The “WELLS” we drink from

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Wells are not something we think about because we have ample clean water in this modern day culture of ours.

A well is basically a hole that has been drilled, bored or dug into the ground to access water. One of the first steps in establishing a healthy community is to ensure access to clean water. This clean water is necessary for drinking, sanitation and for irrigation. This requires someone dig a well, the people use the well and the well be protected from contamination and blockage. But my real interest in wells is not so much scientific or geological as it is metaphorical. I would have to credit former Morehouse College President Dr. Robert Franklin as the one who first got me thinking about wells when he established the expectations that all Morehouse Men must meet. Even in our daily conversations we subconsciously place a lot of emphasis on wells.

“All’s WELL that ends WELL”

“He’s alive and WELL”

“Leave WELL enough alone”

If we are going to do WELL, be WELL, represent WELL and finish WELL then someone is going to need to dig some WELLS, drink from those WELLS and maintain those WELLS. The Dominican priest and theologian Gustavo Gutierrez was correct when he said, “We Drink From Our Own Wells.” Could it be that our society is not healthy because one of the first steps to being healthy is clean water and in this modern culture of digital media, entertainment and influence we have begun ignoring our wells? I guess it is indeed true that “you never miss your water until your WELL runs dry.” What wells am I referring to?

Well ENGAGED – We must become more active and involved in our community and in the lives of our families. A lack of parenting coupled with complacency must be two of the more pressing issues of our day. When parents allow television programming to engage their child more than they do, there is a problem with the well. Television actually changes the way the brain develops, shortens attention span and even changes brain chemistry. Despite the digital craze around learning there is still no substitute for a caring adult in the life of a child.

Well EDUCATED – It is a “type of salvation.” No, education can’t get me to heaven but is sure makes the trip around earth a lot easier. The world is changing and we must keep pace. Education is vital to advance contributions to civic, political and community life. Education is necessary for its role in advancing social justice and to open the worlds of cultural and artistic excellence. Being well educated means being well read. It is too much we need to learn to ever have gaps of idle time. We should always have a book with us. Until we, as a society, value conjugating the verb “ to be” as valuable as running a touch down, dunking a basketball or gyrating on stage then the water of a respectful, balanced society will not flow.

Well EMPLOYED – Work will always be a tool for life fulfillment. I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents. It is this work ethic that breaks the spirit of entitlement and ensures that we contribute to our surroundings. Everyone should be required to do something in the place they dwell in. If everyone in the home benefits from the environment then each person should have a definite, measurable and active role to play while there. It is dangerous to raise children who will become adults with an unrealistic, unmerited expectation of a favorable outcome at the hands of someone else. Watch how easy it is for a person to eat your food and leave the plate on the table or to walk past something on the floor or to leave a bed unmade.

Well ENTRUSTED – Integrity is always going to be en vogue. Whatever we do we should do it well and to the best of our ability. We should finish what we start; return things where we got them; pay back the money we borrow; keep our promises; be punctual; not allow circumstance to dictate our behavior; and just learn to show up.

Well EXPOSED – There is more to life than the family, county, city or school I grew up a part of. Until we learn to value experiences more than things we will forever be stuck in a shallow world that only the least desirable fish swim in. Exposure, especially through travel is a means of personal development and aids us in both appreciating where we come from while simultaneously creating in us a desire for better.

Well EXPRESSED – Before people really know us all they can do is see us and hear us, so self-expression through our wardrobe and our words become paramount. We have always worn clothes so I guess this well has just become contaminated and is evidenced when pajamas are worn in public; underclothes are readily displayed; sunglasses are worn inside; women abandon dresses and men disdain a blazer and tie. Compare the attire and apparel of the college students sitting at the Woolworth counter in 1960 to protest segregation and the college student of today or the clothing worn while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge bridge-crossing compared to clothing today while just crossing the street sagging-pants

Our words are representing us no better. We must be well spoken and strive for meaningful and valuable conversation learning how to effectively communicate our complex emotions and ideas.

Well ESTABLISHED – This means we must become grounded enough and stable enough to be able to give back to our society. Whether we are a Jew embracing the Tikkun olam (Hebrew: תיקון עולם) meaning “repairing the world” or “perfecting the world; “ A Muslim paying Zakat (a proportion of surplus wealth which must be given on a yearly basis to poor and the needy) and voluntary charity; or A Christian loving our neighbor as ourselves and being our brothers keeper we all have a personal responsibility to be keepers of the wells that other people will drink from. When we are mindful of the wells we are digging and the wells we are drinking from I would imagine we could all say, “It is WELL with my soul.”

What WELLS would you add to my list to ensure our society remain healthy? I welcome your feedback.

The Economic Impact of The Church

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I have often said, “everyone in the community will not belong to our church but our church does belong to everyone in our community.” I believe many churches feel this same way. This “giving back to our community” philosophy gives us our meaning for existence and forges a wonderful collaboration with the Faith community, families, Firms and Foundations. This collaboration or intersection between church and city, the sacred and secular results in a real economic value that has been empirically measured for the past 25 years and was the impetus behind the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. For example, large churches increase property values –According to a large study (tracking over 5000 houses), houses within a half-mile of a large church generally experience a 6.27% increase in property value. A church with over 1500 attendees could easily draw 40 new families to relocate – especially so when a demographically young church moves into a city with below average home costs. (Carroll, Clauretie & Jensen), Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics – University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Churches are statistically proven to decrease crime rates – particularly decreasing levels of assault, burglary, larceny (Bainbridge 1989), as well as drug use (Fagan 2006).

How is this tangible economic value realized? Well, cities are filled with people. These people must navigate their way through a web of careers, relationships and life experiences. It is much easier to navigate when support services are available. As people navigate through life the needs will be vast and varied – marriages will need saving, children will need teaching, teenagers will need tutoring, suicides will need averting and fathers will need mentoring. When these needs are met an “economic halo effect” is the result. What’s it worth to keep a father active in a child’s life anyway? The economic thinking is rather quite linear. If a man stops supporting his children, the mother becomes the primary provider for the family. Statistically, the need to use subsidies or government services is greatly increased. Services like before school programs, day care and after school programs become more essential. Depending on the nature of the father’s absence (i.e. divorce, imprisonment, death), his children, particularly boys, will need counseling or the aid of government services to become productive and contributing members of society. Without these support services, the children may likely fall into a criminal lifestyle which produces an economic strain on the community. Additionally, the diminished income resulting from the father’s absence could mean that as the children graduate high school and pursue college or trade schools, they must incur greater debt to finance their education. This increased debt will result in less local purchasing power which add up to real tangible dollars taken away from the community. Of course, there is an option. The church could intervene by offering programs and services to avert that father’s absence. Dr. Ram Cnaan, Professor and Director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research of The University of Pennsylvania has done extensive research on this topic and his research has concluded a rather startling outcome – “When measured in terms of dollars and cents, churches provide greater economic benefit and health to the community per capita than any other business or industry.”

Examples of how this economic benefit is generated:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Baptisms
  • Artistic performances
  • Charter Schools
  • Counseling programs
  • Operating budgets
  • Salaries of staff and wages for building repairs (roofers, plumbers, electricians, etc.)
  • The monetary value of goods that the market does not price
  • Rehabilitation
  • Responsible parenting
  • Neighborhood pride
  • Social service delivery
  • Playgrounds
  • Recreation space
  • Volunteer hours
  • Preventing suicide
  • Helping people gain employment
  • Crime prevention and re-entry
  • Ending drug and alcohol dependence
  • Enhancing health
  • Preventive health
  • Teaching pro-social values to children
  • Teaching youth civic behavior
  • Naturalization assistance
  • Caring for the elderly
  • Preventing divorce
  • Ending abusive relationships
  • Job training programs
  • Community development corporations
  • Businesses incubation

As local churches work more in tandem with the community around it, it becomes clear that congregations are not insular clubs that are unconcerned about the rest of a community but rather assets that benefit the community significantly and are therefore worthy of support.

The contributions of local congregations benefit individuals, local business; the community at large and local governments and by taking a quantitative approach the economic impact of the local church is clearly seen. So, for every dollar given, donation received, offering provided, rezoning application approved, variance on a building permit granted, and foundation grant given thank you for helping us fund the needed programs and services that create a quality of life for all our residents.

What economic impact do you see local churches providing? I welcome your feedback.

Biblical Money Management

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Welcome to the 2015 Church Growth and Personal Development Teaching Video Series. In this month’s episode we are discussing Biblical Money Management. Watch and listen as we learn 5 principles that can revolutionize our finances. I welcome your feedback.

Word Tabernacle 10th Anniversary Video

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Word Tabernacle Church was planted on March 12, 2005. Here is the first of several videos we will share this year about the journey. Enjoy and feel free to leave your comments and experiences over these years. #WTCThrive2015

Christmas and Racial Reconciliation

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Race has always been a part of all our lives. For that reason if no other it will remain both highly debated and widely misunderstood. It will always be an emotional issue. It’s near impossible to celebrate Christmas and not consider race. The Christmas saga is widely racial as it is the story of the birth of the mixed racial Savior of the world. A read through the genealogy of Jesus would reveal within his bloodline are Canaanites, Sodomites, Hittites and Jews. No wonder Paul writes to the church in Galatia that in Christ there is no distinction between race, class or sex. Yet, our nation and our communities are re-segregating around issues of race, class and sex… while the evangelical faith community is largely silent.

Silence is dangerous because it opens a window of opportunity for those with an agenda and in need of a platform to facilitate the conversation and further widen the distance between us. The church cannot be silent during this hour.

Recent stories spanning, Missouri, New York City and Cleveland have sparked a national conversation. What is alarming is these stories have proven we do not live in a post racist America. Most whites view the problem as circumstance while blacks view it as systemic. The difference in our views is simply a matter of experience. Whites and blacks have different experiences with law enforcement. Pragmatically speaking both whites and blacks must share in a healthy exchange of listening to one another. White people must stop defending the systems that protect and serve them while ignoring that many of those systems have a racial bias. To say, “I am not a racist” while ignoring systemic racial bias is a contradiction. Much of this bias comes from our white pulpits and community leaders that seem incapable of admitting selling unlicensed cigarettes while posing no threat hardly qualifies for the death sentence. Likewise, Black people have a role to play. Blacks must stop “cherry-picking” crimes against the black community. To boycott whites for KKK behavior and ignore blacks who shoot up their own communities, call each other “nigga” and perpetuate stereotypes hardly creates public trust and credibility. In similar fashion to white America, much of this perspective is facilitated amongst community and faith leaders. To show no interest in a city or a community until it creates a big enough platform to warrant involvement does not exude effective leadership.

  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who dies that the demands of justice might be met (for the wages of sin is death) yet ignore the scales of injustice is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who would live to shed his blood that we might be reconciled to a Holy and loving God as the ultimate act of grace and we not exhibit grace is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who survived a government policy of male genocide while ignoring the fact that black males are far more likely to be sentenced, convicted, executed and murdered than white males is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who would later proclaim, “I have come that you might have life” and we not desire all people of every background have a chance at life is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who we are to be crucified with so that we no longer live but Christ in us and still allow the labels of Black, White, Democrat, Republican, Conservative or Liberal to be our primary identity is not Christmas.

America once again is reminded that at the heart of our skin problem is a sin problem. This is good news during this holiday season because we know the answer to the sin problem  is Jesus Christ. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus may we not misrepresent His birth in the eyes of a world that desperately need him.

Only under the Lordship of Jesus Christ can the cultural and contextual cloudy lenses of class, sex and race by which the tragedies of Ferguson and Long Island are viewed can be brought into its clearest focus.

What are your thoughts on the issue of racial reconciliation during this Christmas season and beyond?

Determined To Thrive

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For a season of my life I worked as a Pharmacy Technician in a local hospital while paying my way through college. My job was to fill prescription drug orders for inpatients. One of my assigned areas was the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It was not uncommon to read on the patient record the diagnosis, FTT. FTT was short for Failure To Thrive. When a child is below a healthy weight and shows evidence of being underdeveloped he/she is given this diagnosis. Typically FTT is discovered during infancy and can be a result of any number of causes. What is interesting is that even if you have many healthy organs and normal operating systems, the entire person is still considered FTT.

Such is the case with many of us. We have areas in our lives where things are in order and operating in a healthy manner yet there is still that underlying issue that has consistently gone unaddressed and as a result we fail to thrive. Consider the potential impact of a toothache. Your heart, lungs and every major organ in your body could be operating perfectly. But an aching tooth could easily render you ineffective, distracted and uncomfortable. In the same way we must address as a lifestyle our wholistic health. What does it mean to thrive? To thrive is “to increase in stature; grow vigorously; to prosper in any undertaking.”

We are all familiar with the expression, “taking two steps forward and one back.” Thriving is about addressing the entire person. Thriving is about ensuring we continue taking steps forward and when we must take a step back it is part of an intentional strategy to exponentially and synergistically improve our lives. Thriving is about cultivating the entire person, specifically:

  • Spiritually because only a Biblically based value system and personal relationship with God is able to empower us in a way that stands the test of both time and eternity. Our value system cannot be built on the shaky foundation of culture, politics, race or socioeconomics. Only a foundation of truth is solid enough to not collapse under the weight of personal agenda, bigotry and injustice.
  • Physically because God still places his Spirit inside of a body. When we are sick, tired or out of shape it has an adverse effect on how we perform tasks and responsibilities. What I put in my body; where I take my body; Who I let touch my body and what I do with my body all impact to what extent I thrive.
  • Emotionally because it is unhealthy to ignore our emotions and they’re ability to be used by God to assist us in decision making. Although we should not make emotional decision we should also not make decisions before we have taken the time to inventory, assess and address our feelings. Grief, anger, fear, joy, trust are all God given. Learning to process our emotions is a necessary practice.
  • Socially because relationships matter. The state of our family matters, as do our friendships and casual fellowships. Those we spend time with have a powerful and valuable “banking property.” We give them “card access” to our time, feelings, dreams, resources, ideas, experiences and mind and on a regular basis and in many instances a daily basis, transactions are being made. If we wouldn’t trust a person to our ATM card with the pin we should question why we give them access to our personal resources that are much more valuable than money. Our time should be spent with those who already value themselves, are willing to make an investment in others and are willing to participate in a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Intellectually because good decision-making requires critical thinking and the ability to synthesize a variety of data. Reading and exposure to multiple facets of life and the world around us ensures we understand our options and the consequences to our choices.
  • Financially because it costs money to live in this society. Without the ability to knowledgeably earn, invest, spend and give we place ourselves in a perpetual cycle of “time for money.” Eventually we run out of money before we run out of time. The objective is for our money to outlast our time.

You might be now wondering, “How in the world do I balance all of this?” This is perhaps one of the most practical aspects of Christianity. Our Christian beliefs are holistic. We believe that everything is within the purposes of God and the care and growth of the total person is in perfect harmony with God’s redemptive purposes. More and more I am convinced that we dishonor the name of Christ when we “cherry pick” the aspect of life we are most proficient at and ignore the others in some ritual of self-glorification. The man who manages his money wisely but ignores his obesity is no more justified than the man who is in great physical health but refuses to pay his debts. The church protesting abortion but ignoring racism and injustice is no more validated than the church protesting racism and injustice but ignoring abortion. The Deacon who teaches Sunday school but pays his employees poorly is no more justified than the member who misses Sunday school so they can work overtime. It is this lack of balance that is causing our failure to thrive.

Will you join me with a lifestyle change that will result in our determination to thrive?

What will you do to thrive? What area of your life is lacking and has the greatest potential to cause you to FTT?

I welcome your feedback.

