Tag: Word Tabernacle Church

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 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.

Why Time Matters

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I have noticed with increasing regularity our innate disregard for time. It is evidenced by medical practitioners who make us wait way beyond an appointment time, people that show up late for appointments, children with consistent lateness to school, leaders who begin meetings late, churches who start programs beyond the time advertised, church goers showing up late for church or those who are always “running late.”

More than 300 years ago, François Fénelon, a 17th century cleric, understood the value of time. He wrote, “Time is precious, but we do not know yet how precious it really is. We will only know when we are no longer able to take advantage of it…. Liberal and generous in every way, God in the wise economy of his providence teaches us how we should be prudent about the proper use of time. He never gives us two moments at the same time. He never gives us a second moment without taking away the first. And he never grants us that second moment without holding the third one in his hand, leaving us completely uncertain as to whether we will have it.” A.W. Tozer wrote, “Time is a resource that is nonrenewable and nontransferable. You cannot store it, slow it up, hold it up, divide it up or give it up. You can’t hoard it up or save it for a rainy day–when it’s lost it’s unrecoverable. When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection.”

Time is precious and our most valuable commodity. Yet, as important as it is we seem to have a consistent disrespect for it. We use expressions like, “I’m just killing time” or “I’m just wasting time.” It is not until we are talking about time ending that we begin to quantify it, which is when we begin to say things like, “His days are numbered.” In all actuality our days have always been numbered. Literally every day, hour and minute of our lives should be numbered.

Ask a student who has failed a grade how important a year is; a mother giving birth to a premature baby how important a month is; a businessman whose flight was delayed how important an hour is; a man who had a heart attack requiring CPR how important a minute is; a person barely missing a head-on collision how important a second is or an Olympic athlete missing a gold medal how important a millisecond is.

Time matters because:

  1. It is a proof I live with principles. Time comes from God. It is a gift. It is so much of a gift that we call the very moment we are living in a “present.” A person who wastes time is wasting or not caring for a gift. If we can’t be trusted with time it can be easily argued that we can’t be trusted with money, gifts or opportunities. Being chronically late may be saying, “I can’t be trusted.” When we schedule an appointment we are establishing an opportunity to show that we are capable of doing what we say we will do. When I say, “I will meet you at 3:00 pm” and we show up at 3:15 pm it may be saying, “Don’t believe what I say.”
  1. It is proof I want to see progress. There can be no progress as long as we procrastinate. As we learn to live in the moment it becomes a catalyst to propel us into greater things in the future. The best predictor about tomorrow is my management, stewardship and decisions today.
  1. It is proof of how I see people. People are the prize and they should matter to us enough to give them our time, be on time and give us undivided time. When we give someone our time we are saying, “You matter to me because I am giving you what I can never be given back.” There will always be something else to do, somewhere else to be, an email or text message to check or a Facebook status to “like.”
  1. It is proof I have priorities. Saying, “Yes” to an activity, meeting or commitment is also saying “No” to another. Our calendar is a statement that we will not allow the moment to crowd out the important and that we are not victimized by the “tyranny of the urgent.” Priorities will always be scheduled and when they are we don’t miss those appointments because we have already determined it to be important to us. We don’t just miss dinner with the family, miss church, miss a meeting or miss a rehearsal but rather have chosen to not see it as a priority.
  1. It is proof I am clear on my purpose. When we are certain of what our God given assignment is we are less likely to accept meaningless and unproductive invitations. Our activities and commitments should strengthen and support our ultimate goals.
  1. It is proof that I am planning. Technically we don’t manage time we only manage ourselves. Stop saying, “I don’t have enough time” because we have as much as everyone else. Instead of starting with tasks, start with time allotments and plan what is needful and impactful for your life. Plan to be with God. Plan to be with family. Plan to be happy. Plan to finish school. Plan to retire. Plan to go to the doctor. Plan to take a vacation. Plan to sleep in. When we don’t plan for ourselves others are happy to do it for us and that can lead to a rather unfulfilling life.

God the provider of our time best communicates the urgency and importance of our time. Psalm 90:4 tells us, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” A “watch” was equivalent to three hours. If normal life expectancy is 70 years (Psalm 90:10) and a thousand years equals three hours, we find the following:

70 yrs. x 3 hrs. /1000 yrs. x 60 min/hr. = 12.6 min = 12 min 36 sec. So the next time you are late remember we only have 12 minutes and 36 seconds anyway.

Don’t let a life end waiting on you.

Why do you think time matters? I welcome your feedback

God’s Not Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pastor’s perspective on Ferguson, Missouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts?

 

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.

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. 

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.

A Wasted Mind

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The slogan, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste,” has remained unchanged for more than three decades. Launched in 1972 to encourage Americans to support the United Negro College Fund, this campaign has helped raise billions of dollars and has helped to graduate more than 350,000 minority students from college. One of my former mentors, now deceased Pastor, Congressman and UNCF President, William “Bill” Gray probably did more to champion these efforts than anyone in history. Now this slogan has become part of the American vernacular and the one that I blog about today.

In this writing I would like to encourage us to be diligent and intentional about not wasting our mind.

The mind is complex. Nerves reach from your brain to your face, ears, eyes, nose, and spinal cord… and from the spinal cord to the rest of your body. Sensory nerves gather information from the environment around you; send that information to the spinal cord, which then speeds the message to the brain. The brain then makes sense of that message and fires off a response. Motor neurons deliver the instructions from the brain to the rest of your body. The spinal cord, made of a bundle of nerves running up and down the spine, is similar to a superhighway, speeding messages to and from the brain at every second. In any given second there could be an accident on this “neurological superhighway.” Since the traffic is already heavy, it would be smart to be selective around what you allow to enter onto this highway.

The Bible is clear in it’s teaching that how a man thinks determines what manner of man he really is. Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…

John Milton, the famed 17th century English writer of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, wrote – “The mind is it’s own place and in the mind we can make heaven of Hell or hell from Heaven.”

The mind is very important! Whatever a person focuses his mind upon is what that person reproduces in his life!  We need to monitor what’s on our mind.

Our thinking affects how we feel. In you are experiencing frequent emotional ups and downs, your feelings reveal where your mind is focused. Not only does our thinking affect how we feel, it determines our final destiny. How is this possible? Thoughts become words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits determine character. Character drives your destiny. In a very real way our thoughts become self- fulfilled prophesies so we must guard what we think about. Here are three “mind wasters” to be aware of:

 Indifference is a waste of your mind

This happens when we refuse to think about anything. Our minds are muscles that must be exercised. As I travel nationally there seems to be an increase of people that simply don’t desire to build their mind. I am learning that we must “do the hard work” of not being idle in the mind. With the rise of social media, videos and television it is so easy to find us attracted to entertaining people who are also empty people. When I leave the home each day I put some effort into how I look. In the same way there should be effort put into what’s in and on our minds. If my shoes are filled with feet, my shirt filled with a chest, arms and a neck and my pants with a waste and hips and legs then shouldn’t my head be filled with a fully formed and functioning mind? Care about what’s on your mind.

 Ignorance is a waste of your mind

I don’t know if there is a more fertile place for negativity and failure to incubate than in ignorance. My personal definition for ignorance is a “dark place in my mind.” It is difficult to make good, healthy choices if we are stumbling around in darkness. Yet, the moment light is introduced it changes my entire landscape. It is important that we develop our minds both wide and deep. There should be some areas of interest that we possess detailed information (deep) and there should be many areas that we know something about – enough to hold an intelligent conversation or at least ask a relevant question (wide). What little do you know a lot about and what a lot do you know a little about?

 Inundation is a waste of your mind

To be inundated is to be overwhelmed or flooded by things or people to be dealt with. When the activity of our mind is more about what I am thinking about then it is about what I am doing with my thoughts then I have arrived at an unhealthy state of mind. Too often we get so absorbed and taken over by our thought patterns that it leaves us incapacitated and incapable of moving forward. Healthy thoughts don’t keep us in the bed feeling sorry for ourselves but rather motivate us to get out the bed and to do something significant with this life we have been given. The lowest form of our thinking is about people followed by events. The highest form of our thinking is around concepts and opportunities. Be careful when your thought life has you so preoccupied with individuals that there is no room for ideas.

Perhaps you can identify an activity or characteristic of a wasted mind. What are you doing to keep from wasting your mind? Please share in the comments area of my blog and thank you for reading.