In Week 16 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for a fruitful word from a friend, Josh “T” Taylor.
I want to advance the Kingdom of God.
But, how we imagine the Kingdom and what it actually is are often starkly different.
It is easy for us to be deceived by appearances, to busy ourselves with religious activities, to feel affirmed by big crowds and large projects, but all the while having done nothing for the Kingdom. (Matthew 7:21-27)
I have struggled with wanting to do something “big” and feeling like I’m not doing enough… that is, until my brother, Josh “T” Taylor, shared a word that has been setting me free.
“T” and I attend a marriage ministry together. It is a small group but it is very rich.
One day, we were talking about the role our marriages play in the Kingdom by glorifying God in how we as husbands and wives reflect Christ’s love.
In that moment “T” pivoted and said something that completely shifted my view of ministry. He was sharing water that he had received elsewhere but it was particularly refreshing to me because it was filtered through his sincerity, his love for me and his applying it in his own life.
He said, “The Kingdom of God advances at the speed of relationships.”
That word immediately affirmed itself. My heart was set on fire as much by the messenger as by the message.
It was illuminating. It revealed, among many things, how I often get distracted seeking outcomes while God seeks hearts. And, we reach those hearts, not by large, flashy ministries but by Spirit-filled, sacrificial, longsuffering love for people as they come to us, which is most often one at a time.
I repent. Not my will Father, but Your will be done. (John 6:38)
This word from a friend and dear brother has been a great ministry to me. I will go forward in service to the Father, seeking to be faithful with whatever He places in my charge -one talent or five, and trust God with the rest.
Thank you “T”. I love you.
I’m grateful. #52WoG
The threat to the church or to my effectiveness as a kingdom citizen is not systemic racism, wokeness, injustice or the advancement of the LGBT agenda.
There is nothing external that can stand against the Church.
Or, did we not believe our Lord when He established the Church and said, “the gates of Hell will not prevail against it?” Matthew 16:18
Satan knows this well, which is why he instead tries to work from the inside.
“For I know this, after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
– Acts 20:29
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
– Matthew 7:15
The threat is not external but internal.
Jesus did not say, “Beware those who vote for Trump” or “Beware CRT” but, “Beware the leaven of the [religious establishment] which is hypocrisy.” – Luke 12:1
Hypocrisy: the presenting as one thing while actually being another.
Two of the most pernicious forms of hypocrisy in the church today are the industrial church and cultural christianity. We’re losing way more of our children to this than to Disney.
We wrestle not against flesh and blood. Our hypocrisy is the real enemy.
Therefore, let us put away the leaven (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Let us come out from the #industrialchurch. Don’t go to church. Be the church.
Let us come out from #culturalchristianity. Don’t just claim Christ’s name. Seek Christ’s heart.
Cultural Christianity is the reduction of Christianity to an identity.
Cultural Christians share language, conventions, and practices around Christian themes but do not recognize the deity of Christ nor submit to His authority as evidenced by their dissimilarity to His Biblical account.
The key characteristic of Cultural Christianity is the preeminence of the group. Cultural Christians prioritize membership to the group above submission to Christ.
Being a Cultural Christian does not require regeneration, belief or any lifestyle change besides participating in group-sanctioned activities that signal their affiliation. Membership is granted on the basis of conformity to the group.
Cultural Christianity adds members largely through cultural assimilation: the often unconscious adoption of the positions and behaviors of others whose acceptance is desired. It seeks cultural belonging and influence, not the Kingdom.
Something that is not lost on me is how different the disciples were.
Letters attributed to Matthew, Peter and John are starkly different (yet harmonious) perspectives of the same Jesus.
A dear brother, Tim Boden, once said of the body, “It’s as if we’re all peering through a keyhole and in our sharing what we see, we get a fuller picture of Jesus.”
What sets my heart aflame is that Jesus chose these different men intentionally, purposefully and strategically! (John 15:16, 1 Corinthians 12:18)
That’s how Jesus chose you!
Oh, what a revival we’re missing because we fail to see that unity is not conformity. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7) But moreover, because we do not trust the Holy Spirit.
Oh, that we would repent and believe the Spirit that Christ gives us so the Church would be revived!
In Week 15 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for a mentor’s admonishment.
Our long time friends, pastors and mentors Pearson and Gloria Liddell were moving thousands of miles away.
As we were seeing them off, I asked Pearson, “What do I need to work on?” “Where do you see I need to grow?” Pearson being Pearson studied the question for a moment before giving his thoughtful, heart-felt response. His reply to me in a word was, “Compassion.”
My wife remarked how she loved the response because Pearson expanded the scope and rather than make it about me personally, he gave me something for ministry.
I took his words to heart and have studied them ever since.
I could write a book from my takeaways, but the condensed summary is this:
If I don’t love you, I’m disqualified from ministering to you.
But, I do love you or at the very least I want to because Someone I love dearly loves you even more.
Pearsons admonition challenged me to always seek to have the love Christ has for everyone I encounter. It is timeless yet a timely reminder for me in this season.
I’m grateful. #52WoG
In Week 14 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for William Chapman.
What is it about us and food?
Our best moments seemed to be around breaking bread. This is the best picture I have of you because often when we’re together, we’re too busy eating for me to take pictures. And, here I’m sharing a meal with you and Tan at the Starkville Korean Church where you were a long time friend and faithful minister to that congregation.
The very first time I remember our sharing a meal together was at the men’s luncheon that meets on Thursdays at New Horizons Christian Fellowship, another place where you were also a long time friend and faithful minister. That’s where I got my first real glimpse of you and your cheeky attitude. I remember saying to you, “I solicit your counsel and give you authority to correct me,” and you snarkily replied, “I was going to do that anyway because I already have that authority.” Smart butt. That was the point that we became friends.
We’ve shared several meals since then, each time you were ministering. The first time I came to visit you in the hospital, you said “What do you have for me?” and you went on to teach how when a minister is visiting the sick, they should come either with a Word, a prayer or a song. With each visit we’d edify each other and then share a meal.
At your funeral, I learned that you did that all over the place: at the Starkville Korean Church, the Starkville Chinese Christian Church, Second Baptist Missionary Baptist Church, New Horizon’s Men’s Lunch, Mississippi State Christian Faculty Forum, teaching online Bible classes to people in China and on, and on. By God’s grace, that’s who you are: a minister and connector to the beautifully diverse, international, multi-ethnic, global body of Christ.
This brings me to our last meal together on Monday, April 4th 2022, where I also administered communion to you. You shared how you and your family were making your funeral arrangements. Your final remarks to me are etched in my soul. The first being, “I see no downside. Either Jesus will be the first face I see or that of my wife Tan. To live is Christ. To die is gain.” And, your last being, “Make sure they emphasize the importance of the diversity in the body.”
But, here you are, a white man, taking communion to your lips from my hand, a black man, as though you were receiving it from the Lord Himself.
Not once have you ever uttered, “I don’t see race.” Rather, you saw my blackness and did not consider it as a flaw but a feature of God’s design and embraced me. You did this for many others.
As I consider your last words to me, “Make sure they emphasize the importance of the diversity in the body,” and as I look around at your funeral, at those who have been born, grown and connected by your ministry, I see no need, your life has already done that. What I will do instead is endeavor to continue what you’ve done.
How fitting that we quite literally shared your last supper, a sacrament that connects us to every believer past, present and future, through the body and blood of Christ. Jesus said that “many will come from the East and West and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). What a glorious day that will be when you and I are assembled with believers from every nation, tribe and tongue (Revelations 7:9) to sup again with our Lord (Mark 14:25)!
Thank you for sharing a spiritual, cosmic, much more beautiful view of the kingdom than our natural, limited perspective allows. I’m grateful. #52WoG
In Week 13 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Cunningham.
