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Anyone with an iPhone or Android has undoubtedly downloaded the game “Temple Run.” It is a fascinating, yet simple time-killer that has assassinated countless hours of productivity. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got yourself getting sucked in to the addictive nature of the game. However, while sacrificing hours on the altar of “Temple Run” trying (unsuccessfully) to beat my 5 year old’s top score, I realized that “Temple Run” also holds several spiritual truths that mirror the message of the gospel and the life of a believer. Since there are four gospels, here are four spiritual truths I found in “The Gospel According to Temple Run.”1. You’ve got to run for your life.

“Lord, I’m runnin’ tryna make 100!”

In “Temple Run”, the explorer is constantly being pursued by “demonic monkeys” who are waiting for him to make one false step. The moment the explorer stumbles, the monkeys pounce on him to “eat up his flesh.” In the same way, our enemy, the devil, is constantly sending his demonic forces on assignment to chase, harass, and attempt to destroy the believer. However, just like the explorer, we must keep running. We can’t afford to stumble. Every time we stumble we allow the enemy to gain ground on us. The interesting thing is that the demonic monkeys are not fast enough to catch the explorer on their own, they need his help. They need him to stumble in order for him to catch up. The enemy can’t catch you if you don’t allow him! That’s why he puts obstacles in your way. You’ve got to jump, slide and turn on the road to your destiny. It reminds me of the old song of the church that says, “Lord, I’m runnin’ tryna make 100 because 99 1/2 won’t do!” Keep running for your life!

2. Β Don’t forget the coins.

The explorer can’t be so busy focusing on the demonic monkeys behind him that he misses out on the coins in front of him. Throughout the obstacle course there are yellow, red and blue coins. These coins represent the treasure of God’s word. They also represent opportunities; they can be used to purchase upgrades and aids to help the explorer on his journey. Likewise, every day, God blesses us with opportunities designed to aid us on our journey. However, if we are too busy looking at what’s chasing our back, we’ll miss out on the blessing that’s staring us right in the face. One interesting thing to note about the demonic monkeys in “Temple Run” is that for most of the game you can’t even see them. They are so far behind the explorer that they disappear off the screen. God doesn’t want you looking at what’s behind you. He wants you to focus on the opportunities that are ahead of you. The Apostle Paul says, “Forgetting those things which are behind…I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). Don’t forget the coins!

3. Make sure you power up.

Force-Field of Favor

Throughout the maze of “Temple Run” several “power-ups” appear. The explorer has to leap to get them. Β These represent the power of the Holy Spirit that is available to every believer. We just have to leap up and grab it. The Holy Spirit is our Paraclete.Β He is our Comforter and our Helper. He is like the Christian’s “power-up.” There are several power-ups in “Temple Run”, but my favorite is the magnet. When the explorer gets the magnet, he doesn’t have to maneuver to collect the coins…the coins come to him. That sounds a whole lot like the favor of God. When you have God’s favor, you don’t have to try to force your way into situations; God will make them come to you! The Bible says that God surrounds us with favor, like a shield (Psalm 5:12). In other words, He puts a magnetic force field of favor around us that just attracts the blessings, but you can only get it if you power up.

4. The objective is to survive.

There is no tricky secret or hidden motivation for the explorer in “Temple Run.” His only goal is to stay ahead of the demonic monkeys behind him and watch out for the obstacles in front of him. The goal is to stay alive – to survive. Similarly, our goal as believers is to keep surviving. Even though our situations may look bleak, we continue to survive. As Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones in the valley, we must encourage ourselves to live. Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of our tongue. Therefore, we must learn to speak life. You must tell yourself, “I will not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord!”

While there are at least four similarities between “Temple Run” and the life of a Christ-follower, there is one stark difference. The game has no end. The explorer can just keep running and running until he either gets tired and gives up or is eaten or killed in the game. He has to keep running, never being allowed to get any rest or peace. However, for the child of God, we are promised both rest and peace. God grants us opportunities to rest and even commands us to do so, and one day we will look forward to the ultimate peace of eternal life. Another difference is that, in the game, the explorer is running away from the temple. Of course, in our Christian journey, we must run TO the temple. So make sure you make that “temple run” this weekend and #Go2Church!

Instagram has become one of the most popular social networking apps in the world. What started as sort of a “members-only” photo-sharing site for people with iPhones became a whole lot more crowded with the launch of the Instagram app for Android. And with the announcement of Facebook’s purchase of the site for a whopping *in my Dr. Evil voice* one BILLION dollars, Instagram’s popularity has exploded.

For those who have no idea what Instagram is, think Twitter with pictures. If you don’t knowΒ what Twitter is, I just sent you a message on Myspace explaining it all in great detail. But I digress. For all that I love about Instagram, it certainly has its share of things I hate – 10 of them to be exact. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. People who only post pictures of themselves.

I know you think you’re beautiful, but I’m sure there is at least one other beautiful thing in your world that’s worth photographing. Mix in a few photos of something or someone else so you can at least pretend that you’re not so vain.

2. People who only post pictures of themselves…that they took themselves.

Come on now. Not only are you letting us know that you think you’re beautiful, you’re telling us that no one else does! You mean, you don’t have ONE friend that can hold the camera and snap a pic of you. Pay a complete stranger to snap a pic if you have to…we’re tired of looking at your reflection in the bathroom mirror.

3. People who follow 700 people and post zero pictures.

This is a photo sharing site. You’re supposed to SHARE…not STARE. If you’re on Instagram and you never post a pic you’re basically telling us you have stalker tendencies.

4. People who ONLY post tweegrams.

Tweegram is great, but if all you want to do is post inspirational quotes…stick to Twitter.

5. People who post pictures with no captions.

The caption is what frames the picture. We don’t know what we’re looking at if you don’t give us the context. We have no idea that random kid on the tricycle is your second cousin’s neighbor’s third child (adopted)…if you don’t tell us.

6. People who post pictures of their second cousin’s neighbor’s third child (adopted).

Enough said!

7. People who post pics of their entire wardrobe.

No one really wants to see what you’ve got on every day…unless of course you’ve got #SundaySwagger like my man, Kevin Bond (kbonded)! LOL

8. People who never like or comment on any photos.

Again, this is a site for sharing (SEE #3). Instagram is for interaction. If you see something you like, click the like button. Throw up a funny comment. Don’t just stop and stare (that’s creepy).

9. People who protect their photos.

Why come on a photo sharing site…if you don’t want to share your photos? If you only want your photos to be seen by your family members and close friends…email them!

10. People who make lists to complain about how other people use THEIR Instagram πŸ™‚

Instagram is for you to enjoy. Don’t let dopes like me tell you how to enjoy it. Have fun, post pics, make comments…or not. It’s all up to you!

Find me on Instagram at twh_phd. Feel free to comment…no staring allowed πŸ™‚

We hear it all the time, “Pastor you really preached this morning. That was a GREAT sermon!” But, was it really a great sermon? How can we tell? Many times people make statements like this because the message addressed an issue they were currently dealing with. That’s one of the great blessings of the Word of God – it is living and it touches us right where we live. However, that leaves a great deal of subjectivity when it comes to analyzing the merits of the transmission of the message. Quite honestly, it is entirely possible to have a great message and a terrible sermon. The sermon is the vehicle the preacher uses to transport the message God has given to him or her, and the preacher must be careful not to allow the vehicle to get in the way of the message.

One of the opportunities the Lord has blessed me with is to serve as an adjunct professor at Carolina Christian College, where I teach courses in the field of homiletics. Homiletics is the art and science of preaching. Preaching is an art form. God uses all of who He created us to be in the preaching process. That’s why you will never find two sermons that are exactly the same – because there are no two people who are exactly the same. However, while preaching is an art, it is also a science. In other words, there is (or at least should be) some methodology to the preaching process.

It is extremely important for the preacher to engage in the process of regularly evaluating his or her sermon…because the congregation already is! For every person who says, “Great sermon, pastor” there are five who walk by thinking that it was the worst thing they ever heard. That should not discourage the preacher, but should inspire him or her to continually strive to improve and develop his or her craft. Preaching is a life-long call, and it involves a life-long process. Any preacher who is not seeking to improve his or her ministry is doing the congregation (and ultimately, the call) a disservice.

When it comes to evaluating the sermon, there are six key elements that form a rubric from the acrostic: PREACH.

Punctuality

One of the most important elements of a sermon is time. Great sermon content can be easily overshadowed by poor time-management. When it comes to time-management, err on the side of caution. Oftentimes, less is more. Of all the thousands of sermons I’ve heard or have preached I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) the times I’ve heard someone complain that the sermon was too short. As the old adage goes, “The mind can only absorb what the behind can endure.” People in the audience no longer want to suffer through hour-long sermons of preachers proving how smart they are and how much they’ve studied. You don’t have to preach the whole Bible in one sermon. The good thing about Sundays is that they come every week. Save a little for the next one.

Relevance

As stated earlier, people are moved by the message when it speaks to where they are. The goal of preaching is Β contemporizing timeless truths and make them relevant to the audience of today. This does not in any way involve changing the timeless truths, but it does involve packaging them in such a way that the audience can understand. It is, in essence, what Jesus did. Jesus used parables as a way of packaging the principles of the Kingdom so His audience could grasp them and apply them to their context. A perfectly constructed sermon that lacks relevance is merely a lecture. Preaching must connect with the audience.

Exegesis

Exegesis simply means exploring and interpreting the text. Far too many sermons have no biblical foundation. The Bible remains the road map for every good sermon. If the preacher does not follow the map, the audience is bound to get lost. Preachers must stay true to the biblical text if their message is to maintain any substance. The role of the preacher is not to preach his or her opinion but to preach God’s opinion, and God’s opinion is found in His Word. I’m very leery of preachers who consistently ignore the Word or just read it as a formality at the beginning of the sermon and spend the entire sermon talking about everything but that scripture. Good preaching is biblical preaching.

Appearance

You may be wondering what appearance has to do with a good sermon. The reality is that people see you before the hear you, and your appearance can either help or hinder the sermon. You never want your suit to get more attention than your sermon. Don’t be too flashy, and certainly don’t be too shabby. Your appearance must be appropriate for your audience. Also, for God’s sake, please use an iron. It’s hard for your audience to hear you talk about “a church without spot or wrinkle” when your clothes are full of them! Watch your appearance…because the congregation is.

Clarity

The greatest sermon has no effect if people don’t understand it. Sermons must be CLEAR in order for people to HEAR. Some preachers treat sermons like doctoral theses, but sermons are designed to reach the “least of these.” Like my pastor, Bishop Alfred Owens, always taught me, “We must always remember that we are feeding sheep…not giraffes.” The goal is not to be high and lofty in our preaching, but to preach with clarity and simplicity so the sheep can graze on the Word.

HEAT!

Preaching must be done with passion! This is not a matter of style, but it is a matter of conviction. The preacher must preach like he or she believes the message…or no one else will. When we preach with conviction…the message is convicting. The purpose of preaching is to produce a change. When we bring the heat, we are stirring the congregation toward positive change. Listless preaching leads to lifeless congregations. Preach with passion, and God’s power will manifest!

The greatest sermon ever preached is undoubtedly Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” as recorded in Matthew 5 – 7. It is the largest collection of red letters in the entire Bible. (In many Bibles, the direct words of Jesus are written in red.) In this sermon, Jesus begins by telling us a collection of statements about blessings and what it takes to be blessed. These statements are collectively referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

However, while Jesus begins his sermon talking about blessings, He ends it basically talking about cursings. It’s clear Jesus didn’t attend any seminars on preaching. He would have realized that His homiletic structure leaves much to be desired. Any preacher worth his salt knows you’re supposed to END with the blessings! Didn’t Jesus know that He was supposed to leave the people on a high note so they could shout, dance and praise so they would be ready to give more in the offering? *tongue planted firmly in cheek*

In any event, Jesus ends His sermon with a warning. He says in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” It’s from this warning that we derive the colloquialism “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The message is clear: “Watch out for people who pretend to be harmless sheep when they’re really ravenous wolves.” The worst part of this warning is that Jesus is not telling us to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing at our jobs, at school, or even in our families. He says we are to watch out for them in the Church! He says “Beware of false prophets.”

Sadly, today we don’t only have to worry about wolves simply infiltrating the ranks of the prophets. There are many who have also invaded our pulpits and call themselves pastors. I call them “Wolves in SHEPHERD’S Clothing.” It’s one thing when you can’t trust the sheep beside you, but how dangerous is it when you can’t trust the shepherd in front of you? Wolves in shepherd’s clothing don’t PRAY for the sheep…they PREY on the sheep. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing believe that the sheep exist to serve them, when the exact opposite is true. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing can preach with INTENSITY, but they have no INTEGRITY. They have CHARISMA, but no CHARACTER. We must beware the wolves in shepherd’s clothing!

The word beware simply means to “BE AWARE.” In other words, we must learn how to identify the wolves in shepherd’s clothing. How do we do that, when the express reason the wolves put on the shepherd’s clothing is to disguise themselves from detection? Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 7. He says, “You will know them by their fruits” (v. 16) and “by their fruits you will know them” (v. 20). Focus on the fruit. There are four particular fruits that help us identify wolves in shepherd’s clothing.

Appearance

Now, I know you’re thinking, “How can I identify a wolf in shepherd’s clothing by his or her appearance when they are in disguise?” The reality is that no matter how great a wolf is at disguising himself, if you watch him or her long enough and closely enough, they will eventually show their true colors. There isn’t enough wool in the world to cover up all their fur. So look for the fur. Wool is soft and comfortable. Fur is rough and prickly. If a pastor is ALWAYS in a bad mood and treats people like they’re his or her servants instead of the other way around, it’s a good chance he or she is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.

Aroma

Wolves have a distinctive scent. A wolf smells very differently than a sheep or a shepherd. While they may be able to “pull the wool over your eyes” wolves cannot hide their scent. Even if they pass the eye test, they can’t pass the smell test. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing usually carry an aroma of arrogance. They usually try to huff and puff and blow stuff down. Shepherds serve the sheep. Wolves try to subjugate the sheep. Shepherds should carry the fragrance of humility…not the aroma of arrogance.

Appetite

Wolves have a ravenous appetite. They are never satisfied; never content. They always want more. One of the ways to identify a wolf in shepherd’s clothing is by his or her appetite. If they’re “hungry like a wolf” chances are it’s because they ARE a wolf. This is the taste test. Β You can tell a lot about a person by their tastes. What are they attracted to? If they desire things of the world more than the things of God, perhaps that pastor is merely a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. This is not to suggest that a pastor must be perfect – for none of us are. We all make mistakes. The difference is that a wolf in shepherd’s clothing has developed a lifestyle around his or her illicit appetites. We must beware.

Articulation

The final test for wolves in shepherd’s clothing is the ear test. No matter how cunning and smooth of tongue a wolf is, eventually he or she will let out a howl. If we listen to many of the sermons preached in pulpits around the world, there’s a whole lot of howling going on. We must learn to listen for it. Jesus said that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice and will not follow the voice of a stranger. Listen out for strange voices from the pulpit, and if it doesn’t sound like Christ or His Word…DO NOT FOLLOW!

These are just a few of the ways we can identify wolves in shepherd’s clothing: appearance, aroma, appetite and articulation. The key is that once we are aware of wolves in shepherd’s clothing, we must not allow them to continue to devour the sheep. True shepherds must not allow wolves into their pulpits – even if they can preach well and raise big offerings. If we don’t protect the sheep in our fold, the Master will hold us accountable. We also must protect the wolves from themselves. We must remember that even a wolf in shepherd’s clothing is not out of reach of God’s grace. Jesus ends His sermon with a warning for the wolves. He says, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?’…And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me.'”

I guess we need to tell the wolves that they need to BEWARE.

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Churches across America celebrated “Hoodie Sunday” in honor of slain youth, Trayvon Martin. This sign of solidarity was designed to continue to raise awareness regarding the teen’s death and to demand justice for his killing. George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s confessed killer, remains free and has yet to be arrested for his crime. His claim of self-defense is simply indefensible.

Even more troubling is the injustice perpetrated by the local authorities and the ignorance perpetrated by national media members like Geraldo Rivera. Mr. Rivera, in an interview on Fox News (shocker), claimed that Trayvon’s hoodie was as much to blame for his death as Geroge Zimmerman. There is no way that such idiocy and victim-blaming should ever be allowed on national TV!

My response to Mr. Rivera on Twitter was that Trayvon’s hoodie was no more to blame for his death than the chair was to blame that was used to break Mr. Rivera’s nose back when he had his own show and was somewhat relevant. To blame an inanimate object for the death of a child is simply a ploy to absolve responsibility from his real killer and the real reason why he was killed.

So I join with the thousands who have donned hoodies in their online profile pics and will wear their hoodies to church, but as many of my colleagues in the clergy have mentioned we must ensure that this is not simply a sign…but a start. We must start a movement to continually address injustice against people of all color, especially those who cannot speak for themselves. Therefore, if we are going to rep our ‘hoods’ we need to know what the hood represents.

1. A hoodie is designed to COVER.

Lost in all of Mr. Rivera’s blame of the hoodie for Trayvon’s death is the reality that he was wearing it because it was raining! A hoodie is designed to cover and protect from the elements. It covers the head to protect from the sun, the wind, and the rain. Unfortunately, it could not protect Trayvon from the profiling of an overzealous neighborhood watchman who decided to bring a gun to a Skittle fight.

2. A hoodie is designed to CONCEAL.

One normally dons a hoodie when he or she would rather travel under the radar and be incognito. A hoodie says, “I don’t want to be bothered today. I’d rather be left alone.” Unfortunately, Mr. Zimmerman didn’t get Trayvon’s hint. He just wanted to enjoy his Skittles and iced tea in peace. He wasn’t expecting an all out war. Trayvon’s hoodie couldn’t conceal Zimmerman’s bias, and it definitely could not conceal the bigotry that has no doubt played a part in the authorities’ refusal to arrest him.

3. A hoodie is designed for COMFORT.

There are few things more comfortable to throw on when running to the store than a hoodie. The wool just feels good on the skin and the protective hood just feels good covering your head. While Geraldo Rivera claimed hoodies are worn by ‘gangstaz’ he neglected to mention the many athletes, law enforcement officials, celebrities, and law-abiding citizens who wear them everyday. We wear them because they’re comfortable. Unfortunately, Trayvon’s parents can’t take comfort knowing that the man who killed their son for wearing a hood is still free to continue to watch the neighborhood.

That sounds like the work of another group who is famous for walking around The South in hoods.

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Life
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For the past two years I have been blessed to lead a daily “Power Prayer” call. For the past two days* that prayer call has centered around praying for the family of Trayvon Martin and countless others who have suffered loss and been further victimized by the “Injustice” system.

In the Trayvon Martin case, Skittles have become a symbol of this injustice as, we all know by now, that he was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea when he was shot and killed. I do believe that Trayvon Martin’s candy choice has a lot to teach us as we as a global community try to reconcile his loss.

1. Remember the Rainbow

For years, the marketing slogan of Skittles has been “Taste the Rainbow.” The rainbow is a universal sign of hope. God first graced humanity with the rainbow after The Great Flood and Noah’s ark. It was a reminder that He would never again destroy the world by water. When we see cases like Trayvon Martin it’s easy to focus on all the negatives – the rain. We must remember that after the rain comes the rainbow, and we must have hope that somehow God will bring some good out of this and turn this tragedy into a triumph!

2. Celebrate the Colors

Skittles are unique in that the candy is intentionally made up of different pieces of all different colors. This is interesting in light of the fact that “color” has played such a central role in the Trayvon Martin case. Quite frankly, Trayvon was profiled and subsequently killed primarily because of the color of his skin. And, no doubt, the color of his killer’s skin has had at least something to do with the fact that he has not yet been arrested for his killing. As I stated in a previous blog, this is not a problem for the Black community…this is a problem for the HUMAN community. We must learn to celebrate our differences and focus on diversity.

3. Stand in Solidarity

No one buys a bag of Skittles and just eats one. The power of Skittles is in the fact that you can get so much diversity of taste in one bag. Somehow, all of the colors are able to coexist in the bag. While we all may have our preference of which color Skittle we like best (mine is purple πŸ™‚ ) we have a taste explosion in our mouths when we pick up a handful, regardless of their color and eat them TOGETHER. What a wonderful illustration of unity! We can have an explosive effect right in the mouth of injustice when we stand together!

Let’s go down to Sanford, Florida…and make them “taste the rainbow”!

*If you would like to access these recorded prayer calls dial 712-432-6190 code 124541#. The recording numbers for the Trayvon Martin prayers are 032312# and 032412#. Feel free to join us for the live “Power Prayer” call every day 6:00a-6:10a (Eastern) by dialing 712-432-6100 code 124541#.

Posted: March 24, 2012 in Leadership, Life, Love
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