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Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus, by Mike Slaughter (Abingdon Press, 2014). [@ Amazon]

Flipped: The Provocative Truth That Changes Everything We Know About God, by Doug Pagitt (Convergent Books, 2015). [@ Amazon]

From Tablet to Table: Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed, by Leonard Sweet (NavePress, 2014). [@ Amazon]


Each day we learn from our experiences and we discover more about what is real and what we make up as we go along. Whether we are willing to claim it or not, we are all passionate about something. I have wondered what would happen if I were to let what God has placed on the inside to actually break-free-in-me — passion, gifts, desire, compassion, thoughts, energy, hopes, dreams, failures, talents, ideas, fear, love, Christ...

And I got to thinking... What if I were to actually let Jesus be me? Strange?

These are uncomfortable questions to ponder... Think of inside-out like this: becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

With each step of faith we take our walk becomes as natural as the air we breathe. We certainly can't be Jesus, but we can allow Jesus to be us — We can allow what God is doing on the inside to emerge out. My prayer is that I would get out of God's way and allow Christ to break-free-in-me.

Discover, claim, and live...


Our Next Chapter: A Move To The Pacific Northwest

Sunday evening I did one of the most difficult things yet in my ministry context: I shared with a group of faithful and loving people at THE WALK [FaithWalk] that God has opened up a new doorway of opportunity. But, anytime we talk about significant change our emotions are stirred deeply.

After 20 years living in North Carolina, and in my 14th year as a United Methodist pastor, we again stand at the brink of something new. For my family and I, the opportunity I am referring to means moving to the Pacific Northwest before summer's end, as I have been named the Director of Strategic Faith Community Development for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church. We will be moving to the Seattle area to be near the conference office, and my target start date is September 1st.

This opportunity is one that I could have never imagined as a pastor of the local church. I have spent a good bit of time in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Portland, OR where I did my doctoral work, and in Seattle, WA and on Orcas Island, where I spend quality time with my friend Leonard Sweet. Even so, I could have never imagined what God was up to.

In my new position, I will be overseeing new church development and congregational vitality in the Pacific Northwest Conference, which consists of the state of Washington, combined with northern Idaho. Additionally, I will be working in this same capacity in support of the Episcopal Area, which includes Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. If I could design my dream job, based on my vantage, this would be it.

Over my pastoral career, all three of my appointments have been new church development projects, intertwined with discovering new ways of achieving congregational vitality. Through trial and error, and failures and successes, I have learned a lot. Last year I was asked to join the General Board of Discipleship and our Path 1 initiative in a limited consulting role as a Path 1 Associate, working to support our denomination in its national church planting movement.

My passion for new church development and reaching the unchurched and disconnected has allowed me to do some specialize work within my own conference, such as The Syndeo Project, serving as a mentor to future and potential church planters, and exploring creative ways to intersect culture and elevate the Gospel. However, at this point on my journey, I am blown away at the new adventure God is unfolding before me and my family.

All of this has happened in a relatively short period of time, which has made the last few days very difficult.

From the challenge of sitting down with key leaders and staff, to Sunday evening's announcement and discussion with the community of faith at THE WALK [FaithWalk], it is very difficult and painful to realize that our "family" is going to endure a significant change. But just as God has opened a new door of opportunity for me as a pastor and leader in our church, God is doing the same for THE WALK. We just have to get through the sadness of an impending separation, in order to more clearly see what God is up to.

There is no doubt that God has been moving in spectacular ways in the life of THE WALK. When I came to restart FaithWalk, we stepped out in bold faith with a very small group of people who decided to be boldly obedient to God. We stepped into the great unknown of God only to discover God moving in powerful and transformational ways over the last 8+ years. We have grown together in so many ways, rapidly adding to our numbers, and working to impact the greater community and region in meaningful ways. THE WALK is deeply a part of who I am as a Christian and a pastor in the UMC. And I am deeply intertwined as a part of the loving, diverse, and inclusive Body that makes up the community of faith that we call "family" and home.

