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!

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Ethnicity, Sin & the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace & Peace,

d.

(Picture is courtesy of The District Church)

 

Brand New | New Identity

Previously, we discussed that Christians or believers in Jesus Christ are subjects of Christ’s  kingdom.  Having been born again by the power of the Spirit for faith in the gospel, believers have been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13), Jesus Christ.  However, we must not only think of our relationship with Christ in a monarchial way. The Bible employs several images to describe our relationship with God and our identity as Christians.  While much more could be said about the Christian’s new identity, I will only spend time discussing a few aspects, which I think are most helpful for this series.

IDCHRISTIndividual and Corporate Identity

Two of the most common reasons why some believers have stunted spiritual growth or fail to experience joy is that some fail to understand who they are in Christ and others forget who they are in Christ.  If either of these occur in the life of a believer, it can have devastating effects.  

One of the most vivid descriptions of the Christian’s identity is found in Ephesians 2.  In this chapter, the Apostle Paul describes the work of the gospel in the lives  of the Ephesians, who like all Christians were formerly spiritually dead.  We’ve discussed this in part 1, so I won’t elaborate on that more.  However, Paul goes on to say some additionally important things about how the gospel shapes the believer’s identity and some of its implications.  

Contextually, Paul is writing to Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians and explaining how their faith in Christ has implications concerning their relationship to God and to people of other ethnicities, specifically Jewish people.  In vv11-12, Paul declares that they were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  In other words, Gentiles generally had no share of the blessings of God and were without eternal hope.  However in vv13-22, Paul highlights the hope Gentiles now have because of the gospel and its direct implications. Paul says,

  • v13in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • vv14-16, 1914 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…
  • vv17-18 – 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
  • v22- In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

In verse 13, Paul explains how being Christians, or being in Christ, has brought them near to God when they were originally far off from God and without hope (v12). Do you see that contrast? Being in Christ, believers now have hope because they are covenanted with God in Christ. All believers are no longer alienated from the people of God and strangers to the covenants of promise, but are now the people of God and guaranteed inheritors of the covenantal promises.

In verse 14-16 and 19, Paul explains the relationship between believers of different ethnicities. Historically, Jews and Gentiles didn’t get along. In fact, hostility existed between them. However, in Christ, Paul says the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down (v14, 16) and they are now one new man.  While God doesn’t negate our ethnicities, which He created, our ethnicities are not what first defines us. What first defines us is our identity as the people of God. Our being in Christ not only gives us access to God and His promises, but it creates and puts us in a whole new family with other believers of different ethnicities (v19).

In verse 22, Paul uses Old Testament temple imagery to further clarify the Ephesian believers’ identity.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, or the Old Covenant, God commanded Israel to build a tabernacle and then a temple, which would be the locus of worship for Israel (See 1 Chronicles 28).  Not only would it be the place of worship, but the place where the Lord would often meet with His people. The temple signified the place where the Lord’s presence dwelled.  Paul says in verse 22 that the covenant community or God’s people are a dwelling place of God by the Spirit.  Back in Ephesians 1, Paul explains how believers are filled with the Holy Spirit , who is the guarantee of our inheritance. This filling of the Holy Spirit in believers was promised in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 36:26-27 and in Joel 2:28-29  and fulfilled in Acts 2 under the New Covenant in Christ. God didn’t dwell permanently in people under the Old Covenant as He does with people now in Christ under the New Covenant. Therefore, just as the Temple was the dwelling place of God on earth then, the church (the people of God, not a brick and mortar edifice) is the true temple or dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit on earth now.   It’s a wonderful and humbling reality that we need to understand!

Another profound description of our identity as Christians is found in Romans 8:15-17. The Apostle Paul said:

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

  • v15 – we have received the Spirit of adoption; God is our Father
  • v16 – the indwelling Spirit bears witness that we are the children of God
  • v17 – as children of God, we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ

Every true believer is an adopted child of God and a co-heir with Jesus Christ!  Just as children depend on their parents for provision, protection, love, etc., every believer has that relationship with God the Father.  The Aramaic term “Abba” is a term used by children that signifies a close intimate relationship with their fathers. The English equivalent is “daddy”.  With this familial reality comes a grand future promise.  That promise is that we are co-heirs with Christ. Not only are believers promised salvation, but eternal life and we will rule (to some measure) the New Heavens and New Earth with Jesus (Lk. 22:30; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21). This will be the ultimate fulfillment of man’s original calling to rule and have dominion over the earth and its non-human inhabitants (Genesis 1:26-28).

