Category Archives: Life

Vantage Point: What’s Your View?

Anyone who is familiar with me knows that I love basketball…and preaching. So, many times when I am watching a game (or any other sport or television show), illustrations seem to just jump out of the screen into my mind.

One such moment came when I ran across a recent Vine video of Jeremy Lin, one of the Houston Rockets’ point guards, playing in game four of the 2014 Western Conference playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers. The basketball was passed to him by James Harden on a fast-break. Lin caught it, drove to the basket and attempted to score via a layup. The person who uploaded the video of this moment gave her commentary, saying, in essence, that Jeremy clearly traveled. This obviously sparked an online debate, which I was inclined to weigh in on but didn’t (Yes, I love basketball, but not to the point to where I waste pixels and my time over something so trivial).

But I thought to myself, “One of the main reasons people are arguing over this moment in the game is because of their respective vantage points.” To the woman who uploaded the clip, Lin, after catching the pass and executing one dribble, took three steps to the hoop. But from a slightly different angle, I – and apparently along with some other viewers, including the referees who where there – saw Lin catch the ball, immediately go into a dribble as he drove into the lane, pick up the ball and take the two steps allowed before attempting the lay-up. We came to opposite conclusions because of our differing perspectives.

I also realized that for some their view and resulting judgments were influenced by their relationship to the teams. If you were a die-hard fan of the Rockets, Lin most definitely did NOT travel. But if you were a Trailblazers supporter, you were outraged at the refs’ no-call.

This dynamic not only happens in the game of basketball, but also in life. We judge a person, a leader, or a church/ministry/organization based on our vantage point, which often times can be biased and/or subjective, concluding that he, she, or they did or did not commit an infraction.

Misjudging a moment of competition can have some consequences, but they are minor in comparison to those that occur in the arena of life. Relationships have been severely damaged or have ended altogether. Reputations have been besmirched due to slanderous lies, false accusations, and misinformation. Reconciliation has been difficult to achieve because one person continues to believe things that simply are not true (or maybe are true but only a small part of the larger story) about another.

Is there anything that can help to prevent us from rushing to form opinions about others, causing us to misjudge their motives, actions, and life situations? I believe there is. Let me offer three suggestions.

Call a time-out. There are times when we absolutely move too quickly to speak on or judge someone or something. We need to heed James’ exhortation to “be quick to hear, slow to speak…” (James 1:19). We especially need to learn to pump the brakes when it comes to judging people’s motives. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart…” (emphasis mine). When intentions are not verbalized by others, we should refrain from projecting our judgments onto them as if we know for certain why they said or did something. Even if we think we know a person due to his/her checkered past, we should still be slow to assign motive because, after all, people are complex; God could be at work in that individual’s life (which in many cases we are unaware of), convicting him/her of sin and transforming him/her to Christ; and we are not God, knowing perfectly the secrets of people’s hearts.

Take a closer look. I remember when the NBA implemented Instant Replay. They did this because there were actions in real-time that occurred in such rapid succession that the refs were unable to make a call on but needed to, or made a call but needed to ensure it was the right one. So now the officials, as called for, will go over to the table, put on headphones, lean in close to a monitor and review the play before making a ruling or to announce afterwards that it stands. Similarly, you and I need to view the full footage available to us concerning a matter before we make a “ruling.” Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Investigate before you pontificate.

Ask for another opinion. If you’ve ever seen a review in action, you know that even though the Crew Chief makes the final decision, he doesn’t do so without first consulting with the other officials. He does this for at least two reasons: 1. objectivity and 2. compliance. Subjectivism or biased officiating has no place among referees in the National Basketball Association. Their job is to make sure they comply with and execute the official policies of the NBA’s Board of Governors’ during a game, regardless of what they personally think or feel. It works the same for us in life. We should not to seek to wade through issues alone, especially when we are directly involved and emotionally invested in them. Isolation is a breeding ground for misperception. We need to confer with other Christians who will bring God’s word to bear on the situations we pose to them in consultation. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Remember, in the end, God’s vantage point is the only one that really matters. So no matter what you are dealing with, seek to view (and respond to) people and situations from His perspective.

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When the Devil Dances in Your Parade

As my wife, daughter, and I are cruising at 30,000 feet heading back to Dallas, TX from Miami, I couldn’t help but to take a moment and reflect on what occurred during our family vacation this past week.

After spending five days on a cruise we had it in our itinerary to spend a night in Miami, Florida. So on yesterday, we landed at Miami International Airport and hailed a taxi to our hotel, which was a couple of blocks away from the renown Ocean Drive. After checking in, we decided to take a stroll on SOBE (South Beach). The beach and overall scenery was cool, and the weather was sunny and warm.

As we proceeded down the street, we saw signs that some type of event was scheduled to take place: tents, sponsors, music, police cars, and barricades. Of course we wanted to know what we had unknowingly stumbled into, so that we could possibly take part in the festivities. It didn’t take long for us to figure it out because there was rainbow paraphernalia everywhere. It was Miami’s Gay Pride parade. Considering all the things that were going on around the parade, and even in it, we decided it was best to not stick around too long and move away from all of the activity.

While we were doing so, the wife discreetly said, “When I tell you, please turn Desirae around to your right. One, two, three…now.” As I did an about-face, I understood why she requested I do so. There was a man with his face painted red, fully dressed in a folk art costume depiction of the Devil: a red body suit and horns. I thought he was just there as a part of the crowd. But as the parade commenced, I actually saw him dancing in the parade.

Shortly thereafter, we saw two street preachers walking among the bystanders with signs and preaching to them about Jesus’ redemption from sin, God’s love and truth, repentance, and eternal judgment. Almost immediately they were confronted and castigated by a handful of attendees.

To be honest, after seeing all of that, I had mixed emotions. But I was mainly grieved. Grieved by our sinful human condition. Yes, I said our. The Scripture tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It just so happened that homosexuality and lesbianism were being paraded around on public display that day. (By the way, this statement is not in any way an attempt by me to equalize sin. There are some sins that have more far-reaching and devastating effects and consequences than others.)

And, no, I didn’t say I was grieved by the street preachers. Whereas I would more than likely not have employed some of their methods, I unequivocally agreed with their message, our message, God’s message – the gospel of Jesus – and the accompanying need for us to place our trust in Christ to be saved from and forgiven of sin and to be reconciled back to a right relationship with God.

I must say that I was also grieved by the pride that many people exhibited on that Sunday morning. Anyone who takes an honest, cursory read through the Scriptures will notice that God requires us to humbly turn from our sin to be saved, not to pridefully revel in it. To do the latter, resembles what Jesus said in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” We will do whatever it takes to keep our thoughts and actions from being exposed as sinful, even if it means redefining bad as good and saying Jesus authorized it. And the truth is there is someone who actively comes alongside to enable us in this twisted endeavor, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4). His name is satan.

I found it ironic to see a man dressed in a devil’s folklore get-up attending this festival. It was, for me, a natural picture of what the devil does spiritually. He keeps us blind to the gospel, deceiving us with false religions and teachings that tickle our ears, and dances with us in our rebellious parades, all the while knowing that unless we trust in Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, we will face the music of God’s righteous judgment against our sin one day; a tune that he goes to great lengths to change the notes to, so that we will continue to dance straight to our own damnation.

But thanks be to God that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), rendering his deception ineffective by the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the faithful proclamation of the Good News (and the Bible overall), and securing deliverance from sin and judgment through his redemptive work for all those who believe.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

8 Tips On Delivering An Invocation

This morning, I was privileged to offer the invocation at the Dallas City Council’s regular Wednesday session. Although invocations of this sort are usually brief (I was allotted one to two minutes), I believe we as Pastors, Ministers, and just Christians overall shouldn’t approach this task casually, but rather with appropriate seriousness and thoughtful preparation. So, coming away from this opportunity, I had a few thoughts that came to mind that I hope will serve to help us steward these moments well.

1. Dress for the occasion

I know, pretty obvious. But you have to know me to know why I would even bother to mention this. There was a time when I would wear whatever I wanted and could care less about dressing for the occasion (with the exception of funerals and weddings…well, maybe just funerals.). But I guess my father’s advice, along with my wife’s loving admonishment, finally began to settle a little on me a few years back – I said, a little, not a lot. In essence and in my words, what they impressed upon me was this: Dress the part so as to not distract from the purpose for which you are there.  In other words, there are times in which we should put aside our tastes for a greater task.

Listen, I am not a suit guy…at least not at this moment. I don’t have anything against wearing them. It’s just not my preference. Put me in some jeans and a t-shirt or some urban/business casual or prep outfit and I am good! But I knew going into this City Council meeting that those in attendance would be in business attire and that it would probably be best for me to follow suit to at least demonstrate courtesy.

2. Arrive early

Whatever time the meeting is scheduled to take place, plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early. As far as it depends on you, don’t put yourself in a position where you have to apologize for your tardiness to a room full of dignitaries who had to stand around waiting on your arrival to begin the meeting.

If punctuality is the politeness of kings, then it is no less true of us commoners. Don’t get there on time; arrive early.

3. Express appreciation

Be sure to publicly thank whoever was responsible for extending the invite to you to come and give the invocation. See this opportunity as a privilege and honor because, after all, they could have chosen someone else. Leave all sense of entitlement at the door.

4. Honor the time limit

If they give you 2 minutes max, don’t pray longer than that. Yes, our local, state, and federal government officials need prayer, lots of it, but that is not the time to hold an impromptu altar call, inviting them to hold hands or to stretch them out towards the American flag, or to make their way to the podium where you stand, or to walk around and anoint each representative with oil and lay hands on them. Okay, I am being facetious, but you get the point.

They have business to attend to, so please keep it short and sweet.

5. Write out your prayer (and if necessary, read it at the podium)

Last night, I stayed up and meticulously wrote and edited my prayer.  Why? Two reasons: 1. I wanted to make sure that I did #4 on the list, and so doing this would afford me the opportunity to rehearse to see if my prayer would fall within the time constraints, and 2. I didn’t want to risk praying extemporaneously, which could have given room for me to trip up on my words or to forget them altogether because of nerves. So I wrote my prayer out to ensure that I was clear and concise.

And, yes, I read my prayer while at the podium. Unless you have strong memorization ability, you will probably forget a few words or mix them up, especially if it is your first time, as it was mine. Better to be safe than sorry. And by the way, reading your prayer is no less fervent or genuine.

6. Pray, don’t preach!

We are to be praying TO God FOR our leaders. This is not the time to careen off into a litany of exhortations or “close” with Calvary and Early Easter Sunday Morning (my fellow African-American pastors/preachers – as well as any of those who have spent time in a traditional black church – know what I am talking about here).

7. Pray, don’t politicize!

It is my contention that it is best to stay above the political fray in your prayer. I would humbly suggest the more suitable route would be to pray a general prayer of wisdom, guidance, and integrity for all elected officials as they manage the affairs of the city, state, or nation.

8. Pray and sit down!

To many, what I am about to say is obvious, but it needs to be said. You have been entrusted to stand in the chamber to offer prayer. Once you have discharged that responsibility, sit down. Do not stand up at the podium afterwards and attempt to address the council, or whomever is present, with a statement or a proposition. Don’t take liberties that have not been rightly afforded to you. If you have issues which you would like for the council to address, follow the appropriate protocol.

Pray and quietly take your seat…and you just might be invited back. If nothing else, you will leave knowing that you honored God by faithfully and wisely handling this opportunity.

Bonus: Pray and say His name! Obviously, you won’t be able to plumb the depths of the Gospel in  your prayer or extend an invitation for people to respond in repentance and faith, but there are ways to point people to our God and Savior, Jesus, as you will see I tried to do at the conclusion of my prayer below.

Invocation

To the only eternal God and Father of The Lord Jesus:

 I come this morning thanking you for each elected official that occupies a seat on this council, and the other officials and staff that make up our city government.

God, according to Romans 13 of the Christian Scriptures, we know there is no authority except from you, and those that exist have been instituted by you.

 I pray today that the members of this council will continually understand and embrace this truth: that ultimately it was not the will of the people that placed them in these positions of power but it was due to your divine prerogative.

May they have an acute awareness that all their deliberations (in heart and on record) and their decisions are ever before you to whom they must give an account.

 May they, therefore, seek to carry out this sacred trust with all integrity, veracity, and equity. 

Grant them the wisdom they need to handle the affairs of this city in a way that promotes peace and prosperity for all its citizens.

 And lastly, grace them with the personal discipline to remain qualified for office during their terms of service.

I offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Soon-To-Return King and Judge of heaven and earth. Amen.

Christianity in America: Being Liked vs. Being Loyal

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Intolerant. Bigotry. Religious Jerks. Evangelical Wackos. Dumb Theists. Primal. Homophobic. Hate Propagandists.

The list of pejorative words and names that we have been called and that have been used to describe us as Christians could go on and on. There was a time, generally speaking, when people would at least extend the courtesy of respectfully dialoguing with us in public forums. Many would say that was due to us being the moral majority. But we no longer hold that place in the collective mind of our American, post-Christian society. Consequently, we are seeing pockets of people and groups around our country who openly display their disdain of Christians and our Christo-centric, biblical worldview. One such incident happened to one of our brothers in the Lord, Doug Wilson, as he gave a lecture at Indiana University (see the brief clip that captured the protest here). To be clear, the majority of IU students in attendance seemed not to be in agreement with how the small contingent of protestors acted (evidenced by the audience’s applause as they left the lecture hall and after being addressed by the Assistant Dean of Students), and some vehemently spoke out against it.

Some of you might be thinking, “Are you serious, Ed? That was not that big of a deal. We have fellow believers who are being beaten, imprisoned, and killed for the faith around the world and are not even allowed to speak about or worship Jesus publicly. On the contrary, this brother was invited to freely express his beliefs at an institution of higher learning and left the campus alive and able to head back to his home, family, job, and church to resume his normal way of living.”

Point well taken. My purpose for making reference to this incident (and for this post altogether), however, is not to incite comparison, solicit compassion (i.e., pity) from those outside of our faith, or foster in us a persecution complex, where we bemoan even the slightest expressions of opposition. Instead, it is:  1. to highlight the growing hostility in our country towards biblical beliefs and values, and 2. to encourage us to stand firm in our commitment to the Lord Jesus and His Gospel and Bible, regardless of the mounting pressure from the world to compromise our convictions and condone theirs.

Over the years as I have stood by and watched or read reports and interviews of fellow Christians speaking to the hot-button, controversial topics of our day (e.g., abortion, same-sex “marriages,” homosexuality, etc.) and the disagreeable responses by the non-Christian world (and even by some who consider themselves believers of Jesus), I have come to realize that there is a prevalent dilemma that almost always presents itself that each of us as followers of Christ will encounter at some point in time; and that is, you and I will be faced with a decision between two opposing realities: to be liked by the world or to be loyal to God.

Think about this with me: generally speaking, are we not becoming even more inclined towards the idea of people liking us? Even something as minute as the “likes,” “favorites,” “thumbs-up,” functionality on social media sites seems to reflect this, does it not? How many times have you, like me, come back to your FB posts or tweets to see if people liked, shared, or re-tweeted them? Come on, it’s okay. You can admit it. In and of itself, being liked by people is not necessarily a bad thing. But it quickly turns sour when we choose to say or do something that displeases God in order to please people so they will look favorably upon us. This, I believe, is one of the main reasons why some of us Christians in America are capitulating to the non-believing world. We like to be liked by people.

But this temptation to please people over against pleasing God is not a novelty of the 21st century. People in the Bible, especially followers of Jesus, dealt with it as well. At times, some failed miserably, like Peter (Matthew 26:69-75; In his case, Peter more than likely denied Jesus that day because of the fear of what people would have done to him if he publicly associated himself with Jesus. To say it simply, Peter gave in to the fear of man, which is what fuels this temptation.). And then there were other occasions when they stood strong, choosing to be loyal to God. There are many that I could point to – and, yes, Peter would be among them – but I’ll just choose one, namely John the Baptist. Here, I’ll let you read it for yourself:

So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. (Luke 3:18-20; ESV)

As an aside, did you notice that John the Baptist not only preached about/for Jesus, but that he also spoke against Herod’s immorality, which was the reason why he was put in prison (see also: Matthew 14:1-12)? As faithful disciples of Jesus, we don’t get to choose what we will be for or against; it has already been laid out for us in the Bible.

