Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy Kwanzaa?

Watch it now folks. Be sure to set those phasers to stun. I want to talk a little about the other holiday. No not Chanukah. I’m talking about Kwanzaa. My guess is that most of you don’t flow with the big K but that doesn’t keep you from having an opinion about it. From what I can see most black folks I know don’t do the Kwanzaa thing either. For one it’s a week long trek and most of us are just plain wiped out after the Big Toy day. Second there seems to be too much involved especially for those of us who’ve splurged our energy quota on the Winter Solstice holiday. For most Kwanzaa passes with a few obligatory ‘Happy Kwanzaa’s’ to maintain the façade that we’re keeping it real and are still down with whatever blackness we have left.

A few years ago I wrote a response to an article that warned black Christians to stay as far away from Kwanzaa as possible. The writer seemed to believe that Kwanzaa was deliberately intended to take the focus off of Christmas and draw unsuspecting black Christians into a man-made celebration of culture that had nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of Christ. He then urged black Christians refrain from all references to Kwanzaa and to be sure they keep the Christ in Christmas. I responded to this brother for a number of reasons. Firstly, I would never tell him to refuse to celebrate July 4th just because political and not spiritual freedom is the core of the celebration. Secondly, I presume he wouldn’t tell believers of other ethnicities to refuse to celebrate holidays that had particular meaning in their culture as long as that meaning wasn’t a religious one. Thirdly if European Christians could transform an overtly pagan holiday into the celebration of Jesus’ birth then why can’t black Christians celebrate Kwanzaa with a Christian emphasis?

For those who aren’t aware of the actual genesis of Christmas it may be helpful to do a little research on it. In the ancient Roman empire Dec. 25 in all likelihood featured the celebration of the ‘re-birth’ of a pagan deity. Pagan priests would go throughout the city and its temples celebrating his birth with singing, gift-giving and other aspects we associate with the celebration of Christmas. It appears that sometime between 330 and 340 AD Emperor Constantine declared this pagan celebration a Christian holy day commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ and thus Christmas as we know it was born.

I wonder if some of our ancient brothers and sisters questioned this decision? I mean one year they’re ignoring yet another debased pagan celebration and then the next they’re told that Dec. 25 is now to be celebrated as the birth of their Lord. If some of the early saints had reservations I’m sure you could see why. For one the scriptures are quite clear as to some of the most important details surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and yet nowhere do they mention the date of His birth. If that weren’t enough they may have raised the issue that uniting the birth of the world’s savior with a pagan holiday was a tad bit syncretistic. Isn’t it possible that if the church brought the practice of singing, gift-giving, etc. that pagans might assume it’s alright to intermingle other aspects of pagan idolatry with biblical Christianity? Others however could have responded that celebrating Dec. 25th as the birth of Christ could give the church a golden opportunity to declare the gospel to the very pagans who are already open to the belief of deity coming into the world via a human birth. Whether or not those concerns were raised we now know and live with the reality that the vast majority of Christians celebrate Dec. 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth. In effect ancient European Christians converted a pagan holiday into a celebration of worship of our Lord even while keeping many of pagan details of the holiday.

Could the same be said of Kwanzaa?
I’m not saying that black believers should try and convert Kwanzaa into another Christian holiday. However, could we not observe it with a Christian emphasis? Some would say absolutely not! They could claim (rightly) that the creator of Kwanzaa did not want religion to be apart of the celebration and actually disdained biblical Christianity. Of course one of the main problems with that stance is that the notion of any communal celebration divorced from the Creator is very un-African. Since Kwanzaa means a celebration of the first fruits couldn’t we use this holiday to lift the eyes of those searching for purpose, unity, community and faith to the real Lord of the harvest?

And even if you have no intention of celebrating or observing Kwanzaa it may not be necessary for you to cast a pharisaic gaze at those who bid you a Happy Kwanzaa. Just reciprocate their wish and pray that the Lord of the harvest will grant you the opportunity to share with them the ultimate blessing of the first fruits.

Happy Kwanzaa
Pastor Lance

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How Then Shall We Vote?

It’s less than a month until the Iowa caucuses which begins the 2008 presidential election race. I’m sure many of you have followed the candidates, issues, debates and gaffes from the consistent coverage provided on blogs, newscasts, mags and newspapers. I’m not here to offer an endorsement (not that it would matter) but to offer some thoughts on politics in general and this election in particular.
I offer these thoughts because bible believing Christians are an influential and much sought after constituency for both parties. It seems unlikely that the eventual republican nominee will attain that position without significant support from conservative evangelicals who by the way are mainly white. Nor is it probable that the eventual democratic nominee will lead his or her parties ticket without the support of liberal bible believing Christians most of whom are African-Americans.

How then shall we vote? For many the answer to that question is concrete and clear even while it remains quite divisive. The vast majority of my conservative evangelical brothers, sisters, colleagues and friends are committed to voting for the republican nominee. On the flip side the vast majority of my liberal bible believing brothers, sisters, colleagues and friends are just as committed to voting for the democratic nominee. Both groups are convinced that biblical convictions are driving their decisions. How could one group of people that agree on some of the deepest issues involving eternity have such a divide on some of the most significant issues concerning life in this age? I suspect the reasons are many and perhaps I’ll have time to explore them in future posts.

For now I want to give you an idea of where I’m coming from and hopefully offer some helpful counsel regarding pursuing our witness through the murky waters of politics.
My initial thoughts on the role of politics and government are taken from Deut. 16:18-20

Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Those of us who wish to be guided by scripture with regards to our political decisions have to take this important passage into account.

This passage differs from those in the New Testament that address the issue of government in that it is not given in response to a question. Jesus, Paul and Peter responded to questions concerning how God’s people they were to live in the midst of ungodly governments. It seems that many believers today tend to confine what scripture says about government and politics to those texts alone. In my view however the Deuteronomy passage speaks more to God’s basic motivation for instituting government. God instituted government among His people to carry out biblical social justice. This justice was to be applied to great and small, rich and poor, native Hebrew and immigrant. Other passages indicate that God was particularly concerned with social justice for the poor and powerless (see Exod. 23:1-9, Psalm 82, Isa. 10:1-4 and take special note of Deut. 10:17-19).

How then shall we vote? I’m not entirely sure nor do I plan to encourage you to pick one candidate over another. And that isn’t even the most important aspect of this discussion. As I said before, bible believing Christians from various ethnicities, socio-economic groups and political parties will have a large say in who become the next President of the United States. The question is will that person ride the crest of bible waving support focused on pursuing justice and justice alone or simply use God’s people to pursue the narrow and selfish interest that seems so rampant in politics today?

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hot Spot Check

Here are a couple of new blogspots worth your while. Brothers Lionel and Tyris have launched Black and Reformed Ministries. They have good blogs and great sermon feeds from several good brothers. I like the fact that they're consciously highlighting good reformed churches and giving folks a place to hear solid biblical preaching. Bookmark this site as you'll be going back frequently.

The other blog is the work of the Ebony Puritan and focuses on the themes brought up during the last Miami Pastor's Conference. I've linked both to this page but you'll want to bookmark them yourself.

Finally, praise God for what He's doing in our community. Please pray for these brothers and others like them such as our own Q-D.O.G. at Truth in the Innermost that the Lord will continue to move through them to press the reformation into our churches and communities.

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Saints In The Hood

Last month CLF was blessed to host Papa Playground’s annual Flag Football Banquet. Papa Playground is the name of our neighborhood recreation center. We became involved with them when a few of our members volunteered to be coaches and referees for their fall flag football league. Once we started helping out with flag football they asked us if we’d be willing to assist them with other services such as hosting the league’s annual banquet and we were more than happy to do so.
I was especially grateful for all the folks at CLF who volunteered to cook food, decorate, set up, serve and clean up once the event was over. I was all the more encouraged since this banquet came right on the heels of an annual Fall Festival community event we put on for neighborhood children and their families.

Consistent, proactive, community engagement is one of the core values of CLF. It’s my hope and prayer that every member will cultivate an attitude that moves them to adopt a lifestyle of service for a lifetime. I recently preached on Abraham’s prayer for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and after explaining how Jesus is the one righteous man who saves us from destruction I posed a question. I asked what might happen if we had ten people devoted to serving in our community on a regular basis? What if we had twenty people willing to do so? How about 30 or 40 or 50 or one hundred? How many people could we touch, how much of an impact could we have, how would our community be different if we had dozens of believers constantly investing their time and talents in the community where we worship?

I ask questions like these because I know what it means to do the church thing. Though I wasn’t raised in church by the grace of God I got saved at an early age (around 16). Upon getting saved I threw myself into the church scene and was heavily involved in church stuff during the first 14 years or so of my walk with the Lord before going into full-time ministry. I estimate that on any given week I probably spent between 10 and 12 hours outside of Sunday with church activity. That was also true of many of the good folks I was blessed to serve with. Moreover, not only were we encouraged to do this, but for the most part we were the ones many thought were among the most solid and mature. And it didn’t matter the church context. Whether Pentecostal or Presbyterian, heavy church involvement along with a few other things was considered the mark of mature Christianity.

During these years I almost never spent time contributing to the general welfare of my community or the community where my church was located. (that’s not to say that the churches I was involved with weren’t contributing to some of the essential needs of our community. As long as they were faithful to preaching the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ they were making a valuable and unique contribution to the well-being of their community) Reflecting on that time however I believe one of our problems was the attitude we took with the community. In effect we said ‘you know where we are (the big stone building on the corner) and if you want to get saved come on in’. We failed however to imitate the evangelism of Jesus and the apostles by consistently engaging our community by doing good. Looking back on this time in my life I’m astounded at the reality that two churches I belonged to and was heavily involved with (one Pentecostal, one Presbyterian) literally had hundreds of members with thousands of skills, abilities and talents most of which never saw the light of day within their own communities.

So I’m asking for your prayers. Since planting CLF I’ve longed to have a fellowship whose members view a lifestyle of service for a lifetime as central to their growth and maturity in the Lord. I’ve longed to see our members heavily invested in the life of the community we worship in. Praise the Lord we’re off to a good start with many of our folks eager to put these things into practice. Please pray that our Covenant Lord will bless our desire with concrete service so that the Name of Jesus Christ will be honored, revered and cherished and that His gospel floods West Philly like the waters cover the sea.

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Culture Clash

Can we be both black and reformed? Is there such a thing as an authentically black reformed church? What changes if any should black churches expect to make if they intend to embrace the truths of the reformation? Is reformed theology and practice so inherently white that it cannot be authentically transported and embraced by other cultures? The brothers of The Council of Reforming Churches have begun a series of posts to address these issues. Be sure to check them out and join the discussion.

Update: Rev. Kevin Smith who pastors the Watson Memorial Baptist Church and teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Center and Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile who pastors First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman have dropped some knowledge on the Culture Clash subject.

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Baal Network Pt. 3

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at The Baal Network. This past Thanksgiving while waiting for my usual double dose of turkey and stuffing myself and a few relatives watched a variety type program on TBN. The show featured the usual singing and testimony type stuff complete with studios decked with boughs and holly. At one studio the hostess ( I think it was Jan Crouch, anyway she was a serious Tammy Faye Baker look-alike) took the viewing audience into a gift shop called ‘The Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh store. There she met up with inspirational rock singer Carmen and both began to hawk the trinkets available in the store.

Now I realize that we’re supposed to be open minded and non-judgmental and all that but it appeared to me that the whole program and especially that segment was nothing more than a pitch to sell more junk during the holidays. And it’s not that I’m against selling things and making money, but at what point does the sale of bangles and baubles with little baby Jesus on them go to far?
Before we go on let me get a few things straight. First of all I’m not one of those ‘Jesus is the reason for the season dudes‘. Since scripture nowhere tells us the date of our Lord’s birth (which most certainly was not Dec. 25) I for one don’t think we need to threaten the culture with gloom and doom if they take ‘Christ’ out of Christmas. Furthermore if our churches cultivated worship that highlighted and emphasized the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ each week instead of trying to outdo MTV then we might actually have some confidence in encouraging God’s people to invite folks to church on any given Sunday and not just Christmas time. In my view if you want to celebrate Dec. 25 as the birthday of Christ more power to you. However you are neither a heretic or heathen should you choose not to commemorate that day.

My problem is with the crass way The Baal Network uses the things of God including the birth of Christ as a springboard to shovel more useless crap down our throats. Why is that any of my business? Who am I to judge? Is TBN really hurting anyone? Setting the theological concerns aside (and they are legion) for a moment let’s approach the issue from a purely pragmatic viewpoint. Some of you may be aware that Senator Church Grassley has requested to see the financial statements of several high profile ministry leaders. He’s questioning how the leaders supposedly non-profit organizations can afford to live such lavish lifestyles. In one example Senator Grassley wanted Joyce Meyers to explain the tax-exempt purpose of purchases that included a commode with marble top bought for $23,000.00 for her headquarters. As far as I know most if not all of the ministries contacted by Sen. Grassley broadcast on The Baal Network. TBN and these ministries along with others generate hundreds of millions of dollars from viewer contributions. And you as well as I know that they’re not getting that money from the tooth fairy. From what I can tell (at least if my believing relatives are any gauge) a good deal of those who watch and therefore donate are black folks.

Think about what that might mean. Could it be that The Baal Network and the priests and priestesses who profit from it are taking hundreds of thousands perhaps even millions of dollars out of the black community? What could churches that serve among poor African-Americans do if they and not TBN were given those funds? How many black churches could hire full time staff for youth and outreach if the millions of dollars black folks flush on The Baal Network were invested in local community development? And is it really fair for us to cry foul for what the white man is or is not doing while we gleefully send our seed offering to pagan priests and priestesses who use it for bathroom fodder?

Now tell me who or what might stop them? What plan do we (that is the black church) have to plug this drain of precious funds from our communities? From what I can tell Heresy Incorporated has no intention of giving up their cash cow. Is there a point where we say ‘enough is enough’? My goal in these posts about The Baal Network wasn’t just to bash them for the sake of bashing. I just wanted to point out the consequences of perverted theology and to stress that what one believes about scripture, God, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Spirit, God’s kingdom etc. carries a cost.

And in this case the price just might be a few million dollars.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance