Surviving a Shutdown

On December 22, 2018 (just three days before Christmas), the United States federal government began a partial shutdown due to an impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand for over $5 billion dollars to fund his wall on the southern border. This shutdown, which has now become the longest in US history, has affected over 800,000 federal workers who have either been furloughed or forced to work with no pay. Many have chosen to call-out sick and some have even had to resign to look for other means of employment.

In addition to these 800,000 federal workers, countless other Americans have been affected by the shutdown, and many businesses that depend on spending from those federal workers or federal contracts are struggling. One report detailed how cab drivers in Washington, DC, many who already live below the poverty line, have been greatly affected by not having fare-paying riders in their cabs. One driver exclaimed, “[The shutdown is] killing us!”

Even more troubling is that, the president has said he is willing to allow this shutdown to go on for months or even years if funding for his wall (or steel barrier) is not approved. In essence, the president is willing to sacrifice the livelihood of over 800,000 Americans on the altar of his ill-advised wall.

Unfortunately, many of America’s most vulnerable citizens cannot afford for this shutdown to last much longer. The federal agency that oversees the SNAP program, which disburses food stamps to those who need assistance buying food, has said that it only has funding to last through February and if the shutdown continues into March, people who depend on the program for food will have to hungry.

Regardless of politics, people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we must all call for an end to this government shutdown! Just as American president, Ronald Reagan, once told Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, to “Tear down this wall!” We must exclaim to this American president (who seems fond of both Russians and walls) and tell him “Shut down this shutdown!” The American people must unite and demand an end to this shutdown!

However, we must realize that this is not the first time in history where the actions of a leader has led to a prolonged shutdown of resources for the people. In 1 Kings 17, the people of Israel were experiencing a shutdown of rain – largely due to the insolence of their leader – King Ahab. Now, if you don’t know much about Ahab, his resume is found in 1 Kings 16:29-34 and it sounds a whole lot like another leader you may have heard of.

Ahab was not a self-made man. His success, wealth and position were largely due to what he inherited from his father. Also, Ahab married a foreign woman and made her the First Lady Queen of the land. But, perhaps, the most interesting detail about Ahab’s life is that during his reign he tried to rebuild the city of Jericho – a city known for its walls (1 Kings 16:34). This wall project was never completed, but right after Ahab demanded a wall, God allowed a shutdown of the heavens through the mouth of his prophet, Elijah. God always has a way of reminding the king that his voice is not more powerful than the prophet. That is why true prophets must continue to speak truth to power and declare what thus saith the Lord!

The reality is that, regardless of the reason, we all have faced some sort of shutdown at some point in our lives. Whether you are a government worker or not, the enemy has tried to shut you down spiritually, emotionally, financially and physically but God has given us the power to survive the shutdown. No matter what the enemy is trying to use to shut you down; he may shut you down, but he can’t shut you out!

In 1 Kings 17:1-7, there are three things Elijah does to teach us what to do whenever we are facing a shutdown.

1. We must SPEAK UP.

Elijah did not allow what was happening in the palace to affect his prophetic. The palace is not more powerful than the prophet. Likewise, we should never allow what’s going on in the White House to affect our worship in God’s house. The shutdown is designed to shut us up, but we must continue to speak up and speak out. Elijah spoke truth to power. He wasn’t afraid to confront those in leadership who were acting in defiance of godly principles or to the detriment of God’s people.

In this day and age, where the Evangelical church voted overwhelmingly for a thrice-married philanderer who has playmates for paramours and brags about grabbing women by their private parts, we need more prophets to speak up. When 800,000 federal workers, including those who help keep us safe – TSA workers, border control agents, the Coast Guard, and others – are not being paid for their service, we must speak up and speak out.

The prophet Elijah teaches us that closed heavens shouldn’t mean closed mouths. We must speak up…even in a shutdown. Part of speaking up is opening our mouths to give God praise – regardless of how we feel. Even when things are tight and money is low, we have to develop the mindset of the psalmist who says, “I will bless the Lord at ALL times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). Death and life are in the power of our tongues. Don’t let the shutdown shut you up!  

2. We must SIT DOWN.

After Elijah spoke up, God told him to sit down. He says in 1 Kings 17:3, “Depart from here…and hide yourself by the brook Cherith.” God took him from the HIGH of speaking to the king and sent him into HIDING. Sometimes God will put us on the sidelines during a shutdown. When you speak up and speak truth to power that makes you a threat to the establishment and the status quo.

