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

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.

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.