Thursday, August 30, 2007

Phils Still Phightin!

Though I don’t follow them all that closely (more and NFL than MLB man) I have to hand it to the Phightin Phils. Despite a slew of injuries (including one to all-star and possible MVP candidate Chase Utley), an atrocious bullpen and perhaps not as much talent as the Mets the Phils are back in the thick of things after a four game sweep of those dreaded subway dwellers from Gotham.
And they did it with style. Ryan, Chase, Jimmy and friends came up with clutch hitting, smart base running, good starting pitching and just plain heart to vault themselves right back into the NL East pennant race. If that weren’t enough they won the last game by taking it to Billy big mouth Wagner.

It’s been a long time since Philly was this psyched about a team other than the Eagles this close to September.

Stay tuned folks cause it ain’t over till it’s over.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Midweek Grace - John 4:31-38

I suppose most weddings and wedding announcements are joyous occasions. Part of the joy is the prospect of two people committing to walking through life together. Marriage however not only joins two people, but two families. While this usually goes off without too much trouble there are those times when things get shall we say a bit dicey. This can occur when Jamaal brings Megan home or Vanessa brings Brad home. (sorry for the stereotypes) Depending on the families in question the impending nuptials can be the beginning of a joyful adventure into the unfamiliar or a suspicious and guarded trip through a social minefield. One wonders if the elephant in the room concerns the unspoken yet very real feeling of ‘they’re apart of the family now’?! For that’s what marriage does. It brings new folks into your family through the joining of two individuals. And let’s face it there are some folks we just don’t want to relate to or be related to. It’s bad enough we have relatives we’re not thrilled with, but to have now accept ‘those’ people is a bit much.

I wonder if that’s how Jesus’ closest followers felt after returning from the market to find him speaking to a SAMARITAN woman. The incident recorded in John 4 is not only one of the best examples of cross-cultural evangelism, but brings out one of the main themes in the gospel which is that God is seeking worshipers from every ethnicity. To put it another way Jesus Christ intentionally carried out the Father’s will to enlarge the family. The story begins interestingly enough with John stressing our Lord’s humanity, wisdom and mission all in a few short verses. Jesus was fully human and fully Jewish. He had Jewish features, Jewish parents, a Jewish heritage and even a Jewish Galilean accent. Yet our Lord did not allow His ethnicity to remain a barrier to His mission. He was not about to withhold the gracious gift of life, the blessed privilege of worship nor the covenantal bond of family from the Samaritan woman he was about to meet.

Jesus’ approach to this woman immediately brings us face to face with the sinfulness and silliness of racism and ethnic exclusion. Simply by asking her for a cup of water our Lord overturns centuries of Jewish racism and supposed superiority. At that time every Jew and Samaritan would have known that Jews consider Samaritans and other gentiles to be morally corrupt and impure and would therefore avoid anything approaching intimate contact with them such as drinking from the same cup or using the same eating utensils.
The woman’s response to Jesus thus makes perfect sense in light of the social customs of the time. Jesus straightforwardly and leaving know doubt exposes and explodes the myths that surround all notions of supposed racial superiority. Firstly, of all the Jewish myth (and by extension any other groups) of racial supremacy is left wanting because no group or person in and of themselves can secure the one thing that really satisfies us, namely a vital, vibrant worshiping relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Secondly, the Lord offers this gift to people of all ethnicities. No ethnic group is excluded simply on the basis of their ethnicity. Thirdly, the invitation to ‘drink living water’ is an invitation to enjoy an intimate, eternal, life-giving and sustaining worshiping relationship with the living God. Thus if God has invited me to be close to Him, if He has summoned me into His eternal presence, if He is delighted in calling me to be a member of the family forever then it’s just sinfully ridiculous to refuse fellowship with others on the basis of ethnicity.

While much more can be said about this encounter (for instance the fact that Jesus would intentionally target and invite an outcast of outcasts into the family) I’d like to focus on our Lord’s mission. Once the disciples return the Lord turns from teaching this dear sister about the God of Israel to further instruct them about the will and ways of the God of the whole world. Jesus reminds them that His mission was to do the Father’s will and accomplish that work. What is that will and what was that work? The passage goes onto relate how the Lord explained to His followers that the will of God is to include people from all ethnicities into a worshiping relationship with the Father and by extension into the family of God. This will happen because Jesus was going to die for their sins, call them to Himself and then include all into one worshiping family. It’s as if our Lord was saying ‘look brothers, like it or not the Samaritans are now part of the family’. Those who trusted in Christ are just as accepted and just as beloved as any Jewish person who trusts in Christ.

Do you still struggle with the truth that the Lord has brought people from all ethnicities into the family? Perhaps in your mind you say ‘but of course not, I know that God loves everybody and that people from any group can be saved‘. True enough, but what happens when they start coming to ‘your’ church? Have you fallen into the mindset that ‘your’ culture’s church is a haven and refuge from ’them’ whoever ‘they’ happen to be?
In the end will we follow the example of our Lord who gladly welcomed the outcast, the stranger and those who were ‘different’ into His family or will we react like some who sit at the wedding reception, look across the room and wonder ‘what in the world was on the Lord’s mind when He invited ‘them’ into the family‘?

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

9Marks Journal

News Flash. The latest edition of the 9Marks ejournal is now available. This edition focuses on issues of race and ethnicity. Master Yoda (aka as our fellow elder) delivers with articles entitled ‘Starting the Conversation with Earth, Wind and Fire (an exchange with him and Jonathan Leeman) and Many Ethnicities, One Race.
The rest of the Jedi council (Rickey Armstrong, Anthony Carter, J. D. Greear, Sam Lam, Eric C. Redmond, Juan R. Sanchez Jr., Kevin L. Smith, Ed Stetzer, Justin Taylor, David Wells, & Jeremy Yong) convenes to discuss ’Are Whites Getting It’.

The edition continues with reviews of significant books on the subject as well as valuable contributions concerning our Asian and Hispanic brothers and sisters.

In light of a number of recent (and necessary) discussions concerning race and ethnicity within the reformed community this is a welcome and timely edition of the 9Marks journal.

As you read please consider keeping the following in mind and prayer:

God created humanity as one race and it’s important to remember that along with our ethnic distinctions there is still one human race.
However since Adam’s rebellion humanity has been divided into two races. One race follows the way of Cain. This race is bent on gratifying their own natural cravings, following Satan God’s ancient enemy and in creating a world, culture and society that stands opposed to God’s person, worship, word, will, ways and salvation in Jesus Christ. The other race is of Jesus Christ. Those who are of this race have been graciously given new life and now exist as one people that consist of many ethnicities. This race lives to spread godliness throughout God’s creation in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Ethnic sin is no stranger to the Christian church. Acts 6, 11 and Galatians 2 give clear evidence that racism is among the sins we (yes we) will struggle against. That should remind us that 1) racism or partiality cannot be ignored or too easily dismissed. This sin like the sins of greed, idolatry, pride, lust, lying, selfish ambition and factionalism must be fought against. Partiality like other sins is dangerous to the church because it rends the fabric of our fellowship. 2) The church is called to strive and strain to ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace‘. Thus whenever we enter the discussion of ethnicity our goal should be to bring a greater amount of unity and not disunity or division to God’s church.

The church of our Lord Jesus has a providential opportunity to demonstrate the transforming power of the gospel in a world ripped by ethnic hostility and hatred. We cannot and will not do that however if each ethnicity that makes up God’s people is determined to pursue it’s own ghettoized agenda apart from the rest of the church.

Above all brothers and sisters remember we are one family. And even though ethnic tension, sin and hostility plagues the church we will reach forward toward unity by remembering who we really are. Whether Asian, Indian, Arab, Black, White, Jew, or Hispanic we are one people that comprise one body with one Spirit called to one hope. We serve one Lord, confess one faith and have one baptism (whether immersion or effusion) through which we’ve publicly identified with one Father and His people.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ain't I A Man?

Alright I know I have some Cosby show fans out there. Not many but perhaps but at least a few. There was this one episode that centered around Claire Huxtable. She was asked to participate in one of those early Sunday morning political talk shows. It was one of those shows that featured three middle aged white guys who discussed the issues of the day from their point of view. Claire liked the show and was thrilled when they asked her to join the discussion. She showed up brimming with enthusiasm and it didn’t take long for her to wade into the fray.

However, after a few exchanges it was clear that something was amiss.
While Claire had some interesting things to say on world and national events it was apparent that the old boys club didn’t want her wit and insight, but only her blackness. She was to be the dash of pepper that added some spice to their salt talks. A splash of chocolate to enliven their plain vanilla exchanges. But to her credit Claire refused to be ghettoized. That didn’t mean that she had nothing to say concerning how present events affected some African-Americans (believe it or not we really aren’t all alike) just that there was more to her and her views than her blackness.

I think of that episode now and then when reflecting what it’s like to be black and reformed. On the one hand I hope that there is some perspective I can bring to the church concerning impacting the black community with reformed theology. At the same time I also have perspectives on culture, life, politics, sports, history, marriage, theology, ministry and yes Star Trek. I’m concerned that the back to school craze may encourage crass consumerism among preteens, that we may not have a real solution for Iraq and that the Eagles still won’t be able to stop the run. I’m concerned about being a good, godly husband to my wife, the growing presence of Islam in my community and the spiritual well-being of the few souls I’m charged to pastor. I care about the violence in my city, the gradual but real drift of black folks away from biblical Christianity, how I can improve my crock-pot cooking, and do we really need another Star Trek movie.

Yes, I’d like to speak on the issues of the black community and how they affect our worship of God, walk before God and witness of God. But I’d also like to speak on God’s sovereignty, His holiness, steadfast love, immutability, grace and wisdom. I don’t want my white brothers to confine me to only addressing ‘black’ issues. I’d prefer not to be asked just to speak on the subjects of justice, mercy and racial reconciliation but realize that I should do so because I am apart of the entire body of Christ, not just the black part. I don’t want to attend black reformed conferences where we just talk about how black we are, how different from whites we are and what they need to do to include us. I enjoyed immensely the time I spoke to some of our Korean brothers and sisters on the topic of gospel change and a few weeks back when I spoke to the brothers and sisters of Tenth PCA on the subject of God’s salvation from Genesis 12. That’s one of the reasons I really appreciate brothers like Ken Jones, Thabiti Anyabwile and Tony Carter. Every pastor (black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Jew, Arab or Klingon) can benefit from what our fellow elder has been writing concerning the surprising sources joy in pastoral ministry. Every man (married and hoping to marry) can be blessed from brother Carter’s Top Ten Ways to Keep Your Marriage Full of Joy and Hope. And every believer (black or white) can challenged and encouraged by listening to Ken Jones along with the other brothers on the White Horse Inn.

I once heard an interview with Sidney Poitier. It appeared to be some kind of a press conference and the journalist continued to pepper him with questions that only concerned his being a black actor. At one point Mr. Poitier declared that yes he was a black man and black actor. But he was also a son, husband, citizen and father. His humanity most definitely includes, was shaped by and influenced by the reality that he was black, but it didn’t end there. And neither does mine.

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Midweek Grace - Hebrews 1:1-3.

The summer ‘blockbuster’ movie season is just about over. As usual were treated to a slew of ‘superheroes’ who through might, cunning and bad humor will save the day, the city, the world and of course get the girl to boot. One of the attractions of the modern day movie hero is their vulnerability. They are very much like us which causes a good measure of identification. These heroes present a mixture of strength and weakness. Moreover, our modern day heroes fight against despicable evil. The bad guys in these movies are really bad guys (or aliens, mutants etc.).
What is it that draws us to movies with the same themes, plots, bad acting, contrived dialogue and predictable endings? Perhaps it’s the image presented by the film regarding our concept of a champion and the nature of good and evil. The champion has qualities we all admire and hope are within us like courage, perseverance, cleverness, utter selflessness and a willingness to do what must be done. The bad guys are mere caricatures of evil who seem to gorge themselves in mayhem for the sheer joy of it without any rhyme or reason.
That said, millions of people spent good time and money to watch modern day computer generated heroes save the day. We went because these stories highlight our yearning for a genuine hero who will once and for all put and end to evil and usher in a time of peace and prosperity.

Hebrews 1 presents us such a man. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, and exactly the kind of champion we need. Jesus graciously tells us about the great story of humanity and our relationship to our Creator. Jesus spoke on the ultimate issues of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice. He taught that we belong to God and have an obligation to live up to the image in which He created us. Jesus not only taught us correctly about God He embodied the very qualities of God He spoke of. He related perfectly to the Father in just the way Adam was created to but did not. He spread the knowledge of the Father the same way Adam was commanded to but didn’t do fully. Jesus followed completely the moral laws of the Father the way that Adam and his descendents always failed to do. Jesus is the hero we need because He’s the only one who could do the necessary job to save the day, His people and the world.

For those familiar with the summer blockbuster plot you know that the movie plunders along until the great final battle between the superhero and his/her arch enemy. The hero uses a combination of strength and wit to finally defeat his adversary. Our hero however defeated His enemy through the weakness of the cross. Unlike Batman, Spiderman, Bourne or McClane Jesus did not triumph through physical might, because our enemies were far more than mere mortals bent on taking our liberty and lives. The enemies of humanity aren’t the bad guys from the dark places of the cosmos, but the man staring back at me in the mirror. Left to ourselves we’d continue in our hopeless doomed war against our Creator and would eventually have to face Him to answer for our crimes of treason and rebellion. By God’s marvelous grace Jesus pays for our sins, rescuing us from God’s wrath and our own sinful selves.

Jesus is worth of our worship because He is the champion that humanity needs. Through His own goodness, perseverance, courage, infinite love and selfless sacrifice He wraps up the story of our lives and restores us to the image we were created to live in. The nature of this story doesn’t necessarily make for good movie making, but I can tell you from personal experience that it makes fascinating reading.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

The End of Blackness Part 2

Our fellow elder has asked a good question of me. Is the idea of ‘blackness’ dying? The short answer is yes. But before we delve into how, why and who or what’s responsible let’s get a working definition for what ‘blackness’ is. I use such a definition not because it is in any way exhaustive, but to highlight the point I began with the post ‘On Being Black and Reformed’: namely defining blackness is about as elusive as Barry Sanders was during his prime. But for better for worse here it is. According the Debra J. Dickerson (the author of The End of Blackness "Black," in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics. At a minimum, it can't be assumed that a Nigerian cabdriver and a third-generation Harlemite have more in common than the fact a cop won't bother to make the distinction. They're both "black" as a matter of skin color and DNA, but only the Harlemite, for better or worse, is politically and culturally black, as we use the term.”

This was the definition Ms. Dickerson employed when answering the question is Barack Obama black or black enough. Based on that definition Obama is not black. Granted he may have dark skin, true he is a member of a black church, yes he spent significant time as a community organizer working for issues that mainly affect poor black people, and the brother (let’s keep it real folks) married a black woman. Adding insult to injury brother Barack doesn’t even have a ‘slave name’. But for all that according to some Barack just ain’t black dawg! Not that Ms. Dickerson has anything against Senator Obama it’s just that he’s been weighed in the black balances and found wanting.

Back to our definition. Ms. Dickerson asserts that blackness is the purview of those who are descended from West African slaves and have a certain outlook on the role race plays in our lives and politics. Though the Nigerian cab drive, third generation Harlemite and Senator Obama are black as a matter of skin color and DNA only the Harlemite can claim to be politically and culturally black. It’s here that we have to make a significant distinction.
Ms. Dickerson states that there is a political and cultural blackness that Senator Obama cannot lay claim to regardless of his other qualities. Her definition however by default must accept that rapper 50 Cent is indeed very much black. In fact I’m quite positive that if you polled blacks in Harlem, Brooklyn, Compton and West Philly 50 Cent would trounce Senator Obama in a straight up blackness contest. Remember those things I said about Senator Obama earlier. As far as I know few if any would apply to 50 Cent. Now follow me closely. What if we were able to put the lifestyles and salient characteristics of Senator Obama and 50 Cent side by side and asked another group of black people about their supposed ‘blackness’? Tell me who would sisters Tubman, Truth and Wells say is black? Who would brothers Douglass, Dubois and Washington pick for their example of blackness? After listening to a 50 Cent CD and an Obama speech what would Malcolm and Martin make of them?

But that’s not the end of it. While many African-Americans are uncomfortable with the kind of blackness and lifestyle portrayed by some rappers, athletes and other entertainers few if any dare say that they and what they stand for are not black. In fact it appears that this is the new blackness, one that prizes and promotes violence, gross self-centeredness, grotesque pride, hyper-sexuality a frightening disregard for women and careless lack of concern for the black community. I could use a few other examples but I hope you get the point from this one. Blackness is dead. At least the blackness of Wheatley, Crummell, Garnet, Allen, Shadd, Bethune, Walker, Randolph, Evers, Robeson, Robinson and Hamer.

Blackness is dead. And we who pulled the trigger can now only stand over its corpse and wonder what’s next.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Friday, August 17, 2007

The End of Blackness

Has the notion of "blackness" bamboozled African Americans into an unhealthy obsession with white America? What are the deleterious consequences of this? How has "blackness" diminished the sovereignty of African Americans as rational and moral beings? How has white America exploited the concept to sublimate its rage toward and contempt for black America? Is American racism an intractable malaise, and who gets to decide when the past is over?

Those are some of the questions posed in the book The End of Blackness by Debra J. Dickerson. It is an interesting and intriguing concept. Is ‘blackness’ as we know it on the way out? Will the very concept and notion of blackness be obsolete in 20, 30 or 50 years. Some might say no, for as long as white racism is alive and thriving there will always be blackness. Other might add that the dominant society needs blackness just as much as black folks do. If not for blackness how else would they know that they’re superior?

But is ‘blackness’ on its last legs? What is ‘blackness’ when your father, mother, daughter, son, niece, nephew or cousin has been gunned down over something as stupid as a parking space and those who saw it refuse to come forward just so they can stick to the ‘stop snitchin’ code? Where is ‘blackness’ when the young teacher whose life ambition was to gain an education so she could teach her people questions that decision after her first year of school? Tell me of blackness when inner city pastors seek to make hundreds of thousands of dollars while the communities they serve fall apart day after day. And with that has the black church failed black people by doggedly promoting ‘blackness’ at the expense of godliness? Have we led our people to idolatry by tacitly teaching that white people are god and that until and unless they end all forms of racism and ask forgiveness for the past that we will never be healed and never be whole?

Will the budding reform that could come to the black church repeat these same paradigms? Is our goal to disciple the black community so that our main purpose is the pursuit of God, His delight and His kingdom through Jesus Christ or to merely to put reformed garments on the same old dead bones? Will we view our white brothers and sisters as just that brothers and sisters in the same family or as those who have no share in this ministry? Must our mission always be framed in terms of how we relate to, are different from or oppose white people? I wonder will the nascent reformed black community hitch our wagon to the last fumes of blackness or guide black people to the old ship of Zion? Are we to leave black people to drown in a sea of falsehood after they’ve been tossed to and fro by deceitful doctrines just because biblical theology has been promoted and taught by dare I say it DEAD EUROPEAN WHITE MEN? Are we going to teach blacks, whites and whomever else that our main and most important identity is our blackness and that you must relate to me as black first and black always before you see me as a brother in Christ? Will we ever share in the mission of the church to disciple the nations or is our mission just confined to seeing that black folks get our slice of the pie at Denny’s?

And what happens if we hold onto blackness only to find the concept like whiteness cannot save? That it cannot bring genuine joy, grant authentic peace and secure a guaranteed hope? What happens when we discover that black folks are still sinners? That despite getting a good education, landing a high paying job and living in a nice suburban neighborhood that black folks too are sinful, selfish, arrogant, self-centered, lustful, dishonest, greedy, divisive and depraved. What will we have to say to black folks once racism is over, integration a reality and opportunity abounds?
Brothers just what will our message be at the end of blackness?

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Midweek Grace - 1 Peter 2:1-3

You are what you eat or so the saying goes. Though usually applied to one’s physical diet this saying also has meaning for the ‘food’ that nourishes your mind and spirit. If you feast on a steady diet of ungodliness, you’ll begin to think in ungodly ways. Such thinking will lead to ungodly actions. These actions will pave the way for an ungodly lifestyle. Eventually, an ungodly lifestyle will result in unwanted and unwelcome consequences.
Conversely, a diet rich in the milk and meat of God’s word will fill your mind and spirit with the thoughts of our good, wise and loving Lord. A mind controlled by the Spirit and operating under the guidance of God’s word will lead to godly choices, choices that enhance our worship, witness and walk before the Lord. Living in light of God’s word yields a lifestyle of godliness, contentment, purpose and delight. The end of such a life is satisfaction now, and eternal joy in the life to come.

God presented this unchanging reality to His people through Moses as they were about to enter the land He promised to them. His message to them regarding the importance of growing in His word is recorded in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. Our gracious Lord recognized that in their humanity His people were prone to ignore His word, thus ignoring Him to their own destruction. The land of promise would be of little use to them if they determined to disregard the word of God and live according to their own rules, philosophies and ideologies. In a similar way, the new life we have in Christ will produce its benefits as we apply ourselves to the reading, study and practice of His word. We will grow to be more godly and spiritually healthy once we put ourselves on a steady diet of His word. Moreover, our commitment to God’s word will demonstrate His wisdom and understanding to those we have contact with and can influence on a regular basis. There is no telling what our Lord can do with a life that is based on and directed by His word.

On the contrary feeding our souls with the junk food of this culture will certainly produce malnourished spirits, unwise and ungodly choices and in the end destructive and perhaps disastrous consequences. Let’s beware of the temptation to want God to perform the miraculous and impressive in order to buttress our faith in Him. When exhorting His people to follow the scriptures God pointed to an unrepeatable event in redemptive history, namely the giving of the Ten Commandments. God never intended to make special, spectacular appearances every time things got difficult and their faith waned. They were given His word and in God’s mind, that was enough.

