A New Normal

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19

This COVID-19 crisis we are going through right now is unprecedented and has completely turned our lives upside down. Many resources and services people depended on are not available right now. And as this crisis extends, people are feeling the economic stress and strain on their finances.

How should you respond and what should you be doing during this abnormal season? The biggest mistake you can make during this abnormal season is to act like it is not an abnormal season. I am sure you are familiar with the instructions given to Habakkuk, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets” (Habk. 2:2). The most important and significant act you can take during this season is began to make adjustments for what will be a new normal.

Who would have thought ten or twenty years ago that Zoom© or Google Meet© or Facebook Live© would be the most important tool and method of communicating. But they are. These are companies that envisioned the world not as it was then but what it could become.

How are you spending these abnormal days making adjustments that will be most beneficial in the new normal. As a pastor, I know that live-streaming worship and Bible studies will be an even more new normal because individuals will have become adjusted to worshiping in their homes. Why fight it?  So our staff is working diligently on a plan for 2021. I know that as a preacher I can become lazy and spend more time watching Netflix©, my favorite sitcoms or playing video games. So, I am forcing myself to engage in daily exegesis, blogging, and making sure I am ready for what ministry will look like in the new normal. I haven’t blog on my website in years. So, I am taking these days of abnormalcy to reinvent or prepare myself for the next

History records many invents that reshaped the world. How about the flood? Noah not only had instructions pre-flood and during the flood. He also had instructions about post-flood.  Here is a thought – are you prepared in ministry, in marriage, in life for post-COVID19?

 

Posted in Devotional | Leave a comment

Empty Religion

Yesterday, Sunday January 7, 2018, I had to attend my son’s high school football banquet. I must admit that I was not up to it after having preached twice and had some afternoon appointments. However, the address from the coach to the team and parents was a moment of critical thinking. So, on the way home I asked my son; “how can I be a better example of manhood for you?” It was an eye opening conversation which reminded me that preacher’s kids don’t care how successful the church is or how powerful the preaching is. They live in a different world.

However, I am passionate about my preaching ministry. I spend hours engaged in biblical interpretation seeking a fresh insight on an old text. And this is the challenge. We can become so accustomed to our routines that our personal lives are the depiction of empty religion.

Jesus said: ‘Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then, I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23

These verses challenge us with the warning of how easy it is to be loyal to the Word in our public delivery and lawless to the Word in our private disciplines.

How would you describe your walk with God? Does your life reflect the gift of salvation or empty religion?

May we be intentional about making sure that our private and public lives are one in the same. I’ve haven’t gotten an A+. I suppose neither have you. But, its a good goal for 2018.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Exegesis

Yesterday I followed a thread of exchanges between Dr. Kevin Cosby and another individual. Dr. Cosby made a valid and undebatable statement when he said: “The Bible is not wrong but your interpretation is.” The greatest failure of sermon preparation is poor interpretation of the text. Exegesis is important to Biblical scholars because it allows us to critically interpret and attempt to explain the meaning of a Biblical text – and be rigorously accountable for that interpretation.

Over and over again, I witness and watch sermons where the individual has incredible vocal skills and has the charisma to match; however, while the sermon moved people by its sound it failed in its substance.

Lance Pape in his book “The Scandal of Having Something to Say” challenges his readers to pursue the world of the text. The answer to a simple questions such as:

  • Who was the original audience?
  • What is the date of the text
  • What are the historical situations and issues surrounding the text?
  • What are the social, political, and religious situations in the world of the text?

The biggest question before transitioning from exegesis to the sermon is: What did this passage mean to its original hearers?

I am not the best preacher. But, week after week I try to get better at the task of exegesis. If I am faithful to the text in my interpretation in the study, I will be faithful to the church in my deliver in the sanctuary.

So, in the words of Dr. Richard Gaines of Consolidated Baptist Church in Lexington, KY – “Enjoy the text.”

Posted in On Preaching | Leave a comment

WHAT DOES MY PASTOR DO?

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word . .  and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great man of the priests became obedient to the faith.”

Acts 6:4,7 ESV

This week I dropped my kids off to school. This is nothing unusual because it is my regular routine as a dad raising two kids. However, dropping my youngest one off is always interesting. He asked: “Are you going to the office?” I replied: “Yes.” He continued, “Is your office at the church?” I responded: “Yes.” He furthered, “what do you do at your office?” I thought about it. I did not respond.

If you are like the rest of us who live in the world of social media, then the answer to this question can be answered in many ways. We have the opportunity through social media to observe as pastors allow us to become part and participatory in their private world. We get to see through their transparency their “pastoral work” for the day.