What an amazing encouragement it is to read of John the Baptist standing up for Jesus and the things of Jesus in spite of the opposition that he faced!

What about you and I? Will future generations of Christians be able to recall how we, by God’s grace in Christ through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, lived our lives in loyalty to God rather than to be liked by people?

If you are still not convinced that this dichotomy of being liked versus being loyal is all that crucial in our day and time, let me give you just one example. On a recent episode of “Celebrity Big Brother” (the UK version), Evander Holyfield engaged in a conversation with one of his fellow contestants regarding gay professional athletes openly professing their sexuality. As you can imagine, that exchange circulated very quickly over the internet. Martin Rogers picked up on the story and wrote a brief article about it over at Yahoo Sports.  Here is his last sentence in that piece:

He would be well advised, however, to keep his more controversial opinions under wraps in the future or risk the fondness with which he is remembered. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that? Let me restate it in my words: Evander, you might want to zip your lip about this subject if you want to continue to be liked by people who remember you as one of the most beloved fighters in the sport of boxing.

I am by no means endorsing how Evander went about addressing the topic with his housemate. Should he have refrained from responding, or try to re-frame what he said, or restrain himself from speaking further after stating his conviction on what the Bible says concerning homosexuality? Given the situation, either of those would have probably been the best thing. By the way, apologizing for or amending how we go about communicating God’s truth is in some cases needed and warranted. But it’s altogether different when we are willing to dismiss, distort, or downplay God’s Word to appease people.

But I hope you didn’t miss my point for bringing up this article. Being liked vs. being loyal is one of the major societal realities that we will continually face as Christians here in America. The question becomes then: what choice will we make in 2014 and in the years to come? We must decide now and each day of our lives because the Bible is clear that the sinful, rebellious, moral decadence and deception of the fallen world is going to continue and grow worse (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 12-13).

May God give us the strength to be wise and winsome as we engage the world, but to never water down the Gospel or the Bible (i.e., to attempt to take the natural offense out of God’s truth – e.g., by not mentioning sin, repentance, God’s eternal judgment, the exclusivity of salvation through faith in Jesus alone, etc. and only highlighting God’s love, mercy, kindness for all people) just to be liked by people.

May the Holy Spirit help us to be loyal to Jesus like John the Baptist, even if it means we lose loved-ones, friends, jobs, respect, popularity, promotions, freedoms, benefits, invites, positions, opportunities, money, and, in some cases, our very lives.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39; ESV)

Holy S#&*! Profanity in Christianity

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Got your attention? Good. Because I think we need to address (readdress) this issue, which I believe – and I think you will agree – has become too commonplace amongst us, and dismissed or justified by some of our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Vulgarity in our society, especially in entertainment and in the arts, has run amuck. There used to be a time when censoring curse words in a song or on a show was expected and welcomed. Not so much now. We have even reached a point where certain derogatory words are used and accepted as terms of endearment, all depending on the context of the conversation (Think of how the word B*^$# is used in hip-hop and pop subcultures, on reality television shows, etc.). To be honest, I hear and see it so frequently today on television and on social media sites that in some ways I personally have become desensitized to it. What I mean is that it doesn’t shock me like it used to. I sort of expect it now. After all, we are dealing with fallen people who have yet to be redeemed by Jesus from their sin.

But what about when we hear and see it displayed by those of us who have been saved from sin by God’s grace through faith in the person and redemptive work of Jesus? Should the proliferation of profanity in our culture cause us to disregard its presence – albeit in varying degrees – in our lives as the church? The answer to this latter question is no. Before I elaborate on this, I know what some of us might be thinking.

“Out of all the evil and sin in the world, let alone in the church, you choose to write a blog post on cursing?! What about abortion, murder, stealing, you know, the big stuff? C’mon, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that serious, Ed.”

“I’m grown. And, yes, I am a Christian. And, yes, I may say a few ‘choice’ words on occasion. But it ain’t like I’m running around sleeping around, or abusing my kids, or doing drugs like some of these other folks. My cursing isn’t hurting anybody. So, give me a break! You are just being self-righteous, Pharisaical, legalistic, and holier-than-thou!”

I hear you. And I have a response to each of those statements. But to do so would only cause us, I am sure, to just go back and forth, tit for tat. But at the end of the day what really matters to all of us as Christians is what God says about this subject. After all, we believe that His thoughts, His words on the matter – as recorded in the Bible – are our final authority, right? Right.

But let me speak to the last sentence in the last statement in quotation above as a segue into God’s Word concerning this issue of profanity in Christianity. I am by no means seeking to be self-righteous, holier-than-thou, etc. I used to curse with the best of them. For those that know me personally, that might be hard for you to imagine. But I did. I am in no way glorifying in it. I simply mention it here for the sake of relating to those who have this sinful, fleshly propensity. However, when the Lord Jesus saved me and as I matured in Him, cursing was one of the sins that I was set free from, practically speaking, quite quickly and was convicted of by the Holy Spirit every time I would slip up. I didn’t have a book, chapter, and verse to point to at the time as the basis for the conviction that I felt. I just knew it was wrong. Then one day during my regular Bible reading I came across a passage of Scripture that spoke directly to it (as well as to other sins):

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from you mouth.” (Colossians 3:5-8, ESV, emphasis mine; see also, Ephesians 5:4)

According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, the Greek word for “obscene talk” can also be understood to mean “foul speaking.” It is a compound word with the first word being defined as “base or dishonorable.”

Some questions naturally arise: What is considered to be base or dishonorable words? Who determines what they are? These questions are fair. But in all honesty, the spirit that is sometimes behind this type of inquiry is not completely sincere. In certain cases, we ask these questions with an underlining goal to justify our coarse language, not necessarily to seek truth or goodness with the intent of altering our behavior to match it. But, back to the questions at hand.

If you notice, the Scripture doesn’t tell us specifically what words or phrases would be considered off-limits for believers. Why? Well, I believe because God knew that in some regards they would vary from culture to culture, from place to place, and even from conversation to conversation. Having said that though, it seems that certain terminology is fast becoming universal due in large part to the interconnectedness of the world via technology. Certain questions could be asked that would possibly help to mark out those terms that would be deemed obscene, but – and I could be wrong here – I don’t think it’s necessary. Because in this fallen world we live in I think those words are already identifiable. They are those words that the majority of humanity wouldn’t want spoken by or around our little children. They are those words that are spoken in stand-up comedy shows and rapped and sung in the songs of the sinful sectors of the mainstream music/entertainment world. In other words, to state it plainly and frankly, you and I both know what obscene talk is and what is considered as such in our various contexts. We are adults after all, right? So, with all due respect, let’s not play games here.

To this issue of cursing not being bad or wrong as long as we are not hurting anyone, let me say this: It is hurting someone, and His name is God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). We should seek to not grieve the Holy Spirit through the use of profanity (or any other “sins of the mouth” for that matter) in verbal or virtual communication (Twitter/Facebook abbreviations included).

There is no expectation of perfection here. None of us will be able to obtain that until the return of the Lord Jesus when we will be gloriously transformed. But we should be progressing, growing, and repenting. And if you are a Christian who used to cuss like a sailor (Just a colloquialism; not typecasting seamen or seawomen), as I once did, but still deals with a real, pronounced temptation to do so, know that in Christ sin has no dominion over you (Romans 6). And if you do sin in this way, don’t downplay or dismiss it, and in no way justify it, regardless of whether it was mild cursing or otherwise. Sincerely confess it to God. If you curse someone out, humbly ask them for forgiveness (this includes your children as well). Deal with your cursing in a way that honors the Lord Jesus and respects people.

Father, may you help us, through the Holy Spirit, to refrain from the profane and to honor you and represent Jesus well with our whole lives, including what comes out of our mouths and through our keyboards, tablets, and smartphones. In the name of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus, we pray, Amen.

“Can We Talk?” Conflict and Communication in Marriage

There I was sitting across the table from them: two young adults who were engaged to get married. Our initial session went well. We introduced ourselves and gave the cliff notes version of our life stories. I joked and laughed with them to break the ice. Everything was going okay, that is until we jumped into our first major topic for the evening. Right off the back, I could tell their relationship was in trouble. “How so?” you might ask. Because of how they communicated with each other.

Communication is one of the main issues that we deal with in relationships in general and marriages in particular. It is especially challenging when conflict surfaces. Sometimes your experience in communicating with your spouse during conflict can be like driving through a dead spot while talking on your cell phone: a lot of interference, breaking up, and dropped calls. We all have those moments. But through prayer and some work, we can experience better communication with our spouses in times of tension. Here are 15 random, rapid fire pointers to help you communicate more effectively in marriage when facing conflict (Note: I alternate at times between “they” and “he or she” in reference to spouses so as to minimize repetitiveness):

1. Seek to not respond when you are highly frustrated, angry, or emotional.

2. Call a timeout to calm down, pray, and think.

3. Ask questions of your spouse before you make statements to your spouse.

4. Acknowledge and articulate when you are becoming defensive or if something bothered or hurt you.

A quick word to the husbands, the men (women are not excluded from this point, but I am a man and want to speak to them specifically for a second) who are not okay with sharing their feelings: Gentlemen, we need to understand that it is not “unmanly” for us to be honest about how we feel. We need to become more comfortable with verbally expressing how we feel. The truth is, even if we internalize our hurt or pain, it will come out in other ways – ways that generally are not helpful and healthy for our marriages.

5. General rule of thumb: Learn to take what your spouse says at face value. In other words, stop reading into what they are saying. If you are unsure what they meant by what they said, ask, don’t assume.

6. Don’t formulate rebuttals in your mind while your spouse is talking in an effort to win an argument.

7. When the conflict is coming from outside sources, your spouse doesn’t always need you to be in “Consultant” mode.

He or she needs you to switch to “Companion” mode at times . A Consultant is focused on solutions, fixing stuff. A Companion is dedicated to cultivating relationships, i.e., sharing, sympathizing, and empathizing with someone.

How do you determine which mode your spouse needs you in? Ask. However, in my estimation, it is best to set companion mode as your default.

8. Talk to and with your spouse, not at him or her.

9. Don’t always run from conflict. All conflict is not unhealthy. Some issues you need to lean into and work your way through as husband and wife because resolving them will be healthy for you two in the long run.

10. Don’t maliciously push your spouse’s buttons.

11. Work not to speak in absolutes: “You always…,” “You never…,” Instead, you can say, “You have a habit of doing something,” or “You don’t do this all the time, but lately it has been happening quite frequently…”

12. Own your failure to communicate without referring to your spouse’s failure to do so in the past.

13. Instead of saying you need to communicate better, ask what would help us to communicate more effectively in situations like this.

14. If you are a need-space-to-process guy or gal, don’t let a lot of time go by before you talk to your spouse.

Additionally, it would be helpful to give your spouse a specific time that you will be ready to talk. Don’t leave your spouse in limbo.

