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.

And

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...

Then

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 take...so 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 frustrated...my 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 me...it 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 distress...my 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

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Tragedy of Lost Opportunity


We can be anything that we want to and work hard enough to be. We can do anything that we apply our minds to do. We can go anywhere that we can save the resources and have the capacity to travel to. We can love whomever we decide to love provided they love us back and we can worship wherever we want to worship. The walls have been torn down and now we can be universal. We can Facetime Finland, Skype Swaziland, Tweet Taiwan and Instagram India. We can be, we can do, we can go, we can love, we can visit, we can communicate with who we want, when we want in the mode and medium that we want to when we want to- and that- that freedom-that’s our problem.

Boxes are simple because boxes are easy to be explained and rationalized. Rewind time 200 years and if your Christian name is Baker, then you know you have a lifetime of pastry making ahead of you. If your last name was Preacher or Bishop then you knew where you would be on Sunday morning. If you lived your life as a Carpenter, a Cooper or a (black) Smith then you learned your trade, embraced your trade and mastered your trade so you could keep your family name good. When we live inside boxes our roles are clearly defined- we know that we can shop on the East side of town and dine on the South side of town but we know better than to venture onto the North side for anything because box dwellers just don’t do that. Box dwellers are accustomed to following the ways and mores of society. They have more than 10 statements that start with Thou shalt not this and thou shalt not that- they love restrictions-be home by 7, wake up at 6, settle down after college, have a baby 2.3 years afterwards, then the second 1.6 years thereafter. Box dwellers don’t rock the boat. Box dwellers don’t tip the boat over. If I’m telling the truth, box dwellers don’t even go to the shore unless it’s in their acceptable travel zone- and if it is, they won’t rent the boat until they see the safety records…and put on 3 life vests…and a shower cap…and goggles….and anything else that will sufficiently consume all of the enjoyment out of the experience.

You and I are children of opportunity.  We live in houses with carpeted and hardwood floors- no cardboard in sight. We are writing and living history (at the same, same time). We collect degrees like we used to collect baseball cards. We are credentialed and certified and licensed- we are bona fide and we are verified. There are no walls to restrict us and if such a wall did exist, we would just call our people to deal with their people and hire a contractor to bust the wall up the same way they busted our boxes up. We have in front of us doors that don’t even have hinges on them- our passage through them is sure and assured. Our smart phones remind us to conquer this hamlet today, the other town tomorrow and we have scheduled our way towards world domination. We are power individuals and then we marry and become power couples, we join power fraternal organizations, tithe at  power churches then we take power naps because we can’t sleep as sleep is a sign of weakness and the powerful can’t wear the clothing of the weak…

Then you and I, we waste opportunities, don’t we? You and I have all of the opportunity, we have the banquet set in front of us- the world is our oyster and it’s offering its pearl to us but before we can snatch victory from defeat, we look up and behold 3 red dots on the store and stop in for a package, or we take two pain pills from a surgery 3 years ago just to ease the burden of being perfect, or we call in sick when we feel fine or we look in the mirror and do not like what we see- even when everyone else does. The problem with opportunity is what happens when you waste it? What happens when you know how to do better but you don’t do better? What happens when you think you’re focused, you think you’ve got things together, you think you’re accomplished, you view yourself as a good spouse, a good Christian, a role model, an upstanding member of society, until you get that text from that person. What happens when you’re doing well with your life until you find out that your enemy knows what you did last summer? Really, really, really...what do you do when all of the good that you know and love abandons you as soon as that white pant suit with the red highlights in her hair and the taupe pumps sits at the table right next to/behind you and causes you to forget what your name is?

We live in the land of opportunity but this land moves so fast that sometimes we only get one shot to seize that opportunity and if we don’t, before we know it, we wake up with only a memory of the opportunity and our speech which is normally finely tuned now only consists of 3 phrases- woulda, coulda and shoulda. The question then becomes how do we seize control of our chance when we have it? How do we catch lightning in a bottle? How do we prevent ourselves from waking up with the spirit of regret?

Live.

God gave us a life, this life. We have no do-overs. There is no reset button but there is indeed a power off button and before it is that we power off, we are invited to live.

Fall in love with God.

Stay in love with yourself.

Love the one God gave you.

Break generational chains of addiction, disease and insecurity.

Be a good steward over what you have. (Live within your means)

Admire beauty.

Be content. There is a reason God didn’t give you more.

Smell the roses- then send someone flowers to make their day as well.

Look yourself in the eye every day and strive to be proud of the person looking back at you.

Pray.

Tithe.

Worship.

Embrace the art of the possible.

Never give up on your dreams.

Never give up on yourself.

I love you and the Heart of Abbeville always welcomes  you.

Bible Study on Thursdays at 12:30 and 7:00 Toll Free 888-628-8983.

Church School at 9:45

Worship at 11:00

203 Henry M. Turner St.*Abbeville, SC* 29620




God’s Best Be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling


Monday, March 30, 2015

Let's Hear it for the Girls!


I left the office at 4:00 on Friday afternoon to drive up to Fountain Inn to rehearse for a Saturday wedding. We were travelling with our 6 pound dog and couldn’t stop at a restaurant to watch the game so Erica and I were frantically searching back and forth on Upstate radio, Satellite radio and Tune In Radio for the Sweet 16 game between the Lady Gamecocks of USC and the Lady Tarheels of North Carolina. We settled for the ESPN site that provided a game tracker experience for her to follow her alma mater’s team. We made it to Mom’s house at halftime and suddenly another crisis appeared: Mom was watching last  night’s scandal on the 50 inch TV in the living room and we were relegated to the (seemingly) 8 inch set in the kitchen…beggars can’t be choosers huh?

The game wound down and I felt a strange phenomena- one that I wasn’t familiar with- for the first time ever… I didn’t want South Carolina to lose…now the Clemson fan in me certainly didn’t want them to win either but I really didn’t want them to lose- it just felt like I was doing wrong when I was rooting against the girls.

 Gentlemen are wanted. Gentlemen are needed. Gentlemen are in short supply and we need a few more gentlemen to root for the girls not only when they are playing on TV but in their daily lives.

Our girls and our ladies are objectified- they are viewed by many as nothing more than meal makers and pleasure providers- let’s root for the girls!

Our girls and our ladies are just as talented as anyone else are but they are still overlooked and underpaid on the open market- let’s root for the girls!

Our girls and our ladies continue to make a dollar out of 15 cents- let’s root for the girls!

Our girls face societal pressures and are called out of their name, disrespected and degraded without a second thought- let’s root for the girls!

Our girls and our ladies are filling dual roles- playing both Mother and Father in many instances and never open their mouths to complain- let’s root for the girls!

It very well may be that you don’t have an opinion on who wins the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. The phrases “Final Four”, “Regional Final and “Elite Eight” may fly very far over your head and that’s perfectly acceptable- but I bet that you know a girl that stands in the need of encouragement. Can you find time in your schedule to root for her? Will you tell her she looks nice today? Will you compliment her hairstyle or her smile or her eyes? Take a moment to tell her that her dinner was delicious or her style is spectacular or that coral is her color.

I’m asking you to take 10 seconds and make a lady in your life smile today.

Root for the girls, cheer for the girls- pull for the girls and we have no idea what type of champion that they can become.



Contrary to popular belief- girls don’t rule the world- Jesus rules the world…but I firmly believe that girls are a close second.

God’s Best be with you always,


Rev. Sterling J. Dowling