New Year’s Resolutions

1. “Stay in love with God. Do good and do no harm.” Reuben P. Job
2. Concentrate on virtuous things; they build good character, shape and color attitudes, and influence behavior.
3. Look for and graciously acknowledge the good in others.
4. Walk only the fence grounded in cement, and only to avoid the danger lurking on each side.
5. Do not befriend talebearers; they are not concerned with the common good.
6. When possible, be at peace with everyone.
7. Work hard, relish the comforts afforded, and rest often.
8. Forgive freely and always.
9. Accentuate and embrace the positive.
10. Keep faith in God.

The Value of Mustard Seed Size Faith

A little bit of biblical faith goes a long way (Matthew 17:20. It gives one the courage to stand for what is right, even when such a stand is unpopular (study the lives of the Apostles and other early believers).

Mustard Seed Size Faith

  • frees one to acknowledge his or her shortcomings and to trust God for help in overcoming those weaknesses (Mark 9: 21 – 24)
  • releases one from the paralyzing grips of fear, guilt, and shame (Romans 8:1)
  • is God-centered and concerned about restoring wholeness- physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being (James 2: 14 – 26)
  • cares about the common good, not just personal gain (Colossians 3: 12)
  • helps one remain focused on the power of God, not mired down by the problems of the present (Proverbs 3: 5 – 9)
  • gives hope that there is light at the end of every tunnel (Psalm 30: 5)
  • is a tool used to request deliverance from distress, protection from the powerful, and to uplift broken spirits (James 5: 17)
  • wants justice for all (Micah 6: 8)

Thank God for mustard seed size faith!


One Woman’s Response to Another National Tragedy

A little over two months have passed since the tragic killing of Mr. Tyre Nichols by five Memphis, Tennessee police officers on January 7, 2023, and Bloody Sunday, March 7, was commemorated less than two weeks ago. So, now seems an apt time to add my thoughts to the conversations about Mr. Nichols’ murder.

The barbarity of the crime, Mr. Nichols – one unarmed man, brutality beaten and mocked by five firearms-toting police officers, paid, and sworn to protect Mr. Nichols’ rights, demonstrated a wanton disregard for Mr. Nichol’s civil and human rights. The offense also gave the public another glimpse into the atrocities that can, and often, occur when an individual or group is given unfettered power.

The firing and subsequent charging of the officers involved in killing Mr. Nichols offer hope that the murderers will be convicted in a court of law, not just in the court of public opinion. Admittedly, the former police officers’ convictions will not bring Mr. Nichols back to life, compensate for his loss of life, or eradicate the profound grief his loved ones must endure.  

However, holding the officers accountable by convicting them of murdering Mr. Nichols may bring a small measure of comfort to those who love Mr. Nichols and restore public trust in the notion that justice is blind and every life matters.

God bless Tyre Nichols’ loved ones and help humanity to behave more humanely.

Why Our Words Matter

This writing was prompted by Peyton S. Gendron’s live-streamed killing of ten innocent people who had done the shooter no harm. Gendron‘s so-called manifesto and his actions on the fateful day of May 19, 2022, prove inflammatory words that inspired his horrific act were germinated by people preaching divisive rhetoric.

The Buffalo super-market shooter deserves to be held accountable for assassinating ten innocent people. However, the perpetrators of the hateful and untrue rhetoric that incited Gendron’s violence should also be held liable. They are every bit as responsible for the deaths of those innocent lives as the shooter. Moreover, they are equally accountable for corrupting the morals of Gendron, a weak-minded little man who lacks moral discernment.

The following litany highlight ways our words impact us, others, and our varied environments – home, work, church, and neighborhood.

  1. Words influence culture.
  2. Positive words affirm, encourage, inspire, and lift up. They speak life, healing, and peace into existence.
  3. Negative words kill and destroy people’s reputations, relationships, and livelihoods. In some cases, words crush people’s spirits poking holes in their self-esteem and objectifying them by attacking and questioning their inherent value.
  4. Upbeat, pleasant words coupled with encouraging actions create warm and nurturing environments in which everyone has the opportunity to grow and flourish.
  5. Disparaging words shun, exclude, ridicule, and harass. Such terms also create a hostile and abusive atmosphere where hatred and wrongdoing are nurtured and perpetrated.
  6. When dropped in the hearing of weak-minded people, words can incite violence, including harassment, and results in stigmatizing folk and the social, if not physical, genocide of individuals or particular groups.
  7. Occasionally, negative words lead to unstable people committing horrific acts of violence, including carrying out mass shootings, encouraging folk to commit suicide, or taking a life over a petty disagreement or perceived personal insult.

We should choose our words carefully, understanding they have an impact beyond our thoughts and the small group in which those words are uttered.

May God help us speak words of life, healing, and peace. May God’s Holy Spirit gently urge us to recant and repent from saying words that cause pain and, in some instances, irreparable damage.   

God, help humanity.

The Strength and Power of Democracy

Like most Americans, I remained quiet but contemplative about the January 6, 2021, assault on the U. S. Capitol for over a year. However, on the anniversary of that fateful day, I was reminded that a group of fellow Americans participated in a violent attempt to prevent the certification of Joseph R. Biden, president-elect.

With dismay, I rewatched on television a vicious group rushing the storied U.S. Capital, a worldwide symbol of democracy. Some in the crowd were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” The event was shocking, horrifying, and a flagrant assault on our democratic system. The folks involved behaved unpatriotically and un-American. At a minimum, they should be charged with vandalism, defacing government property, assaulting law enforcement officials, and treason.

Regardless of political ideology, God-loving and peace-loving American patriots do not employ Gestapo tactics to turn the United States of America into a totalitarian state because they disagree with the outcome of a legitimate election. Those who love this great country look for ways to strengthen, not weaken, the republic.

More importantly, those who affirm the assault on the Capital or try to whitewash the attack are as dangerous to the nation as the domestic terrorists who committed the seditious act. Shame on those who refuse to characterize the insurrections as anything other than domestic terrorists – people who used unlawful violence and intimidation against civilians in the pursuit of their personal political agenda.

It seems, integrity, love for this great nation, belief in the value of a democratic system, and concern for the common good, would compel patriotic Americans to call the assault what it was: an attack on American democracy and show by example a more civil way of dealing with political differences.

Unfortunately, too few Americans, especially politicians, have demonstrated the courage and integrity to publicly condemn the insurrection and label the mob participants domestic terrorists.

The 9-11-01 terroristic attack against our nation failed. Instead of destroying the country, America remained strong, and for a time, Americans united to protect the nation’s democratic system. Then the January 6, 2021, sedition happened. Fortunately, like the failed September 11, 2001, attack, the January 6, 2021, assault was unsuccessful. Both failed attacks show democracy works and is more powerful than the ideologies of those trying to cancel it. Despite the January 6 attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden, president-elect, the duly elected candidate was sworn into office on January 20, 2021.

Long live the United States of America! And may God continue blessing America and protecting the nation from terrorists and anti-democracy zealots.   

NOTE: 01/12/2021 I revised this post. After watching videos and listening to the insurrections state what they want America to be, it seems to me the term totalitarian more appropriately describes the kind of government the insurrections hope to erect.

A Prayer for Help Based on Psalm 86

Dear God,

Incline Your ear and answer us, for we are needy. Preserve our souls. You are our God; save Your servants because we trust in You. Be merciful to us, O Lord, for we call to You all day long. Bring joy to Your servants, for to You, O Lord, we lift up our souls. For You, O Lord, are kind and forgiving, rich in loving devotion to all who call on You. Hear our prayer, O LORD, and attend to our plea for mercy. In the day of our distress, we call on You because You answer. O Lord, there is none like You among the gods, nor any works like Yours. All the nations You have made will come and bow before You, O Lord, and they will glorify Your name. For You are great and perform wonders; You alone are God. Teach us Your way, O LORD, that we may walk in Your truth. Give each of us an undivided heart, that we may fear Your name. Grant us the grace to praise You with all our hearts and glorify Your name forever. For great is Your loving devotion to us; You have delivered us from the depths of sin.

The arrogant rise against us, O God; a band of ruthless people seek to undermine and harm us without just cause. But You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion and faithfulness. Turn to us and have mercy; grant Your strength to Your servants; save us.

Reveal Yourself to the unjust so they will know You are God Almighty, the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, today, and forever, and they are compelled to return to You their Creator.

Have mercy upon Your creation and deliver us from evil. [Glory to Your name] Amen.

The Character of True Worship

Scripture Reference: John 4: 5-42. Focus verse is 23, “But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “When it rains, it pours. “Friday and Saturday were such days for me. It started Friday, March 13, 2020, after I awakened to face two new realities, both required me to make decisions quickly. The first had to do with whether to seek medical treatment or self-medicate for an allergic reaction that sprang up overnight. My ears and throat itched like crazy, I had a dripping nose, and my head felt bloated. I experienced the first allergic reaction I had in more than thirty years.

Futilely, I diligently searched my medicine cabinet for over-the-counter drugs to ease the itching. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the house I could use to treat the annoying allergy. By the time I’d finished showering, dressing, and primping, The discomfort had increased, so I decided to visit the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare system walk-in clinic. By the conclusion of the visit, I was sure I had made the correct decision.

Usually, the decision to seek medical help would not be a big deal; if the symptoms warrant, see a doctor. Friday was different because of the rapid spread and transmission of the coronavirus. My dilemma was whether to clog further a healthcare system already strained with caring for the sick, to seek medical attention for what I believed was a minor allergic reaction.

In addition to my mini-medical plight, as the newly appointed transitional pastor of a small congregation, I was faced with the decision of whether to ask the Session – the ruling body of a Presbyterian congregation- to close our facility. The decision about closing was particularly tricky because several other organizations rent space in our building; closing the entire facility would require our renters to cease operations as well.

After receiving multiple telephone calls and an email from congregants, I decided to ask the Session to close the building to help curtail the rapid spreading of the coronavirus. Closing the building presented a unique quandary for our church and me as a relatively new pastor. Six other organizations besides my own would be affected.  The decision to close was made and notification sent to our members, partners in ministry, and other service providers. I slept Friday night feeling better physically and at peace with the decision.

