Friday, December 29, 2017

2018 - Take Life As It Comes

As a High School JROTC student in Hanau American High School in the late 1970's, I would frequently bid adieu to my Senior Army Instructor, CW4 Donald M. Lesch with a hearty, “Take it easy, Mr. Lesch!”  He would invariably respond with a pause, upward glance, and a smirk I now recognize as wisdom while saying, “I’ll take it like it comes!”  That wisdom came from surviving as a combat infantryman in multiple campaigns of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and always caused me to stop and consider what he had said and why he had said it.

As I reflect on the year 2017, Mr. Lesch’s wisdom is more profound than ever.  2017 has been filled with a variety of happenings that were both anticipated and unforeseen that helped me to understand more completely how every person must prepare themselves to encounter a very broad spectrum of happenings, ranging from the highly desirable to the least desirable human experiences.

2017 has brought the jarring news of the unexpected deaths of several dear friends.  It also marked the expected yet nonetheless painful earthly departure of my personal lifetime hero and ultimate icon, my father, Command Sergeant Major Sam Jackson.  In his passing, I saw more urgency in living my own life well and leaving behind a legacy of love, devotion and goodness that hopefully will outlive me in the hearts of those who know me and can be passed on when I am long forgotten as an individual.

2017 caused me to face more unexpected challenges as a recurring pain in my hip ended up being a sign of major deterioration and signaled the need for corrective surgery and an unplanned period of physical limitation and self-reflection.  Taking life as it comes has involved these challenges and the opportunities for experiencing humanity in the fullest as a husband, father, pastor, and friend. I have rejoiced with those who have rejoiced and overcome in life’s major challenges.  I have mourned with those who mourn when death has interrupted life uninvited and tragedy has numbed the most stout-hearted souls.  Life has come in a vast variety of ways that has called me time and time again to rely on the God I serve to strengthen me in my now more easily recognized weaknesses and to comfort me in the mysteries that sometimes continue to confound me when it seems life just isn’t transpiring the way I believe that it should. 

I am thankful for Mr. Lesch’s wisdom and the seeds planted to recognize that sometimes life doesn’t give one the option to “take it easy.” But, if one is willing to take life as it comes – the good, bad and ugly – one can persevere and emerge through even the most tumultuous times with joy of heart and peace of mind.  This truth is at the heart of what the Apostle Paul meant when he penned the words, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”  This is not an athletic or business performance verse, but rather a verse that anticipates that life will confront every human with experiences that will both “bless” and “curse.”  For those who know the Hope that exists in Christ, there are resources of the soul available to uplift, strengthen and encourage, even in the most trying times – even at the point of death – to cause one to be “more than a conqueror” if one perseveres and does not faint. This truth is reflected in the portion of the serenity prayer that pleads for Christ-likeness in,
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it...
With those thoughts in mind, I pray for a great 2018 for all of you, my friends, but also pray for your continual encouragement and perseverance knowing that greatness often emerges from trial, and sunshine is seldom appreciated apart from stormy seasons.  May the Lord bless us all as we enter into another New Year with all the challenges and potential that await us, taking life as it comes!

Your Brother,

Sam.



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Faith and Politics - God Is Not On Our Side!

In every political era, people are understandably hopeful that their views fall on “the right side of history” and that God is on their side.  Our age is no different. In the aftermath of every election, analysis and reflection find one side of an issue or one candidate or another claiming righteousness and some level of superiority over those whose views did not generate a winning level of support.  Some even go as far to claiming a position of alliance to God Himself.

As I have listened to claims of “God being on ‘our’ side” or of certain groups being "on the right side" from people of differing political perspectives, I was reminded of a mighty biblical personality who seemingly should have had no doubt about being on God’s side or even God being on his.  The reality was not as simple as one might be inclined to think.

In the 5th chapter of the Bible book Joshua, the man for whom the book is named and mighty leader of Israel is preparing to lead the people of Israel to overtake the city of Jericho as directed by God.  As he surveys the situation, he has a chilling encounter.  Here is how that encounter is presented in the Biblical text:
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “No,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

It is interesting that this Heavenly representative came to engage Joshua, but offered no assurance of favoritism or alliance.  He only affirmed that God was present, sovereign and that Joshua needed to acknowledge God’s unique righteousness perspective which was His alone and not the product of human diplomacy. Like Joshua, we must weigh into situations with our best understanding of right and wrong but make adjustments when we've thought more of our position than we ought.

For those who walk with Jesus, we must seek God’s Word, walk in humility, pursuing righteousness and exercising restraint in claiming “God’s favor” when, in spite of our intentions, we may be standing within striking distance of receiving God’s judgment.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “… my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”  That may mean rejecting a viewpoint or candidate within one’s own affiliation that does not represent what one is deeply convicted is right.   It may even mean standing utterly alone when no viewpoint expressed adequately represents what one believes to be true.

Jesus warned that standing with a prophetic voice can even turn one’s hometown and kindred against you and standing on principle can be an express ticket to an early exit from this life.  The Apostle Paul declared that those who follow Jesus are looking for a country that is not of this earth and can expect a challenging earthly journey as strangers in strange lands.  As my own life progresses, and politics and public discourse become increasingly toxic, I often feel more alienated from the world around me than I did in years past.  If the biblical writers are to be believed – and I believe them – being “someone else from somewhere else” is just the right passport for our perilous times. 

Stay true to what is right friends, and don’t fear standing firm and standing alone when everywhere others are trying to persuade you to stand is unstable and broken ground.  Dare to be different, when the labels that are available don’t fit you or your ideals.  Do not compromise your convictions for a temporarily satisfying political victory.  Blaze new trails.  Seize the opportunities to lead that come your way.  And, like the Captain of the Armies of the Lord, even when someone you admire more than their opponent, but with whom you have significant issues, asks if you’re on their side or their opponent’s side, stand your ground and resolutely say, “No.”


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Realities Behind the Sexual Harassment Avalanche

It seems that by the hour, new allegations of sexual misconduct are being discovered among powerful and elite men once considered paragons of prestige. It is a never-ending avalanche! These discoveries have caused shock and outrage around the nation.  While such responses are understandable and appropriate, there is a huge disconnect between our current moral outrage and the patterns of behavior we have applauded for almost 50 years.  We seem to believe that it is possible to embrace moral ambiguity and nonchalance regarding fidelity,  chastity and honor while simultaneously expecting people to suddenly exercise moral restraint within the parameters of codes that have been mocked for decades. It is farcical. 

