Kraig Lowell Pullam

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

Archive for the tag “church”

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.

                                                                                     

My Sunday & God’s Strength

A few months ago, I ran across a letter I had written to Dec. Cephus Clifton in February of 2011. A few weeks prior, I received a unanimous call to serve as Mt. Salem Baptist Church of Victoria’s 10th Pastor in their 139-Year history as a local congregation. In essence, my letter said, “I can’t do this!” I went on to express that what Mt. Salem needed, I could not realistically fulfill. I conveyed my gratitude to him and the entire congregation for considering me, and placing their vote of confidence in my serving as their spiritual leader; and that I would be praying for them in the days, weeks and months to follow. The context of my letter entailed my assessment of all of the hurt, difficulty and challenge that the congregation had experienced. In light of their journey, I overwhelmingly sensed that I was inadequate as their next shepherd. Moreover, all of the challenges in Mt. Salem made me come to appreciate what my congregation back at home had going for itself. I began to second-guess myself. I began to have a change of heart. I began to think God made a misstep. So I wrote the letter. 

I never sent the letter! 

For the record, I am glad that I did not send the letter. 

Fast-Forward five and a half years later. I’m sitting in the restroom of my hotel on a Saturday night, crying. In the morning I would stand and tell the people I had fallen in love with as Pastor, that I had been called to serve as the next Pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Further, that I believed it was God’s will for me to go. 

 

On Sunday morning…I tried my best to make my way through my continuing exposition of Psalm 23. To be completely honest, I’m not clear on what I said in the message. To make matters worse, my distractions caused me to leave my notes and manuscript of my sermon at home.  Because I had already informed those who were at Bible Study on Wednesday of my call; and that I had not officially accepted, but was praying…the crowd was more somber than usual. Mt. Salem is not an overly-boisterous crowd; and so the silence could have been anything at all. But I think both them and I were awaiting the announcement of my decision. No one in the room, except D’Ani, knew what my decision would be.

After church, we had a ‘church meeting.’ I told them that I believed God was speaking; and instructing me to serve as the Pastor of Shiloh. Again…I cannot recall what I said after that. What I saw were the faces of the people I had come to know and love.  I saw the faces of young people I had baptized, counseled, comforted and even rebuked. I saw their tears. It took everything in me not to cry. Since I had already cried and had my moments the day before, I was able to make it through. Eventually, I led us in a word of prayer (I think); and then that was it. 

And there it is. And there I was. Obedient to God; broken before His people….  The people I felt I couldn’t lead 5 years before, I didn’t want to leave. 

For five years, God has taught me how to love and experience the love from a congregation through Mt. Salem. He has shown me what forgiveness, healing and transformation looks like. I have seen a group of people who were hurting love me and my family in a way I had never seen before. And I will always have a special place in my heart for Mt. Salem. I’ve concluded…God makes no missteps! He knows what He is doing; and He knows where He wants us. How Shiloh even came up is clearly God’s ordered steps… I’ll share that another time. But, to be sure, God knows what He is doing!

Over the next thirty (30) days, my family and I will make the transition from Houston-Victoria to North Texas. While I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life and ministry; and the people of Shiloh await us…my heart still lingers for the people of Mt. Salem. In turn, God has prepared my heart for the people of Shiloh; as He is also preparing the heart of my successor for the people of Mt. Salem. For this I am humbled and grateful. Please keep my family, Mt. Salem and the Shiloh Church in your prayers. God is faithful!

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. 

 

Three Sundays in Review…

IMG_5590My schedule has been hectic!

In fact, I’ve taken a couple of days (Tuesday & Wednesday), clearing my schedule completely, doing absolutely nothing.  In fact FURTHER…I’ve discovered I really have forgotten how to rest and just be.  I am keenly aware of the fact that changes are not only necessary and imminent, but anticipated.  While God has shown me that the reward for GOOD work is often MORE work; and my busyness is a direct result of His rewarding our faithfulness and the gifts He has instilled within us, I am not expecting my ‘busy-ness’ to discontinue in 2016… In turn, I am simply anticipating things to STREAMLINE!  Please pray for yours truly.  I really need it!

All of the above being explained, I am going to do something that is unconventional.  I want to give three Sundays worth of review, beginning with where I left off.

Here’s the outline for my message on:

Sunday, February 7, 2016
Title: Winning in Crisis

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

C.I.T. (Central Idea of the Text): At times, God takes us down in order to show us the way up.

I. God takes over when we get out of the way.
a. God’s breaking process reveals the power of our flesh. (v.25)
b. God’s breaking process reveals the power of God. (v.26)

II. God blesses clingy people.
a. We won’t cling until we are at the end of ourselves. (v.26, 27)
b. Even in clinging, we are prone to use God, not submit to Him. (v.29)
c. Clinging to God in weakness is the source of our power.

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Title: For the Love of God

Text: John 3:16

C.I.T. (Central Idea of the Text): God loves us before we win, and He communicates His love to us through His Son.

I. The Width of God’s Love “For God so loved the world…”

II. The Length of God’s Love “He gave His only begotten Son…”

III. The Depth of God’s Love “That whosoever believes in Him might not perish…”

IV. The Height of God’s Love “…but have everlasting life.”

Sunday, February 21, 2016
Title:
Handling Life Between Not Now & Not Yet

Text: Genesis 37:1-9; 18028

C.I.T. (Central Idea of the Text): Even in the waiting room, we must not allow injustice to stop us from being faithful to God.

I. Remember that who you are is not Connected to what you Have

II. Learn to handle it when what you see doesn’t match what God says

III. Always remember you have a secret weapon. “Judah”

Sunday Reflections

IMG_4699

This past Lord’s Day I pushed the pause button on the Psalms and took a look into the life of a seeming lunatic boy in the gospels, recorded in Mark’s gospel, chapter 9. This was primarily due to my struggling to finish my study of Psalm 14. The message of that Psalm is too important to deliver before it is properly prepared to be served to our people. Psalm, Mark 9 it was! The prodigal in me wanted to title the sermon one thing (“Get the Hell Out”); but my judgment took a much more practical and safe approach for a title (“Lessons From a Lunatic”). If I may be candid and honest…I felt I struggled through the message. It was not a shouting sermon…as not every sermon should be, especially for the pastor who preaches expositionally from one week to the next. It was quiet. Thankfully, a little growth plus being in preaching ministry since 1994, I could appreciate the quietness; but could also discern that they were listening. Towards the end of our invitation, one of our members came down and shared how the sermon was for her; and how it helped her. In my own mind, I was saying “thank you Lord. Atleast one got it. Please help me to work through Psalm 14 this week.” But a strange thing happened. Throughout the week, I have recieved calls and texts throughout the week, from members who have shared how they were helped by the message; and if it was recorded. I hope I am not vain enough to somehow feel the need to have everyone gawk over every word that comes out of my mouth during a sermon. I personally cringe (just being honest) when I hear preachers declare they “slay” the church or “kill” the house every time they stand. Really? That’s cool! I am really just in a season of my life where I am trying to get a handle of clearly explaining the meaning of the text before me; and prayerfully have celebration along the way. If I can somehow muster to construct a “stick” or a “stallion” of a sermon (without plagiarisisms) that can live in any pulpit, be published in writted form and stick to my memory…I am happy. This has been my goal during 2015; and I hope to continue this next year. My point of sharing this is simply to encourage those who grind in study and are diligent in sermon preparation; and who, like me, may lead smaller congregations – to keep going. Continue to remain faithful to the sound, systematic, God-breathed and Holy Spirit-empowering approach to biblical exposition; and just leave the results to Him.

Here’s my outline…

Title: Lessons From a Lunatic
Text: Mark 9:14-29
C.I.T.: Christ begins to transform life’s dark realities when we have reached the end of ourselves.

I. Connect With Someone Who Knows Where You Are
II. Christ Can Begin Where We End
III. Christ Confronts the Source, Not Just the Symptoms
IV. Choosing Faith & Changing Your Language (Prayer) Will Change Your Outcome

What We Can Learn From Lamar Odom Ordeal

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Confession is good for the soul; even if it’s not good for the reputation.

I’m a Los Angeles Laker fan.

There.
I said it!
I can’t really say how I became a fan, considering there’s no one in my immediate family or friendship circle growing up who liked the Laker franchise. Nevertheless, I like them!
One of my favorite Lakers is Lamar Odom. Yes…I said that too! 

On October 13, 2015, Odom was hospitalized after being discovered unconscious at the Love Ranch, a brothel in Crystal, Nevada. Those who are real fans, not only follow members of their team while they play, but after they have departed. And, those who are Christians, even pray for these current and former members of their respective teams. I’m no exception. It is alleged that Lamar Odom has struggled with substance abuse for the past few years. As a result, many have ascribed the constant turmoil in his life, in recent years, to many of the personal struggles he has with drugs. An abrupt marriage (marrying Khloe Kardashian after a month of dating), being traded from the Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks and then by to the Los Angeles Clippers, the list goes on and on, those who already didn’t know him coming to know him through a popular reality show; in a very public divorce; losing his best friend a few months ago; the list goes on and on.
One thing I think is certain – Lamar Odom needed help!

It leads me to make a few observations and/or ask a couple of questions.
1. Where are the roots?
2. Why are many Christians quick to believe we will not deal with our daddy’s demons or our mother’s mess?
3. Why do some manage life’s adversities better/worse than others?
4. Lamar Odom has always seemed to be a very nice/respectable/decent young man. But nice people are still human; and we must realize that we all have some things with which we wrestle and must work to overcome.
5. Can you help someone that doesn’t want help, feels they don’t have a problem or will not listen?

Because I am a Pastor and a minister, I cannot help but see how the aforementioned apply to not only our families and those in our friendship circle, but also within the Christian church. Acts 6 is the perfect example of leadership coming to grips with everyday human issues and struggles within the church. We are a spiritual entity; but we are also physically human. Any casual study of the Corinthian church would result in the obvious analysis that we can be gifted and struggle with human issues.
I am convinced that Jesus specialized in the study of human psychology and human behavior. And if the church is going to ministry effectively to those who are struggling with addictions, issues regarding their sexuality, family frictions, relational issues, etcetera, then the church must, by and large, bridge the gap that exists between what we proclaim on Sunday and how we manage life Monday through Saturday night.
Christian leaders commit suicide.
Deacons struggle with insecurity.
Choir members lie.
Trustees steal.

i can go on and on….

Are these just simply to be thrown to the logic of “we all have something we have to live with”? When do we decipher what is our “thorn” and what needs to be identified, confronted, biblically handled, prayerfully removed or corrected and the person changed?

Whenever there’s a “thorn” or habit that causes me to keep telling God, “I’m sorry”, it is probably a clear indication that there is something that needs to be crucified and not resurrected again. There are many things we are trying to resurrect that God wants to die in us. In like manner, there are many things that we are trying to kill, that God wants to live. Unfortunately, when there is unconfessed sin, it can be difficult to decipher between the two (Reference James 4:3; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 John 2:3–6; 3:7–10). I think that a strong, biblical congregation moves toward a biblical understanding and practice of Eldership; and also a strong, unwavering and biblical stance on church discipline.
As I pray for Lamar Odom to have a complete turnaround in his life, marriage and career (with his influence, there is life beyond playing basketball on the court… that at 35 years of age, he would see this as an opportunity to turn a minus into a PLUS. Because, after all….after being in a coma; reports that he would be a vegetable, etcetera…he has now awakened, off of life-support and is now walking and has been moved from the ICU in a Las Vegas Hospital to rehabilitation in Los Angeles, California.
May those of us who are apart of Christ’s church specialized in taking those who’ve been in a spiritual coma because of failures and setbacks, and nurse them back to spiritual health, victory and restoration.

Would love to read your thoughts and for your to share and subscribe!

Sunday Reflections

IMG_4699God be praised for another Lord’s Day!

At our church, April is the Month of Reconciliation & Forgiveness. At every teaching and preaching opportunity during the course of this month I have used as a chance to teach and preach on forgiveness. On Wednesday, God simply took over our Bible Study time and walk us through His Word and shed light on the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation with the leadership of His Holy Spirit.

It was a busy weekend! On the heels of laying to rest the remains of D’Ani’s paternal grandmother, and my former member, Ada Thomas…the weekend was filled with sports activities, a physical Saturday morning for my oldest son, Kai, who will be playing sports in 7th Grade next year…and all of the other things going on. The impression and impact Ada Thomas made upon my life and ministry go far beyond mere words. Growing up a catholic, she grew to prize and cherish her faith tradition. To see her one day join the congregation where I pastored (a Baptist church) and be baptized were a gift that God saw fit to entrust me with; and I will always cherish the memory of every moment with her and in her presence. It is surreal to know that she has departed this side and “moved on.” Until the day she left, she called me her pastor. I will not only miss her; but she will be one of the first I look for when I get to the other side. Prayerfully, that’s a long time from now!

On Sunday, we observed our Family and Friends Day, all day long. Rather than inviting a morning guest, I preached! I took a parable Christ tells to His disciples in Matthew 18 that is often labeled, “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.”

Here is my outline:

Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Subject/Title: Forgiven to Forgive
Big Idea: God’s forgiving grace towards us warrants and compels an inner desire to forgive others.

Outline:

  1. Forgiveness Should be Thankfully Received
    1. Forgiveness is Free, But it is not Cheap (Vv. 23-25)
    2. Forgiveness is Full, and it is not Partial (Vv. 26-27)
    3. Forgiveness must be Final, and not Temporary (Vv. 27)
  2. Forgiveness Should be Humbly Rendered
    1. Forgiveness Experienced Should be Forgiveness Expressed (Vv. 28-33)
  3.  Forgiveness Should Not be Regretfully Refused (Vv. 34-35)

Thankfully, I made it through the message! However, I am disappointed in the overall flow of the sermon. I preached this text in 2013; and it flowed much better. Challenging myself, I tried not to reference that sermon; and started from “Ground Zero.” Big Mistake! All of the hours I put into constructing the sermon before, it would have been helpful to go over all of my previous man hours, rather than feeling a need, in my own pride, to flex my proverbial “sermonic muscles.” All in all, you live and your learn! I thank the Father for His grace, patience with me, and humbly pray He gives me another opportunity to stand for Him in the future.

In the afternoon, it was an honor to have with us at Mt. Salem, Pastor Paul Wilkinson, Sr. and the New Light Baptist Church of San Antonio. What an awesome privilege to have them with us. One of the preaching giants of yesteryear in the area I grew up was P.S. Wilkinson, Sr. He was a favorite of many of the preachers who were my favorites. For years, Dr. Wilkinson pastored New Light until his passing. Paul is his grandson. I’ve been blessed to hear Dr. Wilkinson on recordings. I can honestly attest to the fact that Paul, who now leads New Light, is a great preacher in his own right. We were tremendously blessed by his sharing with us God’s Word.

In other news, many know me to be a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and a DIE HARD Dallas Cowboys fan. I shall never waver on my Cowboys; but the Lakers have tested me for some time. I have always liked the Houston Rockets and tolerated (and had MUCH respect) for the San Antonio Spurs, my dad’s team. My other favorite teams were Cleveland (When Lebron went the first time) and Miami (When Shaq and Wade were together); but I didn’t like Lebron and Miami together, AT ALL! My favorite team these days has been the Rockets, even above the Mavericks. I’m looking for them to pull off a victory in this first round of the playoffs. We shall see.

I would like to know…how was your weekend? What did you preach about; or what did your pastor share? Please take a moment to subscribe and share your thoughts. Blessings.

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

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

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

What have I learned?

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

Here is my sermon outline:

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

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

Thankful and grateful for the one who came forward.

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

Preaching Idols & Ecclesiastical High Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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