Tag: Word Tabernacle

The “WELLS” we drink from

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

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

“All’s WELL that ends WELL”

“He’s alive and WELL”

“Leave WELL enough alone”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas and Racial Reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Determined To Thrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome your feedback.

Depression from a Pastor’s perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

10 Life Lessons from March Madness

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Who doesn’t love the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness? There was a time in my life that I would be able to attend many of the games in person but the demands of pastoral ministry in North Carolina have left that near impossible these past nine years. So, like many NCAA enthusiasts I am resigned to living out the excitement at home as I check my brackets on a weekly basis. The odds makers stated that eighty percent of everyone that completed a bracket had lost after the first game. My final four brackets had Florida vs. Virginia in the South and East and Baylor vs. Michigan in the West and Midwest with Florida wining it all. I still predict Florida to win it all but I must say I am still a sucker for the underdog so for the fun of it I am giving Kentucky my vote. But the real value of the NCAA Tournament for me is in the life lessons. The games were more meaningful for me to watch, as I stayed clued in for how I could relate it back to everyday life. As you watch the Final Four consider some of these lessons:

  1. I don’t always get to play another game. So often in life we approach our opportunities, friendships and relationships like we always have tomorrow. There is a day called, “too late” when we no longer get to pursue our greatest dreams, hopes and aspirations. While you are still playing (have life) pursue your greatest hopes now, while you can.
  2. Games are won when the basics are mastered. I remember my father teaching me how to dribble a basketball when I was a very small child. He placed folding chairs in the basement of our home teaching me to dribble with both hands. Yes, we see remarkable plays but the team that can make free throws, dribble, pass, play solid defense and make few mistakes is going to win the game. Like life, games are won not based on sensational play but solid and stable play. Spend your life being solid, making few mistakes and being accountable and responsible on the court of life.
  3. My weakest areas must be developed. I am sure we have all seen games lost over missed free throws or low percentage shooting. In life, we assume that our strength in an area will automatically compensate for my weakness in another. This is not true. I have seen preachers with great style but no substance. This is always a formula for long- term failure. Each of us must identify where we are weak and then develop a strategy for strengthening that area. It is in the strengthening of our weaknesses that we take the strain off of our strengths. This is essential because when our strengths get strained they get reduced to weaknesses.
  4. My mental game is as important as my physical game. Have you ever seen players make mental mistakes? Of course. This is usually a result of fatigue or frustration. Games are lost when our head is not in it. This is where compartmentalization comes in. We must learn to focus on the matter at hand. Admittedly, this is a difficult discipline. I am learning this requires a regular purging of the emotions that are not associated with my current activity. In basketball this means not allowing the frustration of the last play to hinder me on this next possession. Keep the past in the past. Keep the present in the right container remembering that not everything even deserves a container.
  5. Learn to anticipate what’s next. Rebounding is so important in basketball because you can’t score without the ball. Time of possession in every sport is important. Anticipating when and where the ball is coming off the rim or backboard is required to be a good rebounder. So often in life opportunities pass us by because we had no clue what was about to happen next. One reason I have learned to pay attention to politics is that very little happens over night. A new or expanded highway may take five or ten years to complete but the result is a subsequent increase in real estate values. When we have an idea of what is next we can be in place ahead of time and benefit from good positioning.
  6. Assists matter. One of my old basketball coaches would remind us that there needed to be “three touches” before someone shot the ball. Nobody likes a “ball hog.” When I was running ball in North Philadelphia, it was not uncommon to hear someone say, “Give up the rock, man.” In basketball and in life we must learn to share the ball and to help other people score. We all win when the people we share life and experiences with succeed.
  7. Expect the unexpected. In any NCAA game an upset is possible. A key player can be injured or just have a bad game or some ninth or tenth man could get hot from just past the arc and have the game of his life. Yes, anything is possible. I am learning to live my life with a spirit of expectation and anticipation because any day could just be the day when the unthinkable and unexplainable occurs in my life. I look forward to that day.
  8. A work ethic is essential. Hustle, man! I loathe seeing an easy score because an opposing team didn’t hustle down the court. I learned from my father the value of hard work. The game is played on both sides of the court and both require our absolute best efforts. Too often we turn in marginal or sub-par performances because we simply didn’t give it our best.
  9. Don’t wait until game day to make the play. I remember be a young minister laying out my Bible on the iron board and preaching my sermon in the mirror. I still made mistakes in the pulpit but I made fewer of them because I was already working on the plays. Practice. Practice. Practice. And remember it is not practice that makes the master but perfect practice makes the master.
  10. Everyone needs a coach. Those players aren’t out there by themselves and we are not in this life by ourselves.They have people to develop their skills, draw up plays and evaluate their performance. All of us need people in our lives to evaluate us on the court of life. With each passing day I am learning the value of having people that can speak into my life and that I will actually listen to. They are making me better.

Who did you have winning the NCAA Championship?

What life lesson have you learned?

I welcome your feedback.

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.

The Twelfth Man

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Admittedly, I am not a huge football fan although I do like the game. My point is I don’t like it enough to write a blog about it as I am far from an expert and certainly not a sports columnist. However, something occurred in professional football this past Monday night and I felt compelled to write about it. The irony is what occurred was probably more about what happened in the stadium than on the field.

As the Seattle Seahawks went about an easy defeat of the New Orleans Saints a sound was heard from the 68,000+ fans in the stadium. This sound was so loud it actually registered the equivalent of a 1 or 2-magnitude earthquake. The University of Washington operates a seismometer near the stadium that was able to register the stomping of the crowd as an actual earthquake. It reportedly was so loud in that stadium that another 12 more decibels would have resulted in ear drums beginning to rupture. This is the power of the twelfth man.

In a football game, each team is allowed eleven players on the field. When the fans in the stadium begin to harness their energy in the form of cheering, clapping and stomping, it results in the effect of an additional player being on the field, thus the term “twelfth man.” It teaches us that the presence of fans can have a profound impact on performance. It got me to thinking how much more productive our lives might be with the presence of people or several people who were there to encourage us, inspire us and motivate us. Too few of us have a cheering squad or a fan base to help keep us energized. Too often the activity on the sidelines of life can be that of criticism, cynicism and complaint. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” I am convinced that most people are just a single step or decision away from significant life change, yet just prior to taking the step they get discouraged. It is the presence of the twelfth man, that encourager, which will make the difference. Encouragement is so necessary that not even God leaves His will, anointing and his favor alone without it. I know that this is a possibly highly controversial statement but the Book of Acts proves this point. Barnabas was called the “son of encouragement” and he played a critical role in motivating others during the formation of the early church.

Consider these techniques to become that force of encouragement for someone or said another way, the playbook for the twelfth man:

Point. Point out what people are doing right and not just what they are doing wrong. Too often we are slow to speak when something is right but quick to speak when something is wrong. As you witness a person growing, making good choices or even their attitude improving, it is a motivator when you point it out to them. Words are very impactful. A kind and encouraging word can take a person far on their journey while a harsh word could be the proverbial nail in their coffin.

Pray. We can’t always be present with the people we desire to inspire nor can we always get them on the phone so when these times of physical distance are present, pray for them. I am learning that prayer transcends both place and time. A prayer that is whispered to God today may stay suspended in the atmosphere for years until God is ready to move on it. This means prayer is never a wasted activity. I do caution you to be honest regarding whom you are praying for. If you tell someone that you are praying for them, then please be praying for them. It is encouraging to know that others are sharing their personal God moments with us.

Purge. Take something off of someone. Discouragement is often a result of workload, fatigue and failure. Too often we stand idle gazing at the juggling act while never offering to take one of the balls up in the air ourselves. In similar fashion purging is about being careful what we add to the plate of other people. I am certain we can all think of many examples when someone else could have been asked and not the person we see who is already overloaded and burdened down.

I am convinced that many people who had great potential, promise and purpose never fully evolved into all that was possible because they were missing one thing – the twelfth man. The game changes when the encourager is missing.

Who has been your twelfth man and who are you the twelfth man for?

Coming Out Of The Closet: Syria

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This blog or I should say this type of blog has been a long time coming – or maybe not. You have probably noted that I have to date remained silent on controversial issues. That was somewhat deliberate in that I was hoping to gain the confidence of my readership before weighing in on the tough issues. Moving forward I am instituting a new segment of my blog called, “Coming Out of The Closet.” Whenever you see that heading you know I am about to deal with something controversial. Today, I am coming out of the closet about Syria. Let me begin by dealing with the obvious.

 If it is indeed true that a head of state, namely Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against innocent citizens then an international response is appropriate. The challenge is determining what that response should be. Something is wrong when we play politics with people. It seems there is never a time in American life and history when we are not. Every pundit has a “political” opinion about this, which is a big part of the problem. While we are debating war we are also rather silent on the bigger picture. We are silent on the bigger picture because once again we show forth this fake concern for people when in actuality it once again is about the politics. Republicans who are quick any other time to play bang bang shoot them up are largely in opposition and Democrats who consistently oppose military action are in support because after all I need to support “my president.” It’s all sickening. It’s sickening to watch Democrats (especially black Democrats) stay on the Barack Obama band wagon because he is black and Republicans (especially white Republicans) never support him because clearly the ice of a black man is just not as cold as a white man’s.

 It’s all sickening to watch us play politics with people. While we are talking about war there are now two million Syrian refugees yet where is the discourse regarding humanitarian efforts for them? There isn’t any because there isn’t enough political attention given to helping only hurting. Why would I bandage a wound when I could bomb a city and get press coverage and political points? This is politics and this is not new for us. Our country stood on the sidelines while genocide took place in Rwanda because the politics of intervention were not expedient. The same Bill Clinton that refused to act in Rwanda suddenly has conscience regarding Syria and is offering support to our President.

 War is not the answer.

 War is not the answer because war has never cured terrorism and chemical warfare against your own people is terrorism.

 War is not the answer because it forces other nations to take sides, which causes greater threat to nation-to-nation relationships.

 War is not the answer because every war has an element of innocent casualties and enough innocent people have already been victimized.

 War is not the answer because even a successful attack against Assad would likely mean another terrorist group would simply take his place since these are the groups that oppose his regime.

 War is not the answer because it is an act of pride. Who is the United States to suddenly wave the banner of moral superiority? What then would stop China or Russia or some other world power looking at us and citing the notable injustices against African Americans as their reason to wage war against the United States? Have we forgotten our acts of war against our own? Children make up 24 percent of our population but account for 36 percent of the poor. 16 million children live in poverty in this country. The United States has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world (1.6 million people incarcerated) with sentencing practices that include disproportionately long prison terms, mandatory sentencing without parole and treating youth offenders as adults. And yet, a silent President and Congress on these issues actually have the hubris to hold hearings on Syria? How about we begin holding hearings on ourselves?

 Despite what entities like the Heritage Foundation suggests our policies cannot and should not be driven by U.S. interests alone. In case we have forgotten we aren’t the only ones here people and our track record regarding our own isn’t that great.

 Clearly I read a different King James Bible then our President and our congress whom claim to be Christians and who took their oath on. I guess in their Bible when Jesus calls us to be peacemakers that passage was omitted. I too am morally outraged as any caring person should be. But, a moral compass must direct our moral outrage. Pope Francis was amongst the first to denounce the Syrian President while also reminding us “violence begets violence.”

Conflict can either be viewed through a lens of opposition or through a lens of opportunity. The conflict in Syria provides an international platform to rethink an “international standard of humanity.” This crisis provides a platform for diplomacy and allows us to proactively deploy developmental aid. Rather than responding to international tragedies we must further develop the reach of the United Nations and NATO as the gatekeepers of an “International Standard of humanity.” Our efforts as Americans should not be war but developing better intelligence so we can begin responding earlier and promoting preventive actions. I’m out the closet. What’s your opinion?