Marked: Mentors and the Invaluable Impressions They Leave On Us

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Luke 24:32

Many years ago, when I walked on the quad of Mississippi College, I was often greeted and welcomed by one of my former mentors in the person of Dr. Van D. Quick whom we affectionately called, “Doc Quick.” Doc was the former Vice President of Student Affairs and understood his role to be a pastoral one. He walked the halls. He walked the campus. He didn’t know a stranger. He had an infectious smile and laugh that became, as many know, the very essence of Mississippi College for those many years he served there. The old man took time with me from the day I dropped off my application until long after I received my diploma. Doc would come in at 4am most mornings to finish all of his “VP work” so by 8am he could be with students for most of his day. One morning, me and a buddy knocked on his office door at 6 am (we’d finished an all-nighter of sleepless studying…because we were procrastinators) and were alarmed to see Doc hurriedly answering the door with a wet and reddened face as he rushed us out. It was then we learned that Doc spent most of those early mornings on his knees interceding in prayer for the student body. The man had been weeping for us in the spirit of prayer. Yeah, I was marked by that moment. He marked the lives of hundreds of us. The Lord called him home earlier this year. And because of Jesus, I’ll see him again.

The memory of Doc is fresh on my mind as this morning I met with another mentor who, like Doc, has marked my life over the years. There we sat at Panera dreaming, thinking out loud, laughing, and reminding ourselves of our hopes for God’s church and our roles within that hope. It was a breath of fresh air this morning when he said, as we were dreaming about the church, “I feel Ricky that when we go towards the direction of God’s church, we’ll feel His wind behind our backs.” I left this morning refreshed, energized, and, as the old folks used to say, “feeling like going on.” On the drive back to campus I kept thinking about and being thankful for the many mentors the Lord has sent along the way who’ve contributed much wisdom to my life and therefore have made me a marked man. They include my father and grandfather of course. But there’s my Uncle Dwight (RIP), Dr. Ron Howard, Bryan Loritts, Greg Wilkerson, Greg Waybright, Hamp Holcomb, and many many more. They, like Jesus did, have slowed down at times to deposit wisdom into my heart and I stand forever grateful…and marked.

The passage above came to mind as well. As my heart burned from the time spent with an older and wiser friend I thought about Jesus who left many a hearts burning after the time he’d invested into others. I love the rhythm of godly mentoring that this passage introduces. The resurrection had occurred that very morning. Jesus cloaks his identity to speak with two travelers discussing the recent events. Then, the rhythm occurs. Jesus listens to what they have to say. He shares what they need to hear. Then he serves them a meal and, in classical dramatic fashion, disappears into thin air. I think this is what a mentor does.

Listening.
Mentors are good communicators. But they are better listeners. Their ears are open not just to our words, but to our hearts. They make what they have to say dependent upon what we have first said. They assume that they do not know what we need to hear until they’ve first heard what we have to say. I think a great mentor is slow to speak as the Scriptures say. A wise mentor will prayerfully weigh their pupil’s words in order to decipher where her heart is before jumping into pre-arranged communication. The gift of having the space to think out loud with a mentor is priceless…and for this mentee, life-changing.

Sharing.
In this passage, Jesus unfolds the Scriptures in a ‘truth in love’ way. I say this because what else makes our hearts burn as that of these men who walked with Jesus? Love without truth is passivity and dishonest. Truth without love is a pill no one will volunteer to swallow. A mentor never confuses this and ALWAYS makes her communication respective of both of these virtues.  The next part is huge. What Jesus does here is lean into the authority of the Scripture in order to determine what he would share with these listeners. I hope you get it. We need mentors who have another authority than that of their own. We need mentors who lean so deeply into Scriptural wisdom that we can’t separate their own wisdom apart from the wisdom of God Himself. We need mentors who speak about God more than they speak for themselves. These characteristics make marks that last forever.

Serving.
For God so loved the world that he GAVE. Here it is: LOVE…the godly sort…HAS to GIVE. True love gives. True love expresses itself. True love acts. It moves. It doesn’t stay still. It proves its words. A mentor will indeed serve. She WILL help. He WILL establish presence. A mentor refuses to see their role as a speaking role solely. Oh no a mentor, of the godly sort, will put words into action in some way. If our mentorship is bereft of action than it’s empty and meaningless and it will never make a mark.

The only part mentors can’t mimic is the disappearing into thin air piece. So yeah, nothing to say there. The rest of it is ours to begin emulating in the lives of others. I can never pay the mentor that I met with this morning back for all he’s done for me through the years. But I, indeed, will pass it on. I’ve been marked. May it be said I’ll mark others. To His Glory, Amen.

