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

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.

The Gospel & Ethnic Reconciliation

Concerning the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and likely several hundred other unreported cases surrounding the sinful treatment of black males, many of us wonder if ethnicity was the motivating factor for police brutality or the overuse of their authority or the lack of justice at the court level. Given the history of systemic racism, which truly is a product of personal racism, it’s hard not to think this way when we look at the disproportionate number of the arrests and imprisonments between young white males and young black males for relatively the same crimes. While I am all for punitive requirements being met for all criminals, it does seem like the scales unjustly lean a little lower on “our” side. Print So what are we to do? How do we, as Christians, deal with the issue of personal prejudice or racism and dare I say ethnocentricity? We all know that no law passed at the city, state and national levels will ever rid man of the sin in the unseen recesses of his heart. Since racism is a sin, the only remedy for it, as with all sin, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. First, I encourage my white brothers and sisters to take a humble posture of heart and listen to the minority narrative. I guarantee it will be worth your time. Secondly, I urge my black brothers and sisters continue to deepen your roots in the sweet soil of the gospel of grace to prevent responding to sin sinfully. For we all are not without sin ourselves.

From the first book of the Bible, but certainly not the only place, we understand that mankind (man & woman) was created in the image of God (imago dei) and therefore has inherent dignity. This very truth was the truth that under-girded the Abolitionist Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. Slogans like “Ain’t I a Man?” and “I Am a Man!” were birthed in these movements respectively.

Genesis 1:27 says –

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Iamaman

However, when biblical truth is silenced, even hated, in the public square, what can Christians do? What ought Christians to do regarding racial reconciliation?

Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) held a leadership summit in Nashville to address the topic of racial reconciliation, primarily in the church. Now if you’re familiar with the SBC, this might seem like a shocker. If you’re not familiar with the SBC, let me give you a quick historical overview. The SBC was started due to its desire that slavery be a lasting institution in America. Baptists in the south disagreed with and split from Baptists in the north for this very reason and formed the SBC. Even though the SBC issued a public apology and a confession of sin in 1995, many still look at the SBC with disdain. Some may wonder why any African American would join an SBC church. In fact, many black Baptist denominations were founded and formed because of this very reason and still exist today.

Perhaps you’re wondering how professing white Christians during these times could maintain such a low view of  the black man in light of the Bible’s teaching on the dignity of all mankind. I wonder the same thing too. But the pull of sin and the pressures of our culture have us all unfaithful at times, right? However, in an effort to sincerely glorify the wisdom of God in the gospel, the SBC is seeking to make strides to show forth the fruit of the gospel regarding this issue because only the church has the ultimate lasting cure for racism.

Since the church is the only institution that has the ultimate lasting cure, it should be the leader reflecting unity in diversity where there is a collection of ethnicities in a concentrated area.  Imagine the effect the church would have on the surrounding culture if it lived out the implications of the gospel in this way.

In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul details how the gospel has united Jew and Gentile to be one new man – the Christian (Ephesians 2:11-22). While their God given ethnicities were not done away with, their ultimate identities were now Christian. The same is true for believers of every hue. In light of this truth, how are we seeking to show forth the fruit of the gospel regarding racial reconciliation? What are some practical implications of the gospel concerning racial reconciliation? I can think of a few. Consider these.

1. What does our closest circle of friends look like?

2. Are we seeking to build relationships with Christians of different ethnicities?

3. Are we sharing the gospel with people who are ethnically different than we are?

4. When was the last time we had a person of a different ethnicity in our home?

5. How do we really feel about white people? Or any non-African American?

6. Do our churches reflect the diversity of the community it’s in? Or is it a mono-ethnic church?

7. If my church isn’t multi-ethnic, is it making strides to become one, if possible?

Consider this passage from Revelation 7-

9 After this I (John) looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Who is standing before the throne of God and the Lamb? God’s people from every nation, tribe, people and languages!  God’s eternal covenant community is multi-ethnic! This future reality is to be displayed here on earth in local churches when possible.

church-segregation

If you have some time, consider looking at the talks given by several members of the SBC addressing how the gospel cures racism and why Sunday at 11am should not be the most segregated hour in America.

The Gospel and Ethnic Reconciliation

For His glory,

d.

The History of the African-American Church

Matthew 28:19 records Jesus’ command to His disciples to take the gospel to all nations. This is known as the Great Commission. Obedience to this command is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant which God promised in Genesis 12, “3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This is a pretty significant promise!

The significance of this promiblack churchse and Jesus’ command is that it shows that there is one God of all peoples. From one man (Acts 17:26), Adam, God created every ethnic people group in human history. Through the promise made to Abraham, God promises to bless all the families (think clans within nations) of the earth. That promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ. Christ is the promised seed (Galatians 3:15-29) and the source of God’s blessing. Therefore, God’s blesses all nations and families in Christ. This is why Jesus commanded His disciples to take the gospel to all nations. Through the gospel God is re-gathering His people unto Himself!

So what does this have to do with the African-American slice of God’s church? Well, if you know the hardships of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement one might be led to think that God was somehow not for “us”. That is wrong thinking. We must understand that despite the cruel acts of men due to sin, God has a promise that will be fulfilled for all peoples – including marginalized and inhumanely treated people created in God’s image.

While “we” were treated horribly, God has entrusted the gospel to “us” and we have a responsibility to protect and proclaim the gospel. But in order to avoid error, be vigilant in faithfulness, and praise God as our Sustainer, knowing our church history is very important.

Via lecture, Ken Jones offers a concise history of the African-American church.

Click here >> The Development of the Black Church in America

Grace & Peace,

d.

Preparing for Sunday

gotochurchWhat do Saturdays look like for you?  If you’re like me, you probably think of Saturday as a day of rest or a day to do something relaxing or enjoyable.  There’s nothing wrong with that and after a long productive work week, we should enjoy the fruits of our labor.  Rest and leisure are good gifts that we should appropriately enjoy.  But should Saturday only be thought of as a reward to a long work week? Or should we also think of Saturday as a day of preparation for our Sunday worship gathering?

I wonder how much thought is given to preparing for Sunday morning on Saturday. Sure we give some thought to preparation by getting our clothes ready, putting the children down to sleep, or deciding what to eat for breakfast, etc. But how do we and how should we prepare our hearts to commune with the living God and our brothers and sisters in a corporate worship gathering?

If we understand the gravity of that last sentence, we’ll give more thought and consideration to how we prepare our hearts for Sunday.  If we have an unhealthy view of our Sunday gathering, our preparation will reflect that.  Historically, the church met on the first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).  So every time we gather, we are celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Not only that, but we also are coming together to be instructed how to live as sons and daughters of the kingdom, confessing our sins, making intercession for others, offering supplication, praising in song and pleading for the salvation of the lost.  Those things are not to be taken lightly, especially since the church is God’s means of displaying His glory in a unique way and is also the main institution for our growth.  Since all of this is true, how might we better prepare for the Sunday gathering? Here are a few simple suggestions that my wife and I are implementing, but by no means have perfected.

  1. Don’t make Saturday night a late night, whether you go out or stay home.
  2. Plan to designate a time to discuss the order of service or sermon text with your spouse or a fellow church member, if possible.
  3. Think about how you can be praying the point of the sermon text for yourself and for others.
  4.  Pray for every aspect of the Sunday service (praying, singing, preaching, and giving) and for your heart to be receptive to God’s Word.
  5. Consider whether or not if you have any unresolved conflict with anyone and seek to reconcile before attending the worship service.

As God’s graciously chosen ones, may we demonstrate the privilege and joy of being His children by being responsible church members who purposely prepare for Sunday.

Related Recommended Reading

Healthy Church Member What is A Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile

Grace & Peace,

d.

What is the Black Church?

When you think of the black church, what comes to mind?  Is it the style of preaching? The style of music? Attire preferences?

What constitutes the black church? Is it monolithic?

Should our view of the black church be shaped by its historical expressions? Its sociological and cultural preferences? Its ethical concerns?

How did slavery and the Civil Rights era affect the black church? What is the future of the black church in America?

What should be the center and strength of the black church?

Pastors Anthony Carter (Atlanta, GA), Thabiti Anyabwile (Grand Cayman Islands) and Louis Love (Vernon Hills, IL) share  their thoughts about these important issues.

Enjoy!

Grace & Peace,

d.

Are You Being Shepherded Well?|part 1|

If you’re asking yourself this question, it may be because you have sensed that you’re not being shepherded well. And if you are asking this question, you’re showing a measure of responsibility for your spiritual growth. However, it is my estimation, rooted in the abounding cultural evidence, that this question is not being asked enough. So what does it mean to be shepherded well? Perhaps it is better to understand what is meant by the term shepherd for those who might be unaware or unfamiliar. When I speak of shepherding, I am simply referring to being pastored or being led.

Throughout Scripture, we see shepherding language because shepherding (sheep herding) was a cultural norm for Israel.  It is also a term used to help us understand how the Lord cares for us and leads us (Psalm 23, Psalm 28:8-9, Psalm 80:1, Isaiah 40:9-11, Matthew 2:6, John 10:11).  The word shepherd or similar terms are also used to describe unfaithful leaders in Israel and in the church (Jeremiah 23:1-4, Ezekiel 34, Matthew 7:15, & Acts 20:29).  So what it means to be shepherded well simply means are you being pastored well or led well at your local church?  To honestly answer this question, we must first understand from Scripture the character shepherds are to possess, the tasks shepherds are called to do and the goal of shepherding.

Qualifications of Shepherds

God has ordained that a plurality of men called elders lead or shepherd local churches (Acts 14:23, 15:4, 20:17, Titus 1:5, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1-2).  But not just any man, but a man of certain quality. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9, two of the three pastoral epistles, list the qualifications for those who lead the church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 says:

1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.


While you don’t see the word elder in these verses, the term overseer means precisely that.  In the original language, the word overseer is ἐπισκοπή (episkopē), which means office of an elder. Verses 2-7 detail the qualities men, not women, must have to be considered to shepherd a flock or local congregation. While the elder will not perfectly display these traits, these should be generally true about him. A closer look at this list will show that the Lord cares more about character than about skill. The only skill required is that he must be able to teach (v2), which is vastly important and directly linked to the end goal of his ministry.

If you’re wondering if you’re being shepherded well, my encouragement to you first is to assess the leaders’ character in your church according to 1 Timothy 3:2-7 as best as you can. Our leaders should be transparent enough (John 10:14, John 15:15) that we should be able to assess many of these things.  If our leaders are not transparent and non-relational, we are not being shepherded well and in danger of possibly being led by hirelings (John 10:12-13).

Next, we will consider the tasks that shepherds (elders) are called to.

Grace & Peace,

d.

Lyrical Ecclesiology

If you’ve followed hip-hop to some degree, you will remember “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. This single, released in 1982, was the first rap song to go platinum and it did so in about a month. Remember the hook,“Don’t push me ‘cuz I’m close to the edge. I’m tryin’ not to lose my head. It’s like a jungle; sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under”?

What was unique about this song is that, though in its infancy, hip-hop was being used to call awareness to depravity and its pervasive effect on social structures.  Quickly, America saw that hip-hop was not only about  juvenile rebellion, but a platform to voice concerns about serious issues.

It is still being used that way, only this time it’s being used to address some all too important truths concerning the Christian faith, particularly the ecclesiological aspects or the study of the church. For some, church is nothing more than a chance to leverage business opportunities. For others, it is a place to widen social circles without any true desire to function as God’s redeemed community. Still others really don’t have a biblical understanding of what church or other essential truths of Christianity are.  Scripture tells us in Ephesians 3:10 that through the church, God makes His wisdom known!!! Selah !  Enter Lampmode Recordings and their latest release, The Church: Called & Collected to remind us of this unchanging truth.

Taking its cue from Mark Dever’s book, “What Is A Healthy Church?”, Lampmode and other artists address topics such as biblical theology, evangelism, church discipline, conversion and expositional preaching.

I highly encourage you to pick this album up at Lampmode Recordings or iTunes.

You never thought that hip hop would take it this far!

Grace & Peace,

d.

Reforming our Ecclesiological Understanding

How many of you have heard people say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” as an attempt to justify their lack of church attendance?  If you’re like me, you’ve heard that too many times that you care to remember. In a very limited sense, however, it’s true. Obviously we know regeneration and justification don’t require church attendance.  But church identification, attendance and participation is one tangible and visible fruit of genuine conversion.

You’re right. We don’t have to go to church to be Christians. We, Christians, are the church! We are the called out ones; the body of Christ. The church building (lifeless infrastructure) only exists as a result of the true church, God’s redeemed (a living organism), who are called to collectively demonstrate His glory in a very unique way.”

The church, God’s redeemed people, is a glorious entity!  Many theologians, I believe, have correctly assessed that America’s spirit of independence feeds the flesh and has warped the minds of many Christians producing a low, joyless and non-committal attitude toward the church.  It is imperative that we understand what the church truly is from God’s perspective, which I know by God’s grace will correct and transform negative thoughts about the church. Consider some of the biblical descriptives of the church. The church…

 

  • was an eternal plan of God (Eph. 3:1-6)

  • was purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28, Col. 1:20, Rev. 5:9)

  • is sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:14, 4:30)

  • is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 4:12, Col. 1:18, 3:15)

  • is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim. 3:15)

  • is a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9)

 

Perhaps, one of the most humbling realities of the church is that it is meant to display the wisdom of God to the angelic realm. How glorious is this?!?! Listen to the inspired words of the Apostle Paul.

6This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,… (Ephesians 3:6-11)

The church is a living & eternal apologetic of the multifaceted redemptive grace of God!!  The visible church is the fruit of the gospel!  The angelic realm is being taught more about God through the redemption of rebels.  The heavenly angels, experientially, know nothing about redeeming grace. The fallen angels are reminded of their defeat.  Remember, the angels longed to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)  When the church is functioning as it should, we are displaying the wisdom and glory of God and that Jesus didn’t die in vain.

May we consider our calling!

Coming June 8, 2010 – The Church: Called & Collected from Lampmode Recordings. Check out the promo video featuring Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church & IX Marks Ministries.

Relevance & Irrelevance

A few years ago, I began noticing a trend in church liturgy among Western Christianity. I tend to describe it as pop culture pragmatism. In an effort to be relevant to a younger technologically driven generation, many churches and their staff members underwent makeovers. Church services took on the flavor of a mini-rock concert with a cool little message tucked in. Pulpits were now equipped with trendy furniture from IKEA, the attire of the pastor and other leaders consisted of screen print tees and trendy jeans, bottles of hair gel were obviously en vogue, and some of the the worship teams looked more like a glam-rock throwback or something along lines of metrosexuality. I’m serious. Sermons were no longer expositional, convicting and Christocentric. Instead, the sermon was reduced to quaint little talks about God peppered with the latest slang. I’m serious. This is a horrible attempt at relevancy. It was highly irrelevant!

Pragmatism is simply using certain means to reach certain ends.  It’s a “whatever works” philosophy.  So on one hand pragmatism is not necessarily wrong, but the context must be understood to see when it is wrong. When it comes to matters of the Christian faith, pragmatism is referenced as a departure from God’s means to reach God’s ends and instead utilizing other means (whatever works) to reach God’s ends.  These other means always appeal to the flesh and the temporal, which is why a pragmatic approach to ministry is ultimately evidence of a lack of faith in God, His Word and pride. It simply fails to get to the heart of man’s issue – his sin and rebellion against God.  The church doesn’t need to put on a new outfit every time the trends of culture changes in order to be effective and relevant.

Relevant churches are churches that unashamedly preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of Scripture trusting God will accomplish His means through the power of the Holy Spirit.

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,…… (Romans 1:16)

Grace & Peace,

d.