His Reminders are Grace

Babe, the car is making a funny noise when I start it. It’s making a noise I’ve never heard before.” I got up from my comfortable sleeping position and went outside with my wife to see what was wrong with the car. She cranked it twice and both times there was a delay. I knew it was the battery because I’d been notified about it the last time the car was serviced. Right then I knew our day would not go as planned. I had a business appointment in another city and had arranged to have a rental ready, but I wasn’t sure if driving to the rental car agency or having them pick me up was going to be more efficient. Because of this uncertainty, I drove my wife to work instead of her taking our second car to work. As we were driving away, my wife kept voicing how she was going to be late to work and how this car problem threw off her whole day. It would also affect my day because it reduced my sleep time and taking her to work threw off my schedule by an hour.

Graciously, the LORD reminded me of His sovereignty and I took the opportunity to encourage my wife to respond biblically (recalling truths about God, etc.) and not in the flesh. She said she was trying, but I reminded her that life will always have trials that we are called to respond correctly to. She made it to work on time and arranged a ride home. I was picked up by the rental car agency and I made it to my meeting on time. Because I was picked up, our second car was at home which allowed her to run her errands after work. After I got home, we went to the auto parts store and purchased a new battery for our first car.

We discussed the day and talked about several things the LORD reminded us of with this small trial.

disciplehood-title-slides1

First, this trial reminded us that God sends trials that we might mature as Christians as we seek Him for wisdom and grace. James reminds us that we are to count it all joy when we experience trials because they’re working for our maturity and preparing us for eternity (Jam. 1:2-4).

Second, this trial reminded us that we are not in control of our lives and even dying car batteries serve the purposes of God to remind us of that. As mentioned before, we both had our days arranged and this interruption (by her own admission) revealed my wife’s lack of submission to God, and trust in God regarding this unplanned event. We must remember that God is sovereign over all and is working out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11).

Third, this trial reminded us of how undone we are and how much we still desire to sit on the throne of our own lives. James reminds us that presuming upon the LORD’s grace is evil boastful arrogance and that we should be of the mind that says, “If the LORD wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jam. 4:13-15). Oh how patient the LORD is with us when we presumptuously make plans with no thought of His majesty. That is a mark of pride that often eludes us. We must remember that we are not our own, but we were bought with a price called to submit ourselves to God with His glory as our end goal.

Fourth, this trial reminded us that God answers prayer….and sometimes very fast! As I was driving my wife to work, she told me that she had just prayed that the LORD would cause her to think biblically in all things. Within an hour, He granted her an opportunity to put that prayer request to work. We must remember that God answers prayer according to His will and He will complete the work of salvation that He started to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 1:6, Rom. 8:29).

Finally, the trial reminded me of my call to lovingly lead my wife by speaking the truth to her in love. I haven’t always done this well, but the LORD was gracious to me in this instance. Though I sternly admonished my wife to think biblically, I did it because I love her. I also quickly admonished her to think correctly because I didn’t want her own sinful tendencies nor the enemy to assail her mind with anxiety and frustration concerning the car and her plans. More than anything in my marriage, my desire for my wife is to see her continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and I have a God ordained role to play a significant part in that (Eph. 5:25-27). It is a role that I need much grace for due to my own sin, and I rejoice because God is sufficient to supply all of our needs in Christ Jesus.

We must remember the next time when things don’t go our way, understand that they weren’t supposed to.

We must remember that God is God and we are not.

These reminders are grace working for our good and His glory! 

Bearing Burdens and Racial Reconciliation

racial-reconciliation-1920x1000In light of the tragedies surrounding Alton Sterling and Philando Castile on July 5 and July 6,  I was asked by my pastor to write an article to our congregation that we might take more steps in understanding the racial narrative and how White Christians can better display the gospel toward their African American brothers and sisters. Here is what I wrote.

________________________________________________________________

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

(Ephesians 4:1, ESV)

By now we all have heard of the shootings by law enforcement that resulted in the deaths of two African American men, Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile of St. Paul, MN, on July 5 and July 6 respectively.  These two men are just a small, but no less significant, part of a larger narrative of systemic injustice against African-Americans.  As a multi-ethnic church with a considereable number of African-American members and visitors, we must understand the impact these types of tragedies have and know how to respond. Particularly to my white brothers and sisters, but certainly not limited to you, I offer a few suggestions on how to respond.

First, do not ignore the data confirming systemic injustice and do not minimize or ignore the very real pain and hurt of those who have been affected by these types of tragedies.  As gospel Christians, we should be compelled to weep with those who weep.

Second, if you desire to understand the racial narrative more clearly, how to interact with your African-American brothers and sisters from a gospel centered perspective and why we collectively suffer in the types of tragedies, talk to us and take advantage of many resources available. Here are a few resources. I pray they are helpful.

Audio/Video

Articles

Books

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” – 1 John 3:14 ESV

In Him,

David Robinson

 

*image courtesy of veritascolumbus.com

Dignity, Ethnic Gnosticism & Gospel Lenses

dignityBy now you might have heard of the recent controversy surrounding Christian apologist and pastor, James White, concerning a Facebook post, which is now removed, which he made comments about the disrespectful behavior of a black teenager toward law enforcement. Some thought his comments were rooted in racism and others found his comments justifiable and truthful. Initially, I was of the former and expressed my initial thoughts here, but I also want to add additional thoughts as I’ve had time to pray and further think about the the situation in light of Scripture.

