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.

The Blood Cries Out

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. Genesis 4:9-10

On October 19, 2016, my 18-year-old nephew was shot and killed in another senseless act of gun violence. My nephew was a charming, intelligent, and talented young man who had a lot going for him. Like many teens his age in urban areas, he felt the need to belong. He got with his click, they did typical things people in the hood do. What no one expected was that the hood would be the one to take him out. In only moments, his life was taken and he became another statistic. He became another young brother taken away from us violently. He became another young brother taken by one of his own.

I preached my nephew’s funeral and I wrestled with what to say and how to say it. I knew there would be plenty of young people there. I knew they needed to hear a message of hope and comfort. I knew they needed to hear stories about my nephew’s outgoing personality, big smile, and musical talent. I knew they needed to hear all the good things about my nephew. I also knew something else they needed to hear: I knew they needed to hear the truth.

I wrestled with preaching what they needed to hear. I knew the message would not be one of heaven and angels, and the glorious life of the hereafter. It would be the truth of our silence and passivity leading to so many of our sons and daughters dying needless deaths. It would be the truth of our negligence, passiveness, and silence leading to so many of our sons and daughters are losing their lives to a penal system that treats them as subhuman caged animals.

The truth hurts but it heals. I understand the angst so many young blacks feel. I understand this sense of inalienable rights to claim turf and clicks and amass a rep within the hood. No person wants to seem unappreciated, unnecessary, and unsung. The church and other community and spiritual leaders must address angst. It is the fear of being lost forever that we must combat. It is the distrust of a system that is supposed to protect and serve them that we must address. It is the soul that needs to be actualized and mobilized to see better and greater things not just in the future but in the present.

WE ARE OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER!

We are accountable for the life and death of those we care. We can contribute to their empowerment and liberation from a deep anxiety of over-hood exposure. The story says that Cain spoke with Abel before killing him. It does not say what they discussed or what emotions Cain felt, but whatever it was led to him committing a crime that has affected humanity every since. When God confronts Cain, his response is chilling. It reeks of insensitivity to the divine community. It speaks loudly of how easy it is to brush off another black man’s life and meaningless. In spite of this, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to God. It spoke of his tragedy as no language could. It lamented his relationship and his death, but it also gave hope. It gave hope because it cried to the Creator. It cried to the Eternal. It spoke with enough authority to cause God to hear and act.

We should learn from Abel’s blood. We should learn to cry out to God against all violence. We should learn that death does not silence the voice of the slain. We should demand accountability in our communities from one another. We should allow the blood voices of the slain to resonate within our communities until we stand and cry No More! Their blood is crying out to us and to God. Are we listening or are like Cain, continuing the passivity of life only asking, “Are we our brother’s keeper?”

Will You Remember the Last Days of September?

 September 2015 has is considered as a month to go down in history. There are those who are making deep connections to end time events such as the Rapture of Christians, an asteroid/comet collision with Earth, the rolling out of a global currency, empire, and New World Order, the rise of the Anti-Christ, and at the very least, the destruction of the United States of America as we know it. I have literally watched dozens of hours of videos all seeming to collaborate that between September 21-30, 2015 and early October 2015 that the world as we know it will no longer exist. I must admit some provided some very good arguments, and others were just plain old good fashioned entertainment. I have been amazed at the depth of creativity and research that has gone into many of those YouTube videos. The creators ranged from Evangelical Christian to agnostic anarchistic conspiracy theorists. What they all shared was a common thread of both fear and vigilance.

I will be the first to admit that I am a skeptic. I grew up watching the left behind movies of the 70’s and early 80’s that showed how the world would be in a post-Christian church society. I read the books of Hal Lindsey and others that predicted the great fate of the planet earth.  I later followed a pre-millennialist view of end time prophecy that was always dating and naming said events getting every Christian who subscribed to their view rapture ready. I reveled in watching shows like John Van Impe, Perry Stone, and just about any Church of God Prophecy broadcast on television. These persons were clear experts and authorities on all things end times. They marked every new invention, world leader, world event, and anything else as being another sign of the times (with the exception of Prince’s album of the same name). Some had set dates like the infamous October 1988 rapture date. Others simply warned against the use of credit cards with the readable stripes on the back or purchasing groceries from stores that used bar codes. It literally drove many people crazy.

One would think that with all the failed predictions and inaccurate interpretations of scriptures that people would give up trying to predict the end of the world, the rapture, or the return of Christ, but they haven’t. The 2000’s brought the bestselling Left Behind series of books and movies and made some people very wealthy while promoting a misguided sense of urgency for rapture preparation. I witnessed churches showing the movies to youth at lock-ins and conferences. While it brought many people into the church, it also created a warped sense of Christian faith and end time events. It may have also created more problems regarding sinful behaviors among youth and young adults believing that they could sin and still be rapture ready perhaps even without suffering the consequences of that behavior (I’ll sin today and be raptured tomorrow! LOL). The reality has been that The Lord has yet delayed His coming and we must still live with the consequences of our sin and must be in a consistent state of repentance regarding them.

What if September 2015 is the game changing event that leads to a dramatic change in the world, as we know it? Scripture is clear that as believers, we should be prepared as a bride prepared for her bridegroom. We’ve read the story of the 10 virgins, five wise and five foolish, but are we prepared as we need to be? Is there enough controlled chaos in the world that God is ready to end it all just as He did during the days of Noah? Is He ready to create such massive destruction that only He can restore? That has yet to be known, but what is clear is that there is no better time to align oneself with God than at present. There is no better time than now to, as we African Methodists solicit at the call of our sacrament of Holy Communion, “truly and earnestly repent of your sins, walk in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead new life following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in His holy ways.”

The dates and scenarios may be different, but the message is an unchanging one. There will be an end. It may come with a raptured church. It may come with a one-world government. It may come with a massive extinction level event. It may come with no global disaster at all. It remains that if it does come, will you be ready. It doesn’t matter to me where you are a Christian following end-time prophecy or an agnostic/atheist simply hoping to escape mass extinction, are you prepared for the end?

You Need Money for What?

Photo of a Collection Plate

I recently came across two interesting solicitation support letters from a couple of relatively prominent pastors.  Thanks to the folks over at Church Folk Revolution www. preacherpimp.com for sharing these stories. The first involves Dr. Mark Barclay, is a televangelist who is often affiliated with Kenneth Copeland. He is not a pastor of a church, but is the leader of a network of pastors and ministers throughout the country and the world. In his most recent support letter, he asks his partners to pledge funds to repaint his jet. No I’m not kidding. Here is the link to the leaked support letter:

www.pimppreacher.com/Dr-Mark-T-Barclay-ask-members-for–79k-for-new-paint-job-on-Jet.html

Matthew 6:19-21

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

In the letter Dr. Barclay states that if the jet is not completely repainted, it will lead to corrosion (thus the rust and moth corrupt reference in Matthew) and could further lead to the plane being grounded and at worse, the ministry and the people benefitting from the ministry in deeper need or possibly missing out on God’s blessing (that last part is completely inferred and not directly implied). This solicitation comes with the recognition that the plane Actually belongs to God and not Barclay therefore by assisting him in the maintenance; you are assisting God in up keeping God’s jet plane. While the cost is only $79,000 USD it would be going to a very worthy cause because ministries such as his needs a fully functioning and well painted jet to be effective in the kingdom of heaven. Well to some idiot, that may be true, but to people like me, I simply say save the money and fly first class. It’s the same luxury. Or sell the plane and occasionally charter a jet for less. That’s my simple suggestion but alas what do I know?

The other prominent pastor is Dr. I.V. Hilliard, pastor of New Light Church in Houston, TX and the spiritual mentor for hundreds of pastors around the country and the world. I personally have long admired Dr. Hilliard’s teaching style and delivery. I’ve even purchased a few of his teaching series and have heard him live on several occasions. While I don’t agree with his version of prosperity, thousands gather weekly on six campuses in three cities and online to hear him. He recently sent out a support letter for assistance in maintenance on his ministry helicopter.

Here is the link to the letter and news report video: http://www.pimppreacher.com/Bishop-IV-Hilliard–52-Tranportation-Seed-For-New-Helicopter-Blades.html

The troubling part isn’t the solicitation for assistance. The troubling part is the beginning of the letter itself. The letter begins by asking if the receiver needed better transportation, car repair or replacement, or desires to purchase a luxury vehicle. From the initial reading, it would imply that the individual reading this letter would be receiving some sort of assistance in those needs, but that comes at a cost. A $52 cost to be exact. By assisting the ministry’s aviation department in replacing the blades on the ministry’s helicopter, the readers would be eligible for supernatural favor for their transportation needs (and apparently wants).

While the bishop issued a letter of apology to the general public and members, it still raises the question of ministry waste and stewardship. Why should supporters and members bear such an expense? How necessary are some excesses by both large and small ministries. Coming from the perspective of a mainline denominational pastor, there has to be a line drawn on the leadership and the members regarding the stewardship of the pastor and staff. I have been at churches where it was almost sacrilegious to ask for funds to travel to annual conferences or other church related meetings! If the letter hadn’t gotten leaked, it would be safe to assume that he would’ve have gotten financial support for this nonsense. I could write more about this, but it wouldn’t amount to much. As pastors, clergy, and church folk, we’ve just got to do better.

The Saga of Jason Collins

Jason-Collins-is-gay_-Image-via-@SInowThis week Jason Collins is being celebrated as heroic, courageous, brave, and all the like simply because he has come out of the closet as a gay man. While this may be worth celebrating for some, it has raised concerns for many others. Personally, I am not the least bit bothered by his coming out, but I question motive and timing. I am no conspiracy minded person, but let’s be realistic about this guy’s average career and the fact that career is almost over. What makes this unique is that no one, not one single person including Collins’ own twin brother or ex-fiancé was aware of his sexual orientation. That begs to question his motive also but again, that is inference only and not definite proof of his motive. Collins is certainly reaping the benefits of his announcement.
He has made the news cycle; he’s gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, and has received a personal call of thanks and adulations from President Obama and a tweet of support from First Lady Michelle Obama. I’m not sure why the need for either of them to do so when they are neglecting the other real brave, courageous, and heroic individuals that do simple things other than proclaiming their sexual orientation to the world. Maybe it’s because he’s a professional basketball player in a sport dominated by black males who often promote misogynistic ideals.
Perhaps it is because the Black community is one of the last great horizons for the breaking of same sex barriers and phobias. Whatever the case may be, I cannot say that his coming out is a reason to celebrate. I do however believe that if he encourages others in the league or any other professional sport to follow suit, it would all but turn the idea of the US being a normal country upside down. Jason Collins’ announcement is not likely to change the world as we know it.
There will be a multitude of young men and women who will come out of the closet or struggle in the closet regarding their sexual orientation. It is our responsibility as Christian believers to encourage them, love them, not judge or condemn them, and empower them with the faith of Christ.

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.

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.