Racism, Fatigue & Perseverance….

alachurchbomblittlegirlsI’m not sure who coined the term black fatigue, but I have it.  What I mean by that term is this – I am tired of the minimization, apathy or outright dismissal of present and historical racism toward blacks by whites. I am tired of trying to lovingly have conversations with my white friends with the hope that they’ll get it.  I am tired of having to explain why we collectively suffer when we see another black man, woman or child treated cruelly, and even in a sub-human manner whether guilty of a crime or the suspicion of a crime.  I am tired of trying to explain the injustice experienced by blacks everyday in many ways. I’m just tired. I am tired of the way the church is slow to address this issue inside and outside the church. But I also am a Christian and that is hugely significant.

In late February, I was asked to be part of a ethnic reconciliation panel at a church in my city. I’ve had the privilege of preaching at this church a couple of years ago, so there was some familiarity. However, upon the invitation, my immediate thought was, “No. I’m tired of this conversation because nothing is happening.” I’ve poured out my heart too many times on social media, taken part in a panel at my own church, written articles, read others’ articles, read books, had many conversations with my white brothers and sisters (some fruitful, others more problematic) and I have vented to my wife too many times to count and it just seemed pointless.  Frankly, I was just done with the conversation. I resigned myself to just pray and do the work myself organically with those closest to me at my church. But part of me still wanted people to get it and empathize with this sinful narrative. So after I told my wife about the invitation and about my thoughts, she understood my perspective, but she encouraged me to do it. I was still against the idea, but the LORD overcame my resistance and changed my heart about it. My wife had the right idea and perspective.

As I spoke to the pastor who invited me (he pastors a predominantly white Southern Baptist church), he told me that he had been affected by all of the shootings of blacks last summer (2016) and he became more concerned that the church ought to be doing something about it. Down the street, literally 300 yards, from his church is an African American Missionary Baptist church with whom they have almost no relationship.  I was told that there had been attempts by the African American church to establish a relationship with this predominantly white church, but there was no reciprocation by the previous pastor.  In fact, I was told that this was the first time that his church (the predominantly white church), to their shame, has ever addressed racism in the church’s history and he wasn’t sure how things would go.  I was encouraged by his genuineness to address this topic, which could have easily caused an uproar in his church, and by his transparency about the church’s failure in the past. This was a historical event for his church.

By God’s grace, the panel event turned out very well. It was well attended by members of both churches. An assistant pastor moderated the event, each of the pastors gave a 20 minute talk about their experiences concerning racism, and there was a 45 minute panel discussion where the three of us answered questions from the congregation.  Several of my white brothers and sisters approached me afterward and told me how helpful and encouraging I was to them. Praise the LORD!  Some of the things that I desired for my brothers and sisters to know and understand were:

  • The doctrine of the imago dei (image of God) must shape how we view people. Seeing people as image bearers of God is one of the foundational truths that needs to shape us.
  • Racism is both individual and systemic.
  • Racism is a sin issue and is only remedied by the gospel (Ephesians 2).
  • African-American people, like all people, are not monolithic. Therefore, generalizations and stereotypes need to be avoided.
  • Seek to understand the perspective of blacks and how we corporately suffer when we’re victimized by racism.
  • Weep with those who weep.
  • Be educated on the history of black-white relations in America (e.g. slavery, civil war, reconstruction, the black codes, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement).
  • Talk to African-Americans about these issues. Do not be afraid.
  • Befriend African-American brothers and sisters. Have them over for dinner, etc.
  • To fellow African-Americans, let the gospel shape how you see whites.

onenewmanAs a first step toward visibly demonstrating the power of the gospel across ethnic lines, I pray more fruit abounds between these two churches as time goes by.  This, I believe, will be one of the strongest arguments for the Lordship of Christ and the credibility of the church.  Jesus told his disciples in John 13, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   

Yet, by this same measure of love, our profession of faith is validated or invalidated.  The Apostle John said this in 1 John:

  • By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)
  • If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

For me, I must persevere in fighting racism like I do any other sin. The LORD knows I’m tired! However, if I truly believe the gospel, and I do, I must strive, by the power of the Spirit, to walk worthy of the gospel, do good to all, especially the household of faith, and not grow weary in well-doing.

d.

Joy to the World – Pt. 4

jtw4If you’re familiar with the storyline of the Bible, one of the major themes that you may have noticed is mankind’s need for a righteous king who doesn’t die.  The book of Judges is where we start to see this need more clearly.  Israel had been given a covenant, but she continually broke God’s covenant and God judged her by allowing her to be oppressed by wicked rulers. Israel would cry out for deliverance from her oppressors and God would send a judge (savior) to deliver her.  However, soon after Israel’s deliverance, the judge died and Israel fell back into sin breaking God’s covenant because there was no king and the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6).

However, this pattern didn’t start in Judges, but in Genesis 3. The lie the serpent told Eve was that she would be like God – The Ultimate King, if she ate from the forbidden tree. Though mankind was created in God’s image to rule creation under God’s authority (Gen. 1:26-28), mankind’s problem is that we want to be a law unto ourselves. We want to be kings independent from the rule of God.  

The period after the judges didn’t prove to be much better for Israel. In their desire to be like the nations desiring a king, God told them that their desires would lead to bad leadership over them ( 1 Sam. 8).  God had already provided them stipulations for a king (Deut. 17:14-20), but Israel’s eyes were enamored by the rulership of the nations.  1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles details the wickedness and failures of Israel’s and Judah’s kings. Despite Israel’s rebellion and ours, God was gracious enough, for the glory of His name, to provide the king mankind needs. That king is Jesus (Ps. 2).

Unlike the wicked and unfaithful earthly kings, Jesus’ kingship over His people will be righteous and a blessing.  Verse 4 of this hymn describes the kingship of Jesus. It says –

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love

Characteristics of Christ’s Rule

This verse says Christ’s kingship will be characterized by truth, grace and love. The Apostle John said Jesus was full of grace and truth (Jhn 1:14) and he drew attention to Jesus’ teaching on love as a chief mark of being a disciple (Jhn 13:31-35; 1 Jhn 2:7-17, 3:11-18, 4:7-21).  But what gives credibility to Jesus’ teaching was His life.  He not only taught truth,  but He is the truth (Jhn 14:1-12) as the very word (logos) of God (John 1:1).  In these verses, John 14:1-12, Jesus was declaring himself to be the very essence of God and Paul makes this same point in Colossians 1:15-16 and in the Father is no darkness, but light (truth) (1 Jhn. 1:5).  Therefore, since the Father is the essence of truth and Jesus is the image of the Father, Jesus is the truth!

Concerning grace, Jesus coming in the flesh is an act of God’s grace to save sinners. Our salvation is all a work of God’s grace. In the new heavens and new earth, we will be reminded of the grace of God extended to us in Christ.  We will forever be reminded that Christ not only bore the wrath of God for our sins, but also that we were given the righteousness of Christ that we do not deserve.

Christ’s love is first rooted in His eternal nature as God. He cannot not love, for God is love.  Secondly, His kingship will be marked by love because of His love for the Father.  John said, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son….” (Jhn. 3:16). Christ submitted to the will of the Father because He loved the Father.  Christ taught that love is evidenced in obedience – “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (Jhn. 14:15). Since Christ kept the command of the Father, we can safely say He loved Him. Thirdly, His kingship will be marked by love because He loves His people.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus loved His disciples (Jhn. 13:1), He loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus (Jhn. 11:5), he loved the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:21) , and He loves all the saints (Rev. 1:5). The ultimate demonstration of His love is his laying down His life for His people (1 Jhn. 3:16).  Jesus is the embodiment of the steadfast love of the LORD for the saints and His love will never cool or grow dim, but will be a fulfillment of Psalm 23.

Extent of Christ’s Rule

Two words that describe the extent of Christ’s rule are world and nations.  Human history is riddled with poor examples of human rulers of nations , especially those who try to exert their rule over other nations. Under certain forms of government, people are oppressed and denied basic human rights. We’ve seen what has happened under leaders like Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Mao Tse-Tung, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Vladimir Lenin. And while other forms of government provide more freedom and flourishing, no human government is perfect that will enable the fullest human flourishing possible. Human history has recorded this. People have been oppressed. Wars have been fought. Lives have been lost.

Yet, repeatedly in Scripture, Christ is mentioned as one who will rule the world with the nations submitting to Him. By nations, the Scriptures mean people groups or ethnicities. When Christ comes back to consummate His kingdom, as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, those who have repented of their sins, regardless of ethnicity,  will be under the perfect rule of Jesus.  

Psalm 2:8 says –

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”  

John’s vision of Christ in Revelation says this in 5:9-10 –

9 Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

When Christ comes back, His rule will be global and full of righteousness.  Isaiah 9:6 gives us a very vivid picture of the kingship –

Of the increase of his government and of peace

   there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

   to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

   from this time forth and forevermore.

Why This Matters at Christmas

While this season is often celebrated with great affection and fervor, it is also a season of sadness for many.  For many, this season is a reminder of pain, unhappiness, and unmet desires. Many question the goodness of God or His existence because of their life experiences.  But there is hope! There is hope because Jesus Christ came in the flesh. It is a historical fact. It is a historical fact that He lived on the earth and grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. It is a fact that He gathered Apostles and taught them the gospel. It is a fact that He was crucified, buried and was raised on the third day. It is a fact that Christianity began to spread as the remaining disciples and one named Paul began missionary endeavors to proclaim the gospel of salvation and God’s kingdom, even to the point of death. The incarnation of Christ is about God reconciling man to Himself and establishing His kingdom headed by Jesus Christ where righteousness eternally dwells.  

This is the hope we have and why we ought to fervently sing this hymn during the Christmas season!

Merry Christmas!!

Joy to the World – Pt. 3

joy-to-the-world.jpgThe third verse of this hymn, like all of the other verses, is rich with important biblical truth that we cannot afford to miss.  As Christians, we’re called to delight in God’s truth and understanding the content of verse 3 should cause us to delight in God.  Verse three says –

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found,

Far as the curse is found,

Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Sins, Sorrows, Thorns and a Curse

This verse is describing what redemption looks like. Much like what Part 2 discussed, the world is presently under a curse because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion. Part of the curse, pronounced to Adam in Genesis 3 says-

17And to Adam he said,“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life, 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

After mankind’s rebellion, part of the curse described is creation working against man. No longer would Adam’s work as a cultivator of the ground be easy and bear plentiful produce. His labor would be painfully hard and the harmony between man and the rest of creation would be strenuous.  Like Adam, we live in a world where our work is often riddled with proverbial thorns, not often enjoyed nor yielding the “fruit” we desire.  In addition, the very ground that Adam was supposed to rule would ultimately consume him. That is our lot without a redeemer.  We are born into this life under God’s curse for Adam’s sin with death and eternal condemnation as our lot (Rom. 5:12,18-19). As stated in previous writings, all of creation is under a curse longing for a liberator.

Cosmic Redemption & Everlasting Joy

That liberator is Jesus.  During Christ’s earthly ministry He often stated that the kingdom of God had arrived, yet it wasn’t always understood nor was it fully actualized. His ministry not only consisted of teaching His Father’s truths, but He also demonstrated authority over creation (Mk. 4:35-41), over disease (Matt. 8:1-3, Mk. 5:21-34)  and over death (Mk. 5:35-43, Jhn 11:1-44). His ministry was to demonstrate the in-breaking of the kingdom of God and provide glimpses of victory over Satan and the effects of sin – especially on man. In essence, Christ’s victory in His death and resurrection reversed the curse pronounced in Genesis 3.

At the second coming of Christ, which will bring judgment for the unrepentant, also brings salvation for His people. No more will the effects of sin rule and dominate the earth nor His people. His redemption will be consummate as far as the curse is found.  God and man will be reconciled. Man and man will be in unity in Christ. The new heavens and new earth will be in perfect harmony with man. God’s dwelling place with be forever be with man on the earth where there will be everlasting joy (Rev. 21:3-4). Sin and sorrows will grow no more as they will be non-existent.

Why This Matters at Christmas

While this season looks back at the birth of Christ, it is imperative that we understand why looking back is crucial to what lies ahead. If there was no birth, there could be no death. No death of a redeemer means we’re still in bondage to sin, under God’s curse and fit for His eternal wrath.  Christ came to die for His people that they might live forever in peace and joy with God! His second coming will complete God’s plan of redemption that was planned from before the foundation of the world! 

Merry Christmas!

Joy to the World – Pt. 2

jtw2Part 1 of this series briefly introduced the history of this celebrated and widely known hymn. What I found amazing was that Watts never intended for this song to be a celebration of Christ’s first coming, but of  His second coming.  Nevertheless, when we consider every aspect of Christ’s ministry, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension and His return, the integration of these aspects is crucial and cannot be divorced from one another.  Therefore, during the Christmas season, it is entirely fitting to celebrate the  redemptive victory that Christ will accomplish.

The second verse of this hymn almost mirrors the idea of the first verse. It says-

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

The Call to Praise

The first verse of this song is a call to praise for the coming of Jesus.  Similarly, verse two contains praise, but for a different reason. Praise ensues because in addition to Jesus coming, He will rule all of creation and His kingdom will be forever (2 Sam. 7:8-13, Dan. 7:13-14).  

Reason for Praise

Unless we understand what is wrong with the world, we will not see the reason to be overjoyed about the coming and ruling of Jesus.  Genesis 3 tells us what went wrong with the world – man rebelled (sinned) against his creator and God cursed man and all of creation as a result. Instead of a harmonious loving relationship, man’s relationship with God was broken and the created order was subject to disorder as well.  As previously mentioned, the Scriptures remind us that although  we and creation groan as a result of the curse, there is hope.  Romans 8:20-24 says- 

“…the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.  

 In addition to that curse, the world is presently under the power of the evil one (1 Jhn. 5:19). Because of Adam’s sin, the devil is the ruler of this world (Jhn 12:31, 16:11; Eph. 2:2, 2 Cor. 4:4) So how will it be set free from this bondage to corruption? Who will do it?

There was an ultimate reason to Christ’s incarnation – redemption.  He came to destroy the devil and his works (Col. 2:15; 1 Jhn 3:8), absorb the wrath of God on behalf of His people (Isa. 53) and gather His people into a new family (Jhn. 10:11-16; Rev. 7:9-10)!  Christ entered humanity, lived as a man under the Law, and yet died as one who had violated the Law becoming a curse in the place of guilty man. And in His becoming the curse for us, He lifted the curse from all of creation. His redemption is cosmic! All of creation will one day be under the glorious rule of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that Psalm 98 pictures Jesus as the celebrated Savior (98:1-3), King (98:6) and Judge (98:9).  At the second coming of Christ, there will be no more disharmony and disunity between God and all of His creation.  While in exile, the Apostle John was given a vision from Jesus concerning the future. Revelation 21 says –

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Sin and its effects will be forever gone. There will be a new heavens and new earth unaffected by sin. God and man will be forever reconciled. Death, mourning, crying and pain shall forever be gone. All groaning (Rom. 8:20-24) will turn to triumphant praise! This is the hope we have to look forward to! This is why the song says –

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

All of creation will praise Christ eternally for his work of redemption from the curse and the works of the devil.

Our Response at Christmas

In light of this truth, may we rejoice at the birth of our Savior! Praise God for His indescribable gift! Rejoice because salvation has come and is coming!

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Merry Christmas!

Joy to the World – Pt. 1

jtwIn 1719, Isaac Watts penned what has become one of the most famous hymns sung during the Christmas season. Known as the Father of  English Hymnody, Watts often wrote his hymns based on the Psalms.  His theological propensity led him to write The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. This work was a collection of paraphrased Psalms and his paraphrase of Psalm 98 is what we know as Joy to the World.

Psalm 98 is known as a royal psalm. Royal psalms are psalms that describe the kingship of Jesus Christ.  This psalm is a call for praise to the LORD for His salvation (v2) and for His judgment (v9) at Jesus’ second coming. Joy to the World was specifically written around verses 4-9 , which means that this hymn is not about Christ’s first coming (1st Advent), but His second coming (2nd Advent). While we typically sing this song during the Christmas season, Watts did not intend to have this song sung during the Christmas season. It is appropriate for every day of the year. You’ll notice the incarnation of Jesus is not mentioned in this song, but the culmination of redemption is, in which all of creation praises Jesus for his deliverance from the curse of sin. That is the point of Joy to the World.

However, since this song is widely associated with the Christmas season, I believe examining the truths found in the lyrics will be of great encouragement. In four parts (consistent with the number of verses in the song), I want to expose the beauty of these truths and I pray this is beneficial to the reader. So let’s start by examining the first verse-

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

When we consider the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, who are the joyous ones? We know from Matthew 24:30, Revelation 19:11-15 that Jesus’ second coming will be a time where Jesus will finally defeat all His enemies. He will come as a conquering king, deposing all earthly kings and anyone else set against Him, including Satan.  But the call for joy is for God’s people who experience the consummation of their salvation. Believers will fully recognize their King and gladly submit. This is what it means for our hearts to prepare Him room.  Also, we will rule and reign (2 Tim. 2:12) with Christ and forever be reconciled with our Creator (Rev. 21:3).

Not only will humanity be reconciled to God and submitted to the authority of Jesus, but all of creation will be as well. Romans 8:20-21 says, For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  Creation itself is presently under a curse, but it too longs for salvation from the curse that it was subjected to (Gen. 3:17-19). All will be right with the world, particularly in the new heavens and new earth, when Christ comes back to complete the establishment of his eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-13) where there will be no traces of sin and its effects (Isa. 65).  This is what is meant by the earth receiving her king. Creation will sing joyous praise as it realizes its deliverance from the curse by its King, Jesus. The end result of the salvation to come is heaven and nature singing. I take heaven to mean the angels. Nature will be figuratively singing (Ps. 98:7-8) as it exists free from corruption, but I believe the angels will be forever rejoicing and praising Jesus for His work of redemption and for bringing all of creation under His rule (Rev 5:9).

The second coming of Christ will be a day of great praise for God’s people, but we must not forget the importance of Christ’s first coming. It was His first coming that began the work of redemption for His people and creation. In His living, dying, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus conquered sin and death and ceased the hostility between God and His people.  Jesus came on a mission to die for His people to bring them to everlasting glory (Tit. 2:13). This is the reason for our joy!

Merry Christmas!

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.

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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

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!