The Danger of Letting Your Spiritual Guard Down

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”1 Peter 5:8

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Lions are fascinating creations of God.

When it comes to sheer strength lions are unrivaled in the animal world, which is why for millennia they have been referred to as the “king of beasts.” Few creatures on earth produce the duality of fear and respect in the hearts of animals and humans as do lions.

But there is an attribute that lions possess which often goes unnoticed: their intelligence and cunning.

Lions are smart. In stalking their prey they not only know what to do but how.

In the above text, the apostle Peter compares Satan, the diabolical and ever-present adversary of the Christian, to a “roaring” (ὠρύομαι) lion.

Peter is spot-on.

Now, I make no pretense whatsoever to be an expert on lions, but from various documentaries I’ve watched over the years it appears to me that lions tend to roar primarily, though not exclusively, for two reasons: 1) as a warning to rival lions not to breach their territorial boundaries, and 2) after they have made a kill.

An interesting thing about watching a pride of lions operate is not observing the lions, necessarily, but their prey. They never are truly at ease. There is always a nervousness and anxiety about them. And though these animals find themselves daily in surroundings that are quite familiar to them, they realize they are not alone in that understanding.

Whether it’s wildebeests, Thompson’s gazelles or zebras, these suspects are innately aware of the reality that their adversaries are constantly watching them, with the sole intent and purpose of killing and devouring them. As such, they never completely relax or let their guard down. They can’t afford to, because to relax is to die.

That Satan is compared to a roaring lion is, in my personal opinion, one of the most profound yet under-appreciated teachings in the New Testament. I often wonder how seriously we, as followers of Christ, take the fact that the devil views us just as a lion views its prey; that his sole reason for existing is to ensure our spiritual and physical demise.

Satan is a like a lion in that oftentimes we never see his attacks coming. The reason he camouflages himself is because he doesn’t want to give us an opportunity to respond to him in a way that would thwart his agenda.

But as much as Satan is a lot like a lion, there is one way in which he is not.

Unlike lions, Satan never sleeps. He never takes a single millisecond off. Like a pride of lions, Satan and his minions are always scheming, always planning, always devising some kind of way to defeat us, and oftentimes, his success is facilitated to the extent to which we choose to cooperate with him in executing his plans against us.

We see this, for example, in the account of Cain and Abel,

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:6-7

Cain made the volitional decision to reject the counsel of God and, subsequently, in the very next verse in fact, Genesis 4:8, proceeded to murder his brother Abel. In considering the context of the aforementioned verses in Genesis 4 and 1 Peter 5, notice the similarity of the verbs used: “crouching” (רָבַץ) versus “prowling” (περιπατέω).

Brothers and sisters, what you and I have to remember is that sin is never static. It is always dynamic. Sin has a nature. It moves. It breathes. It desires.

Sin is never dormant. It is always active. Always.

Like a roaring lion, Satan will not hesitate to use the people and things around us to camouflage the intentions he has toward us, namely, our destruction.

As Christians, as followers of the Way, we cannot for one minute afford to let our spiritual guard down, because it is when we are the most unsuspecting that Satan does the most damage.

Sin is serious business, folks.

If we are to “master” sin we must engage in the habitual study of God’s Word, relying always on the Holy Spirit to empower and enable us to overcome our adversary, not just daily but moment-by-moment because, unlike lions, Satan has no territorial boundaries and he never sleeps.

Neither should we.

Think about it.

Darrell

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”1 Peter 5:8

And To Think, Walter Scott’s Mother Didn’t Attend Seminary

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To what I am sure is the utter disappointment and dismay of the sensationalist mainstream media, what is being under-reported about the killing of Walter Scott by now-former North Charleston, SC police officer, Michael Slager, is that Scott’s mother, Judy Scott, has publicly and unambiguously expressed her forgiveness of Slager, who has officially been charged with the murder of her son.

Though obviously very well-spoken and articulate, Judy Scott did not attend seminary.

You will not find the letters ‘MDiv’ or ‘ThD’ appearing after her name in television interviews or on social media sites when speaking about her son’s violent death (which was captured on video.)

Yet the genuine heart-attitude exhibited by this courageous woman toward the man accused of murdering her son, clearly shows a depth of understanding of the gospel which, in my estimation, rivals that of individuals who have spent years earning such theological designations.

Not even the most highly-esteemed of Christian educational institutions could bestow this kind of awareness of the significance of what it means to know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior.

The only explanation for Judy Scott’s other-worldly attitude is the transforming power of the gospel.

No other explanation is fathomable.

We see this same power demonstrated in the book of Acts, where Peter and John were egregiously mistreated at the hands of the Sadducees, men who, not unlike Michael Slager, were in positions of authority and influence. And yet, despite this injustice, their witness for Christ was steadfast.

“…as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” – Acts 4:13 (NASB)

Consider, my brothers and sisters, what greater testimony can we have than it is said of us that we have “been with Jesus”?

Only those whose hearts and minds have been transformed by the Spirit of God can respond in a manner as did Judy Scott about an incident as traumatic as what transpired with her son.

Trust me, it was not in seminary that Judy Scott learned this.

It was not in the columned halls of – insert name of seminary here – that this humble mother learned to love Jesus in this way. It wasn’t through the reading of countless books or listening to hours upon hours of haughty lectures or defending doctoral theses that she came to experience this kind of inexplicable peace.

It was not in the process of pursuing a formal theological education that Judy Scott came to the realization that to love and forgive like Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean the removal of consequences of one’s actions. Though she has forgiven Michael Slager, Judy Scott understands, and rightly so, that the principle of reaping and sowing still applies today and that our decisions often bear consequences, for better or worse.

I, for one, am thankful that Judy Scott is an Acts 4:13 kind of Christian and not a Theologian.

What the body of Christ has in Judy Scott is a woman who cherishes in her heart what it means to trust her Savior in the most difficult of times. Without ever having read Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther, Ms. Scott understands the doctrine of the sovereignty of God and that to know Jesus Christ – to truly know Him – is to not only believe in Him but to believe Him, even to the confusion and dismay of others.

No theologian could have offered a more effective witness for Christ.

Yes, Judy Scott may not be fluent in biblical Greek or Hebrew. She may not be adroit at expositing on Systematic Theology or Church History or Reformed dogmatics.

But one thing is certain: Judy Scott knows the gospel.

She has been with Jesus.

I wonder, could the same be said of you and me?

DBH

How the Church Often Resembles an Episode of ‘Chopped’

I like to cook.

Sometimes anyway.

Cooking is therapeutic. It relaxes me.

The process of preparing a meal consisting of who-knows-what ingredients has a way of taking a load off my mind regardless the amount of time and effort involved.

But, as comforting as it is for me to do the cooking, what’s equally calming is watching others cook, especially those who know what they’re doing (unlike yours truly), because in addition to the curative benefits that come from observing talented people demonstrate their culinary prowess, it’s also a good opportunity to learn and try new approaches with various elements with which I may or may not be familiar.

One of the ways I like to do this is by watching the program Chopped, hosted by Ted Allen, on the Food Network.

Now, perhaps you’re already acquainted with the show, but if not, Chopped brings together four chefs from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds to face-off in a competition consisting of three strictly-timed rounds: appetizer, entrée, and dessert.

At the conclusion of each round, a panel of three highly-trained, well-traveled, super-critical culinary experts determines which chef is worthy of the coveted title of ‘Chopped Champion’ and winner of the accompanying $10,000 cash prize.

The pace of activity can get pretty frenetic as each chef races against the clock to prepare, from a basket of “mystery ingredients”, an original, tasteful, and well-presented meal that distinguishes him or her from their competitors, each of whom is also working with the same basket of ingredients.

A cardinal rule of Chopped is that each ingredient in the mystery basket – every single one – must be used in some kind of way. This is a non-negotiable. To omit or misuse any ingredient could prove costly when it comes time to go before “the dreaded Chopping Block”, as Allen would say, when one chef per-round is eliminated, or “chopped”, from the competition.

The last chef standing at the end of the dessert round is named the “Chopped Champion”.

One of the cool things to me about Chopped is as interesting as it is to watch a group of talented chefs compete against one another, what’s even more interesting is that the show is probably just as notable for how unpredictable, extreme and, what I can only describe as utterly disgusting, many of the mystery ingredients are that are included in the baskets the chefs are provided with.

And when I say “disgusting”, I mean exactly that. I’m talking about things that the average human being would consider only borderline edible. For example, just the other night there was an episode in which cow eyeballs was one of the mystery ingredients during the entrée round.

That’s right. Cow eyeballs.

I mean, who in the world eats cow eyeballs?

And I won’t even mention some of the other outrageous ingredients I’ve seen (in case you’re reading this as you’re eating.)

But, I digress…

Given the extent to which that particular episode with the cow eyeballs has stuck with me, I was pondering recently how the Church, in many ways, is a lot like an episode of Chopped.

Allow me to explain.

Like the show Chopped, the Church also has:

Chefs

These are the members of the body of Christ. Redeemed sinners, saved by the grace of God alone (sola gratia).

Chefs have a heartfelt desire to serve God and feel qualified and equipped to do so, yet they are unsure exactly where they fit among the rest of the body. Though expressing an outward confidence in their talents and abilities, inwardly, however, many Chefs doubt whether they really belong in the body at all being unable to identify with or relate to other Chefs around them having been convinced, perhaps by a previous negative church experience, that their weaknesses will ultimately overshadow their strengths.

As such, Chefs tend to focus on their shortcomings.

They have an awareness that God impartially loves them and has uniquely gifted them to serve Him, yet this giftedness brings with it the burden that they may not measure up to the lofty expectations others have of them, and that if those standards aren’t met they may very well be condemned for it.

And, you know what? Oftentimes they are.

Judges

These are the watchers. The spies. The stalkers.

Judges struggle to exhibit God’s grace toward others. They are hard-wired legalists who are tantamount to the Sanhedrin of the Old Testament.

They are the influential, long-standing members of a congregation whose sole purpose in the church is to sit back and watch for you to slip up morally. It’s not that they want you to slip up, necessarily, but if and when you do, be prepared not only to pay but pay dearly for your mistakes because nothing slips by them. Nothing.

All that matters to Judges is judging. Period.

Terms like ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ are either not a part of their vocabulary or, if they are, they are very rarely used.

Baskets

These are the containers that house the “mystery ingredients” of our heart. That is, the sins of which only you and God know.

Baskets are the secret repository for all the shameful and embarrassing sins we’ve committed; sins we don’t want others in the church to see. We like Baskets because we can control what goes in them and what, if anything, comes out of them and when, if ever.

Our Baskets help us keep the “cow eyeballs” of our lives hidden deep within compartments we would be quite content to leave unopened, thank you very much, for fear that others will become aware of the vile ingredients that make us who we really are.

There is a certain finality to Chopped that should never be said of the Church.

This is not to say that the Church shouldn’t have boundaries, standards or expectations of those who comprise it. Not at all. For over 2,000 years the Church has done well to establish doctrinal parameters by which its members should conduct themselves.

Nevertheless, the Church must not be an environment where people are either penalized or rewarded based on how well (or not) they impress the “judges” of this world. Even to the extent that there are punitive consequences to a member of the body who sins, God’s Word cautions us to balance such judgment with grace:

“If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:14

I can only imagine how the Church would have dealt with the apostle Peter who, although he repeatedly denied even knowing the Lord Jesus, was restored to fellowship with Christ and the disciples, as evidenced by the fact that Peter was the only disciple mentioned by name in the instructions given at the Empty Tomb to Mary Madeline, among others, that the disciples were to meet their resurrected Savior in Galilee.

I can’t help believing that, were it left up to you and me, Peter would have been “chopped” from the body of Christ permanently despite the repentant tears he shed over his sin.

Yes, sin has consequences, and sometimes those consequences mandate godly discipline (ecclesiastical and personal). However, such discipline should never be meted out apart from the simultaneous application of God’s grace. Even in instances where the most egregious of sins has been committed, the appropriation of God’s grace and mercy must be a constant consideration:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” – 1 Corinthians 5:1, 5

You see, what we often forget is that each of us has ingredients in our Basket that make us unworthy before the Judge of all the earth. Not a single one of us is capable of standing before God on our own merits. Not one.

But, like an elegantly presented meal prepared by the most gifted of culinary talents, we would prefer people value us based on our outward appearance as opposed to our innate spiritual depravity and who we are on the inside.

In other words, we want people to think our meal tastes good simply because it looks good.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we don’t really want others to know that there are cow eyeballs mixed in with the Filet Mignon we’re serving, only it’s so finely pureed that no one can actually tell it’s in there.

God is most glorified when the body of Christ, empowered by His Holy Spirit, endeavors to build His church using all the ingredients in the Basket – all of them – even the ones at which we have a tendency to turn up our noses.

With this reality in mind, we must not be so prideful as to think we are better than anyone else. Christians are permitted to judge, yes, but we are not permitted to condemn. That is reserved for God alone, for there will come a day when each of us, Chefs and Judges alike, will be judged by the Creator of all the universe on the contents of our Basket.

The only question then will be, when God searches the Basket of your heart will Jesus Christ be among the ingredients found there?

Think about it.

Darrell

For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”Isaiah 57:15

Also:

God Uses Flawed People to Share Hope to a Flawed World by Jarrid Wilson

Forgiveness: a Mark of a Healthy Church by Joseph Novenson

The Mandate to Forgive from Ligonier Ministries

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 implications and 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 Christians have 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 the most important event in all of human history to a particular time of year, as if it were merely an occasion to be acknowledged on a calendar each year.

In just a few days 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 this year’s Easter sermons are over, never to revisit the subject again until the appointed time – 365 days later.

I can only imagine that our occasioned 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 in John 1 (above), John the Baptist refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.”

In speaking of Jesus in terms of a “lamb“, John 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, His propitiatory death 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, as if the significance of Christ’s death is not just as worthy of being preached in February or August or October as it is in March or April (depending on when Easter falls on the calendar.)

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 death, burial and resurrection 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 has passed on the calendar, the logical question becomes, “Okay? Now what?”

That God Himself, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, suffered on behalf of those who believe in Him is a message that deserves more than the seasonal attention we who follow Him are inclined to give it; and it’s time we stopped being so silent about it.

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

http://www.lifebridgeblogs.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/diversity.jpg

“…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