Tag: 3G Group

The Round Table Interview with Dr. Robert Smith

Welcome to The Round Table. At the Round Table I share interviews with prominent personalities in various industries and disciplines to provide an “electronic convocation” where information and inspiration is imparted. At the Round Table in this episode is Dr. Robert Smith, Jr., Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Al. Enjoy the interview. i welcome your feedback.

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.

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.

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.

Life and Daytona Beach Bike Week

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Every year I make my annual pilgrimage to Daytona Beach, Florida for Bike Week. No year seems to be a good year to go with the demands of my schedule but I find a way to get there on Wednesday and to return home on Saturday so I can be back in the pulpit Sunday morning to preach. This year was no exception. After driving all night I checked in at the hotel in Palm Coast and early Thursday afternoon started riding. As usual, the ride was an amazing outlet. I thought I’d share some of the discoveries I had this year.

Scenery. Deciding to skip the fast route on Interstate 95, we made our way down to Route AIA, which is Ocean Shore Blvd. The view is breathtaking as you travel south for 20 miles or so through Flagler Beach, Ormond Beach and into Daytona. You are literally yards from the beach and ocean and during most of the ride you are looking toward the water in awe of the ocean and the beauty of nature. The only thing missing is the sound of the waves beating against the beach but the pipes on my bike won that war. It made me realize the importance of changing our scenery and our environments. Too often we become complacent and an occasional change in our lens is helpful for gaining an appreciation for all that life has to offer. Maybe it isn’t a ride in Florida but could just as easily be a stroll in the park, a day at the state park, a walk around a museum or an hour drive in any direction. We can be so busy moving fast that we neglect to enjoy the scenery and lose awareness of where we are going and why.

Stories. You have to go to Bike Week to appreciate it fully. But, every imaginable motorcycle is there and every type of rider. Everyone from laborers and lawyers, divas and doctors, executives and engineers, bankers and bakers, preachers and politicians, teachers and techies. We come from every state and many foreign countries. I could not help but to think, “man, we all have a story.” Some of us were there to run away and others were there to just get away. Some were divorced, some happily married and some widowers. Some had Ph.D.’s and others less than a GED. Yes, we all had stories. Isn’t that just like life? Everyone we encounter has some background, some past, some history with them. We should be careful in judging anyone. The important thing isn’t what you are riding or what you come from but rather the fact that you are still around to enjoy the ride and to finish telling your story.

Starts. I for one was there to start over in some areas of my life. As I rode and contemplated my life, the people in my life and the decisions of my life all I could think was this could be a defining moment for me. What if I could go back new, clearer, more resolute and more determined? What if I could begin again? Clearly, I couldn’t be the only one of over half a million bikers making some decisions as he rode. Life is that way. At some point what matters is our willingness to begin again. We all have the power of choice. We can choose to be different and we can choose to be better. And we can make that choice today.

Soul. Probably my favorite thing to do at Daytona is to go over to Mary McLeod Bethune Drive and hang out in the “hood.” This is unofficially called the “dark side.” The music, the food and the people watching can keep you busy for hours. It was my reminder not to neglect the soul. The soul houses our intellect, will and emotion. Spend some time catering to that part of you that feeds your personality. It’s ok to do your dance, hang with the folks and enjoy culture. Caesar Chavez, a civil rights activist and co-founder of the National Farm Worker’s Association said, “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”

Support. Twice while in Daytona I witnessed riders who dropped their bikes. You have to understand the bike I ride is almost 900 lbs. Many bikes are much heavier than that. Often when you drop your bike you need help to get it back up. I am always in awe of the bike culture and how we quickly run to each other’s rescue. No one cares why the bike was dropped. What we care about is getting that rider back up and on their bike. People will stop riding and begin to run to the succor of that other rider who almost invariably is a total stranger. Yes, some riders drop their bike because of their own neglect and other times because of poor judgment or uncontrollable road conditions. None of that matters to us. What matters is getting that bike up and making sure our fellow rider is able to go again. In life we all drop our bikes. Those bikes might be in the form of relationships, finances, health, reputation, careers, decisions or family. If we could adapt this same perspective of helping each other up rather than talking about why a person has fallen or ignoring their fall or even speculating how many other times they have fallen that we didn’t know about. Help somebody up. Get somebody riding again because after all one day you may drop your bike and when you do, wouldn’t it be great if someone just helped you up and left you with your dignity and hope for the future as you kept on riding.

