Tag: I4

Properly Defining “Pro-Life”

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The Declaration of Independence makes a bold and complicated value statement – “… with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 Life then becomes a matter of quality of living and not only the presence of a beating heart. Take a moment and Google the phrase “Pro-Life.” As you scroll through the images you will discover the images are almost entirely a “womb” issue and never a “world” issue. In other words, an entire segment of our society has been convinced that life only matters if I am a fetus in a womb and not a person in the world. Both define us as “Pro-Life.”

 I am a 10-point Pro-Life Progressive. I wish there were more of us. Most Pro-Life people are actually only 1-point Pro-Life Conservatives. I don’t think that warrants you enough points to pass the Pro-Life test. I have yet to come across a classroom in America where students with a 1 in 10 score (10%) ever received a passing grade.

 Unfortunately the vocabulary of morality and ethics can be taken hostage by a denomination, race, political party, or ideology and only released when the terms of a single issue are satisfied. In our day, “Pro-Life” is that single issue.  The problem is that single issue comprises far more than the hostage takers have been honest about.  At a minimum, life should be inclusive and not exclusive.  I find it hard to believe any of us would think that God is more or less concerned about one life over another.  Yet, there seems to be a sentiment in our nation that some lives matter while others do not.  Pro-Life is at a minimum a ten-point issue. Before you put the label on, let’s assess whether the label is indeed true.  Here is the list:

  1.  Pro-Life people support a livable wage.  Wages received should enable the employee to meet their needs and the employer to make respectful profit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 10 million people classified as the working poor.  These are men and women unable to meet basic human needs while working a minimum of 27 hours per week. This has resulted in a shrinking middle class as 1% of the population owns 90% of the wealth. No wonder over 15 million children live in poverty in our nation. In recent years in North Carolina, all income growth accrued to the top 1% of wage earners.
  2. Pro-Life people support policies that are not oppressive to any people group. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs on average $31,000 per year to house an inmate within our Justice System. Many programs have been proven to lower recidivism, yet our State Legislatures consistently fail to fund programs aimed at expungement and fresh start opportunities for those who have criminal records. These programs cost on average $12-$13,000 annually.  In North Carolina, there are 37,000 people in prison and 87,000 on probation.  By funding programs to prevent prison re-entry, taxpayers would save nearly $2 million annually for every 100 participants.  It hardly seems “fiscally conservative” to spend an extra $18,000 per year to incarcerate someone when funding programs aimed at re-entry prevention would prevent them from returning to prison.
  3.  Pro-Life people support gender equality.  Women still earned considerably less than men for performance of the same job with the same education, background, and training.  Most estimates suggest that it will take at minimum until 2059 for this to change.  Really?  Another forty years? Considering that 40% of all homes with children under 18 years of age are headed by women as the primary breadwinner, it is not hard to see why this is a “Life issue.”  If you take issue with this, then consider how well you would be able to provide for your family with only 56-70% of your current income.
  4.  Pro-Life people support immigration reform.  Almost every major economic study suggests that the U.S. economy grows faster as a result of immigration and whether we want to admit it or not, even undocumented immigrants improve our economy.  But beyond the numbers, is it not against good sense to prohibit a pathway to citizenship?  Allow me to remind my fellow Christians that we worship a Jesus that was an undocumented immigrant whose family fled to Egypt seeking asylum from the mass genocide of male children.  When people of the world are fleeing poverty, violence, and oppression or just seeking a better life, it is anti-American and anti-Bible to deny them opportunity.  Fortunately for us, we serve a God who was pro immigration and allowed Jesus to escape King Herod so that one day he might die on a cross and be raised with all power to justify us.
  5. Pro-Life people support universal access to healthcare.  This is a complicated issue.  But it is simply un-American to have life expectancy dictated by zip code and not genetic code.  At the very least, there must be access and affordability for all people. 
  6. Pro-Life people can say, “Black Lives Matter.”  Why?  Well, because they do.  I find myself perplexed that anyone has made this statement into meaning that other lives don’t matter.  Not even the lack of organization of the movement and the delayed timing of its inception warrants ignoring the message. When Evangelical churches sponsor “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, it doesn’t mean they are anti-Senior Citizens.  It simply means there are those that are hurting, victimized, and voiceless that deserve protecting. If any other group of people had the skewed statistics regarding police brutality and violence, I would be advocating for that group of people also. May we never forget the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller – “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
  7. Pro-Life people support increased funding to public and higher education. Studies have consistently shown a direct link between poverty and education. There is no more effective method of social and economic mobility and advancement than education.  In my opinion, there may be no greater long term investment in the lives of our children than a comprehensive Pre-School system to ensure every child be given a fair start.
  8. Pro-Life people are Anti-Abortion.  I don’t know that I have ever met anyone who claimed to be “Pro-Abortion.”  I am unapologetically, Anti-Abortion. Every year in America, nearly 1 million babies are reported aborted.  The issue becomes how we do a better job at prevention.  I do not think the answer lies in overturning Roe vs. Wade.  The precedent standard in Constitutional Law makes this unlikely.  The “Pro-Choice” side of the argument is equally disingenuous.  Life begins at conception.  A fetus is a life.  You make your position weaker when you aren’t honest about this.  If the law saved, there would be no murder.  Theologically and doctrinally, we know the law cannot save us. God has always been and will always be a God of choice. He doesn’t make us do anything.  He has a preferred will and a permitted will. Yes, the preference is for life but he permits us to make our own choices. Deuteronomy 30:19 places “life” and “choice” in the same verse – I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life”.  The answer lies in the promotion of marriage, adoption services, the reduction in teenage pregnancy and greater education regarding abstinence, and the link between poverty and single parenting. While we may disagree on the legality of abortion, it is likely we agree that abortion is not something any of us would like to see.  Perhaps we should all work together to reduce it.
  9. Pro-Life people aren’t scared of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  The presence of military grade weapons and assault rifles in our communities is criminal. This was never the intent of the 2nd Amendment. Our unwillingness as a nation to challenge the lobbyists and activists on this issue shows a fundamental cowardice, lack of integrity, and no regard for life.  It is a fear tactic to suggest there is a movement to take gun ownership from the hands of law-abiding people.  There is not.  However, owning them with no oversight and accountability is equally irresponsible.  Any weapon, in any home, should be licensed, registered, and titled.  This simple step would help track the movement of weapons in our country.
  10. Pro-Life people have problems with capital punishment.  Admittedly, I struggle with knowing that violent, heinous, and ruthless predators get to live while family and friends mourn their victims for a lifetime.  But any district attorney, defense attorney, or prosecuting attorney would be forced to confess that our capital punishment system lacks any consistency regarding how this highest penalty is metered out.  Statistics prove the death penalty is clearly biased against poor people and people of color.  The last time I checked, being poor or of color was not a crime in our nation.  May we never forget that not everyone who dies by execution was guilty – Jesus is proof.

Are you Pro-Life or do you just wear the label?

 

My Editorial on the Threat to our Local Schools in Rocky Mount, NC

 

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This blog is an independent, informational, and intellectual view of the current threat to the Nash Rocky Mount Public School system. As a politically unaffiliated, bi-racial pastor to over 3,000 people (including 1,100 K-12 children active in Nash Rocky Mount Public Schools), I am quite vested in this issue. As is the case with most political decisions, it is easy for the emotion of any subject to veer us away from sound decisions that are in the best interest of all involved.

 Taxes and The Common Good

Everyday as Americans and North Carolinians, our property, sales and utility taxes are used to fund programs, services, institutions, and infrastructure that we either benefit from directly or indirectly. Nash County residents may not directly benefit from the funding formula that supplements the education of children living in Edgecombe County, but do benefit indirectly as there is a link between education and job creation for a region.

  • I have yet to make a call to 911 or to use ambulance services since I have lived here, as I am certain many of you reading this also have not, yet millions of tax dollars are earmarked for these vital emergency services.
  • Most of my books are electronic, so I never go to the public library, yet taxes are used for this critical public institution.
  • There are many residents of Nash County who have never used the highways or buildings their taxes help build.
  • There are retirees who have never had a child in the school system, yet a portion of their taxes and utilities are used to supplement the funding of our school system.

I doubt the Nash County Commissioners who are aggressively asking for a “fairness of funding” want to establish a precedent of an “al-a-carte” taxation system where we all get to direct our taxes only to the services from which we directly benefit and away from those which we indirectly benefit.

It seems that a reminder of our origin as a nation is appropriate. The manifesto on American Capitalism is Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”, where he explained that human involvement in economics is to “advance the interests of the society.” To follow this new ideology being espoused by the Nash County Commissioners would mean the GI Bill that enabled 10 million Americans to receive housing and education benefits would have never been funded. Anything that is good and necessary for a civilized society to thrive, like public education, is good for us all.

Collateral Damage

The removal of 1,800 children from the Nash Rocky Mount Public School system has a potential consequence for which none of us, particularly the Nash County Commissioners, are prepared. Eighteen hundred children equates to over 10% of the current NRMPS system. Any businessperson will tell you that reducing any institutional capacity by 10+ % results in a ripple effect and like throwing a pebble in the water you never know how many ripples will be created. Here are some potential ripples:

  • Reduction of Title I, II, and III Federal Funding. It has been wrongly communicated by the Nash County Commissioners, “the funding will follow the students.” This is only partially true. The funding is both volume and percent weighted. Funding will follow, but it will be much smaller funding. There will also be a delay in this smaller funding as it is awarded in blocks of 24 – 30 months, so services will need to be offered to children without any funding being immediately available. This funding effects direct services of children as well as professional development of teachers. The anticipated loss to the remaining NRMPS system could be as high as $10 million annually. This is a classic example of voting against one’s own interests as all the remaining children will live in Nash County and this will create a net loss to the very system they claim to represent.
  • Loss of Existing Jobs. Reducing the capacity of NRMPS will require re-organization and the inevitable loss of jobs to teachers and support staff. In laymen’s terms, every 10 students create a job. The simple math of the impending legislation by Representative Jeff Collins (at the request of the Nash County Commissioners) could easily result in the loss of 180 jobs. It seems our elected officials could better use their time creating jobs and not removing jobs. The argument that those teachers would simply move to the Edgecombe County School System is implausible as there are still over 50 licensed teacher vacancies within that system and for many teachers living in Spring Hope, Middlesex, and Bailey, it would be just as close to drive to a school in Wake County as it would some schools within Edgecombe County.
  • Loss of Support to Teachers and Staff. Aside from being a pastor I do not know of a more difficult profession than teaching. We as a community should be actively advocating for our teachers in the classroom and the principals and staff that support this vital public institution. Instead, our Commissioners are deliberately creating an environment that is filled with contention and division rather than support and encouragement. Everyone cares about job security and high morale and our teachers deserve no less.
  • Loss of New Jobs. Education along with Transportation, Health, Leisure, Quality of Life, Taxes, and Housing remain major recruitment tools for new companies and emerging economies. Dismantling our school system will greatly harm our efforts in attracting new companies and in establishing the “twin counties” as a “bedroom” community for those working in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. This inability to bring new companies and firms to our community will hinder our ability to expand our tax base and to produce an even greater economic impact to our region.
  • Re-classification of Athletic Programs. Rocky Mount Senior High alone will likely lose 400-450 students. This loss to the ADM (Average Daily Membership) will result in less competitive athletics and a loss of college scholarships for countless young people for whom sports remain a viable opportunity for a secure future due to a potential change in division status.
  • School Closing. There has been no study conducted by the Nash County Commissioners ensuring there would be no school closings as elected officials are not generally trained in the logistics and technicalities in the actual running of a school system. Conventional wisdom at least forces us to consider that by reducing the NRMPS by 1,800 students, it may not be financially feasible to continue operations at the same level. This is particularly the case since the NRMPS system is experiencing a five-year decline in enrollment with a proven history that reduced capacity results in school closings. An educated guess based upon school size and location would deduce that Northern Nash High School could possibly close due to this legislation.
  • The Children. It is said that often we leave the best for last. Who is advocating for our children? Yes, as North Carolinians, ALL the children are OUR children. We are a community. We are a region. When I moved here from Philadelphia 11 years ago, I was introduced to the “twin counties.” What a way to treat your twin! 1,800 children moving out of NRMPS is more children than Alleghany, Camden, Gates, Graham, Clay, and Washington County Schools have enrollment. This is equivalent to an entirely new and different school system being created with no plan, no structure, and no infrastructure. It is setting ALL of OUR kids up to fail as the remaining NRMPS kids will be faced with the sobering reality that it was their parents who stripped down the ability of the NRMPS system to meet the categorical needs of the children in programs like IB, AP, AIG and ESL. The education of our children should be a collective concern. We must endeavor to provide every child in our region and our state with every opportunity to advance and to actively contribute back to society.

I invite all of us to use our heart and our brain as we make decisions. My heart is for ALL of our children and my brain tells me the loss of 180 jobs, the net loss of millions of dollars to our school system, the potential closing of a school, and the loss of college athletic scholarships is hardly worth the savings we as Nash County residents will realize. It is my hope an agreement will be reached but despite the outcome, we should all agree that no group of people should be allowed to play politics with our children.

As always, 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.

15 Life Lessons from the movie, Frozen

Recently we sat down as a family and again watched the movie, Frozen. This time we specifically watched with the intent of blogging about what the movie taught us about life. Before we share our list, let me say it is a great movie. Even the teenage boy in the clan enjoyed it. It’s a reminder for me as a dad that we aren’t too old to learn and our children have a lot to teach. Let me also encourage you to do things with your children. Engage them in constructive conversation and enjoy them as the amazing gift they are from God. Here’s our list:

Lesson #1 – The mind can be changed but the heart is not as easily persuaded.

That’s pretty much a direct quote from the movie after Elsa accidentally harms Anna and their parents take her to the trolls for a remedy. In life it’s much easier to teach principles than to repair hearts so we must guard each other’s hearts and not be careless with our words or actions.

Lesson #2 – Fear is your enemy.

Elsa was so fearful of hurting someone again with her gift that it never occurred to her that it could be used for great good and enjoyment. It reminds us that fear cannot be the driver by which we make our decisions. We do not gain control of our lives until we let the fears go.

Lesson #3 – Don’t conceal.

Elsa had an unusual gift that allowed her to freeze anything. She spent much of her life in isolation and when in public, wearing gloves. We must embrace what God has given us and not hide our true selves. Do you!

Lesson #4 – Shutting people out doesn’t make the situation any better.

In the movie, Elsa and Anna grew up with no interaction, even after the death of their parents. The isolation was so severe that the gates to the palace were never opened. This did not change anything but rather gave a false sense of security and created the illusion that all was well. In life when we choose to not talk about issues, not address concerns or to otherwise ignore people and problems, we have done nothing to bring us closer to a solution. Let people in! Open up the gates!

Lesson #5 – There are both snowmen and snow monsters in all of us.

When Elsa finally “let it go”, she found that she had in her the capacity to make both good and bad. She made Olaf who was the pleasant playing companion of her childhood but then to protect her made a snow monster. We too have good and bad, pretty and ugly within us. We must endeavor to not bring out the worse in another person and to be mindful that when pushed there is something raging inside of all of us.

Lesson #6 – Love is putting someone else’s needs before your own.

Just as she is about to die, Anna jumps in front of a sword that Hans is swinging with the hopes of killing her sister, Elsa. There will be moments in all our life where we don’t get to go first. Live with an “others first” perspective!

Lesson #7 – Love conquers all.

In the final analysis there was very little, if anything, that love didn’t fix. Love actually thawed the frozen heart of Anna. Love will turn winter to summer and night to day. None of us are discerning enough to know who the conduit of that love will be. It could be where you least expect it!

Lesson #8 – Some people are worth melting for.

This was a quote from the snowman, Olaf. Although he required freezing temperatures to remain alive, he was willing to start a fire to keep Anna warm when in time of need. This reminds us of the self-sacrificing nature of life and our responsibility to place others before ourselves.

Lesson #9 – Time will tell.

At the coronation of her sister, the Queen (Elsa), Anna meets Hans and by the end of the evening they were “in love” and discussing marriage. Eventually his heart and evil ways were revealed. True love must be tested over time and can only be revealed in the midst of varying circumstances and situations. Give it time!

Lesson #10 – Even the craziest dreams can come true.

Olaf desperately wanted to experience summer. This was a ridiculous dream for a snowman. He pictured himself on the beach, in the heat, tanning and doing a multiplicity of other things “in summer.” In the final analysis, Elsa provided him with his own personal snow cloud so he wouldn’t turn into a puddle. Dreams do come true!

Lesson #11 – Don’t be fooled by appearances.

When Kristoff takes Anna and Olaf to his “family”, they think he is crazy because they appear to be a bunch of stones. Eventually they come to life and are revealed to be trolls. These trolls offer both great love and wisdom. What looks like a rock might actually be our greatest blessing so be careful in judging.

Lesson #12 – Sometimes things just don’t work out.

Like in life, people have their own agendas and sometimes those agendas are contradictory to ours, so inevitable things can’t always work out for everyone all the time. The Duke of Weselton and Hans both found this to be true.

Lesson #13 – Fixer-uppers can be a legitimate option.

The trolls sang a song about Kristoff being a “fixer-upper.” Aren’t we all? Don’t we all have some rough spots and unattractive attributes that require some attention and repairing? Don’t look for the perfect person. First, they don’t exist and second if they did exist they would want another perfect person, which would disqualify all of us.

Lesson #14 – There’s nothing wrong with being special.

Elsa was “special.” She was a “special” child. Her parents really never learned how to embrace her and to help her most. Our society is filled with children that are also special. Children with autism, cerebral palsy, deafness, Down syndrome, epilepsy, mental retardation, spinal bifida and other development disorders. We must learn to best support and love them thru these challenges and not be embarrassed or ashamed of them.

Lesson #15 – Family matters.

The life of Elsa and Anna changed drastically following the death of their parents and in the end these two sisters needed each other. One family can change an entire community!

 

What lesson do you connect most with? Do you have a lesson you would like to add? We welcome your feedback.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sounds I will never forget

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The human hearing process is quite interesting. Hearing occurs as sound enters the outer ear canal and causes vibrations of the tympanic membrane. It requires the synchronized functions of the outer, middle and inner ear. I am not an Otolaryngologist nor do I play one on television so in no way is this blog a scientific or medical treatise on the anatomy and physiology of the human ear. Quite to the contrary it is an emotional and social response to a perfunctory process that occurs so many times in a day none of us can count it.

One of the things I love about being a preacher is the sound of the response to preaching. I love hearing the myriad of responses that inevitably echo through the room “Preach Pastor”, “I know that’s right”, “You’re preaching well, Sir”, “Go ahead, G”.  Those are sounds I will never forget.

Then there are times when conviction, introspection and self-evaluation produce no sound. Those moments when fear, doubt, confusion and shock grip us like a choke hold around the neck. I know this sound well it is called, silence. That is a sound I will never forget.

Then there is the sound of infectious, contagious laughter where the stomach begins to ache and the eyes begin to water. That sound when all the problems of this world are momentarily and certainly temporarily muted from our minds. The sound of joy, happiness, laughter. That’s a sound I will never forget.

“I love you.” That sound originating from the mouth of those we most care for, need and desire to share our lives. When life begins to smack us and circumstances refuse to release us this sound convinces us that we can bear it, believe for the best while going through it, and certainly endure it. That’s a sound I will never forget.

This past week I heard two more sounds that I will never forget. As I sat in my church office I heard the sound of multiple gunshots ringing out so close it was as if it were directly over my head. This was not a single shot of an innocent person protecting their home and their rights. Nor was this the shot from a police officer Glock or 9mm as they carried out their pivotal function in our society. This was the sound of hatred; the sound of criminality; the sound of disrespect for life; the sound of poor public policy; the sound of poverty; the sound of the power of wealthy lobbying; the sound of neglect; the sound of ignorance; the sound of miseducation; the sound of personal agenda; the sound of exploitation; the sound of materialism, the sound of violence; the sound of idolatry. Pop, pop pop, pop pop pop, pop. Just as I assumed the sound had ended, there was another. That’s a sound I will never forget.

Bullets don’t have names inscribed on them and although I never heard the sound of the bullet whistling through the air it would eventually have its trajectory slowed and its path altered as it found a detour in the bone, flesh and cranial matter of a 12 year old boy. This is a sound I will never forget. The sound of innocence meeting violence; the sound of exercise engaging evil; the sound of grace languishing to disgrace; the sound of the self fulfillment of rap music lyrics, “I came, I saw, I conquered, I shot you down. Your brain have no conscious, what you do now?” the sound of childhood colliding with corruption; the sound of forgetting how to talk; the sound of gasping for a breath; the sound of clinging to life; the sound of desperation; the sound of helplessness; the sound of confusion; the sound of chaos. These are sounds I will never forget.

What sound do you really hear when you hear gunshots? A new sound is needed. A sound that is greater; a sound that is longer lasting; a sound more prominent; a sound louder than the loudest and softer than the softest. The time has come for us to release a new sound in our communities. A sound that will ring glorious in the ears of our God and is proven to be for the common good. A sound of prayer, unity, forgiveness, justice and cooperation.

May we be reminded today that the sounds of our lives differ from moment to moment. May we be mindful of the sounds we can control – those we speak and those we chose to hear because some sounds will be those you never forget.

What sounds currently occupy and saturate your life and what sound are you forcing other people to live with? I welcome your feedback and responses.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

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It seems we are better at keeping “thanks” in Thanksgiving than we are at keeping “Christ” in Christmas. As a matter of fact we are pretty good at keeping the essential elements of most things. We don’t try to take the carbon out of diamonds, the matter out of physics or numbers out of mathematics. We know by taking the hydrogen from water it can no longer be called water, yet we seem to treat Christ as some optional part of the Christ + Mas formula. To remove Christ from Christmas is to remove him from his own birth, which would mean he wasn’t born, and of course he couldn’t have lived and couldn’t have died so then the Bible, would have no New Testament and we would all be trapped in our sins. Clearly Christ belongs in Christmas. Have you ever thought of the irony that we still want to sing, “Joy to the world”, “The First Noel” and “O Come all Ye Faithful” but then still endeavor to remove Christ? Our society has embraced this season as one of merchandising and parties. We tend to spend money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like in the hopes of getting something in return that we probably don’t need or won’t use. I am not quarreling over how you spend your Christmas but would rather like to give you some pointers on how to keep Christ in it.

Get a nativity scene. Mangers or nativity scenes can now be purchased very inexpensively. By placing one in a prominent area of your home or workspace like the middle of your dining room table, mantle or corner of your desk it is a reminder of the real meaning of this holiday.

 Highlight Jesus. You could do this either by gift-wrapping Baby Jesus in the manger scene you just bought and having the family unwrap Jesus first because after all without Jesus there is no other gift that ultimately matters. Also, you could hide Jesus somewhere in your home and allow your first activity to be “seeking Jesus.” Either really reinforces the meaning of this holiday.

 Limit gift giving. The tradition of purchasing gifts is supported by the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus. However, they did not bring multiple gifts to Jesus. They brought very thoughtful, meaningful gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. We spoil the sacredness and the thoughtfulness when it becomes more about the quantity of gifts and not the quality. Making and personalizing gifts is also a great way to give more meaningful gifts.

Give yourself. The greatest gift of Christmas is of course, Christ himself. When God determined to love us so much as to give his only begotten son, he was actually choosing to give himself. Things should never replace people. This is why even those who are financially struggling can have a glorious holiday because they always have the ability to still give themselves. Spending time as a family is one of the most precious experiences we have at Christmas. Last year it was actually December 26 that was one of our best days simply because we didn’t leave our home. We kept our PJ’s on ALL day and simply enjoyed each other.

Get a birthday cake. Why not? We are celebrating a birth. Sing happy birthday (I prefer the Stevie Wonder version) and let that be dessert.

 Start something new. When Jesus was born it set in motion the means for us to become “new creations.” In my family, each year, we endeavor to come up with some “new thing.” One year we all received new PJ’s that we could open on Christmas eve. One year we all got the same book so we could read it as a family. One year we instituted a “stay at home” day. It could be something small and simple but do something new every year for Christmas.

Do something unexpected. Sometimes I wish that Christmas didn’t come every year. I know that makes me sound like a Scrooge, but there are moments when Christmas seems all too predictable. Christmas music in the Malls and stores sound all the same to me. The radio and TV commercials are so familiar. It’s not just the music and commercials that are predictable, but we behave in predictable ways as well. There are the usual office parties, concerts, school and church programs. Some of us could replace this month’s calendar with last year’s December schedule and it would be pretty much the same. The first Christmas was nothing like this. The first Christmas was a huge surprise. Everything about the first Christmas was totally unfamiliar, unexpected and for many people simply unbelievable. To really honor Christmas our focus should not be on tradition only but rather on something new, different and creative. Typically experiences are our greatest possessions.

 Go to church. Say what? Every year we hold an actual worship service on Christmas day. I am certainly not anti Christmas eve services but I think most of us prefer celebrating our birthday on the actual day and not the day before. Why would we do less for Christ than we do ourselves? This has become one of the most prized activities of my life, my family and my Pastorate. You will be amazed how attending a worship service on Christmas day adds real meaning and real value to this season.

In what ways will you keep Christ in Christmas? I welcome your responses.