Monday, October 31, 2005

Dignity in Life and Death

This morning, I attended the funeral of Dr. Earl C. Cotton. He was the founding pastor of the Liberty Baptist Church. And he served the congregation as its pastor for some 48 years, until he retired about a year ago. He was one of the well-respected pastors of this city, and rightfully so. He was a caring shepherd, a faithful preacher, and a wise leader. I especially respected him for having the foresight to lead the congregation to select a new pastor, when he became ill. I know some pastors who are just not able to let go of their work. Consequently, they spend the final years tearing down what the spent 20 or 30 years to build. It's always tragic to watch a church die because a pastor can't see the future of the church beyond himself. Thank God, Dr. Cotton was not one of those men. As his health declined in his final hands, Liberty Church was and is in the good hands of Terry Brown. He's a godly man and a good preacher - a potent combination. I preached for him several times at his Fifth Ward congregation. And it was a great work. And I trust that the Lord is going to use Terry greatly here in Los Angeles.

The funeral service today had a great sense of dignity to it. But that did not surprise me. It was the way Dr. Cotton lived. That's the thing I remember about him the most. He was a very dignified man. He conducted himself with humility, sincerity, and respect. On several occasions, I heard him complain about the conduct of the younger generation of preachers, of which I am a part. And his complaint, in essence, was that we were not dignified. And he was right. Many of us younger preachers do not respect the dignity of the pulpit or the seriousness of our calling. Even though I did not know Dr. Cotton that well personally, I had much admiration and respect for him. I pray that the Lord will comfort his wife and family, that God would bless Pastor Brown and the Liberty Church, and that the legacy Dr. Cotton left would be continued and strengthened to the glory of God.

Dr. A. Louis Patterson Jr of the Mt. Corinth Baptist Church in Houston brought the message. Dr. Patterson is also one of the men whose life and ministry has meant much to me over the years. I am always excited about hearing him speak. He was one of the men that the Lord used to introduce me to expository preacher, as a teenager. It was not until years later that I was actually able to meet him. But from the moment we met, Dr. Patterson has been a consistent encouragement to me and my ministry. He has blessed me in more ways than he will ever know. Today, he preached a very clear, powerful, and encouraging message from Job 30:23. I felt like shouting. I always get excited to hear about the Christians hope beyond the grave. And the message was clear that our times are in God's hands, our deaths our in God's hands, and our eternity is in God's hands. Praise God!

It Used to be My Day Off

I used to like Mondays. Monday used to be my day off. I would get up early and go to 6 AM morning prayer at the church. I would talk to my buddy for a while, then finally go home and go back to sleep. I would wake up some time in the afternoon, catch me a movie, and go the a book store. Those were the good old days. Now, I have to wake up on Monday mornings and hit the ground running. Because I preach on Wednesday nights now, I have to get going on Mondays to be ready for Wednesday nights. Likewise, staff meetings are now on Mondays. So I have to get Sunday out of my system and start prayerfully thinking about the next Sunday within twenty-four hours. I used to resign every Monday. Now, I have to renew my contract with the Lord every Monday, so I can be on good terms with the "Boss" and get done that he wants me to do each week. So here's to all of you who drug yourself out of bed this morning to do the Lord's will.

Yesterday was a long but good day. I was up tightening up my sermon from 1:30 AM to 8 AM. I couldn't sleep. So I kept refining the manuscript (I am a manuscript preacher, sort of. I write them out word for word. But, most often, I don't take them to the pulpit. I don't quite memorize them, either. Somehow, I just kind of absorb the message in the process of writing, revising, and editing.) Thank God I didn't have to teach Sunday School, too. I would have been in trouble. We celebrated Reformation Sunday, with elements of our service committed to remembering and affirming the 16th century Protestant Reformation. We even sang Luther's hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God." It's different from the songs and hymns we normally sing. But it was great to hear the voices around me lifting praises to our God with the rich words of this hymn. It was also our new minister of music's second Sunday. But the choir sounded great. And the songs selected seemed to fit right in, even though they were different in style from the hymns we sang. I continued my exposition of Colossians. I did 4:5-6 and called it "Evangelism as a Way of Life." I tried to give two reasons why we should embrace evangelism as a way of life: (1) You walk is being watched (4:5); and your words are being heard (4:6). I think the congregation received it well. But all of that is a distant memory now. It's Monday - time to go at it all over again!

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Beginning of a Long Weekend

I have just finished a writing assignment that I was a day late on. But I don't really have a chance to feel good about it. I just have to strike it off of my to-do list and get to other things that I am still late on! This is the beginning for what will be a long weekend for me. This morning, I will be attending the funeral service of Rev. Storm Evans, a nineteen-year-old preacher here in Los Angeles who passed away last week. Even though I am confident in the sovereign purposes of God, it hurts to be going to the funeral of a young man committed to Jesus Christ whose life was filled with so much promise and potential. I trust that the Lord knows what's best.

