Sunday Reflections

Posted: September 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

IMG_1406.JPG

This past Lord’s day has been a bless-ed one!

Let me back up a little. This past weekend has been a great one!

Admittedly, I didn’t want the weekend to come. Witnessing he earthly departure of my remaining grandfather is something that hasn’t quite sunk in fully. There has been a closer bond to my maternal grandmother (my Memaw) and my paternal grandfather (Granny PawPaw) through the years, but I have always had a connection and closeness to them all. And while my paternal grandfather went home to be with the Lord last November, the recent passing of my maternal grandfather (Memaw PawPaw) hit closer to home. In my reflection, I have come to several reasons why. Not only have I reflected on the spiritual connections of my grandfather and his impression upon me as my only preaching grandfather who pastored several churches; but the fact that now BOTH of my grandfathers have departed, and ‘gone home.’ In the words of the late Robert G. Lee’s ‘negro’ nanny ‘Mam Lindy’, their ‘wooden wagon was changed into a golden chariot.’ I am unable at this time to express in words the tranquility, peace, sadness, grief and somberness I feel in my emotions. I was there at Rev. Alvin Francis, Sr.’s homegoing; but, in a sense, it hasn’t all the way sunk in. Interestingly, I’ve received many more phone calls, texts, inboxes, condolences and well-wishes during this time over the last. It is also difficult to see my own mother weep and literally wail over anything, but especially the passing of the man I’ve always heard her affectionately term as the man she first loved. That, coupled with seeing my Memaw surrounded by many loved ones and well-wishers, but leaving his remains…is something I can’t begin to describe. It is also sad in realizing I haven’t always been a great grandson. My paternal grandfather would say to me at family gatherings, ‘You know, Kraig, PawPaw doesn’t have much more time’ or ‘I don’t have much longer.’ I would always respond, ‘PawPaw, you are a young man’ or ‘You are going to be around here for another 50 years’ and dismiss such talk. But the truth is, whether young or old, all of our days are numbered and few, in contrast to eternity. I missed invitations to ‘dance’ with my grandfathers more in their final years. I want to do better. And on that note, I have two grandmothers who are here and doing well; but I pray for their strength and continued peace.

Didn’t mean to write all of that…

The upside of my grandfather’s home going was being able to see so many family members from far and near. To see all of my cousins, uncles and aunts in one place, in a strange way…was just a joyous time for me personally. Preachers and pastors who are close to our family, and like family, were also present. Rev. J.R. Miller is one of those men of God who has always been a constant encouragement and mainstay to our family. Another is Rev. Arthur Lane. Him, along with Rev. Lance Mann, are like brothers. I have a few brothers in Corpus, Oklahoma City, Dallas, etc.; but these brothers are also adopted as sons to my parents. So, they are sort of unimpeachable!

Good to see them all.

I was sort of protesting the fact that my room at my parents house is no longer my own. My big brother, Kevin, came in first and traveled the farthest away; and as a consequence, he took over ‘my’ room that they now call ‘Kai’s room’. So, I didn’t stay in Corpus. Dee and I took advantage of having no boys with us; so we stopped in Victoria for the night; and just enjoyed our time together…without the intruders. The next morning we headed to Houston; and I went to support Dee that afternoon. D’Ani is a gifted speaker and encouragement to women in Christ. I am really praying that one day she will begin to write and share with women what God has given to her. But, when I met her, she was a gifted praise-dancer. And that she is. My Pastor’s wife, Dianne Clemons, asked Dee to dance at the retirement party for her sister. D’Ani did a great job; and I am still amazed by her gift of liturgical dance.

Finally….this past Lord’s Day, our church held its Annual Men & Women’s Day of Victory. Our morning guests were Pastor Keith Sanders & the Rising Star Baptist Church, from Edinberg, Texas. Keith is one of my childhood preaching friends. And his wife, Tammy, is like a sister to me. I was in their wedding years ago; and it was so refreshing to have my old friend there to preach for me; and to see God using him in preaching ministry. I had been encouraging him to attend the EK Bailey Preaching Conference. He did this past July. I saw that he was hungry to grow as a Pastor and Preacher and, boy, did it show yesterday. He shared from John 12:1-4 on “He To Be an Overcomer.” Just awesome!

In the afternoon, our guests were Pastor Derrick Reaves and the St. John Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, Texas. Dr. Reaves and St. John were such a blessing! Their choir blessed us tremendously in the ministry of song. And Dr. Reaves shared a classic Christian text out of Ephesians 1:3-6 and titled the message, “Blessed.” He did a wonderful job; and so glad that he was able to come and share with us. I’m looking forward to both of them being with us again in the near future.

This coming week, I am looking to continue our series in the Book of Acts; and hope to redeem myself from m last week’s disappointment, Lord willing.

How was your day? I would love to hear from you; and ask that you subscribe to future blogs!

Sunday Reflections

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Preaching
Tags: , ,

1004729_10151526345174506_668343896_nThis past Lord’s Day had its fair share of challenges. I am five weeks into my series on the Book of Acts. The week started off great, with several challenges along the way. I would imagine if I were not a parent, or atleast a hands-on parent or husband, my preaching over the pulpit would be a little more exceptional. Parenting is HARD. I don’t want to say that it will get easier when they are older because, after all, do they ever really leave you? So…in short, last week…time just escaped me and somehow flew by. The routine is quite different, with trying to get my family more active at the gym and also spend more quality moments sharing, praying and being together. Needless to say, the evenings come fast; and there is very little time to waste. What does this mean for me? I can only hope to explain. I am a voracious reader. I will read any and everything. Also, I’ve developed a habit of storing (in my mind and on paper) the things I study and read regarding the message I plan to preach in a few days. My father taught me how to basically do disciplined and well-rounded study for sermon preparation; Dallas Baptist taught me how locate the right resources and collect/gather all of the information; seminary taught me how to combine all of this….on steroids! But what I struggle with is ‘sifting’ through it all and moving my sermon to the place of dislodging what I’ve heard H.B. Charles, Jr. note as ‘unecessary words.’ So….I can be different from many on Fridays and Saturdays. While many preachers may have too little to share, I have WAY too much! A typical sermon, for me, when it is finalized is about 5 to 7 pages, single-spaced, in Pages or Microsoft word, with an 11 font. My notes, before the sermon is scaled down to the final manuscript, is usually between 15 to 20 pages. Well…because I waited until Saturday to scale it down, I ended up rushing, with a final manuscript 10 and a half pages. Not good! As a result, I think I do a disservice to the overall flow of sermon delivery.

