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Monthly Archives: December, 2013

Goodbye 2013

IMG_8271by Robert Earl Houston

In about 7 hours the year 2013 will be history. For some people this has been a great year or a good year or a so-so year or a bad year or a horrible year. Wherever you place your marker, the year will finally be over.

I don’t have the vocabulary to describe 2013 it’s been a cornacopia of a year. There’s been all kinds of things that have made up the year.  Please allow me to narrow my list down to a few things:

First, this has been a year of sorrow. For me personally, I’ve lost some relatives, great friends, church members, and people I looked up to.  In that number: My father-in-law, Clarence Anderson, Pastor Clifford Williams, Bishop Wenzell Jackson, Dr. T.L. Lewis, Dr. Mack King Carter, Dr. Joseph Andrew Boles, Sr.,  Pastor Eddie James, Dr. Joseph McDowell, Rev. C.L. Buhl, Dr. John C. Raphael, Jr., Dr. Harold A. Carter, Sr., Prophet Robert Blakes, Sr., Bro. Broderick Huggins, Jr., Pastor Charles Hofort Bembry, Dr. Richard A. Rollins, and many, many others. Many of whom can be remembered by clicking here now.

Secondly, this has been a year of healing. In April 2013 I began testing and in May I was diagnosed with carcinoma (skin cancer) on the arch of my right foot. It was a journey for me and my wife, Jessica. We learned more about skin cancer than we could ever imagine and the possibilities (negative and positive). It was Dr. Bernard J. Sutton of Chicago who lifted my faith by saying, “Houston, don’t call it cancer. Call it an infirmity. Jesus heals infirmities.” I went into surgery on May 30, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky and I’m excited to declare as of December 30, 2013 I celebrated six months CANCER FREE.

Thirdly, this has been a year of watching God work. My beloved congregation, First Baptist Church of Frankfort, KY,  has been through a lot this year. Just like most congregations, we have seen people come and seen people go – but the Lord continues to bless us with those who are committed to the work. We saw people do things and participate in worship that we had never seen before. We heard people pray that never prayed. We heard people sing we’ve never heard sing. And I’ve been able to trace the hand of God in what He was doing. During the year we continued from 2012, the restoration of the First Baptist Church sanctuary. Believe me, it wasn’t for the faint of heart. We had to cancel services, move services, it took a toll on us, but it developed a sense of faith and trust in God that only He could provide. By the end of this year, 99% of the original project has been completed and we have more projects upcoming in 2014.

Fourth, this has been a year of prayer. One thing we did at FBC was to scrub the normal “pulpit prayer” by ministers and have laypersons lead the church in prayer. I can’t begin to tell you how we were lifted to hear the people of God pray. Prayer is not just a function of those who sit on the platform. Our prayer emphasis even created our 24 hour prayer wheel at the church, conceived by our Assistant to the Pastor, Rev. Anna Jones. We have plans to do more praying and praying and praying. Matter of fact, our survival is not numerical, it’s dependent upon prayer.

Fifth, this has been a year of evaluation. For me, it’s been answering the question that Dr. A. Louis Patterson asks publicly of himself. Are you a better believer this year than last? Are you drawing more closer to God this year than last? Are you more attuned to His word this year than you were last year? I’ve added some to that list – Is your preaching making a difference? Is your teaching changing lives? Is participation with some groups and conventions really affecting change or are you in a stagnant situation? That process continues in 2014.

So it’s been quite the year. In 2014, the year will see the World Cup, the Winter Olympics, the Mid-Term Elections, all four traditional Baptist conventions either change or retain leadership, Full Gospel’s transition continues, weather changes due to global warming, a stock market that has historic gains but their businesses refuse to hire or expand the work base, other cities that are the brink of bankruptcy, the start of the 2016 election process for the next POTUS, and no doubt continued political bickering and “dangers seen and unseen.”

One thing I know. We are now closer that ever to the Lord’s return. And I say, “Come, Lord Jesus” and if He tarries, I still have more work to do.

Have a blessed New Year. YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.

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Homegoing of a Saint: Dr. Marvin C. Griffin, Austin, Texas

Dr. Marvin Griffin, iconic pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, TX and stalwart in the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International, has gone home to be with the Lord. Below is a local newspaper account of his passing and legacy:

AUSTIN, TEXAS – For decades, Marvin Griffin was a beacon in Austin – a leader who worked to empower the east side and improve education across the city.

Griffin, the first black president of the Austin school board and a pastor for 42 years at the landmark Ebenezer Baptist Church, was a community leader known for his inner calm while pushing for equality in education and beyond. He died Wednesday afternoon. He was 90.

“He was an elder statesman. He brought a certain kind of class and wisdom to this community,” said Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, who described himself as a student of Griffin’s. “He was definitely a pioneer in terms of education in this city, but also community involvement. I think he was a shining light in the effort to show people that East Austin should be embraced.”

Griffin served on the Austin school board in the 1970s as it worked to integrate Austin schools. Under his leadership, the Ebenezer Baptist Church founded the East Austin Economic Development Corp., which has helped East Austin residents with a variety of needs, from affordable housing to care for the elderly.

A dedicated family man despite his work at the church and in politics, Griffin always made time for his three daughters, including Gaynelle Griffin Jones, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 as the first black woman to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. Griffin Jones, also the first black woman to serve on the First Court of Appeals in Texas, died in March.

“He was a builder – not only of physical projects, but a mentor to people and a bridge builder, racially,” said Marva Griffin Carter, one of Griffin’s two surviving daughters. “He was a race man, in the sense that he fought for equal rights and helped to bring about many of the changes.”

Griffin was an education advocate and a lifelong learner who earned his fifth and final college degree – a doctorate – at 67 and who was rarely seen without a book in hand, Carter said. He wrote one book and edited another. He traveled the world and served on the World Council of Churches, as well as other international faith organizations.

In Austin, Griffin was a political activist who worked to desegregate Austin. He would interview candidates for office to find the most liberal-minded and would put together a prospective ticket for the community, said Carter, who helped pass out the sheets.

He also sought to unify churches, inviting white pastors to his congregation and delivering sermons in white churches during a time when “segregation was very much actively the case at the 11 o’clock hour,” Carter said.

Griffin’s influence extended beyond Austin. Gov. John B. Connally appointed him to the Texas Southern University board of regents. Griffin served as a delegate to the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Though he was a Democrat, he would also donate to the Republican Party, Carter said.

“He could always see both sides of a coin, even though he might be on one side more firmly than the other,” she said. “He had the kind of personality that was very much valued for what could have been hot situations. He had a very cool head, and could soften a volatile situation.”

Griffin was a mentor to many state leaders, including Carole Keeton in her time as Texas Comptroller.

“He really, really was and always will be a true modern day Texas hero, a true Texas icon,” said Keeton, who served on the school board with Griffin and described him as a life-long friend.

Griffin became the first black president of the Austin school board in 1978, and those who served with him say he was a benevolent leader for the board during a tumultuous time when it was working to integrate schools.

“Marvin was a role model for everyone,” Keeton said. “He demonstrated – by the way he spoke, the way he acted, the way he lived his life – his inner belief that you’ve got to lift up all of God’s children.”

Griffin was soft-spoken and always remained calm at board meetings, even as they extended into the early morning hours, she said.

“He was the only one who could sit there in these long meetings with a pastoral pose,” Keeton said.

At church, Griffin would begin his sermons in the same, calm way. He would begin with a text, then give an introduction, usually followed by three major points.

Then he would reach what Carter described as “a climactic expressive moment.”

Keeton, who visited the church many times, said it was only during his sermons that she saw Griffin without his “inner calm.”

“When he came down off that pulpit, into the aisle, we all thought we were hearing the voice of God, to tell you the truth,” Keeton said.

He worked as a minister late into his life, retiring in 2011 at the age of 88.

“My father would get up at 5 a.m. and go into his study and he would work tirelessly,” said Ria Griffin, another of Griffin’s daughters.

During his time at Ebenezer, Griffin successfully guided the church’s economic development board in acquiring a grant to build a new facility for the Ebenezer Child Development Center, which has the capacity for 200 children and also houses the Family Life Center, which is used for banquets and other Church activities.

The church also housed the first Meals on Wheels program in East Austin, partnered with Austin Energy in an energy conservation project to use solar energy, restored the historical Bailetti house to be utilized for community service projects, and facilitated the construction of the 12-unit Ebenezer Senior Housing complex. Griffin expanded Ebenezer’s outreach ministry through radio and TV broadcasting and established the Tape Ministry for members incapable of attending services.

Griffin’s wife, Lois King Griffin, who was also active in the church, died in 2006.

