This coming up week represents what could be a significant turning point in life. After much prayer, discussion with my family, and research, I have come to a simple conclusion: I am in need of therapy. Thus, this week, weather permitting, I will be in my first therapy session.
According to Mental Health First Aid USA, a mental illness is an illness (diagnosable) that “affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior and disrupts the person’s ability to work or carry out other daily activities and engage in satisfying personal relationships.” As we know, the mind is arguably the biggest influence in terms of how one lives their life on a daily basis. An injury of the mind affects the daily activities of the individual. While I will not go in extreme depth regarding what I believe I am struggling with, I have concluded that my struggle has reached a point where it is affecting my daily life.
The decision to seek therapy is a difficult one for someone like me who is, first, a man; second, a black man; and third, someone who struggles with pride. I do not like admitting that I need help. I do not like asking for help. However, I also believe that admitting that you need help is a sign of strength. It is easy to preach to others that they should ask for help when they are weak or vulnerable. The hard part of any message you teach or preach is applying those same words to your own life.
I believe that I am at a critical turning point in my life. I believe that many great things are getting ready to take place in my life. However, I am also aware that what I am struggling with mentally can be the biggest detriment towards moving forward in what God has prepared for me. I intend to serve as a helper in every career path I take for the rest of my life. Yet, it is hard to be a helper when you’re the one that needs help. Nevertheless, I am hoping that my journey to wholeness mentally will give me even more strength to move forward in what I was created to do.
I ask that you pray for me as I take this significant step in my life. I also want to say this as one that is finally practicing it: if you are struggling with anything mentally, get whatever help you need. I believe God blessed our world with therapists, and I believe they are in this world to be a source of assistance for us in the daily journey of life. I thank God that I can be a part of the continued rise in African-Americans seeking mental health counseling. Here’s the bottom line: I refuse to let ANYTHING hinder what God has placed inside of me to do. I declare that my mind will NOT hold me back from being the individual God has called me to be. The journey to mental wholeness starts……NOW!!
If you’ve lived long enough, you have probably heard someone say the following words: “only God can judge me.” And while I do believe that many have used this quote as a way to justify doing whatever they want to do, I believe this quote can be a powerful reminder of what our role is compared to the role of God. The late Rev. Billy Graham stated, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” It is my conviction that when we look at what is included in this journey called life, and look at what we’ve experienced on a personal level, we should come to the conclusion that we do not have a right to judge others.
Before delving into this topic, allow me to express that this blog post does not advocate for ridding ourselves of accountability. I am convinced that a lack of accountability opens the door for us to do more harm than good in the society we live in. A huge part of the Christian experience is not just individual salvation, but the collective experience we have through the church (referring to the body of believers and not a building). However, my conviction is that accountability is not the same as judging others. Thus, the question is this: why is judging others indefensible?
First, all of us were created in the image of God. While there are different genders, races, ethnicities, experiences, and backgrounds, the fact remains that all of us were created in the image of God. Consequently, we should see each other as a product of God’s creation. Through the vehicles of racism, sexism, ageism, and any other ism, we make the statement that God did not create a particular person because of whatever makes them distinct. Some may argue, particularly when it comes to gender, for a view that says that God did not create men and women the same. While I will not entertain this debate on this post, I will say that regardless of whether a person is a man or woman, the reality still remains that God created each person. This is a truth that white supremacists fail to apply. Nicki Lisa Cole defined white supremacy as “the belief that white people are superior to people of color.” This viewpoint is simply unacceptable. When it’s all said and done, God does not see any of us as superior to anyone else. God sees us as individuals created in God’s image.
Last, the human experience is an equal opportunity employer. When you think about the human experience, what comes to your mind? For me, the human experience means survival, a daily battle, love, joy, peace, pain, good times, bad times, hurt, and eventually death. I am convinced that unless a person has had it all together their entire life, people will experience some aspect of what it means to be human. This human experience is not limited to just “ordinary” people, but it also works its way to those who are highly influential. For example, Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan recently opened up to the world his battle with depression. Regarding his battle with depression, DeRozan stated, “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day. We all got feelings.” In this day of whimpy boldness, someone on Twitter may attack DeRozan for being honest about his struggle. However, what that person would fail to see is that the human experience is not limited to those in everyday society, but it has no respect of a person’s influence, wealth, or status in the world. As my childhood pastor said many times, if you haven’t had any rain in your life, just wait a while.
So, what can we do to stay away from the indefensibility of judging others? I believe it starts with having compassion and empathy for others. Scott Sauls tweeted, “Pain is universal. Everyone needs compassion.” Compassion and empathy calls for us to put ourselves in the shoes of others. One of the problems with an individualistic society is that it puts the needs of the individual above the needs of the collective. While we must have an individualistic focus at times, it does not excuse us from not showing empathy and compassion to others. This leads me to my final point. We should listen attentively to the stories of others. Too many of us, myself included, focus a lot on giving our two cents to a situation. Every situation and conversation with an individual notes not call for our opinion. There is power in authentically listening to others. Dave Earley made the case that one of the ways that we honor others is through listening and giving our full attention to the person we are talking to. I believe that actively listening to others will allow us to learn more about the individual we are talking to. You listening to their story could save their life. Through listening to their story, you may get the inside scoop on why they behave a certain way. You may see why they have a hard time trusting others. You may see why their thinking is mostly negative. You may see why they struggle with anger. What’s my point? You never know what you will learn about others when you listen to them.
At the end of the day, I believe that life is hard. As a friend of mine says often, life is real! It is my view that not judging others allows life to go smoother for all of us. Do we have an obligation to hold each other accountable? I believe we do. However, as John C. Maxwell has stated many times in various books, “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We cannot authentically care for others if we are judging them. Your care for a particular individual could be the difference between them giving up or pressing forward another day. What do you want your legacy to be? Do you want to be known as someone who judged people, or as someone who genuinely cared for the person beside you? The choice is yours. Make the choice today because life is short, and tomorrow is not promised to any of us!
 I understand that there are other supremacists that are not limited to being white, but the issue of white supremacy has entered the conversation more recently as a result of Donald Trump being elected president.
 Dave Earley, 14 Secrets to Better Relationships: Powerful Principles from the Bible (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2012), 72.
 I need to emphasize that a part of caring for others is speaking the truth to them in love. I’ve learned that a caring individual wants to see you do well, and a part of that may include speaking hard truths to the individual. Speaking hard truths is NOT judging. The judging part, in my opinion, comes in when we condemn the person instead of loving them through whatever they are going through.
I really haven’t written for my blog in a while, but felt that it would be appropriate for me to express my thoughts on the passing of a magnificent servant of the Lord. I was stunned and speechless reading about the passing of Dr. Styles this past Sunday. As we get closer and closer to saying goodbye, for now, to this mighty man of God, my mind has been in reflection-mode a lot this week thinking about the legacy of this man.
First, what I loved tremendously about Dr. Styles was how friendly he was towards everyone he met. While I did not have a chance to have significant conversations with him, he was very friendly every time I had a chance to greet him and shake his hand. Finding people of Dr. Styles’ caliber as friendly as he is is rare. So many people at his level of influence have stuck-up attitudes and act like they are too good to speak to people. Dr. Styles was friendly with me every time I had a chance to speak to him. That left an indelible mark on me.
Second, Dr. Styles had a community mindset in his ministry. According to his obituary, Dr. Styles was involved in many community initiatives over the years including starting head start, providing housing, education, and many other components. Dr. Styles saw his role as a pastor and shepherd beyond getting in the pulpit and preaching a sermon or two on Sunday. Dr. Styles’ vision was about reaching out and making a difference in the lives of others. Our community will forever be evidence of his strong passion for the community.
Finally, even until the end, Dr. Styles was passionate about his calling. Even until his dying day, he was still preaching, serving, and helping out wherever he could. I believe he was the type of servant that you did not have to beg to do ministry work. To serve as an interim pastor of 3 churches after being in the pastorate for over 40 years speaks to the continued passion he had for ministry and helping others. It is relieving to be around people that you do not have to beg to do ministry.
In conclusion, as I’ve shared with others, I feel like our community losing Dr. Styles is like losing an entire model and generation of servanthood in ministry. I didn’t realize until doing further reflections that his passing would have such an impact on me. If there’s any regret that I have it is that I wish I had had the opportunity to sit with him and get wisdom on what it takes to make it in ministry. As a young person in ministry, I believe that whatever wisdom he had in ministry would have been a blessing for me to have. However, the Lord has carried him from labor to reward.
Thank you Rev. Dr. Richard W. Styles for your work and labor for the kingdom of God. Thank you for being a great example to young ministers, like myself, on what it means to be a servant of the Lord. Thank you for not allowing your influence to get to your head. Finally, thank you for letting God use you to make an eternal impact on many souls and our community. To the Styles family, my thoughts and prayers go to you. While this is a tough time, please be encouraged by the impact that Dr. Styles had on so many. He will be missed by so many. Thanks for sharing the gift of Dr. Styles to the world.
At the time of this writing I am on a social media break. My reasons for this break is personal and spiritual, but this break has been beneficial for me in numerous ways. Thus, you’re probably reading this and wondering the following: “Is he contradicting himself? The topic of his blog post says, ‘Why I Love Social Media,’ but he’s on a social media break while writing this.” I know I know. So, today in my time alone, I came to a crazy conclusion: I actually love social media. Allow me to explain.
For those who do not know me, all my life work is centered around serving people. I spent almost 7 years serving children in a local after-school program. I have the privilege of serving as a GED instructor for our local community college. I currently serve as one of the associate ministers of my church and a fundamental aspect of my responsibility as a minister is serving our congregants and our youth. Lastly, for whatever reason, the Lord led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in human services at Elon University. I never understood why God led me in this path and not music until the last few years. Serving people has been, currently is, and will always be a part of the basic fabric of who I am.
So where am I going with this? Well, I love social media for one fundamental reason: social media reveals what’s going on in the heart and mind of people online. Tony Reinke made the argument that everything we do on our smartphones (or any other devices we use to get on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.) is the “true expose’ of my (our) heart.” In other words, our words and actions on social media reflects what is taking place in our hearts. Thus, while people can say any and everything on social media, my experience tells me that when people put certain statuses and tweets up, it reflects what is taking place in their heart and mind. For example, if a person talks a lot about not worrying about what others think, I believe I can infer that they are bothered by people saying certain things about them either face to face or through someone else. Also, if the tweets and statuses of people are mostly negative (whether about life, someone else, etc.), I believe I can infer that they may struggle with anger or hurt over something.
Thus, my love for social media revolves around the opportunities that exist for us to encourage one another. Instead of being critical of people who post mostly negative posts, I believe we should do what we can to encourage them. Encouragement does not always equal advice. I am convinced that many people post certain things online not to receive advice, but to vent about whatever frustrations they have. As life continues to show us, there are many hurting individuals online. Many operate under the disguise of another person, but they are hurting. People who are overly critical and negative are, in my opinion, crying for positive attention and encouragement. What would our online experiences be like if we reframed people’s negative posts/tweets as a clarion call of their need for healing? The biggest thing social media has done, in my opinion, is give a platform for everyone to express themselves openly. There are various opinions about whether that is good or bad, but the reality is that social media gives everyone the right to express their voice.
Lastly, I want to be clear that I am not advocating the idea that people should just express whatever they want on social media without a filter. I believe that certain thoughts need to go in a journal or be expressed to trustworthy individuals. However, when a person is hurting, they are bound not to care about what vehicle is being used to express their hurt. The only thing that matters to the individual is expressing whatever is on their heart. Again, social media can be good or bad depending on how humans use it. To me, social media gives us an opportunity to speak life-giving words to others. Perhaps our world wouldn’t be as cruel as it is if we were more positive to others. Maybe people wouldn’t worry about haters and enemies as much if we were more positive to others. As much as I am tired of seeing people post about critics and haters, the reality is that people are hurting and expressing themselves by whatever means necessary.
I love social media because it allows me to see the inner workings of individuals. People are hurting and need to experience love, acceptance, friendship, and peace like never before. Reframe the negative posts that you see on social media as a window of opportunity to encourage others. You never know how BIG of a difference it will make in the life of someone. Through the power of encouragement, someone at the point of giving up may feel the motivation to keep going a little while longer. And if you’re reading this post and realize that, through your posts online, you are expressing your hurt, let me encourage you with these words: HANG IN THERE!
 Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is changing You (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 26, Kindle edition.
I am happy to get back to blogging after being out for a while due to a busy schedule and other life priorities to tend to.
If I am honest, the first half of 2017 has revealed a lot in me. Some of what has been revealed is good and some of it is bad. I hope these lessons help you as they’ve helped and continue to help me.
There is liberation in obeying God’s call for your life. On the first Sunday in June, I finally preached my initial sermon. I believe I’ve had the call to preach on my life for 20+ years. It was around June of 2016 that it reached a point where this call could not be contained anymore. Ever since I preached my initial sermon, I have felt serious relief and liberation. Now I can focus on the totality of what God is doing in and through me through the vehicle of ministry. The world is in dire need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ not only proclaimed but lived.
Vulnerability is liberating. I started reading Brene’ Brown’s book Daring Greatly a few weeks ago and that book has been a tremendous blessing to me. I have not finished it and once I do I will do a book review on it. While we must exercise caution, I believe being vulnerable allows us to remember that we are human. What type of world would it be if we were more open and honest about what we are facing or dealing with? It is easy to answer “fine” when someone asks how we are doing, but there are times in which we must be honest and say, “not too good.” I do not believe we are speaking “death” over ourselves, I believe we are being honest and open. I believe a lack of vulnerability causes many of us to walk around with a hard shell afraid to express ourselves. Vulnerability sends the reminder that at the end of the day, we are all in this thing called life together.
Adulting is about displaying excellence in everything done. I believe, with the guidance of God, that opportunities open to those who display excellence in what they do. This year has taught me that if I want more opportunities, I must be excellence in the opportunities I already have in front of me. Why should God trust me with more if I’m not faithful over what I currently have? One of the core principles of adulthood that I believe exists is that NOTHING is given; everything must be earned. Thus, I believe adulthood is about being excellent in what we do so that we can receive more opportunities. You never know what doors will open because of your attempt to do things in a spirit of excellence.
Perfectionism is more in me than I thought. One of the things that I believe holds people back from simply trying is the mindset of perfectionism. Perfectionism will have us sitting on ideas, dreams, and visions because we’re waiting on the perfect conditions to be established before doing whatever is on our heart. If we wait on the perfect conditions to form, we will never get anything done. There are times in which I wonder how many ideas are in cemeteries because of the mindset of perfectionism. I continue to learn that life is too short to hold back on what God has placed inside of us. Go ahead and at least try. You never know what will happen by simply showing up.
Listen with the intent of understanding and not just to respond. Through my marriage of 3 years and my interactions with others, I’ve learned that I am not the best listener. There are times in which I am listening with a response already ready. The problem is that the response that is pre-made can be detrimental to what the conversation was about. I am convinced that once we understand what the person wants to say, we will have the chance to have a better response more appropriate to the situation. To manage people or have a successful relationship of any sort, listening skills are critical. As someone said, maybe the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth because He wanted us to listen more than talk.
What lessons have you learned in 2017 so far? I would love to hear your lessons and get your take on the lessons I’ve learned. Thanks for reading!
During this vacation, I am spending a good amount of time relaxing, getting refreshed for the challenges ahead, and reflecting on many things. One of those things I’m reflecting is what I’ve learned in my 20s. The State Adolescent Health Resource Center describes the 20s as the last part of adolescence into young adulthood that includes but is not limited to discovering personal identity, getting a handle on adult responsibilities, and figuring out one’s personal value system. In this period, I have learned many lessons that I would like to share. Most of the lessons I’m sharing are typical and not out of the ordinary.