Fortunately, I kept my sermon to about 40 minutes. My usual time, for years, has been about 50 to 55 minutes; but my goal is to be around 30.

What have I learned?

I am aware that I am ambitious & impatient. There are 28 chapters in Acts; and I want to make a dent in this book; and feel I am getting no where. But I think this should be avoided. I have preached through Acts chapter 2 before; and it took me about 5 weeks to deal with Pentecost. What I found myself doing Sunday was trying to preach a 4-week sermon series in 40 minutes. While our congregation may have remarked the the message was helpful and people responded, I am aware that this may not be the best way to help the people. I’m thinking the best thing to do is either take my time, or so sift through the material so that, when it is delivered, it is condensed yet powerful and clear.

Here is my sermon outline:

THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT’S COMING (vs. 1)
a. God Keeps His living promise. (Dead men can’t always keep their promises)
b. God Keeps His personal promise. (Luke 24:49; Joel 2:28-32)
c. God Keeps His conditional promise. (Acts 1:4)
THE MANNER OF THE SPIRIT’S COMING (vss. 1-4)
a.Where He shows up (Location)
b. How He shows up (Wind/Fire)
THE RESULT OF THE SPIRIT’S COMING
a. NEW ENVIRONMENT (verse 2)
b. NEW LANGUAGE (New tongues – the principle is diversity. We don’t speak the same language. i.e. – Mary and Martha)
c. NEW OPPOSITION “Others”
d. NEW ATTITUDE (Verse 14…Peter is standing)

God be praised for His giving of direction in this portion of the scripture in Acts 2.  While I do feel that it would have been better for me to have taken a smaller portion and deal with it accordingly, it is now over; and if the Lord so allows, the time will come again to share.  Fortunately, I can work now to summarize it in review of the next portion of scripture, which is Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.  

Thankful and grateful for the one who came forward.

The day ended with news that my maternal grandfather (my Mom’s Dad) had been rushed to the hospital in Corpus Christi.  He would move from labor to reward early the following Monday morning.  I am grateful for a life who touched so many.  Rev. Alvin Francis, Sr. will be missed.  Such a presence of a man is rare as the years go by.  Please keep the Francis and Pullam families lifted in prayer.

IMG_3614Idolatry is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. The Canaanites worshiped their false gods on the tops of mountains and hills. According to Deuteronomy 12:2, these sanctuaries, or “high places”, were epicenters of idolatry, vanity and sinful preoccupation. For this very reason, the Israelites were instructed to destroy them when they entered the land of promise.

The elevated location of these “high places” gave worshippers a sense of being close and almost at one with their gods. Further, the vistas overlooking their farmlands gave them a sense of power and virtue. Baal, one of the principal gods, was often portrayed sitting on top of hills and was often called “rider of the clouds.”

Worship in high places occurred among graven images of the gods, sacred groves and large stones or pillars that marked the place of the alleged earthly visitation of a god. The primary purpose of these ritual events was to increase fertility among the people, their livestock and their land. As a consequence of these efforts, ritual prostitution was common.

Despite Moses’ commandment and commendation in Deuteronomy to destroy these Canaanite “high places”, the Hebrews tended to let them stand. In their arrogance and their ignorance, they would even attempt to incorporate them into the worship of The Lord. (I Samuel 9:19-24; 10:5-6; I Kings 3:2). In First Kings 11:7, we see they most often used these high places for “idol” reasons and purposes. Occasionally, there were leaders who brought revival by cutting down the sacred groves and pulling down the idolatrous pillars. (2 Kings 18:4). But it would take just one or two generations before the reforms were forgotten again and the ‘high places’ were once again erected. By the time of Jeremiah, so many high places had been erected that the prophet remarked that Judah had as many gods as cities. What a travesty! What an indictment! Are we any different?

In ministry, we are prone to set up our own “high places.” If we are not careful we, too, can extinguish the fire of revival and reformation when we erect our own idols in our own ‘groves.’ As Moses commended the Israelites, let us commend one another to destroy these ecclesiastical ‘high places’ that God may be the center and circumference of our Worship, Life, Ministry and Proclamation.

What are some high places and idols that need to be destroyed in ministry? In my view, there are at least four:

1. Believing the Hype
I believe that the best thing to do after preaching a great sermon on Sunday, is to forget about it on Monday. No…don’t forget WHAT you preached. But please forget you had anything to do with the its success in the hearts of the hearers. Too often, we can be guilty of reading our own press clippings. Someone came up to us and told us we were the greatest preacher ever known to mankind. Someone else whispered in our ear that we can preach circles around the current preacher. Maybe they are correct. So what? Get over yourself! We are charged to preach Christ and Him crucified; after that…stand up to be seen, speak up to be heard; and please sit down to be appreciated. This applies to both pastor and associate minister alike. Pastors may be surrounded by an inner circle that is wooed by his charisma. For this person, self-awareness and a spouse or children who know how to be blatantly honest with you are more precious than gold. At the other end of the spectrum there is the associate minister who may not get very many preaching engagements, but this minister has built an arsenal of sticks that preach well. It is good for this person to be aware that preaching occasionally can be a much simpler task than preaching every week. Whichever group you are in, learn not to play into any comparisons, aside from who God made you. Either you will become discouraged when you look at all of the preachers you think are ahead of you; or you will become vain and conceited when you look at the ‘little preachers’ who are behind you. God called you; and He called them. That’s enough.

2. Stardom
There is absolutely, in my view, nothing worse than a conceited, puffed-up preacher. Nothing.  That’s my argument and conviction.  We must all realize that we are not celebrities; we are called to be servants. In our Western context, we are guilty of equating the preacher to the NBA player, the Fortune 500 exec and the Hip Hop Mogul. Please note, I am not a preacher who is disparaged by the minister who receives a nice compensation, lives in a big house and is able to provide the wants and needs of their family. But we must be careful with regard to entourages, ministry groupies, playing into favorites, etc. You are NOT the star, even if you are an apostle, a bishop or a prelate. At the end of the day, you are a servant. If you pastor a mega church, to God be the glory. If you have 4 members, your feet are as royal as a Billy Graham. Too often, we can be guilty of making our idols the numbers and the crowd. But be mindful, the bottom line is not always the BOTTOM LINE! I know preachers who are great proclaimers of truth who will never be on TBN, the WORD Network or any stage where they preach to over 100 people. But they are called, chosen and they will not sell out. Again, I repeat: you are NOT a celebrity.

