5 Lessons from the First Half of 2017

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Picture Courtesy of Printable Calendar Holidays

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Lessons From a 20 Something About to be 30

Glad Tidings Assembly
Photo Courtesy of Glad Tidings Assembly

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.[1] 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…..
  4. 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.
  5. 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…..
  6. 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.[2] 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

[1] State Adolescent Health Resource Center, “Developmental Tasks and Attributes of Late Adolescence/Young Adulthood (Ages 18-24 years),” http://www.amchp.org/programsandtopics/AdolescentHealth/projects/Documents/SAHRC%20AYADevelopment%20LateAdolescentYoungAdulthood.pdf

[2] 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.

Book Review: Go by Preston Sprinkle

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Picture courtesy of Pinterest

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.

Book Review: The Caregiving Season by Jane Daly

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Today I am back with another book review reviewing The Caregiving Season: Finding Grace to Honor Your Aging Parents by Jane Daly. This book spoke to me personally because I have the honorable responsibility of taking care of my father who is in his 80’s and is a widower. As he is aging, while he is able to do a majority of things for himself, we still see the reality that as he gets older, more care from his family must be given. This book takes the reader on a journey of what it’s like to go from living your normal life as an adult to coming face to face with the reality that taking care of your parents as another part of your life along with the other responsibilities you already have. The first part of the book focuses on being realistic in acknowledging that your parent doesn’t have the same abilities and strength they once had. This can be challenging because we’re so used to seeing our parents as the ones helping us. Now the roles are reversed as we have to help our parents. One big idea emphasized in the first part of the book is that as adult children we must extend grace to our aging parents because while we see the decline, they are having to face reality themselves, which can potentially lead to depression. Part 2 goes through the struggles the adult children may have as they come to the conclusion that their parents aren’t the same. Part 3 starts with how to serve your parents if they are dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia. Part 3 concludes with words on how to balance caregiving and marriage (if we’re married), which is challenging but can be done. The final part of the book continues discussion on how to handle decisions involving end-of-life care and general care for our aging parents as they get older.

As I indicated in the introduction, this book speaks volumes to me as my father is in his 80’s and has started to show some signs of slowing down. I would recommend this book to any family involved with caring for aging parents. Caring for aging parents is rewarding yet very challenging. Along with this book, I would encourage families to connect with others who’ve been in the situation before or are currently going through it for encouragement and advice. I salute Jane Daly for writing this book and being transparent regarding some of the struggles she’s faced caring for her aging parents.

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complementary copy of this book.

2016: Year of the Uh-Oh…..

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Picture is courtesy of The Uh Oh Company

Have you ever got halfway on a trip you were on and had what I call an “uh-oh” moment? You had that moment because you realize that you forgot something important. You either decided to turn around and go back to get what you forgot or you just said “screw it” and kept going regardless of the consequences. This is the way I would describe 2016. While there were some high points (accepting the call to preach the gospel, starting graduate school, etc), this year presented a lot of moments when I had to come to some very harsh conclusions about myself and the life I was living. Regardless of the conclusions I came to, I continued to live regardless of what I honestly saw. With what I’ve shared in mind, allow me to share some lessons I’ve learned from 2016 that will help me (and hopefully others) in 2017.

  1. Talk is cheap. I wish I could literally count the amount of things I said I was going to do. As a matter of fact, when I look at what I wrote down in terms of vision casting for 2016, a huge majority of what I wanted to accomplish didn’t happen. So many times I said this year “I’m thinking about doing…….” and yet it never got done. This year taught me that we can talk a good game all we want, but what we actually do is what matters in the long run. That’s why I believe it’s best to talk less and do more. As I shared in a post earlier, the time we use to talk the game could be used to just play the game (or do whatever we’re suppose to do). When it’s all said and done, all that matters is what we actually do.
  2. Never take for granted the blessings of life. Too many times in 2016 I complained about certain things going on in my life instead of being grateful for all the blessings I have. What we have today can be gone today or tomorrow. Everyday my goal is to give thanks to God for another day of life and for every blessing I have in my life. Something as simple as having a roof over my head is something I should never take for granted. I have to be reminded that there are people out in our world that do not know where they will sleep tonight. Instead of complaining about what I have, I choose in 2017 to be more grateful for everything I have.
  3. Our mindset is almost everything. Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success defines mindsets as “just beliefs.” Our mindset is a reflection of what we believe about life, ourselves, and anything else. I’ve learned the hard way that if our minds aren’t right, the rest of our lives will be messed up as well. Many of us do not excel in life because our mindset is stuck on negative things instead of what is positive and will help us move forward. I believe my mindset was a part of what held me back this year. My thoughts and perspectives on certain things blinded what was possible and could be achieved. I’m challenging all of us in 2017 to feed our minds the things that are positive (books, friends, perspectives, etc). There is too much that needs to be accomplished for us to have limiting views of ourselves and life as a whole. Let’s get our mind right in 2017! Start with Philippians 4:8 as a key to getting our minds right!
  4. Consistency is the name of the game. Doing it one time is great. Doing it consistently over time is where the results come in. One of my biggest fatal flaws that showed up yet again this year is my tendency to be inconsistent. I don’t know if this describes you, but I have the tendency to start certain things and not finish them. I believe inconsistency is another aspect of laziness. We’re lazy when we do not put forth our best effort to do what we’re capable of doing. I’m praying that 2017 is a year that I’m consistent in every front. Consistency is the key to success in many areas of life including but not limited to leadership, our daily occupations, family, etc. As I said, doing it one time is great, but the challenge is if we can do it over and over again to get the results we desire.
  5. Not paying attention to details can cost you tremendously. In the last week or so, I’ve done a better job at paying attention to small details of mostly anything I was associated with. I had an experience earlier this year that kind of hurt me because I did not pay attention to details. As a matter of fact, a lot of the failures that took place in my life in 2016 happened as a result of not paying attention to every detail. As I go into 2017 with positive momentum in this direction, I am determined to continue focusing on the small things. It is the details that may not appear large but can determine the success or failure of whatever is going on. We have to do a better job of being as detailed as possible starting with me.
  6. Making a difference should be our ultimate goal because we will not be here forever. While death takes place every year, for whatever reason it seems like there was a lot of death that took place this year. On a personal note, one of my best friends and classmates passed away about a month ago at the age of 29. The biggest saying of his that I’ll always remember is “look here, I don’t have time for foolishness.” It makes me wonder if he knew something that we didn’t know. Having to view his body in a casket is something that will most likely never leave my memory, but it also showed me harshly how short life is.  Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. As a result, we should be doing everything possible to live our lives as difference makers. As someone said, life isn’t about how long we lived, but about what we did in between our birth date and death date. My best friend only lived 29 years, but his refusal to put up with foolishness will stick with me forever. Life is too short and too valuable to put up with things that do not push us further to accomplish God’s will for our lives. Let’s make an impact on others while we can because once breath is out of our body and our heart stops, we can’t do anything else on this earth. Make a difference while you have the chance!

I pray that something I’ve shared will be a blessing to your heart and soul as we move forward into 2017. I pray this coming year is the best one of your life. Stay encouraged and keep on making a difference in the lives of others!

Do This For Me…..PLEASE?

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Picture courtesy of http://www.icollector.com

I know that this is a human issue. I realize that this has been going on for centuries. I realize that 2016 was not the first year it happened so much on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media network. I also know that it will probably happen in 2017 based on history. However, there is one major thing that I am requesting as we move into 2017:

STOP TRYING TO JUSTIFY EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE!

I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve seen (and I’m guilty of all of this too) people talk about “I’m doing abc and what you say about it doesn’t matter” or something like “This is for the haters” or something like “I get extra motivation from those who do not want to see me succeed.” Why do we feel the need to include in our celebration moments those who we know (or assume) are not happy for us? Does it come from a place of hurt? If it does, we’ve got to take the necessary steps to heal. Explaining yourself all the time to people who you believe may or may not support you is a waste of time and energy.

I know that we will not excel to perfection on this (Paul in Galatians talked about seeking the  approval of others in light of preaching the gospel), but I believe our time would be better spent saying less and doing more and then letting people see the results of what we’ve done.

Whatever God has given you the vision to do, JUST DO IT! We have to stop feeding into the negative energy of others when most people are dealing with issues pertaining to their own mind, heart, and soul. The time that it takes to explain our moves to others can be spent being productive and making a difference.

Would you do this for me please? Will you just do what God has called you to do and then show the ending result? Will you take captive the negative thought that tells you to focus on whoever the “they” is?

Do it for me please. More important though, do it for yourself and your family. Blessings to you on 2017!

I Almost Lost My Car….

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The picture you see above is the car I’ve had for about 7 years. This car has taken me all across North Carolina and to parts of South Carolina and Virginia. However, on Tuesday November 15, 2016, I came pretty close to losing this wonderful car I have because I failed to take heed to the warning signs the car was showing me. 

For the last 2 weeks, my car has made an interesting noise. For whatever reason, I chose to ignore it and figured “it’s not a big deal, I’ll get it fixed eventually.” But here comes the warning sign. I’m driving and all of a sudden the oil light comes on and comes off. The first thing I’m thinking ultimately becomes true: I’m almost out of oil….uh oh! To God be the glory there was an Advance Auto store that I pulled into. I let the car sit for a few minutes before checking the oil. There was just a tiny bit of oil left. Anybody who knows anything about cars know that the oil is the life of the car. If a car runs out of oil, it damages the engine which pretty much damages the car. I go into the store and buy some oil, put the oil in, give it a minute to get in, turn the engine on and the sound is gone. Wow!

What would have happened if I continued to drive the car to my destination? There was a high chance that I would have permanently damaged my car, which would mean either purchasing another engine (which is ridiculously expensive) or investing in a new car. Warning signs are critical!

While this post could be seen as a basic instruction guide for caring for cars, I want to argue that my experience shows how important it is for us to pay attention to the warning signs of ANYTHING that would take place in our lives.

Some of us are in the process of getting in relationships with people but we’re already seeing the red flags. What will you do? Will you see the warning sign for what it is and change course or will you continue on the path until it’s too late?

Some of us are pondering decisions in our lives that could make or break us, yet there are warning signs that tell us not to go in a particular direction. Will we listen to the warning signs and go in a different direction or will we be stubborn and determined to do it our own way? These principles can apply not only to individuals but to organizations as a whole.

Today I want to encourage all of us starting with me to pay close attention to the red flags and warning signs that are present in whatever we’re dealing with. Those warning signs are the best thing to prevent us from unnecessary headaches. Many of us are unfortunately witnesses of what happens when you ignore the warning signs and advance with whatever you’re looking to do. Every action has consequences and some of us are paying for making the wrong decisions even when we saw the red flags. Choose an open mind over a stubborn mind. Be open to changing course. It could be the biggest difference in you walking in your destiny and purpose!