He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly, To Love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (NKJV)
This past Thanksgiving, I wrote about our role as stewards in connection with being thankful. Now that we're well into the new year, I want to return to that idea. With another spring upon us, it's easy to glory in God's creation, but I want to remind all of us not to view this glory with an impersonal eye. We are not just spectators in God's garden, we are stewards, and that position comes with responsibility.
As stewards, we are called to properly manage the lives and resources that God has blessed us with. We often mistake these blessings as entitlements, but we must always remember that the titles we have in life are loans. All the good things we have are from God, and they belong to Him. We must recognize the fact that He has simply entrusted us with managing these things here on Earth. Therefore, we should all strive to be stewards that carefully cultivate all that we have borrowed.
Think of how you feel when you lend something important to a friend — your car or a piece of jewelry, or any precious object with deep personal worth — how do you expect them to take care of this borrowed object? Would it not offend you to see it returned damaged due to neglect, or worse, destroyed by your friend's selfish indifference? Now, imagine how much greater the trust and how much worse the potential offense in God's placing His entire creation in our hands.
Though we don’t too often hear the word outside of the church anymore, we are indeed stewards of the earth, of our possessions, our children, our spouses, and our wealth. We are expected with all these dearly entrusted parts of our lives to act wisely and in the spirit of their true owner. And what is that true spirit? It is spelled out for us in Micah above: "He has shown you, O man, what is good." And that "good" is defined by justice, love, mercy and humility. We must strive to be our best selves not just in church but in every situation, in every location, because there is no part of God's creation where we are not held responsible, where we are not stewards.
The first blooms of spring remind us that Easter is nearly upon us, that the mystery and wonder of resurrection will yet again play out. But with this wonder must come reflection on our own place in this annual renewal. Are we showing the charity and generosity of good stewards? Are we representing that sacrifice and commitment? Indeed, are we living up to our responsibility to leave God’s creation in better shape than we found it? Have we, like the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents, done our best to leave God with an increase, with a greater prize, or are we like those bad friends who lose or damage a borrowed item because of our carelessness?
One of the greatest ways to fulfill your stewardship is to volunteer your time and talents within your community. One simple way to do this is to support your church’s food pantry program or your local food bank. Simply gather a few cans of non-perishable goods from your cupboard and either drop them off at your church at the designated times or take them to the closest food bank donation center. Better yet, grab your colleagues or your friends and family and start your own food drive. Form teams and challenge one another to see who can generate the most goods or money. Would you believe that just one dollar can provide meals for five families?
Stewardship is always welcome in our communities and homes. As Easter approaches, I encourage you to consider all of the ways that you can be a good steward of the things the Lord has entrusted to your care.
Support the Pittsburgh community by making donations to the Mt Ararat Community Activity Center food and clothing bank. Every second Saturday of the month, 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM, residents from the 15206 Zip Code and Mount Ararat Baptist Church Members can participate in our monthly shop-through and clothing bank.
Also, check out the local food bank at: https://www.pittsburghfoodbank.org/. See how you can help by providing time, money, or goods.
Soul-winning has traditionally been viewed by “church folk” as evangelism or witnessing. As Christians, we do talk about our faith, and we work to make sure that our lifestyles reflect that faith. We pray over lunch while we’re at work, we make sure we attend church on Sunday, and we thank God when we experience His blessings through various situations and events in our lives. However, I maintain that the best way for people to communicate the message that God wants us to convey is by living a life that consistently illustrates the love of Christ through fellowship, service to others, and a sincere faith in God.
In other words, I think that our strength as Christians and our impact in soul-winning occurs when we create opportunities to share not only faith, but life experiences and relationships that demonstrate Christ’s Word. I suggest taking the following steps when thinking about spreading your faith and making sure that it means something to those who encounter Christ through your example:
A 1 – 2 – 3 Approach to Soul-winning
- Check yourself for integrity and sincerity in everything you do. Do you tell your children not to use the word “hate” and then find hate in your own heart when you’re watching the news or a political debate? Do you tell your co-worker to forgive the person who embarrassed them in a meeting, yet give one of your own family members the silent treatment for upsetting you at dinner? We aren’t perfect, but we can strive to be the best that we can be in every situation, admitting our mistakes and growing from our experiences.
- Pray every day. Know what you’re asking for, expressing thanks for, and reflecting on. Study your Bible and know what to suggest to others who need direction and comfort; make sure the verses and your advice are relevant and informed. You are God’s messenger when the person across from you on the bus or next to you in the coffee shop doesn’t know His Love and His Word. If someone reaches out, seize that opportunity to impart your wisdom and your faith.
- Make the time to express your faith by lending help in soup kitchens, at the library, with your kids’ extracurricular activities, in your own backyard with neighbors who need help, or anywhere you think your help might be valuable. Create opportunities to talk about your faith over dinner with friends, at night before bedtime with your kids, during philosophical discussions at work, or anywhere you feel it’s comfortable and appropriate to share.
"Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you."
(1 Peter 3:15)
For more information and inspiration on soul-winning, I suggest the following books:
The Soul Winner by Charles Spurgeon
Soul Winning Made Easy by C.S. Lovett
For a different type of soul, consider checking out the following local musical series from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust:
Soul Sessions with Maysa on April 9, 2016 at the August Wilson Center and Musiq Soulchild on April 22, 2016 also at the August Wilson Center. Tickets available at: www.trustarts.org/events/series/soul-sessions/
While we know that the African American community in Pittsburgh has a rich and accomplished past, we don’t always take the time to investigate some of the many people that have helped to make our city truly great. We hear their names, but we don’t often know their stories.
Esteemed playwright, August Wilson, is a name that we hear frequently. Theaters, local art exhibits, and special sections in our local newspapers mention him often, talking about his Pulitzer Prizes and touting his ability to break down barriers in a field notoriously dominated by white males. But rarely do we hear about what made this man such a strong voice for African Americans—not only in theater—but in politics, in communities experiencing social change, and in the hearts of the people of Pittsburgh, who, to this day have not forgotten this brilliant son.
Wilson was one of six children born to an African American mother and a white father for whom he was named, but who was noticeably absent from his life (Frederick August Kittel); he used his mother’s maiden name, Wilson, professionally. His mother began the upbringing of her children alone in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, later marrying a man who would move the family to a newer and more middle class neighborhood where they would be subjected to varying levels of racial hostility. Wilson went on to attend a number of local high schools, all with varying experiences, from non-acceptance as the only African American student at high school, to being accused of plagiarism in another school when his 20-page paper seemed too advanced for a boy of his age and social standing.
I think it is important to note that Wilson used these experiences to grow in his analysis of his role in this world, and he channeled what he observed of life, people, and circumstances into the brilliant written works that we know from him today. His plays all take place in different decades and all reflect characters and people— true experiences from his own past. He used his talent and his voice to illustrate, over time, the change and the culture of the African American community. A Pulitzer Prize winner for many of his plays, he turned down the opportunity to develop one into a movie because he strongly felt that the director needed to be African American, and because there were no well-known African American directors at the time, the project did not take off. Strong-willed and sensitive, he remained true to his convictions, something we should all note.
I think we can all tap into our individual sense of who we are, who we want to be, and what we can do to illicit change in our communities. Using local examples to inspire us, we can contribute to the richness of our culture and heritage. Not only should we draw on the strong voices we hear today and the echoing voices of the past, but we should also look to our own experiences and people—past and present—from our own communities with whom we might share a vision or a voice.
So… my directives to you today in terms of local events and must-reads are to visit The August Wilson Center here in Pittsburgh. Learn about African American writers in the area such as University of Pittsburgh professor, Toi Derricotte, whose controversial, ground-breaking, and award-winning writings are often compared to iconic poets like Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman. Or, go further into the literary realm and read “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, or “Native Son” by Richard Wright. Naturally, I feel the need to direct you to the spiritual side of literature, but let’s branch out: read little-known but impactful Senegalese Phillis Wheatley’s slave era book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Rejuvenate your faith in your communities, your culture, and yourself. Black History month is closing out for 2016, but for all of us, the sentiments should continue into our year of triumphs, challenges, and faith.
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free…so other people would also be free.” This iconic quote from Rosa Parks during the height of the Civil Rights Movement forces us to reflect on our basic human rights, the rights that we were not always so privileged to. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the influential figures fueling the Civil Rights Movement, lending their strength, spirit, and wisdom to the cause. I can only imagine the riots, the quiet defiance, the speeches, the fear, and the strength that threatened to overcome these leaders. While there are countless leaders of importance, and many we may not know about, this week the late Dr. Gardner C. Taylor stands out in my mind. In his ministerial career spanning over six decades, to me, he helped transform America.
Deemed “The Dean of American Preaching,” Dr. Taylor served as both a close friend and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The grandson of former slaves, he played a large role in the religious leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, setting an example of leadership for us all. Alongside Dr. King, he helped found the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) in 1961, formed after Dr. Taylor and supporters of Dr. King seceded from the National Baptist Convention, USA. The PNBC, a convention of African American Baptists that emphasizes civil rights and social justice, has grown beyond the United States, expanding Dr. Taylor’s influence to Caribbean and European residents.
Dr. Taylor pastored at Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn for 42 years, a church that served as a beacon of hope for many and became a model as such for the nation. A testament to his strength and determination, when the church burned down in 1952, he didn’t let naysayers influence him. Instead, he rebuilt and doubled the church’s size. A truly gifted individual, his words impacted multiple generations. Remaining one of New York’s largest churches, Concord operates its own elementary school, nursing home, and credit union to this day, all a testament to Dr. Taylor’s legacy.
Dr. Taylor’s wisdom, charisma, and unforgettable sermons were often sought after, and in 1993 he preached the pre-inauguration sermon for President-elect Bill Clinton. In 2000, he was given the highest civilian award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Clinton in recognition for his contributions to ministry and activism.
On February 21st at 2:30pm head on over to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Downtown and Business (612 Smithfield St.) to learn about heart disease, the leading cause of death for African Americans in the United States. Listen to Darah Richardson of Omni Health and Wellness as she discusses risk factors and tips to improve health and wellness.
Books and Authors
Dr. Cornel West is a prominent Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He has also taught at Yale, Harvard, and the University of Princeton. Earning the honor of Magna Cum Laude at Harvard, he went on to obtain his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. I have always found him both impressive and inspirational. He has released three spoken word albums and written over 20 books, a true motivator. His classics, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, are thought-provoking and intellectual, and his latest releases, Black Prophetic Fire and Radical King, have received critical acclaim. His memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, is passionate, brilliant, and moving. Not to be missed, the memoir uncovers details from his three marriages, his struggle with finding his calling, his near-fatal bout with prostate cancer, and everything in-between. Intending to keep the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alive, he has appeared in numerous documentaries, films, and television shows, including the Bill Maher Show, Colbert Report, CNN, C-Span, and Democracy Now.
Once in a blue moon, as the generations before us would say, a truly special member of the community comes along. Pittsburgh has certainly had its share of these people. From spiritual leaders and innovative politicians, to musicians, artists, and creators of movements and inspirations that transcend race, religion, and social standing.
As I reflect on my role as pastor in the community—especially during this month that salutes the many African Americans who contributed so deeply to our communities—I find that I want my congregation and anyone who I can reach through my words and influence to get to know those from the past who actually shaped the communities in which we live. I usually lean to someone in the religious community, but as we all know, our innovators take all forms and appear in all walks of life. God intends for us to use our talents in ways that we may never see until we ask Him for guidance. It is a gift from God when we get to experience these quiet geniuses close to home.
Back in the early part of the 1900s, the Pittsburgh Courier was one of the top African American owned newspapers in the country. Pittsburgh’s own Charles “Teenie” Harris was their renowned photographer from 1938 until his retirement in 1975. Make no mistake about it, this newspaper was certainly the voice of the African American community back then, and Mr. Harris was as well-known in his neighborhood as any politician or athlete. For years, Harris recorded the lives of African Africans at work, at play, in turmoil, and in celebration. He visited dance recitals and barbeques, photographed children swimming and watching the Fourth of July fireworks, visited funerals and weddings, recorded mothers making fried chicken at block parties, and captured fathers heading off to work in the mills. He watched election results with the guys in the neighborhoods, and he strolled the streets with the ladies headed off to the beauty parlors. While he was sought out to photograph many famous people, these everyday people in Pittsburgh’s African American neighborhoods became his muses. As a result, he documented lives during some of the most important times in the past century, including the Civil Rights Movement—all by hanging out, and having lunch and conversation with the people of Pittsburgh.
A number of years ago, his photographs were exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh. Now, in Mount Ararat’s own East Liberty neighborhood, a handful of them are on display at the newly reopened Ace Hotel, another shining jewel in one of Pittsburgh’s primarily African American neighborhoods. I urge you to visit the Ace, stroll by the photographs, pick up a book on Charles “Teenie” Harris, or look him up online and see if you can see the same neighborhoods we walk through today. See if you can feel the influence he has had over African American culture in this East End neighborhood of Pittsburgh. God calls many of us to special things in life, and we must honor those who took the call to do great things, especially as we celebrate Black History Month.
Around the same time that “Teenie” Harris was taking his photos, Errol Garner was an accomplished jazz musician in Pittsburgh. A lecture on Garner given by Robin D.G. Kelley of UCLA will be held at the University Club, University of Pittsburgh, Ballroom A (123 University Place, Oakland) at 7pm on February 17th. Local congregants, please consider attending this and other lectures that highlight influential area African-Americans.
Books and Authors
Bryan Stevenson is an influential lawyer, civil rights activist, and speaker. His book, Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption, is a must-read. Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction as well as the recipient of a number of other honors, it is eye-opening and inspirational. Stevenson has long been a hero of mine. He is currently the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and a professor at the New York University Law School. He has argued on behalf of many condemned prisoners over the years and has presented a number of challenging cases for the poor and under-represented in front of this country’s courts (including the Supreme Court).