Saturday, December 29, 2007
Watch it now folks. Be sure to set those phasers to stun. I want to talk a little about the other holiday. No not Chanukah. I’m talking about Kwanzaa. My guess is that most of you don’t flow with the big K but that doesn’t keep you from having an opinion about it. From what I can see most black folks I know don’t do the Kwanzaa thing either. For one it’s a week long trek and most of us are just plain wiped out after the Big Toy day. Second there seems to be too much involved especially for those of us who’ve splurged our energy quota on the Winter Solstice holiday. For most Kwanzaa passes with a few obligatory ‘Happy Kwanzaa’s’ to maintain the façade that we’re keeping it real and are still down with whatever blackness we have left.
A few years ago I wrote a response to an article that warned black Christians to stay as far away from Kwanzaa as possible. The writer seemed to believe that Kwanzaa was deliberately intended to take the focus off of Christmas and draw unsuspecting black Christians into a man-made celebration of culture that had nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of Christ. He then urged black Christians refrain from all references to Kwanzaa and to be sure they keep the Christ in Christmas. I responded to this brother for a number of reasons. Firstly, I would never tell him to refuse to celebrate July 4th just because political and not spiritual freedom is the core of the celebration. Secondly, I presume he wouldn’t tell believers of other ethnicities to refuse to celebrate holidays that had particular meaning in their culture as long as that meaning wasn’t a religious one. Thirdly if European Christians could transform an overtly pagan holiday into the celebration of Jesus’ birth then why can’t black Christians celebrate Kwanzaa with a Christian emphasis?
For those who aren’t aware of the actual genesis of Christmas it may be helpful to do a little research on it. In the ancient Roman empire Dec. 25 in all likelihood featured the celebration of the ‘re-birth’ of a pagan deity. Pagan priests would go throughout the city and its temples celebrating his birth with singing, gift-giving and other aspects we associate with the celebration of Christmas. It appears that sometime between 330 and 340 AD Emperor Constantine declared this pagan celebration a Christian holy day commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ and thus Christmas as we know it was born.
I wonder if some of our ancient brothers and sisters questioned this decision? I mean one year they’re ignoring yet another debased pagan celebration and then the next they’re told that Dec. 25 is now to be celebrated as the birth of their Lord. If some of the early saints had reservations I’m sure you could see why. For one the scriptures are quite clear as to some of the most important details surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and yet nowhere do they mention the date of His birth. If that weren’t enough they may have raised the issue that uniting the birth of the world’s savior with a pagan holiday was a tad bit syncretistic. Isn’t it possible that if the church brought the practice of singing, gift-giving, etc. that pagans might assume it’s alright to intermingle other aspects of pagan idolatry with biblical Christianity? Others however could have responded that celebrating Dec. 25th as the birth of Christ could give the church a golden opportunity to declare the gospel to the very pagans who are already open to the belief of deity coming into the world via a human birth. Whether or not those concerns were raised we now know and live with the reality that the vast majority of Christians celebrate Dec. 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth. In effect ancient European Christians converted a pagan holiday into a celebration of worship of our Lord even while keeping many of pagan details of the holiday.
Could the same be said of Kwanzaa? I’m not saying that black believers should try and convert Kwanzaa into another Christian holiday. However, could we not observe it with a Christian emphasis? Some would say absolutely not! They could claim (rightly) that the creator of Kwanzaa did not want religion to be apart of the celebration and actually disdained biblical Christianity. Of course one of the main problems with that stance is that the notion of any communal celebration divorced from the Creator is very un-African. Since Kwanzaa means a celebration of the first fruits couldn’t we use this holiday to lift the eyes of those searching for purpose, unity, community and faith to the real Lord of the harvest?
And even if you have no intention of celebrating or observing Kwanzaa it may not be necessary for you to cast a pharisaic gaze at those who bid you a Happy Kwanzaa. Just reciprocate their wish and pray that the Lord of the harvest will grant you the opportunity to share with them the ultimate blessing of the first fruits.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
It’s less than a month until the Iowa caucuses which begins the 2008 presidential election race. I’m sure many of you have followed the candidates, issues, debates and gaffes from the consistent coverage provided on blogs, newscasts, mags and newspapers. I’m not here to offer an endorsement (not that it would matter) but to offer some thoughts on politics in general and this election in particular.
I offer these thoughts because bible believing Christians are an influential and much sought after constituency for both parties. It seems unlikely that the eventual republican nominee will attain that position without significant support from conservative evangelicals who by the way are mainly white. Nor is it probable that the eventual democratic nominee will lead his or her parties ticket without the support of liberal bible believing Christians most of whom are African-Americans.
How then shall we vote? For many the answer to that question is concrete and clear even while it remains quite divisive. The vast majority of my conservative evangelical brothers, sisters, colleagues and friends are committed to voting for the republican nominee. On the flip side the vast majority of my liberal bible believing brothers, sisters, colleagues and friends are just as committed to voting for the democratic nominee. Both groups are convinced that biblical convictions are driving their decisions. How could one group of people that agree on some of the deepest issues involving eternity have such a divide on some of the most significant issues concerning life in this age? I suspect the reasons are many and perhaps I’ll have time to explore them in future posts.
For now I want to give you an idea of where I’m coming from and hopefully offer some helpful counsel regarding pursuing our witness through the murky waters of politics.
My initial thoughts on the role of politics and government are taken from Deut. 16:18-20
Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Those of us who wish to be guided by scripture with regards to our political decisions have to take this important passage into account.
This passage differs from those in the New Testament that address the issue of government in that it is not given in response to a question. Jesus, Paul and Peter responded to questions concerning how God’s people they were to live in the midst of ungodly governments. It seems that many believers today tend to confine what scripture says about government and politics to those texts alone. In my view however the Deuteronomy passage speaks more to God’s basic motivation for instituting government. God instituted government among His people to carry out biblical social justice. This justice was to be applied to great and small, rich and poor, native Hebrew and immigrant. Other passages indicate that God was particularly concerned with social justice for the poor and powerless (see Exod. 23:1-9, Psalm 82, Isa. 10:1-4 and take special note of Deut. 10:17-19).
How then shall we vote? I’m not entirely sure nor do I plan to encourage you to pick one candidate over another. And that isn’t even the most important aspect of this discussion. As I said before, bible believing Christians from various ethnicities, socio-economic groups and political parties will have a large say in who become the next President of the United States. The question is will that person ride the crest of bible waving support focused on pursuing justice and justice alone or simply use God’s people to pursue the narrow and selfish interest that seems so rampant in politics today?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Here are a couple of new blogspots worth your while. Brothers Lionel and Tyris have launched Black and Reformed Ministries. They have good blogs and great sermon feeds from several good brothers. I like the fact that they're consciously highlighting good reformed churches and giving folks a place to hear solid biblical preaching. Bookmark this site as you'll be going back frequently.
The other blog is the work of the Ebony Puritan and focuses on the themes brought up during the last Miami Pastor's Conference. I've linked both to this page but you'll want to bookmark them yourself.
Finally, praise God for what He's doing in our community. Please pray for these brothers and others like them such as our own Q-D.O.G. at Truth in the Innermost that the Lord will continue to move through them to press the reformation into our churches and communities.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Last month CLF was blessed to host Papa Playground’s annual Flag Football Banquet. Papa Playground is the name of our neighborhood recreation center. We became involved with them when a few of our members volunteered to be coaches and referees for their fall flag football league. Once we started helping out with flag football they asked us if we’d be willing to assist them with other services such as hosting the league’s annual banquet and we were more than happy to do so.
