On Frederick Douglass and Putting Our Faith Into Action

“I prayed for twenty years, but I received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” - Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, orator, educator and runaway slave

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In my personal library I have more books on slavery than on any other subject with the exception of theology.

I mention this because in studying theology, I’ve become convicted that more than any other demonstrable human behavior, slavery – the idea that it is somehow not only acceptable to God but divinely ordained by Him that one human being created by God and in His image (imago Dei) exist in this world as the perpetual property of another human being created in that same image – is the single most tangible example of mankind’s innately depraved condition.

As such, I see both the what and the why of slavery as being inextricably linked to a proper biblical worldview.

Now, having said this, let me add that the purpose of this blog post is not necessarily to opine about the ills of slavery but how we, in contrast to what Douglas himself came to realize, can oftentimes “enslave” ourselves by adopting a strictly passive understanding of biblical theology, particularly as it relates to how the God of the Bible is active both in and through His people today.

It is this “through” part that so many of us fail to grasp in that we incorrectly assume that there is no connection or relationship between God answering our prayers, and the actions He would have us take as God brings those answers to fruition in our lives.

A good example of this is found in the book of Exodus where God, through a series of plagues, has delivered Moses and the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. But Pharaoh, having hardened his heart against them, pursued the Israelites so that they were trapped against the Red Sea. The Israelites, seeing no logical way out, begin to complain against Moses for getting them into this lose-lose position where they would either die at the hands of Pharaoh or be drowned in the sea. In response, Moses begins to cry out to God, to which God forcefully replies:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” – Exodus 14:15-16

What we understand from this passage is that there comes a time when God’s people should pray, yes, but there is also a time when His people should cease with words and put their faith into action.

Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in 1818 but liberated himself in 1838 (after a third escape attempt) understood, perhaps much better than we, what the apostle James was talking about when he asked rhetorically:

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so, faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” - James 2:14-17

Given the context of the above passage in James, I’m going to go out on a limb, to the dismay, perhaps, of people like Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Rod Parsley among others, and say that Douglas probably did not hold to a worldview that was based in the so-called “prosperity gospel.” I seriously doubt he would have spent the majority of two decades in slavery “naming and claiming” his freedom from the shackles and chains that bound him, as if it sufficed to simply “declare and decree” his self-emancipation in order to “bring it into manifestation” (as the aforementioned individuals might proclaim.)

Douglass appreciated that to be created in the “imago Dei” was to exist in a continual state of freedom and equality which began from the moment he took his very first breath; and that the redress of any human violation of this divine standing required not only prayerful contemplation but also prayerful action. In other words Douglass, in a very practical sense, knew from experience what it meant for God to work both in His people (spiritually) and through His people (practically).

The faith of the Christian is not the faith of a potted plant. We are not saved simply to sit but to act. To impact the world around us. All of it.

It was not enough for Douglass to simply pray or hope to be free, as if to cross his fingers or click his spiritual heels together, as it were, but to endeavor to undertake whatever measures he deemed necessary to bring about a tangible end to what, in his eyes, was a most egregious sin against God and those who are created in His image. Namely, the enslavement of one human being by another human being.

There is a misnomer today among many professing Christians that our first and only response to the ungodliness and injustice we see around us is to “let go and let God.” That is, to simply pray and leave to a God who is “out there somewhere” the responsibility of handling it (whatever “it” happens to be.) As such, we have no theological construct of what it actually means to partner our faith in God with godly actions borne out of godly wisdom.

Instead, what we have today is a group of Christians who seem to only have faith in faith. They are the type of people who are akin to fideists, individuals who operate under the misguided notion that the God of the supernatural will autonomously intervene on their behalf apart from any act of human reasoning or logic on their part.

This mindset is at the heart of why many Christians do not bother to vote or, for that matter, engage in any level of political discourse; or speak out on social issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion; or on the murders of countless Christians by Islamic groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. Instead, they are completely content to sit on the sidelines while at the same time having the pious temerity to ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about this?”, when all the while God, as He did with Moses, is saying to them, “Why are you crying out to Me?”

Imagine if Douglass had exhibited such apathy. Not only would he more than likely have died a slave, but also other men, women and children with him, never being in position themselves to have benefited from his abolitionist efforts in the years subsequent to his own escape to freedom.

If we are to truly be an influence for Christ in the world, we cannot afford to rest on our salvation as if being eternally secure in Him carries with it only spiritual ramifications not temporal ones.

Now, I don’t know about you but I, for one, am thankful that Douglass had faith in his legs as well as in the God who made them. The faith of the Christian is not the faith of a potted plant. We are not saved simply to sit. We are saved to act. To impact the world around us – all of it – as Christ has commanded us.

Too many Christians today have bought into the worldly notion that to imitate Christ is to be utterly passive and that to love one another is to go out of our way not to upset or offend anyone who doesn’t happen to subscribe to what we believe.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

How Christians came to develop this image of Jesus as being some sort of glorified hippie tossing rose petals wherever He went, talking only about “peace and love” while walking along sandy beaches as the sun is setting, I’ll never know.

Let us not forget that it is Christ Himself who said, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” This is not to say Christians are to be confrontational in confronting the culture. Not at all. Nevertheless, we are to confront the culture.

If, as followers of Christ, we are to truly be an influence for Christ in the world, we cannot afford to rest on our salvation as if being eternally secure in Him carried with it implications for only the next life and not this current one.

Like Frederick Douglass, our faith must have legs. It must be a faith that practices as well as prays.

As God told Moses to act in accordance with His will so should we, because, when you really think about it, while you’re sitting around waiting on God to act, it could very well be that it is God who is waiting on you.

Think about it.

DBH

The Silence About the Lamb

http://www.jesuswalk.com/lamb/images/zurbaran-agnus-dei-lamb-of-god-madrid-1339x800.jpg“Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”John 1:35-36

So, here we are again.

Another Easter is upon us, and with it, another opportunity for those who profess to believe in Jesus Christ to sweep the significance of the season under the rug until this time next year.

That’s exactly what we do oftentimes, isn’t it?

I mean, let’s be honest.

Then, again, I guess it’s no surprise when you really think about it.

Two thousand years after His death, burial and resurrection, we’ve settled into referring to the account of Christ’s redemptive suffering simply as the “Easter Story” and, consequently, relegated the preaching and study of the spiritual implications and ramifications of those events to a particular time of year – every year.

In just a couple of weeks from now, pews in countless churches across America and around the world will be filled to overflowing, with believers and unbelievers alike, to once again blow the dust off, if you will, the all-too-familiar story of how “Jesus paid it all.” And once the Easter sermon is over, never to revisit it again until the appointed time – 365 days later.

I can only imagine that our seasonal silence about the most significant event in all of world history must grieve the heart of God.

That we would treat so casually the unimaginable humiliation which God Himself, in the person of His only begotten Son, volitionally chose to endure on our behalf is an inexcusable affront to the One who created us to know Him and live eternally with Him.

. . . do you know and confess that, as you were by nature, you were a child of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins? And that were it not for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, were it not for His atoning, sacrificial, substitutionary death you would still be in that position? Do you know that He died for you, gave Himself for you and for your sins, and that by the power of His Holy Spirit He has regenerated you, has quickened you, has raised you from the death of sin; and that you are seated even now in the heavenly places with Christ, because you are in Him and joined to Him, by the grace of God?

- D. Martyn Lloyd Jones

In the text highlighted above, John the Baptist refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.”

In speaking of Jesus in terms of a “lamb“, John the Baptist is metaphorically granting us insight into the divine role, purpose and mission of Jesus in God’s predestined redemptive plan for mankind. That is, He is to be the Christ, the One who, “like a lamb to the slaughter“, would be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world on the cross.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God not only during the “season” of Easter but every day of our lives. Meaning, it is to be treated as an ever-present reality within the body of Christ, the church.

And yet, the church today seems to have become comfortable with treating this message as an occasional one to be delved into only on a specific date on our annual calendar of events; as if the significance of Christ’s death is not just as worthy to be preached in February or August or October as it is in March or April.

That those of us who profess to know and love God would relegate this wondrous truth to a single date on a calendar speaks, I believe, to the extent to which we neither understand nor appreciate the depths of what Christ’s death means; not only in terms of our eternal destiny but also as it relates to how we live our daily lives.

But, sadly, like so many other aspects of the Christian faith, what we practice doesn’t actually penetrate us to the extent that it becomes a way of life for us in our thoughts, words and actions.

It is in and by Christ that we have righteousness: it is by being in Him that we are justified, have our sins pardoned, and are received as righteous into God’s favor. It is by Christ that we have sanctification: we have in Him true excellency of heart as well as of understanding; and he is made unto us inherent as well as imputed righteousness. It is by Christ that we have redemption, or the actual deliverance from all misery, and the bestowing of all happiness and glory. Thus, we have all our good by Christ, who is God.

- Jonathan Edwards

If it is only during Easter that the church focuses on the Atonement, then, what is the church preaching the other 51 Sundays of the year?

For the Christian, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is effectual every millisecond of every single day, not just during one season of the year. Besides, once Easter is over, the logical question becomes, “Okay? Now what?”

That God Himself, in Christ, suffered on our behalf is a message that deserves more than the seasonal attention we (the church) are inclined to give it; and it’s time we stopped being so silent about it.

Instead of wishing someone “Happy Easter!” this year, try wishing them “Happy Resurrection Day!”

DBH

References:

  • David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation (Studies in Ephesians, Chapter 2), Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972, p. 347.
  • Jonathan Edwards, God Glorified in Man’s Dependence, preached on the Public Lecture in Boston, MA, July 8, 1731.

Related:

Why Stephen A. Smith Suggesting Blacks Vote Republican Proves We Still Have a Long Way To Go

It doesn’t speak well of the supposed progress made by black Americans when, a half-century after passage of the Voting Rights Act, it is deemed “controversial” that a black man would dare to suggest that black Americans vote Republican during an election cycle.

The black man of whom I speak is sports journalist and television and radio commentator Stephen A. Smith.

I will acknowledge up-front that Smith is no stranger to controversy, having made headlines previously on such topics as the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the domestic violence incident involving recently-retired NFL running back Ray Rice and inferring that black voters are being taken advantage of by the Democrat Party.

In this case, however, to describe Smith’s remarks as “controversial” is not only inaccurate but sad.

Why?

Because in 2015, despite decades of struggle and sacrifice on the part of black Americans to obtain the right to vote, the mere proposition that we break from generations of electoral tradition and vote Republican for once, instead of Democrat, still engenders reactions that border on stunned amazement.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong but, for a while now, I’ve been of the understanding that as a citizen of the United States, though I happen to be black – and conservative, I possess the right not only to vote but to cast that vote for whomever I choose  without regard to political party affiliation. Or has the Voting Rights Act been amended since 1965 and I missed it?

It is extremely disheartening that black Americans remain the only voting bloc that is presumed and expected to share a common political ideology based solely on the fact that we share a common racial identity.

This assumption is not only shared among non-blacks, but by blacks as well, many of whom will not hesitate to chastise you for exercising your right to not only vote as an individual, but also to think like one.

Trust me. Being a conservative who is black, I speak from experience.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of black Americans traditionally vote Democrat during major election cycles, to reject out-of-hand that a break with such tradition might actually be of benefit to black Americans, as Smith suggests, is not in keeping with the spirit of those who sacrificed so much to be viewed as individual human beings, created in the image of God, not monolithic robots programmed to instinctively think, vote and act alike solely on the basis of the color of their skin.

I appreciate Smith’s perspective, not because I concur with him necessarily, but because I’ve long believed that for one political party, in this case the Democrat Party, to be able to lay claim to possessing nearly 100 percent of black voter support is not healthy for the political process as a whole.

Corporate monopolies are never good. Political monopolies are even worse.

To suggest that black voters remain loyal to only one political agenda is nonsensical, myopic and self-defeating.

If black Americans are to truly benefit from our democratic (small ‘d’) electoral process to the fullest extent, we must be actively engaged in shaping the identity and agenda of both major parties – Democrat and Republican. That it still makes headlines when black voters volitionally decide to exercise their God-given individuality by debunking a stereotype (which, by the way, has gone unaddressed for far too long) is not progress.

What Stephen A. Smith has reminded us of is that when it comes to blacks and voting, it’s not only about providing access but changing attitudes (yes, even among blacks.)

We have a long way yet to go, folks.

A long way.

DBH

Related

Stephen A. Smith Wants All Black People to Vote Republican in 2016. Um, ok.

Blacks, Democrats, and Republicans

Congregational Diversity Must Be Organic, Not Programmatic

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“…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”Acts 20:20-21

Paul’s Example

The above text, among others I could cite, serves, in part, to support my personal stance against certain evangelical denominations, like the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), to which the church I attend belongs, pursuing congregational diversity under the guise of what has been termed as “evangelical affirmative action”. 

The apostle Paul provides what I’ve consistently argued is the model for the evangelical church today in pursuing genuine, lasting diversity within the Church: preach the Gospel to everyone. Everyone. Period. Without special regard as to race, ethnicity or cultural paradigm as a “strategy”.

No programs.