3. Insecurity
While being puffed-up is wrong, so is thinking too lowly of yourself. You are gifted! Guess Who the gift-Giver is? It is God Himself! It is demeaning for any of us to spit on the gift God gave to us; and only us. Because of my insecurities, I found myself at one point in my ministerial life wanting to be a Ralph West and Manuel Scott, Sr. Somewhere I discovered, I can never be them and they can never be me. My insecurities are often a recognition of my deficiencies. But I am so glad there is a place in the kingdom for the deficient, the handicapped and the under-achievers! Sure…you may think you have nothing to offer. God IS attracted to people like this. But remember the words of Paul that remind us in Philippians chapter 4 that we can do something when Christ is working on the inside!

4. Laziness
I struggle with being lazy. That’s my confession! I relish the opportunity to go off to some clear water and, with my wife (forget my boys) and do nothing. Please remember, Sunday is coming! The best thing for any preacher and pastor to do is to have 10 or 15 sermons that are already prepared. Another great thing to do is to master the art of visitation. Visit the sick that are in your church. If you don’t have any sick people that you know, go to a nursing home and talk to them. Get a dog and go for a walk in the park. There are sermons everywhere. What makes this more meaningful is when you already know where you are going at the beginning of the week. Somehow, the Holy Spirit will begin to point out things that connect to the text you’re dealing with. Another point is the get enough rest and exercise. It is so important for the preacher to take care of their physical bodies. If you fall short of making this a priority, then you will find yourself in a place where ‘Saturday night specials’ become routine and ritual. Physical fatigue is what makes you vulnerable and susceptible to immoral ways and a lifestyle that doesn’t please God. A person of strength, who preaches FROM victory and not FOR victory, is better equipped to guard his or her life.

It is my hope and prayer for every pastor and preacher that God would use your life, ministry and preaching to bless and impact a generation traveling in the wrong direction. To be sure, good preaching and great preachers with excellent characters are needed in the 21st century. I would love to know what you would consider to be idols in ministry. What are your thoughts? Please take a moment to share and also to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

 

The Divine Call

Posted: September 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

iStock_000001476421XSmall-320x212Recently, I ran into a young preacher who asked me how I came into preaching ministry; and how I knew I had been called? I gave him a short answer. But this is a longer version of what I said…

On a Sunday evening, March 27, 1994, I preached my first public sermon at my home church, St. John First Baptist Church, in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was fifteen years old. I knew very little about life, people, trouble or the Bible. But I knew two things. On the one hand, I knew I had been called by God. On the other, I knew I wanted to be a preacher. I have heard, even then, of preachers (including my father) and their stories of ‘running from the call’, in an act of rebellion to God’s calling them to proclaim God’s Word. This was never me. I wanted to preach…since I can remember. Why? I didn’t know then. And, I am not sure I know now, why I WANTED to. But I did. Because of these personal dynamics and aspirations, my parents were very delicate in how they handled my urgings and open frustrations that God, in my view, was taking too long to call me. I knew very little of how parents can play too big of a role in this process, and prematurely influence their children to do something ahead of God’s providential timing. I would often ask my mother, “when is God going to call me?’ or “why is He taking so long?” And there would even be people who would eventually say to me, “you’re the little preacher in the Pullam family” or “when are you going to start preaching?” At 8 or 9 years old, I would get very excited during this time of year because my parents were on their way to the National Baptist Convention. This meant only one thing to me – my Daddy would be returning home with tapes of the preachers I wanted to hear. It seems weird now that I was waiting by the door to hear the likes of a Stephen Thurston, E.K. Bailey, E. Edward Jones, Isadore Edwards, Albert Chew, Earl Pleasant, William T. Glynn, Terry Anderson and the list goes on and on. They all had a captive audience in me. I am now 36 and I have 11, 7 and 3 year old boys; and I wouldn’t know what to think if they wanted to listen to any kind of preaching or read a book in my library. Now I know how weird or ‘different’ I was. I’d sit in church and hold on to every word my father said, and even his mannerisms in the pulpit, and his lifestyle and walk outside of the pulpit. My greatest joy growing up was to sit among his books and read his notes. His books became my friends and personal acquaintances. By 10 and 11, I was reading Herscell Hobbs, J. Dwight Pentecost, Warren Wiersbe, James Cone, W.E. Vines and others. I can’t say I knew what they were saying, but I read them. THEN….I became a teenager. Eventually, I turned 15. I was a freshman in high school. I fell in love with a girl who I thought walked on clouds. Ok, let me just tell the truth, she DID walk on clouds; nobody else saw it, however, but me. Interestingly, my previous yearnings and urgings became dormant and silent. I still loved preaching, etc. But my interest was her, playing football, etc. I suppose one thing that may have had an impression upon me was the fact that she was a spiritual young girl who had also come from a preaching home. But directly, she knew nothing of my previous desire or internal inclinations to preach. Then the strangest thing happened… During this silent time, when I had completely abandoned my urge, God began to speak to me. I could not let it go. To me it is difficult to explain to someone who has not been called how you know you are, but I would liken it to being pregnant. Some women have a inclination they are carrying something or someone. It was that real to me. I heard no audible voice. My parents never brought it up. Things were just…..quiet. I never will forget the night I went to my father at his office at the church. That was one of the most difficult conversations to have. First of all, how would I start the conversation? “So….it’s my time!” or “I must be about my real father’s business.” I don’t know what I said, but I opened up my mouth and simply told him I have a strong feeling that I must preach. Somehow I had mustered that this was not something I merely wanted to do; but something I HAD to do. I left that night, with my father praying with and for me. My father dealt those months with me in a way I know now was wise and very rare. Basically, he GAVE ME A HARD TIME, but didn’t destroy my spirit. He sent me to pray. He gave me a reading assignment concerning the call. It was a LONG book; but I read it. I came back. This happened a few times; and I kept coming back! He knew then that this was something maybe serious, atleast to me. Then…I had to go before the church. No one, not even my mother or the girl I was dating, knew what was going on with me. In December of 1993, I walked forward at my father’s church, and announced my call to preach. I will always love the people of St. John First. They received me with open arms. Before I got home to a phone, my girlfriend and the entire city, it seemed, had already heard of the announcement. I thought the next week I would preach. Right? Wrong! Whatever reading and researching I had done prior to my announcement paled in comparison to the reading assignments my father gave me. He gave me the assignment to read through Al Fasol’s “Steps to the Sermon.” This book blew me away, and still does. And it is a book I try to read annually or every other year. Moreover, it is a reference I use when struggling in my study approach throughout any given week of preparation. Additionally, I voluntarily referenced A.P. Gibb’s “The Preacher and His Preaching”. From December of ’93 March of ’94, I slaved and pored myself in study, reading and preparation, until my father felt comfortable setting a date for me to preach publicly. The date was set for March 20, 1994; but that happened to be my Dad’s 13th preaching anniversary. So it was moved to the following Sunday. But…I had to do one more thing – I had to preach my sermon in front of my Dad, as he sat there in the church. Empty. With him staring at me. Torment! I am sure it was more tormenting for him to listen than me to preach it in front of him. Amid the mess, plagiarisms, mispronounced words, etc….it got through the Rev. William Lanier Pullam filter. I received a personal illustration of grace and mercy. I preached that evening, on the 4th Sunday of March. I couldn’t believe all of the people who were there to hear me. It was until years later that I realized they weren’t there because of me, but out of respect and love for my parents, grandparents and family. There were a few of my friends there; but they were there with their parents, so they didn’t count. When I look at the tape of my first sermon now, there were 30 or 40 preachers there, along with a crowded church with no where to sit. Even though some of my preaching heroes (such as Cleophus LaRue, Lloyd Pullam, J.R. Miller, Harold T. Branch and others) were there, I was just ready to get it over. My sermon was “Work Out Your Salvation” from Philippians 2:12-16. I can still preach that sermon and pray the opening prayer backwards! I cringe when I hear myself preach; but I would climb under a bed if I had to hear that sermon again. The only thing I cherish these days about that is still have the handwritten manuscript of that sermon. The sermon was over. I was warmly received. And then, they took up an offering! I was able to go to the bookstore the next day and get a Thompson Chain Study Bible, a Broadman Commentary set and a few other books to build my library. My Dad was also insistent that I open up a bank account so that I could make future deposits and continue to build my library. What are a few things I learned through the experience of a call to preach?

First, the call is personal
At the time of my calling, my father, two of my uncles, my grandfather and others were preachers and pastors. But this should not be the determining factor when it comes to one’s call. I have often jokingly said, ‘Some were called, a few went and many their Mama sent.’ Humbly, I suggest this is not a good place. Parents should be very careful not to play into the call. The calling to preach is not akin to piano lessons, a football practice or any other extracurricular activity. It is a serious call from God. Any child, knowingly or unknowingly, must live the rest of their lives living up to or down from YOUR call for them to preach. If God is or has called someone to preach, He can do it without your help.

Second, the call is powerful
In 1 Corinthians 9:6, Paul says, “Woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel…” Boy, was this my story. Without any 4 hour energy drink, I had a conviction before my call, that this was not of me or anyone else, but God. Any man, woman, boy or girl who is called by God must search within through prayer, spiritual counsel and personal reflection what God has called them to do. You cannot afford to make a mistake. You cannot afford to be wrong. If you are wrong, you could be the biggest embarrassment in town. If you are incorrect, you will leave the ministry when you discover it is difficult, there are storms, it won’t make you rich or you realize you are no longer free to do things your way. It must be so powerful that, if you don’t preach (both with your words and your life) you are worse off than a dead man or woman.

Third, the call is providential
In Exodus 3, God commends Moses to use what is in his hand. In Timothy, Paul encourages his young protege to start where he is to use what he has. How is this even possible? Because of the providence of God. I am obviously deficient! No really. I am the lowest on the intelligence bar! It is safe to say that among my two older brothers (Kevin…who is a preacher! & Keith) I am the least intelligent, and have the lowest IQ. I repeat….this is NOT an opinion; this is fact! My brothers were AB honor roll and straight A students. Me? Never made AB honor in my life, except in college one semester! Not only am I the least intelligent, but I have also struggled with my hearing, since childhood. This led very early in my life to struggles in my speech. I have also learned since an adult that I suffer with an attention deficit. It is very difficult for me to concentrate or focus. To this day, I must be reading a minimum of 2 or 3 books simultaneously and working on atleast a couple of sermons. If I do not, then I get bored. I fact, the one semester in college when I made AB honor roll was when I took 26 hours. I loved it! Even in my sleep, my mind goes to the point where I listen to soft music in the background. Anyway…TMI. To me I am messed up. If you ask me, I have too many issues. But God has charged, assigned and equipped me to use me inspite of me! There is no way that I could make this up in my own story. What has the Lord done? Well, in one sense, I was the first of my brothers to earn a college degree and a Master’s degree. This was no one but God. On the other end of the spectrum, I have never lacked an opportunity to preach. With the exception of a time when I went through a storm in my life around 1999, I have preached somewhere just about every Sunday for the past 20 or so years. I’ve pastored 2 churches in the past 10 years. Admittedly, I am not a preacher who ‘Applies’ to churches for pastoring. I have pastored fairly small congregations; neither of them to which I applied. While I may never pastor thousands, God has been more than gracious in my ministry. Even being bivocational, my other job outside of pastoring is….pastoring! I cannot complain. In God’s providence, He knows who you are, where you are and all of your dispositions. Never think that your limitations mean anything to a God Who has no limits. And, by the way, He will always give you more along the way, than He does before you start. You can see this in the life of Jeremiah, young David and even in Christ our Lord.

What would you add to this list? I’m interested in hearing your story; and also ask you to take a moment to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading!

Sunday Reflections

Posted: September 1, 2014 in Pastoring, Preaching
Tags: , , , ,

20140804-113910-41950746.jpg

Today I completed my study of the 1st chapter of the Book of Acts with a sermon entitled, “The Ministry of Going On” from Acts 1:12-26. I’ve shared a total of 4 messages in this important chapter and recording of church history (vs 1 to 5; 6 to 8; 9 to 11; 12-16). The central idea of the text is: The paradigms the apostles employ in waiting for the Lord’s promise and transfer of leadership. The high points are Submission, Supplication, Selection & Sovereignty. The highlights of my message today was staying right at 40 minutes. My goal is to be around 30 minutes. My usual 45 to 55 minute sermon time has simply run its course. I must do better. Admittedly, this is requiring beginning early Monday morning, or Sunday evening, doing the core work of textual exposition and outlining of the text and sermon. Last week presented itself with several demands, including a new school for 3 year-old Karter and a new school year for Kai and Kaden. Coupled with church-related demands, it was a strenuous week of varying proportions. Unfortunately, this became quite apparent in my study around Friday and into Saturday. Due to a maximum of the grace and mercy of God, the extremity of prayer and something to do with being a voracious reader throughout the week, the Lord saw me through the message today. For this I am thankful!

To get ahead, I am reading through Acts chapter 2, with a plan of dealing with 4 or 5 sections in this chapter. At current, my commitment remains to complete Acts. Of course, this is a week-by-week endeavor. And this may change along the way. For the coming week, Acts is the plan!

Thankful for the 2 who came forward today. Also looking forward to choosing a web page designer in the coming weeks and putting some other things in place this Fall in our church.

Would love to hear and read your thoughts. How was your day?

In FIMG_2038.JPGebruary of 2011, the Lord abruptly altered my life; and called me to serve as the 11th pastor of one of the oldest African-American congregations in Victoria, Texas. Victoria, right between Corpus Christi (the place of my birth) and Pearland (my home), is where the Lord would call me to serve the precious people of Mt. Salem Baptist Church. A small congregation in size, I didn’t realize my assignment would require commuting, at the time I accepted the call. Mt. Salem is an historic church; and has had a long history of fully supporting their pastors well. I do not recall a pastor there who was ever bivocational. However, my arrival followed a storm within our church. As with the rubbish of a New York following “9/11”, we were at ‘Ground Zero’. What the church was realistically able to give me in compensation would not meet the financial demands of my life, at the time. Fortunately, God was opening a clear and unexpected door with Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in healthcare; and God (to my wife and I) affirmed that we were where He wanted us to be. I knew nothing, however, about commuting.

Commuting is traveling from one town or city to another; and there are many pastors who have done this. Growing up, my father pastored in Goliad, Texas for a couple of years while we lived in Corpus Christi. I knew of a few pastors and friends who did the same. But if you would have told me 10 or so years ago that I would be a commuting (or even a bivocational) pastor, I would have humbly told you, ‘I don’t think so, Lord willing!’

But here I am. I now have learned to love what I once loathed. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the course of my time as a commuting pastor, in hopes that someone may be helped through my reflections. I write this in the form of things you should not do if you are a commuting pastor.

1. Do not go a day without prayer & wise counsel.

Prayer is so important in the life of every pastor. The commuting pastor is, by far, no exception. For the commuting pastor, you have the opportunity to strengthen your devotional time with the Lord. My commute to my church from home is about an hour and a half. Doing this twice a week, on most occasions, is a minimum of 6 hours during the course of an average week. On Wednesdays, I am by myself. And during the course of my pastorate, my prayer life has gone to another level. It has also given me time to think through (uninterrupted) what I am going to teach or preach. Lately, I record myself in teaching and preaching on my smartphone. Before I delete or upload it to my database, I head my headphones and literally listen to myself preach or teach on the way home. This is torment; but it is helping me to sort through all of my speaking fallacies; and pray through how God wants to use me in the future. It has also given me the opportunity to call trusted friends and seek counsel while I am on the road. I encourage every commuting pastor to make this a time of refreshing; and to take advantage of the silence and the road.

2. Do not go a day without knowing you’ve been called there.

It is important for every preacher to know they’ve been called to preach. It is as equally important for every pastor to know that he has been called to the work. The commuting pastor is absolutely no exception. For one, there will always be people who will seek to suggest you are less than a pastor because you, in many instances, are forced to commute. At other times, some will suggest you are being selfish and not ‘stepping out on faith’ because you have chosen to remain bivocational for various reasons. Then, in many instances, even the members may feel neglected or forsaken. Perhaps, there will always be some ambitious pastor in town who befriends your members like a wolf in sheep’s clothing; and suggests to them you aren’t as faithful as you could be. This is why knowing you’ve been called to the congregation is so important and essential. It is something about a captain who establishes the direction of the watchtower on the sea. Any wind or wave may seem intimidating and distracting; but knowing the direction of the watchtower and the watchman gives a sense of resolve, peace and assurance. Never let others distract you from the work God has called you to and the family God has given you, being your wife and children.

3. Do not avoid time with your family.

I am convinced that God’s greatest gift to us, after Calvary, is our family. Why would God give us a wife and children; and then call us to a local ministry that negates our family? Please know, I am not suggesting that the early Christian martyrs, disciples and followers of Christ weren’t called to give their lives (literally) for the cause of following Christ. I am also not suggesting that we should deny speaking requests, limit our time in church ministry, etc. What I am suggesting is that they must work in harmony with one another. The pastor’s wife doesn’t have to be the co-pastor to partner with her husband in ministry. The pastor’s children do not have to be Stepford kids to have a great relationship with their father. When it comes to the commuting pastor, allow your wife and children see how they fit in the ministry. Thank them for traveling with you, when they do. Reward your kids, every now and then, for riding in the car with you to your assignment. Every now and then, break free from the sermon you have to deliver, and spend time on your ride asking them about their lives, their week, their day and hear what they have to say. In addition, find ways to go away with them. I am trying my best to spend a week away by myself with God, a week away with my wife and a week away with my children. This is difficult, with being a Pastor and a Chaplain. But…these are legitimate goals.