I was especially grateful for all the folks at CLF who volunteered to cook food, decorate, set up, serve and clean up once the event was over. I was all the more encouraged since this banquet came right on the heels of an annual Fall Festival community event we put on for neighborhood children and their families.
Consistent, proactive, community engagement is one of the core values of CLF. It’s my hope and prayer that every member will cultivate an attitude that moves them to adopt a lifestyle of service for a lifetime. I recently preached on Abraham’s prayer for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and after explaining how Jesus is the one righteous man who saves us from destruction I posed a question. I asked what might happen if we had ten people devoted to serving in our community on a regular basis? What if we had twenty people willing to do so? How about 30 or 40 or 50 or one hundred? How many people could we touch, how much of an impact could we have, how would our community be different if we had dozens of believers constantly investing their time and talents in the community where we worship?
I ask questions like these because I know what it means to do the church thing. Though I wasn’t raised in church by the grace of God I got saved at an early age (around 16). Upon getting saved I threw myself into the church scene and was heavily involved in church stuff during the first 14 years or so of my walk with the Lord before going into full-time ministry. I estimate that on any given week I probably spent between 10 and 12 hours outside of Sunday with church activity. That was also true of many of the good folks I was blessed to serve with. Moreover, not only were we encouraged to do this, but for the most part we were the ones many thought were among the most solid and mature. And it didn’t matter the church context. Whether Pentecostal or Presbyterian, heavy church involvement along with a few other things was considered the mark of mature Christianity.
During these years I almost never spent time contributing to the general welfare of my community or the community where my church was located. (that’s not to say that the churches I was involved with weren’t contributing to some of the essential needs of our community. As long as they were faithful to preaching the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ they were making a valuable and unique contribution to the well-being of their community) Reflecting on that time however I believe one of our problems was the attitude we took with the community. In effect we said ‘you know where we are (the big stone building on the corner) and if you want to get saved come on in’. We failed however to imitate the evangelism of Jesus and the apostles by consistently engaging our community by doing good. Looking back on this time in my life I’m astounded at the reality that two churches I belonged to and was heavily involved with (one Pentecostal, one Presbyterian) literally had hundreds of members with thousands of skills, abilities and talents most of which never saw the light of day within their own communities.
So I’m asking for your prayers. Since planting CLF I’ve longed to have a fellowship whose members view a lifestyle of service for a lifetime as central to their growth and maturity in the Lord. I’ve longed to see our members heavily invested in the life of the community we worship in. Praise the Lord we’re off to a good start with many of our folks eager to put these things into practice. Please pray that our Covenant Lord will bless our desire with concrete service so that the Name of Jesus Christ will be honored, revered and cherished and that His gospel floods West Philly like the waters cover the sea.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Can we be both black and reformed? Is there such a thing as an authentically black reformed church? What changes if any should black churches expect to make if they intend to embrace the truths of the reformation? Is reformed theology and practice so inherently white that it cannot be authentically transported and embraced by other cultures? The brothers of The Council of Reforming Churches have begun a series of posts to address these issues. Be sure to check them out and join the discussion.
Update: Rev. Kevin Smith who pastors the Watson Memorial Baptist Church and teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Center and Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile who pastors First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman have dropped some knowledge on the Culture Clash subject.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Monday, December 03, 2007
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at The Baal Network. This past Thanksgiving while waiting for my usual double dose of turkey and stuffing myself and a few relatives watched a variety type program on TBN. The show featured the usual singing and testimony type stuff complete with studios decked with boughs and holly. At one studio the hostess ( I think it was Jan Crouch, anyway she was a serious Tammy Faye Baker look-alike) took the viewing audience into a gift shop called ‘The Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh store. There she met up with inspirational rock singer Carmen and both began to hawk the trinkets available in the store.
Now I realize that we’re supposed to be open minded and non-judgmental and all that but it appeared to me that the whole program and especially that segment was nothing more than a pitch to sell more junk during the holidays. And it’s not that I’m against selling things and making money, but at what point does the sale of bangles and baubles with little baby Jesus on them go to far?
Before we go on let me get a few things straight. First of all I’m not one of those ‘Jesus is the reason for the season dudes‘. Since scripture nowhere tells us the date of our Lord’s birth (which most certainly was not Dec. 25) I for one don’t think we need to threaten the culture with gloom and doom if they take ‘Christ’ out of Christmas. Furthermore if our churches cultivated worship that highlighted and emphasized the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ each week instead of trying to outdo MTV then we might actually have some confidence in encouraging God’s people to invite folks to church on any given Sunday and not just Christmas time. In my view if you want to celebrate Dec. 25 as the birthday of Christ more power to you. However you are neither a heretic or heathen should you choose not to commemorate that day.
My problem is with the crass way The Baal Network uses the things of God including the birth of Christ as a springboard to shovel more useless crap down our throats. Why is that any of my business? Who am I to judge? Is TBN really hurting anyone? Setting the theological concerns aside (and they are legion) for a moment let’s approach the issue from a purely pragmatic viewpoint. Some of you may be aware that Senator Church Grassley has requested to see the financial statements of several high profile ministry leaders. He’s questioning how the leaders supposedly non-profit organizations can afford to live such lavish lifestyles. In one example Senator Grassley wanted Joyce Meyers to explain the tax-exempt purpose of purchases that included a commode with marble top bought for $23,000.00 for her headquarters. As far as I know most if not all of the ministries contacted by Sen. Grassley broadcast on The Baal Network. TBN and these ministries along with others generate hundreds of millions of dollars from viewer contributions. And you as well as I know that they’re not getting that money from the tooth fairy. From what I can tell (at least if my believing relatives are any gauge) a good deal of those who watch and therefore donate are black folks.
Think about what that might mean. Could it be that The Baal Network and the priests and priestesses who profit from it are taking hundreds of thousands perhaps even millions of dollars out of the black community? What could churches that serve among poor African-Americans do if they and not TBN were given those funds? How many black churches could hire full time staff for youth and outreach if the millions of dollars black folks flush on The Baal Network were invested in local community development? And is it really fair for us to cry foul for what the white man is or is not doing while we gleefully send our seed offering to pagan priests and priestesses who use it for bathroom fodder?
Now tell me who or what might stop them? What plan do we (that is the black church) have to plug this drain of precious funds from our communities? From what I can tell Heresy Incorporated has no intention of giving up their cash cow. Is there a point where we say ‘enough is enough’? My goal in these posts about The Baal Network wasn’t just to bash them for the sake of bashing. I just wanted to point out the consequences of perverted theology and to stress that what one believes about scripture, God, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Spirit, God’s kingdom etc. carries a cost.
And in this case the price just might be a few million dollars.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, November 30, 2007
But what are ya'll doing in the hood? It's a frequent and expected question to those who've embraced biblical theology and seek to spread that theology to black churches and the black community. And for the most part it's a good question. A biblical understanding and promotion of the gospel must move us into adopting a lifestyle of service for a lifetime (see Eph. 2:1-10 esp vs. 10). Unfortunately far too many seem to forget the 'biblical understanding of the gospel' part. The underlying assumption in the question is that of all the needs in the hood theology just isn’t one of them.
I wonder, why is it that we’re so quick and eager to accept that what you believe about scripture, God, humanity, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the church etc. are barely relevant to how you view life and the choices you make. How is it that there can be so much talk about ‘holistic’ ministry and yet as soon as someone utters the first syllable of forbidden ‘T’ word he or she is told how irrelevant they are?
Let me give another example from The Baal Network. This time while at the in-laws my mother-in-law got a phone call from a friend urging her to turn on one of their favorite Baal priests. She quickly hung up the phone and did so. Having heard enough of this garbage before I remained in another room trying to block out the flood of blasphemy spewing from this priest’s mouth. After the usual ‘just speak it and it will happen mantra’ (btw can someone please tell me why people sit week after week and day after day to hear the same tired phrases? One would think that if you haven’t got what you want after speaking into existence for the last ten years you’re probably not going to get it, but I digress) I nearly fell into the fireplace when he said ‘you know why I’m not going to hell? Because I speak against it!’ Upon hearing that I jumped up and once more warned my mother-in-law that she’s listening to blasphemy. This man just said that he will avoid God’s anger against sin not by the sinless life, sacrificial death and powerful resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ but by his own spiritual power and fortitude.
If that weren’t enough (and if it’s not we’ve got much, much more serious problems than I thought) there’s the whole issue of the ‘you must speak and create the reality you want’ theology. Did you notice how this theology moves the church away from pursuing justice and community involvement? Think about that for a moment. If I believe that one’s quality of life is directly related to his or her own personal faith then why would I bother with the work of addressing structural or cyclical injustice? My theological worldview tells me that their problems are due to their own lack of faith not broken homes, failing schools or lack of opportunity. If they don’t want to be poor and sick anymore then they need to start speaking and believing health and wealth for themselves. As one well known preacher used to declare ‘remember you don’t have any problems, all you need is faith in God’.
Wait there’s more. The leaders of the new Baal temples are convinced that they must set the tone and example of success for their followers. How many of us truly believe that the wolves who prowl The Baal Network live anywhere near the hood or encourage their people to do so? How many of them use the pennies of the poor to buy McMansions far out in the burbs? From houses, to cars, to clothes and whatever else he or she wants these grinches steal resources from the hood to use for themselves and themselves alone.
You don’t think theology is important? Next time your unfriendly neighborhood Baal priest drives away in his Lexus after once more looting the poor take a good look around your community and think again.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
And remember… keep the faith. That’s how Tavis Smiley a well know African-American commentator usually signs off his social commentary. Tavis is referring to the ongoing struggle for full equality for black folks. It is that struggle that still defines a large group of African-Americans. Well brother AC from the ATL has written a little something something about the struggle at his blog. It’s worth checking out.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Looking for just the right gift for those special someone’s in your family? Well God’s providence has smiled on you once more. The Decline of African-American Theology From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity is out a few weeks ahead of schedule. This important work by our friend, brother and fellow elder Thabiti Anyabwile traces the theological decline of the black church. With all of the issues affecting black folks why write a book on theology? The fellow elder answers that question on his blog. Give it a look and then order this book for yourself. And then order one for your pastor. After reading it if you feel it’s worthwhile recommend it to friends, family, church members, Sunday school teachers, ministry leaders, assistant pastors and anyone else you think would benefit. While reading it please pray for the black church that the Lord will use this and other means to bring about a reformation for the sake of His savior and the praise of His glory.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Monday, November 26, 2007
The TBN network has to be the ultimate example of truth being stranger than fiction. Apart from seeing it with my own eyes I could not bring myself to believe that an entire network exists to promote rank idolatry under the guise of biblical Christianity and that millions of people watch, believe, try to live by, promote and defend the poison it spews on a daily basis. I caught a bit of The Baal Network this past week while spending some time with my in-laws who’ve locked it on their dial. Though I don’t remember the name of the first Baal priest I saw I won’t soon forget the brash manner in which he twisted the words of our Lord to push his religion of get rich or die trying.
He was speaking from the Matt 6 passage in which Jesus tells His disciples not to worry about our basic physical needs. The context of His teaching begins in verse 19 where Jesus specifically told His followers
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Those are the controlling words of this passage. What follows is a fuller explanation of what Jesus just said. He told us not to be consumed with the desire and accumulation of things. Material wealth does not last, cannot really satisfy and won’t provide security. Instead of investing our lives into getting more and more we are to pour ourselves into the advancement of His kingdom which will move us to do good and impact the lives of others. The gracious eternal reward generated through a lifestyle of service for a lifetime will never wear out, never be taken away and never fail to satisfy us completely. That’s because the Lord Himself is our reward and being present with Him will bring us all of the soul satisfaction we could ever hope for. Having such a hope liberates us from the ungodly pursuit of wealth and materialism at all cost. Much more could be said about the passage, especially Jesus’ metaphor of the eye being the lamp of the whole body. If materialism therefore is the sole focus of your existence then it is a sad empty existence indeed.
Somehow the baal priests and priestesses on TBN don’t get that. This particular priest took the words of our Lord that instruct us to refuse to follow greed’s trap and turned them into a call for new cars, new homes and great vacations. Upon referring to Matt. 6:32 (‘…your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things‘…) the priest went onto ask how many people in his audience needed a new car. When only a few raised their hands he took it to the next level and with utter disregard for the plain teaching of the passage shouted confidently ‘how many of you want a new car?’ Once everybody chimed in and started drinking the kool-aid he pressed his advantage and asked ‘who wants a new house and nice vacation. His implication was clear. Jesus wants you to run after things. Your life is defined by the things you have. Regardless of where you are now financially you’re not living the ‘victorious’ Christian life until you get what you want, all that you want and when you want it. And guess what? Jesus was born, spent a lifetime as a real man, endured Satan’s temptations, was constantly challenged by ungodly religious leaders (who by the way have the same values and attitudes of those of The Baal Network) was betrayed, put through a sham trial, mocked, jeered, denied, abandoned, beaten to a bloody pulp and then after having nails banged into His hands and feet was lifted naked onto a wooden cross. He then endured the full weight of the Father’s fierce, settled, righteous, passionate anger against the sin of the world until finally while on the cross the Father with whom He had enjoyed eternal fellowship with turned away as His own sinless Son was made to be sin. And then He died.
And why did the Lord of glory endure such grievous pain and death? So that you could sow your seed offering, claim your blessing and have yet one more thing to put in your Public Storage locker.
Folks enough is enough. These people aren’t in error, misguided or confused. They’re deliberately prostituting scripture, the cross and Jesus Christ to engorge their own debauched greed. How many people will listen to them and go further into debt just to live the ‘victorious’ life? How many people will refuse to see and believe what scripture plainly teaches about money and wealth and see riches beyond belief in every passage? How many people will be dissatisfied with a living, thriving, worshiping relationship with the God of steadfast love and instead simply use Him to get their next plasma t.v.? How many people will continue to exchange the eternal glory of the immortal God for the temporary glitter of the golden baals of our day? And at what cost to their souls will they do so?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, November 23, 2007
'Why do I have to sit through boring sermons and old music that don't speak to my real needs and problems?'"
Welcome to American ‘Christianity’ where the phrase ‘me, myself and I’ is our mission, motto, vision, creed and confession. For many of you that’s probably not news. What’s ironic is how this version of ‘Christianity’ has apparently taken the church by surprise. A recent article in Leadership journal detailed the faith attitudes of five distinct kinds of Christians. No longer do we identify ourselves in terms of denominations with distinct confessions of faith. (that’s sooooo last century) The terms Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian etc. have about as much meaning as the Whig and Bull Moose Party. According to the article Christians should now be identified as belonging to one of five camps: Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private and Cultural. For many their beliefs aren’t so much convictions grounded in scripture that move and shape the way think, speak and live but feelings centered in what they feel God should be like.
The reason for this latest bru ha ha is you guessed it a significant (and possibly growing) segment of those who identify themselves as Christian no longer see the church as a primary outlet for spiritual growth. Once again folks this is not news. Even Willow Creek has come to the conclusion that giving the people what they want doesn’t translate into the people wanting the living God. Treat sinners as religious consumers and eventually they will follow consumerism to its logical conclusion. That’s what many retailers are finding out on this Black Friday. Why struggle and press to wait three hours in the cold for the big box store’s special one day sale when you can get up, make a cup of coffee and surf the web in your jammies. So goes Best Buy, so goes First Baptist or Presbyterian, or Methodist etc.
As I said before however this is not news. What is interesting is that 25 or thirty years after the church growth revolution supposedly delivered us from boring worship and irrelevant sermons a whole new generation has arisen who don’t see the church as relevant for their ‘relationship’ with God. Now you’d think our latest crop of experts would have learned the lessons of 25 years of basically Christ-less Christianity. You’d think that after observing that over 60% of those who identify themselves as Christian don’t see Jesus Christ as central to their faith that they would counsel pastors and leaders return to Christ centered and focused worship, Christ centered and focused preaching and Christ centered and focused ministry.
You’d be wrong. In fact after noting that tolerance in our society has produced a climate in which ‘God’ is in and Jesus is out one expert offered the following counsel: “What we need to do is reintroduce people to Jesus, his story, his life and his teachings.”
Now here’s bonus quiz question: How many people do you know that have a real problem with Jesus’ story, life and teachings? This is especially true when we divorce His story from its old covenant context, reduce His life to just an example and cherry pick His teaching to suit our comfort seeking ears.
You know what they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. When will we learn? Over two decades ago the pied pipers of church growth told us that downplaying our theological convictions and moving away from the dreaded ‘D’ (doctrine) word was the path toward connecting with our culture. The holy grail of relevance was to be found by showing our heart for people which will of course awaken their hearts. And now guess what? The culture is telling us that they’re connection to God is going quite well without the church, without the cross and without Christ. Well, Job’s counselor’s are back and in light of the our present challenges what advice to they give? The article ends with this quote "Christianity is about Christ, and it is about that personal relationship. We have to not focus on explaining Pauline theology, but on the person and ministry of Christ. We have to be people who live out the life of Christ. People aren't generally interested in theological teaching. But everyone has a heart for the one who had a heart for us."
Thanks but no. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me!
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, November 16, 2007
My.. My… my. That’s what Pastor Ricky Armstrong said after Michael Leach’s message on The Gospel and Creation and that about sums up the reaction to the just completed Miami Pastor’s Conference at Glendale Baptist Church. You can find other reactions to the conference over at Non Nobis Domine, Pure Church and Truth in the Innermost. The conference was like that first slice of grandma’s special secret recipe sweet potato pie. Don’t get me wrong though. This conference wasn’t filled with theological fluff. The brothers brought the noise on what the gospel is, what it isn’t and our mandate to impact and disciple our society with the gospel. These brothers were like the grandmothers of old: taking their time to prepare the family meal just right. From the succulent and tender turkey, chicken and ham to the butter smooth mashed potatoes with that special gravy, to the creamy down home mac and cheese and the no doubt about it spicy collard greens this conference more resembled a grand family reunion than a series of talks about theology.
And you know you can’t have a family reunion without food. The good folks at Glendale Baptist Church fed us and fed us well. One of the important features of this conference are the communal meals we enjoy between the sessions. The saints at Glendale made it possible for us to talk and get to know one another and hear what our Lord is doing to raise up a people focused on His glory and gospel. We had representatives from California to the Caribbean and were encouraged by how the Lord is working to bring reform to our people here and abroad. Along with the food we enjoyed enriching worship, meaningful fellowship, informative side seminars and powerful preaching. And brothers and sisters these brothers preached. I don’t want to take anything away from the multitude of other reformed conferences but mercy me. These brothers preached the gospel with conviction, clarity and passion. It was a Spirit-filled gracious display of God using His servants to declare the treasured truths of His word in ways that drew our hearts and minds to worship, praise, reflect on and glory in the One who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.
Brothers and sisters God is moving to bring reformation to His people. I thank God for faithful men like Rev. Ricky Armstrong, Ken Jones, Anthony Carter, Michael Leach, Sherard Burns, Michael Horton, Reddit Andrews and Tom Ascol who encouraged our hearts and challenged our minds with the word of God. I also thank the Lord for the seminary students, fellowship of pastors, precious mothers and good brothers and sisters He's raising up for such a time as this. The conference is over but the work goes on. We don’t plan to stop with conferences or confine ourselves to blogs. No, no, no. By the grace and power of our living Lord we hope to have a movement that will cause us to marvel at His work and revival so that years from now we can look back on what He’s done, shake our heads and say my… my… my.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Monday, November 05, 2007
The countdown has begun. Our Lord willing in about three days the 2007 Miami Pastor’s Conference will begin with a pre-conference workshop on making the case for Reformed Theology among African-Americans. From there the conference will attempt to address one of the most (if not the most) important questions of our time, namely: What Is The Gospel?
I’m sure you know by now that it’s my conviction that this conference, the movement it’s apart of and the theme it seeks to address are critical to the resurrection of blackness in God’s image and for His glory. Black will be neither beautiful or meaningful until and unless we recognize that the purpose of our particular history, struggle, culture and people is to love, delight in, serve, worship, obey and follow the living God through the Person of Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ and Christ alone that we’ll discover our significance, dignity, identity, reason for being, satisfaction, security, destiny and authentic hope.
The Miami Pastor’s Conference will also serve as the coming out party of the Council of Reforming Churches. CRC is a group of pastors and churches that have banded together to see biblically reformed theology planted, take root in and eventually flourish within the black church and black community. Our hope is to raise a network of individuals and churches that will work together to see reformed theology impact our people and community. CRC is not limited to just black people. However just as Paul had a great yearning to see his own people come to embrace the richness of Jesus Christ so we desire to see our brothers after the flesh come to understand, know, embrace and delight in the living God. We therefore invite and encourage anyone regardless of ethnicity to work along with us to pursue our core goals.
You can begin by going to the CRC website looking up the member churches and begin to pray for them. Pray that the Lord will strengthen these congregations through the power of His Spirit so that they will godly impact for truth upon those they seek to serve. Pray for their pastors that they would continue to be men of integrity who preach the word faithfully, pastor God’s people wisely, devote themselves to loving their wives and children and seek to spread the gospel of God’s grace in their communities.
Finally, please pray for the conference. Pray that the Lord will enrich us with His word and through our mutual fellowship. Pray that relationships will form that press for the renewal and resurrection of God’s people within the black church and community. Pray that our Lord will use the conference to continue His work and bring reformation to our people for His own praise and glory.
For Christ, His Church and the Truth
Thursday, November 01, 2007
So where do we go from here? Blackness is dead and no amount of denial, willful blindness or intentional deafness will bring it back again. Culturally, politically and spiritually our goal, hope and focus as a people is on success and the good life. And the pied pipers leading the charge are the so-called ministers of the new black Laodicean churches. They’ve convinced us that it’s not only God’s will for us to be wealthy but that wealth, fame and success are the substance, point, purpose and goal of existence and redemption. Meanwhile the hood crumbles under the weight of anger, grief, frustration and despair even as our new super-apostles drive to their distant suburban homes in Bentleys bought with the pennies of the poor.
I may have said this before but it is important to say it again. In my view (and yes I’m only one man and a fallible man at that) the deviant, destructive, non-biblical poison known as word of faith theology (and don’t be fooled folks it is a theology) is the greatest challenge and obstacle to the resurrection of blackness and the restoration of our churches and communities today. It is a greater threat than the growing presence of the Nation of Islam, a greater threat than our increasing secularism and yes a greater threat than continued white racism.
Once we give credence to, believe, accept, promote and begin to practice a theology that radically changes the objective scriptural view of God, scripture, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ and the Spirit we’re on the path to an idolatry that will only lead to the eternal destruction of our souls even as we sing about the blessing of Abraham in our cavernous cathedrals.
So where do we go from here: We’ll begin with the ‘five solas’: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, To God Be the Glory Alone. These were the substantive issues that framed the Reformation and pitted the theology of the reformers against the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. It is my view that these are still the salient theological issues of our time and the ones that will contrast our theology and the churches born of that theology with the new theological heretics of the Black church. Moreover, these great theological themes along with the doctrines of grace must be the theology that forms the basis of our unity with other Reformed believers burdened with impacting the black church and community with biblical theology whether they are Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran or Pentecostal/Charismatic.
Consequently we must meet the enemy at the point of attack by stating and reasserting the solas as the foundation of our theology. Functionally, we must preach, teach, promote and plant churches that stress that Scripture and Scripture Alone forms the basis of our thought, belief and practice. Scripture, not our impression or supposed visions, dreams or new revelations dictate what we believe and how we practice our beliefs. Standing on Scripture alone will mean that we reject any notion that God is communicating any kind of new, authoritative truth that is in any way binding on His people. We are not called to get a ‘new word’ from God, but to be faithful to the word already given in Scripture. We must train, pray for and support pastors who stress our conviction of Scripture alone by faithfully preaching through Scripture in a systematic, expository manner. They will allow the themes and form of a particular passage determine of the theme and form of their sermons. Additionally, they will focus on preaching through books of the Bible which will give them ample opportunity to highlight God’s character and nature even as they emphasize the centrality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Emphasizing Christ Alone will enable new and revived churches to place the weight of our eternal salvation and our people’s only hope on the shoulders of our sovereign, sinless Savior Jesus Christ. Preaching Christ and His cross will bring us into direct conflict with deviant, perverse heretical theology. For the Christ of Scripture is the historical Jesus, the eternal Son of God who was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day He physically rose from the dead with the same body in which He was buried. His sinless life, vicarious death and powerful resurrection have achieved and secured a salvation from sin for His people. He is the Head of the church and we are bound to follow His agenda, not co-opt Him into following ours. We categorically and vigorously reject any notion that salvation is primarily a deliverance from poverty, sickness or the pathway to a trouble free ‘victorious’ life. Furthermore we declare emphatically and preach intentionally that Christ and Christ alone is mankind’s only hope for a permanent right relationship with God the Father.
Scripture declares that Jesus saves His people by Grace Alone. Salvation is completely a work of the triune God. God the Father chose a people to save before the creation of the world. God the Son lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death for those people and God the Spirit applies this great salvation to God’s people by giving them new life and bringing them to faith in the finished work of Christ, (see 2 Thes. 2:13-14). Preaching salvation by grace alone frees our churches to put our trust fully in the work of God’s Spirit through the proclamation of the word of God. We are thus liberated from using manmade gimmicks and techniques like altar calls to assure ourselves that God is at work in the hearts of His people. Proclaiming salvation by grace alone also liberates God’s people from captivity to manipulators who deceive them into believing that there is something they can do to assure God’s favor and grace. We stand on, preach and believe that we are rescued from God’s wrath and given a permanent right standing in Him by grace alone.
This salvation by grace alone, grounded in Christ alone is obtained by Faith Alone. It doesn’t depend on our family values or the fact that we’ve been born as apart of a historically oppressed minority. Considering our present context it is important to emphasize that Biblical faith is not a special magical or supernatural force that changes our present reality. Nor is the issue how much faith we have or the quality of our faith. Biblical faith for salvation is a conviction of certain eternal realities concerning our sin, God’s holiness, Christ’s perfect work and God’s response to that work. By declaring that salvation is through faith alone we are affirming that people are justified (i.e. declared to be in a permanent right relationship with God) by believing in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone. There is nothing to be added nor is our faith a manifestation of our spiritual power, but God’s gift to us.
Finally, our new Biblically driven Reformed churches will promote and proclaim that all of life and salvation is to and for God’s Glory Alone. God’s glory and not our selfish quest for wealth, comfort, convenience, prestige and power is the point, aim and pursuit of our lives. Our churches must highlight God’s glory alone by featuring worship services that focus on praising, adoring, reflecting on and stressing His character and nature as expressed fully in the Person, work and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Instead of appealing and catering to the interest of religious consumers these churches will look to make active followers of Jesus Christ. These are disciples who follow our Lord through passionate worship, a diligent holy walk and consistent bold witness. Moreover, they make major and minor life decisions based on how they further the witness of the gospel.
Please join me in praying that our Lord will raise up a generation of disciples willing to plant and convert churches whose chief desire is to see the glory of our Lord cover our communities as the waters cover the sea.
Related sermon: A Theology For The City
To Him Who Loves Us…
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Blackness is dead, but not out. Like our father Abraham we believe in Him who raises the dead. In fact one could say that death and resurrection are God’s specialty. As much as we lament the death of blackness and as bleak as it looks for us and our children there is even more reason to have hope.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! God created black people on purpose for His purpose. By His grace and power we don’t have to spend yet another century languishing in urban ghettos nor must we confine our vision for life to the American dream. We’ve been created to spread godliness throughout the earth and empowered by His Spirit and armed with His word we can begin doing just that.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! Despite our sin, rebellion and wickedness the Lord is neither dispassionate nor completely fair. The promise of a Savior who will repair the rupture that Adam created applies to us just as it does others.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! Abraham’s seed has come and blessed the nations with salvation. Now we too can enjoy a worshiping covenantal relationship with the Covenant Lord.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! God’s power to save hasn’t diminished one micro-bit. The One who overthrew the pseudo gods of Egypt, and parted the Red Sea so that His people passed through on dry land has sent a deliverer greater than Moses to liberate all who believe from spiritual bondage. We don’t have to walk in the sins of our fathers nor follow the sinful patterns of our mothers.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! The One who caused His people to hunger so that they would know that man doesn’t live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God has given us His Spirit, a new nature, the example of His Son, each other and His eternal, authoritative and powerful word. He will watch over, care for, sustain and even cause us to thrive in the wilderness of 21st century America.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! For a greater captain than Joshua has gone to prepare a place for us. True we may live and die in the hood but the meek will still inherit the earth.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! For the Lord Himself has sent His champion to defeat our sin. The one enemy that could permanently remove us from God’s presence has been vanquished. Our champion like His great ancestor David showed that salvation doesn’t come through our own efforts or ingenuity. We’re not saved just because we’re black nor kept from salvation because we’re black. We’ve been rescued from God’s wrath by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone so that we and the world will know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD'S.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! Because He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
The miracle of miracles is that each and everyone of us should have been despised and rejected by the living God. We should have borne the weight of our own grief and ourselves been stricken, smitten and afflicted by a holy God and yet He’s chosen to show grace and not fairness to us.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! The great Shepherd of our souls says Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! The Lord has kept His promise to make a new covenant that’s not like the old one made at Mt. Sinai. Now by the grace of God black people don’t have to follow the faulty rules of this world, the futile cravings of our own nature nor the foolish temptations of Satan. We too can have God’s law written on our hearts. We too can know that the Lord is our God and we are His people.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! The Lord is the God of the resurrection. He can and will send His Spirit to restore life to individuals, families and peoples that are dead in sin. He will send His word preached in the power of His Spirit to impart new life to our people, our communities and our churches. The Lord Himself has the power, goodness and grace to raise an army of black people devoted and dedicated to do His will. The Lord Himself can send His Spirit through the preaching of His word into moribund communities and arrest the sad cycle of despair, frustration, anger, violence, grief and more despair. Through the preaching of the foolish cross God can cause black folks to know that He, not white people is God and God alone.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! Jesus Christ the son of David is the great king who binds His people whether black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Jew, Arab, Indian or whatever else into one people, with one purpose and one King. Jesus rescues all of us from our cultural idolatry and satisfies all our longings for hope, healing, significance, satisfaction, identity, security, wholeness and destiny.
Can these bones live? Yes they can! For we know The Secret. What is it? Just ask Nebuchadnezzar. He discovered The Secret and praised Him who lives forever saying ‘his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"
Can these bones live? Yes they can! We have Jesus, the king of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus, God’s last prophet and great high priest. We have Jesus the One from Mary’s virgin womb. Jesus the One who read the scroll of Isaiah and declared that He is the One who fulfills it. Jesus the word made flesh whose glory John, the apostles and thousands of others gazed upon in real time day after day. Jesus the One who told His followers that He is the theme, subject, substance, point, plot, main character and culmination of Scripture and by extension life, history and salvation. Jesus the one specially and specifically put forth by the Father as the propitiation for the sin of all of God’s people.
Can these bones live? Yes they can and they will! For we have Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. The One who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
To Him Who Loves Us…
A few of the brothers of CLF got together for a picture Sunday after church. And why did we feel a need to show our smiling faces on a sunny Sunday afternoon? The pic is for a banner to be put up at our local neighborhood recreation center. A couple of months ago one of our members approached them to ask if we could use their field to begin a flag football league. Since they already had a league however we gladly accepted their invitation to work along with them in it. But they weren’t finished. As with most of the recreation centers in Philly there’s a lot of need but few resources. They’ve asked us to participate as much as we want and even put our church name and logo on the back of the t-shirts for the flag football.
This is a great blessing for our fellowship and we ask your prayers for God’s power and wisdom to continue engaging our community with the gospel. This particular rec center regularly serves hundreds of children and their parents. We’re already planning to serve and host their annual flag football league banquet and are looking into other ways we can serve them consistently.
And what will the banner read: Glad you asked. The brother from the rec center who suggested it would like it to read as follows:
Christ Liberation Fellowship
Loves Papa's Sports Programs and
Supports both Spiritual and Physical Growth
Loves Papa's Sports Programs and
Supports both Spiritual and Physical Growth
To Him Who Loves Us…
Monday, October 29, 2007
Tyler Perry’s ‘Why Did I Get Married’ appears to be somewhat of a departure from his earlier movies. All in all it was a pretty good effort. The story centers around four couples and their struggles to make their marriages work. A few of the scenes are compelling and it moves along pretty well. One of the surprising things about the movie was its lack of preachiness. For those who aren’t familiar with Tyler Perry he gained fame within the black church community with a series of plays with overtly Christian themes in which he portrayed "Madea" the family matriarch and voice of conscience.
Like his other movies ‘Why Did I Get Married’ is based on one of his plays. The title comes from a book authored by one of the characters played by Janet Jackson. Back to the lack of preachiness. Though Mr. Perry is a Christian it didn’t appear to me that he wanted to use the movie to promote the message of the gospel. The film does however convey a strong pro-marriage theme. This isn’t what I’d call a masterpiece and you can probably leave the Kleenex at home. It does have some funny moments and isn’t a bad flick for a night out.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord God, you know."
Coming Soon - Blackness The Resurrection.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Last Tuesday evening I was one of about 400 men gathered in the auditorium of West Philadelphia High School for the purpose of taking back the streets of Philadelphia. This was the first regional meeting of the ’It’s a new day 10,000 Man Call To Action Coalition’. The meeting lasted about an hour or so during which we were given an overview of our mission for the next several months. Within the next few weeks these men will walk the streets of our communities and engage your young people with a positive message of peace and hope. Please pray for all the men involved and for those we get the opportunity to speak with. Also pray for me that the Lord will empower me to declare the gospel to my squad as well as to those young brothers God providentially sends my way.
The Lord’s Peace
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Though I’ve never really gotten into ‘American Idol’ it does serve as a great illustration for how I used to view and live out my salvation. Don’t dismiss this to quickly, for my experience as a believer as well as contact with hundreds of other believers confirm my observations. A.I. (no, not that A.I.) begins with tens of thousands of people who believe that they have enough talent to be America’s next singing sensation. They’re convinced that their innate talent (no matter how much or little they actually have) will eventually carry them to the top. Armed with an unwavering belief in their talent these intrepid souls venture off to sing in front of complete strangers with the hope of appearing before Paula, Randy and Simon.
By now those appearances before the big three are legendary. Most of us have seen people who truly had talent, could no doubt throw down and if all the stars align just right could indeed become America’s next idol. Then there are the others. Those who’ve either deceived themselves or had some odd desire to be humiliated on national television. Upon finally (and mercifully) finishing they draw the usual comments from the big three. Paula ‘you’re a really nice guy and we appreciate you coming to try out’, Randy ‘yo dawg I can hear you tryin’ but I’m really not feelin it man’, Simon (with that perpetual look of bemused consternation) … ‘that was bloody awful, why don’t you do us all a favor and donate your vocal chords to science so we can finally find a cure for whatever disease you have‘. For those who do make the cut, who actually impress all three judges there’s a free trip to Hollywood. Even if you’ve never watched the show most of us have seen the promo spots in which people having been told they’ve made it break out in wild expressions of joy. Some scream to the top of their lungs while clutching a loved one while others break down and cry overwhelmed with the knowledge that they actually made it.
Of course Hollywood is where the real competition begins. Everyone has to step up their game because it’s not just a matter of talent now. While the trip was free all the contestants know there’s no security in Hollywood, only the opportunity to prove yourself again. Thus they begin an intense time of trial in which each successive performance will grant you the opportunity to stay alive and sing another day. But don’t have a bad outing. This is not the place to have an off night or hit a wrong note. America’s idol must be the best (or cutest). You’re only as good as your last performance and certainly cannot rest on the work you did to get here.
By the way it probably helps to be truthful about your past before you get to Hollywood. Skeletons lurk in all our closets and the folks at A.I. will find yours. American idol will not be identified with those whose sordid past is brought to light. How sad it is when you’ve sung your best, beat out thousands of other folks to appear before the big three, gained their approval, flown to Hollywood, nailed your first live t.v. performance only to be to asked to see the officials the next day. How devastating it is when they tell you that some unflattering photos were just posted on the net and while they appreciate your time and wish you well you cannot continue on the show.
What does all this have to do with how I used to view my salvation? It began with the notion that God saw some (however small) innate good within me that moved Him to offer His salvation to me. This belief led to a pattern of thought in which I depended on my goodness to maintain His favor. I sincerely thought that if I continued to be good God would be good to me and essentially give me a good relatively trouble free life. I know I thought this way because anytime something bad happened to me I immediately began to do a self-inspection searching for the hidden sin that obviously caused God to display a small measure of His anger toward me. On the other hand I honestly expected good things to continue to happen to me if I was being good. And while I thanked God for them there was a measure of self-congratulations.
Entering salvation without security was similar to the experience A.I. contestants have once they learn they’re going to Hollywood. There’s abundant joy and a palpable sense that a great weight has been lifted. At least for now God approves of me. At least for now He likes me. At least for now He won’t reject me. Sadly neither the warm feelings or good thoughts lasted. I learned and believed that God was initially pleased with my (focus on my) decision to repent of sin and believe in Christ but now I had to prove my worth with good performance after good performance. I mounted the treadmill of death certain that God’s continued grace (how sadly ironic) would continue to flow as I passed each spiritual test thrown my way. Through this time my relationship with God could be compared to a would be idol singing before the judges and wondering what they’re thinking. I was never really sure of where I stood, never really certain of His love, never really secure in His family. With no way to objectively measure my standing in God I once again turned to my performance and life circumstances. As long as things were going relatively well and I was performing relatively well I thought that things were okay (not great, but okay).
If that weren’t bad enough there was the ever present foreboding feeling that there was something in my past that God hadn’t truly and finally dealt with. There was some sin that He would eventually recall to my mind that would significantly change our relationship until He returned or I died. At that time I would stand before God like a would be American idol stands before the judges and await their evaluation and final determination of my performance. Whether I lived or died depended completely on my performance. Welcome to 21st century Christianity. It may not be the gospel, but it certainly makes more human sense and admit it or not it’s the way many of us live our ‘new’ lives.
What is the gospel you say? Glad you asked. According to the apostle Peter (who preached the same gospel as Paul who by the way preached the same gospel as Jesus) the gospel doesn’t begin with our choice to follow God, but His predetermined choice to take us to Himself. Far from this choice being motivated by some innate good God saw in us it was motivated solely by His great love for us and for His own glory. My salvation is secure therefore since it begins not at the time of my confession and conversion but in eternity past when God out of His great love decided to place me in His family. I now rest on the truth that I’m in the family due to God’s goodness not mine. Since my choice was not a result of my performance I’m freed from having to perform to maintain God’s good grace.
How do I know this is true? For one I have believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That could not have happened without a special, gracious and powerful work of God’s Spirit. DON’T FOOL YOURSELF. You had not the wisdom, discernment, spiritual intuition or power to awaken yourself from your own morbid spiritual condition. The Spirit gave me new life, implanted God’s own new nature within me and removed my spiritual blindness so I could see the reality of my sin and run to the cross of Christ.
Why run to Christ? Because He has loved me and freed me from my sins by His blood. By the sprinkling of His blood (1 Pet. 1:2) Christ has liberated me from the shame, guilt, penalty and punishment of my own sin. Christ’s work is so complete and so perfect that I never, ever, ever have to wonder where I stand before the Father. Christ lived the life of moral perfection according to the highest standard ever given to mankind on my behalf. All the things I’d want to do to live up to God’s standards and prove my worth to Him have already been done by Jesus Christ.
This has at least two blessed implications. First, I can permanently retire my treadmill of death. Unlike the next would be American idol I don’t have to complete successive rounds of flawless performances to remain in God’s favor. In Christ I have all the favor I’ll ever need. God regards me in the exact same way He regards the Son He loves. Secondly, I never have to worry about God discovering that last well-hidden skeleton in my closet. You see in salvation God went into my closet and throughout my entire house and got all the skeletons. If that weren’t enough He even dug up the basement went into the foundation and got those skeletons too. When the Father laid my sin on Christ He laid all of my sin on Him. Every single solitary single sin from my birth until the time I close my eyes in death or He returns for has been paid in full by the sinless Son. Every single shred of rebellion, sin, shortcoming, evil thought, action, reaction, word, work and everything else from now until this earthly life for me is over has been accounted and paid for. I enjoy absolute, total, complete security in Jesus Christ. I will never be asked to leave, never be demoted to a second class citizen, never face God’s anger or disappointment. He will always love me, always accept me, always be gracious to me, always be close to me.
To Him Who Loves Us and has freed us from our sins by His blood…
Monday, October 22, 2007
What would Jesus say? I know this one hasn’t quite hit pop culture yet. But now that the phrase is out there you can bet your bottom dollar that someone, somewhere will once again find a way to make a quick buck shilling the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My intent on asking the question isn’t to suggest the motto for a new bracelet but to ponder what would Jesus say to the black church and black community if say He were here today. More to the point what do those of us blessed with blackness and graced with salvation say that Jesus would say to our people? For a few there’s little doubt that the blackness we’ve known is dead and even those who don’t agree with that must at least admit that blackness is in serious trouble if not on life support. And since it’s more likely than not that we’d turn to Jesus Christ as the one having the answers to our current dilemma how would we reply to those of our people who might ask ‘what would Jesus say’.
Turning once more to the Sermon on the Mount let’s look and find the answers to the one of the most important issues of our time: namely what in the world does Jesus have to say to the souls of black folks. For those unfamiliar with the setting Jesus has embarked on His public ministry which consisted of proclaiming the kingdom of God (yes we’ll get to that later) and demonstrating the reality of that kingdom through miraculous healings and exorcisms. He has large (probably thousands) of people following Him from all over Israel both north and south (cf. Matt. 4:24-25).
At one point our Lord while in northern Israel sits down on a mountain or large hill calls his disciples (at least a few dozen or maybe hundreds) and begins to teach them. A few things to keep in mind now. First, Jesus was teaching people who had similar circumstances to many in black America. They were a subdominant group dealing with an antagonistic conquering power and thus were no doubt feeling all of the negative effects of that oppression. My guess is that most if not all of those Jesus spoke to that day had either suffered first hand or known of someone who suffered from Roman brutality. Second the disciples Jesus taught that day would no doubt spread His teaching to their families, friends and whomever else they came into contact with. Third since Jesus claimed a peculiar uniqueness (He actually told people to suffer for His sake and called YHWH His own personal Father) it seems only logical that the Lord believed that His teaching would in some way form the core philosophy concerning how His oppressed people related to Himself, God the Father, each other and the Romans.
So what would Jesus say? For now I’ll leave that to you. Take some time to read and reflect on Matthew 5 through 7. Read it and ask yourself ‘what would Jesus say to me, my family, my relatives, my friends, my neighborhood, my community, my city and my people?
To Him Who Loves Us...
Thursday, October 18, 2007
In the spirit of the upcoming Fall Classic (yes the one the Phightens won’t be in) allow me to give the scheduled lineup for the up and coming Fall Classic.
Batting leadoff and setting the table is our pre-conference workshop ‘African-Americans Making The Case For Reformed Theology’, batting second (and with some pop in the bat) is The Gospel and the Creation of Man, third up (and definitely going for the power alleys) is The Gospel and The Fall of Man.
Hitting clean-up (and clearing the bases and any doubt as to what the gospel is) is The Gospel: What It Is, keeping the pressure on and the power up is our fifth hitter The Gospel and Divine Foreknowledge. Coming off the bench to hit sixth and deliver a clutch pinch hit are workshop sessions on How Romans 1:16-17 Impacts Our Preaching of the Gospel, The Ordo Salutis, Limited Atonement and The Perseverance of the Saints.
Following the seventh inning stretch The Person and Work of Christ will continue our lumber parade followed by The Comfort of The Gospel. Batting ninth in what is sure to be a bat around inning is The Law Gospel Dynamic.
So as T.O. said, bring the popcorn, and get ready for the fireworks.
This Sunday after our worship service I plan to attend the “Call to Action: 10,000 MEN: It’s A New Day in Philadelphia”. This event was called in light of the persistent violence that is engulfing many of Philadelphia’s poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Philadelphia police commissioner Sylvester Johnson is one of the primary advocates of this event the goal of which is to put black men on the streets of Philadelphia to promote peace. The event promises to be more than just another rally. It’s leaders hope to gather 10,000 black men to act in a proactive manner by going into designated communities and deterring unwanted and illegal behavior, thus allowing for the entry and survival of social doctrine and programs. It will facilitate the natural inclination of a man to maintain and protect his women, children, elders and community as a whole. At the rally men will be encouraged to become Peacemakers and receive some basic training on promoting peace and well-being within our communities.
Once this event was announced it got a bit of press in the local Philly news outlets. Some question how effective it will be, while others laud the initiative of the black men who’ve organized it and praise their desire to make a lasting positive difference in their communities. At this point it’s not clear if 100, 1000 or 10,000 men will actually show up this Sunday. What is clear is that Philadelphia is in need of those who want to stand up and make a difference no matter how small. So I ask your prayers as this Sunday I plan to be one in ten thousand.
The Lord’s Peace
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Hey ya'll. Stay tuned for brother Q's next and last post on the church's greatest need. Here's his preview:
For my next post - I hope to conclude my latest series on the Church's greatest need:
"The Church's Greatest Need Part 3 - An Applied Biblical Theology "
In it, I will seek to summarize the need for (and definition of) biblical preaching that seeks to produce a consistent biblical theology that is thoroughly applied. The theology which the Scripture espouses is one that is objective (i.e., "the faith once delivered") and universal transcending all ethnicities and nationalities to produce "one" people of God from every tribe and tongue who are called to faithfully live out the same universal creed.
Believe it or not an Oct. 2005 article in the National Geographic pegged Philadelphia as the next great city. (I’ll wait until the laughter dies down and no they did not overdose on Schuylkill punch) Why have we been so graced you asked? There are a whole host of reasons mainly tied to the revitalization of center city. As urban planner Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class put it “Philadelphia is showing itself to be an "open city," a term that separates America's urban dynamos like San Francisco and Miami from struggling cities like Cleveland and St. Louis. "Open cities welcome people—singles, gays, artists and individuals," he says. "They have excitement and a sense of creative energy."
Growing up on Philly I never thought of it as a world class city in any sense of the word. And while it would perhaps be nice to live in a place that’s no longer thought of as a dirty speed bump between NY and D.C. we who live in the Philly area know that even if we are crowned America’s next great city there are still a host of seemingly intractable issues to face. It appears that no matter how great we become, how much panache we exude, how sparkling our new restaurants are and how lively our downtown night life is we will still live in a city infected and infested with people who like us act selfishly, rudely and inconsiderately. Though we may actually become the next great city Philly will still be a city with trash in the streets, a struggling school system, a division between rich and poor, and an all too high murder rate.
Does that mean that believers should then withdraw from participating in the revitalization of our city and region? Absolutely not! God has placed us here not to live a monkish existence of radical separation from our region but to show care and concern for the issues that affect our city and region. I said region because we cannot maintain a division between the city and its suburbs. We are indeed all in this together. Keep in mind that what benefit’s the city should benefit the region and vice versa. Thus those who live in the burbs should have an interest in the issues of Philadelphia as well as those who live in the city should be concerned about the issues that affect our region.
So whether Philly becomes the next great city or not we are still called to pursue the betterment of our city and region. There is a city however that is destined to become the world’s next great city. It’s the city the apostle John describes in Rev. 21. This is the city we’ve set our hopes on since we know no matter how much things improve in Philadelphia, our region, state, nation and world they are still destined to pass away. This is a city whose grandeur, beauty, diversity, freedom, order and security far surpasses any other place we could conceive of. Of all the features of this city the one that stands out is the full presence of our living Covenant Lord. Zion will be the final culmination of God’s redemptive plan for humanity as it will be the place where He will live with us forever. He will be our God and we will be His people. Zion is the place where we will finally and forever be free of any and all pain, sorrow, grief, trouble, mourning, loss and death. And yet that’s not the ultimate blessing of being a citizen of Zion. While the citizens of Zion most definitely look forward in confident hope to a world free of all pain and all that causes pain what we really want is a world filled with the blessed presence of our living Lord Jesus Christ. It is in Christ and Christ alone that we will realize all our longings for a full life of eternal delight, peace, meaning, acceptance and love. So I give you the world’s next great city. The new Jerusalem, Zion the city of God.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Monday, October 15, 2007
What in the world does reformed theology have to do with Jamal and TaKeisha? They’ve grown up in the hood with a single mom, poor education, few prospects, little hope and a single-minded focus on survival. They need a theology that deals with the here and now, not some pie in the sky pipe dream of the hereafter. We need a theology that will address their issues, not one that dealt with the issues of some long dead white guys in a country and time far, far away. I’m sure you’ve heard that one before. It’s an old (if misplaced and off target argument.) Central to this line of reasoning is that J and T need a theology that prioritizes their temporal needs, issues and challenges. The argument is off base because it has a mistaken view of the real nature of the hypothetical J and T.
Those who promote a ghettoized theology that concentrates on J and T’s physical/economic needs seem convinced that increased economic prosperity translates into increased godliness. This conviction fits in with the long held and trans- cultural belief that rich people are overall more moral and godly than poor people. Armed with this conviction we’re told that the message we must take to the hood isn’t the message of the cross but the gospel of the pocketbook. Once more am I advocating that the church neglects the biblical command to advocate for the poor and work to break the cycle of poverty? Absolutely not. I am saying that a ghettoized theology that focuses on the economic issues of black America while enticing and no doubt popular is not the primary message of scripture. While it may address some of the temporal physical/economic needs of Jamal and TaKeisha it won’t bring them any closer to the living God and might actually serve to drive them away from Him. Though J and T are poor, black, under-served and marginalized they are still sinners. I know that may sound harsh, out of touch, uncaring and maybe even racist but it’s the truth. Whether they or we like it or not their main problem isn’t the injustice of a racialized society but the justice of a righteous God. On the flip side their greatest blessing isn’t the trinkets offered by the American dream but a thriving relationship with the living God in whom they can pour their souls into and delight in forever.
And this is exactly the kind of theology Jesus offered to people who too were poor, oppressed, conquered and occupied. In the Sermon on the Mount He refused to push a ghettoized theology that focused on the here and now and declared that the blessed ones are blessed because of the reality of their future. And you can bet your shiny brand new Lexus that this was not a message your average first century Jew living in Palestine wanted to hear. They wanted a powerful messiah who would preach a powerful, relevant message on how they were the chosen ones destined to rid their country of the Romans and enjoy all of the blessings of the kingdom of God here and now. Yeah the meek might inherit the earth but they wanted theirs here and now.
I hate to be crass but the bottom line is this: The emerging black reformed community has a choice. We will either follow the model of Jesus or Joel Osteen. We will either lead our people to pursue the living God as and end in and of Himself or we will teach and encourage them to prostitute Him in an absurd effort to gobble up the baubles of this culture for a few short years. We will either lead Jamal and TaKeisha to the true life found in Jesus Christ or like drug pushers feed them poison, congratulate ourselves on our relevance and stand by mystified as we watch the death of blackness.
To Him Who Loves Us…