No “targeted” outreach.

None of that.

The Church’s responsibility is, as Paul states, to preach to the entire world “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s it.

There’s no secret sauce or special ingredients to be added.

Diversity: Organic vs. Programmatic

Subsequent to his conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), the sole mission of the apostle Paul was the expansion of God’s kingdom through the organic proclamation of the Gospel (“teaching you publicly and from house to house”), not through a reactionary response borne out of a fixation that the local church must become more racially and ethnically inclusive in order to remain “relevant”.

Paul understood that his primary mission was to preach the Gospel to “Jews and Greeks”. That is, to all nations (ethnos) and people groups so that those who are without Christ might repent, be forgiven of their sins and saved from the wrath that is not only to come but which, for them, is a present reality (John 3: 35-36).

When the body of Christ focuses on preaching the Gospel, diversity within the body of Christ naturally results.

I can appreciate the intentions of denominations like the SBC, but evangelical diversity is not something that can be “strategized” programmatically (and I say that as a black man who attends a church with a predominantly white congregation.) In fact, I’ve been a member of my local church approximately six years now; and that I am one of only a handful of black members, and that the church staff is entirely white (and has been since I initially joined in 2009), I can truthfully say has never bothered me.

Never.

Why?

Because God is sovereign and, as such, I remain convinced that His Word will accomplish what He purposes in the lives of those whom He has chosen as His elect (Isaiah 55:11).

When the Church makes the decision to get involved in the business of trying to remedy what is essentially a matter of personal preference based largely in denominational tradition and experience, it is engaging in a lost cause because, as the saying goes, “you can’t please everyone.

To put it frankly, I don’t go around on Sunday mornings pondering to myself, “Hmm…what can I do to get more [insert race or ethnicity here] people to attend [my local church] so it can be viewed by the world as sufficiently diverse?”

To have such a mindset is no different than that of supporting a quota system (how many whites attend versus how many non-whites.) Instead, I am inclined to concur with the words of the apostle Paul that, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

In other words as we, being followers of Christ, are faithful in carrying out the Great Commission to all the world indiscriminately and without respect to a particular race, ethnicity or culture, God will be faithful in leveraging our efforts to draw those to Himself whom He has chosen to comprise His Church. As His Word states in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.

As it relates to this matter of congregational diversity within the Evangelical Church, I fear we have lost sight of who’s Church we are and by whose power that Church is sustained. It’s as if we suddenly believe reflecting the diversity of God’s kingdom on earth is entirely up to our strength and efforts, as opposed to being in total reliance on the power of the Spirit of God working in and through us.

To whatever extent we are successful in achieving more diversity within our congregations, it is by God’s doing, through the effectual preaching of the Gospel, not our man-made “programs” or “strategies”, that it is accomplished.

We are but clay in the hands of the Potter. 

We must never forget this.

The World: Pleasing vs. Preaching

What many people who support an organized effort to increase diversity within the local church are overlooking, is that a primary reason those of different ethnic and racial backgrounds do not make more of an effort to fellowship and worship at each others’ church is simply a matter of personal preference.

Over the years, I’ve approached several of my friends and associates who are black about visiting my local church, and in each instance, without fail, their immediate response is to interrogate me about the particular aesthetics of the worship service.

For example, I’ve had several friends of mine decline personal invitations from me to visit, let alone join, my or any other “white church” because the style of music and/or preaching isn’t necessarily the style they “like”. Conversely, I have had white friends who, after being invited, were hesitant to visit a “black church” because the church was located in what they deemed to be a “bad” neighborhood.

So, if in fact there is any merit to the statement which suggests that the 11:00 hour on Sunday mornings is “the most segregated hour in America“, such an assessment must be considered with the caveat that much of that separation exists by design. That is to say, as a direct result of people’s individual choice.

And when the Church makes the decision to get involved in the business of trying to remedy what is essentially a matter of personal preference based largely in denominational tradition and experience, it is engaging in a lost cause because, as the saying goes, “you can’t please everyone.”

Then, again, the Church isn’t supposed to be about pleasing anyone. Quite the contrary. It is supposed to be about preaching to everyone.

For the Church to attempt to meet the world’s ever-changing, subjective definition of “relevant” by ensuring that the faces of those seated in its pews on Sundays are of a sufficiently diverse hue of complexion, is to tread closer to a gospel that is centered on anthropology rather than theology.

In other words, dark faces with dark hearts gets the Church absolutely nowhere.

Nowhere at all.

