Kraig Lowell Pullam

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

Archive for the tag “salem”

Pastoring, Fathering…the Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

 

Sunday Reflections

This past Lord’s Day I did something I’ve personally attempted not to do for maybe the past few years – I went into my archives and dusted off something old. Having been preaching now for over 22 years, being trained by my father and seminary to fully-write out my sermons from start to finish…I have a lot of manuscripts and a lot of notes! Further, when starting to preach in the early 90’s, many of my sermons are on paper and in files. I suppose I am telling my age! 
One of the first series of sermons I ever preached was in the Book of Nehemiah. Interestingly, I began preaching this series immediately following the attacks in New York following 9/11 (9/11/2001). Little did I know when preparing the series for an entire year before ever moving to Houston, the unfolding of terror that would hit America’s shores, and how the Book of Nehemiah would speak to the congregation that I would preach it to – Pleasant Hill Baptist Church of Houston. The series was rewarding to me personally and our congregation. The notes have blessed me throughout the years. D’Ani and I have been away for the past 2 weeks; and I literally enthralled myself in our time together. Before knowing it – Sunday was here; and I needed a message! 
I have personally been reading through the Book of Nehemiah; and the Holy Spirit seemed to impress upon me a need to start in Nehemiah chapter 1, verse 1. That is exactly what I did! While most of my sermons in Nehemiah are on paper; I was able to pull up my notes for chapter one. 

Here’s my outline:

Title: The Ministry of Holy Discontent

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-4

C.I.T. : God’s call to impact culture compels and solicits God’s people to move beyond mediocrity.

I. The Ministry of Holy Discontent is a call to Investigation (Vs. 2) “I asked” 

II. The Ministry of Holy Discontent is a call to Compassion (Vs. 4) “I heard” 

III. The Ministry of Holy Discontent is a call to Examination (Vs. 4) “I sat down…wept…mourned”

IV. The Ministry of Holy Discontent is a call to Conviction (Vs. 4) “I fasted…prayed.”

 God be praised for blessing our time together. Admittedly, I was tired. After having landed at 12:30am Sunday morning and arriving home an hour later…after finally making it to sleep; when I finally stood to preach, I realized it probably would’ve been a better idea to utilize one of our associates. Nevertheless, at the age of 37, God is teaching me that we LIVE and we LEARN; and this is what makes us wise. I also understand that a sermon doesn’t need to make us shout in order for it to contain substance. In this regard, I believe the Lord is well-pleased. 

How was your Sunday? I would love to hear from you. If this blog is a blessing to you, please subscribe and/or share with others. Blessings! -klp3

 

Sunday in Review

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Where in the world does the time go? 

While I haven’t blogged since February 25th, I have been enamored and enthralled in the busy-ness of March. From celebrating 5 years of pastoral ministry at Mt. Salem, doing some itinerant preaching, to sharing in the 30th pastoral anniversary of my father, to the demands of my immediate family and hospital chaplaincy…I am both thankful and glad that it is over! 

God is doing some great things in our church, in my ministry, my family and I am very grateful and humbled. Our church has, and continues, to go through various seasons of growth and growing pains since I arrived; and I was very pleased to have 2 ministers join our congregation. Before this past month, I had NO HELP, in that department. Their arrival and their presence is just one, of many, affirmations of God’s faithfulness when we obey His voice and follow His plan. God is awesome!

I’ve also been teaching and working through what we call our “Program Plan”. This is an idea I got from my pastor, Harvey Clemons, Jr., years ago, to provide our members with every dynamic and aspect of our church’s vision, mission, purpose, ministries, calendar, policies, accomplishments, etc. in the given and previous year. This year, our Program Plan primarily consists of bylaws, statement of faith and the statement on our view of marriage and the marital covenant.  I’ve been dealing with the controversial issue of homosexuality that I’ve entitled “Is it okay to be gay?”  Interestingly, this has sparked a wave within our congregation, community and city that I did not anticipate. Young adults are flooding our pews, seeking to hear what God’s Word, and this 37 year old preacher in town is talking about. 

On another note, I halted my preaching series that entailed a book I’ve been putting together; and preached a few messages surrounding Christ’s passion, crucifixion and resurrection. While wanting to begin a series on Giving, I came across a series of articles and outlines from Dr. Tony Evans dealing with Revival. After prayerful consideration, and the time needed to put together our series on giving, I took Dr. Evan’s articles and tried to “make it live”. 

Here’s the outline…

Title: Why We Need Revival 

Text: Psalm 85

C.I.T. (Central Idea of the Text): Remembering God’s favor in the past, prompts us to seek God for restoration and revival. 

I. Revival presupposes spiritual decay (verses 1-3)

II. Revival spells the need for spiritual reconnection (4-7)

a. Restore us (4-5)

b. Revive us (6-7)

III. Revival surpasses external change.

 IV. Revival steps in the land of God’s promises.

a. The manifestation of Gods glory (8-9)

b. The magnification of God’s goodness (10-13)

 

Sunday Reflections

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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

Sunday Reflections

IMG_0329Well…God be praised for another day of celebrating the presence of Christ on the Lord’s Day!

April has been quite a busy month. Along with sports activities, D’Ani and I have both managed to remain occupied with the endeavors we’ve been assigned as stewards. Over the weekend, Jones High School of Houston (D’Ani’s alma mater), Class of ’95 celebrated their 20th class reunion. On Friday night there was a skating rink outing (for just alum, thank you Jesus…I’ve retired from skating!!!), a dance/banquet on Saturday and a worship service, followed by a picnic, on Sunday. Unfortunately, I missed it all. The only thing I could realistically attend (Saturday dance/banquet), became implausible due to a musical held at our church overseen by our Building Fund Ministry. While I’ve never been a partier, I have always loved to dance amid my lack of rhythm. I suppose it is my love for music! Nevertheless, much to my chagrin, D’Ani traveled there alone. Fortunately, she was not the only one whose spouse could not attend. During her event on Friday, I had the opportunity to watch a 20/20 interview on Bruce Jenner who openly admitted his desire to become a woman. Prayerfully, I hope to blog about this one day soon, Lord willing.

On Sunday, I continued to deal with the subject of forgiveness by exploring a single phrase and thought couched in Christ’s Model Prayer: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. While it is my hope to one day preach a series on the entire prayer, I felt it befitting to share this scripture on the heels of the previous week’s exposition of the parable of the unmerciful servant.

Here’s the outline of my exposition…

Text: Matthew 6:12 Subject/Title: Overcoming the Grief of Guilt Big Idea: God’s forgiving grace towards us prayerfully compels us to let others off the hook.

Outline:

I. The Desire of Forgiving Grace “Forgive us our debts…”

II. The Danger of Forgiving Grace “…as we forgive our debtors.”

• The person who will not forgive, burns the bridge over which they themselves must travel.

Refusing to forgive:

a. Hurts the Savior 

b. Harms the saint 

c. Hinders the sinner 

d. Heartens Satan

III. The Demand of Forgiving Grace

1. Overcoming the Guilt Grief requires that we forgive freely

2. Overcoming the Grief of Guilt requires that we forgive fully

3. Overcoming the Grief of Guilt requires that we forgive FINALLY

IV. The Delight of Forgiving Grace

1. A cleansed spirit (Psalm 51:2)

2. A clear conscience

I enjoyed preaching this text!   Admittedly, I could sense a strong tension on the subject of forgiveness within our congregation the entire month, almost to the point of grieving my spirit. Looking back, I should have spent more time in prayer regarding my spiritual preparation and strength for this series. I conclude that there are a lot of unsettled issues within our congregation; and things that must be released. Of course, I have lived long enough now to know that there are personal issues of forgiveness that reside in the pews; but I also am aware that there are possibly continued and remaining issues with forgiveness within our church history and predecessors that also remain and linger. I am searching to discern which weighs heavily more upon our congregation. I’ve concluded that most of my struggle within ministry revolves around God’s people being unable to just let things go, personally and corporately, that God can move us forward.  I am seriously & sincerely praying for God to give continued patience because I often become agitated when forward progress is impeded by minuscule matters. I am praying that God would renew my strength and give me direction. Experience in pastoring has taught me that certain things are not my own vivid imagination or coincidental; but a hatchet that needs to be buried… I am ultimately praying for this area of need within our congregation.

I was glad to also journey to Gonzalez, Texas and share with one of the sons of our church who celebrated his 2nd year anniversary of pastoral leadership to the St. James Baptist Church. It was a blessing to share. I shared from Romans 1:8-15 and entitled the sermon “What to Do in the Meantime”.

All in all, I thank God for carrying me through the weekend and through another week.

I am reading through a book by Walter L. Liefeld entitled “New Testament Exposition”; and some excerpts through various volumes of “The Words of Gardner Taylor.”

The Houston Rockets have made it past round one of the 2015 NBA playoffs; and the Cowboys have selected Byron Jones (a cornerback from UConn) in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. Great move!

If you are helped by my blogs, please share with family, friends and co-workers; and please subscribe. How has your week been? What are you reading?

Sunday Reflections

IMG_0329God be praised for another memorable weekend and Lord’s Day.

On the heels of Spring Break, I’ve been glad to get back to a certain level of sanity. On Saturday, I was happy to attend a scholarship banquet of the Gamma Zeta Omega Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. One of the honorees was my wife, D’Ani. Not only was it a blessing to have her honored on this affair; but to see several Pastor’s wives recognized during this event, including Zelda Johnson (the wife of Pastor Manson B. Johnson of Houston); it was an encouragement to see young people receiving scholarships to further their education in a context and surrounding of excellence and hundreds of people supporting this event. D’Ani has been a blessing to so many; and it is my continued prayer that God would continue to use her to touch the lives of others, including her patients, Christian believers, the unsaved and many others. I was also pleased to see a few of our members. Should they read this blog, I want to personally express my gratitude for the sacrifice and time committed to attend and show their support. You are a blessing!

I left that event and headed to take my eldest son Kai Livingston (who is now TWELVE-let the countdown begin) to a soccer game. They won, 7-2.

It has been a rough time for me for one reason – ALLERGIES! Nothing affects me like the changing from winter to spring. It never fails to touch me in a not-so-kind way.

Interestingly…I did not preach this past Sunday! While I am far from being a superb preacher (though I am striving to be better), it is rare for me to go a Sunday without preaching, unless it is my anniversary or I am on vacation. God has been kind to me these 21 years (I’ll write about that later) of preaching. At the Mt. Salem Church, we had a special treat for our Monthly Youth & Young Adults Sunday. Rev. Quincy D. Mosley is a very gifted and anointed proclaimer of God’s Word. Preaching since the age of six, a native of Corpus Christi (my hometown), a membership minister of my father’s congregation…I’ve been blessed the few times I’ve heard him share. He shared from Psalm 34, one of my favorite scriptures. Five of our young adults came forward! God be praised!!!

I was also able to attend and support the 5-year pastoral anniversary of one of my childhood mentors, Rev. J.R. Miller, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Pastor Miller is not only a gifted preacher, but an innovative pastoral mind who has been instrumental in my desire early in life to be a preacher who thinks and studies God’s Word. I haven’t always been the greatest supporter and encourager. But, the more I experience the loss of loved ones, the more my commitment to showing my love towards those who mean the world to me, strengthens.

At our church, this is the Month of Reconciliation and Forgiveness. This coming Lord’s Day, I am looking forward to having with us the New Light Baptist Church of San Antonio and Pastor Paul Wilkinson, Sr. as our special guest for our Family and Friend’s Day. I am looking forward to their being with us.

