The North Star
To begin our celebration of Black History Month, Pastor Johns invited his mentor and friend, Dr. Abraham Jules to North to deliver a powerful, uplifting, and inspiring word titled “Overstating your Undesirables,” where he breathed life into people, dreams, and overcoming the impossible. The fact is that many of us dream to be doctors, lawyers, musicians, and poets, but many of us don’t know how to become what we dream. In fact, “The number one cause of despair in your life is the gap between what we have to do and what we have to do it with,” Dr. Jules said. In our minds we think we can, but how can we with no money and no clear-cut direction? It’s simple, Dr. Jules stated, “you can be right with your facts and wrong with your faith.” Now, we may not have all we need to become, but we’ve discounted an important factor. “The x-factor is Jesus… He makes the difference,” Dr. Jules added. He can fix whatever we’re going through. We just have to believe that he can and he will. Especially as African Americans in society we’ve seen God do some remarkable things and as Dr. Jules put it, “If you’ve seen God do it before, why are you worried today. Learn to trust him.” We must learn to trust him and realize that no matter what is going on he can change our circumstances swiftly. To encourage us Dr. Jules implores us to read Luke 18:27 and Isaiah 55:9.
The following weekend we welcomed the legendary, Dr. Otis Moss Jr.. He spoke clearly in saying that our assignment is to be “keepers of faith and hope.” We should also be keepers of the heritage that God has placed in our hands. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” as we know from Hebrews 11:1. Faith is being able to feel the warmth of spring on a cold winter night. Faith is seeing, hearing and experiencing. What is Love? Love is God and God is Love. If we are to be keepers of this sentiment, we must also become teachers. Dr. Moss urges us to keep our minds open to knowledge and wisdom. How do we do this? We do this by way of the grace of God.
Bishop Lance Watson (@iamlancewatson) opened his sermon with 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; which states, ”But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” No matter how dismal things may appear, God still opens doors. The text also reminds us that with opportunities, there will also be opposition. God does open doors, however; be aware that there will be adversaries who are waiting to take you out. Be excited but also prepared. We should also be aware of our own self-sabotaging habits. When an opportunity presents itself, ask yourself if you are truly ready to do the work. God is always on our side and presents many open doors throughout our lives. God opens doors for life’s work and life’s witnesses!
Lead Pastor of North Church, Marquis Johns (@doctorjohns) came out on the final weekend of Black History Month with a motivational word titled, “Our History, Our Struggle” that was so powerful and rich in deliverance. To begin his message he made us aware that our struggle shouldn’t be looked at as a weakness, but as a strength. To further depict his message to describe our history as slaves and to describe the struggle he used the story of Abram. He spoke on the promise God gave Abram, which was that he would take him and make him into a great nation. Even though he wasn’t sure how the message God was giving him would come to pass he trusted him, but it took much faith for Abram to trust in the Lord. It took faith, but “We don’t understand this kind of faith,” Johns said. Later on, he went on to help us understand that just because we’ve come into the church, gotten baptized, and maybe even joined the board it doesn’t mean that we will be devoid of struggle. “The struggle is not optional,” Johns exclaimed. In fact, the Bible reminds us in 1 Peter 4:12-19 that we will suffer for Christ, but we ought to continue to do good because of the simple fact that whatever we go through is meant for our good and will only serve to bring Glory to name of the Lord, our God. When you stand for God, you will be tested and you will face trials of many kinds, just as Peter and John had to. The truth is God is just preparing you for his promise and getting you ready for your next season because as Johns stated, “your salvation is contingent upon everything going on around you…God can’t take you out of some mess until he clears out the mess of where you’re going.” God has a promise for us and that promise is that despite the pain and struggle that we are going through, that he will bring us out and if you just believe and hope for tomorrow he will bring you into his promise. Hope isn’t something you have, hope is something that you do. You may lose your job, you may go through divorce, and hard times, but as Johns tells us, “The hell you’re in right now, there is an afterwards.” Psalm 23:4 tells us that, ye though we will through valley of the shadows of death, it doesn’t say, “ye though I stay,” Pastor Johns said. We must begin believing that we are coming out, of depression, of despair, of hard times and rough seasons, but before God can bring us out we have to allow him to clean us up on the inside. The last thing we want to do is to go from mess to mess. We want to walk from glory to glory, and from our struggle to our success.
The 2017 theme for National Women’s History Month honors those who have successfully challenged the role of women in both business and in the labor force. North Philadelphia Seventh Day-Adventist welcomed four key speakers to set the tone for Women’s History Month.
The first speaker was Pastor Rebecca Davis (@mrsrebeccadavis) who kicked off women’s history month with the income/wealth gap and related it to the promise of parity. Parity: The state or condition of being equal, especially regarding status or pay. Pastor Davis stated, women’s liberation comes from acknowledging that just because we are “not as bad as them” or “things can be worse” should not stop us from trying to make things better. Women around the world are beginning to find their voice and speak out about the injustices they face daily. There was a song by Emeli Sande that Pastor Davis mentioned called “Read All About It” and the lyrics had the church crowd shouting. You’ve got the words to change a nation, but you’re biting your tongue. You’ve spent a life time stuck in silence, afraid you’ll say something wrong. If no one ever hears it, how we gonna learn your song? The average woman can maybe relate but nonetheless, we are no longer submitting to fear and voicing our opinions.
North’s second speaker was Bishop Vashti Murphy (@vashtimckenzie) who opened her sermon with the Gospel of Mark. She also mentioned Peter 4:12-13 which states “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”It can be difficult seeing the light through the darkness and we often get caught up in our everyday human predicaments, but know there’s a divine reason. What we cannot change is meant to change us on a deeper level. Bishop Murphy stated that no matter what uncertainties we face, God can do the impossible. She also reminds us that it doesn’t matter how you start out, it matters where you end up. Glory is truly around the corner.
Our third speaker introduces us to Pastor Tacyana Nixon (@tacyana) who opened her sermon with Numbers 27:1-8 preaching the word about the Daughters of Zelophehad. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah brought forth their question to Moses voicing their concerns about having their fathers name taken away because he had no sons. These five sisters felt, or perhaps merely recognized, that something in their society and within their worship was unjust. They recognized that there was room for improvement and that their cultural practices were not in harmony with what they had been taught about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith is the key note here. Faith is active and never dormant. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” It is a reminder that God will not withhold any good thing from his children.
Women’s History Month concluded with a powerful sermon by our first lady, Rhonda Johns’ mother Pastor Brenda Billingy. She dedicated this sermon to “Hoochie Intercessors.” Some context is needed however. Intercessor: A person who intervenes on behalf of another, especially by prayer. We are introduced to the story of Rahab (Joshua 2:1) who was seen as a prostitute and harlot. In today’s society, there are many negative connotations for women that do not stick to tradition. Pastor Billingy preached that it is high time for us women to love and encourage one another. We can be our own worst enemies at times. Although Rahab helped aid the spies and saved them from Jericho, she was still seen as being less than righteous. We should not take away her good deeds and see this as an opportunity to relate to the admirable traits in others and not their societal labels. The energy that comes when women genuinely support each other from the heart space is enough to move mountains. Remember to never judge a book by its cover. You don’t know what God is doing in someone else’s life.
Following our celebration of Women’s History Month in March, we began our quest to help our church community move from the Lord’s Prayer, which is what many consider “the model prayer” to becoming “model prayers.” The truth is many of us, have been in the church for years, but don’t necessarily know that, “while Jesus had access to the power of omnipotence, he chose to use the same weapon that humanity used and continues to use today,” which is prayer.
How important is prayer?
We began our new series, #TheSuperModel with Pastor Corey Maurice Johnson, Masters of Divinity student at Andrews University, who spoke about the power of Prayer in a sermon he titled, “Amplified.” In this sermon, Johnson spoke about the power and importance of private prayer. Johnson showed us that the disciples wanted to be just like Jesus in every way, as he stated, “There is a difference between the fan and the follower of Jesus Christ.” The question is are you a fan or a follower?” A fan will listen to the word and carry on with their life, but they don’t act upon the word of God. The follower of Jesus acts and moves as a disciple. As Pastor C.Maurice Johnson stated, “If you are a disciple of Jesus you emulate his practices so you can exercise his power.” This line alone resonated with many as shouts of Hallelujah and Amen rang out in agreement. The truth is as he also stated, “private prayer is the key to public power.”
On Saturday April 15, 2017, Pastor Johns’ begins Resurrection weekend asking us “Do you have a place? A practice or process where your determination is renewed and sorrows removed?” Jesus had a place and position. He knelt in humility before the Father and prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). It was not Jesus’ preference to carry the weight of humanity, but God had bigger plans for him. God is not saying that we cannot have a preference, however, he wants to hear “nevertheless”. God knows that if we always received what we prefer, we would miss out on the true blessings He has to offer. God is also asking for more active humility. We are familiar with being heartbroken over the troubles that plague this world, however; If we use this sense of condemnation and combined it with collective prayer, our faith will be renewed. When God does answer your prayers and you haven’t received what you’ve been asking for, do not stop praying. If anything, pray more earnestly. Keep up with your practice and submit to God’s will. Much prayer, much power! Jesus reminds us to pray in this manner, “Our Father who art in Heaven..”
The following weekend, Pastor Johns returned to deliver a word from Luke 3:21, which states “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened.” He speaks on the baptism of Jesus Christ and all that follows baptism. Many people believe that after being baptized that you will walk a clean, stress-free life, but such wasn’t the case for Jesus and neither shall it be for you. The fact is, Jesus was baptized, but Jesus went into the water praying and came out of the water praying. Prayer is the difference. Many pray a lot before baptism, but after baptism cease praying, but we should remain in prayer and in communion with God even after. “Baptism doesn’t eradicate you of all your troubles,” Pastor Johns added “following baptism is normally when you will have your greatest trials.”
Seven speakers commemorating the final words of Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross.
On Saturday, April 15th at North Philadelphia Seventh Day-Adventist Church our leader, Pastor Johns brought six pastoral friends from places all across the country. He joined talented pastors from Andrews University and churches from areas across the country that included New York and California to put together a special service for the North Philadelphia community. All who were in attendance were blessed as the seven pastors presented powerful 10-15 minute pieces chronicling the last seven words or phrases of Jesus Christ. The service also included our praise team and choirs, “United” (North Philadelphia Choir) and West Philadelphia Youth and Adult Choir who performed moving hymns to celebrate the life and love portrayed by our savior Jesus Christ.
The first speaker was none other than North Philadelphia’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s own, Pastor C. Maurice Johnson, Master of Divinity student at Andrews University. He spoke from the book of Luke 23:34, which states “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do.” He reminded us that though many people will turn their back on you, count you out, and hurt you, we must forgive them. They don’t know that our God is one that sets the scene for an ultimate comeback. In places or situations that are seemingly dark or helpless, we turn to a God that is our ever-present help in trouble. Now, It is no secret that Pastor Johnson’s favorite basketball player is LeBron “King” James and if you follow recent sporting events then you know that “King” James and the Cleveland Cavaliers of Northeast Ohio came back from a 3-1 series deficit which had never been done in NBA history. Ironically, they fell down 3-1 on a Friday, Johnson stated, but it was a glorious Sunday when they rose up again to complete the comeback and do something that had never been seen, never been witnessed before. His message was inspiring and well thought out as he showed us that God has prepared things in your life that eyes haven’t seen and ears haven’t heard, just as the word shows us in 1 Corinthians 2:9.
Our next speaker was Pastor Danielle Barnard who spoke from the book of Luke verse 23:43 that states “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” She explained that, “Paradise is not a place, it is a presence.” Jesus was so close to the Father that even as He hung there on the cross in that dark place, He was so in tune with God that He was in a place of peace, a place of Paradise. Many of us believe Paradise to be a sand-filled beach with beautiful scenery, but the truth is we are in paradise right now because the presence of the Lord is with us even now.
The third speaker Warren Gillin came all the way from London, to speak from the book of John 19:26-27, which states, “Woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother.” He delivered a word about Jesus being concerned with the welfare of the people around him. Simply put, He cared more about others than He did himself. Even as He hung on the cross, He was concerned more about his mother. He devoted his entire life to people and ensured everyone was being taken care of. “How can we be Christ followers when we are not concerned about the oppressed, the weak, the powerless? Jesus’ life was about His concern for other people,” Gillin added. I believe that despite what you’re going through, if we draw nearer to God, He will take care of you. Even in your darkest moment, draw nearer to Jesus just as Mary did as He hung upon the cross, and everything will work out in his heavenly pattern that He meant for good for thy will shall be done.
Our next speaker, Bryan Pitman of Kingdom Culture Church spoke from the title, “The Favor in Darkness” as he used the scripture Matthew 27:46 which states, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” Many of us will look at this scripture and think that Jesus is questioning the Father, but as Pastor Pitman taught us with his word, He was actually in full on Worship. If you go into the book of Psalm (the book of songs) 22:1-3 you’ll see that it begins very similarly to Matthew 27:46, but a little further down Psalm 22:3 reads, “But thou art holy, O thou inhabitest the praises of Israel,” which shows that He is singing praises to the Father. Truth is, if ever you are in a dark place and you want favor or grace of the Father to return, continue to praise even in the dark place. The example has been placed before you in the life of Jesus Christ. If Jesus could hang on the cross and still praise our Father in song, what’s stopping you? Is there a darker place than being on the doorsteps of death? I want you to praise Him in light, but also in the darkness, because as we found out in an earlier word, God does His most beautiful work in dark places, just as He did in Genesis, when He took a dark place and said, “Let there be light.”
Our fifth speaker, Donald Rolle spoke from the book of John 19:28 which states “I am thirsty.” Pastor Rolle spoke from the title, “The Thirst is Real” where he shared that Christ had given all He had and used all His resources before the completion, much like we do in life at times. “Jesus had become completely depleted of everything,” Rolle said. He used an example of a time he went hiking up a mountain. He thought he was prepared for the trip as he had gatorade and other nutritional itms to help along the journey to keep him hydrated. He made it all the way up the mountain, but he had gone through all of his resources. He had nothing more to keep him hydrated as he used it for the rise to the top, but no one told him the hardest part of the mission was the descent. Many believe that greatness is about the flight, but it is in fact the plight that determines greatness. “Greatness in heaven is about how far you descend,” Pastor Rolle exclaimed.
Our sixth speaker was Pastor Gamal Alexander, who spoke from the book of John 19:30, which states, “It is finished.” In this message Pastor Alexander made it clear that Jesus had a different view of the word “finished” because even though He said He was finished it doesn’t mean He had conceded or completed His work. Many of us look at His words and think it means He had given up, but He had to go and die in order for Him to go and prepare a place for us, which means that He’s got us covered. The fact is, Jesus came to pay a debt that He didn’t owe and He paid it with his life and his blood.
The final speaker of our special series, “SeVIIen” was none other than Pastor Marquis Johns (@doctorjohns) and he spoke from the book of Luke 23:46, which states, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” To commend is a form of a deposit. Jesus was entering into a business negotiation with His Father by depositing his spirit to His Father. We can use this experience in Jesus’ life as an example for our own lives as well in the way that Jesus had His back against the cross, on the brink of death, but He saw it fit to commend his spirit to the Father as it was His only way to overcome the adversity He faced. Are you in a situation that you feel you can’t break free from? Maybe all you need to do is commend your spirit to the Father and wait with a trusting spirit for Him to help you overcome just as Jesus did on the cross. Throughout his message Pastor Johns helped us to see and understand that “Many are the afflictions of the righteous but Jesus promises to deliver you from them all.”
To complete his message, Pastor Johns used an example of a young boy and a house catching on fire. He continued, that everyone in the family escaped except the young boy. The family sat crying in front of the burning house as they had seemingly lost their son, but the young boy was able to reach the roof. The father sees the son and tells his son to jump. The son wanted to jump, but he was afraid because all he sees is fire and smoke. The father tells him not to be afraid and encourages his son to jump ensuring him that he will catch him. The son repeats himself saying that he can’t see his father. The father tells him you don’t have to see me because I can see you. And isn’t it amazing the same situation occurs between God and us. The truth is we don’t need to see, touch, or feel God because He can see, feel, and touch us! All we have to do is TRUST GOD take that leap of faith.