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Costly Courage: The How

October 11, 2017
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Reconciliation is a required responsibility. A promising privilege. A graceful given.

Normally the talk of reconciliation is centered around the truth that God is making all things new, both creatures and creation. But there’s a crucial piece that comes beforehand that deserves our attention. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others” is what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:11 to a congregation that was reeling. Here on earth, we are physically home in these bodies and yet away from the Lord. We are walking by faith, not by sight, and full of confidence.

But what is our motivation as believers in the new covenant working of God’s grace?

Paul says “we make it our aim to please him” (v9). Realizing that the Lord still has you here on earth as His made new representative, you make it your goal to please him. That’s your personal life goal. As it relates to the goal of others, you fear the Lord and try to convince them.

Why?
Paul says “the love of God urges us on” to consider bringing others to belong with us.

How are we to see the others?

Paul says “we [are to] regard no one from a human point of view” as we once did Christ. Assuming the others are of no eternal value. Assuming that God doesn’t place a great value upon their heads. Assuming that we are superior to them. They are now on the same level plane as us. They are made in the image of God. All of them. Even the ones who you may look away from or care to not acknowledge. And they will face eternity when they die. For God created every single person to live eternally – heaven or hell.

What’s so incumbently wrapped up into this way of thinking is this truth that John Calvin spoke to – if we can see mankind and not see ourselves in the mirror, we have erred. In other words, if you don’t see men and women just as valuable, dignified, and significant as you, you won’t care if they go to heaven or hell. You won’t care about persuading them. You won’t care about the love of God prompting you. You simply won’t care.

But God in his grace still allows us to please him even when our aim is off a bit. This is where costly courage comes into play. Society is always changing. Opinions are just as diverse as the weather and winds in every time zone of the world. Truth has never not been absolute regardless of what others may say. The gospel is just as alive today as it was many centuries ago. The courage to make truth known in these trying times has everything to do with our fear of the Lord and our fear of being accepted by people we deem superior.

So we choose to believe that it is from God that people are made new in many types of way. We believe this because Jesus is God and is faithful.

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Costly Courage: The What Pt 3

September 27, 2017
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Normally when you hear the phrase ‘corporate confession’ you have a distinct idea in mind. Well, that’s not what this is. When it comes to reconciliation, the first steps are not to confess sin. Rather it is to confess truth. Herein lies the rub in most reconciliation talks.

Who was this man in the garden of Eden? Why was he important?

All reconciliation talks find their way back to Genesis 1, and rightly so. Adam was made in the image of God. I think all Christians believe this to be true. The imago dei is alluded to often and placed on high. Why won’t folks acknowledge that the imago dei is important?

I happen to think folks are missing the target with that question. The doctrine of sin in the Church is traced back to Adam. This is an orthodox position. Adam is the forefather of every human being to ever live. However easy or difficult it may be to trace our heritage, everybody can agree that it all began with Adam. But are we giving Adam the same importance that God gave him?

Not really.

Because all humanity descended from Adam, we share the same imago dei that he had. This truth tends to be accepted in ethnic tribes alone and across cultural lines in personal friendships. Therein lies the crux of the matter. Adam being made in the image of God means he has value, dignity, and significance. Feel free to re-read that sentence again. After Adam sinned, his image of God remained although his relationship with God was strained to the point that Adam was unable to fix it himself. He needed a substitute.

Ever since the beginning of this country, the Christians who escaped Britain to come establish their own land with its own rules did so with theology that is not orthodox. They did not believe Blacks or Native Americans were made in the image of God. They did not believe Blacks or Native Americans had a God-given value, dignity, or significance. Further proof of this is found in the founding documents of this country. That position they took was then taught and put into practice through slavery, rape of the black women, dividing up of the family, and training up of their children. In other words, they shaped the next generation to devalue Blacks and Native Americans. That spread to subsequent generations which included devaluing more ethnic groups. This cycle turned on them as the groups being devalued began to devalue the white Christians and each other. Tyranny ensued in no time and honestly hasn’t stopped.

What’s all this got to do with reconciliation? We need a corporate confession that all ethnic groups are seen and treated as image bearers that have value, dignity, and significance. Until we, the Christian church, are able to practice that which we say we believe, reconciliation will never take the necessary first step needed to believe that Jesus purchased by tearing down that wall of hostility actually means.

May we begin now to corporately confess that every human being from any and all ethnic group have been given by God an image that has value, dignity, and significance. Amen


Costly Courage: The What Pt 2

September 25, 2017
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Growing up being the only black kid in many white classrooms has taken its toll on me. It has hardened me in many ways I never knew at the moment. Years later I have unearthed those emotions that are put on display in sometimes unfortunate settings with people unaware of my past fights and trials. Yet the one thing those classroom lessons did not create to my dismay is compassion.

