture. We're not going to be able to retreat to private schools and segregated worship services. To really, truly be GOOD, we're going to have to become more like our Heavenly Father...

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Psalm 68:5

So this blog is ultimately about calling Fathers to return to the role that God gave them: A. As a man who will lead and disciple his children in the context of the home AND in their community, and B. To use their home and their experience as a father to reach into their neighborhood, community, city, and world to be a father to the fatherless and a champion for families of faith.

Hopefully we'll have many voices that will share will us. And hopefully we'll have many stories to tell of healing and life found in the lives of young men and women as they encounter the love and safety of their heavenly Father. For great insight on the pain of growing up without a father, check out Jeremy Cushman's recent post about extracting the poison of Fatherlessness.

I'll share plenty of my own thoughts and stories of parenting two crazy little world changers of my own, but ultimately this blog is about turning the hearts of fathers back to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

Will you answer the call?