In a like manner, the apostle Peter encourages the saints he addressed to pay attention to the word of God. He also points them to an unrepeatable event in redemptive history: the cross of Jesus Christ. Just as God confirmed His covenant at the foot of Mt. Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai), He did so at the mountain of Calvary with the death of His Son to pay for the sins of His people.
Now that we’re His treasured and precious people, we have the privilege of enjoying the great salvation Christ has secured for us. Having tasted and seen that the Lord is indeed good, we reject the cultural idols of our time. Though these idols promise a life of contentment, purpose, dignity and security they cannot and will not deliver. As God’s people, we won’t be deceived by the pseudo-delicacies of a broken culture. Rather, we’ll grow strong in holistic godliness nourished by His truthful, clear, gracious and relevant word.

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance

Monday, August 13, 2007

Say What?

Yo dudes and dudettes. I didn’t mean to do a follow-up so soon after the last post. But I peeped brother JT’s mention of JP Moreland’s view that Jesus would have never supported government sponsored universal healthcare after I had written and posted my last piece and once more wanted to pose a few questions. Moreland’s premise and that of many who commented on the article presume that God would never command nor endorse a government to take taxes from its populace to provide service, goods, etc. for those who could not provide fully for themselves. Thus, if the Roman government had enacted and run some kind of state sponsored universal healthcare system we can be totally certain that Jesus would have spoken out against it. But can we?
Take Deut. 14:28-29 which says ‘At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.’

This passage commands those who produced wealth to give ten percent of it away. It isn’t a suggestion, doesn’t seem to be an option and though corporate Israel didn’t have the kind of central government we or the ancient Romans had, it does seem that God imposed a tax on His people for the express purpose of providing for the needs of the poor. In light of this command how can we proclaim with absolute certainty that Jesus would have without a doubt condemned a Roman sponsored UHC system?
Moreland says A careful study of Jesus and New Testament teaching proves beyond reasonable doubt that he took the state to be the guardian of negative rights, not the provider of positive ones.

Unfortunately Moreland doesn’t provide a careful study. We do know that the subject of government was rarely if ever a central issue to Jesus or the apostles. From what we know both our Lord and His apostles basically said to pay your taxes, submit to government rule as long as it doesn’t directly conflict with loyalty to our God, pray for our political leaders and give them the respect and honor their position calls for. (yes that means no Hillary jokes folks) Whether we like it or not how a particular state decided to use its taxes just wasn’t a subject of their teaching. That does not mean that God’s people should be silent in the face of state sponsored oppression, injustice and immorality. But does it mean that we can we say with any sort of accuracy that Jesus would have categorically condemned Roman sponsored UHC?

Another issue related to this is the call for the church to care for the poor in place of the government. Please don’t misunderstand me. This post is not an argument for or against government sponsored UHC. But how should the church care for those who cannot care for themselves fully? Let’s take childbirth as an example. According to one agency the average cost of a vaginal birth is around $5,500.00. A cesarean section on average costs double that amount or just over $11,000.00. With that in mind what would it cost the church to provide for the health care needs of the working and dependent poor? Are we really able and willing to take on that cost or is it just something we like to say as an argument against government subsidized health care?

Finally, is it wise for us to appeal to Jesus to speak to the details of government policy when we honestly don’t have biblical warrant for it? What if someone reading our take on what Jesus most assuredly thought on an issue like this decided to thoroughly search the gospels along with the rest of the New Testament and came to the conclusion that our appeal to the Lord to buttress our particular political slant was tenuous at best and disingenuous at worst? Might they conclude that Jesus isn’t really a historical figure that spoke on issues pertinent to His Father, kingdom, people, right, wrong and eternity, but instead He’s just another dead religious guru used by His followers to bolster whatever current cause has captured our imagination? Is it possible that in portraying our living Lord as the spokesman for this season’s temporary political cause (whether liberal or conservative) we are those ones guilty of muting His witness on eternal spiritual matters?
Come on folks. Is it really a good idea for God’s people who can’t completely agree on the mode and age of baptism, or the right form of church government to speak with eternal authority on universal health care?

The Lord’s Peace

To The Point

It was turning out to be another hectic morning at the Lewis home. Charles was getting ready for school while my wife was busy preparing for work. I kind of forget what I was doing until my son limped in my room with a piece of pencil stuck in his foot. It didn’t seem all that serious and after offering a few mumbled suggestions (what do you expect at around 6 in the morning) we tried to get down to the point. (okay that was bad) After about 45 minutes of tweezers, nail clippers and even soaking it became obvious that our simple little extraction was a bit more than we could handle.

So it was off to the emergency room to have the ‘experts’ take a crack at it.
After the usual processing (aka do you have health insurance) we plopped down and waited for the doc on call. We both thought he or she would come in, take a quick look at his left foot, use a thingamajig to get the lead out and we’d be on our way to school. Wrong! After x-rays, visual inspection, lots of probing and a call for back-up my man decided that he too had been beaten by a ¼ inch piece of graphite. Have no fear the foot doc was near. After waiting about a half hour our friendly neighborhood podiatrist swooped in, took a good look and in a few moments Charles was as good as new. All in all we were in the e-room for about 3 hours (and probably had actual physician contact for about 45 min). Charles’ foot was wrapped, he was given a couple of scripts and sent home for the day. We were cautioned against possible infection, given a follow-up appointment and sent on our merry way. Just another adventure in the life of the Lewis’.

The cost for that micro-sized piece of graphite?
Well our emergency room visit which included a set of x-rays, a visit by not one but two docs, a light bandage and a short ride in a wheel was a grand total of ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED, FORTY-ONE DOLLARS AND SOME ODD CENTS. $1541 smackers just because I was all thumbs with a pair tweezers. And that doesn’t include the special guest appearance and follow up with the foot doctor! That little sliver of graphite carried a hefty price. Since my health insurance has a $2500.00 deductible I’ll be doing a lot of negotiating with the hospital and Charles will be mowing a whole lot of lawns.
Thankfully, we by God’s gracious providence are in a position to handle this even if it is little by little.

But upon first sight of the bill I was flooded with a host of thoughts and memories.
I recalled all the times my mother took me to the hospital. I had a pretty bad case of asthma and frequently ended up under an oxygen tent at the U of Penn Hospital. I’m thankful that I received excellent care and am even more grateful that the government paid for it. My father worked hard but sometimes was between jobs and we didn’t always have health insurance.
I also thought of what we might do in the absence of health insurance. How would the next medical issue be paid for? What if my employment made it nearly impossible to pay off the bill?

Is health care a right or a privilege? If it’s a right does the government have any responsibility to see that its citizens have affordable access to it? If a privilege how do we respond to those who can’t afford it? Would hospitals be free to turn away the next child who arrives at an emergency room once they determined his parents didn’t have insurance or the means to pay the bill? If market based options are the only solutions to the increasing cost of health care (about six months ago I was with a group plan that cost about $12,000.00 per year) how do we apply them to those who simply can’t afford the cost of health care or health insurance? Should the church step in to help offset the cost of health care and health insurance and if so how much of our resources would we need to commit? Since the people of God have been charged and called to speak and act on behalf of the poor and less powerful (see Psalm 72:1-4, 12-14; Prov. 31:8-9, Isa. 1:16-17, 42:1-4, 58:6-14; Jer. 7:5-7; Matt. 23:23-24) what should we say about health care? Is it simply enough to trust that the market will provide a way for them?

The issues surrounding health care and health insurance are complicated to say the least and I certainly don’t know all the answers nor will I pretend that I do. I do know that my son spent about three hours in an emergency room, received some basic (though skilled) care for a minor accident and it cost over $1,500.00. And that’s something to think about.

The Lord’s Peace

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hornet's Nest

Alright, I’m stepping smack dab into the hornet’s nest. Our brother JT has posted some thoughts by two political conservatives regarding issues surrounding the MN bridge collapse. John Podhoretz wrote:
The social compact here is simple: We give the money to government, and all we ask in return is that these publicly shared responsibilities and resources are properly maintained.
Maintenance is necessary but boring, and since government is made up of human beings who abhor boredom, few elected officials or high-level managers are all that interested in this mundane task. Instead, they want to do big, exciting, bold new things - things they can claim for their own.
And in the past half-century, American government has redefined its core responsibilities. No longer does government exist for the purposes of maintenance and upkeep. Instead, it is seen as a means - perhaps the only significant means - of healing social flaws and reweaving the social fabric.

According to Thomas Sowell: People who are putting their own money on the line are going to want to have their own experts taking a look under the bridges they finance, to see where there are rust, cracks, or crumbling supports.

Now hold on for a minute because before we touch gloves and go back to our respective corner’s and come out swinging in the age old conservative/liberal debate I’d like to ask some questions.

How important are one’s political views to one’s confession of Christ? I ask because having been among evangelicals for over 15 years I’ve noticed a strong tie between their faith in Christ and their conservative political convictions. Most evangelicals I know attend churches where the vast majority of the members are solidly conservative. It makes me wonder how many evangelical churches have a mixture of political conservatives and liberals? How many of us regularly fellowship and talk with those who have different political convictions? I realize that abortion is an important and even paramount issue, and I think I know why many believers have strong convictions on healthcare, gun ownership and the size of government. I’m simply wondering out loud why these are held so strongly? For instance I’ve been perusing Christian blogs for some time now. No, I don’t have the time or inclination to read all of them or every article they feature and for the most part I’ve only looked at Reformed blogs. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an post that argued for public healthcare, a restriction on gun ownership or a larger role for government (except in the case of the military). Speaking of that I also don’t remember viewing an article that stood against prevailing conservative opinion in the Iraq war.

Another set of questions: Why do conservatives have such faith in the free market? Why is big government always viewed suspiciously, but big business seen as the good guys because they’ll always do what’s best for the customer? Thomas Sowell believes that people putting up their own money will be more concerned with safety issues than government employees. But is that so? For example in the mid 70’s the Firestone tire company made a defective tire found to be responsible for several deaths. The government imposed a half-million dollar fine on them and the company had to settle lawsuits that totaled millions of dollars. Despite that history Firestone ran into an almost identical problem in the late nineties. Once again they at first blamed the problem on consumers before recalling millions of tires.

Could we be absolutely positive that private companies would build and maintain bridges in a more efficient and safer way than the government? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps even more important though is could we have a genuine disagreement over the role of government, keep that separate from our convictions concerning Christ and still genuinely enjoy the fellowship of the saints?

Pastor Lance

Our Sacred Cow

Each week Christ Liberation Fellowship the church I serve as pastor shares a building with three other congregations. Yes it takes some doing and there probably are too many signs on the lawn. And please don’t ask why we have four churches meeting in one building each Sunday. I can tell you that the original congregation (a PCUSA church) still meets there and we’ve leased it from them since the fall of 2001. The other churches just began to worship there this past year.

Of interest is the character of our latest two additions. One is your straight up, standard traditional black church. The pastor (who is a good brother in the Lord) brings the hoop each and every Sunday. You can hear our brother clear across the street when he gets going. Those wanting a down home, traditional church worship experience need look no further. The other church is pastured by a follower of Creflo Dollar. He too is a nice man who has always greeted me warmly and asked if there’s anything he could to help me and CLF.
I once had the opportunity to hear him before his congregation (they used to meet in the fellowship hall and I had forgotten something and had to retrieve it from the kitchen) and unlike our traditional brother he does not bring the hoop. In fact it appears that though they employ some of the same musical styles (one uses recorded music, the other live) there seems little in common between them.

That shouldn’t surprise us. The black church has never been 100% monolithic in our collective ‘blackness’. I distinctly remember me and a bunch of young (and quite ignorant) Pentecostal friends laughing with incredulity after we watched a neighborhood AME church sit stone cold through a concert featuring one of our favorite choirs. We remarked that had that been our church we would have ‘thrown down’. As much as we’d like the rest of the church to believe it we really don’t have a single unified expression of blackness within the black church. The emergence of Word of Faith theology and churches have changed our style, content, message and direction. Even some who hold to the old time traditional black church take issue with this new kind of church because they don’t view it’s leaders as holding to the one sacred cow that has marked the black church as the black church whether it as National Baptist, Progressive Baptist, AME, AME Zion or COGIC.

And for many that's what made the black church the black church. It wasn’t mainly how we hooped, shouted or sang, but our commitment to the cause and issues that were important to African-Americans. This cannot be dismissed in light of the reality that for much of our existence black folks in America have dwelt in the shadow of constant terror. Our homes, neighborhoods and lives could be threatened, assaulted and taken on a whim and with no hope of redress. Immediately following 911 Americans filled churches of all kinds. Think of how differently evangelical Christianity would have been had evangelicals lived under the consistent threat of irrational yet brutal terror? Our sacred cow was the fact that the black church existed partly and some would say primarily to advance the cause and issues of black people in America. And that is the sacred cow that we must challenge.

As reformed believers I’m convinced that we must call the church to move beyond placing the temporal concerns of black folks at the center of our agenda and serve our people in the way that addresses their unfelt but very real needs. And you can do that while adding a hoop onto the end of each and every sermon or just standing up and speaking in a conversational tone. You can sing classic hymns or rock to the latest gospel music. The issue isn’t the style of the black church which will change and change again, but the substance of our message. Does the black church exist primarily to advance the agenda of black people in America or are we here to call all Americans and all people to submit to and pursue the agenda of God’s eternal kingdom through Jesus Christ? In the end will black people be better of once we fully integrate within America, level the playing field and finally enjoy all of the benefits of the land of our toil and sojourn or will we realize that it really is better to be a doorkeeper in God’s house than to thrive in the land of the wicked? An even more important question is which of those paths will the church lead the souls of black folks to travel down?

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance