Thursday, February 28, 2008

Losing Our Religion

Recently the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study regarding the changing landscape of American religion. I heard a radio program that discussed these changes and heard the stories of several callers who related their experiences. While I can’t sum it all up for you here are some of my thoughts.

Many of those who called to tell their story regarding why they switched religions noted how personally unfulfilling their parents’ faith had been to them. They went searching for a faith that had particular meaning to them. That last point is significant in that no one who called spoke of looking for a faith that brought meaning to the world and human existence, rather they sought a system of belief that held specific meaning for their particular life context (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity etc).

As you might have guessed no one seemed too concerned with whether or not their belief was true, just that it worked in bringing them fulfillment.
In general people aren’t feeling authority at all, but are drawn to ritual. Those who were put on the air made it clear that while they didn’t mind talking about their religion they didn’t see the necessity of wearing it on their sleeve.
A number of folks are still hedging their bets just in case there’s something out there and even a couple of self-described atheists and agnostics were hopeful that there was more to us than just a seventy or eighty year natural existence.
Christians coming to faith from agnostic backgrounds face the same kind of ridicule and intolerance that believers are usually charged with giving. No one who actually remained with a faith they were reared in got on the air.

Evangelical Christianity might be in big, big trouble. Say what? I know you’ve heard this before but history demonstrates and I think this survey bears out that a faith grounded in a belief in faith is as stable as the San Andreas Fault. The report noted how many mainline denominations continue to lose those brought up under their charge. At some point if you keep telling people that God is basically just like you only older they get smart and wonder ’why in the world am I wasting these beautiful Sunday mornings in church’. At some point if you persist in drilling the notion that God exists to serve, obey, listen to and do their will they figure out that all the things they want in life can be theirs with a lot of hard work and a little luck. Eventually when you tell people that it really is just about their own private fulfillment through a personal, private relationship with ‘Jesus’ they decide that they can discover that same kind of fulfillment through the rules of Islam, the ritual of Anglicanism or the mysticism of new age spirituality.

Eventually if you keep preaching that theology and doctrine i.e. truth doesn’t matter then they’ll feel quite free to change what they ‘believe’ whenever their tastes suit them. Eventually if we keep teaching those who fill our pews today that what scripture says about God’s word, His Person, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and His church is barely relevant to who they are, their walk with the Lord and the ‘real’ world they just might believe us and become the next statistics in the changing face of religion tomorrow.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Monday, February 25, 2008

Obama Update

Anthony Carter and Thabiti Anyabwile have each written very engaging posts regarding the candidacy of Barack Obama. Their posts are important regardless of whether you plan to vote for Senator Obama or not. As I said before even if he loses Barack Obama has made it nearly impossible for future black candidates to run as a traditional black candidate. In fact the country has already begun to see this in the elections of Deval Patrick the governor of Massachusetts and Michael Nutter who was elected mayor of Philadelphia with overwhelming white support.

Senator Obama has kicked it to another level as people all over the country and even the world consider him as a competent candidate to lead the United States of America. It's that reality that could have young African-Americans look at themselves and think 'there really are no limits to where my drive, hard work and talent could take me'. But perhaps more importantly Senator Obama's candidacy could finally move the rest our society into thinking the same way.

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance

Friday, February 22, 2008

An Unbelievable Message Pt. 2

So how do you solve the unsolvable problem? What happens when you discover that your real issue, your root issue isn’t that your parents did a really bad job or perhaps weren’t there at all. What happens when it dawns on you that growing up in a violent neighborhood, attending bad schools, with little opportunity though obstacles don’t approach the heart of your real dilemma? How does it feel when you run into someone who has had every advantage you haven’t and find out that they have just as many issues, just as many insecurities, just as many fears and just as many hang-ups as you do? What do you do when it finally hits you that you are a sinner and that one day you will face your Creator and Judge with no explanation, nobody else to blame and no excuse?

Should that day come to you I have good news. Though you are not right with God, have no one to blame for that but yourself and cannot possibly find away out of or around this on your own God has taken it upon Himself to fully and finally solve this most urgent, pressing and eternal problem of yours. How has He done this?

He begins by revealing to humanity that a perfect, permanent righteousness is available apart from us having to earn it by following His law (which we could never do in the first place). This righteousness which is spoken of in the Old Testament is given by faith to every one who believes in Jesus Christ. What must you believe? You must believe that you are indeed a sinner who fairly deserves God’s judgment. You must further believe that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life before the Father according to the law and therefore earned a perfect, permanent right standing before Him and that this right standing can be yours if you place your faith in Christ and Christ alone. You must believe that when Christ died on the cross He died to satisfy God’s anger against your sin. You must believe that Jesus physically rose from the grave thus proving that God the Father was please and satisfied with His life and sacrifice

And guess what? You never have to worry this most precious gift of God’s righteousness is tainted by racism, classism, sexism or any other kind of ism. All have sinned and therefore have disqualified themselves from enjoying the full eternal expression of God’s kingdom. Yet, all who believe are declared to be in a perfect, permanent right standing before God by grace and grace alone. Among other things that means that there is no cost to you whatsoever for this perfect, permanent right standing. Today you can know for sure that you’re in God’s grace, favor and have His blessing not because you sowed a seed into the business of some televangelist but because Christ lived a perfect life on your behalf. But it doesn’t end there. Not only did Jesus Christ live a perfect life on your behalf, He actually died to release you from the penalty of sin that you owned the Father. He gave up His life for yours so that you wouldn’t have to pay the cost of your rebellion yourself.

Is there any other kind of way you ask? Absolutely not! The living God specially, and specifically put forth Jesus Christ to be the one who would satisfy completely His fierce, passionate, settled, unrelenting, just and certain anger against all those who believe in Him. In punishing Christ, God the Father upholds His holiness, righteousness and justice while at the same time giving a right standing to all those who believe in Christ. But that’s where the buck stops. Salvation is found in no one else. Christ and Christ alone secured salvation for all of God’s people.

What do you, your people, your culture, your ethnicity or your country bring to the table? What did God see in you that made the whole plan of salvation necessary? Other than your sin, nothing. You have nothing to boast or brag about. God didn’t save you because you proved your worth through education, hard work and upstanding family values. Nor was His pity aroused because you were born poor, treated unjustly and belonged to a marginalized people group. God didn’t see that you did your best to follow His law, fell short and therefore extended you a little bit of help to make it over the hump. This perfect, permanent right standing before the living God is obtained by faith and faith alone. And thus all the credit, praise, thanks and glory goes to God and God alone.

Who is this message for? It’s for everyone. It is the one, objective truth regarding where we stand with God that transcends ethnicity, class, socioeconomic status, level of education, cultural group or any other of the surface divisions we so easily allow to divide us. Is God the God of the Jews only? No, by no means no. He is the God of the Jews, Arabs, Africans, Hispanics, Europeans, Asians, Indians, Americans, colored people, Negroes, blacks, Afro-Americans and African-Americans. There is one God who will justify all kinds of people through faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ. There is one God who has fully and finally solved the one problem that will follow you through eternity. There is one God who out of His rich mercy and great love for you gave up His one and only Son to secure your blessed eternity with Him.

Do you believe that?

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Unbelievable Message Pt. 1

So what to bible believing Christians want to hear from the candidates? What message will capture their attention and perhaps garner their support? What can the last three major presidential contenders say that will resonate with this particular constituent group? I’m not sure. For within our unshakable kingdom and unbreakable bond there is a difference of opinion on some very important political issues. We do not all agree on the continued prosecution of the war, the role of government in our lives, the best way to approach climate change, nor the most effective way to address the growing challenge of health care and insurance. Even on an issue like abortion there may not be 100% agreement on the best way to address that politically.

But let’s flip the script. Because the message that’s most meaningful to us isn’t what any candidate has to say nor is it apart of their campaign or their parties’ platform. And that’s fine, for that message is one that’s been committed to God’s people and only God’s people. It is a message that those in Christ must agree on since the church is still the house of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. And with all that the candidates have to say on the important issues of our time (and they are important) the most significant and crucial message that pertains to humanity is the message of the glorious, liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.
That’s the message that we are commissioned and empowered to preach to all people whether Jew, non-Jew, Indian, Asian, white, Arab, black or Hispanic. We preach this message to those from blue states and red states. We promote it to builders, boomers, busters, rockers, skaters and hip-hoppers. What is this message, why is it important and what main issue does it deal with?

As I said before it is the message of the gospel. What is this gospel or good news? It is the message of scripture concerning salvation from sin, God’s anger against those who commit sin and their restoration back into a right relationship with Him through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Why is this message important? It’s important because it addresses the most urgent, pressing and eternal problem and dilemma for any person at anytime, anywhere. From God’s perspective our chief problem isn’t a lack of money or opportunity to make money. It isn’t the lack of good parents or poor education. Our main problem isn’t broken relationships, under-employment or inadequate healthcare. In fact I can go so far as to say that our prime concerns aren’t the felt needs that weigh in on us on a daily basis. Our primary problem has nothing to do with racism, sexism, ageism, or classism. That’s not to say that these aren’t real or actual concerns. However, if we place too much weight on them they can all too easily obscure the truth of our very real and present danger. What is that danger?

We declared war on God and lost badly. We can observe the effects of the collateral damage of that loss all around us. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Once we rejected the good, wise, just, righteous and gracious rule of our creator, Lord and master we gained the ‘privilege’ of running the show ourselves. But even worse than that we inherited a regular, normal human nature that is bent away from God and bent toward rebellion, perversion and disobedience. Where has this nature gotten us? To make a long story short we are the objects of Almighty God’s fierce, passionate, settled, unrelenting, just and certain anger. And it really doesn’t matter how much money we have, our status and position in life, the size and location of our home or how many degrees we’ve attained. When all is said and done all have sinned. Whether black, white, Jew, Arab, Indian, European, Hispanic or Asian, all us are naturally disqualified from enjoying God’s kingdom and presence. What is our main problem? Our main problem is that we have sinned and for that there will be hell to pay.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Monday, February 18, 2008

Black History Month

Why Black History Month? What purpose is served by highlighted the contributions of one single group of Americans? Doesn’t a focus on their history only serve to promote the ethnic divide we struggle with so much in this country? Good questions that I’m sure occur to more than a few during the month of February which is National Black History Month. And while these may be valid questions I wonder if they’re a bit misplaced. For those who see concentrating on the history of one specific group to the exclusion of others it might be more prudent to ask questions like the following: How can we best integrate the history of black Americans into our national history? Why is it that we seem to so easily pass over the contributions black Americans have made to the life of this country? Couldn’t we do a better job of uniting the country if we made a conscious effort to include the history of African-Americans whenever we taught or discussed the founding, building and progress of America?

Before we tackle these issues however let’s begin with a more basic question. What purpose does the observation and reflection of history serve in the first place? For example what difference does it make to me that here in the city of my birth Bishop Richard Allen began the first black led denomination in America? For one I am not a Methodist and never have been. Furthermore, there really doesn’t seem to be a direct connection with the events of 1793 and what’s happening with me today. And yet we know that that is a short-sighted way to view the past, present and future. In fact one could make the argument that a large part of the challenges African-Americans face today are connected with the way far too many of us view the history we made yesterday.

Why should we view the importance of history in general and of black history in particular.

History is important not merely because it tells of the dates and escapades of famous people in turbulent times, but because it’s a window into how people much like us faced up to and dealt with many of the same struggles and issues that challenge us today. History can help to explain how we’ve arrived at this point in time faced with the current set of issues we grapple with now. History can also speak to the important aspects of our humanity. A good, clear account of history can assist us as we work through the macro questions of who we are, what our purpose is, where we’re going and what is our destiny.

Studying and reflecting on black history along with the history of other ethnic groups will teach us of the lengths African-Americans and others took to be viewed as full Americans by this country. Each invention, work of art, scientific discovery, foray into politics, activity in foreign wars and act of athleticism was a way of shouting to our nation that though we were brought here against our will, it was not our will to remain separate or segregated from this country. Knowing this could prove quite beneficial to those Americans who question or wonder what place African-Americans have played and can play in the building and progress of this country. It could also help them to see that black history did not begin and end with slavery. Additionally it will teach them to see that America is what it is because of the valuable contributions of those who came here via slave ships and immigrant ships. Knowing this can help us to view those who are here as potential assets and not liabilities.

For black folks studying our history and participation in America puts us face to face with the reality that though times may be hard now they were indeed much more difficult in times past. We can learn that our people battled racism on several fronts and in a myriad of ways. Learning our history will teach us the value of struggle, education, respect, creativity, hope and reliance on God. Reviewing our history will remind us of our common humanity and that no amount of racism or brutality can stamp that out. One more thing about observing our story. Looking back in order to look forward should make us sensitive of the responsibility to advocate for others. Our press for justice cannot end once we’ve secured the right to our slice of pie at Denny’s.

Finally, we investigate and observe our history to see the imprint of God’s sovereignty on the lives of our people. In this way we should view our story redemptively. We should tell one another and teach our children that the point of black history isn’t confined to the struggle for economic and social equality with the dominant culture. That is far, far to short a goal and small a purpose for people created in God’s image. If the end of our struggle is a 2500 square foot four bedroom, two and half bath, two car garage in the suburbs then our struggle and view of history is a dismal failure. We repeat the song of our story to remind ourselves that it’s just one more verse in the tale of His story. Where will that story end? For many of us it won’t. It will simply enter into a new chapter when we along with all of our other brothers and sisters surround the throne of the author and finisher of our faith, life and history Jesus Christ.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

A Man From Issachar

Our friend, brother and favorite 2nd veep Eric Redmond was profiled by the Washington Post this past weekend. Rev. Redmond also serves as the pastor of the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills MD. and is the author of the upcoming book Where Are All The Brothers: Straight Answers To Men’s Questions About The Church. He also blogs at A Man From Issachar.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Election 08 - Planes, Tanks, and Bombs

This is shaping up to one doozy of an election. Folks in Maine braved all kinds of wonderful winter weather to cast their vote. Voters in VA were so fired up that many of them showed up last Tuesday to participate in their primary.

Among the issues that concern those who’ve voted or are considering their vote is the continuing war in Iraq. I’m pretty sure that most of you have already decided where you are on the war. And though I’ve given it some thought this may be the first time I’ve actually written on the subject.
For me the issue isn’t confined to where I stand on the war as much as how do I view the use of military power. The U.S. began the conquest of Iraq as a pre-emptive strike against what we thought was an imminent military threat. We were told that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the U.S. or U.S. interest in fairly short order. We were also told that America would be safer once Saddam Hussein was removed from power. It turns out that we were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction and though Saddam has been removed, tried and executed we’re now told that we must remain in Iraq to battle Al-Qaeda who presumably wasn’t entrenched in Iraq until after the war. From where we sit now it seems that we’re between a rock and a hard place. Some say we must stay the course, root out all the terrorist and achieve victory. Others believe that a definite withdrawal from Iraq is the best course of action. In my view there is no easy way out which is why I’m keenly interested in the next president’s view on the use of military power.

For the last several decades America pursued a policy of having a strong military to counter any potential threat from the old Soviet Union. Our military strategy was based on matching land, air and sea power in sufficient strength so as to counter any advance by the enemy. However at this time I don’t think this strategy is wise in the battle against terrorism. We’ve already seen that an easy conquest of an enemy country isn’t the same as victory, nor does it guarantee instant safety. In all the talk about the surge, timetables, staying the course etc. one thing we haven’t done is have an honest evaluation of our current doctrine regarding combating terrorism and the most prudent use of the military in this conflict. It’s not enough for us to think that the surge worked and now all we have to do is wait another few years for the Iraqis to construct a cohesive government so that we can finally go home. Failure to thoroughly examine the mindset that led us into war may be one of the surest signs that in the not too distant future we’ll embark on the same course of action with the same flawed reasoning and end up with the same distressing results.

As a citizen I’m against the belief that America needs to increase the military and prepare for extended deployments around the world. As I said before it doesn’t appear that a huge, overpowering military is the safest bet against terrorism. We may need to develop a long term plan that focuses on digging up the roots of terror so that it ceases to be a significant factor in our way of life. Of course that may mean re-examining some of the sacred cows that make up our way of life. Some will strongly disagree with this and charge that we are at war with terrorist. Okay, so we’re at war. What’s the best way to win it? Perhaps I’m wrong and we should engage in a multi-year military build up. Shouldn’t we at least do a complete and thorough examination of all factors involved before making such a move? And should we choose such a course of action what’s that mean for our foreign policy for the next decade and the one after that and the one after that?

As a citizen I don’t think the nation can afford another military build-up and at the same time keep pace with the growing economies of China, India and other developing nations. And even if we could I don’t think it’s prudent to sink the amount of money it would take to do so. If the next president insists on having the ‘strongest most well equipped’ military on the planet then he or she should at least tell the American people that such a force would cost in excess of a trillion dollars. And I for one think that this nation could invest that money elsewhere.

Finally as a believer in Christ and thus one committed to the preservation and building up of all life created in Him image I feel it’s part of my responsibility to refrain from beating the drums of war too loudly or eagerly. War costs lives. And having the most powerful and advanced military in the world can too easily cloud our vision regarding the toll that war will take on those we invade. As believers I’m very concerned that evangelicals seemed just a tad bit too willing to jump on the shock and awe bandwagon without taking stock of the very real lives this action would take. Does that mean that we never go to war? Not necessarily. It does mean that we who hold life to be most precious must not be too eager to encourage our government to prosecute a war that will no doubt result in the loss of life for thousands or even tens of thousands of people. As believers in Christ who also happen by His providence to be Americans we must extend the scope of morality to include the rightness or wrongness of using military power. If we are to have a voice let’s make sure that voice is one of temperance in the use of force before we launch into the fog of war.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

This, That, and The Other

Our fellow elder, Thabiti Anyabwile is on the interview circuit for his important book ‘The Decline of African-American Theology. In the southland brother Anthony Carter wants to know if you’re bugging for Jesus and alerts us to a good upcoming theology conference. The other Quincy Jones was recently interviewed by Southwest Seminary and has solid post on our soul’s satisfaction from a new book he recently picked up (I’m looking forward to sharing fellowship with our brother at a wedding next month). Brother Lionel Woods is laying down the gospel of the engineless Lamborghini. Tim Challies reviewed Tim Keller’s new book called The Reason for God. Melvin Jones has a moving account of someone God brought out of the word of faith heresy and last but by no means least our own 2nd veep brother Eric Redmond wants to talk about morality and hip-hop (though not in a direct relation to one another)

Check them out and be blessed.

Pastor lance

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An Unbreakable Bond

So who are we? Are we white suburban evangelicals? Yes. Are we black urban bible believing Christians? Yes. Are we older believers who participated in the building of this country? Yes. Are we middle aged believers who enjoyed the benefits of the post-war prosperity boom? Yes. Are we believers who struggled to see this nation live out its ideals and the church of Jesus Christ pursue unity? Yes. Are we youthful believers striving to walk in the faith our parents passed down to us? Yes.

Who are we? We are black and white. We are young, young at heart and hitting mid-life. We are city, rural, suburban and ex-urban. We are Jewish and Arab. We are men and women. We are highly educated, somewhat educated and not very well educated. We are well-employed, under-employed and unemployed. We live in large well-appointed homes and small apartments. We are Hispanic and Asian. We are engineers and artist. We are butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, inner-city, outer-city, edge of the city and out of the city.

We are Democrat and Republican.

What binds us all together? What is the common conviction that fuses and fuels our unity? Whose flag do we rally around? To what or whom do we swear allegiance? Why do we refuse to be divided along ethnic, social, economic, educational and geographic lines? What is the common thread that runs through our fellowship? None other than our confession and conviction of the Lord Jesus Christ. What does that confession mean to us and why does it therefore primarily define who we are, whom we identify with, why we’re here and what our destiny is?
Our brother and apostle Paul explained part of it in a letter he wrote to a group of our brothers and sisters around two thousand years ago. In writing about the origin, salvation, purpose and unity of the church he said “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph. 4:4-6.

Who are we? We are the people of God gathered into one living community and sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ. And it is our Lord Jesus who is the head of this community. As such we now live to take His direction and follow His agenda. Consequently we no longer regard our primary identity as being black or white, Jewish or Arab, Hispanic or Asian, American or Iranian. That is we no longer live to carry out the agenda of our natural ethnicity, class, country or political party.

Who are we? We are a living community held in unity by the eternal Spirit of the living God. It is His Spirit that indwells and empowers us so that we are enabled to among other things love those brothers and sisters who on the surface aren’t like us. It is also the Spirit who has given us new life, sealed us for the Lord until His return and bound us into an intimate covenant union in Christ.

Who are we? We are a living community of Spirit bound believers who have answered the call to humanity’s only real hope. What is that call? It is the call to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for full forgiveness of sin and a perfect, permanent right standing before the living God. What is our hope? Well it’s not that the land we live in will continue to be the strongest and richest country on the planet. Nor is it that our ethnic group will achieve full economic and social equality with the dominant ethnic group. Our hope which is a confident expectation is in an inheritance that cannot perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven for us. Our hope is the return of our Lord, shepherd, king and savior Jesus Christ who will take us to Himself, give us new glorified bodies, wipe every tear from our eyes and gather us into an eternal loving fellowship of worship around His throne.

Who are we? We are a living community of Spirit bound believers who having answered the call of the gospel bow our hearts and minds to one Lord, master and director of our lives. We therefore acknowledge and submit to the authority of Jesus Christ. We take our life’s marching orders from Him, not our country, ethnic group or cultural group. Our goal and mission is to pursue and fulfill His commission not our own agenda or anyone else’s agenda.

Who are we? We are a living community of Spirit bound believers who’ve answered the call of the gospel to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ who preach, herald, proclaim, teach, preserve and promote the one faith. What is that faith? It is not a privately held belief that gives our lives some unique meaning known only to us. The faith is the body of belief that was once delivered to the saints. What does it consist of? Once more let’s turn to our brother and apostle Paul “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” 1 Cor. 15:3-6.

Who are we? We are living community of Spirit bound believers who’ve answered the call of the gospel to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ who preach, stand on and live by the one and only true faith who’ve been placed into one, glorious church. What does it mean to participate in this baptism? It means that we’ve identified publicly with the people of God past, present, future and eternal. Many of us have done this as individuals and some have done so with our families. In doing so we’ve all declared publicly and without shame that we are a new people, who live new lives and are a vital part of a new covenant community.

Who are we? We are a living community of Spirit bound believers who’ve answered the call of the gospel to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ who preach, stand on and live by the one and only true faith who identify with and have been placed into the church of the living God with the consequence that we now worship, adore, love, obey, serve and delight in one God who is at the same time our good, gracious heavenly Father.

Who are we? We a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Who are we? We are those who’ve come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Now that you know who we are tell me who are you?

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and has made us a kingdom, priests to serve His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Pastor Lance

Friday, February 08, 2008

An Unshakable Kingdom

Many of us have been following the current presidential race and noting how the pundits have neatly divided the electorate in the various camps. We’re inundated with talk on the black vote, white vote, white evangelical vote, Hispanic vote, youth vote, middle aged vote, elderly vote, white women’s vote, black women’s vote, urban vote, rural vote, etc., etc, etc.
We’re told that these camps will vote based on the characteristics common to each group. We know however that things are that simple and yet that hasn’t stopped them from categorizing each group and simply regarding them as just another constituency.

The danger for believers in this time is that we can all too easily fall into the trap of becoming just one more constituent group to be courted, appeased and yes lied to.
Which is why I’m grateful that presidential politics rolls around every four years. It gives those who pledge allegiance to the cross an opportunity to remind ourselves of a few important and unchangeable things. Recalling and reflecting on these truths will help us to keep our heads and not get too caught up in the things of this world which while significant don’t carry eternal weight.

We can begin minding and meditating on Daniel’s words to King Nebuchadnezzar found in the second chapter of his prophesy ‘And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure."

Those words of power and beauty teach us that God’s rule, reign and agenda of worship, righteousness, spiritual vitality, peace, justice and salvation through Jesus Christ exists here and now and claims the allegiance of the souls of those who dwell in the temporary kingdoms of this world. One implication of that reality is that our ultimate task or mission is the extension and expansion of that eternal kingdom. Our main calling is not the pursuit of the overall supremacy of any particular temporary nation. Nor do we dare give the impression that the strength and vitality of one single temporary nation is in anyway tied to the inevitable growth and progress of Gods eternal kingdom. Does that mean we withdraw from the current election process, sit on our hands and wait for the end of the world? Of course not. Why? Because our Lord and king taught and demonstrated that his subjects are free to use their energy, time, effort and ability to show God’s love, grace, peace and justice as proof that His eternal kingdom is present in the here and now.

One other implication of this truth is that our loyalty to and love for those in the kingdom trumps our allegiance to the temporary political parties we choose to belong to now.
As the apostle John wrote in his first letter ’that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete‘.
What we have in common, which is our conviction regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ goes far deeper than the bonds formed by our political leanings.

These are just a few of the things we must remind ourselves of even as we wade into the political arena. What are some ways to display our unity and kingdom focus during these times?
As the nominating process draws to a close we can begin to pray for the candidates in both parties. This is both wise and biblical because whomever loses the nomination and eventually the general election will still no doubt hold some position of leadership in this country. Thus in keeping with the scriptural mandate to pray for our leaders let’s be clear to pray for all of them and not just those in our party.
Seek ways to intentionally speak well of those you disagree with and refuse to denigrate those on the other side (whichever side that is).
Mobilize your church or small group to engage your community with acts of service thus demonstrating the reality and blessings of God’s eternal kingdom.
Encourage those who agree with you to maintain the distinction between the temporary kingdom of America and the eternal kingdom of the living God. Encourage them to remember that a loss for their candidate and party is not a setback for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom that gospel proclaims.

If all else fails remember that God’s people have thrived and the kingdom has grown in the face of much worse circumstances than the loss of your chosen candidate.
He will not be in the least bit surprised, perturbed or disturbed at the outcome of the USA’s next presidential election. The God who made the heavens and earth and all that is in them is the same God who began and sustained His kingdom through the ungodly and brutal reigns of the Babylonians, Medes-Persians, Greeks and Romans.

Now for those who are still a bit anxious and need some encouragement allow me to leave with the words of king Nebuchadnezzar from Daniel 4:

“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for 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?"

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Bound Man?

I usually don’t do an immediate follow up to a topic, but my brother ronjour locke (who by the way has a great blog called Magnify God) asked a great question concerning Shelby Steele’s assessment of Senator Obama as a man and candidate. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Steele he is an author and ideologically conservative commentator on race relations. His book The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America received the National Book Critic’s Circle in 1990. In this book and consistent with the conservative ideological outlook on race and ethnicity Mr. Steele claims that government social policies tend to increase rather than decrease racial division. He also claims that blacks are more often than not oppressed by their own nagging issues of self doubt than by ongoing societal racism.

Mr. Steele recently authored a new book on the candidacy of Barack Obama entitled A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
Our brother Justin Taylor posted a summary of an interview Mr. Steele recently did on the book

I listened to another interview he did a couple of weeks ago on Philly’s local NPR station about the book and in light of his past writings and interviews regarding race relations I was a bit confused. On the one hand Mr. Steele has made a career of encouraging African-Americans to view themselves as individual Americans first and not primarily as apart of an oppressed and subdominant group. He’s challenged black folks to resist the temptation to blame everything on racism and rely on our own innate talents, drive and abilities to take us as far as we wish to go. And above all it seems that Mr. Steele longs for a day when blacks and whites won’t look at each other in terms of color first, but in terms of character.

I’m confused because Mr. Steele evaluates Senator Obama’s candidacy based on the two traditional strategies he says African-Americans have used to manage life with the dominant culture. Those strategies are challenging and bargaining. If I recall the radio interview I heard correctly challengers confront whites on the issue of race by advocating that historic racism is still the obstacle for African-Americans, while bargainers do not. What’s confusing is that Mr. Steele has made a life by advocating that blacks repudiate both ways of dealing with whites and view themselves as individuals who don’t represent their race one way or the other. At one point in the interview with summarized on Justin’s site Mr. Steele said ‘“The black American identity,” says Steele, “is still for the most part grounded in challenging. You never give white people the benefit of the doubt; that’s our power.”

Say what Mr. Steele? Our power? I thought our power lay in our own individual desires and abilities, not in the pressure we as a group can exert on white folks? In my view that statement is a complete 180 from where Mr. Steele has told black people to go for more than twenty years. Whereas before he told us to reject the outdated notion of group think Shelby now despises Senator Obama for doing just that! Another thing that saddens me about his assessment is the refusal to admit that for the first time in history a non-athletic black man is garnering significant support from white people who view him not primarily in terms of color but on the basis of his own unique character. Whether you like the senator’s character isn’t the subject of this post. The fact is however that Barack Obama draws tens of thousands of white people to his rallies and many of those people gleefully identify with him as an individual and genuinely hope that he’ll be the man who represents them in the White House for the next four years. To me Mr. Steele should celebrate Senator Obama’s candidacy as proof that a black man who refuses to see himself as primarily and only a black man can go as far as his dreams, drive and talents can take him. He should see his historic run for president as validation that contrary to what the old line Civil Rights establishment has told us, the time may have come where one can be genuinely regarded for the content of his character and not marginalized by the color of his skin.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Friday, February 01, 2008

Barack, Blackness and the Future

I still remember one of the lines Jesse Jackson delivered at the 88 Democratic National Convention. Referring to Governor Michael Dukakis he said ‘he may have come over on an immigrant ship, I may have come over on a slave ship, but we’re all in the same boat together‘. Rev. Jackson wasn’t referring to he and Gov. Dukakas’ personal journey as much as marking the historical factors that brought European immigrants and African-Americans to this country.
In 1988 most African-Americans weren’t deluded into thinking that this country would actually put a black man into the white house. The hope was that the northern white liberal establishment would at least know that our issues were important and that we could not be so easily blown off if the Democrats were to have a chance to win back the White House.

Fast forward 20 years and another black candidate is running for the democratic nomination to be president of the U.S. Unlike Rev. Jackson however Barack Obama didn’t arise out of the Civil Rights establishment. Also unlike Rev. Jackson Senator Obama is well, Senator Obama. He’s already run and won state wide office proving that he can relate to and gain support from a large majority of white voters. (BTW can those of you who live in the bell weather state clue us in on Senator Obama’s appeal) Unlike Rev. Jackson Senator Obama won the Iowa caucuses and came very close to capturing the N.H. primary. Finally, unlike Rev. Jackson Senator Obama does not have the rank and file black democratic machine behind his historic run.
And this in my humble opinion means that Senator Barack Obama has placed himself in the most delicate dilemma a black man has ever found himself in these United States of America. On the one hand he is a black man who desires to run a national campaign in which his ethnicity is not the prime focus. For some that is proof enough that he’s a fraud and phony. On the other hand should he run as ‘the black’ candidate not only would he most certainly lose, but others would decry him as a race baiter for making blackness the issue.

Whatever you think of Senator Obama as a man, public servant and potential president his candidacy is a window into how we think or want to think about race/ethnicity. For many African-Americans his run for the roses represents what we hope is the next stage in racial progress. For the first time in our history millions of Americans may consider a black man for the top elected office in the nation. They may look at him and actually decide that all things considered it’s simply ridiculous to not vote for him just because he is black.

For others however his candidacy signals nothing less than a frightening seismic shift in how race is played out in America. That may be the reason that many Civil Rights stalwarts have rejected him as being some kind of uppity outsider. Think about it for a moment. Even if Obama comes close to winning the nomination it would mean among other things that the next African-American candidate for president would most certainly follow his blueprint. Moreover there could be other talented young black public servants who seeing Obama’s success decide to run for statewide offices such as governor and senator. And how would they run you say? Most surely by appealing to a broad spectrum of their constituents on the basis of shared values, issues and challenges and not on the strength of a single ethnic base. It could be that Senator Obama’s run does more for changing how young African-Americans see themselves and their possibilities than anyone other than Dr. King himself.

Funny, isn’t it. We’ve recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and have now entered black history month. And for the first time in our history we’re witnessing a situation in which a black man may actually be judged by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin for the most important public post in the country. Am I saying we’ve finally overcome? No, not yet. But I do hope that Senator Obama’s candidacy represents one small step for Barack and one giant leap for America.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Terror - Plain and Simple.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Thus instead of using the picture of an empty noose to convey the meaning behind the symbol I thought it wise to jerk us back to the reality embedded in the symbol. I did so because Americans must know that the noose is a sign of terrorism. It is a symbol from a time when an entire community of people were held hostage to the reality that at any time and without any reason one of them could be subjected to being hunted down, strung up, set on fire and brutally murdered right before his family and community. The noose is a reminder that systematic, ethnic terror was once an acceptable way to treat those whom the scriptures describe as sojourners and foreigners (see Exod. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34).

Not too long ago black laborer in Philadelphia found a noose suspended from a place at his work site. Having failed to gain a successful resolution of the insult he took it to court where the offending party received some kind of light reprimand. The man who brought the complaint however discovered that he was no longer being called to work by the union. (more on Philly unions in a later post) I’m sure you’re aware of the tensions caused by other incidents involving the hanging of nooses, but I wonder if we as a society are aware of the message we’re sending to minority communities here and those who observe us around the world.

Here’s what I’m getting at. If there’s one thing most Americans seem to agree on it’s that we must stay and win the fight against terrorism. We’re told to never forget 911 and that the U.S. must be a beacon to the world of freedom, democracy and a place where anyone should be able to live without the fear of terror. Our politicians get their loudest cheers when they assure us of how tough they’ll be on terrorist and how they will leave no stone unturned when it comes to keeping America safe. And then we turn right around and say little when a few decide to display a symbol of terror.

I realize that there are those who say to acknowledge a few miscreants is to give them more due than they deserve. Maybe. But shouldn’t we as a society make a clear statement that while we can’t totally prevent private expressions of terror we can at least make the point that those who make such expressions are of the same ilk as those who lauded the terrorist responsible for 911? Doesn’t it seem just a tad hypocritical for a society that so forcefully stands against terror to turn a blind eye when a few insist on displaying symbols of the very thing we claim to be so passionately against?

How should we respond to those who drudge up the vestiges of terror? We can make it clear that the noose is a symbol of terror, nothing less. We can write, speak, call and tell others that a society that detests terror cannot give a free pass to a few who would glory in its depravity. We can let them know that those who display a noose are actively working against the very society that claim to so proudly represent. We can tell ourselves, tell the world and tell miscreants that the display of a noose isn’t a juvenile indiscretion, a harmless prank, an empty gesture or a backwards display of ignorance. We can remind ourselves that the noose isn’t just a black issue that ‘those’ people just need to get over, but an American issue that we cannot afford to let pass quietly into the night. We can remind ourselves that the symbol of the noose is a symbol of terror, plain and simple.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Election 08 - Black Gold

And then there were…. As the field narrows for the upcoming presidential election many of us have begun to zero in on the candidate we hope will lead the nation for at least the next four years. I’ve read a good number of blogs, articles and thoughts and though I’ve done just a little investigation I have to tell you that I’m a bit disappointed. Through all the bluster, typical promises, posturing, negative campaigning and the like not much of substance has been said on a few issues that concern me.

For instance I’ve not heard much regarding detaching ourselves from being so overly dependent on foreign oil. It’s not as if we’re unaware that the world’s oil supply is dwindling. And even if we discover new sources of the black gold it’s now obvious that the U.S. isn’t the only nation that craves the taste of sweet crude to grease the wheels of a middle class lifestyle. China, India, the countries of Europe, Brazil and others are lining up to slake their thirst for Texas tea.

Of the debates I’ve listened to and the discussion’s I’ve read little if anything has been said regarding a plan to invest in new sources of energy. True, the candidates have mentioned the need to detach ourselves from our oil addiction but doing so doesn’t appear to be a central motif in their campaigns. It seems that in the face of dwindling supplies, located in precarious situations and with the prospects of more and more completion that our leaders are content to stay with the status quo. Has anyone asked the next prospective leader of the free world what he or she plans to do once it become crystal clear that within a few years of their stewardship the world’s oil supply slows to a mere trickle? At this point I have no intention of voting for someone whose only plan involves us gulping oil like a drunken sailor until we find ourselves once more fighting a war for ‘freedom’ that just happens to take place in or around an oil producing land.

Look at it another way. Should the present world oil reserves were to remain essentially the same even taking into account the growing world demand are we really willing to shell out over $100.00 per barrel for the stuff. A little more than eight years ago oil was trading for about $25 to $27 a barrel. The issues of increasing demand and geo-political instability don’t favor a return to those prices anytime soon. It could be that $3.00 a gallon gas is just the beginning. And unless you’ve got some major stock in Exxon you’ve probably felt the sting of rising energy cost. Why continue to put ourselves in a position where we’re held hostage by a commodity that we might be able to replace?

What do I want to hear from the next president? I want him or her to tell the American people that it is unwise and untenable to continue our present course regarding our use of energy. I want him or her to tell us that conservation and learning to live on less is not a dirty, liberal, four letter word. I want him or her to call us to do the difficult things now, so that our future isn’t so inextricably tied to murky fortunes of oil. I want him or her to stand up and challenge us to consider changing the way we live now or prepare to fight for that lifestyle tomorrow.

The Lord’s Peace
Pastor lance