4. Do not go a day without determining who the little pastors, movers and shakers are.

For every new pastor, one way to get booted out is to actually think you are the pastor! Pastors who go to new churches are often told by the new congregation, ‘Pastor, you’re it. Come make us a better church. Come and make us a bigger church.’ This may be true of some. But for most, even if that is what they profess, that is not ‘really’ what they mean. Every new pastor does good to remember three things: 1) It takes time. 2) It takes time. 3) It takes time. Really….it does! In their mind, that was their church FIRST. And, from their perspective, it will be their church after you’re gone. So what should the new pastor do? Of course, the new pastor must remember that the Holy Spirit is the real Pastor. But in another sense, every church has someone who has gained the influence, respect and ear of the entire church. At times, this person may not even be ‘liked’ by everyone in the church; but they can often be the strongest influence in the church. Many times, this is more than one person. It can be your predecessor; your predecessor’s widow; your predecessor’s family or children; the deacons; the mother in the church, etc. Find out who they are! This is so important for the commuting pastor because you are not there, often, throughout the week. So find out who these people are; and draw close to them. Often these people are good people. Sometimes, they may not have direction but, if they grow to love and respect you, they will follow you. Hence, if they follow you, others will. Bounce things off of these people. Say to them, ‘You know…I was thinking about such and such, and about this and that. Honestly, what do you think about that; and how do you think our church would respond.’

5. Do not be foolish.

Wisdom is everything. And, for the commuting pastor, wisdom is everything even more! Even with the aforementioned regarding bouncing things off of influential people in the church, be careful. Be very careful. Were you that person’s choice? Did that person cause problems with the last pastor? Does this person want to see you fail? Therefore, everything must be saturated in prayer. Wisdom says it doesn’t hurt to ask for their advice, even if you don’t follow their advice. It doesn’t hurt anything (but maybe your pride) to ask.

6. Do not let discouragement defeat you.

For every pastor, he will often ask himself, “am I doing enough?” For every bivocational or commuting pastor, the same applies. I have asked myself, “how much more effective could I be if I lived in the neighborhood or down the street?” This is a question I ask myself on a regular basis. Pastors will often deal with discouragement. Discouragement doesn’t mean depression. It means discouraged. And discouragement is inevitable. However, it is defeatable (I made the word up). Trust in the promise of God’s Word; and keep them near your heart.

7. Do not regress.

I am naturally lazy. I struggle with it. Being bivocational brings its own series of challenges. Being bivocational and a commuter….that’s in an arena all its own. One must avoid the temptation to take shortcuts, preach sermons online, neglect study, etc. It is just a fact – you must work harder than ever before. Most who commute are traveling to rural areas or small congregations. There is the notion that these congregations don’t demand much, in terms of content in preaching. This is not always true, as with my congregation, but it is probably the overall consensus. There is the temptation to slight the people and just ‘give them a little something’. The challenge I have given myself is to give deliver the greatest quality message/sermon I can in a way that is simple, succinct and portable to the hearers. This is must more difficult for me. With my last congregation, I pastored physicians, dentists, lawyers and engineers. For a young seminarian who loves words, there was a comfort in sharing what I knew with this group. And while the congregation I serve now is very intelligent (as in intelligent as the previous group), their lives are simpler, much more practical and resides in the context of an entirely different arena. How can I communicate the profound realities of God’s Word in a simple way? And how can I grow to be a great preacher and expositor when I am traveling on the
road? I must refuse to go backwards.

Please note. While I am a commuting pastor, I make no claims to be the consummate pastoral expert on commuting or pastoring. These are merely my thoughts and experience in something I’ve been doing for almost four years now. If you are a pastor who commutes, I’m interested to hear of your experiences, thoughts, instructions and encouragement. What do you think?

 

Touchy Preaching Topics

Posted: August 20, 2014 in Preaching
Tags: , ,

Toni RidgawIMG_3483.JPGay wrote an article some time ago where he goes on to say that 55% of pastors report topics they either preach on sparingly or not at all. Here is the list from the article:

Politics – 38 percent
Homosexuality – 23 percent
Abortion – 18 percent
Same-sex marriage – 17 percent
War – 17 percent
Women’s role in church and home – 13 percent
The doctrine of election – 13 percent
Hell – 7 percent
Money – 3 percent

I cannot help but wonder the reasons behind these statistics, that seem to reflect what I hear proclaimed and shared across pulpits throughout America in the 21st century. Rarely do we push the political button; and when we do, it typically bleeds the typical right-wing, Jerry Falwell, type of lingo that describes the ‘left’ as the Devil and everything on the ‘right’ as endorsed by God. Homosexuality and Same-sex attractions are quite prevalent in most churches, yet rarely is it addressed though often condemned or explained. The woman’s role in the church and home remains as untouched as ancient times, while many leaders fail to realize the woman’s role in the 1st century and prior were non-issues, in that day, just as were any other minority, including Gentiles. While it is addressed in the scripture (the role of women, Gentiles, etc.) we discard it an issue already covered in past times, that needs no further explanation. Election? Too complicated! Hell? Too mean! Money? Too personal! War? Too political.

We are living in a different era and time. As a consequence, these issues can no longer be ignored! At some point, messages that consist of ‘feel good’ placebo and focus on ‘haters’ will one day wear on God’s people. Well, atleast those who want more with regard to their faith in action amid a world that is vying for their attention and affections. Preaching on success in the workplace, at home and in finances are all important; and I believe these matters are addressed in scripture. But happens next after I have preached on success and the next level for the man in the pew (or pulpit) who is struggling with homosexuality? Or for that matter, he is no longer ‘struggling’ with it. What about the woman or girl who is surrounded by lesbian thoughts and tendencies? Or the person trained to believe that Christians are Republicans and non-believers are Democrats; and that giving a woman the right to choose is automatic murder while putting young troops in harm’s way in senseless war is noble? As a result, our churches are becoming a place where we talk about Heaven, and shout around the building about what’s on the way. However, we go home and live the same defeated lives.

I contend that BEING church far outweighs HAVING church. But I also believe that it is very possible to HAVE BOTH! However, when PASSION retards PROGRESS, how does this glorify the God Who created us?

The good news is – there is a way to address all of these issues without trying to figure out where to start. And there are a remnant of pastors and preachers who are doing it. It is through the verse-by-verse exposition of God’s Word. Anyone who would pick up God’s Word, open it, read it, study it and explain it…will, at some point, come across the aforementioned topics. This is necessary in teaching the people who hear (and proclaim) God’s Word to go home and LIVE the abundant life. And the exposition of the scripture inevitably shows us the HOW TO, and not just the WHAT! It is one thing for me to tell a person how nice Pebble Beach is; but it is another thing to tell them how to get there. Let us not spend so much time in our preaching, teaching and leading simply telling people how nice heaven is, and how great the next level is; but let us tell them practically, in God’s Word, how to get there. This is the challenge for me, in my dealings!