But, really, what is it that pastors should be doing? Obviously, it was important for my youngest to know and I am quite sure it is a question many others would like be made aware of as well.

While the list of pastoral responsibilities is lengthy, I want to share with you three brief tasks your pastor must attend to – Preaching the word of God. Teaching the word of God. Training Leadership.

PREACH THE WORD

We are commanded or charged in scripture to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).” My average time devoted for sermon preparation is somewhere around 10 to 15 hours per week. I have learned that the best place for me is a college library that prohibits and prevents distractions. But also, though I have Logos, it makes available to me a plethora of resources. I know that anything during the week that takes away from this sacred time can be detrimental to what God wants to say through me the upcoming Sunday.

I despise those who do not take seriously this important task and are going through old sermons or working on “Saturday night specials.” God’s people deserve more. But more importantly, it is your calling. So, the first task is to preach the word.

TEACH THE WORD

The text continues: “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2).” Like the Ethiopian Eunuch responded when asked by Philip; “Do you understand what you are reading (Acts 8:30)?” how can they know “unless someone guides them.” Our other sacred task is to instruct our people in the word of God. The world is swelling in injustice and immorality. Unfortunately, the teaching of the word and/or Bible study has now become another worship. However, our members need to be instructed in the word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

TRAIN LEADERSHIP

It is understood at the church that I shepherd that according to Ephesians 4:12 my job is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” The pastor wearing many or all the hats of the church is unhealthy and non biblical.  My job is to train leaders for the work of the ministry. My job is to make sure that they have all the resources and tools necessary to continue to make the Great Commission a great commission. Their job is to assist me in enlisting, equipping, empowering and encouraging those who share in the work of the ministry.

These are just three. But they are foundational to everything else we do.

May God equip you to continue to do that which is pleasing in His sight.

 

Pastor Bre

Posted in On Pastoring | 1 Comment

What First?

I am approaching my first anniversary as the Senior Pastor of Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church. What an incredible joy it has been to partner with this congregation on equipping them to do the work of the ministry. As I approach this first anniversary, I have been reflecting on my first pastorate at Boyce Street Baptist Church – in Nashville as well. I was called to the pastorate of that church on December 29, 1993. I began that pastorate December 31, 1993. That was nearly twenty-four years ago. I’ve also had the time to ponder upon my pastorate as the founding pastor of Greater Grace Temple Community Church, which I and my late wife organized April 27, 1997.That was almost twenty-years ago.

The scriptures challenge and encourage us to “examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40). My list is to long of the many things I got wrong or got off course. But for this blog I want to focus on something specific. Yesterday, I was at my office playing catch up. Walking out of my office heading to another meeting the Holy Spirit put this question on my heart – What first?” By what first, I mean, what are the first things a pastor should take up in the first year of his pastorate.

For me that question is very simple – making disciples. We are told in Ephesians that Christ has given to the church the gift of pastor-teacher for the “equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The first thing a pastor should do is equip (NIV & NRSV), train (HCSB), or perfect (KJV) the congregation to do the work of the ministry. This is a correct interpretation of this passage. The pastor-teacher equips the people for doing the work of the ministry and the result is the body of Christ is built up. The pastor-teacher have been given to equip the saints to carry out their service. In carrying out their service, the saints play their part in building up the body. The work of the ministry has not been designed to be all on myself. My question as to where I am in my pastorate is now governed by this new question: How am I doing at equipping the people?

What I am suggesting for the pastor is that the answer to ministry needs going unanswered can be primarily found in your tasks as the equipper. This means as the steward of the congregation you should make sure that you are best equipping your people to do the work of the ministry. That is your assignment. That is your first. This means providing for them the training, the resources, and an environment that will best position them so that the body might be built up. If the tension between you and the congregation is not predicated on this principle, then “examine and probe your ways.”

Remember, the Great Commission is still  great commission. Center yourself in making disciples and watch your congregation experience something beyond your wildest dreams.

 

Posted in On Pastoring | 2 Comments

The Enemy Called Assumption

Rubin“Hurricane” Carter, played by Denzel Washington in the movie Hurricane Carter, shares the story of the middleweight boxing contender who was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder in New Jersey in the 1960’s and served 20 years before being exonerated.  20 years of his life were lost and taken all because of a lie and the assumption that the lie was true.

According to the Innocence Project there has been 330 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States since 1989. The average length of time served by exonerees is 14 years and 20 of the 330 persons exonerated through DNA served time on death row. Eyewitness Misidentification Testimony was a factor in more than 70 percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases in the U.S., making it the leading cause of these wrongful convictions. This simply means that the jury weighed on the side assuming the validity of what some individual said they saw or knew even when what they said was seen or known was a lie.

