Saturday, September 30, 2023

Bishop James “Kenneth” Phillips... My Mentor, My Pastor, My Friend

Bishop James Kenneth Phillips, My Mentor, My Pastor, My Friend

Bishop Kenneth and Wanda Phillips

In 2003, I walked into a church building on E.51st Street in Austin, Tx known as the World of Pentecost, aka. the PromiseLand, and although I had passed by that building at least a thousand times throughout my lifetime, I truly had no idea, of the Power that I would find within. After just a few short years, I would finally learn of the true Power and Authority that flowed from within that place. Moreover, the Man of God and Angel of the house, Bishop Kenneth Phillips, was a man of Prayer, an Orator of great skill, and a leader of leaders. Not only was this mighty man of God the pastor of this church, and not only was the founder and Bishop of churches around the world, but he would become the Mentor and friend who would change my life, and the lives of my family forever. 

It was an early Sunday morning in 2005, I was driving north on Airport Blvd. heading to the home of a young lady and friend I had known for some time. As my car approached the intersection of Interstate Hwy. 35 and Airport Blvd., I turned right, and drove up onto the onramp. As I continued north, it was exactly then that something extraordinary happened, in an instant, I found myself parked at the foot of the Cross, looking up at the sign displaying that the church was open, ready, and willing to accept all who wander in. After sitting there for a moment, and after regaining my composure, I stepped out of the car, and walked inside. As I walked inside and set down in the back row of the church, I was amazed, the Energy, the Music, the Spirit, and the Power, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before, it was simply overwhelming.

At the conclusion of the sermon, the choir began to sing just as the Bishop began to speak. His voice rumbled like thunder, strong; yet, soothing, akin to that calm feeling you get sitting in your rocking chair watching a springtime storm." Hello visitors, hello new members, hello all, come to the front, I want to meet you, I want to shake your hand and pray with you." Now, understanding what that meant, of course, I stood up and began to walk through the back doors of the church, I wanted no part of the "alter call," but then, something happened. As I turned around to walk away, I felt someone grab my hand, Brother Daniel Porter, a young man who would later become one of my greatest confidants, supporters, and friends, he and his family alike; however, that's a story for another time.

On that Bright and Shining Sunday morning, the last thought on my mind was walking to the front of that church and shaking hands with anyone, let alone this staunchly devout man of God; however, what I wanted, and what God had instore where two completely different ideas entirely. However thankfully, Bro. Dan Porter, grabbed ahold of my hand and said, "hey there, I have not seen you here before, let's walk down to the alter together." And so, down the aisle we went, all the way to the front of the church, up onto the platform, and right in front of the pulpit, where he, Bishop Kenneth Phillips was standing. 

As we stood there in front of the pulpit, Bishop Phillips reached out his right hand, and firmly grabbed ahold of mine, and as he began to speak, my only thoughts were to run away, quickly back down the aisle from which I had come, out into the parking lot, and back into my car; however, by the Grace of God, this would not be. As previously stated, earlier in the service, Bishop Phillips had spoken in that forceful and thunderously booming voice; however, now as he spoke, his voice was, while still strong and full of power, a lot softer, smoother, and with a little bit of a country twang, the kind of voice that let's one know, everything is going to be alright. 

(Bishop Kenneth Phillips)

After asking Bro. Daniel Porter how he had known me, to which he replied, "I just met him as he was walking out the sanctuary," Bishop Phillips introduced himself to me, and while with his signature smile, exclaimed that he was glad to that I had come by, and that he was pleased to meet me. Bro. Phillips then encouraged me to return the following week for Sunday services as there would be a guest evangelist, and it was in that moment that I knew, my life would never be the same again. 

Now, simply meeting Bishop Phillips, while amazing, was not the "thing" that made me feel that certain tingling within my spirit, it was so much more than this, it was the totality of the day's events. First of all, at no point was my intended destination PromiseLand church, or any church on that day, secondly, I do not recall exiting the freeway at all, it happened so quickly, one moment I am driving north on the main lanes of Interstate 35, and the next moment, I am parked underneath the shadow of the cross. And finally, just as I was walking out of the church sanctuary, Bro, Dan grabbed me by the hand, just as Bishop Phillips called for all visitors and new members to come to the front of the church. 

Now, to be honest, in my mind, each one of these events; although bazaar, possibly would not have gained my attention; nonetheless, combined, I was convinced that God was trying to "tell me something." Just like the old song, from that old movie, "The Color Purple," when God is trying to tell you something, you had better listen, and I most certainly did. Eventually, l would make World of Pentecost/PromiseLand my home church, I began to attend regularly, bringing my children with me, so that they could learn and grow in the Lord, just as I had. Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, I would be in the House of the Lord, and once I had discovered Friday night services, FNL, or Friday Night Live, I would attend those as well, and it was not long after this that everything would begin to change.

One Sunday after church, one of the Associate Pastors informed me that Bishop Phillips would like to speak to me, somewhat shocked and a little afraid, I thought to myself, "what have I done now?" The Pastor sensing my hesitation, informed me that the discussion would be in regard to myself becoming a part of the ministry team there at the church. It was only a few weeks before this that Karen Phillips, the Wonderful Daughter of Bishop Phillips, had introduced me to Bro. Phillips once again, they both had witnessed something within me, that I had not even discerned within myself, faithfulness, strength, and the willingness to serve. Although I had been attending PromiseLand for some time at this point, I still had this overwhelmingly distorted view of myself linked to my past life, before God's intervened; however, where I saw worthlessness, they saw worthiness, where I saw a gang member and a thug, Bishop Phillips saw a saint of the Most High, a disciple, and a future member of his ministry team, one who could help him reach the world with the Gospel, and for this opportunity, I am eternally grateful.

As one might imagine, initially, my reply was "no, of course not, I am not worthy, nor do I want that responsibility;" however, God had other plans, and eventually, I had begun my training to become first a minister, and then a Pastor on his team. Day after day, week after week, and month after month, I was trained, prodded, and guided along the path, first by the other Associate Pastors there at the church, and eventually by the Bishop himself. As part of the training, often regarded to as Ten Thousand Hours, I was taught the basics: what is the Gospel, who is Jesus, how do we become part of the Family of God, and then onto the deeper echelons, what is our Doctrine, what do we Believe, and Why?

The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn, as Bishop Phillips would implant deep within my heart, mind, soul, and spirit, the fact that almost anyone can stand up and speak, and God can, and will use them; however, the ministry is much deeper than this, for the true meaning of the ministry, is servitude. To serve God, is to serve others, to be a minister, to truly be in the service of God has little to do with Sunday mornings, but everything to do with the rest of the week. How do you live, what type of example are you showing to others? Where do you go when no one is looking? When you are alone at night, what are you doing then? Are you Praying? Are you Studying? And are you doing your best to live up to the example that Jesus Christ left for us? Are we being Christ-Like, or are we just "playing church?"

(Bro. Phillips and I Throughout the Years)

For some, Bishop Phillips could come across as too stern, grouchy, or mean when counseling and coaching those who served under him; however, as far as I was concerned, he just wanted me to be the best version of myself, that I could be. Bishop Phillips would often tell us not to try to emulate him, rather, to be ourselves, find our own styles, listen to our sermons, find out what we can improve on, and then work on that. Looking back, I can still recall the first time I had a meeting with Bro. Phillips after one of my very first funeral services, I fully expected that he was going to perform the service; therefore, my mind had been set at ease, but when he arrived, he stated that he would speak only a short time, and that I was to run the service. A sense of terror consumed me as I pulled out my notes and prepared to start the service.

Although I was nervously knocking at the knees at that thought of performing my first funeral service with the Bishop sitting on the front row, because I had always been taught to "be instant in season, and out of season," I had fully prepared myself, just in case my number was called. Although I was indeed very nervous, I performed my duty as instructed, and the service went off without a hitch, or so I thought. 

At the conclusion of the day's services, one of the Associate Pastors called me over, and walked with me to the office of Bishop Phillips. After entering and exchanging pleasantries, my Pastor asked me how I thought I had done? to this question, I honestly replied, "I was a bit afraid at first, looking down and seeing you in the front row; however, as time went on, I became a bit more relaxed." Bro. Phillips acknowledged that he had noticed this, and that he was proud of me for being ready and prepared on such short notice. Bro. Phillips also admonished me for delivering such an uplifting and encouraging message on behalf of the family of the deceased, and for always being available when needed. At this point however, the conversation became a little less pleasant as Bishop Phillips began to critique my sermon, and overall performance during the service.

"You need to slow down, why were you talking so fast anyway?" "Raise your voice, even with the mic, it was hard to hear you at times, and you don't have to say good morning after the individual before you just said it!" To be frank, I was terrified, point after point, issue after issue, Bro. Phillips "strongly" instructed me on what was right, and what was wrong. Before shaking my hand, Bishop reminded me to hold the mic closer to my mouth whenever I am speaking, preaching, or otherwise, and then he dismissed me from his office. As the Associate Pastor and I walked out of his office, he exclaimed to me, "Wow! bro, he went easy on you, you should hear him when he critiques me!" I was dumbfounded, and then he said to me, "it's probably because you're still new" to which I replied, "you're probably right," As time proceeded along, I found this to be true, Bro. Phillips did take it easy on me that day, and I would not have had it any other way.

Because of the high expectations that Bro. Phillips demanded of me, I learned to always be prepared to be of service, whether that was cleaning a smelly restroom or mopping a dirty floor, we were to be prepared to serve the House of God, and the People He created, Christian, Jew. Muslim, or otherwise, God created them all, and to Bishop, it was up to us to be the Hands, Feet, Eyes, and Ears of God, to meet the people where they were, and to draw them in, closer to God. Throughout the years I served under Bishop Phillips, I have emptied pails of "foot washing water" in a brand-new suit, I have picked up trash outside on a Sunday morning at 9:00am also in a suit, I have searched above the ceiling tiles looking for the smelly carcass of some unknown creature, also in a suit, I have unloaded, and loaded trucks, I have moved tables, chairs, pulpits, plants, and so much more.

Bishop Kenneth Phillips was a Visionary, a man before his time, always entertaining new thoughts and ideas, all with the same goal, "how can we introduce them to Christ?" "How can we draw them in while presenting the Gospel to them in a way that can be easily digested?" Car shows, concerts, special dramatic presentations, musicals, full page spreads in newspapers all over, leaflets, door knocking, outreaches in the "projects," on South Congress and East 6th Street, all throughout the downtown area here in Austin, Tx, the University Campuses, and so much more, all to reach the lost. 

Campuses throughout the Central, North, and South Texas areas, even as far out as Kentucky, El Paso, and Arizona. Some have remained under the PromiseLand Banner, while others have gone onto to be renamed; however, all of them have this one thing in common, the Doctrine, the Doctrine, and the Doctrine. Acts 2:38, the establishment of the church, Peter's exclamation and answer to the question, what must we do to be saved?

Acts 2:37-39

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call...

The Doctrine of Repentance, Baptism, and the Holy Ghost, the Death, Burial, and the Resurrection, this is the Doctrine I was taught to adhere to without wavering, without question, and without hesitation, this is what I learned from Bishop Kenneth Phillips. Always look your best, why? because before you can be the part, you must look the part. Always polish the backs of your shoes so that you look good going and coming, and as a child of God, filled with the Holy Ghost, we must remember that we are called to be a step above, no longer ordinary, but Called Out to rise above the fray. Pastor Phillips, as mentioned above, instructed us to be instant in season and out, not just to pray, but to pray in the Spirit, in this way, we communicate directly with God, as our inner most urging is turned over to Christ Himself.

Literally, the list of things learned while serving in ministry at the PromiseLand could go on, and on, and on. Speaking of the valuable lessons gleaned from the ministry and leadership of Bishop James Kenneth Phillips, there is simply no equivalent, no school, no course of study, nothing has impacted myself, and the lives of my children, more than this. Growing up in faith under the guise of Pastor Phillips was truly a gift, he poured into me constantly, and at times, he even pounded into me the lessons of life: how to be a better man, a better father, a better citizen of the Kingdom, and how to present the Word in a way that is both relevant, receivable, and steadfast, focused on the Apostles Doctrine, and the Hope that only comes from a life lived in line with the Gospel. 

 In closing, what can I say about Bishop J,K. Phillips? How do we describe in simple words, his "Old School" twang, or his desire to reach the world with the Gospel? How do we celebrate the fact that in an age when most churches in this country were still segregated, he, then newly elected Pastor Phillips, invited individuals of all races, creeds, and colors into the church? Truly, how can you measure the impact of a single man, who under his guidance and leadership, saw over twenty thousand souls baptized in the Name of Jesus, that’s right, well over 20,000 individuals buried in Christ through Baptism, and Risen into new life, just as Jesus Christ Himself rose up from the grave on the third day. 

The ministry of Bishop Kenneth Phillips is one that has reached around the world, past the borders marked as lines on a map, and beyond the walls of denominationalism erected by man, and all too often used by the enemy himself to fracture and break the unity of God’s Holy Church. Looking back on the past, I can attest to you, just how Blessed I am, to have come up through the ranks underneath his leadership. It was by supernatural experience that I arrived there, directly below the cross shaped sign that Blessed all who past by. And as I walked into that place, you could just feel the energy and passion within, and it was on that day that I met him; however, little did I know, that all these years later, his impact on my life, would be simply immeasurable.

Thank you for your time, if at all possible, I would like to encourage you, and all who read this post, to take a moment to pray for the Phillips family, PromiseLand Church, and all those left to mourn the loss of such a great, and beloved man of God.



Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Lord’s Prayer

 The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord's Prayer is an intricately laced thread of the Christian fabric, and it is a

traditional prayer that unites all Christian denominations both, Orthodox and Catholic, and Protestant and Non-Denominational. The Lord's Prayer can be found in both Matthew chapter 6 and Luke chapter 11, and was a response to a question posed by one of the Disciples, "Lord, how do we pray?" As a child, I can recall learning this prayer, and reciting it on many occasions, from Christmas to Easter and other youth productions and programs throughout the years of my youth. However, as child, I did not appreciate the simplicity and magnitude of this very short, yet powerful prayer. In fact, I truly despised the feeling of being forced to stand up in front of an entire church, filled with both my peers, and strangers, and I don’t know which one was worse, my peers or the strangers. Recalling the numerous instances in which I had been pushed and prodded into reciting the Lord's Prayer, and other verses, and it felt like torture, 
"in my own mind anyway;” however, it was these events that instilled in me, the knowledge of Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Savior, God the Father and Creator, and the Power of the Holy Spirit that resided within us all those years ago, and for this, I am so very grateful. 

(The Youth and I of EBC Circa 1985?)

The life lessons of my youth, especially those five simple verses included within the Lord’s Prayer, and the many others I was required to learn and declare before the entire congregation have played a pivotal role in placing within my heart, soul, and spirit, the foundations of Sanctification, Faith, and Prayer. These three roots, Sanctification, Faith, and Prayer have given me, the foreknowledge and strength to return to my faith in God when my world began to cave in and collapse around me just a few short years ago. In 2013 both my health, and my marriage began to crumble, and fall apart, as I laid down, paralyzed from the waist down, day after day. It would be several weeks, in fact, it would be five long months that I suffered in serious pain while in the hospital, five long aggravating months strapped to a bed, not able to move. During this time, I had a lot of time to think, to cry, to doubt, and to pray, and it was that last one, Prayer, that carried me through those very difficult times; yet, not just then, but even now, to this day prayer carries me through the darkest nights, the deepest valleys, and through the shadows of death.

 Although the entirety of The Lord's Prayer is poignant and beautiful, I would like to look a little more closely at one particular verse regarding Forgiveness, and how we should forgive others: here it is below,

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors...

Some of you may be asking yourselves, "why is this verse so important?" And that’s a great question indeed. As we continue to read, we soon find the answer...

Matthew 6:14-15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses...

The answer is found here, simple and plain for all to see, if we do not forgive others for their actions or what we perceive as their wrongdoings, our Father in Heaven will not forgive us of our own sins, shortcomings, and mistakes, and that my friends is quite a scary thought.

Recently, I was asked how I make peace with individuals who “I once perceived” as my enemies, and my answer was simply this. I believe that every word within the pages of the Holy Bible is in fact the Words of God; therefore, I must take seriously every word I read there within. Now, as I read throughout the Bible, it has become quite clear that Jesus Christ was a man of Love, Faith, and Forgiveness, and as the example sent to earth for us to emulate, I must strive to love those around me, those who have wronged me, and in many cases I must learn to forgive myself as well. 

As the verses above detail, failure to forgive will leave you unforgiven, and that's simply not a risk I'm willing to take, and neither should you. And so, my prayer for you today is that sometime soon, you will find it within your heart to forgive those who have wronged you and more importantly, you must forgive yourself. Often, it is more difficult to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive others. Therefore, God has given us some reassurances that should make it a little easier to do so: first, according to Psalm 103:12, God has cast our sins as far as the east is from the west, and He shall remember them no more. Moreover, in John 8:10-12, Jesus declares that He has not come to condemn us, but to set us free, that we may go forth, and sin no more. Similarly, in John 3:17, Jesus declares that He was sent into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through Him, the world might be saved; however, this process all begins, and ends with forgiveness and prayer.

And finally, one last thing, it has been my experience that many individuals will tell me that they do not know how to pray, and that’s ok, why? Because Jesus Himself has left us an example, read it, learn it, and use it as the basis of your own prayers, and you will soon find that prayer becomes easier and easier each and every day.