This may sound strange, considering the circumstances, but for anyone who participates in the ministry of THE WALK, it is a statement that is in keeping with the very core of who we are as a community of faith: I cannot wait to see what God is up to in the unfolding story of THE WALK [FaithWalk]! God has assembled an incredible group of misfits who are educated, qualified, committed, passionate, and loving. And their impact is going to continue to be far-reaching. It has already stretched to the other side of the United States, set to impact the Pacific Northwest, and it is on its way to further impact the world. No doubt.

There will be more to share and say, but I wanted to write this blog post and share what God is unfolding as our next chapter in the life of my family — a move to the pacific northwest. Your prayers are appreciated for a smooth transition for all who are involved.


Sustaining A Way Forward

Over the last three months I have pushed back away from my blog in an effort to work more diligently on a couple of books I am trying to finish up. One focuses on how misreading The Revelation of St. John can really mess up our theology. The working title of the other book is, The Elephant in the Chapel: Why the Business of American Christianity Needs a Restart. Neither are exactly where I would like them to be, at this point. However, the objective is to press on to see where God leads in all of this. We are always challenged to figure out how to sustain a way forward.

This idea also rests at the center of my current teaching series at THE WALK [FaithWalk], which concludes this upcoming Sunday. The series, titled, "Sustain the Gain," uses rock climbing as a metaphor, connecting the physical with the spiritual, as a way to challenge us to think about taking intentional steps on our spiritual journey in order to sustain growth — to move onward and upward, continually. Sanctification does offer an outward expression in practical transformation. However, our tendency for spiritual growth often mimics dieting strategies. We might take a step of faith forward only to reward ourselves by taking a step backwards. It's kind of like losing 5 pounds only to eat an entire cake as a reward for reaching the goal. These strategies produce a back and forth motion on our journey, leading us only to wear a groove into the ground that is hard to escape. We find ourselves stuck in the same location, wondering where Jesus went.

As we are now knee deep into the twenty-first century, we are facing a similar dilemma when it comes to sustaining "American Christianity." Recently there have been several reports, articles, and blogs all wrestling with a dramatically changing landscape, when it comes to Christianity in America. Conservative Evangelicals boast that progressive Christianity is losing ground, while Evangelical Christian churches are not. Most progressive Christians point out that "American" Christianity is the very problem with the Church's decline in the United States.

One thing I have discovered in my now 13 years as a United Methodist pastor, when it comes to interacting with unchurched, disconnected, and marginalized people in our country (especially in the Bible Belt south), hypocrisy rises to the top of the conversation as evidence of what is actually wrong in the church. Believe it or not, most people who might consider themselves in the "none" category of religious preference are not disgusted with Jesus. On the contrary, most of them know more about Jesus than people who grew up in the church. The problem that plagues the "nones" centers on the notion that many American "Christians" are not following Jesus at all — at least not Jesus of Nazareth.

Unfortunately, the tendency for most long-time church-goers is to judge others based on expectations (what they expect of others), while they judge themselves based on their personal intentions (how they "intend" to act). After all, God knows the heart; right?

In order to sustain a way forward and grow up spiritually, putting away the childish things we tend to cling to (as Paul writes), we have to turn our attention back to the one who called us forth in the first place. We don't need statistical data to tell us that Christianity in America is far removed from the movement that Jesus first initiated in the Middle East long, long ago.

Even so, here is a link to the latest Pew research report: "America's Changing Religious Landscape"

This is a link to a Washington Post story talking about the end of casual Christianity: "The End of Casual Christianity"

Finally, for all the United Methodists out there, here is a link to the recent report our church in crisis: "Economist: Church in Crisis But Hope Remains"

We've got to stop getting sucked into the culture wars and start engaging real people, meeting real needs. That is a more missional approach, rooted in Scripture. Jesus had a different strategy about sustaining a way forward. He is the Way.

I don't know about you, but I am more interested in being a part of the solution and not the problem with American Christianity today. This means the narrative has to change. We have to allow God's story to continue to emerge and we have to join Jesus where he is already at work in the world.

Lately, Jesus tends to show up more and more outside the walls of the church. Maybe it's time to follow his lead again. Perhaps it's time to be church.

What are your thoughts?