We each know that no life is without scandal and storms. Life has its share of testings and trials.  Such is the case that Joseph soon discovers in Egypt in the Genesis narrative. He has been deceived, disowned and left for dead by his brothers. Only to be deceived by Potiphar’s wife and disowned by Potiphar. The theme of the narrative in Genesis 39:6-23 is this: Never be deceived by individuals who are attracted to what is on you nor be distracted by those who make assumptions about you because it all is a weapon of the enemy due to the anointing within you. Therefore, choose to focus on your anointing and not what others are assuming. 

“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused (v. 6-8a REV).”

In this blog I want to share with us one of the most overlooked realities and life lessons from Joseph – assumptions. Listen to the words from the scriptures regarding this awful event in the life of Joseph:

“Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” 19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison (Genesis 39:16-20 ESV).

Potiphar serves as the voice of individual’s who believe one side of the story. Proverbs 18:17 states: “Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight (TLB).” The problem with Potiphar is that he failed to allow Joseph to tell his side. He merely assumed that the story of his wife was truth. The scriptures state in Deuteronomy 19:15, “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (NIV).”

Have you recently reacted like Joseph? I mean, have you ever responded and reacted toward an individual based upon what was told to you without ever giving the individual the opportunity to defend themselves? Again, Proverbs 18:17 states: “Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight (TLB).” Why did you never give the other side the opportunity to set the record straight. 

Or,  do you know the struggle of having individuals who are acquainted and associated with you to assume that what they have heard about you to be true without ever asking you? Or better yet have you received ill-treatment by a friend or family member via text, email, or social media whose content already suggest that have assumed true what they have heard?

I am sure that you have been the victim of this as I have too. Whenever we hear a rumor and/or gossip or we see something, we are never to make assumptions based on what we hear or what we think we see and immediately go off on some wild tangent. We are to pray for clarity and conversation with the individual(s) involved. Things are not always they way they seem.

I challenge you to spend this day reflecting on any current situation that you have responded to negatively towards an individual without having a conversation with that individual first. Again.Never be deceived by individuals who are attracted to what is on you nor be distracted by those who make assumptions about you because it all is a weapon of the enemy due to the anointing within you. Therefore, choose to focus on your anointing and not what others are assuming.

The bottomline is this – before you respond and react quickly to what you hear or what you think you know – ASK. 

Posted in Devotional | Leave a comment

The Gift of Grief

July 5, 2014 I laid my wife of seventeen years, Lakisha Michelle Mitchell to rest. I write this blog reflecting on my life prior to her transitioning to the present.

Over the past two years, particularly the last three months I have done so much soul searching. I think one of my greatest struggles after her transition was the thoughts that accompany grief. So many things I would have done differently. So many things I should have done differently. So many conversations I would have had. So many conversations I should have had.

I have had so many words of advice. You know, the words that follow the Christian tradition that almost require you to “get up and get going.” However, I have learned that the most healthy way to handle grief is to do just that . . . grieve. This is because the inability to grieve is the inability to grow. Grief is one of life’s gifts.

Genuine unfettered grief is a gift. The tears are a gift. The hurt is a gift. The guilt is a gift. I say this because I have learned so much of who I am now from what I lost in Lakisha. I can’t say that a part of me went in that grave that day. But, I can say that parts of me have went in that grave as the days, weeks, months and years have gone by. It’s called closure.

I got it wrong on so many levels. I don’t need anyone to remind me of that. And, this is one of the gifts that grief affords us. The opportunity to make the decision to get it right. Now, I can’t say also that the last two years since her transition I’ve gotten it right. I haven’t. And this is one of the gifts that grief has afforded me. It has given me the gift of time to think about so many decisions and situations.

To those reading this blog, my hearts desire and prayer is for you to embrace your grief. Lost is lost. Lost of employment. Lost of possessions. Lost of individuals. Lost of health. Wherever you are on the continuum of lost, know these two things – Lost is lost and the inability to grieve is the inability to grow.

I don’t think that there is a specific day that you just get up and move forward. I think we honestly vacillate between forward and pause daily. In one area of your life it is forward. In another area of your life it is on pause.  . . the hurt, the guilt, the tears. For me, they occur often on the same day. I can begin the day laughing and end it with a tear. Or, I can begin the day with a tear and end it with laughter.

So in this blog, let me offer this advice. I read a Instagram quote this morning that said – “My circle is so small, that I’m beginning to talk to myself more.” Now, that can be good and bad. But, I think there is a message there. If you have experienced lost embrace your grief. More importantly,0 surround yourself with individuals who give you the room to embrace your grief. The inability to grieve is the inability to grow.

I am not an individual who hinges on the significance of numbers.  So this third year for me has no parallel to those who stretch the use of numbers in the scriptures. For me it is simple – this third is year is going to be a year to get it right . . as a parent, as a person, as a pastor, as a preacher. I am really trying to make sure that the life I live in the privacy of my own home is no different than the life I live before the people.

Man . . . . I’ve gotten it wrong on so many levels. I am thankful that through lost and the grief which accompanies it, I am beginning to get it right.

Thanks Kish and I’ll see you on the other side.

 

 

Posted in On Parenting | 4 Comments

Social Media And Sermons

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

 2 Corinthians 2:2 NRSV

I share this brief blog from a personal conviction and challenge about my stewardship with the calling on my life and the Christ I proclaim.

Without question we live in a world whose chief mode of communication is social media. Facebook. Instagram. SnapChat. Twitter. Periscope. This is the world in which we live and these are the modes of communication. The question that is central to this blog, and one that I wrestle with in my own conscience, is this: Am I using social media to communicate the message of Christ and the Cross or to promote my brand? Am I making the most of social media to communicate Christ?

We see it everywhere. I am just as guilty as others. It is the Instagram picture with my book or with “celebrity” Christians (if that exist). It is the Tweet sharing where I am off to preach. It is the video of the “praise break” or the “close” or “shutting down” of the sermon. It’s the invitation to a Prayer Call. It is the invitation to invite others to here me preach. We see it everywhere. I am just as guilty as others.

This week as I pray and fast in light of the passion of our Christ, I have been both challenged and convicted. This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach before and for an individual that I certainly consider a mentor, a leader, a Paul for my Christian ministry. That evening at dinner I reached for my iPhone, touched the camera app, and started to ask for a picture with him. For what? To share it on social media and perhaps get some points with my peers.You know . . . bragging rights (just being honest). For some reason or another I declined the temptation. Then, moments later, he shared personally and honestly his concerns with social media and his discipline of its use. Glad I didn’t ask for that picture…lol.

My earnest desire is to be a practicing theologian and serious student of the Scriptures. So, I will put this in a exegetical and biblical-historical context. How would Paul, the preacher of preachers make use of social media? Would he have a picture of he and the individual who just picked up a copy of his latest book – “A Letter to the Church at Ephesus”? Would he tweet who he was preaching for and where? Would he brag about his preaching itinerary? Would he brag about how many joined in on the prayer call? In fact, would he have a prayer call or would he seize the opportunity to pray one-on-one with individuals whenever the opportunity presented itself?

Probably not. Paul was more consumed with what the Holy Spirit had impressed upon him to say than where he was sent to share that message. Paul was more consumed with the cross and the message of Jesus Christ than bragging rights. In fact, on one occasion when he does share his accomplishments and achievements, he considers them nothing.

For me, the temptation of social media is that it can deceitfully draw me away from the message that I preach and promote me . . . the messenger. I am tempted to follow what others are doing in their congregations and implement those things rather than listen to the Holy Spirit and the unique calling on my life. I am easily tempted to Periscope or Facebook Live my sermon because I can camouflage the truth that I am really promoting myself to get another engagement under the auspices that I am trying to share the Gospel.

The Barna Group reports that two in five millennials say church is not important because they can find God anywhere. The Barna Group reports that nearly 70% of millennials do not think it is very important to attend church. The Barna Group reports that nine of ten pastors provide faith assistance through the use of the internet.

How is that a message in the first century that produced such a passion in the lives of persons that they were willing to die for the cause has now evolved into a climate of compromise? Could it be that, particularly in the black church, the popularity of the message has been compromised with the popularity of the messenger?

I don’t have the answer. What I do know is that in my own personal life I need to be certain that I do not allow social media to become a situation that promotes me more than the message I proclaim. I need to be certain that I do not allow social media to become a situation where I promote the book I have written more than reading the Word of God. I need to be positive that those who view my pages, post, pictures, blogs or videos are drawn to ask the most important question: “What must I do to be saved?”

Maybe this week it might be well that I who preach Christ take a fast from myself so that others will know that I know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

 

Posted in On Preaching | Leave a comment

In Everything Give Thanks . . .

The historical background for I Thessalonians can be summarized as follows. After leaving Thessalonica, Paul tried to return several times, but Satan thwarted his plans. Therefore, he sent Timothy and Silvanus to strengthen and encourage the church during its time of affliction and to learn about their progress in faith. Timothy has now recently returned to Corinth from Thessalonica with an encouraging report that the church has remained steadfast in its faith despite severe affliction. Overjoyed by this report, Paul writes a paraenetic letter to encourage the Thessalonians in their faith and to remind them of what they already know.

They are in the fight of their lives. I mean they are really catching it. They are dealing with their deficiency. They are learning that at times the life of faith is not a life of abundance. Rather, it is a life of uncontrollable and unforeseen afflictions. They are also handling the deserters. There were many that abandoned the faith and returned to their former lives and loves. Finally, to make matters worse, they are struggling with their detachment. Paul, who has tried on several occasions, just cannot return to be in their physical presence.

Considering all of this, the encouragement from the apostle is somewhat problematic. Paul says: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How could Paul make such an unfair and irrational statement? How could he sagaciously suggest such seemingly insensitive and inconsiderate advice? How could he advocate this commanding word of advice? After all the church at Thessalonica was facing, how could Paul say: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus?” How could Paul instruct them to “give thanks in all circumstances?

This statement or directive seems not only irrational, but also nearly impossible. The reality is that there are circumstances that we may experience that might be difficult to echo the words of Bobby McFerrin hit ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy.’ We each know the hurt of the human experience that leaves us without emotions or energy. How could Paul make such an unfair and irrational statement? How could he sagaciously suggest such seemingly insensitive and inconsiderate advice? How could he advocate this commanding word of advice? After all the church at Thessalonica was facing, how could Paul say: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus?”

Is Paul saying something else? If the emphasis is placed on “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” perhaps we gain a new level of praise and thanksgiving. So the question that must be answered is: What is this a reference too? If this makes reference to the word give thanks than this verse is not just irrational, but also impossible. However, if this is a reference to God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, then this verse takes on a more powerful and practical meaning.

After the transitioning of my wife, I had to meet with attorneys for the purpose of estate planning. Along with this came a living will. My living will is document of my wishes and wants for BJ and Brennon in my absence. It places upon certain individuals an assignment. They have directives and instructions I want them to perform on my behalf in my absence.  And, this living will has been done prior to any unforeseen and unexpected afflictions or absences.

I think what this verse places emphasis is not only on ‘give thanks’ but more importantly “the will of God for us in Christ Jesus.” In other words, as a child of God, we know that God is not only aware of but He is associated with our circumstances. Simply put, everything you are in is God’s will. While what we may be ‘in’ may be the most incomprehensible, it is God’s will. Though what we may be facing is the test of our life, it is God’s will. While it may be unexpected and unwarranted, what you are in was predetermined.

So how can I give thanks in every circumstance? I can give thanks in every circumstance only when I see my life as God sees my life, then I can give God praise for the circumstances in my life.

Be reminded of the fact that God knows “the plans He has for us, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11 NIV).”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Choosing A Mentor

Myself, like so many other of my peers, are always contacted by individuals seeking a mentor. Recently, because of social media, I have been contacted by several individuals requesting that I be their mentor. This, obviously, led me to do some research and reading on mentorship.

Mentor was the name of the advisor of Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. The etymology of the name means ‘advisor.’ A mentor is one who provides wise and experienced counsel.

Who qualifies to be a credible mentor? This is important because I have recently seen young preacher make some poor choices and ministry decisions that have left me and my colleagues asking each other: “who was he talking to?” We each know that erroneous advice can leave to erroneous action.

This is important in my life because I too am making some life-defining decisions. In doing so I have sought the advice not of my peers but of those who have either had similar experiences or have been in the pastorate long enough to provide wise counsel. They are older than myself and have the evidence in their personal lives and ministries.

So, when choosing a mentor, I think we should reflect on several things.

In the first place, a mentor is there to provide advice and not necessarily agree with your decision. If you are looking for someone who will agree with your every decision, you are not looking for a mentor. Mentors are there to provide wise advice.

This leads me to the second point. Good mentors provide helpful decisions to serve as a guide. I do not always answer questions. This is because a good mentor ask meaningful questions to help you arrive at a well thought-out decision.

Also, a good mentor challenges your soul and not your gift. When asked questions about expositional preaching regarding a particular text, I often respond quit reading for information and read for transformation. How is this text challenging you to make some hard decisions and life choices?

Finally, a good mentor is one with experience. Next year I will celebrate 25 years in the preaching ministry and 22 years in the pastorate. My mentors have served God and his people much longer than myself. I know the difference between peer and mentor.

Maybe its just me, but in this season, I want to be faithful to those who have requested of me a tremendous responsibility. I never want to be the answer in a negative context to the question: “Who was he or she talking too?”

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment