Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Shepastor: "Go Down Where???"

Acts 8:1-7; 26-30a NIV
The Church Persecuted and Scattered

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Philip in Samaria
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. Acts 8: 1-7, NIV

Philip and the Ethiopian
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked…
Acts 8: 26-30a NIV

There is an old hymn that says,

“Where He leads me I will follow…I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way….”

I can remember as a young girl singing along with the entire congregation, deacons with hands raised, people shouting, elders crying, members crossing their arms and rocking from side to side – great emotion in the room. But as I read this text, I wonder how many of us really meant the words that we were singing…how many really contemplated what these words meant.

It’s easy to say, “I’ll go with Him all the way…” it’s another thing to actually mean it and do it. In his book of meditations, The Inward Journey, ethicist and theologian Howard Thurman declared these words…

He Leads Us on by Paths We Did Not Know

Excerpt from Howard Thurman’s book, The Inward Journey.

There is an abiding desire to know the future, to see around the corner of the days and the years. Even when we say that we do not concern ourselves with what will happen next month or next year, the shy insistence still remains - we want to know.

This anxiety is the normal feeling we face on the threshold of any new adventure. If we could be sure that all would be well - if we could have some guarantee that our present hopes would not betray us and leave us deserted and in the lonely place, then we would find the peace that belongs to the contented. But life is not like that… he leads us on by paths we did not know.
The disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit, prayer, fasting and encouraging one another were somehow able to defeat this daunting fear and anxiety associated with uncertainty. After being driven out of Jerusalem, his home, his place of familiarity, the place where his life had been spent, his family and friends were around…Phillip got up and went down into unfamiliar territory. Not only unfamiliar territory but as a Jew, hostile territory…Samaria.

They were somewhat related, but estranged. Imagine being driven out of your neighborhood and then deciding to go to the other side of town to share some good news with people you’ve heard didn’t like you, didn’t want you, and may harm you…imagine going over to them with all of your fears and prejudices you’ve had all of your life and sharing some good news!

Essentially that’s what Phillip did by the power of the Holy Ghost. Phillip had no assurances that all would be well. He had no guarantee that he would be well received. God led him down a path that “he did not know.” So often in life, the greatest victories, the greatest fruit, the greatest harvest is down a path we did not know.

There are people who all of their lives never travel outside of a certain radius, in other words, stay on their side of town, never leave the city, the county, the state where they were born, because of fear. Phillip had lots of reasons to be afraid. But by faith he went and he carried with Him the message of hope, deliverance and salvation. God used Phillip through the miraculous works that he did and the words that he said. When the people saw his works, they paid attention to what he said.

When the people in the city saw Phillips works, they paid attention to what he said. We may not be performing “sensational” miracles such as literally raising the dead, or by the waive of our hands making the deaf hear and the blind see, but the miracle of love, the miracle of faith, the miracle of hope in hateful, doubtful and difficult situations will cause the unbelieving to watch us and pay attention to what we say.

Our lives can be transformative for other people. God gave Phillip a thriving ministry among unlikely people. Many were healed, delivered and set free. I imagine Phillip thought to himself, “Whew… glad to be out of that crazy mess that was going on in Jerusalem. Things have worked out for my good. I am loved and accepted here. Folks are receiving the words that I say here. People are being delivered and set free here. I could stay here for the rest of my life!”

But God was not through with Phillip. Just as things were beginning to turn around the text in Acts 8:26 says, 26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza… “Get up Phillip…leave this fruitful land and go down into the desert…” Go down where? What! Why? Why are you uprooting me now? Of all places, down into the desert? Why must I go back to the path I do not know? Unlike most of us, Phillip did not argue. Phillip did not banter back and forth with God. Phillip did not run in the opposite direction. Verse 27 says… 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”)

We have the benefit of the rest of the story in the text. But Phillip did not have the benefit of the end of the story. All Phillip knew was that the Holy Ghost said, “Get up and go…” So often we won’t move until we think we have all of the necessary details. God may give us some, but not always. Phillip had an unusual spirit of obedience. He knew the Holy Spirit’s voice and he moved quickly as the Spirit led. Phillip obeyed the voice of the Holy Spirit…because Phillip somehow understood that even in the midst of what appears to be great numerical and spiritual growth in a ministry, he understood that the ministry did not belong to him. He was simply on assignment and God has the right to change our assignments. God has the right to say “you will serve in a thriving, burgeoning, ripe vineyard,” and God has the right to say, “You are to go down to the desert and preach Christ to 1 or 2.”

And because Phillip obeyed the leading of the Holy Spirit to walk down a path he did not know, God used him to witness to 1 who in turn witnessed to thousands. Phillip is credited with being one of the first evangelists to the Gentiles. When we ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit to venture down paths we did not know, paths that are unfamiliar, uncertain, uncomfortable, we may be effecting thousands of lost souls.

That one individual that God leads you to speak to, to begin a conversation with, to share the love of Christ with…that one individual may be tied to many more individuals that the Lord wants to touch. Your disobedience impacts more than just you. Likewise, when our ears are open and receptive to the leading of the Lord, God uses us to bless in ways we may never realize until we get to heaven.

May we have a heart like Phillip…faithfully walking paths "we do not know..." Where the Lord leads, will you follow?

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Shepastor: "Things I've Learned in Ten Years of Pastoring.."

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Colossians 3:23

January 15, 2006, a small, fractured, “gray” congregation took a chance at change and “life” and called their first African American and first female Pastor. This coming Friday, a different congregation by the same name (technically the same “church,” but a totally different congregation) will join with this pastor and celebrate ten years of ministry together.

As I reflect upon the past ten years, serving as a senior pastor, I’ve come to understand and know several things that I thought I knew, but maybe I did not…

-“Good intentions” and intentionality are two different things… “I am convinced that all involved had good intentions and the right spirit as we came together to do Kingdom work. However, without the benefit of intentional preparation and planning, regarding issues of blending different races, ages and culture, daunting differences did much harm to our efforts.

-In every season, the Lord will send what you need and who you need to fulfill the mission…There were times when I wasn’t sure if we had enough…people, finances, energy or faith to carry on the tasks before us. But every time, the Lord provided what was needed to carry us through. Sometimes God sent new people, sometimes, He reinvigorated the same people. Sometimes God touched a heart to make a large donation. Sometimes the Lord created avenues for us to receive what was needed at huge discounts! At every mountain and valley, the Lord saw us through.

-You can’t please everybody, strive to please the Lord… Diplomacy is important. Doing your best to “hear” everyone, working together as much as possible and choosing your battles are critical. But at the end of the day there will always be those who will complain. Seek to understand, act out of pure motives and agape love and leave the rest in God’s hands.

-The Lord still provides “rams in the bush…” When for whatever reason losses occur (due to death, various life transitions and because someone, frankly becomes angry and leaves) the Lord will send others to assist with carrying on the work.

-Have an “open door” policy… Be sure members know that they can always come and talk to you about anything without fear of reproach or condemnation. Discourage “anonymous” complaints (a wonderful mentor once told me, “When I received letters, I always looked to the end of the letter to see if it was signed. If it was not signed, I threw it in the trash!)

-Prayerfully develop a strong network of confidants OUTSIDE OF THE CONGREGATION… In my early years of pastoring, one of the biggest mistakes I made was to become too close to members. This made it difficult during times when the “Pastor’s Voice” was needed. Boundaries are critical. Isolation, however can be deadly. Pastoring can be a very lonely road. Having outside (other pastors, “sister friends,” mentors, etc.) individuals who can relate to and share in your experiences, joys, tears and challenges is of utmost importance.

-Understand Your Assignment and avoid comparing yourself to others… It’s very tempting to “look around” and see how well other churches are doing. Remember, God is the giver of assignments. Remember that there are several types of “soils.” Your neighbor may have soils/hearts that are hungry and eager to receive God’s word. They may be “on fire” for the Lord and filled with various resources. You, however, may have been placed in a situation where the hearts/soil is hard, rocky, sandy, dry. Maybe the Lord is using to you “break up fallow ground,” water tender blades, rebuild ruins. Your role is to be faithful to the assignment. As Jesus told Peter, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me!”

-Learn what you can from every situation… Criticism can sometimes be painful and bruising. Not all criticism is constructive. Some are ill informed. Some are just mean! But God can use even mean spirited darts to shape, teach, mold and strengthen. “Chew up the fish and spit out the bone!” In other words, discern through prayer and thoughtfulness, “Is there any aspect of what was shared that can be useful? Is there any truth in what was said? Can anything be salvaged from this hurtful remark?” By the same token, guard your heart against receiving total negativity into your spirit. If there is no light in the spirit of what was said, reject it, and refuse to allow it to thwart your thrust and motion.

-Look beyond what is readily apparent. Listen carefully for the Lord’s voice and move accordingly…At one of the lowest points in our ministry, the Lord’s Spirit spoke to me and led me to suggest something radical to our church leaders. As I obeyed God’s voice, it became clear the God was speaking the same message to several church leaders. Our congregation voted unanimously to trust God and do the new thing! It meant a new direction, new resources, new location, and much relief!

-Finally, whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord and not human beings…there will be times when pastoring becomes daunting, tough, painful, disappointing, and down-right depressing. There will also be times of great fulfillment, joy, peace and gladness. In every season, remember that your work is for the Lord. Remember you have been chosen by God to carry on this great work. Remember the Lord promised never to leave you or forsake you. Remember that heaven rejoices over the salvation of one soul. Remember God has the right to choose our assignments. Remember that you want to hear the Lord say, “Well done!” Remember that your help comes from the Lord. “The one who over comes shall inherit all things…” (Revelation 21:7)

You may read about the ministry of the Covenant Baptist Church by visiting

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Shepastor: "In Honor of Mothers..."

