Thursday, March 26, 2015

Go Sit Down Somewhere!

It means something in my world when you stand with someone or for someone. Standing with and behind someone indicates support, agreement and consent. When I got married, I didn’t have anyone standing behind me that I did not love, respect and trust. Early in my ministry, I was asked to be a character witness for a young man accused of burglary. I testified for him and organized a few other church folks to come as well and when it was time for the sentence to be read- he stood, I stood and all of the church folk stood as a symbolic gesture that if you give him time, you’re giving all of us time too because we are with him (thank God he got probation and my record stayed clean.) African Methodists have a wonderful ritual at the final quarterly conference of the year. The Presiding Elder has a delay at the conclusion of the business session and normally doesn’t say what they are asking for but as they scan the congregation, they’re really looking for someone- anyone to stand and formally request the Pastor be returned to the church. At the Annual Conference, members travel to the seat of the meeting and some wait all day just to stand with the Pastor as the annual report for the local church is presented. We stand to be counted in caucuses. We stand to affirm our faith. We stand to honor great men and women when they enter rooms. We stand when we agree. We stand when we are inspired. We stand when we are filled and touched and motivated.

There is a young man whose name I’m familiar with but I refuse to call, who starred in an infamous viral video of a disgusting chant where he vociferously and repeatedly proclaimed that there would “never be a nigger in SAE.” There was no outrage on the bus when it was chanted, there was no rebuke from his fraternity members or corrective action taken on the bus and we can safely assume that if the individual who filmed this had chosen not to publish this, then the young man who chanted his ignorance would be in class…at the University of Oklahoma…right now. The chant was not blog-worthy- neither was the swift and appropriate response from the University. I was happy to see that a hip hop artist decided to cancel his event there but I’m never going to use this space to write something just to write something. I considered the matter closed in my mind until I saw this picture on my phone this morning…

Help me please…why in the wide world of sports (not the phrase I want to use) are these ebony individuals of stature standing behind this young man of limited vocabulary?

I am prayerfully looking for the day where the African-American church and our community organizations are no longer used as caricatures and pawns that are marginalized, ridiculed and ignored by the majority culture…until we can serve as a “get out of jail free” image booster card for them. What support does the Oklahoma Black Caucus chairperson have to offer this guy? Why would any self-respecting Pastor take 2 seconds away from their parish to stand and be photographed with this clown? What is the long-term benefit of this for the community that you represent Mr. Urban Leaguer- Mr. Rainbow Coalition representer? Is 30 seconds of your face on MSNBC worth supporting an adolescent whose apology wasn’t even an apology- did you notice that he didn’t even answer the one question that everyone wanted him to answer of “Who taught you that chant in the first place?” He didn’t sell out his people with his apology but you misrepresented your people with your presence!

Do you want to know why our institutions are no longer respected to the degree that they once were? Would you like a theory to explain why people roll their eyes when Sharpton, Jesse and Farrakhan hit the screen? Perhaps the reason that our problems are getting bigger and our marches are getting smaller is that we are too busy mugging for someone’s camera- we’re too busy scratching where we don’t itch and laughing when there’s nothing funny. The folks who stood behind the young man said that they weren’t going to throw him away and would continue to work with him in the future…I’m sorry, is there a bigot rehab program? Did Donald Sterling graduate? Paula Deen? Michael Richards? We all know that George Zimmerman dropped out but where is this place and how do we enroll some of the hate spewing thugs in our lives?

There is a passage of scripture in the 8th Chapter of the book of Acts where Peter rebukes Simon the sorcerer and tells him to have his money perish with him because he thought he could buy the gift of God with money. You know and I know that some check was written somewhere for these appearances on yesterday. There must be a few things that just aren’t for sale- our dignity is one of them. I wish he had called one of my mentors with this foolishness- we would have given him a chant all right- his tune may have changed slightly…

There will never be a nigger in SAE…
And I can’t find one person of color to stand with me…

Stand for Something or Fall for Anything,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Monday, March 23, 2015