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Pastors & Shepherds—And the Irrefutable Connection Between the Two

About two years ago I got stuck on Ezekiel 34. It was so moving that I needed a week to decompress. Hadn’t really noticed it before. God Himself delivers an outright diatribe against the shepherds (priests/pastors/leaders) of Israel for not doing their jobs—caring for the souls of God’s people. God’s anger in this passage is so arrant that He dismisses them and foretells the gospel of a perfect shepherd in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s an eery condemnation against mischievous shepherds yet, at the same time, it is a beautiful affirmation of the ministry of shepherding. There is an irrefutable connection between pastoral ministry and the ministry of shepherding. It took two years for me to calm down and think more clearly about this. And perhaps now, I’m ready to write about it in a way that promotes God’s Kingdom.

My ambitions towards pastoral ministry began as a consistent response to the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” My answer? “I want to help people every day.” Somehow as a 9 or 10 year old, I seemed to understand that I was a people person, geared and wired to serve people where they’re at and journey with them until they are where they need to be. After having served in the pastorate for years now, that tag or description of my ministry has remained—Ricky is a people person—He’s a shepherd—and so forth (not all the time of course…interrupt my daily ritual of being by myself for an hour and you’ll believe otherwise). I’ll credit my parents who raised us to think of others and modeled it for us well. But it was my grandfather who showed me this on a pastoral level. As a younger preacher and grandson serving in his congregation, he’d take me to spend afternoons visiting the sick-and-shut-in members. Then we’d visit a nursing home or two to pray for their patients. Yeah, it was awesome. This is how I learned that next to the teaching of the Word, the care of one’s flock was the single most important responsibility of the pastoral ministry.

I love pastors. I love pastors who pour into me. I love pouring into pastors. I’m finally beginning to step into a calling to shepherd other shepherds. Because every shepherd still needs another shepherd. Yet as I meet more of these leaders I’m burdened by a phrase I hear too often—“I’m just not a shepherd.” I get what they’re saying for the most part. One of the best things that’s happened to pastoral ministry is the insertion of what one might call entrepreneurial-esque thinking. It’s a strategy that urges professionals to play to their strengths. Start doing in your vocation what energizes you and thus energizes others. Stop doing in your vocation what zaps and drains you. Play to your strengths. This thinking is helpful obviously. There’s no need here for me to defend such rationality. However, this thinking isn’t necessarily Bible-truth either. It’s not an absolute in the sense, at least, with respect to pastoral ministry.

A pastor, is, by design, a people-position. People are our business. The glory of God as revealed in the growth of people’s hearts is literally how we assess ourselves. This task of assessment for us is so fuzzy and indeterminable that the only way to have a sense of our effectiveness is to truly be tethered to some of the people we’re leading. Pastoring and Shepherding are connected more than too many of us care to realize. They are the same thing! And that means we, as pastors, should be more mindful and cautious as to the lanes we are pursuing in our work. Whatever sort of pastoral work you may be pursuing it is, essentially, shepherding work.

Here’s what I mean—No matter what lane of pastoral ministry you’re pursuing, you must aspire to the biblical mandate that, as a pastor, you are a leader and caretaker of people. This is irrefutable. A worship pastor doesn’t lead worship. He or she leads PEOPLE in worship. A student pastor doesn’t lead the student ministry. He or she leads PEOPLE who make up the student ministry. A communications pastor doesn’t…you get the picture. God so intended this aspect of shepherding to define pastoral ministry that he wove this central purpose into the title—Pastor. The Greek word is poimen which, of course, literally means shepherd. Forgive me for the elementary repetition here—A PASTOR IS a SHEPHERD! And for one to excuse one’s self from the shepherding aspect of pastoral ministry because it’s easier or more natural to major in other areas that play more to perceived strengths is out of step with the very calling that one has committed to.

So we must not make whatever strand of pastoral ministry with which we are assigned more central than this shepherding aspect. Biblically it just doesn’t add up. “Communicating vision” is not nearly as important as living out that vision alongside real people. “Thinking strategically” is not nearly as important as exercising that creativity in the lives of real people. Even “preaching”, as important as that is, is best grasped by real people who’ve witnessed you practicing what you’re preaching (incidentally, most folks forget 90% of our sermons).

Earlier I argued that many stray from the shepherding sense of pastoral ministry because it’s easier to play to their own perceived strengths. But often our perceptions lie to us. At least they lied to Moses. After spending 40 years shepherding in Midian and receiving the call of God to rescue the Israelites, Moses’s complaint was, “I can’t speak very well.” Moses perceived that this is what he needed to do what God wanted him to do. He perceived the mission to be more of an ambassadorial or speaking role. Of course, partly, it was. But ultimately God was telling Moses that, “I want you to keep shepherding. There’ll just be a newer, bigger flock.” You know the story. God sends his brother Aaron to speak for him to create a lane for Moses to do what God knew to be his real strength—Shepherding. In fact, that’s how Moses spent his next 40 years. He did for the next 40 what he’d done for the last—He was a shepherd. The point is, regardless of our own perceptions of what our assignments are God knows better. This is important because not every pastor is a speaking person or a vision person or whatever. But on some level, even if it is minute, we must all be people persons. Not everyone looks forward to getting into the messes of the lives of our people. Not everyone likes going to the hospitals for visitations (or whatever people-serving things you have to do). This is real and I get it. But if, as a pastor, you aren’t thrilled about the fruit of such tasks—real growth for real people, I question why you’re even doing what you’re doing. I pray you’re not guilty of what God said of the shepherds of Ezekiel’s day. God said they spent more time “feeding themselves (v. 2).”

If you’re the “I’m not a shepherd” pastor, I don’t claim to know the way out of this. I do know it begins with a closer biblical look at the role and a more consistent meditation upon what it means for your own pastorate. On the extreme side of things it may mean what it meant for Ezekiel’s generation—you’re not in the right job. But for the rest of us it means what everything else we’ve erred in means. The opportunity is ours to rest in a God of grace who can remix the mess we’ve made and redeem it for His glory. Either way, I don’t care if you’re the “Community Discipleship and Outreach Communications Social Media Pastor.” If pastor is your title—Shepherding must be your ministry.

Why Lebron Went Back Home – And Partly Why I Will Too

“If they say why…why? Tell ‘em that’s just human nature.” – Michael Jackson

At 37 I now find myself having lived, at length, along the sunny coastlines of California, the sweet, bluesy, gritty cacophony of Memphis, and now the Windy (and snowy) City—Chicago. However, my heart dreams about the first place I called home—Mississippi. It’s a place many grow up to get away from. But in my case, it’s become a place I’ve been trying to grow up to get back to. There are no bells and whistles about home. But people who call it home know that this is actually what makes it special. It’s the place where I discovered life and love, church and football, hurts and heroes. You name what I know about life today—it started there. In fact, April and I dream of coming home again some day, raising our family, planting a church, and watching life go by—all in the name of Jesus Christ. It is this dream that has endeared me to an athlete I formally despised. You may have heard of him—Lebron James.

Four years ago, nearly to the date, I joined most of you around the world who watched Lebron James make the now infamous “Decision” announcement, in braggadocios fashion, that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to cohort with his good friends Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade to collect their talents in South Beach. The rest is history of course. Four straight NBA Finals appearances and two rings ain’t too shabby. My wife will attest to my initial response to his decision. I went on what became a 3 year long rant lining up with the millions who detested James. Boy did I LOVE not liking this guy! A 30 minute special? Really? Crush the hearts of your home state with arrogance—UGH! I was done!

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t angry at his “decision.” He fulfilled his contract. He completely revitalized a region. And he takes care of home too. He’s arguably Ohio’s most charitable professional athlete. NO ONE can be angry for his departure from Cleveland. It’s the way in which he did it. It screamed of boyhood. It screamed of ignorance. It screamed of a lack of wisdom to employ older, wiser people’s opinion as to how it should’ve went down. And Lebron paid the price. He’s still the best in the world. And on the court he’s done what people who are the best do—Win. But after July 8, 2010, he put a target on his back forcing the sports nation to wait patiently for his demise…which I enjoyed because of the efforts of a 7ft. German named Dirk and a team led by the man they call Pop. Though his popularity may never be swayed (nor should it…he’s the best) his perception has experienced ups and downs all due to one dumb approach to “The Decision.”

I’m an old head now. Where my father and uncles forced me to listen to heroic tales explaining why there’ll never be better players than Bernard King, Bradley, and Dr. J, I assumed their roles talking to the 20 somethings and younger about how Lebron and Koby will NEVER be MJ, Magic, Isaiah Thomas, Bird, and so forth. However Lebron is too good to disrespect his game. He’s one of the best and he easily could’ve hung with those guys (but not surpass MJ…who never never never LOST a Finals appearance…just saying). I respect him as a now seasoned vet who is one of the best we’ll ever see. But deep down, what sets him apart from the list I mentioned is just one missing thing—ADORATION.

Michael could gamble away a few hundred grand and we still loved him. Magic overcame adultery and the hardship that was “The Announcement” and he’s still one of our favorite people. Bird is squeaky clean. We still watch Dr. J highlights. We fully adored those guys which means one thing—We had not just respect, but affection for them. The reasons are many besides their great talent and championship repertoire. One key reason in my humble (okay it ain’t humble) opinion? They stayed home. For the most part, these guys established roots and hung tough when their teams sucked and worked to make them better. And we loved them for it. We adored them. And though Lebron is truly loved by the younger generation and more, he’s not adored with affection EVERYWHERE like those guys were—all he has is respect. In fact, I remember thinking so many times after that loss to the Mavs and the continual replays of “Jersey Burning” ceremonies in his honor back in Cleveland—He’s gonna go back. He’ll win some championships with Riley and the gang—and he’ll go back. In fact, as the Heat got their spankings from the Spurs and Lebron wore that “I’m done” expression even with 6 minutes to go in the 4th quarter I thought—He’s going back home. Why?

Human nature. How does one fix that longing you feel being stuck in a conundrum of a good situation but an opportunity to get out and go for the only thing you don’t have? How do you get that adoration but also satisfy that uneasiness? You go back home. You listen to your heart. You listen to the only voice that matters. That voice deep within where—though there’s a harder, rockier path, it is yet the path laden with peace and gladness. That’s what Lebron did today. And that’s why I’m a fan. More so I’m a fan because it seems like he’s doing it for not just adoration, but for the right reasons that spark not only thrills in basketballs arenas, but change in a city. Notice what he says:

But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
Those are the words of a man. Those are the words of somebody who got better not just on the court but off as well. And though I’ve stretched my thesis far enough with this blog, I will say that these words come close to expressing why I’m going back to Jackson, MS, some day. It’s home. And it needs people that call it home to love it, care for it, serve it, and even when the world thinks you’re crazy—stay there or come back home to it.
I’ll be overboard as you know me to be sometimes. This will include tweets, rants, and purchases for Cavs paraphernalia. But it’s not just about the moves I’m certain Lebron will make on the court. It will be more so because of the moves I pray he’ll continue to make off of it. #home

Fatherhood…

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I should be doing some research on the history of biblical reception history with regards to “hearing.”  So pray for me.  But I’ve got a rule—when the heart is full it is time to write.  Well, the heart is full today.  It’s Father’s Day.  For some of us this is a great day to celebrate a man you love.  For others it’s a day to lament the past and hurry to tomorrow.  For the rest it’s a day of sadness because you can’t tell someone you love what they mean to you on a day like this.  Whatever kind of day it may be for you, think now on a Father with a perfect record who gave us His all in His own Son.  Either way it has gone down friend, you have been Fathered.

Now that we’ve got a newborn, April usually takes the 1st watch at night and I do the last portion (since I don’t have milk for the little guy in my body—women are awesome).  Well, lil man kept me up a good while last night meaning this morning I was dead asleep.  I just remember April saying, “Get up Dad.  Get up!” to which I replied, “What’s wrong?  What are you doing? (in my grumpiest tones ever)  I awoke to my beautiful wife holding Cam in that chest strap of a sling contraption thingy walking in a tray with some delicious breakfast food, piping hot coffee, and a framed gift of my son’s footprints and his first pictures.  Needless to say, my heart was full—I just wasn’t expecting anything.  For the first time it hit—I’m a Dad!

A couple of hours later we got to take Cam to his first worship service at Harvest Bible Chapel.  I sat there with my wife and child in church and as the preacher heralded the gospel I couldn’t have been more full in spirit.  The echo that resounded in my heart was that — THIS is what it is ALL about.  The old folks might express what I felt by saying this — Joy, Joy, unspeakable joy.  What a blessing to be a father.  I’m a rookie.  There are many challenges ahead.  Good days and tough days.  But I’d rather be no where else.  What’s more perhaps is that I was graced with a number of texts and calls from younger brothers, disciples, ‘sons’, who expressed their Father’s Day wishes to me in that even at a young age—I’ve been a father to them.  Today was the first day that I felt like, “It’s happened.  I’ve switched over.  I’m not as much the guy looking for someone to follow as much as I am being the guy who’s worth following.”  What shall I do with this precious gift of fatherhood?  Ah that is now the question.

And all this made me think about my Dad.  Like any other relationship we have our wins and losses.  But I can look back on his influence and celebrate that there are more victories in the wins column.  You see, for boys, our Dads are our first superheroes.  They leave in the morning and come back at night after WORKING.  That means so much to a boy AND a young girl.  They have big muscles (to us anyways).  They have bass in their voices.  We’re crazy about Mom for sure—but there’s something about that Man who is in our life.  They do stuff we can only hope to do some day—like push mowers, and tie ties, and fix things.  Plus they’re not afraid of dogs or snakes.  Like I said they’re superheroes.  And my Dad was that for me.  

He worked so hard.  April always calls me a hard worker.  It’s because I picked it up from him.  That guy would work all the overtime South Central Bell would let him work and even doubles some days because he wanted my Mom to enjoy the freedom of being a stay-at-home mom so his kids could have a good foundation.  He assumed a responsibility to make sure that every Sunday we were in somebody’s church heeding the gospel.  I cook a good bit in our home.  I enjoy it too.  I do that because on weekends, my Dad didn’t think his 60 hours of work that week was an excuse to not pitch in and cook Saturday and Sunday morning breakfasts before ironing all of our clothes for church.  By the way, those are the days we went to Sunday School, Worship Service, AND came back at night for HYPU and Evening Service.  Somebody say Amen.  In fact, I cannot remember ONE missed Sunday service of worship while being raised in my Dad’s home—Not ONE.  I’ll say it again, I do not remember missing worship service under the leadership of my Father.  If he does nothing else, he has done more than enough.  When I “needed” something—he took care of it.  He was there.  For sure, as now I’m 37, there are ways I have wanted him to be there that have been left wanting.  Nobody is perfect.  But as I said earlier, the win column is stacked heavily in his favor and for this I am forever grateful.  

His greatest Gift:

When I was about 17, me and some friends were sitting out on our porch fired up about the Lord.  We’d recently given our lives to Jesus.  We had big dreams of changing the world.  We were excited about what God wanted to do with us.  My Dad, realizing that we were ‘still up’ at like 2am and talking on the porch about God, had to come and join.  He prayed for us.  Spoke into our lives.  And then he said to me, “Ricky you’re a born leader.  And some day you’re going to do great things for the Lord.”  I never really understood how my Dad felt about my future and potential until that sacred night.  It is, to this day, the biggest gift I have ever received.  He, in essence, licensed me to be great for the Lord. I think that is what Dads ultimately do for us…they affirm that God can take us where God wants us to go.  They believe in us and our potential to do great things for the Lord.  

 

Last night while reading a story for Cam, April and I paused to pray over him.  We prayed for his soul.  We prayed that above all things he might be a man who is in love for Jesus and lives for him above all else.  We prayed for his future bride and his children.  We prayed that the Lord will take him further than he takes us.  We prayed that he will be a man of courage and will be a shepherding soul who takes care of his siblings, takes care of his friends, and takes care of all those he meets.  And prayerfully, some day, I will get the chance to catch Cam and his friends stirred up in conversation about Jesus.  I will look him in the eyes that night, and say something to the effect of, “Cam you’re gonna be great for the LORD son…because that’s what you were born for.”  And so the tradition shall continue I pray. In the mighty name of Jesus…the One who fathered us all.

Last thing:  Thanks Dad.

Your oldest boy,

Richard Earl Jenkins, Jr.

Will I Share?

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I was going to forgo journaling.  After all, I need to knock out a few chapters in the library before preparing later for church tomorrow.  Something said, “Journal.  It’ll be good for you.”  Of course it always is.  But I’ve got a lot to do and I figured it could wait.  Then I thought, “Just journal.  Just write SOMETHING.”  My habit in my journal is to write the day of the week, followed by the date, then the year.  And that’s when I realized that ‘something’ was a ‘someone’ who is of course the Spirit of God.  

I wrote down:  March 29, 2014.  And that date should’ve already stuck out to me.  Today marks 17 years since the passing of my mother, Jacqueline Dyan-Anding Jenkins.  We lost her this day nearly 2 decades ago to cancer.  She remains perhaps, save my wife herself, as the sweetest woman, friend, and servant of the Lord I ever knew.  She had a smile that could melt a son’s heart.  She had a spirit of encouragement and determination that made you believe you could accomplish anything.  And she had a closeness to the Lord Jesus that I only hope I’ve at least neared in my 37 years.  As my father wrote in her obituary (They were note-writers to one another.  ‘Tis where I get it from), “A piece of you remains in each one of our children.”  She left a mark–an indelible one I pray.  As I await to welcome my son into the world, I look forward to inundating him, much like I have his mother, with stories about his Grandma, and the adventures we had growing up at her helm.  

“Selfless” described her I think.  My wife often comments me for an uncanny ability, it seems, to give.  Though I can be as selfish as the next person, for the most part, she’s always remarked upon my willingness to give; our money, our time especially, and our selves to others.  Of course I’d say of her the same.  But if my own aptitude for this sticks out, it is of no credit to me.  It is due the influence of my Mom.  She was a giver.  A sharer.  She understood what it means to ‘be present’ with others.  She knew what it meant to give time away. To really listen to people when they were talking.  To give them, when she could give nothing else, at least the sense to know that someone else cared.  I do hope this virtue in me continues to stick out around others.  

I say this today because, as I think about my life, I feel more and more that this ‘uncanniness’ should be indicative of everything April and I do.  And everything our family is about.  And everything our time here at Trinity is about.  And everything else in the future for that matter.  I want my family to be givers.  And I realize this won’t happen unless they first follow my own example of giving to them. 

Baby showers are on the horizon.  A great friend helping with the shower sent us questionnaires for one of the games.  One asked, “What traditions will you have for Camden on Christmas?”  The answer was obvious.  His mother has already started it.  Every Christmas morning, he’ll wake up (after some toy unpacking I’m sure), and help his folks bake a ton of cookies before driving down to the local fire station, police station, and then off to the local homeless ministry to drop off something sweet and say “thank you.”  Because, I want our family to understand that, on our most celebratory of Christian days, we’re still here for others.  So now as I think about church (that’s a big dream for down the road), I think about this a lot.  Our dream is to plant a church back home in Jackson.  And as I think about Mom’s example, and the example I hope to make indicative of the Jenkins’ family–I ask myself often, “Will I share?”

I mean a lot of things by this.  So allow me to ramble a bit.  I’ve worked in social justice matters for some time.  And as I think about the permanence of poverty I’m always brought back with a phrase I’ve coined which basically says, “The permanence of poverty is rooted in the unwillingness of someone who wasn’t willing to share.”  This thought shapes my feelings about leaders, leadership, and church.  Because I feel too often that this is where great leaders lose.  There’s too much poverty (I define this as ‘not’ having something the Creator longs for you to have) among us.  Too much poverty among our marriages and families.  Too much poverty among our teams.  At some point in time, church becomes this ‘thing’ that decides for itself what time we’ll give to it, what sacrifices we’ll make for it, what priorities we will give it, and what risks we will take for it.  One problem here obviously.  That decision must come from the Spirit alone.  

So let me confess.  I don’t want to lose my wife’s affection because all of my affection was given to the church.  I’m fearful of raising kids who’ll feel like the church was the favorite kid who took all of the attention from them.  I’m fearful of being ‘that pastor’ who’ll take better care of the church than he does his own health and wellness and peace of mind.  So here’s the question I’m posing to myself:  “Will I share?”  Will I be a giver?  Will I share exposure (pulpit time) and influence with other capable pastors and teachers so that the ‘burden’ of being ‘on’ every Sunday might not have as much potential to sever family rhythms and priorities?  Will I share the church as something “April and Ricky” does instead of “What Ricky does?” Or will I alienate her to think that my relationship to the church is sacred ground on which she’s reluctant to tread upon? Will I share my time wisely between my family and the church?  Or will I let my church win the wrestling match between it and my kids for their Dad’s attention?  Will I share the fact that ‘my’ church has not figured it all out?  Or will I aggrandize, for its members, ‘our church’s way of doing things’ and ‘our church’s way of thinking about things’ as rock solid status on par with the Scripture?  WILL I SHARE?

I certainly pray to that end.  And, should you see me ever doing otherwise, please feel free to let me know.  

I close with one of my favorite memories.  I grew up on drugs.  I was drug to Sunday School, drug to Church, drug to youth meeting on Sunday afternoons, drug to Sunday night service, and drug to Wednesday night prayer meeting!  We were church folks.  My father, before he began pastoring, was a minister of music.  In fact, I think I grew up spending at least 3-4 days of the week in church.  That’s how it was.  I remember a particularly heavy busy season.  Dad was playing for revivals, programs, and everything else.  I remember the contention between he and mom.  They apparently had a talk about it.  And the next Sunday I will not forget what happened.  I couldn’t have been more than 12.  Sunday morning came and the regular rigamarole of Sunday prep never came.  To our surprise, Dad said, “Put on your regular play clothes today kids.  We’re going to Shoney’s.”  I’ve lost most of you here.  But for small town Pearl, MS, there wasn’t anything your parent could say that would brighten your day more than a trip to the best breakfast bar ever.  Here we were, on a SUNDAY, NOT in church!  We were laughing.  And playing.  And enjoying the best hash browns known to man! (I for one topped mine with cheese sauce and sautéed mushrooms) But that wasn’t all!  We then visited the only semblance of DisneyWorld our family knew:  Putt-Putt!  On Sunday at 11am, right when we should’ve been watching the choir march in, we were on Go-Karts.  And playing miniature golf.  And having fun as a family.  In my Dad’s own way, at least one significant time, he let us kids know, “You are more important than my church.”  And that’s why I remember it.  And that’s why, though I’ll give as much as I have for the church, I will not give it my all.  My all belongs solely to a woman named April and some kids the Lord, I pray, will bless us to have.  

Simply “sub in” whatever dream, occupation, career, or plan of yours that fits in the space that ‘the church’ occupies for mine.  And ask yourself NOW…before the dream comes true…that when it comes…”Will you share?”

Amen.

Leviticus and OT Gospel

This morning’s reading plan called for Leviticus chapters 1-5 followed by a few readings in the book of Proverbs.  My habit before Bible reading is a quick prayer that goes something like this, “Father please fill my heart with truth, purpose, and a will to obey through the reading of your Word.”  Laughingly though, it’s on days that I see “Leviticus” pop up where that prayer is a bit more intense and sincere.  Readers of Leviticus and other books of Law too often seen as ‘moot’ in the eyes of evangelicals know that it can read like a repetitive “don’t do this” and then “do that” sequence of mandates.  And, hey, that IS what Leviticus is.  It’s the message of a gracious God, who, like a parent who informs his child that looking both ways before crossing the street is a good thing, does the same by informing us, his kids, on what’s good for us and what’s definitely bad.

As I read, I couldn’t help but remember a colleague’s (who studies the Old Testament) frustration with many evangelicals who blindly read past the words of the Old Testament for the purpose of seeing what it’s saying about Jesus.  Don’t run from what I’m saying just yet.  I believe firmly that the whole of Scripture is about all of God.  The Bible is the beautiful expression of the Trinitarian God–it is His story written on every page.  My issue is how we sometimes tend to read past what the OT is saying.  On some level, we’d do well to remember that for centuries, all believers had of God’s word, were those first 5 books of the bible.  For a few more centuries, all they had was the Old Testament.  The canon is complete.  And we now, by God’s grace, have the entire expression of the authoritative word of God.  But, in some sense, shouldn’t we at least read carefully what God used to sustain His people for generations with respect to how they might have experienced it?  As I prayed this morning before reading that certainly was my hope.

No surprise of course for Bible readers in my gleanings of Leviticus 1-5 this morning.  But on a more personal level, I enjoyed the cognitive understanding of what I know these chapters to travel 18 inches south and mesh with my heart.  I walked away from the text with a sense of gratefulness, love, and relief in how God deals with us.  Simply put, as I was reading about the repetitive mentions of sacrifice, sin offerings, peace offerings, and minute detail as to how they should be performed–I couldn’t help but ask, “I wonder how many of these Israelites went through these sacrifices insincerely and robotically?”  But I kept on reading.  And I realized that even though some of them for sure did do so, there was no way they could miss this message:  

God is real.  He’s out there.  And as such, he must be addressed in a person’s life.  There is a creator.  He deserves and demands our attention, fellowship, and worship.  The question that asks, “What will you do with God?” is an inescapable one they we must all reckon with.  Secondly, our sin is real.  In Leviticus, as God repeats the myriad of ways that sacrifices should work–sin offerings, guilt offerings, and the like, the message is this reminder that something is wrong.  The system is broken.  Sin has marred us.  And it has eliminated our potential to fellowship with God.  These Israelites would’ve had to FEEL in this repetitive system that something is missing, something is not working the way it’s supposed to, there’s a missing peace.  We have to keep doing this over and over again. We have to keep sacrificing because we’re still missing something it seems.  These people didn’t hear the name of Jesus but through the Law they were able to see the brokenness of this reality that stressed that they were apparently in need of something.  Thirdly, there’s good news.  Blood.  It’s all over the place in Leviticus.  The average Israelite wouldn’t have pictured the place of worship as an ornate and picturesque edifice as they would’ve thought of it as a bloody, hideous, grimy mess.  As gruesome as the images depicted in Leviticus are, we on this side of the canon understand what the message is–God’s real.  Sin is real and it has broken our potential to know this God.  And the good news is there’s blood.  As the Israelites must’ve shed blood tens of thousands and perhaps millions of times it was a foreshadowing of the shedding blood of the very Son of God…the prescription for sin.  And it was worth God foreshadowing this coming gift for centuries that we might fully perceive it for all its worth.  Hallelujah.  

God is real.  And He must be addressed in a person’s life.

Sin is real.  And it has eliminated our potential to properly address this gracious God.

The Blood.  It has been shed by God’s very Son…the payment of sin and the relief of God’s wrath against us for our sin.  

Finished Well: In Memory of Deacon Abraham Speech

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A couple of weeks ago my heart was deeply moved as I heard the encouraging and affirming words of a former colleague in the person of Abraham Speech.  I’d heard he had taken ill so I phoned him at his home in San Francisco.  Like so many phone calls years before his cheerful spirit and positive attitude was the theme of our conversation.  Today I learned that phone call would be our last.  For today Deacon Speech went home to be with His Lord and Savior. 

I launched into my first pastorate about 13 years ago in Oakland, CA, as a 24 yr. old, inexperienced, go-getter of a preacher who moved cross country from Mississippi to pastor a flock of about 8 people (I wanted an adventure).  Fortunately for me, another Mississippian, in the person of Bro. Speech, had made the similar trek from small-time Mississippi to California 46 years before me.  Emmanuel Church, who’d been without a shepherd for 3 years, had been navigating tough times.  No pastor.  No remaining members to keep the church moving.  Just a handful of faithful women and Brother Speech—then a 63 yr. old faithful man who’d spent his life serving the church.  With smiles and pats on the back, Bro. Speech and his wife Mae welcomed me into their city, their church, and many times, their home.  Because of the faithful service of that family along with so many others there, the next 7 years would prove to be some of my fondest. 

During my first week on the job, Bro. Speech and I tended to some pertinent business.  No, it wasn’t delivering communion to the sick and shut in nor was it preparing an evangelistic outreach.  As I remember it, something on the roof, as Bro. Speech said, “needed fixin” and so there I was climbing a ladder, sittin’ on the roof, sharing stories with a man 40 years my senior, and beginning a friendship that would prove fruitful for years to come.  We were a team.  And a good team we were.  Though many youngsters would come to relieve him of doing the bulk of the work around the ministry, he and I were responsible for leading that body.  Eventually, those 8 became several more as many former members returned, many gave their lives to Jesus, and many services were rendered to our surrounding neighborhood.  No it wasn’t always easy nor was it always smooth.  But through it all, Bro. Speech and I worked well together as a team.  He respected me and I respected him.  Allow me to share with you the lessons he taught me.

Live Life to the Fullest:  Anyone who knew Bro. Abraham knows that he loved life.  The man was always happy it seemed.  He had reason to be.  He was married for several decades to Mae Speech, a union he never hesitated to thank God publicly for.  He ALWAYS kept us mindful of how he swooped her off her feet years and years before.  There were many a night when I called Bro. Speech and Sister Mae would pick up and the 3 of us would chat about life on the phone.  Good times.  He fathered 8 kids and a host of grandkids.  He progressed, as I remember it, from a poor Mississippi teen without a high school diploma to a most successful entrepreneur in a bustling metropolis.  But the reason he loved life so much was because he knew the source of such gifts—His savior.  As a young lad Bro. Speech gave his heart and life to Jesus.  He LOVED Jesus.  You heard it in every testimony nearly every Sunday.  You saw it in the way he talked to people.  You felt it when he looked you in your eye when something weighed heavily on his heart.  Jesus was the light of his life.  And he wasn’t ashamed to share with you that light.  He taught me then to make the best of life.  Enjoy every second.  Smile.  I can’t tell you how many times I remember him standing up in church to tell us how we ought to smile and look up because God is just that good.  I can’t tell you how many times, where he and I would be representing the church in various meeting rooms, and business offices, etc., that he would talk to a complete stranger and ask them why they weren’t smiling…and then give them the gospel reason why they should be.  Live life to the fullest.  Yes.  That is what he’d say.

Pray Often:  Bro. Speech was a praying man.  He loved prayer.  I mean he absolutely loved it.  He was old school and it often resonated with a good bit of old school that was posited in me.  I cannot count how many times he and I would meet at the church, fall down on our knees, and pray together for the flock.  We’d call out names of various members in prayer.  We’d ask God to heal people.  We’d ask God to take away the violence in our neighborhood.  With tears in our eyes, we’d beg God to move mightily in our church.  If the church was doing anything from planning an outreach to spending a good deal of money on renovations you knew what was going to happen—Bro. Speech would, even in the middle of a mtg. with a contractor, look over and say, “Bro. Pastor, let’s stop right now.  And pray.”  I hope even now he knows that because of this example, I’ve sat in countless counseling sessions, strategy meetings, visitations, and the like to interrupt people mid-sentence, reach out my hand, and ask them to pray with me for God’s wisdom.  Thank you Brother Abraham.

The Gospel Starts at Home:  It’s no secret that Bro. Speech didn’t hold back on challenging other people to do what he felt was right.  A host of men at Emmanuel church will attest to this.  But those same men will tell you that Bro. Speech challenged his family in his own home first.  There was an expectation that he left his kids with—Jesus is the ONLY way.  Only in Christ will you know peace.  He never, never shied away from urging his children to consider Jesus.  And because of this, they saw in him a shining example of what an intentional, godly Dad ought to be.  Michelle, Jen, Steph, Lillian, and the rest…how many times your Dad and I knelt in prayer in that Pastor’s Study at Emmanuel Church calling out your names in prayer.  You all were arguably the most prayed for children I ever knew.  He LOVED you DEARLY.  You all were his pride and joy.  I know for the rest of your lives you all will honor him.  I only add, remember first to honor his Savior.  That was his hope for all of his kids and grandkids—that you will love and serve Jesus.   

Two weeks ago, he ended our phone conversation saying, “Bro. Pastor, I want you to know that those people you witnessed to here…Mark, and Melvin, and the rest, Bro. Pastor, they’re real.  You did a work here.  And if no one else sees it, I want you to know Bro. Speech sees it.”  Even though I’d called to encourage him, he ended up encouraging me on a day that I SORELY needed to hear it.  

Dear Sir, allow me to return the favor:

“Brother Speech, you loved Jesus with all of your heart.  You loved and cared for your wife and met her every need.  You shepherded your children with a lion’s heart.  You cared and fathered your grandkids as if they were your very own.  You stewarded your affairs with the understanding that God sees everything.  You served the church with faithfulness, diligence, and endurance—the kind of which is altogether too rare these days.  You did a work sir.  And if no one else sees it, I want you to know that Ricky Jenkins does.  Bro. Speech, you Finished Well.”

Rest in Christ.  We will see you in the morning.