The Gospel of repentance and faith in Christ must always take preeminence.

Always.

What We’re Missing

In reflecting on the various nuances connected to this issue of diversity within the Church, I’m reminded of the words of the apostle James, who said: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

In this text, James calls believers to consider a type of diversity that is often lost in the discussion of whether or not evangelical churches are “too white”.

The question the Church, the body of Christ, you and I, must ask ourselves is this: how effectively are we ministering to widows and orphans? Are we proactive in ensuring their utilities are turned on or that they have enough food to eat? And what about the homeless? Would a smelly, poorly dressed person whose teeth haven’t been brushed in weeks be permitted to sit on the front pew at your church? And then there is the divorced. What are we doing to embrace those whose marriage covenant has been broken, perhaps multiple times? Is your church a place of welcome for them? Or would they feel so ostracized that if they were to attend they would feel compelled to sit on the back row?

You see, this, too, is diversity, my brothers and sisters.

This is the organic, heart-changing, life-transforming pursuit of diversity that results in committed disciples for Christ. This is the kind of diversity the Church needs to be about as a Great Commission priority. Not the superficial, cosmetic, programmatic efforts that boast in the number of brown, black, yellow or red faces there are on Sunday mornings, but is impotent toward compelling those to whom those faces belong to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Look, I’m not trying to rock the evangelical boat here, okay? I’m sure there will be those within the SBC camp, and others, that will disagree with my take on this and, hey, that’s fine. All I’m saying is when the unadulterated, unfiltered, expository Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, people will respond; and that response will comprise individuals from every tribe, tongue and nation (Revelation 7:9).

The Holy Spirit will make sure that happens because, in the end, when our life on this earth is over, what will matter most is whether our heart, not our skin color, is dark or light.

Think about it.

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” - Acts 9:31 (NASB)

DBH

Related:

Are You Preaching Christ?

Do We Need to Integrate Our Churches

5 Reasons Churches Need Diversity

ERLC, Moore, Call for Integrated Churches, but…

Southern Baptists’ Goal Of Racially Integrated Churches Is Turning Out To Be An Uphill Battle

What Genuine Confession Looks Like

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When we think of the Old Testament character Joshua, one of two things usually comes to mind: he was the successor to Moses in leading the nation of Israel into the Promised Land (Joshua 1:2); he led the Israelites to victory at Jericho (Joshua 6).

Most of us can remember, I’m sure, singing the lyrics, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho! Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came a-tumblin’ down!”

That’s usually where our familiarity with Joshua stops.

No doubt, Joshua was a great leader.

In fact, countless books have been written about leadership lessons that can be learned from him.

But, the book of Joshua holds much more for us than the “stories” we were told as children attending Sunday school or precepts for corporate executives about organizational leadership.

In fact, one of the more profound and unappreciated lessons from the book of Joshua has nothing to do with Joshua, but with a man named Achan, the son of Carmi.

Interestingly, or, perhaps ironically considering the backstory involving the man (Joshua 7), the name Achan (known also as Achar) means “one who troubles.”

Achan is significant because of the egregious sin he committed during the Israelite conquest of Jericho.

Achan’s sin involved violating God’s unambiguous decree that all the spoils taken from the city – the silver, gold, bronze and iron – were banned. That is, they were to be set aside and placed in the treasury of God as His own possession (Joshua 6:15-19).

There are no “secret sins”

Fresh from their victory at Jericho, the next target of conquest for the Israelites was the city of Ai. But because of Achan’s disobedience things did not initially go as planned Joshua and the Israelites, as 36 of them were killed in the initial attempt to take the city. All of a sudden, God’s chosen people, who to this point had not known defeat, found themselves retreating from their adversaries in fear.

Achan deliberately hid his sin from Joshua; but what he failed to realize, apparently, is that his sin was not hidden from God (Joshua 7:1).

Devastated after their defeat at Ai, Joshua cried out to God to try to make sense of it all. It was then that the omniscient God of Israel made Joshua aware that His decree had been violated (Joshua 7:11).

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:13

If we learn anything from Achan, it is that sin is never singular in its impact. It is always plural.

Sin is never singular

God’s command to set aside the banned items applied to the entire nation of Israel. As such, if one person violated the command, the entire nation would be subject to His wrath.

“But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.” – Joshua 6:18

We often make the mistake of thinking the sin we commit affects only ourselves and not others.

