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.

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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.

The Work & Value of the Word

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”

(Psalm 119:11, NIV)

 If you start reading the Bible in Genesis, it shouldn’t be too long before you realize the significance of God’s words.  Consider the creation of the world in Genesis 1. Notice how many times  “And God said…” or “God called..,” appears. God created everything ex nihilo by speaking words.

Consider how God established His people, Israel – by words (Genesis 12). Consider how He instructed His people in all manners of life – by words, the Law. (Exodus 20-40, Leviticus, Deuteronomy). Consider why God judged His people – for failing to obey His Word (The Prophets). Consider how highly the LORD esteems His word (Psalm 138:2). Consider Jesus Christ, the Logos  (John 1:1-3, Luke 24:27). Consider how the church is formed – by proclaiming the gospel (Matthew 18:13-19; 28:19, 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Consider how the Word instructs and protects God’s people from error (Psalm 119:11, 2 Timothy 3:10-17; 4:1-5).

From this very small sampling of Scripture, it should seem obvious how important the Word of God is for His people. Why? Because the Word of God reflects and reveals God and shapes God’s people that we might be conformed to the image of Christ. God’s people were predestined to reflect His glory (Ephesians 3:10-11).

When the church fails to submit to God’s Word, corporately and individually, it becomes ripe for discipline. However, the greater offense is  the marring of God’s image and reputation in the world. We ought to learn from OT Israel what defaming His name entailed.

Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a thoughtful article about the effects of neglecting the Word, particularly but not exclusively, in the African American church. May we take heed, lest we fall.

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Front Porch

How many of you have been part of an unexpected conversation that left a great impact on you?  For me, one of the most impactful conversations I was part of, though mostly in a passive way, occurred in Chicago in the summer of 2010.  The Lord was gracious enough to place me in a setting of pastors and I had the pleasure of conversing with Anthony Carter, Thabiti Anyabwile, and others about the state of the African American church and the resurgence of Reformed soteriology within it.  It was so encouraging to hear these men address issues within the African American church and culture biblically with tact and compassion.  I learned a great deal in that conversation and I’m happy to know that that conversation has not ceased. In fact, it’s been an ongoing conversation and now they have opened the conversation for others to join in.

Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Carter and Louis Love, three African American Reformed pastors, invite you to pull up a chair and join them on The Front Porch.

Grace & Peace,

d.

An Urban Resurgence in Chicago

Greetings Beloved,

I know I haven’t posted in a good while, but I wanted to take this time to share some thoughtful reflections of this year’s Legacy Conference in Chicago, IL held July 29th-31st. If you’re unfamiliar with the Legacy Conference, I invite you to visit the website and spend some time absorbing what the Lord is doing among the urban contingent in the Midwest United States, and no doubt in other parts of the country.  According to their own words: The Legacy exists to equip those that are serious about being disciples of Christ to make disciples for Christ. This is accomplished through biblical training (Legacy Conference; Legacy Institute) and networking opportunities of like minded urban leaders.

 

 

While I didn’t get a chance to attend this year’s conference, several of my brothers and sisters in the faith did and I was encouraged hearing how they were edified and Lord willing, I’ll be there next year with them.

The reflections that I am sharing come from Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, who was a keynote speaker at this year’s conference. He has some particular insights that I personally have been praying for for some time and it’s so amazing to see the Lord answering prayer and for others to be keenly aware of the Lord’s work in the earth. We serve an amazingly kind God!!

Click here for Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile’s insights.

Grace & Peace,

d.

A Few Thoughts on Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity

It all seemed to have happened in an instant. The knowledge of my sin.  The knowledge of His wrath.  The knowledge of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.  The knowledge of the gospel.  Though I’d heard the gospel many times prior, this knowledge and faith came in an instant during a heated argument with my then girlfriend in September 1998.  This knowledge came when I heard a voice say, “It’s time to come home.”  This voice wasn’t audible, but it was other.  It was piercing, yet tender and loving.  I knew it was the voice of the Lord.  In the midst of an argument, I was converted by the grace of God.  However, I’ve often hesitated to share my conversion experience because it sounded so mystical and atypical as far as what I knew about conversion. I  wasn’t in church being emotionally pulled.  No one was walking me through the gospel.  I wasn’t at a crisis in my life that might have made me more sensitive to sin and the need for a Savior.  I was loving life; loving my sin.

Looking back on my conversion experience, I see it was the sovereign gracious election of the Father and the conviction and regenerating work of the Spirit causing me to “see” the beauty of the work of Jesus Christ.  But it would be six years after my conversion before I could see that sovereign grace of God in election.  It was through the patient explanations of my brother in the faith, shai linne, and biblical expositors like John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul that the Spirit used to cause me to embrace, love and cherish biblical soteriology.  But were there anymore like me in my city?  Were there any other young black men rejoicing with me about this treasure?  How come I did not see the black preachers on television laboring over and teaching this?  In essence what I was asking myself was, “Is it okay to be African-American and Reformed?”

I honestly can’t think of any other book that accurately describes my theological journey as a black man in America. Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity has been a tremendous blessing and encouragement to my soul. Edited by Pastor Anthony J. Carter, Glory Road is a compilation of ten endearing, enriching, transparent, and humble testimonies of men, including Carter’s, who upon discovering the truths of Reformed salvation, though filled with extraordinary joy, found themselves swimming against the current of modern African American Christianity.

Consider this picture.  The general doctrinal framework of American Christianity is Arminian, so to be Reformed in America is to be a minority. From a church culture perspective,  modern African-Americans generally fall into several Arminian denominations and conventions, such as the African American Methodist Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Church of God, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.  So to be black and Reformed is to be an unfavored minority within a minority.  Each author noted how their embrace of Reformed Theology, to one degree or another, ushered them into an internal cultural conflict as well as a short-lived uncomfortable assimilation into white Reformed culture.

Through the lens of the African-American Church, Reformed Theology is often seen as something foreign, impractical, problematic and another subservient act toward the white man. Specifically, the thought of trying to reconcile the African Slave Trade with God’s sovereignty is the excuse many African Americans use to reject Reformed Theology. I can understand this point of view. However, another cause of rejecting biblical soteriology partly is owing part to the heresies of James Cones’s  Black Liberation Theology that arose during the Civil Rights Era. Contributing author and Assistant Professor of Bible & Theology at Washington Bible College, Eric C. Redmond, refutes this idea masterfully by saying:

“If a person would allow himself to be pigeonholed into becoming a person of nationalistic or ethnocentric thought out of the fear of being viewed as an Oreo or Uncle Tom, then Reformed Theology is not for that person. But then neither is the gospel, for the gospel calls each of us to stand against an ethnic-centered philosophy of one’s own race, for such philosophy is naturally conformed to this present world and is in need of redemption. If you cannot stand against your own culture where it does not square with the Scriptures, you are the one who is ashamed of Christ, and such shame has nothing to do with the philosophical or ontological blackness; it only has to do with your view of majesty of the God who call you to deny yourself in order to follow Christ.” (p. 150)

In essence, Redmond is saying people that place too high of an emphasis on their race and allows their anthropocentrism to shape their views of God actually have a warped view of God and will find themselves at odds with the biblical gospel. Some of us are too black to be Christians.

Aside from the social and cultural implications, Reformed Theology forced some of these men to examine and change their ecclesiological traditions. Contributing author, Pastor Ken Jones, senior pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, CA and co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The White Horse Inn, recounts his experience.

“….the change in my preaching began with a different aim. My aim was to no longer move the people, but rather to open the Word of God and expound the person and work of Jesus Christ. I no longer saw the need to be motivational or to be a cheerleader. It became clear to me that the tradition that I had been reared in had, intentionally or not, confused the power and the presence of the Spirit with human emotions…Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 became my aim in preaching……We made significant changes to our order of service, changes that made the Word of God and the person and work of Christ central to the service. As a result the tone of the services changed…..And it was through teaching that we were able to call attention to the content of our songs that we sang…Bible teaching provides the theology of worship, and the songs old and new should be selected on the basis of their consistence with that theology.” (p.87-88, 90-91)

Out of the Protestant Reformation, 5 significant doctrinal affirmations were declared that marked key distinctives of Christianity. Out of the five, Sola Scriptura (Latin for “scripture alone”) is what led to the change in Pastor Ken Jones’ teaching style and song choices. Sola Scriptura is the affirmation that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for the Christian faith and it contains all knowledge for salvation and holiness. After seeing the sufficiency of the Spirit inspired Scriptures, Pastor Jones no longer felt the need to “whoop” and move people emotionally. Such pragmatism and other forms of it are abandoned when expository preaching resulting from exegesis is commonplace for the shepherd.

I praise God simply for the preservation of His truth and for His justified desire for glory of His name that will arise from all ethnicities. (Revelation 7:9-12)

While much more could be said about this book, I’ll refrain from further comments hoping that you will purchase and read the accounts of these ten African-American men and their journeys.

 Soli Deo Gloria!

d.

Other Resources:

1. Anthony Carter, Pastor of East Point Church (Atlanta, GA)

Buy Glory Road

2. Anthony B. Bradley, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology & Ethics at Covenant Seminary (St. Louis, MO)

Buy Liberating Black Theology (New Release)

 

3. Thabiti Anyabwile, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands, U.S.)

Buy Decline of African American Theology

Buy What Is A Healthy Church Member?

 

4. Eric Redmond, Assistant Professor of Bible & Theology at Washington Bible College (Lanham, MD)

Buy Where Are All The Brothers?

Update:  Ken Jones is  the pastor of Glendale Baptist Church in Miami, Florida. He has taught seminary extension courses on the Book of Galatians and Church History. Rev. Jones has contributed articles to Modern Reformation and Tabletalk. (courtesy of  whitehorseinn.org)

The Prosperity of the Gospel

“And He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

This was Jesus’ command to the remaining eleven disciples after His resurrection.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,..” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

These were the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth in defense of his ministry. Paul first received this message after he was converted on the Damascus Road in Acts 9.

Notice this message Paul preached is what he called “of first importance”. It is of first importance because it clarifies the fundamental problem of humanity – sin, God’s just wrath against sin, and His supply of the Atoner, Jesus Christ, for our sin. That is the gospel. That is what Jesus commissioned His disciples to preach and their obedience is obvious. This is God’s appointed Christocentric message to be proclaimed for the salvation of sinners (Romans 1:16). This is the message that laid the foundation of the church. Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16), the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) and head of the church (Colossians 1:17-18).

Sadly, many churches have abandoned this command and are preaching “another gospel”.  In America, and now in other places like Africa, the prosperity gospel is being preached with more vigor than the days of its inception almost 140 years ago. The economic model of supply and demand (i.e. God shall supply what I demand) has crept in through cunning teachers through eisegesis, taken root, and silenced the truth of Christ’s atonement on the cross in mainstream evangelicalism.  The result, false converts sincerely believing God wants them to have their best lives now.  There is no biblical evidence to support the teaching that Jesus’ death procures financial gain and earthly comforts.

The heresy of the prosperity gospel is that it teaches that God exists to make much of you, instead of you making much of Christ by magnifying His supreme worth through a lifestyle of sacrifice and worship. 

Luke 12:13-21 is a piercing teaching on the danger of seeking to accumulate earthly possessions. This is not the gospel and no one will prosper by it in this life and the next.

The true prosperity of the gospel is being forgiven of all our sins, adopted into the family of God being eternally reconciled to the Father through Jesus Christ, Our God and Savior.

  “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

(John 17:3)

 Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile : “Why Did Jesus Have To Die”