Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Shepastor: “Having Faith: The Long View…”

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. (Hebrews 11:39-40, NLT)

In the words of the late Dr. Elton Trueblood, every generation has the bittersweet task of “planting shade trees under which we know full well we shall never sit.” To plant them with joy or resentment is a choice. Pride, pain, regret, and bitterness at times prevent persons with a wealth of wisdom and experience from helping those who are coming after. If individuals are honest, it can be hurtful to realize and accept that some ceilings will not be broken during our lifetime…some bridges still won’t get crossed, some doors still will remain closed and some opportunities still may not happen. We are still blazing trails, as it were. We can, however, take the proverbial mallet in our hands, determine to join together, and beat upon ceilings, keep knocking on doors and keep pressing towards the mark. Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston declared, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

The people of God must decide that the hardships that at times must be endured will not embitter us but instead will embolden us to help bring about a change. Change is not something that happens quickly, easily or without struggle and sacrifice. The people in our text all, in one way or another, through faith fought to bring about change. Whether facing oppressive giants, or fighting to end unjust systems of slavery or fighting to save children, families or nations, by faith, they pressed on. James Russell Lowell, in the Boston Courier, December 11, 1845 penned these famous words: (the last stanza declares…)

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man when he was gunned down. And while he saw several major victories evolve out of the blood splattered Civil Rights movement, seeing all of the fruit of his labor was not to be. He was prophetic when he declared that he had “been to the mountain top and seen the promised land.” He declared, “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get there!” Dr. King had taken the “long view.”

The civil rights leaders had to take the long view to fight for freedom. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Hershel had to take the long view in order to march arm and arm with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960’s in Selma, Alabama to be sure that all Americans would have the right to vote. They had to take the long view in Selma, where half of the city's residents were black but only one percent were registered to vote because the registration board only opened doors for registration two days a month, arrived late and took long lunches (ref. "Eyes on the Prize" documentary).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to take the long view to stand up against the atrocities of the Nazi regime as Hitler sought to annihilate the Jewish nation. Sometimes faith urges you, presses you, convicts you, compels you, empowers you to stand for what is right even against seemingly insurmountable odds. Faith will embolden you, strengthen you, press you, push you to go beyond the boundaries of yourself and with God’s help seek to do something greater that will impact the lives of those yet unborn. It takes the long view…

But in our own, individual lives where we might not be faced with standing up against a Hitler, or facing attack dogs and fire hoses - in our everyday lives, how is God challenging us to act out our faith? Could God be calling us to think outside of the box? Could God be calling us to volunteer in an inner-city school to give some broken, poverty stricken, almost hopeless child a hope for the future? Could God be calling us to write letters to our local representatives regarding unjust laws, demanding that they change their opposing stance? Could God be calling us to stand when others are sitting down, fallen asleep or have left the proverbial room?

Could God be calling us to help in our little corner of the world? Sometimes faith presses us to move from our comfort zones into places of discomfort and great possibility. Again, in our own, individual lives, sometimes faith is calling us to move from a place of complacency to becoming an active participant in the blessing and healing process.

God is calling us to take the long view…to plant seeds of faith, seeds of deliverance, seeds of hope, seeds of investments, seeds of righteous living, seeds of honor…to plant seeds that will help raise up a godly generation, a strong generation, a faith-filled generation. God wants to use us to break some glass ceilings, to push in some doors, to break down some barriers or at least do some serious damage to that which is blocking the way.

If all we do is sing, “We shall overcome,” link arms, place wreaths on some tombs and silently march in remembrance then we will have failed our predecessors. We must do more than live in a past time paradise. We must do more than sing loud hosannas and read poetry. We must speak truth to power… we must educate and register people to vote. We must stand against unjust laws and systems that crush the lives of children and youth through failed educational systems, “for profit” prison systems, gang riddled, drug infested neighborhoods and over crowded class rooms with frustrated, overworked and under-payed teachers!

