These Two Sons…

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If there’s a picture that captured the beauty that was last summer’s Jenkins Family vacation, it’s this one. As the quintessential old-school Dad my job is pictures. My summer memories are that of my 1980s Dad walking us around LibertyLand in Memphis. Or that year’s family reunion swarming with literally hundreds of relatives. Or that year’s summer church convention in Detroit. Or Chicago. Or somewhere that was not the sweltering summers in Mississippi. Dad is armed with a fresh 80s style T-shirt, dark blue jeans even though the sun is blazing, tennis shoes (we didn’t say sneakers), and tube socks. Mama’s armed with a cooler full of bologna sandwiches and “red” kool-aid and chips. Lay’s chips–because no one could eat just one. Dad’s armed with a classic Canon camera with a neck strap so thick it looks like something from the military. And the man is takin’ pictures for literally every moment as the summer rolls on.

Stepping into my Dad’s shoes, last summer I snuck this pic as one rare moment of camaraderie and brotherhood for our two sons, Camden and Grand, as we enjoyed the brisk, yet refreshing waters of Lake Tahoe last July. It’s the best vacation I’ve ever known as, for a whole month, our family rested, reconnected, and were restored for another year of life and ministry. What a joy it was to watch our children play and dream about what they may become. So far Cam plans to be a preacher on Saturday nights like his dad, a tennis player on Wednesday’s, and a deep sea diver on Fridays so he can clean up the trash in the ocean. Grand is 3 years old. Rambunctious. Fiesty. And a perfect “8” on the Enneagram. ALL he wants to do is fight bad guys with his super ninja powers. I believe he will. Nonetheless it was a sweet summer vacation and we were exhilarated to step into the coming year.

Who knew that year would involve some serious tests in ministry as we navigated several transitions, prepared our church for a major capital campaign, deepened new friendships here in the valley, and oh yeah, embraced reality as a history altering pandemic torpedoed right at us.

Like you we’re at home all day now–and so far so good. We’re trying to be there for our church, be there for our city, be there for one another. It’s hard of course. No one knows the future. No one knows when our churches will gather corporately again. There’s uncertainty. My two sons can “say” the word “coronavirus.” But all they really understand is that they really can’t go anywhere but that means more pool time every day. They enjoy a perfectly innocent, blissful, boyish childhood. It’s the way their lives should be. But all in all we’re navigating this season of crisis with God’s grace and hope. It’s weighty. But we’ve been managing well.

Then I watched a video yesterday that captured the murder of a 25 yr old young man named Ahmaud Arbery from Brunswick, GA. And then my heart stopped. And I gasped for air. And I put my head down. And I cried. Because I lament the loss of Ahmaud on behalf of his mother. She lost a son. And he’s never coming back. He was unarmed. He was just jogging. And now he’s dead.

And then I cried again because, for me, there’s a second mourning that takes place as a parent of black children. You CANNOT HELP but think about your own children. And that’s where I’m at right now.

And as I thought about raising these two sons I was brought back to all the things my parents would say to me and my brothers before we would go ‘out’:

“Make sure you look at people in their eyes. Because you never know what they might think you’re doing.”

“Keep your hands outcha pockets when you walk into a store. You don’t want people thinking you’ve stolen anything!”

“If you get pulled over, look straight into the officers’ eyes. Say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ Don’t you EVER disrespect them. NEVER talk back. Don’t get loud. Don’t disagree. Be quiet. And pray.”

“Watch your posture when you walk out in public. Don’t slouch. Don’t look like you’re hiding something and up to no good. You never know when someone will call the law on you.”

What’s hilarious is that Mama raised church boys. You couldn’t have found a more straight-laced, boring set of young men. But Mama and Dad knew about the world. They had lived themselves. And stuff happened to them. They knew it could happen to us. And it did–but that’s another story for another time.

I’d have you know that, for the black family, this kind of ‘instruction’ was not abnormal. This was not a surprise. It’s just the way you were taught in order to survive. To this day, I am not comfortable walking into a bank because I fear what people are thinking about ‘what I might do’. To this day, I do not walk ‘freely’ anywhere. I’m always thinking about how I’m being perceived and how I’m being watched. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the South. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the North. This is how I THINK. And you need to know that this is EVERY black man I know. This is our normal. Double-consciousness is what the great thinker called it. 

I walk most mornings. And the neighborhood across the street from ours had its gated entry gates wide open. I’d always wanted to check out those houses. I remember walking past it thinking, “Oh! I can finally take a look at those houses and compare them to my neighborhood!” Then I immediately kept walking as I thought, “Nah…don’t feel like someone calling the authorities.” Now you may think this is drastic and unnecessary. I get that and for all intents and purposes, I agree. But my upbringing taught me that this way of processing and thinking is essential to survival. I just want you to know how I feel.

The tragedy of this murder reminded me that, before long, I’ll start these conversations with Camden and Grand. For sure it may be nuanced, but the message shall remain the same. Young sons, you are God’s children. Young sons, you are anointed of God and you’ve got a purpose. But young men, be careful, be watchful. Because there are realities out there that tend to way more heavily on you because of the way you look and what that look represents to some people in the world. I shall raise these two sons to love. To lead. To learn. To lament. To labor. But I shall also raise these two sons to “look out.” Because you never know.

I don’t have answers. Only sadness today. Only lament. Only pain. And anger. And frustration. And fear for young sons around the country today. My heart cries out “Maranatha” today. And I find rest only in the truth that a Savior looked ahead and saw the pain and woe of the world and said, “I shall die and rise again for them.” That is my hope and assurance this day. And that is the hope I shall translate….to these two sons.


We Wore Bright Colors That Day

Watching a movie just now and a funeral scene with pews filled with mourners wearing their all-black attire evoked memories of another funeral some 22 years ago. I couldn’t help but stop to write…because at that funeral…we wore bright colors that day.

My formation, spiritually, has always been tethered, tightly perhaps, to my parents. I know Jesus because of what they knew about Jesus. It hit me the other day. Because of conviction my family left our all black traditional church we were reared in when I was 12 years old. I complained then. But at 42 I remain so grateful. That began what I called our church hopping years. We were apostolic, charismatic, baptist, all white churches, multiethnic, you name it we were there. Gospel music. Christian contemporary. Christian Rock. Christian island music. To this day there is no one radio station that can capture the fruit I gleaned musically and culturally during those years.

Reflecting on those years the other day it hit me: those years are why I love diverse, multiethnic churches. Thats why God landed us at Southwest to love the people of that valley. A people rich in diversity and culture and backgrounds. That’s why I love preaching to a mixed bag of folks across all ages, backgrounds, political spectrums, and views. Because mom and dad were crazy enough to show us everything under the sun for loving God’s people. They were filled with joy. Laughter. Zeal. And optimism. What gifts our days at 447 Old Whitfield Road in Pearl, Mississippi were.

But that doesn’t mean our days were not tough. My Dad, trying to love and pursue Jesus as the Spirit led him suffered hardship and ostracism for taking our family out of “the church” and making his own way in ministry. He was therefore the most bravest leader. Thanks Dad for showing me courage. My mama suffered many illnesses before succumbing to cancer in 1997. Yet she fervently walked in the Spirit all those days. Thanks Mama for showing me the glory of Romans 8:28.

Hardships shape you into something better. Something stronger. Something more closer to Christ than what you would’ve been without the trouble. Our family was graced with the good and the bad and it was yet and still all God. Glory to His Holy Name.

Jesus is hope. Jesus is light. Jesus is joy filled tears. Jesus is relief. Jesus is peace. Jesus is comfort. Jesus is friendship.

So mama said one day…years before she died I guess: “they always wear dark clothes at funerals. But if you got Jesus even your funeral is not entirely sad. Because there’s joy on the other side.” When she passed Dad hauled us to the mall to buy appropriate dress clothes for her home going. And on a Saturday in March, 1997, our family walked down that center aisle in light khaki suits and pastel dresses like it was Easter Sunday. It wasn’t Easter of course. It was Mom’s funeral. But for us we knew there’d also been a resurrection God had given her. She found joy on the other side.

And so shall he give to us some day.

May we press on. May we lean into Christ. May we live out our days for adventure’s sake realizing that a day in Christ is the greatest resource one could have. Let us live loud. Let us love graciously. Let us fiercely pursue Christ and others. Let us make the best of it. And when they lay us down, may our children wear bright clothes that day.

These Weird, Joyous Tears

Perhaps I’ve learned that if I am not emotional I am not sure that I’m truly processing all the Lord has for me in what He’s doing in my heart and life. It’s who I am…it’s who I’ve always been. So as the tears streamed down my face after walking out of the Cat Scan department today I knew that I was nearer to where the Lord Jesus Christ wanted me to be…tender, needy, and close to Christ.

At the age of 34 I became a cancer survivor. April and I were newly engaged and the thought hit me that Fall, some six months before our wedding, “Maybe I ought to start getting checked out regularly since I’m about to be providing for a family.” And so that’s how my kidney cancer was discovered. Mama died from cancer. So indeed, the fear has always loomed in the background of my mind. But in 2011 that fear came to the foreground as life came to a halt and all our focus was on my newly discovered illness. Thanksgiving continues. No one wants cancer. But I had one of the most gracious types—confined to one kidney, nonaggressive, and healed through surgery. In fact the only pain I ever felt was recovering from the 4 lathroscopic wounds the robot left in my side.

But like so many cancer survivors around the world, every 6 months I get checked out. Indeed every exam has resulted in less and less fear. Then you get to that coveted 5-year mark, and you breathe a little bit. But every person who’s battled disease knows that serious illness is something that now ‘lives’ with you…it’s like a part of you…and it affects how you look at life and for sure how you look at the future.

We made the biggest move of our life last year. Wasn’t planned. Wanted to stay where we were. Wanted a different future. But if you wanna make God laugh, tell Him your plans. We came to the desert of the Coachella Valley in December and hit the ground running serving at a new church. Moving trucks. Car shipments. New temporary rental home. New office. New colleagues. New members. Trips to the utilities’ offices to get stuff turned on. DMV visits. New grocery store. New schools. Everything’s new. So what do you do in transition other than roll up your sleeves and just say, “We’ll settle in after while.” We couldn’t have asked for better entry to a new place. We love it here. Our hearts are full. Our family is growing. And God’s people here have been so good to us. 

Then the 6 mos. cancer screening exam appears on your calendar. And you can’t help but think, “What if?” Fear is a real thing. As is worry. You think to yourself, “I wanna see these boys grow up…”, “I wanna give my daughter away some day…”, “I wanna get old and gray next to this bride of mine…”, “I wanna change the world through this church.” Then you see the sheep of the flock weathering their own storms. Your heart breaks when you learn of someone else’s bad news with illness and you think even more so, “What if?” 

This is where the Lord becomes the wonder He is in our lives. And may He be that wonder for me and for you. Salvation is not what we think it is most of the time. Salvation is the promise that I am in Christ and Christ is in me. Salvation is the promise, NOT that I will never struggle or bout with fear, but that when I do, God is with me. Salvation is not about prosperity HERE, but the fullness of prosperity for all eternity at the Lord’s feet. Now I know this in my mind, but when fear strikes, and worry weighs me down, it’s hard to press what I know 18 inches southward to my heart. This is why a regularly scheduled exam continues to be such a weird joy. Because these exams produce a closeness to the Father I have not yet produced in my own power. These exams produce in my heart a neediness for God that my regular ‘disciplines’ (or if I have to be honest—sometimes the lack thereof) have yet to consistently manifest. These exams help me to realize my need for my Jesus, my sweet bride, my boys, my friendships, my church family. Regularly scheduled trouble makes me a better believer in God. Today I’m a better me…not a worse one. 

So this morning as I laid flat on the CT Scan table (those of you who’ve done it know what I am talking about), and as the motorized table began to slide me in and out of that tube, the tears streamed down, and I whispered over and over again, “Jesus I love you.” For I KNEW He was right there. With me. Holding me tightly. Firmly. Assuredly. 

God may bring you through whatever you’re going through. And truth is, He may not. It’s such a hard pill to swallow. If we ever fully do. But ti’s truth…and that makes us free.

So Hear the good news. You are not alone. You will not face one diagnosis alone. You will not face one setback alone. You will not be in one MRI scan or one CT Scan alone. You will not face pain alone. You will not face hardship alone. You will not face financial difficulty alone. You will not face trouble in family alone. You will never ever ever EVER be alone. Ask God’s help to praise Him for this ONE assurance—that we shall never be alone. 

For those who are in ‘a season’ right now—for those who I know personally…I pray for you daily. Your names are whispered in prayer daily by me and myriads more. For now, may those weird, joyous tears flow. 

I Cry Out to Thee

My faith teaches me that my moments of desperation never go unnoticed. That the shrieks of my soul in times of calamity, fear, and lament are indeed seen and felt and responded to by Abba Father. Were it not for the assurance of this truth I would indeed be hopeless today. I’d give up perhaps. I don’t know what all I feel. I’m so sad. I don’t even have the strength to be angry because of my shock, sadness, grief, and woe.

This morning like the rest of us I woke up to the CNN alerts giving us the news of Alton Sterling’s tragic death. It is hard to not look at this video footage and call it anything but murder. But I’m not writing to be political. I’m writing to keep from losing it tonight and bursting in tears when I hold my son tonight. Because that’s all I want to do–pick him up and squeeze him with love and promise to never let him go.

I watched that video. And I saw the blood. And the madness. And the rage. And the last gasps for air from a man I do not know…yet remain thoroughly convinced could be me. Or worse. My boy. Lord Jesus I am grieving. l’m scared.

I don’t have a point. I just needed to write. And release. And hope. My wife and son are about to come to my office after her meeting and I need to write lest I burst into tears when they walk in.

So let me rehearse the truth. Jesus died for me. He died because of the hopelessness that is our sin. He took all our grief and woe upon His shoulders. He allowed His flesh to be pierced and His blood to be shed. The ugliness of sin He has vanquished and wiped out for all eternity. And my hope is in Him. He is my victor. My peacemaker. My restorer. My hope. Bid me to do your will O God. We are listening.



One Sweet Day…

I sit at study now as is custom the day before a preaching Sunday. This time is sacred for me and so many others who do what we do. Quite literally these moments are some of my most favorite. When it’s time to study and sit in the Word I get excited even about the crispness of the pages when I turn them. Most of the time anyways. I get excited about practicing the sermon out loud asking myself, “How will this demographic hear that part?…Maybe I should say it differently?” “Don’t use the word simulacrum. I don’t care if it’s perfect for that sentence. You’ll sound like a fallutin’ moron.” Oh it goes on and on. May God meet me whilst I sit with Him and bask in the treasure of His presence and truth.

Sermons are important. But not as important as family and quality time with them. My heart is full of joy and reflection as I look back to what was an exceptional day for team Jenkins. We’ve fought hard to steal away to each other for memory making days. Now we were immersed with these moments in Chicago. No pastoring. Not too much preaching. Not too many friends–but boy the ones we had were the world’s best–and they made our cups full. But in that rhythm we were together every day. Jenkins Family Brunch every Saturday morning. Dinner time at the table every night. Walks around the park every evening. Sweet sweet times establishing our rhythms and getting to know one another. But the last 7 months of living in Memphis, our new-again home, has been full of transition and busy times. Our church family–the greatest in the whole wide world–has welcomed us with open arms. One of the most fulfilling joys in this life is having a church home. I mean that. They’ve been good to us. Memphis has been good to us. God has been (and always will) good to us. Today was over 100 degrees but I’ll take this blistering, sweet heat over 50 below windchill (that was the worst it got during our Chicago season) ANY day. Yet the truth is, with me serving the local church again and April busy with her work it’s been tough for us to enjoy as many sweet days like we did in Chicago. We make it happen here and there but it’s hard work as any family will attest.