Lent: A Season of Denying Self

Today is Ash Wednesday, which gets its name because of the practice of placing ashes on your forehead as a sign of repentance. It's a day on which we are called to face our own mortality. Facing death can be a very difficult thing, though we can rest in God's promise to each of us, through Christ — that through death comes life. Out of our brokenness and dust, God can make something beautiful.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which represents a time of prayer and self-denial over a forty-day period. These forty days (excluding Sundays) reflect the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, where He was tempted by Satan. While Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, it ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. So this liturgical season of denying self is a time of preparation for the crucifixion and death of Jesus, culminating on Easter Sunday with His resurrection. This time of preparation can help us understand the holy order in our seeking and serving God. 

Jesus explained in the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:37-40) that we are to love God with our entire being — with every ounce of who we are — our heart, soul, and mind. Then love our neighbor with the same passion and intensity with which we love our self. Notice the holy order in these commandments? God > Others > Self... There is self-denial and sacrifice happening in these steps.

We don't understand sacrifice from the perspective of Jesus. When we deny ourselves, we can gain God. In other words, when we deny and empty ourselves, we can begin to hear God more clearly and draw closer to a deeper understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Lent is a time of intentional preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus through prayer and denial of self. It is easy for most of us to see what we think others should be denying their "self" of, yet we often struggle to accept what we need to deny ourselves of in our own lives.

When we think about sacrifice, we rarely think of a holy offering to God. Instead, we often think of it as a major inconvenience. But have you ever asked yourself what "thing" or "activity" may be hindering your ability to draw close to God?

During the season of Lent many Christians will give up something — deny one's self of a thing or activity — in order to take up something new in spending time with God, for the forty days leading up to and through Holy Saturday.

What might you consider giving up for Lent this year?

It's easy to say, "I will give up candy or soda..." But what about something that matters to you; something that begins to help you understand what sacrifice really looks and feels like? Remember, sacrifice is hard... It is an act of worship.

Starting today on Ash Wednesday (February 18, 2015), deny yourself during this season of Lent in order to draw closer to God and prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus.

What might you do different in this season?

I want to also challenge you this Lenten season to not only give up something, but to also take on a new activity that enriches your spiritual journey. Get involved in service to others in your community. Join in activities that encourage Christian community. Get plugged into missions and outreach opportunities for "the least of these." Take a step you have never taken before and watch what God does.


The Essence Of Faith And Obedience

This week we have been engaging the story of the three wise men and examining what an "epiphany" might look like in our own lives, if we are willing to combine our passion/desire and our fear/uncertainty with a pursuit of God. Though the Magi were from a distant land in the east, they dropped their normal routine in order to follow a star that pointed them to a newborn king. Along the way, they encountered King Herod, who desired to trick the men into leading him to the place where the child was located. As they followed the star and encountered the baby Jesus they were "filled with joy!" and they worshipped him. But afterwards, they made a decision. This part of the story ended this way: "When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod" (Matthew 2:12, NLT).

Sometimes we have choices to make when we do not have all the facts. We have to simply trust that things will work out for the best. The evidence of this kind of position shows us how we quietly separate our "ordinary" daily endeavors from our "spiritual" journey with God, whether we realize it or not. For instance, what does it look like to make our ordinary choices, in light of our relationship to God, especially when we may not understand the bigger picture? Or, when we jeopardize a relationship or go against someone's wishes, because of what we feel God is revealing to us? Such was the case for the Magi. They discovered from a dream that according to God Herod's motives were not sincere; therefore, God directed them not to honor the King's instructions. Back in the day, the consequences for such actions could be deadly. Especially when there are many unknowns and when fear may become a primary motivator, we may have to trust God in new ways with the very life God has given us. This is the essence of faith and obedience. How is it present on your journey?

The Magi have provided us a wonderful example of what it looks like to pursue God, make an offering, and respond out of obedience. In what ways are you living out such an example on your journey?

Do you find yourself yielding to your fear and perceived consequences on your journey? Or are you setting those aside and responding out of obedience?

How is your life compartmentalized, separating your "ordinary" life from your "spiritual" life? God wants you to know that they are to be the same. When will you take this leap of faith?