What outlet do you have and what life lesson is it teaching you? I welcome your feedback. 

Why I am a Political Independent

ImageI am a Christian. I am also a Political Independent. Technically, “unaffiliated.” Unlike the overwhelming majority of my friends, my family, and those I Pastor, I do not see my politics as a donkey or an elephant but rather as a lion. Partisan politics is damaging the American quilt. Slowly but surely threads are being taken out and individual parts are being discarded. What was once a melting pot, kaleidoscope and cornucopia of diversity is quickly becoming a nation of two quilts – “ours” and “theirs.”

From my laymen’s mind, all American politics is about one thing and one thing only – pie. Yes, pie. How often have we heard the expression, “as American as apple pie.” Politics is about making, baking, protecting, slicing and distributing pie. It’s amazing and disheartening how much we fight over getting our piece of the American pie. On the Republican Right you have a fight over not sharing the pie and on the Democratic Left great advocacy around making sure groups of people never participate in helping bake the pie. Jim Wallis was correct when he said, “the right gets it wrong and the left just doesn’t get it.” The Right is using the language of faith to hide their real political agenda and the Left is ignoring faith to hide their real political agenda. The Right is wrong for forgetting history. The United States has a long history of people of faith supporting and driving social change and driving progressive causes and movements. This is seen in the abolition of slavery, women’s right, public education, child labor law and civil rights. In other words faith is connected with social change. There is no record of people of faith being disconnected from social movements. Therefore, if your politics is devoid of conversations around poverty and social justice it is a perversion of your professed faith. There is nothing moral or Godly about not wanting to share the pie.

But the Left is no better. They are just wrong for a different reason. The separation of church and state does not mean abandoning morality from public life. To debate the issues around how the pie is sliced without respecting the pluralism of our democracy is ineffective and disingenuous.  Yes, wage laborers, unions, educators, social servants and the unemployed should have a piece of the pie but the pie will never get distributed by mixing in “non-pie” issues. Probably the biggest “non- pie” interests are moral issues. So, while the Left works so hard on the issue of whether you should be able to eat your pie with a person of the same sex or whether you need a drug test before you can eat the pie or for how long you get to eat the pie for free, those they work so hard to advocate for still don’t have any pie. Rather than protecting the pie eating rights of those without drive and determination, legislate that everyone have the ingredients and access to an oven and wish them well on their pie making future. So, while the Right is legislating you don’t get a choice about the pie, the Left is legislating pies with no fillings and that never get put in the oven. Hello, everyone. This is America. We do pies here. We fill them, we bake them and everyone should have a slice.

This says nothing of all the other issues that both parties are inherently dishonest about – race, the poor, the penal system and how life is viewed just to name a few.

When the dust settles, until both the Left and the Right ratchet their way toward each other our nation will remain gridlocked. Since the solution is somewhere in the middle, wouldn’t make sense to just start there if you could? People in the middle can reach in both directions and grab those on the Left and the Right, forming coalitions and linkages that are far more reaching and rational. Our political system is institutionally stagnant. I find it interesting that the same nation that values advances and entrepreneurism has institutionally entrenched itself in a two-party political system. I thought we believed in and supported innovation? Evidently, in regard to everything but our politics. I for one still believe in the American dream, in innovation, and in the pie making opportunities for all people. As an Independent I have benefited by:

Critically thinking through political issues. The issues that face us are very complicated and we must be informed voters and not simply “big lever” voters. Not everyone of our color, race or political party is worthy of our vote.

Allowing my faith to help form my politics. As an Independent my vote is based on principles and beliefs and not party affiliation. Those that want absolute separation of church and state are in the minority. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has done extensive research on this issue and has determined, “people of faith and the institutions they build, play a critical role in our nation, and those contributions are not a purely private matter…”

Not allowing my vote to be paternalized. In other words no one owns or is entitled to my vote. It must be earned. One ray of hope for our nation is that there is an ever-increasing block of independent voters who sometimes vote one way and other times vote another and cannot be taken for granted by either party.

It keeps me more “centered.” We all have a tendency to disregard and discount those who disagree with us. This is how both parties wound up with factions that are now considered “extreme” sects of their own parties (this is also how we got the Tea Party).We now hear terms like “far right” and “far left.” I am learning that by listening to both groups of people it helps keep my personal political philosophy a lot more grounded and neutral. It is a form of self-correction that we all need to remain mindful and aware of the interests of others.

Whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent, it is my prayer that we can identify those issues which we can agree on and exhibit common sense solutions to benefit the common good for our nation. I for one am reaching in both directions.

What is your political preference and why?

 

The Truth about Sex

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I Pastor a wonderful group of people in Rocky Mount, NC. One of the things I love about pastoring where I do is the appetite our members have for the truths contained in the Bible. If we look around it is very obvious by newspapers, television shows and music lyrics that truth is weaning in popularity. If truth were a person I can imagine her walking around homeless while trying door after door of people’s hearts, marriages and homes, finding no one to let her in. I can see Truth sitting in board meetings of major corporations being outvoted again by the board members of Greed and Personal Agenda. There Truth is again after having received her notice for jury duty being ignored while verdicts are rendered and guilty people go free and innocent people get convicted. Then there is the monthly trip to local, state and federal government agencies where Truth just doesn’t have a large enough lobbying check to even get a meeting with the right person. But there can be no greater frustration for Truth than her sitting in the pews of many of our churches on Sunday to never even be acknowledged as a visitor in church. I’m sure Truth has even tried to join but we just don’t accept members like her. We’d much rather have Mr. Politically Correct, Ms. Popular Opinion and Dr. I Know It All as members of our churches. Once again Truth is walking around our society in sincere desire of someone to give her some attention.

Every Sunday I preach in the pulpit at Word Tabernacle Church it is my desire that Truth gets a fair hearing. To that end I began this year preaching and teaching through the Ten Commandments. This past Sunday we were reminded that we should not commit adultery. Whether it is pre-marital sex, fornication, adultery, pornography, homosexuality or lust God says we should not do that. Let me share a few truths regarding sexual intimacy.

Sex comes with a purpose. Water and sun are probably two of the greatest natural gifts God has ever given us. But when exposed to either inappropriately or excessively they both can be damaging. Most of us know someone who has drowned or been sun burnt. When someone buys you a pair of socks as a gift, it is understood that they don’t go on your head. That doesn’t make it a bad gift but is does make it a gift with a very specific purpose. God’s intent for sex was two-fold: propagation and pleasure. As long as we use it appropriately we will be ensured of both, but if we abuse the gift we will expose ourselves to unnecessary consequences and sorrows. This makes sense to me. If God established sexual relations between a married man and a married woman so that they can have more children and enjoy each other then physical relations between same sex people would obviously be considered an inappropriate use of the gift. If the purpose of something doesn’t matter, I often wonder why those who are in support of same sex unions don’t show up at marches and boycotts with shoes on their heads and hats on their feet?

Sex comes with principles. Sex is a gift. It is a gift that wasn’t created by society but rather the Sovereign. As a result God still gets to establish the rules. Most of us drive on highways to travel to buy food, clothing, attend school, work or church. We are forbidden (by law) to travel East in a Westbound lane or to drive the car from the rear passenger seat. These principles are good and are meant for our safety and to ensure our enjoyment. I am personally very convicted regarding how physical intimacy is being portrayed in front of us. I went through an informal exercise regarding the television shows I watch most frequently and in most situations physical intimacy is being portrayed in direct opposition to how God designed it. Generally we see couples that are same sex, unmarried or just “kickin’ it” and rarely loving examples of a man and a woman who are married. Please don’t hear me say that we should not enjoy the entertainment that we do but we must be careful that we do not allow the media to form our morality. A great example of this is probably the most popular show on television, “Scandal.” Yes, I admit it is engaging television and yes she wears some bad clothes and some hot coats and the themes are riveting. But we must recognize that it is entirely possible to be well educated, well connected, powerful and a “fixer” without sleeping with another woman’s husband.

Sex must be protected. We should maintain and manage the relationships God has given us. As singles we must respect ourselves enough and other people’s relationships enough to have a high standard regarding our physical intimacy. Married people must be committed in the relationship they are in. One of the best ways to protect this wonderful gift God has given us is by establishing ourselves spiritually, intellectually and emotionally with someone before we are physical with them.

This is my truth regarding sex. What is yours?