“There will be a wonderful family reunion in Heaven,” Ria Griffin said.

Services will be held Jan. 4 at 11 a.m. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church at 1010 E. 10th Street. A wake will be held the night before, beginning at 6 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Ebenezer Baptist building firm or the child development center. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/statesman/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=168768896#sthash.82wWKtVC.dpuf

Homegoing of a Saint: Rev. James E. Witcher, Muskegon, Michigan

From http://www.mlive.com

MUSKEGON, MI — James E. Witcher was an active member of the religious community in Muskegon and across the state, described by granddaughter Shontaye Witcher as “a caring person” who “loved his church.”

Pastor Witcher died on Dec. 10, 2013, a couple weeks after his 79th birthday.

He served as Pastor of the New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church for 46 years, before he was forced to retire because of an illness. Pastor Witcher was President of the General Baptist State Convention of Michigan for 13 years.

“(He was) a dynamic singer,” said Vernon Nash, son-in-law of Pastor Witcher. “He was a humble man and a humble servant.”

Witcher served on the Muskegon Heights Housing Commission for underprivileged housing, always making sure housing was available for everyone. He also was President of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship of Muskegon County.

”He was the type of person who would give you the clothes off his back if you needed it,” Shontaye Witcher said. “(He) believed (to) do things in decent, and in order everything always comes together.”

Funeral services for James E. Witcher will take place at noon on Friday, Dec. 20 at Queen Esther Missionary Baptist Church at 2220 Superior St. in Muskegon.

The wake services for Pastor Witcher will take place on Thursday, Dec. 19 at New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, located at 2117 Baker St. in Muskegon. Public viewing will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. In addition to the wake services, a community service will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday.

 

The Side of the The Ministry That You Just Don’t See

by Robert Earl Houston

This evening, I sent to Evangelist Kimberly Lewis-Stidum a collection of sermons that were written by her dad, the late Dr. T.L. Lewis. Dr. Lewis was my mom’s pastor in Portland, Oregon and we were friends and colleagues.  Dr. Lewis and I served together while he pastored Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Portland and he was on my Ordination Council at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and then assisted in my installation services at Greater St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in 1989.

We preached for each other frequently. Even when he went to California, it was Dr. Lewis who told me about and subsequently recommended me to Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Fresno, California and I worshipped with him at his congregations, Macedonia Baptist Church in Pomona, California and finally at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

As I was assembling the file of his sermons, I ran across a sermon I preached at his church in 1991 (I believe it was) as the Morning Star Church was dually celebrating his pastoral anniversary and his departure as he went to Pomona, California. Given all of the recent things that have happened in ministry, I thought I’d share this with you.

Please forgive the scholarship of this sermon – I was a grand 28 years of age at that time.  It’s in all caps because that’s how I use to write. I pray you find some relevancy in this message (see the attachment).

The Side of the Ministry That You Just Don’t See

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.

Homegoing of the Saints – Rev. Marshall Stenson, Macon, GA and Rev. Ken Hutcherson, Seattle, WA

MACON, GA – (From http://www.macon.com) – The Rev. Marshell Stenson Jr., the pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Macon for 44 years, died Thursday. He was 77.

Stenson died at a Macon hospital, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said.

“He was a wonderful preacher and a wonderful person,” Jones said.

A native of LaGrange, Stenson attended Clark College in Atlanta and later earned his master’s degree in religious education at the Denominational Theological Seminary.

His first church was Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Newnan. He moved to First Baptist Church on New Street in Macon in 1965, then became pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in 1969.

Among Stenson’s survivors is his wife, Mary. Hutchings Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.

In 1970, Stenson headed Operation Breadbasket, an effort to help poor blacks find better jobs.

“We already have enough maids, janitors and the like,” Stenson told The Telegraph at the time.

Stenson, the fifth of 13 children born to a Troup County sharecropper, served on the Georgia Council on Human Relations and had been a member of the executive committee of the Bibb County Republican Party. He ran for a county commission seat against incumbent Earl Zimmerman in 1968.

He was an outspoken religious leader over the years. In a 1979 interview in The Telegraph, he worried that many black men and women were not appreciative enough of the struggles of their forefathers.

“The church played the major role in moving the black man from slavery to where he is today,” Stenson said. “Blacks don’t know this, and as a result of his ignorance, he is turning his back on the church. This is my greatest dedication, the word of God.”

In the late 1960s, he helped organize the Alcoholics Rehabilitation Clinic in Macon. Alcohol, Stenson said, “is one of the most widely used and abused drugs. We look upon the problem as being a sickness, a moral character breakdown.”

Willie B. Hill Jr., chairman of the board of deacons at St. Luke, said Stenson’s favorite hymn was “Any Way You Bless Me,” which Stenson was known for singing from the pulpit.

“He loved that song,” Hill said Thursday. “You knew when he sang it he was gonna sing it a long time.”

Stenson’s daughter, Mary Scriven, recalled her father as a genuine man of faith.

“The way you saw him at church or at home or at the mall … or out fishing was the way that he was,” said Scriven, who is a federal judge in Florida. “Honest to the core, a high level of integrity. He believed in having fun and laughing.”

When he got together with his brothers and sisters, they’d play cards into the wee hours of the morning.

Stenson was also an outdoorsman who liked to hunt and fish. When children gathered in a field near his house in western Bibb County to play softball, he was often the designated hitter. A solid 6-foot-2 with huge hands, he could sock the ball “at least a country mile,” Scriven recalled.

“Everywhere he went … he was stopped by people he had helped or inspired,” she said.

A Christmas or two ago, Stenson’s wife bought him an iPad. But pretty much all he did with it was snap pictures. “My picture-taking thing,” he called it.

He had nine grandchildren. A lot of his photographs were of them.

“They followed him around like the Pied Piper,” Scriven said.

 

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – from http://www.seattletimes.com – Ken “The Hutch” Hutcherson, 61, a former Seattle Seahawk and an outspoken pastor , died shortly before noon on Wednesday. He had battled prostate cancer for more than a decade.

Pastor Hutcherson, who started the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, was not afraid to take on politically unpopular causesor institutional inequities, such as the practice by adoption agencies of charging higher fees to adopt white babies.

Gerald Lewis, the pastor of administration at Antioch, said Hutcherson would like to be remembered as a man for whom the word of God was paramount.

“More than anything, he would want people to know he loved Jesus and submitted his entire life to working for the Lord,” said Lewis. “He often said, ‘I have been saved by the word of God, and I believe it to be true. I have to live by that, and I have to lead by that.’ ”

Pastor Hutcherson was born in Anniston, Ala., to a poor, single mother on July 14, 1952. He grew up during a time of “aggressive segregation,” Lewis said. He spoke publicly numerous times about experiencing racial prejudice — riding in the back of the bus and drinking from separate water fountains — and also of harboring bias himself.

But while he was in high school he had a religious experience and “God changed his life,” said Lewis. He submitted his life to God’s will and studied the Bible. Through his studies, he came to believe that men are created equal in God’s eyes and that discrimination based on race is wrong, Lewis said.

Pastor Hutcherson attended University of West Alabama in Livingston, Ala., and went on to play pro football as a linebacker in Dallas and San Diego before he was selected by the Seahawks during the expansion draft in 1976.

A knee injury ended his football career the next year, and he eventually started Antioch, a 3,500-member multiracial congregation that grew out of a small Bible study group.

The church’s motto is “Black and White in a Gray World,” a saying that aptly captured Pastor Hutcherson’s belief that God’s word provides clear truths in a murky world. It also speaks to his personal life, according to his friend and colleague Pastor Joe Fuiten, of Cedar Park Assembly of God, in Bothell.

Pastor Hutcherson married a white woman of German descent and jokingly referred to their four children as “German chocolate kids.”

When he learned that adoption agencies charged prospective parents more for the adoption of white children than for children of other races, he took out huge billboards calling for a ban on the practice. His church also began a ministry of providing free adoption services.

In addition to his wife, Pat, and four children. Pastor Hutcherson is survived by his mother.

Services have not yet been arranged.

Product Placement

by Robert Earl Houston

There is a little-known procedure that is fulfilled during the filming of television programs and movies – it’s called “product placement.”  When an actor is drinking a cola and it happens to be a Coke – it’s not there by accident. The makers of Coke have paid for the right to put that Coke in that movie or television program.

When the closing part of a movie calls for the hero and heroine to fly off into the sunset and they board that American Airlines jet – again, it’s no accident that American’s jets are featured. American Airlines has paid for the privilege of getting their brand there at that time.

Earlier this week, one of the friends of our church was on her way to work and as she and a co-worker headed into work, a terrible wreck was on the side of the road. If memory serves me right, the car had hit a tree and the safety inflatible bags deployed, and apparently the driver was injured. She pulled her car to the side of the road and she and the co-worker began to assess the situation and help the driver.  But check this out – they were both nurses and they were on the scene long before Paramedics could arrive.

That’s product placement.

God has a way of putting people in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s that pastor who preaches week in and week out; or that Sunday School teacher who drops a word of confirmation during a class; or if someone is in need and a believer happens to be there, even though they weren’t even scheduled to be there.

That’s product placement.

I want to say to you my friend that if you’re available – if you just make yourself available to the Master’s will – He will place you. The qualifications of man can be overruled by God when He has assignment written on your life. I’ve seen pastors placed in churches to the awe of friends, family and fellow preachers – because they were placed there by the Lord. I’ve seen divorced men (including myself) get called to churches – because there was something that God needed for that church at that time. I’ve seen barriers broken at churches that were steeped in traditions because the Lord had someone ready to break the status quo and to put the church or organization where He wanted it to be.

So, the next time you wonder – why am I here – remember, that’s product placement.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.

Bicycling in the Snow

by Robert Earl Houston

I couldn’t believe it.

As I was riding up highway 60, better known as Shelbyville Road or Frankfort Road or Louisville Road, I noticed something that caught my attention. This morning it was about 10 degrees outside and by noon the temperature was hovering around 32.

And then I saw it.

A lone bicyclist, riding his bicycle on the road. There was snow on the roadway (not as much as depicted in the phone). Cars were flying back, some with remnants of snow and ice still atop them. And this lone bicyclist, who was covered from head to toe, even with a facial mask was making his way to his destination.

It made me think.

Sometimes we make celebrities in the church. When they have large congregations or massive structures or even make a recording album or nowadays, even show up on television shows. They have become “the stars” of the church.

But then I remembered.

Seeing this one guy. On a bicycle. In ice-cold conditions. Unseen. No paid publicity on his back. Not even a newer model bicycle. He was peddling his way uphill, the best way he knew how, in the midst of traffic containing high-octane vehicles – luxury editions, newer models, gas-guzzlers. And yet, that didn’t stop him from try to do the best he could – on a bicycle, in the cold, on his way to his destination.

It encouraged me and I hope it will encourage you.

No matter your obstacle – don’t stop on your way to your destination. Keep pushing, keep pedaling. Didn’t get called to be on program? Keep pedaling!  Didn’t get asked to give the keynote? Keep pedaling! Misunderstood? Keep pedaling!  Haters? Keep pedaling!  You’re preaching your best and feel like you’re unappreciated? Keep pedaling!

Stay on your bicycle. In the cold. Until you get to your destination.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.

Madiba

by Robert Earl Houston

originalThis evening the news was announced that Nelson Mandela, the first black president of the nation of South Africa, had passed away. He was 95.

Much will be made of his life and legacy but I wanted to make a few observations:

First, he was one of the last world-wide icons. His struggle with the minority regime in South Africa is legendary. As South Africans suffered under the imperialist strong hand of Great Britain and were responsible for countless murders including Steve Biko and others, Nelson Mandela because the embodiment that you can be jailed but not broken, ridiculed but not defeated, and in spite of the odds, if the Lord be for you, you will not be defeated.

Secondly, he showed that progress is not a one-person operation. Mr. Mandela refused to try to move hundreds of years of enslavement and disenfranchisement by himself. He built a coalition of religious leaders, Desmond Tutu, Allen Boesak and others, and reached out to the economic community and activists to formulate a boycott or economic withdrawal of companies who did business in South Africa. The government policy of apartheid met a worldwide coalition that would not allow their racist policies to stand.

Lastly, he showed that age is not a factor. Although he died at the age of 95, he was entertaining world figures – Presidents, leaders, athletes, personalities and such literally until his body could not take it. But imagine that he became the first black president of his nation at the age of 76. Way past the US retirement age. Way past the Social Security retirement age. At that age, Madiba (his Xhosa tribal name) found himself not only at the helm of a nation that once imprisoned him for 28 years, but also with the loving support of his people.

He will soon be feted with a state funeral and I would be surprised if this is not the largest gathering of Presidents, Potentates and Kings in the history of the world. He brought people together in life and he will do so in death.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED

THE WIRE

by Pastor Robert Earl Houston

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