Salvation in Christ not only restores our relationship with God and people, but also our roles over creation.

Identity as Slaves

The last issue of identity that I want to address pertains to our relationship with sin.  In Romans 6, Paul makes the argument that when we come to Christ through repentance and faith, our fundamental relationship to sin has changed.  Before being regenerated or being born again, sin was our master. We couldn’t not sin. It was inherent to our fallen state. However, after being born again by the Spirit, sin is no longer our master, Christ is. Paul says in 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

slavechain

It is important to say that our battle with sin will always remain while we are here on this earth, but it is not our master any longer. We are no longer to be slaves to sin. One of the provisions the Holy Spirit provides is the power to not give into sin and the power and desire to obey God’s word.

The Implications of Our New Identity

The implications of these truths are significant and many.  I will only briefly examine a few based on what was stated above.  

First, we need to understand that because of Christ, we are accepted by God as His children and co-heirs with Christ. We have an eternal reward and eternal commission to look forward to!  We are a people of hope who are to set our desires on the world to come, not this world which is passing away.

Secondly, we need to understand that what fundamentally marks us is not our ethnicities, our genders, our educational backgrounds, nor where we live. Our fundamental identity is “Christian” over and above these other providentially given and governed aspects of our lives.  We are God’s covenant community from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9) called to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9).  Therefore, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, classism, etc. should not be named among us. We are first to be known by our obedience to Christ and must part with societal and cultural ways that contradicts God’s standards for His people. 

Thirdly, as God’s covenant community, every Christian is family – spiritual family. There is a familial aspect of our identity that is designed to display the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:8-11), our unity in Christ and love for one another.  To display these things means that we need to be regularly meeting together for worship (Heb. 10:25) and doing life together as visible expressions and proof of our new identity (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:14; 4:7-21).  

Lastly, since sin is not our master, and Christ is, we are to live holy lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 3 is just one of many places that describes what holiness looks like.  In Colossians 3:5-11, Paul highlights a general list of sins that we are called to repent of and not be characterized by. Then in Colossians 3:12-17, he lists attributes that should mark every believer.  Galatians 5:16-26 offers us a similar perspective on how we should live based on our new identity in Christ.

May the Lord cause us to reflect on these truths and live out our identities by faith by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Grace of Trials

jobIf you’re familiar with the Scriptures, you’re familiar with the suffering of Job in the Old Testament. Job’s suffering was agonizing spiritually, emotionally, and physically. No area of his life was untouched by pain. What might be the most perplexing aspect of the narrative is God’s nomination of Job to Satan for these afflictions (Job 1:8). Or maybe perhaps the fact that we really don’t understand the “why” of God’s permission is most perplexing. What we do know from this text and several others in Scriptures is that God’s people are not exempt from trials. At times, God sends trials, which are not meant to harm us, but are a means of our growth or a witness of our faith (Matthew 5:10-11; Acts 5:41; Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9). Famed Baptist pastor, C.H. Spurgeon, one who was greatly acquainted with trials said this –

“None of us can come to the highest maturity without enduring the summer heat of trials. As the sycamore fig never ripens if it be not bruised, as the corn does not leave the husk without threshing, and as wheat makes no fine flour until it be ground, so are we of little use till we are afflicted. Why should we be so eager to escape such benefits?”

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that our natural reaction to trials is to escape them, not to sit under them and let them do the good work God intends to do through them. We need to remember that as long as we live on this earth, we will go through trials of various kinds and of varying degrees. Such was the case recently for my wife and me.

Recently, my wife underwent a surgical procedure that we had been putting off for a couple of years hoping and praying the Lord would miraculously intervene and alleviate the issue. He didn’t. The weeks leading up to the surgery consisted of a few pre-op appointments and mentally preparing for major surgery. This would be my wife’s first surgery as an adult and there were more than a few concerns that often resulted in fear and anxiety in my wife. Having had surgery a few years ago, I understood her fear and anxiety and I constantly pointed her back to Scripture and the truths about God. Not only her, but I had to remind myself of these things as well.

More Than You Know
On one occasion before the surgery, my wife and I were discussing things and I reminded her that this surgery was not just about rectifying a physiological problem, but God was doing more than we knew through this ordeal, ultimately for His glory. We talked about God’s providence concerning Joseph, Ruth, and Jesus and how their trials and sufferings were part of His redemptive plan. Former pastor John Piper has said this concerning trials, “God is doing 10,000 things in your life through this ordeal, but He may only let you in on 1 or 2 or 3 of them.”

What Was Perceived & Prayed For
During moments of introspection and prayer, the Lord began to fill my mind with many of the good things that could come of this whole ordeal and I was excited as I shared them with my wife. Some of the things that we discussed and prayed for that could come of the surgery were:

• an opportunity to experience the sufficiency of God’s grace and faithfulness in specific ways (peace, financial provision, freedom from insurance administrative hassle, and a speedy recovery for my wife)
• an opportunity for us to grow deeper in our faith and know God’s goodness toward us in all things
• an opportunity for particular sins to be exposed (fear, anxiety, anger, pride, etc.)
• an opportunity to grow in humility
• an opportunity for God’s grace in this ordeal to be an encouragement to our families
• an opportunity for me to grow in compassion and patience as I serve my wife during her recovery
• an opportunity to continue to strengthen our marriage
• an opportunity to see the Lord’s grace toward us through our church family
• an opportunity to deepen relationships with our church family
• opportunities to share the gospel
• greater desire for eternity and a looser grip on the things of this world

trustThe Road Ahead
At this point, we’re just a few days post surgery and my wife has several more weeks of recovery. So the weeks ahead will be filled with more trusting in God (as all of life should be) as we get back to a place of normalcy.

Recently, we went walking and I took the opportunity to ask her what the Lord taught her about Himself and herself throughout this trial. She told me that she knows God is a faithful God who deserves to be trusted and that at times her faith is weak (like all of us). I appreciated her transparency. When they wheeled my wife off to the operating room, we expressed our love for one another and as she let go of my hand, I welled up with emotion – watery eyes and a shaky voice. I was talking to one of our pastors who had come to pray with us and I told him it was hard seeing her like that. Now that I think more about it, I think what was hard was that I couldn’t be with her during that crucial time. I felt like I had no control or protection over her. My sin – I wasn’t trusting the Lord to truly take care of my wife in ways I never could. I failed to remember that before she is my wife, she is His child and He perfectly loves and cares for her.

We can honestly say that the Lord has answered several of our prayers concerning this, but the biggest blessing of the trial is our increased understanding and knowledge of Him and delighting in Him above all things. We truly believe that God uses the tools of trials to remind us just how weak and needy we are, to reveal more of Himself to us and conform us to the image of Christ so that we might say along with the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)

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.

Why Christmas Matters

Luke 2:11I confess – I love Christmas! I love the sights and the sounds that are characteristic of this holiday season. I love gathering with family, eating well (probably eating too much), and shopping for that ‘perfect gift’ for loved ones.  Since we’ve been married, my wife and I have started new traditions such as driving around the city looking at Christmas lights, enjoying peppermint mochas, taking the train to center city with good friends and enjoying dinner together, and hosting a Christmas gathering. Most recently we started what I expect to become a lasting tradition – we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. I must admit that I was quite surprised to know that my wife had never seen it, but she really enjoyed it. I heartily recommend it to you.

At the heart of this cartoon lies Charlie Brown’s dire desire to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Disgusted with the trappings of materialism and capitalism, Charlie Brown yells out, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?”  I suspect Charlie Brown wasn’t the first and will not be the last one to ask this significant question.  Also immediately, the hero of the story emerges. Charlie Brown’s faithful friend, Linus Van Pelt, steps in and consoles Charlie Brown’s conscience by explaining the meaning of Christmas from Luke 2:9-14.

9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them (shepherds), and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Think deeply about these five observations:

(1)  An angel appears and announces the birth of Christ to shepherds (v9-10).

(2) The angel calls the birth of Christ good news of great joy for all people (v10).

(3) Christ’s birth was a historical event in a historical city (v11).

(4) The angel says Christ is the Savior and Lord (v11).

(5) A multitude of angels join the angel and burst out in praise to God for this significant event (v14).

Now, let’s consider another angelic announcement concerning the birth of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel (1:18-23).

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Think deeply about these observations:

(1) An angel appears to Joseph to inform him of the unique conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit (v20).

(2) The angel confirms to Joseph what the baby’s name will be and what that child’s mission will be – He will save His people from their sins (v21).

(3) Matthew records that Jesus’ birth was a fulfillment of prophecy preordained by God foretold by Isaiah (v23).

(4) Jesus is God (v23).

What’s fascinating about these two announcements is that Christ’s ultimate identity and work was conveyed. He is the Savior and Lord (Luke 2:11) who has come to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), something only God can do (Matthew 1:23). This is not a matter of coincidence, but rather of utmost significance.  These two truths need to be proclaimed again and again and Christmas is one of the most opportune times to proclaim them.

The incarnation of Christ, or Christmas, is a reminder that God keeps His promises.  The promise of the coming of Christ was God’s promise to redeem creation, rescue a people from His wrath and bring them into everlasting fellowship with Him.  The only way that this could happen was by Christ living a life of complete obedience to the Father and then taking on the Father’s wrath for our sin.  Christ was born to live the life God requires of mankind and die the death mankind deserves for breaking God’s law.  Christ came to deliver us from God’s wrath and deliver us to God’s kingdom of everlasting joy and peace.  This is why the angels pronounced the birth of Christ as good news of great joy and this has always been God’s plan. From before the foundation of the world, God purposed to save a people from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 5:9) for Himself and redeem all of creation through the atoning work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the ultimate meaning of Christmas and why Christmas matters!

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.

The Gathering and Singing: Gospel Music?

worship 2If you attend some type of worship service on Sunday, you’ll notice that music plays a huge part of the service. It’s so important that churches hire people as their worship leaders, worship pastors, ministers of music, etc. because singing is a huge component of worshipping God. Consider the Psalms, Moses’ songs, Mary’s Magnificat and how the angels sing about the glory of God.

Music is also so important that some people will choose which church to attend or not based on the music alone. Should it be that way? Well, yes and no. It should not be that way if the choice to attend a church or not is purely based on a preferred aesthetic quality of the music. What if said church has expositional preaching, healthy polity, a loving congregation, an evangelistic and missions emphasis, etc. Should the style or tempo of music keep us from attending and joining? On the other end of the spectrum, what if said church didn’t have all of the signs of health mentioned above, but had music to your liking? Should the style or tempo of music be the controlling variable for your attendance and joining? I hope we would say no to these questions.

However, that doesn’t mean that music isn’t important and shouldn’t be considered. So how should we think about music in the life of the corporate church? For our personal use? While this article will not answer this question in great detail, I will offer one foundational answer. Above all, we should be primarily concerned that the Christian music we sing corporately, and privately too, reflects biblical truth, especially concerning the work of redemption. In some circles it is said that churches ought to sing the gospel, pray the gospel, preach the gospel and picture the gospel in baptism and the Lord’s Supper and church discipline.

Have you ever considered if the music you sing during the corporate gathering reflects biblical fidelity? Have you ever considered how or if the music sung during your corporate gathering complements the sermon? Perhaps you might be thinking that I’m putting too much thought into this and that “worship” should be a time in the service where you’re just caught up in the spirit and enjoying the moment. I don’t believe that is commanded in Scripture. I do believe that God would have us to be intelligent worshippers as we sing about biblical truths concerning Him and His works. The mind and the heart should be affected by songs that convey biblical truth. We must be discerning about the music we sing.

In 2010, Marvin Sapp released an album titled Here I Am. Here I Am’s lead single was titled “The Best in Me”. Interestingly, the song peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel songs chart. It charted on secular and gospel charts. How did this happen? How did a gospel song chart in the top 20 on Hit R&B/Hip-Hop chart? I won’t get into all of the red tape concerning the music industry’s charting criteria, as it is complicated. However, one criteria that directly affects music sales are the lyrics. Let’s consider a portion of the lyrics from this song.

He saw the best in me,
When everyone else around
Could only see the worst in me
(Can I tell ya’ll one more time, one more time?)

I said he saw the best in me,
When everyone else around
Could only see the worst in me,
(I wish I had a witness tonight, all I need is one)
Heyyy,

[Choir:]
He saw the best in me,
(When everyone else around me)
When everyone else around (OOOOh)
(Could only see)
Could only see the worst in me,
He’s mine
He’s mine
And I am his
And I’m his
It doesn’t matter what I did
It doesn’t matter what I did
He only sees me
He only sees me for who I am

While this song may have stirred the minds and hearts of many, there is a fundamental problem with it. That fundamental problem is that it isn’t biblical. While it’s labeled a gospel song, sadly the good news is noticeably absent. There’s nothing in this song about the redemptive grace of God in Christ. Perhaps what’s even worse is that it doesn’t convey the truth about the nature of man. As best as I can tell, Sapp is claiming that God continually stands by his side when others won’t because He saw the best in him.

Biblically speaking, there is nothing good in man that causes God to respond favorably to us. In fact, the very opposite is true. The Apostle Paul cites the painful indictment that all mankind is wicked and rebellious in Romans 3:11-18 and Ephesians 2:1-3. Not only are we naturally wicked, but we deserve God’s wrath. However, the good news is that despite our heinous nature and inability to please Him, God, purposing to glorify His grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and patience, sent Jesus to atone for our sins. Instead, Sapp’s song paints a better picture of man than the Bible does and minimizes God’s nature. Sapp’s song is man-centered, not God-centered. Friends, we must be discerning about the songs we hear and sing. They must be measured by the truth of Scripture.

A good example of gospel music is “All I Have is Christ” by NA Band of Sovereign Grace Ministries. The gospel is proclaimed and the focus is on the grace and mercy of God in Christ.  This song is an example of the doctrinal faithfulness that songs should resonate with in our congregational worship and our personal listening.

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.

Christ Appeared

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)

There is so much important truth packed into this one sentence. Three obvious truths are:

1. He (Jesus) appeared
2. Jesus took our sins away
3. He is sinless

His appearing is a reference to the incarnation. There are many religions that seek to deny the humanity of Jesus and they do so at their own peril. The incarnation of Jesus is absolutely necessary for Him to accomplish,
as a man, what no other person has been or will be able to do – obey the law of God perfectly as a human. Jesus is the perfect man and He is also divine. Let this be sweet to us!

We are not perfect. We are sinners. We deserve God’s wrath because of our rebellion against Him. We sin because we are sinners by nature. We are sinners by nature because our federal head, Adam, transgressed a clear command of God (Gen. 2:17, 3:1-13). Through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin and death entered creation (Rom 5:12). We must not only think of the act of eating fruit as sin. We must also think who was sinned against. Adam and Eve sinned against holy God. The offense was cosmic because of this reason. This is why the wages of sin is eternal death. Sin against eternal holy God deserves eternal righteous condemnation. Jesus’ humanity was necessary because as a man, He lived the life that we could never live and died the death we deserve. This is what the Apostle John meant when he said Jesus appeared to take away sins. It’s not that Jesus’ righteousness erases the sinful acts we have done. Rather, for those who cast themselves on God’s mercy and place their faith in Christ, their sins have been atoned for and the penalty for sin no longer remains. Christ has removed our guilt and our condemnation by becoming the guilty and the condemned one in our place. That was what the cross was all about. He became sin who knew no sin that we might become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)!

Only Christ is qualified to do this because He is perfect! His perfection is what John meant by in him there is no sin. Under the Old Covenant, the Law required a perfect sacrifice to be slain for the guilty and offered to God by the high priest. Innocent blood for guilty blood has always been God’s way of forgiveness. This preserves His holiness and magnifies His grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. Jesus is our sacrifice and our high priest (Heb.10:1-18) and He clearly proclaimed that He is the way to the Father (Jhn. 14:6).

Jesus came to die so that those who are dead spiritually might live. Jesus came to undo the works of Satan and redeem a people for Himself. This is why He appeared. This is why we have and celebrate Christmas.

Let us rejoice!

Grace & Peace,

d.