What say you?

 

IMG_3415Today is D’Ani & I’s 14th Wedding anniversary!

1998 was a difficult time for me.  I found myself in an unusual place.  Due to my own bad decisions, left to deal with a ‘broken heart’, I heard the Devil laughing at me.  After going through a 5-year, on again/off again, relationship, dealing with one disappointment after another; and left to try and pick up the pieces, deal with public humiliation and embarrassment and the pain of betrayal, somewhere I gave up on God and on love.  Yes, I was not perfect.  Did I enter into a relationship that God revealed, time after time, the person was not the one He had for me?  Yes again!  But there was still pain, nonetheless.  Eventually, in those coming months, somehow, I moved on and I let it go.  It was rocky at first; and I thought I could never breathe again.  In fact, I pleaded with God to ‘make it work’.

He would not!  

He said no!

And when I wouldn’t take no for an answer, He made things so clear to me that what I thought I wanted, didn’t want me; and I really didn’t want that relationship as much as I thought I did.

And still….I heard the Devil laughing at me!

During that time, I went through such a dry period in life and ministry.  I wasn’t called on much to preach at many places during early 1999, it seemed.  Everything got so quiet.  I was alone.  I didn’t realize until later, I was alone “with God.”  I remember going to hear one of my preaching mentors speak in the Dallas area, and he asked me if I was okay, because I had lost quite a bit of weight; and he thought I was sick.  I was probably depressed and didn’t know it.  I found myself in Arlington, Texas both ashamed and alone.  The only wisdom I could come up with was to improve myself.  This is the period where I learned how to awake every morning at 4am and pray for an hour.  I began to journal and rediscovered my love for studying God’s Word.

Interestingly, through the course of that year and following, I found a refreshing place in my relationship with Christ.  I had recovered the joy of my salvation in Him.  But one thing had not changed – I was done with love.  Admittedly, I was never the guy who dated one girl to the next.  I never was the person to just hang out with a girl for the fun.  If I didn’t see her potentially being my wife or wife material, I got bored very quickly.  Inherently, I still wanted a wife.  BUT….I just knew I could never trust again, and especially love as innocently and vulnerably as I once did.  Maybe I was ‘damaged goods.’

But THEN….something happened!  I saw a girl that struck my eye.  I had seen her ocassionally, singing in the choir where my Uncle Lloyd Pastored in Denton, Texas.  But…I wasn’t the kind of guy to go to church looking for a hookup; and while I thought she was ‘cute’, I looked and moved on.  But one day, I worked up enough nerve to ask my cousin Constance, and a few other people about her.  Constance told me her name was ‘D’Ani’.  When I heard her name, I fell over!   It was the most beautiful name I had ever heard; or so I thought!  Then, I was informed that one of my older cousins had tried to talk to her, and was unsuccessful.  This sort of discouraged me, because he was smoother and cooler than me, and was admired by many young ladies.  So I blew it off for a while!  Someone else had told me they had heard that she was pretty serious with a guy she had been dating since high school in Houston.  So, I just knew I didn’t have any chance whatsoever.  I have always been pretty laid back and shy when it came to approaching a person of the opposite sex in my single days; so these were simply inquiries.

Then one night, at a musical honoring my mom the day before my father’s pastoral anniversary, she was there!  I’ll never forget what she had on, how she looked and how she wore her hair.  And I also just couldn’t resist.  I just HAD to say something to her!  For the first time in my life (and last) I walked up to a young lady without any mediator or filter and I spoke, not just to say hello, but to express my complete adoration for her.  So, after church was over, I walked up to her, and said the dumbest thing I ever said to any woman in my life, “So….is it true you’re engaged?”  I was so nervous I really don’t remember her exact response.  Plus, she seemed to be distracted and surrounded by quite a few people.  Then, it got even worse, much worse.  I said, “Well, I guess I’ll have to settle for second best.”  My mind and memory went blank after that.  My attempts to be cool, smooth or debonair had completely failed.  Then (it gets worse) I WALKED AWAY!!! I did all but run away….like a disappointed kid runs off stage at a talent show when he is embarrassed.  I just knew whatever inkling of hope I may have had to know that girl, that was gone too.  Period!

There are other little details I could mention, but the main detail happened the next day (Sunday) when I was expressing my disappointment and despair to one of my friends, who was an associate minister at her church, where my uncle served as Pastor.  He walked away; and the next thing I knew, before they left, he handed me her email address.  Emails, at that time in 2000, were sort of a big deal.  He said that he would ask for her number for me, but I was too scared! An email was fine.  I had an AOL account at my apartment (remember the ones that would use your phone line?), so I felt comfortable emailing her.

I couldn’t resist.  I left as soon as I could from Corpus Christi to get to Arlington, Texas where I lived to email “pink twirler”.  A day or so later, she emailed me back.  I still have those emails and exchanges somewhere.  Eventually, that week, we talked on the phone….for hours and hours (6, to be exact!).  In time I learned that her own relationship had been going through some serious challenges and transitions.  She was a senior at Texas Womans University; and had been praying for God to show her if that relationship was in His will.  Interestingly, she was so distracted the night of the musical honoring my mom because she had lost her promise ring from him during the service.  She was looking for it everywhere and couldn’t find it.  I promise, I didn’t take it!!!  Those seemed to be red flags for her regarding her relationship with the guy she had been dating.  I could literally tell a hundred stories of how God brought us together; and how God was speaking to me, speaking to her, and speaking to both of us together.  I have absolutely no doubt that D’Ani was tailor made for me.  There was no way I would have even entertained a relationship so serious and so pure during such a time in my life.

We started dating in April of 2000, got engaged in May and married in August of 2000, a few months later.  Sounds crazy, huh?  There are many ways, I can look back and see how someone may have thought we were.  She had graduated from TWU, but hadn’t passed her dental tests.  I didn’t have much of a job, a struggling preacher, and was a junior/senior at Dallas Baptist University.  I had absolutely no resources to support myself, let alone a wife.  But God….  D’Ani and I’s story is laced, through and through, with nothing but the grace, faithfulness and goodness of God.

She is my gift from God.  And all of the things I went through before her coming into my life, made me appreciate her even more.  I am so humbled when I think of what I pleaded with God to do; and that when God said no, I thought He didn’t love me….because He didn’t give me the person I wanted.  But a couple of years later, He gave me MORE than I ever even knew possible for me.  He gave me Dee.  And I could have never asked for a greater gift, after Calvary.  God actually didn’t give me what I thought I wanted BECAUSE He loved me.  He wanted me to have the BEST He created JUST FOR ME.

It is my humble prayer that I will always make her smile, laugh, be proud to say I am her husband and ‘Daddy’ to her boys.  It is my prayer that HE would keep me healthy, strong and able to give my life to making her the happiest woman on earth.  It is also my prayer that if I should go before her in this life, that she would never doubt the love I have ever had for her; that her needs will always be met; and that our sons will love and protect her all of her days.  In the meantime, I want to be her dream maker – whatever she dreams, I am her to make it come true.

Consequently, I did hear the Devil laugh at me in 1998.  But GOD had the final say!!!

And I can honestly say, that because of My Dee, I am the man, pastor, husband and father I am today.  I am no longer a boy, but a man. I am still kind of a struggling preacher, but God has brought me a long way.  Because of her support, I graduated the following year with a Bachelors and later with a Masters.  When I told her I was starting a church in 2005, she was the first to join.  When I told her years later I felt a call to go to a 140 year old struggling congregation that was and hour and a half from our home, she was the first one in the car (before me!).   She has supported me, through it all!  She is the “wind beneath my wings!”

And now….the Devil gets to hear me laugh!

Happy Anniversary Dee…. I love you to the moon, infinity and beyond!  I am praying that the Lord will faithfully give us 14, 25 and 50 more!

Philippians 1:6

Sunday Reflections

Posted: August 11, 2014 in Preaching

20140804-113910-41950746.jpgThis past Lord’s Day I had the opportunity to go home.  When I say ‘home’, I am speaking of one of two places that I specifically consider home, by way of membership and special memories.  One is where I began my preaching ministry, and where I was licensed to preach.  This is the church where my father still serves as the Senior Pastor and leader, the St. John First Baptist Church of Corpus Christi, Texas.  It was there I cultivated a deep love for the preeminence of God’s Word; and a true appreciation for Christian learning and education.  It was at St. John First that I grew to cherish the teaching and proclamation of God’s Word.  The other place I most often call ‘home’ is the place where I was ordained, started full-time in ministry and became trained in pastoral leadership under my Pastor, Harvey Clemons, Jr.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach at Pleasant Hill in Houston.  These days, I rarely have the opportunity to go home.  But when I do, I am overwhelmed by my love for them, their love for myself and my family; and Pastor Clemons’ consistency to love and nurture me as an adopted son in ministry.  My relationship with this great man is something I have a hard time communicating in words; and I am led to believe he will never understand the special place he has in my life and ministry that he continues to hold.  

So….to say the least, sharing there is always a special treat.  It never fails, I am always extra nervous when I preach there!  August is his vacation month, but he was there!  This adds nervousness to my always nervous tension.  I shared a message I attempted to share a few days ago from Daniel 3:17-18, regarding the plight of the 3 Hebrews boys’ unwillingness to bow amidst the pressure of a pagan king.  I entitled the sermon, ‘Don’t Curse Your Crisis.’  The outline was simple: I. Remember who you are II. Remember what you have III. Remember Who is in control IV. Remember your assignment.  

My biggest concern these days is my use of time, and my use of manuscript.  My continued goal is to come completely off of my written manuscript very soon.  It was an honor to have one minister to ask if I was using a manuscript during the message.  I’m getting there.

Last week I read H.B. Charles, Jr’s. book “On Preaching”.  He was kind of enough to sign a copy for me while he was preaching in my hometown, Corpus Christi.  And I am also halfway through the reading of Steven J. Lawson’s, ‘In it to Win it’.  It is my hope to do a review on both of these books in the near future, if time permits.  

My Cowboys lost; and I am NOT happy.  Preseason football is football to me; and it sometimes que’s things to come.  We shall see.

How was your Sunday?

God be praised for yet another Lord’s Day!

Our youth and young adults led us today in worship. It was encouraging to see so many of our youth and young adults participate over the weekend. I had the opportunity to spend some time with them on Saturday in what I called a ‘rap session.’ I am amazed to hear all of the things our kids are dealing with and the questions they have. It is also an encouraging reminder to be a better father to my boys; and talk to them on a regular basis about life and spirituality.

I continued our journey in the Book of Acts. I have unofficially declared at Mt. Salem that we are going through the Book of Acts; but so far, so ACTS! I have had some moments of embarrassment in the past almost 20 years of preaching, and about 13 years of preaching on a weekly basis to the same people, week after week. When a Pastor announces that they are about to start a series, you can count on atleast one person who will remember you said, “SERIES”; and they know what “SERIES” means. I have been guilty on one or two occasions of doing this on Stewardship. I remember in my first pastorate, I announced I would be preaching on stewardship for ‘as long as it takes for us to get it!’ I probably should have never said that. In addition, I said that in June, the beginning of Summer break. Attendance, as with many churches in the summer, declined among members, increased among visitors; and it just wasn’t the right time to be preaching on stewardship. Therefore, I stopped. Anyway…I am now in the Book of Acts, for right now!

Here is an outline of my sermon:

Title/Subject: The Power of Your Witness
Texas: Acts 1:6-8

I. If you are going to be a witness, stop concentrating on the situation, and focus on the Sovereign Lord. (verses 6-7)
II. If you are going to be a witness, there must be a dependence on the supernatural power of God to show up. (verse 8a)
a. His strength in separation (parting of Judas/replacement)
b. His strength in supplication (prayer)
III. If you are going to be a witness, share you story. (verse 8b)
a. Jerusalem
b. Judea
c. Samaria
d. Uttermost part of the earth

I am prayerfully looking forward to continuing in this study, Lord willing.

Thank God for the responses to the message.

How was your Sunday? Did you hear or preach a sermon that touched you in some meaningful way? I’d love to hear from you!

20140804-113910-41950746.jpg