It was a good week. This time of year is challenging in that it’s time for my annual physical exams. It’s when my doctors test everything from the roota to the toota to make sure cancer has not returned. I enjoyed more peace than I have last year.  And the year before that. You get the picture. I’m grateful to a wife who remains constant in faithfulness and encourages me on weak and fearful days. I’m grateful to my best brother friends who let me know they got my back. So grateful to a team of about 10 men who’ve been my prayer partners now for years. Just shooting over a text to ask them to pray calms many nerves. So the doctors take your blood. They x-ray ya. They put you through the CT scan. And you wait. Boy you just wait. Then the other day the Dr.’s office called. I was fine. I had peace. God was with me. He’s faithful that way. But to hear the nurse’s news, “Everything looks fine”…it still wakes up something in you. As soon as she said that, I broke out in tears. Tears of relief. Tears of thankfulness. But also tears of assurance. And I mean this now more than ever I think. Tears of assurance that the same God who was with me for the good news He allowed would be the same God who’d be with me should He have allowed bad news. For Job reminds me that whether His hand is giving blessing or challenge–His is a GOOD hand.

Truth is, after good news like that–or if it had been bad news–your sense of appreciation for what you have gets finely tuned and honed. Your wife becomes not just a really good wife in your estimation–but a precious, unbelievable gift. Your son becomes not just a cute little cutie, but a joyous little wonder. And all you want to do is be with them and smell the fresh air of life. Sure there were the continued laments of the trouble of this world. A #Brexit here and a random act of violence there. We’ve got a ways to go. Yet the kinda phone call I received from that nurse reminds you that we’re still here. And there’s still much good in life. And your only thought is to live it up. For moments like these are precious.

Today was my Camden’s first haircut. If you know him you know his hair is much like a lion’s mane…only curly and Richard Simmons like. Ha! We just love it! But it was that time. Plus we decided we’d take him to see his first move–Finding Dory (Spoiler alert below…but who are we kidding? We already know how Disney movies end). Now my boy is biracial. So I just wasn’t ready to take HIS hair to MY barbershop. Naw. That wasn’t happening. I looked up a salon. Yes a salon. And of course, I thoroughly researched it to read a dozen message boards to learn exactly WHICH salons do biracial, curly haired kids the best. Ha! So we were there. With my wife holding Cam in her lap. We assured his compliance with the stylist by suckering him with lollipops (see how I did that?) and as many Paw-Patrol videos that he wanted to see. And just like that your little 2-yr old baby loses about 8 inches of hair and now he’s your 2-yr old little man. I looked at his Mom and said, “Before we know it this kid will be driving off to college.” What a sweet day. We jetted off afterwards to Tops for some cheeseburger action to stuff into Cam’s baby-bag to watch Finding Dory (wait. Did I just admit that? #hood). To see Cam’s eyes walking into the big, dark theater was a moment I won’t forget. It was the look of awe and fear mixed together. You could just read his mind saying, “This room looks dark, loud, scary, and big. But there’s a cartoon preview on so no way I’m turning around.” And we watched the movie while enjoying him sinking into our arms not taking one look off of the screen.

The story of Finding Dory is the story of a search for her long lost parents. The thing about Dory though is that she forgets everything. And miraculously, she remembers that she once had parents who loved her. And as you can imagine Dory, Nemo, and his Dad jump through 1,000 hoops to find them. The end of the movie is full of sweetness. Dory’s parents actually end up finding her. And Dory learns that not one day did they ever stop looking. Yeah. That’s the gospel. Miraculously, God has allowed us to ‘realize’ that something is wrong…or more so…someone is missing. And our hearts go looking for something or someone to fill that gap. And by grace, eventually we ‘find’ Jesus. But those who have ‘found’ him understand it better in that, truly, Jesus is the one who has found us.

My eyes welled up a bit. Watching my little boy sit there. Watching my wife relax. Watching a Memphis day go by. One. Sweet. Day.

No More Crying There:  We Are Going to See the King

“Sometimes it hurts because you are not here with me…but you…are still a part of me”

These are lyrics from a song I often sing entitled “I Wish” by Trinitiee 5:7. The song speaks of the loss of a special person in someone’s life. You would think it’s a song of lament. However the song is rather upbeat, delightful even. In one breath it admits the brokenness felt when someone special has gone on. And at the same time it rejoices over the fact that those special ones in our lives are, indeed, still a part of us. Their memories remain. Their brightness. Their smile. And their warmth.

I felt that this morning preparing to preach as I thought about my Mom whom we lost almost 20 years ago now. Sometimes it hurts because she’s not here with me. But she’s still a part of me.

Sunday mornings are special. I’m typically up before day asking God to prepare my heart to preach. Today’s morning (I’m so sleeeepy) began with dish-washing…ya know…do something to wake up the body. Listening to music obviously. Then I began to think about God’s blessings in my life; my beautiful best friend and wife. Our little boy. This little one (Carson Grand) who’s on his way. Well, who can’t smile reflecting on all that? At the same time I lamented the fact that they won’t know their Grandma in ways I’d hoped. I do that more often these days. Many a day I’ve wished April and Mom could shop together and realize in one purchase at the big sale that God made them the two most deal-findingest women the earth ever did see. That both of them would realize in one hour that they have the most infectious laughs EVER. That there’s not a need they’d see that they could ever walk past. That the special way they take care of their babies and faithfully nurture and teach them makes you want to sit, watch closely, and examine every next move they make. That they’re both the kind of women Solomon might have had in mind when he wrote Proverbs 31. There are many days I wish Cam could see his Grandmama and hang out with her for the day and enjoy 100% spoiling whilst I watch in agony knowing I’ll have to work even harder to deprogram him. That when his Daddy makes the whole family dance to some good ole music and jump and move all around is not a tradition he created but one that his grandma did ALL the time to liven up her hubby and her kids—and we loved her for it. That Cam could see that his nose is not his Dad’s nose…but it’s his Grandma’s nose. That he’s indeed a cute one—but both his grandmothers chipped in on that. That those big brown eyes of his that seem to be able to capture all the light in the room and reflect them back to you with a sense of both calm and candor come not just from us, but also from his Grandma too.

I wish she were here.

Because maybe some of those tough days wouldn’t be as tough.

Maybe those fearful moments wouldn’t be so scary.

Maybe some of life’s lack wouldn’t feel so…so…so lacky.

Enter in Jesus. The Scriptures say of my Lord that he is like a friend that sticks closer than a brother. The Scriptures tell me he has made up his mind that he will never leave me nor forsake me. The Scriptures say of him that on my darkest of days he will walk with me—and give me peace. For he has solved the problem of my sin. This is the greatest miracle of all. Yet under that umbrella He has won victory over all of life’s ailments; sadness, separation, loneliness, and pain. And what’s more, he has answered our greatest question that unsettles us deep down—the question of the future. Paul rejoiced over this—O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?

I rejoice this morning that the reason I can sing sad lyrics with an upbeat heart is because of this future victory that all those who’ve trusted in Christ will celebrate—Eternity in Heaven. Hallelujah. This life brings its ups and downs. Its pains and reliefs. Its joys and sorrows. This life is replete with the ‘already but not yet’ tension the theologians so adeptly describe in their volumes. But when tumultuous times come, and the fears of the realities of this life darken the doors of our heart—remember that our home is not this world. We are all headed somewhere. Where there will be blessed and blissful togetherness. The clocks of time will cease. And we will only know peace, joy, calm, and unity at the feet of Christ. The old folks used to sing it this way, “No more crying there…we are going to see the King.” And there we will ALL be. Together. Forever. Hallelujah.

Let us live in today with our hopes fixed in what Christ has done in time past and what He shall complete in time future. Earthly virtue will be found in heavenly perspective. That’s it. And it’s good news.

To Be Continued…Back in Memphis TN

My days at Fellowship Memphis began at Kingsbury High School. I was a young resident charged with helping our volunteers who had, for years, been a vital part of that school’s transformation from a failing school to a thriving one. Some of my most treasured memories in ministry center on Kingsbury. It’s where dozens of Fellowship folks showered hundreds of students with the love of Jesus—lending our presence, our tutoring, our teacher brunches, our block parties, our pep rallies, our campus cleanup days, and, when our kids needed it—our dollars too. I didn’t preach much for our church in those days. But every afternoon at Kingsbury, FM people joined hands—black, white, Asian, Latino, and Hispanic hands—to preach sermons that were seen rather than heard. And we preached plenty. This is the Fellowship Memphis I know.

I get asked often—“Why are you coming back to Fellowship?” The answers I’ve rehearsed might sound impressive. After all, this is the place where I met my bride, cut my teeth in multi-ethnic preaching and leading, helped launch an outpost, and discovered the mastery that is low-and-slow BBQ. Memphis is where my research, which focuses on pastoral leadership in the Civil Rights movement, might thrive and have an eventual platform for further scholarship. Memphis is where my son, who seemingly has inordinate levels of testosterone, can have room to play ball, hunt, fish, and run. Memphis is where my wife, whose heart is bigger than the ocean, can have the environment to do what she loves—take care of Cam and I, and when there’s any time left, she’ll get to love women with the hope of the gospel. To be sure, all of these were reasons we felt Memphis was right for us. But the answer for our return is simple—The Lord said GO.  Go.  Because there is more work to be done and more memories to be made.

As a historian, the memories of what makes FM special fueled our discernment process. I remembered Kingsbury days. I remembered Memphis Union Mission days. I remembered small group meetings. I remembered a diverse elder team made up of some of my best friends in the world. I remembered how fun it is to work with JB and the team. I remembered China trips with Soup. I remembered Honduras trips with Point of Impact. I remembered about 200 breakfasts I’ve enjoyed at the Arcade with 20-something year old dudes trying to figure out godliness and manhood. I remembered 28 folks who, twelve years ago, dreamt big about a gospel-centered church that championed discipleship, racial reconciliation, legalism, etc. I remembered 12 years of RICH history that celebrates unheard of achievements for the Body of Christ in our city. And lastly, I remembered people. Yes—people! Because for the pastor—people are our business. Then we looked ahead. I dreamed about shepherding and preaching the Bible to a people we love DEARLY. I thought about standing next to our staff leaders in their lives as well as their ministries. I thought about how life should be an adventure for Christ and nothing else. That’s what did it for us.  I’ll sum it up this way—we came back to help continue what has begun here. Reflecting upon a lifetime of Kingdom work, Paul charged Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” We’ve learned a whole lot from Fellowship Memphis. We’ve come back to continue the work. May many adventures be had and many victories won for the cause of Christ–Love y’all.

Fears, Vacuum Cleaners, and the God Who Has Conquered Them All

Normally I am too proud to admit such things as I do now for fear of others’ perceptions. But I’m getting older. And with age has come the wisdom to realize that vulnerability and honesty are the keys to victories that have eluded me years before.  So here it is:  I’m afraid. There. I said it.

My siblings knew me to be the easiest scare growing up. Regardless of the fact that I was the oldest and (perhaps) the wisest, those jokers knew that a rambunctious BOO! from behind the closet door would always rattle my nerves and reward that particular prankster with an all-day laugh. My wife gets the occasional giggle over how easily I am frightened or alarmed by random things—a car backfiring, turbulence on a flight, or any potential bad news. Yup. I’m a scary guy. Allow me to show how fear can continue to grip me at times.

I fly about 2-3 times a month on average. Here lately I’ve been flying more than I ever have. Guess what? I’ve always been terrified by flying! The early years weren’t so bad. But then 2009 came. We were taking off out of Atlanta and, during takeoff, our engine blew. The plane was rumbling and struggling to climb. And the tell-all sign confirmed my fears—the flight attendants were just as terrified as I was. This was it. Everyone on the plane was holding hands. Some were crying. I kind of ‘knew’ I was about to die. The only thing I was thinking, “Lord I pray this just doesn’t hurt.” Obviously we made it. But now every time I fly I’m usually in a good deal of prayer asking the Spirit to calm my fears. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m always landing in a town they call the windy city. Sheesh.

Most of you know I was sick a few years ago. Doctors found kidney cancer just before our wedding. And all my fears (My mom died of cancer) were confirmed in a sense. But God was gracious in healing my body. The cancer was surgically removed and I’m still cancer free. But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that every blood test, every ‘strange’ pain, and every story about someone else’s cancer woes doesn’t send me periodically into worry and fears that I won’t get to live out some dreams I’ve been working on. April and I are having a blast in life—and I want that to continue. Camden is growing like a weed and learning new words every day—and I want that to continue. I think maybe some day I actually might be able to contribute to the academic community through my experience in scholarship—and I want that to continue. I love the church. And I LOVE pastoring—and I want that to continue. Fear is real.
We all have fears. It is a part of being who we are—human. Some of us fear being judged. Others fear never ‘getting it done.’ Some of us fear illness. We fear we won’t get the job. WE fear the job we have may NEVER satisfy us. We fear what may happen with our kids. We fear rejection. We fear we may never get married. We fear our marriage may never work out. Many fear having to face our deepest issues or our darkest secrets. And all of us, at least on some level, fear the grandaddy of them all—mortality. Fears fears fears. The world is full of fears. If you fear something I’ve got news for you. You are normal. You are not weird. You’re not strange. You’re not a loser. Just normal.

You’re just like all of God’s other kids…which leads me to what I hope will bear fruit in this note. We. Are. God’s. Kids. God is our DAD. And this is GOOD NEWS!

In his earlier months, our boy Cam was terrified of the vacuum cleaner. When I say “terrified” I mean he would lose it. He was just done. Screaming. Trying to get away. It was bad. He was about 7 or 8 mos. old after all. The sight and sound of a monstrous machine roaming across the carpet can be foreboding. From the start it was apparent that this kid and vacuum cleaners do not mix. Either that or he is brilliantly devising a scheme to keep himself out of housework when he’s older! So we jumped into a rhythm as parents for when Cam has to face the vacuum cleaner. One of us would prepare to vacuum. The other would first pick him up, speak softly to him and tell him what was about to happen. Then the vacuuming parent would get to work while the other parent would caress Cam as the madness ensued. If it was my turn to hold him I’d say, “See bud? It’s just a vacuum cleaner. But I got you. And you’re all right!” He still cried at first. But eventually he grew to at least tolerate the vacuum cleaner and stop crying. His progress is forthcoming. This weekend while we vacuumed, not only was he walking near it, but, still wary of his inclination towards vacuum cleaners, he would give the machine a grimacing look as if to say, “I will KICK you if you come near me!” It appears that, when it comes to our fears, the caressing tactics of a parent goes a long way.

I say all this to pray, “Lord, I invite you to do with my fears what you led April and I to do with Camden’s vacuum cleaners.”  Pick us up. Give us caution about what may happen. But let us know that when things happen you’ll hold us. You’ll tell us that you have us and that we’re all right. And eventually, though we still may have to deal with these things, you’ll give us that spirit of confidence that helps us not only weather those waters, but sail through them with vitality.

Join me today in giving your fears to the God of Heaven. One of my professors put it this way last week. (Paraphrasing) He said something to the effect that, “Mankind’s deepest concern is that of his death and what happens next—and the gospel of Jesus Christ has answered this question.  On the cross and through the resurrection, Jesus has responded graciously to life’s deepest fear and concern.”  Hallelujah. For He has given an ANSWER to life’s deepest fears!!  And I say to myself and to you that if He has answered the darkest fears, He has certainly responded to all those in between.

So what’s next? Here it is: Live. Live! LIVE!!! If we’re not careful, we’ll give more time to fear than to the dreams and desires Jesus has knit our souls with! So rehearse the truth with me friend:  This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice AND be glad in it! Take up the day and seize it for His glory. Get after it. Put hands to the plow knowing that God has you. Get back in the fight. Get back to what God has called you to do. He is our captain and He will make a path for us to know the abundant life in Christ.

Charleston, Lament, and the Way Forward

On Sunday morning, I preached at a predominantly African-American church on the South Side of Chicago. As a minister who preaches mostly in all-white or multi-ethnic contexts, you can imagine my excitement to enjoy a taste of home. The familiarities of the old school set the pace for the day. I was escorted to the Pastor’s Study. The deacons and ministers circled around me for prayer before service began. Various mothers of the church, seasoned prayer-warriors who know my father, and my father’s father, and my father’s father’s father (you get the picture) greeted me with smiles and hugs drenched in a warmth that could soften any heart. I sat in service—enamored by the cathedral setting, the echoes of amen’s from the congregation, the giggles from little ones being hushed by their mothers, and the exuberance of the elders as they led in worship and told their stories. Ah! I was home!
But perhaps like many of you I couldn’t help but drift in my thoughts as I imagined the audacity of someone entering this hallowed hall to do the unthinkable which happened last week in Charleston. And, much like all last week, I sat befuddled, saddened, and yes, a little angry. Then it happened. Just before I got up to preach a brother led the congregation in the old hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.” The melodies of Zion saturated that great hall. And for five and a half minutes, the earth stood still and there were no problems in the world. Everyone was glad. We were all filled with joy. The hopes of four generations represented in that church bellowed out euphonies which have yet to be duplicated outside of the obscure churches that blanket the urban neighborhoods and the rural countrysides. “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus sing his beauty and his grace. In the mansions bright and blessed he’ll prepare for us a place. When we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus we’ll sing and shout the victory!” The way we sang was laden with hope, assurance, and peace. As we sang, my eyes remained fastened heavenward as my heart was reminded that, “It’s gonna be alright.”

I stood to welcome the people. I honored the fathers as it was Father’s Day. And I shared with them my feelings about the tragic events of the past week. Before I began preaching I exclaimed the one hope the Lord had given me. It went like this, “I’ll remind us that as African American people, we have been through worse than this. This fact doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel as incensed as we do nor does it mean we should not do all we can to put a stop to such things.  But in that we’ve been through worse we’d do well to remember that the same God who brought us through before can certainly do it again now. And more importantly so, as Christian people, we’ve been through much, much worse. And the God who walked with us in ages past is the same God we serve today.  We cannot do much in the way of politics and movements. But we can certainly do something among those who live under our own roof.  And we can certainly do something among those who live in our own neighborhoods.” The church responded with hearty “amens” and we were on our way.

After events like Charleston, some of us feel saddened and disillusioned so as to drift into a perpetual melancholy. Others are so incensed and embattled that our words speak before our minds process and before our hearts lament. And what happens is that we’re either disheartened by the lack of nothing being done or perplexed by all that is being done that will never be enough. Welcome to the human condition. Folks don’t want to hear this because of its clichéd overtones. But goodness it’s true! We need the wisdom and peace and language of Christ to set the tone for what happens next.

This entry is devoted to this need—because my thoughts have been all over the place! I’ve mourned so much this week. I’ve mourned how this young murderer’s actions were relegated to an attack on the Christian faith as opposed to what it was—an attack on African American Christians. I’ve mourned how I haven’t mourned over the lostness of this 21 yr. old disillusioned, racist young man—it was THURSDAY (two days later) until I prayed for God to save this brother and heal his heart. Jesus told me to pray for my enemies!! And I failed to even THINK about HIM for two days. I’ve mourned how the thrust of the post-Charleston vanguard has centered upon removing a flag. Though I want it down, I think to myself, “It’s a win and it’s a start…but it’s a cheap one that still won’t solve the deep issues. And I fear we’ll stop at that and celebrate a victory.”  I mourn that many are looking for political victories in lieu of relational ones—as if legality ever changed a wicked heart. I mourn that we are enthralled with yet one more sensationalized news topic and have confined our Christian response to tweets and blogs (yes, I’m hypocritical). I mourn that some of my colleagues in the pastorate may think that their sole responsibility was to talk about Charleston or not talk about it, say a prayer this past Sunday, and call it a day. I mourn.

And this perhaps is the only good and wise thing we can do right now—mourn…lament…feel. I’m convinced that my Lord can use this to His glory. He showed us this Himself. Jesus knew he would save the world through his sacrifice on the cross. He knew that he would be successful in his effort. He knew that the world was broken. And he was the only one who could fix it. Yet before he marches into Jerusalem, he weeps, he mourns, and he laments over the discord among his people: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Mt. 23:37) The thing is, he knew the answer was coming, but he took the time to lament with us. And that’s what we can do now—mourn with those who mourn.

It doesn’t end there of course. Surely we’ve got work to do. But I fear the work we’re doing now is indicative of a lack of lament and an overload of anger and bitterness. And that kind of work usually falls pitifully short. That anger is real. I feel it! But I can’t allow those feelings to shape how I respond. That’s not the stuff of change. Yeah, do the political stuff. Talk about flags and talk about guns and talk about whatever—but realize that at the same time, this ”work”, however crucial, may prevent us from the harder, more fruitful work—getting into one another’s lives and making solid efforts to understand each other. Young Dylann confessed that he almost didn’t go through with it because those people, so different than others he likely associated himself with, were so nice to him. And I think to myself, “Imagine if he’d enjoyed the opportunity to experience that niceness his entire life?” Imagine how the racially sensitive events of the past year might have played out if EVERYONE involved had more “nice” friends in their circles that were from different sides of the tracks? That’s my hope for me…that’s my hope for us…that’s my hope for Charleston as we push forward. If ever there was a time for those of us who lack the sweetness of multi-ethnic diversity in our friendships to try something new, that time is now.  Relationships with each other is the missing piece. I’ll never understand someone who is different from me until I do the hard work to get to know someone different from me. Is this not how Jesus bridged the gap with us as he walked with real people during his earthly ministry?

My words have likely failed the sentiments of my heart in this post. For that I apologize. So let some better words be the theme of this entry. They come from bereaved family members in Charleston, who, looking upon their relatives’ killer said these words: “I forgive you”…”I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you”…”Hate won’t win. My grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love.” These words are the stuff of change. Their lament made way for Christ’s glory and gospel to shed light in a situation crowded with darkness.  Whatever actions of ours that may ensue in this, may God grant that we follow their lead.


“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness…” – Acts 4:29

The Scripture is real, and true, and authoritative.  Upon meditating on a certain verse the last couple of weeks it is no wonder why David said of the Scriptures that they are a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  It is no wonder at all that the writer of Hebrews said that the Scripture is powerful, quick, and sharper than any two-edged sword.  And I was cut two weeks ago.

I’ve been reading the book of Acts and enjoying how reading a book of the Bible that I’ve read many times reads like it’s my very first time.  I am amazed at the apostles and the disciples—their stories read like the adventures of a comic book hero who actually did exist.  Chapter 4 details the mounting persecution against these witnesses of Jesus.  They’re brought before their nation’s leadership, reprimanded, and charged to speak of Jesus’ name no more.  The threat of prison or death would unnerve me to say the least.  But these men “lifted their voices together to God” understanding that, in the middle of persecution, they were RIGHT where they are supposed to be.  They were at home with doing God’s will AND suffering the persecution that it brings.  To be sure, if this were my situation, I’d pray for relief.  I’d pray for help.  I’d pray for rescue!  Because that’s what you should pray for in that moment…right?  Then verse 29 comes.  And they ask God only for boldness.  Wow.  There they stand at risk of death and their only request from a God they KNOW to be capable of EVERYTHING?—more boldness.  Again, the word of God is powerful, quick, and sharper than any two-edged sword.

So as I stand against this truth it has become my realization that my life needs a shift.  Oh how it needs a shift!  For my prayers are filled with pleas of relief and rescue.  All day.  Every day.  I ask God for protection.  And for provision.  And for joy.  And for peace.  These prayers are noble and warranted of course.  The Scriptures are also filled with similar pleas.  But my requests to God have been found incomplete—they are not wholly what they should be.  Though I’ve prayed for wisdom more times than I can count, I don’t recall too many prayers for boldness to proclaim the name of Jesus in my speech and in my actions.  And I want that to change—or shift.

We are blanketed with comfort in this country.  We are blanketed with easiness.  We are so blanketed that our entire understanding of suffering is often based on lacking something that we actually never even needed in the first place.  We sold one of our cars a few weeks back. So we’ve been one-carring it ever since in search of an SUV that can tackle the Chicago ice and snow.  And one of my steady prayers was, “God I pray you’d help us find a new (used) car because we…here it is…really need it.  LOL!  And then verse 29 comes back to scream at me and question whether my prayers need a shift.  Nothing is wrong with what I’ve prayed.  But something is wrong with the heart that has prayed those prayers.  It might reveal a heart that is too fastened to me and too fastened to what I ‘think’ I need.  My heart needs a shift.  Perhaps yours might as well.

2015 is swiftly approaching. What sort of year will it be my friends?  Will it be a year where we are so wrapped up in the blanket of comfort and self-centeredness that we’ll lose sight of the better life and the better prayers?  A better life that is so burdened for lost souls that we’ll continually seek new opportunities for the gospel to be shared?  A better prayer life that begs God for more determination, more boldness, more guts, more freaking courage to DO SOMETHING about changing someone’s life through the gospel?  Oh Lord help me to shift.  Help us to shift.

Here’s the burning question.  How shall we get there?  How shall we shift?  Honestly I don’t have the whole answer.  But I’m convinced that what got me thinking about this—the Word—is what will get me where I need to be.  So may it be a year of commitment to the reading and meditating upon Scripture.  Additionally, the Word got me talking about this.  So may it also be a year where the Word doesn’t stop at being poured into us—but also being poured out of us.  My guess is that this is the stuff, or at least the beginning stuff, of shifting.

“Lord Jesus I praise you for your Word.  Shift my heart and my life and my prayers toward you.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”