Kraig Lowell Pullam

My thoughts. My reflections. My journey…. On pastoring, preaching, leading & learning.

Archive for the category “Christian Living”

Sunday Reflections

God be praised for another Lord’s Day in His presence.  On Sunday, I began to reflect upon the goodness of God for how He has sustained my family and I; and continued to hold our congregation together amid a vote that took place a little over one year ago.  On August 23, 2016, the results were in.  I had been voted in as the new Pastor of Shiloh MBC in Fort Worth.  After over 60 resumes were submitted, I had made my way to being the final candidate.  The vote was 262 yea’s, 69 nays and 2 abstainers.  Fast-forward one year later, I could not help but remember how difficult it was for me to stand on the 4th Sunday in August one year ago; and tell my beloved congregation in Victoria that I had been called to serve as the next Pastor of Shiloh; and that I believed God was telling me to go.  Inso-being a year later, I became astounded in how swiftly the time has passed; and the significant (seemingly insignificant) milestones occurring since then.  Mt. Salem has since called a new pastor.  We were preparing to install one of the Sons of our congregation as pastor of the Greater New Hope Baptist Church in Fort Worth.  In addition, so many people with whom Dee and I are connected through family, churches and friends were rocked by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.  Even as I write, Hurricane Harvey has not settled; and the affects of his presence are yet fully unknown.  All the while, the inimitable V. Michael McKay was with us over the weekend to both promote his new book; and galvanize our already stellar music department.  Amid other things that I will leave for another time, to say it was a day filled with worship and mixed emotions would be an understatement.  I was just so grateful that all of my family was accounted for (including our parents, some who were with us); and with some inconveniences on them, all of our family, church members, former-coworkers, friends and loved ones are safe and accounted for.  I am absolutely grateful, even while empathizing with many who are still searching for family members and looking for help.

I preached a stand-alone sermon on Sunday out of img_0375.  It is the story of Mary breaking her alabaster flask and pouring her extravagant oil upon Christ.  I wanted to utilize my time between two series of messages and deal with GIVING; but I also wanted to take advantage of Minister McKay’s visit and cover WORSHIP.  The Holy Spirit led me to the passage in John 12 as a perfect harmony of both subjects, giving and worship.  My title was, “If It’s Not Broke, Break It.”  Years ago, I had attempted to preach this story recorded out of Mark 14.  It didn’t go so very well years ago.  I think the Lord blessed my feeble attempt in preaching.

In the afternoon we journeyed across the city to install one of the “Sons of Shiloh”, Rev. Reginald Andrews.  Before I arrived at Shiloh, Rev. Andrews had spent almost 30 years faithfully serving both Shiloh and Rev. Albert Chew, Jr., my predecessor.  While he has never said it – I know that he not only misses Rev. Chew immensely; but it has been challenging to find a way to walk and do ministry amid the void of a presence who has essentially become a giant in his faith.  All in all, I am grateful for Rev. Andrews, his love for Shiloh, respect of me and his unfailing love for the person and memory of Rev. Chew.

In summary, I think the Lord has displayed over the course of this year (continued reinforcement this past Sunday) that life, ministry and people keep moving on.  We make a mistake in thinking that everyone will be happy, comfortable or cheerful regarding change.  We also make the mistake of thinking we can do anything significant without resistance, friction or difficulty.  God has blessed me to pastor some great congregations.  I honestly believe Shiloh is one of God’s best churches.  But to say that it has been a “cake walk” would be a complete fabrication.  There are some of those ‘nays’ who have come to embrace me as their leader; and then there are some (I am sure) who are not my fans; some who are still there and some who are not.  I am grateful for the presence of them all.  None of it is personal; even when it seems like it may be.  The truth is – we are in a spiritual fight and battle.  Often, the people who inflict seeming pain fail to realize that they are being used by Satan.  They honestly believe their antics are legitimate, purposeful and maybe even godly.  Yes, I am fully convinced that there are times that we need to pray an imprecatory prayer the likes of Psalm 109 — for God to destroy our enemies.  But we must be discerning — for there are times when God allows difficult times and even difficult people to remain to refine our character, develop our patience, strengthen our convictions and deepen our prayer life.  There are even times where both are in order.  Then….there is an important truth — that it isn’t really our task to separate the wheat from the tare; it is God’s!  Often our calling is to do what God has called us to do, get out of the way; and let Him do the rest.  As a consequence, I pray and lift every Christian church and ministry, spiritual leader and sinner who needs repentance.  God loves us; and He will not ‘rejoice’ until the world hears the message of His love, grace and faithfulness.

May God bless and keep you, is my prayer!

Reflections

img_0375It is hard to believe I haven’t blogged in three (3) months.  Nevertheless, here I am.  God be praised for the journey.

The last time I wrote, I had just begun my preaching series through the 7 churches of Revelation.  This past Sunday, August 30, 2017, I finally concluded.  One commitment I made during the process is to not break the series.  By God’s grace, I did not.  Whenever I stood in the pulpit of Shiloh, the Lord allowed me to continue, amid the challenges of working through the texts, holidays, personal desires not to cover certain issues (i.e.-Jezebel), I forged ahead.  During the course of this study, I received a couple of reminders of how there seemed to be no love entailed in my sermons.  One brother who has become near and dear to me noted that he had to duck and dodge as I preached.  Someone expressed that they had felt that perhaps God was not pleased with them.  At first, I felt bad regarding such comments while going through the series.  But then I had to remember Christ’s aim in the Book of Revelation: REPENT!

One of the most difficult things, in being a preacher, is communicating to the hearers how hard it hits us before it ever reaches the pulpit.  I am convinced that it must touch us if it will ever touch anyone else.  It has also challenged me to work harder and do better in communicating the love of God, even in the hard passages.  The fact it – Revelation (as it relates to the 7 churches) doesn’t mention the love of God.  But I hope to always communicate that God’s love is present from Genesis  to Revelation.  Therefore, I am always grateful for ways to become a better communicator of God’s Word.

This week, in the midst of my pastoral duties, I’ve been working my way through the three parables tucked away in Luke 15.  However, I think I am going to preach a couple of messages on encouragement before I delve into dealing with God’s love for the lost.  My hope and prayer is to do better on this platform; and chronicle my journey in my pastorate, marriage and parenthood without getting myself in any trouble.  I am learning that the people we least expect often peer into (and sometimes misinterpret) the things you intended to purely help someone understand the journey… I hope and pray to continue that dialogue here….all for the glory of God.

 

Pastoring, Fathering…the Journey

Whenever I come to the end of another year, I often find myself in reflection.  Today, I came across some old emails and files from my first church, Cornerstone Baptist Church of Pearland.  As I began to reflect, as I sometimes do…I can have a mixture of emotions.  Most of them good, some not so good.  For the most part, I am the one who would take responsibility for the not so good parts.  Today…I likened my pastoral experience to my experience as a Dad.  I’ve pastored 3 congregations. I am the father to 3 sons.  My first church (Cornerstone) is somewhat like my eldest son Kai.  When I think about Cornerstone, I think of how (as with my son Kai) I didn’t know a thing about pastoring.  I was so green, naive, dumb and inexperienced.  As I look back and reflect, it is humiliating to even think of my silly ways.  Now for me, these foolish things did not consist of any kind of scandal such as indescretions, embezzlement and the like.  I refer to things like time management, dealing with people and their problems, pastoral care, communication, temperament, patience, financial decisions, diplomacy, leadership and the like.  Even in preaching – I go back and read some of my notes and ask, “Why did I say that?”  I remember once doing a series on relationships.  I discussed everything from Affair-proofing your marriage to Keeping the Fire in your marriage burning.  Sounds good?  Maybe… But I didn’t even think to consider having childcare available so that the adults could safeguard their children from the topic.  Just dumb.  It sounds very logical now; but I didn’t learn the lesson, save through trial and error.  I could go on and on.  But in the same way, I parallel my first church with my eldest son, Kai.  I was 28 in 2005 when I began pastoring my first church; but I was only 24 when D’Ani gave birth to Kai, my and our first child.  We had been married only 3 years (at 21), and here I was in seminary, barely able to support a wife; and here is Kai.  I fell in love with him at first sight.  But I had no idea what to do beyond that.  Some of it came naturally, because I had a great example in my father, and D’Ani seemed like a pro.  But I was as nervous and confused as all get out.  Kai had nothing to reference, so he didn’t know any better.  But I was struggling so much with a job on staff at a church, trying to make it through seminary; and learning how to manage finances as the head of a household…I look back and wish I had savored more moments with my boy, when it was only he and I.  Again…it may not have been anything dramatic (such as abuse, neglect, etc), but it was big to me.  Now that he is 13, I look back on that time, as I do my first church…and know that if I knew then what I know now, I would have been a better pastor and father to them both.

In 2011, I became the pastor of Mt. Salem.  Boy…that was a sweet time.  Seminary was over.  I’d survived the rough years of trying to learn Cornerstone.  I was completing a Chaplain residency at Harris Health, in Houston; and finances were quite a bit better.  In fact, the year was so good, we traveled to Disney World in the summer with the boys, and then to the Chicago-area for my brother’s installation and then to Hawaii in the fall.  The financial struggles, as it relates to church-life, were somewhat in our rear view mirror.  I shifted from doing a little bit of everything at Cornerstone (cleaning, running off the bulletins, etc) to Mt. Salem, where they had learned to function a year without a pastor.  Mt.  Salem continued to grow steadily; they were okay with my commute; D’Ani was just fine with my commuting there for mid-week; the boys saw it as a field trip on Sundays; and everyone was happy.  Because of my trials and errors in trying to learn a new church and young people at Cornerstone (predominantly young adults), my greatest joy and challenge was learning a 140-year old congregation like Mt. Salem.  Because Mt. Salem had been through her own storm before I arrived, and I had  challenges at our first church – we pretty much appreciated one another.  Mt. Salem was simply a breath of fresh air.  I cannot think of a time I pulled up to Mt. Salem and didn’t smile.  I loved it; and fell in love with the people.  I was 33…so a little more laid back than I was at 28.  Because I was so ambitious and the young adults in my first church had much more energy, I appreciated the laid back persona surrounding Mt. Salem.  I absolutely loved it.  I literally saw how everything I had experienced at Cornerstone, prepared me for Mt. Salem.  Of course, like any older congregation, there were challenges with moving the church forward…  But I have always assumed I was pastor; and because of my wisdom (along with being more patient than in my 20’s) there were things I was just not led to do or change.  I now know why-that wasn’t why God called me there!!!  Ultimately, I would not have even appreciated Mt. Salem, had it not been for my first church.  In like manner, when D’Ani gave birth to Kaden (our second-born son), we were 28.  I had started back at seminary after taking a semester or so off.  We were still fledgling as a church, at Cornerstone.  But overall, things were okay.  I’d learned a little bit about fathering, so Kaden had it a little better.  Of course, Kaden was a force to be reckoned with; and still is.  His temperament was nothing like Kai’s.  Kai needed only a television or a video game.  His love language was and is gifts.  You can put him in a room with things or gadgets and he was fine.  Kaden?  He needed someone in the room with him; and his love language was and is quality time.  Just like any given church, every child is different.  And in like manner, I learned things with Kaden that were diametrically opposite of what I learned with Kai.  Fortunately, all of these things worked together in harmony, to simply make me a better father and spiritual leader.  

Now…early in 2016 I was happy.  I had absolutely no complaints, on my end.  Other than the wear and tear on my vehicles, we were okay.  Unlike 2011, in 2016 I was no longer a resident at Harris Health, but a Staff Chaplain with a nice salary and full benefits and retirement.  One of my uncles had mentioned to me an opening at Shiloh in Fort Worth, a church I knew nothing about.  I had only known of their pastor, Dr. Albert E. Chew, Jr.; and had met him only once when I was a teenager at a winter board meeting; and knew of his recent retirement and passing.  My uncle said that it was ‘a great church’ and suggested I send in my resume and biography, something I didn’t do often (Mt. Salem nor Cornerstone ever saw a resume!).  I did; and left it at that.  After all…in some sense, I had sort of ‘arrived’: Nice incomes, D’Ani with a great job that she loved; wonderful anniversary every March; and a church family that we loved.  All was well!  Fast -forward, after a national search…I was eventually called to Shiloh in Fort Worth.  Totally unexpected!!!  And I honestly believe that this is my last stop.  I’m not moving anymore…Lord willing!  I’ve discovered that SHILOH IS THE GREATEST CHURCH IN THE WORLD (no joke); and we have fallen in love with the people!!! Now that I am done with seminary, am 38…been married for almost 2 decades, pastoring over a decade and the like – I am much more patient, considerate, pastoral, responsibile and the like.  I can see, just as before…how the young days of Cornerstone and the experience of Mt. Salem balanced me out to lead the people of Shiloh over the next several decades.  Like Shiloh, our baby Karter was totally unexpected.  Between Kaden and him, we had lost 2; and had concluded we were probably done.  We were thanking God for 2 healthy, vibrant and smart boys!  But God had other plans!!!  We can pinpoint the days of conception with our first 2; but Karter?  I just know he is mine; and he wasn’t planned!  

Here is why I’m sharing all of this.  As I look and see how affectionate, patient, considerate and expressive I am with Karter, I can sometimes be taken aback and saddened by how I was a little rough, non-affectionate, inpatient or non-expressive with Kaden and more with Kai or with Cornerstone and Mt. Salem.  Life has just slowed me down.  I’m a better man now. I’m more prayerful. I’m in less of a rush.  I’ve learned what can wait and what cannot.  I’ve learned how to choose my battles and when to proceed with caution.  I’ve learned how to give people a hug and tell them I love them and when to wisely tell a person who is toxic in our church to shape up or get out.  I’m literally a sharper cat.  And then I think – it was all of that (including Kai, Kaden, my losses, struggles in seminary and the like) which prepared me for who I am NOW, in this very moment!  And then I’m grateful…that while I think I’m getting older (almost 40)….God used all of that and has brought me to a special place in my life at 38.  Romans 8:28 comes to mind – that God uses all of these things as a ‘working together’…  Nothing is wasted; and God can use even our trials, tests and experiences as treasure to propel us to our next level of purpose, greatness and His pleasure. 

It is my hope and prayer that those who read my blog can see the good that emanates out of all of the trials of your life, and specifically 2016.  That when He brings in the unexpected, we will not only appreciate what He brings; but rejoice over what He gave us before – and know that it was all apart of His ultimate plan. God bless you and keep you.  I am convinced that, if I do my part, the best I is yet to come.  I pray and believe the same for you!

Sunday @ Shiloh

God be praised for another Lord’s Day!

This past Sunday, I turned to John 1:14, and explored Christ’s deity, incarnation, God’s grace and His glory.  The Sermon Title was, “The Christ of Christmas”.  The older I get, the more I am falling in love with not only biblical exposition, but story-telling and preaching Christian doctrine.  I am heavily leaning towards taking time each year just going through our doctrine and “What We Believe” in the Christian Faith.  I enjoyed the preaching moment, so much so, that I found myself in celebration…and lost my voice!  

Humbled and grateful that attendance at Shiloh is steadily growing; and the Lord is adding to our church family. Really excited about a young couple who joined at the conclusion of the message.  Later in the evening, a group of people from our church sponsored a Christmas sing-along. It was a fun time!

During the course of this week, I am trying to catch up on a number of things as we conclude 2016; and prepare for the coming year.  I am very excited about so many open doors that lie ahead; but realize that the closing of old chapters can be emotional and challenging.  At the age of 38, I can only hope and pray that we all learn from where we’ve been; use it to become better where we are; and glorify our Lord in the midst of it all.

                                                                                     

Sunday at Shiloh & Week in Review

God be praised for another Lord’s Day and another week of ministry. 

On Sunday, December 11th, I continued my exposition through Luke chapter 1.  Specifically, I made an attempt to cover Luke 1:38, 46-55
and used the title: “When Life Throws the Unexpected”.  Ultimately, I believe the Lord was pleased with my handling of the scriptures; and in turn, He smiled upon our time around His Word.  We are simply living in a time where the Preacher is not afforded the luxury of being sloppy with their treatment of the Scripture.  It must be cut straight, leaving the temptation to mishandle the communication of what God is saying and a cleaving to simply preach the text that we read. We are not called upon to smooth off the rough edges of God’s Word.  We are called, like salt, to pour it out and pass it on.  Since I am here, the Scripture admonishes is to preach 3 things: Preach The Word, Preach Christ and Preach the Gospel.

During the course of this past week, I have had a number of meetings that have been both challenging yet very encouraging. In many ways, I am seeing that Shiloh, as a whole, has a desire to move forward.  It is my job as Pastor, to not only affirm, insure and inspire us toward that end, but also to bear in mind that change (for anyone) can be challenging, emotional and difficult. It is Pastor’s job to relish the past, but he must remain sensitive; and provide a healthy balance or respect the past while prayerfully, gracefully and deliberately moving the ship forward. Thank God for my ministry at Mt. Salem and also my first job out of college, at Pleasant Hill in Houston. Like every facet of my life has played an integral part of where I am today, Pleasant Hill and my ministry at Mt. Salem…prepared me to be the successor of a giant in the faith to the likes of Albert E. Chew, Jr., and standing at the helm of one of the greatest and most prominent congregations in Fort Worth.  Please keep Shiloh MB Church in your prayers.  I’ll say this – I’m excited about 2017 in the life of Shiloh and in my own life personally. I remain prayerful and humbled that God didn’t forget about all of the lonely moments, sacrifices in ministry, the Church-hurt and my attempt to live an exemplary (not perfect) life in private and public.  I’m grateful. 

How has your week been?

Please lift my hometown of Corpus Christi in prayer. They are dealing with a water issue’ and are asked to refrain from the use of tap water. I am praying for them, along with the safety of people who are expeirenceing incement weather around our country’ and all of the homeless people who ha e no shelter. I pray everyone has an outstanding weekend!

Blessings!

