Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Shepastor: “When I Am Afraid…”

Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.
Psalm 56:3, NIV

“Looking back across the landscape of my lifetime, I realize that something unexpected and larger than life seems to happen every once in a while, that acts as a corrective measure...” These are the words shared by Dr. Ken Druck in his article, “The 'One Planet, One People' coronavirus corrective.” In this article, Dr. Druck suggests that life has a way of reminding us about what really matters.

Right now, the world is facing a pandemic in the form of the Coronavirus. Many are gripped by fear. Many are hoarding hand sanitizer, toilet paper and water, depriving others of what is needed to try and stay healthy. Churches are struggling with real decisions regarding meeting the needs of their congregation, pastoral care and finances. Some are in a panic.

However, as the people of God, we must remember that “we are not as those who have no hope.” Even in the midst of this modern-day plague, God is still in control. Even though many painful and sad things are happening including death, isolation, fear and struggle, several positive things are happening. We are being reminded of our humanity, our frailty, our need for compassion and our need for one another.

Community members are reaching out to one another…calling one another…going grocery shopping for the elderly, working together to ensure that school children, home due to the virus are getting meals. Teachers and administrators are working tirelessly to be sure that youth get their lessons. People all over the world are praying together in various ways. The government is looking at ways to provide financial relief to its struggling citizens.

Every now and then, God allows the “reset button” to get pushed. Times like these remind us of what really matters in life…relationships, compassion, love and the common good. COVID-19 is scary. But God remains in control. When you are afraid, trust in Him!
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Shepastor: “Fasting from Injustice”

Amos 5:21-24
21 I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
22 Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
23 Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
24 But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.


This was a time of great wealth, economic growth and national strength in Israel. The Northern and Southern Kingdoms (Israel and Judah) were working together, trading, building and forming political alliances. Because of their great wealth they were able to expand their boarders. Their buildings were made of the finest materials such as marble, ivory and gold.

It was easy for them to equate their wealth and prosperity with the favor of God. Their prophets were in the pockets of those with power and prestige. Therefore, all of their proclamations pronounced favor, grace and peace flowing from the throne of the Almighty.

But there was a problem in this man-made paradise. Contrary to what they believed, God was not pleased. There was a complete lack of social consciousness or concern. The wealthy were super wealthy, but the poor were super poor. The legal system was corrupt, the poor had no recourse, not even in the courts. The rich enjoyed every convenience possible while the poor were made to scrounge about and serve those in high positions – and God was not pleased.

There were no words of condemnation, confrontation or accountability – and God was not pleased. Therefore, God called for himself a prophet – a real prophet, a man of God who neither desired their approval or feared their reprisals. God chose Amos, who was neither a prophet or the son of a prophet but a herdsman, a shepherd, a country boy if you will – a farmer to stand boldly and proclaim what thus saith the Lord to a wicked and sinful people. Amos spoke in righteous anger, calling God’s people to look hard and long at what they had become.

We are currently in the season of the Christian Calendar called, “Lent.” For many, this is a season of fasting from sweets, delectable, goodies. The purpose is to sacrifice something that we enjoy in order to focus upon getting closer to the Lord. The practice is admirable. Its intent is beautiful. But could the Lord be concerned about more than us giving up the chocolate bunnies, cakes, pies, etc.? It’s easy to give up those things, but what does the Lord really want us to give up? What would truly be a “sacrifice?”

In Amos’ day, people were fasting, attending religious gatherings and even paying their tithes. But their hearts were far from the Lord. They were checking a proverbial box of religious behaviors. Today we must ask ourselves, “Are we any different?”

America is the wealthiest or at least one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Yet in our land of plenty, there are millions of people living in poverty, unable to meet their own basic needs. Poverty exists in every state across the country—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—and its reach crosses every barrier—age, race, gender, and family situation. Poverty can be situational (people experiencing a crisis such as illness, divorce, or unemployment), generational (families living in poverty for two or more generations), or relational (isolated people without a support network to turn to).

People in poverty experience not only a lack of income or material possessions, but a lack of such things as life choices, physical and
emotional security, stable relationships, social participation, and self-esteem. Poverty is teaching millions of Americans that they are not
valued, that failure is to be expected, and that hope is futile.

Our approach to poverty has to change. Meeting immediate needs are wonderful, but if we don’t challenge the systems that perpetuate poverty, our gifts are but band aids on devastating wounds that require major surgery. We must fast from more than candy and other sweets, we need to fast from injustice! Crazy wealth for some and crazy poverty for many is unjust. We ought to have righteous anger, righteous indignation that shakes us from our spiritual lethargy and asks the question, “What can we do, what can I do to help make a difference?”

As the Church, we need to begin to prayerfully ask God in 2020 what new things can we do to help bring about relief and support to our surrounding communities and the world. We need to ask ourselves the question, “Are we simply bringing before the Lord meaningless fasts, burnt offerings and sacrifices of tradition and that which does not require us to leave our comfort zones?” How can we come together with other churches to collaborate to meet some needs right in our back yard? God desires more than us meeting together on Sunday morning to sing and pray. The Lord wants to use us to help break some chains, open some blinded eyes, bring some relief, to show His love and compassion to a dying world…to “do justice!”

Let us prayerfully consider what we can do to help serve this present age. As we fast and pray during this Lenten season, may our fasting cleanse us from lethargic and selfish ways. May our fasting convict us of empty practices. May our fasting pull us towards actions that give God’s heart joy. May we fast from injustice!

In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Shepastor: “Traumatized Twice: When Sharing Confidences Turn Against You…”

The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? Proverbs 18:14, NIV

On my ride home today while listening to the news, I heard a heart wrenching story about a teenager from Honduras. “Kevin” is being detained and will eventually be deported by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Orphaned as a young child, raised by an alcoholic grandmother and eventually forced into servitude by gangs, this child was brutalized, traumatized and desperately seeking help.

He sought asylum in the United States. Through a series of twists and turns including detention, he was able to connect with a therapist who provided much needed support and counsel. After much work, the therapist was able to gain Kevin’s trust. He began to share the horrors of his childhood…the loss of his parents…being raised by an alcoholic grandmother…the eventual takeover of his “shack” by gangs. More and more he opened up about the pain, the fear, the struggle. As is common practice, the therapist took notes as the young man shared.

Unfortunately, those notes were used against Kevin during a government trial. Historically, immigrant children seeking asylum would be required to see a therapist after crossing the border within 72 hours of custody. The sessions were designed to provide support to youth during a traumatic time in their lives. The mission, however, was severely undermined in 2017 when the Trump Administration created a policy of placing minors with “self-disclosed” ties to gangs in detention.

Therapists have been devastated by the new policy. After gaining the trust of clients, their very work is being used to destroy them. Youth are being turned over to ICE who ultimately will deport them…sending them back to a certain death. Mental health care continues to be under attack. Not only in this extremely painful account do we see the reason why individuals are hesitant to share details about their trauma. As people fill out job applications, pursue certain positions or simply dialogue about a devastating past, they face the legitimate fear of being traumatized twice. How can people get help if they are penalized for sharing their truth?

When a child seeking asylum shares that they were forced by gangs to sell drugs or participate in beatings or even killings how can they ever get help if our country then places them in detention centers that are more like cold, dangerous prisons? How can individuals who suffer from depression ever get a job or a promotion if they “check the box” on applications, stating that they have been treated for the disease? If we as a Nation are serious about addressing mental health issues, WE MUST confront unjust systems and policies that demonize victims and traumatize them twice.

Read more about Kevin’s tragic story in the Washington Post article, “Trust and Consequences.”

Let us pray for the healing of the nations…

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

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