2016 End of Year Reflection

I can honestly say that 2016 has been one of the most productive years of my adult life. It was the first full year in my 40’s and it was full of rewarding and humbling moments. I began the year with high expectations and I end the year with confidence knowing that I accomplished much of what I desired. One of the biggest things from 2016 that I have experienced was a great sense of loss. This came from the untimely death of my beloved nephew Kevin Neal, Jr. and the deaths of so many people who had a grand part in fashioning my youth and young adult development.

Like many persons at the end of the year, I take a moment and reflect on the totality of the year. There is a wonderful exercise that I have been using to accomplish this. I’ll share this year’s with you. How wonderful it is to know I’ve come this far by faith and God’s grace and have yet a ways to go. I’m grateful for all the people, places, and experiences I been graced to have in 2016. As John Newton writes in the third stanza of Amazing Grace ” Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. T’was grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me on.”

10 Highlights (Accomplishments, Best Memories)

  1. Passing Doctoral Qualifying Exam and becoming an official doctoral candidate
  2. Serving as a presenter at the Black Non-Believers 5th Anniversary Celebration
  3. Serving as a Delegate to the 50th Quadrennial General Conference and 200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
  4. Being appointed the new Dean of Ministerial Instruction for the South Mississippi Conference Board of Examiners
  5. Becoming a Spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Survivors Engagement Lead for Everytown for Gun Safety
  6. Lobbying with Clergy for Prison Reform
  7. Lobbying at US Capital with National Council of Churches
  8. Attending Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE)National Pastor’s Policy Summit
  9. Celebrating five years as pastor of New Bethel AME Church of Jackson
  10. Joining a local community choir

 Disappointments (Failures, Missed Opportunities)

  1. Not spending enough time with my nephew Kevin before he passed
  2. Not maintaining regular spiritual discipline
  3. Not going to the gym consistently
  4. Not promoting book, ministry and radio show
  5. Indecisive about romantic relationships
  6. Not making time for self
  7. Not traveling for pleasure
  8. Not managing finances well
  9. Not reading more
  10. Not aggressively ministering to youth and young adults at the church

3 Game Changers (Unexpected Events that shifted my priorities)

  1. Being featured in the upcoming Exodus documentary
  2. Getting back in school and passing my DQE, attending Residency II in Atlanta, and beginning the journey of writing my dissertation
  3. Church Promotion and exposure in local and regional media outlets

3 Things I focused on (What I put the most of my time into

  1. Gun Safety and Advocacy
  2. Criminal Justice reform
  3. Returning to doctoral program and completing my dissertation

3 Things I forgot (What I didn’t get around to)

  1. Self Care-poor diabetes management and little rest and didn’t journal consistently
  2. Complete writings I started
  3. Didn’t engage my creative side-didn’t compose music or write enough poem
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Everybody Plays the Fool: What the election results say about our nation

There’s an old folktale about an elephant, a rabbit, and a whale. The whale and the elephant met together and both proclaimed their rule as the strongest animals on land and in the sea. While they were talking, a rabbit was nearby and decided to listen in. Once he heard their plan to rule all the animals in their particular domains, he declared that he would not be ruled by them, he devised a simple but brilliant plan to prove them both wrong.

The rabbit approaches the elephant and tells him that his cow is stuck in the sea. He asks the elephant to help him retrieve him by tying a rope around his trunk to pull him out. The rabbit goes to the whale and says his cow is stuck in the mud and needs his assistance to get him out. The whale agrees and the rabbit ties a rope around the whale’s tail. At the signal of rabbit’s drum beating, both massive animals begin to pull on an object in an attempt to free it. They later discover that they have not been pulling on a cow, but they have been pulling on each other to no avail. They realize that while they may be the strongest, they have been outsmarted by the rabbit. The rabbit proves he may not be the strongest physically, but he is the strongest intellectually.

This fable sums up the recent presidential election. The two major party candidates did not expect the outcome. Americans across demographic and political lines spoke loudly by electing to overthrow a political system. While the US Congress will remain red for at least the next two years, the system that supported both Democrats and Republicans has been radically changed. The idea of a post-racial, post-gender, and post-religious America has been tossed asunder. What was clear is that the back and forth tugging for political strength has given way to the smaller but smarter rabbit. The moral of the story is that those who believe themselves to be the strongest will eventually fall because of their own pride.

What does this mean for Christians in America? What does it mean for the 100 or more Black pastors who supported Donald Trump and faced so much criticism for doing so? What does it mean for those who expressed racial supremacist overtones during the campaign season?

