Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Never did God promise us that every day would be Sunday or every Sunday would be easy like the Commodores intoned. By the time I finished seminary in 2000, I did not even attend church anymore. Not only had I experienced spiritual heights I could not have imagined, but had also seen the bowels of the church. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone anymore and was even giving God a closer look.
This was very hard because for some strange reason I still loved God and felt God loved me. From the days of forced Sunday School attendance by my bunned-up parents, to a closer personal walk and my eventual call to ministry, worshipping and serving the Lord provided coherence to my life. For in him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28a). However, dealing with God’s people was draining my soul. My New Testament professor used a term to describe the early church’s religious experience that captured my angst precisely.
Cognitive dissonance is the tension when personal experience is not consistent with one’s learning, beliefs, opinions. The first-generation church struggled to reconcile Jesus promise of abundant life with their suffering and persecution. I had to decide whether God was indeed reconciling the world unto Himself by the perfecting work of His spirit or this whole church thing was a ruse.
In the meantime, I was going crazy trying to pretend my eyes were lying and faith could move the monumental black ball Rev. had placed me behind. All of the conflicting notions were pushing me to the edge.
God’s word, however, commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves (Hebrews 10:25). God also invites us to (t)aste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (Psalms34:8). Yes, He gets us coming and going.
Then about a year after graduation, God told me to go to this particular church in downtown DC. Yes He did. So, I went and felt something that I had not felt in a long time. Can’t put it into words, but I got my mojo back. Without deliberation, I went again, and again, and again. However, I had no intent on joining and being the same fool twice.
I subsequently began to ask around about the pastor. Almost nobody I asked knew anything about him. Then, I knew he had to be clean. One Sunday, God sneaked up on me and had me taking the walk down the aisle I had been resisting for over a year. I had a new church home. And the people were not crazy. Or so it seemed.
During a series of private sessions, I told Pastor my story. He received me well and nursed me back to spiritual health. Through all our meetings, his wife, who sat outside his door as the church secretary, never raised an eyebrow. Although I bared my soul, not a word of those sessions was ever uttered publicly by him. He subsequently allowed me to flex my gifts of teaching and preaching, without reservation. Some churches act like you have to get a Top Secret security clearance to access those privileges, although the quality of what comes from their pulpits and classrooms does not reflect due diligence.
What happened next simply blew my mind. Some of the members had grown restless. They wanted a leader with more flash and pizzazz. With a stroke of the District Superintendent’s pen, the congregation went from stellar to cellar. Pastor was reassigned and a new joker was appointed. I kept an open mind, but The Joker looked strangely familiar. The quality of the teaching, preaching, and administration began to decline immediately. Then I remembered: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
Meanwhile, the congregation went wild in response to his theatrical antics in the pulpit in spite of his words having no redeeming value. “Did you see how he jumped around shouting today? He was on fire!” could be overheard after Sunday services. Not once did I hear how the anointing on the message (or lack thereof) impacted their lives. Not only that, I never—in five years—heard him provide a single account of how God’s spirit manifest in his life personally. Recounting second-hand testimonies is not credible witness.
Then at the beginning of last year, I resolved to be more receptive of The Joker’s ministry. This was not the result in a change of heart, but rather justification for maintaining my social ties at the church. The year couldn’t even get off to a good start before The Joker stated one of the most antithetical statements to the gospel I have ever heard from the pulpit. The crowd said “amen.” I turned around in the middle of his message and asked “did you hear what he just said?” The man behind me responded in the negative. “Well you said ‘amen’” I stated. He responded “it’s just a habit.”
Trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, I went to The Joker’s office after service to discuss the theological implications of what he stated. Maybe I heard him wrong. Maybe his words got twisted. He stood beside his ignorance and defied my right to object. I broke out my bible and went point-by-point through the inconsistency of his message not only with the gospel of Christ—which he acted like he was hearing for the first time—but also with the denomination’s discipline. He looked at me with that “who the hell you think you are” look that I know so well. I wrote the bishop to express my concern about the weak pulpit and spiritual decline of the congregation. He basically told me to kiss his hindquarters. Add one more denomination to the list of churches who would never ordain me.
