Kraig Lowell Pullam

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

Archive for the tag “ministry”

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!

Sunday Reflections

It is Monday.

While most Monday’s for any Pastor privately unveil his vulnerabilities and fatigue, for me it also reveals God’s power in clay pots and flimsy vessels.

Following 2 Saturday funerals, my day began as the guest preacher of Grace Tabernacle Baptist Church, where the Pastor is Rev. Roy E. Brackins. Grace was celebrating their 31st church anniversary; and it was an honor to share with these precious people. Pastor Brackins is both a gifted preacher and an outstanding Pastor; and he has been very kind to me.

The past Lord’s Day was Pentecost Sunday. For several years, I’ve inconsistently sought to atleast familiarize myself with the liturgical calendar, beyond Christmas and Easter.

In January, I spent the month in a series on Giving. In February, I preached a series on Prayer. In March, my preaching focus each week was on Christ’s sacrifice leading up to the resurrection.

My intention was to begin a series on ‘Breaking the Huddle’ in April. It is now the middle of May, and I have not started that series. The Lord has simply lead me to deal with other passages over the course of this past month and some weeks. I am a living witness that even when we as Pastors put together an annual preaching schedule, the plans can often change.

I found myself, yet again, preparing my notes for Breaking the Huddle from a passage tucked away in Matthew 17:1-8. God then led me to deal with Acts 2 in the surrounding story of Pentecost. The sermon title was “The Spirit’s Filling”. I attempted to deal with the formula, the fallout and the freedom surrounding the filling.

I trust that God was pleased with the sermon; and accepting of our worship on a rainy morning. Grateful for our 2 baptisms.

On this Monday, I am admittedly drained. For any Pastor, we must remain encouraged and learn to guard our space and take care of our temple. The work, expectations and being misunderstood is often overwhelming and overrated. But we must remember that we are not in this because it’s easy or comfortable; but we’ve been chosen and commissioned to be a “prisoner for Christ.” Every church member should pray for his or her Pastor; and every Pastor should lift their fellow-Pastors up as well.

Sadly, the Rockets lost to the Warriors last night in game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. This makes the series 2-1.

How was your Sunday? I would love to hear from you.

Sunday Reflections

iStock_000001476421XSmall-320x212God be praised for a great meeting in the tabernacle on the Lord’s day!

After taking a break away from our exposition through the Psalms, I picked up where we left off and continued with Psalm 14.

This 2-week intermission was partially feeling a pastoral need to deal with internal matters within our church; and partially a difficulty and challenge in wrapping my homiletical hat around the 14th Psalm. I love exegetical work! Admittedly…there is the continual challenge of formulating the meaning of the text into a well-crafted sermon that lives in the practical ears of parishioners.

All in all….I just threw myself to the proverbial sharks, not wanting to delay another week. I’m glad I did!

Here’s my outline:

Title: Running Away From the God You Need
Text: Psalm 14:1-7
C.I.T. : While the entire human race rebels against God, the righteous long to see His kingdom established on earth.

I. The Folly Of Trying to Make It Without God
a. The World is Insane (vs 1a)
b. The World is Immoral (vs 1b)
c. The World is Impotent (vss 2-3)

II. The Response of God to Man’s Foolery
a. What Men Do
i. They never learn (vs 4)
ii. They never rest (vs 5)
iii. They never win (vs 6)

b. What God Does (vss 4-5)
a. He looks
b. He finds

III. The Joy of Trusting in God’s Loving Protection
a. For their salvation (vs 7a)
b. For their restoration (vs 7b)
c. For their celebration (vs 7c)

God breathed upon the message and I am thankful to have made it through. My goal is to make it to Psalm 15, and take a break to concentrate on working through a book I am trying to put together, in a series of sermons. Currently it is a composition of around 200 pages of full-page sermons of about 20 sermons I need to seriously edit, footnote, re-write and try on our people. I am believing it will ultimately bless our congregation and, in turn, bless others. With prayerful plans to begin doctoral work in July of 2016, I am hoping to have this done by the Spring of next year. I need every single prayer I can get.

In other news… My Cowboys finally win a game, after 7 weeks of losing without Tony Romo. I don’t know what’s worse – losing 7 games; or losing 7 games after a great season last year. I celebrate this current win!

How was your Sunday? Please take a moment to share your thoughts, subscribe and share this blog with others if it is a blessing to you.

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!

Sunday Reflections

God be praised for yet another Lord’s Day!

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

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

Here is an outline of my sermon:

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

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

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

Thank God for the responses to the message.

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

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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?

I guess I’m ‘Old School’

crossyayA few days ago I ran into a well-established Pastor who was visiting the hospital where I serve as a chaplain.  He wanted to get a parking validation after visiting a member there, as many pastors do.  In exchanging conversations, we  discovered we had a mutual friend whom I had the privilege of working with while Minister of Education with a congregation years ago. Walking with him through the hospital, somehow our conversation shifted to the subject of preaching.  He said to me that, in his preaching, he doesn’t always go to the cross.  He said he doesn’t see the point of preaching on certain topics or issues, current affairs or events, etc. and then feeling the need to always have to go to the cross.  He said to me, ‘Preacher…I’m just not that preacher who has to go to the cross and Jesus crucified every Sunday.  You may come to my church and not hear me say anything about Calvary or the cross.  Sometimes it’s anticlimactic.  That’s just old school.  Them old preachers thought it was something you just had to do.’

After parting from my brother, I left his presence burdened, disheartened and heartbroken.  I felt like I had been on the old TV show ‘Punkd’.  Primarily because this came from an average-looking Baptist preacher from an average traditional congregation, who appeared to be fairly successful, by human standards.  And while, maybe not overly trained formally; he appeared to have a sense of collective reasoning and some good sense.

I also left that fateful meeting saying to myself, ‘Well…I guess I’m ‘Old School.’  I make no apologies for preaching the cross.  Whether I am preaching on green grass; I’m going to find a way to make it to the cross planted around the green grass on a hill called Calvary.  If I am dealing with marriage; I will find a way to get to the cross.  If I am dealing with how to handle ungodly people in the workplace or a boss who is a heathen, my primary goal is to somehow make it to the cross of Calvary to ultimately declare the resurrection of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul tells the people there, “…I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Essentially, he says that he was mentally and entirely preoccupied with Christ and His suffering.  In 1 Corinthians 1:18 he says that “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  No preacher should ever come to some conclusion that the cross is unnecessary.  Now, I get it….we may not always tell the entire story in full at the conclusion of every sermon or delivery.  I get that.  But the job of God’s Holy Spirit is the put the spotlight on Christ; ALL of Christ.  Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is really leading us in sermon preparation and clear exposition, the sermon would and should naturally be seasoned in a Christocentric hermeneutic and homiletical slant.

How can we make it to the cross?  On the surface, I can use how I personally begin my own sermon preparation.  Those below an not exhaustive, but suggestive.

1.  Identify the tension in the text.   Before I do anything in terms of exegesis, morphology, lexicography, commentary reading, etc… After prayer, I am asking what’s the tension in this text.  God has something He wants to say to man in any given text, passage, scripture, discourse, narrative, writing or story.  At times, man has something he is trying to say to man or nature through ideas, thoughts, agendas, etc.  Incidentally, every person in the pew is a compilation of hidden tension.  As a consequence, the tension in the text meets the hearer and the preacher at the point of the tension in their own lives.  Riddle me this: WHERE DOES THE ULTIMATE TENSION WITH HUMANITY BEGIN?  I contend that it begins in the garden of Eden at the beginning of our own sin.  Therefore, any bibliocentric sermon  points to a Christocentric homiletic and cannot help but to expound on the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

2. Identify the needs of God’s people.  People need Jesus!  More than they need a fast car, a big house or a good-looking spouse, they need Jesus.  Why?  Because the evolving of every one of our needs can only come to subjection and structure under the gravity of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.  This is constructed beneath the anvil of the gospel narrative that peaks at Calvary/the Cross and climaxes at the empty tomb.  Of course, this requires the preacher and pastor spending time with people.  It also requires an understanding that Christ is the only answer to the questions asked by the human heart.

3.  Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to direct you.  As stated above, the Holy Spirit’s objective is to put the spotlight on Christ.  God’s Holy Spirit will literally show Christ to the preacher and Christian from Genesis to Revelation.  I stand on that; and I believe that.

I am convinced that our preaching time can be long.  But I am also convinced that it might be best to shorten some of the content of our sermons if we feel a temptation to shorten the gospel narrative.  I simply believe that God the Father will ultimately honor the preacher who follows the direction of God the Holy Spirit to tell the truth concerning the suffering and resurrection of God the Son.

Cheating for Priorities

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Several years ago I ran across a copy of Andy Stanley’s book ‘Choosing to Cheat.’ In this book Stanley offers a compelling argument against the workaholism that has plagued and inundated generations of American families. “Choosing to Cheat” is built on the premise that everyone cheats somewhere, be it work, school, family, spouse, church, etc. He affirms that there simply aren’t enough hours for everything and everyone pressing an vying for your attention and primacy. And of course, it’s easier to cheat our families than to cheat our families. Scripture teaches and avows a structuring of one’s life and prioritizing the elements of our attention in a direction that will ultimately strengthen us from the inside, out. As a bi-vocational Pastor with the growing needs of a growing congregation, challenges of serving as a chaplain to a level-1 trauma center in a large metropolitan area, and keeping up with my love for preaching, Christian education and learning the scriptures and writing – I can sometimes feel like I am drowning. Couple this with being a devoted husband to a wonderful woman for 14 years, Dad to growing boys, son to aging parents and a host of family and friends who cannot be measured in time increments – well, it all can become overwhelming; especially without an administrative assistant or full-time secretary. I tend to agree with Stanley’s notion when I say, in my own way, ‘Something’s Gotta Give.’

The preacher/pastor must set priorities. The challenges I faced at 25 are not the same as challenges I face now at 35. My life is completely different. Andy Stanley writes, “Following the principles of God results in the blessings of God.” The author’s dad, Charles Stanley, says, “God doesn’t reveal His will for our consideration. He reveals it for our participation.” The challenge is finding a way to emulate and become a direct reflection of the man described in Psalm 1.

1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

God wants His people to flourish and lead a positive life in a negative world. But often, people tend to be creatures of habit and conventional routine. We often gravitate toward what is safe, not necessarily what is good. Or we settle for the ordinary rather than pursue what is superlatively greater. Tragically, this is often the case for those in ministry.

In order to succeed in one’s call, one must want to be successful in ministry BAD ENOUGH. One must desire more for every area of life—especially as it relates to that which is spiritual and eternal. This requires a willingness to obey God’s plan and principles; and a willingness to ‘cheat’ where needed, in order that priorities may be established and we may show ourselves, ‘approved’.

As I sort through how I can be a better 1) Follower of Christ 2) Husband 3) Father 4) Pastor/Teacher 5) Son 6) Friend….there are 5 ways that setting objectives and goals for cheating can help:

1. Imagination. Psalm 33:5 says that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” I am asking God in prayer to rule over my imagination and my thought-life; and asking Him to show me how to creatively navigate through all of the challenges and pressures of my schedule, as I seek to prioritize what’s important to Him. In Jeremiah 29:11, we discover that God has ‘plans’ and ‘thoughts’ concerning the affairs of His people. The term ‘plans’ is a picture of a craftsman who gnits together fabrics for the purpose of creating a garment to be worn and adorned. The craftsman has a plan for the product. In like manner, we must visualize the dream and vision God has for us, and how He seeks to ultimately reveal His plan for our lives.

2. Anticipation. A man cannot truly know where he is going without knowing how he will get there. As you visualize and identify your goals, you place yourself in a posture to ask God (the Creator of the universe) specifically for what He desires and then to look for His prescription or provision.

3. Inspiration. How does God view your life? How does God view your priorities? What’s most important to God in your life? What in your life displeases Him? Is there any part of your life that others would view and make them think you don’t know Jesus? The ultimate aim is to see your life as the Father sees it, and then act on what He guides you to do. Psalm 32:8 clearly teaches that God is concerned about the direction of our lives, and is willing to instruct us and teach us the way that we should go.

4. Reflection. This is, essentially, meditation. Meditation comes through submission to the Father. I think we fail to often understand the Lordship of Christ. Someone has said, ‘If He is not Lord in all, He ceases to be Lord of all.’ As you meditate on His Word, you learn more about the lordship of Christ, the goodness of God the father, the leading of God’s Holy Spirit and His plan for your life.

5. Realization. True to His Word, God will faithfully guide His servant into all truth. I am convinced that God will reward those who are faithful. Whether one’s assignment is to preach to 10 each week, or you have been entrusted to lead thousands; or one’s spouse is gainfully employed or challenged to make ends meet – thank God for what you’ve been given as your lot. Let God better you and grow you, as you draw closer to Him; and watch Him reveal His plan for your life, even in life’s testing places.

The Makings of Ministry in Pastoral Life

Quite a few years ago, I was riding in the car with my parents.  I wanted them to hear a new r&b song from a ‘hot new artist’ by the name of Musiq Soulchild.  This song, entitled ‘Just Friends’ echoed a subtle sentiment of admiration of a guy’s feelings for a young lady.  Needless to say, my Dad was unimpressed and unincumbered by my interest.  Later my father, who is a music lover at heart, pulled out an old album of Curtis Mayfield and began to play for me ‘The Makings of You.’  The song began to describe every ideal of the perfect life at it’s finest, surrounded by aesthetic beauty, roses, well-behaved children and the like….and then he tells the object of his affection, ‘These are the makings of you…!’  Admittedly, I was completely floored and this began my quest of further learning the art of ‘real music.’

As I reflect, I cannot help but wonder – what are the makings of ministry?  Further, I wonder – what are the makings of ministry in Pastoral life?  The ministry of the Pastor is more than meets the eye.  Jeremiah 3:15 says, “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”  God says that He will do the giving while shepherds are given the responsibility of doing the feeding.  When one looks at the dynamics of a culinary artist, many of the details of their works is behind closed doors.  We may often enjoy the products of their due diligence; but we often fail to see their labor, toil and endeavors.

As stated before, we celebrated 3 years together as Pastor and People at the Mt. Salem Church.  To date, this has been the greatest outer expression of love from a congregation I’ve felt as a Pastor.  That being said, we had a few challenges with initial renovations of walls in our sanctuary.  In the past 48 hours, I have privately called these walls, ‘The walls of Jericho!’.  On the day prior to my anniversary celebration, I went through the ordeal of how to work around these incompletions and, in my ‘perfectionist’ complex, I thought I was going to fly to the moon.  In addition, our toilets were not flushing at the church.  At some point, I simply prayed, gave it over to God and dealt with what I could.  Amid my own private realities (one of which was picking up my ‘anniversary suit’ from my suit guy of over 10 years and for the first time I didn’t try on the suit-since they always get it right-it was wrong….pants were 2 inches TOO LONG!  Not good…)  I got through it.   I went to bed Saturday night at peace and confident in God’s faithfulness.

Needless to say God blessed the entire day!!!  Amid all of this….I still found myself dealing with the usual joys and sorrows, twists and turns of pastoral life.  In the midst of great celebration, I had to contemplate how to deal with the issues of the ‘Jericho Walls.’  In the midst of great celebration, I asked one of my beloved members how they were doing and how a recent doctor’s appointment had gone; only for that member to inform me that cancer was in her blood; and while her doctor is saying it is ‘non-aggresive’, it can turn ‘aggressive’ at any moment.  In the midst of this, I closed out the day hearing from one of my young members (who was instrumental in launching our praise team and re-shaping certain aspects of our worship service) he will be transferred to Fort Worth, Texas later next month with his job.

These are the makings of the ministry of pastoral life.  This happens every week; and often every day of the week.  Having the heart of a Pastor is essential in leading God’s people.  If we fail to love God’s people, we will fail to feed them.  And there is nothing more detrimental than a starved, malnourished, neglected and abused flock.  If you are a Pastor and reading this, I pray for you daily.  If you are a layperson, PLEASE, pray for your Pastor.  Your Pastor may not be perfect; and you may disagree with some of the moves made in the ministry or vision of Christ’s church; but please pray for your Pastor.  My experiences of this past weekend, for me, simply point to the reality that I am where God wants me; and where He has planted me.  I’m loving this ride; and looking forward to what God will continue to unfold along the way.  The BEST is truly YET to come!!!

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