This afternoon, I have a "all hands of deck" staff meeting, as we are continuing to prepare ourselves for the end of this year and the beginning of next year. Later this evening, I will be attending the annual banquet for the Los Angeles Bible Training School, where Paul Felix is the president. In between all of this, I still have work for Sunday to conclude. I also have to finish my preparations for our men's fellowship meeting that I will be leading in the morning. It's my plan to summarize the major points of Jerry Jenkins' book, Hedges. And I want to challenge the men to guard their hearts and minds from temptations. Reading that book was very challenging and convicting for me. I hope that my message will be able to have a similar impact on the men of MSMBC.

There is an event for the youth that will be held here at the church tomorrow evening. And one way or the other, my evening will be shaped by that. And then there's Sunday's teaching times that I have. Then, Sunday evening, there will be a memorial service at Liberty Baptist Church for its founding pastor, Dr. Earl C. Cotton, who passed away this week. The actual funeral service will be Monday morning. In the midst of all this work related stuff, I have to spend some time with my wife and kids this weekend (not for their sakes, but for mine!!!). Likewise, my little sister, Donetta, made it home from the hospital yesterday. And I am hoping to spend some time with her. Plus, it was my plan to get a head start on deadlines I have to meet, messages I have to present, and meetings that I have to attend next week. So, there's a lot going on this weekend in my little world. Pray for me that I will put first what the Lord would have me to put first when he would have me to put it first.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sanctify Wherever You Are!

I am writing this post from my "other office." It's a cafe' not far from the church. When I'm in town, I usually come here about once a week for breakfast; even though the last several times I've been in here, it was lunchtime. Either time, though, it's usually busy and crowded in here. Often, I get a ringside seat to see rather heated exchanges between pressured waitresses and impatient customers. Sometimes it's funny; most times it is not. Anyway, I am yet to have an incident here, praise God. I come in with my books, computer, and iPod. I usually order the same thing. In fact, they usually order for me, just checking in with me to make sure nothing has changed. After that, they pretty much leave me alone and let me turn one of their tables into the makeshift office, some times for more than several hours. And I've been able to get a lot done here.

This was not always possible for me. There was a time when I had to be in my study with my desk and books and all that is routine for me, in order to get anything accomplished. My study is my "private praying ground." Much of my personal devotions, exegetical studies, and ministry work takes place there. But as I have grown up and grown older (I hope both are true), my personal schedule and responsibilities have put me in a position where I am not always able to be in my study when I would like to be. And with the largest staff I have ever had, there are times when I am not able to concentrate when I get to my study (Note: I try to make it a practice to call my office "my study," to remind me of the primary work I am supposed to be doing when I get there).

The bottom line is that I have had to learn how to sanctify wherever I am. Sometimes it's a crowded restaurant. Sometimes it's the uncomfortable setting of a hotel room (It's something not right about having to study at a desk that is less than five feet away from a bed!). Sometimes it's at my wife's kitchen table, where I struggle to read and type with my kids trying to sit on my lap or climb on my back at the same time. That's my life. I'm not always able to get to my praying ground. But I learned how to turn wherever I am into praying ground. And I encourage you to do the same. Your work may be different than mine. But I think the principle still applies. You should have a private time and place for prayer and worship. But you will inevitably find it difficult to stay focused if your times with God are limited to that time and place. I challenge you to make your office, garage, kitchen, classroom, or commute a time and place to meet with God. "Steal time" with God whenever and wherever you can. Hey, if David could pray in a cave... if Samson could pray in enemy territory... if Daniel could pray in a lion's den... if Paul and Silas could pray in a prison cell... if Jesus could pray while dying on a cross... you can sanctify wherever you are!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Opportunity of the Overwhelmed

I am overwhelmed. This is my first full week in the office in several weeks. And, of course, there are various things that I have to catch up on. Likewise, I am in the midst of the preparation process for end-of-the-year ministry stuff and the planning process for beginning-of-the-year stuff. Today alone, I have a bunch of emails and phone calls to return. I have three meetings. I have to prepare for a lesson tonight that I was not scheduled to teach until about twenty-four hours ago. There are also a few soul-feeding books that I am trying to work my way through. My personal reading is a vital part of my routine that helps me maintain my focus and keeps my heart soft and mind open to the Lord. So when I don't get the personal reading time that I need, my soul gets a little frustrated. There is much study to do, as always. And there is some other work that I have to finish. The rest of the week is going to be even busier for me than today. And in the midst of all these task-oriented stuff and the study oriented work I have to do alone, I have to be open, ready, and intentional about my time with other people. There are many needs in Mt. Sinai. And it's a challenge to just keep up with them all, much less minister to everything you hear about. It's all a bit overwhelming.

As I think about all that is ahead of me, my flesh is tempted to become frustrated, discouraged, and anxious. But I am learning to view these times when I am overwhelmed as opportunities to trust God and draw closer to him. For instance, there is no way I am going to be able to accomplish everything that is on my to-do list today. So I have two options. I can try as hard as I can to get as much done as possible. But, not matter how much I accomplish; I will end the day with much undone. Then my ride home will be miserable. My evening with my wife and kids will be dampened. My rest will be disrupted. My flesh will get engaged. And it will be hard to get out of bed to have to do it all again in the morning. So I am choosing to "veto" that bill. Instead, I choose to abide in Christ today. I will strive to be open to his leadership in every way and do what he wants me to do when he wants me to do it. I want to trust him wholeheartedly, lean not on my own understanding, and acknowledge him in all my ways; so that he may make my pathway straight today (Prov 3:5-6).

In short, I want to view the fact that I am overwhelmed as an opportunity to pray more, lean harder, wait patiently, praise intentionally, and serve humbly, knowing that all my help comes from the Lord. My sufficiency is in him, not myself. And I want to do my work today in a way that reflects my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And I recommend that you do the same. I'm sure you have your own extended to-do list today (Hey! If we're so busy, what am I doing writing this post? And what are you doing reading it?!?!). Today is an opportunity for you to stand on the promises of God, trust him for wisdom, strength, and peace, and strive for joy in him. Don't miss this golden opportunity!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Filling in for a Friend

Tomorrow night, I will have to fill in for my friend Pastor Terry Brown, who was scheduled to give the closing lecture during our first Guest Lecture Series at MSMBC. Monday night, the founding pastor of Liberty Baptist Church here in Los Angeles, Dr. Earl C. Cotton, passed away. He was a well-respected pastor here in our city. Pastor Brown is the current pastor of Liberty Church and is rightly giving his attention to caring for his grieving congregation. So I will be filling in for him tomorrow night. I will be both the host and the "guest lecturer"! That's fine with me. It will give me another opportunity to teach our congregation about evangelism-discipleship. And I will also have the opportunity to lead the congregation in prayer for the wife and family of Dr. Cotton, for Pastor Brown, and for the Liberty Church Family. Please remember them in your prayers.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Saturday... er, Sunday, Shout-Outs

I know. I know. There were no Saturday Shout-Outs yesterday. I blame it on the entire airline industry. I almost missed my flight from Kansas City to Salt Lake City. A big shout-out to the unnamed Delta employee who saw the desperation on my face and let me onto the flight, even though I arrived less than 20 minutes before the plane's departure. When I arrived in Salt Lake, I rushed to the other side of the airport to make my connecting flight to LAX. I made it. We left the gate. Then sat on the runway for more than an hour ("mechanical difficulties"). So by the time I made it home, Crystal got me some eggs, took me home, and I fell hard to sleep. It was hours later before she made it home with the kids. And I was in the same place she left me. I got up and we had dinner together. Then I stayed up for the rest of the night to sharpen the two messages I had to deliver this morning.

This was a tough day. It was one of the strange days when I feel like I didn't have the congregation's attention. I don't feel that way very often. But I did today. And I worked really hard on this message. It was on Colossians 4:2-4. I called it, "Continue Steadfast in Prayer." (That's the words of 4:2a. I'm not really into fancy titles.). But it didn't really seem like I ever connected with the congregation. I am not sure I was being clear. I couldn't tell if they were getting it or disinterested or what. I don't think I was looking for any particular response. But I was very excited about the message and the opportunity to teach on the subject of prayer. And I don't think they were excited as I was about it. These are the kind of Sundays when I especially thank God for the sovereignty of God at work in the mystery of preaching. Oh well, I hope I live to fight another day.

My ministry trip to Kansas-Missouri was refreshing. I like Pastor Slack. And his congregation was very kind to me and my preaching. I pray that the Lord continues to bless this growing congregation.

A young preacher in my city, Storm Evans, passed away this week. He was only about 19 years-old. But he had been preaching since he was a boy. And he could also play the organ and piano. He was a good kid. He loved preaching and preachers. He had been sick for some time with a rare form of cancer. Please pray for his family and church that God would give them comfort, strength, and peace during this time.

My mom, Ellen, is in town. I haven't got to see much of her. She has been here to take care of my younger sister, Donetta, who has been ill. My mom was in church to hear me preach this morning. I was nervous having her sitting there in front of me on the second row. She's proud of every thing I do. That encourages me. I love her and miss her. And I look forward to spending some time with her before she goes home to Oklahoma City (another city that has to affirm itself by putting the word "city" in its name - LOL).

Today was the first Sunday our new Ministry of Music, Shirley, led in our worship services. It was different. And I think a new person leading was somewhat awkward for the church. But change is good, inevitable, and beneficial. And I really like Shirley. Her attitude toward the the Lord and worship is refreshing. Continue to pray for this transition in the life of our church.

It is only because I am deliriously tired that I am still at my desk and writing a post after I just finished preaching. Anything off the wall that you have read here, blame it on the fact that I am suffering from a severe case of Post Ministry Syndrome.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I made it to Kansas-Missouri

So I finally made it safely to Kansas City. Pastor Slack got me something to eat. I checked into the hotel. Changed shirts. Then went to preach. I wasn't really sure what I was going to preach until I went to my room to put on my tie. This can be a rather scary feeling, I must admit. Many times I go to preach and have a clear schedule in my mind and heart for what to preach. Then there are other times when I have no clue from night to night. Those times make me kind of nervous. There are even some times when I don't know what I am going to preach until I am actually in the worship service. Every congregation is different. Every preacher is different. And every worship service is different. So sometimes I have to kind of get a feel for the room, so to speak, before I have clarity about what I should say. It's all a part of the great mystery of preaching. I try to be prepared and make myself available for whatever the Lord wants to do through me.

Hopefully, I will be able to spend most of this day finishing my preparations for Sunday. I am a little behind. And I am planning to preach only part of a paragraph (Col. 4:2-4), even though I am studying the entire paragraph (Col. 4:2-6). Maybe being behind this week will put me ahead for next week. I have one more sermon to preach here (And, yes, I don't know what it is going to be yet). I am scheduled to fly home tomorrow. And I am scheduled to get into LAX early enough that I will have most of the day left. That's cool. I may take my children out on a date while Crystal attends her Women's Fellowship meeting. I hope to also resume my "Saturday Shout-Outs." Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I Talk Too Much!

I talk too much. My post yesterday discussed the fact that I am supposed to be headed to Kansas City to preach tonight. It's my last flight out of the state to preach this year. And all that other high drama it wrote. And wouldn't you know it. I missed my flight this morning. My flight was scheduled to leave LAX at 6:20 AM. So I packed last night before I went to bed. And right before I fell asleep, I jumped up and set my alarm for 4:30 AM. It was 5:46 when I woke up and looked at the clock. So I got up and began to determine what should happen next. When I finally looked at my alarm; sure enough, it was set for 4:30. 4:30 PM!!!

Last week, the pastor I was preaching for in Detroit was setting what time he would pick me up to take me to the airport. I told him that the earliest possible time was better. "Over the years of my travel," I bragged, "I haven't missed any flights leaving home to preach. But I have often missed the flight going home." Actually, I have missed one flight before. But it was a scheduling mix up with the church I was preaching for. Anyway, me and my big mouth are sitting here in the airport writing this post, waiting for my connecting flight from Salt Lake City to Kansas City (You know that you're not much of a city when you have to put it in the title of your name to affirm yourself! - LOL). So here is another "I have never..." I have to take off of my mental trophy case. And the rest of them are falling fast. Maybe I should just learn to keep my mouth shut in the future.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

My Last Out of State Trip

If the Lord wills, I will fly to Kansas City in the morning. I am scheduled to preach Thursday and Friday for Pastor Donald Slack at the New Hope Baptist Church of Independence Missouri. It is the last out of state preaching event I have scheduled for 2005. I still have other meetings I am scheduled to preach outside of Mt. Sinai. But they are local events. This is the last time I will be getting on a plane in 2005 to go outside of California to preach. And I am glad about it. I miss my wife and children so much when I am on the road preaching. I also miss sleeping in my own bed, studying at my desk, and going about my normal routine. And I definitely miss being with and ministering to my own congregation, Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. So why, you may ask, do I travel so much to preach?

Let me offer several answers to that question. First of all, and this is honest, I don’t know. When I reflect on what I wrote in the previous paragraph, I really don’t know why I travel away from home as much as I do. Likewise, I would answer that question by saying that I am compulsive about preaching. I have a burden to proclaim the Word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ that I just cannot shake. Woe unto me if I do not preach! So I try to take advantage of the opportunities I have to preach, without being negligent of other responsibilities God has given me. Another thing that motivates me to travel so much is my passion to encourage pastor-teachers, edify the church, and evangelize the lost. I love preachers. I love the church. And I love lost people. And any opportunity I have to do them spiritual good in the proclamation of the Word is a fulfilling blessing to me. As MSMBC grows, and I am able to “go without going” through more and various media outreaches, I trust that my travel schedule will decrease. In the meantime, I have to go by actually going. Another thing is that I feel a definite sense of compulsion to go and preach.

Personally, there is no better place in the world to preach than Mt. Sinai Church. I am the “proud” pastor of MSMBC (hopefully, in the non-sinful sense). And I trust that they are proud to have me as their pastor. They take good care of me and my family, so that I don’t have to do anything out of a false sense of pressure. I am not wealthy; but I don’t have any needs, either. My congregation takes care of me so that I am free to pray, read, study, think, and preach. And Mt. Sinai deserves whatever human credit is deserved for my ministry. Sorry folks, but I do my best work for MSMBC. In 15 years of pastoral work, I have only preached two sermons away from 18th and Gramercy that I hadn’t first preached to MSMBC. One was during my first year of pastoring, 15 years ago. And the other was last year, when I preached the pastoral anniversary of a “son of Sinai.” My labor in the Word is for my own devotion and the building up of the congregation that I am called to oversee. Praise God if and/or when other congregation reaps some of the fruit of my ministry work at MSMBC.

A member once asked me if I traveled to preach because of the money. Laughing, I responded, “If you would have been with me the past several trips, you wouldn’t ask me that. You’d know that I’m not in it for the money.” I was amused; but I was serious. I don’t put a price on my ministry like that. And I don’t have any screening process that guarantees I will preach to a packed house, increase my ministry profile, or come home with a big honorarium. Most of the time, none of those things happen. Honestly, there are some places that I have been this year that I really regret going to; but it had nothing to do with what I got out of it. It was because of how I perceived my ministry was received. Some people don’t take the ministry of the Word seriously. They view preaching in terms of an exhibition, rather than exposition. That bothers me. But even in those instances, I trust that God was at work through his Word. And I have seen God do it enough times that it compels me to keep preaching in hope. Pray that the Lord continue to open a door for the Word. And may the Lord help me to walk in wisdom, as I make the most of every opportunity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Playing Catch-Up

I'm playing catch-up after a very busy week last week. In the early part of the week (Mon-Wed), I preached for Pastor Larry Walker at the Oakland Avenue Baptist Church in Detroit, MI. It was a good meeting. Oakland is definitely an "in season" place to preach. Likewise, I have the opportunity to meet and sit under the teaching of Dr. Bill Burwell of Palm Springs, CA. He is a faithful and passionate teacher of God's word. I really look forward to fellowship with him again and hope that his schedule will allow him to come to MSMBC. Dr. Burwell also wants to introduce me to the game of golf. I need to pray about that one. I love sports; not golf. Okay, I'll just say it; golf is not a real sport!!!

I made it home Thursday and had to finish my preparation for our church council retreat Friday and Saturday. I didn't get done all the preparations that I had planned. But I have a great staff that was very helpful. And the Lord blessed the meeting to be our best yet! I am sure that we all left the meeting hopeful and excited about the work of our congregation in the coming year... and we left utterly exhausted. Then I had to turn it around to get ready to teach my Sunday School class. It's our new new members' class that I am writing and teaching. The lesson was on Christian generosity. It was a good session. I believe the students were learning and being challenged and encouraged. In our worship service, I continued our verse-by-verse study of Colossians. My text was Colossians 3:22-4:1, on slaves and masters. I talked about how the supremacy of Christ should be demonstrated in our work. I don't know how well that message was received. But I pray that God uses the message to shape our perspectives and help us to be faithful. Then, in the afternoon, I preached the 12th pastoral anniversary celebration of my boyhood friend, Reginald C. Payne of the Full Gospel Baptist Church (that was the name when he was called to the church; it does not reflect the church's theology or affiliation). Reginald is one of the finest younger pastor and preacher in Los Angeles, bar none - myself included! I am so proud of the preacher and leader he has become. I was absolutely worn-out by the time of the service, but the Lord helped me to preach.

Yesterday, I took the day off. That phrase seems too good to say and so rare for me to say, that I must write it again: I took the day off!!! I slept late. I ate breakfast with my wife. I read a little. I went to a matinee'. I picked my son up from school. And I went to church to hear one of my homiletical heroes, Dr. R.A. Williams. He pastors the McCoy Memorial B.C. here in Los Angeles. And he is one of the men that God used to introduce me to expository preaching. It was an honor to be there and hear him preach again. It had been a while. He preached from Colossians. When he finished, I felt embarrassed about every message that I have preached from Colossians. He's a master expositor; I am a student. And hearing him encouraged me to keep learning and striving to become a better preacher. In fact, I even started reading another book on preaching this morning (Preparing Evangelist Sermons by Ramesh Richard).

Today is my first day back in the office. I have a couple of meetings and a lot of study to do. Pray for me. Thursday, I leave town to preach again. It’s the last out-of-state preaching engagement I have this year, I think. And I am determined to be on top of my schedule this week, so that I won’t have to play catch up again next week.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Friends, Associates, Etc.

I have been to more funerals as a child than most people go to all of their lives. I am a preacher's kid, an incurable daddy's boy, and a boy preacher. So, I wanted to be wherever my dad was. Consequently, I went to a lot of funerals with him. I remember sitting in the minister's room in the funeral homes, waiting for the service to begin. My dad and I would be reading through the program. He would start from the beginning; I would start at the end, the obituary. I would jump to the bottom of it, to see if a certain line was there. If it was, I braced myself. I knew that a lecture was soon to come. The line that would set my father off was, "And he leaves to cherish his memories... And a host of friends." My dad would get to upset by the line. He would say, "Son, that's a lie. Friends don't come in hosts. If you can get to the end of your life and count on one hand your true friends, you're blessed."

The older I get (and I hope the more mature I am becoming), the more I agree with my dad on this. Friends don't come in hosts. Friends are much more rare and precious commodities. And I am beginning to wonder a lot about this matter of friendship? How many people I call friends are true friends. Conversely, am I a true friend to those who call me their friend? What are the marks of a true friend? What should we call the superficial relationships we have that we often mistakenly call friendships? Is it right to call them "associates"? Isn't that too business-like of a term? Is it wise to consider people who do not have a positive influence on you as friends? What about people you don't talk to that often? Or, what about people who you talk to often, but about nothing of any significance? How long should you know a person, and how much should you know about them, before you call them your friend? How close of a friendship should Christians have with non-Christians? How close of a friendship can devoted followers of Christ have with unbelievers? What do you think?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Losing Time

I "lost time" Monday. I work up very early, to catch an 8:20 flight to Detroit. It was a four hour flight. It was past 4:00 when I arrived to Detroit. And it was after 5:00 when I made it to my hotel room. My ride was here to pick me up for church before 6:00. You get it? I "lost time." A whole day was gone between getting on and getting off a plane. But it was worth it. I am here in Detroit to preach for Pastor Larry Walker at the Oakland Ave Baptist Church. (That's kind of funny, huh? I flew to Detroit to go to Oakland!) I am ministering with Dr. Bill Buerwell (I am guessing at the correct spelling of his name) from Palm Springs, CA. We were on the same flight here yesterday, and didn't even know it. Anyway, boy, can this man teach. I was so tired last night, I was hurting. But I am so glad I did not miss his lecture on doctrinal integrity and biblical authority. The service was warm. This is my second year doing this meeting at Oakland Ave. So the opening night was not as difficult as it is in some place. Likewise, friends from churches I have ministered to in Detroit were present, which also helped me to relax a little. It's always good to see familiar faces.

Saturday was my son’s 6th birthday. We spent the day at Disneyland. We were there about seven hours. But we only got on seven rides. The rest of the time was spent standing in lines… with three children. I was wiped out. I drug myself to my Sunday School class and to the pulpit Sunday. I resumed our verse-by-verse study of Colossians Sunday. My text was Colossians 3:20-21, on parents and children. I have been ready to preach this text for some weeks. But it has still be hard to preach. There’s really no “sizzle” to a text like that. And if it were not for my commitment to sequential exposition, I would not be preaching that text. This is why it is important for pastor-teachers to preach through extended passages of Scripture. It forces you to stretch and to deal with subjects you would otherwise ignore. I don’t think there was anything stellar about the message. But, from the comments I received, it was helpful for many people. Praise God. After church, I had lunch with a new friend and his wife who were in town. That was cool. Then I had to preach again. We were the guests for Pastor Prentiss Lewis’ 13th pastoral anniversary at Greater Starlight Baptist Church. Afterward, I had a commitment to keep to offer prayer for the new home of a young couple in our church. I then ran a few pre-trip errands, had a late dinner with the family, packed, and finally passed out rather late. Hours later, it was time to catch my plane.

A couple of weeks ago, my doctor told me that I needed to reduce some of the stress in my life. I replied, “I’m a pastor.” He said, “I know, but you really do need to reduce some of the stress in your life.” I said, “Okay, but I’m a pastor.” We repeated ourselves to one another several more times. I got was he was saying; but I don’t think he got what I was saying. Stress seems to be a part of my job description. But I have no complaints. I am privileged that the Lord would let me play any part on his program.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Saturday Shout-Outs

Did my hipness quota go up because I used the term "shout-out"? I'm not sure. But it is my intention to use my Saturday posts to kind of recap my week. So here goes.

This past Thursday, I spoke at the Southern California Conference of the AME Church, under Bishop Bryant. It was their annual "Sons of Thunder Night." And I was invited to speak, for the second year in row, by my friend Pastor Sherman Gordon of the New Philadelphia AME Church of Carson, CA. It's a young but strong and growing church. They have recently even moved into a impressive new facility. I am excited about the friendship that is slowly being forged between us. He seems to be a sincere, godly, and humble man. And I pray that we will get to know each other better in the days to come. Anyway, the service was warm, encouraging, and challenging. In a rarely scenarios, it seemed like more than half of the congregation was men. And they were fired-up men who were eager to hear the word. I won't try to rate the sermon; but I can say that I held nothing back. I believe many people were helped and that God was glorified.

There is a young lady in my church, Bridgette, who has been like a sister to me over the years. Her son, Tyler, has had some health challenges this year that we have been praying her through. This Thursday, he had a rather serious procedure done, and it was a complete success. He came through it without any complications. And he should have a full recovery. He's a strong kid! And she's a wonderful mother. Praise God for answering prayers!!!

Next week, the pastoral leaders of our church will meet together for our church council retreat, where we will review the past year of ministry, evaluate our present spiritual condition, and prayerfully plan for the new year. In preparation for our retreat, I had more than ten meetings this week. That doesn't include all of the other personal stuff and pastoral work that I had to give my attention to this week. But the Lord was faithful in giving strength and wisdom. And I believe that the meetings will bear much fruit in the days to come. If nothing more, it came me some personal time with my colaborers for us to check in with one another, share our hearts, and pray. Bless be the tie that binds...

Dr. Sylvester Washington of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in LA began our Guest Lecture Series this past Wednesday night. He taught on evangelism-discipleship. He was great. Dr. Washington bleeds evangelism, has a shepherd's heart, and is full of godly wisdom. It was great to sit under his teaching ministry. Our Guest Lecture Series is something new we've started at MSMBC. We often invite guest to come preach. But we don't really invite others to come teach. Yet, there are pastors who are great teachers and who have much insight in certain areas of Christian doctrine of practice. We can learn much from them. And we intend to, twice a year. Pray for the remainder of the series.

Our new Minister of Music, Shirley Massie, began her work with us this week. Actually, I heard her play for the first time in our midweek service Wednesday night. I already knew she could play, without ever hearing her. But it was great to hear her Wednesday. She seemed to be right at home. I hope she felt that way.

We are in the final stages of negotiation to go on the radio in nine different cities across America. Check our church website in the next week or so. There should be information added there soon about what stations will be on and when.

Finally, a big shout-out to my dog, Lido. He was off his chain a few nights ago, and had every chance to run. But he didn't do it. Now, if I was Lido, I would have fled 521 like I was fugitive running from justice. But not Lido. He sat by the backdoor the whole night, waiting on someone to check on him. Good job, Lido. By the way, Lido is the only one who absolutely agrees with everything I write in this blog. My wife, children, family, friends, church, and first grade teacher may disassociate themselves from much that I write here. But not Lido. He's with me to the bitter end. I think I'll give him a bath soon... maybe.

Happy birthday H.B. Charles III!!!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Happy Birthday H.B. Charles III

It was a Friday, six years ago. My wife had gone into premature labor the previous weekend (she was a little more than six weeks from her due-date). But she was resting, following the doctor's orders, and doing fine. So we agreed that I should take the over night trip that I had scheduled. I was to go to Atlanta to preach the closing night of the "Upper Room Conference" for Pastor Timothy Flemming and the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. So I went. Crystal and I prayed before I left for LAX. I called her on the way to the airport and once I had arrived. Then I called one more time, before the plane took off. And as soon as the plan landed, I called to check on her once again. I then called when I got to the room. And I called before I went to church. Each time, Crystal was okay, as we chatted, prayed, and laughed together.

I went to preach. And it would take a separate post to describe what that experience was like. But I wasn't in my seat a minute before Charles, one of the associate pastors of Mt. Church, where I serve, whispered in my ear. "They had to rush Crystal to the hospital, doc." he said, trying to sound as calm as possible. "She's in surgery right now." I think there have been very few times in my life when I have felt as helpless as I did during those minutes I sat there. I don't think I was scared. I remember having just one thought. I wanted to be with my wife, whatever was going on or was about to happen. The news was passed on to Pastor Fleming and he eventually prayed for me. Again, it would take a separate post to describe what that was like. But a few minutes after he had finished praying, Charles charged onto the platform with a note. The pastor handed Charles the microphone and he read from the paper: "It's a boy! Crystal is fine!" And that's how I heard about the birth of my son, with a congregation of people I did not know.

I was not able to get a flight out of Atlanta until early the next morning. And when I arrived home, I rushed to the hospital to see my wife and meet my son. Crystal was obviously tired, in some pain, but as beautiful as ever. My son was connected to all kinds of tubes and wires and stuff. But I instantly fell in love with him, the moment I saw him. And I regularly fall in love with him all over again, when I hold his precious face in my hands. I don't know how long he's going to let me keep kissing him, so I have to get as many in now as possible.

This morning, I tried to tell him this story before he went to school. When I finished, he jumped up and ran over to his mother and said, "What!?!? You had another baby boy before me!" "No, son." she whispered. "Your daddy is talking about you. He's trying to tell you about your birthday." Oh well, so much for sentimental moments. But that's all right. Tomorrow is my son's 6th birthday. And watching him grow up is a great blessing. He's intimated by the preaching thing. But at the same time, he wants to be like his daddy. Sometimes, when I catch him trying to do something like me, I'll tell him, "You're not me." And he'll quickly respond, "Yes, I am." In fact, he's now on a campaign for us to switch. He wants to be Junior and he wants to me to be Trey (these are the names by which my wife calls us around the house).

I love my son with all my heart. I am proud of the person I am watching him slowly become. I pray for his salvation every day. And I also pray that he would grow as Jesus grew. Luke 2:52 says, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." (ESV) And, yes, I pray that the Lord would call him to preach. It's up to God to call him. But I can pray. And I nurture in him a love for the God, scripture, and the church. And I can live in such a way that causes him to view the ministry as a honorable vocation. But whatever God chooses to do in his life, he'll always be my son. And I will always love him. May God grant him many more birthdays. And may I be blessed to be around to see them.

PS - Hey, if you get a chance, check out my blog this weekend for my first "Saturday Shout-Outs" post.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Media Bias

Some years ago, I was at a cafeteria eating lunch with about thirty preachers during a simultaneous revival meeting. During the meal, someone brought up the national story of a denominational leader's moral failures. And as he lead the conversation, he kept trying to bring a prominent pastor who was at the table into the conversation. But this wise pastor kept giving non-answers every time someone addressed him. Finally, he just asked to be left out of the conversation, which led to a brief exchange of words. Supposing that this pastor was being arrogant, the conversation leader confronted him. And I remember his closing statement being, "If you don't have anything to say, fine!" "It's not that I don't have anything to say," the pastor calmly replied, "it's that I don't know who's listening." The silence that followed was defining. This experience sealed my respect for this pastor, who was one of the men God used to introduce me to and lead me to embrace expository preaching. Likewise, this experience began my personal media bias.

I used to be a news junkie. I could sit for hours flipping through the various cable news stations, watching the talk shows, special reports, and new alerts. But I don't watch the news that much anymore. I have become jaded. Now, I tend to watch shows that critique the news. That seems to help me get a little closer to the truth of what's really going on. And in watching these "watchdog" shows, I have become familiar with the term "medial bias." It's used to say that many journalists, reporters, and news companies have a precommitment to get out a certain message. And they'll slant the news to fit it into their point of view. I like the term and have made it a part of my personal lexicon. But when I use it, I have a different meaning. When I speak of my media bias, I am referring to my strong displeasure with liars, gossips, tale-bearers, name-droppers, and people who just don't know when to shut up. Do you get it? Talking to some people is like talking to the media. It's best to have no comment around them, for whatever you say may be repeated, misrepresented, or exploited for their purposes. So I have a mental list of these people that I call "the media." Whatever I say in their presence, I should say it as if reporters from Eyewitness News, News at 10, CNN, Fox, and MSMBC were also present. And some people are like tabloid papparazi that I just do my best to avoid at all costs.

I can't stand the media! But this is a problem for me, for several reasons. First, it alienates me from some people I deeply care about. It's hard to say anything meaningful around them, because of what they do with the information (or misinformation, depending on how you look at it). And you just can't get close to people without being able to talk to them about things that matter to you. The other reason why my distaste for the media is problematic is because I see a undercover reporter every time I look into the mirror. I admit, I am also guilty of speaking when I should be quiet. Yes, there are many times when I keep quiet, when I should speak up. But there are way more times when I speak out of turn, say the wrong thing, and fail to be a good steward of my speech. I have memorized Proverbs 10:19; but I am yet to master it: "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." I'll shut up for now by giving us all some wise advice: Turn in your media pass and quit the business!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Long Time No Hear From

Hey, where have you been? I've been around. Two weeks ago, I was in Chicago preaching the first pastoral anniversary for my friend Romell Williams of Lillydale Progressive Baptist Church. Last week, I was in Pasadena/Altadena, preaching a three-night meeting for my friend Pastor Tyrone Skinner of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. Other than that, I've been around the home front. I've been hanging out with my wife and kids, as much as possible. I been in the office, praying, reading, studying, planning, and meeting. And I've been back in my pulpit. I was only out of it for two weeks, but it feels much longer than that. It is good to be back home, ministering to my own congregation. And, oh yeah, I've been trying to get some rest, sort of, kind of, a little bit.

How are you doing? I'm doing fine. Thanks for asking. I have not had any more serious chest pains, like the ones that sent me to the ER a few weeks ago. I have had several visits to the doctor, as well. They put me through the ringers, but they couldn't find anything major wrong with me, except for the fact that I need to eat less and exercise more (Wow! All those years of medical school for that profound advice). I am trying to follow their instructions. I am allergic to most healthy foods, though. So it has been an adjustment for me to try different foods. I only eat when I get hungry. But when I get hungry, I don't want to experiment. I want to go with what I know - eggs, burgers, or chicken. But I am trying to do better. And I am feeling much better. Thanks for your prayers and your cards, calls, and emails of concern.

Why haven't you been blogging?!?! My dog ate my blog. Not really. But I don't have a better exucse than that. Actually, I've been really busy, really tired, and really vulnerable since my last blog. This is the time the leaders of my congregation do our major planning for the upcoming year. To prepare for my role in this process, I spend a lot of time examining the past year, evaluating my present direction, and dreaming about the future. And this is a rather difficult time for me. I become prone to frustration, discouragement, and anxiety during times like these. And it has been kind of bad over the past week. Believe me, you wouldn't have wanted to hear a blog about what I've been thinking lately! But I am coming out of it, praise God. Iroincally, being in church really ministered to me Sunday. The funny thing about that is that, as the pastor, I was there to minister to the congregation. And yet being in worship and preaching the word to my beloved congregation ministered to me more than any way I ministered to them. That's the great irony of Christian service: God ministers to you as you minister to others! I dare you to try it.