I only remember three things about Mrs. Cunningham:
The first is that she ate these weird looking apples with red jelly covered seeds that she use to suck on at her desk. I’d later come to learn this fruit was called a pomegranate.
The second is this story that she told us in class about someone in her family who was going so fast on a motorcycle that when he crashed the force of the collision hurled him into a telephone phone, sticking him to it by his ribs. It was at that point I decided never to ride a motorcycle.
The third and most important is something she said to me that changed my life forever.
Throughout my life, black women, especially, have had this superpower of perceiving and projecting the best version of who they believed we were destined to become. In the depths of my soul I know that no other voice besides God’s has greater impact in a young black man’s life than that of an affirming black woman.
This wasn’t some Jedi mind trick or some form of psychological manipulation. I believe they earnestly believed in your potential. They seemed to always approach you in the context of the promising view they held of you. Even when they caught you in the midst of wrongdoing, they would say something like, “Now, Mr. Luckett, I know you’re a gentleman and gentleman don’t act like that.” They conveyed an expectation that you wanted to live up to.
One day, Mrs. Cunningham looked intensely at me, to the point I was embarrassed and thought I was in trouble, and she said to me, “Mr. Luckett, you’re a leader. See me after class.” It was that day that she made me a school crossing guard for G.N. Smith Elementary. I remember her walking me to the Principal’s office and giving me my uniform. It was the old fashioned kind, it wasn’t a vest but sort of a reflective belt with a strap that ran diagonally across your chest. I revered that uniform and felt the weight of its responsibility every time I put it on. It was too big for me but I grew into it. My job was helping people to safely get from one point to another. The profundity of that never left me.
I was a crossing guard 5th grade and 6th grade. I went on to my beloved middle school, Bailey Magnet, looking to serve. I was a class representative to the student government “Knights Of The Roundtable” for 7th grade and 8th grade, class president 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade and student body president 12th grade. I became president of the Metro-Jackson Student Council and the student representative to the Jackson Public School Board. Today, I try to serve wherever I can, largely because my 5th grade teacher said, “You’re a leader.”
She believed it, then so did I. I’m grateful. #52WoG #teachers #education #blackwomen #leadership
We have the wrong idea about God.
Christ was given to correct that.
Judging God by His Old Testament work is like judging a person with bloody hands standing over a gruesome, half-dead body, without the context that they’re the doctor saving their loved one’s life from terminal cancer.
The body is creation and we are the members conscripted by cancer, ravaging it. The treatment of cutting away flesh and blasting areas of infection with radiation, while brutal, is not only understandable, it’s good -done with the purpose to save life.
But, that the Great Physician would invest any time saving cancerous cells; setting some apart and doing millennia of delicate, painstaking surgery to give destructive cells a new Stem so that they would have new life and function properly is astonishing, especially given His ability to utterly wipe out the cancer and start completely over.
But His heart toward mankind was not to utterly destroy us, but to love us and make us whole by being with us. He’s done all that He’s done to the end of this His original purpose, including the vital and righteous work depicted in the Old Testament. But, we shouldn’t stop there. He wasn’t done. It’s not the complete picture. God’s heart is revealed by the completion of His work –His wonderful, glorious, incomprehensible work completed in Jesus Christ.
If I want to have the right idea about God, look to Christ:
Christ in Creation.
Christ in Redemption.
Christ in Recreation.
Who God is becomes more clear when I understand Christ was always the plan.
And, the right idea about God changes everything. #Gospel
In Week 12 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for Martin Coleman.
One Sunday after service, Marty Coleman walks up, “Hey Brother Paul. I understand you have a business that does computer work. There is someone I think you should meet.”
He then waves over a young man who seems tired and despondent. His approach toward us from across the room was slow and labored. He’s disheveled. His hair is matted to his head with gel. His clothes are wrinkled like he had just rolled out of bed with them on. His glasses are so hazed, perhaps from the gel in his hair, that I can barely see his eyes.