15. If you are a deal-with-it-right-now guy or gal, and your spouse is a need-space-to-process type of person, then give your spouse time.

Don’t try to force them to talk when they are not ready. It is better to bear momentary tension (to give them the time that they need to process) than to incite a major blowup (because you pressed them to talk).

Love, Sex, and Romance (Married Men Edition)

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post entitled, “Love Sex and Romance (Single Men Edition)”, I had both single and married men in the audience at Morse Street Baptist Church’s Men’s Conference that I needed to teach God’s Word to concerning this topic. So today I want to share with you the three pastoral exhortations (along with some added commentary, since I turned this into a blog post) – based on the book of Song of Solomon – that I spoke to the married men about on that day, concluding with a final exhortation directed to both groups of men.

1. Befriend your wife regularly (5:16)

“This is my beloved and this is my friend…” (vs. 16b, speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem about her husband)

In this verse, Solomon’s wife, of course, doesn’t give any specifics as to how this looked in their relationship, but rather just simply states a reality. Solomon and his wife were not just romantic lovers; they were also friends. So it should be in our marriages. We should see the friendship of our wives as being central to our lives. All other friends that we have should revolve around it.  Let me be clear, I am not saying that you have to stop being friends with the guys (beware of any woman who would seek to pressure you to do that with no justifiable reason) and make your spouse the one and only friend that you have. What I am saying is that she shouldn’t be consistently coming off the bench behind your homeboys. She is not the 6th (wo)man. She is one of the “Big Two.” You run the plays of your life with her in mind, not your boys. All metaphors aside, you give her priority over your partners. And guys, listen, any woman worth her salt generally will not take advantage of this. She will feel valued and important, and will consequently not mind making exceptions and adjustments when you tell her that you have plans to hang out with the fellas.

But becoming and staying friends with your spouse doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality. So, what would befriending our wives look like today? Here are a few points of application:

  • Date your wife. Don’t stop now that you are married. Go to the movies. Stop by the pond and feed the ducks. Eat out at an affordable restaurant. Oh, and don’t always take her to the gun range (unless of course she likes to shoot). Do something she likes for a change.
  • Engage her in conversation.  Ask her how her day went, listen well, and interact with her.
  • Share your heart (i.e., your feelings, dreams, fears, etc.) with her. If there ever should be someone you can open up to, it ought to be your wife. Yes I know that there are some things that you need to vent to another brother. But as a rule of thumb, she should be someone in whom you can confide.
  • Be present.  First, she needs your presence. It’s hard to build or maintain a close friendship when you’re rarely physically there at home or with her. If you are always on the go without her, don’t be surprised if you wake up one day to find that you two have “grown apart.” Secondly, she needs you present. You can be present while at the same time absent. You know what I am talking about. You both are sitting on the couch. She’s talking to you and stops to ask, “Honey, did you hear what I said?” And you respond, “Huh? Oh, sorry, babe. What did you say?” because while she was conversing with you (or so she thought), you were watching T.V., reading, checking your email, looking over bills, etc. You were present, but not present. Be fully in the moment with her.

2. Adore your wife’s physical features (6:5-7; 7:1-5)

“Your teeth are like a flock of ewes…your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand…”

Solomon continues, “Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your TWO BREASTS are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.” (emphasis mine) Yes, Lord! I know what you mean, Solomon. Because Lord knows…Oops, sorry. I got caught up for a second. I’m back.

Sometimes as Christians we can be super spiritual…well at least some of us. Don’t get me wrong. That is not a jab at living holy. We should all desire to please the Lord Jesus with our lives. What I am talking about is when we say stuff like, “The outer appearance doesn’t matter to me. It’s the heart that counts.” Okay, I get it. Yes, the heart of an individual (what we generally mean by heart is that person’s spiritual condition) is what is most important. I totally agree. But, c’mon. There is nothing necessarily wrong with being physically attracted to or desiring to be attractive to your spouse (Sure, this, like anything, can become an idol, influencing us to make some sinful or unwise decisions. So we shouldn’t base the stock of our relationship on it. Our marriage must be rooted in Jesus to be healthy and to last a lifetime.).

Back to the point. Adore her body, even if she has gained some pounds from downing too many Twinkies or from having a baby. Tell her how attractive she is to you and mean it. Nobody should out perform you in saying sweet nothings in your wife’s ear as it relates to her physical features. Heap it on her!

Side note: If you feel like your wife is letting herself go physically (i.e., her weight gain or appearance is not due to some issue beyond her control), then all I am going to tell you is to pray about it and tread carefully, my dear brother. Seriously though, if that is your situation, lovingly talk to her about it. Keep it positive. Tell her what you like. Book her a day at the spa. Let her go and get her hair did, I mean, done, along with her feet and nails. If you feel like the conversation might end badly, then pray and tread carefully, my dear brother. One last thing, only a few things seriously aggravate me, like seeing a beautiful woman being berated by a man for, according to him, her physical “issues.” Don’t be that guy! Yes, you should adore her physical features, but your wife is more than her body. Don’t get it twisted. She is a person made in the image of God and should be valued as such. And if she is a Christian, she is also a child of God. Don’t you dare flip out on one of His daughters over this. And by the way, don’t let yourself go either. Your wife wants you to take care of yourself for her as well.

3. Enjoy YOUR wife sexually (7:7-9, see also Proverbs 5:15-19)

“Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit…”

Enjoy your wife (not someone else’s or a single woman, for that matter) sexually and look to please her. Brothers, you only have one bullet in the chamber. She has a 15-round magazine. Pull her trigger a few times.  I’m going to stay respectable and keep it moving, but you get the gist of what I am saying, right? Good.

Some of you might be a little upset with me regarding this point. Please don’t be. Can I remind you that God made sex to be enjoyed in the confines of heterosexual marriage? So let’s not be ashamed to talk about and celebrate marital sex!

Concluding Point: Keep Jesus at the center of your love life/relationship/marriage (8:6b)

“Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.”

After prayer, meditation, and looking this particular verse up in some commentaries, I came to humbly interpret it this way: Romantic passion/love in marriage, which is pictured as fire, comes from the Lord. It’s source is in Jesus.

So what I took this to mean was that if romantic love/passion is to be experienced in a God-honoring, relationally healthy way in a dating or marriage relationship, we must allow the Lord to define what that is and to lead us in its application, according to His Word.

If we allow the Lord to lead us in our relationships, He will keep the flame of romantic love/passion controlled and contained, like a fireplace. Conversely, to not let the Lord do so will cause our flame of romantic love/passion to turn into an uncontrollable wild forest fire, damaging and destroying everything in its path: lives, relationships, marriages, and families.

Love, Sex, and Romance (Single Men Edition)

That was the subject matter assigned for me to teach on at Morse Street Baptist Church’s Men’s Conference in August.

As I prepared for my session leading up to the conference, I initially struggled with what biblical book(s) and passage(s) to teach on that dealt with these three topics.  And then I thought, “What better choice than that of the book of Song of Solomon.” Although some of the Early Church Fathers (e.g., Origen) – and some more modern theologians – interpreted the Song of Solomon allegorically (i.e., finding spiritual and hidden meanings in the text: God/Christ as the Lover/Bridegroom and Israel/Church as the Woman/Bride) or typologically (i.e., acknowledges the historical reality of Solomon and His Bride, but sees them as typifying Christ and the Church respectively), it is best to see it for what it is: a celebration of human romantic love between a man and a woman in courtship, and physical and sexual intimacy between the same in marriage.

When I am afforded the opportunity to preach or teach God’s Word, I always desire to be faithful to the biblical text as best as I can with God’s help. But I also want my teaching of God’s Word to be helpful and applicable where possible. I knew there would be at least two groups of men in my session that day: single men and married men. And so I labored to think about how to address both in my teaching of Song of Solomon. Thankfully, I found the book to be typically outlined into three major sections: 1. The Courtship (1:2-3:5), 2. The Wedding (3:6-5:1), and 3. The Marriage (5:2-8:4). This made my job a little bit easier because now I knew that my session would be broken up into two parts. The first half would be directed primarily to single men, drawing truths or pointers from “The Courtship” section, and the second half – although still relevant to single men – would hone in on the married guys, calling their attention to the last section of the outline. And so that’s how it flowed that day.

Coming away from that conference, I knew that I wanted to share on my blog what I taught that day, specifically as it relates to single Christian men. I figured if it was helpful to those in attendance, it would prove to be the same for those who might read my blog. What follows is not an in-depth academic theological treatise on the subject, but rather three down-to-earth, rubber-meets-the-road pastoral exhortations to single men who are dating or looking to date.

1. Have your own stuff (1:7)

“Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon…” (vs. 7)

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard stories of single guys (and married guys too) mooching off of their women. This should not characterize you as men of God. God desires that you be a responsible, hard-working man; not a lazy man-boy who simply lounges around your girl’s apartment or house, playing video games while eating up her food, driving up her electricity bill, and riding around in her car – basically using up her things. And even if she is okay with all of that, you shouldn’t take advantage of it. There is nothing honorable about being a leech.

2. Exhibit respectable romance (1:10, 15)

“Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels…Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.” (vs. 10, 15)

There is so much misogyny (hatred/disrespect of women) and exploitation of women in our world today: date rape, pornography, abuse, sex slave trade, watching “twerking” videos on YouTube, Vine, or Worldstar Hip Hop, etc. And much of it is perpetrated by men. We should treat women differently…honorably…respectfully, especially when you are in a dating relationship.

So here are a couple things to think about and ways to apply this point:

  • Keep your comments focused on the neck up.

It’s okay to admire and verbally affirm your woman’s physical beauty, but notice in verses 10 and 15, in their courtship, Solomon doesn’t go below her shoulders.

I know when you see her, your heart palpitates and your eyes are captivated by her beauty, but please remember this: Your passion for her needs to have parameters. You need to keep a reign on your eyes and your words. If you don’t, know that they will easily and quickly influence you to jump – in your thoughts, words, and/or actions – God’s fence of sexual purity.

  • Embrace exclusivity (2:2) 

“As a lily among brambles [thorns], so is my love among the young women.”

You need to see your woman as standing head and shoulders above the rest. To you, she should be in a league all by herself…because she is! There literally is no one else in the world like her. If you are in a dating relationship, then you need to be exclusively about her and no one else. With that, let me press a few more things here: 1. Don’t string her along, knowing full well that you have no intentions on marrying her; 2. Don’t cheat on her. If you are still “playing the field,” don’t invite her into the game of your life, where you know that she will more than likely lose in the end, walking off the court of your life with her heart broken. Her heart is nothing to play with. It’s not a game. It’s her life that we are talking about. Don’t toy with that. 3. Define the relationship – are you guys just casually, exclusively, seriously (making plans to get married) dating? Make your intentions known up front. And If your feelings begin to change, tell her early, not later. Boys conceal. Men reveal.

Side note: Don’t expose yourself to porn and/or become promiscuous (and if you have or are, repent). Why? Because pornography and promiscuity weakens marital exclusivity. It erodes the desire and discipline to remain faithfully married to one woman.

3. Connect relationally with your woman (2:10b-14)

“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away…let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (vs. 13b, 14)

Obviously, Solomon in these verses is admiring her beauty, but I believe that he desires to spend time with her; to relationally connect with her, which is implied in him beckoning for her to “come away” with him. You need to have regular face time with your lady without watching ESPN, Facebooking, tweeting, etc. Turn off the PS3/Xbox/PC, leave the gym early, cut the yard or wash the car at another time. Do what you need to do to connect with her face-to-face.  If you are single and dating, this should be your focus as it concerns your woman. Get to know her relationally, not sexually (that is reserved for marriage only). Do you know what her relational status is with the Lord Jesus? Is she growing in her relationship with God in Christ? Do you know what she likes or dislikes? Do you know her dreams, goals, ambitions, or fears? What does she believe and value?

One of the main reasons why some people end up divorced is because in their dating they were primarily focused on physical and sexual attraction that they failed to see the person for who they really were or at least disregarded or downplayed what they saw.  The sex was “good” but the soul was bad.  They couldn’t see the latter (or didn’t want to see it) because it was eclipsed by the former.  If you persistently, unrepentantly put the cart (sex) before the horse (relationship/marriage), you can expect an even rougher relational ride. So focus on getting to know her, rather than getting to “know” (as in Adam knew his wife, sexually speaking) her.

Bonus: And don’t fall for this lie about you needing to know before you get married whether or not you two are sexually compatible. You’re a plug and she’s an outlet. It’ll work!

Sunday Reflections (Sept. 1, 2013): Conference Season, Ephesians, 2nd Book

Conference Season

The month of September marks the beginning of what we call our conference season as we celebrate 27 years of existence as the Antioch Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church (Dallas, TX).  We kick off the celebration this coming Saturday (Sept. 7th) with our Impact Student Conference – “No Excuses”. We invite all Jr. High and High School students in the DFW metroplex to join our student ministry in this one-day conference, encouraging them to do away with all the excuses and follow Christ wholeheartedly.

Gospel Neo Soul Artist Sean C. Johnson will be in the house as well. For more information and to register, go to http://www.afmbc.org and click on 2013 Conference Season on the main page.

Ephesians: Our Life In Christ Series

We are halfway through our 20-week teaching series on the book of Ephesians. Today we began a two-part lesson on Ephesians 4:17-32 entitled, “Acting Brand New”. The big idea in the beginning verses (Ephesians 4:17-19) of this passage is stated clearly, “No longer walk [or live] as the Gentiles [non-believing Gentiles] do, in the futility of their minds.” Paul then goes on to further explain their depraved spiritual condition (which we, as believers, once characterized our lives as well). We only had time to delve into verses 17 and 18.

I look forward to digging deeper into this passage in the weeks to come.

My 2nd Book

I set a goal to finish my second book mid-Spring or early Summer of this year. Well, as you can see, I am past that deadline. Getting back into a writing groove has been a challenge. I solicit your prayers for direction, strength, focus, and resolve. I am back in “the lab” and prayerfully hope to complete this project by the end of the year, no later than the 1st quarter of 2014, if The Lord says the same. We will see how it goes.

And thanks to those of you who supported my first book.

Have a great Labor Day Holiday!

Help! I’m a Perfectionist

I feel you. Seriously, I do. I am a recovering perfectionist. Not sure if there is such a thing, but this is just how I have come to speak of my experience.

Looking back on my life, my perfectionistic complex began to be formed in me in my late childhood and adolescent years. Unbeknownst to him, my late father unintentionally had a great deal to do with it. Of course, Dad didn’t expect me or any of my other siblings to be perfect, but often times it felt that way because he was a highly disciplined man, who tended to be heavy on parental training, accountability and correction and light on praise. I believe this was due in large part to him being a military man (enlisted as a teenager, served tours of duty in Korea and Vietnam, and eventually retired as a Master Sergeant). Gratefully, the Lord Jesus saved my father and developed tenderness in his life and parenting, which took some of the edge off of his toughness. But by that time, perfectionism had already begun to take root in my soul, producing all types of rotten fruit: overly critical (of others and of myself), impatient, intolerant, and incorrigible (As a perfectionist, who wants to be corrected? To accept it would be an admission of imperfection. So we tend to act out in ways to dodge or deflect it: defensive, dismissive, blaming others, etc.).

Is there any help for those of us who are redeemed but at times still have to deal with this issue, particularly as it relates to its negative affect on our relationships? What can we do when this monster tries to rear its ugly head? Two quick pointers:

1. Realize your dignity and depravity

God made humanity in His image. We are consequently valuable to God and should be viewed as such by each other. Therefore, when it comes to others, no matter how imperfect they may be you should still afford them the dignity they are due simply because they have been created by God.

Yes, we all have dignity, but we are also depraved. What this simply means is that we are all sinful. As perfectionists, we need to constantly remain aware of our “jacked-upness” (Don’t bother going to the dictionary; I just made that word up.), especially when we encounter people who sin differently than we do or who may still struggle with a sin that we may currently be experiencing freedom from.

Realizing these two truths in our personal lives will help us to not be so quick to harshly judge others, become impatient with other people’s failings, etc.

2. Remember God’s great mercy towards you in Christ Jesus

When you and I in prayerful dependence recall how God in Christ demonstrated His love toward us even while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), as well as how He continues to be patient, gracious, and merciful towards us even though we still sin, our attitudes and actions towards others will exhibit that same extravagant love.

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