We now want to call out Hugh Hefner - now that he's dead.  After all, dead men tell no tales, and an attack on "Hef" during his long life surely carried corresponding risks of undesired exposure.  In addition, we now want to express moral outrage at behavior we as a society have celebrated in the arts, in entertainment, in our humor and in our philosophies since the advent of the sexual revolution. Of course, it is righteous that evil be exposed and that predators be brought to social and legal justice.  It is, however, hypocritical to act as if we really cared before the evil within our gates was exposed to the light of day, and placed beyond the pretense of plausible deniability.

Evil doesn't stay hidden forever and hypocrisy tends to get exposed.  This rash of exposures reminds me of the many cases of preachers brought to light who were involved in covert sexual harassment in the 1980's. Two verses come to mind in reflecting on those days:
"... be sure your sin will find you out." Numbers 32:23 and "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17
Many laughed and heckled those preachers as other Christians wept.  Now that judgement is spreading beyond the ranks of the church, the laughter is subsiding. We all have work to do!

Understanding the hypocrisy of our ways, we must do more than lament the evil. We must recognize that we can never address the many divisions within our nation that have resurfaced with amazing ferocity as long blatant hypocrisy advances unchecked throughout the country in the shadows. We must embrace and cling to the good, exercising what Jesus followers call the Fruit of the Spirit of God which includes attributes like love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness and self control. If we scoff at this new and living way, failing to "get right" "for real," our current lamentations will only be the beginning of a longer and sadder trail of suffering, pain and shame. 

We must all be committed to making things right, standing with others who are courageously paying a very heavy toll for bringing truth to light. While the developments of recent days could be beneficial for our national soul, I am not particularly optimistic about the outcome. Nevertheless,  we must continue to face the truth, calling those who have fallen to repentance and transformation, recognizing that without a moral compass that redirects and brings forth change, all our lamentations are for nought. We must also work to  comfort, compensate and empower those who have suffered the grievous wrongs that plague us, and work to transform the culture that has allowed such evil to thrive in the shadows. We must drive on in faith, determination, humility, and perseverance as long as the Lord gives us ability.  Nothing less will suffice.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Counting Blessings In The Midst of Struggle

An old hymn invites its singers to count their blessings, naming them one by one. As I reflect on the year gone by, there have been many challenges and even some heartbreaks.  Nevertheless, when I examined the painful times more closely, each one was accompanied by blessings that overshadowed the pain I encountered.  The primary example of this truth was manifested in my father’s death.

As painful as my father’s passing was, I am amazed and thankful for this: that even in his diminished state, besieged by dementia, he never forgot who I was.  The painful event I was sure would come to pass as his condition worsened, never did, and I was blessed to experience a knowing look and a familiar greeting until he closed his eyes in eternal rest. Not only was I blessed to be known and remembered, but even my being able to be present with him at his rendezvous with eternity was a moment of incredible grace and beauty that I will treasure until my own time comes.

With that reflection, I have looked back on the year, considering some significant interruptions and setbacks, thankful for the gems present in the muck, such as treatment in the midst of suffering, condolence in the midst of grief and restoration in the midst of professional loss.  The challenges and trials will always come, but as long as there is breath in our bodies and recognition in our minds we must never cease to look a little closer and recognize the great blessings that are ours, even in our greatest times of struggle and loss.   

Therefore, even in a year that has had several tough chapters to navigate, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. My greetings come from a heart filled with gratitude for the goodness, mercy and grace I have received during the ups, downs and turn-arounds of everyday living.  Life is tough, but there is beauty to be found in the ashes.  Press on with gratitude my friends, count your blessings and encourage others to pause and do the same!


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thankful For Hope in the Midst of Strife

Recently, while observing numerous online disputes of great intensity, I found myself extremely troubled by the strife. The words of the holiday tune "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" began to resound in my heart, and I became deeply troubled, to the point of tears. In unison with the well-known lyrics, I lamented, "... And in despair I bowed my head There is no peace on earth I said For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men." Indeed, hatred and enmity dominate so much of the social media landscape, that it seems even good friendships are mocked and destroyed by the toxicity of opinions that are violently presented and combatively defended. "There is no peace on earth I said." But, just as my despair crested, I engaged in a few uplifting conversations with friends who have persisted in fighting the Good Fight, and loving others with wreckless abandon, regardless of how the are treated. Their devotion to the ways of Jesus and to loving their neighbors as themselves, brought new life to the hope ultimately expressed in the tune of old: "Then rang the bells more loud and deep God is not dead, nor does he sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men! This inspiring hope reminded me of the admonition of Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. " Brothers and Sisters, in the midst of discouraging times, let us continue to sow good seed in the lives of all we meet, knowing that our labor will not be in vain, if we faint not! "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men!" For this hope, I am thankful!


Friday, November 10, 2017

Thankful For His Service

In this first Veterans Day without Dad, my heart cannot help but notice his absence. As I reflect on why he is such a heroic presence in my life, the example of his daily walk is the inescapable answer. 

I learned many lessons of leadership not only by listening to his advice,  but even more by watching his actions.  He was even-tempered, a true listener, a real friend to his peers, and he just loved people! I could hear the love in his military greetings, see it in his hand salute, and feel it in my heart when he laughed. His love was even recognizable until the end. When it seemed he had lost all sense of time and space due to his dementia, he somehow willed himself not to forget me. Until his dying breath he had his special greeting for me, Luz, the family and close friends, he maintained his right hand grip and he never relinquished his relentless optimism.  He remained an inspiration. 

Veterans Day is reminder of the man he became after he volunteered to enter the profession of arms, intrigued by a recruiting poster of a lone paratrooper descending through sunny skies filled with heavenly white clouds. The Army provided a stability a large portion of his childhood lacked. The Airborne culture gave him a conduit through which to demonstrate his finest character traits of courage, devotion,  extreme commitment and immeasurable perseverance.


I am fortunate to have him as a father and to share his name. It is my life's mission to honor him and the name he gave me.  More than anyone living, I am thankful for his service.  


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Violence - Destroyer of Civilizations

No civilization can continue in violence and expect to continue to thrive. As I have been reflecting on the violent events of this year in the US, some verses from Genesis have come to mind regarding the cause of God's ultimate displeasure with humanity during the days of Noah. These verses have strong relevance for our times as well. Observe what the Scriptures say:

"Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth" (Genesis 6:11-13.)

Life was problematic on every moral level in the world at that time, but the proliferation of violence was a tipping factor for God's judgment. We know that there will not be a flood on the scale of Noah's again, but civilizations have risen and fallen time and time again ever since those days because of violence and corruption. Jesus warned that the end would be near when humanity once again approached wickedness on the level of the days of Noah. I am not prone to be a "doom and gloomer" but we are living in extremely violent times and Jesus instructed His followers to be observant of the times. We must resist this evil and not simply allow it to wash over us like a tidal wave over which we have no control. We can do something. Therefore, Let us now hold our own homes and communities accountable in our direct leadership and confront the violence directly around us. As the Texas church massacre case reminds us, domestic violence is a springboard for violence everywhere else.

Let us also hold our political representatives accountable in confronting violence, calling them to be more than powerful place-holders with personal perks, but demanding that they work and serve to re-establish peace in the land for the rest of us, who do not have the benefit of round the clock professional personal protection. It is becoming clearer that even the basic rules and regulations we have put in place are not being seriously enforced. Part of the responsibility of Public Service is ensuring excellence in administrative oversight. Let us call these leaders to utilize the tools being neglecting and simultaneously closing the loopholes that have riddled our national fabric to make the tools of violence accessible to people never meant to have access to such instruments. If political leaders will not prioritize this life or death issue in establishing good practices and implementing existing policies, let us change the guard until there are people in place who will!

We must care enough to confront the violence we are experiencing in all the ways we can, at every level we can. To neglect the issue is to continue to imperil our existence. As we remain indecisive and ineffective, Violence continues to chip away at our foundation one bloody incident, and countless lives at a time. We cannot afford to wait for the next round of assaults before taking action. Look around you, jump in, and take action where you can. Civilization is at stake.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Facing Evil Days

As the peace within our nation gives way to surging seas of violence, satisfactory explanations are illusive, and any semblance of security seems unattainable.  In such confusing and fearful times, philosophical pondering doesn't provide much comfort or rest for our souls.  There are responses, however, that I believe are meaningful and helpful even as we wrestle with the unrelenting problem of evil.  As we search for meaning and understanding in painful times, we must simultaneously engage the real carnage evil bestows on us.  We must comfort those who mourn, protect those who are vulnerable and commit ourselves even more resolutely to live by the Law of Love.  

The latest act of savagery that has grabbed our national attention should remind us that following Jesus and walking in faith is not a talismanic or charmed protection from episodes of evil or occurrences of barbarity.  Walking as a follower of Jesus is, rather, on-going preparation for confronting daily wickedness, whether we in our flesh are victims of it, or even if we survive to battle against it in the on-going cosmic war that Jesus told us is at hand. 

For that reason, we must pray for and comfort those who are suffering, and we must work to expose and confront the evil that lurks among us.  At the same time, we must work to engage others in our daily circles of influence so that as much as it has to do with us, we are not passively waiting for the next tragedy.  Let us continually devote ourselves to actively lead the way in our communities for the good by seeking to convert those who are tempted to embrace evil and wickedness as normative life ways.  Let us act to turn the treacherous away from their treachery.  Let us also work to raise up those in our charge to forgo wickedness in the first place and to choose goodness and beauty over evil and ugly, not allowing themselves to be captured by the tempter's snares.  As we labor to lead this fight for good proactively and incarnationally, let us take heart in the opening words of Psalm 46:

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.


We will not fear.  We will trust in the Lord to help us, embolden us and sustain us to fight the Good Fight until He comes, or until our time on earth is done. May the Lord have mercy on all those who are suffering and may we commit ourselves to be agents of His grace, mercy and peace - every day.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

"You picked a fine day to start drinking, Jackson!"

This is a West Point Fourth Class Delinquency report which I earned on my 18th Birthday.  It just so happened that our Cadet Company's dining in fell on my birthday, which meant though I was a Plebe - Freshman - I'd actually get to eat! Not only that, but a great steak dinner too, with champagne!

At the time, all active duty military personnel could drink in NY state at the age of 18, so I know exactly where and when I had my first drink. One major factor I failed to consider was that I was just over a week out of shoulder surgery and on a good dose of Tylenol-3 ... with Codeine ... which I had also never had before!

As our special guest, a Colonel reported to be the wealthiest officer in the Army, shared his economic wisdom,  the steak  champagne and Tylenol-3 did their work. I heard the first few sentences of his talk, followed by applause and words of thanks for his sharing. As they applauded, it seemed everyone in the chain of command was glaring at me with complete rage! I was told to report to several people immediately following dinner and was certain I wouldn't survive the night.

My last stop was with my Tactical Officer and a ranking cadet in the Company.  The Tac's words were first for the ranking cadet whom he asked a series of questions including how did he expect me, who had never had a drink or a surgery to understand the effects of alcohol and very strong prescription drugs?  There was a bunch of "Yes and no Sir-ing" then he asked the other cadet to leave. 

After Cadet "X'" departed, the Tac then explained to me the peril of my ways, and amazingly told me I wouldn't get "slugged" - West Point jargon for formal punitive measures - for my stupidity due to what he considered "mitigating circumstances." He ended his comments with a smirk and this admonition, "You picked a fine night to start drinking, Jackson! I think you better stick to soda pop and burgers from now on!"  Knowing a gift when I see one, I took the advice then and continue to take it now! Won't forget turning 18 and my adventurous days in Cadet Gray! Go E!!


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Potential of Scouting For All

As the Boy Scouts of America revealed the decision to become co-educational, numerous articles have been posted in response. As an Eagle Scout, I can attest to the great impact scouting had on my development as a boy, and the impact of the role modeling provided by my Scoutmasters and the adult volunteers for our troop, Troop 724, all of whom were either Special Forces officers or NCOs, or officers or NCOs in the 82nd Airborne Division. 

The potential for and importance of shaping the moral character of youth cannot be understated, as youth eventually grow to influence others in all aspects of life, even to the highest levels of leadership.  As we consider a deficit in moral leadership on so many levels of public service and private enterprise, I am reminded of President Gerald Ford's response to an accusation that he was too much of a Boy Scout in his leadership approach to the presidency.  He said in retort,

“It has recently been said that I am too much of a Boy Scout in the way I have conducted myself as president, and so I reviewed the Boy Scout laws and Boy Scout oath. They say that a Scout is ‘trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.’ … And the Boy Scout oath is, ‘On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout laws, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.’ Well, if these are not the goals of the people of the United States, what they want their president to live up to, then … either you have the wrong man or I have the wrong country.”

While I believe there are strong benefits to having youth development programs that are not co-ed, the decision has been made, with numerous considerations, to make Scouting a shaping opportunity for boys and girls together.  If the moral foundations are not only remembered, but infused to the children who participate in scouting, developing them through rigorous challenge, that comes through growing to respect, love and embrace the power and beauty of nature and nature’s God, Scouting will continue to impact our nation by producing strong potential leaders who will not shy away from responsibility in the face of difficult times. 

Our nation needs dependable leaders, male and female, at every level in every neighborhood, in every state who will live by a code that guides them to consider others beyond and before themselves and who have the moral toughness to stand firm in their convictions, defending the weak, walking in goodness and standing for justice even under pressure to preserve themselves, positions of influence and the perks of power.  If we as a nation, can revive Scouting to be available to all who desire to take on its adventurous challenges and willing to abide by its code, what an accomplishment that would be.  Let us hope that the changes proposed will grow a cadre of strong men and women who are willing to abide by the dictates of this timeless oath:

“On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”


Let us “Be Prepared” by seizing this opportunity to develop strong women and men to lead our nation.  The challenges in this world require it.  The future demands it.


Brownsea 22 Camp, BSA, Camp Reeves, NC 1976

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Persuing The Cure For Highlander Syndrome

Black and evangelical. The words may seem incongruous, but have actually been linked for many, many years.  African-Americans evangelicals have been fighting the good fight of bridge building between the racial divides for decades in the United States. Pioneers like Will Pannell was building the foundations for bridges of understanding in the 60’s as was Tom skinner in the 70’s. Countless others have followed since, but few are recognized beyond the limits of their organizations or immediate communities.  Even when Black Evangelicals are recognized on a broader scale, they tend to be viewed from what I call "Highlander Syndrome" - "there can only be one,” as in there can only be one minority voice at a time that the Evangelical base is willing to listen to at one given time, and that one voice had better limit its expressions of opinion to a very tight range of expression, especially on matters of race and social justice.

Such limitations rob the larger spectrum of evangelicalism of the broad tapestry of perspectives and nuances of ideas needed to proclaim Gospel truth and combat error on a day to day basis. These limitations also dishearten those who brave taking the path less trod in their willingness to identify themselves as evangelicals in the face of uncertain acceptance and sometimes withering criticism when an opinion they express falls outside the bounds of political acceptability.

The popular artist Lecrae has made it known that as he has wrestled with the contemporary issues of race and social justice and has sought to bring his evangelical faith to bear on these issues. In his struggle, he has encountered disappointment as he has shared his experiences with other evangelicals who have not welcomed his perspective.  His disappointment has been sufficiently deep, that he is reconsidering his willingness to identify with white evangelicals.  As an evangelical who has experienced the highs and lows of vocational Christian service as a minority serving in an organization of majority origin, I can understand his dilemma.

When his stances have seemed more in line with the standard viewpoints of main evangelicalism, he has been hailed as a hero by the mainstream of that movement, but denigrated as a “mascot” by other minority Christian artists who do not openly identify as evangelical thought they would also identify as “born again.” When his opinions line up more with those of an oppressed minority he is castigated as “compromising” by the evangelical mainstream and yet still viewed with suspicion by others because of his theological perspective.  Being seen as less than faithful by those who supposedly embraced you can cut to the deepest part of a person’s spirit and can lead some to reconsider their faith community alliances, and in some cases, lead others to reconsider their faith.  Lecrae’s faith remains intact, but he is reconsidering his alliances.

If those who claim to be one’s brothers and sisters cannot give enough trust to allow for a divergence of opinion on matters that directly impact one’s life, but that do not impact their lives to the same degree, what is family for?  The challenge is in the Christian family, ultimately, the filial relationship is not determined by opinion, but by blood – the Blood of Jesus.  As the song of old decrees, that Blood “… will never lose its power!”  For his reason above all reasons, call ourselves what we may in terms of labels, all who are called by the Name of Jesus are part of those “peculiar people” who seek the truth, strive to apply it, and hope for the consolation that comes from walking with God.

Nevertheless, the divisions persist and the labels multiply.  At this stage in my own life, if had the opportunity to counsel Lecrae, or anyone else struggling with their Christian label, I would offer this advice:
  • “Do not grow weary in doing good.”
  • “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
  • “Forgetting what is behind, strain toward what is ahead … press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [you] in Christ …”
  • Don’t worry about what others do and say.  When they are mean forgive them.  If they can’t accept you as you are – move on.
  • Find what you have been called to do, and do it.  Whatever you call yourself, or the work of your heart, do it for the Lord, and let the chips fall where they may!
  • Be true to God. It is He to Whom you will answer – and so will everyone else.
Perhaps the ultimate cure for Highlander Syndrome is to embrace courageous obedience. We must know our calling, pursue it with unrelenting focus and embrace the uncertainty and risks that accompany bold obedience as a follower of Jesus. Such efforts may not help us find a home this side of Heaven, or give us a label that helps people understand who we are, but it can multiply the good work that remains to be done and afford us the peace of mind and satisfaction that accompanies doing the Father's will and finding our joy and peace in Him as we press on doing what He has called us to do.





Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Why Do The Police Encounter Stories Get So Much Traction?

We are blessed as a society with liberties and freedoms that many around the world only dream of. Yet, even in our great land, watched over by the best law enforcement agencies, staffed by the best officers, things sometimes go wrong. At times, the mistakes are painfully common. Why do the protests have so much traction? Let me offer some personal perspective.

I was blessed to be raised in a solid, stable,  two parent family in the military culture,  trained since birth to stop  and stand for the raising of the Colors,  their retirement,  and every by the book appropriate instance.  I still do. I am an Eagle Scout, West Pointer,  ordained pastor, husband and father.  My wife is the only woman I have kissed with passion or slept with, all within the confines of marriage. I am anal about obeying the speed limit and obeying the law. With those credentials,  EVEN I have been pulled over numerous times and had weapons pulled on me twice, including once on campus,  in seminary when I was seen running from a dorm with a Bible  - an action that was reported as a suspicious Black male running around campus with a dark object in his hand. 

Good home training and possessing a generally calm personality helped me survive those encounters, but 1000 pages of Sowell doesn't explain that away and lets me know that there's a problem. For the majority of Black men I know, and I know a LOT of them, this is the case. That's why this these protests have traction. If I'm having these encounters, and others like me are, some that came close to going wrong,  how much more someone with less breaks than me and less community support?

This does not excuse criminal activity,  disrespect of authority or law breaking,  but when numerous solid,  law abiding citizens are themselves having close calls when going about daily business,  concern is warranted and the reporting of such encounters is highly believable.

Let's all work together to lessen these close calls and enable freedom to ring unencumbered by controversy and missteps.

Respectfully,
Sam

Monday, September 25, 2017

Let Freedom Ring!

"Freedom" is an American feel-good word. It is comfort food for the American Soul.  It is used with force and conviction in political rallies and civic classes.  Freedom echoes through American hallways and rings through its valleys as the hallmark of American life and the embodiment of the American way.   

I am aware of my great fortune to possess citizenship in a country that values freedom as such a normal fabric of our nation's existence, that two citizens are able to boldly and publicly express their pleasure or displeasure with the nation, without fear of governmental intervention or federal punishment.  THIS reality is a precious gift,  bought with the blood, sweat and tears not just of those who have served in the Armed Forces, but those ancestors who have built the nation for us, whether by choice or servitude.  

These numerous contributions in the securing of our inalienable rights have been provided not only the marching of soldiers, but also the marching of dissenters,  the marching of contingents of the First Americans on Trails of Tears, and the relentless marching along history's path by an unending parade of sacrifice that has made America the Land of the Free. The ranks of this parade have been filled by laborers, artisans, farmers, professionals and citizens of every sector of American society.  For this reason, this country belongs to every American and we must never forget not only the sacrifices of those who hav defended America, we must remember the contributions of those who have sustained her as well. All Americans are within their rights to express their opinions on matters of social importance - or not - whatever their station in life, from the poorest to the richest; from the most successful to the ever-failing; from the most popular to the most despised.  EVERY American has the right to express themselves.  

Of course, there are no guarantees that one's expression will be liked, appreciated or embraced by anyone else.  Our heroes of history were often the pariah of their own day, braving withering social pressure to stand for well-accepted, popular practices we now call injustice.  Sometimes, even the government that heralds those rights, attempts to stifle them when the heat of the day is just too intense.  Nevertheless, even in the face of powerful opposition, in America, freedom ultimately rings.  

For that reason, wherever one's opinion falls with respect to displaying dissent during the National Anthem, do not lose the beauty of our freedom in the fog of disagreement. Very few nations in the world could stand the strain of allowing dirty national laundry to be aired in the midst of singing the national song. America's greatness lies in its invitation to love it, not in any coercion to do so. For me, who proudly stands as the Colors are flown and the Song is sung, the presence of other Americans who choose to kneel shows in the most vivid manner possible, that Liberty continues to be proclaimed throughout the Land, and those who have contributed to the red stripes on Old Glory, indeed did not die in vain. Let Freedom Ring!




Tuesday, September 19, 2017

And So It Begins - Middle School and the Initiation Of Racialized Chatter

I remember the junior high/middle school years as a somewhat confusing time of wonder and painful adjustments.  It was during those years that I first formed friendships that I enjoy to this day!  It was also the time that I noticed more overtly, unprovoked racialized behavior amongst my peers.  I saw students of a lighter hue harassed by students of a darker hue for walking in the “wrong part” of a hallway or for “walking too cool for your kind.”  It was also during these years that I heard the “n-word” used regularly as an insult resulting in violent exchanges.  Those types of memories have always made me particularly concerned for my own children, fearing that their middle school experience would be baptisms by fire into the uglier sides of American culture. As of this writing, I am 4 for 4 in seeing my concerns realized in the lives of my daughters.

Victoria is a strong young woman who possesses a keen sense of humor and energetic personality while at the same time, exhibiting traits of deep thought and a contemplative nature.  Very recently, after climbing in the car as I picked her up from school, I could see that there was something on her mind. I assumed it was an academic question or goofy anecdote from school.  It was neither.  She began by sharing the awkward, middle school struggle to find a place to sit, when cliques are beginning to form and suddenly who sits next to whom becomes a greater concern.  Finding “friends” she recognized, she sat down and began to eat.

As she consumed her lunch, one “friend”, out of the blue, launches into a rant, proclaiming in bold terms a ridiculous, negative generalization about people of African descent.  Victoria listened unbelievingly.  Others at the table, also stunned, cautioned this individual by reminding them that Victoria was at the table.  The friend responded, “I don’t care!” and continued with her racially charged words.  Victoria quietly at her lunch, and kept the incident to herself until she came home and shared the happening with us.

This type of incident is what keeps those of us who are people of color on guard, even as we “relax” and what keeps those of us who follow Jesus prayed up and prepared.  My gut reaction was one of anger and the words that first came to mind were not edifying in any way.  Nevertheless, I believed that my response would be critical in shaping my daughter’s perspective on herself, her heritage and others who were of different backgrounds.  I swallowed hard, silently prayed hard, and began to share and encourage in what would be a series of discussions on the incident, advising her on reactions to such rants and advising her of when the issue would be considered an escalation worthy of teacher/administrator interaction.

I share this today not for pity, but for perspective.  The day was long enough for all of us as it was, without this extra grenade being tossed in.  Nevertheless, the grenade was thrown and had to be dealt with.  I also share it to remind us as adults that our children hear and repeat the less than righteous things we say.  The content of the rant Victoria heard clearly originated from the home of the person that delivered it.  I know this family and could her the parental voice in my mind that planted the seed.  The thought of such ignorance coming from the mouth of my “friend” was painful and disappointing. 

We don’t have to wonder why our nation is as divided as it is.  For the last few decades it is apparent that for the most part, we have been posturing and play acting that our hearts are for togetherness and our minds are united as one.  Our children, from the university level to middle school, are exposing a different truth.  Brothers sisters and friends, if there is to be any semblance of peace among us, it must begin with us in our own homes.  My recent experience gives me pause and less hope that overcoming progress has been made.  Nevertheless, I am committed to teach the righteousness of love until my dying breath.  I pray you might be convicted to do the same in your homes, amongst your own kindred as well.  One certainty is this.  Our shortcomings in loving others will be ultimately exposed for all to see.  Hatred cannot be forever hidden. May God save us all from ourselves.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Ending The Domination of Toxic Criticsm

Toxic criticism is quickly emerging as the United States' new national pastime.  Distant observers love to criticize others who are actually engaged in trying to make a difference.  If social media posts are to be believed, the United States is a nation of mindless, unfeeling, calloused, inhumane idiots – except for the individuals who write such claims about others - others who are actually attempting to make a difference rather than merely voice a difference of opinion. This prevailing practice of uninvited criticism offered by uninvolved individuals has become even more prominent in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, perhaps the most powerful and destructive hurricane to land on US soil in living memory. 

