Thanks, Again, For Your Prayers

Thank you for praying for my family last week. Crystal is feeling much better and is getting stronger every day. Praise God for that. I appreciate all of the cards, phone calls, and expressions of concern. God bless.

Preaching @ Central District

I am in Louisville, Kentucky. I am preaching at the 137th Annual Session of the Central District Baptist Association. Pastor Bernard Crayton, of the Little Flock Baptist Church, is the moderator. And Pastor Gregory F. Smith and the Hill Street Baptist Church are the hosts. The meeting began on Sunday night and ends tonight with the moderator’s address. I brought the closing message during the preaching conference yesterday afternoon. And I also brought the message during the youth session last night. I have one more message to preach, this afternoon, during the Women’s department session. Though no one really knows me or knows of me at this meeting, I have been treated with such kindness. And my messages have been received attentively and warmly. I praise God for this privilege and pray that the messages will bear much fruit to the glory of God.

I was really honored to have Dr. Walter Malone present as I preached yesterday. He is the pastor of the great Canaan Christian Church. I had the wonderful privilege of preaching for Dr. Malone several months ago. And he was so kind to me. I was encouraged to have him present. I also had the opportunity to meet Dr. T. Vaughn Walker, who pastors the First Gethsemane Baptist Church here in Louisville. He is also the first and only tenured African American professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Louisville (Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president). I heard him speak at the beginning of the year at an SBC evangelism conference an Anaheim. The story of his church really blessed me at a critical time. I also learned that his congregation was featured in a Tom Rainier’s book, Breakout Churches. I just started that book last weekend. And I was really honored to meet him yesterday. And I was very honored to have him sit in on my two messages yesterday.

On My Way to Louisville

Yesterday, was a long but good day. I continued our exposition of Ephesians with a message on verses 5-6, entitled “Spiritual Adoption through Christ.” In Sunday School, I began a four-part series I’m calling, “A Biblical Understanding of Charismatic Experiences.” Yesterday’s lesson was called, “Should Christians Pray in Tongues?” I actually lost my voice during the first service yesterday. And by the time Sunday School began, I had a sour throat. But by the time I got to the second message, I was feeling a lot better. God is good. I don’t usually preach my way out of hoarseness. I praise God for giving me the strength to preach. And I pray that our congregation is being enriched by our exposition of the Hymn of Grace (Eph. 1:3-14). God willing, next Sunday I will pick up our study with the redeeming work of Jesus Christ (1:712). And George is to teach Sunday School on “Does God Give Direct Revelation Today?” I look forward to hearing his lesson.

After church, I received a big shock. Before Crystal left, she wanted to know what time I was leaving for Louisville Monday morning. When I looked at the paper, it said I was leaving at 11:50 Sunday night. The paper had been sitting in my mail tray all weekend. But I did not think to look at it. I usually don’t travel on Sundays. So I just assumed that I was leaving Monday morning. When I got of the shock, sort of, I began to copy the notes that I needed for work I have to do while I am away. This took several hours. Then I went home and packed. And after I got something to eat and took a brief nap, it was time to head for the airport. All of this was quite humbling, to be honest. I was so upset and tired and… upset. But in the process of the evening, I was gently reminded by the Spirit of things I have been recently learning and teaching about responding to times like these. In fact, one of the messages that I intend to preach today will directly address that issue. So I felt convicted about getting so upset. And I felt a little stupid for not handling my scheduling better. I still have a lot of growing to do. I trust that this will not happen again. And I hope that if it ever does, my attitude will be better.

Anyway, I am writing this post at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. It was midnight when I left LAX. I arrived here at Chicago about 6 AM. And I have a two-hour lay-over here. I am scheduled to get to Louisville about midday. And I have two messages to preach today for the Central District Baptist Association of Louisville. And I have one message to preach tomorrow, possibly two. At the same time, I have a lot of work to do to be ready to preach our Midweek Service at MSMBC Wednesday night. I am scheduled continue our exposition of Psalm 119 with verses 89-96. So the next several days will be quite interesting, to say the least. But I trust God that God’s grace, strength, and wisdom will be sufficient. Pray for me.

Fond Memories @ Youth Explosion 2006

This weekend is our Youth Explosion weekend at MSMBC. Last night, we had a banquet for our youth, led by Pastor John Scroggins. It was a wonderful evening of fellowship. Our guest speaker was Pastor Reginald Payne, who serves the Full Gospel Baptist Church here in Los Angeles (by the way, the name of the congregation does not reflect its theology). Reginald and I grew up together here at Mt. Sinai. He is a few years older than I am. His mother was one of the key lay leaders here in the churc during my father’s pastorate. And Aunt Pat, as I called her, used to babysit me. When she did, she would make Reggie take me with him when he went somewhere. And so we kind of became friends because we had no choice. Yet we have remained friends down through the years.

When I preached my first sermon at the age of 11, it was an appendix to the youth choir’s musical. Reginald was the president of the choir. I think this is tell. Reggie was the leader of the choir, even though he couldn’t sing a lick. But he was clearly a leader to the young people of our church. A few years later, Reggie began preaching. I remember the night in Dallas when he shared with me that he had been called to preach. We sat up talking all night long talking about preaching. Shortly after Reggie started preaching, a few other young men began preaching, as well. Soon my dad had a small army of “boy preachers,” who were vying for any and every opportunity to minister. So my dad turned the youth department over to us, with advisors, of course, who carefully monitored our every move. We was in charge of the second Sunday services, which my dad would let us preach. And we have a lot of other activities that gave us opportunities to minister. And one of our bright ideas was a youth banquet (I know it took be a long time to get back here, but I finally made it back to my original thought).

As I sat with Reginald last night, I thought about all the silly ideas we came up with for our youth banquets. Now, here we are, racing toward middle-age, pastoring churches where our young people are coming together. It’s kind of surreal to me. I look back and cannot help but to praise God for bringing us such a mighty long way. In fact, some of the very young people we served with were at the banquet last night, still members of our respective congregations. But, now, they are there to oversee their own children! You can’t begin to imagine how weird it is to pastor people that you grew up getting in trouble with. And to lead people who disciplined you when you got into trouble. But I thank God that I was a part of a congregation that nurtured my faith in Christ as a boy. And I pray that MSMBC will increasingly be a congregation that strategically invests in the spiritual development of its young people to the glory of God.

America’s New Preacher

I recently read Shayne Lee’s book, America’s New Preacher: T.D. Jakes (NYU Press). I cannot begin to tell you how fascinating this book is. I almost couldn’t put it down. First of all, Lee is a talented writer. A professor of sociology, currently teaching at the University of Houston, Lee analyzes both the good and bad implications of Jake’s phenomenal success. And he carefully connects Jakes’ rise to prominence to the larger religious scene in America today.

This is one of the first major biographies of the life and work of T.D. Jakes to be written. Yet later writings on Jakes will have a hard time reaching the standard of this book. This is not a puff piece, which simply sings Jakes’ praises. At the same time, it is not a hatchet job, either. Lee doesn’t have an axe to grind. He is not trying to bury Jakes. He seeks to be as objective as possible. And I think he does a pretty good job. From just reading the book, it is hard to tell whether Lee personally agrees with Jakes’ philosophy or not. And that reflects the heart of the book’s message. Lee argues that Jakes is a bundle of contradictions and that the paradoxes of his life and ministry are purely American.

In New Preacher, Lee tells the story of Jakes upbringing in West Virginia, his conversion to Christ, and his early days of ministry. He carefully tells the story of the convergence of various factors that led to the “overnight success” of T.D. Jakes. He also tells how Jakes, unlike many others who reach the spotlight, strategically used his 15 minutes of fame to build his ministry into a movement, of sorts.

On one hand, Jakes was absolutely determined to be a successful minister, though one has to question the biblical validity of his view of success. Aat the same time, many different things happened to bring him to prominence that he could not have planned. But he definitely maximized those moments to build a ministry empire. This empire includes his tremendous financial success. But it also includes the compromises he has had to make (and continues to make), in order to maintain all that he has acquired.

This shrewd and determined focus on maintaining success may be best seen in Jakes’ “Mega-Fest” conference. When his staff became concerned that attendance at their different conferences was beginning to slowly drop, the idea came to merge all of these conferences into one major gathering. The results was the first “Mega-Fest” in Atlanta in 2004, which drew more people than the 1994 Summer Olympic Games.

Lee’s chapters on Jakes’ media savvy, contradictory feminism, and focus on prosperity are all provocative. But one of the interesting features of this book to me is how it describes the religious climate in America that made the “overnight success” of T.D. Jakes possible. These dynamics would include the rise of Neo-Pentecostalism, the development of televangelism, and the decline of denominationalism.

Many people are key to these developments. But of the various people mentioned, the sections about Carlton Pearson were most compelling to me. Lee argues that there would absolutely not be a T.D. Jakes if there were not a Carlton Pearson. Yet the meteoric rise of T.D. Jakes happened at the same time Pearson’s ministry was rapidly plummeting, because of his embracing of a doctrinal heresy of “Christian universalism” (which is an oxymoron). Interestingly, when Jakes himself was confronted about his Oneness Pentecostal convictions (which deny the Trinity), he artfully dodged the matter, so that his ministry would not see the same sad fate Pearson experienced.

Lee argues that Jakes is America’s new preacher and that those who would be successful will have to follow his model. Sadly, I think he’s right. But he is only right if you agree with his definition of success. And I do not. We are not called to be America’s preachers; but God’s preachers. May this book not be read as a model to follow; but as a warning to heed.

Speaking @ 1st Goodwill

There is no Midweek Service at MSMBC tonight. We have the night off. But I am scheduled to speak at the First Goodwill Baptist Church here in Los Angeles. By brother-in-law, Clinton Smith, is the pastor. He is also a son of MSMBC, who served here with me for about 10 years before he began his pastorate. I believe he is in his third year of service there, if I remember correctly. The congregation had been throughout a lot before Clinton arrived. And and Lord has and is using Clinton to stabilize the congregation to continue its great legacy of ministry for many years to come. I am very proud of the work Clinton and Tracey are doing there. And I pray that tonight’s meeting and message will be an encouragement to them. Pray for us.

Chosen by God

Yesterday, I continued our exposition of the book of Ephesians in our Sunday morning worship services. I am still in the “Hymn of Grace” (1:3-14). And yesterday’s message was on verse 4: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (ESV). Basically, it was a sermon on the doctrine of election. The 8 AM message was a disaster. I am still adjusting to the time frame of this new 90 minute service. And it was close to 9 AM when I got up to preach. So I basically had about 20 minutes to preach. I kept watching my watch and the clock on the wall. And at some point, in the beginning of point 2, I found myself preaching the end of point 3. For some reason, my mind inadvertently pushed the fast forward button. So, I kind of just abandoned my outline and just preached different portions of the message with the time I had left. I am not sure how obvious it was that something wasn’t going right. If so, the congregation was very kind. The 11 AM meeting was better. I was much more relaxed. There was something important in point 2 that I forget . And I just went back to get it toward the end of the sermon, and didn’t feel it broke my flow at all.

I think I was very nervous. After all, this is the doctrine of election I was preaching. And I really wanted to do a good job. I wanted the message to be doctrinal and encouraging. I am not sure I accomplished all that I intended for the message to present. I have been thinking all day about things I would have done differently or things I could have done better. But I believe that the message was faithful and clear. And I hope that it was encouraging, as well. Likewise, I was exhausted all day. I barely slept Friday night. And I didn’t sleep Saturday night. I think it had something to do with how nervous I was about the message. And there was another issue. I had studied verses 4-6 to preach. But as I was studying, I saw two sermons emerging. And it really wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I finally decided to preach just verse 4. And I also had to get a feel for how I would approach a message on verses 5-6. Really, I had been struggling all week about which part of the text to actually preach Sunday. I think I made the right decision. But time will tell.

Here is the skeleton of the sermon:

Title: “Chosen by God

Theme: Ephesians 1:4

Point: Praise God that he has freely chosen you for salvation in Jesus Christ.

Outline:

I. God has chosen us for himself.
II. God has chosen us in Christ.
III. God has chosen us before the foundation of the world.
IV. God has chosen us to be holy and blameless.

Going to Calvary

Tonight, I am scheduled to preach at the Calvary Baptist Church here in Los Angeles. The Rev. Virgil Hill is the pastor. Calvary is the congregation that was pastored by the late, Dr. Manual Scott Sr. Later, Pastor Jarvis Collier, who now serves in Kansas City, was the pastor. Hill has been at Calvary for a few years now as it doing a great work. Not only is he actively working to develop his congregation, he is also passionate around reaching young people. He leads a college preparatory ministry that is helped many young people in the Southern California area. Hill is also the leader of the Young Adult Department of the Western Baptist State Convention, of which I am a part. He is a kind and warm brother, and a strong preacher in his own right. I am honored to have the opportunity to minister the word to this historic congregation again. This will mark my second or third year doing this meeting for him. If I am correct, it’s a youth and young adult emphasis service. Either way, I am excited about Mt. Sinai and Calvary having the opportunity to worship together again. May the Lord be glorified in our time together tonight.

The Who of Your How

The Lord richly blessed our Midyear Tune-Up last night. The worship was warm and the testimonies were encouraging. And the Lord used Pastor Terry Brooks to bless us in a special way. The pastor of New Horizon Baptist Church in San Diego, Brooks preached a message entitled, “The Who of Your How,” from Lamentations 3:21-24. He reminded us that God is calling the shots and that God can be counted on in every situation. The bottom-line is that you don’t have to know how you are going to make it, as long as you know the One who has everything under control. It just seemed to be such a fitting message for our members to hear at this midpoint of the year. And, personally, I just hit the spot. I praise the Lord, indeed, for all that he has done this year. And I trust and pray that the Lord will continue to smile on our lives and body-life today throughout the remainder of the year. God is faithful.