Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How to Grab a Woman

There's a little cut out piece of grass on South Carolina State University's campus that's between MLK Auditorium and Turner Hall- it slopes down and leads to the back of the facilities and has very little purpose other than as a cut through- in fact,I doubt many students don't even recognize that it is what it is- it isn't useful, isn't functional and was honestly probably left there by mistake- it serves no sensible function...but one night it really helped out a broke college student from Orangeburg.

It was my first semester home at State after transferring from Morehouse to help out around the house with Granny's dementia. I had picked up a young lady for a date and we hit either House of Pizza or Antley's or the old Central Park and came back to campus and just walked around. We had known each other for some time and had flirted before so I tried it...I invited her over to this narrow strip of land and although we had no blanket, she sat right down next to me and we looked up at the night sky together. Now if you know me...really know me, you know that I don't necessarily appreciate nature as much as I should, but I LOVE being outside at night- and so I must have stopped carrying on conversation for the first time that night and as I'm (literally) star gazing, I look over and she's holding out a penny (for my thoughts)...I blabber something to her and then I remembered I had change in my pocket (all I had was change in my pocket) and I offer her a nickel (for her kiss)...she smiles- her dimples pop- and she says..."I'm not kissing you Sterling, you're a nice guy but you're not my man and I don't want to ruin our friendship." More star gazing, more small talk, I had church in the morning so I walk her back to Truth Hall and hug her good night.

If we were having this conversation in person, I'd ask you to look me in my eyes and I'd explain to you that I'm no Saint...and I've made many, many mistakes and in addition to my mistakes, I've also made  a few "on purposes"...but I've never tried to impose my will on any young lady...the same way a stolen dollar would feel strange in my pocket, I believe a stolen kiss would feel strange on my lips.

So I've never arbitrarily grabbed a woman's person for gratification or exploitation but let's be clear, there are ways to grab women and be guaranteed that they like it...

We can grab the door when we see them walking in a building behind us.

We can grab the gas pump/air compressor/windshield squeegee when we see a sister struggling at the gas station.

We can grab a bag or two at the grocery store as they buckle their baby in the car seat.

We can grab their attention when we put belts around our waist, starch in our collars and soap on our behinds

We can grab their respect when we finish what we start, keep our word and love our families.

We can grab their admiration when we set the standard, live up to the standard and hold a funeral for our excuses.

We can grab the check when it comes to the table and add the 20% that society expects us to leave off.

We can grab the keys on our way out the door to get the oil changed.

We can grab some slippers when we gather the trash to put on the curb.

We can grab the light bill, cable bill, gas bill, grocery billl...ESPECIALLY if we helped run it up.

We can grab our cell phones when we wake up and text "good morning" to let them know they're thought of.

We can grab our ears and just listen to the events of their day...just...listen...

I agree with the aggressors in one respect however- sometimes you just have to lay hands on these women- and when you do so- when they frustrate you to no end- when they snap on you and they are wrong- when they jump to conclusions- when they nag and pester and even belittle- grab them- it's ok to grab them!

Grab them by their hands, bow your head and lead them in prayer.

Our neighborhoods, our churches, our families, our communities are starving for real, solid men. 

Feed them.

I love you and I'd love to be your Pastor. 

We worship every Thursday at 12:30 and 7:00 in our weekly Bible Study. 
Kindly call 888-628-8983, mute your phone and grow with us.

We worship every Sunday morning at 9:45 for Church School and 11:00 for worship at
 203 Henry M. Turner St. Abbeville, SC 29620 in the Heart of Abbeville.

God's Best Be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Gospel: Evolution or Extinction...Because Sometimes it Really Does Take All That

I can only imagine when the Donnie McClurkin of the cotton field was ministering in song while under the harsh lash of his slave owner and one of the brothers began to slap his hand against his bag of crops on beat with the tune- that some pious slave somewhere rebuked him and told him..."let Donnie sing on his own- it don't take all that..."

When we evolved to "brush arbors" and were able to worship in a structure of tied together twigs and the Marvin Sapp of the manual labor era would be leading us in a tune and some rhythm sensitive brother would begin to tap one twig against another as if playing a drum- there was some scary someone that corrected him quickly with..."Marvin can carry his own tune- it don't take all that..."

Sooner or later freedom reigned and we built churches and after a while those churches actually had electricity inside of them and a brother named Hammond designed an organ and I wasn't there but something tells me that the first time Thomas Dorsey saw, touched, felt that organ- there just may have been one or two in the congregation that lost their cool points, shook their head and either whispered or said out loud..."he know good and well it don't take all that..."

So some person wrote some piece about "Satan becoming the worship leader" If you need help falling asleep tonight, you can read it here:

The writer was attempting to make the point that modern gospel is inspiring a generation of confused Christians that can't decipher "Amazing Grace" from "Bump and Grind". It appears as if the writer's argument is that new age gospel music has so much bass, so much bump, so much thump that new age gospel can be played in and appreciated at the club as much as it's appreciated at the church...

I reckon I have a two word response to someone who has an issue with music that transitions well between Saturday night 11:00 and Sunday morning 11:00...

So What?

I'm not sure- I'm not trying to be glib or create shock or be edgy- but I'm really not sure how many of our churches that Jesus would visit on Sunday morning if he were still roaming this earth. Jesus wasn't much for religious formality. Jesus wasn't big on pomp and circumstance. Jesus wasn't the stoic, stuck up killjoy that we go out of our way to portray him to be so I'm not sure how much Jesus would visit our churches...but I can see Jesus walking into our nightclubs. I can see it and if you've read your Bible, then you can see it too- 

Jesus said that he came for the lost sheep of Israel.

 Jesus said that it's not those who are well who need a doctor but those who are sick. 

The church actually was angry at Jesus because Jesus not only hung out with the sinners but Jesus ate with them...guess they were at the Waffle House after the club...

Jesus changed the life of the prostitute Mary Madgalene.

 Jesus changed the life of a woman who had entertained too many husbands at the well. 

Jesus said if he had a church of 100, then he would leave 99 in the middle of worship and go to where the missing one was.

Here's my point: I grew up listening to a pipe organ every Sunday. I know the hymnal better than I know the alphabet. I grew up a fan of the hymns of the church- and my love for tradition was almost the death of my ministry because I became too rigidly regimented. I have believed and believe still that they hymns are the foundation of the church and I believe that because I used to hear 5 of them every Sunday but if St. James' DOVE dancers (the best doggone praise dance troupe in SC) has to dance to "That's What I Told the Storm" in 2015 in order for them to develop an appreciation for "Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah" in 2025, that's a small price to pay.

Sure a few of the contemporary Gospel artists are a bit "extra"- there are rampant rumors of homosexuality, adultery and fornication. There are Gospel artists who have felonies and divorces and battle alcoholism and other addictions- that is the reality of today's Gospel music industry. 

I would be quick to condemn them if I didn't travel the church. When I cross the length and breadth of just South Carolina- I encounter rampant rumors of homosexuality, adultery and fornication. In my home state, I encounter Christians with felonies and divorces and those who battle alcoholism and other addictions.

The Gospel industry is no longer made up of pristine choir robes and glossy figures who lord over us from their ivory towers of purity. The Gospel industry is made up now of flawed individuals...just like the folks who buy their music- just  like the folks who sit in pews and just like the folks who occupy pulpits.

 There will always be room for improvement in God's church- I know that because it is made up of sinful, flawed individuals. We will always be able to do better because we will always fall down and fall short. I choose to apply my energies to the least, the last and the lost among us. I choose to resist the urge to be prudish in my worship and conduct and to focus more on how it helps and less on how it looks.

I'll leave you with this hymn- quoted from memory of course thanks to my upbringing...

Rescue the perishing
Care for the dying
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave
Weep o'er the erring one
Lift up the fallen
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save

Rescue the perishing
Care for the dying
Jesus is merciful
Jesus will save.

I love you and I'd love to be your Pastor. Meet us each Thursday at 12:30 and 7:00 PM for Bible Study at 888-628-8983. We worship each Sunday at our 9:45 Church School and 11:00 Morning Worship in the Heart of Abbeville, SC at 203 Henry M. Turner Street. We meet for evening prayer each Sunday evening at 8:00 on the above conference call number.

God's Best be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Safest Place in the Whole Wide World (Still)

The views expressed in this piece and all other writings are my views and mine alone. I have been privileged to serve for the last 11 years as a Pastor in the A.M.E. Church and while I preach every Sunday in an A.M.E. Church, I do not and will never claim to speak FOR the A.M.E. Church.

It's no secret that I go to bed extremely early. I dozed off well before 9:00 tonight and my spouse woke me up at around 10:30 with the news of this tragedy that has consumed and engulfed us all. The church is in mourning. We are sad, we are confused, we are hurting, we are suffering and we are devastated. I haven't cried yet- not really- had a half moment here and a semi-moment there but I haven't cried yet. I was about to cry, really wanted to cry but then I felt this in my spirit...

The best place to have a heart attack is in the Emergency Room.

The best place to have a flat tire is in front of Firestone.

The best place to have a hunger pang is in front of a full refrigerator.


If death is a door that we all must walk through.

If we are all living this life just to live again.

If none of us make it out of life alive.

If to live is Christ and to die is gain...


The best place to leave this world is in God's house, around God's people in the midst of doing God's work.

What better trip can we take?

What smoother transition can we make?

Is this not leaving God's house only to enter into God's hands?

We are not unsafe in the church- we are not at war in the church- we are not under siege in the church because someone brought a gun into the church and used a gun inside of the church. God's word is true and is steadfast and is unmovable and is always abounding inside of us- let me remind those who are nervous, fearful and afraid of Matthew 16:18:

"...Upon this rock, I will build my church
And the gates of hell
Shall not prevail against it..."

My dear friend and colleague in ministry would put it this way- these are his words- "God didn't say that hell wouldn't come, God just said that hell wouldn't win."

You are safe, secure and protected in the arms of God and in the house of God. The devil will run out of bullets before God runs out of angels.

God's Best be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Golden State Warriors and the Beauty of Intentional Rest

I am most uniquely unqualified to compose this piece because while I did take a few days off last week, I will work seven (7) days this week and while it's only Wednesday, my legs are already starting to feel like jelly and I haven't yet been able to shake off the 11 hour drive home from the Nation's capital on Sunday.

Rest is such a tricky proposition for those of us who find ourselves in the rat race. We see rest, we admire rest, we pursue rest but standing in the way of the fatigue in our bodies and the rest that we desire is often a little rascal known as responsibility.

Fatigue says take the day off.
Responsibility says time waits for no man.

Fatigue says "I don't want to"
Responsibility says "You have to"

Fatigue says "go to the couch"
Responsibility says "go to work"

Fatigue got the best of me temporarily on last night so I found  myself nodding most of the game before finally waking up in earnest for the last half of the NBA season. I shook off the cobwebs and one thing was immediately clear- Golden State was not necessarily the better team, they were just playing at a different speed than Cleveland. Golden State was getting to loose balls faster, they were out rebounding larger players, they were jumping higher and running faster and moving smoother than the home team and one pan of the camera to the sideline told the entire story for me...Stephen Curry, the league MVP was on the bench, resting, towel over head while LeBron James- Cleveland's best player was covered in sweat on the court as he had been for 98% of each minute played in the series.

LeBron's candle had been burned at both ends over the course of 6 games.
Curry's wick wasn't even burning, he looked like he was a glass jar candle sitting on a warmer.

It was a matter of time. Golden State closed out Cleveland in short order, partied on their opponents' home court and as much of a LeBron fan as I am, I was almost relieved that Cleveland could finally get some rest- it didn't look fun for them anymore out there.

The last few minutes of the Finals reminded me of a quote that's been haunting me for the last 3 weeks or so...

"Time is undefeated"

You and I are going to get fatigued sooner or later. You and I are going to run out of gas. You and I are going to have the "want to" but we may fall short in the "can do" department. Covenant with yourself to rest. Take yourself out of the game when you can for as long as you can. Utilize your bench- God gave you a support system of folks who love you, care for you and will pour you a glass of water if you only ask them to. Cleveland showed a cavalier attitude in this series by only rotating 8 men off of a 12 man roster- God gave you your team for a reason...put them to work! There is no shame in needing help (rest). The shame is in needing it and not asking for it. Until it is that we take care of ourselves, we will be in no position to take care of anyone else.

I love you and I would love to be your Pastor.

Bible Study returns to the Heart of Abbeville 
Thursday June 18, 2015 at 12:30 and 7:00. 888-628-8983 (toll-free)

Sunday Morning Worship at 9:45 and 11:00
203 Henry M. Turner St.
Abbeville, SC 29620

God's Best be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Monday, June 15, 2015

God's Spoiled Little Children

I'm a guy. I am a guy's guy. I grill over charcoal, I love sports, I don't like long telephone conversations- in fact if you ever have me on a call over a half-hour, we're family...don't invite me to the reunion if you want to and see if I don't get an attitude...I'm a guy and because I'm a guy, I don't like asking for directions so we thank God for GPS devices- we thank God that we can type a few letters onto a screen and a few seconds later some magic voice from our speakers is telling us where to go and how to get there and how long it will imagine my frustration then when I'm driving to D.C. and my device would tell me to take be in my right lane for a tenth of a mile then it would let me know I had to cross 6 lanes of traffic to take a left in another half mile...I was nerves were getting frayed because I felt like the little green character in the classic video game "Frogger" because all I was doing was dipping and dodging traffic trying not to get splattered on someones' windshield. I caught myself on Saturday morning on Pennsylvania Avenue trying to reconfigure my direction device to give me 2 directions at a time so I could better prepare myself for the road ahead...and it hit hit me like the ton of bricks that Iman Shumpert has been shooting in the NBA Finals...

Sterling, you are spoiled!

I was on my way to a $80 brunch for 2, the morning after sitting 8 rows back from home plate at the Orioles game, the day after witnessing a wedding at the luxe Oxon Hill Manor overlooking the National Harbor and I'm complaining that the directions that were downloaded to my vehicle for my comfort are insufficient...C'MON MAN!

God told me to look around...and when I did, I saw bus stops- they'd been there the entire time you know but I was too busy enjoying my air conditioning to notice them. I looked again and a Metro train passed by overhead...those folks had to smell urine in the terminal to get from "Point A" to "Point B". I kept looking and I was passed by a car that had more exhaust than a little bit- black smoke poured out of it's rear- it wasn't road worthy in the least and could stop at any time and leave it's driver and passengers in engine on the other hand was purring...I looked one more time as I was convicted and felt horrible but this time when I looked...I saw folks walking- I saw folks on Pat and Charlie. I saw folks sweating in the heat of the District...while I was fussing about taking a left or a right next.

Are you reading this blog under the influence of air conditioning?

Have you eaten today?

Do you know where your next meal is coming from?

Clean water to drink perhaps?

Do you have a roof over your head?

Shoes on your feet?

Activity of your limbs?

Do you happen to know your name?

Are you reading this from the confines of a hospital bed?

Prison facility?

Mental institution?

Last question...when's the last time you thanked God...I'm not interested in the last time you prayed and asked God to bless you with something- asked God to heal your body or provide in your life- when's the last time you thanked God for every mountain that he's brought you over- when's the last time you thanked him for every valley he's pulled you through- when's the last time you just took a look around and realized- really, really realized that all of your good days outweigh your bad days so you:

1) Have no right to complain.

2) Sound like an entitled, self-righteous brat (just like I did) when you do.

"I had the blues because I had no shoes 
Until upon the street
I met a man 
That had no feet"
                             -Denis Waitley

I'd love to be your Pastor.

Bible Study in the Heart of Abbeville- Thursday 12:30 and 7:00 PM 888-628-8983

Worship Sunday morning at 9:45 and 11:00

God's Best Be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Monday, June 8, 2015

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Believe No Evil

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Believe No Evil…

I walked in the door Sunday night after a 13 hour day expecting to take a shower and grab some sleep for my 3 day work week that I am presently engaged in. I ended up getting seeing a dynamic sermon play out in front of me. Here’s a quick primer for those of you who may not be following the tournament to this point. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their starting Power Forward in game 4 of their opening round series against the Boston Celtics. He will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Cleveland’s point guard who is also an All-Star fractured his left knee cap in the first game on last Thursday and he is also (obviously) will miss the remainder of the playoffs. This leaves LeBron James who is arguably the best player in the world now to  lead a team without its two best players against a team that won 67 games this year against only 15 losses into a raucous arena where his opponent was only defeated twice the entire year and every pundit, every talking head, every sports writer had already called the series in favor of his opponent, the Golden State Warriors. Game. Set. Match, they said- it’s over- the only thing to sort out are the formalities and final score before we hand the trophy over to the Bay area.

I sat up on the couch half watching the game and half playing on Facebook until I realized something about mid-way through the 2nd quarter…I realized that no one told Cleveland that they couldn’t win. I realized that Cleveland’s much maligned, much criticized coach Dave Blatt must have banned all newspapers and magazines from the locker room concerning the game. I came to the realization that they were sequestered because they weren’t playing like they had read they were destined to lose.

I also saw that he must have issued those Beats by Dre headphones that the commercial tells you allow you to hear what you want to every member of the team and they blocked out Stephen A. Smith’s commentary, Magic Johnson’s words and everyone else on ESPN- it seemed as if they couldn’t even hear the 18,000 screaming fans around them that were planning a party as soon as they lost their 4th game this series. It hit me- they didn’t see anything to discourage them and they didn’t hear anything to take them off of their mark.

Ok, get real- of course they saw Sportscenter, of course they’re on Twitter, of course they read the USA Today and heard that they were doomed to fail- that thought hit me around the 3rd quarter when they increased their lead over the team that was supposed to destroy them. Cleveland heard that they would lose, they saw that they were supposed to lose- they just didn’t believe that they were supposed to lose…and although they tried to give the game away in the 4th quarter and in overtime, they believed that they would win- they willed themselves to a win and win they did.

Here’s my point:

What if no one ever told you what you couldn’t do?

What if they wrote the bad press about you but you refused to read the bad press about you?

What if you tuned out the naysayers?

What if you believed what God says concerning you over what people say about you?

What if you listen more to the Spirit than you do to the peanut gallery?

What if you embrace that you are more than a conqueror?

What if you hear the garbage, see the garbage, read the garbage, study the garbage…and refuse to believe the garbage?

What if  you refuse to give up even when the lies are spread?

What if you keep shooting your jumper when Judas kisses you on the cheek?

What if you perfect your dribble when they turn the lights out in the gym?

What if you believe in yourself before you believe the false reports?

Would you win?

I am a witness that nothing closes a hater’s mouth quicker than winning. I hope you realize I’m not writing about a basketball game anymore. Full Fountain family member (all 11,245 of you). My prayer for you today is that you win. I don’t want you to read anything nasty about you- I don’t want you to hear anything nasty about you but even if you do- even if Judas whispers it just loud enough for you to hear it…don’t you dare believe it. You are who God says you are- you have what God says you have- you can do what God says you can do. Let’s covenant to believe and expect the great this week. We serve a God that can part a Red Sea. We serve a God that can shut a lion’s mouth. We serve a God that can give sight to the blind…he’s still in the blessing/bill paying/healing/comforting/forgiving/restoring/renewing business.

One hundred thousand “no’s” from man cannot compete with one “yes” from God.

If you’re in the Greater Abbeville Area, please join us for worship on the Sunday of your choice. I’m out of the pulpit this Sunday but my Sister, Candace A. Plaskett will bring a dynamic word in the Heart of Abbeville. Church School begins at 9:45, and Worship at 11:00 promptly.

Our Conference Call Bible Study will resume on Thursday June 18 at 12:30 and 7:00 PM via 888-625-8983 (toll free) We will study Judges 1-6.

I love you.

God’s Best be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Most Powerful Word In the World

I am a people pleaser. I admit it. I own it and I have finally begun to embrace it. It appears that most people who use labels, label folks as people pleasers as a back handed compliment or a put down but I’ve come to see the flip side of people pleasing now that I’m grown and all of my bills are paid. I used to endeavor to please all of the people, all of the time. I would want to hold on to the folks until my point was sufficiently made and everyone got what I was talking about and everyone fell in love with me and were all in line on the Sterling train…but now through my mature eyes, I understand that everyone is not going to buy what I’m selling, everyone is not going to eat what I’m cooking and everyone is not going to value what I value so I have evolved into a selective people pleaser. Now, I have the wonderful privilege of pleasing the people that please me. I’m good to everyone. I speak to everyone. I answer everyone’s call and everyone’s text and everyone’s inboxed message but I don’t aim to please everyone, I just aim to answer everyone…and here’s why…

I please the people that I want, when I want and the way that I want because God delivered me from an abusive relationship.

A relationship where they would call me with foolishness even when they knew I’d be sleeping.

A relationship where my health and well-being was placed at risk because of their own questionable choices.

A relationship where my voice was not heard, appreciated or respected.

A relationship where random, frequent, persistent dirty looks far greater than any curse word would be sent in my direction at any given time.

A relationship where genuine apologies only existed from me to them…respect was a one way street.

A relationship where I would walk away from conversations wondering why everyone else thinks I’m great except this person that I happen to be stuck in this relationship with.

A relationship where my time was not valued, their word was not honored and mutual respect did not exist.

God delivered me from an abusive relationship. My relationship was an abusive business relationship.

 I never had the abusive physical relationship where:

Your body was a toy instead of a temple.

Your face was a slapping stick instead of a shrine.

Your feelings were tampered with instead of treasured.

Your loyalty was compromised instead of celebrated.

Your feelings were hurt instead of honored.

You spent more time being threatened than being treated, more time being scared than being satisfied and more time in the make up position than in the make it right position.

I’ve only found myself in abusive business relationships but I’ve advised and counselled those in abusive physical relationships and I for one am glad that my Mother told me a long time ago when I was in college to “never treat my wife like she’s a prostitute.”

 I don’t remember how I entered the abusive business relationship but I remember clearly how I exited it. I was summoned to the office at the same time for the same reason and I knew full well that the 3:00 meeting wouldn’t start until 6 and I’d be frustrated and fuming because I’m a stickler for time and the same high levels of disrespect were shown, the same condescending tone was present, the same arrogance, the same nastiness and the same senseless mess. I kept my head down, answered all questions, fulfilled all obligations and went home. When my phone rung the next time, I interrupted my tormentor with two letters. Two letters flipped the script and saved my sanity. Two letters allowed my chains to fly off. Two letters were my Shawshank Redemption. Two letters gave me my free.

No, I can’t.
No, I won’t.
No, I’m not free.
No, I’m not able.
No, I'm sick of this.
No, I’m not interested.
No, I have feelings too.
No, I will not be marginalized.
No, I deserve better and I demand better.
No, you will give me some respect around this piece.
No, swapping my happiness for your happiness is an uneven exchange.

I told my personal jail-keeper NO!

 I approved my own parole.
 I wrote my own pardon.
 I granted my own clemency

…And I am free. Praise the Lord! I’m free. No longer bound! No more chains holding me!

What do you need to be free from today? Who is torturing you? Who is tormenting you? Who is holding the real you hostage? My prayer for you today is the same prayer I prayed last night right after I wrote this- that God grant you the wisdom and courage to tell them NO…and if they don’t accept your NO…then I pray that you will find a stronger adjective to place in front of your NO…and then you will hold your NO even when they try to turn it into a "yes". I am praying for you that you continue to ease on down the road that God has set forth for you.

I love you.

Join me for Bible Study any Thursday at either 12:30 or 7:00 888-628-8983 (toll free)

God’s Best be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling
Pastor, Historic St. James A.M.E. Church

The Heart of Abbeville