Friday, June 29, 2007
Need a top ten list to attend next year’s New Life of Vernon Hills annual Bible Conference? Well here goes:
It’s free. (no registration fee)
Chicago is a great city.
It’s in late June so pack up the fam and roll on down.
They have superlative speakers and sound topics.
The worship through music is rich, uplifting, beautiful and diverse.
You can probably get a good room rate through priceline.com.
Southwest offers low, low fares to Midway.
Slammin book table with must buy books.
The saints of New Life of Vernon Hills are a blessed treasure.
Discussing reformed theology over dessert at Denny’s.
The reformed family will be encouraged by meeting brother Louis Love Jr. and supporting this important event.
(okay so that’s eleven)
The messages from this year’s conference are now available. Both Anthony Carter and Thabiti Anyabwile have agreed to speak at next year’s conference our Lord willing.
What are you waiting for? Mark your calendars now for the third week in June and I’ll see you in Chitown.
Striving for Godliness
Thursday, June 28, 2007
From its very inception the church has struggled to navigate through the cultures it's been charged to disciple. One of the main reasons for this is the universality of biblical Christianity. By that I mean one can become a believer in Christ and not have to jettison some of the important aspects of his or her culture. You need not change your name, mode of dress, diet etc. in order to forsake your sin, turn to the Lord and have faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, no one can force you to abandon your culture for another. Biblical Christianity doesn’t mandate the elevation of one culture over another. That’s pretty remarkable seeing that the church was birthed from the womb of a distinct human culture complete with its own language, customs, holidays, etc. yet nowhere in the New Testament record are Gentiles told to take up Hebrew, adopt Jewish dietary practices or observe Jewish holidays.
The challenge for church leaders then is threefold. On the one hand they must resist the temptation to alter the course of their culture in order to become something God hasn’t meant for them to be. One might feel closer to God if you change your name, language, what you eat and your customs, but that doesn’t bring you or your people closer to the Lord. Nearness to God comes through faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ. Another temptation however is to act as if your culture is somehow sacrosanct. History demonstrates that it doesn’t take long for a culture that embraces biblical faith to fall into the trap of believing that their particular cultural expression of the faith is the only right cultural expression of biblical faith. We all have our cultural sacred cows. There are aspects of our culture that we’ve intertwined with biblical faith which we come to believe are as rock solid and immovable as the faith itself. For instance, how many of us will celebrate Christmas this year on Dec. 25 even though we have no biblical evidence that our Lord was born on that day. Furthermore there is compelling evidence that what we celebrate as Christmas was in fact a pagan holiday that the church in grafted for the sake of expediency. Yet how many of us would look sideways at a believer who chose not to celebrate Christmas?
The third challenge for church leaders from all cultures is to begin and maintain the process of discipling the native culture into the mainstream culture presented to God’s people in Scripture. I believe this is the call and commission our Lord gave to His disciples recorded in Matthew 28. Our mandate therefore isn’t to maintain and promote an ethnic culture that is a separate and distinct from the rest of God’s people, but for believers of all cultures to prioritize the Christ saturated culture presented to the people of God in Scripture.
I believe that’s the call of the church whether black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish or Arab. All too often however we fight to protect and highlight the micro-cultural issues that distinguish us instead of charting a course toward the biblically centered macro-cultural issues given to unite us. My first post on this topic asked if we could define what ‘blackness’ is and I thank you for your responses. Though we may not all agree on a single definition for what is or is not blackness we’d probably concur that the very idea of blackness is a fluid one. Our brother Thabiti highlighted that in his response by noting that blackness for black Americans is clearly different from the ‘blackness’ of black Caribbeans. But I don’t think that’s true for genuine biblical Christ-centered culture. I’m convinced that we can define it, embrace it and live it. The question is: are we ready to go where no culture has gone before?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Plane ticket on Southwest Airlines to Chicago: $140.00.
Two night stay at local hotel via Priceline: $120.00
Two day full size car rental via Priceline: $68.00.
Cost to attend annual New Life of Vernon Hills Bible conference: 0.00 (that’s right it’s free)
Hearing challenging and encouraging messages by Thabiti Anybwile, Anthony Carter and Louis Love Jr. on godliness in the home, church, culture etc., delighting in uplifting worship through singing led by brother Wyeth Duncan (we sang “In Christ Alone” and “Hold On To God‘s Unchanging Hands"), enjoying the warm hospitality of the New Life of Vernon Hills church family, hanging out with the fam at Denny’s while talking about impacting the black church and community with reformed theology and sharing an afternoon with my son in downtown Chitown… Priceless, absolutely priceless.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Well, my vacation is over. I’m officially back from the Outer Banks of N.C. where we had a wonderfully relaxing and restful time. As you can see I also took a vacation from blogging. Now that I’m back there is much to talk about. And though I had a slew of topics I wanted to get into, something I listened to recently really piqued my interest. It concerns the age old discussion of the Christian witness in word and deed. Often these are pitted against each other while advocates on both sides insist that both are necessary for the church to have a more complete biblical witness.
This issue came to my mind when listening to an interview with Shane Claiborne one of the founding members of ‘The Simple Way’ which is a community of believers who serve, live among and live like the poor they’re called to minister too. Shane was given the opportunity to describe himself, the ministry he’s apart of and his view of biblical Christianity on the 6/13 edition of the Radio Times program. While I looked forward to hearing about The Simple Way and how they lived out their incarnational community ministry among the poor, I was disappointed to learn that Shane appears to be an advocate for a word vs. deed approach to ministry instead of a word and deed approach to the biblical witness.
For instance, Shane described the church solely in terms of a community of people who are focused on being the church by growing into an organic fellowship of love. The church is not a gathering of people who worship the living God through Jesus Christ, but only a group of people looking to create a loving community. Few of us would argue that the church is indeed called to be a loving community who relate to each other beyond our formal worship services, but we are also called to be God’s people who prioritize the public worship of the Triune God through Jesus Christ.
The heart of Shane’s view of biblical Christianity appears to center on a certain slice of Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle. In my view (you’d have to listen to the interview yourself) Shane didn’t make a distinction between the words and life of Jesus and the rest of Scripture, he made a definite separation. From there he promotes a view of faith in which living the example of Jesus takes clear precedence over believing in the Person and work of Christ. In fact listening to Shane I came away thinking that he could have just as easily used Gandhi, Mother Theresa or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to pattern his life after. I don’t mean in any way to even suggest that those who claim to follow our Lord should dismiss His earthly lifestyle as our supreme example of how one ought to live his or her life. But does that mean we must downplay the central reason Jesus came to earth? Must we mute the message of the cross in order to highlight the mandate to take up the cause of the poor? Additionally, what kind of witness do we give when we ignore the centrality of the cross and tell unbelievers that what really counts is how they live, not what they believe?
What troubled me most however was Shane’s response to a caller who expressed her gratitude that he promoted a version of Christianity that didn’t call for belief in the exclusive Person and work of Jesus Christ. From her vantage point disbelief in Jesus does not disqualify one from being in a right relationship with God. Shane responded to this not by claiming that Jesus Himself declared that He was the one and only way to be in a right relationship with God, but by making an analogy to his preference from Italian ice. (called Water Ice in Philly)
In effect he said that matters of faith are essentially issues of taste and preference. He has a particular preference for the lifestyle of Jesus Christ, and recognizes that others may have a preference for another system of faith.
Please listen to me folks. I do not in anyway want to be nitpicky, insensitive or doctrinally uptight. But when someone calls one who claims to be an evangelical Christian and says they’re comforted that people don’t have to believe in Jesus to know God our response cannot be that our faith is simply a matter of private personal taste.
What I want to know is this: why is it that some who claim to believe in our Lord insist on ripping away the integrated aspects of the Person and work of Christ and then only focusing on those that suit them? How is it that we can all have the same bible, read the same words and yet some conclude that what one believes about Christ isn’t as nearly important as how one follows the lifestyle of Christ? Conversely, why do some act as if we can believe and proclaim the Christ of Scripture and yet never truly adopt or even consider the kind of lifestyle He led?
Finally, why do some on either side of the issue persist in creating a jagged distinction between word and deed when speaking to the culture, yet when in Christian circles adamantly proclaim that the church must have both for a true, biblical witness?
To Him Who Loves Us...
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Ok. As you can see I’m taking some big, big liberties with the title of this post. Let me say from the outset that I have no intention of even attempting to re-write brother Anthony Carter’s fantastic book on the subject. I may be stupid, but I don’t think I’m crazy (at least not yet). Second allow me to plug the brother’s book. By all means if you haven’t gotten a copy please do so and add it to your summer reading list for you won’t be disappointed. Thirdly, I must tell you that for this particular series of posts I just couldn’t come up with a better title. For the issue I want to address is what might it mean for church to be both black and reformed. Fourthly, let me again stress the need and value for us to purchase and read our brother’s book ‘On Being Black and Reformed’.
To begin let me give a definition of the black church that not all may agree with. The church exists for the worship and witness of the living God as expressed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As such every church that exists among a particular people does so to represent our Covenant Lord to those people in His saving work wrought by Jesus Christ. An integral and indispensable aspect of that witness is the reality that the church is the house of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. The church is the truth corps of heaven with the twin duties of preserving and promoting God's truth regarding His Person, ways, will, character, nature, along with what He's revealed about His word, mankind, sin, salvation, holiness and the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The black church therefore isn't black in that our collective experience as a particular people group shapes the mission, character and truth of the church, but black in the sense that it is responsible for faithfully teaching and living the essential truths regarding Scripture, God, mankind, sin, salvation, the person and work of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit to black people. We do not own God’s church and thus don’t have the liberty to define or re-define it to suit our particular socio/cultural needs of the moment. The following biblical example should suffice for us to recognize the validity of this point. It regards attempts to squeeze the ancient church into a Jewish mold. Jewish believers wanting to retain all aspects of their culture imported both the moral aspects and the ceremonial aspects of the law into New Covenant Christianity. You hear this in James’ statement to Paul recorded in Acts 21 “And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;
These Jews had no intention of giving up their God-given culture, nor were they being taught to do so by the apostles who remained at Jerusalem. However, the church would not have had the impact it did upon the Greco-Roman world had she forced the growing Gentile believers to embrace fully Jewish culture. We know that some Jews wanted to extend the observation of the ceremonial law to Gentile converts but the apostles and elders moved by the Spirit would not have it (see Acts 15). There are also clues that some Jewish believers within Gentile churches may have wanted those churches to have a predominant Jewish flavor. Once more the Spirit speaking through Paul refutes that notion (see Rom. 14). These examples can provide some important insights to those of us to sprang from and love the black church. Namely, the Scriptures teach that no one group can claim cultural hegemony over the church. Not only is it unbiblical to attempt to force one’s culture on others, but it might also be unwise for us to be too focused on retaining each and every aspect of our ethnic culture within the church. Moreover, the extent to which we demand that our particular culture dominates the church may be the extent to which we limit the spread and expansion of the gospel.
As we enter the 21st century I’d like to pose some questions for those of us who came from, love and long to see reform in the black church. The first and perhaps most surprising is this: Should we begin to think in terms of a post-black church era? Is this the time to start thinking of re-defining the church apart from dominant ethnic labels? Granted, some of our other brothers and sisters may not be thinking this way, but why not take the lead? While thinking through your answers (and I’d welcome your responses and input) consider this: if we’re to continue having a black church who gets to define ‘blackness’?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Philadelphia had the highest murder rate of among the nations top ten cities last year and is fourth among cities with populations that exceed 500,000. This is a distressing statistic especially since most of those murdered were young black men at the hands of other young black men.
While experts will cite a wide mix of sociological factors that contribute to this most grievous circumstance I believe that it is tied to one overall factor.
In simple terms our idols have failed us. Please understand me because I don’t want to engage in what is commonly called ‘blame the victim’ mentality that lays the total responsibility for our disintegrating communities solely at our feet. And for my part I do believe that if young African-Americans were born into a society that welcomed them at all levels and not just sports, that if they were truly viewed and valued as humans that could have and make a positive contribution to this country, that if the investment in their education at all levels matched the expenditure to keep many of them behind bars and that if the conditions of chronic poverty mixed with deep despair and rampant hopelessness were seen as a national crisis on par with the threat of international terror we might be able to see a reversal in these all too grim statistics.
But that is not going to happen. Like it or not my brothers and sisters I have some bad news. White folks are not going to ride to our rescue, change the conditions of our inner cities and pull us out of this nightmare. It’s time to wake up, grow up and realize that white people are not God! We must stop viewing them as all powerful to the extent that unless and until ‘they’ do something we are simply doomed to helplessly watch our children slaughter each other in increasing numbers and with intensifying viciousness. And though they might not say it publicly it is my suspicion that if you asked most white people about the growing murder rates in the inner cities of America that they would respond ‘that really is their problem’.
The first step in engaging this problem head on is to recognize that the cavalry isn’t coming. The time has come for us to shed the mindset that the dominant society is obligated to do something about this since America’s legacy of racism has helped to create it. While I don’t argue with the validity of that conclusion I do believe that in terms of addressing the problem it is just impractical. What if we spend the next five, ten or twenty years waiting for the dominant community to do what is right and they don’t!
No, these are our children, our communities and our problem. The task before us is monumental. Following the gains of the Civil Right Movement we’ve spent the last 35 years or so wandering in a cultural wilderness searching in vain for meaning, identity, worth, security, satisfaction and destiny among America’s idols. The problem is that we’ve discovered that outlawing legal segregation is not the same as being welcomed to integrate and participate. We’ve watched as America has moved from being a racist country to be a racialized society. One in which the economic, emotional, psychological and social benefits are weighted toward the dominant culture.
But that isn’t even the chief issue. It is merely the lying illusion that’s serves to hide the truth that the emperor has no clothes. The truth (one which most of us won’t accept) is that with all the goods this society can provide it still cannot deliver authentic and ultimate meaning, identity, worth, security, satisfaction, destiny, hope and joy. You see for us to double or even triple our efforts to get our young people to believe that they really can ‘make it’, that this society does hold genuine promise for those who work hard and that the light at the end of the tunnel offers true fulfillment is to lead them to the base of America’s idols.
The time has come to repent, turn from our ways of rebellion, abandon America’s idols and seek the Lord. And I’m not talking about some vague spirituality with a Christian veneer that’s put to use when our backs are really against the wall and we want God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth to act on our behalf as our petty tribal deity. We must seek the Lord as and end in and of itself. We must seek Him believing that He and He alone is God and that all that speaks of true life is in Him. We must seek Him as if our lives, our children and future depended on it. We must seek Him with the knowledge that behind each statistic a life has been cut short, a family forever mourns, and a community’s foundations shudder. We must seek Him because frankly we’re at a loss, our children are dying, our communities are disintegrating and in the end He is our only help and only hope.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Monday, June 04, 2007
Let me see, now where were we? Ah that’s it the final post on why we should count on Scripture alone to hear God voice. I had some reasons but I seem to have trouble getting to the first one. Now what was that reason? It was right on the tip of my tongue and edge of my mind. Don’t you hate that. I mean you have a really good point and for some reason it just slips out of your mind like water through your fingers. Let’s see. . . let’s see why should we hold to the word of God? Oh there it is.
We should rely on Scripture to hear God speak because IT.. IS.. THE .. WORD.. OF.. GOD.!!! Unlike my dreams, impressions and what not the Scriptures are indeed and in fact the true, authoritative, sufficient, clear, relevant, life-giving, inerrant, infallible, inspired word of the living God. The only wise God, maker of heaven and earth who alone is absolutely holy, infinite, eternal, sovereign, self-existent and self-sustaining has communicated to His creation in general and people in particular. He has spoken to us in language that we can understand and by His most wise and holy providence preserved accurate translations of His message to His people for thousands of years. The Scriptures don’t claim to be the private inspirations of godly men, but the Spirit-driven expiration of God Most High. In Scripture God is saying just what He wanted to say to His people the exact way He wanted to say it.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Pet. 1:19-21.
Along with that we should rely on Scripture because it is useful and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training so that God’s people in general and His ministers in particular can be thoroughly equipped to carry out the calling and ministry He’s given to us. The Scriptures are wholly sufficient to equip the people of God for ministry in a complex, technologically sophisticated, 21st century, pluralistic, multi-cultural, post-modern, post-Christian and hyper-urban society. Trust me, God Most High is neither behind the times, asleep at the wheel or dazed and confused. He knows exactly what He’s doing and exactly how to tell His people to carry out His eternal plan to glorify His Son, save His people and restore His world.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16-17.
More you say? Well since you asked Scripture and Scripture alone accurately reveals the character, nature, ways, will, plan and redemptive activity of the our Covenant Lord. Though creation can tell something of His power, order, goodness and beauty, Scripture reveals God’s person. I ask you, why in the world would you want to wait until you go to sleep, have some strange dream, wake up and try to piece it together even as it flees from your memory all in hopes that God might have said something about Himself to you in that dream? Need to learn something of God’s character? Try this on for size:
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. Psalm 89:6-14. NOW THAT’S A WORD FROM GOD.
Still not convinced? Alright, Scripture alone claims to be God’s word that speaks to our nourishment, refreshment and revival. Are you suffering from the spiritual blues and blahs? Listen to the soul refreshing word of God from Psalm 19:7-10: The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
At a loss in a relationship, life decision, or in need of direction? Have no fear, for the Scripture provides sound wisdom for life so that we may walk in godliness in whatever relationship, church, work, community or situation God places us in.
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Prov. 1:1-7.
I can see that you’re rounding the bend and coming into the home stretch. Let me seal the deal. Scripture alone tells of the wonderful works of the Covenant Lord which culminates in our rich, vibrant, and great salvation. Think of the torrent of blessings relating to our salvation God has revealed in Scripture. Let this rest on your mind for a moment: Scripture says that both the holy prophets of old as well as the angels of heaven long to look into and inspect the things regarding our great salvation.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1Pet. 1:10-12.
And what is salvation without the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, eternal Son of God, good shepherd, great high priest, last prophet, Lamb of God and soon returning King is the point, substance, subject, main theme, plot and culmination of life, history, salvation and Scripture. To read Scripture is to read of our wonderful Lord, Creator, Savior, Shepherd and King Jesus Christ. Why should you soak your mind and heart in the word of God? Because the word of God speaks of Jesus Christ.
Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke 24:44-47.
Look, here’s the bottom line. Your dreams will fade and your impressions will fool you. Placing faith in them to hear from God is much like frittering your money away on the state lotto. Dearly loved ones in Christ. Your Covenant Lord loves you. He does not want you in the dark or a continued quandary concerning His Person, will, agenda, ways, salvation and Savior. He has graciously provided His true, trustworthy, authoritative, clear, sufficient, life-giving word that gives us all we need for life and godliness. Dreams fade and impressions fool, but the word of God stands now and forever.
A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isa. 40:6-8.
Amen and Amen
To Him Who Loves Us…
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Okay. We're not really that good. True the birds have been one of the best NFC franchises over the last decade, which is kind of saying that Phil Mickelson has been one of the best golfers the past ten years. But 60,000 folks waiting to get season tix? A possible wait of 4000 years (if season tix are doled out at the rate they were given last year). And this for a team with a quarterback returning from a major injury, no headline wideout, a suspect defense and lack of serious running game. But what can you say. Philly is a football town. It gets that way when your baseball team loses THIRTEEN TO NOTHING at home.
So sit tight Eagle fans. Who knows the Birds might even snatch a championship in the next millennia or two. Then you can say ‘yeah I may not be up to 5691 but at least I’m waiting for tickets to a champion’.