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Category Archives: Lessons Learned

A New Role

bench

Today, during a congregational meeting, the members of Riverfront Family Church, called a team of new pastors to co-lead the church. This comes after months of prayer and discernment by the leadership, board, transition team and members.

Named as the new Co-Pastors are three current members of the church, including myself. Each of us will be part-time, will share decision-making and leadership responsibilities, and will have equal authority. In other words, our church is fully embracing and going all-in on a team-based model of leadership.

This is all very exciting — and also tragic.

The tragic part is that the impetus for these changes is that our founding pastor is a year in on fighting ALS and can no longer lead the church in day-to-day operations. Her ALS has been aggressive and it has been devastating for her, her family and our church. While I have never seen someone with so much faith and hope, this is truly a tragedy.

It is also exciting. Despite the tragedy, our church is actually in a very healthy and growing place. And we believe that God has a great plan for RFC — and that the best days for our young church lie ahead.

We are a progressive evangelical church. What that mostly means is we take following Jesus and His Way really seriously and allow Him to touch all areas of our life. That means we embrace radical inclusivity and pursuit of justice and a commitment to make earth more like heaven. It means that we are a church where no perfect people are allowed and doubters and skeptics are welcomed. It means we are a church for seekers and believers and believers who have become seekers and seekers who find themselves believing. We are a church that rejects bumper-sticker theology, black-and-white ethics, and a simplified view of the world. We are fully egalitarian and fully inclusive of the LGBT community. Adoption and foster care are a way of life for our church; children are at the center of our church’s mission; Jesus is Lord of our church.

It is the best church I have ever been a part of and it will be a humbling privilege to help lead it as a co-pastor.

And for me, this move is also very redemptive.

When I left my last church over almost 7 years ago, I thought my days of leading in the local church were done. I thought it was likely that I had given my last sermon. My ability to use my gifts in the church were done.

Two years ago, a friend and mentor from Panama, sat down with me over breakfast at my restaurant. It was a surprise visit, as I did not know that he was in the States.  One of the things he said to me then was that he thought I had “benched myself long enough” and it was time to get back in the game.

He was right about at least one thing: I think I had benched myself longer than my Father had. He wasn’t going to force me back into the game, but the invitation was there. His grace is always sufficient… I just needed to show myself the same grace He had.

That conversation led me to start transitioning out of my 80-hour weeks working at the restaurant. Within three months, I had made the decision to move to my current job — feeding the homeless and the poor, fighting poverty and food insecurity, teaching the disadvantaged job skills so they can get ahead in life. My current full-time job is the best job I have ever had — and this new position as co-pastor won’t change my role at all.

But over the last year or so, others have spoken into my life, about pursuing more preaching, more pastoral ministry, more leadership.

This is new position as co-pastor, combined with my full time role, is really a perfect fit for me, my gifts, my passions, my experiences.

And it feels like a second chance.

Most people don’t get a second chance in ministry.

I am so deeply thankful and humbled by this calling.

Both callings.

Together.

I can honestly say, this is what I was born to do.

Praise be to God!

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2016 in Church, Lessons Learned, Ministry, My Story

 

Just Because He Breathes…

“On the night of Nov. 20, 2001, a conversation held over Instant Messenger changed our lives forever. Our 12-year-old son messaged me in my office from the computer in his bedroom.

Ryan says: can i tell u something

Mom says: Yes I am listening

Ryan says: well i don’t know how to say this really but, well……, i can’t keep lying to you about myself. I have been hiding this for too long and i sorta have to tell u now. By now u probably have an idea of what i am about to say.
Ryan says: I am gay
Ryan says: i can’t believe i just told you

Mom says: Are you joking?

Ryan says: no
Ryan says: i thought you would understand because of uncle don

Mom says: of course I would
Mom says: but what makes you think you are?

Ryan says: i know i am
Ryan says: i don’t like hannah
Ryan says: it’s just a cover-up

Mom says: but that doesn’t make you gay…

Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: but u don’t understand
Ryan says: i am gay

Mom says: tell me more

Ryan says: it’s just the way i am and it’s something i know
Ryan says: u r not a lesbian and u know that. it is the same thing

Mom says: what do you mean?

Ryan says: i am just gay
Ryan says: i am that

Mom says: I love you no matter what

Ryan says: i am white not black
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: i am a boy not a girl
Ryan says: i am attracted to boys not girls
Ryan says: u know that about yourself and i know this

Mom says: what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?

Ryan says: i know

Mom says: thank you for telling me

Ryan says: and i am very confused about that right now

Mom says: I love you more for being honest

Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: thanx”

KEEP READING…

After you read this whole article (or watch the video above), let me know what you think here in the comments…

 
 

4 Years Later…

Today marks exactly four years since I left full time ministry.

OK… that is not entirely true.

Today marks exactly four years since my world blew up and I took a leave of absence from paid vocational ministry that eventually led to my resignation as pastor.

It is also the four year anniversary of the beginning of my journey of being born again… again.

I was first born again at age 17 when Jesus grabbed a hold of my life.

Almost exactly 17 years later, I went through a traumatic death experience that led me to life.

I have written extensively about what happened, and it has even been well documented in a book.  So no need to rehash it now.  But four years ago, when I was outed, I lost everything in an instant: my job, calling, ministry, vocation, church, faith community, reputation, livelihood, friends, purpose, income, and even my home.

I entered into a time of deep depression.

I pretty much thought my life was over, there would be no tomorrow, and that I had no real reason to bother living.

I experienced death. But the Gospel means that death is not the end — just a necessary step on the way to rebirth. Restoration. Being born again… again… as a new creation.  Reconciled, restored, eventually resurrected.

As I reflect upon the last four years… and where I am now… I would never have predicted it.

On a practical level I have re-built my life.  Friends, community, ministry, career, purpose.

I have also restored aspects of my old life: there are friends who have stuck with me and others who, after a time of healing and necessary distance, have reached out and are now (again) a significant and important part of my life.

And on a spiritual level, I really do feel like I have been born-again-again.

It didn’t happen in an instant, but today I am more alive, joyful, and healthy — spiritually and otherwise — than I was four years ago.  I have found the promised abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.  For too long, the thief had been allowed to steal and destroy life through deception and hiding and shame and the lies that I was unacceptable, unlovable, unforgivable, unworthy and unredeemable.  These were the lies that hiding in the closet produced.  These were the lies I heard from those who told me to stay in the closet. These were the lies that led to death.

But Jesus always leads to life — and life to the full.

One of the things I have learned is that God redeems all things.

Many — though not yet all — of my relationships have been redeemed.

The church I was forced out of is in the process of being redeemed — and frankly is in a healthier and more exciting place than it was four years ago.  God is moving and working and building in powerful and exciting ways… ways that could only happen after death… because life always comes after death when we follow Jesus.

How I wish I could have arrived here without all the hurt, pain, and damage done. But death is necessary.  In the pagan world, life comes before death; in Christianity, it is death that precedes life.  It took me 17+ years to learn that lesson… but it is the most important lesson I have ever learned.

So four years later, all I can say looking back, is to repeat the words of the song “The Desert Song” (which we sang this week in church):

Verse 1:
This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is a God who provides

Verse 2:
And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flames

Chorus:
And I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain

I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

Verse 3:
And this is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on it’s way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

Bridge:
All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

Verse 4:
This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

AMEN.  And thanks for being part of this journey with me… I love you all!

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Lessons Learned

 

Thank You Brennan!

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I have been a Christ-follower for over 20 years. Over the course of those 20 years, there is a list of people who have discipled me, mentored me and invested in me — making me who I am today.  Some of those people I know personally and intimately, others only through their speaking, writing and ministries.

It is a long list… Steve Gilbert, Cliffe Knechtle, Mark & Kelley Kraines, Hans & Carrie Franzen, Vince Gierer, Chris Sorensen, JR Mahon, Bart Campolo, Kit McDermott, Paul Holland, Nancy Butler… and from a distance… Nelson Searcy, John Ortberg, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Robert Webber… and perhaps most importantly, Brennan Manning.

When I became a Christian at age 17, the first Christian book I read besides the Bible was John White’s The Fight — given to me by my friend Cliffe.  But the first two Christian books I ever bought (and as a 17 year old Jewish kid, it felt a bit sketchy buying them at our local bookstore) were John Shelby Spong’s “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” and Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel”.  (I also bought my first study Bible that day… the NIV Student Study Bible.)

Brennan’s book had been recommended to me by my Young Life leader.  Spong’s book just looked interesting (and I knew I wanted nothing to do with fundamentalism).  I read both cover to cover within a few days.  I realized quickly that Spong, an icon of Christian liberalism, had nothing to offer.  His book, even then, seemed silly, meek and petty to me.  Also, intellectually inconsistent.  Spong’s brand of a Christ-less and resurrection-less Christianity struck me as absurd — even as a young believer who had only been following Jesus a few months.

But Brennan Manning’s book changed my life.  Perhaps no one has taught me more about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, apart from Jesus himself and the Apostle Paul, than Brennan Manning.

From Brennan, I learned grace.  I learned about the Father’s unquenchable love.  I learned a language to talk about God. I learned that doubt was okay.  I learned to be humble and generous.  I learned that much of life is grey — not black and white — and that this is ok. In short, I learned how to love and follow God without embarrassing Jesus (to paraphrase Tony Campolo).  I learned what it meant to really be a Christian and follow Jesus.

Over the years, I have read just about every Manning book there is.  And I go back and re-read Ragamuffin Gospel every year.  I learn something new every time.

I can honestly say that who I am today — and what kind of Chris-follower I have become, for better or for worse — is very much owed to the life, ministry and writings of Brennan Manning.

If you have read his memoir, “All Is Grace”, you will know that much of Brennan’s life — including the last few years — have been tragedy.  But we know that whether a story is a tragedy or comedy is based not on how the story goes in the middle, but how it ends.  Because of the promise of the resurrection and the all-encompassing goodness of Father in Heaven, Brennan’s story is really a comedy! It ends well.  It ends in the embrace of his Father, hearing the words, “welcome… and well done, my good and faithful servant!”

Today, I am thankful for Brennan and his ministry… and even more thankful that he is finally home, where he has longed to be for so long.

Thank you Brennan for reminding us all that it is okay to be ragamuffin.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Lessons Learned

 

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Discernment, Part #5: Principle of the Path

Road

I have been in an ongoing discernment process, and also sharing about that process here on the blog.  For the most part, I have been following a process prescribed and laid out by St. Ignatius — the Spanish monk who founded the Jesuits.  I think it is a great process and simply going through it has been a great experience — almost irregardless of what decision I end up making.

But there is one cautionary note worth making in it comes to DISCERNMENT and it is, in the words of Andy Stanly, THE PRINCIPLE OF THE PATH.

In short, here is his thesis: DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

In other words, if you are heading north, you will end up north even if you intended to go south.  

In fact, intentions are pretty meaningless when it comes to our journey.  All that matters is really the direction we are heading.

This is a pretty important principle to remember. 

My hope and prayer is that I am becoming a more fully devoted follower of Jesus every day.  My prayer is that I am maturing in Christ and becoming more like Him. More important than my job or vocation to God is my character — how am I growing as a human being?  How am I becoming all that God intended and created me to be?  How am I living in the glorious reality of being a created creator in the imagine of the Great Creator?

Am I on the right path to such character development?

If not, whatever intentions or decisions I make are pretty irrelevant.

I know people who INTEND on becoming DEBT FREE but are still on the PATH OF DEFICIT SPENDING (loans, credit cards, car payments, etc). Until they change directions (the literal meaning of “repent” is to “change directions” — really a 180 degree change) — because DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

I know people who INTEND on breaking certain habits or addictions, but keep going on the same PATH that got them into the habit or addiction in the first place. Until they actually
change direction, they will not experience victory — because DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

I know people who dream of doing world-changing great things, but quite frankly are still on the PATH OF THE ORDINARY.  And they will stay on that path until they change directions — because DIRECTION, not INTENTION determines our DESTINATION.

So part of the discernment process is an honest, in-your-face, ruthless evaluation of WHAT PATH ARE YOU ON? And where will it lead if you stay on it?

By nature, we are prone to be self-deceivers (or, at least I am).  So it isn’t always easy to really see the path we are on. But see we must — because THAT PATH WILL DETERMINE OUR DESTINATION.

So if I don’t want to end up THERE, I better change the path I am on. 

ARE YOU ON A GOOD PATH RIGHT NOW?

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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Discernment, Part #4: People

Cafe

For me, the fourth step in the discernment process involves PEOPLE — my faith community.

This is less of a “next step” than an ongoing process throughout.

I share and process with other people and listen to their insights, questions, suggestions and ideas.

WHY?

Because we make better decisions in community.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people saved from terrible decisions by their community of faith — or have seen people pursue great opporunities because they were encouraged by their community of faith.

When I talk and process with people, not all people are equal in terms of the usefulness of their input.

For example, some people have secret agendas (often not that secret).  These people are not that helpful.

I remember in college, as I was trying to discern what I was going to do after graduation, I had two mentors with a campus ministry who I loved.  But they were so convinced that I was supposed to go on staff with their organization, they were completely unhelpful in my discernment process.  In fact, they were somewhat manipulative and a negative source of help during the process.  Avoid people who have an agenda for you.

Some people are so risk-averse that asking their advice is like asking an insurance agent what to do — you are always safer doing nothing and safety is the only metric they care about.  I also avoid these people.

Who do I look for?

People who know me, love me, and are genuinely for me — or at least 70% invested in me.

I also look for people who have the spiritual gifts of WISDOM, DISCERNMENT and ENCOURAGEMENT. 

People with WISDOM have the ability to ask just the right question that can really clarify some aspect of the decision-making process.

People with DISCERNMENT have the ability to sense the spiritual realities behind the decisions being made and are often the ones who can ask really good questions about motivations, etc.  As much as I would like to think I am always pure of heart and have pure motivations, that is not always true.  I need some good discernment people around me who can ask penetrating questions.  Without them, I am often tempted to choose the safe or easy path… or the path that will lead to the most verbal affirmation (which can be a vicious cycle!)

People with ENCOURAGEMENT give me the courage to pursue God’s best vision for me.  It is amazing how deflating and discouraging some people are when you present ideas to them… it is soul-killing!  But encouragers increase your courage and it is soul-feeding!

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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Discernment, Part #3: Process

Journaling

I have been posting this week about the discernment method I am working through as I face some big questions about WHAT IS NEXT FOR ME in the coming months and years.  You can read Part #1 here and Part #2 here.

This third post is about PROCESSING THE INFORMATION & EXPERIENCE gained in step #2 (prayer).

After my prayer times, I write down in a journal (or Google Doc, Evernote, etc) everything that I said to Jesus, how I felt during the prayer time (consolation of spirit? desolation of spirit?) and any senses, promptings or feelings I got during the time.  I also write down any other questions or issues that I want to talk to Jesus about the next time we meet to talk about this option.

I do this each time after I pray through one of the options.  I will pray about each option for several days — and then I can look for trends, flags, etc, in my response, feelings, etc.

During this process, it is likely that some of the options will kind of drop out, while others will rise up.  

Some may wonder if we can trust our feelings about things.

I think the answer is yes.

Jesus is not out to torture us. If one option seems soul-killing it probably is.  If another seems laced with fun, adventure, excitement — it probably is.  I have spent a long time in my life trying to hide and ignore my feelings, believing that they were not trustworthy.  The past 18 months, I have reversed that process, believing that FEELING IS OK.

And in this process, as I pray for a pure heart, I trust that the Holy Spirit is leading the process and prompting my heart.

Tomorrow, I will post about the last step of the process… PEOPLE.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Lessons Learned, My Story, Uncategorized

 

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