Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Slick Church Folk

Slick church folk they’re still around.

You have to deal with them. I have to deal with them. And, yes, Jesus had to deal with them.

I’ve often say ‘there is always somebody in the congregation that the devil can use.’ Whether a believer or a non-believer, there is somebody who’s willing to play the devils hand.

Some people do it knowingly. Others are deceived into action. Satan knows who’s vulnerable and who’s willing. He knows those who will throw a rock and hide their hand. He knows the slick church folk that are still around.

And just as the devil would use them today to sow seeds discord among church members, he used them to challenge, test, and confront Jesus Christ. Thus we should not be surprised.

We’ve all heard of the scribes and Pharisees, church folk, who were bent on destroying Jesus Christ.

Any opportunity to slyly berate the Master, methodically destroy Him in the eyes of the common people, or belittle His mission, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees leaped at the chance.

One day a grand opportunity presented itself when the scribes and the Pharisees caught a woman in the very act of adultery (John 8:1-11). And according to the law, it was a sinful act clearly deserving the death sentence.

To entrap Jesus the woman was brought to Him. And it was asked of Him, what should be done to the woman. Jesus confronters knew the law required that she be stone to death. They said: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (v. 4-5).

Caring nothing for the disgraced woman, scribes and the Pharisees central motive was to serve charges against Jesus that He might be put to death. Understanding their motive, Jesus carefully unmasks the scribes and the Pharisees that they and all who looked on would see them for what they were, slick church folk.

Instead of an immediate answer to their inquiry, Jesus stooped down and began writing on the ground. Much has been said about the marks in the dirt. It is believe that the writings enumerated the sins of those accusing the woman. Thus revealing the dirt that marred their souls (v. 6).

To this we are not sure but whatever the case, as Jesus continued to write on the ground, the woman’s accusers continued to press Him for an answer (v. 7a).

Finally, Jesus gave them what they want. He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground” (vv. 7b-8).

With those words ringing in their ears and being convicted of the deceit and treachery to which they approached Jesus, the scribes and the Pharisees shamefully departed from the presence of Jesus and the woman (v. 9).

Bringing matters to a dramatic conclusion, the woman departed forgiven as Jesus said to her, “Go, and sin no more.” And those who claim to know and serve the God of Israel departed condemned.

Slick, shrewd, and deceitful should not describe believers. For God has called us to a higher calling. But, like the church members of Jesus’ day, we, sometimes, deceive ourselves when we believe we can deceive God.

Remember God knows us through and through. He knows His sheep. And he knows the wolves in sheep’s clothing. The shrewdness of the wicked is never a match for the wisdom of the Master. 

 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Artwork by Dr. Talley: "Untitled" Graphite on paper 11x14

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What is Heaven Like?

At one time in my life I did not wonder much about heaven.

But I’ve always believed in my heart that heaven is real; and that I have relatives and friends who now reside there.

I have a father, who I never knew; he died when I was too young to know myself. Yet I believe he is in heaven.

I also have a brother, sister, and mother or on the other side. I reflect on them now because my sister was born in March. She was just a year older than me. And my mother, MaDea, went to be with the Lord three years ago this month.

Because of them heaven is dearer to me than ever before.

Rev. J. R. Battle, a longtime member of this community, who is well into his 90’s and convalescing in Navasota once, said to me, “I know more folks in heaven than I do on earth.” What a revealing thought.

But, what is heaven like? If we are looking forward to heaven being our eternal home and gathering with love ones, just what do we have to look forward to?

There are many questions people ask about heaven that are not addressed in Scripture. I can, however, say, it is a real place as testified to in Scripture. It is a prepared place, an exalted state, far above anything we could possibly imagine.

Jesus Christ spoke of our future home when He said: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).

Heaven, therefore, is a prepared place where we will enjoy the eternal presence of Jesus. You may want to stop and shout right here. Just knowing that we will forever be in the presence of God the Son and God the Father is a foretaste of heaven.

Instead of shouting I’ll just allow the songwriter to express my sentiments: “O I want to see Him, look upon his face, There to sing forever of His saving grace; On the streets of Glory let me lift my voice; Cares all past, home at last, ever to rejoice.”

In heaven believers will enjoy eternal fellowship in Christ’s company in the Father’s house (John 14:2). Drawn from the imagery of Jewish life, when a son took on a wife an apartment was added to the father’s house, and the son and his new bride took up residence in the father’s house where there is continued fellowship.

Another view of heaven is the banquet scene. “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11).

Who does not enjoy a banquet? The banquet scene to which Christ’s speaks will be one of fellowship, relaxation, joy, happiness, and peace in the presence of the Lord. The great party in the sky will be emceed by Jesus Himself. What a halleluiah time we going to have in heaven with love ones, other believers, and our Lord.

Further, the eternal dwelling place for us will be the new heaven and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17). The renovated heaven and earth will be a thing of beauty; just as God intended in the beginning. Read it for yourself as presented by John in Revelation 21:1-22:5.

In the very presence of God there will be a number that no man can number whose robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Finally, in Hebrews 12:22-24, the writer identifies the inhabitants of heaven, the New Jerusalem, as the angels, New Testament believers, Old Testament believers, and Jesus. In the New Jerusalem we will experience the Shekinah of God that will illuminate the holy city and above all, God will dwell in fellowship with man (Rev. 21:22-23).

As I have said, many of my friends and family members are already in the presence of the Lord as is many of yours. They are patiently waiting the consummation of the ages and the completion of God’s plan among men. They are where we are still striving to be.

This prepared place designed for prepared people awaits us all. Let us not disappoint ourselves, our friends, family members, or the Lord. Let us be ready when the saints go marching in; into the banquet hall, into fellowship everlasting, into the very presence of God.

What is heaven like? We shall see.
Artwork by Dr. Talley: "I'll Fly Away" Acrylics on Canvas, 16x20

Monday, March 16, 2009

Through Faith Our Prayers Are Answered

The woman had a problem. It was a health problem.

It was an ongoing health problem: a problem which over the past twelve years, still lingered.

She had done all she could. Doctors were visited. Specialists were consulted. Yet no cure had been found and no relief was in sight.

As a matter of fact, over the years things had gotten worse. What was she to do? What can any of us do when faced with a chronic illness?

You’ve done all you can do. Whether your problem is physical, fiscal, relational, or mental you have sort out professional help but to no avail. Proven and unproven methods have left you right where you started.

Well, the woman of whom I’m speaking, and whose story is recorded in Mark 5:25-34, suddenly heard of a source of help that could, in her mind, solve her problem.

Too often though we try everything and everyone before we resign to the fact that it’s going to take someone far more qualified than mere man.

“When she had heard of Jesus” as verse 27 records, this unnamed woman was determined to act on what she had heard.

Had she heard that Jesus was able to heal the sick and even raise the dead? Had she learned that there was something radically different about this particular Rabbi? Had she heard that this Jesus cared for the underprivileged, the downtrodden, and the dispossessed?

What she heard caused her to say in her heart: “All I need to do is get close enough to touch the hem of His garment and from there everything will be alright” (v. 28). And upon doing so, just as she believed, at that very moment, she received her healing (v. 29).

Remember God is always able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He can do for us what friends, relatives, or even preachers cannot do.

But have we heard that He can; and have we made any effort to act on such knowledge.

God has the solutions to all of our problems. No problem is too big for Him. As a matter of fact, He knows all about our problems before we set them before Him. He can stimulate our personal economies. He can counter inflation, remove recessions, and erase unemployment or any other personal blight.

But we must act and we must ask. Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be open. God is always available and willing to do His part.

The unnamed women could have, after 12 years of suffering, given up. That she did not do. She pressed her way to Jesus and received her healing.

When we press our way Jesus believing He is well able to do abundantly more than we can imagine or conceive of, the Lord has to respond to our faith. Jesus said, speaking of His encounter with the woman in the midst of a vast crowd, “Somebody touched me.”

This tells me that everybody who inquires of God is not getting an answer because the faith needed, to tap into His power, is lacking.

The woman’s touch and our requests that are made in faith are always answered. As the woman touch the hem of the Lord’s garment, we can, through prayer, touch the heart of the Master when we go to Him in faith.

Listen to what Jesus said as He responded to the woman’s touch of faith: He exclaimed, “Who touched my clothes?”

When our faith filled prayers reaches the ears of Jesus, He has to ask, “Who prayed that prayer” (Acts 16:25-29).

Like the woman, God wants us to know, through faith, our prayers are answered. And now we, too, can, “Go in peace.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Be Prepared for Life’s Defining Moments

Life is filled with defining moments. We all have them: moments that can makes us, break us, or wisely shape us.

Defining moments, there have been in my life. Some were wrought with happiness and sadness; while others have left me inspired, anxious, and even in doubt.

Graduating from college in the early and mid-seventies, I was inspired, anxious, and doubtful. At the birth of my children, I was overwhelmed with joy. When death claimed my mother sadness mingled with joy shaped my world.

Yes, in my life, there have been many defining moments. And this week, I looked back on three of them: first, God’s clarion call for me to preach; second, my acceptance of the call; and third, the preaching of my first sermon.

The first event occurred some 27 years ago, the second some months later, and the third took place 25 years ago on the first Sunday in March 1984: what memorable times.

To have God speak to me in such a clear and convincing way urging me to declare His gospel was truly a defining moment. I would hope it is a defining moment for any truly called-and-sent preacher.

But like Moses, Jeremiah, and others I made excuses as to why I was not the person in whom God sought. And as a result of doing so, it was two years after my initial call before I would grace the pulpit. That pulpit, of course, was in none other than the Mount Corinth Missionary Baptist Church, here in Hempstead, TX.

Since God’s call and my response, I have occasionally ask, why me Lord? Hoping for something definitive, the only solitary answer I received from the Lord has been, “Why not you?”

I now understand that my calling was determined and defined by God in a moment of time that was pleasing and perfect to Him. He mysteriously moved: equipping me, shaping me, and making me ever-so available for His use. I thank God for invading time and challenging me to respond to His grace and His mercy.

Defining moments in my life, have taught me that they are ultimately defined by how we respond. I’ve also learned, belief in God, love for Him, and obedience to His will are paramount in our response to moments that define life.

Consequently, God has left us with examples, defining moments in the lives of others: how they responded and the impending results.

In a defining moment, Eve “took the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

In a defining moment, Moses declares: “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.”

In a defining moment, Mordecai reminds Ruth of her role in the mysterious providential care of God for His people. Mordecai asked: “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

In a defining moment, Isaiah answered God’s call, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me.”
In a defining moment, Saul, bent on the destruction of Christians, answered God’s inquiry: “Lord what would you have me to do?”

In a defining moment, Peter was challenged with the penetrating question of the resurrected Savior, “Peter do you love me? Peter sorrowfully answered: “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you.”

In a defining moment, the thief on the cross at Calvary, recognized Jesus as an innocent man and said unto Him: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

In a defining moment, before the foundation of the earth was laid, Jesus Christ was slain. In eternity past, He determined to die for the sins of the world.

Jesus Christ’ death, burial, and resurrection are defining moments unlike any others in the history of man. They are meant to reconcile and provide a way for sinful man to return to the Father. What shall be your response?

Photo: Dr. Talley, guest speaker, Bethlehem United Methodist Church, Hempstead, TX

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nobody Knows

Except for the arrival of the first Africans, we came to this country as no other; we were brought against our will. We were brought here into an abusive system of man’s inhumanity to man.

The Spiritual “Nobody Knows” also known as “Nobody Knows de trouble I’ve Seen” sheds light on the Africans’ insight to the troubles surrounding his plight and who it was that truly understood his condition.

The Africans’ troubles did not begin in the unfamiliar abode of the New World as many might believe; they began back in their homeland—Africa. There, Africans captured and enslaved one another. However, their system of slavery was not the cruel one they would come to experience in North America.

With demands for cheap labor in the New World, human bondage was thought to be the best solution. Europeans and Indians were first experimented with, but it was the African whose physical appearance, seemingly never-ending numbers, and station in life made him the likely choice.

Therefore, further conflict among African tribes and villages were encouraged by outsiders. And by providing tribal leaders with weapons, rum, and other goods, it guaranteed continued conflict and a never-ending stream of human labor. Those captured were made to journey to the coastline of West Africa. From the interior of Africa, some traveled 500 miles to the coastline. Upon arriving, they were held at forts while awaiting slave ships headed to the New World and the Indies.

To tell the story of the African’s journey, his troubles, and his hardships, ground breaking television epics such as Roots and more recent made for television movies such as Amistad, The Middle Passage, and HBO’s Slave Narratives have been made.

Without a doubt, the African-American story is being told on a grander scale. Scholarly research has lifted, to some degree, the veil of darkness and forced corrections and rewrites of the African-American plight. In doing so, the world has gained deeper insight into the true and significant foundational contributions of an important segment of society.

In all of this, however, I must confess, as the spiritual suggest, that I don’t really know, nor do I fully understand, the depths of the horror and hardships early Africans endured. Yes, year after year, I celebrate. And year after year, I am further enlightened, challenged, and deeply amazed.

The literary genius behind “Nobody Knows” knew full well that other men would find it hard to identify completely with his plight. As a result, the writer acknowledges the only person he knows who fully understands.

He pens, “Oh! Nobody Knows the trouble I’ve seen, Nobody knows but Jesus; Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! Verse one resounds, “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, Oh yes Lord! Sometimes I’m almost to the ground, Oh, yes, Lord!......Oh!

Nobody knows the true horrors of being snatched from their village, put in holding pens, and then confined to coffin size space in slave ships; ships that then made the six to ten week voyage across the Atlantic.

Nobody knows the horrors of the chains, the seemingly endless sea voyage to God knows where. And while en route being nibbled on by rats while schools of sharks followed sensing a forthcoming meal.

Nobody knows the shame of the auction block, the separation of families, and the complete termination of personhood.

Nobody knows what it means to work from sun up to sun down with no hope for the future. Nobody knows what it means to have no rights.

Nobody knows what it means not to be able to go where one pleases. Nobody knows.

The songwriter passionately declares “Nobody knows! Nobody knows! Nobody knows but Jesus.” To the slave, Jesus was the answer: the intimate friend; the One who truly understands. Nobody knows but Jesus.

But Jesus; He is hope in a hopeless situation. But Jesus; He is help in horrible conditions. But Jesus; He is our hand of protection against the perverted and polluted practices of men.

“Oh! Nobody Knows the trouble I’ve seen, Nobody knows but Jesus; Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!”

Artwork by Dr. Talley: a Type-C Print taken in a small village in West Africa

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why We Must Change America Now

     The national theme for Black History Month 2009 as submitted by the NAACP is “The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas.” The NAACP has for 100 years been at the forefront of the fight against injustice and unequal rights for people of color. Every year the NAACP set before us, the American people and the world, a theme which stimulates the intellect and challenges everyone to examine race relations and progress. 

In conjunction with the national theme, HBCU’s have been celebrating under the umbrella of Black Empowerment in the Americas: Be the Change”.

With that theme in mind, I would like to briefly revisit some comments I made while addressing the MLK Holiday. Emphasis, during that occasion, was placed on the word “change”: the buzz word for the 2008 presidential election. I ventured to ask three basic questions. One, what we must change? Two, why we must change? And three, when we must change?

First, what we must change? We must change ourselves. It is, I believe, impossible to change the condition of our world and those who inhabit it until we deal with “self.” Before we attempt to change the exterior, we must change the interior. In other words, before we look outward to change the world, we must look inward. Jesus Christ warned us about being anxious to remove the mote from your brother’s eye and ignore the beam in one’s own.

Changing the world is a little easier when we ourselves have changed. If we do not change ourselves, then, we cannot change the world.

If America, the big brother of the world, seeks to influence other nations politically, economically, and socially then America must first be the finest example of what is possible. America must change internally to be the best example externally.

Change, however, cannot be achieved apart from God. He has to be in the scenario. It is, “He who has made us and not we ourselves.” As a result, the Lord knows better than we do the kind of change we need individually and collectively to make this world a better place. 

Second, why we must change? We must change because we are slowly destroying ourselves, our families, and others. We must change because ultimately what’s at stake is the brotherhood of mankind.

Furthermore, we must change because recent evidence of greed, which can no longer be concealed by pseudo business practice, has brought this nation to its economic knees. Substance abuse, criminal insurgence, hate crimes, violence in our homes, schools, on our jobs, and in our streets all indicate, we are a nation in need of change.

Our court systems are burdened down. Our jails, prisons, and detention centers are so crowded that the idea of releasing the incarcerated is viewed as the best plan of action.

In the African-American community black on black crime, fatherless and single parent households, unemployment, and drugs have decimated many of our neighborhoods.

Living “a thug-life” combined with having a “doing unto others before they do unto you” mentality have many of our young people perishing as fools rather than living together as brothers. We as individuals, as a people, as a nation must change.

All together we have strayed into the far country: both morally and spiritually. And altogether we must find our way back to the ancient landmark that has made us a great nation. Until then, America is of no good to any other nation. She is, as Jesus has said, no more than “the blind leading the blind.” Hence, we must change.

Third, we must change and we must change now. Change was the catalyst that propelled the first African-American into the Presidency of the United States.

The American people did not want the same-old-thing, business-as-usual. The American people wanted change; and they wanted it, Now! Waiting was no longer an option.

This Black History Month know that black empowerment will not automatically happen. We must “be the change” to make it happen.

Subsequently, we cannot and we must not wait. Tomorrow is not promised. We cannot and we must not wait because there are deadly consequences. We cannot and we must not wait because a great deal of work is yet to be done.

People are still being judged by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character. Therefore, we must not wait. We must “be the change.”

We must bridge the gaps that have long since divide people politically, economically, and socially. We must “be the change.”

Now is the time not just for African-Americans; but for all Americans to work more earnestly toward the empowerment of all people.

This can be achieved. We can make this world a better place. But first we must “be the change.”

Artwork above Martin L. King, Jr.: Sacrifice by Dr. Talley, Mix Media Beads

"The NAACP (1909-2009): The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas." 
To pay tribute to the centennial of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University will host an art exhibition titled "The NAACP (1909-2009): The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas."

Beginning Sunday, Feb. 8, at 3 p.m., the exhibit will feature images from the National Alliance of Artists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (NAAHBCU), and will be on display through May 11 at the
National Center, 1345 Carter Hill Road.

According to Gwen Boyd, staff associate for the
National Center, the exhibition of original paintings and sculptures features 24 artists of the NAAHBCU and their interpretations of "The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas" through secondary themes such as voting rights, patriotism, migration and education.

"The exhibit focuses on well-known and little-known civil rights leaders and events in American history," Boyd said. "The NAAHBCU presents a visual history that recognizes and honors the breadth and depth of courage, perseverance and sacrifice endured by generations of African-Americans."

Participating artists, all former or present teachers at historically black colleges and universities, include: Dr. Art Bacon, Talladega, Ala.; William Brooks, Greensboro, N.C.; Ricky Calloway, Warner Robbins, Ga.; Robert Carter, Dix Hills, N.Y.; Dr. William Colvin, Fairfield, Ala.; Willis "Bing" Davis, Dayton, Ohio; Addie Dawson-Euba, Baton Rouge, La.; Louis Delsarte, Atlanta, Ga.; Phillip R. Dotson, Memphis, Tenn.; Dr. Brenda Faison, Greensboro, N.C.; John Feagin, Montgomery, Ala.; James L. Griffin, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Dr. Terry K. Hunter, Orangeburg, S.C.; Ann "Sole Sister" Johnson, Houston, Texas; Ronald B. Kennedy, Baton Rouge, La; Hasaan Kirkland, Charlotte, N.C.; Tracey L. Moore, Houston, Texas; Joseph A. Pearson, Alexandria, La.; Dr. Lee Ransaw, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Dr. Clarence Talley Sr., Prairie View, Texas; Leo Twiggs, Orangeburg, S.C.; Cleve Webber, Montgomery, Ala.; and Dennis Winston, Mechanicsville, Va.

The mission of the NAAHBCU is to bring art and art education to the forefront of member institutions and to keep these programs as institutional priorities for generations to come. The alliance is committed to developing in its members - and especially students - the artistic and life skills needed to function as literate citizens in society.

The NAAHBCU also exists to provide comprehensive activities that offer artistic and expressive opportunities for professional artists employed or formerly employed at member institutions as well as for historians and curators, collectors and friends of the arts. 

The artwork above is title "Nevertheless, America" a mix media work by Dr. Talley