Saturday, May 26, 2007


It was around November of ’96 while praying and fasting, that I really began to feel that my time in South Bend, IN was coming to an end. While I experienced sadness at the fact that we would be leaving all the trusted relationships we had formed over the years, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of elation that God was moving me closer to my destiny. Bible School and its attendant ‘field practicum’ was over! Yay!! As I reflected on our five year sojourn in Notre Dame Country, it wasn’t the difficult times that readily came to mind. I recalled the “mystery benefactor” who, for one full year had left a care package outside the door of our apartment every single week. There were weeks when we didn’t have the money to buy diapers for my son. Those weeks would find diapers in the care package. It seemed that every time we had a significant need, God would speak to our “MB” (as we came to affectionately refer to this person), and that need would be miraculously filled in our care package.

I remembered being recommended by the Dean of my college to speak at a church in a small town called Wabash, IN. They were in the process of finding a senior pastor and needed to fill the pulpit every Sunday in the interim. I spoke to the head elder at the church over the phone, and he asked that I speak two Sundays in a row. Arrangements were made for me to be picked up by the folks from the church since I didn’t have a reliable enough car to make the two hour journey. The night before I left for the first speaking engagement, we had a couple of friends over at our apartment. As we were praying that God would visibly manifest His presence in the services the next two Sundays, one of our friends felt compelled to pray that God would supernaturally provide a decent car for us that would be paid for, insured, and registered so that I wouldn’t have to depend on anyone picking me up the following Sunday. I volubly expressed my Amen, but felt much less confident inside that any such thing could happen than I was willing to admit.

The next day appeared to justify my lack of confidence in the prayers. The people that came to pick me up were a sweet, middle-aged couple. When they discovered that I was black, they were a little uncertain that they had made the right decision in inviting me to come and speak to their small-town, all white church. Wabash had only one black person in it and he arrived there when I did. I expressed my appreciation to the couple for driving four hours to and from Wabash just to pick me up, and explained that I would secure a ride for the following Sunday so that they wouldn’t have to endure the arduous drive for another weekend. They quickly explained to me that they had secured someone else to speak for the following Sunday and so wouldn’t require me for more than that weekend.

On the journey to Wabash we spent the two hour drive getting to know each other really well. They had warmed to me by the time we arrived, and explained that they were going to bring me in round the back, straight into the pastor’s study, while they met with the rest of the elders to prepare them for someone a little bit different than they had expected. I took all this in stride, and preached a passionate sermon about attitude being the key to altitude. At the end of the service people were lining up to get a copy of the message on tape. They had to search the cupboards to find their tape duplicating machine which had seldom been used. I was asked to stay behind and speak at an evening service which they had hurriedly put together.

Since I was staying for a previously unscheduled service, they took me out to lunch in neighboring Marion. En-route to Marion, we drove past an auto dealership that had a Peugeot 505 station wagon on the lot. As we drove by the dealership, I expressed surprise at seeing a car that you rarely find in the USA. On the way back from lunch, my host turned in to the dealership and pulled up right behind the Peugeot. We got out and walked around the car as he quizzed me about its performance and maintenance. We got back in time for the evening service, and afterwards, this precious couple that had already driven four hours that day (not counting our trip to Marion), proceeded to drive me all the way back to South Bend.

Our parting conversation was about what time I wanted to be picked up the next Sunday! Apparently, I had passed the “color” test and was eligible to preach as originally scheduled. On Tuesday evening I got a phone call from Dean (the man who had picked me up) asking me for my drivers license info. I was a little perturbed and asked why he needed this. He explained that he needed the info for the insurance for the Peugeot 505 which the Lord had impressed upon him to buy for me, insure, and register it for a whole year. When I explained that I couldn’t afford to pay him back for the car, he asked if I was deaf or hard of hearing. “The Lord told me to buy it for you; I didn’t say anything about paying me back.” Wow!

The next Sunday found me driving myself and my family to Wabash in my brand new Peugeot 505. At the end of the service, the elders offered me the position of senior pastor of the church with a parsonage attached to the offer. My destiny however, lay elsewhere. Onward to Colorado!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Myth, Mystic or Master?

As suggested by my blog title, some of my random thoughts find their way into the world of publishing (thank God for blogging). I decided to take a detour from my chronicles (just this once) and post something that I had written as a response to a dissertation that had disparaged Christianity. I realize that the beauty of free-will is that it really does work that way! We are, each one of us, free to choose who or what we choose to believe in.

For over two thousand years people have tried to dismiss Christ and Christianity as myths. People who have no business interpreting the scriptures have attempted to do so with impunity, in a vain attempt to expose the "fallacies" and "inconsistencies" of the Bible. Amazingly, try as they might, the so called "myth" lives on. The fundamental social construct of civilized society is built on the principles of the Bible. The ideas behind a society built on mutual respect, freedom, safety and so on, are taken directly from the scriptures. Indeed the greatest nation on earth (to the displeasure of many) was founded on the principles of Biblical freedom, and their founding documents emphasize many of these values. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created..." It is interesting to note that societies that have been built on the tenets of socialism or communism have not fared quite so well.

Smarter and more accomplished men than many of these 'critics of Christianity' continue their unveiled attempts to debunk the efficacy of the Scriptures, but truth is not subjective. The fact that a colorblind man perceives blue as green does not make his perception a reality. For those who would quote the well worn cliche that suggests that perception is reality, I suggest that you try experimenting with that principle by jumping off the roof of a ten story building while perceiving it to be the first floor. Science does not dispute the facts of a historical Jesus, it simply tries to rob Him of His Deity. But for all those that continue to debate the Deity of Christ, suggesting that He ranks as a great teacher with the likes of Muhammed, Bhudda and other such religious icons, there is no middle ground here.

If you take the position that there is a God, then it would be misguided to magnanimously allow that Jesus existed, and yet contend that He can comfortably co-exist alongside other religions, since each one leads to the same God. Jesus is either who He said He is or He is not. If He is not God, as He claimed to be, then He would truly be an egotistical, megalomaniac. For, who would classify as a good man, someone claiming to be God, who was not? It is not overstating the fact to say that He cannot simply be a good man. He is either God or He is a charlatan of the highest order. Fortunately, He has not left room for controversy in that argument. Jesus Christ is Lord, whether we accept it or not. While generation after generation contends with religion, the truth silently speaks for itself.

For every charlatan that is fleecing the flock, there are genuine, godly beleivers making a difference around the world. When confronted by the Cross of Christ, each one of us is faced with a decision that has more far reaching consequences than we can ever comprehend in the limitations of our cognitive reasoning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


As I continue my reflections on the process of transitioning from an alien, I have come to realize that a significant part of this process of finding my purpose necessarily required that I experience all of the highs and the lows that I experienced in South Bend, IN. There were lessons learned, too numerous to detail here, that, unknown to me were preparing me for my destiny. I know. I know. It sounds almost cliché to say that God was working character in me through suffering. However, as cliché as it may sound, this is clearly how God has chosen to deal with His own. Evidently we’re not smart enough to get it simply by reading about other people’s experiences, because if we were, the Bible would be all that we needed to learn to trust God and take Him at His word. As it stands, even personal experience sometimes has to be repeated before we get the picture. Why, even the mighty David didn’t figure out that Saul had a vendetta against him until after the sixth attempt on his life (and he was a man after God’s own heart)!

It became crystallized in me over the course of my time in Indiana, that I had this burning passion to “surf” in some really “dangerous” waters. Psalm 2: 8 had continued to reverberate around my head and my heart. “Ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession.” The more I read it, the more I pondered the potency of this verse. Has anyone ever taken this verse literally, I wondered? What will it cost me to ask for the nations? Do you have to have special training and insight to be able to ask such a huge thing? Whatever the answers to those questions (I’m still finding them out); I took the plunge and asked. I prayed fervently that I wanted my life to make a difference not just in the lives of people in my immediate sphere of influence, but in the nations of the world. Further more, I wanted to be the first Nigerian (that I know of) to pastor a life-giving, life-changing church in the USA that was truly multicultural and multigenerational. Apparently I had no idea what I was asking.

I like what Mark Batterson says in his book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.

“At some point in our spiritual journeys, we run into something called reality. And it usually happens when we’re driving sixty miles per hour with no seat belt on! The result is spiritual whiplash. Simple answers don’t suffice, and God doesn’t fit into the nice, neat boxes He used to fit into…We experience psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs. In other words, something happens that doesn’t jibe with what we believe.
Dissonance comes in two primary flavors: unanswerable questions and unexplainable experiences. And I have tasted lots of both flavors.”

Well written Mark. I couldn’t have said it any clearer in application to my life and circumstances. Either I had really made God mad by asking what I had asked, or the learning curve that I had to walk was significant, before I would be ready to begin this journey. Whatever the case, I was bombarded on every side. Here are just a couple of memories:

Many of the students at my Bible College, including me, went to church in places other than the church the school was affiliated with. At some point, someone in the hierarchy decided that that was not such a good idea and determined that everyone who went to school there was obligated to also go to church there. Many of us protested, explaining that we were already involved in ministry at the churches we attended. Leadership considered this response and then decided that it made sense for people who were indigenous students, but as for the rest of us, we hadn’t lived in the States long enough to make that kind of commitment to a local church and so the “decree” would stand.

I refused to comply, citing the fact that I was the one who got to choose where my family worshiped and no one else had the right to usurp that right. I was promptly kicked out of school pending the time I could pay the balance of my tuition, even though the original arrangement for me, as it was for everyone else, allowed me to pay my tuition in installments. Kicked out of Bible College? Who gets kicked out of Bible College? Eventually I graduated but had the dubious distinction of being the only one in my graduating class that was not licensed by the ministry. I was called all kinds of uncomplimentary names and assured that I wouldn’t amount to much in ministry anyway. And this was the place where I was receiving my spiritual preparation for ministry!

Shortly after graduation, I started a ministry with the stated purpose of networking and building bridges between churches and indeed between other ministries in other nations. I felt called to host an event for the local churches tagged, Unity Celebration of Praise and jumped in at the deep end by investing what little finances we had. As I approached different church leaders and explained the vision, many jumped on board, while just as many questioned my motives. I was even asked by one pastor, who I thought I was, and what gave me the right to be organizing such an event since I wasn’t the recognized apostolic leader of the city? I simply explained that even Samuel was used by God to anoint David as king even though he was not in the direct line of succession for the Levitical priesthood. He reluctantly agreed to participate in the event. On the day of the event, the Saint Mary’s College auditorium (across the street from the University of Notre Dame) was filled to its capacity. We incredibly had twenty churches participate in the worship experience, including the church that had chosen not to license me. The event had cost us over $15,000.00 and we had hoped to recoup that expense from taking up an offering, but when the offering was counted we had raised $800.00.

Talk about the flavors of “unanswerable questions and unexplainable experiences.” I was gutted. These experiences were mere microcosms of much of my ministry in South Bend, IN. Yet there was and is a purpose to it all. My friend, Dino Rizzo of Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, LA says that, as we surf the waves of ministry which God prepares for us, there are certain key things to remember. He quotes Rick Warren as saying, “You can’t make waves, God sends them. He just wants us to learn how to ride them.” He further opines that we must be willing to paddle out a distance from the shore so that we can find the “big un-ridden waves.” He suggests that some of the biggest thrills won’t show up at our doors so we have to be willing to paddle out and find them. Finally, Dino reminds us that we will, on occasion, wipe-out. We will hit the reef of rejection no matter how much you do right, so never surf alone.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


South Bend, Indiana was a bit of a culture shock for me. On my previous trips to America, I had only visited large cities. I had also spent a lot of my formative years in London and Lagos, both cities with dense populations. South Bend was, well… different! For the first three months I lived in the dorm while my wife and son lived with her sister. In Maryland! It was an extremely difficult three months made even more difficult by the fact that I missed my son’s first birthday. As I settled in to the routine of Bible School, I found that, with nothing around to serve as a distraction, I spent much of my time praying, studying and excelling in my classes. There was, however, one class which turned out to be extremely exacting. The most amazing thing about this class was the fact that I hadn’t signed up for it (at least not consciously). It was called “Character Building 101” and almost all the lessons occurred outside of the classroom. As the three month mark approached, I began to look around for an apartment and a job so that I could take care of my family when they finally arrived in South Bend.

Finding a job that fit around my school schedule proved more difficult than expected. I had morning classes, some evening classes, and even a couple of classes that ran from 7.00 – 9.00pm. I took whatever job came along that would pay me. I worked in basement waterproofing, construction labor, I cleaned the floor of a gas station mini-mart after hours, a couple of photo labs, why, I even worked with a fellow student who had a business felling trees (and these are the jobs I remember). I did so much manual labor; I had no need to go to the gym. The lessons were long and hard. Many times, I found myself questioning if I’d really heard God’s call to ministry. I had assumed that once I arrived in the US, there would be a welcome mat rolled out for me and things would all fall into place quite nicely. This was not the case.

For the first time in my adult life, I found that I was not in a position to call the shots. I was miserable, unfulfilled, and uncertain as to whether or not I was in the right place. I had come to the States after a three year stint in the UK working for Federal Express. In the UK I had an official car, a great income, and a beautiful home. Life was good. This transition to the “ministry-of-suffering” certainly wasn’t my idea of effective preparation for a full-time ministry calling. Why couldn’t we just stick with the homiletics and eschatological theology? I didn’t sign up for this kind of life did I? Then something happened that shook me to my core. I was working for Lester Sumrall’s prayer line, covering the “graveyard” shift. One of my responsibilities was to call up ministry partners and find out if they had any requests I could pray with them about. I took a prayer request from a lady who needed Divine intervention as she approached the deadline to finish working on a banner she was making. After I had prayed with her for a few minutes, she hung up and I promptly forgot the call, until I received a letter from her about a week later. Below are sections of the letter verbatim.

Saturday April 11, 1992

Dear Joe, (this is the name I was known by at the time)

I appreciate so much your call last week. I must tell you that the power of God came on me during our conversation so that I was literally trembling all over—when this happens to me, I know there is something very powerful going on. I shook for 10 minutes after we hung up so that my 4 yr. old asked why I was shaking.

I feel such a prophetic stirring about you when I pray for you. Something interfaced in the Spirit when you called. God has put you on my heart very strongly. You have a destiny to touch nations. I somehow feel that you suffered disappointment when you arrived here. Your high expectations were not met in the place you so looked forward to learning of God in. You are a man after the EXCELLENT MINISTRY— a man who is a 100-fold servant. God is putting steel in your soul and spirit to shine in places that are apathetic and jaded. He is going to bring through you a fresh anointing to people who are “familiar” with the things of God.

God says to you—I have set you in a place to grow and become a warrior of wide experience…

A destiny to touch nations? A man after excellent ministry? Bring a fresh anointing through me? Did she have any idea who I was and how much I was second-guessing my calling and purpose? If she didn’t, God sure did. And, Oh, by the way, that part about "sufferred disappointment," multiply that by ten! It was the first time anyone had so accurately “read my mail” without even knowing me. For the first time since arriving in the USA, I began to realize that God had orchestrated all of these circumstances from the very beginning. Like Joseph of the Old Testament, I did indeed have a greater destiny, but its fulfillment was hinged on the lessons I would learn along the way.

I wonder what Joseph must have been thinking as he went from the pit, to the palace (as a slave), to the prison, and then to Prime Minister (Genesis 37 – 46). His destiny was always to become Prime Minister of Egypt and to deliver the world from famine, but the lessons along the way were essential to his ability to fulfill his purpose. Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church, refers to these types of experiences as, “chasing lions.” Only after you have dared the difficult and seemingly impossible, will you be prepared to step into your purpose. Like Mark points out in his book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, David made Beniah head of his personal army presumably because he liked his resume. You see, Beniah had killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. Not many men belong to the lion-killers-club. But David did, and Beniah’s singular act of bravery endeared him to David and earned him a stepping stone into the courts of the king. What lion are you chasing?

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I arrived in the USA in November of 1991, full of hopes and dreams of making a difference in my native homeland of Nigeria. My purpose in coming to the States was to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry that would prepare me for the rigors of what might lie ahead on my return to Nigeria. I had already started a small group which had grown into a church a few years earlier. That process had exposed my significant weaknesses and I was determined to acquire all the necessary skills and knowledge that would make my next foray into ministry a resounding success.

Bible school was not what I expected. For some otherworldly reason, I had this notion that everyone in Bible school was sold out to the service of the Kingdom and had little or no time for frivolities. Imagine my horror when I discovered that a group of the guys had stayed up all night in the room next to mine trying to record my snoring. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I woke up one morning a couple of weeks after arriving in South Bend, IN, only to find toothpaste smeared on walls, doors and carpets all over the dorm. While I had slept blissfully, a completely ‘unspiritual’ toothpaste fight had taken place.

This was my intro to American Christianity. As I attempted to process this with my Dean, his completely ‘unwarranted’ and ‘unsolicited’ counsel to me was, “lighten up already!” I knew right then that I had inadvertently come to the wrong place. Or had I? My next four years would bring me face to face with many of my errant perceptions about God. I quickly learned that God was more interested in developing character in me than He was in developing my speaking skills. I protested vehemently to God about the lack of a commitment to extended prayer times and Bible studies by my fellow students, and He protested to me about my lack of commitment to building relationships with the very people that I claimed I was called to love and serve.

I discovered that my education would turn out to be more practical than I had ever imagined. In an attempt to support my small but growing family (my wife and I had a son who turned one a few months after our arrival in the US), I got a job working at a factory. My job?…capping aerosol cans as they came down the assembly lines. My work hours were 11.00pm to 7.00am, and pretty soon this exacting schedule (I had school from 8.00am till 12.00noon and had to stay awake until I picked my wife up from work at 4.00pm) began to take its toll on me. One evening, with a lull in the aerosol can traffic coming down the assembly line, I dozed off standing up, and was rudely awakened to the sounds of commotion at the end of the line. A group of cans had passed me by as I dozed and the uncapped cans had to be cleared off the assembly line and manually packaged. Needless to say, I was summarily fired the next morning. My shift manager called me into his office and handed me the proverbial pink slip (This is the first and only job I have ever been fired from).

I was beside myself. Me, a college graduate working in this menial job just so I could pay the bills, fired? Unknown to me though, God had other plans, but He also had issues with my pride and needed to teach me a thing or two. I had read somewhere that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Well, He must have had to deal with a ton of stuff in me ‘cos it felt like a brick wall was pushing against me. This was my first ministry practicum.

I ended up taking a position as the head soccer coach for a High School girl’s team. My first meeting with the parents and players provided me with my second ministry practicum. One of the kid’s parents was none other than the foreman who had fired me from my inglorious can-capping job. At the end of the meeting. He asked to speak with me, and voiced concern that I might make his daughter pay for the fact that he had fired me, by marginalizing her. The carnal side of me wanted to gloat at my new found authority over him, but I was reminded of Esther’s story. As Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) encouraged her to present herself before the king in defense of her people, the Jews (it was certain death to go before the king uninvited), he reminded her that if death came to the Jews it would no doubt eventually find her out even though she was in the kings palace. His word’s, enshrined for eternity, “…For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

I assured him that, as a Christian I couldn’t live with my conscience if I resorted to such unfair and immoral tactics. As it happened, his daughter turned out to be one of the better players, as well as one of the best behaved people on the team. She was an asset to have on our team, and I learned so much about her family and their commitment to Jesus over the course of the year. The lesson for me became clearer by the day. I was not called to live my life by the dictates of how I perceived that people had treated me, but by how the Scriptures instructed me to live. It occurred to me that, if I hadn’t been fired from my capping job, I would never have gotten the job as a coach. This job provided me with tremendous opportunities to be a witness for Christ in the lives of so many young people, as I went on to coach with a travel soccer club and with the University of Notre Dame soccer camps. Who would have thought that Bible school training happened outside of the classroom?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I’ve spent the better part of my adult life living in the USA even though I was not born here. It’s been, to say the least, a sometimes arduous yet incredibly rewarding journey. Having spent the last sixteen years of my life here, I still have people ask me where my accent is from. At this point I am quick to point out that I speak English the way it was designed to be spoken (I spent my early childhood years in London and so I speak with somewhat of a British affectation), and so I am not the one with the accent but they are. I relate this to you simply because I am learning that aliens stick out in a crowd. Apparently, no matter how I dress or attempt to blend into the crowd, there is something about the way I sound that always gives me away.

I am learning that this can at once be a benefit or a hindrance. I make my living as a speaker (pastoring a church) and so it certainly helps when my congregation thinks that my “accent” makes my sermons more interesting and easier to follow (I sure hope they enjoy the sermons for more reasons than the accent). However, on a trip across the border to Mexico, I learned that my accent does not necessarily make it easier for me to get back into the USA through customs and immigration. I had gone to speak at a church in South Texas (close to the Mexican border) and they had asked if I would be willing to do a TV recording for an international audience. I readily agreed, only to find out that the recording would be done in Mexico. After bribing me with the promise of a lunch of my favorite “Cabrito,” I was keener than ever to make this unscheduled visit to our friendly southern neighbors.

Everything went without a hitch until we arrived at the US side of the border on our way back. I was traveling with my American host who happens to be from Mexico by parentage but has spent all of his life in the USA. (For the purpose of clarity, I should mention to you that I am a US citizen by naturalization, but we will reserve details about that story for another day). The border immigration officer was polite but officious, and asked us if we were US citizens, to which we both replied in the affirmative. He leaned in to the car and looked at me a little closer. Now I am a big, black, clean-shaven man, with a goatie. I have in fact been accused of being an NFL player on many occasions (an accusation to which I don’t offer much resistance), and so you wouldn’t be overly presumptuous if you assumed that I was American. My host on the other hand looks every bit like a Mexican, and to all intents and purposes could have been using me to get across the border into the US.

The officer proceeded to ask me a series of questions, and the more I spoke, the more suspicious he became (He had probably figured me for a Mexican in disguise trying to get across the border illegally). Finally he asked me where I was born and when I told him, Lagos, Nigeria, he promptly had us pull over into a parking spot, where he proceeded to search our car and then ask me for proof of citizenship. As he processed my documentation to ascertain its veracity, I kept thinking to myself, “If only I had a more American accent, we could have driven straight through, into the welcoming arms of my adopted country.”

Interesting story but what’s the point? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aliens (no, not the kind on X-files or anything of the sort), the kind of aliens that the Bible refers to Christians as.

Therefore remember that you, once gentiles in the flesh…were without Christ, being aliens…having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2: 11, 12)

I guess aliens stand out in a crowd of people who are all the same. This, I’m discovering, is often what it’s like to be a Christian. We wear our Christianity like a robe (or an accent) and sometimes it serves us well and other times it, quite frankly, stinks. My journey as a Christian in the USA has offered huge learning opportunities, and each time I take advantage of them, I find myself the beneficiary of improvements in my character, calling, and purpose. But there are other “aliens” out there. People who do not share my experience of knowing Christ. These are the ones that I am trying to reach. These are the people for whom I have chosen to make America my home, and responded to my calling as Lead Pastor of The Well. So over the next few weeks, I will be chronicling a lot of my personal journey here (good and bad), in the hope that, perhaps someone who is searching for answers might find them through my journey, and then begin their own journey in earnest. I love being an alien!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Who's Your Mama?

Seems to me that the more prepared I think I am, to do what I do, the more I realize how ill prepared I actually am. As I've been pondering over my Mother's Day message, thinking about all the good things there are to say about mothers, I am reminded that this is not exactly a euphoric day for everyone. Maybe this day is too painful for you to celebrate because you've lost your mother to cancer or some other such debilitating illness. Or your mother may have been an alcoholic, drug-abusing, child-neglecting parent, and you couldn't wait to be rid of her.

True, some mothers are like the proverbial Jezebel, or like Herodias who plotted with her daughter to demand the head of John the Baptist on a platter. These women give motherhood a bad rap. I suggest though, that such women are a minority, especially when we consider women like Moses's mother, or Hannah, (Samuel's mother), or Mrs. Manoah, (Samson's mother), and the list goes on and on. Whichever group you fall into, great mom or not-so-great mom, I want to encourage you to remember that a biological mother is not the only kind of mother you can have. I've had some really great women in my life who helped shape my outlook and worldview. It was a privilege for me to refer to each one of them as "Mom" because of what they added to my life.

If your mother was a poor role model for motherhood, look around you and you'll probably find women who have very effectively added value to your life as you have navigated all the obstacles you have had to contend with. If you haven't taken advantage of such relationships, I encourage you to begin doing that today. Trust me when I tell you that you will be so much better for the experience.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Sweet Mother, I no go forget you! (I won't forget you)

Many years ago a Nigerian musician (many argued that he was Cameroonian after the success of his album) recorded a debut album with the title track "Sweet Mother." It was a massive hit! Done in the common Pidgin English spoken in much of West Africa, Prince Nico Mbarga's song tugged at the heartstrings. He sang about the fact that our mother's nursed and nurtured us when we were ill, at the expense of their own health and well being. He emphasized the fact that if we didn't eat they wouldn't either. In spite of the fact that Prince Nico was barely educated, his hit song became popular both among the educated elite and the masses. So great was its success and the pride of place that it gave mothers, that a clarion call was sounded by 'jealous' men insisting that he should record a song extoling the many and varied virtues of fathers. Giving in to the pressure (and possibly the allure of another hit song and the attendant financial windfall), he recorded a song called "Good Father." It bombed!

The point of the story is simply this: Our mothers hold a really special place in our hearts (If you don't believe me, tune in to any NFL game during the season and listen to the players on the sidelines when they have the camera's focused on them. The first thing out of their mouths usually is... "Hi Mom.") Our successes are celebrated by them, our failures are mourned as if they were their failures. From Samuel to Samson, from John the Baptist to Joseph, the scriptures indicate that every man that was born to a woman who was initially barren, went on to visibly affect his world for the better, because of the deep intercession of his mother. I am thankful for my mother, she has seen me through some of the most difficult seasons of my life. I know my kids are thankful for theirs (and so am I). When she's around all just seems right with the world.

So, as we approach an extremely well deserved celebration of our mothers this Sunday, I want to be the first to say to my mother, my wife, and all the mothers of our church; Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

My Hero

The allure of full-time Christian Ministry can be at once heady and intoxicating, while being difficult and lonely. Speaking in front of vast numbers of people, constantly being celebrated by those who have benefited from your ministry, having people share some of their deepest, darkest secrets with you, while others seek your counsel on some of the most significant decisions they will ever make in their lives; depending on who you have around you, all of this can be extremely satisfying or extremely draining. With all of this and more happening consistently in Christian ministry, it is no wonder that some pastors and Christian leaders begin to lose sight of their primary purpose. They forget that it is not about them but all about Jesus. It is much less about great preaching, leading and building, as it is about strengthening your personal walk with God. You can only give out what is in you! The less time you spend building your own personal relationship with the Lord, the less you have to give to others.

Pastoring a church of thousands of people, no doubt comes with it's attendant stresses and pressures. "How do you know?", I hear you ask, "since your church isn't a thousand people strong." I guess my response to that would be simply to state that, you don't have to stick your finger into the power outlet to know that electricity can kill. I have been around large ministries and well known ministers long enough to know that it is a lonely and treacherous road to walk. I have recently lost two dear friends from full-time ministry because the perils of the journey became all too real and they found themselves in compromised positions that required that they give up their mandate to lead others (at least as Lead Pastors).

How do Pastors avoid the potential pit falls that attend the calling to full-time ministry? I suggest that it is only by remaining firmly planted in reality. You are not as great as people say or think you are. The real key to determining how successful you are at staying rooted in reality is to take the pulse of your family. Too many men have built large and "successful" ministries at the expense of shipwrecking their homes. Their children abhor ministry or anything that smells remotely of church simply because they resent the way it has negatively impacted their family. Their wives are unwittingly abandoned along the way, victims of their husbands "success." I heard a well known (and well loved) Christian leader once say, "You can tell a man's success by looking into his wife's eyes." I imagine that the stories that many pastor's wives eyes would tell would be stories of broken promises, hurting marriages, and potentially devastated homes. This is not a stretch as I am personally acquainted with families like this.

How do I do it? I listen to my wife. I trust her implicitly because she is my best friend, my most ardent fan, and my biggest and most vocal critic. She has earned all of those places in my life. She once told a group of ladies sitting at a table with her, raving about how great a speaker I was and how lucky she was to have me, that she knows just how human I am because she sees me "put my pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else." Confronted by that reality, I am quickly reminded of my flaws and my fallibility. I am learning that when the church doors close, and the incredible music is silenced until the next gathering, my family are the only ones committed to standing by me regardless of how well I preach, lead, or build. This is where I draw my strength. this is what motivates me to want to be godly. This is why I do what I do. To live as an example before my family.

My now sixteen year old, sophomore-in-high-school son, was asked to write a paper in the fifth grade about who his hero was. Below is what he wrote (not a word or punctuation is changed from the original hand written paper).

"Who is my hero? I bet you would think it is someone famous like Martin Luther King Jr., or maybe even Ghandi. But really, my Dad is enough of a hero to me. My Dad is loving and caring with a super strong soul. He is the kind of person you can always look up to. A hero like my Dad doesn't care for just some people. He remembers those who are in orphanages and some who don't have homes or poor people. Now you know that a hero doesn't have to be famous. But someone who loves you, just like a Dad."

When it's all said and done, the real measure of success is what you did with your personal relationship with Jesus, and how you impacted the family that God so lovingly entrusted to your care. Personally, great ministry comes out of great times with my wife and kids.