The Cowboys (my team all the way!) haven’t secured a running back; but Adrian Peterson is interested in possibly heading to Arlington. Of course, the Vikings are saying “not so fast!” While I would love to have him on our roster…the fact is, there are many running backs would prevail with the superb line the Cowboys have managed to put together. However, he’d be a great addition.

I am looking forward to beginning a teaching this Wednesday, Lord willing, on Forgiveness.

It is my prayer that my blogs serve as not only personal reflection and a tool to strengthen my writing ability; but most importantly to encourage others. I would love to hear from you and ask you to please subscribe to my blog. How was your weekend? Blessings!

Sunday Reflections….3 weeks!

It has been a few weeks since my last blog. I am glad to be back! My schedules in the pastorate and chaplaincy have both kept me pretty occupied. The most significant change has been to increasing and refining the moments I am spending with my immediate family (wife and boys) and my study (devotional, leisure and sermon preparation). Going into the most recent conference (aforementioned in my last blog), I wanted to walk away with some practical ways to simply learn quicker and move toward sermon construction at a faster pace, until it is clear and precise. This consumed much of my time. Taking the past 21 years of preaching models, habits and experience and refining my craft to suit me at the age of 36 has been both refreshing and fulfilling.

Since my last blog, I’ve continued my series in the Book of Acts at our church, Mt. Salem. On the first Sunday of October, I shared Peter’s 1st Sermon on the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2:14-41. The title of the sermon was, “Let Me Explain.” What sparks Peter’s sermon at Pentecost was God’s leading to debunk the notion that what occurred in the opening verses of Acts 2 were fabricated results of drunkenness. But he doesn’t spend all of his time addressing false accusations, and neither should we. He simply verifies what happens in scripture and then makes a rush to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter is masterful when it comes to modeling the preaching craft; and the study of the passage really presented an opportunity to plainly share the Gospel story and message. God be praised for the souls who were added!

The following Sunday, I shared “The Marks of a Spirit-Filled Church”, from Acts 2:42-47. Again, the Lord was kind to us! Admittedly, this was not a feel-good message; but challenging to both myself and our congregation. The thing about preaching one text, and continuing with the next verse the following week; and simply explaining what the text says and means….really forces the preacher to deal with what is there, whether good or bad. I am convinced that this not only grows the preacher tremendously, but it will in turn stretch and grow the congregation in the maturing and application of God’s Word. Again, souls were added! To God be the Glory!

This past Lord’s Day, I had the privilege of preaching for one of the historic congregations in my hometown, Corpus Christi, Calvary First Baptist Church, for their Choir Annual Day. The Pastor there is Dr. Charles E. Richardson, Sr., who is good friends with my father; and has served this congregation for quite a number of years now. Calvary First is the church where my parents grew up; and also where they met. Many great preachers and mentors of mine, grew up and began preaching at Calvary First, including J.R. Miller, Cleophus LaRue, my uncles, Monty Francis and Lloyd Pullam. It was a joy to preach there on a Sunday morning. I shared from Psalm 118:1-6, “Every Reason to Praise the Lord.” Pastor Richardson is a dynamic preacher in his own right; and so I was humbled not only that he asked me to come and share, but for the warm reception to my preaching and our congregation.

I try to read one book a week. This has been my practice for some time. I was astounded to learn that Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, reads 12 books a week. I’m not believing that! But okay… I’ll stick to my one book a week. On good weeks, I can read 2, especially if I am not preparing for a sermon. On vacation, I can read a little more. But most recently, I read a book last week entitled, “Singing in a Strange Land”, by Nick Savatore. It is a book chronicling the life of Rev. C.L. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin. I would encourage any preacher to read this biography. It is insightful, interesting and even enriching.

It is my prayer that all who read are blessed by these blogs. I am praying how to better utilize and maximize this medium, and also to best encourage Christian leaders, pastors, ministers and laypersons. I would love to hear from you and also encourage you to subscribe. How are you? How was your Sunday? Blessings!

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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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