Reach Houston

My dad was police officer for the city of Houston in the 80’s and 90’s. During his time on the force he wore a number of hats, some more serious than others, but his most prominent area of patrol is known as Houston’s 4th Ward. 4th Ward is rich in history to both whites and blacks, but was an area of racial segregation within the city of Houston. Because blacks were not allowed in to reside within certain areas of the city, freed slaves purchased cheap land along Buffalo Bayou and established what came to be known as Freedman’s Town. During the years my dad patrolled the 4th Ward, drugs and gang violence ran rampant. Project row-housing, commonly called “Shotgun Houses,” were the typical dwelling place for the residence of the community. Many of these were dilapidated, burned out, and were havens for drug use and prostitution, among other crimes and distasteful activities.  According to my dad, 4th Ward was the most dangerous and violent area of Houston.

Today, 4th Ward has had a facelift. In some cases, the row-housing has been replaced with luxury condos. In others, the row-housing has been replaced with affordable housing (which as I understand it was orchestrated by the Houston Housing Authority). Sadly, there is still a problem with crime, drug use, and violence; albeit has been on the decline due the work of many area pastors. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending much of the day touring the 4th Ward with one of these pastors, Elmo Johnson. Rev. Johnson pastors Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church, and has been there for over 30 years!

During our time together we discussed a variety of issues going on today, including the issues in Ferguson and Baltimore. We even had the exciting privilege to share Jesus with a gentleman who had been eves-dropping on our conversation. After we ate lunch, at my request, Rev. Johnson drove me around his community. He showed me schools that had been converted into African-American museums, he drove me by some of the oldest churches in the city, and he walked me across the street from his church and showed me the graves of the Allen brothers, who founded the city of Houston in 1836.

At the end of our time together he asked if I would be interested in teaming with his church to do a VBS this summer. It was everything I could do to keep my heart in my chest as it beat with excitement. Jesus says in Matthew 8:11, “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…” This means people from all corners of the world, with all colors of skin, will be present at the table. To be part of this kind of Kingdom work excites me, humbles me, and puts me in awe of the greatness of God.

This also comes as the SBTC (Southern Baptists of Texas) kick off a new initiative called “Reach Houston.” I believe effective evangelism in the city of Houston is crucial because of the impact Houston has on the nation. I believe, if the low income neighborhoods and ghettos in Houston can be reached for Jesus we will see the sex slaves freed, drug dealers put out of business, and gang members transformed. The power of the Gospel is real, and the clarion call for evangelism and missions cannot be ignored. I for one am excited to see what the Lord is going to do in my city, and how he will use me to reach my neighbors. I pray other pastors will become as zealous for the lost of Houston, and together we can “Reach Houston.”


Standing where the pulpit would have been, in the remains of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church

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In Recent Months…


My blog has been quiet ever since my last entry. There are several reasons for that, most of them revolve around the precious commodity of time. Joking aside, the last few months have been the busiest of my life, and I have two sons under the age of 3! I have wanted to spend as much time as I can understanding my new my role at my new church, in my new position. I have made a valiant effort to learn the names of as many of the people as I can, and I have done what I can to be available for them in all circumstances. I have been in and out of numerous medical centers around Houston, I have met with new and potential members, and I have tried to find my rhythm as I preach on a weekly basis; all this on top of finishing my last semester of my undergraduate Bible degree, and moving. During this time I have learned an incredible amount, and been encouraged beyond comprehension. Of the things I have learned, the most important is the reminder that His mercies are new every morning, staying humble, and learning from every experience I am thrust into.

As my previous post said, my first goal was to ensure my people know my love for them, and my desire to lead them. I can say, not only has this proven to be an exciting task, it has shown to be fruitful and well worth the investment. The result is that this last Saturday, sitting among my fellow graduates, my church choir sang at my graduation service. The amount of joy I experienced cannot be put into words, and I can honestly say that never has something that special been done for me. To say there has been a fire lit underneath me would be an understatement.

I believe the Lord has orchestrated the last few months perfectly (regardless of the background noise), from the handling of every detail with my departure from my previous church, to the beginning at my new church, to the selling of our old home, and the purchasing of our new home! God has had His hand on this move from the start. I am excited to see what the Lord will do in the days and weeks to come, and I am more energized than ever to make a big impact for the glory of the Kingdom. I think what makes this season so exciting, is knowing I have a church family who is hungry to see what the Lord has for us at North Oaks Baptist Church.

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Reflections From my First Week as Pastor

I have known for a while now that the Lord was calling me the senior pastorate. The problem, I just did not know when. I had been serving on staff as an Associate/Youth Pastor at a great church. We were growing, and doing some great things as far as community outreach. In reality, I could have stayed at this church for many years, perhaps until I retired. However, the Lord began pressing on me that something big was going to happen before I turned 30 years old. I spoke with my wife about this at length, many times, and we were in agreement; we just did not know what and when.
As time continued there arose a restlessness in my soul, one that my pastor rightly pointed out towards the end of my time at our church. I had a fire to preach, but as the third man, behind the senior pastor and the associate pastor, I was not called on very often to preach. In fact, I preached more out of my home church than in my home church, and I always thought it inappropriate to ask to preach. So I sat, and I yearned to preach with everything in me.
As 2014 entered into the last quarter some things had taken place that I was not confident was taken care of appropriately, and I began to pray the Lord would show me what to do. It was during this time my wife was approached by World Hope Ministries International (; they were looking for a missions minded person who was capable of handling the finances of a non-profit organization. My wife’s formal training is in Biblical studies, emphasizing missions, but her practical experience is in non-profit finance. It was a perfect fit… 70 miles to the north. We prayed over this big move, and after nearly declining because of distance and other practical concerns the Lord impressed on me that this was a matter of obedience. So my wife began work for WHMI January 5, 2015.
Roughly five weeks after my wife taking the job, I was speaking with a professor whom I love dearly, asking him for wisdom and guidance. It was at this time he shared with me about a church without a pastor. I had known about this church for some time, and even discussed it with him in the past. At this point I was surprised to hear they were still without a pastor. He suggested I submit a resume. I told him I needed to spend some time praying about it, and I would let him know soon. By the end of the week I had a peace about submitting my resume to North Oaks Baptist Church. This was the middle of December.
To make a long story short, in February I received the call to serve as Senior Pastor of NOBC, but here is where I really begin to see the Lord fit these pieces together in a way only He can. What was going to a 140mi round trip commute has turned into a neighborhood drive. The church and my wife’s office are less than 4 miles apart! We are still looking for permanent housing, but for now we are taken care of. Also, as the parents of two little boys, child care was a concern; especially on a budget. My wife began the search process for child care and found FBC Tomball. When she toured the facility they were short a slot for our youngest (10 months), but shortly after leaving the director called and said she was able to move some kiddos around and there was now a slot for both boys. The cost comes out to only a dollar more a week than we were already spending!
This long story goes to show, when God opens a door, He will handle the details! As far as pastoring? This church has shown itself to be loving, receptive, and caring. My family has been received with open arms. One of the things I am looking forward to is showing the love a pastor should have for his people. Already my heart is overflowing with love for my church, and I am only in the start of my second week! Preaching has become the cherry on top of all of it. We are two weeks into Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, something I did very intentionally. In this letter we hear the loving pastoral side of Paul, as opposed to the firm tone he takes with the Galatians, and even the Corinthians. I want my people to here in my preaching my love for them. I want them to understand, when the Bible calls us all to being examples of this is not a suggestion. As we begin to reach out into the community, their testimony is essential to the success of the Gospel reaching outside the walls of the church. Just like Paul says in chapter one of 1 Thessalonians, “Your testimony spread to the whole region, so we do not need to say anything,” Paul was busting out of the seams for this young church because they were doing it right!
I know I have a lot to learn, but my prayer is the Lord will use me to illustrate His love for His people that He has entrusted to me. So, reflections from my first week as pastor, when God moves it is:
A blessing
Going to be a wild ride
And I thank God for all of it!

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Salvation by Shrink

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Today, culture is overly focused on feeling and emotion; so much so that there are even doctors who specialize in telling you what your thoughts mean, and why your emotions are what they are. It might even be said like the Apple App Store, “There’s a pill for that.” Admittedly I approach this topic from a point of view that may be a bit jaded due to what I have experienced as both a Detention Officer and a Direct Care Professional at a secured psychiatric treatment facility. While working in environments that thrive on medication and therapy, I have also observed as my church went through a nasty split due to strict adherence to a Bible based counseling method called, Nouthetic Counseling.
For four and a half years I worked for a juvenile department as a detention officer, while working in this capacity I watched as juvenile offenders were court ordered to attend counseling. Often this counseling resulted in the administering of strong medications designed to alter the offender’s mental state for the better, or so it was told. These teens would often return from counseling in worse condition than when they went. The medication that was prescribed was never a consistent dose, and more times than not it was either refused when offered by medical staff, or cheeked and traded for another type of pill, or even cookies.
After my time as a Detention Officer, I spent about a year working for a secured psychiatric treatment facility. This experience really challenged my thinking on the effectiveness of counseling; I can recall specific incidents of patients telling me how they were going to act in order to get their councilor to react a specific way, and sure enough they got what they wanted. When sharing with the councilor, what I was told by the patient before the counseling session, I was informed of the fact that I was not the doctor and I could not possibly know how to treat the patient in question. Sadly this happened more than once, and every time the patient was successful in manipulating their feelings and emotions in front of the therapist, to achieve their end goal.
Both of these situations fail to address the problem of discipline. Certainly, you can understand the discipline aspect for the juvenile offenders. Instead of dealing with the crime as should be done, chance after chance is given to teens because they are “children” and their poor behavior is never their fault. These teen age criminals are opportunist, and must be admired for their ability to often times make the system eat out of their hand. Much is similar between the penal system and the treatment system; in the treatment system, patients are slapped with a diagnosis and treated according to case studies and theories. Yet in my case, the patients were just as savvy as the criminals, and were quite capable of manipulating the system with the use of specific words to convey feelings and emotions.
The opposite of the clinical side is the overtly Biblical side. As previously stated, I have observed a church that I loved very much, go through a season of pain and disunity because it was said that illnesses such as depression were caused by sin in one’s life. In this case repentance takes the place of medication, and a pastor replaces a licensed professional. This aspect fails to address legitimate illness that ought to be treated by a closely observed treatment plan, and the administering of precise medications.
So which one is it? It would seem, culture would like for feelings and emotions to continue to trump rational thought, while in hyper conservative (fundamental) circles it seems sin should still be blamed for illness. What should be proposed is a synthesizing of the two views. While feelings do have the ability to create chaos, they cannot be completely negated, and are certainly valid in many situations. Likewise, the strictly Biblical approach needs to understand God has given us the ability to treat illness with medication, and it is not a sin to do so. Certainly repentance of sin is always required in the life of the Christian, but failure to do so does not necessarily result in psychiatric illness. So, salvation is not achieved by the shrink, there is not always a “Pill for that,” and God has given us the ability to diagnose and treat illness; it would be a sin not to overlook these skills, and a sin to rely too heavily on one side or the other.

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Dangerous Patriotism

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Before I begin this post allow me to present a bit of a disclaimer: I love my country, I support the military, I wear camo, I have guns, and I even listen to country music. I say this to preface what I am about to write that may cause offence for some. It is not my goal or intent to be offensive rather; my aim is to cause you to think about the role religion plays in your life as a patriot. It is unfortunate that the timing of this post lines up perfectly with a patriotic holiday.
Tuesday is Veterans Day; a day in which our nation will celebrate our troops both past and present. This day has new found importance for me since my brother will soon be shipping off to Japan, as an Airman in the United States Air Force. Undoubtedly, churches across the country today made a special tribute to the troops. These tributes may have included testimonies, a formal procession, patriotic songs, and the obligatory “Pledge of Allegiance.” While the red-blooded American that I am wants to jump and shout “Git R Dun!” My Christian identity plays the trump card, and I am left in a difficult predicament: Do I shamelessly take part in the patriotic elements during a service that is supposed to be geared toward the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or do I stand in juxtaposition and prophetically declare the patriotic elements and symbols as idolatry?
I have struggled with this question for some time, and have recently been exposed to a large amount of discussion surrounding the concept of American Exceptionalism. The way I see it; the Church in America is walking a fine line between appreciation and idolatry of our country. Christianity is not synonymous with America; Christianity transcends national, ethnic, and cultural boarders. I have met Christians from Honduras, Canada, Scotland, Japan, China, Indonesia, Korea, Russia, Ukraine, and I am sure I missed some. My point is there seems to be a propensity for Americans, in the name of patriotism, to use God as the reason for America’s world-wide influence. If this is the case Honduras would not be a politically volatile country, Russia and Ukraine would be friends, and China would not have a state approved version of Christianity.
Understand, I believe it is not only permissible, but should be encouraged, to show thanks for the men and woman who fight for our country during a special church service, and here is why: without the sacrifices of the men and women of the armed forces I would not have the freedom to worship as my convictions lead me. Or, to play off the above paragraph; if the American armed forces do not fight for America she will become as volatile and unstable as a Latin American country, there will be violent disagreements with bordering neighbors, and eventually the likelihood of a state approved form of Christianity is almost certain.
To bring this discussion full-circle and address my earlier predicament; I thank the military for preserving for me, the religious liberty that was founded at the beginning of America. That is, the freedom to worship who I want, how I want (within reason), when I want, and where I want. I pay special attention to the risk of idolatry when it comes to overt patriotism, and I prophetically call it when I see it. As a Christian, I can certainly see some trends that make me a bit uneasy, but as an American I proudly say I love this country.

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Influence of Experience

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I tend to be very black and white in the way I look at things; there seldom are any gray areas with me. As you can imagine, this can make communicating quite difficult at times. Instead of patience, compassion, and understanding I tend to be more immediate, matter-of-fact, and apathetic; this is greatly to my detriment, and I understand that. I look at facts, because facts do not lie. Facts are the building blocks of truth, right? Unfortunately, the answer to this question contains some gray areas…
In a recent conversation with my mother I made the statement, “emotions often distort reality.” Emotions can be synonymous with experiences in this case. For me, my experiences have caused me to look unsympathetically at others hardships. That is because I have experienced some times of great hardship in my life, and if I can figure it out so can you. Here is the catch; what might be hard times for me might be living in luxury for someone else. It is in this that I have come to understand truth can be relative at times. Reality can be contingent on experiences on occasion. The reality of “hardship” is contingent on one’s ability to address adversity, propensity to tackle problems head-on, socio-economic factors, ect… Because these variables are dependent on the individual and their situation, it is difficult to place a constant on what can be defined as a hardship.
While I still stand by my statement, I begrudgingly understand not everything has to be an absolute. This is where I acknowledge the influence of personal experiences. As it pertains to a worldview, ones experiences determine a lot. Consider my friend Ted. Ted was raised in a divorced home. His dad left his mother, and ran off with his secretary, when Ted was 11. Ted’s mom remarried a man who drank a lot and would become quite aggressive at times. When Ted was 17, his best friend was killed in a car crash. Ted is now in his late 20’s, he has a child who he never sees, and is five years into a 20 year prison term. Ted wants nothing to do with God. Let me be clear, Ted’s belief in God is not the issue; rather Ted does not want a relationship with a God who can allow all this bad to happen to him. For Ted, his experiences have convinced him that God does not love him, and in fact hates him. Ted’s worldview has clearly been shaped by his experience, and you and I are the same. We all have things in our life that dictate the way we look at things; experiences have profound influence on our lives.
Is Ted’s view towards God rational? Certainly not, but it is the direct outcome of his life experience. Just as no one can undo the harm that has been done to him in his life, but neither can anyone undo the poor choices he has made. While Ted’s belief towards God is irrational, it is still dictated by his life experiences. As much as I want to rationalize things into black and white categories for my friend, I cannot negate the influence of his experience. While facts are certainly objective, unless there is a way to standardize life experiences, we have to be satisfied with experiences being subjective.

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Plurality of Christianity

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Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.” This is a non-negotiable aspect of Christianity; in fact denial of this fundamental truth is disqualification for the faith, right? Sire mentions a plurality within a worldview, which got me thinking about some things. Is it bad for there to be plurality within a worldview, and what are some of the outcomes of such?
As a very conservative Christian, I am convinced by Scripture of several things: woman should not preach, speaking in tongues is only in order of there is an interpretation, divorce disqualifies for aspects of ministry, Jesus is God’s son and the only answer to sin, and there is a real hell created for Satan and his demons, but is also the punishment due those who refuse the gift of salvation. Within this list there are items that are open handed and closed handed issues. Open meaning, we can disagree but still maintain fellowship; closed meaning, this is a nonnegotiable requirement for fellowship. I can disagree, discuss, and debate on the outcome of divorce, speaking in tongues (along with other gifts), a woman’s role in the church, and Jesus died for the world or only the elect. These discussions, as long as being had in the spirit of Proverbs 27:17, can be profitable for further thought and meditation. These are good things, without some challenge on these things I may become stagnate in my ability to articulate these aspects of my faith. Things that are closed to debate are a literal hell and who will be there, the deity and ministry of Jesus, and requirements for salvation. These can be interesting to entertain differing aspects of these beliefs, but overt denial of these truths is without a doubt unacceptable.
Outside of my conservative evangelical paradigm there are other brothers and sisters in the faith that disagree with me on many things; these saints are Presbyterian, Methodist, Nazarene, and many others. The joy is, even though we may disagree on some of the open handed issues, we can still agree on the fundamentals of the faith, and in that we enjoy fellowship. Sadly, there are those outside the fold of evangelical Christianity that assert false views on Scriptural teachings. Peter (along with Jude) warns us about these false teachers and the heresy they profess. I am reminded of the emergent church, led by Rob Bell that denies a literal hell. I can recall with great clarity, a conversation I once had with a good friend about the Bible, he only believes the words of Jesus to be worth obeying; in that, he denies the plenary inspiration if the Bible. I have had discussions with people who believe all one has to do is be a good person to get into heaven, and that is all that is required for a Christian is to believe in God, yet this seems to go against what James says in chapter two of his epistle.
I was drawn to this discussion about plurality within a worldview because at the end of the day there are aspects of every worldview that are unknown; Sire calls these the subjective aspects. It is important for us to remember the word subjective is not evil. It is ok for there to be a reasonable amount of debate surrounding ones worldview. I believe it is in the challenging of what we believe that we are able to believe it with more confidence.

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