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…
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
And then there were two! Praise the Lord saints we have two good brothers who desire to join us at this years Miami Pastor’s Conference. Both wrote encouraging testimonies concerning their desire to see biblical theology impact the African-American church and community. While the offer was made to two individuals or one couple I’ve decided to sponsor both brothers and their wives. I was encouraged to know that both realize the importance of their wives in their pursuit of God and the ministry. I also believe their wives will benefit greatly from meeting many of the sisters of Glendale Baptist Church.
Let me also thank those who offered to help me in this venture. I was pleasantly surprised and blessed by your generosity. Please pray for these two couples as they still must get there since my offer can only cover registration and lodging. Also pray that the Lord would provide them along with the rest of us an enriching time of worship, teaching and fellowship. Finally (for now) pray that the Lord will continue to use this conference to bring true and needed reformation to the black church and community.
For Christ, His Church and the Truth
Monday, October 08, 2007
Drug abuse, gang violence, single parent homes, mis-education, lack of opportunity an over zealous justice system, an apathetic political system, poor health care homelessness, frustration, grief, hostility, despair, nihilism and lostness. The challenges that affect many black people in America are legion. For some the answer is simple: we need a black messiah. Now in the ordinary course of theological discussion most black evangelicals wouldn’t use that term. But there are other ways to suggest that what black people need is a revolutionary black messiah. We can say for example that African-Americans need a black theology to address the issues that affect us. We can believe (I think erroneously) that since theology is always simply a product of one’s own cultural, social and political situation that the prime directive for black theologions and pastors is to craft a theology that addresses what in our estimation are the most pressing needs of black people.
The question I wish to pose is this: Will a black theology (whether liberal or conservative, Arminian or Reformed) be the catalyst for the resurrection of blackness?
There are many reasons I believe the answer to this question is no. For one, can the church genuinely proclaim a universal salvation if our understanding of God is limited by our own time, culture, social and political situation? (that’s the natural conclusion to the position that theology is merely a reflection of one’s circumstances and situation) Wouldn’t that mean that we’d have to define and redefine what salvation is to suit each culture and each people group? Also if the church cannot agree on some universal truths regarding Scripture, God, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit etc. then we cannot carry out our mandate to make disciples of all ethnic groups. I mean what’s the use of baptizing people into one church if the church in the Ukraine is qualitatively different from the church in Ghana which is qualitatively different from the in Bolivia?
But let’s examine the man/mystic/maverick/revolutionary/messiah Himself. For starters what was the Jewish social, cultural and political situation during the time that Jesus ministered? What were the issues that most affected the Jewish people He taught? What might they have said was their most pressing felt needs? What did they want to hear from their theologions and pastors? I have a guess that of all the things they wanted or expected to hear from this new Galilean mystic/maverick/revolutionary/messiah the message they got on the Sermon of the Mount wasn’t one of them.
Jesus begins by defining what true spiritual and thus by extension psychological, emotional and social well being is. The funny thing is according to Jesus the blessed ones aren’t blessed just because they’re Jewish, or oppressed. Even more startling is that they’re blessedness isn’t contingent on the Romans leaving their country and allowing them to control their own land. Am I arguing that oppressed people should remain oppressed? Come on folks of course not.
I do want to highlight the truth that Jesus didn’t deliver His people their expected dose of ghettoized theology. This is the kind of theology that plays on the felt needs of a particular people and can deceive them into believing that their real issues, problems and challenges are due to racism, classism, sexism or any other kind of ism. Instead of dealing with the sin that is within it moves the focus to those sinners who are without. It was a ghettoized theology that infected many American churches as they railed against the evils of communism even while giving moral backing to segregation and racism.
And if we give into a ghettoized ‘black’ theology then we’ll only have ourselves to blame when ten to twenty years from now we wring our hands while still mourning the death of blackness.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Our good brother and fellow elder Thabiti Anyabwile has begun a series in which he asks pastors/elders to join the conversation concerning finding and training faithful men for church leadership.
Q-Dog has posted an open letter concerning in which he points out some of the problems of culturally based theology. I’ve said it before and will say it again, our brother Q is one worth reading.
Over at Black and Reformed brother Lionel Woods asks should a pastor know who is giving and how much.
btw that brother has been hittin it with some interesting and worthwhile posts recently.
Anthony Carter has just completed a series on the beatitudes and gives some helpful book suggestions on the topic.
And last but certainly not least our own 2nd VP Eric Redmond has posted a stimulating article on the very right God.
I commend all of these brothers as worth your time and effort to read, consider and be blessed.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Friday, October 05, 2007
Okay, in the interest of full disclosure it’s highly unlikely that you’ll meet the one and only Dan Marino at the Miami Pastor’s Conference. Nor can I promise you that God is obligated to honor your great faith (the size your faith of course being directly proportionate to the size of your seed offering ) and somehow bless you with a Dandy Dan sighting, chat session and autographed football. Sounds absurd doesn’t it. I mean didn’t Tetzel sell indulgences five hundred years ago promising people that for an offering God could be manipulated into giving them what they wanted? Surely no one in this day and age would attempt a similar stunt would they?
Check this out… Melvin Jones who runs the pulpit pimps website has once more exposed the tactics of one of our modern day Tetzels. The charlatan in question (I.V. Hilliard) is busy about his father’s business which is deceiving people and filling his own pockets. He sent brother Jones a letter and a gold cloth. The letter told him to write on the gold cloth and complete the ‘Send Me Money’ form so that God can begin doing wondrous things in his life. Of course he had to be sure and send in a seed offering to demonstrate his faith and you guessed it the bigger the offering the more certain his faith. Don’t have any cash right now? No problem God takes Visa and MasterCard.
This kind of sheer, ridiculous nonsense would be utterly laughable if not for two things. First of all it is rampant within what we know as the Black church. Charlatan Hilliard claims a following of over 28,000 souls at his New Life Christian Center and holds and annual conference that draws over 700 churches. Secondly, it is the type of Christianity that hundreds of thousands if not millions of souls lay claim too. It is this kind of rank medieval superstition that passes for the gospel today.
That’s why you need to attend the Miami Pastor’s Conference the theme of which is ‘What Is The Gospel’. For those thinking that we in the African-American community have bigger fish to fry please consider this. If con artists like Hilliard and his ilk continue to poor the cancer of false doctrine into the black community you may wake up in the not too distant future and find little if any evangelcal witness in the very communities you care so much about. As drastic as it may sound all of our problems pale in comparison to the looming challenge of having tens of millions of black people spending a lifetime hearing and practicing a false, deviant and destructive gospel.
How important is it for you to attend this conference? I’ll tell you what. I’m willing to pay for two (2) folks who’ve embraced reformed theology, have a desire to spread it into the black community and would like to attend the conference but don’t have the money to. I’ll pay for the cost of your registration and your hotel room all you have to do is get there. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, Oct. 8 by 7:00 p.m. EST and tell me why you wish to attend the conference. I’ll make this offer to a married couple or just two individuals who’d like to spread biblical theology in their community and want to attend the conference. You could be a pastor, seminary student or just a brother or sister who has embraced reformed theology is alone and needs some fellowship and encouragement.
And guess what? You don’t have to send me a seed offering, magic candle, ‘anointed cloth’ or blessed bess wax. And no you probably won’t see number 13 and I don’t even claim that this conference will be a ‘life-changing’ experience for you. But I do believe that you’ll hear the gospel from some godly men, enjoy warm fellowship with the saints of Glendale Baptist Church, have some great food and maybe just maybe become part of the movement that arrest the cancer spreading into our communities.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
The fall t.v. season is upon us. The networks (I don’t know how many there are now) will treat us to a slew of new, retried and warmed-over drivel that’s supposed to entertain us. Although I’m not sure of what’s on tap for the season you can be sure that the reality (actually contrived for how ‘real’ can one be when one knows a camera is pointed at them) shows will make up a healthy portion of the lineup.
With that in mind I want to suggest my own concept for a reality show. Now hear me out before you dismiss the idea out of hand. The concept is pure genius because the prize is something most people need, but few attain. To put it simple the winner of the contest would have all of their present debts canceled and forgiven. Can’t you just imagine it? Bill, a computer operator from Wisconsin comes on the show and shares how he got into so much debt. With his mortgage, car payments, cable, vacations and of course numerous credit cards he’s in deep deep debt. His children are looking to go to college within the next year or two, he like to move into another home soon, and that brand new suv his friend bought is calling his name. Problem is, Bill is maxed out, his job was just outsourced overseas and bankruptcy is his next stop unless he gets some help now! ’Debtors Dare’ (okay corny name) is his last hope.
DD offers ordinary people a chance for a brand new start. At the beginning of the show each contestant is shown his or her credit report. For dramatic effect the report is also shown to the viewing audience. (minus ss# and other info for security purposes) The show ends as two families show up to see which will be selected to have a new life. Both know the stakes involved. One family will walk away with their debts cancelled, their finances intact and the opportunity for an entirely new life. The other will have no choice but to proceed to bankruptcy court, their finances and life in ruin.
Because the show’s theme strikes a chord with the vast majority of us it turns out to be hugely popular. On the final night an estimated 75 million people tune in to see if Bill the computer operator from Wisconsin or Cathy the real estate broker from Arizona will have his or her debts retired. In dramatic fashion the show’s host (some British cat) recounts how Bill and Cathy reached the point of having so much debt. Once more they show the live audience and viewing public the list of massive debt that Bill and Cathy have accrued. In a contrived dramatic twist the announcer guy displays a college acceptance letter that one of Bill’s children just received from the school of her choice. He asks her if she’d like to attend this school and she replies that it’s been her dream since middle school. He then asks her if she’s replied to the acceptance letter. The crowd chokes back its own tears when she says that at this point she hasn’t replied because her family just doesn’t have the money. If they lose Debtor’s Dare she’ll spend her first fall semester at the local community college. At this the camera focuses on Bill who looks humiliated and ashamed as he tries to comfort his daughter.
After a commercial break the dramatic moment finally arrives. With both contestants and their families standing eagerly to hear the final outcome of their quest the announcer declares ‘Bill Smith your debts have been cancelled, your credit report is clean and let me be the first to welcome you to a brand new life. Bill breaks down immediately and has to be held by his wife and children. As mandated by the show the couple hold up their new perfect credit report. Their extended family and friends join them on the stage as the studio audience cheers wildly.
But just then the announcer guy turns to Bill and says something else has come up. While it’s true that Bill’s debts have been paid and cancelled he still has to live and thus might accrue new debt. He wants to know how Bill is going to avoid this position again. Bill fumbles with some kind of answer as to how he’ll do better when the announcer guy stops him in mid-sentence. While looking into the camera he states that DD’s purpose is to erase all debt whether past, present or future. The producers know that people like Bill while well intentioned can’t control their spending and apart from some extraordinary help may end up right back where they started. He then turns back to Bill and says ‘Bill, what if I told you that we’ve not only erased your current debt but we’ve arranged for any and all future debt that you will accrue to been taken care of also. In other words Bill from this point forward you will never, ever have to worry about any debt ever again. It’s been paid fully and completely.' You might imagine that at this juncture Bill is speechless. The show ends with a shot of Bill whose face has a fixed look of confused joy mumbling over and over ‘I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it.
The Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ canceled our debt of sin before the living God. But to make this even more clear Jesus canceled all of our debt not just the sin we’re aware of now or the sin we committed in what we know is our past. Romans 3 declares that we’ve been justified by the redemption we have in Jesus Christ. It further states that God the Father put Him forward as the full and final satisfaction for His anger against our sin. Sin must be punished and Jesus Christ has taken that punishment for us. And He took all that punishment not just some or most of it. He has fully, finally and completely accomplished our redemption by paying for our sins on the cross. His sacrifice didn’t just provide a potential redemption but an effective and actual one for all of God’s people. Those who are in Christ have had their sins dealt with once and for all.
But there’s more. Not only did Jesus die to remove our sins, He lived a perfect life according to God’s law and thus earned a place of honor at the Father’s side. As a real man who faced real temptation Jesus actually achieved a perfect, permanent right standing before the Father. And it is that right standing that’s given as a gift to all those who trust in the perfect person and work of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:21-24 reads ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
To be justified freely is to have the perfect, permanent right standing that Christ earned credited to our moral account. That means that we never have to worry about how or where we stand before God because once we stand in Christ we’re totally and absolutely holy, blameless and without any guilt.
The beautiful mystery and glory of our salvation is that not only has our sin debt been canceled forever but we’ve also been given the only righteousness we’ll ever need to remain permanently in God’s family. We can only stand in worship with perhaps a confused yet joyful look on our faces and praise God that He is the ultimate author of Debtors Dare.
Related Sermon - Righteousness By Faith.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Monday, October 01, 2007
Last month was the 40th anniversary of a group of students known as the Little Rock Nine. They were the first group of black students to integrate the previously all white Central High School in Little Rock AR in 1957. The transition to integration was anything but smooth and things got to a point where the only way the African-American students could enter the school safely was with the protection of a 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.
Some have looked back on this incident to gauge where we as a society are regarding issues of integration and diversity. I bring it up to foster our discussion on the church’s role and responsibility to address the issue in such a was to promote the gospel, display our unity and glorify our Lord. I also wanted to use this post as an answer to a very good question by brother Wesley Handy on the Jean 6 post. He asked “How can we handle these situations in a way that lead to unity?”
To begin I want to establish my conviction that unless the church hits this issue head on much of our talk about cultural relevance will be just that, talk. Whether we like it or not the issues surrounding race and ethnicity are here to stay. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. That doesn’t mean that we are doomed to handle these issues the same way the world does, just that as the church of the living God charged with speaking the truth and discipling our culture we will not shrink back from this challenge.
We grapple with this issue not because we wish to be politically correct or have a need for diversity for the sake of diversity. We do so because Scripture gives ample example of the ethnic strife and tension among different groups of people. (see John 4:7-8; Acts 6:1-7; Gal. 2:11-14) We do so because it gives us another opportunity and avenue to speak up for and demonstrate the reality of the gospel and the implications that flow from it. We do so because failure to act will give the enemy of the church and gospel more opportunity to separate God’s people, soil our witness and mar God’s glory. Is this the only issue that the people of God must target in our effort to witness of the truth of the gospel and follow our mandate to disciple our culture? No it is not. But along with abortion, global warming and homosexuality it’s a cultural issue that we have the responsibility and opportunity to tackle in a theologically driven manner.
How can we handle these situations in a way that lead to unity? A first step might be to put the issue of race and ethnicity in its proper place. There are times when I think that the church views race in a similar way some view Satan. Some in the church see Satan everywhere and affecting everything while others act as if he’s nowhere and apart from a few isolated incidents has little influence. The reality is somewhere in between those two poles. The church must talk to each other and not past one another to honestly come to a realistic gauge of how race affects our society. This will help us to speak to the mainstream dominant culture and minority subculture more effectively without falling into their ideological sand traps.
Speaking of sand traps the church must start thinking through this issue in theological not ideological terms. Our goal isn’t to protect and promote our own people’s ethnic agenda but to seek God’s glory and the promotion of His gospel. If issues of race are hindering the gospel’s impact than we deal with it not ignore it. Because race (I use the term to describe the tension within our society among various ethnic groups) is an equal opportunity challenge I’m convinced that black believers must speak faithfully and honestly to black unbelievers regarding race and whites should speak to whites about it. While this might not increase our popularity within our own groups it may show that we’re serious in treating this like a theological and not ideological issue.
Once we begin to think more theologically it may be helpful for the church to begin to demonstrate genuine unity by observing the issues that are important to one another with regards to race. Paul’s writing regarding humility is helpful here “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” Phil 2:2-5.
Before going on it’s important to note that these steps build on each other. If we can’t come to an agreement on the effects of race in our society and if we’re unwilling to think through these issues in a theological and not ideological manner then it will be nearly impossible to take a genuine interest in how race affects our brothers and sisters.
In a way the issue of race may be a great blessing to the church. Here’s what I mean. Up till now the church has for the most part dealt with significant cultural issues at arms length. Whether it’s homosexuality, the war in Iraq, evolution, global warming, abortion, secular public schools etc. we tend to talk to, write for and interact with those on our side without the thought of really having to face or engage those who oppose us. Most of us (perhaps the vast majority) probably have few close relationships with people who differ from us on these issues to the extent that we can consistently talk with them about our differences.
Race may be the one issue that presents us with a unique difference and challenge. Like it or not it appears that most African-American believers differ from our white counterparts concerning how we think, view and feel about the issue of race in our society. Yet in spite of that difference we’re still bound by the covenant of the cross. We still hold to the belief (even if it’s only in theory) that our new birth ushered us into a new reality in which our chief identity is no longer defined or bound by our natural ethnicity. We still are convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings authentic reconciliation between God and the human race with the consequence of bringing peace to those ethnic groups that were previously hostile toward each other. And despite our current difficulties I believe that most of God’s people want to see the church show and demonstrate genuine biblical unity as a witness of the power of the gospel, the truthfulness of God’s word and the supremacy of our savior Jesus Christ.
To Him Who Loves Us…