Friday, January 25, 2008

The Saints of CLF

My wife was right. As usual I drove myself through the holidays, took no real time off and once more paid for it in January. First of all, praise the Lord that there is a lot going on at CLF. Our activities (who would have thought so much for a small church) have kept me going as we continue to lay the foundation for a church that hopes to grow strong in our knowledge, delight and love for our Lord and strong in sustained outreach to our community. All of this and more kept me going pretty much non-stop until last Friday when my body cashed in on the year long I.O.U. I had given it. By this time last week I was down and out for the count.

It couldn’t have come at worse time. I had been gearing up for another fun-filled weekend of teaching, worship, fellowship and outreach. We had scheduled a couples fellowship for Sat. evening, I was in the middle of a series of messages for the new year and had begun a special Sunday school class on spiritual health that I intended to wrap up on that Sunday. Along with that we had our regular bi-weekly leadership training (which of course was to be followed by a viewing of the Pack vs. the Gmen.) The MLK Day of Service was to be a fitting cap to the weekend as the building we use was a registered site and we were expecting a few dozen volunteers whom we would work with and serve lunch to.

And yet there I was, confined to my room, getting no sleep and wondering (when I was somewhat coherent) how I could have chills and still sweat enough to soak through a couple of undershirts. But while I was down and out the Lord was working through the people of God. My wife remained with me to care for, comfort and console me. And the saints of God continued with the work of ministry. One of our good young brothers took over and preached the word of God, and one of our newer brothers (who coordinated the day of service for the local rec center) led our efforts on the MLK day of service. A couple of our faithful sisters thoroughly cleaned my office (I didn’t even know the carpet was green) and the saints called, prayed, dropped by and reaffirmed their love for me and my family. Through this short, light sickness the Lord reminded me of how grateful I should be for those I’m privileged to serve as pastor. They truly are my joy and I praise Him for their love for me, our Lord and His kingdom. Lord willing I’ll recall some of the lessons of this past week and learn to slow down, eat better and learn to say no. But if I don’t and the Lord suffers to put me on my back again for a week or so I can at least rest knowing that He will continue to work through His people for His glory and the praise of His glorious grace in Jesus Christ.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bishop O.T. Jones Jr.

This past Saturday marked the passing into glory of one of God’s servants, the honorable Bishop O.T. Jones Jr. who served as pastor of the Holy Temple Church of God in Christ and presided over the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania jurisdiction of COGIC for many, many years. Due to declining health Bishop Jones had not actively served his church since the late 90’s. Though I’ve never been an active member of COGIC I have many family members who are and have attended many worship services at Holy Temple through the years. I greatly admired Bishop Jones for his humble demeanor and genuine love for those he pastored. He never came off to me as one who was caught up in being a bishop and though he was treated with great respect, love and care by those he served he never seemed to view them as pawns to be used to move onto bigger and better things.

One of the things I appreciated about Bishop Jones was the way he took time to speak with everyone who wanted to talk with him following a service or event at Holy Temple. I admired the way he spoke to those he served during the Commonwealth’s convocations when he exhorted God’s people to press toward holiness and witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember Bishop Jones when reflecting on God’s call for me to view and treat those I serve with gentleness, love, humility and respect. I deeply respect that Bishop Jones didn’t seem to need an opulent lifestyle to validate his status and that he lived in the community where he served. I’m especially grateful for how gracious and encouraging he was to me a young minister who was not apart of his church. It seemed that whenever I attended a service my mother, and aunt or cousin would take me to the front and once more introduce me to Bishop Jones. He was patient, kind, always smiled and never failed to encourage me to persevere in God’s calling.

My guess is that many within the wider evangelical church never even heard of Bishop Jones and as far as I know he wrote no books and didn’t have much interaction with mainstream evangelicals. Was Bishop Jones as Calvinist? No he was not. But he was what I hope to become. A man of God who loved his Lord, loved his people and served them faithfully until death.

The Lord’s Peace
Pastor Lance

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

West Side Story

Before blue-ray, dvd, and vhs there was CBS, NBC and ABC. Before disc, dish and cable there was CBS, NBC and ABC. Before Blockbuster, you tube and internet streaming there was you guessed it CBS, NBC, and ABC. When I was around 8 my mother told me of a movie called West Side Story that was coming on network television. Being in that stage between Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang and Enter The Dragon I pretty much blew off some dumb musical based on a play. However being the dutiful son I sat down and watched the first few scenes before going onto bigger and better things (btw what did we do before play station and Madden?)

Anyway from the first bars of the opening song I was hooked. That movie was baaaaaaaaaaaad. And the Jets were da bomb. I still remember the first few words of their theme song ‘when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day‘. I watched mesmerized as the actors danced and sang across the screen exulting in their complete control of their small piece of turf. Their joy in being a Jet was contagious and it seemed that nothing or no one stood in their way until the song was abruptly cut by Ricardo. Ricardo clearly wasn’t from the West Side and he definitely was not a Jet nor did they have any intention of making him one. At first Ricardo wasn’t much of a threat. However little by little more of his friends began showing up. (before I go on you need to know that this is not a piece on immigration or racial reconciliation) By the end of the movie the Jets are in a turf war with the Sharks.

Sometimes I feel like a Jet (stay with me here folks). I walk the streets of my community, shop at the local supermarket (which is a pretty decent one) for groceries and once in a while drop in on the local big box store and see the growing influence of Islam. I see African-American men and women who may or may not have had some kind of Christian influence adopting the garb of muslims. I look and wonder if the church is taking note of this and if so do we have any plans to address it. For all our wrangling over the supposed blackness of the church my guess is that these new converts aren’t embracing Islam because the music at Temple # 2 is more stimulating than that of Second Baptist or the local imam can bring the hoop with more power and eloquence than Rev. Brown. I’m concerned because while some of our churches are mainly focused on buying and filling abandoned sports stadiums local Muslims are investing themselves in our communities and working the youth. I’m concerned because the conviction that what one believes about God, scripture, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ and the church is an irrelevant matter of personal preference has left many of our members without the slightest clue of how to accurately and adequately present a cogent account of the gospel or explain other important aspects of biblical truth.
I’m concerned that when those looking for spiritual direction do drop in on us they’re treated to a superficial show that focuses on temporary bling (called blessings) and are told that these ‘blessings’ are directly tied to ensuring that the voodoo guru up front lives a fabulously lavish lifestyle generated from their income.

I'm concerned that my West Side Story might turn into a tragedy when what is now a trickle mushrooms into a flood as our older churches will close only to be purchased by those who declare ‘all praises due to Allah who has no son’.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

I Like Mike!

I like Mike! (no, not that Mike, more on him later) I’m talking about Michael Nutter the new mayor of Philadelphia. Mayor Nutter was elected with well over 80 percent of the vote meaning that he pulled overwhelming support from the vast majority of city neighborhoods and voting public. In a city usually defined by our divisions Mayor Nutter did very well among all demographic groups. Blacks, white, the well to do and those not doing so well have marked Mike as our man for at least the next four years. Hyzone was sworn in yesterday and gave a stirring address regarding the problems, challenges and opportunities the City of Brotherly Love faces as the last years of the first decade of this new millennium drain away.

And what challenges they are. Like most large American cities Philly is plagued with violence, corruption, poor schools, dated infrastructure and an entrenched bureaucracy. Those however are just the symptoms of a city whose sense of hope, unity and optimism seemed to be in a deep freeze the last several years. In my pastoral prayer this past Sunday I prayed for our mayor and also those of us who populate the speed bump between N.Y. and D.C. I prayed that we would realize that Mayor Nutter is the mayor, not superman or a savior. That he’s one man and that this is our city and therefore we have a responsibility to get connected, get involved and do our part.

Praying for Mayor Nutter reminded me of the church’s witness within a city, community and region. Just how should we respond to a city struggling with a 45% high school drop out rate, senseless and random murder among our youth, an economic system that seems tilted to the well heeled and well to do, and politicians who many times seem more interested in a photo op than in tackling the issues of their constituents? How does the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ intersect with our ministry to the city? How far do we go in working with those who don’t believe in or acknowledge Jesus Christ? I voted for Mr. Nutter in the primary and general election. Does my responsibility end there? I also voted for our new councilman (we needed a new one since our old one just became the mayor) and am thinking of organizing a community meeting where he can come and address the issues of our neighborhood. In fact if I had the time I would seriously consider Mayor Nutter’s call to public service. The mayor has asked anyone who wants to submit his or her resume and take a position working for his administration. The position could be paid or unpaid and would involve working on the behalf of the city.

While some might argue that this is not my place I would beg to differ. God has ordained the institution of government and politics for the protection of the poor and powerless and the general order of society. Is the political process flawed? Of course it is. Politics along with every other human institution is populated by fallen, sinful, selfish people. However that doesn’t mean that believers must opt out of politics completely. And contrary to popular belief the church cannot and for the most part has no intention of really seeing to all of the needs of the dependent poor. It’s therefore superfluous and disingenuous of us to say that government should get out of the business of addressing the needs of the poor so that the church can do so even as we pour our resources into sound and light systems costing tens of thousands of dollars. Is government the answer to all our social ills? Not it is not. As I said before Mayor Nutter is neither superman nor savior. As such he needs both the church’s prayers and participation.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Obama 08?

The recently concluded Iowa caucuses have crowned (for now) two new front runners for this year’s presidential campaign. From what I hear and read it appears that many Christian conservatives are cautiously optimistic about Gov. Mike Huckabee’s showing and hope that he will eventually secure the Republican parties nomination. The Democratic winner in Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama surprised more than a few by boasting around 37 or 38% of the democratic tally. This is in a state sits squarely in America’s heartland and is 90% white. Though much of black America is still wondering if Barack is black enough, it seems his message of change, hope and unity is hitting home with many of those who make up ‘white’ America.

Both however would agree that there is a long way to go and a whole lot can happen within the next couple of weeks. Now that we’re waist deep into the next presidential election I’d like to offer a few thoughts (just thoughts no endorsements) for those who swear allegiance to the Lord of lords and King of kings, Jesus Christ. These thoughts stem from Sen. Obama’s showing which could indicate that a great many folks regardless of age, ethnicity and political leanings want change even if they don’t know what it means. One could posit that if Sen. Obama could do that well in Iowa he could easily carry most of the western, southwestern, mid-western and northeastern states in a general election. In fact he might even pick off a southern state or two. It could be that by this time next year the United States of America may be preparing to swear in its first African-American president who was elected largely on the notions of hope, change and unity.

Should that be the case I wonder how bible believing Christians would respond? Will the election of Sen. Obama send us into a state of lament and woe as we await (and perhaps secretly hope for) God’s judgment on the nation for making such a ‘bad’ choice? Will we consider checking out of the political process, circling our wagons and try and wait it out until 2012? Will evangelicals respond by joining the vitriolic conservative media army and take every opportunity to disrespect, insult and demean the man? And how might we respond to those who voted for Sen. Obama? Will we write and circulate caustic articles challenging the faith of anyone who dared to cast a ballot for him? Will we let it be known that neither President Obama, his wife, his children, those who support him and anyone deceived enough to vote for him are welcome in our churches? Instead of genuinely praying for the man and his administration will be waste our time hoping for his demise and impeachment? Should Sen. Obama win largely because people truly believe he’s an agent for hope and unity will we take that as a sign that God has finally forsaken America and absolutely refuse to have anything to do with him, our neighbors (yes I mean our democratic ones) and this country?

Sound far fetched you say? Bible believing evangelicals would never do such things you say? Believers who are committed to inerrancy and authority of scripture would never disrespect their leaders? Evangelicals who claim that God has revealed truth that is absolute and thus binding for all people at all times would always seek to do good and even treat those who oppose us with respect and dignity? Really now? Well here’s a little test. For those old enough to remember recall the last time a liberal democrat was elected to the nation’s highest office. Did you read and pass on any disrespecting jokes about President Clinton and his wife? Would those who voted for him felt welcome in your church’s coffee hour after worship? Was he and his administration the subject of our prayers or more the object of our scorn and derision? Having lived among and served with an evangelical church during President Clinton’s time in office I can only pray that we’ve grown more humble and more godly. I hope and pray that we put our belief in God’s sovereignty and goodness into practice by seeking to be agents of unity and peace in our community. And if we do not. If we decide to treat President Obama much the way we treated President Clinton then maybe evangelical conservatives should just drop the label and just call ourselves conservatives. Maybe we should accept what we are which is simply another political power bloc concerned only with getting our guys in office so that we can get what we want and willing to use anything including religion to achieve our ultimate purpose.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance