Category Archives: Current Events

BOOK REVIEW: “On Preaching” by H.B. Charles, Jr.

by Robert Earl Houston

As an opening disclaimer and to be quite honest, I have been friends with H.B. Charles, Jr. for the past 15 years or so. H.B. (please forgive my informality) was the speaker for the San Diego City-Wide Revival for many years at the church I pastored for the Noon-Day session. We have managed to keep in touch down through the years and I have watched him ascend the crystal stairs of the preaching fraternity from Los Angeles to Jacksonville.

Now, having said all of that . . .

I believe that every preacher, ESPECIALLY YOUNG PREACHERS,  should have this book in your library or on your tablet or on your smart phone. H.B. has penned what many of us who have been around could say are “cliff notes” for those who desire to not just preach, but preach effectively.

If you have no desire to excel as a preacher – this is not the book for you.
If you want to grab onto the newest fad in preacherdom – this is not the book for you.
If your desire is to “kill ‘em” every Sunday with a whoop and no substance – this is not the book for you.
If you want people to call you “Doc” to your face and laugh at you behind your back – this is not the book for you.

This is a collection of practical, easy to read advice on how to construct a sermon – not the whoop, not the holler – but from the mindset of preaching, utilizing personal theological foundations, to the “why” and “what” a minister should pray before one syllable touches a piece of paper or on a computer screen.

H.B.’s passion for preaching is redundant throughout the book. He’s been preaching since he was a young teenager and he describes this not as a instructional map but as words from one traveler of the art of preaching to another. It is quite clear that H.B. does not want to remain the same in your preaching if it’s below par and he doesn’t want you satisfied if your preaching is above par.

A quote I found interesting:

“Your sermon manuscript will become stronger if you preach it as you write it. Talk it out as you are writing it down. This will help you communicate clearly and effectively.  Some words that are easy to write are not easy to pronounce. That long sentence that looks so beautiful on your computer screen may be a nightmare to say or hear. And sometimes you cannot tell that an idea does not make sense until you hear the words come from out of your mouth. But talking your way through the sermon as you write it will aid clarity. Preaching it as you write it also aids memorization.”

It’s classic and practical preaching advice. It’s what the old preachers used to call a “nugget.”  Unfortunately we live in a time when we have mega churches but pastors who either refuse or protest in sharing what they’ve learned along the way, especially about the craft of preaching. H.B. Charles, Jr.’s book breaks that paradigm in a refreshing way.

One thing you will learn from this book – the entire Bible is preachable. H.B. encourages you not to get in a rut and offers practical advice for vocal care. Much needed today.

Will this book help you? Yes, if you want it to. I’ll add this caveat – don’t let your ministry have more gators on your shelf than books in your library. Leaders read. Period. An investment is this book is well worth it. Many of us across the country are either implementing or planning to teach this book   to our young associates. Pastors – consider doing so. However, all ministers need to get your hands on this book – if you are serious about the craft of preaching.Those who want to drown in shallow preaching waters need not apply.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.

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The Case for Voting Rights

by Robert Earl Houston

In a perfect world, the Portland Trailblazers would have just won the NBA title, the Nashville Predators would have won the NHL Title, Tiger Woods would have won the U.S. Open, and James Gandolfini would still be with us. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) turned back the hands of time and removed decades long enforcement of voting rights in several jurisdictions, and kicked the can into the back yard of the GOP dominated House of Representatives led by John Boehner. The House of Representatives which can’t even agree on what day of the week it is, is now charged with enforcing voting rights – when this past election had a sub-current of voter suppression as a strategy by said GOP.

This rollback affects voting rights in primarily nine states – Alaska, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. And partially the states of California, Florida, South Dakota, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, Coincidentally, most of those states are GOP led and can you imagine them having free reign to do as they please? Welcome to 1953 all over again.

