Kraig Lowell Pullam

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

Archive for the category “Spiritual Formation”

2020 MidYear Review…

If you’ve never read any of my blogs since 2008 or so, I’d encourage you to atleast read the one before this one.  I would also encourage you to subscribe; as well as share this blog with someone you may know.  My blogs (when I do write) are intentionally candid, transparent and brutally honest.  As a ‘church kid’ I do still remain subtle and try to remain ‘politically correct’, to protect the innocent, the faint of heart; and most importantly, the people I love; and my church.

That being said….

If you take the time to read my last post back in January…there is a glimmer of excitement, hope and relief.  Contained therein, there is an unspoken sense of ‘I’ve been through the storm and rain; and 2020 is going to be an exciting year.

For ALL (or most) of us….I sure seemed off.  This has been some kind of year.  I’ve seen so many memes referencing 2020; and how rough this year has been, from ‘Can we just skip the 2020 album, and go to the next 2021 track’ to so many others.  My favorite has been the meme I saw by one of my friends I’ll call ‘CBB’.  She is a former member of our church; and she never disappoints with the memes.  The meme is entitled, ‘If 2020 was a slide’. The slide is a cheese grater!

For me….as I wrote my last blog, I knew God was leading me to make a decision in my own life and ministry; that I had prayed so many times about, over a couple of years.  I’d promised the Lord that I would move in His time; and no matter what anyone said, I would move on His timetable.  As I wrote the last blog, I didn’t even know if I’d be bold enough to obey God; or how my decision would effect anyone involved.  What I did know is that I feared God, more than anyone else.  My intention is not to go into details regarding any of that.  My intention is to say to you – after I moved in the direction God instructed me to move, I traveled to Jacksonville, Florida for the Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference, held at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville.  The conference was empowering, enlightening; and the things I learned and the people I met simply made the time there seem like things were just coming together.  I had never been to SBC’s Pastor’s conference held at First Baptist Jacksonville.  My father had been while I was in high school; and Jerry Vines and Mac Brunson (their previous pastors) were two of my favorites.  But it is just a plethora of encouragement, insights and empowerment.

Lord knows I needed it.  2019 (so I thought) was a rough year…just dealing with a suprising loss in our church family.  One brother we lost was such a major encouragement to me personally.  He was not a deacon or a trustee.  He wasn’t an usher or a Sunday School teacher.  He was just a ‘regular guy’ from Louisiana, retired from Delta Airlines; and just supported his new pastor.  He had been on oxygen for a couple of years; and had been struggling through that; having good days and bad days.  But I just admired how he would make his way to Bible Studies on Wednesday nights; how he would help with our security and safety personnel; and he never left church without talking to me.  One Sunday I was in the foyer greeting parishioners as they departed; and he was waiting (as usual) for me to finish.  Finally, he said he’d see me on Wednesday night.  A day or so later, he was gone.  I never shall forget doing something I advise no pastor (especially a professional chaplain) to do.  There in the hospital, in front of his wife and daughter, I broke down and cried like a little baby.  As some know, I am not a crier.  Little did I know that God was preparing my tear ducts for 2020.  I miss him so much; and he will be one of the first men I look for, after I see Jesus.

During my time in Jacksonville, my father met me there; along with a dear friend of my family, whom I call my uncle.  Being an alumnus from Dallas Baptist and Southwestern Seminary, it was also a joy to see quite a few old colleagues, professors, classmates, etc.  I was unsettled by the brewing tensions 2020 would bring; but excited about pleasing God.

I did something I don’t normally do, in 15 years of pastoring – I stayed over Sunday.  I visited my friend, H.B. Charles’ church (Shiloh in Jacksonville).  After church, I spoke to one of my best friends, Bertrain Bailey; and we shared our Sunday experiences, as we often do.  Of course, I didn’t have much to say.  I hadn’t preached; and I had only heard reports of the great time our people had back at home as Shiloh in Fort Worth.  As we spoke, Bertrain tells me, ‘Man…I’m seeing on the news that Kobe Bryant just died.’  My closest friends know I have always been a Kobe fan; and would always argue that he was better than the inimitable Michael Jordan.  As a matter of fact, my intention was to name my youngest son Kobe; to no avail.  I told him, ‘Don’t play like that.  We don’t play about Kobe.’ He said, ‘No dude, I’m seeing this on the news.’  From there…It has been a blur.

Kobe was, in fact, killed, along with others, in a helicopter crash; and the world rocked.  Without even settling down long enough, we were hit by the Coronavirus Pandemic.  And most recently, the injustices of the killings of unarmed black men and women; and the outrage that now ensues.  If things could get no worse – with family members who have fallen ill, members of my church losing family members, etc; the shocking loss of Pastor Manson B. Johnson of the Holman Street Baptist Church, has dealt another devastating blow.

Here is my summation to this blog…just in case you think the world revolves around your little worries; God knows how to allow a world of bigger problems to eclipse what you are facing.

To be sure, the things in my world continue to move on and move forward.  It is my prayer that God will continue to show Himself faithful, in the midst of any challenge any of us may face, individually or in this world.  Never forget the words of 1 Peter 5:7, which says, “Casting all your care upon Him; for he cares for you.’

Nobody told you that the road was going to be easy.  If they did, they lied to you! As long as you live this life, and seek to make an imprint, there will be challenges along the way.  It is so important to:

1. Remain Prayerful
2. Trust God (In God we trust, everyone else we thoroughly investigate)
3. Follow His Word
4. Walk with Integrity
5. Write everything down, including your story
6. Treat people right
7. Let God fight your battles

The good news is – if you’re reading this blog, you made it through some of the worst times in human history!!!  Just think – we get to live in this time.  And God is so gracious to allow us to experience it.

Be encouraged as you go throughout this process.  May you find joy on your journey!

Handling Stress

2019 was a very challenging year for me. In my estimation, it was probably the most challenging for me in ministry and personally.

Everything that could go wrong, almost did (I am very careful to say ‘almost’, because things could’ve always been much worse).

As I look back over my life, the end of a decade has typically been challenging for me. In early 1999, a relationship that meant very much to me officially ended. While it ended in 1998, I felt the effects of its dissolution; and trying to pick up the pieces the following year. To say it devastated my life would be an understatement. To this day, I know that it was only by God’s love, Grace and providence I made it through that.

In 2009, I was pastoring my first church. We were struggling to remain afloat. We went to a new location the previous year; and there was not a favorable response to the change. I couldn’t understand it, because it was the nicest building we’d ever worshipped in. Only years later did I realize some fundamental things that contributed to what I was experiencing, which I won’t share in this post. Added to the stress of a struggling church that couldn’t afford to support itself, let alone me and my family, I was completing my Master of Divinity degree in Biblical Languages at Southwestern Seminary. And if things could not get any worse, Dee and I had a miscarriage in May of that year, and another several months later.

Even years after, I can naturally see how those situations grew me; but still find it hard to see why God didn’t answer some of my prayers (keep me in that relationship or let me child/children live). I just know it shaped me into the man I am. However, I do live with scars; and I have a limp.

At the beginning of 2019, I made a post on my Facebook social media page…

It was a noble, sincere and faith-filled post. It had nothing to do with ANY one person, and it certainly had nothing to do with any of my obligations (family, church, friendships, etc). It was a general post!

Someone said that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. Satan heard it; and God permitted him to use anything and anybody to stress me out, INCLUDING MYSELF. In fact, myself more than anyone else.

As a consequence, I became someone I did not know and did not like. Because of my youth in 1999, I learned how to not always lash out at those close to me as I did when I was only 19 (atleast the ones who weren’t lashing out at me), and because of everything that went on in 2009, I learned to suffer silently, put on my ministry face, be Pastoral, preach and do my job….

I allowed my perceptions of people’s issues to become personal for me. I allowed the problems and mistreatment of people I love and care about to stress me out, especially because I wanted to fix the situation. I even became stressed over loved ones and friends who felt I wasn’t giving them enough or calling them enough. I allowed other people’s fights (whether family or in church) to become my burden and problem. If a member left because of a divorce or conflict with someone else in our church, it hurt me and I took their leaving as personal. Even more…it causes me to see that I hadn’t fully confronted some of the truths and lessons God was trying to teach me in 1999 and 2009. Little did I know that my loss in 1999 and my challenges in 2009 were equipping me for the struggles I’d experience in 2019; that I may have 2020 Vision.

While I could make this post a Part 1 of a 3-part series, I’ll just express my few reflections here.

1) God has never promised that life or people or situations would come without friction.

2) God can handle people and things better than you.

3) Things and people will only have as much power as you give them.

3) Embrace the fact that many of the things, and people, that you are stressing about, probably aren’t stressing over you. These aren’t fabricationals.

5) Whether the problems or people are temporary or permanent, give it to God, show compassion, forgive yourself and then let if go.

6) Be thankful and grateful for the people, especially the God, you stress out continuously…who are patient, loving and present in your life.

This year…I will not abandon my intention. But I choose to believe I can determine its place in my life.

I pray for each person who is struggling today; and already stressed out in 2020. No matter what occurred yesterday, may you realize God’s overwhelming love for you; His purpose for your life; and use whatever energy for stress, toward fulfilling God’s promises in your life.

I hope to do that by sharing my story in the blog. Please subscribe and also share. Also…I would love to hear from you in the comments. Blessings!

Integrity versus Perfection

img_1087Living in the public square and the fishbowl of Pastoral ministry, I have often felt the pressure of being dissected by others.  As a PK (aka Preacher’s Kid), this comes with the terrain.  Even more, being the “kid” of a man and minister (William Lanier Pullam) who could do no wrong to me as a Christian, husband, father, spiritual leader and friend to others, in a small town where everybody knows everyone…could often be a challenge.  I’ve met countless PK’s who developed a sense of resentment, even anger, towards the church and church leaders because of the display of hypocrisy, duplicity, inconsistency and the like exemplified by people in the church.  This breaks my heart.  On the one hand it breaks my heart because the church can be such a ‘messy’ place.  Church people, in the scripture, are likened to sheep.  Sheep get dirty.  Tragically, we often fail to comprehend our ‘sheepish’ comparison and reality.  On the other hand, I think that we subconsciously lift people to a standard that they can never realistically attain.  It is really a standard upon which only Christ can be seated.

I began blogging in 2006.  And over the course of the past twelve years (particularly the past several) I have blogged less and less.  For me, writing and blogging has been cathartic; and it has been a way for me to process my thoughts and to shape direction in my own life.  But, as my life moved more into a public light, I felt as if my quest for integrity became stifled.  It would irk me to blog about something; and then the next several days become aware of how my life did not reflect what I had written about.  After a while, I no longer knew what to write about…so enamored in how I might contradict what I’d said…if just a minuscule deviation of my words or thoughts.

Then I read that the definition of perfection is “without blemish”.  Interestingly, those who are in Christ are “without blemish.”  But the key difference in what tormented me and what the scripture says about being unblemished is crucial: one is built on LAW; and the other is settled in GRACE.

The law tells us to “Do.”  Grace informs us it is “Done!” 
The law teaches us that we have missed the mark; and grace reminds us that Christ has won the race and settled the debt.

In Psalm 17, David asks the Lord to vindicate him, and to protect him from his enemies and foes.  I find it interesting that David uses as his collateral to God’s answering his prayer is his integrity.  Really? David?  The notorious rebel of the Old Testament?  It is then that we must understand that integrity is not perfection.  It is exposing one’s self before the sovereign Lord; and giving God a heart of surrender.  We often quote David as being, “A man after God’s heart.”  Kenneth Ulmer has said, “The issue was never David’s heart.  It was the heart that David was running after.”  I contend!

We will fail.  We will make mistakes.  We will be imperfect.  Integrity understands this where perfection cannot.  Integrity also gives permission for others to fail, make mistakes and be imperfect.

Granted…this is not a license to live a double-faced, reckless, ungodly life.  We should want, more than anything, to walk the lives that we talk.  As Christians, spouses, parents, disciples and leaders…this should be our aspiration.  It is my sincere hope and prayer to live in a way that reflects the character of Christ (amid my own imperfections), in a way that ultimately points to God’s glory.

I don’t need to be perfect; because Jesus was; and because He is.  You don’t either.  His grace is sufficient where the law and man’s standard falls way too short.  Live in this truth and act like you’re free…because you are!

Celebrating 2 Years at Shiloh

I’m reflecting upon the place we were two years ago. On the 4th Sunday of September ‘16, I felt life had come full circle. Certainly in ministry. All of the questions I had about my peculiar journey in ministry to the challenges and obstacles along the way in my education; to the friendships and relationships both forged and razed; to the unusual opportunities given throughout the years – for once, it made sense. God knew what He was doing all along.

Fast-forward, 2 years later…and I see how that day has kept me from then until now. I could not have prepped myself for the amazing victories and the astounding challenges that were sandwiched between my “then” and my “now”. Only my loving Father could have sustained me through it all. Please note…this is not any subliminal writing suggesting I went through hell. It is a declaration of one who now fully lives in his purpose.

God elevated me to a new level…that I’m convinced was a combination of 5 elements: His grace, my faithfulness, my integrity, a strong devotional life and His faithfulness. It certainly had little to do with my ability or gifts. God (as He had done in many years prior to 2016) just continued to opens doors for me that would’ve never been possible without Him. From moving to higher visibility, a national stage to being able to be a greater blessing and facilitator of blessings to others…it has led to a place of peace, being able to live in my purpose, to glorify God, exalt Christ, share my faith and bless others. With new levels, come new challenges and moments of persecution. While I have known this to be true for many and even for me through the years, I never knew it could be 10 times more intense than I could’ve realized 3 years ago. But somehow, while envy, jealousy, being misunderstood, being misquoted, days away from my family, being taken advantage of, has sometimes been overwhelming. I am beyond grateful that most of that has come from outside of our congregation. But God seems to always replenish and renew the strength of those who run to His well and drink deeply. He has faithfully done that!

Several months ago…I was sitting in the blue chair in my study at the church. Some have asked me why I still have it. Others have admitted to leaning back in the chair and they’ve fallen. The chair is old. Loud. Scratched up. Torn. But I’ve never fallen in that chair. Out of every item in the office, that’s the item I love the most. When I walk into that office, the first thing I look for is not my degrees on the wall, or to see if someone left me something on the desk. I look at my chair. It belonged to my predecessor, but I admit that’s not the reason why I love it. It just feels good-I love how it comforts me when I sit down-but that’s not why I love the chair. I love it because it’s mine. I love it because it’s the place where I sit.

It may be loud and squeaky…but it is where I sit.

It may have some bumps and scratches…but it is where I sit.

It may break down tomorrow, but today…it is where I sit.

How I thank the Sovereign for calling me to serve in a good vineyard. It didn’t have to be so. I’m humbled that He did. And if He permits, I pray to serve long and faithfully as the spiritual shepherd of such a great church, until the day I pass the mantle on to the next man who I will serve and call my Pastor.

Day 11

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Prayer will…

  • Open the doors that will altar the course of your destiny.
  • Pull the covers off of the enemy’s antics; and clarify your focus.
  • Connect you to a remnant of intercessors whom God will use to impact eternity, and overthrow the kingdom of darkness.

Within our congregation, we began a prayer campaign called the 20 Days of Prayer, on February 5. We are now on Day 11. I cannot say how long I’ve been leading my church (wherever I’ve been) into a period of corporate prayer during some part of the first quarter of the year. But it has never failed to renew my spiritual focus.

These 20 Days of Prayer in our church have, in itself, given me new life and a greater sense of purpose. I am sure it has done and is doing the same for our parishioners.

This year…I’ve implemented a couple of changes that have deepened and intensified this time for me:

1) Jumpstart our days of prayer with a Prayer Institute.

2) Implement a Wednesday weekly, 15-minute prayer call at 6am.

Prayer Call each Wednesday in February at 6am….

Call-in number: 605-472-5649

Access Code: 266809

3) Commit 1 hour to privately/personally pray on our daily emphasis, outside of my regular prayer time.

4) Put legs on my prayers, as God speaks. I’m excited about what God is doing behind the scenes in our congregation, to make our congregation greater.

Today, as a congregation, Shiloh is praying for all of the endeavors of Shiloh this year; that God would bless our efforts, and the work of our hands.

I’m praying for the Lord to give us a heart, mind and spirit to work and execute His plan, power, purpose and provision for optimum results and impact.

God has revealed so much to me personally as we’ve refocused our attention on the priority of prayer. It even seems surreal when you commit to “JUST PRAY”, the things God will say to you as you tune in your spiritual ears to Him. When you renew your spiritual focus, He will show you things you’ve missed because of daily routine, perfunctory tasks, constant challenge and the like.

When we do it His way (fasting and prayer)….it is so refreshing.

On another note, yesterday we received word of another senseless at a high school in Parkland, Florida. 17 are reported dead. This breaks my heart, as I think of my own children, family members and the precious young people I Pastor. May the Lord call ALL of us to our knees in PRAYER. The only way things begin to change in this regard is through prayer, repentance and then action. Otherwise, the senselessness will continue.

May you find the strength you need now, to make it through. I pray you will find joy for the journey.

January in Retrospect

God be praised for 2018! And thank Him fully for the Month of January.

January began COLD in North Texas. After a festive Christmas enjoyed by family, the last Sunday of December left many parishioners our way at home. I left home that Sunday morning at 8:40am; and arrived at church at 10am…. considering Shiloh is approximately 15 miles from my home, the timeframe gives light on how much ice was on the road. Interestingly, I did not expect anyone to show up; and yet we had a good number. Because of the inclement weather, we had to cancel our New Year’s Eve service for 5pm. Nevertheless, we entered 2018 grateful because we did not receive any reports of accidents from our members or family.

In the second week of January, we began to gear up for the installation of my brother, Rev. Kevin Lanier Pullam, at Fort Worth’s Pleasant Mt. Gilead Baptist Church, in the historic Como area of our city. While our schedules have limited our personal time together, I am extremely elated to not only have he and our sister, LaTonya, in town; but to have him as leader of a church many of us have grown to know and love. PMG installed him in a grand fashion; and God’s providential plan for both Pastor and People coming together were evident and clear. I am praying for days and years of fruitful and productive ministry.

On the 14th of January, I presented my first Vision Plan to our congregation. It is a 20 page document that entails my vision for 2018, a short synopsis of where we’ve been, proposed budget and important dates for the year, along with speakers and our annual focus. I was glad to see the Vision Plan warmly received by our people.

Beginning the 22nd of January, a couple of ministers were able to travel with the president of our national convention, Dr. Samuel Tolbert, and Dr. G. V. Clark (my state president) for both a cohort with President Tolbert and also as a delegation to the midwinter board of the Progressive National Convention. It served for us as a busy week. However, the convention and our work was held in Nassau, Bahamas. What a place to do the work of ministry. This time really gave us an opportunity to hear the vision of Dr. Tolbert; gain some leadership nuggets and wisdom from both he and Dr. Clark; and also a refreshing time to fellowship with the other pastors, Rev. Kennedy Young and Rev. Ricki Ferrell.

I came back home with helpful insights on how to enhance my own ministry and leadership; and also grateful to have met some great people in Progressive; and also the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom they honored in one of their services.

During the last week of January, I journeyed to Austin, Texas to serve as evangelist for the Stewardship Institute at Mt. Zion MBC. Incidentally, Dr. George Clark is the pastor there. Again, I was humbled and grateful for the opportunity to not only preach on the subject of stewardship for 3 nights; but just to fellowship and spend time with Dr. Clark. Pastor Clark is 86 years of age; but he is one of the most innovative, energetic, wise and disciplined men I have ever known. As an extra bonus…he was very good friends with my Shiloh predecessor, Pastor Albert Chew, Jr. I love hearing the stories of Rev. Chew told from his friends and family; because it’s the closest I can get to a man who left me the mantle of leadership in such a place as Shiloh. Since I never knew him personally, it makes me feel like I know him for myself.

I am grateful for a wife and a church who daily entrust me with the wisdom to discern when I need to stay, and when I must go and do ministry. I think the Lord has always given me discretion in the Pastorate to discern when I need to be home; and when I need to spread my wings. I am also thankful for accountability partners who keep things in perspective for me; when I am away and wish to be home. I have literally seen the results of some of the sacrifices I made in late 2016 and 2017 as a new pastor. At this juncture, Shiloh is stronger than I anticipated it would be at this point, with us together as Pastor and People.

I am praying for wisdom, help and anointing as we continue to move forward and move ahead in ministry. Thankful to have a couple of weeks at home before I am away again.

I would love to hear from you. If this blog is a blessing to you, please share with others. Blessings!

Sunday Reflections

There is some level of difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that I haven’t blogged since January of this year. Notwithstanding, my time has been well-spent, amid the pressing demands of life, family and ministry.  I officially moved to Dallas/Fort Worth on September the 1st; preaching my first sermon as the Pastor of Shiloh MBC/Ft. Worth on September the 25th. Little did I know, when arriving, the psychological, emotional and physical challenge my quick move would ensue upon me as a husband, father and pastor. While trying to make adjustments and get settled…life and ministry never stopped.  Because I burned no bridges during my transition, and the love was strong with relationships we had left in Houston and a beloved congregation in Victoria, I found myself emotionally drained (and even confused) at times.  And then, after the sixth (6) month, around March or shortly thereafter…I felt myself and things getting back to normal. Or should I say…my “New normal”!  For about a month now, I am developing a system that works for me; and have set boundaries and priories for me to get things done in my new role as the Pastoral Leader of our great church. In so doing, I have found the time I need for personal development, spiritual formation, daily physical exercise and, most importantly, private devotion. I thank the Lord for my loving wife and our boys who have never complained about the move’ and who have shown support for this calling upon OUR lives.  I’m so excited and elated to see what the Lord will do in this new work. Admittedly…because I have seen the vision of what the Lord is leading us to…it is quite overwhelming to see HOW He will bring the vision to pass. But I know the the Lord works best in people who realize they cannot do it without Him.

Last week, I JUMPED into the Book of Revelation, and finally developed the spiritual guts to do an exposition through Revelations 2 – 3, on the 7 Churches.  Revelation has always been an intimidating book to me, as it is to most preachers. It is so full of imagery, prophecy, correction, confrontation, sporadic shifts and the like. In 23 years of preaching (preaching about 960 times) , I am pretty sure I’ve never preached from the book of Revelation, even once.  Interestingly, it is the one book in scripture that the Lord promises to bless those who read it.  So here we are.  

Here is an outline of last week’s sermon…

When the Thrill is Gone

Revelation 2:1-7

I. COMMENDATION OF THINGS DONE WELL

a. It was a devoted church (Verse2)
”I know your works.” 

b. It is a disciplined church ”could not bear those who were evil.” (verse 2) 

c. It is a discerning church
‘you have tested those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars…” (verse 2) 

d. It is a determined church (verse 3)

II. CRITICISM OF WHAT’S GONE WRONG
(Verse 4)

III. COUNSEL ON HOW TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT
(Verses 5-7)

  • REMEMBER 
  • REPENT 
  • REPEAT 

Here is today’s sermon outline…

When Life Gets Rough

Revelation 2:8-11

I. GOD IS BIGGER THAN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES

  • He is the Lasting One 
  • He is the Living One   

II. GOD KNOWS WHERE WE ARE

  • He Knows Our Tribulation   
  • He Knows our Poverty  
  • He Knows the Slander (Verse 9) 

III. GOD MAKES A PROMISE TO US IN OUR SUFFERING

1. Expect It

2. Don’t be scared

  • THE REASON FOR SUFFERING 
  • THE RESTRAINT OF SUFFERING 
  • THE REWARD OF SUFFERING 

 
Ultimately, I believe God was pleased. The mood of both churches is quite different. One deals with a loss of love while the other affirms a promise of suffering and the truth of victory. While it is heavy stuff, I’m convinced that not only is expositional preaching the best preaching method of stretching a church; it is God’s method for stretching the preacher. It is my hope to continue, and conclude this series by the first of the summer.  I am spending this first year getting to know the people of Shiloh, familiarize myself with the community, and gradually present my style and form of leadership, administration and things in between. Truly grateful for gradual, rather than impulsive, growth. My brother, Kevin, has said ‘if it grows fast, it blows fast!’  I concur!  So I am humbled by the work God has assigned to my hands; and I am praying now on His leading and directing us to build that TEAM that will surround the vision He has given to execute His plan for Shiloh. Please keep us in your prayers. I am fully aware that this is no small feat. God is able!

How was your Sunday? What was preacher? I pray you have a great week. Blessings!

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 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. 

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