He’s Looking At You

Over the course of this past week, I have had the opportunity to fellowship with several Pastors and Leaders within Shiloh and in the city of Fort Worth. This has been a tall feat; but ultimately the rewards of such have outweighed and minimized the task altogether. But I must admit…the highlight of my week began on the 2nd Sunday. While in my office, talking to several church leaders before the start of Worship, the phone rang in my office. I answered!  Someone asked, “Hello, is the new Pastor of Shiloh preaching this morning?”  My response: “I believe he is. If he is not preaching, I’ve not received the memo!”  As it so happens, the person asking the question happened to be the assistant of one of my preaching heroes, Pastor Isadore Edwards. He is the Pastor Emeritus of the New Rising Star Baptist Church of Fort Worth; having served there as Pastor for over 40 years. He and my predecessor, Dr. Albert Emmit Chew, Jr. were very good friends. Interestingly, I’d learned a few weeks earlier that Pastor Chew helped to found New Rising Star, and was responsible for Pastor Edwards’ going there and serving as Pastor there. As I had heard around town…Pastor Edwards wanted to hear me preach; and had intentions of stopping by Shiloh to hear me. He wasted no time!  As service began, he came in with several preachers, sat on the front row and quietly listened in as I preached. 

My Sermon for the day came out of Romans 15:1-7. The title: Let’s Stay Together. 

For some reason, God has wasted no time leading me to deal with some very intense passages of scripture during the opening weeks of my time at Shiloh. This sermon was about unity and living in harmony as fellow-believers, amid our varying distinctions, preferences and ideologues.  I was on-edge regarding the message.  The presence of Pastor Edwards, I admit, intensified my internal tensions and prayers. 

Earlier in the week, I received a call from one of the deacons at New Rising Star, stating Pastor Edwards enjoyed the message, and his affirmation that I was a gifted student of God’s Word; and that he would like to have lunch. I was informed that Pastor Edwards, who is now 90, has good days and bad days; and that he may not talk much, but still has his memory and enjoys good fellowship. 

As we dined together, I had an interesting discourse with Pastor Edwards. 

I told him how pleased I was to have had him in service; and admitted to him I was nervous, after listing him as one of my favorite preachers growing up. That’s not hyperbole. He was, and still is!!!

Here’s what followed….

Him: Why were you nervous? Me: Because as I was preaching, I could look out right in front of me, and see you. Him: Can’t you see Jesus in front of you while you preach? Me: yessir, but I’m not looking at him physically. Him: You can believe He’s looking at YOU!

I was floored and speechless!  He got me!!!  Jesus is looking at me. 

Whether it is my character; my witness; my preaching or leading God’s Precious people; leading my family or my personal devotion – He is looking at me!!!

In the midst of his seasoned years and waning strength, God used Pastor Edwards, to reassure and afffirm His all-seeing eye is on me, as it was on Pastor Edwards’ old friend, Pastor Albert E. Chew, Jr. God knew exactly what I needed, when I needed it most; and I am grateful for the angels (messengers) He sends along the way, to remind me of His constant presence in my life and ministry. 

Enjoying the Process (Pastoring)

I began pastoring my first church in March of 2005. At 26 years of age, married with a 2-year old son, I had absolutely no idea what it took to pastor or lead a congregation. Because I had been preaching since the age of 15; and the youngest son of a pastor…I thought I knew. But Bible College and seminary training did not prepare me for what I would encounter at 26. The Lord blessed me to preach almost every Sunday for four years, where I served as the Minister of Christian Education. My pastor let me preach each Sunday to the people in his congregation during the early service there. But my four years of preaching did not quite prepare me for what I would experience in pastoral ministry. Too often we can make the mistake of thinking we can handle certain functions because it either looks easy, or it seems as if we have all of the appropriate answers for any given situation. Even now, Donald Trump’s rhetoric will change regarding some of his promises if he were to receive the vote of the American people and actually become the President of the United States. This same truth applies to Hillary Clinton as well. 

 

By far, pastoring has been one of the most difficult tasks in my own life. Being the husband of D’Ani seems easy. Being the father of Kai, Kaden and Karter….well, that’s another story. But I digress!

 

Going back to my first pastorate…it was a new church! The pressure of starting a new work (specifically, a ‘cold start’) is second to none. It is one thing to start a new church that is branching off from another congregation (either a split or from a sponsoring church), it is something altogether different to start from scratch. No money. No building. No sponsors. No members! Just….a dream…

 

As I reflect, I would have done quite a few things differently. If I had pastored my SECOND church FIRST, I would have saved myself some of the trials I faced along the way; and I would have become more appreciative of the things that come with a new ministry that you are forced to endure in the old. It being my first church, and the church I started…it became my baby. Consequently, I didn’t give away enough of the ministry to others. I carried the bulk of the burden, particularly financially, upon myself and my family. When the church struggled, it fell upon me and my family. This, of course, is the price we pay for ministry. The ultimate hurt is when the church does well; and some wonder why those who’ve sacrificed are benefactors of that blessing. Ultimately, I should have been doing better financially, already finished seminary and prepared to carry the finances of the church, with or without anything in return. Ultimately, I loved Cornerstone in a way that I will never adequately describe; and the people of Cornerstone loved me and my family in a way that cannot be put into words. Not a day passes that I don’t think about and have fond memories for, “My First Church.” 

 

In my second pastorate…I was at a different place in my life: 6 years later; over a decade-long marriage; 3 children…seminary degree complete; nice chaplaincy job in Houston. Things were better for us personally. I was learning so much in the chaplaincy about pastoral care, ministering to hurting people and specializing with those who were mentally ill, along with a specialization in AIDS/HIV patients…my preaching and my ministry to the people to whom I was pastoring was transformed. In a real sense, the issues I would encounter in my current pastorate paled in comparison to the many of the issues I’d faced in the hospital (at Ben Taub in Houston). AGAIN….I am certain I’ve made mistakes along the way. I often wonder how effective I’ve been as a bi-vocational and commuting pastor. I have often wondered how many more relationships I could have cultivated in the city and at my own church had I not been on the road, or been so busy in my travels. At other times, I am amazed at how God has blessed our congregation; and how far we’ve come spiritually and in many other ways, since my arrival over 5 years ago. The challenges I had in my first pastorate were different from the challenges in my current. My greatest challenge (as I reflect) has been being an agent of change. In an older congregation, especially Baptist…not everyone is welcoming toward change. This is just a reality. As strange as it seems…I knew this by the time I came into my congregation at Mt. Salem. I knew (as I do now) that change must be gradual; and that patience is a powerful virtue. For example, I waited an entire year before starting a praise team. When I eventually did, I didn’t call is a ‘praise team.’ I called it the “A.L. Randon Ensemble”, named after the longest-tenured pastor of our church. The term “praise team” can be threatening to some who know nothing but choirs in the “old church”. And, for the same demographic, ‘praise team’ and ‘praise dance’ are one and the same. 

 

Over the years, I’ve gradually implemented change….at a much slower rate than I either have wanted or anticipated. But the most important thing (atleast in my context and in light of our church’s history before I arrived) that the Holy Spirit impressed upon me was for UNITY to remain in our congregation. For this to occur, I could not and cannot have one generation competing against another. This would have brought in a busload of new, young people. Because of my experience, I know how to get that demographic in the building… But I will never forget my pastor telling me that much of pastoring is about the “managing of many personalities”. In this instance, it is not just about gaining new people; but about resisting the need to damage the faith of some mother in the church who has been apart of the same congregation for 50 years. Make no mistake…change MUST occur. And I am not suggesting that any given pastor should stunt their growth to cater to the midget-mindset of an individual who is centered on self and convenience. I am simply saying that pastors should be sensitive in not burning bridges to get to the next town. In this case, PEOPLE are our bridges! 

I know that my blog is long and it seems as if I am rambling. But there is a method to my madness. I do have a point. In a few weeks I will celebrate 38 years of life. My point is: ALL of this has been a part of my journey. I would not have been as sensitive to the feelings of others at Mt. Salem if I had not gone through some of the backlash of not consulting anyone and just moving, at my first church. I would have not been as prepared for the journey personally and in my own financial life for my second church, if I had not gone through some of the financial struggles in starting a church in my mid-20’s while in seminary, after leaving my job at a church to start that new work in ministry. 

 

Here’s my ultimate point: ENJOY THE PROCESS. And LEARN from the process. LEARN to manage WHERE YOU ARE with gratitude and humility. Don’t take for granted that God is at work. EVERY SINGLE THING has led me to where I am at this very moment. God has blessed me tremendously! 

 

Spiritually – I’m growing.

Domestically – I am married to the woman of my dreams, with 3 healthy boys who are active, smart and growing in their knowledge of Who Christ is.

Financially – I’m not a millionaire; but I have everything I need, and much of what I desire (I don’t desire much!)

 

Ultimately…I am enjoying the process! My encouragement to someone reading this blog is for you to enjoy the process as well. Stop listening to the voices of the enemy. I have this voice that likes to remind me of much I have not accomplished at 37. “You’ve done this and you’ve been there….BUT…”

Get this: I am where God wants me to be. My job is to do the BEST with what I am given; and to remain faithful; and to BLOOM where I am PLANTED. I am doing that; and I am grateful!!! This is my continual prayer for me, my family and for you. 

 

The Entitlement Cure

 
I’ve just finished reading John Townsend’s book “The Entitlement Cure”. After hearing and reading several stellar reviews, along with seeing the intriguing title, I wanted this book in hand. And while the subtitle sparked my interest more than the title, I knew I needed to read it…amid my difficulty in reading all things Townsend. I don’t know what it is; but I’ve always found the writings of John Townsend a chore and bore…to the extent of having to play music in the background not to fall asleep. Admittedly, I realize this is an unfair criticism; and something I would hate for anyone to say about my writing. After all, Townsend is a well-respected author and the co-mastermind behind New York Time’s bestselling “How People Grow”, a book I have used during my days of Christian Education in our Book Club. The fact is…Townsend is not a wordsmith. But getting beyond the style, there is substance couched in “The Entitlement Cure.” Therefore, I wouldn’t 1) Discard this book as irrelevant 2) Misdiagnose this book as a prompt of any political propaganda 3) Write off this volume as being unworthy of investment. 
“The Entitlement Cure” addresses a prevailing problem that now infiltrates every vital organ in relational life as we’ve come to know it. Whether it is in the church, marriage, home-life, work-environment…Townsend asserts that we are all infected by the disease of entitlement. In fact, entitlement is a byproduct (well, he shows how it pre-dates human creation) of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Townsend contends that entitlement is the belief that “….I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment…”, and that the problems in human society stem from this crippling disposition. In this volume, the author not only analyzes, but also speaks to both the culprit and enablers of the entitled on how to jettison this attitude of being special, being owed, refusing to take responsibility and blaming others.

Hitting at the core of the book, I realized I actually love Townsend’s style of writing! Addressing the relational patterns that drive entitlement (Chapter 2), he gives the practical markers of how we often feed the entitlement monster and thereby foster attitudes of entitlement (example: praising what takes no effort; praising what is required; praising what is not based on reality; etcetera). Unfolding five principles that can restore the problem ALL of us have with entitlement (some more than others.) While all five principles are of notable mention, I do think one of the components outlined by Townsend is how denial, perfectionism and narcissism attribute to the pressure, stress and emptiness that accompany their intended. Entitlement limits our good and our growth, according to the author. I do agree! 

One of the very central themes in this volume is Townsend’s description of feeling deserving to taking responsibility. He says that there is a right way to deserve and there is a wrong way to deserve; and explains how responsibility is not only right, but the practical ways to assume responsibility (Chapter 8). One of the things I like is Townsend’s conventional use of what he calls “NHT”. In short, this means “Next Hard Thing.” Townsend argues that our NHT is the choice we all need to make that moves us beyond the difficulty. In a real sense, what separates the good from the great, the best from all things average…is the ability and willingness to move past the proverbial areas of discomfort. According to the author, this requires 1) Carving out time 2) Going against the flow of life 3) Going against other’s expectations 4) Starting a ground zero (ie – “at the bottom”), etc. In this recourse, there are two (2) specific dynamics I would like to spotlight here in conclusion. One is saying when you are wrong (Chapter 13) and facing the pain that gets you somewhere (Chapter 14). I think that these two chapters and dynamics are key to understanding Townsend’s entire point. 

In summary, I would suggest this as a read for anyone who is looking to practically stop being an enabler to those who are highly entitled; and as a practical guide to taming the entitled monster who lives inside of us all. I give the book two thumbs up; and a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. I would also suggest this as a great read for parents, couples and church leaders. 

 

My Take on Bill

 In 2010, I almost named my baby son Kosby Lowell. 

There you have it from the jump. Without secret or hesitation, like many, I grew up in the nineties on The Cosby Show.  Invariably, as with Seinfeld, The Bernie Mack Show or The Jamie Foxx Show, one could not dispatch the show from its namesake and lead figure. In fact, Bill Cosby was essentially one of the leading pioneers in this sort of autobiographical kind of satirical humor in PRIMETIME America; particularly crossing over to every culture, race and creed. Bill Cosby single-handedly, with his stellar cast, became a household name. I, like many, couldn’t wait for Thursday to arrive!!! In a real sense, Mr. Cosby personified a charicarization of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “American Dream”.  The Huxtables cleverly and compellingly enchanted America and persuaded the nation, possibly the world, that Malcolm’s “Nightmare” had diminished and Black America could live, work and dream as they pleased. 

Tragically , and often unfairly, segmented society will often trip on the paradigm and make the picture interchangeably synonymous with the person. In all fairness, The Cosby Show was an autobiographical reflection of Cosby’s own life. Camilla was Clair. Bill was Cliff. The four kids were his own son and three (3) daughters. But what if the story wasn’t about his own life at all?  Would his personal life taint a person’s sacred view of Cliff?  I do not know. What I do know is that this scathing truth prevails in Christendom, for sure. 
On the one hand, we cannot expel the message from the messenger. Conversely, the church can unfairly crown the Christian Leader with an unattainable standard that only Christ can comfortably reach. 

Since 2014, Cosby has been accused by over 50 women of either rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and/or sexual misconduct, with the earliest alleged incidents taking place in the mid-1960s. After an October 2014 comedy routine by previously unknown comedian Hannibal Buress casually accusing Cosby of inappropriate sexual behavior went viral, earlier sexual assault allegations against Cosby became more public, prompting many female accusers to come forward. In the wake of the allegations, numerous organizations have severed ties with the comedian, and previously awarded honors and titles have been revoked. Cosby and his lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations, calling the allegations discredited. Most of the acts alleged by his accusers fall outside the statutes of limitations for legal proceedings. Today,  December 30, 2015, numerous civil lawsuits against Cosby, as well as a single charge of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, remain pending.  He was arraigned today. 

I would like to make a few observations, as this is clearly not going away. 

1) As the husband to a woman I love, a mother I cherish, two goddaughter who I pray for daily and countless women to whom I minister, I am very sensitive to the cries of these woman. I am not naive enough to think that sexual harassment is mere fiction. Worse still, as with the “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004,  often the woman is villainized while the man is given a pass of fidelity. As with the woman caught in adultery in scripture (John 8:1-11), the brother is conspicuously excused and exempt. This is unfair and inequitable. 

2) As a man living in what Maya Angelou calls “these yet to be United States”, I cannot help but ask “Why now?”  Okay….I can hear someone shooting me down. 50 women? Speaking out since 2014? I’m just saying!

3) As a Christian who is a pastor, I think this should lead us to ask a few questions. Let’s face it…Leaders fail. Some fail more and more often than others. I often wonder if the church does a good job of 1) restoring those who’ve fallen 2) given enough thought to preserving the message and legacy of spiritual leaders after they have fallen from grace. 

Focusing on my last point, I have seen it go in both directions. There are churches that will turn a blind eye to a leader’s alleged (or confessed) in descretions. I know of a Bishop who was accused of several improprieties, and there seemed (it may have been done privately) to be no form of discipline, counseling, repentance, etc. on the other hand, I’ve seen draw it measures taken in churches where the leader is not only removed; but any semblance of trace of their ministry in that congregation is obliterated, stripped down, sanitized and thrown into the wilderness with the nameless creatures in the 2004 movie “The Village.”  

Is this right?  If Billy Graham is discovered to have been a murderer years ago, should all of his honors, medals, books, sermons be destroyed?  I can go on and on all day. But I will stop here and simply ask, at the end of this year, that we pray for spiritual leaders and their families. The stakes are high, and the Devil is busy!  

I am praying for Cosby, his accusers, those who admire him and are effected by his influence. I do not claim to know him personally; and would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, as I do the same for these accusers. But let us also consider the spiritual underpinnings of how this connects to the church and how we respond to someone who is accused, guilty, innocent or all of the above. 

Ultimately, God’s grace extends toward us all. What are your thoughts?  

Closure 

  Like time suspended,

A wound unmended-

You and I. 

We had no ending,

no said goodbye;

For all my life, 

I’ll wonder why.

The above poem was written by Lang Leav, gifted and noted author, in her own write. I believe her poem “Closure” echoes the sentiments of many who are wishing to tie up loose ends as 2015 comes to a screeching halt and takes its bow, and 2016 makes its grand entrance.  

Without giving a long discourse on closure; my hope and prayer is that God’s Holy Spirit would lead and prompt us to let it go and move on. I can think of some defining moments in my own life that could have potentially signatured my demise and downfall. From my own failures and disappointments to friends who I may have felt mistreated me, to relationships gone wrong, to church members who took advantage of the ministry provided to them and the like. However…God is the Author and Orchestrator of Divine Closure. And as a follower of Christ, we are never given the charge to make permanent responses to temporary issues. People, feelings and things should be granted the right of being funeralized, evicted and forgiven. 

We must be careful not to kill what God wants to live.  In like fashion, we should never attempt to resurrect what God wants to die. John 19:30 records the words of Christ as he is suspended on the Cross of Calvary between two theives and surrounded by an onlooking world gone wild, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Often, the finish can be bitterly sour; but it is necessary. There is often a blessing packaged in departure and benediction. When closure is divine and a part of God’s ultimate intent, God will bring comfort and consolation. The greatest error is to wallow in the thought of what could’ve been. In 2015 there may have been missed opportunities, fractured relationships and closed doors. That spells bad news. Here’s the good news: God specializes in bringing NEW opportunities, cultivating NEW relationships and opening NEW doors!  

So I would encourage anyone to simply stop rehearsing the past that cannot be changed; quit crying over spilt milk; and stop re-writing closed chapters. Trust in the eternal truth that God GIVES to us more than He TAKES from us; and He will remain faithful when the tides change, chapters close and life happens. 

I am praying for you; and invite you to turn the corner, and head down the avenue called DIVINE CLOSURE!

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