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8, NLT

This past Sunday, we celebrated “Mother’s Day…” a day set aside to pay tribute to individuals who have loved, encouraged, nurtured, raised and “given life” to others. Mother’s Day, however can be a mixed bag. For some, it is a day filled with tears as they grieve children never born, children miscarried, children gone too soon, children plagued by drugs, alcoholism, prison, mental illness, etc.

Some are grief stricken because of the loss of their own mother. Yes, this day is a mixed bag. But for every tear, for every disappointment, for every broken dream, heart, relationship and spirit, God sees our tears. The psalmist says that they are “collected in God’s bottle” and recorded.

Collectors, in general “collect” that which is precious to them. Our tears are precious to God. I believe that our tears will be used to water many gardens…many of which we may never be aware. Psalm 126: 6 declares,
He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

That which has been cultivated within you through tears is precious. Your tears have produced “precious seed” that in time to come will bring forth a harvest and great joy. God sees your “tossings” as one version says, and is collecting your tears in a bottle. God has recorded your struggles in a book. God has not forgotten you.

As you continue to “put one foot in front of the other,” press through this season of pain through prayer and faith. Your story is still unfolding. Your tears will water many gardens. May you witness much of the harvest with joy.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shepastor: "Relationships..."

The Calling of Matthew
9As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9: 9-13

Relationships are important to God. When God chose to form the world He spoke to the members of the Trinity and said, “Let Us make man in our own image…in the image of God created He Him, male and female He created them.”

God saw that it was not good for man to be alone so he created woman. Throughout scripture, we are shown the importance of godly relationships, compassion in relationships and what broken, fractured relationships can do to individuals, families and communities.

So often, humanity has gotten it wrong. The major issue in the garden where satan tempted Adam and Eve was that he wanted to break up our relationship with God the Father. Therefore he persuaded them to believe that God was holding out on them, holding back something good and desirable, that God somehow wanted to keep them from knowing what He knows and having the power that He has. Ever since that time, the Lord has been working through our Savior Jesus to bring us back into right relationship with Him.

Relationship…how we “see” and perceive one another…relationship…how we interact with one another…relationship…how we treat one another…relationship how we live along with and along side one another. I said earlier that humanity has gotten it wrong. We have somehow convinced ourselves that we can be in right relationship with God, while being alienated and at odds with one another.

God’s word says, however, “How can you say you love me whom you have not seen and hate your brother whom you have seen?” There is a disconnect. In our text for today, Jesus wanted to teach the religious leaders and the “sinners” that God wants to be in relationship with all of us and wants us to be in relationship with one another. Yes, we are admonished to be in the world and not of the world, but we are to bring the fragrance of love, holiness, peace and deliverance to those who are lost. How can we do that if we only hang around each other?

This does not mean that we are to be “chameleon Christians…” those individuals who morph into the behaviors of their current company. When Jesus went to eat in the homes of the tax collectors, He didn’t go there just to “hang out, eat drink and be merry.” Jesus had a purpose in mind…to show them love, compassion and a better way.

In your relationships with people on your job, in your family and home, in your community, where ever you frequent, what is your purpose? Do you recognize the role you’ve been called to play in all of your relationships? God has specifically, intentionally, purposefully placed you in ALL of your current relationships for the purpose of you bringing Jesus’ invitation of healing, salvation and deliverance. You and I are the vehicles through which the Lord wants to bring a message of reconciliation to the world.

How would that change the dynamic of our interactions if we recognized each relationship as an opportunity to bring a message of hope, healing, deliverance and reconciliation? Even those people we have difficulty with…even those people who are already baptized believers…even those people who seem as though they could not care less about us…what if we viewed each relationship as an opportunity to bring a message of hope, love, joy, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation?

This will not always be easy, nor will it always be evident. But every where we go, each day of our lives, God wants to use us to help heal the sick, raise the “dead,” speak life, salvation, hope and deliverance. If we shun people, mistreat people, ignore people, treat people as “less than,” hold grudges against people etc., we will not be able to effectively carry that message. If we are cold and stoic, “sometimey” and easily offended, judgmental and mean spirited, we will not be able to effectively carry that message.

God is concerned about relationship. How are your relationships? Do you look for opportunities to represent Jesus in the best way possible? How are your relationships? Are you showing lost souls the compassion and Christ-like demeanor that shows forth the love of Jesus? How are your relationships? Do you only affiliate with “like minded” people or do you look for ways to reach the lost? Why not reconsider your relationships and your role, your assignment from on high today?

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris