Friday, August 29, 2008
This summer I’ve preached an overview of the book of Philippians in a series entitled ‘The Gospel Driven Life’. Sunday brings me to a very short and seemingly out of place passage in the fourth chapter of that book. It reads as follows: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand (ESV). The NASB translates the same passage this way: Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. The term translated ‘reasonableness’ in the ESV and gentle in the NASB is a compound term that conveys the idea of having a consistent attitude of mildness, patience with a view toward expressing meekness under pressure. Furthermore it carries the notion of treating others with respect, consideration and dignity and may especially be applied to those who either disagree with or oppose us. Though the term reasonableness is a good and accurate way to translate the word I’m a bit more partial to the NASB rendering of gentle spirit. Gentleness calls us to treat others in light of considering how our words, disposition, tone and actions affects their feelings. It calls for the saints to refrain from doing or saying things that would demean or belittle someone else. The word picture associated with gentleness is the way a loving mother treats a young infant.
From this passage Paul expects the saints not only to relate to each other in this way but also to those who oppose them and the gospel. This is a significant point and one which we must not be too swift to gloss over. We would certainly expect the apostle to exhort the saints to relate to each other with a gentle disposition. (see Eph. 4:2) This would be applicable within the church generally and during times when God’s people see things differently. Here however Paul is careful to alert the Philippians to express this gentleness to the wider society. The weightiness of his imperative comes into focus when we consider that those to whom the Philippians were called to display gentleness to were some of the very people who actively opposed the gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ and His church.
Ok Lance, what in the world does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Now that the election season has begun in earnest I want to encourage God’s people to consider this short but significant passage in the way we relate to those who may oppose our chosen political party and candidate. We may genuinely believe that they are totally wrong, completely off base, incredibly out of touch and even maliciously devious. But even if we think their unstated but very real goal is the destruction of this country we must still treat and relate to them with an authentic gentleness.
About twenty years ago this might not have been that big of a deal. For the most part we would have hung with those who agreed with our politics and even if we ran into those at work who didn’t it wasn’t that big of a deal. But now dear ones we have the blogopshere. And I’m becoming more and more convinced that cyberspace is the last frontier of sanctification for God’s people. The world wide web can give us an access and boldness that many of us would not otherwise have. Here we can write things from the relative safety of our keyboards with the knowledge that more than likely we’ll never sit face to face with someone we’ve insulted or mistreated. But don’t be fooled. The world is still watching and even if we think it unfair will judge us by what we write, how we write it and what it says about our true thoughts about them and the truths we confess. Am I advocating we stay away from the important political discussions happening in this country? Not at all. I’m am asking all of us to engage in those discussion in light of Phil. 4:5.
Why? Because in the end our primary purpose and calling isn’t the election of a candidate, the dominance of a particular party or even the overall supremacy of a temporary country. Our primary purpose and calling with relation to this society is to call men and women, boys and girls into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ whose return in nearer now than when Paul penned his words 2000 years ago. Our main calling is far more important then who gets to occupy the White House for the next four years for it deals with who gets to live in God’s house for the next eternity.
So my brothers and sisters by all means discuss, debate, advocate, defend, campaign and vote. But in all things whether you are democrat or republican let your gentleness be known to everyone, for the Lord is near.
The Lord’s Peace
Thursday, August 28, 2008
When all is said and done in this election season one thing is sure. August 28th will once again be a historic day not only for African-Americans but for the United States of America. Forty-five years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most stirring and moving speeches in American history. His speech voiced the hope of some 20 million black people along with millions of other Americans who genuinely wished to live in a country where one’s ethnicity didn’t determines one’s fate from cradle to grave.
Now another African-American will give a historic speech but this time to accept his party’s nomination for president. And he’ll do so just one generation removed from the time when this country prevented many of his people from even casting a vote. Indeed we’ve come a long way baby. For most black people this will be the most significant political event we’ve ever witnessed. Millions of African-Americans will sit down with their children and watch a black man call the country to rise to its potential to live as one unified nation. And these millions will relish the possibility of seeing a black man, his wife and their children occupy the signature symbol of power of this country.
Does that mean that black folks believe that Senator Obama’s nomination has ushered the country into some kind of new racial utopia? No it doesn’t. But I believe there is a hope that successive Obama administrations can go along way to changing the racial climate of this country. Here’s what I mean. While most African-Americans deny that ethnicity is the single greatest impediment toward opportunity in America, we nonetheless still believe that it carries some weight. There is still the belief that you always start out as a suspect until you prove yourself otherwise. There persist the belief within much of black America that the mainstream society feels much more comfortable with us on the ball field than the boardroom. To this day many of us still shake our heads and wonder when someone from the mainstream society notes with surprise how ‘articulate’ a particular black person is. (if you don’t believe me just ask your best buddy black reformed cat how many times someone remarked how articulate he was)
And it’s my view that this belief has become so persistent among so many within the black community that many of us give up without even trying. Far too many of us seem to think that there’s little or no chance that the mainstream society will view us as little more than either potential ball players or criminals. Perhaps at one time there was the hope that America’s collective consciousness would change, that she’d open her arms wide to those whose ancestors built the country and we would indeed live as one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. But that ship has sailed. While it would be nice to live in a land without racial prejudice that just ain’t going to happen.
And if we need any more proof then the reality that some life-long democrats will refuse to vote for Senator Obama just because he’s black confirms it. His nomination proves however that we no longer have to wait for the collective acceptance of the white community to do what is needed to address the issues of ourselves, our families and our communities. Just like Barack and Michelle Obama we too can focus on obtaining an education so that we increase our chances to climb out of cyclical poverty. Just like Barack and Michelle Obama we too can see the value of using our education and abilities to work on the behalf of others and not just ourselves. And just like Barack and Michelle Obama we too can approach life with a sense of confidence, a desire to make a difference and a genuine hope that the world of our children can be better than ours.
The Lord’s Peace
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
The games are over and now the game is on. As the Olympics fade into the background the U.S. presidential race takes center stage. From now until at least early November the American voting populace will be deluged by candidates, commercials and commentary.
And now’s our chance. Once every four years bible believing Christians get the opportunity to demonstrate a powerful, humble, authentic witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Presidential campaigns usually highlight the divisions that persistently remain in this country. Each side seems to go out of its way to demonize their opponent and cast him in the very worst possible light. And judging from how things have transpired thus far we will be treated to more of the same for the next few months.
So how can we inject a bit of godliness into the process? Elementary my dear Watson, just follow a few of the biblical injunctions God has given His people for such occasions. For instance both Paul and Peter told the saints to respect (not just submit to) the secular public officials of the country in which we live (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17). What did it mean to honor the king and how can we apply that today? It meant to speak respectfully to and about a country’s leaders. It meant that the church, its leaders and its people did not seek to demean or demonize their local or national officials. Remember this respect was to be given to officials who weren’t elected and who were at times openly hostile to the followers of the Way.
How can we put this into practice today? We can start by refusing to disrespect those running for president and we can do this while still disagreeing with their views on various issues. We can affirm the reality that they too have been made in God’s image and through God’s providence have risen to a place of leadership in this country. We can also refuse to speak about them as if they are utterly depraved and completely beyond God’s grace of redemption. We must also refuse to listen to and pass on bad jokes about the candidates and their wives.
It’s also a good idea for us to remember that the way we speak of or about a particular candidate extends to those who support him. Is it worth unnecessarily alienating a whole group of people just to get in a couple of cheap shots? Do we really see ourselves as taking the gospel to the whole culture or just those who align with our politics? Regardless of how things turn out in this election the fact is that about 50 or so million people will not agree with our choice for president. Can we truly see some of those people as part of our church or is our fellowship more based on what we have in common politically as opposed to spiritually?
To Him Who Loves Us...
Monday, August 11, 2008
The billboard wars are alive and kicking in Philly. As you can see from the pic our friendly neighborhood atheist launched a salvo that challenged God’s existence. This was met by our Roman Catholic hombres who counterpunched with a plea to pray the rosary. And thus the battle for the religious hearts and minds of the citizens of Philadelphia has been joined.
I’m pretty sure that it’s fairly safe to say that the Christian church has been looking for ways to connect with unbelievers and deliver the message of the gospel for the last two thousand years. And now 20th century marketing techniques have given us a new tool in our arsenal of weapons. We may not be able to get you in church, nor are we likely to meet you as we serve in our local community (since we may not be too enthused to be about that) but by golly we will grab your attention as you fly by on I95.
So just how should believers in 21st century Philly, or Detroit, or Berlin, or Nairobi or anyplace else in the world seek to connect with nonbelievers? Should we spend lots of money (they’re not giving away billboards you know) and come up with clever ad campaigns tailored to speak to a technologically sophisticated, entertainment saturated society? Perhaps. One of the advantages the church has in addressing this question (or for that matter any other question regarding church ministry, mission etc. ) is our access to the scriptures. The ability to read, study and rely on scripture to answer our questions keeps us from endless speculation concerning what we should do and how we should do it. Could we be wrong in how we read, interpret and apply scripture? Of course we can. The alternative however is far, far worse. Why? Because without referring to scripture we’re left to the speculation of people. And I for one don’t think it’s a good idea to leave the witness of our Lord in the hands and minds of people who’ll decide to do what they think is right based on whatever man-made criteria they dream up.
So what does scripture say about our witness, where should we look in scripture and how can that help us today? While there are many places I’d like to begin with the beatitudes. Why you ask? Leading off it seems that Jesus had the gospel witness in mind when He proclaimed the beatitudes. Look at Matt. 5:10-16. Notice how that passage assumes that believers will come into contact with non-believers. It’s just makes common sense that one cannot be persecuted for the sake of righteousness if one isn’t in a position to express righteousness in a hostile environment. To put it another way Jesus didn’t expect His followers to confine our practice of proactive biblical holiness to ourselves. In fact He expected us to be among those who would actively reject our visible demonstrations of Christ likeness.
Another reason I’m partial to the beatitudes is that they don’t make our witness dependent on any particular expertise. You don’t have to be a theologian, seminary graduate or student, pastor or even deacon. And you don’t even have to be a talented Christian rapper. This allows our witness to branch out much farther than if we only relied on the theological experts or artistically talented. The beatitudes are also particularly relevant as they address the basic issues with which people from all times and all places struggle. It is the people the Way who by God’s grace can actually speak to the root issues of fulfillment, grief, power, integrity and reconciliation that weigh so heavily in our culture.
Lastly, but by no means least the beatitudes propel the church to highlight and emphasize the uniqueness, supremacy and deity of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Himself who embodies each of the beatitudes and in so doing each of them makes the case that He alone is the only way that anyone can be assured of a place of honor, acceptance and delight before the Father.
So brothers and sisters let’s join the battle. Armed not with clever slogans but with the power of Christ transformed life.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I’m sure at least one of two of you follow the NFL. Is so you may have heard that the two time Pro Bowl right guard of the Philadelphia Eagles recently disclosed that he had not reported to camp due to struggles with ongoing depression. For those who do follow such things please keep Shawn Andrews in your prayers. In my view it took a lot of courage to publicly admit what is in essence a very private issue. Mr. Andrews has played in Philly long enough to know that Eagle fans can be most unforgiving and merciless. That said most folks have been supportive of him and genuinely hope that he’s able to fight this battle successfully.
Another reason I applaud Mr. Andrews for going public is that it helps remind me as well as others that he is a real person with real issues and not just a football player. His worth as a human being can’t be measured just by what he does on a football field. There are times when our society can de-humanize athletes and treat them as if there their only value lies in providing our entertainment. Hopefully Mr. Andrews’ struggle with depression will help us to re-evaluate that view and help us to see that there is much more to all of these men than just a uniform and a game.