God’s Not Dead

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Tonight our church featured for family night, the movie, God’s Not Dead. I was grateful for those that attended. I highly recommend it to everyone whether you are a believer or not. I also think this is an excellent movie for middle and high school students but the entire family will benefit from the themes that are woven throughout. I’d like to share a few of those that were most evident to me.

God can fix anything. Everyone in the movie had some issue or challenge and the one deal changer in all of them was a legitimate, abiding relationship with God. The moment we allow God in He begins the process of setting in order anything that is out of order. It’s almost as if He is waiting to be let in. We wrongly assume the relationship is wrong or the situation is wrong when in actuality it is simply devoid of God’s presence and power. Doing things God’s way results in great joy, peace and blessings.

God must be first. Several characters in the movie had to choose between family or friends and God. Admittedly, it is painful when those we care most for have differing opinions than we do regarding faith. What is evident is when we aim to please God he will ensure that the voids that are created are filled with something or someone far healthier for us. He also uses our faith as a tool to attract those we care so deeply for. We must worship with those closest to us but we must not worship those closest to us.

Don’t make decisions out of fear. Fear is paralyzing. When the motivation of our decision-making is fear of being alone, fear of people not being pleased, fear of failure or fear of being ashamed then we have already greatly hindered God’s work in us. God’s love for us provides us with a faith not a fear in that love. We then have faith that we will not be alone, faith we will not be ashamed and faith we will not fail.

Forgiveness is powerful. It releases both the offended and the offender. Often we are unaware of the deep-seated oppression and bondage the offender is sitting with. In other words everyone is hurting. We cannot heal a negative action with another negative action nor can we deny the depth of hurt attached to what others do to us. The very act of forgiveness attaches a sense of worth which alone can motivate us to change in ways punishing people will never accomplish.

We must share our faith more. There are so many individuals and people groups that do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must be willing to witness regarding Jesus not in a condemning or judgmental way but out of our own biblically based experience. There is power in personal experience and conviction, when we recognize our faith is more than feelings.

God’s favor is real. What we often see as messy and hurtful are really disguises for the blessings of God. If we believe in God’s goodness (God is good all the time and all the time God is good) then we know he will never give us less than what is good. There are moments when our prayer for healing is answered in sickness or even death. Moments when prayers of comfort result in moments of heartache only for us to discover that was actually the place of his favor and blessings.

Have you seen the movie? What did you learn? I welcome your feedback.

A Pastor’s perspective on Ferguson, Missouri

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Heartbroken and hopeless characterizes the emotions I have sat with these past few weeks as once again I am called to witness along with the entire world yet another example of apparent injustice and systemic racism. The real issue before us is really not Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager nor is it Darren Wilson, a white police officer who did the shooting. Just as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were not the real issue. You see, in both situations we were forced to confront symptoms and not disease.

The issues that are most critical to us as a nation are not individual situations but rather institutional systems.

In our nation we have systematically determined some lives to be less valuable than others. This week we were faced with the image of James Foley, an American photojournalist being beheaded by the militant Al Qaeda splinter group, ISIS yet media outlets and commentators seem more compassionate and sensitive in their reporting over the death of James Foley then that of Michael Brown. As a bi-racial man leading a predominantly African-American congregation I find myself talking to myself incessantly over the issues of race, poverty and injustice. These themes are emotional for each of us but for different reasons. But, as a pastor where my calling is to carefully yet courageously lead the sheep I am mindful that perhaps my two most powerful tools are love and truth. Both love and truth are potentially problematic commitments.

Love becomes powerful and transformational when we choose to love all and to love unconditionally. As Christians are we not called to love each other equally? We simply cannot love a white life more than a black life. For some reason we seem to love the life of an unborn child more than the life of a born teenager. Life must be equally valuable. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Testament of Hope said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Truth in my opinion is even more elusive which is why we have a tendency to argue it away rather than to embrace it. Do you remember the days when t-shirt manufacturers had actual labels in the backs of their product? Today those labels have been replaced with what are called “tag less” labels. I for one am grateful because before I could comfortably where my t-shirts I would have to rip the labels out. This is exactly how truth works. In order to wear it you must take the labels off. As a pastor I am called to proclaim the truth of the Holy Bible. In order for our members to embrace the truths I share they must remove their labels first. Truth does not originate from our political parties, our educational systems, our not for profits, races or balance sheets. Truth originates from God. Not enough of us are willing to take off our labels of Black, White, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Educated, Uneducated, Poor, Wealthy, Suburban, Urban, Public, Private, Male and Female. Perhaps my favorite children’s author, Shel Silverstein in his book, Falling Up said, “Tell me I’m clever, 
Tell me I’m kind, 
Tell me I’m talented, 
Tell me I’m cute, 
Tell me I’m sensitive, 
Graceful and Wise, Tell me I’m perfect–
But tell me the TRUTH.” We simply cannot approach our systemic issues from our labels. We must approach them truthfully and allow that truth to then govern our perspective. This one change would begin an instant reversal of much of what is plaguing our nation and our communities.

There are over 2 million people incarcerated. One of three black men between the ages of 18-30 are in jail, parole, in prison, or probation. In larger cities and urban communities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago that number increases to over one half. Our “system” has been distorted around race and around poverty. In our country we treat people that are guilty but wealthy better than those that are innocent and poor.

For those of you who are love and truth resistant perhaps common sense would be a more effective strategy to reach you. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison. We have life imprisonment for children in our country because our “system” provides judges the ability to place them on trial as an adult. But they aren’t adults. In other words our “system” allow us to make the child into an adult. What wealthy person who could afford the best legal counsel would want to be tried as a poor person with a public defender? What if the Judge just made them into a poor person for the sake of trial or what if we just made a white person into a black person for the sake of trial? Currently one in nine people on death row are found to be innocent and eventually exonerated of their crimes. In other words we know that for every nine times we do something one time it is wrong. That’s a pretty high error rate. Would you get on a plane if you knew for certain one out of nine was going to crash? Would you send your child to a school where every day one out of nine kids were gunned down? Would you buy a car if you were certain one in nine would catch fire and kill the driver? Of course not! You would change the system first. We have a systemic problem and we, as Christians must model a behavior of love and truth. We cannot insulate ourselves from the problems of people that don’t look like us. In my estimation the life of a white photojournalist is just as valuable as a black teenager. The life of the death row inmate is as valuable as the unborn fetus in a womb. The pastor in me just won’t allow me to love bi-racial people more than I love anyone else. Actually that’s not even the pastor in me I think that’s the Jesus in me. In the final analysis we will be judged not based on innovation or technology but loving our neighbor as ourselves. Only by love and truth can we model reconciliation as the body of Christ. This is perhaps our greatest mandate in this hour of turmoil and division. Paul writes in Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

What are your thoughts?

 

Depression from a Pastor’s perspective

images-23The recent apparent suicide of famed actor and comedian Robin Williams was my motivation to address the greatly misunderstood and under recognized issue of depression. This blog is way overdue, as this same tragedy has hit the church community several times this past year. Many have heard the story of the most famous and popular clown in harlequinade and pantomime. His name was Joseph Grimaldi. He was known for making audiences laugh as he entertained them in ways people had never seen. At an early age he was forced into retirement due to medical and mental ailments. The doctors not knowing what to do for him thought that what he needed most was a good healthy dose of laughter so they recommend he go see the performance of the clown named, “Grimaldi.” He then looked at the doctor and responded, “I am he.” Grimaldi died penniless at the age of forty-five.

It is wrongly assumed that fame, money, success and influence disqualify a person from exhaustion and depression. It does not. Too many of us have what the 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross calls, the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Some of the most gifted, anointed and intelligent people can suffer from depression. Musical genius Ludwig van Beethoven, The Presbyterian minister and president of Princeton, Ashbel Green, Super Bowl Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, thirtieth United States President Calvin Coolidge, Princess Diana, writer Charles Dickens, novelist Ernest Hemingway, singers Billy Joel and Janet Jackson and even in the Bible we find King David, Elijah, Nehemiah and I would even argue Jesus Christ himself for a brief moment while in the Garden of Gethsemane all battle bouts or moments of depression.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of inadequacy, dejection and despondency. Depression is that “thing” that eats away at your insides causing you to feel less than. Depression is that feeling of aloneness in a room full of people. Depression is that feeling of maybe everyone would be better if I weren’t here. Depression is the feeling of it’s never enough, I just can’t do this, no one understands me, and no one is for me. Depression can be painful and disabling. Just as we must fight to keep the weight off in a physical sense, we must fight to keep the weight off in an emotional sense. Maintaining emotional health must become a priority for people that are in the public eye and have high demands and expectations placed on them. I can write first hand about this because very few occupations and callings carry the high percentage of alcoholism, drug use, suicide and depression as Pastoral ministry. According to the New York Times, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade their life expectancy has fallen.” Whatever your occupation allow me to share some of my thoughts on how to battle this demon of depression.

  • Have a healthy outlet. Too often our outlets become activities that are equally damaging to us as the depression. Eating and drinking are NOT good outlets. I recommend some type of physical, recreational and preferably outside activity. One of my favorite outlets is my motorcycle.
  • Get missing. Only God is omnipresent. Too often we function as if we need to be at everything. We do not. Choose wisely and as far in advance as possible what you will attend and don’t let people guilt trip you for not being available all the time. The Bible says of God that He doesn’t slumber or sleep. We need to do both.
  • Get off the roller coaster. If you like rides then go to an amusement park but don’t allow people or positions to take you for a ride. Being up one hour and down the next can slam wear you out. Learn to manage your expectations, not stretch the reality of things, be honest with yourself and know your triggers and buttons.
  • Live between the “C’s.” We all have two sets of extremes in our lives. We have the critics on one end who regardless of what we do find fault and something negative to offer as if we have been placed on this earth to please them and them alone. Or we have the compliments on the other extreme where no matter what they keep stroking your ego and patting you on the back even when it isn’t warranted. Ignore both and live between the two. The reality is we allow people to pull us in their direction and this pull can be taxing and overwhelming. None of us are as good as everyone says nor as bad so maintain a healthy and balanced self-perception that isn’t dictated by others.
  • Seek professional help. Especially us “Christians.” If someone gives their life to Christ and hobbles down the isles of some church with a cane because they have a broken leg you are going to encourage them to go to the doctor and get a splint or cast placed on it. In the same regard mental illness requires medical attention and not just spiritual anecdotes. There is nothing wrong with going to a counselor, support group or seeking medical attention.
  • Get a life. Despite what we have been told we are not what we do. We are human beings and not human doings. We function best when we learn to “be” before we learn to “do.” Too many of us have an identity crisis and we see ourselves in light of our occupations or relationships. This is an unhealthy view of your true self.
  • Turn off. Too often we are expected to be “on” all the time. We all need people and environments that love us and accept us when we aren’t on our best behavior and having our best thoughts. We all need a safe place to be vulnerable and unprotected. A place where our hair isn’t in place, clothes aren’t ironed, face isn’t shaved, words aren’t being measured and struggles aren’t being judged.

My heart goes out to the people who have lost family members and friends due to depression. May we all learn to manage our mental health and be mindful of the pressure we place on others and ourselves.

What do you recommend as a possible solution to help battle depression? I welcome your feedback.

The Scandal of the Pulpit

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Let me begin by apologizing for luring you here with such a seductive title. This blog is not about a hot steamy affair between a clergyman and a temptress nor is it about the use of church offerings to pay for exotic cars, vacation villas and European clothing. No, the greatest scandal OF the pulpit actually occurs IN the pulpit.

Preaching without preparation is scandalous.

Preaching your word and not God’s word is scandalous.

Referencing your text and not taking the time to read the text is scandalous.

Making programs more important than preaching is scandalous.

Those in the pew sanction such behavior by choosing churches based on secondary or even tertiary considerations like music, prominence and location and not primarily over whether the Word is properly being proclaimed.

I have often said that the greatest recurrences of malpractice aren’t in hospitals or law offices but rather in the pulpit on Sunday morning. If the biblical task before the preacher is to surgically divide the word then butchering it is indeed malpractice. A lot is being written about regarding preaching. I can hardly keep up with the latest definition or trendy angle on what preaching is. This is particularly the case with expository preaching. I am not scholarly enough to pontificate with these experts. I do however pastor a large congregation that most would even term a mega-church – although that terminology wasn’t really mainstreamed when I began the pastorate. That church has largely grown on biblical exposition. I share these thoughts as I head to Dallas for my annual pilgrimage to the E.K. Bailey Conference on Expository Preaching. Allow me to give you six thoughts that shape my preaching and why it should matter to those who sit in the pews:

Stay in a Series

Who gets in a car with a driver that admits they have no idea where they are headed? Too many pastors are just driving around the Bible with no real destination in mind. Series preaching gives direction to your driving. Pastors must drive with a destination in mind and members need to stop hitchhiking their way thru church and life.

Book by Book

I can never recall a time where I read a sentence out of a secular book whether it was fiction or non-fiction and without reading the entire book could clearly understand the intent of the author. The Bible is a book of books with a single theme. When I open my Bible I do not see a list of themes, topics or subjects but rather books. For that reason I preach thru books of the Bible to gain the meaning of that book to ensure the authors intent is being communicated to the people. It is only then we can make it relevant for today. Any biblical sermon, even topical ones should take into account the intent of the author.

 Holiness not Hype

We are not called to be spiritual hype men for God. Sunday morning is when we are going over the playbook. Sunday morning is when the instruction occurs. Too often we are exciting people to believe something that God just didn’t say. The message of the cross is also a message of personal responsibility. The danger of a “tell your neighbor…” gospel is we have no idea if our neighbor has done the preparation necessary to receive the blessing that is being preached about. It is unkind and irresponsible to promise something that God never said. Yes, I enjoy a good shout like everyone else and I love the emotion attached to the church but the Spirit of God taking the Word of God and showing people the Son of God should drive that euphoria and not a Hammond B-3.

Christ over Charisma

The preaching in our churches must be more about Jesus then the personality of the preacher. Too often, the preacher is the hero and not God. I pray before I preach for Jesus to be seen and then once He is seen that He would heal, deliver and save. When that Samaritan woman left Jacob’s well declaring, “Come see a man” she was not talking about us preachers.

Scriptural Synergy

The Godhead hits a ceiling at three. God the Father as author, God the Son as agent and God the Holy Spirit as administrator. No one else gets a vote. I am amazed how the Sunday message can change based on what is currently happening in our world. We must not allow the local newspaper editor or some hot news cycle to drive what we preach. I recall during the last presidential election how many pastors were “led” to preach on Israel, abortion and same sex marriage. Similarly, many pastors preached on violence, racism and injustice when Trayvon Martin was killed. Now let me be clear all of these issues MUST be addressed from our pulpits. But they cannot be addressed on our timetable but God’s. Yes, I too preached in a hoody but only because the text gave me permission to address the issues of violence and injustice. This is “scriptural synergy.” It is when the current series or sermon lines up with what is going on in the community or world and you then have free clearance from the Holy Spirit to speak to it with Godly authority. We must not be schizophrenic pastors who when it is convenient tells the government to stay out of the church but then use CNN, MSNBC or FOX News as an “assistant Holy Ghost” at the church to direct our preaching.

Don’t Taint the Text

If not careful, we can make muddy what should be a clear word from God. This happens when we use the pulpit for our own personal sounding board and we allow how we feel, what people are saying about us or what is going on in our lives to drive the Sunday sermon. Order matters. Scripture first not situations first! The wrong time to preach a stewardship sermon is when the offering decreases. The preacher already has an emotional bias as he approaches the text. Rather, the stewardship series should have already been on the preaching schedule.

Whatever your preaching style, let’s resolve to be faithful to the text and to the God who has called us. Whatever church you attend be more concerned about the preaching than anything else.

 

What concerns do you have regarding the preaching in today’s pulpits? I welcome your feedback.

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