Though his approach seemed reluctant, when we started talking, he opened up easily enough. He’s a gamer. He knows his way around technology by having built custom and very sophisticated gaming computers. Brother Marty’s hope was that I would be able to give this young man a job.
This is not long after the Great Recession. One of my largest clients, representing twenty-five percent of my business’s income, was a casualty of the economic downturn. I lost them to closure and many of my remaining clients cut their retainers in half. I feel personally responsible for the people that I hire. Each time I extend employment, my heart and philosophy is to provide that person a home either until they are ready to move on or, preferably, until we’ve helped them to advance in their career. I try not to hire anyone unless I feel there’s a good chance that I can provide that.
But, with the cuts, I couldn’t sustain the staff I had and was scrambling to find safe places for each of my employees to land. By the grace of God, opportunities -even better than they had with me opened up for every one of them. I was so thankful and relieved. Anyone that employs people knows that it is no small undertaking; taxes, withholding, reporting -just maintaining the revenue to make payroll is a tremendous burden. After having miracuously averted the near disaster of having to lay staff off, leaving people who are dear to me without means to provide for their families, I was perfectly content to go it alone for a while. I did not have any appetite for hiring anyone else and going through that again.
My default position on the proposition of hiring anyone was flatly “no”. But, there was this nagging notion that this wasn’t just about hiring someone. I had a sense that this may be from God. But, I resisted it. It wasn’t anything I wanted to do. Business wasn’t great. I didn’t even know if I could really financially afford another a person but that nagging notion would not relent. I shared it with my wife who said, “If you believe this is something God is leading you to do baby, you need to be open and to trust Him.”
So, I begin to move in the direction I believed God may be leading. I start making calls. I learn that the young man is in recovery from a drug and alcohol addiction, has not long gotten out of prison and is staying with another brother from our fellowship. But, I find myself with a compassion I cannot explain and am moved to keep going. I call the brother that the young man is staying with as a character reference. He candidly and honestly reports, “He’s unreliable, he’s sleeps all day, he’s still drinking and he’s been lying about it.”
The Holy Spirit was like, “I’ll take him.”
I hired the young man that day and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
God provided and we worked together for years. We did more than work beside each other every day, we shared life. We laughed together -a lot. We studied the Bible together. We battled our demons together. We prayed together. We shared our dreams together. What was dear to him became dear to me and the other way around. To this day I can still feel his intense love for his family, especially his son. From that day it became my heart, to the extent that they will allow me, to treat his family as my own. He did the same for me.
Anyone that knows Melissa and I can attest that we are very particular about who keeps our children. They are a treasure to us. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we’d be reluctant to entrust even the Secret Service with our kids. As a result, we didn’t get out much. Observing that, this young man insisted that Melissa and I have a night to ourselves and volunteered to keep our boys. Having watched this young man grow over the years, we humbly accepted without hesitation or concern.
By the grace of God, the young man that had an addiction was transformed into one of the most diligent, devoted and trustworthy people I’ve ever known. He was among those that I can count on one hand that Melissa and I considered leaving our estate to and making responsible for the care of our children should we both die unexpectedly. He is a true and dearly beloved brother.
He would often gush about the difference I made in his life, not realizing the heavenly shift that God used him to make in mine. I have been continually praying to God to teach me to love the way He loves. God answered my prayer and taught me to love by sending me someone to love .
Moreover, he showed me other believers who did not just love in word but also in deed. They truly behaved as people of one heart and one soul, who had all things in common (Acts 2:44, 4:32). They opened their homes, they opened their hearts and treated this young man’s burdens as if they were their own. Their labor yielded a harvest of new life not only in him, but also in me, revealing to me the authentic Church in power and glory. Thank you Brother Marty for this life changing introduction. I’m eternally grateful. #52WoG