The fact that I am a recipient of grace was never something I heavily thought of unless the preacher broached the subject. The irony of carrying around the prideful badge of Calvinism never translated into a posture of grace in my life. My ability to spout off the 5 doctrines with conviction were indeed costly, but never compassionate. Looking back, I realize that I was fooling myself into thinking that I was making followers of Jesus by making them into doctrine of grace card members for life. Not an ounce of compassion. However, what I have recently caste onto others was the very thing of which I was guilty.

During the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, Black men and women under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Phillip A. Randolph decided to hold up the American ideals in the face of their oppressors by asking a vital question that is still relevant today: “Ain’t I a man?” This question dripped with compassion and conviction. The two aren’t always mutually exclusive. Most social ill issues ought to drip with compassion and conviction. Sadly most Western evangelicals have only attached conviction to their pleas. So adoption and abortion are yearly championed in sermons. That’s usually the only type of elephant in the room White preachers are willing to point out.

If Americans are endued with certain inalienable rights from their creator, and I’m born in America, then ain’t I a man who has a creator with rights? How can the other elephants in the room of our society be addressed much like abortion and adoption? The answer is compassion! The compassion that human beings afford to others who are in need due to mistreatment, loss, or tragedy. The compassion that is bigger than the sometimes narrow Christian focus, but definitely not less. We have seen this after hurricanes and tornadoes ravage communities.

In terms of reconciliation, it’s key to note compassion ought to have outside the corridors of Christian buildings in various ways. Recalling the parable of the Good Samaritan, this stranger showed compassion for another stranger who was considered an enemy. Jesus felt compassion on the large crowds that followed him looking for signs and wonders, and he fed them. The early church pastors in Acts 6 evidenced compassion towards the Greek widows and placed 7 men in authoritative position to put compassion on display. The costly courage of showing compassion in this race of reconciliation is a battle of identification struggle. Meaning you won’t be allowed to identify with the same people and groups you once felt comfort with as soon as you visibly show compassion for the marginalized (read ethnicities). Though appealing to the covenantal promises of God may warrant you a listening, it can also result in division and an extra elephant in the room.


Costly Courage: The What

September 3, 2017
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Here’s what I came to know: to believe and champion the gospel of reconciliation requires a costly courage = call to conviction + show compassion + corporate confession.

Reconciliation is a relentless work. It requires lots of reading, studying, praying, listening, and meditation. A posture of humility comes with the package. What’s not mentioned in this work is the subtle onslaught of arrogance and one’s inability to consider the interests of others.

Yet there is a mandatory call to conviction. This call comes with a great sense of freedom and fear. Sometimes the two are intertwined. How so? Freedom can often feel like a fear of collateral damage. It’s one of the main things that scare folks in Christian circles. Just consider the history of the Western church. However, freedom is also a grace thing where believers can obey 2 Timothy 3:16. Fear springs out of the unknown part of obeying that verse.

Ever since Genesis 12, God has made it known that Abraham’s family was gonna bless all the other families and all the nations. So because God called a pagan from Ur to be a leader, the plan of reconciliation was made known to Abraham and the world as Paul wrote that “the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham” in Galatians 3. What’s ironic is that everyone loves the story of Abraham and how he was promised offspring, land, and to be a blessing, but few realize that God gave Abraham a call to conviction through his covenant.

This same call to conviction is reiterated to Isaac and Jacob, in the Mosaic covenant, and in the Great Commission passages from Matthew 28 and Acts 1 and 15. Somewhere between the isle of Patmos and the reformation running throughout Europe, the plan of reconciliation got sidelined and altogether forgotten in lieu of doctrinal fidelity and tradition. But who’s going to issue a reformation of reconciliation? I submit it began with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, although it was clearly not done in the ‘right’ way with the ‘right’ language as shown by the lack of involvement by Western evangelical leaders.

Reconciliation is an historical call to conviction dating all the way back to Abraham. While George Whitefield turned reconciliation into a one-way path followed closely by Charles Finney’s long lasting stamp, the ministry of reconciliation we’ve been given has for the longest time been ultra-individualized that one’s familial family has hijacked their devotion to the body of Christ.

Does anyone have the courage to call others to a multi-directional reconciliation plan of the gospel that God set in motion?


Costly Courage

September 2, 2017
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A lot of talks have been given and hundreds of thousands of blogs have been written on this mere topic of racial reconciliation. I have done both, and I am tired. I have felt the apathy and have sensed my own arrogance. I have felt like giving up because folks were not responding how I wanted them to at the speed I wanted them to. Admittedly I have also had emotional brainstorming times where I’m looking for the right verbal formulas to convince my Black and White brothers and sisters in the Lord to ‘get’ it.

While mental and emotional bewilderment has set in like the early stages of arthritis, I stumbled upon something that gave me hope. A fresh breath of air that made me check my heart, remember what I have seen and heard from folks who made that transition to the bothersome way of living that comes once gospel reconciliation helps a person come alive in a new way. I was no longer confused; just impatient. I was no longer unhappy; just not praying for myself and others. I was no longer arrogant; just not expecting others to do what came so normal for me since we’re spiritual snowflakes.

Here’s what I came to know: to believe and champion the gospel of reconciliation requires a costly courage = call to conviction + show compassion + corporate confession. (This is the what)

Here’s how I came to know: 2 Corinthians 5 is a great reminding passage for believers that Jesus was sent to dwell on earth with a ministry that He has passed onto every generation of believers until He returns – one of reconciliation – where we plead for the nations to come to Christ on behalf of Christ to be made new and whole for the life to come with the many others along that same journey. This ministry mission Jesus passed down is not optional. In fact it is required and a responsibility. (This is the how)

Here’s why I came to know: a covenant identity -> covenant connection with the past -> covenant reconciled work formed at the cross = true for every believer. (This is the why)

It’s going to take me some time to cover this reformation of reconciliation in subsequent blogs, but with the Lord’s help I will finish this before December runs out. I welcome your feedback.


Are Our Efforts in Vain?

September 1, 2017
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I used to attend and serve in a church that is predominantly White. I now attend and serve in a church that is predominantly White with a twist. This new church is led by a Black pastor. One whom I have known for over 15 years. Both churches are considered evangelical, orthodox, reformed and Gospel centered. The main difference between the two is the church’s converging approach of justification and justice.

My old church definitely preached, proclaimed, and protected the doctrine of justification at every turn. There were even special sermon series dedicated to doing so. When it came to justice this church left much to be desired. My current church doubles down on justice since its inception. It also preaches, proclaims, and protects justification.

Is there an overall difference? Are our efforts in vain?

In the fight for making the gospel known with all of its implications brought front and center, the difference can be described as the body of an iceberg that’s not on top of the water. It’s most times never seen while also being pointed at by visitors or those who’ve remained on the sidelines watching the fight through pay-per-view lenses. And oddly enough this local body is predominantly White when counting members instead of attendees.

But the efforts given are valiant, not in vain. It’s not easy balancing the stigma of the gospel alongside the uncharitable label of liberalism often attached to social issues. And it could be several years until a local church situated in a diverse city is no longer predominantly White. But the fight must go on…especially when the Lord has called you to it. Engage. Encourage. Educate. Evangelize. Exalt Jesus and the plan of God.


From Promise to Prophecy to Prize

June 13, 2017
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“Build your hopes on things e-ternal
Hold to God’s unchanging hand”

This gospel song rings throughout history in Black churches compact with truth everywhere. The beauty of the covenant-keeping God is proclaimed. The grace of God is sung. The progressive prize that God gave is revealed.

Promise

Here is the historic promise that God gave to his creation from the outset:

And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel (Gen 3:15)

After the first parents sinned, God promised to remedy the defacing of creation by having the seed of the woman crush the head of the serpent! This crushing entailed a putting to end of the serpent in a peculiar way. The serpent would not be able to continue doing what it had done there in the garden of Eden.

Prophecy

The way one read Genesis 3 and formulates how it will play out is not in fact how it plays out. According to Isaiah 53, God through the prophet tells of the way he will carry out Genesis 3.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him

and

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin

The covenant-keeping God who promised to crush the head of the serpent has revealed his means of doing so through the prophet Isaiah by crushing the true seed of the woman through suffering as an offering for the sins of God’s people.

Prize

Jesus, the true seed, suffered on the cross in an active and passive obedient way that pleased God, accomplished redemption, and continues to reconcile sinners to God and others. Jesus is the true prize of mankind. What he did and provided for us is the greatest gift known to man. And yet it still hasn’t all been comprehended. What amazing depths of glory.

This is something to build your hopes on. God made a promise; kept his promise; and now the image bearers of creation get the prize. To God be the glory.


Sow Wisely But Everywhere

June 12, 2017
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It wasn’t until that magic moment occurred where I absolutely had my mind on something else did I come to a grave realization: you’ve been sending mixed signals.

There are times when our actions stem from a single inspiring thought. That thought takes shape and then springs into action. That action can have rippling effects. This can most definitely be a great thing. But then there’s the other side to that coin. The thought hasn’t been tested with other thoughts and most recent actions. The thought doesn’t hold up to the vision and trajectory of life’s inertia. The thought is only prevalently seen coming from our lips and not other crevices. Yes, the action I’m referring to is simply speaking.

