Author Archive

Some time ago, I was driving through Nashville and heard an abnormal noise from the left rear side of my car.  Quickly, I decelerated (as safely as I could) and maneuvered to the right side of the interstate right past Exit 215; and turned on my flashers.  Sure enough, I had a flat, so I immediately dialed my insurance company as I was on my way to an engagement in eastern Tennessee.  They indicated they would dispatch a wrecker to come and repair the tire within an hour.  In a matter of minutes, a huge lime yellow truck pulled up behind me with the tag on the side which read, “Tennessee Highway Incident Response Unit.”  A rather tall gentleman exited the vehicle and came to greet me.  I concluded he was not sent from my insurer, and asked him how did he know I was there.  He calmly pointed to the overpass behind us over a half mile away, and said, “Our monitors saw you when you pulled over, and I was sent (radioed) to come and assist you.”  I strained my eyes to see, and in the distance, I noticed surveillance cameras strategically mounted on the interstate bridge that had us in view at that very moment.  I waved, and was amazed and grateful at the same time.

 

In an ancient culture and in quite a different world than the one in which we live, the Psalmist—without the advantages of technology and electronics—yet knew something very similar about God.  In the 46th Number, it was declared, “God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in the time of trouble…” (verse 1).  No matter where you are and what you may be going through, this reality remains indisputable.  Our God sees all, our God knows all, and ONLY our God is yet able to do ANYTHING; but fail.  If you’ll wait on Him, He’ll come see about you.  Sometimes He sends angels, sometimes He sends others (believers), and then sometimes, He just shows Himself!  Ain’t that good news!!!!!

 

You may not have had an “accident” or perhaps some other major “incident;” even if you’ve only had a flat, God can still fix it!!

 

In August we held our annual back-to-school festival for the youth of our church and community in Memphis’ beautiful Martin Luther King Park.   Its exquisite landscape and rolling hills are a wonder to behold as it sits almost hidden off Interstate 55 in south Memphis.

 

Upon my arrival to join others from our church who had already made their way there, I observed the features associated with the glorious park scene as some of the youth (and adults) danced to music that was being played on a CD player.  There was a nice pavilion situated in the area we had selected with a nicely paved platform that served as its foundation and floor.  Picnic tables were positioned thereon for users to enjoy any food they might bring.  There were a number of convenient places to cook—barbeque pits—all around the pavilion area.  A picturesque fishing pond sat adjacent to the platform for the kids to cast their reels and poles.  We had a joyful time.

 

After a couple of hours that warm Saturday afternoon, I made my exit from the event to rest for the next day’s activities.  As I did, I became distracted by what sounded like an idling lawn mower that I failed to notice when first I came.  Moving toward the direction of the sound, I discovered a portable generator off the pavilion floor that was curiously purring away.  In that moment, I heard God speaking to me.  Amazingly, the engineers of this tremendously family-friendly venue designed the area with just about every amenity one could imagine to enjoy a normal outing with one exception—there was no electricity.  It was a profound revelation I will never forget; and about which I wish to share.  The lesson is simple:  Because of the way the land was designed, in order for there to be power IN the park, someone would have to bring power TO the park!”

 

Bless you, my dear readers!  There is no need crying about the fact that you live in a hell hole; work in a heathen environment, or routinely find yourself with or around some ungodly people.  That, my dear friends, may be the very reason your presence is needed there.  You may need to consider my discovery at the MLK Park in Memphis, Tennessee:  If there is to be power ON your job, IN you home, or AT those places you frequent and enjoy fellowship, then SOMEONE—more especially YOU—simply may need to bring that power TO the job, TO the home, or TO those places where God’s presence is needed to make a redemptive difference.

 

Let God use you

It has been quite a few months (and even more some significant developments) since last I sat to compose an article.  Many, I am yet discovering, have no knowledge of the transition.  The not-so-new news is the Lord has reassigned me to the Springdale Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee. That’s right!  In July 2011, I received the invitation to serve as its new pastor, and by September, I was moving.  It is still overwhelming to me that I actually was summoned away from a people with whom I had been in relationship for precisely 22 years (since 1989).  Omaha, Nebraska, was home to me through a full generation—over two decades—of family ministry, changing seasons, rites of passage, personal experiences, and more.  I must admit it was one of the most difficult decisions with which I have ever been faced.  It continues to be difficult for me and them.  Yes, I am sure Memphis is where God (alone) sent me to serve, but I miss the kind people of Antioch dearly.  Pray for us!

 

Recently, I was extended an invitation to be a sky box guest in one of the suites at the FedEx Forum—the home court to the Memphis Grizzlies.  I would only need my ID to retrieve my tickets to be able to see the game that hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers.  A number of glitches occurred with this invitation; and not the least of which found me ticketless and outside the ticket window (and gate) for several minutes.  After making a phone call, two tickets were delivered to me, and we—me and my assistant—made our way into the Forum.  Upon locating the section of the arena that held our assigned seats, we made our way to the row and aisle, and proceeded to sit down before the game started.  In a matter of moments, I looked at him and he looked at me, and I said to him in a calm voice, “This can’t be the accommodations to which we were invited.  Something must be wrong.”  We got up and went back into the corridor and I registered another phone call and was told to just remain still until the host showed up.  Within minutes, my host arrived, apologized, and escorted us to some elevators that took us up to the concierge level to a suite where others were gathered to enjoy the evening’s event.  He left.

 

Quietly we sat inside the suite, until approximately 5 minutes later the host returned and told me (us) to gather our belongings and to follow him.  We got up and walked a good distance to a completely empty suite in which we would be occupants.  I was told these would be our accommodations and that no one else would be joining us.  We were shown the layout—the easy chair, the big screen TV, the stadium seats and the bar—and invited to enjoy some hot food that was at our disposal.  Once we got our plates, we sat down and relaxed; and gratefully enjoyed our meal and the game.  While eating, our eyes met as we sat at the counter, and we smiled.  I said to him, “Now this is more like it; I’m about to feel like this is why we came.”  He chuckled and agreed.  Incidentally, the Grizzlies won!

 

Now some may say it seems somewhat ungrateful to have been dissatisfied with the original seats we found when first we arrived at the complex.  At least we were invited to the game.  I beg to differ!  We were extremely grateful, even though we were equally disappointed.  Yes, I said it, “Disappointed!”  And there’s a legitimate reason why.  We simply were not satisfied with the accommodations we were given, because we were promised something more!  Too many believers settle for less than God’s best.  We settle in relationships, we settle when it comes to jobs; we even settle when it comes to our expectations and performances at work and in our service to the Christ.  Well, I’m just a messenger from heaven who wishes to report that God has already promised us better, and we actually may be insulting Him when we settle for less.  After all, He has gone to great lengths to make sure things ready for your and my arrival.  Don’t settle!  There’s something better in store.  There’s something greater awaiting those of us who can trust Him.  There’s a whole lot more that is ours to enjoy; if we can choose no longer to settle, and believe God when He tells us that He’s got more!

 

One final note!  In one moment, we were standing at one location; experiencing life at a level with several others; when all of a sudden an escort came and took us to a higher elevation!  It soon will happen again, brothers and sisters!  God has more; and something better ahead for those of us who truly love Him.  Don’t settle!

 

A young pastor and I were having a discussion about a text he was investigating for his sermon he would be preaching the upcoming Sunday morning. As he sat on the deck at the back of his newly constructed home, a disturbing scene unfolded before his eyes. A father (and neighbor) was cutting his grass two lots away. While pushing his lawnmower through the yard, the man’s six year old daughter thought it playful to run in front of the mower just ahead of her dad, and without being admonished. Before he knew it, my friend called it “an accident-just-waiting-to-happen.” He further blurted out while I was yet on the phone, “That’s exactly why I have got to hurry up and get my privacy fence put up.” Unaware of the developments since I was at my house and he was at his in another city and state, I asked what he meant. He described the scene and repeated his comment and added, “Because, I don’t want to be a witness to nothing!”

I laughed with him (at first), and then I thought to myself about this common malady and how tragically this position characterizes many a Christian. We have been called to be just that—witnesses. Our Lord said before He left, “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV). Yet, we seem to want to hide behind our preciously designed privacy fences and neglect to be and do what we have been called to be and to do. We prefer to hide behind the safe and comfortable privacy fence of a nice sanctuary, the fence of public worship, the privacy fence of a church building, the nice privacy fence of a tailored suit and a new dress on Sunday morning. But, as soon as worship ends and for the rest of the week, we seem content to hide behind these and other well-constructed privacy fences so we don’t have to be witnesses to no one and to no-thing—not anything.

Allow me to admonish you, dear brother or sister. Before it is everlasting too late, commit to come from behind these familiar barriers in your own life. Encourage others who may be hiding as well to do the same thing in their lives.

As darkness prevails in our world, every community needs the light of bold witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. We can no longer remain silent and unseen behind these spiritual privacy fences. Let your light shine! Be a witness to someone today, and share with them the gospel of salvation. The Lord will bless you for it, and you just might prevent a tragedy from happening!

While attending the Hampton’s Ministers Conference recently, a colleague and I were conversing about the NBA playoffs and he asked at what time the game would start that evening. Motioning to pick up the TV remote, he objected and said, “Let me get it!” Curiously, he took his Smartphone and began speaking into it. Effortlessly, he simply verbalized the question, “What time does Miami and Dallas play tonight?” In a matter of seconds, the phone executed a search and revealed the game would begin at 8:00 p.m. I was literally blown away. Quickly, I asked him what in the world did he just do! He told me about this downloadable application for Smartphones that would allow such an option to anyone who wanted to use it. Not wanting to be left out, I located the software on my phone and downloaded it with ease. I have been using it ever since.

Don’t miss this! Technology has now come to a point that without ever typing a key, one can simply via voice recognition ask your phone just about any question you want, and in almost no time the phone will reveal the answer. Well, the creators of Google aren’t that smart. In fact, they simply have been trying to mimic an application designed by God since the beginning of time. Similar to Google Search, God’s search engine is called prayer. It’s free and only takes a little, and it is available to anyone who would access it. Our Creator has already designed us to employ it; and is only waiting an opportunity to resolve and answer all of our issues and questions. He is only a prayer away.

If you’ve got a problem, just ask God. I am a witness He will answer you!

Some time ago I sat in a familiar chair to have my shoes polished on my way to a funeral. As I sat there to negotiate this experience, I paid close attention as my shoes underwent a necessary transformation. The skilled craftsman quietly began by brushing away any loose dirt or debris, and followed with some saddle soap and water to thoroughly clean the leather. Afterwards, he took an old cloth to wipe away the excess moisture and dried the leather before applying the polish. He then took his crooked fingers and carefully patted the small can of Kiwi held in his left hand, and slowly started rubbing the wax solution onto the shoe’s surface. After brushing his application into the shoe, it left a simple flat black hue on my nice monk straps. Thankfully, he wasn’t finished. He then applied a second coat to ensure it was adequately absorbed within the leather and began brushing it into the shoe. Slowly, a faint luster began to emerge on the shoe’s surface. In patient form, the quiet gentleman took a soft finishing rag and began popping it across the ball of my shoe; around the sides and on the back of the heels. Eventually, a rich black glossy finish sparkled at my feet as he concluded his work by nicely dressing the soles.

Interestingly, when the shoe shine man started out, he was undaunted by the fact that my shoes were unclean; a bit scuffed, and clearly needed attention. Even as he went through his procedure for cleaning and buffing, he remained undeterred by his assignment though no major change occurred. He was determined to keep working and did not stop until the end he desired emerged. This keen man stuck with his task and was able to get a shine out of the shoe because he knew there was a shine “in the shoe.”

Our Lord, Jesus (our Shine Man), likewise would never have told us to allow our lives (lights) to “shine” had He not known there was “shine” potential and possibility already within us. He firmly said that you and I are the light of the world (Matthew 5: 16). And we are encouraged by the Lord to allow His light to shine through us so others may see our good works and give glory to the Father in heaven.

Today, why not make this your new commitment? In fact, you should sing it aloud:

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine;
Everywhere I go, I’m going to let it shine;
Jesus gave it to me; I’m going to let it shine;
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Recently I counseled someone who had become rather melancholy about church, worship, and just the whole image of modern day ministry. The smorgasbord of appeals being made from an array of sources makes choosing a church (even Christ) very difficult, and has caused some to be discouraged to the point of disinterest.

The Bible says such a period would emerge. Paul told his colleague and friend there would come a time when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3), and even said some would eventually abandon the faith (1 Tim 4:1). With the deluge of preachers and self-proclaimed prophets afoot in cyberspace and the world today, it is becoming more and more difficult to know exactly what and who to believe. A lot of stuff out there may sound good, but so much is neither good nor sound.

Is there an actual litmus test for determining legitimacy in ministry? How can one know what and who to believe? Or even know who is real? Our Lord said clearly without regard for personality, charisma, gifts, degrees, apparent success, and the like, there is one sure tell sign. He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35, NIV) Succinctly, amidst all the hype and pseudo-energy that characterizes a lot of contemporary preaching, the love of God must and will be unmistakably clear to help confirm if a message and messenger is truly real. The power of God’s love is still able to woo sinners unto repentance if we would simply trust Him.

Remember our childhood days? While we could hardly afford a bicycle, most kids were enamored by the speed and sound a motor cycle made. Too dangerous and expensive for most of us, we remained content to ride our bikes, but would make an inexpensive modification to its operation to enhance our experience. We would simply take a playing card (any card) from a deck of cards, and a clothes pin from where mom would hang the laundry, and clip the card onto the frame of the bike so it would flap against the spokes. Remarkably, it created for us a noise that gave the sense we were riding a motorized cycle. There was only one problem. While it made a lot of noise, it actually had no power.

Chew on that, my brothers and sisters. Please don’t be guilty of the same. Be encouraged!

Fate has a way of introducing situations into our lives that challenge us at the deepest levels. From debt, difficulty, disaster, divorce, death, and beyond, these have a way of putting-the-squeeze on us in ways we would prefer to avoid. Never does God intend for these things to depress or destroy us. To the contrary, He uses these to develop us into power-broking people who can endure trials and prevail at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance. Settle with the fact that some realities just won’t change. Loved ones do age and may become ill. Grown children will eventually leave home; whether at a time we are ready for them to go, or earlier should they decide to take the plunge. Employers may make hard choices that cost us substantially. In short, we will continue to experience losses no matter who were are or what we have attained. We cannot change these!

You should know, though, you have options! You can either fight it—that is, try hard to deny the reality as if it does not exist—or you can face it. You can either take it lying down, or you can stand up in the midst of it and be a victor, and not the victim. When life issues you a lemon, you can actually make lemonade. God gives believers the power to take stumbling blocks, and successfully turn them into stepping stones. Regardless of how painful the dilemma is, we can make it, because it’s not the end of the world. That is, yet! Want to know how? Here’s an approach:

First, thank God for the test (trial). Really, that’s all it is. It’s a test of your faith. I don’t know anyone who tries to intentionally fail a test. There are some Christians, however, who would prefer to simply “not take the test.” Don’t trip! Thank God for it. It’s only a test! Second, ask God to help you learn from it. There is so much to learn in every experience. Turn that trial or challenge into a learning module. God will show you areas where you are much stronger/wiser than you realized, and ways (and places) where you need improvement. No matter what, learn from the experience! Third, be positive! The matter of faith is a “living” reality. Therein lies a power at our disposal to handle and overcome any adversity if we would simply appropriate it. Sing songs of praise and be joyful. Do all you can to celebrate God’s goodness even in the dark places! Make God larger than the problem. Fourth, trust His word (Him) through it! Remind yourself of the promises of God. He alone declares never to leave nor forsake us. He alone has the power to defeat death, hell, and the grave. Read and remember His word.

Daniel had fasted and was praying for three full weeks anticipating a breakthrough and some needed relief for the people of Israel (Chapter 9). While still praying, the angel of the Lord came and told him what he needed to hear. Amazingly, the angel confessed he departed heaven to come to Daniel’s aid a full three weeks earlier, but had been strangely detained by demonic forces (see Chapter 10:13). Even more amazing was the fact Daniel never lost hope. I wondered why! I pondered how we might equally be resilient as we wait on God’s timely intervention into our situations today. Two things came to mind:

(1) God always gives assurance in spite of the appearance. When things appear they are not changing and you find yourself getting a bit weary, pay close attention to how God mysteriously provides assurance even in spite of the appearance. Things are not always as they seem.
(2) Trust the revelation instead of the manifestation. As you read His word, hold fast to what God has said rather than what you see. His word alone can kindle a fire in your heart and give to you the comfort you need to make it through. I am a witness He will!

Dear brothers and sisters; roll up your sleeves and tell the devil “He’s a liar; and the truth is not in him!” Trust God! You can and will make it!

Continental Flight 1734 was the carrier on which I was to be flying through Houston on my way to the east coast for a conference. At 7:00 a.m. on the day planned, we pushed away from the gate at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield, and taxied as scheduled toward the runway. Approved for take-off, the jumbo jet quickly began accelerating. Our bodies were automatically welded to our seatbacks with our seat belts fastened as instructed; anticipating lift in only a few seconds. Suddenly, the aircraft noticeably decelerated and it was quite obvious ours was not to be a successful takeoff after this try. In a matter of moments, the captain related the aircraft had experienced power failure with the right engine, and it would need to be fixed before we could re-board for Houston.

After more than an hour delay, another announcement declared the flight was being cancelled due to a mechanical failure, and the gate agents would need to re-book us. Some passengers were concerned as they had appointments they were scheduled to meet. A few were outright angry at the inconvenience. I got in line and waited to be re-booked on another aircraft. Two hours later and the last person standing, when I reached the desk the flight attendant announced our original plane was finally repaired. We would be re-boarding within ten minutes. For me, there was only one problem—I was scheduled to be in Richmond by mid-afternoon to attend the opening ceremony at our annual convocation. The delay was surely going to cause me to miss worship.

I related my conflict, and in a matter of moments, new arrangements were found and secured for me on another airline. I was on my way to my destination with the reasonable assurance I would be there well in advance of the evening’s event. I guess you know I made it.

Church troubles are like mechanical failures and technical difficulties. Of course, they happen in this Christian journey, and sometimes they can delay you (your development, that is). Often times, they may deter you, even discourage your journey. The good thing about it is yours (that is, the church you attend) is not the only carrier to get you to your destination. It’s really not that serious. Sadly, some churches are just plagued with problems. It doesn’t mean the people are not Christian or they will wind up in hell. It means they are simply having a hard time getting off the ground, and just can’t seem to make any headway, and there’s nothing you can do to help them.

You may consider this: If you pray and trust God, He very well may provide for you another carrier that will equally help you reach your destination. So, do what you need to do, my brothers and sisters. Keep the goal in mind. After all, you don’t want to miss “worship.” It will be okay!

I admit I am a “control freak.” That’s right; I said it! I like control. The thing about it is I only want control of one thing. I am at peace knowing there are many things over which I have absolutely no control. I have no control over creation, nature, the weather, the seasons, many of life’s circumstances, other people’s behavior, the economy, and more. I actually do not want or need any of these. The one thing over which I have the privilege (and responsibility) and absolutely want sure control of is me. I work daily to do just that—to always be in control of me!

Now, let me be clear. I make no claims that managing such control is an easy assignment. In fact, it is a constant daily challenge. Things can and will happen, and people will continue to do things with which many are in total disagreement and have no real like. Even so, it behooves us to learn quickly the only one over which we have true power and managerial control is self.

One of the hardest lessons for many of us to grasp is the need to maintain proper possession of that personal “emotional remote” we each have been given. You see, the adversary is bent on causing us to lose it. He literally wants us to be out-of-control at every juncture; and especially during crisis and difficulty. He routinely uses tragedy, disaster, calamity, death, and other hardships to trip us up, and to throw us into an emotional frenzy. Try to keep in mind; however, whenever you are out-of-control you have actually placed the “remote” into the hands of another. And when others have that kind of power in your life, you have actually given them too much power. Never should another have the power (and privilege) of “changing your channel”—your attitude and behavior—when bad (or even good) things happen. It is not right that any should dictate another’s reactions and responses like some myopic minstrel or mindless puppet on a string. That kind of manipulative control can be dangerous.

Sadly, we at times forfeit the “remote” to people who don’t know what to do with it when they get it. The one thing we can be sure of is that they are out-of-control, and they are helpless to regain any sense of stability without the aid and assistance of someone else (and hopefully, someone who loves them) who can keep a level head throughout. With the help of God, that’s the kind of person I am determined to be.

Charles Swindoll was only partially right when he wrote, “…life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our attitudes.” In reality, we are in charge (control) of more than just our attitudes. We are also in charge (control) of our behavior; and if not, we truly should be.

If somehow (and for whatever reason) you have lost your “remote,” there’s no need to panic, but you need to fix that real soon. The devil didn’t make you do it; neither alcohol nor drugs made you do it. Circumstances and situations don’t make you do it; and for sure, no one else can make you do it. The bottom line is you (and only you) are in control of you! To be sure, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be drunk with (under the influence of) wine, but rather be filled with (in the control of) the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18; emphasis and italics, mine).

Happy Holidays! And, always be careful to hold on to your “remote!” As a matter of fact, why not simply give it to the Holy Ghost? I promise you He won’t hurt you!