We may not get everything accomplished, but we must keep “jumin at de sun!” We may not see all that we are hoping to come to pass, but we must do all we can, while we can to lay the ground work for a better day ahead.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us...

May we, like "these," be courageous and take the long view.

Until next Wednesday,

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org



Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Shepastor: “Reflections of a Pastor, 14 years in the making…”

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1

Fourteen years ago today, January 15th, 2006, a small, fractured, struggling congregation called me to serve as their senior pastor. They had been without a pastor for approximately 3 years. I became their first female pastor, first African American pastor and only the 2nd female senior pastor of a mainline Baptist denomination in the Greater Cleveland area. With great anticipation, joy, excitement and hope we came together as “Pastor and People.” Hope for a new beginning, hope for a new reality, hope for multiculturalism, hope for growth, stability, ministry…

A new reality did indeed emerge, but not the one we had anticipated and hoped for. New growth meant facing thoughts, feelings, prejudices and fears that we may not have known existed. The death of a significant number of elderly members meant deep feelings of grief and loss, not only of their presence, but of an era. The emergence and involvement of new members evoked fear from others of the loss of power. We were not prepared for the avalanche precipitated by the tides of change.

Numeric growth – cancelled. Economic stability – devastated. The dream for a bright, new, thriving ministry all but extinguished. God had another plan. “Seeds planted” look a lot like a burial. Growth with deep roots takes time. Our faith was challenged to the core. We learned in new and life changing ways to “lean upon the Lord.” The small group that was left banded together. A new vision for ministry emerged.

We learned the value of collaboration and ministry outside of the four walls. We sold the old property and took the resources gained to do a “new thing.” From the ashes was birthed a book for female pastors, a blog, contributions to other books, articles, workshops, seminars, lectures, sermons and mentorship opportunities. Members have learned in a greater way the power of tithing and the overall “Stewardship of life.”

In the words of my pastor, “When our plans fold, God’s plans unfold.” Our plans folded. The congregation all but died. But God kept a remnant for Himself. On September 6th, 2019, “Covenant Baptist Church,” closed. “Restoration Ministries of Greater Cleveland, Inc.,” was born. The journey continues. Our dreams have been exchanged for God’s vision.

Read more about our journey at www.rmgrcle.org

Thank you, Lord for 14 years of Pastoral Ministry! Counting on…

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Shepastor: “Vessels in the Potter’s Hand”

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 "Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:1-6 (RSV)

We all are on the “Potter’s wheel.” Like clay, God in His sovereignty shapes us and molds us. Sometimes, the molding process is painful because we just can’t understand why things happen the way they happen. As humans, we tend to be “cause and effect” oriented. In other words, we tell ourselves, “…this happened because of that.” We are accustomed to attaching an explanation to every event. But there are some things in life that don’t have a clear, easy and fair explanation.

Things that don’t make sense…earthquakes devastating thousands... a wonderful young woman dies of breast cancer…a brilliant mind is struck with Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes there are twists, and bends and potholes in the road of our lives that are painful and to our finite minds don’t make sense. But somehow, even these painful, seemingly unfair circumstances are used to shape and mold and knead the lumps and the bumps and the imperfections in our clay jars.

As we journey through life, we spend a lot of time on the underside of the tapestry, seeing only mangled, seemingly illogically patterned bits and pieces of threads and yarn and we wonder, what in the world does it all mean. But every now and then, the Lord gives us glimpses of the upper side where we can see a beautiful pattern being woven for His purposes.

Truly we are as clay in the potter’s hand. No matter how marred, broken, scarred, lumpy or imperfect we may be, the Lord is able to reshape us, break us if necessary, knead us and mold us into the new and beautiful vessels He desires us to be. But the key is that we have to be willing to allow the Lord to do as the potter did with the clay.

It won’t always feel good. It won’t always make sense. But if we trust Him, the Lord will take the marred, broken and lumpy pieces of our lives and shape us into a beautiful and useful vessel.

Allow the Potter to mold you today…

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Shepastor: “What Are Your Prayers for this Next Decade?”

9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:9, NIV

On Sunday, our congregation reflected upon God’s faithfulness to each of us over the last ten years. In preparation for crossing over into 2020 we took a moment to prayerfully jot down specific things we are believing God for in this new decade. As peaceful and meditative music played in the background, members from the eldest to the youngest took time to contemplate what the next years would bring. By faith, we wrote down our hopes, dreams and visions and privately presented them before the Lord. The instructions were given to take our list home and put it in a place where we can go back and read it over from time to time. Our faith is strengthened as we look at God’s answers to our prayers over the years!

As you enter this next decade, by faith, I encourage you to do the same. What are you believing God for in the next ten years? What are you asking God to change? From what do you or others need deliverance? What courage do you need to walk into your new season? What trials or challenges do you need the strength to overcome? What hopes do you have for your community, Nation and world?

Write it down. Put a date on it. Periodically check your list and see all that God has done. Allow room for surprises! May your faith be strengthened!

Happy New Year Shepastor Family! I stand in agreement with you for God’s best for your life!

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Shepastor: “Will You be a Light?”

1 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. 2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Isaiah 9:1-3 (KJV)

In the book, Coming Through the Darkness author, the Reverend Dr. Claudette Copeland lets us in on her journey through a very dark and difficult time in her life – a time when she was forced to develop what she called, “big girl faith.” She talked about her experience of battling cancer. But more than her physical condition, she talked about how “the darkness” is something that we all at some point in our lives will have to go through.

The question becomes, how will we go through. Dr. Copeland's testimony challenges not only the sufferer, but those who minister to the suffering. What does it mean to “be a light” to those who are coming through the darkness?

In another place, the prophet Isaiah declared,

1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. Isaiah 61:1-3 (KJV)
How do we bring good tidings? How do we give unto them that mourn, beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness?

I’d like to suggest a few ways:

Skip the standard lines…

So often when people are hurting and looking for a listening ear and a compassionate heart, they run into well-meaning individuals who give them standard lines … lines that have no real thought, compassion or substance… lines that don’t bring about healing, but often incur frustration and increased feelings of isolation. Lines such as, “He knows how much we can bear,” “Don’t claim that,” “It’s always darkest before the dawn…” “It must be God’s will…” etc. So often we cut people off without ever really listening to their hearts’ cry. We rattle off bible scriptures, preach mini sermons and sometimes even slam them with questions like, “Where is your faith?” “Don’t you believe in God…?”

When we say these things, we are not giving them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. We are only adding to their struggle. We must ask ourselves, “Will this comment offer them light or increase the darkness?”

Understand the power of love communicated through having an encouraging presence. For the first seven days of Job’s pain and suffering, Job’s friends got it right. The scripture says, that they sat with him for seven days and said nothing because they saw that his pain was great. Only later did they begin to mess up when they started coming up with their own reasons why they thought Job was suffering. Our job is not to determine, why someone is suffering, but shine the light of love upon them as they go through the suffering. You can help unlock some prison doors just by your loving touch and encouraging smile. Sometimes just an encouraging nod, an affirming hug, a reassuring squeeze of the hand or arm, a brief statement whispered, “I’m praying for you…” is all a person needs to get up and face another day. Your love, your encouragement, your smile, your touch is used by God to help turn ashes into beauty and to help someone coming through the darkness.

Finally, make up your mind to be a light. The holiday season can be very difficult for some. Grief due to various losses, illness, broken relationships etc., can magnify darkness in their lives. While we may not be able to change or take away the pain of their reality, we can bring light and love into their dark space. A listening ear, the act of being present, the affirmation that their experience and feelings are valid can bring them gifts of hope and love. As God's people, we are called to the mission of spreading good tidings of God’s goodness, mercy, grace and salvation. As God’s people, we all are called "to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;" … so that as they come through the darkness, they and we might be called "trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified." We are called to be a light? Won’t you shine your light of God’s love today?

May you and yours have a blessed, peace, joy and “Light filled” Day! Merry Christmas!!!

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Shepastor: "What's Your Song?"

Luke 1:46-55 King James Version (KJV)
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

This beautiful song is known as the “Magnificat.” The term is derived from the Latin phrase, “My Soul doth Magnify the Lord…” It is one of the most beautiful songs in the Bible and one of only a few given by a woman. Mary is overwhelmed by news from the angel that she would be the mother of the savior of the world – Jesus, the Christ.

Commentators suggest that Mary's hymn expresses praise to God for his treatment of her, but then extends her praise to how God has treated the righteous throughout the ages and how he will vindicate them fully in the future. Understanding what God is doing, Mary is full of joy. She speaks for herself and for her community, the people of God throughout time. She declares that God is worthy of praise for what he will do in taking care of his own.

Mary’s song is power and significant, since first-century culture often relegated women to a secondary status. One of the beauties of Luke's infancy material is that different sorts of people all experience joy at the arrival of Jesus. Luke stresses a ministry of social concern for those in need and warns those who are wealthy not to hoard what God has given to them. He warns about a reversal of roles in the judgment for those who do not hear this.

God is acting for his people, Israel. God's actions reflect his mercy. He committed himself to such loyalty and compassion when he made promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). One of the lessons of the infancy section is that God keeps his word, including the promises made to the nation of Israel. Mary knows that the promises of God abide, and this is evident in her praise. God's loyal love is central to the hope and assurance of those to whom God has made himself known.

This was Mary’s song. Mary was filled with joy and awe over what was about to be birthed in her. We too have a song, given to us from the Lord.

Each life has a song, a theme, a chorus. Sadly, we are so hurried, so busy, so tired, so involved with other things that we don’t take the time to hear our life’s song, to learn it, sing it, live it. Your life song is that melody that, that rhythm, that assignment from on high that naturally flows through your being.
It is that which is waiting to be birthed in you. It’s like what Michael Angelo said about his great stone statues. When asked how he chisled out such great masterpieces from bits of rock and chunks of stone, legend has it that he responded, “the form was already there. I just freed it.” There is greatness within you waiting to be birthed.

Some have gone through life either never learning or ignoring their life’s song. But your song is about more than you. As Mary embraced her divinely ordered destiny, she gave God praise – not only for her divine appointment, but for what God was going to do through what she brought forth.

Your song is meant to bring hope and love and life to others. Your song is not only for your help, your encouragement, your strength. Your song is for your community. Your song is for your family. Your song is for your sphere of influence. Mary magnified the Lord for what was about to be birthed in her. She may not have understood the mixture of joy and sorrow, freedom and burden, hope and desperation, pain and pride, she would endure over the next several years, but she took what she had and ran with it.

Our song will sometimes be happy, sometimes sad, sometimes light hearted and sometimes heavy as stone – but our song – our life’s theme – our calling is meant to be a blessing. When we don’t learn to sing our own song, we go through out life feeling unfulfilled and empty.

You can’t do anything about yesterday. But you can begin to sing your song today. You can say, “behold the handmaid or the servant of the Lord – be it unto me according to thy word.” You can begin to sing your song today. You can expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.

You can begin to sing your song today. You can ask the Lord, “Lord, what is my life’s song? What would you have me to do with my life? What do you want to birth in me? How do you want to use me to accomplish a part of your plan for this world?

You have a song. Will you learn it, sing it and live it?

Enjoy this ministry of music, "Without A Song"

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Shepastor: “Keys to Hope”

Lamentations 3:19-25, NIV

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;


What is hope? A basic definition states, “Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. It is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. [1] To hope is to wish for something with the expectation of the wish being fulfilled,
However, in theological terms, Hope is one of the three virtues in the Christian tradition. Hope is a desire for something and expectation of receiving it from the Lord. Like all virtues, hope arises from the will, not passion.

“Hope arises from the will and not passion.” In other words, one has to do more than passively desire. One has to have the will to expect God to move on one’s behalf. The attitude that hope arises not from passion, but from the will suggests that it takes the will of the heart, mind and soul to hope when hope seems to be an exercise in futility.

Back in the 80’s, The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., coined the phrase, “Keep Hope Alive.” He used this as he pursued the highest office in the land, the presidency of the United States of America. As impossible as it seemed for an African American to become president, Rev. Jackson insisted that we had to “keep hope alive.” Although he did not win, Jesse became the forerunner to the first African American to attain the dream of holding that office in the person of Barack Obama. Why? Because somebody had the will to keep hope alive. Hope transcends individuals. Hope is transformative. Hope is expansive. Hope moves beyond one person to communities, nations and the world.

God wants you to keep hope alive. Even if your dream has died, YOU have not died! God is not through with you! For God has been known to resurrect that which has been dead! But maybe, just maybe, your hopes for your life had to die, so that you could receive the blessings and benefits of God’s hope for your life.

Sometimes our hopes and dreams are too short. Sometimes our hopes and dreams are too small. Sometimes our hopes and dreams are too self-centered and sometimes our hopes and dreams will prevent us from fulfilling that which the all wise and eternal God has purposed for our lives since before the foundation of the world.

The prophet Jeremiah teaches us a profound key to hope. In verses 19-23, Jeremiah says,

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.


In other words, Jeremiah says, “When I reflect upon all of my problems, my wanderings, my losses, my soul remains bitter and cast down. But when I the conscious decision to “call to remembrance God’s great love, God’s never-failing compassion and God’s GREAT faithfulness, I have HOPE! As mentioned earlier, Hope is not an act of passion. Hope is an act of the will. In other words, you’ve got to make up your mind to have hope. Passion comes and goes. That hot, intense, excited feeling that propels you onward is not going to be there on a continuous basis. We couldn’t stand it – it would burn us up! Passion is just one aspect of hope. Yes, it is a necessary element, but it cannot stand alone. Passion must be connected to something bigger. We must have hope.

Hope fuels our passion. Hope is tied to our trust in God’s love, God’s compassion and God’s faithfulness. You cannot focus upon God’s faithfulness and love towards you and hold onto the bitterness and gall of your past. Whether it’s mistakes that you have made or wrong things that someone else did to you or unfortunate life circumstances, if you choose to focus upon God’s faithfulness and love towards you, your hope will rise.

There are some things that we must do in order to survive the “bitterness and gall” in life and to keep hope alive,

We must call to mind the faithfulness of God…
God has brought you this far. God has been with you all the days of your life. God has sustained and kept you. God is mighty to save. God will carry you through. In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, Jesus has overcome the world and so can we!

We must say to ourselves, the LORD is my portion, therefore I will wait for Him…
The Lord is our portion…the Lord is our provider…the Lord is our supplier…continue to serve Him, continue to pray…continue to hope…continue to trust…WAIT on the LORD…He promised that your strength would be renewed, that you would mount up on wings like an eagle, run and not get weary, walk and not faint WAIT on the LORD!

We must remind ourselves that the LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him and seek Him…

We must remind ourselves that the LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him. We must remember that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. We must remember that things look one way to us, but God sees the big picture. We must remember that even if this earthly tabernacle should be destroyed, we’ve got another building not made with hands whose builder and maker is God.

We must remember that those who sew in tears shall reap in joy. We must remember that even in our pain, even in our toil, even in our utter confusion and frustration, God sees us, loves us and is with us. He will carry us over and see us through. Great is God’s faithfulness towards us.

Jesus, our elder brother bore it all for us. He suffered, bled and died for us. He was wounded for us and He is risen for us. He is a compassionate savior who carried the load for us and knows the pain, knows, the anxiety, knows the toil, knows the struggles, knows the tears and therefore He knows how to comfort us in all of our sorrow and pain.

No matter what you are facing, trust God. No matter what you are fearing, trust God. No matter how hard your road, trust God. Make up your mind to call to remembrance God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s faithfulness. Determine to keep hope alive in your heart. God will see you through!

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org