Monday, April 28, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 4/27/08

I preached my last sermon at 1800 S. Gramercy Place yesterday. Our congregation has purchased new facilities. And we will begin meeting there this coming Sunday, God willing. Praise the Lord! But I had to first get past the overwhelming task of preaching this last sermon and leading this last service.

For the most part, the service was a normal Lord's Day Worship Service at MSMBC. We did not do a lot of special elements. I did not want there to be the spirit of a funeral in the service. This place of worship means a lot to so many of us. But our bond in Christ and to one another is much bigger than this geographic location. So I thought it would be appropriate to just let us worship, rather than focusing a lot of the fact that this was the last meeting we would have. I guess time will tell if I handled it the right way.

I struggled all week about what to preach. I even spent a day trying to find a way to get out of preaching! I just couldn't wrap my mind around what to say. (Boy, did I wish that I was in a extended preaching series. But I plan to fix that this coming Sunday, when I begin preaching through the Sermon on the Mount.). Ultimately, I worked on five different things this past week, trying to land on what I should preach.

I finally landed on Philippians 2:25-30, preaching a message entitled, "The Ties that Bind." I argued that (1) Personal concern, (2) faithful service, and (3) true fellowship bind a church together in Christian love.

As the service closed, we sung, "Walk with Me, Lord." It is a song my father used to sing all the time. For the record, my father could not sing. He used to joke, "Contrary to popular belief, I can carry a tune. I just can't put it down."

Amazingly, I did not collapse into tears. With God's help, I was able to maintain my composure, even though it was a rather emotional service for me.

Crystal was in church yesterday! She has not attended since a few weeks before our baby was born. I didn't want to think about what it would have been like for me to have to go through this service without Crystal. Thank God I didn't have to. Her presence always has a calming influence on me. At critical moments, her presence gives me a sense that everything is going to be alright. I believe this is one of God's graces to me.

Last night, I preached the "Real Joy Youth Crusade" at the Second Baptist Church in Santa Ana (near Disneyland). I have great respect and affection for Pastor John McReynolds. And it is always an honor to be in his presence. He is a man of God. And I always learn something when I am with him.

Pastor McReynolds has been preaching me since I was 15-years-old. And he has been a constant encouragement to my ministry over the years. When he asks me to do something, the answer is immediately yes. And Second Baptist is one of the great churches of our area. I praise God for every opportunity to worship and fellowship with them. Last night was no different.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Life in Christ Fellowship Church

My brother, Kevin B. Willis, Sr. has pastored the Riverside Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis since 1993. And the Lord has done great things in and through Kevin as he faithfully served this strong Memphis congregation. However, Kevin was recently led to end his fifteen-year work at Riverside Church. And he has begun a new work in nearby Southaven, Mississippi. He has named this new congregation "New Life in Christ Fellowship Church."

This is a big step of faith for Kevin, Linda, and all those who have prayerfully chosen to follow them in this new work. Please keep this infant but fast-growing ministry in your prayers. Likewise, pray for the Riverside Church, as they adjust to life without their longtime pastor. Most especially, pray for my brother Kevin. Faith honors God, and God honors faith. So pray that the Lord would honor this great step of faith and use him in Southaven to boldly proclaim the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ with much fruit - to the glory of God.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Speaking @ the L.K. Williams Ministers' Institute

This morning, I had the distinct privilege and great honor of speaking at the 78th Annual L.K. Williams Ministers' Institute in Dallas. The meeting was hosted by the chairman of the conference: Dr. Karry D. Wesley and the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

Following is a brief biographical sketch of Dr. Lacy Kirk Williams and a short history of the institute the is printed in the official program:

"In 1931, the Lacey Kirk Williams Ministers' Institute was born on the campus of Bishop College, then located in the East Texas pine country of Marshal. Its founder and organizer was Dr. Joseph J. Rhoads (deceased), an educator and the first African American president of Bishop College.

The institute was named in honor of the Rev. Dr. L.K. Williams, a native of Eufala, Alabama, and one of the illustrious sons of Bishop College.

Born in 1831, Williams matriculated through the ministry. In 1907, he served as pastor of Dallas' Macedonia Baptist Church and two years later, he served as pastor of Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Williams moved to Chicago a few years later and became pastor of the country's largest black church, Oliver Baptist, a congregation of more than 12,000 members. He then went on toe serve as President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. for 22 years and held other positions.

He died in 1940, but not without leaving a distinguished and notable legacy, and a lasting impact upon all of the students of theology who studied at Bishop College. The institute was a focal point of the religious studies at the college, and every student of theology was required to participate in this sort of "rites of passage."

Nearly every celebrated pastor across the country, who is a Bishop College graduate, still maintains a connection to the Institute because of its teaching and ethics what were instilled in them."

I was glad and grateful to be invited to speak at this year's institute. I flew into Dallas Monday night. Preached this morning. And flew back home this afternoon. It was a brief but memorable experience. The brothers were kind. And I was blessed to have the opportunity to minister to my fellow ministers of the gospel.

The conference will continue through Thursday with many great speakers, including Jimmy Baldwin Sr. (Baltimore), L.K. Curry (Chicago), Denny D. Davis (Grand Prairie, TX), Leroy Armstrong Jr. (Cedar Hill, TX), and Al B. Sutton Jr. (Birmingham).

May the Lord grant this to be an encouraging, enriching, and edifying week of worship, fellowship, and study for all who attend and participate in this great institute.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Secret Sex Wars" In Stores Now!!!

The new book I have contributed a chapter to, Secret Sex Wars: A Battle Cry for Purity, is now available in stores and online. Robert S. Scott, who pastors the Los Angeles Community Bible Church, is the general editor. In it, several pastors from the Los Angeles area - who love Christ, love the scriptures, and love God's people - have come together to write this volume that presents biblical instruction and Christ-centered principles for sexual purity.

I know that the book title may seem provocative and intimidating. But let me assure you that this is not a self-righteous, unloving, Pharisaical treatise that kicks the fallen, discourages the weak, or afflicts the struggling. Rather, it is light-giving, hope-inspiring, and mind-renewing call for believers to think and behave biblically by the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ the sanctifying power of the word of God, and the strengthening power of the wonderful Holy Spirit.

Secret Sex Wars is the result of a series of messages we presented at the men's conference on sexual purity that is hosted by the Los Angeles Bible Training School, where Paul Felix is the president. And, consequently, the book is targeted for the discipleship of African American Christian men. I do not think there should be an apology for this. Indeed, sexual sin is pervasive among all demographics - black and white, young and old, single and married. But you have to start somewhere. And as local pastors, we felt a particular burden for the men in in our churches who struggle with sin, yearn for spiritual victory, and need practical, biblical counsel for their pursuit of godliness.

But this is not a book just for African American men.

- It is for single moms who struggles to raise their sons into responsible, godly young men.
- It is for the parents that are seeking to train their sons and daughters in the ways of the Lord.
- It is for the women who want to remain sexually pure until marriage and to know what to be looking for in a godly mate.
- It is for married women who seek to know how to pray more specifically and strategically for their husbands.
- It is for the small-group that wants a scripture saturated textbook for discussing matters of personal holiness.
- It is for all who love the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
- It is for the new believer or spiritual seeker that seeks to understand what the Bible teaches about Christian sexuality.
- It is for the person who has fallen into sin or has become bound to some sinful habit and wants to know how to change their minds and change their ways.
- It is for pastors who may need some fresh ideas for teaching and preaching on matters of godliness.
- It's for everyone.
- It's for you.

If you want to get a copy of this important book or get more information about it, visit your local bookstore. Or visit "Secret Sex Wars" online.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Notes from Sunday - 4/20/08

- Yesterday was our next to last worship service at our Gramercy location, where Mt. Sinai Church has met for about 40 years. This coming Sunday will be our last service there. While we praise God for the new facilities he has given us, it is sad to leave a place of meeting that has meant so much to so many of us for so many years.

- I preached a message from Mark 14:3-9. I called it, "Expressing your Devotion to Jesus." The point of the message is that you should do express your devotion to Jesus the best you can, while you can.

- As I get to the end our time at the Gramercy location, I have found it harder to determine what to preach. This is one of the reasons why I found being in an extended sermon series so helpful. And I plan to jump right into one on the first Sunday in May: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

- I was preaching in Sacramento on the second Sunday of April. And during the worship service yesterday, I kept thinking about how much miss being with them when I am away. I mentioned this at the end of the service. And many of the members assured me after service that they miss me just as much. It was very encouraging.

- My wife is recovering and doing better every day. Her doctor is concerned that she is doing too much too fast. But it is good to see her up and about again. And she is in straight "Mother Bear" mode. She is absolutely determined to keep me, H.B., and Natalie from "infecting" Hailey with our germs. To her dismay, the three of us are absolutely determined to hold, kiss, and play with Hailey at every available opportunity.

- I have a new appreciation for what Crystal goes through on Sunday mornings to get our little ones ready for worship. When I couldn't take any more of their antics Sunday morning, I threatened to leave them at home with their mother. They responded by running out the door and standing by the car until I was ready to go. Funny.

- Sunday afternoon, our congregation attended the 33rd pastoral anniversary celebration for Pastor Melvin Wade and the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.

- Pastor R.A. Williams, who leads the McCoy Memorial Church in L.A., brought the message.

- The HBO miniseries, "John Adams," ended Sunday night. The series was stellar, captivating, and wish-it-didn't-have-to-end enjoyable. I have not read the McCullough's book yet. But after seeing the series, I am all the more eager to read the book. Alas, so many books; so little time.

- I am not a bandwagon fan. And I still refuse to cheer on the Lakers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Remembering the OKC Bombing

Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the domestic terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in which 186 people were killed and more the 800 people were injured.

I was in the city that week, preaching for Pastor John Reed Jr. and the Fairview Baptist Church during the annual Oklahoma City simultaneous revival. I was still recovering from Easter weekend. I was suffering from jet lag. I was trying to get into a rhythm of the multiple services during the OKC simultaneous revival. I was catching up with family and friends who live in Oklahoma City. And I had stayed up quite late (or early) the night before. 

I was still in bed at 9:03 AM, when the bomb exploded. My hotel was about ten minutes from downtown. But it was so powerful that it rocked my hotel like an earthquake. I jumped up and went to the door, looking down the hall to see if people were rushing out of their rooms. I didn't see anyone. So I got back in the bed. A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was my mother, calling to check on me. Still half sleep, I told her that I must be really tired, because I thought I had just felt an earthquake in Oklahoma City. She told me it was no earthquake. It was a explosion. I turned on the television and, sure enough, the local news stations were already reporting that the federal building had been bombed. I opened the curtain in my room and could see the smoke rising in the distance.

The afternoon service that day was supposed to be held at downtown church. It was to be a special service, in that the meeting had not been held at this location in some years. But those plans were quickly changed - the intended meeting place had been damaged in the blast. Yet the revival went on. It was an overwhelming experience. The eyes of the nation were focused on Oklahoma City. The the city was in a state of shock. But the local churches continued to meet to pray for revival, healing, and strength for the city. Of course, the work of the local churches was not given much attention that week.

But the Lord was at work. Many of the participating churches had members who were either killed or injured in the blast. If fact, when I left town five days later, my host church was still awaiting news about one of their leading members. It was a difficult time. But I remember how Christian people in Oklahoma City came together to worship, pray, encourage one another, and serve their city. The press didn't pay it much attention. But the Lord saw it and was glorified.

I preached the late-night mass service on Friday night of that week. I preached a message from Galatians 6:9 that I called, "Just In Case You Get Tired." I really wanted to encourage the weary and worn-out saints of OKC, that you do reap what you sow. And the fact that they had sown to the Spirit would not be unrewarded. However, the harvest does not happen in a hurry. In due season you will reap a harvest, if you do not lose heart. I believed that promise then. And I believe it even more now, thirteen years later.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Speaking @ Greater Starlight in Los Angeles

It is kind of late. And I am very tired. But I am still trying to wind down from preaching tonight.

I brought the closing message tonight at a three-night revival meeting held at the Greater Starlight Baptist Church here in Los Angeles, where Prentiss Lewis serves at pastor. Local pastors, Xaviar Thomas and Welton Pleasant, spoke the first two nights of the meeting.

I have preached for Pastor Lewis at Greater Starlight many times over the years. In fact, I think Greater Starlight is the only place, outside of Mt. Sinai, where I have repeated a message. I have preached there so often, I really don't remember all the messages I delivered there.

Over the years, I have found Greater Starlight to be a place where I feel free to preach my heart.  I preach a lot of places where I feel "setting pressure," not knowing what is appropriate or helpful to preach. I often find it difficult to prepare for many places that I go.  So tonight was just really refreshing for me. There was a message on my heart to preach - a message that I don't feel I could preach many places outside of my own congregation. And I just went for it tonight. And they took it. And received it. It was very encouraging to me. I pray that much fruit will come from the ministry of the word this week at Greater Starlight.

I think I was rambling pretty bad in that previous paragraph. And I am not sure if what I was saying was clear. But I guess the bottom-line is that I really felt tonight was a "in season" (2 Tim. 4:2) time and place for preaching. And I just had a wonderful night in worship and the word with Pastor Lewis and Greater Starlight. And I praise God for it.

Happiness is... coming home late from a service or meeting and Crystal has left the light on for me. It usually means that she tried to stay up for me to get home but was too tired to stay awake. It's a simple thing. But it really makes me feel loved. And it is one of the 1,000 little things Crystal does that cause me to keep falling in love with her.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Speaking @ St. Paul in Sacramento

I have spent the past several days speaking at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Sacramento, which is led by Dr. Ephraim Williams. I spoke four times over the course of three days.

This marked the third time I have ministered at St. Paul. The last two years, I have participated in the celebration of their church anniversary (St. Paul is 60 years old this year). This year, however, I spoke for three nights that focused on the young adults of St. Paul. I was encouraged by the opportunities and support the congregation gave to the young people of the church.

It was a joy to minister the word to St. Paul. And I believe that the messages were well-received.

It is always an honor for me to be invited to St. Paul by Dr. Williams. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. His 37 years of faithful service to St. Paul is a great example, as well as his humility, wisdom, and integrity.

Please remember Dr. and Sister Williams and the work of St. Paul Church in Sacramento in your prayers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taking Back What the Devil Stole

“I’m taking back everything the Devil stole from me!” Have you ever heard this statement? Have you ever made this statement? Have you ever thought about what this statement means?

Spiritual catchphrases. Theological sound bites. Pulpit ear tickling. Harmful error set to beautiful music. Nonsense. These things are the order of the day. Consequently, many of our lives and churches are preoccupied with superficial things, rather than the God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, life-transforming, and culture-engaging mission and message of the gospel.

For instance, there is a popular "Gospel" song that declares God to be faithful and holy. But the response to these divine perfections is this: “I’m reaching the harvest God promised me. Take back what the devil stole from me.” Well, at least it rhymes. I think. I also think this way of thinking tries to make God our puppet.

The consideration of God’s attributes should cause us to respond with reverent worship, the confession of sin, and a passion to serve him. At least, that’s how Isaiah responded to the sovereign holiness of God (see Isaiah 6). But a true encounter with the majesty and supremacy of God will definitely not result in a militant determination to fight the Devil over the stuff he supposedly stole from you.

The Bible describes our great spiritual enemy in many different ways. It tells us that Satan is a murderer and a liar and a deceiver. The Devil is even pictured in scripture as a serpent and a roaring lion and a dragon. But the Bible does not say much about the Devil being a thief. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” But the “thief” Jesus is referring to is not Satan. He’s talking about false religious leaders! And, if Jesus was talking about Satan, why it is that we are only concerned about what he has stolen? Shouldn’t we be just as concerned about what he kills and destroys?

Beyond what the scripture tells us about Satan, we should also think about what it says about following Christ. We are to fight. Stand firm. Resist. Watch. And pray. But the instructions the New Testament give about spiritual warfare do not teach us that we should try to take anything back from devil. This is not the focus of the Christian life in any way. And talk like this only trivializes the biblical and historic Christian faith.

What stuff we are to take back from the Devil? If you let the high profile religious personalities tell it, we are to take back our families, health, wealth, joy, ministries, etc. Let the church say, “Huh?” This is really bad theology. It suggests that Satan is behind every adverse, difficult, or unpleasant thing that happens in our lives. And it fails to embrace the Lord’s sovereign authority, providential wisdom, and good purposes at work in our lives, including our bad times.

This way of thinking about fails to recognize that some challenges we face in life are the result of sin – both others and ours. Sometimes, we lose things because God will not be mocked. We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:9).

And there’s another important theological word that describes why some bad things happen: life. Life happens to all of us. Following Christ does not guarantee happy marriages, financial success, perfect health, problem-free relationships, or carefree circumstances. However, Christianity gives us resources for facing life challenges that unbelievers do not have. We can pray and trust and obey and wait and rejoice and love and forgive and give and serve in the midst of and in spite of life’s difficulties. But Christianity does not teach believers to attack the devil and reclaim stolen stuff from him. 

In Ephesians 1:3, Paul declares, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” Did you get that? In Christ, we are perfectly, completely, and irrevocably blessed. And we should praise God for it. But to neglect our great spiritual blessings in Christ and focus on things you think the Devil has stolen from you is to dishonor the unfailing promises of God, the redemptive work of Christ, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. That’s like Bill Gates crying because he lost one hundred dollars. So I recommend that you let the Devil keep whatever he has stolen from you! Friend, if the Lord Jesus is the Forgiver of your sins and the Leader of your life, you have too many blessings to enjoy and bless God for to worry about what the Devil supposedly stole from you.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Pictures of Hailey Breanne

We finally got some pictures of Hailey with her eyes open. It's as if she knows we have been trying to take pictures of her. And she kept closing her eyes every time we tried to capture her. Wow! A diva that doesn't like the paparazzi. Go figure. But we finally got her.

So for "We the members of MSMBC..." (still funny), meet your newest member: Hailey Breanne Charles

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The San Francisco Citywide Revival 2008

I was scheduled to be be San Francisco today to begin preaching the afternoon meetings for their citywide revival. Family duties prevented me from attending this meeting.

This would have been my fourth year preaching this meeting. I have been the afternoon speaker each year. And I have been partnered with some fine preachers. I preached with Pastor Stephen Thurston from Chicago the first year. I preached with Pastor Marvin Wiley, who pastors in a Chicago suburb, the second year. And I preached with Pastor Nathan Johnson of Detroit last year. Pastor Johnson is the evening speaker again this year.

Please remember this meeting and the local pastors, ministerial alliances, and participating congregations in your prayers. May the Lord grant much fruit the worship, prayers, preaching, service, and witnessing invested in San Francisco this week.