As it became evident that the storm would be of historic proportions, pundits with years of well-honed skills for criticizing the actions of others under their belts, began harshly assessing the responses of various individuals and entities. These assessments were based on expectations that did not truly appreciate the immensity of the destruction or the human need to assess, adjust and address the situation before engaging in definitive action.  These critiques have been particularly characteristic of how churches have been viewed in their responses to this crisis, and no church has been criticized more than Lakewood Church of Houston, pastored by noted televangelist Joel Osteen. 

In assessing Lakewood’s response to Hurricane Harvey, pundits painted Osteen’s actions as detached, self-centered, lethargic and inadequate.  He was further described as one more concerned about money and comfort than he was about helping those in need and portrayed as one who had no true regard for the city of Houston and its citizens.  The problem with these conclusions are that they are not based on fact.  There is an observable history of Lakewood Church that tells a much different story.  Lakewood was founded by Joel’s father, John Osteen in the late 1950’s.  The senior Osteen was known for preaching an unrelenting message of God’s love and being willing to serve anybody, especially those who were outcasts.  John Osteen led the church through a period when he faced criticisms and violence for opening the doors of the church to all people and refusing to serve in a segregated setting.  Such stands estranged him from other “Bible-believing” ministries of his era, yet Lakewood persisted in following the conviction that Jesus called His people to love all people. 

As the multicultural makeup of Lakewood became accepted by outsiders, the church simultaneously maintained a well-earned reputation for helping the needy and being focused on reaching those who were outcasts. After John Osteen’s passing and Joel’s assumption of Leadership, Lakewood maintained its role as a “go to” resource in times of hardship, serving as a literal shelter from storms in other regional hardships and caring for the vulnerable in numerous emergency situations.  As Hurricane Harvey loomed, Lakewood’s leadership knew they would help, but weren’t sure how they would best assist, knowing they had their own vulnerabilities in terms of the possibility of flooding within the building that serves them.  This self-imposed delay for the sake of sound decision-making and to help prevent Lakewood from becoming a source of trouble rather than help, became fertile ground for every critic of Lakewood in particular and Christianity in general.

The crop of criticism and ridicule that has been produced because of Lakewood’s making more careful assistance decisions has ignored Lakewood’s history, demonstrated ignorance of Lakewood’s core values and applied unrighteous stereotypes to a ministry that while not by any means perfect, makes it a point to serve as a place of refuge and help.  Just because one has an issue with Christians – even when justifiable – does not mean one should feel free to belittle, berate and insult any church within view without taking the time to know the facts. Observe all ministries like one would any entity – with objectivity, fairness and with actual knowledge about what the church stands for and what the church does.  Among agencies who help in times of crisis, churches are often at the very core of the groups that help, and often supply the key players who help as a matter of course in their secular duties. 


While it is true that I do not see eye to eye with Brother Osteen on some matters of doctrine and theology, I have observed him for many years. I take note that he has not forgotten the hallmarks of the faith, and has committed the formidable resources of the ministry he leads for caring for widows, orphans and strangers.  I would invite those who wish to criticize Christians as a matter of sport to know that while you will assuredly find faults at which to take aim, you will also certainly find unrelenting devotion in serving others and excellence in denying self towards which you can strive.  Let us proceed to light more candles and relent of perpetually cursing the darkness.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Presence of a Monument Cannot Twart The Power of A Heritage

The presence of a monument can invite the power to make a statement. The photo presented below was taken in mid-1966 while my father was deployed in the Republic of Vietnam, serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. His deployment occurred in the midst of very volatile times at home and my mother's disposition reflected the tension of the times and the danger of Dad's duty assignment.

The occasion of the photo was a visit to the most prominent monument in the town of Port Gibson, Mississippi, during my father's deployment. This visit was not a minor issue and invited some controversy at the time, yet allowed us to make a statement - literally and figuratively - that my parents, raised at the height of Jim Crow in the very heart of Dixie, were now making sacrifices in freedom that obliterated the philosophy of slavery and servitude espoused by the system that erected that monument.

The presence of such monuments rightfully stir strong emotions, yet also provide us with powerful opportunities to reflect on the bad,  commit ourselves to the good and educate those who follow us regarding the costs of evil and the sacrifices required to overcome it and sustain truth and beauty in a free society.

I am concerned that the demolition of such monuments will eventually lead to the denial of transgressions and a sweeping cultural amnesia that will open the gates for evil's reemergence and render prior gains in vain.  I propose that we allow these monuments, in all of their offense, to provide us with opportunities to remember, teach and learn with bold intentionality.

Using these monuments as vivid reminders of our nation at its worst can provide us with powerful  reminders of how we should not live so that we might avoid revisiting the unrighteousness of our past and so that this great experiment called America might not perish from the earth.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The War Rages On – Confronting Torches and Hoods

The War Rages On – Confronting Torches and Hoods

In the modern era of warfare, there is much discussion of “winning the hearts and minds” of those we engage in combat.  This objective gets mixed reviews, and is sometimes met with annoyance by those who are more focused on the less ambiguous objective of “closing with and destroying the enemy.”  Nevertheless, as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who “no longer studies [the making of] war,” in the military sense at least, I find that the Bible has much to say about conflicts being resolved in those very places.  The Bible presents strong evidence that the seeds for conflicts are fertilized for germination in the hearts and minds of people.

Jesus declared that the act of murder incubates in a mind consumed with anger. A major Biblical theme argues that it is the ill-intentioned, misdirected, driving passions of humans that lead to conflict, quarrels and destructive pursuits.  This has been the human condition since The Garden.  Nevertheless, from the Beginning, God has invited humans to seek Him out and to embrace the Way that leads to a transformation of one’s life pursuits through the renewing of one’s mind.
Our nation’s struggle with this renewal manifests itself regularly in issues of race. This struggle flares up repeatedly to the point of producing violent clashes in the streets in every generation. The conflicts and challenges have not only multiplied, but intensified and grown in complexity.  The sweet tastes of victory we have celebrated with great joy, seem woefully na├»ve upon reflection in the present day.  The true source of these conflicts and challenges must be understood to be overcome on any meaningful level. 

In pursuit of such understanding, as the Apostle Paul addresses his Sisters and Brothers in Rome on how to conduct themselves issues of human interaction in Romans chapters 12 leading with two primary guiding commands: “Stop being conformed to the pattern of thinking utilized by everybody else in the world.”  Rather, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  One cannot carry out the New Commandment issued by Jesus with the Old Patterns of thinking dominating one’s mind.  The act of transformation Paul demands generally does not occur in rallies or marches but is forged in the kiln of committed friendships and nurtured in the solitude of prayerful contemplation.  As this transformation takes place, it is solidified by the casting of applied action in real life, real time.
The conflicts we are experiencing are not an accident and should not be a surprise.  