So we must be careful about what we say and to what depths that action matches up. For instance, if I as a dad tell my son something that does not allow him to see me do it on a repeated basis, my son may follow suit for a few times or will deduct that dad is a hypocrite, whether it be conscious or subconscious.

However, if I’ve taken the steps to practice said action with him and with others while he is watching, and while he isn’t watching to ensure that it is genuine, then I’ve now placed myself in a position to model something for my son where he is able to see that I have sown a great discipline everywhere in my life. This is the same thing we see from Jesus. All that he spoke of to the crowds he acted out. Even the things we would consider extremely difficult and disloyal, whether it be to our parents or our ethnic groups to whom we identify.

Sow sparingly and you reap sparingly is what the apostle Paul said, and rightly so. But I am saying to all of you readers that sowing in an unwise manner leaves you to reap almost nowhere. There is no return on investment, or it’s very miniscule that you question the worth of such sacrifice. There is no fruit or joy to see and experience to where you begin to doubt the sincerity of your speaking. And in Christian genre focused groups, we can do well in speaking marvelous things that no impact on our lives, and eventually someone will notice.

So let us not be wise in our own eyes as the proverb says, but let us attain wisdom so that we can sow (speak) truth and grace into hearts everywhere that impact us in all of our body areas as well as theirs. For truth is meant to be true everywhere even when we lie and deceive.


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The Importance of Abraham

April 9, 2017
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These words in chapter 3 captivated me as I prepared to teach through the book of Galatians:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Paul is telling this mixed group of believers in the churches located in Galatia that they all are sons of Abraham. Now imagine if you will a famous Anglo preacher telling a group of Syrian refugees that proclaim to be a follower of Jesus that they are sons of Abraham right along with a group of Congolese Africans. Picture the strange looks that preacher would get. Paul here is writing a letter not speaking to them in person, and yet while it’s being read the body language of the hearers is telling a thousand stories as they shift, abruptly move, completely change, or harden.

There’s something rather unique here in Paul’s words. Abraham is given a level of importance that he’s rarely allowed to have in Western churches. God the Father made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12. God told him that in you, Abraham, all the nations (people groups) shall be blessed. God told Abraham that because he was giving him a glimpse into the gospel message. This glimpse was small but good enough for Abraham because God knew what he was doing – he was saving gentiles by faith just like he was saving jews by faith!

This is key because of what we read Paul saying in Ephesians 1:4- even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

So God chose Jews and Gentiles in him by faith before the foundation of the world. Then he gave Abraham a glimpse of this gospel reality by telling him that the nations would be blessed in him. The Holy Spirit helped Paul make sense of this as he wrote scripture. What a blessing! To cap this off, Paul says that those who are followers of Jesus are sons of Abraham. Paul definitely seems to be raising the importance of Abraham in the New Testament and it’s nigh time we do the same.

The desire of God to take Jews and Gentiles and form one new man in Christ by faith is something that was planned before the foundation of the world. Then God makes this announcement to the world to and through the covenant he made with Abraham. This is the beauty of transculturalism.


A Believer’s Influence

March 24, 2017
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Ever considered that your presence and union (familial) carries with it a great influence? That believers have an ability to permeate things that are unholy? That the grace that’s given to you can also bless others?

Growing up in my late twenties, I encountered a few verses in Corinthians that really shook me. 1 Corinthians 7 is a chapter that talks much about marriage. A part of marriage involves both man and woman, husband and wife, as well as their children. In this passage Paul is laying out parameters for how the husband and wife are to relate to one another due to their spiritual state.

The spiritual presence of one believer is POWERFUL.

“For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

What’s amazing from these two verses is that Paul is saying if the unbeliever wants to stay married, regardless of the temperature and pattern of your marriage, you do not divorce. Why? Because the unbeliever has been ‘sanctified’ simply through a marital union with the believer. The unbeliever is blessed simply for being connected to the believer in the primary family. God has always been big on families, and Paul is showing us that God has not changed one bit.

Then Paul goes on to say that the children who would be unclean if the parents divorced are now in fact holy because of his or her familial connection to a believing parent. Does that not rattle your cage a bit?

The unbelieving spouse and child are now in a different spiritual category. Notice the terms: unbeliever to sanctified and unclean to holy. That’s all due to the believing spouse and parent.

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around it all but I cannot deny what the text is saying. It is clear that families with at least one believing parent are able to bless the entire family unit. The unbelieving spouse is considered sanctified though unsaved. The unbelieving child is considered holy though unsaved.

Indeed, the spiritual presence of one believer is powerful according to Paul’s inspired text.


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