God sent Elijah into hiding to teach him (and us) the value of the hidden life. As the psalmist declares in Psalm 27:5, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion.” The Lord sent Elijah into hiding to teach him to depend on God. Similarly, in a shutdown, we learn to survive by wholly depending on God, who is our Source. Our job is not our source. Our paycheck is not our source. We don’t find our source in congress or the White House. We find our source in God’s house.

Sometimes, God will direct us to sit down because He has to work some things out OF us before He can work some things out FOR us. What is interesting about this text is that not only does God tell Elijah to go into hiding, He also tells him where to hide. He sends Elijah to the brook Cherith, which in the Hebrew means “cutting” or “separation”. 

The shutdown may feel like a lonely place, but that is often because God is using it as an opportunity to cut some things out of us and cut some people away from us. We just have to sit down long enough to allow Him to do His work. Which leads me to the third thing we must learn to do in order to survive a shutdown.

3. We must STICK AROUND.

When God sent Elijah to the brook Cherith during the shutdown, the Bible says he went and LIVED by the brook. To live means to inhabit, dwell in or stay. In other words, Elijah stayed were God sent him. When we are in a shutdown, it is vitally important that we stay where we were sent.

As long as Elijah stayed in the place where God sent him, God’s provision met him there. The Bible says that every morning and every evening, ravens showed up by the brook Cherith to feed Elijah. That means if Elijah decided he was tired of being at that brook and went somewhere else, he would have missed out on the blessings God was sending to him – all because he didn’t stick around.

Even during a drought or a shutdown, we must learn to stick around to learn the lessons and receive the blessings. We shouldn’t complain about the place we are in or the way God chooses to send our provision. We just need to stay in place and stick it out. I know it’s hard to survive during a shutdown, but don’t give up. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart (Psalm 27:14). Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not (Galatians 6:9).

If you want on God, He can shift you from a shutdown to your due season! God sent ravens to feed Elijah every day. Every day ravens flew in to bring Elijah his food. That means, in order to see the ravens, Elijah had to look up. The same principle applies for those of us who are surviving a shutdown. While we are waiting on God to send provision, we need to look up! The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills…my help comes from the Lord” (Psalm 121:1-2). If you’re in a shutdown, keep looking up…help is on the way! 

Now, we must also realize that during a shutdown sometimes things get worse before they get better. That’s exactly what happened to Elijah. One day, the Bible says that the brook dried up. What do you do when you’re surviving a shutdown and the thing God gave you to help you survive dries up?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series on “Surviving a Shutdown” and I’ll tell you what to do when your brook dries up! 

 Note: This blog is from a sermon series at Mt. Calvary Holy Church of Winston-Salem. If you would like to view the message in its entirety, click here

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Sons of Monarchy: Successful Spiritual Sonship

This past weekend, I had the privilege of participating in the inaugural Mantle Conference hosted by my friend, Dr. Bobby Manning (@drbmanning). This conference was designed to bring together pastors and ministers from different ages and stages for an intergenerational conversation about life and ministry. It was highlighted by “Elijah/Elisha” interviews between fathers in ministry and their spiritual sons. I had the honor and privilege of interviewing my spiritual father and pastor, Archbishop Alfred A. Owens, Jr.

The focus of these conversations, and much of the conference as a whole, was on the relationships between spiritual fathers and sons in ministry. While the language is extremely patriarchal, please know that these terms are gender-neutral. They could easily be exchanged with spiritual mothers and daughters, and the conference speakers ensured that women in ministry were also acknowledged and included. There are some who believe that women have no place in ministry, I am not one of them, and I would encourage those who are to see just how intricately involved women were in Jesus’ ministry. If He was cool with it, then I am too.

Of the many positive things that took place during this conference, I was blessed to moderate a panel on leadership succession, which was the focus of my doctoral dissertation. The panelists included an actual (biological) father-son team, Pastors Tommy and Perrin Rogers, who went through a succession process at their church that was healthy and successful. Sad to say, many successions are not as successful. This is partly, I believe, due to an incomplete understanding of spiritual fatherhood and sonship.

At the closing session of the conference, someone asked a question about defining spiritual fatherhood, and I proffered that the primary role of spiritual fathers (or mothers) are to give provision, protection, and correction. Just as natural parents provide for, protect, and correct their children, spiritual parents are called to do the same for those they “raise” in ministry. The challenge, however, is that spiritual sons (or daughters) must be in a position to receive and reciprocate if the relationship is to be successful.

One of the my favorite TV shows is Sons of Anarchy. This show is about an outlaw biker gang in California. Since, preachers of the gospel follow Jesus – the King of Kings – we are called to be “Sons of Monarchy.” With that in mind, I would like to offer these three principles of spiritual sonship. Spiritual sons are those who SUBMIT, SERVE and STAY. Now, this is certainly not an exhaustive list of the responsibilities of a spiritual son (or daughter), but every successful son, at the very least, exhibits these three traits.

1. Spiritual sons SUBMIT. 

Successful spiritual sons are those who have no problem submitting to the spiritual authority of their father (or mother) in ministry. In the church world, we often primarily speak of submission within the context of the marital relationship, and even then, we often only focus on a wife’s call to submit to her husband in Ephesians 5:22, while conveniently skipping over the call to mutual submission in the preceding verse (Ephesians 5:21).

Spiritual sons are also called to submit to their spiritual parents. This is an extension of the commandment to “honor” our fathers and mothers that our “days may be long”. Perhaps many people cut their ministries short because they have not honored their spiritual fathers. Submission is an outgrowth of honor. Just as a child honors his or her parents by “submitting” to the rules of their house (curfew, etc.), spiritual sons honor their parents by submitting to their authority.

The word ‘submission’ can literally be described as being subject to the mission. It is voluntarily coming under the authority of someone else’s mission. If done by force, that is not submission – that is slavery. Submission is not the result of manipulation. It is a willful act of honoring the one who has paved the path you are traveling on, and it is a necessary first step to successful spiritual sonship.

2. Spiritual sons SERVE. 

Not only must a spiritual son (or daughter) SUBMIT to spiritual leadership, he/she is also called to SERVE alongside spiritual leadership. There is no question about it – sons are called to serve. Even in the natural world, in agrarian societies the purpose of having children was to have hands to “work the farm.” Farmers needed sons (and daughters) to help till the fields, milk the cows, herd the sheep, clean the stalls, etc. so that the farm could run smoothly.

Even in contemporary society, there is a reason why so many of our trade companies are named after fathers and sons. My plumber, Barry Spencer, started his plumbing company when his son was only an infant, yet he intentionally named it Spencer and Son Plumbing because he knew his son would be called to serve with him in that company. He and his wife homeschooled their son so he could be free to learn the family trade serving alongside his father. Now, Caleb is a teenager and the last time I had a plumbing emergency, it was Caleb who showed up at my door – not his father. He was willing to serve.

In ministry, spiritual sons are called to serve alongside their fathers in ministry, learn the tools of the trade, and be available to show up even when the father is unavailable. The church needs more sons who are willing to “work the farm” in order to bring in the harvest. Spiritual sons are called to SERVE.

3. Spiritual sons STAY.

This is perhaps, the most difficult task of the true spiritual son. While the hired servants on the farm are free to jump to the new ‘mega-farm’ that popped up across town with shinier new tractors, more cows in the pastures, and bigger barns for the hay, sons have a higher and deeper calling. Sons are there for a purpose – not a platform. People who jump from farm to farm looking for better opportunities are not sons, they are hirelings.

It requires patience and spiritual maturity to stay – even when you don’t feel like it. However, a true son would not leave without the father’s blessing. As the saying goes, “Some were sent…some just went.” Sons are always in the “sent” crowd. They leave home to start their own farm – only when the father sends them. They take “milking engagements” at other farms – only when the father releases them.

Far too many people in ministry lack “staying power”. We want our own farm, our own cattle, our own tractors, and don’t realize that as long as we are on the father’s farm – we already have our own cattle and tractors. One of the telling statements in the story of The Prodigal Son is the father’s conversation with the older brother (the one who stayed). When the brother complained about the fuss the father was making for the son who returned, the father says to the son who stayed, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). The son who returned got the fatted calf, but the one who stayed got the entire farm!

I want to challenge and encourage every spiritual son (and daughter) to follow these principles – SUBMIT, SERVE, and STAY. They will lead you to success – you can bet the farm on it!



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My Summer Social Media Sabbatical: What I Learned When I Left

In late April 2017, I made the decision to step away from social media. For four months, my social media accounts went dark. I was in social media stealth mode. The time away allowed me to reset, refresh, and refocus in ways that I could not (or would not) do while actively engaged on social media.

While I love the interaction on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., I realized that in order to keep stepping forward in real life, I had to take a step back from my online life. So, one day I just decided to quit cold turkey. There wasn’t much forethought and planning into the decision, it was just something I knew I needed to do. So, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and made the decision to stop visiting the sites on my computer.

At first, I did not know how long my time away would be (again, I didn’t do a lot of advanced planning). I started with one day, which morphed into a week, a month, and, finally, an entire summer. Interestingly enough, there were a lot of things I saw clearly in the light, once my social media pages went dark. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me.

Here are just a few of the things I learned:

Lesson #1: I didn’t miss it that much.

If you had told me prior to Summer 2017 that I would not even log on to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for more than a day, I would not have believed you. I was so engrossed in staying connected to the 30,000+ friends/followers on my social media networks, that I thought I would suffer some sort of withdrawal from being totally disconnected for any length of time.

You know what I found out? I really didn’t miss it that much. To my surprise, I was not pining to see what my friends were posting, or what was the new trending topic of the day. There was not one day over this 4-month period that I was tempted to log on and see what I was missing. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t missing much.

Part of the initial fear of ‘going dark’ was the fear of feeling disconnected from the world around me. However, while social media is a great tool for connecting to the world around us, it does very little for the connections inside us. This means that leaving social media for a season may have affected those external connections, but it did no damage to the internal connection of my soul.

I didn’t miss it – because I wasn’t made by it (nor for it). To paraphrase the Radical Rabbi who lived in first century Palestine and whose crucifixion was most certainly not broadcast on Facebook Live: “Man was not made for [social media]. [Social media] was made for Man.” Recognizing this helped me to realize that I really didn’t miss being on social media all that much.

This takes me to the second lesson I learned on my social media sabbatical.

Lesson #2: I had been missing way too much.

With my attention no longer diverted or divided by social media, I learned all that I had been missing the whole time I was engrossed with hashtags and trending topics. I had been missing valuable, quality time with my real social network – my wife and children.

Because I viewed social media as a tool for ministry, as well as a social outlet, I justified spending copious amounts of time “ministering” to those in my social network with words of wisdom and encouragement. I also used the platform as a way to promote family and family values. Many of the pictures I posted were of me and my family.

However, my sabbatical taught me that I had been spending way more time posting about my family than actually being on post with my family. Many evenings my face was buried in my phone or my computer instead of where it should have been – fully engaged with my family. My body was in the house, but my mind was not. I was becoming more like a “Ghost Dad” – and I did not even realize it.

On more than one occasion over the course of my 4-month sabbatical, my kids would remark about the difference of having me not distracted by my phone. I was able to spend more time listening with them about their day, playing with them in the yard, and observing their daily interactions. These were all things I had been doing to some extent – but I had been missing way too much of.

My wife and I talked more this summer than we probably have in years. Our talking was not interrupted by my tweeting. Many of these were conversations I would have missed had my face been buried in my phone. My sabbatical helped me to realize that I had been missing way too much.

Lesson #3: I wasn’t missed all that much.

In addition to not missing social media that much and realizing that social media had been causing me to miss way too much, I learned during my 4-month sabbatical that I wasn’t really missed all that much by those 30,000+ friends/followers. Yes, there were the occasional text messages from friends who checked on me because they hadn’t seen my usual activity on social media, but – by and large – those were few and far between.

This is not a complaint. In fact, I was extremely grateful for each and every call or text from someone who did actually miss my social media presence. They were reminders that those relationships stretched beyond the faux-friendships of Facebook. The reality is that Instagram was not designed for intimacy. Social media networks are a great place to connect with friends, not necessarily to create friends.

Over the course of the summer there were several instances where I had to laugh internally as someone I ran into told me about how much they loved my Facebook posts. I laughed because they loved them so much that they didn’t realize I hadn’t made one in months!

This is why it is so important that we do not try to cull our identity and sense of being from social media connections. They are primarily artificial and superficial and should never replace or take priority over the real relationships and connections we have with family and close friends.

I am in no way demonizing social media. I believe that social media is a good thing, but even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. When we overindulge in our obsession with social media (as I found that I was guilty of doing), we develop a social media malady that we have to treat in order to beat. The best prescription for this social media sickness is the same that many doctors prescribe for most minor ailments – rest.

My social media sabbatical gave me a period of rest where I was able to go dark in order to see the light. I can now clearly see the negative ways in which social media was impacting me and the important relationships in my life. Now that I have had sufficient rest, I am now ready to reset, refresh, and refocus as I re-enter the social media world with a more balanced perspective. I’ve learned my lessons…I hope you can learn from mine.

Now that my sabbatical is over, I’ll be coming soon to a timeline near you..stay tuned!



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