Kraig Lowell Pullam

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

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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.

 

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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?  

John MacArthur’s Parables (Review)

imageThis week I got my hands on a copy of John MacArthur’s most recent volume on “Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told.” As is MacArthur’s trademark, this particular work of his is candid in style and thorough in content.

Essentially, MacArthur’s work in this volume is threefold: 1) Clearly present factions in Christ’s immediate culture that sparked His use of parables and its purpose; debunking the common notions of why Jesus used this form of teaching. 2) Show how Christ’s key parables are fleshed out in parable, explanation, purpose, point, culture and application. 3) Contend that the parables are tools with which Christ used to teach and defend the truth as a teller of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

The above summary, in and of itself, seems difficult and complex. That’s because it is. There is nothing simple about MacArthur, in MY view. As with his preaching, like an Agatha Christi novel, if you miss a page, you may miss his point. But he does a stellar job of asking and answering: 1) What is a parable? and 2) How can we interpret the parables of Christ efficiently, effectively and correctly?

It is critical to note that MacArthur deflates the notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all. MacArthur points out that this is not true. Jesus “tells” the story to reveal a doctrinal and eternal truth to those who received Him for Who He claimed to be; and to conceal this truth from those who would reject as an outcome of His judgment. Jesus did not, however, exalt the telling of a story at the neglect of doctrinal teaching. In Christ’s approach to communicating truth, as well as in His use of parables, He did not pit narrative against proposition or the story against doctrine, as if they were somehow mutually exclusive. It is clear, according to the author, that Christ uses this for a “telling the story” to enlighten those who have a heart of acceptance towards the truths of God, having the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ. I believe MacArthur does a masterful job of underscoring that the milestone of Christ’s use of parables was fundamentally the assault against Truth. It’s culprit? The “Pharisaical Sabbath-enforcement squad” of His day. In Chapter 1, MacArthur classically communicates many insightful benchmarks in Matthew chapter 12 that ultimately spur this revolutionary and innovative approach to Christ’s preaching and His communication of the mysteries of the Kingdom.

What follows is an approach to Christ’s most prominent parables in a practical, scholarly and insightful style that is only characteristic of vintage John MacArthur.

Now, for a bit of critique. I love John MacArthur and his writings. But in this book, you sort of have to get where he’s going to get what he’s saying. As a fledgling scholar with degrees in Biblical Studies and Biblical Languages, I love him. As an honest layman with a c-average, he is hard for me to follow, on the surface.  If you couldn’t tell (as could I), even my summary bordered on the realm of being difficult to understand without a church encyclopedia. That was simply me trying to break down MacArthur complexity, to no avail.  Simply put, MacArthur is no Lucado or Swindoll or even (in my view) as simple to understand as a John Piper, at times. Now don’t get me wrong…if you can get beyond the scholarly highlights in chapters 2 through 10, you will find a GOLD MINE of preaching material, doctrinal nuggets and teaching points that will live and work well for teachers and students alike. That being said, this book (in my personal view) is not an easy-read; and not one you can speed-read through. I see it best as a volume one should read through slowly; develop a mental (or literal) file that can be used as a reference for future use when dealing with parables and illustrating the subjects/teachings/doctrines of [Receiving the Word, Discipleship, Justice and Grace, Neighborly Love, Justification by Faith, Faithfulness, Wisdom, Heaven and Hell, Persistence in Prayer.]

All in all, I would suggest having this book on one’s shelf as a handy reference in understanding the why, what and “aha” of Christ’s use of parables, and MacArthur walking you through the parables themselves. I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars for the layman; a 4 out of 5 for the scholar.

Please Understand Me

It seems like I run into a Pastor every week who is dealing with discouragement.  But it is more.  After all, discouragement is inevitable, human and cannot be avoided.  I am speaking of a discouragement that spells defeat.  Problematic leaders, fighting churches, argumentative spouses, troubled children – are all reasons to become discouraged.  But it should never move us to a point of quitting ministry, becoming hostile toward God or walking away from the faith.  Pastors are committing suicide.  Pastors are walking away from ministry.  Ministry leaders are denouncing their faith.  It is my prayer that we all would pray for Pastors, Christian Leaders and those who serve and work in ministry.  After all, the world isn’t getting much better; neither is the church responding as she should.

I will not say that my life is perfect; because it is not.  I also will admit that where I am in ministry is a far cry from where I envision myself being in ministry.  But I am always overwhelmed when I think of how God considered me, as Paul did in 1st Timothy; and I count it a privilege to serve Him.

Be that as it may, it is my prayer that these ministry leaders would find encouragement in those whom God has called them and us to serve.  I came across a poem in my devotion that I would like to share here; and I hope it encourages every Pastor and Christian leader who reads….

We would never tell you this, but we are afraid;
Afraid that our lives will end and few will notice.

We would never tell you this, but we are lonely;
Surrounded by a crowd we’re all alone.

We’d never tell you this, but we feel empty;
There’s so much more to life but we can’t quite reach it.

We would never tell you, but we’re disheartened;
No matter how hard we try, a meaningful life escapes us.

We’d never tell you this, but we are worried;
Worried about tomorrow, worried about the past.

We would never tell you, but we’re unfulfilled;
Our lives are full, but our hearts aren’t satisfied.

We’d never tell you this, but we’re searching;
Longing for something to make sense of it all.

We would never tell you, but we need someone to care for us;
Someone who accepts us for who we really are.

We’d never tell you this, pastor, but we need you more than you know.

Poem by Daniel Sherman

Sunday Reflections

IMG_1406This past Lord’s Day came and it went.  But not without God’s showing up in our midst.

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to teach a couple of sessions on ‘Reaching Today’s Millenials’ for the Colorado Baptist Association’s “Equipper’s Workshop”, under the umbrella of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  This event was held at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in El Campo, Texas, where Rev. Michael Moore serves as the pastor.  I enjoyed meeting new people and being apart of a great team of teachers.  IT is my hope for the people of Mt. Salem to experience this in the coming future.

Our worship experience on Sunday morning was phenomenal, from start to finish.  While our Sunday School attendance has been waining since the Summer, I am confident that things will improve.  I am sure there are probably some more innovative ways we could adopt to accelerate the growth of the Sunday School.  For many years, Christian Education & Sunday School were my bread and butter.  But the things I would do would completely change the entire landscape of what many know in our Sunday School, including curriculum development, taking out weekly reviews, etc.  All of these things are effective in most settings.  But 1) Pastors must choose their battles wisely.  2) Pastors shouldn’t be quick to change things simply because they know the change would bring numerical growth. 3) I am still learning the geographical and church landscape in the city of Victoria; and it is okay to be patient in learning.  All of that being said…our Sunday School is effective in what we provide at this time.

From start to finish, worship was phenomenal.  From the opening prayer, there was just a sweet Spirit in the place and among our people.  It was evident, that the deacon who led the opening prayer had spent time with God the previous days.  This simply affirms that the person who gives the call to worship sets the tone of the entire service.  If he or she is bland, the service will often be bland.  If he or she is routine and ritualistic, the service of often (not always) the same.  If he or she is on fire or overwhelmed by the presence of God or moving beyond the usual….the worshippers will often follow suit.

Because of my experiences in church and as a pastor for a few years now, I knew at the beginning that this would be a great experience in worship, Lord willing.  And it was.

I was led to take a break from my series in the Book of Acts; and shared from a passage in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 with the title: My Will, Life’s Thorns and God’s No.  The Big Idea of the text is: How we should respond to the sovereign providence of God with gratitude, surrender and worship, even when God’s answer to our prayers seem to insult our desires.  My points were that we should respond to God’s “no” with gratitude because I. God’s “no” and our ‘thorns’ protects us from the sin of human pride. II. God’s “no” and our ‘thorns’ move us from human provision toward heavenly providence. III. God’s “no” and our ‘thorns’ hallmark God’s plan over our pain.

While I was taking a break from the Book of Acts, little did I know that God said ‘no’ to my continuing the series in order to illustrate His providence, knowing what we needed as a congregation.  Nine people came forward after the message, most came for prayer regarding things they’ve been dealing with in their lives.  Some said, “Pastor, that message was for me.”  I take no credit in this.  There is no way I claim to know what people need.  As pastors, we may study the people, and pray that God would reveal what they need.  But only the Holy Spirit can get into the lives of the people with whom we lead.  With that in mind, I am grateful that God would use me, us and the message He seeks to convey through me.

I am looking forward to a great week.  Currently, I am in Jacksonville, Florida to support my friend and brother, Pastor H.B. Charles, Jr. at his Cut it Straight Expository Preaching Conference.  I am certain this will be a great time of encouragement, training, preaching and instruction for those who seek to grow in the exposition and delivery of God’s Word.  I so want to be a great preacher.  In fact, this desire grows more each day and week.  Please keep those traveling pastors, ministers, volunteers, staff, speakers, and H.B. in your prayers.  Can’t wait to see what he has envisioned (I am sure for years) unfold; and a wife, family, congregation and leaders who support what I am trying to become.

The Cowboys won on Sunday; The Texans did not.  The Saints won, but hey, two out of three wishes ain’t bad.

How was your weekend?  What are you thoughts?  I would love to hear from you.

Sunday Reflections

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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!

The Divine Call

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!

Personal Challenge

 

ImageThere are not enough hours in the day to get everything done!  I am amazed when I think of how swiftly time passes these days.  There never seems to be enough time to get everything done!  I can honestly say at the age of 35 (and counting) that it seems like I was 15 last year, graduating from KigHigh School in Corpus Christi a month ago, marrying my wife, graduating from Dallas Baptist last week; and in my first pastorate, graduating from seminary just yesterday.  Literally!!!

Where does the time go?

To be honest….it doesn’t get any easier as the time goes.  Not long ago, I was listening to a preaching class conducted by one of my favorite preachers, Dr. William H. Curtis.  He stated that, for every pastor, when leaving the pulpit on Sunday, the next Sunday starts in 5 (FIVE) minutes!!!  Add to this, he says, funerals, church emergencies, family traumas in the church, weddings, meetings and the life.  I tend to agree!  This is the life of the Pastor!  The challenges are great, but somehow glorious.  There seems to be a splendid blend and mixture of the ingredients of both AGONY and ECSTASY!

This week, I look back and reflect on 5 years ago as I was preparing to walk across the stage with a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in biblical languages.  I have an itch to pursue my Ph.D. in Leadership in the coming year.  I also have a growing desire to buckle down and grow deeply as an expositor of God’s Word.  These are pursuits that pull and nudge me for which I ultimately attribute to a divine call that will not let me go.  While I feel old, the truth is I feel that God is preparing me for something that is beyond me that will consume the rest of my life.  What that is – I do not know.  Whether that is an expansion and continuance of the things I am already doing or something completely unconventional and new, I would be satisfied either way.  But, my preparation has always been a serious and somber task and pursuit.  The challenge deepens and intensifies – as I desire to be a great father, an amazing husband, the consummate leader, an outstanding pastor….not to mention being elected as the President of the congress in my association and Secretary of the Educational Board in my state convention.  Oh yes…and I’m a full-time Chaplain in one of the largest and leading hospitals in the city of Houston and the world!

My challenge is this – HOW CAN I DO ALL OF THIS?  Is it possible to excel in all of these areas and maintain my sanity?  Do I need to give some things up or away?  Would it be easier if I had a secretary?  Are there any pastors who can provide a remedy to excelling in all of these areas with ease?

Well….as this is my challenge, it is also my intent to tackle the challenge and to make adjustments where necessary.  Oh yes….add to this, I would love to blog on a daily basis!  Please pray for me as I pray for myself and all pastors, Christians and leaders who seek to discipline themselves in the areas of time and excellence in their respective fields and endeavors.  Philippians 4:13 rings clear: we can ‘do all things through Christ’ who gives us the ultimate strength.

What are you thoughts?  How are you managing your time?

Let’s Talk: Communicating with God through Prayer

Prayer_Team-700x1048prayer11Have you ever found yourself facing the struggles of life and saying to yourself, ‘Hey, I just can’t take it anymore!’? Life can run you down until you just don’t have any more strength. Just as our bodies need to stay physically fit in order to keep up our resistance, it is also true that we will break down spiritually, mentally and emotionally if we don’t communicate with our Creator. If you want to increase your intake of nourishment for your soul, you need to PRAY! In a real sense God says, ‘Let’s Talk!’

Prayer unleashes God’s power so that He is able to work in our behalf. Prayer opens the channels of God’s blessing. Prayer is how God accomplishes the things that He wants to see happen in our lives, and in the lives of others. Prayer opens new doors of opportunity for God to move in.

How do I pray?

In Philippians 4:6 it says, “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God.” Basically, prayer is simply talking to God just like you would talk to your very best friend.

God cares deeply about each and every one of our problems and is just waiting for us to come to Him with those problems. The Bible tells us over and over to constantly bring our problems to our Heavenly Father. Prayer is not to inform God of something which He may not be aware of or to try to convince Him to love us more. He already knows our needs and He has certainly shown his love. The purpose of prayer is to assist us in building our relationship with God.

Why should we pray?

Prayer unleashes God’s power so that He is able to work on our behalf. Prayer opens the channels of God’s blessing. Prayer is how God accomplishes the things that He wants to see happen in our lives. Prayer opens new doors of opportunity for God to move. In fact, you can view prayer like a door. You are on one side of a closed door and on the other side is God. But standing with God is all this incredible and unimaginable power. When you pray, it is you turning that doorknob and swinging that door wide open. It is at that moment when all that power can step through that doorway and work for God’s good, and for your good.

Since He respects our freedom of choice and free will, prayer enables Him to step into our lives. Interestingly, God has limited His power and ability in our lives to the importance that we place on prayer. Prayer gives God the permission (though He is sovereign) to do what He has been longing to do all the time. Even when we do not see anything significant occurring, God is still at work solving the problem. When there are apparently no answers, God is still is waiting for the proper time to give us the solution.

Look at these scriptures:

Psalm 55:22 – Throw every burden upon God.

Psalm 68:19 – Blessed be Our God who daily carries the load for us.

Psalm 56:9 – This I well know, that God is for me.

There are four basic steps involved in the proper way to pray.

1–Bring the problem to God’s attention. But always keep the problem God- centered and not problem-centered.

2–Supplication. The definition of supplication is—a very honest and clear confession that tells God that you need His help.

3–Focus on God and not on the problem. Keep in mind that our prayers are always to be God-centered.

4–Thanksgiving. You are thankful because you know the following about our great, mighty and glorious God.

  • That you can come to the Father with your problems anytime
  • That He is concerned about you
  • That He loves you
  • That He said that He would help you
  • That He will see you through this problem
  • That He has the power to solve this problem
  • That you trust Him 100%

God is just waiting for you to talk to Him, waiting for those few brief moments when you acknowledge Him, think about Him, and show Him some love and respect. Yes, your God is just waiting for you to talk to Him and He desperately wants to talk to you, not in words, but through your mind and your heart. God is going to bypass the vocal cords and the ear; and instead your heart will feel that gentle tugging, that urging, that pulling. Your heart and mind will know exactly what God is trying to tell you. Take the time this week to talk to Him.

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