How I Found My Heart...A Love Letter to Abbeville


Dear Abbeville,

       The first best friend that I ever knew was a brilliant Nigerian named Eyitayo Onifade- we called him Tayo for short. Tayo and I were freshmen roommates at Morehouse College Atlanta, GA and one day we were on the train going to either the mall or the movies and I was complaining about one of the brothers on campus and I distinctly remember that he cut me off- shot me a stone cold look and changed my life with these words..."Sterling, your problem is that you want everyone to like you- if people like you then you're happy and if they don't like you, then you go all the way out of your way to make them like you...Tayo I don't give a hoot (he didn't say hoot) if people like me or not." Tayo taught me that day about myself when he read me on those plastic seats the valuable lesson that I had to immediately stop worrying about the way people responded to me and simply be the best, organic, unique, original me that I could be. I began making adjustments in my life from that day up to and including transferring home to South Carolina State University when I determined taking care of my Great-Grandmother with Alzheimers was more important than the prestige that a degree from the 'House would afford me.

       I moved home and was thrust into a continual call on my life to preach the Gospel. I wanted to serve my community as a civil rights attorney and all I could think of, focus on and daydream about was the relatively pauper life of a preacher. I preached my initial sermon at the age of 20 and the worst thing in the world happened...everyone loved it! I was preaching across the state of South Carolina and 20 would be saved one night, 17 the next night, as many as 40 at a time would give their heart to Jesus. Ministry was exploding and in just 3 short years, I looked up and saw that I had preached in each of the six annual conferences in South Carolina- from the mountains to the ocean. 

     God blessed me with my first church in 2004. I went to Anderson as a 24 year old idealist and when I saw 12 people in the pews the first Sunday of December, I quietly told myself that I was going to fail and even considered (for 5 minutes) not returning the 2nd Sunday. Then another tragedy occured...the church exploded with growth- folks started coming from everywhere- ministries were born, choirs were formed- souls were saved- love was clear and present and real...and the reason that it was a tragedy is that I got lazy, I became complacent and I stopped praying.

***Ok, Abbeville I'm pausing in the letter now- this is your Pastor speaking. Can you join me in admitting that sometimes conditions in your life have caused you to stray away from praying? Sometimes we don't only refuse to pray when things are real bad but sometimes we stop praying when things are real good- we stop praying when God is being so good that somehow we fool ourselves into thinking that we are performing what God is actually doing- what a recipe for a disaster! I'm man enough to admit that I served the church on auto-pilot for a year or so- I knew when I stood up what was going to be said, when it was going to be said and how it was going to be done before it was going to be done and while I loved the people- while I consider the members of Fairview family to this day, because of my faulty prayer life, although the church's money was right, the membership was right and the Spirit was right, I was playing with fire because I wasn't seeking God's face enough.***

(letter resumes below)

      My Bishop saw fit to assign me to Abbeville in October and when I was called into the back room on my first Sunday to see several stone faced Stewards, it was clear that my life had changed- I bet I prayed then! I walked upstairs to see more purple pews than peopled pews and I prayed some more. I saw a few documents reserved for my eyes only and they caused me to pray in tongues. I prayed driving home- the first 2 months, I did two things driving home: cried as a result of my grief of leaving Fairview and prayed for God's hand to move in and on St. James. I am convinced as I've seen God work not only in St. James but in the membership of St. James and I can see through my faith eye what God will do for Abbeville through St. James- I am convinced that God knows what he is doing...and in order for me to know what I need to be doing, I need to pray and pray without ceasing.

     Dear Abbeville, I found my heart when I was on my knees- now le'ts do something radical for the kingdom- let's transform St. James into the Heart of Abbeville. I don't believe St. James is purposed to grow with recycled members from other churches that may be disgruntled at the moment but I believe that there are enough unsaved, un-churched, un-reached sisters and brothers in Abbeville that will fill both levels of our sanctuary...and I believe we can win them for Christ. Abbeville, join me in knocking on doors, making phone calls, texting, inboxing, emailing and conference calling to let our friends know that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. Let's make God proud of us...let's put thugs on pews next to teachers and gangsters on the same row as gardeners and hoodlums next to health care workers- let's bring Abbeville under one roof and see what happens when all of God's children get together. I believe that the end result just may be called the church.

God's Best Be With You Always,



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

You Gone Learn Today...Easter for the Thug in Your Life

I used to think thugs were cool. I used to think that they were funny…and stylish…and ahead of their time. I never wanted to be a thug but I am man enough to admit a healthy amount of appreciation for them when they would show up in a car much nicer than mine, wearing clothes that were exempted from the coupons that I used and paying for their purchases with a much larger wad of bills than I owned. I used to think thugs were cool. I used to admire their swag, their language and their quick wit. I allowed myself to experience thug culture and shot hoops with thugs, played dominoes and spades with thugs and rode thugs around in my car once or twice- I used to admire thugs…then I grew up.

I grew up, I got a job…then I got another job, I got married, got a mortgage then I really started having a problem with thugs. Growing up mentally, emotionally and spiritually does something to you- it provides you with a standard and the standard that maturity gives you changes you whether you like it or not. The standard haunts men (it doesn’t affect thugs) but it literally scares the devil out of grown behind men. The standard says “take care of your family”, the standard says “go straight home”, the standard says “love your wife even when you don’t like your wife”, the standard says “your wife doesn’t pump her own gas”, the standard says “your wife doesn’t touch garbage”, the standard says “your wife doesn’t open her own doors or kill her own bugs or buy her own medicine when she's not feeling well”. The standard doesn’t change when we’re sick- the standard doesn’t change when we’re at work- the standard doesn’t change when we’re tired- the standard doesn’t change because the standard can’t change- that’s why it’s a standard- you step up to meet it but the standard will never bow down to meet you.

Thugs laugh hysterically at our standard- they sit in cars while their women pump gas, they ride around all day while their women work to pay bills that they run up- their values, motives and ambitions are different. Thugs grab themselves when I walk by and ask “hey Mr. Preacher man, what’s the good word Rev?” Well, Mr. Thug are you reading? Take out a pen- you may need it.

There are many plots and sub-plots of the Passion story of Jesus- many twists of betrayal and dishonesty and abandonment and pain and suffering but recently I’ve been viewing an event of the cross as Jesus’ direct message to the thug(s) in our lives.

Jesus is on the cross between two political revolutionaries. Jesus is on the cross between two terrorists- two men who killed to advance an ideology- two men who were so self-centered that they didn’t care that they made other men’s wives into widows and they didn’t shy away from turning children into orphans. Jesus is on the cross between FBI most wanted #1 and FBI most wanted #2. Jesus is on the cross between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and the Bible says that one of them turned to him and insulted Jesus- one of them decided to embrace thug life even until the bitter end. The Bible then tells us that the other thug first tells the other thug off then looks at Jesus and asks to be remembered when Jesus enters his kingdom. Jesus reminds us why he is the greatest man that we know and why he is the perfect lamb of God by looking at this dirty, evil thug and saying “TODAY” “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus says to the thug in all of our lives:

You gone learn today that grace and mercy is worth more than bombs and bullets.

You gone learn today that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

You gone learn today that you can’t beat me in giving- no matter how you try.

You gone learn today that you can’t save yourself.

You gone learn today that I love all of my Father’s children.

You gone learn today that I will forgive even the nastiest sinner and the vilest offender.

You gone learn today that I can give you more than you can steal.

From the cross- with stress on his head and stress on his hands and stress on his  feet and blood pouring off of him- from the cross with his clothes being torn and his body being ripped apart- Jesus takes time to focus on the thugs that are in our lives and on our nerves…Jesus wasn’t finished…

Thugs treat women as objects and disposable items but Jesus took time from the cross to make sure his Mother was taken care of by John, the disciple that he loved.

Thugs live only for today- Jesus says if you accept this free gift, I’ll make sure you live forever.

Thugs abandon their responsibilities and pay what they want when they want- Jesus accepted their sin, their debt and their responsibilities and he paid it all.

Thugs always have something in their hands that they can sip on- Jesus only thirst from the cross was for righteousness.

Thugs don’t care how they treat people- Jesus says “Father, forgive them."

Thugs are Inappropriate on Instagram, Trifling on Twitter and Foolish on Facebook. Thugs “don’t do church.” Thugs can’t be bothered and Jesus says…hallelujah he still says “There is room at the cross for you, too.”

Jesus shouts to the thug from the cross many things but the greatest of these is “It’s time to change…and it’s time to change…today.”

I’m hoping I see some thugs at St. James on Easter Sunday. If I can rub shoulders with a few thugs in the Heart of Abbeville at 6 AM, I’ll let them know that all other redeemers that we turn to to help us in times of trouble like Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker and Remy Martin are dead…but our Redeemer lives…then I’ll feed the thug some breakfast at 7:30. If God chooses to send a thug through the door at 10:00, I’ll let them know that the very strong case against us for putting Jesus on the cross was dismissed for lack of evidence…then I’ll feed the thug the body and the blood of a risen savior and remind them that God desires to give us clean, fresh starts- that God wants to expunge our records and we can begin a new, good, sweet, true, fulfilling life…today.

God’s best be with you always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Thursday, February 19, 2015

SCSU and the Absentee Legislature

I believe that there are certain things that you just shouldn’t get credit for…

Paying your bills on time.

Respecting your Elders.

Staying faithful to your spouse.

Providing for your children.

Having your family’s back.

Loving God with all your heart, soul and mind.

Loving your neighbor as you love yourself.




There are some things that grown, mature, responsible human beings just do. We do them without form and we do them without fashion and we do them without calling the newspaper simply because they are the right thing to do. How foolish would I be if I nominated myself for husband of the year each time that I killed a spider or woke my wife up at her specified time from a nap or took her to get a massage. I don’t sound a trumpet- I don’t pull an alarm when I take care of my wife because looking after her is what I’m supposed to do! It’s what I promised God, my family, her family, my friends and her friends that I would do on June 9, 2007 and quite frankly the way that I handle my husbandly business is really no one else’s business…

Here’s my point:

I received a news bulletin today that the State of South Carolina no longer intends to pursue a proviso that would shut down my beloved South Carolina State University. Instead, the story in the press goes on to mention that the legislature will pay closer attention to the election of Trustees at SCSU because there are people who are invested, elected and entrusted to run the school who would never be elected to the board of one of the State’s “flagship” schools. The story further noted that the President and entire board of Trustees would be fired and control for the school will be turned over to the State Budget and Control Board for future, strict oversight…

This story has popped up on social media to a cacophony of “Hallelujah’s” and “Thank You Jesus” responses. I haven’t shouted over this news yet and here’s why:

SCSU was NEVER going to close!!! Never! Not once! The well trumpeted vote by the Higher Education Sub-Committee can best be described as an attention-grabbing temper tantrum. There was no way under the sun that the State of South Carolina was going to voluntarily surrender accreditation for a school that they are responsible for only to spend taxpayer dollars to sponsor scholarships to another one of their (marginally overcrowded) schools. SCSU was NEVER in danger of closing. I knew that, most of you knew that and the legislature knew that so 3 of the 4 people who voted to close it last week opted to embarrass the University with a token, meaningless vote that was squarely aimed at generating and producing a headline.

I didn’t cut a rug or enter a praise break when I received the story today because all the Legislature has promised to do concerning SCSU is what they already should have been doing towards SCSU! South Carolina State should have never had an opportunity to amass this debt or be in this predicament because:

Legislative oversight should have ensured that SCSU was properly funded.

The legislature should have monitored resources both in and out of SCSU both during and after the economic downturn of 2008.

The legislature should have performed a full audit once the chairman of the board of Trustees was indicted for public corruption.

The legislature should have resisted the attempts of other colleges and universities to dilute the course offerings that were unique to SCSU by duplicating them at their own institutions. 

The legislature should have paid as close attention to who is on the board at State as they do concerning their research institutions in Columbia and Clemson.

 So, forgive me if I sit this celebration out. I choose not to get in the Spirit when Husbands, Wives, Stewards, Trustees, Legislatures do what they are supposed to do.

I am not excited that the absentee legislature of South Carolina has now a firm and vested interest in the school that shaped me- instead, I ask those who write my laws the same question that any child would that’s just meeting someone that claims to be their Father for the first time…

Where in the world have you been for so long?

God’s Best be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Life Support- Thoughts and Musings Inspired by Bobbi Kristina

I smile every time I remember the words of a great Presiding Elder of the church who is now deceased- every time he would stand to preach, he would confess (and even make his voice tremble) that he was scared. The Elder would continue that if the Pastors on his district were not scared when they stood to preach, then something was wrong with them…even further he would challenge the lay folks present that if you are not scared when you go out on a task for Christ, then he would smile in his holy way and let them know that something was wrong with them too.

Fear is a great motivator. You and I may be cautious of using fear because of all of the negative connotations associated with threats and various modes and means of discipline but I recall my childhood vividly and when my Mother told me that she was going to tell my Daddy…and when my Daddy called home and told me that he would see me when he returned home…my fear was healthy enough to change me into a respectable, obedient, mannerly young man. Fear of unemployment motivated many of us to brave cold weather to make it to work this morning. Fear of failure motivates some of our children to study a little harder and our college students to attend class even when they just don’t feel like it. Fear of disappointing loved ones on Valentine’s Day motivated us to buy chocolates and diamonds, teddy bears and roses. We get flu shots because we have a fear of being ill. We walk on treadmills because we have a fear of obesity. We take out life insurance because we have a fear of leaving our bills to our children. We wash our hands because we have a fear of dangerous germs and parasites. Fear is an excellent motivator.

I’ve read all of the news (true and false) concerning the grave condition of Bobbi Kristina Brown and as unfortunate as the entire situation is, I honestly shake my head whenever it is reported that the family will choose to pull the plug and “let her die” on this day or on that day or on the anniversary day that belongs to her Mother. I shake my head at the assumptions because you and I- we deal in life; only God deals in both life and death. I shake my head because I’ve read stories about brothers and sisters swallowing 30 pills and waking up the next morning like nothing had happened. I shake my head because I’ve seen how people put pistols in their mouths, pulled the trigger and a perfectly functioning gun refused to shoot. I shake my head because I’ve shaken hands with individuals who have permanent scars on their wrists from when they slit them hoping to die and yet they lived.

I shake my head at the news mostly because I realize and acknowledge that ALL OF US are on life support.

God supported our lives to the point that we were allowed to open our eyes this morning.

God continues to support our lives because when we woke up this morning, we still knew our names.

God’s life support allows us to breathe his air, live in his house, work his job and inhabit his world.

God’s life support has kept deer from running in front of our cars.

God’s life support has allowed us to survive even when deer, debris, cars and 18-wheelers hit our cars.

God’s life support allows wives to forgive wayward husbands.

God’s life support encourages husbands to look past flaws of foolish wives.

God’s life support keeps us employed even when we provide subpar work.

God’s life support allows God to keep his word that no weapon formed against us will prosper.

God’s life support will allows us to have anxiety attacks instead of heart attacks.

God’s life support gives us heart attacks, triple and quadruple bypasses then serves us cardiac rehab with a side order of “living testimony”.

God’s life support dries up tumors.

God’s life support gives those with tumors in hospice the strength to preach this 2 word sermon to their family: “I’m ready”.

God’s life support keeps on blessing us in spite of all we have done.

God’s life support is responsible for the next 5, 10 and 15 minute segments of our existence.

Here’s my point:

I never want God to pull the plug on me so I choose to preach like my hair’s on fire. I don’t want God to stop my respirator so I drive straight home from work even when there are in-boxed offers for detours. I enjoy God’s life support and because fear is an excellent motivator, I’m terrified to lose it…and if I have to lose it, I don’t want to be responsible for it. The challenge for each of us is to live our lives in a worthy enough manner so that when God is strolling through the ICU unit of heaven’s hospital, he doesn’t decide to disconnect our power source because he decides that we aren’t going to bear appropriate fruit in his kingdom. I’m fearful of God but I’m not afraid of him. I’m thankful for his hand of mercy- I’m thankful for his voice of cheer- I’m thankful that every time I’ve needed him, he was always near. I’m fearful of him but I’m not afraid of him because his life support assures me that when I need him most, Jesus will step right in and when Jesus steps in, the devil couldn’t end my life support even if he turned the power out.

God’s Best Be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

She's Afraid, He's Terrified

She's Afraid:


Let me start this post by saying that I am not yet a biological mother. But I have "mothered" quite a few children in my 30-something years of life. As a public school teacher, I've dried tears, calmed fears, clothed bodies, provided encouragement, a safe haven, love, care - and countless other "motherly" things to the hundreds (yes, it's that many now) of 7-10 year olds I've taught.

I am not a biological mother. But I am a Godmother, Wife, Aunt, Sister, Cousin, Daughter, Friend to black men. And I'm afraid for them. I'm afraid because this country (and it's justice system) doesn't seem to care about them. I'm afraid because day in and day out, I encounter the smiles, laughter, hugs, curiosity, and naturally infectious personalities of many black boys. In them I see doctors, presidents, teachers, engineers, politicians, fathers, sons - I see the future in them. But I also see fear. I see fear because some people may mistake their rambunctious behavior for insubordination. I see fear because someone may mistake their outspoken and competitive nature for aggression.


I am afraid because I do not want to get a phone call, text or visit letting me know my little black boy (son, nephew, godson, cousin, brother, etc.) has been killed simply for being who he is - rambunctious, energetic, competitive, loving, passionate, male....and black. I am afraid because I may not get to see my little black boy live up to his full potential. I am afraid that due to societial pressures, the eagles wings meant to help my little black boy soar may be broken, and he can no longer fly. I am afraid because one day he may ask me or his father why does everyone fear me? Why does no one like me? What did I do wrong? And I won't be able to answer his questions. I'm afraid that instead of seeing love, I may see fear in my little boy's eyes.
I am not a biological mother, but one day I will be. And I may be a mother to a little black boy. When I look into his eyes, I do not want to see fear, I want to see hope. I want to see change. I want to see the future. Please join me and others, in praying for our sons - not only this week, but everyday. Pray for their blessings and protection. Pray that instead of fearing them, our country will embrace them. After all, if not for the backs (and labor) of black men (and women) - where would our country be?


He's Terrified:
Lights? I love lights! I believe lights to have saved my life once or twice. There have been times where I was driving while way too sleepy and may have been bobbing and weaving on the road only to look up and see the lights of the city and a great feeling of energy coming over me and being able to make it home safely. I love lights. I love the way fireworks light the sky. I love candlelight services of remembrance. I enjoy the lights of the holiday season and a reflection of the effort it takes to deck the halls, string the house and trim the tree. I love lights. I have an affection and fondness and appreciation for lights of all shapes, forms and presentations- I love lights…except when they are blue.
I am terrified of blue lights. I am absolutely, categorically, unapologetically terrified of blue lights. Blue lights lower my blood pressure. Blue lights raise my heartbeat. Blue lights make me scramble around in my car to hide crack pipes, liquor bottles and marijuana bags THAT DON’T EVEN EXIST! Blue lights make me lose my insurance card instantly. Blue lights make me drop my license when I pick it out of my wallet. Blue lights make me scared to even reach for my wallet (remember Amadou Diallo?) Blue lights make me nervous to even video the interaction with my cell phone (remember Eric Garner?) Blue lights make me grateful I snack on Peanut M&M’s and water instead of Skittles and Sweet Tea (remember Trayvon Martin?) Blue lights make me thankful that I’ve never had a smoking habit (remember Mike Brown?) and further thankful that I don’t have asthma (google Brian Dennison Florida.)
Blue lights behind me make me immediately search my mind for the last time I kissed my wife. When was the last time I told her, Mom, Shandrea, Steve, Dad that I loved them because these blue lights may fix it so that I never see them again. Blue lights make me thankful that my premiums are paid. Blue lights remind me to get right with God and stay right with God. Blue lights reinforce to me that this world is not my home. Blue lights bring to my memory my own preaching- that we should eliminate the word “fair” from our vocabularies. My license is good, my tags are current, my policy is paid, I don’t drive drunk, or high or reckless…and I still could be next.
Blue lights terrify me because I’m supposed to bury my parents, my parents aren’t supposed to bury me.
Blue lights terrify me because I have 41 years left to serve the A.M.E. church as an active Pastor and I’m looking forward to it.
 Blue lights terrify me because I have 3 separate life insurance policies that are all fully vested but my wife says that “she can wait”.
 Blue lights terrify me for the same reason gambling terrifies me- the house always wins and chances are, while no indictment will ever be returned and no charges will ever be filed, I’ll have a really sad funeral and a brief protest on the courthouse steps.
Blue lights terrify me so I wear my seatbelt. Blue lights terrify me so I keep my music contained inside my car. Blue lights terrify me so I drive no more than 8 over the speed limit and I break my speed when entering small towns and I nod my head at police officers and I use words like “sir” and “ma’am”.
Blue lights terrify me because my education, my pants around my waist, my driving record, my status in the community means nothing to an officer that says that my skin color fits a description.
God’s best be with you always,
Mrs. Erica S. Dowling
Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Six Seconds to Salvation

The 95th Session of the Piedmont Annual Conference was held at the Friendship A.M.E. Church of Clinton, SC in October of 2005- it was my first as an active Pastor. One of the many highlights of that conference was the presence of the late Bishop Vernon Randolph Byrd, the 105th elected and consecrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bishop Byrd was asked to preside over a business session where he received Pastoral reports- during the course of hearing reports, a lay delegate approached the microphone and launched a glowing tribute to the Bishop about how he had prayed for her family many years ago and she went on to testify about how her life and her situation in life changed significantly shortly thereafter as a result of the intercession of Bishop Byrd. I distinctly remember the Bishop with a pleasant look of surprise and satisfaction on his face and leaning back in his chair and the only phrase he offered to the sister was…”you never know”.


Ministry matters. All ministry matters all the time. Ministry matters when you’re sleep deprived. Ministry matters when the congregation can’t afford to pay you. Ministry matters when your home life isn’t what it should be. Ministry matters because we never know if the next prayer we pray, the next sermon we preach, the next Facebook status we post will partner with the Holy Spirit to change someone’s life in a radical and revolutionary way.


Last Saturday, I wasn’t thinking about ministry. I woke up with recreation on my mind, drove to Lexington to play golf before heading to my Godson’s Pop Warner football game in Irmo. While at the course, I was teaching my good friend and playing partner the fundamentals of golf as he had never played before and after he whiffed on his first swing, he nailed the second one over 100 yards so I decided to record his swing to share with his family via a social network. The six second video that I took and shared just showed him lining up his shot, fixing his feet and making contact with the ball…then you can hear my shout of encouragement for him before the video ends…harmless right? The six second video that I took was fully intended for his immediate family just so they could see that their husband and father had skills but as I found out yesterday, Bishop Byrd’s words still ring true, sometimes you never know…


I talked to my friend yesterday over lunch and he said “boy, you know you’re a mess with that (social network)”. I laughed and told him that he was concentrating too hard on hitting the ball to see me recording the video that I shared. He continued- “you know, I got a call from Tennessee behind that video and a Pastor told me that he was inspired to get back out and give himself some mental relaxation and recreation time” I smiled because I know all too well that all of us need a outlet for stress relief- but I wasn’t ready for what he said next… “then I got a message from one of my cousins- this cousin isn’t saved and I’ve been trying to reach him for years- trying to minister to him- trying to show a good example- trying to lead him to Christ and nothing that I’ve tried has worked- but he saw your video- he saw your six second video and he said “Reggie, I’ll probably never come to your church, I’ll probably never come to your Bible Study, I’ll probably never come to a revival that you’re leading…but we can talk about God on the golf course…”


Somewhere in glory, I can hear Bishop Byrd saying “you never know”.


You never know how your testimony can pick someone up.

You never know how that funny picture that you share can turn someone’s day around.

You never know how an inboxed message checking on someone for no reason will provide comfort.

You never know how a kind word can brighten someone’s day.

You never know how close someone is to the edge until you use love to rescue them.

You never know how sharing a video of a choir singing or a preacher preaching or even a golfer swinging will reach the masses for the Master.



A six second video of an 8 iron hitting a range ball off an artificial turf mat that was designed for family and friends but reached the world because of a social network may be- just may be the door that someone uses to make heaven their home. I can’t wait until they have their golf date…I want to sponsor it…I really want to participate…but I don’t want to ruin the moment. I’m hopeful that they will discuss temptation while on the tee, deliverance on the driving range, faith around the flagstick, peace on the putting green and salvation from the sand trap and if the brother decides he wants to be baptized, well I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen a golf course without a water hazard. (Acts 8:35-38)


God’s Best Be With You Always,


Rev. Sterling J. Dowling