Earlier this year, as I was making my way through my yearly Bible reading plan, I was reminded by something in Leviticus that I’d forgotten. Unfortunately, Leviticus seems to be one of the books that often defeats those who have committed to read the Bible. Meticulous laws about Israel’s religious culture discussing the slaughtering of animals and the spilling of blood as well as their civil/social culture about how to deal with leprous people, bodily discharges etc. doesn’t exactly sound like exciting reading on the surface. However, when we understand that through those laws God was revealing more of His identity to them as well as revealing their identities, establishing them as a holy nation and preparing them for entrance into the Canaan, it all makes sense. God was establishing and preparing Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the Gentiles.

Dignity

Under the Old Covenant, Leviticus 19:9-18 instructs the people how to deal with their neighbors. The instruction for Israel was that they were to love one another. They were to be benevolent and just with one another; not malevolent and unjust. The basis for this command is primarily rooted in Genesis 1:26-27, which states that mankind, male and female, was created in the image and likeness of God. Every human being has inherent dignity simply because he/she is an image bearer of God. And as image bearers, we’re called to relate to one another in ways that manifest that dignity and bring glory to God. As we read further in Leviticus, that dignified treatment wasn’t to be based on sex (Lev. 19:29), age (Lev. 19:32), economic status (Lev. 19:15), nor ethnicity (Lev. 19:33-37). Furthermore, Leviticus 19:33-37 is not only about ethnic differences, but also about religious differences. The term ‘stranger’ in these verses means people from other ethnicities who were outside the covenant community of God. As Israel would be situated by pagan worshippers, God forbade unjust treatment of them when they would sojourn in the land of Israel. Treating people with dignity simply is an expression of love, which is the essence of God’s law (Exodus 20).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus was questioned by a lawyer about the greatest commandment. Jesus’ response was You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). In Luke’s gospel this conversation is given more detail with the lawyer seeking clarification about who his neighbor was because he was trying to justify his actions (Luke 10:29). Jesus’ response was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) in which Jesus didn’t directly answer who was a neighbor, but rather Jesus instructed the man to be a good neighbor, which wasn’t to be bound by ethnic or religious distinction. In this parable, the Samaritan was the outcast of society because of his ethnicity and his religion, yet was commended for showing the most love to the man who had been robbed.

Under the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul and James both reiterate Jesus’ teaching that love is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom.13:8-10; Jam. 2:8) among believers and toward unbelievers (John 13:34-35; Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:11-24; 4:7-21). We are to show dignity toward others by loving them, which is a sign that we are truly the children of God, redeemed by Jesus and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Ethnic Gnosticism & Gospel Lenses

After White’s comments were made public, he was initially confronted by several brothers who objected to his unfair generalization about the teenager’s upbringing – that he was probably fatherless, and also about his future – that he would likely father several children by different women and concede to multiple abortions. As the dialogue continued White was offered a chance to discuss these concerns face to face and he declined charging the concerned brothers with ethnic gnosticism. Ethnic gnosticism says that one ethnicity ( i.e. white) is disallowed to speak to, or about, another ethnic people (i.e. black) or their experience since they’re (i.e. white) not of that ethnicity (i.e. black). Essentially, White was accusing several people of filtering the gospel through ethnic lenses rather than filtering ethnicity through a gospel lens. To be fair, the former can happen and proof of this is Black Liberation Theology (BLT) purported by James Cone. BLT or any form of Liberation Theology rewrites the redemptive-historical narrative of Scripture and reinterprets it through the perspective of the oppressed, which distorts the gospel altogether. Those who confronted White weren’t doing that, so the charge is unfounded. What they were doing was expressing the illegitimacy and unfairness of White’s comments about that teenager and holding White accountable to the gospel that commands us to love others – even those outside of the New Covenant. Essentially, there was an attempt to help White actually see that teenager through gospel lenses.  Gospel lenses looks with hope, grace and mercy toward others because of the reconciling and transforming work of Christ. 

Gospel lenses ought to compel us to see the dignity of all people, even when they’re behaving in an undignified manner, because they’re image bearers. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to be burdened for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to pray for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to share the good news of the gospel with the unredeemed. Had White thought about this or done this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Instead, White said this:

“So I was coming home this evening and happened to be the first car at Glendale and 35th Avenue in Phoenix. And as you will see, a young black kid, looks to be 15 years old or so, was crossing the street. Now if you watch, you will see a police SUV cross in front of me first going east. The kid then comes into the screen, and though he sort of hid it under his elbow, he plainly flips off the police vehicle. Then he is emptying the drink he is consuming as he walks out of the frame. What you can’t see is that he then simply tossed the bottle into the bush in the corner of the gas station. I happened to notice the two ladies in the car next to me had seen the same thing. We just looked at each other, put up our hands in exasperation, and shook our heads. As I drove away I thought about that boy. There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood, and those that survive will themselves be raised without a natural family, without the God-ordained structure that is so important for teaching respect, and true manhood or womanhood.”

As stated in my previous article, White refused to engage in further dialogue with brothers who were trying to help him understand his misstep and hold him accountable to gospel love. Gospel lenses help us to be slower to speak and quicker to hear, especially when someone is trying to tell you how you’ve caused damage. Gospel lenses don’t refute the possibility of error, but humbly seek to see where error might have occurred. Gospel lenses don’t point the finger back in retaliation, but entrusts all judgment to the Father.

In a reply, White stated that he was not a racist and he meant no harm by his words, but rather he was merely citing statistics. I’ll take him at his word – he wasn’t trying to offend. However, his choice of words, his highly defensive and sarcastic responses on his show and toward other Christian brothers seeking to help him see his error and understand how to better apply the gospel in light of the racism narrative, seems to be a huge blind-spot for White. Only gospel lenses will give him the sight he desperately needs. But there is hope, because our God is a living God committed to see His children conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

Questions for White

1. Why did you initially post what you posted, Mr. White?

2. Do you think your post and subsequent responses were more encouraging or discouraging?

3. Do you think your post was necessary?

4. Do you think your post was more helpful or less helpful concerning the Great Commission?

5. Do you think your response to the brothers’ concerns was Christlike?

6. Do you think you can learn anything in the area of racism from African-Americans and how to apply the gospel to racism?

Introspection

I am convinced that the LORD doesn’t waste anything. All of this served to remind me that we all have blind spots because we’re still being sanctified. I need to be wary of being incapable of being corrected. I need to consistently pray for a humble and teachable heart.

At the same time, I am hopeful. God will accomplish His will in and for His people for His glory! Nothing can stay His hand! He has never ceased to fail to accomplish His will!

Grace & Peace,

d.

 

Why We’re Still Talking About Racism…in the Church

preview_The_Church_and_Racism

In 1995, Southern Baptist officials formally renounced the church’s support of slavery and segregation. The institution of slavery in America, which Baptists in the south desired to maintain against the desires of the Baptists in the north, led to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. It was also this view of race that led Southern Baptists to oppose the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century. However, this wasn’t just a reality among Baptists; this was true of Methodists and Presbyterians who experienced splits for the same reason in 1844 and 1861 respectively. In 2000, Methodists offered a public confession of guilt and renunciation of slavery at their annual General Conference. In June 2015, the Presbyterian Church of America offered its public confession of guilt concerning slavery and segregation at its 43rd General Assembly.

Some might be surprised to think that such confessions were necessary in light of what the Bible teaches about man. Regarding creation and value, the Bible teaches us about the dignity of all mankind from every nation stemming from being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27; Acts 17:26). Regarding our moral state, the Bible teaches us about our sinfulness and the universality of sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23). Regarding forgiveness and reconciliation, the Bible teaches us the impartial atoning work of Christ which unites man to God and to one another (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:17-19; Gal. 3:28-29; Eph. 2:11-22). Regarding eternity, the Bible teaches us about the multi-ethnic eschatological reality that awaits God’s people (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). These are basic truths that should serve as a simple framework for how we view our fellow man. However, we are not yet perfected and comments made by well respected Christian apologist and debater, James White, served as a great reminder of this truth.

The Incident

On March 17, 2016, after White witnessed irresponsible and disrespectful behavior by a young black teen, he made several unjustified assertions about the teen’s upbringing and future based on his skin color and his present actions. His assertions were initially posted on his social media accounts, which he has now removed. You may listen to a summary of the issue here. The initial response from the African-American Christian community, including me, was of utter disbelief, and I think rightly so for at least two reasons. The first reason is that White’s assertions were hasty generalizations steeped in racist thought. After witnessing the teen’s behavior, White intentionally made it known that the teen was black and then stated assertions about the possibility of a lack of a father in the home, having children out of wedlock by different women and having multiple abortions. In a matter of a few seconds of observation White wrote this young man’s narrative based on statistics. Is this not hasty and unfair judgment? The second reason for disbelief is that much more is expected from him as a Christian, especially one so well acquainted with the Scriptures. There was no compassion or grace in White’s words.

Confronting White & His Response

As expected, White was publicly confronted by several African-American Christians. One confrontation I witnessed was thoughtful, yet direct. It reminded me that no Christian is above scrutiny and confrontation despite how influential he/she may be. Galatians 2:11-14 reminds us that believers may confront one another when the gospel is being compromised. White’s comments were out of step with the gospel because they were racist and judgmental and he deserved to be confronted. White was offered a chance to dialogue and learn about African-American culture and systemic injustice (not that systemic injustices caused the teen’s behavior). White’s response to the offer is what I found most disheartening. White dismissed his brother who confronted him and then charged him with ethnic gnosticism. Ethnic gnosticism is a form of gnosticism that states that those of a certain ethnicity can claim to have an experience or knowledge within it that those of another ethnicity cannot understand or have. In other words, one culture cannot fully understand the struggles of another culture simply because it is a different culture. White objects to this position and instead holds to the fact that all humans have the shared experience of sin. While I agree with White fundamentally – all humans are sinners, I disagree because every culture doesn’t experience the same effects of the common human sin problem. White’s arrogant unjustified comments and his dismissal of an approach for honest dialogue with a fellow Christian, who happens to be African-American, seems to be evidence of blindness to his own racism and paternalistic perspective. In addition, White addressed the issue via podcast in which he adamantly defended his position without the slightest hint of conceding to possible error.  His response is exactly the kind of behavior that reinforces the existing racial tension rather than relieve it.  I pray the LORD reveal the error of his thinking and his response and he would publicly repent.

