Dr. Paul M. Martin, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley California

Having come forward now from the greed and avarice displayed during the season of thanksgiving by the commercial world with Black Friday, feeding the profit margin of merchants, to Small Business Saturday, focusing on the needs of Mom and Pop enterprise and through Cyber Monday stuffing the pockets of the internet/online business, we now move to the commercialization of Christmas, the most sacred of days for the worldwide Christian Community.

I am reminded of the sacredness of Christmas in the words of the Gospel writer Luke when he says,

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” 

(Luke 2:7 KJV)

I remember from my Sunday School days, my Junior High Class Teacher, Rev. Seth Toney, a mentor and friend of mine saying that this particular text reminded him a big gift in plain wrapping.

In this season of Advent and Christmas I wonder how much attention you and I pay to wrapping paper. As we scurry to get gifts for those we love during this season we will spend a considerable amount of time in the wrapping of these gifts. We spend precious moments in selecting the right ribbons and bows, paper and other accessories that adorn every package. We even ponder a selection of ornaments that suggest the importance and value of the contents. Fine wrappings usually mean that there is a fine gift inside. Poorly wrapped gifts often suggest that the giver was thoughtless at the least and the gift inside shabby at the best.

I have come to understand over the years that beautiful wrappings on the outside don’t always indicate the value of the gift on the inside.

I remember reading some time ago a great little story that will amplify this concept.

The story centers on a mother who had two sons from whom she received gifts at Christmas. She had not seen them for some time. One son was very wealthy and the other was a beggar who made the streets his home and selling of bottles and cans his vocation. One gift was beautifully wrapped in the finest paper. The other gift was wrapped in what appeared to be newspaper.  As she opened the elegantly wrapped gift from her wealthy son, she was surprised to receive a coffee cup. On the bottom was the price tag of $1.98. Upon opening the gift wrapped in newspaper from her beggar son, she found two dollar bills and a note that read, “you gave me your all, now I give you all I have!”

Though wrapped with newspaper, the mother cherished the two dollar bills and tucked them away with joy! One son had much but gave little. The other had only two dollars to his name but gave to a mother who had given him her all, all that he had in return. The moral of this story is “the wrappings couldn’t hide the love.”

My understanding of scripture teaches me that this must have been the way it was when Jesus was born. He came wrapped in swaddling clothes. The shepherds found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords lying in a manger in a barn. He was shabbily dressed living in the worst of conditions. But his swaddling clothing couldn’t hide the love inside. He was a bundle of love and joy to his parents and to the entire world.

Life has been good to us in spite of the circumstances that for many have been extremely grievous. There are many people who continue to be fooled by what’s on the outside, but God is never deceived. He is not impressed by what’s on the outside because he knows what’s beneath the wrappings. This has to be a word of encouragement to all in our society who are being overcome by circumstance. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power. Power that will liberate us from those chains that hold us captive to our circumstance. I still believe in the power of the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to empower us to overcome injustice in the society. Read again Matthew 16:13-20 to be reminded of why Jesus established the Church.

As we prepare to give gifts to our favorite institutions, special people and loved ones at the close of this year let us be sure that we are giving from hearts of love. When we give with hearts of love, it won’t matter what the wrapping, ribbons and bows might be, if any at all. What will matter is the thought expressed by our gifts. Therein lays the value of all the gifts we give.

As Christian, we thank God for giving us the baby Jesus. He was a big gift of hope, joy, love and salvation, all in one package. Though he was wrapped in swaddling clothes under the shabbiest of circumstances, he proved to be a big gift despite his humble and plain wrapping.



Passion for the Past, Excitement for the Future

Dr. Paul M. Martin, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

“Where there is no vision, the people perish, but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

(Proverbs 29:18 KJV)


My good friend and partner in ministry while pastoring years ago in Los Angeles, the late Dr. Edward Victor Hill  Sr., pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of South Los Angeles used to say with great reflection “My, My, My!”

As I approach the end of my first term of service as President of the American Baptist Seminary of the West I can only say about the journey thus far, “My, My, My! What a ride!”   We have experienced the passion and pervasive presence of the great past of our seminary with the joy that God is leading us into a very exciting and progressive future.

Three years ago as a part of my introduction to campus and community life and the responsibility of administration of the seminary I used as a theme the Scripture listed above from Proverbs 29:18 as I defined the process we would undertake in our administration as we looked at our seminaries future.  

We envisioned the need for our seminary staff and faculty to work together in a collegial way; to seek ways to increase the student body numbers, to extend our services beyond the walls of the campus into church and community; to refurbish and develop our donor base; to develop new and exciting streams of financial support; to work with the Board of Trustees in enhancing their governance skills; to develop a greater appreciation for diversity; connect with the regions of our denomination in a different way; to find ways to secure the future of our seminary financially; and to change the culture of the seminary in order that people would have a greater appreciation for our seminary as a theological institution.

I can say that we have just begun the journey and commend the members of our faculty, staff, alumni and trustees for joining me in this vision and journey into the future.

What lies ahead for us is as precious and promising as the great legacy of the past.

  • We have defined our future in the very exciting 2012-2017 Strategic Plan approved by our Board of Trustees in their February, 2012 meeting.
  • We are moving in the direction of increasing our student body numbers. 
  • We are strengthening the ties that bind us to our alumni, churches and regions.
  • We are working hard to be inclusive as we reach out to our supporting denominational connections with the Pacific Coast Baptist Association (PCBA), Progressive Baptist Church, the National Baptist Churches USA, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ), Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME). We are committed totally to increasing the number of students from our American Baptist family as we reach out more and more to our ABC Churches.
  • We are working hard in helping the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) to vision her future.
  • We are pursuing with great energy the extension of our services through our “Seminary without Walls” Proposal in Los Angeles California, Denver Colorado and Portland Oregon.

I realize that the above bulleted items reflect only the tip of the iceberg for our seminary. We have so much more to do to make sure that our seminary is the place where men and women desire to invest their future in theological education.

The challenges for the future are great but in no way overwhelming. We’ve overcome greater obstacles and still we are here. We can never forget our past and if we do we are doomed to repeat it. We are called upon to seize the future that God has for us.

I believe in the power of a praying community and solicit your prayers and support in the efforts needed to make sure that the American Baptist Seminary is secure in the future.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support. Thank you for being that committee of one, speaking a good word for the seminary. Thank you for being that one who told another one that ABSW is a good place to study in preparation for their ministry.

Our future calls for our community: alumni, churches and regions to find ways to increase financial support to the seminary. This is critical and this is my closing challenge to all of us.

May God bless all of us and especially the future of the American Baptist Seminary of the West.



Dr. Paul M. Martin, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

I get so excited when the Season of Lent comes around each year. The Lenten Season is the doorway opening thoughts of introspection, preparation and renewal for Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some of the best preaching I did as a pastor was during Lent, Good Friday and Easter. I love the hymns of Easter, especially those that open the door to renewal and hope. Hymns like “He Lives”, “He Arose”, “Because He Lives”, and “The Angel Rolled the Stone Away” to name a few. I am sure every Christian resonates with me on the power of this season as a renewal of ones faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Easter represents renewal and resurrection. Recently, I experienced renewal and resurrection as I participated in a marvelous experience on the beautiful campus of the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois where leaders of our denomination, seminaries, colleges, universities and caucuses gathered for a conversation about our life together in our great denomination.

Under the growing excitement of our denominations theme, “Transformed by the Spirit”, we were able to share stories together as we learned about each other, visioning together around mission and learning about our ministry contexts. We did some much needed community building as we listened to and learned about our concerns. We talked about deepening our connections and developing of possible partnerships and finally networking as we disseminated information about our missions and ministries. 

This became a Pentecostal moment for me as a dream of mine began to emerge. It is my dream that we connect with each other in new ways. Jesus reminded his disciples that if the Spirit was to visit and transform them then they had to be in the same place praying and on one accord. Being with my brothers and sisters in this dynamic experience proves to me that our denomination and its ministries are being used by God’s Holy Spirit in a new and vital way. A new wind (Holy Spirit) is blowing over our denomination opening new venues of communication and it is refreshing. It is a transforming moment. If I were to choose a text for this feeling I have, it is the following:

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for people to dwell together

in unity. It is like precious ointment upon the head that ran down

upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts

of his garments. As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that

descended upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord

 commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Psalm 133 NKJV) 

This was a creative and renewing moment for all of us. We found out that we are being challenged to do a new thing for the Lord that has roots in old school experiences. We must be committed to the process of adaptive changes in our ministries that will prepare men and women for ministry in the 21st century. Key to this is the church being yoked in new and exciting ways with our denominational structures. Our common prayer then in light of how the Spirit of God is moving must be:

“Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me,

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me,

Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.”

(From: John 1:32)

Honoring the Past, Building Upon It For the Future

It is always exciting to enter into a New Year and the challenge presented by the New Year as we celebrate in January the legacy of the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the accomplishments of African Americans living in Diaspora in February with the observance and celebration of Black History Month, and the accomplishments and achievements of Women during the month of March.

As a product of the Civil Rights Movement in American, I am so grateful for the work of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week, now month, who set this celebration in motion with the publishing of his magnificent book entitled, The Mis-Education of the Negro, published in 1933. In 1926 Dr. Woodson initiated the annual February observance of Negro History Week. It is said that he chose February for the celebration because February 12th was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and February 14th was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass. It was not until 1970 however that the week was expanded into a month.

It is believed that the motivation behind the establishment of Negro history week by Dr. Woodson was this now famous quote from his book:

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Brought to America as slaves, the achievements of Black men and women had gone unnoticed until the efforts of Dr. Woodson were acknowledged. His work lifted up before Americans and the world community the great contributions that have been made by African Americans to the development of American economy and culture.

Let me share with you some of the acknowledged achievements of African Americans considering, where would we be without their contributions.

There would have been very few crops that flourished because the nation was built on a slave-supported system.

There would be no cities with tall skyscrapers because Alexander Miles, a black man, invented the elevator, and without it, one would have difficulty reaching higher floors.

There would be few if any cars because Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, Joseph Gambol, also black, invented the Super Charge System for internal combustion engines, and Garrett A. Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic signal.

There would be no rapid transit system because is precursor was the electric trolley, which was invented by another black man, Albert R. Robinson.

Even if there were streets on which cars and a rapid transit system could operate, they would be cluttered with paper because a black man, Charles Brooks, invented the street sweeper.

There would be few if any newspapers, magazines and books available to a mass audience because John Love invented the pencil sharpener, William Purvis invented the fountain pen, Lee Barrage invented the typewriting machine, and W. A. Love invented the advanced printing press. They were all of African descent.

Even if Americans could write their letters, articles and books, they would not have been easily transported by mail because William Barry invented the postmarking and canceling machine, William Purvis invented the hand stamp, and Philip Downing invented the mailbox or letter drop.

Our lawns would be brown and wilted because Joseph Smith invented the lawn sprinkler and John Burr the lawnmower.

When we entered our homes, we would find them poorly ventilated and poorly heated, because Frederick Jones invented the air conditioner and Alice Parker the heating furnace. Our homes would also be dimly lit, because Lewis Latimer invented the electric lamp, Michael Harvey invented the lantern, and Granville T. Woods invented the automatic cut off switch. Our homes would also be filthy because Thomas W. Steward invented the mop and Lloyd P. Ray, the dust pan.

Our family needs would be unmet because Jan E. Matzeliger invented the shoe lasting machine, Walter Sammons invented the comb, Sarah Boone invented the ironing board and George T. Sampson invented the clothes dryer.

Finally, we would be resigned to at least have dinner amidst all of this turmoil. But here again, the food had spoiled until another black man, John Standard invented the refrigerator.

These are but a few acknowledged contributions made by African American living in America. There are many more.

What would this country be like without the contributions of African Americans? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,

“By the time we leave for work, millions of Americans have depended on the inventions from the minds of Blacks.”

Dr. Woodson reminds all of us through his insistence on affirming and acknowledging the many contributions of African Americans that Black History includes more than just slavery, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Dubois and President Barak Obama to name a few of the magnificent contributors to the history and culture of America. We are called to honor the past and mandated to build upon that past for the future. For it is true that we all stand on the shoulders of the great women and men of the past.

It was Runoko Rashidi who said,

Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson was truly a great man, an intensely dedicated soldier in the cause of African freedom and redemption. We proudly salute and praise him, and as we begin the new millennium we dedicate ourselves to extending Black History Month into the entire year and the unending an unceasing celebration, recognition and commemoration of the global history of African people.”


Dr. Paul M. Martin

President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

Recount Your Blessings

“Praise ye the Lord, O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good:

for His mercy endureth forever!”  Psalm 106:1-2


Have you ever felt that those who are less faithful than yourself seem to get more blessings? There are times when even the strongest believers think that God is unfair to the believer.  It is not until we stop and review our actual circumstance, the good and the bad, that we reach an understanding about the nature of our blessings.

We are challenged each year at this Thanksgiving time to recount our many blessings and to name them one by one as the hymn suggest. This is the suggestion that David makes for us today through the 106th division of the Psalms. The whole psalm is a litany of reminding us of the many blessings that the Lord bestows on us as his children. Read it!

God’s blessings are new every day and whenever we find ourselves complaining and questioning whether God has blessed us, it may be necessary for us to think only on the goodness of the Lord.

When David realized the magnitude and sufficiency of God’s blessing he could only proclaim,

“Bless be the Lord God of Israel from Everlasting to Everlasting.Let all the people say Amen. Praise the Lord!”

As we approach another celebration of the season of thanksgiving, may all of us be reminded that there are many more reasons to give thanks than not. Let us recount our blessings in light of God’s power, presences and promises.


Dr. Paul M. Martin


American Baptist Seminary of the West

Berkeley, CA