The rolls are populated with the names of those who died in order to secure the voting rights of millions of previously disenfranchised Americans. As the country continues to experience a demographic shift, those who once yielded power in this country, who are now in the throes of losing said power, have no interest in justice. Their interest is in self-preservation.

This generation, with it’s lethargic attitude toward voting and civic participation, is about to get a very rude awakening. This is the opening that people like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others have been praying to their god for – The God of Ozzie and Harriet – so that the ballot booths return to the good old days when there was no such thing as blacks who could vote, hispanics who could hold office, women who were allowed to vote. Their next tactic is easy – don’t do anything, allow the courts to get tied up for years and years, and work on voter suppression ideas that we haven’t heard of yet.

So, the issue of voter rights has gone completely full circle. Get ready for the rejoicing from the right – and prepare to show up to the polls and be told that “we don’t allow your kind in here” in the halls of democracy. 

Today, the Voting Rights Act died . . . and this funeral will be paid by this SCOTUS.

YOUR COMMENTS WELCOMED

The Portland Diaspora

IMG_5176by Robert Earl Houston

I am a proud son of the Portland, Oregon area. It was in Portland that I learned how to walk, talk, run, and sleep. It was in Portland that I began the process of education at Ockley Green Elementary School, Jefferson High School and attended several schools – United Theological Seminary and Bible College, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Multnomah School of the Bible, and Golden Gate Theological Seminary – all either based in Portland or Portland-based extensions. I began my secular employment there and my church employment there. I learned how to sing in Portland, I learned how to play piano and organ in Portland. I lived with my parents on Borthwick Avenue and then Rodney Avenue. After I was grown, I lived on Vancouver Avenue, Lombard Street, Skidmore Street, and Taylor Street. I fell in love the first time in Portland and had my heart-broken for the first time in Portland. Most importantly, I gave my life to Jesus Christ in Portland, Baptized in Portland, and was called to preach in Portland.

That Portland is now gone.

Gentrification has occurred in a manner that I have never seen before. In the 1940s through the 1960s, a migration of African-Americans came to Portland seeking a better life from their roots in the South. They came from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and other states to seek employment in a bustling small town that was primarily known for it’s lumber and maritime industries. Most black people in that area settled in an area called Bagley Downs in Vancouver, Washington, which flooded and most blacks settled in the Albina area (then called Albina, Oregon), inner North East Portland, and St. Johns to the far north of the city. Very few African-Americans lives in Northwest, Southwest and East Portland.

The community was thriving albeit without the full support of the city for necessary services. When I was a child in the 1960s, I remember that nothing was convenient – stores were not like their other locations. Gas stations were far and few between. Shopping for groceries meant going to Tradewell or Fred Meyer or Safeway.  Fred Meyer had two stores – one on Union (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.) and on Interstate (now Rosa Parks Boulevard). To shop for clothing meant a trip to the Lloyd Center, the nation’s first mall. We had schools that were the pride of our communities – Grant, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Monroe/Benson for females and males respectively.

However, we rarely had our own radio stations. We didn’t have flourishing restaurants or chefs in the communities. There were three main drags – Union Avenue, Vancouver/Williams Avenues and Mississippi Boulevard. If you had a prescription, you went to the Rexall store. If you were a black female and about to give birth, only one doctor delivered most of the black babies – Dr. Richard W. Franklin at Emanuel Hospital (aka the black hospital). I actually worked with Dr. Franklin in my early 20s at Emanuel.

Churches were thriving and located almost next door to each other. New Hope Missionary Baptist Church on Gantenbein, Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church on Vancouver Avenue, Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church on Ivy, St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church on Morris, The Churches of God in Christ on Ainsworth and Stanton, The Catholic Churches on Williams Avenue and Vancouver Avenue, Mt. Olivet on Schuyler, Maranatha, New Song and other churches scattered within a 20 mile radius.

Something has happened. In the name of Urban Renewal, what were once proud African-American communities are now gone. Homes have been sold to planners and now there is not a trace of the black community in most of the areas. Schools have been closed. Houses torn down. Churches gone. The Wonder Bread bakery where my mom worked for years – gone. Geneva’s Lounge which burned down years ago – not a trace. St. Mark Baptist Church, Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Providence Baptist Church – now just a memory. Even the site of where Morning Star stood and suffered a horrific fire is now the settlement of homes called “Morning Star Village.”

Bicycle paths line the streets. Street festivals are common place. Bars have increased some 20 fold in the community. Adult Book Stores, Lottery gaming establishments, stores, clothing stores, and the such have moved in and black people have been forced to relocate to “the numbers” which is a 30 to 60 minute drive from downtown Portland. The old neighborhood was less than 15 minutes.

I applaud success but I cannot applaud the displacement of those who built those homes, created the infrastructure and paved the way for those who live in the area today. Housing prices are now astronomical. My parents bought our childhood home on Rodney Avenue for $35,000.  Recently the house was up for sale at over $600,000. African-Americans are being redlined and instead of encouraging them to stay, the doors of the suburbs are now open. It has had a whirlwind affect.

I feel, personally, that this form of gentrification has long term affect on the psyches of those who no longer have a sense of community. The are locked out economically from homes that for generations have housed the men and women who scrubbed the floors, cleared the boats, built the ships, laid the asphalt.

What’s my point? I don’t know if I have one. I’m partially glad to see services that are long overdue and small businesses invading the area. However, the cost may be too high for the livability of African-Americans. Thank God for those who are still trying to bring about a sense of community. The word “diaspora” comes in clear here. Normally, we consider the African Diaspora, when speaking of native-peoples who were removed from their lands.

But there has now been a Portland Diaspora.

I welcome your comments.

The Sisterhood – A Critical Review

by Robert Earl Houston

Tonight, I lost an hour of my life and I want it back.

I watched with curiosity which concluded with pain and godly sorrow, the initial episode of “The Sisterhood” on TLC. The Sisterhood follows the lives of first ladies (black church definition: the wife of the Pastor) of Atlanta, Georgia.

One is the first lady of Oasis Family Life Church, another is the first lady at the Wonders Church, another is the former first lady of The Good Life Ministry, another is first lady of Emanuel Tabernacle Church and another is a former first lady, whose church dismissed her and her husband (oddly, they never mention the name of the church).

I think it needs to be said that this has to be a fictionalized version. I’ve been in ministry for 35 years and there are only a few women that I can think of that even come near the kind of sniping, attitude, gossip, open sex talk, and disrespect for the role of “First Lady” that I saw in episode one tonight. The ladies, in the words of someone on Facebook tonight, need to be ladies first and then first ladies.

It’s the Christian version of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” but on Real Housewives they demonstrate more Christianity and manners that they do on this show.

Most first ladies will tell you that it’s not easy being married to a pastor – especially if he’s a busy pastor or has a demanding congregation. Most of their lives has to be spent in a fishbowl that they didn’t order. Most of them are respected by their churches and communities. Some honestly have been through hell and need encouragement from their husband’s congregation. I didn’t see women that were married to pastors tonight. I saw women looking for that next “gig” or that “next level” that didn’t take into consideration their husbands or their churches. Very odd to me was only a minute or two of any actual worship experiences or the ladies at church.

TLC  is going to hurt pastors’ wives by this display. I personally felt like I was a voyeur watching a train wreck. I could have stopped it with my remote control but I wanted to see if there were going to be any survivors. Sadly, none. The previews alone make me feel like I need to take a shower. I feel dirty and violated – this is not a show that presents in proper fashion what modern pastors wives are all about. The discussions (several) of sex were frankly inappropriate.

I want to apologize to all non-Christians who may have watched this episode tonight and tell you that the local pastor’s wife in your community is not anything like what you saw tonight. Most of them are active raising children and grandchildren, making sure their husband is fed and taken care of, she’s part-time accountant, part-time psychologist, part-time analyst, she may sing in the choir or usher at the door, she may be the musician on the instrument or a prayer warrior within the church. She may be the woman with the beautiful hat need the front or the discreetly dressed woman sitting in the back, not wanting to bring any attention to herself. She may be that Sunday School teacher or un-paid, part-time church secretary. She may be the pastor’s loud supporter (“Preach Houston!” – FBC knows what I mean) or she may be on the platform sitting next to her husband and praying for his success in delivering the word. That’s some of what a Pastor’s Wife looks like.

This is the “Honey Boo-Boo” of the black Church world. And after watching this, Honey Boo-Boo is better entertainment.

Sunday Night Re-Cap, November 25, 2012

by Robert Earl Houston

What a weekend this has been. This has been one of the best Thanksgivings I can remember and it all started with the people that I love dearly – the First Baptist Church family for our annual Thanksgiving Day service. The service went very well and I’m thinking that next year I’m going to try moving it to the day before Thanksgiving. With all of the cooking activities that take place on Thursday morning and the new Thanksgiving day holiday of shopping, I may need to make adjustments. Anyway, the service was good and the Lord led me to preach, “That’s One Crowd I Don’t Want To Be a Part Of” which examined the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus and the sole one that came back to offer thanks and worship. Very appropriate for the day.

For Thanksgiving we feasted on Fried Turkey, Corn pudding, scalloped potatoes, green beans, cornbread dressing, sweet potato pie and the works. I ate in moderation. And I must admit, Jessica earned her chef’s hat this year! Way to go baby, way to go! Then the rest of the day was football until I passed out.

On Friday night, Jessica and I drove to Louisville for a scheduled program by the Messengers of Christ at Hill Street Baptist Church which, unbeknownst to us, had been cancelled at the last minute. So we took the night to have dinner at Cheddar’s Restaurant over the bridge in Indiana and then returned to our hotel room at the Galt House, which was filled with families that were in the area for the annual Light Festival. A good night indeed. I’ve learned as a pastor that things happen, programs cancel and we don’t always know the whys and wherefores, but God is still good.

We returned home on Saturday morning in time for the Men of Praise rehearsal. Many of the guys are out due to the holiday but those who were there, we pressed on, and actually we had one of the best rehearsals I can remember and there was a period of “male bonding” that is unique to the black experience that took place afterwards. We just sat there and talked – from sports, to shopping, to relationships, to you name it. It was a great time and rather than to hurry them out, we just let this happen. Sometimes, the best pastor is not the one who preaches but the one who can listen.

Sunday morning we had cancelled early morning service and I guess the word didn’t get completely out. For those who don’t know, I live RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the church, and my doorbell rang several times with parishioners who didn’t get the word about cancellation. They took it in good stride – that’s the one thing about have 99% of your congregation within city limits.

We concluded the Book of Hebrews in Sunday School and Deacon Zenas English taught our combined class. We had a great discussion and I appreciate his insights on the text. Kudos!!!

At 11:00 a.m., the people gathered slowly and by the time of the sermon, we had a very decent crowd. The Men of Praise SANG their hearts out. That number was affected by the holidays, but as I mentioned earlier, they were pitch perfect! They sang “Faithful is our God” and a new song I taught on Saturday by my friend, Dr. Patrick Bradley, “I Know There Is Something About God’s Grace” that the congregation picked up and welcomed immediately. God be praised for the men!

I preached on “SCANDAL” based on John 8’s description of the scandal of the woman caught in adultery. Several things caught my eye: First, Jesus was teaching and then interrupted by this scandal by his nemesis, the Scribes and the Pharisees; Secondly, when they accused her, Jesus went silent and wrote in the dirt. I suggested that it could have been words of praise because the accusations ceased;  Thirdly, Jesus dismissed them by saying “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and the only one qualified to do so was Jesus himself. Instead of condemnation, He pardoned – just as He does in our lives.

God be praised for one young adult brother joining the church under restoration.  It was a good day.

POLITICS:

Now that the election is over – what is with the looney part of the GOP with their asinine insistances since the election???  It reminds me of the character Marvin Martian who is always trying to blow up something and they are literally out of their minds.  Look at their stupidity:

a.  “Obama Stole the Election” – uh huh.  Ever heard of a court case called Gore v. Bush ????

b.  “Obama Wasn’t Eligible” – the birther wing led by Alan Keyes, Orly Taitz, WND and fools of that ilk have turned “Birtherism” into a cash cow. They disparage the President, look for conspiracies and “-gates” and are doing more harm to the country than good – oh and by the way Orly and WND and Sheriff Joe are ALWAYS begging for money but never produce a spreadsheet to see where their contributions go. Hmm . . .

c.  “Let’s Secede” – OK, let me see – 25,000 people in Texas sign an electronic petition. There are over 25,000,000 people who live there that mean 1/100 of 1 percent have signed this foolish petition. Idiots . . . They can secede, just pay your portion of the Federal Debt, give us back all of our highways, bridges, airports, colleges, Federal Aid, and we’ll be glad to oblige.

Man, I must really need some coffee.

FOOTBALL:

There were a lot of great games over the holidays. I’m saddened that Oregon won’t be playing for the national championship but they’ve got to stop playing Portland State and The College of Pharmacy and schedule some serious games in the future. Methinks it would be wise for the Ducks to schedule 2 non-conference games a year – one against the SEC and the other against Big 12 or another major conference or Notre Dame.

On the Cowboys front. This season is over. Stick a fork in it. We could have traded Romo for the pick to get RG3. He humiliated the Cowboys. Great Stadium. Great Venue. Horrible team.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I returned to the pulpit of First Baptist Church today after our 179th Church Anniversary celebration. I preached in both the 8 a.m. and our new 11 a.m. abbreviated worship service. We began promptly at 11 a.m. and surprisingly I gave the benediction around 12:10 p.m.

The new order of worship was interesting to unfold today. We didn’t have a choir due to all of our activities this week, so we had prayer, scripture reading, welcome, offering congregational singing and a soloist (Min. Sheniqua Roberts) and then the word.

I preached in both services the sermon, “Have You Lost Your Axe-Head?” It is an awesome text from 2 Kings 6:1-7 and it was definitely a pastoral sermon. I was led of the Holy Spirit to encourage those who had lost their axe-heads (which represents service, ministry). It was a great exposition and I believe well received in both services.

After worship I went to our monthly Trustee Board meeting and then home to rest for the 5 p.m. conclusion of the Young Adult Revival. Are you ready for some football?

Dallas 16, Tampa Bay 10 – could have been much worst, but we’ll take the win!
Chicago 23, St. Louis 6 – no surprise there.
Minnesota 24, San Francisco 13 – could the first few games of the year be a fluke and this was the real 49ers?
Tennessee 44, Detroit 41 – very exciting overtime game. 
Cincinnati 38, Washington 31 – RG3 is still the real deal but he’s going to have a long season with mediocre teammates.
Kansas City 27, New Orleans 24 – The Saints season is too early to declare it over, but…
NY Jets 23, Miami 20 – Should have never been this close.
Buffalo 24, Cleveland 14 – The Bills may be the surprise of the league. 
Jacksonville 22, Indianapolis 17 – Hello Mr. Manning, please stop laughing on the phone.
Arizona 27, Philadelphia 6 – I’m still pulling for Michael Vick. But I’m a Cowboys fan so this was good news.
Atlanta 27, San Diego 3 – Chargers are way overrated.
Houston 31, Denver 25 – Hello Mr. Tebow, please stop laughing on the phone.
Oakland 34, Pittsburgh 31 – There’s something missing in Pittsburgh’s defense – oh yeah, it’s defense.
New England 30, Baltimore 21 (4th Quarter as of this writing)

Tonight was the closeout of the Young Adult Revival. We had the KSU Gospel Ensemble and the Burnett Avenue Missionary Baptist Church of Louisville, KY as our musical guests.

Our guest preacher was a young man I’m really impressed with – Pastor Daniel Corrie Shull of Burnett Avenue Missionary Baptist Church. At the age of 25, he’s one of the most articulate, biblical and strong preachers of his generation. He’s been pastoring since the age of 20 and has served two churches, the other being First Baptist Church Campbellsville, KY. He blessed us tonight in his sermon about Noah’s nakedness before his sons. He scattered nuggets and made a tremendous impact upon us. I encourage Pastors to listen to his sermon and consider bringing him to your church.

After worship we had a chance to hang out at Buffalo Wild Wings. We had a great fellowship, ate well, and discussed ministry, life, etc.

Then home to watch the Emmys (Homeland won?) and then Boardwalk Empire (I still can’t understand how Nucky Thompson’s wife, Margaret is still alive after signing away all of that land to the Church. But in case she does it again, our church address is 100 . . .

Good night y’all.

Friday Night Live . . . a few thoughts!

Tonight is the kick-off of our Young Adult Revival and our guest speaker this year is Pastor Daniel Corris Shull of the Burnett Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. I’ve known Pastor Shull for a few years now and I was impressed when I first met him. He’s a graduate of Fisk and has a unique exposition of the Word of God. He’s a very gifted preacher and when he preached for us last year for our of our annual days, he taught our Church how to dance! “Just put your fist out and put one leg behind another, then think of His goodness and switch legs, then think about how He saved you…” Needless to say, it was one of the most memorable messages I’ve heard in recent memory. If you’re in Frankfort area, join us Friday night (tonight) at 7 p.m. and Sunday evening at 5 p.m. The KSU Gospel Choir will sing at both services and the Burnett Avenue Choir will join in on Sunday.

The Oregon Ducks are on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Uh oh. The SI jinx has been around for years and you know I’m pulling for the #3 ranked Ducks. This is not a good sign so I’m singing the mantra, “I don’t believe in the SI Jinx / I don’t believe in the SI Jinx / I don’t believe / I don’t believe…”

I’m trying to find a low cost ticket to go home to see Mom and my family in Portland. Wow did I get a price shock today – $500 plus for a roundtrip ticket and if you add in hotel and rental car, it’s well over $1,000. I guess I’ll wait to the fares go down. (Please Lord…).

This is day four of NO MORE SODAS. That’s right – I finally made the break and the results are in. My ankles have been swelling for years, I thought, because of diabetes and when I stopped drinking sodas, my body’s been going through adjustment syndrome and one benefit – no more swelling. I’m drinking gallons of water, tea, and coffee (I know, caffeine). And my body is deflating (thank God). Shirts fit a little better this morning and I’m telling God thank you and my kidneys say thank you as well.

9/11

Today is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 Attack on the World Trade Center, the US Pentagon, and the loss of lives in New York, Washington/Arlington, and Pennsylvania. How the world has changed.

Those unforgettable images still ring in what Dr. Levi Baldwin, Jr. used to call “the museum of my memory.” The world literally stood still as we watched the breaking news of a “fire” at the World Trade Center, only to discover that it was the aftermath of a plane collision and then to hear of the hijacking of airplanes from Boston airport, we soon began to understand that this was going to be one of the monumental events of US history. It has changed our lives.

It has forever changed our lives. The phrase “TSA” was foreign to us on September 10. The many regulations that we gladly accept in lieu of our safety has been immense. There are those who still are not whole or made whole by the loss of loved ones, commerce, relationships, etc.

One thing the enemies of this nation may have miscounted is this – we are at our best under pressure. Even though we have political leanings we are very much American. Even though we have divisions that range from age to sex to religion – we are very much American. We don’t have a perfect country – but we all claim it as ours.

May God heals those hearts, and may He continue to bless the USA.

THE WIRE

by Pastor Robert Earl Houston

H.B. Charles Jr.

About life, preaching, church, books, and other stuff.

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