Confronting Racism in the Church

Unfortunately, White’s response is far more common in the church than I’d like to admit. While strides are being made to address racism, it still needs to be addressed with much more frequency and comprehensiveness. If we are going to accurately reflect the gospel and its implications, namely the glory of Christ, racism must be confronted in the church. Apathy, aversion, dismissal and silence only further perpetuates the problem. Public confessions and conferences are good starts, but more must be done at the local church level starting in the hearts of pastors/elders as a church rises no higher than its leaders.  As long as comments like White’s are stated, we will still talk about racism in the church.

For my brothers and sisters in the majority culture, if you’re not quite sure how to address racism, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Understand the definition and nature of racism.
  2. Understand what the Bible has said about man.
  3. Understand that your perspective of race is not all there is. 
  4. Have believers of other ethnicities in your home.
  5. Have non-believers of other ethnicities in your home.
  6. Be willing to learn from people in minority cultures.
  7. Ask questions; don’t assume.
  8. Educate yourself about the history of racism and segregation in America.
  9. Educate yourself about the history of racism and segregation in the church.
  10. Have more than that 1 black friend.🙂
  11. Pray for the LORD to reveal possible racism in your own heart.

Recommended Reading

Grace & Peace,

d.

*image courtesy of theworkofthepeople.com
joy-to-the-world

The Good News of Christmas

christmas-lights-austin-lp8v4porThis time of year is still my favorite time of year.  I love the cooler weather.  I love seeing the fall colors of leaves on trees and on the ground.  I love seeing Christmas decorations around my neighborhood and city.  I love spending time shopping for Christmas gifts with my wife and sipping on seasonal coffee drinks. I love listening to my Christmas Jazz station on Pandora. I love being with my family sharing laughter, great food and exchanging gifts.  These are all great gifts given by God to be enjoyed!  Another aspect that I think about with gratitude is seeing the end of another year reflecting on God’s faithfulness. This also causes me to think about the Lord’s grace and mercies to come in the following year, should He tarry.

Of course, this time of year is a time of reflection and celebration for what I believe to be one of the most important events in human history – the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Christmas cards, decor and media flood our minds with nativity scenes of “baby Jesus”.  The exact date of Jesus’ birth isn’t known, but December 25 has been officially recognized by the Western and Eastern Church as the date to celebrate His birth.  More importantly, we should give earnest attention to the fact that God entered humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and dwelt among His creation for a specific reason.  However, as integral as it is, the birth of Christ is only a portion of the significance of Jesus’ life. We must also consider the significance of His life, death and resurrection to truly appreciate His birth.

The Significance of Jesus’ Life

Galatians 4:4 says, “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,…”.  This verse is very important and teaches us three things.  First, it teaches us that Jesus was sent by the Father at an appointed time. Second, it reminds us that Jesus was a human being born of a woman. Third, it reminds us of the administration He was was subject to.  Being born under the law meant that Jesus, as a human, was part of the covenant community of God subject to the Law’s demands.

In Exodus 19, God covenanted with Israel and issued His law to Moses, which was to shape, identify and govern His chosen people, Israel.  Jesus was a true Israelite subject to the Law of Moses.  Jesus was subject to the same law as every Israelite.  As with all laws, adherence was to be expected.  If Israel obeyed the Law, they incurred blessings. If Israel disobeyed the Law, they incurred curses (Deut. 28).  Despite having clear information and instruction from God about who He is and how they were to live, Israel repeatedly broke the covenant with God and incurred the curses of the Law. The reason Israel continually failed to keep the Law was because they were unable to keep it due to indwelling sin. The heart of the Law was wholehearted love for God and love for fellow man (Matt. 22:36-40) and sin prevents us from loving God and man in this way.  However, Jesus never sinned against God and man (1 Pet. 2:22) and thus He fulfilled the positive requirement of the Law, which is perfect obedience.  Jesus lived the perfect life that God required of all man. But He also fulfilled the Law in another way.

The Significance of Jesus’ Death

The ultimate curse of the Law was to be seen as cursed by God. Being seen as cursed by God for breaking the covenant warranted death.  Deuteronomy 21:22-23a says, “22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God…””  In Galatians 3:13, the Apostle Paul says that Christ inherited the ultimate covenant curse of God being hung on a tree (crucifixion). On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by the Father (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). If Christ never broke the Law, why did He suffer the ultimate curse of the Law?

Though the Law could never keep Israel from sinning, because it was powerless to, it did provide a way of forgiveness.  God established rules of worship for Israel, which included a priesthood and animal sacrifices.  The priests, God’s appointed mediators, would regularly offer perfect animal sacrifices on behalf of themselves and of the people as God’s means of forgiveness and reconciliation for their sins. The act of offering an animal sacrifice involved killing the animal and having its blood sprinkled on the altar and other places of the tabernacle and the temple. Instead of the people suffering God’s wrath for their sin, God accepted the blood (life) of the perfect animals (usually bulls and goats) as a substitute for the life of guilty Israel. This priestly work was regularly done because the blood of bulls and goats could never completely take away sins nor purify sinful hearts (Heb. 10:1-4). This ritual functioned as a reminder of Israel’s sins. It also functioned as a pointer to the need for something greater.

Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the animal sacrifices. He is the slain perfect Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world (Jhn 1:29; Heb. 9:12-14; Rev. 5:6-14). In His living and His dying, Jesus, as a man, completely satisfied all of the demands of the Law.  Jesus’ perfect life was a sin and guilt offering for those who turn to Him by faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The whole point of Jesus’ life was to please the Father and give His life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).

The Significance of Jesus’ Resurrection

 

If one truth about Jesus’ life that tends to be overlooked, it’s His resurrection.  Perhaps it’s because we hear more songs about his life and death that we unintentionally minimize the resurrection. This probably occurs in our evangelism too.  I’m not sure why this happens, but it is too important to not state or minimize. Think about it. What good would Jesus’ life and death be if He remained dead in a tomb? Where’s the good news in that?  What hope would man have if Jesus is still dead? None. In fact, the Apostle Paul argued that Christians are indeed to be the most pitied of all if Christ had not risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:17-19).  Paul makes the argument that if Christ is not risen from the dead, Christians are still in their sins (i.e. unforgiven and dominated by sin) and eternal condemnation awaits us. In order for us to appreciate what Christ’s resurrection accomplishes, we must first consider the effects of sin.

Sin entered the world through Adam and through sin, death came and spread to all men (Gen. 3, Rom. 5:12). Adam and Eve transgressed a clear prohibition from God and became sinners. The reason why death exists is because of sin (Rom. 6:23). Sin is rebellion against God and leads to separation from God. Rebellion and separation from God leads to death and since all men die, all men are sinners. Again, death is the consequence of sin. However, Jesus never sinned, yet He willingly died as a substitutionary sacrifice.  Since He never sinned, He didn’t deserve death nor does sin and death have the power to keep Him dead. Thus, His resurrection!!

By His righteous living and His resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death!  His resurrection from the dead led to His ascension to the right hand of the Father where He is presently ruling and reigning.  When He comes again, He will gather His people to himself. Those living will be caught up with Him and those who have previously died will resurrect from their graves displaying victory over sin and death!  The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26).

The whole point of the redemptive work of Christ is to gather the children of God to be with Him in His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21)!

This Christmas, let us indeed celebrate and rejoice in Jesus’ incarnation, but let us not forget that His humble earthly beginning was the first step in His mission to destroy the works of the devil (Col. 2:15, 1 John 3:8) and bring many sons to everlasting glory (Heb. 2:10).

That is the good news of Christmas!

Print

Ethnicity, Sin & the Gospel

Over the last year, America has witnessed and experienced, what I believe to be racially charged acts of violence, even murder, against African Americans.  Consider Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, the shooting in South Carolina, the McKinney, TX pool party incident, the young lady who was assaulted and was dragged out of class in Charleston, SC, and LaQuan McDonald.  Most of the acts of violence were done by law enforcement.  I’ve heard both sides of the argument whereby each party was to blame. It’s a never ending argument despite evidence captured on camera. There’s also the argument of individual racism vs. systemic/structural racism.

Like many black men in America, I’ve had to process all of this and sort through many thoughts and emotions. I’ve even wondered how law enforcement sees me as we drive past each other.  I’ve been angry and I’ve been sad.  I think some of my anger has been just as I see injustice and murder occurring before my very eyes. I’ve been sad because peoples’ lives have been unnecessarily taken from them through unrestrained violence.  In many ways, it feels like the Civil Rights Movement all over again.

As a Christian black man, I’ve had to process and sort through many thoughts and emotions through the word of God.  I’ve had to fight the tendency to think all white people see themselves as superior and blacks as inferior.  I’ve had to fight the anger I’ve felt when our side of the narrative was being dismissed or when we’re charged with “not getting over it [racism]”.  In other words, I’ve had to fight being partial to my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Clear biblical thinking is paramount in times like these.  Clear biblical thinking must take into account that all men of every hue are sinners and sin manifests in myriads of ways. Specifically, the sin of racism entered the world in Genesis 3. It is nothing new.  As a Christian, I’ve also been compelled to examine my own heart and actions to make sure I’m not adding to the racism narrative.  Clear biblical thinking compels me to love my fellow man in the faith of every hue. Clear biblical thinking compels me love my fellow man of creation of every hue, even those who do evil, because I’ve been so dearly loved by God and because all men are created in His image (Genesis 1:26).  Clear biblical thinking also compels me to speak of the One who shed His blood for the sins of man He created from every tribe, tongue and nation (Acts 17: 26-28, Revelation 5:9; 7:9) and united in Himself as one new man (Ephesians 2:11-22), the Christian, and the church is called to display His particular glory of ethnic unity now and for eternity (Ephesians 3:10-11).

Truly, the gospel is the only remedy for racial reconciliation and it is my firm conviction that pastors lead out personally and corporately in the fight against racism.

This past October, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisvlle, KY) hosted their annual Expositors Summit Conference and Preconference.  One of the preconference speakers, Curtis Woods, offered some great insights concerning pastoring and the changing ethnic demographics happening in America. Please give his talk a listen and be challenged and encouraged!

Grace & Peace,

d.

(Picture is courtesy of The District Church)

 

God Is Not Aimless

aimlessOne of the things my wife and I are committed to is continuing to date each other. Every week, usually on Friday evenings, we make it a point to spend time away from the “to do” list and away from others.  As self-avowed amateur foodies, we like to try different types of cuisine and Austin has a wide variety to choose from.  Some dates are more formal and some are casual, even including Austin’s famous food truck culture. With all of these choices, we’ve often found ourselves indecisive about what we want to eat and I’ve been known to drive without knowing where we’re going. Logic finally kicks in and I usually stop driving aimlessly and pull over in a parking lot so we can finalize our decision.

Aimlessness is costly because it is wasteful and counter-productive resulting in fruitlessness.  I think all of us can agree with that because we intuitively know that life is to be lived with purpose and usually when one loses that sense of purpose apathy, depression or despair kicks in.  I think we intuitively know this because we were created by God who is purposeful in all that He does.  If we truly believe that God is committed to carrying out His purpose in the world, we can be confident, despite what happens, that all things are working together for good in our lives.

A Case of Aim from the Beginning

Recently, I began re-reading the Bible, starting in Genesis, and immediately I was struck by the order in which He created creation.  Genesis 1 details God’s creative activity in six days.  However, what’s intriguing about this account is the order or structure of creation. There is a pattern of form and filling in Genesis 1. Here is what I mean:

  •  Day 1 corresponds with Day 4 | Creation of day and night on Day 1 and then the creation of the sun and moon to fill the day and night skies on Day 4.
  • Day 2 corresponds with Day 5 | Creation of sky and sea on Day 2 and then the creation of birds to fill the sky and fish to fill the sea on Day 5.
  • Day 3 corresponds with Day 6 | Creation of dry land, plants, and sea and then the creation of animals and man to fill these places on Day 6.

creation

In the very first chapter of the Bible, we learn that God is not aimless, but purposeful in His sovereign activity of creation. This truth should begin to shape our understanding of the character of God.  In fact, the rest of the Bible continues to reveal that God is purposeful.  

God’s Aim in Our Pain

However, I strongly suspect that isn’t where we struggle to believe and understand that God is purposeful.  We struggle to understand God’s purposefulness when we see the painful effects of sin in the world and how it painfully affects our own lives.  When we experience or hear of tragedies abroad or closer to home, we often question their purposes which, at times, causes us to question the sovereignty and the goodness of God.  Our theology seems to come unraveled when pain or disappointment invades our lives.  But why don’t we struggle to believe that all exists to glorify Him when all is going well? Is it impossible to believe that God even uses sin and its painful effects to glorify Himself?  Why do we commend God in times of pleasure and condemn Him in times of pain? We do this when we interpret life from our vantage point and not from God’s. That’s idolatry, not theology.  

James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 1:6-7 reminds us that the trials we experience are given to us by God to prove, strengthen and perfect our faith.  God’s ultimate goal for us is that we would be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and the process of being conformed or sanctification sometimes happens by experiencing trials and pain.  Trials and pain provide the occasion for us to remind ourselves of truth and respond accordingly as children of God. Oftentimes, these trials expose just how unholy we naturally are. C.H. Spurgeon said, “Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil and let us see what we are made of”.  

In seeing our unholiness, we ought to desire to be more holy. In that way, God’s aim in our pain and trials is that we would continually turn to Him for sanctifying and sustaining grace. When we turn to Him, we are declaring that He is sufficient to remove our pain or sustain us in it and in that He is glorified! God’s aim in our pain is not only our sanctification, but ultimately our joy and His glory as we are driven to Him (Psalm 16:11).   Do you believe that pain is God’s tool for your joy and His glory in your life? We must continually fight to believe in the goodness of God (Psalm 106:1), the sovereignty of God over all things – good and bad (Daniel 4:35, Psalm 115:3), and the good promises of God for His children (2 Corinthians 1:20).

God’s Aim in Our Pleasure

If pain is a tool that drives us to God for joy, what about pleasure?  What is God’s aim in our pleasure? Are the pleasures we experience meant to drive us to God?  Resoundingly, “yes!”  All of the legitimate pleasures we experience emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, materially and physically are pointers.   James 1:17 reminds us of the source of every good gift (material and immaterial) and 1 Timothy 6:17 reminds us that He aims for us to derive joy from what He’s given. Earthly pleasures are meant to be pointers to an eternally pleasing God!  The gift reflects the heart of the Giver. However,  sin prevents us from seeing the greater value of the Giver over His gifts. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is given that we might see rightly!  Psalm 16:11 says –

You make known to me the path of life;

   in your presence there is fullness of joy;

   at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Psalmist tells us that  lasting pleasure and the fullness of joy are ultimately found in God. If earthly pleasures are pleasurable, yet fading, how much more should we seek to experience ultimate unfading pleasure by being with Christ?!  

God’s Aim in His Pleasure

Have you ever wondered what brings God the most pleasure? It’s Him! Dr. John Piper writes: “God’s own glory is uppermost in his own affections. In everything he does, his purpose is to preserve and display that glory. To say his glory is uppermost in his own affections means that he puts a greater value on it than on anything else. He delights in his glory above all things” (Desiring God, p. 43).  For God to find joy or pleasure in anything above Himself, He would be an idolator giving glory to something or someone lesser.  Since nothing greater exists than God, He finds ultimate delight and pleasure in Himself because He is the sum of all perfection and glory!  If God finds ultimate delight in Himself, how much more should we do the same?  

God’s aim in all that He does is that He be glorified by, in and through His creation, which is the whole aim of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  God’s aim is His own glory, and rightly so!

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Gathering and Singing: The Focus (pt. 2)

choirPart 1 ended with a challenge for worship leaders in the black church to consider how their music set can bring the most glory to God by assessing solo singing, choir singing and congregational singing.   

Some of you may be wondering why I am taking the time to bring up this particular issue.  Others of you may be wondering if this issue is of any true significance.  Of course the music set of a corporate gathering has no effect on one’s salvation, but it does have an effect on our individual sanctification. I’d also argue that it affects the health and edification of the church.  I stated previously that the church gathers for three basic reasons – exaltation, exultation and edification.  For this to happen, every aspect of the service should seek to serve these three purposes, especially the music, not only lyrically, but also in delivery.  

As I’ve talked to many people who currently attend or who have had the opportunity to attend a black (or predominantly black) church, one aspect that always is commented on was how powerful the praise and worship set was. I usually chuckle because I know exactly what they’re talking about, having grown up in the black church.  I admit that hearing powerful singing and seeing the choir display particular rhythmic movements in unison is great to see, but that also is my biggest concern or critique of these types of music sets.   Due to the immense display of talent, the music set often becomes a performance (singing and the accompaniment) that often times rouses the emotions of the congregation apart from biblical truth. Emotions are often elicited usually through excessively repititious choruses, riffs and runs, physical gestures and extended instrumental showmanship. As this goes on, the congregation becomes passive spectators, rather than active participators. In these instances, the focus is on man and not God.  What was intended to be corporate praise (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) has become a concert.

My estimation is that congregational singing is the healthiest form of music worship for a corporate gathering. If you’re unfamiliar with the term or the concept, congregational singing is the practice of the congregation joining in the music of a church, either in the form of hymns or in the form of the office of the liturgy.  Congregational singing normally doesn’t require many people on the platform or stage.  Also, the musical accompaniment is intentionally lowered so the collective human voice of the congregation can be heard singing.   In doing this, congregational singing does quite the opposite of performance oriented singing as the focus is rightly on Christ and the church is edified, hearing itself singing praises to Christ.  Now I am not saying there are no uses for solos or choirs. I think music sets can wisely employ them, but it must be done in such a way that doesn’t blur the focus of Christ, but rather sharpens it.  

Some might object to all that I’ve said under the guise that I am not respecting deeply appreciated black forms of musical expression or an individual’s talent.  My push-back would simply be to ask if the music set serves to bring glory to the music team or if it edifies the whole church and glorifies Christ.  Think about it.  Let us strive to build up one another for the glory of Christ in our singing.

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Gathering and Singing: The Focus (pt. 1)

choir“We had CHURCH today!” “The Spirit really showed up today!”  If you’ve been part of a black church or have visited one, chances are you’ve heard or have even have uttered these phrases.  If you’re unfamiliar with these phrases, let me help you understand. These are words of affirmation spoken by someone who really enjoyed the worship service.  If you were to ask someone what was so enjoyable about service, chances are they’ll say the preaching or the singing. These two components usually tend to be pretty dynamic in the black church. Sometimes they even rival each other and sometimes they’re blended. Here’s what I mean –  the preaching gets a little melodic and then before you know it, the preacher breaks out into song accompanied by the choir for a verse or two and then resumes the sermon.  Despite the many chief characteristics of the black church, music is almost “the” main component of the worship service.  

I’ve previously stated that the sermon, expositionally preached, is to be the central component of every worship service and its biblical text should shape the content of the songs being sung.  But in addition to the content of the music, we also must think critically about its delivery and who we are to be focused on.  Contextual and cultural differences surely will warrant a  modification of the tempo of the songs or their melodies. We will do well to pay attention to the composition lest we lose some of the gravity of the songs.  But also, great attention must also be paid to how the songs are sung and we must evaluate if Jesus is the focus or the singer(s).

The Purpose of the Gathering

Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us not to neglect meeting together, but why? Why do Christians gather? What is the point? I’d like to offer 3 main reasons why the church gathers – exaltation, exultation, edification.

Exalt means to elevate or to praise; extol.  When we gather, we are elevating and praising God for who He is, what He’s done and what He’s promised to do for the glory of His name.  We do that primarily because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, believers are reconciled to God, called to live as lights in the world and look forward to an eternity of unhindered fellowship with God in the new heavens and new earth.  The preaching is meant to instruct our heads, encourage and convict our hearts, fill us with gratitude and move us to loving obedience for the praise of His glorious grace.

Exult means to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy; rejoice exceedingly.  If we truly understand the gospel and all of its implications (forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, etc.) we ought to be truly joyful about worshiping Christ in our gatherings.  If there is a lack of joy, it could be due to unrepentant sin in your life or possibly you have not yet mined the depth and the breadth of the provisions of the gospel. Preaching that is faithful to the text and the overall theme of the Bible should cause us to exult in Him (Psalm 32:11; 35:9).

Edify means to instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually; uplift.  The primary way that the New Testament speaks of believer being benefited or built up is by the instruction of the Word (Eph. 4:12, Col. 1:28) and also by the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:4, 12, 26) so that the church would be mature growing up in Christ (Eph. 4:15).

When we consider these three basic reasons, it should be plain to see that man is not the focus of a worship gathering, Christ is.

The Purpose of  the Worship (Music) Team

If the main component, biblical preaching, is focused on God, specifically Christ, then every other aspect of the service should do likewise, especially the singing.  As I’ve stated previously, song lyrics ought to be biblical and should complement the sermon.  The music should serve as another teaching moment in the gathering.  It is no secret that the black church is replete with musical talent. History repeatedly proves this. From musicians to singers, the black church is rich with musical talent and that’s a good thing!  In fact, we ought to thank God for the way He dispenses His gifts and talents to people. But as with all of God’s gifts, they must be stewarded well for His glory. In matters of worship by song, we must be careful that our singing doesn’t betray the focus that is to be given to Christ in our gatherings. It might be wise for worship leaders or choir directors to ask themselves what will bring the most glory to God during the music set.

How should the black church think about solo performances, choirs, and congregational singing?

We’ll examine these in the next article.

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Gathering and Singing: Take Care How You Sing

AAWOrship2In another entry, I wrote about the importance music plays in the life of corporate worship.  The importance it plays can be for good or for bad depending on your understanding of the primary or central component of a corporate gathering.  One of the recoveries of the Protestant Reformation, argued by Martin Luther and John Calvin, was the preaching of the word. But not only that, but its primacy over all other aspects of a corporate gathering.  Since the word is God breathed, sufficient for godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and living, active and able to discern the intentions and thoughts of the heart (Heb. 4:12), the preaching must be the central event of every corporate gathering. Not only must it be central, but the Word must also govern and shape the other events of the gathering, especially the music.

My purpose here is not to argue appropriate styles of music for a corporate gathering, though I think that is a worthy conversation, but to stimulate thought about the lyrical content of the songs we sing in our corporate gatherings.  I think the most helpful songs sung in corporate gatherings are those that are shaped by biblical truth and complement the theme and tone of the biblical passage that is preached.  For example, can the things that are sung be found anywhere in the Bible? And concerning appropriate themes for example, overly triumphant songs seem a bit out of place if the text preached was a stern calling for the believer to take serious heed of the warnings of God’s word lest he suffer discipline. Simply put, the songs we sing ought to be rooted in Scripture complementing the sermon preached.

Recently during a time of corporate worship I was more cognizant of this and I was greatly edified again by Ada Haberson (1861-1918) and Matt Merker’s song, He Will Hold Me Fast.

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast (John 6:37);
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast (Lk 22:31-32).
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path (Matt. 26:30-35; 69-75);
For my love is often cold (Eze. 16);
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight (Isa. 62:5; Zeph. 3:17),
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight (Ps. 72:14; 1 Pet. 2:4),
He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost (Ps. 16; Matt. 1:21; John 6:39-40; Eph 1:3-14; 1 Pet 1:3-5; Jude 24-25)
His promises shall last (Nu. 23:19; Isa. 46:10, 55:11);
Bought by Him at such a cost (1 Pet. 1:18-19),
He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died (Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18),
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10);
He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life (John 11:25-27; 1 Cor. 15),
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight,
When He comes at last (1 John 3:2)!

Being replete with biblical doctrine was the reason why I was so edified by the song.  I was singing the Bible! As I was singing, I was being instructed and reminded of the biblical truth of the assurance we have in Christ for our salvation.  That is the main point of the song and it is encouraging!!! This is a song I can “Amen!!” simply because of the truth it contains, not primarily because of its melody.  A song with great melody, but devoid of biblical truth is ultimately not God glorifying, soul satisfying, faith fortifying or joy intensifying.  However, a song with biblical truth, though it may not be your melody of preference, is better for your soul simply because of its content. Consider the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian church:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

(Colossians 3:16, ESV)

Next time you gather for corporate worship, take note of the lyrics and examine the degree of biblical fidelity.  May we take care how we sing!

Grace & Peace,

d.