However, Saturday morning I awakened to observe nearly 90% of my son’s body covered with hives.  The cause of his hives most likely came from a reaction to something  he ate or from something in the heart-shape keychain the take-out-driver gave him. The hives were spreading so rapidly we decided to go to an urgent care center,  where Davaughn was treated and released.

Saturday afternoon, I went to the church, expecting to have a relatively quiet and peaceful day.  What I encountered was surprising. Instead of peace and harmony, I was greeted with yelling and language that I had previously heard only from teens with severe emotional problems. I found myself in an interesting predicament – should I stay and try to reason with the person, or walk away and shake the dust of that person from my feet. I chose the latter.

I could have, but did not, envisioned some negative backlash over closing the building. But I did not expect viciousness. Closing was a tactical decision made to assist in the effort to reduce the rapid spread of the coronavirus, especially to those populations most susceptible to the illness. Until late yesterday afternoon, it had not occurred to me that one decision would cause such a volatile outburst.  The decision was not intended to interfere with worship, but to protect people and change the way services are rendered.

Last night and early into this morning, as I mulled over today’s sermon, it occurred to me the focus verse from today’s Revised Common Lectionary Reading, Year A, John 4:23, addresses the importance of distinguishing spiritual worship from engaging in corporate worship in a designated place.  Those who focus on the physical often miss the spiritual.

The Samaritan woman depicted in today’s New Testament text began her interaction with Jesus by focusing on the wrong things. First, the woman zoned in on the ethnic difference between her and Jesus. (John 4:9) Second, she focused on what Jesus didn’t have (a bucket). (v 10) Next, she taunted Jesus, “Sir, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water,” the woman was looking at Jesus through non spiritual eyes.

In verse 19, the woman’s spiritual eyes began to open. She saw enough to know Jesus was a prophet of God, not just an ordinary person asking for help (that’s a whole other sermon for another time.) Her breakthrough is evident in V.20 when she becomes reflective and focuses on what, for her, must have been a spiritual dilemma.- admitting she might have learned the wrong thing about where worship takes place.

In today’s vernacular, the woman might have asked, “Are you telling me that all the prophets before you who said this is the place where we must worship were wrong?”

Jesus’s gracious reply reminds us of his amazing grace:
“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus helped the woman understand God is more significant than any physical space.  Jesus wanted the woman at the well, and us, to understand true worship takes place in the heart and is based on a right relationship with God. Praise God; the Samaritan woman eventually got the message to focus on the spiritual, not the material.

Like the woman at the well, at times, we too get bogged down by focusing on the physical aspects of worship- where we worship and how we express devotion, instead of concentrating on the spiritual nature of true worship, which the Apostle James called pure religion. Jesus said godly worship is based on and can only come from a place of righteousness.

God is concerned about the character of worship, not where worship takes place. However, given another chance, I probably would have given our ministry partners a little more than a day’s notice to plan alternatives to in-person gatherings. But, for those of us, whose houses of worship are closed today, let’s remember Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman, it is not where we worship, but the character of our worship that God accepts.

Thank God for amazing grace, technology, and the power to worship and experience God’s guidance when we are under pressure!

Prayer- God, grant us the grace to always worship you in spirit and truth and to do the right thing and trust you for the outcome. Amen

What Some Evangelicals Believe

wooden cross

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3: 17)”   

Usually, I write a prayer or poem for Christmas. This year, however, I felt compelled to do something different because it seems some media outlets mistakenly paint Christian evangelicals with a broad brush as self-serving, bullies, mean-spirited, unethical, fence-walkers, those who only condemn what or when it is in their interest to denounce.

Evangelicals are not a monolith. Instead, they are a diverse group of disciples of Christ trying to glorify God by following the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are present in every Christian denomination, and they represent every ethnicity and social and economic class. They work in every field and live in every neighborhood.

They are compassionate, caring people who, by the grace of God, try to behave justly, and they pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. They demonstrate mercy toward others because God is merciful.

The following is a summary of what many evangelicals believe.

An Evangelical Declaration

  • God is sovereign and is present all the time in every place
  • The Bible, consisting of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament, is God’s inerrant word
  • Salvation is by grace, not by works, and comes only through Christ Jesus
  • God is no respecter of persons because redemption is available to all who repent and accept Jesus Christ as Lord
  • The Lord, our God, is one Triune, -Creator (Father), Redeemer (Jesus, Savior), and Sustainer (Holy Spirit)
  • God loves all people, including sinners – of which I am one who is saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
  • We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead and in everlasting life
  • We believe Jesus is the Messiah prophesied about by the Hebrew prophets
  • We believe Scripture teaches God’s people are to behave justly and practice mercy
  • We believe Jesus will come again to redeem the Church
  • We believe the Church is three dimensional- the spotless Church of Christ, the church within each believer, and the church as an organized body of believers
  • We believe in freewill – mortals have the God-given ability to choose between right and wrong
  • We believe the Church is one body consisting of different parts
  • Jesus is the head of the Church