It is very clear that many evangelical Christians cast their vote for a POTUS who has expressed little to no consistent religious belief system. They may have bought into the fear of a far-left progressive agenda that neglects the lives of those in the womb in favor of exalting the gender-bending lives of celebrities. They may have felt marginalized in a ever changing multi-cultural country where more of their rights seemed infringed upon for the sake of civil liberties. This of course is speculation that will likely go on for decades to follow, but what is certain is that they made their choice for change known even if it was at the expense of their private faith.

For those Black preachers, well it can definitely mean profit. They are now on the willing team. They will gain more credibility among the gullible hoping for trickle down blessings from Trump’s anointed heralds. They will reap the benefits and profits of being on the Trump bandwagon. The question becomes will they be engaged any further towards issues of social action and justice that will be on the forefront of the black church agenda for the next two to four years? This is highly doubtful since they have no history of doing anything other than exploiting the gospel for their benefit.

For those who expressed racial supremacist overtones, this is certainly a time of jubilation for them. They have a President who articulated their rhetoric to the rest of America and the rest of America seemed to agree with them. They are becoming emboldened to act out the rhetoric without consideration of consequence. Yes they understand there are laws that protect speech, religion, and assembly, and they now have that opportunity to do what they have been unable to do in nearly a half a century, they can talk their talk of supremacy because it will “Make America Great Again.”

The reality is that America has been down this road many times before. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says in 3:1-8:

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep and a time to throw away;

a time to tear and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, amd a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.”

This is just another time for America to do what America does best-Be the shining light on a hill, a city that cannot be hidden.

Jonah and the realization of reluctant ministry

The book of Jonah is an interesting one. We find the story of a reluctant prophet who would rather see an entire nation of people destroyed than receive the mercy of the Lord. We see an individual with a divine mandate intentionally attempt to not carry out that mandate. The prophet Jonah boards a ship heading in another direction gets entangled in a storm that forces him to admit his flawed attempt to evade ministry, and eventually gets him the in belly of a large fish that forces him to rethink his relationship and purpose with God. Jonah is indeed one good read. I have found myself in Jonah’s shoes on a number of occasions. I had rather see some persons retained in their messy affairs of life than deal with the mandate of God to minister to them.

What is disturbing about Jonah isn’t that he was swallowed by a large fish or that he reluctantly repents and carries out his mission. What is disturbing to me is the way the book ends. It ends so abruptly. Jonah speaks as if he were the biggest disappointment to his call as a prophet of Jehovah. He had been sitting outside of the city of Nineveh angry at God and himself for feeling as if he had been manipulated by God into carrying out God’s mission. He had understood God’s mercy and benevolence towards mankind. He had experienced firsthand when he was on the boat headed to Tarshish and after he had been thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish. In spite of all of this, even though he was repentant and grateful, he was still reluctant.

For many, reluctance is a big burden of ministry. Those who have been in ministry long enough have encountered individuals they were reluctant to minister to. While there are plenty who rejoice in being called to prison ministry, pastoral care ministry, and especially the pastoral ministry, there are more who are very reluctant to serve “the least of these.” Service requires both the desire to go and the need to follow. What Jonah experienced was nothing short of simply being human. Reluctance is more present in ministry than many pastors and church members would care to admit. It can be challenging when confronting our own biases and prejudices about those we are commanded to serve and minister to.

What makes Jonah’s narrative interesting is the way he confronts God about regarding His immediate compassion upon seeing the Ninevites turn from their evil way. I would argue that there are plenty of clergy just like Jonah. We would rather see God’s judgment and condemnation on people we have deemed undeserving of His grace. Perhaps this is more succinctly seen in contemporary political and religious freedom movements. There are those standing by their right to religious freedom condemning others choosing to express the same. It is destructive and does not demonstrate the character of God to non-believers.

Another interesting thing about this narrative is that while Nineveh likely had early connections to the ancient Jews, that connection had long been lost by the time of Jonah’s mission there.  The question then becomes why did Jehovah even desire for them to hear from Him and repent? It was clear that the great city of Nineveh was enjoying prosperity without God and He apparently tolerated it for generations. This could have contributed to Jonah’s reluctance. Think about the number of times pastors have preached in communities infested with crime of all kinds and not one person responds to the invitation to abundant life (not even after funerals lol). Yet immediately after hearing the cry from the reluctant prophet about an imminent overthrow of their great city in 40 days, they all believed God from the youngest to the oldest.  Even the king made it a public law that everyone cries out mightily to God so that His anger would be turned away from them. If only people would heed that message now and produce similar reaction, what a marvelous change this country and world would see!

In spite of Jonah’s reluctance, the people still received. It begs the question of how much our reluctance matters when it comes to God’s mission. We may feel like pawns in God’s game of repentance, but ultimately what He desires for individuals gets accomplished. We may go into and come away from a divine ministry assignment throwing a big tantrum, but the reality is we are still being used to the glory of God the Father. Reluctance in ministry does not take away the need for ministry. There will be moments in service to the Father that we will utterly despise, but when the seed has been planted, watered, and grows, it will be one that will bring forth fruit for generations to come.

Indiana as the crossroads of faith, tolerance, and community

freedom indiana

The recent religious freedom restoration bill passed by the Indiana State legislature has created the latest uproar in a growing news cycle reporting on the infringement of rights for the LGBTQ community. Indiana’s SB 101 was created to protect the religious freedom for business owners, churches, and other religious related communities and organizations against those who threaten said freedoms. The LGBTQ community believes that it and others like it passed in several states (mostly southern states such as Arizona, Mississippi, and Arkansas) believe the bill was created to enhance discrimination against their community and causes. The reality is that it all boils down to one word: tolerance.

If you were to ask the average American if they considered themselves intolerant, bigoted, racist, or homophobic, the answer would probably be an overwhelming No. It is true that most individuals, especially those who ascribe to a religious belief system, believe that they are good and kind-hearted Americans, however when pressed with certain social issues, they discover they may not be as tolerant as they believe. In their 2005 book “The Truth about Tolerance,” Brad Stetson and Joseph Conti point out how tolerance has gotten lost in the American culture war.  This war is even more distinct in American Christianity as seen in the battles between the liberal and conservative branches of Protestant Christianity. While both branches claim the same goal of evangelizing and making disciples (as presented in Matthew 28:18-20, the conflict resides in who is more right in discipling-a fundamentalist, evangelical, conservative Christian, or an affirming, liberal, progressive Christian. This schism is affecting mainline Protestant American Christianity as Episcopal, Methodists, and more recently Presbyterian denominations wrestle with progressive ideologies and concepts such as abortion and same sex unions.  Both of these branches of Christianity grapple with the understanding and application of truth in the context of American pluralism (Stetson and Conti, 2005, pg.61).

What makes the Indiana law and others like it disturbing is that it commits the fraud of seemingly speaking for oppressed (or seemingly oppressed) people, businesses, and organizations. The very title suggests that religious freedom has been taken away from them. That is far from the truth. The greatness of living in the United States of America is wealth of religious diversity and freedom one is allowed to experience. Even within evangelical Christianity, there is no consensus on worship rituals, liturgy, music, clergy vestments, or theological training. There are evangelical pastors, business owners, and even state lawmakers who do not agree with the bill. The connecting factor for those lawmakers who designed the bill and supported the bill was perhaps the sense of fear in regards to the religious diversity that is becoming more evident in the state and America. This religious pluralism threatens their perception of truth as relayed to them through their faith. In fact, their defense of their brand of faith is associated more with intolerance and narrow-mindedness than intellectual good faith and genuine concern for the well-being of those they propose to protect with the bill (Ibid, pg.63.)

While tolerance needs truth to be coherent, truth cannot be misrepresented and legislated as absolute. When state lawmakers begin to dispel myths about their perspectives of truth, they are more likely to govern from the perspective of humanity and not faux religious authority. It is under the guise of the latter that laws like Jim Crow was institutionalized and maintained for decades. It is under the guise of the latter that the Jewish leadership during the time of Christ sought to have him killed. It is under the strain of the latter that the Civil Rights leaders marched until they ascertained the liberation desired. It is from such laws that the American public wants to distance itself and cry for the boycott of an entire state.

In the end, the governors and legislators of states who pass religious freedom laws do more harm than help to their cause. Their zeal to “save America” or “restore America” falls far short of the command of their faith to make disciples. It fails to be fully aware of the rich religious and social diversity that the United States has enjoyed over the last two centuries. While Indiana Governor Pence and his staff are doing their best to defend the law and lawmakers, there will continue to be big fallout for that state. The call is not for renunciation of beliefs or values; the call is to the recognition of the diminutive voices of the same.

 

THREE WAYS TO SELF PROMOTION

I’ve been watching a lot of young preachers on television and on the internet via youtube, myspace, etc. and have become a bit discouraged and upset. I will be the first to admit that I am somewhat of an ambitious preacher. I would love to have a large media ministry that is doing well. I would love to have my photo done professionally and placed on flyers as a featured speaker at a large conference. I would love to promote my church as one of the fastest growing in my denomination or city or state or country. I would love to flaunt my expensive appearance with matching outfits, nice SUVS or luxury vehicles. However after seeing all that alot of these young men an women do to get ahead, I realized that they all had three things in common:

Name Dropping, Extraordinary Reflections, and Uninhibited selling of their souls.

First, in order to make it big, you have to know somebody big. I think of my acquaintance with Smokie Norful. I’ve known Smokie since college and his father is my mentor. Im sure that if I were really ambitious, I could build on the fact that I know he and his father alone to selfishly promote my ministry. I’ve had the privilege of meeting several highly recognized ministry personalities personally on more than one occasion.  That’s how people who are looking to make it in Hollywood or the secular music industry get stuff done for them. They drop names of who they’ve worked with (no matter how good or bad) to advance their careers. Even while in graduate school, I learned that its to one’s advantage professionally to name the major professor you studied under. Name dropping really can help your case for promotion. It doesn’t matter if you are good, most people won’t really do background checks on their preachers. They go by the preacher’s word and that preacher’s word may be based on simply a name they dropped to get them where they wanted.

Next there is the all to well known reflecting. I use the word reflecting in the same sense that I use the word storytelling. Everyone has a story to tell and it isnt the story itself but how you tell the story that will make you or break you. For example, I share the story of my mother being killed when I was five years old. The story I share is consistent with the facts that have been shared with me from family and documents. I have no need to exaggerate because there really isn’t anything to exaggerate about. However, I could use that same story of how I survived as a victim of domestic violence and overcame the difficulties of post traumatic stress disorder to discover God in the midst of tragedy. That put a very different twist on my story. THere are many preachers with great stories of triumph, but there are even more with borrowed stories of triumph. One news reporter stated that when there is no new, simply make it up. You wouldn’t believe how many preachers borrow stories or simply make them up. The same borrow reflections or simply make them up. This is found heavily in the charismatic, word of faith, pentecostal type churches. When people are seeking for extra-biblical experiences to justify their religious experience, they will be sure to be duped by preachers claiming to have had them. There are just too many preachers who have duped people through false revelations and experiences and have profited from them. I pray I never get to that point, but I can tell you that I have sure been tempted to blow the trumpet of heaven, talk with angels and Jesus, raise dead to life. and a whole lot of stuff. I’ve also been tempted, no let me be honest, have borrowed the stories of others to make my life and my ministry seem more appealing. It wasn’t hard to do. All I simply had to do was tell a story. I didn’t have say whether it was personal or even true. I had the upper hand and knew that about 99% of the people listening to me were not going to take the time out to investigate anything that came out of my mouth! That in itself is a very scary thing to know.

Lastly, there are so many preachers who unashamedly and unabashedly promote themselves while selling their souls. They sell their souls to the very world that they have been called to preach against. Think about how many preachers are becoming mainstream and calling themselves life coaches. Let’s be honest, no one needs a life coach! We just need to repent of sin and then get into a productive and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Self-promotion gets a person nowhere fast (at least with God). I watch television and get virtually sick to my stomach sometimes as I watch preachers shamelessly promote their latest book (which is nothing wrong if it is enabling Christians to become liberated, independent thinkers) or product.  I would think that as preachers, we would learn that Jesus nor any biblical apostle or messenger profited from their message (except the ones who did it for profit such as Balaam and other false prophets). I understand producing quality messages for the sick and shut, a shifting church membership and other things, but to do it just to be seen, Christ says that the people who do that already have their reward (see Matthew 6:1). It is a matter of praxis that God is concerned about. It’s not how you show it, but how God sees it.

I’m amazed that alot preachers forget that there were new testament sorcerors who attempted to duplicate the authentic working of the Holy Spirit. The people  were duped and in one instance practically controlled by these magnificent men who worked wonders (See Acts 8:9-11, 14-17). The thing was that this man Simon was a  believer and had been baptized, but was still trying to be a con man. He wanted the power to give the Holy Spirit like Peter and John, but was rebuked and told that his silver was perishing with him because he thought he could buy God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  That same ambition is very much alive in today’s western church. I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasnt trying to do the same thing myself at one time. I discovered how easy it was to start a ministry, get a few supporters, do a few revivals, then start a church, then see all that fall apart because it wasn’t God ordained. It was a very hard pill to swallow. It’s one thing to manipulate people, but to sell your soul in hopes of manipulating God is a dangerous thing.  I used to think it funny when I would hear stories of people selling their souls to the devil for fame or fortune, but I have come to realize that far too many preachers are doing it at this very moment. They may not be signing their names on a contract, but they are truly parlaying in the fame and recognition given them by the very world they are supposed to reject.

So I believe I have laid it out there. If you want self promotion, just drop a few names, add a story or reflection (be sure to make it a good and believable one), and then shamelessly sell your soul to the cause of fame and fortune even if its in the name of GOD Himself and you will get exactly what’s coming to you.

My Take on My Discipleship

 

My Take on My Discipleship

 

 

 

Why is it that preachers have a hard time being disciples? During the Central Louisiana Conference Sunday School Convention, the pastors of the conference engaged in a study session on discipleship. One of the first things that came to my mind was the fact that I haven’t been the best disciple that I could be. As a matter of fact, I have all but denied Christ just as Peter did under scrutiny of the world. The interesting thing was listening to a very seasoned pastor state that he realized that his church would not grow until they became true disciples. He stated that for the past eight or nine months, he had been plagued with questions concerning the non-growth of the church and the decline in church membership. He said that after much prayer and time alone, he realized that he was not in Gods will and was not a true disciple of Christ, but was rather a determined disciple of the church, more specifically, he had been trained to not make disciples but to make members who could pay budget. He was grieved and publicly expressed that with his congregation. I was glad that he took the charge in admitting that he had a  zeal for God’s church, but not for God after righteousness.

It is here that I find myself. I have a zeal for God. I love Him and will serve Him til the day I die, but honestly, I don’t have a zeal for God after knowledge. What I’m saying is that I have honestly gotten so distracted by my affairs, lusts and pride that I have lost my zeal. There is absolutely no way that I can possibly pastor a church effectively and authentically without a true zeal for the knowledge of God. I must want to be a disciple. I think about the passage where a follower of Jesus, Peter told him that they had left all that they had to follow him. That’s a very powerful statement when you really look at it. A true disciple leaves everything. There’s nothing between themselves and their savior. How awesome is that to know that men were willing to lay aside profitable occupations, wives and families to follow a teacher who amazed them on a regular basis. I can only imagine how they were all the more encouraged each and every time they saw someone get healed, a demon cast out, a miracle performed, or a parable revealed. It is this zeal for knowledge that I want. Even Jesus himself said “blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The easy thing to do is to say that I hunger for God. The hard thing to do is to say, I am daily a disciple of Christ. I am in obedience to my master. I serve Him. I wait on Him. I live to please him in the newness of life. My problem is that I find it easier to say I am a follower of Christ. Following Christ is easy because it really doesn’t take much sacrifice. Think about all the followers who left Jesus in John 6. This is the same chapter where Jesus said He is the bread of life that came from heaven, and that his flesh is the true food and his blood is the true drink. It doesn’t say how many withdrew, but there apparently were quite a few. These people who left were called disciples and Jesus even sensed that some of the twelve he had chosen were tempted to go with them. The choice was there and I would imply that if Peter hadn’t alerted Jesus to the fact that not only had they left everything to follow him, but that He was the only one who had the words that gave eternal life, a few of those disciples would have left also.

The key thing is what Peter said to Jesus. You are the one with words of eternal life. That’s what a true disciple says. A disciple stays with the master because that disciple has been sold on the fact that he/she can only get wisdom, knowledge, and growth from that particular master. It’s the norm in martial arts and ancient schools of philosophy. The reality is that there should be no other person we should seek out wisdom or salvation from other than Christ. That is the way of a true Christian disciple. The way of a true, authentic Christian disciple is that no matter how hard, how enticing, or how intense the onslaught of the world may be, we must remain constant in our devotion to the one true living God and His Only Begotten Son our Savior. That’s true discipleship and that’s what I’m praying that I can rediscover in my own life and ministry.

ARE BLACK PREACHERS IN REAL TROUBLE?

Following the high profile antics on Black Liberation Theology Pastor/Teacher Jeremiah Wright during the recent Presidential Campaign, and several other high profile black ministers falling into various problems financially, spiritually, and of course morally, I’ve been asking myself “Are black preachers in real trouble?” More and more black preachers are falling away from the root of the black church: social action, the preaching of the authentic gospel, and strong conservative family and political values.  I’m of the opinion that once we as black preachers got away from that, we got away from reality.

I’m sure that there will be plenty of people that would argue that what I said isnt the complete truth. I would probably agree that it isnt the complete truth because I certainly do not know the complete truth. I do however know what should be happening in the Black church. That is social, ecomonic, spiritual and moral liberation. Why isn’t that happening? THe answer is simple. Black preachers have always loved fame. We follow after fame more than we follow after God. That can be argued for Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, T.D. Jakes, and even myself.  Of course we would never state that publicly. That would all but destroy our public ministry. It is evident with the false gospel some of us preach, the preoccupation with personal wealth and prosperity, the less socially active we are (not in regards to marches, protests or things of that nature, but in matters concerning education, sexuality, and technology gaps). The black preacher has become a class of its own both materially and philosophically. As the spread of prosperity gospel overrides fundamental Christianity, many black preachers have set themselves up to fail.  That does not imply that all black preachers who proclaim that message from their pulpits are completely in error, it simply states that more younger black preachers are being seduced into this theology without fully comprehending the consequences of their actions. Myself included, have been duped into the popularity complex versus the authentic preacher complex. For the black church to remain authentic in its cause and mission and existence, the black preacher must return to that authenticity without fail and without flaw.

As the world encourages more diversity and cultural and moral tolerance, the black preacher cannot afford to fully do so without losing a great amount of his/her identity to the black church. That is to say that the more diverse we become as a church body, the more black preachers need to cling to the heritage, the message and the mission of the black church. The diverse world would not like for black preachers to continue preaching a theology of liberation but rather a message of tolerance and change and love of all humankind. That sounds good, but there is no real way for an authentic black preacher to preach that message without addressing the continual racial issues that still plague our world.

I return to the original question. Are black preachers in real trouble? Will the old regimen of black preachers with a prophetic voice in their world cease to exist once they are gone? Will young black preachers like myself who were trained by them, educated, and are attempting to be contemporary miss the mark and fall o step with the current trends and lose all that they left for us to continue in? I believe that we as black preachers, particular the younger ones are in very serious trouble. Its a trouble that’s not just a moral one, a theological one alone, but it is a trouble of the very existence of a culture and race centered around the black preacher and the black church experience.

A LIFE ALTERING EXPERIENCE

I write this post in a state of mourning and humility. I just lost one of my favorite students to a fatal heart attack. Only 18 years old, he was full of wit, and charm. He was the kind of student that teachers both loved and hated at the same time. I had the privilege of having in my marching and concert bands for two years, but also having in my home, on field trips, and even  church. The hardest thing that has been going through my head has been the question “Why?” He had a heart condition so I never tried to overwork him. He had a drive that had to be kick-started into gear mostly, and he was sincere and hardworking at all that he did. He was honestly a good kid and sometimes even a model student.

I couldn’t answer the question why him. As spiritual and as trained as I am, I couldn’t and cannot answer that question. Why do children die before their parents? Why do children have to suffer so much at such young ages? Why God why? I have searched scriptures and really haven’t found an answer. I read Job and got the answer: “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. ( Job 1:21). I can’t begin to fathom what my student’s parents are experiencing emotionally and mentally. I couldn’t answer the question why for them either.

In all of this I have had a life altering experience. I have chosen to live life fully and abundantly. I have chosen to renounce the hidden things of darkness and selfishness.  I have chosen to love and laugh. I have chosen to live with purpose. I know that sounds cheesy with all the Purpose Driven Life stuff, but its true that I have chosen to do so. Now please understand that this is not a New Year Resolution, but a mandatory change for the better. I say mandatory because it would be to easy to cop out during the process and blame someone else for my laziness, but the reality is that it both a necessity and a command from God that I do so.

So now what is my purpose? What should I do now? I know that I asked God in prayer a few years ago to allow me to write, teach and preach. I have been blessed to have done all but one since then. I’ve been lazy on the writing and somewhat lazy in the preaching and teaching part. My purpose is this then; since God has blessed me to have the opportunity to do all of these things, then I need to do them passionately and purposefully. Every message I preach, every lesson and student I teach, and everything I write will be more purposeful and passionate. I will live a better life, study my scriptures more effectively, and let everything that I do and say be a sermon that leads someone to a closer relationship with God. I have a long way to go towards perfection, but I know that as Paul the Apostle said ” Not as though I have already arrived or am already perfect, but I press forward to ascertain that for which I have been ascertained to. I press toward the mark for the prize of the higher calling in Christ.

Goodbye my student, my brother, my friend. Rest in Peace, Mr. Brandon Jackson, JSHS Band Student Extraordinaire.