It’s a wonder how God takes us to heights spiritually only to drop us back in the valley. Why can’t we build tents on the mountain tops and let the mere mortals fend for themselves? Then God revealed to me that He did not call me to sit under someone’s spiritual teat for the rest of my life. The change in altitude was part of His plan. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
That’s where the madness jumps off. Just as members of the military swear to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic, disciples must battle His enemies from within and beyond. That does not make me too many friends in the church because its worldliness not only suits counterfeit preachers, but also provides comfort to spiritual slackers. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (John 15:18-19).
We must rid God’s house of darkness so it can bear light to the world as it should. It won’t be easy because a lot is at stake on both sides. The enemy is always seeking who he may devour especially those who are called according to God’s purpose. Well, ever since childhood, I have never been able to resist a good fight. Gird me up Lord and bring it on! Who is with me?
Thursday, November 4, 2010
First, they line up all the sexual favors a new candidate can stand. They have men’s fellowship at the strip club. Alcohol and drug abuse are no strangers. The best lines for exploiting people and separating them from their money are proffered freely. Once they indoctrinate one into the game, the ministers cannot be held accountable by them. You see, there is no honor among thieves. An irony of all ironies is that keeping your nose clean becomes a liability because they have nothing to hold over your head.
Insult is added to injury is the case of Jamal Bryant, the pastor of Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. Where do you begin with him? Word on the street is that the state of Maryland is adding an office just to deal with the series of paternity suits against him. One of the earliest of record resulted from him impregnating a woman while engaged to be married to another. He never claimed that child in spite of indisputable DNA evidence and a monkey face just like his. The most recent involves a young woman who was a teenaged member of his congregation at the time of conception. His membership roll and collection plate have not suffered. The victim has been shunned consistent with the long and shameful tradition of not addressing clergy sexual exploitation.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
This past week, we said goodbye to a real soldier of the Lord. I had the privilege to grow up in a place where women in ministry were not a big deal. We had two female assistant pastors at my church when I was a little girl. Not too far from my childhood home, was a couple who co-pastored the relatively large Jericho Baptist Church long before ecclesiastical duos became a trend. In 1996, James Peebles passed leaving some to wonder who his wife, Betty, a credentialed minister in her own right, would get to “cover” her. They had three sons, but Betty Peebles held the reigns tightly as if to say “I got this.”
The concept of a female needing “covering,” or supervision by a man to perform ministry, is contrary to the transcendence the gospel provides. Ironically, the twelve disciples disapproved of the woman at the well evangelizing after her encounter with Jesus in the fourth chapter of John. At that point in the narrative, they had not won one convert, let alone comprehended the gospel. That’s the peril of promoting the penis over the power of God.
Phoebe was also a deacon in the Church whose ministry preceded the Apostle Paul’s. He commends her to the church at Rome in Romans 16. Tradition and poor interpretation have conspired to consign her to “deaconess.” But the identical form of the Greek term is used to describe Phoebe’s title as is attributed to males in the same role throughout the New Testament.
If I can take one issue with Betty Peebles, it is that she made it look so easy. It could not have been considering that Jericho was originally part of a denomination whose first criterion for ministry was a pair of testicles. Have they not read There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)? The witness of scripture does not support such a patriarchal framework. The prophet Joel foretold:
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29)
I know for a fact that Betty Peebles endured a lot of sexism in the church, but she never said a mumbling word. The answer to her disposition can be found in the title of one of her many books, Performing for an Audience of One. She tells of being so keenly focused on God that she didn’t pay attention to what others thought about her. She remained steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in her work for the Lord.
You see, her God was bigger than her obstacles. Men who barred Betty Peebles from their pulpits were left in the dust (no pun intended) as she achieved heights in ministry to which they could only dream. All the while, she pressed on, bearing her signature smile that was bright as the sun. Clearly, she kept in mind that:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
Betty Peebles’ mere presence commanded authority. She journeyed on to found the non-denominational Jericho City of Praise and became the only female to pastor one of America’s largest 100 churches. At the time of her passing, over 19,000 members were on the rolls. Jericho’s sanctuary accommodates over 10,000 with a warmth that makes you forget how big it is. Not only that, she expanded the range of ministries to include a day care, elementary school, ministry training academy, professional counseling center, and a senior residences so well-appointed that they rival major hotels. All of these services are housed on the church’s campus which spans over 100 acres and is entirely debt-free. She did not simply acquire property. She used those resources, along with the power of God working through her, to change lives.
Now that Betty Peebles has gone from labor to reward, sisters who are holding up the blood-stained banner must likewise fight for our rightful place in the kingdom. No more merely carrying a man’s cup. God is not a respector of persons (Acts 10:34). If someone tries to downplay your call on grounds of gender, rest on the sufficiency of God’s anointing. As the spiritual says “no man cannot (sic) hinder me.”
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me (Philippians 2:17-18).
I think I get it now. Well done good and faithful servant, well done.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The most powerful emotional moment of our Lord and Savior’s earthly life are captured in two words: Jesus Wept (John 11:35). This is the shortest verse in the bible. Upon learning of Lazarus’ death, Jesus did not rejoice because his friend was in a better place. He cried. And he did not just shed a tear. He lost control and sobbed from the depths of his soul.
The pain of separation by death of a loved one can be profound. Psychologists place the natural limit for the number of people the human brain can connect with deeply enough that their death would leave one devastated at around 12. This would place Lazarus in what they term Jesus’ sympathy circle. His sisters referred to him as the one you love in the message informing Jesus of Lazarus’ illness (v. 3).
I have experienced it once in the passing of my ace boon coon, sista from another mother, number one friend, Neptina, the day before her 30th birthday. She succumbed to colon cancer. Neptina and I first met when she transferred to Smothers Elementary School. We cut up together in Sunday School. We played in the band together at Kelly Miller Jr. High. We assembled our wardrobes together in the stores of downtown DC. We shared bad luck in romantic relationships. We pursued our respective careers with intensity. We came into full faith around the same time. She was me and I was her. I didn’t even realize the place she occupied in my life until she was gone.
Her death was so earth shattering that I collapsed to the floor upon hearing the news and I could not compose myself to pay fitting tribute to her during the service. Even her pastor cried throughout the eulogy. It was tragic. Her passing made no sense. A decorated police officer, athletic physical specimen, devoted daughter, loyal friend, and saved soul should have been allotted more days upon this earth. Surely the world would be better off without some other people still among the living. But even the very hairs upon your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30).
My cousins just buried their father this past weekend. Our extended family gathered in its hometown of Rocky Mount, NC to bid my uncle adieu, bless his memory, console one another (and get some awesome barbecue). Why in the world did this fool of a minister stand in the pulpit and say "this ain't no funeral, this is a celebration"? Excuse me, but your daddy ain't laid out up front in a box. The asinine ideas that catch on in the church astound me. Let’s consult Webster’s Dictionary:
1. the ceremonies for a dead person prior to burial or cremation;obsequies.
2. a funeral procession.
3. of or pertaining to a funeral: funeral services; funeral expenses.
4. be someone's funeral, Informal . to have unpleasant consequences for someone: If you don't finish the work on time, it will be your funeral!
My bible says:
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The first biblical account of a proper burial is recorded in Genesis 23:19. Throughout scripture, we find individuals and communities grieving losses and performing rites befitting the occasions. Even the law establishes protocols for handling corpses. Death is a sacred moment so it is only fitting that the funeral be a solemn occasion to honor not only the dearly departed, but also their loved ones' journey from sorrow to joy.
The eulogy is also not the time to speculate on the deceased individual’s eternal destination. The term is derived from the Greek root eulogio, which means literally “I bless.” This is the opportunity for the preacher to speak highly of the deceased and share special memories. Preach like you’re praying their way into heaven. It is not the time to break out generic notes and insert their name in the blank. If a pastor has been on his or her j-o-b, he or she should have something to say about the quality of an individual’s life, spiritual and otherwise. Is that too much to ask?
If one more jackleg preacher tells me to put on a happy face as I mourn, it will be their funeral. We must be careful not to be bulls in china shops on occasions such as these. Walking on holy ground requires one to remove one’s shoes and to tread carefully. Grieving is a complex and delicate process warranting respectful handling.
Jean Paul Sartre got it right in his description of Christianity as a breeder of psychosis, the mental disorder characterized by gross detachment from reality and the inability to function in it. Religious sensibilities dictate that we act ecstatic when sinking into despair, feign enlightment when confounded by life’s challenges, and shout amen at nonsense while our spiritual needs go unmet.
That's one of the reasons I believe the church is so crazy and not living up to God’s purpose for it. We must be true to our feelings and not pretend to be something we are not. God knows where we are and cares enough to provide adequate grace to get us where we need to be. Only let us live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:16). You have God’s permission to keep it real. Anyone denying you that right, my friends, would be a crying shame.