3 Reasons Adventists Should Celebrate Easter

It’s not easy growing up Adventist. That sentence generally irritates those who either came in late or those who left early….and often. It’s hard enough “resting” when others are playing, watching antelope documentaries instead of Saturday morning cartoons, and being warned about the evil of M&Ms….caffiene. But then there are the holidays.

We don’t like to be confused with Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Adventists can be their kissing cousins when it comes to holidays. Christmas? No! Thanksgiving? No thanks. Halloween? Are your insane! It can be a confusing kill joy for young and old alike. 

But wait! I hear the single voice that many Adventists will hear. “ It can be made to serve a very good purpose.” (AH 477.) Thank you Sister White. You are consistently more balanced and practical than many of your followers. She shared this Christmas counsel that can also be helpful for other holidays. Certainly the Easter holiday.

Easter deserves special attention. Easter is one of the few days on the calendar that grabs the attention of Christians and non-Christians alike. Despite all the commercialism and confusion, Easter is a day that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That alone is reason enough for Seventh-day Adventists to celebrate Easter.  Here’s why:

“Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ.” (Ellen White, Evangelism p. 188)

As imperfect as the holiday is, it’s an opportunity to lift up Jesus. And frankly, Adventists are internationally known for a lot of things, but lifting up Jesus is NOT one of them. The resurrection that Easter celebrates is also especially meaningful because it’s a foundation of our faith. Paul puts it this way.

“And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” – I Corinthians 15:14

So let me give you 3 reasons that Adventists should celebrate Easter.

Number One: We should celebrate Easter because it’s not about the day but the Daystar!

The problem with Easter is the stuff that distracts: Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, Easter parades and Easter fashion. And for some Adventists, the biggest distraction is that it’s celebrated on Sunday. (They miss the irony of criticizing Christians for celebrating the resurrection on the day that Christ was resurrected. Go figure.) But don’t be distracted. The main attraction of Easter is Jesus and His resurrection. Everything else is secondary at best.

And please spare me the “pagan origins” of Easter arguments. Be consistent. If we go down that road, let’s stop at the pagan origin of the names of weekdays and months, church steeples and clergy robes, wedding rings and flowers at funerals. And don’t forget money. Surely you’ve noticed the pagan symbols on some of our currency? So, in the spirit of Christian brotherhood, I’ll hold your money while you work through these issues. You’re welcome.  Point is, lift up Jesus.

Number Two: We should celebrate Easter because we need to fellowship with other faiths.

There are not many opportunities for different faith traditions to come together without a fight. We generally emphasize our differences. Adventists need a reminder of how much we have in common with other Christians. With certain obvious exceptions, we agree in most areas of doctrine with most mainline Christian denominations. In fact, historically and theologically, Adventists are about as close to the Methodist church as another denomination can get. 

Here’s the thing. Easter Sunday is a great time for Christians of all faiths to focus on the thing they have in common – their appreciation for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.  Fellowship and friendship lead to dialogue. Honest dialogue is what we need to understand and respect the beliefs of others and to share what we believe. 

Number Three: We should celebrate Easter because a Resurrected God can resurrect YOU!

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all men die, so in Christ all will be made alive!”  1 Corinthians 15: 20122

This pandemic season has been marked by a series on untimely and incredibly painful deaths. My brother-in-law George Seay, Pastor Duane Thomas, and young Brian Thomas, to name a few. Paul reminds us that theresurrection promises victory over the death.

But the resurrection also promises power while we live. Romans 8 says that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead can live inside of us. That’s real power. Resurrection power.• Power to resurrect our broken lives• Power to resurrect our messed up marriages• Power to resurrect our frustrated dreams• Power to resurrect our wasted gifts and talents

That’s the real meaning of Easter. It’s another chance to say, “I need you”, or “I thank you.” It would be great to say that with other believers, but that’s not a deal breaker. Find a way to celebrate Easter that works best for you. It may be virtual or on a hillside. But don’t miss this chance to celebrate the Risen Savior. He lives!

7 More Lessons Covid Taught The Church

Every Adventist should be disturbed by the article in Christianity Today yesterday. They reported the results of a massive Adventist “ health message” survey conducted by Dr. Duane McBride and other sociologists from Andrews University. The research spanned 2 years, over 60 languages, and 63,756 responses world -wide.

The research found that the health message had a clearly positive impact on Adventist members. But they also found this. “ Over 47%, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, reported the belief that if they kept the health message completely, they would be assured of salvation, though this is at odds with formal doctrine.”

I’ll be doing a separate article about what this says about the Adventist understanding of salvation, but today it’s just another Covid lesson we’ll explore. We’ve listed 7 lessons. Let’s look at 7 more.

One: Come As You Are

Maybe it’s the impact of attending online services in your pajamas, but our church dress codes have been shredded. For many the idea of attending worship services in anything other than a dress, suit and tie was unthinkable. Well, you better start thinking. Because if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that you can worship God where you are, as you are. Should there be boundaries? Yes. Should we “ give of our best to the Master?” Yes. But I’m thinking that “best” is going to look a lot different going forward.

Two: Think Small

We have been social distancing for a year. We have been avoiding large crowds for a year. It has saved the lives of thousands, maybe millions. Despite our yearning for fellowship, it’s not likely that most will be flocking to large worship gatherings anytime soon. Some will. Many won’t. Local churches could use this season to offer multiple worship times and opportunities. It should also continue to fuel a growing church planting movement among Adventists. Small churches can have a big impact.

Three: Read the Bible

When we woke up from our 4 year nightmare with Donald Trump and his evangelical army, we realized we were missing something? The truth. We were missing the truth. When Kellyane Conway coined the term “alternative facts” she signaled the fact that truth would not only be relative, but attacked. During this Covid season we have been besieged with rumors, lies, stretches, and spins. It is driving a desire to search for truth, absolute truth. It’s in the Bible.

Four: Leave the Building

Churches large and small have discovered that they can do meaningful ministry when they leave the building. Have we finally realized that the church is the people? Have we finally realized that effective evangelism means “ Go and Tell” not “Come and See?” Have we finally realized that if we are going to find friends for Jesus, we’ll need to make friends ourselves? We’ll see.

Five: Collaborate

Many of our young pastors have been leading a new wave of church collaboration. They have been combining their virtual worship services, prayer meetings, revivals, and evangelistic campaigns. The results have been exciting. Churches in Florida have worshipped with churches in North Carolina. Large churches in Queens have conducted weeks of prayer with smaller churches in Staten Island. It combines resources and talents, creates a spirit of cooperation, and lets members know that they are a part of a movement.

Six: Rethink Evangelism

The Adventist church is the 5th largest Christian denomination in the world today, baptizing over a million people a year. But since 2013 our research has shown that we lose a third of those we baptize in one year. Many of our members have not connected to our online services during this Covid season. They have been missing for months. It’s time for us to study the difference between discipleship and membership. There IS a difference.


Back to the Christianity Today article and the Andrews research project. When nearly half of your membership worldwide believes they are saved by what they eat, you have a problem. It’s at the source of our conspiracy theories, spiritual insecurity, and time of trouble trauma. Our church continues to ignore the elephant in the room. Our greatest weakness is our misunderstanding of the Gospel.

The most valuable lesson this Covid season has taught us is that we need to go back to the basics, and that begins with the gospel, the good news. Adventists need to make our primary study the gospel. Not last day events, but the gospel. Not the health message, but the gospel. And everything we study should be understood in relationship to the gospel.

We should understand that we can perfectly eat and obey for a lifetime but we’ll never be more saved than we are right now. Because in Christ we are complete! Colossians 2:10

Well, that’s 7 more. What do you think about these 7 or the last? What else should we add?

7 Lessons Covid Taught The Church

Intro: Things have changed. It has been exactly one year since the Covid crisis officially became a pandemic. One year since the masks went on and the Lysol sold out. In 12 months 10 million people have lost their jobs and half a million have lost their lives. Things have changed.

But not only have things changed in the world, things have changed in the church. Worship services moved from in person to online. It was immediately clear that some were more prepared than others. Some churches struggled financially, others didn’t. Some churches looked right at home in the online world, others….didn’t.

But now with the vaccine level and herd immunity on the rise, things are about to change again. “Churches are going back to church.” And the thought that we will return no wiser for the experience is scary.

So what are some of the lessons that Covid has taught the church. Lessons that we dare not forget There are many. Let’s start with 7. This is just a partial list so don’t forget to add to it.

One: People need People

It’s number one with a bullet! Every survey conducted to determine what people miss most about the church says the same thing. Fellowship! We might not like each other, but we miss each other. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually we function best in community. The church would do well to repeat the ministry of the first century church and prioritize small groups as a means of fellowship and ministry.

Two: We need a Mission Reboot

The dirty little secret of this pandemic is that a significant percentage of our members never made the transition to online services. They literally left for a year. What does that say about the relevance of a local church that folk could drop out for a year and not say a word or miss it? According to Ephesians 3:10 and other passages, the church is designed to be the place where the power and provision of God are on full display. A place of miracle and mission. Before we return to the building, we need to study what God had in mind for the church.

Three: Online services are here to stay

Churches have discovered that the virtual world is the great equalizer. No matter your size or location, you can make a major impact. Some small churches are reaching more people in a week than they had in a month, and some in a year. Although online attendance and In person attendance are far from the same, those numbers do count. Why? Because they represent people. Even if they clicked on for a brief moment, they now know who you are and where you are. Online ministry is real ministry for outreach and nurture. It’s here to stay.

Four: Our worship services need to change

The surveys say that what people miss most about the church is the fellowship. What they seem to miss least is the worship service. Not the worship. The worship service. The length of the services. The formality of the services. The lack of creativity of the services. The announcements in the service……I’ll just leave this here. What do you think?

Five: We need a real Sabbath

Jesus explained in Mark 2:27 that the Sabbath was designed to be a blessing and not a burden. For many, the Sabbath had become one on the busiest days of the week. By the time folk: woke up, got up, dressed up, drove up, and sat up for multiple services, they were tired. This pandemic should force us to take a serious inventory of our church ministries and meetings and determine what is essential and what is not.

Six: Release our Young Leaders

This pandemic has demonstrated the value of fresh faces and new ideas. Young people and young pastors have been much more comfortable and creative in this virtual space. If we don’t mentor and move over for a new generation of leaders, we will continue to commit slow-motion suicide.

Seven: We need a revival

This pandemic has been a dress rehearsal for a time of trouble that we can ignore, but we can’t avoid. We have seen how quickly things can change, how vicious people can be, and how unprepared we generally are. We need to do more than return to the building, we need to return to our first love. We have seen the future.

Well those are just 7 lessons Covid has taught. Let’s name some more. What do you think?

Also, I’ll be speaking about these lessons today at 11 CST for Madison Mission at https://madisonmissionsda.org. Join us for this month of Prayer and Purpose.

“I Have a Dream” or “Do What You Can!!”

No disrespect, but I’m sick of that speech. It has been caricatured almost as much as King himself. It’s quoted by everyone from Tucker Carlson to Sean Hannity. Racists who danced on Kings grave have now turned him into Mr. Rogers in black-face. The only thing missing is that dumb sweater. His life and writings have been sanitized and air-brushed almost beyond recognition.

  • No mention of his sharp criticism of white racists, white moderates, and white Christians from the Birmingham jail.
  • No mention of his scathing attacks on the evils of capitalism.
  • No mention of his blistering rebuke of the Vietnam war and the military industrial complex.

No, just this painful distillation of a landmark speech into a kum-ba-ya  call for a time when “ little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little girls as sisters and brothers.” Point missed.

Frankly, I think that Kings most valuable counsel can be summed up in 4 important words he actually never spoke. Not the words “I Have A Dream” but “Do What You Can!” You probably missed the great “Do What You Can” speech. It wasn’t delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, it was spoken to Huey in the animated TV series the Boondocks in 2006.

The award winning black cartoon series was known for pushing buttons and boundaries.  I’m not endorsing it. But the satire could be as inciteful as it was profane. Through the magic of animation, Dr. King survived his 1968 assassination attempt and came out of a coma 32 years later. He awoke to a misunderstood legacy and a messed up people. He was so upset with his own people that he reverted to the notorious N-word.

“ It’s the ugliest word in the English language, but that’s what I see now”, King said. The cartoon King then went on to confront his own people in with a fury I believe he might display if he were alive today. With the same passion that he went after inactive and unproductive white folk from the Birmingham jail, he went after his own folk who were talking loud and doing nothing!

Let me substitute a less volatile word for the one he used in that fictional cartoon speech. Negroes.

  • “Negros are living contradictions.”
  • “Negros are full of unfulfilled ambitions.”
  • “Negros wax and wane.”
  • “Negros procrastinate until it’s time to worry.”
  • “Negros love to hear themselves talk.”
  • “Negros love to complain.”

He then turned to young Huey as he was leaving the stage and said, “Do what you can.”…..and then he muttered, “ I’m going to Canada!”

The language was offensive, but the message was clear. Do what you can! We have substituted arguing for action. Stop talking and do something.  Stop posting and do something. Stop complaining and do something. Talking and posting and complaining are all essential in changing our circumstances, but not if they are a substitute for practical action.

It’s a challenge to each of us on this King day. Let’s complain less and do more this year. And do what YOU can do, not what your neighbor or Facebook friend can do. Do what YOU can!

  • Read to first graders.
  • Pick up the trash on your block.
  • Baby-sit for a frustrated single mother.
  • Go to the pharmacy for a weathered senior.

Little things add up. Lawrence Bell once said, “ Show me a man who can’t bother to do little things, and I’ll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things.” It’s true. Let’s celebrate King by serving. Do what YOU can. That’s enough.

3 Things The Church Can Learn From Nick Saban and Alabama Football”

 Let’s establish something from the outset. I am Not an Alabama football fan. I live in Alabama, but the only Alabama team I support outside of Oakwood University is Alabama A&M University. And yes, we do play football at Oakwood….well, it’s intramural football, but who asked you.

I’m not a fan of Alabama football, but I am a fan of leadership excellence. And for that reason, I do have a deep respect for the Alabama program. And it occurred to me that the church could learn a lot from coach Nick Saban and Alabama. Let’s look at a few things we can learn from this championship program.

Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership

Alabama football had fallen on hard times following the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant.

  • From 1997 to 2006 Alabama had more losing seasons than 10-win seasons.
  • Alabama didn’t have a single first round draft pick from 2001 to 2008.
  • The program was embarrassed by a recruiting scandal and severely sanctioned by the NCAA.
  • The season before Saban arrived the Tides record was 4 wins and 7 losses.

But what a difference the right “leader” makes.

  • 13 straight years of being ranked Number 1 at some point in the season.
  • 33 NFL first round draft picks.
  • 3 Heisman Trophy Winners
  • 6 National Championships.

That is nothing short of amazing. I think collaborative, servant leadership is the most effective leadership style for the local church. But that does not take away from the fact that without gifted leadership at the top, most churches, businesses, and organizations won’t reach their potential. And in the local church often the problem is not bad leadership but a bad pastor/church match. Either way leadership is critical.

Real Success Demands That You Invest

Nick Saban is the highest paid college coach in America at 9.3 million dollars a season! It’s a staggering amount by any standard. But what is even more staggering is what has happened at the University of Alabama since Saban arrived:

  • Student enrollment has increased by 58%.
  • Alabama is the second fastest growing university in the nation over the last 10 years.
  • Graduate school enrollment has exploded.
  • The law school is now one of the tops in the nation.
  • Alabama sports revenue has averaged well over 150 million dollars a year.

Good leadership doesn’t cost, it pays. Many churches do not understand the importance of investing in their pastor, personnel, and facilities. Many of our churches are led by board members who are liberal at home but cheap at church. They will argue passionately about the church “wasting money” on items that cost less than their monthly cell phone or cable bills. I’ve seen it. And the irony is often the churches that have the most, invest the least.

And pastors don’t get a pass here either. I am consistently amazed at how little pastors invest in themselves. Continuing education stops for most pastors when they leave the seminary. Self-development, regardless of what the local conference provides, is absolutely essential for effective leadership.

Embrace the Now!

Saban’s favorite acronym is WIN: What’s important now? “I’m not naïve enough to think that winning isn’t important, “ says Saban, “ but what this game made me realize is how much better it is for people not to worry about the opposition but to focus on executing and know if they do their job correctly they’re going to be successful, rather than thinking the other guy’s going to determine the outcome.” He goes on to say, “ We don’t’ talk about winning, we talk about process.”

 Process. What are you doing now? The success of the Alabama program is tied to the priority they place on doing the right things, the small things, over and over again. They don’t worry about opposition, they worry about themselves. Author Molly Fletcher notes that Saban’s focus on the NOW, protects his team from the disappointments of the past and the pressures of the future. It keeps them focused. Good advice for anyone.

 Alabama has learned that if you prioritize input, it will determine your outcome. It’s a great success metric. Churches and pastors can learn from that. Rather than obsessing over how many you’d like to baptize, double the number of bible studies the church conducts. Rather than obsessing over how many people showed up at church or an event, double the number of people who were literally invited to come. Still measuring but measuring what you can actually control.

So, there it is. You can learn a lot from a school that you don’t like…. or that I don’t like. What do you think?

And don’t forget to register for “ The Shift! A Church Leadership Summit” on Sunday, January 31st.

Lord I Believe…But! Christians and Doubt

In 2017, the Barna Institute conducted an important study that revealed that 2/3 of Christians report they’ve experienced doubt….I assume the other 1/3 were either lying or misunderstood the question. Because if you are seriously pursuing God, and you never run into doubt, as my former teachers would say, “you might not be applying yourself!”

Doubt is no respecter of Christians. It shows up in the lives of new believers and mature believers alike. Don’t believe me? Come with me to a going away party at Galilee. 11 disciples were there. Peter was there. So were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were listening to one last message from Jesus before his ascension.

This group had seen it all. They had heard it all. Signs. Wonders. Miracles. Resurrections. But even as they received their final commission from Jesus, we read something amazing in Matthew 28:17, “And when they say him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”

Some what? Some doubted. Now if there should have ever been a doubt free zone, that should have been it. But this group, the group that would later turn the world upside down, experienced doubt.

How did Christ respond to doubters?

The fact that the disciples were troubled with doubt came as no surprise to Jesus. He reads the heart. So how did he respond to his doubting disciples? He taught, he encouraged, he commissioned, and he left. Not a word about it. And how did he respond to other doubters?

  • In Luke 7 when John the Baptist doubted him, Jesus said, “Tell John about the miracles you’ve seen and heard.”
  • In Mark 9 when a distraught father cried out, “Lord I believer…help my unbelief!”, Jesus healed his son.
  • In Luke 24 when the Disciples were doubting that he was a real man, Jesus said, “Watch me eat this fish.”
  • In John 20 when the doubter himself, Thomas, questioned whether Jesus really rose from the grave, Jesus said, “Touch my hands and feet. Put your hand in my side!”

All disciples. All doubters. Not one word of condemnation from Jesus. Doubt is not only not a sin, it’s a part of the human condition. And rightly understood, it can be extremely helpful.

Let me share a few more points about Christians and doubt.

There is a BIG difference between doubt and unbelief

It’s important to define terms. The Greek word that we commonly translate doubt, distazo, is not a settled unbelief, but a wavering or uncertainty. It has been described as an open-minded uncertainty. Unbelief on the other hand is a close-minded certainty. Doubt is open to God’s guidance. Unbelief is not. Doubt is searching for answers. Unbelief is confident the answer is nowhere to be found.

Be a Berean

The Bereans were commended in Acts 17:11 for examining and scrutinizing the word of God delivered to them by Paul and Silas. They didn’t just take for granted that what they heard was true. In this mis-information age, we need to have that same attitude. This type of healthy skepticism can lead to a much stronger faith.

Real faith has substance

Faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as having substance and evidence. It is far more than a feeling; it is grounded in “infallible truths.” Acts 1:3. If your beliefs cannot stand the glare of close examination and scrutiny, then they may not be your beliefs at all.

Unresolved doubts can be deadly

Doubts may not be sin, but they can lead to sin – if ignored. Doubts may be different from unbelief, but they can lead to unbelief – if ignored. Examine your doubts to understand what they are seeking or signaling. Follow that examination with prayer and serious study for the answers that you need. And this type of examination is too important to do alone. Ask for help.

Finally, Tim Keller has some helpful advice that I actually revised and expanded this week in a post, “A faith without some doubt is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about what they believe will find themselves defenseless……” He’s right.

So, what do you think? Have you ever wrestled with doubt? If so, how did you deal with it?

The Church That Changed Gospel Music…and what Adventists can learn

In early 2019, a buzz was building in the music industry about Kanye West’s new gospel choir.  The choir was the center attraction of the rap icon’s “Sunday Services.”  I heard so many rave reviews about the choir and its “unique sound,” that I went to You Tube to hear for myself.

I had barely pushed play before I recognized the “unique sound.” I heard it for years at Bishop Carlton Pearson’s Azusa conventions and on Sunday mornings at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. The director of the Sunday Services choir is Jason White, the former minister of music at West Angeles.

It’s the COGIC musical influence. We explored it last week in our first blog. (https://bit.ly/3hMGoLM) It’s no accident that many of the pioneers of contemporary gospel music are products of that Memphis based, Pentecostal denomination; The Winans, Andrae Crouch, Edwin and Walter Hawkins, The Clark Sisters, and many others.

What is it about the COGIC experience that birthed such musical genius? Like all denominations, Church of God in Christ churches are not monolithic. But these are some characteristics of the COGIC music tradition that we can learn from.

They developed their young people

There is something that the Clarks Sisters, the Hawkins, and the Winans have in common. Not only are they family, but they all began singing together in the church as children. Andrae Crouch began playing for Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ at the age of 11, wrote his first song at 14. COGIC musical talent was cultivated and promoted early.

And not only that, when their musical talent blossomed, the church got behind their own artists financially, even in controversy. When the Clark Sisters released the hit song ‘You Brought the Sunshine,” it created a problem with many COGIC leaders. Same with Edwin Hawkins and “Oh Happy Day.” But it never stopped the larger church from supporting, promoting, and buying their product. We can learn from that.

They were given freedom to fail

Nothing kills creativity like an atmosphere of judgement. Especially among young people. I can remember the early days of gospel music in the Adventist church, when members armed with quotations from brown books, would literally walk out on a children’s choir if they got “too worldly.” Unfortunately many of those young people and musicians returned the favor and walked away from the church.

COGIC kids were given the freedom musically to struggle in a supportive atmosphere until they got better. And they did. I remember some early performances by the Clark Sisters that were painful. But the crowd was on their feet, encouraging them as if it was the best thing they’d ever heard. We can learn from that.

They reflected their theology in their lyrics

COGIC lyrics were generally marked by simplicity and repetition, but they reflected their Pentecostal beliefs. To this day the lyrics of COGIC artists often reflect points of  their theology that Christians of other faith traditions disagree with, including Adventists. That can be a problem when the songs are popular and praise teams adopt them. It illustrates why it is essential for Adventists to identify and support their own gifted writers and composers.

The Black Adventist Musical Heritage

Finally, last week we noted that Black Adventist musicians are recognized and respected in ways that we often underestimate. I see it whenever I attend ecumenical conferences. These are 4 words that often come up about Adventist music:

  • Harmony – It has been said that the issues that Adventists had with drums, indirectly contributed to a culture of rich harmonies and acapella music.
  • Hymns – Black Adventists have always had a reputation for valuing hymns.
  • Training – True or not, black Adventists are thought to put more emphasis on early vocal and instrumental training.
  • Excellence – This characteristic comes up frequently from Adventists and non-Adventists alike. This emphasis on excellence has been both a blessing and a curse.

Black Adventists and the Church of God in Christ both have rich musical histories that are a gift to the body of Christ. We can learn from each other.

What can black Adventists do today to continue and strengthen our musical heritage?

The Sharpton I Know

Sharpton. He’s a polarizing figure. The Floyd funerals have proved it again. From his earliest days as a New York activist to his current leadership of the National Action Network, few figures have been more polarizing. Sharpton’s supporters hail him as a champion for the oppressed. Sharpton’s detractors blame him for deteriorating race relations in America.

But issues like police misconduct, civil rights, and civil rights leaders look different depending on who you are and where you are. As Nelson Mandela was fond of saying, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” And in early 1999, Al Sharpton and I were sitting in a Marriott hotel in Riverside, California discussing ways to calm a community that was about to explode.

On December 28, 1998, a young lady by the name of Tyisha Miller was driving her aunt’s car in Riverside, California and her tire went flat. As she waited for help in her locked car, she had a seizure. Officers were alerted, came to the locked car, and found her foaming at the mouth and shaking. She had a gun in her car for protection and the officers claimed that she reached for it when she came out of her coma. They opened fire 23 times. 12 of the bullets hit Miller….4 in the head.

The city exploded. Long standing tensions between the minority community and law enforcement resurfaced. I was asked by the family and religious community to lead a steering community to address the volatile issue. Months of press conferences, marches, and court cases followed. The full story is for another day, but it brings me back to the hotel room with Sharpton.

Over a two year, period, I came to know civil rights leaders from Martin King III to Jesse Jackson to Joe Madison, to Dick Gregory to the late Johnny Cochran. Each of them was helpful, but none of them made the difference that Sharpton did. These are some of the things I came to know about him.

He’ll come when you call him

Many of the critics of Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others accuse them of being ambulance chasers and publicity hounds. The accusation is that they troll for racial and social problems and then make them worse when they show up. The reality is that most of the time both Jackson and Sharpton are invited by the immediate family to come and help.

As tragic as Tyisha Miller’s death was, it remained a fairly local issue until the family got Sharpton and his crowd involved. When he came the national media came with him and issues of police misconduct in Riverside became national news. He was hard working and very sensitive to the needs of the family. And none of his efforts cost the family or the steering committee a dime.

He might get you arrested

Even before Sharpton hit the ground in Riverside, there was talk civil disobedience -going to jail as a form of protest. People had been marching by the thousands but the police officers who shot Tyisha Miller had still not been fired or even disciplined. The community was getting restless and dangerous. Sharpton suggested that we conduct a major march to the downtown police headquarters, block the entrance, and force our arrest. The publicity would force the city to move.

Well, I quickly found out that the clergy in Riverside was not as eager as the clergy in Birmingham and Montgomery to go to jail. Some of them reminded me that this wasn’t the 60s. Some of them reminded me that they had unpaid traffic tickets! But there I was, leading from the front. In charge and eventually in jail.

He’s not always consistent

It could have been my ears, but I thought I heard Sharpton and Dick Gregory say, “Don’t worry brothers and sisters. We’ll be the first ones in and the last ones out! We’ll be the first ones arrested and the last ones released!” That was particularly encouraging to a reluctant band of leaders, some of whom weren’t sure if they could get out of jail as easily as they could get in.

True to his word, Sharpton was the first to be arrested. I was in the next wave, about 15 minutes behind. As I walked into the holding area with my friend Robert Edwards, who did I see walking out of the holding area but Al Sharpton and Dick Gregory. It’s probably not appropriate to reveal what I thought or said, but so much for the first being last and the last being first! He’s human.

He was always courageous

The quality I respected most in Sharpton was his courage. He was absolutely fearless. Under constant attack from law enforcement. Misquoted by the media. Second guessed by even some of the victims he attempted to help. He never wavered. He came early, worked hard, and stayed late. You don’t really understand or appreciate the Sharpton’s of the world until you need their help.

Sharpton and I disagree on some significant subjects. But we need more people willing to publicly stand for what they believe. People with the courage to speak for those who can’t effectively speak for themselves. Because at some point, you might very well need someone to advocate for you. That’s when you’ll really understand and appreciate Sharpton.

3 Ways to Redeem Your Time

If you listen closely, you’ll hear an interesting war of words on the internet these days. It’s a battle between two passionate groups. I call them the workers and the shirkers.

The workers seem to be obsessed with using this Covid-19 down time “productively.”  So they haven’t slept in a couple weeks. They are too busy learning a new language, writing a new book, starting a new podcast……. or lying about their new language, book, or podcast.

The shirkers love to take shots at the workers. They can sound a bit defensive at times. They criticize the workers for not resting and reflecting during the down time. Their favorite song is “Kum ba yah.” Their favorite cliché is, “we’re not human DOINGS, we’re human BEINGS!”

My suggestion for both groups is to call a cease fire and follow the Bible’s advice to redeem the time. And that will look strikingly different from person to person.

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise. Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16 KJV

What does “redeem the time” mean?

There are 2 words in the New Testament for time. One word defines time in the way that most of us understand it. It’s a series of moments. But the other word for time is a season or an opportunity. In fact, the New International Version translates Ephesians 5:15-16 just that way:

“Be very careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise. Making the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil.”

Redeeming the time is valuing time, cherishing time. Redeeming the time is investing in the opportunities that time presents.

So, how can we make the most of our Covid-19 down time? How can we redeem our time? There are a number of ways. Let me suggest 3.

Adjust your attitude about life and death

Dr. Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Seminary suggests that before we adjust our actions to redeem the time, we must first adjust our attitude about life and death.

Death is an inevitability that many in our culture find it hard to accept. There are countless diets, supplements, retreats and seminars that seem designed to further this notion that we can live forever down here. Won’t work.

The Bible on the other hand paints a very realistic picture of life. James 4:14 says it’s like a vapor, a mist. Now you see it, now you don’t. Same for Psalm 144:4. It describes this life as a fast disappearing shadow.

We must accept the reality that we can outrun a number of things, but we won’t outrun death. The key is to spend our time with the knowledge that our days in this sin cursed world are numbered.

Watch your comparisons to others

You’ll never take advantage of your opportunities if you are comparing yourself with others. That’s why the title of this blog is redeeming YOUR time! The unfortunate reality is that much of what we see and read about others does not tell the whole story. We get the picture after the photoshopping. We get the article after the editing. And so we are intimidated.  

We spend way too much of our time minding other folk’s business. That’s actually the source of the conflict between the workers and shirkers. Redeeming the time for some will mean taking a class. Redeeming the time for others will mean taking a break. Focus on your own time and opportunities.

Pursue your purpose

A key to redeeming the time is understanding your purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s handiwork. We were born with assignments God created us to do. When you know your assignment, it determines how you choose to spend your time. When you know your assignment, it helps you say no to things that are interesting but not essential.

And here’s the key. You don’t find your purpose by pursuing purpose. You find your purpose by pursuing God.

Hope this is helpful. Share the post if it is. How are you handling this down time? Feeling any pressure to produce?

How to Handle the Virus of Worry? Part 2

I’m not a San Antonio Spurs fan. Most people who know me, know that…especially Spurs fans. Maybe it’s that poker face of Tim Duncan as he destroyed folk, or that annoyingly polite David Robinson. But I met Coach Greg Popovich when I was pastoring in California, and I think he’s a genius.

Coach Pop attributed the Spurs success to something interesting. “Appropriate fear.” Of course, he acknowledged his draft success and the talent of his players. But he explained that he never allowed his squad to overestimate themselves or underestimate the power of the opponent. They were always prepared.

That’s probably a good place to start as we wrap up this look at worry. Should Christians worry? Well, that’s a yes or no question that’s really looking for context. The words for worry and fear in the Old and New Testaments are used positively or negatively depending on the context. For instance, if it’s Christian concern, worry is good. If it’s respect and awe, fear is good. But if either of those natural emotions are controlling you rather that you controlling them, then there’s a problem.

Last week we looked at 3 things we should avoid if we want to control anxiety, worry, distress and fear. Those things were fake news, fatalistic friends, and false prophets. Let’s wrap things up by looking at 4 simple, positive things we can do to battle this virus called worry.


Philippians 4:6-7, provides a perfect worry remedy: “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication. Make your request known to God. And Gods unexplainable peace will keep your hearts and minds through Jesus.”

There it is. Simple but effective. Pray. Dr. Tony Evans suggests that during this crisis when we are washing our hands multiple times a day, instead of singing “Happy Birthday” to time the wash, take that time and pray. Pray and pray a lot.


In uncertain times when there is much that we don’t know, it’s good to review those foundational Bible truths that we do know. Take the time to study the great themes of scripture that will not only bring comfort but provide answers and instruction to weather this crisis.

For instance, in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us, “don’t worry”, at least 5 times. His primary reason is because we have the security of a perfect and protective “heavenly Father. For those who have been blessed to have good fathers, but especially for those who haven’t, now is the time to study the perfect “ Fatherly” characteristics of God. They will regulate your worry.


There is a direct line between our state of mind and the state of our health. For many people, out of control worry is a symptom of a physical problem or emotional problem. Get professional help where necessary, but the answer might not be going to the doctor but going for a walk…. a regular walk.

Move!! Walk, run, skate, squat, rock, bike, climb…. or just lean! Do some sort of regular exercise, and it will not only help you physically but mentally.


The research is overwhelming. There are few things that will stall or stop your worry like doing something for someone else. It’s documented that helping others will do a number of things, including:

· Counteracting stress

· Combating depression

· Increasing self-confidence

· Providing a sense of purpose

So, find someone to help and the first person who will be helped is you.

So that’s it. How are you handling worry during this season? What would your advice be?