Growing up is mandatory. As I’ve said constantly over the years, I believe that college is the final opportunity for “acceptable” mischievous behavior. Once someone has graduated from college, or decided to go straight to work from high school, the expectations of what it means to be a productive citizen in this country increases. The higher expectations call for us to mature. This is especially true if we decide to date or marry. Speaking of marriage, I believe that while it is not for everyone, marriage can be one of the fastest doors to maturity. In marriage, we learn that we cannot live life just thinking about ourselves. We will not make it in life looking at things only from our point of view. This stage of life has taught me that if I do not grow up, there will be consequences that not only affect me, but can affect those around me.
Asking for help is a sign of strength NOT weakness. For those who do not know me, I struggle with pride. I do not like asking for help. I like to figure things out on my own. I like to be able to give people answers instead of saying “I don’t know.” However, I’ve also learned that one of the ways we can demonstrate confidence is by asking for help. By asking for help, we acknowledge the reality that no one is perfect. I look back at some of the dumb decisions I’ve made and realize that I could have avoided some of those mistakes had I asked for help at the right time. Too many of us (myself included) like to put on the persona that we have it all together when that is far away from the truth. It is still a challenge, but I’ve reached a point where I am more comfortable asking for help and admitting at times that I do not know and need help to get the answer.
Honesty is the best policy no matter what happens. As a leader, I have learned that people value honesty. For example, after working in music ministry for 12 years, I’ve discovered that people (at least most of them) would rather me be honest and tell them when their voice is off than to let them sound terrible. As someone who cares about people’s feelings, I’ve learned that a lack of honesty creates a lack of trust. The truth may sting temporarily, but eventually, it is better to receive the truth than to lie and the person we lied to finds out later. Speaking of feelings…..
We must balance the need of caring for feelings while still doing what is right. Again, people like me give a lot of attention to feelings. We must allow people to express whatever feelings they have, but if the feelings of others dictate us, or even ourselves, we will not accomplish everything we need to. In leadership, you must, at times, make decisions that will hurt people’s feelings. At the same time, it is good to explain the reasoning to inform them that the decision wasn’t a personal one, but for the best of the organization. This is a principle that I continue to struggle with, but as I understand more the next point I will share, I am more balanced in making the best decisions while still caring about feelings.
Do not let ANYONE intimidate you. I am a firm believer that we should respect everyone, especially those who are in positions of authority and leadership. However, I do not believe we should fear anyone. As it has been said over the years, most people act out of their own reality. So many of us walk around fearing certain people because of their status or position. However, if we believe we are children of the most high God, we have no business allowing anyone to intimidate us. There are people who are tough to work with, and thus, we may feel a little trepidation around them. However, every single person was born, must survive, and will one day breathe their final breath. God did not create any of us to feel less than who we are. While we should respect all, God is the only one we should fear in some way, shape or form. Allowing people to intimidate you can rob you of the blessings that are out there for you. Speaking of this…..
Confidence is the difference between success and failure for many. Contrary to popular belief, I do not believe our credentials are the absolute key to our success. I believe walking in confidence gives us a boost that credentials only give in the short-term. There are many people who are qualified for a promotion and bigger responsibilities, but they lose out because they do not have confidence. Confidence is not saying that I am better than you. Confidence affirms itself in the person God has created us to be. Confidence also says that I will do the best I can even if I fail. Too many of us have allowed too many things to steal our confidence. Whether it was someone telling us what we couldn’t do it or just not receiving enough positive comments, far too many of us allow those memories to stay in our psyche. It does not matter what job you have, the biggest thing standing in the way of your next position is confidence. You’re not perfect, but you’re doing the best you can. Stay focused and as we said earlier, do not allow anyone to belittle you or make you feel less important. Walk in confidence!
Both reputation and character matter. I know that there are people, even the ones that I tremendously respect, who argue that character is more important than reputation. However, I believe your reputation is a manifestation of your character. Character is who you are. Most of time, who we are will manifest in our actions. For better or worse, my 20’s have convinced me that while my first goal should be caring about my character, I must consider the importance of reputation. There is no better place that I see this than in ministry. To be a preacher or servant of the Lord in any way, our reputation must be to where we are not bringing shame to the name of the Lord. We can say that it doesn’t matter what people say all day, but the reality is that in a culture that takes less and less serious the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ, the reputation of those who are supposed to be representatives of Christ is critically important. And yes, no one is perfect, and maybe our expectations of Christians are too high, but for many, all it takes is one story or one event to turn them away not just from the church but from God altogether. Credibility is huge in this culture. All it takes is one bad Facebook, Twitter, or internet post to ruin your reputation and your ability to be effective in this society. Character is of the utmost importance, but reputation matters as well.
Life is but a vapor. There are many more lessons that I want to share, but I cannot leave this post without sharing this one. In my 20’s, I have witnessed the passing of many people I know with the hardest two being my mother in 2012 and one of my best friends in 2016. It has reached a point where, unless it’s somebody young or something shocking, hearing that someone has passed away is not a huge shock anyone. Seeing so many people that I’ve had personal encounters with be stretched out is a reminder that life is short. As my best friend who passed away in 2016 said all the time, “I don’t have time for foolishness.” Maybe my friend lived with an awareness that he would not be on this earth long. I am not sure, but his quote will continue to stick with me forever. Losing my mother in 2012 was a painful experience and one of the first reminders to me that life is short and nothing lasts forever. However, losing my friend in 2016 really blew me away. Please understand that my friend died at the same age that I am right now, 29 years old. The image of seeing him lay across the church along with being one of the pallbearers will never leave my memory. As I think back to middle and high school, my thought was that we would get old and meet up every now and then to reflect. However, it will not happen. We have lost many people in our community these past 10 years. Life is short and we might as well live it to the fullest while we are here.
There are many more lessons I could share, but I believe these eight are the most important ones. The 20’s are challenging, but with the help of the Lord and other adults (my father included), I’ve made it through and stand just a few days from entering my 30’s. I encourage all of us to do what we can to reassure our young adults in their 20’s that they can make it. All of us struggle with major decisions and making foolish mistakes. However, having people who care enough to be honest and still support us is a major blessing. Goodbye 20’s and hello 30’s!
 Please do not get me wrong. Credentials are important and can help increase the amount of opportunities possible. However, the last thing we want to be is someone with a bunch of credentials yet our confidence is low to the point where we cannot be trusted with more responsibility.
As you may see, my goal is to get back into the swing of doing book reviews. As a result of this book review I am finally caught up in the mandatory book reviews I need to do. The book I am reviewing is titled Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith by Preston Sprinkle. Having a book out about discipleship is very encouraging in light of our society increasingly becoming non-Christian. The book is written based on the author’s study of a research project conducted by the Barna Group in 2014 titled The State of Discipleship. The first chapter of this book gives a working definition of discipleship along with an overview of the problem with the way discipleship is viewed and practiced in America. The remaining chapters of the book analyze findings from the Barna Group study on discipleship offering solutions to the problem centered on relationships, mission, community, diversity and more. The final chapter offers some practical advice on how to implement the principles that were taught in the book in the context of the local church.
This book operates under the assumption that the way the modern church in America understands discipleship is off of how discipleship works biblically speaking. I agree with the author to an extent and must admit that this book is very discouraging yet empowering for several reasons. It’s discouraging because it highlights accurately the problem of how many see discipleship today, which deviates strongly from the model Christ showed. If you choose to purchase this book, I pray you use it as a way to become even more motivated to win souls to Christ and lead others in truly following Christ. Following Christ should change us. Sprinkle’s study on the state of discipleship in America is brutally honest but needed for a time as this when many people, especially millennials, are choosing not only to be done with the church but with Christ. This is a problem that cannot continue to happen on our watch. No way….no how!
Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complementary copy of this book.