While U.S. culture celebrated unity in 60’s Coke commercials, 70’s Discos and 80’s appeals for peace – all “good things” on the surface, we laughed at racially charged jokes, used racial epithets behind closed doors and subtly nurtured stereotypes about friends and neighbors under the guises of “street smarts and reality.”  In the process, we fell into a self-made trap of complacency, relying heavily on symbolic gains while neglecting to secure, reinforce or protect those gains with lifestyles and out-of-sight behavior that reinforced the strides toward unity we believed we had made.  We failed to follow through with the gains achieved, because meaningful follow-through requires on-going risk-taking, unceasing work, and a willingness to be vulnerable over and over again.  As humans, we just don’t want to put in such a significant amount of effort and our laziness has produced a crop well integrated with weeds.

A dissuading aspect of the solution to the challenges of pursuing racial unity is, there is no easy way. Every generation will either contribute to unity and building understanding by laboring in the garden of loving one’s neighbor, or else abdicate the harvest to the unrelenting weeds of apathy, laziness or selfishness.  Marches and symposiums cannot replace conversations and meals.  Lawsuits, boycotts and shaming cannot replace dialog, forgiveness and reaching across the fence to truly seek to understand my close by, but very different neighbor.  Real life, unlike sitcoms and inspirational movies, doesn’t end with “happily ever after” but rather constantly reboots with, “so they kept on trying!” 

For that reason, I am not panicked by the events of the week, though I am troubled by them. While bothered by them and while shaking my head in sadness, I do not widen my eyes in surprise.  Since becoming fully engaged in the battle for truth and beauty after becoming a Jesus follower, I have never ceased to understand that we are at war!  It is a war for hearts and minds. It is a war for the souls of people.  It is a war that goes beyond what can be seen, invading the hidden trenches of thoughts, ideas and convictions.  Such a war must be fought perpetually, with spiritually powerful weapons, and physically manifested with real life, real time application day in and day out until our change has come.

For this reason, brothers and sisters, I call you not to protest or resist, but rather to fight with your face to all enemies of truth and beauty.  The Apostle Paul issues the “war cry” in this way,
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
 The scope of the effort expected of those who follow Jesus is extensive – taking on every pretentious, ungodly lie, and disciplining ourselves by reigning in every thought and submitting it to the standards of Jesus.  Our application of efforts must be unwavering in intensity and consistency and untarnished in purity and commitment to goodness.  Such effort may cause us to be misunderstood and even vilified by those choosing an alternate path.  I humbly remind you that while other paths may appear at a glance to be more satisfying and offer easier solutions to the challenges we face, the Scripture warns, “There is a way that There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 14:12.)

A major point that must be clearly understood in waging the war for truth is enemy identification.  Those holding opposing views in the battle for truth are not the enemy!  The Scripture says, “… we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12.) We are warned rather to watch out “your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8.)  Jesus stated that part of His mission – and ours – is one of rescue:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come

For this reason, we should approach those in opposition to righteousness not as enemy combatants, but rather as brainwashed POW’s, suffering from spiritual “Stockholm Syndrome,” powerfully under the influence of the enemy, but desperately needing liberation from captivity.  Therefore, let us not seek to strike down those who are bound in ignorance, but rather attack the “speculations and lofty arguments” that originate from the enemy himself. Rather, let us steadfastly follow the new and living way Jesus has prepared for us, embracing the difficulty, looking past the ridicule that often accompanies righteous living and pressing on armed with love, perseverance and truth.  Let us not grow weary in doing good, being overcome by evil, but let us endure and press on, overcoming evil with good!  This is a war that will not soon end.  Therefore let us renew our resolve, focus our efforts and start knocking down the pretentious and speculations continuing to fight the good fight until our last breath or until our change has come.



Monday, July 31, 2017

The Goodness of Affliction

I continue to be troubled by the on-going and ever-increasing callousness and hostility evident in our daily interactions over the airwaves and social media.  It seems we cannot discuss differences without denigrating those who hold a different opinion.  We cannot win, without humiliating those we have vanquished.  We cannot succeed without crowing about the failures of those we have surpassed.  We lack compassion.  We lack the willingness to understand. We lack love.

There appears to be a hardened refusal to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.”   It is not convictions upon which we stand in refusing to consider differing points of view, but rather we stand upon mountains of arrogance. We do not take refuge in strongholds truth and beauty as much as we hide within fortresses of pride and prejudice.  We either scoff at those who are struggling as viewed from our perspective of achievement and success or else we berate those in need, supposing in our privileged estimation that those to whom misfortune seems to cling, deserve their wounds or else have earned their difficulties. 

As a pastor, I am often asked “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  The short answer is, “I don’t know.”  Nevertheless, after experiencing a significant personal failure earlier in life and while currently dealing with a chronic health issue, I have come to see losing and suffering as great teachers in the school of character development and priceless guides along the path of walking with Jesus.  What’s the lesson?  Psalm 119, verse 71 best captures the heart of the curriculum, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Affliction – be it in the form of a setback or an ailment – can transform one’s indifference to the plight of others to a sensitivity in the difficulties encountered throughout life. While the affliction itself may not be good, it can lead to good for anyone who uses the pain of it to enlighten, inform and sensitize them to those situations when for whatever reasons, life just doesn’t go one’s way.  Affliction can draw someone closer to God and allow them to learn His decrees, understand His precepts and walk in his ways with a freshness and energy not always experienced when one is caught up living the good life, problem-free.

If the medicine of affliction has its greatest impact, the person afflicted will not just be more sensitive, and compassionate in practice as well as in theory. Justice Roberts captured the essence of this impact in expressing his hopes for a group of youngsters he addressed in a graduation speech.  He said,
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don't take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.”


If we can grasp the kind of compassion and understanding about which Justice Roberts spoke, perhaps the afflictions we experience in life will not have been for nought and our interactions with one another might lead to more understanding and cooperation in our daily dealings.  Though I don’t wish ill for any of us, I do pray that each of us can extract the precious stones of understanding from the ashes of life’s setbacks, and mine the gold of compassion from depths of our seasons of despair. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Dealing With Race In the Southern Baptist Convention

Recently, a Brother Pastor announced his parting of ways with the Southern Baptist Convention over a rather clumsy handling of a resolution presented during the 2017 national meeting of the Southern Convention in Phoenix.  The purpose of the resolution was to affirm the Convention’s commitment to the Gospel’s affirmation of the equality of all people regardless of ethnicity, specifically by issuing a rejection of “Alt-Right” theological heresies.   After being asked by a number of friends what my thoughts are on the matter, I decided to post my convictions for anyone who cares to know them.  These convictions are my own and questions or thoughts should be addressed to me.

Regarding Lawrence Ware’s assessment of his Southern Baptist experience that have moved him to sever ties, I believe it is an honest reflection that accurately describes some churches, local associations and state conventions, but not all. I cannot speak for Southwestern Seminary or other associations exhaustively, but I can speak about my own experiences in 3 separate Associations and State Conventions as well as one seminary.

I've been a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville for 2 years now and have seen the administration there make great attempts to confront issues of racial justice.  I can also affirm that there is no political “Trump Bandwagon” at Southern.  In fact, during the election, the president of Southern clearly expressed his concerns and why he would not support then candidate Trump’s White House Bid in the face of much criticism (https://caffeinatedthoughts.com/2016/07/albert-mohler-russell-moore-donald-trump-christians-voting/).  The professors I have had the privilege of knowing have woven the issue of racial justice into the classes I have taken in the Global Missions Track and there is a robust desire to reach more African Americans and Latinos, though minority professorships are wanting -- as they are in many institutions of higher learning in general, even secular liberal ones.

My own faculty advisor is the descendant immigrants and the son of missionaries who served in Colombia, where he was born. He and his family have served the Lord in Spain and Morocco, and are all multilingual.  He and his wife have 2 sons, one biological and one adopted African-American son. I am deeply impressed by his heart for reconciliation and trust him immensely to speak and live out the truth in love. Another leader at Southern has lead with true candor, acknowledging at an official function, the burden of the school's segregationist’s and pro-slavery past, including exposing the racism of the founder for whom the undergraduate school is named.  This kind of honesty has been the rule, not the exception in my experience at Southern and I have found like honesty in other pastors and leaders I have known throughout the Convention.

More directly, in my own history with my wife in the SBC as church planters since 1992, we've found people of like mind who love Jesus and passionately pursue social justice as a crucial part of Gospel living. I’ve also met others I wouldn't trust any further than I could throw a Confederate monument.  In our experiences, we have also found similar realities wherever we have served, whether dealing with “conservatives” or “liberals” or members of the SBC or other “liberal” denominations.  In every walk of life, whether we’ve found gaps between practice and preaching or faithfulness in following Jesus, lifestyles always centered more on the personal convictions of individuals, not the denominational handles they carried.

Nevertheless, I understand and respect Pastor Ware’s choice. Like all choices, one’s immediate experiences will greatly flavor one's decisions.  My experience with Luz has been a mixed bag, as has been my life among many different Americans in various locations and areas of service. As for us, as long as individual churches remain autonomous in their associations within the Convention, and as long as I see a substantial remnant fighting for righteousness – and I do see that reality presently - I see no reason for me to disassociate myself from the convention.  The Convention is not perfect, but in its recent history, the Convention has made significant attempts to openly acknowledge its failures (http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention).  Biblical convictions have also touched the hearts of many who remain in the Convention and who are at the grassroots level doing the hard work of being peacemakers and bridge builders.
 
I have always tried to live as a “human Bridge of reconciliation.  I accept that part of my mission as a bridge means getting walked on.  At this time in my life, my post and orders are clear to me and I will guard this mission post of reconciliation until properly relieved.  In my limited human view, that probably means the Death Angel will be the Captain of the guard who issues my final relief. Therefore, I press on!

Respectfully,

Samuel D. Jackson 
Church Planting Missionary/Pastor


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lesson I Learned From My Father (Adapted from an article written for The Racine Insider, July 2017 edition)

Just over a month ago, I laid my father to rest as his earthly sojourn came to an end after an extended bout with early onset dementia.  As a pastor, I have officiated countless funerals, but none delivers the emotional complexity of burying one’s own parent.  All at once, I felt the responsibility of comforting family and friends who needed spiritual support, the duty of ensuring his military service as honored and the grief of having lost my first and greatest hero.  As I reflect on why my father was such a heroic presence in my life, I am reminded of the importance all fathers have in creating a healthy and stable life for their children.

When I describe my father, I usually say that “If you would take Andy Griffith from the old TV show, dip him in chocolate, and make him a married career paratrooper with me in the role of Opie, you’d have a good picture of what my father was like.”  What are those “Andy Griffith” characteristics that made my father such a memorable and impactful character who influenced so many for the good?

My father was courageous.  Leading a family takes courage, and my father had courage in abundance.  As a paratrooper and combat veteran, no one doubted my father’s courage. That courage manifested itself in a commitment to truth, a unquenchable thirst to see righteousness prevail and an inclination to put oneself between danger and those you love and desire to protect.  A good father reassures his family through daily actions of responsibility and endless “stepping up” that there is no obstacle he is not willing to confront nor is there any challenge he is not prepared to face for the benefit of his loved ones.  He exhibits physical and moral courage that not only protects, but reassures and inspires those who walk with him under the family name.

My father was wise.  Friends, colleagues and members of our broader community sought my father’s input for advice and direction.  A good father carries himself in such a manner that his life reflects sound thinking, and his normative actions expose meaningful reflection and consistent application of the wisdom he expounds.  Families need men who think well, seek to grow in wisdom and freely share what they have learned with others around them.

My father was kind and affirming.  We live in an age where the ability to insult others and “play the dozens” is highly prized and loudly praised.  My father was consistently careful in his speech, and even as a military man, he was never one given to screaming, yelling or delivering insults.  He was committed to building others up and his words were always “seasoned with grace.” Good fathers understand the power of words and their speech reflects a commitment to help and to heal.

My father was resilient.  While there are innumerable stories of mothers who have endured all sorts of heartaches and hardships for the sake of their families, even in the face of grinding hardships, fathers sometimes have a spottier record when times are tough. My father was blessed to have men in his life who “hung in there” with him as times got tough and life delivered the occasional setback that can break the will of lesser committed individuals. Surviving a difficult 1940’s and 1950’s Mississippi childhood prepared my father for tough times.  As any good father, he leaned into the tough times, providing encouragement for all our family and stirring hope within us, illuminated by his smile, his confidence and his leadership of presence.  Good fathers do not run away from challenges, they led others through them.

My reflections on my father have served as a wonderful reminder of how his modeling and mentorship proved vital in shaping me as a man.  As a father who had benefited from such an example, and sought to live up to it, I encourage other fathers to remain faithful to the task, diligent to the calling and faithful to our duty so that future generations might not just praise us, but carry on our example for years to come.