When, for example, a spouse chooses to engage in an adulterous extra-marital relationship, the illicit pleasure he or she experiences is only momentary. But, once discovered, the consequences can be devastating and lasting, not only to those directly involved, but also those who are indirectly involved, such as children.

If we learn anything from Achan, it is that sin is never singular in its impact. It is always plural.

And though the effects of sin may not be immediately noticeable, keep in mind, as I quote my former pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, “Sin will always cost you what you sow, more than you sow, later than you sow it.”

“Sorry” doesn’t cut it

To say that God was “angry with Israel” as a result of Achan’s sin would be a gross understatement. In Joshua 7:1 we read that, “the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.”

The Hebrew verb “burned” (charah, חָרָה), speaks of God being in a state of zealous rage.

Clearly, Achan’s sin was no small matter to God.

In fact, God was so angry with Joshua and the people that He threatened to depart from their presence altogether unless the matter of Israel’s disobedience was dealt with immediately, saying, “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst.” (Joshua 7:12b)

God takes our sin no less serious than He did Achan’s; and where there is sin in our life, there must also be atonement, as was the case with Achan (Joshua 7:13).

We like to think of confession of sin as simply saying “I’m sorry” to God, but “Sorry” doesn’t cut it with Him. We like to view God as loving, merciful and forgiving, and though He possesses all those attributes, and more, He has not ceased to be a God of holiness, righteousness and wrath. As such, when we disobey God, He expects us to say the same thing about our disobedience as He does.

God is, after all, still the same God of whom the Bible says, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil; and You cannot look on wickedness with favor.” – Habakkuk 1:13.

Confession 101

Notwithstanding Achan’s disobedience and the subsequent consequences to him, his family, and Israel as a whole, we find in him a textbook example of what genuine confession looks like.

Having been lovingly implored by Joshua to acknowledge his sin (Joshua 7:19), Achan, having been found to be the guilty party according to God’s specific instructions (Joshua 7:14-15) confessed, and he did so in very specific terms:

So Achan answered Joshua and said,

“Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.” (Joshua 7:20-21)

Notice that Achan didn’t refer to his disobedience as a “mistake” or an “indiscretion” or “bad judgment.” No, Achan called it exactly what God called it. “Truly, I have sinned…”, he said.

But, his confession didn’t stop there.

Not only did Achan publicly acknowledge that he had sinned, he willingly outlined – in very explicit detail – both the impetus and nature of his transgression: “…and this is what I did…when I saw…I coveted …and took…they are concealed…inside my tent…”

This is what real, genuine, sincere confession looks like:

  • Views disobedience as God does.
  • Doesn’t try to gloss over or make light of sin, but takes it seriously because God takes it seriously.
  • Speaks of the sin committed in very specific terms.
  • Takes no account of the consequences.
  • Motivated by a heartfelt desire to glorify God (Joshua 7:19a).

The account of the sin of Achan is not an easy one to digest. I realize that. But when there is “sin in the camp”, it must be dealt with in a way that brings honor and glory to God. A “camp” can be a heart, a home, a marriage, an attitude – anything and any place where sin abides.

That God makes forgiveness and restoration available to us doesn’t mean the removal of the consequences of our actions. Nevertheless, we must confess our disobedience and call it what it is, regardless what the consequences might be.

I thank God for the lessons Achan’s life teaches us about what genuine confession looks like.

Think about it.

DBH

Are the Ferguson Protests a Matter of Justice or Salvation?

Until now, I’ve been deliberately hesitant to offer my own opinion on the recent grand jury decisions involving the deaths of both Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.

I will not use this space to bore you with my reasons for not chiming in sooner on these events, however, suffice it to say in my mind there were, and are still, many other Christian bloggers who are far more learned, thoughtful and perceptive on the matter than I, and I chose to defer to them in the weeks immediately following the respective decisions that were rendered.

Nonetheless, I’ve found that remaining in the background, so to speak, has been quite beneficial for me as it has afforded me the opportunity to be exposed to any number of varying perspectives on the grand jury decisions, while also considering each perspective objectively.

Not that I had a vested interest in either decision personally, nevertheless, as a member of society and as a follower of Jesus Christ, I found myself quite interested as a student of human nature and the realization that there were countless people, particularly black Americans, who seemed to self-identify, and deeply so, with what they perceived to be the gross injustice of the grand jury decisions to not indict the police officers at whose hands both Michael Brown and Eric Garner met their demise.

Now, I want to be clear that I have no intention of “taking sides” regarding whether or not either grand jury was right or wrong because, as I’ve previously stated, I have no personal vested interest in either decision. As far as the Brown and Garner decisions are concerned, the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides for a Grand Jury process, and that process appears to have been followed in each case. Whether one happens to agree with the decisions is a different matter altogether.

Neither the grand jury process nor its outcomes are for me to judge as being just (or not) but, to my knowledge at least, there have been no charges filed or accusations made to-date in either case that there were any violations of grand jury proceedings.

What you will read in this blog post has less to do with my taking sides than with simply offering my own theological observations about what has transpired over the past weeks and months in the wake of the grand jury decisions.

That said, one cannot help but grant selfless and focused attention to the passionate collective lament of many who genuinely view the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York as blatantly unjust extensions of what has been a dark commentary on an entire race of people whose history in America encompasses over 400 years of mistreatment and injustice by institutionalized slavery.

It is within this paradigm of slavery that I am reminded of the passage in Exodus 3:7 and the encounter Moses had with God at the Burning Bush where God said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their suffering.

In those few yet profound words, the sovereign God of the universe reveals to Moses both the impetus and rationale for leaving His throne in Heaven and choosing a murderer like him to be the “hand of God”, so to speak, in delivering the nation of Israel from hundreds of years of Egyptian bondage: the unjust affliction of His people.

The contrast between the injustice of the Israelites at the hands of the Egyptians, and what is perceived as the “unjust” treatment of black Americans by police, is interesting to me as a theologian (small ‘t’) because in the Exodus account we have unambiguous evidence of an entire nation of people living under actual institutional forced servitude as opposed to the subjective institutional injustice based on individual instances of police “abuse” as represented most recently by the Brown and Garner incidents.

God’s sovereign choice of the nation of Israel, through whom He established an everlasting covenant with Abraham, was ordained before the foundation of the world. However, in order for that covenant to be brought to its ultimate consummation, what Israel needed from God was not merely justice but salvation. In other words, the plight in which the Israelites found themselves was such that not only did they need the situation to be made right by God (justice), they also needed to be rescued from the situation by Him (salvation).

These two dynamics are borne out in Exodus 3:8-9, “…and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land…” (salvation) and “…now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come up to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them” (justice). 

The reason I place in this context the developments involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and those who hold the opinion that their respective grand jury decisions were unjust, is that in the weeks and months subsequent to the decisions being handed down, I’ve come to the realization that what many are demanding in terms of justice is really not justice at all. What they actually are pressing for is not all that different from what God, through Moses, granted the nation of Israel – that the State, as if a proxy for God, give them not only justice but salvation. That is, a form of “deliverance” from the State that is facilitated by the State, a conundrum if there ever was one.

Now, having said that, there is an extent to which we as believers are to look to the State for redress of injustices and the righting of wrongs that are initiated, sanctioned or otherwise brought upon us by those who represent the State, such as police officers. It is in Romans 13:1-7 that we find the biblical context for this. The apostle Paul establishes that “those in authority” (i.e. the State) are “servants of God” and are “avengers who carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

That police officers, and others who are in positions of authority over citizens of the State, are considered “servants of God” is not to say that they are or should be required to be believers in God, but that they are ultimately accountable to God, even though they may not believe in Him or reflect His image in their behavior or attitude toward those over whom they possess this authority. Needless to say, even those who profess to have a relationship with Jesus Christ fall short in this area, let alone those who make no such profession, for even in our regenerate condition the presence of sin renders our sanctification as yet incomplete.

You see, we must realize and accept that the State is only as righteous as the individuals who represent it; and God’s Word is abundantly clear that none of us is righteous which, by extension, means the State is unrighteous and, therefore, imperfect. With this in mind, it is right that we look to the State for redress of the injustices deliberately and egregiously committed against us. But “justice,” as the protesters would define it anyway, is about as far as the State can go.

The State is not salvific. It cannot save. It cannot truly deliver us from the type of bondage which is fundamentally at the root of all injustice to begin with: the bondage to sin.

Even if it could be proven that police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, respectively, killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner intentionally and new grand juries were convened that reversed earlier decisions and indicted both officers so that they were ultimately found guilty at a trial and sentenced to extended prison terms (or worse), nothing long-term is gained if their hearts are not changed from the condition which prompted their harmful actions to begin with. In such a situation, you will have received justice but not salvation.

The State can grant redress but not redemption, and redemption is what this world needs and longs for; to be rescued from the effects and consequences of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Because, whether we realize it or not, what we want ultimately is to be fully delivered from the hateful attitudes and intentions that foster such behavior in the first place, and only God can effectuate that.

Try as we might – and we should – to seek remedy for offenses committed against us through more stringent and punitive laws that are designed to protect private citizens against evildoers in positions of authority, more laws do not portend  transformed hearts.

And, ultimately, it is the heart that dictates one’s actions, for better or worse.

We should seek justice, yes, but we should not stop there. The justice of the State is only temporal. It can never produce lasting spiritual transformation, which should be our ultimate goal.

“And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” – Psalm 9:10 (NASB)

Think about it.

DBH

The Death of Our Expectations of God in Prayer

http://www.lds-images.com/images/lazarus.jpg

So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe…”John 11:14 (NASB)

All too often, when we go to God with our petitions and requests, we may in fact believe God will respond but that belief is masked by a preconceived idea of how God should respond.

We have a sick loved one whom we want God to heal or a “bad” marriage that we want God to make better or an unsatisfying job from which we want God to rescue us. But, in making our requests to God (Matthew 7:7-11; Philippians 4:6), how often do we do so with His bigger picture and plan in mind?

The phrase “for your sakes” is an expression of Jesus’ love for His disciples. Christlike love always desires God’s will for the other person – whatever that will might be.

Being God (John 1:1-3John 20:31; Colossians 1:15, 2:9), Jesus, in His omniscience and in complete cognizance of God’s divine will, knew that it was in the best interest of the disciples (“for your sakes”) that He wait until Lazarus was physically dead as opposed to intervening and healing him while he was sick (John 11:1-3).

Jesus very well could have chosen to heal Lazarus from his sickness, which was the impetus for the disciples informing Jesus of Lazarus’ condition in the first place, but that was not His Father’s will – neither for the disciples nor, for that matter, Lazarus.

God’s bigger plan, though not fully understood by the disciples themselves (John 11:12-13), was to use the death of their friend Lazarus, whom Jesus Himself loved (John 11:5), to spiritually grow and mature them (“that you may believe”) and, by extension, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, as well.

As we come to God with our petitions (John 16:23b), we must do so with the understanding that God’s ultimate purpose in answering our prayers is not simply to answer our prayers (Matthew 6:33) but to bring glory to Himself (John 11:4b, 17:1b) through the prayers He divinely chooses answer – however He may choose to answer them – or not (Exodus 33:19b).

As followers of Christ we must develop a right theology of prayer. Meaning, we must come to understand prayer within the context of what God Himself says about it; and all that God says about prayer can be found in His Word, the Bible. This is something that is not always easy, especially considering what it means to be a follower of Christ, that suffering comes with the territory.

A right theology of prayer is to be able to accept and appreciate that whatever the answer or outcome from God, it is “for your sake.” Christ Himself set this example for us as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:41-42)

Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, had developed a close, intimate relationship with Jesus. In sending word to Jesus that their brother was ill, their message to Him was, “Lord, behold, the one whom You love is sick”. This message demonstrated both a right orthodoxy and a right orthopraxy on their part. As children of God, we should not hesitate to come to Jesus with our needs – all of them – regardless what those needs may be, believing that He and He alone can answer our prayer.

Nevertheless, that you and I are children of God does not obligate God to do anything for us.

Though God promises to answer our prayers, His answers are always in accordance with His divine will and purpose for our life, not our personal desires. We must never forget that it is only by God’s divine volition that we may call ourselves His children (John 3:16; John 1:12; John 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 3:12), not because of anything we’ve done or deserve (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Of all the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, I must admit that in my own personal walk, prayer is probably the most difficult as it involves some of the more challenging attitudes expected of Christians, not the least of which are faith and patience.

Mary and Martha were disappointed that Jesus did not come “in time” to heal their brother while he still alive.

Perhaps you can relate.

When Jesus finally arrived after Lazarus had been dead four days, Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died.” Lazarus’ sisters had an expectation of Jesus that He did not meet. They presumed upon Jesus an outcome of their own selfish desire, not stopping to consider what the broader plan of God was in allowing their brother, who Jesus also loved, to die.

We must be on guard for this attitude in our own prayer life.

We must allow our expectations of God to die in order that His larger goal for us might become a reality: that we might believe.

God is sovereign, and above all else, He is concerned with the condition of your heart.

In the end, we must remember as we pray that God is faithful and that whatever His response to our request, He will be glorified.

And in glorifying Himself, sometimes God’s will is our spiritual resurrection not our situational rescue.

Think about it.

Amen.

DBH