Westminster Bookstore

The Absolute Best In Reformed Literature...Check 'em Out!!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Truly Overcoming: Putting Grace Before Race (Revisited)

I originally posted this a few years ago. I'm reposting this, due to the fact that I still think that it contains some things of first importance that need to be said. In a nation that has witnessed the inaguration of the first black president of the United States, there is even more of a reason to keep these things before us. As a Christian first and an African-American second, there is a burden on my heart to speak plainly and clearly about what it means to truly overcome the sins in our society. Using the Word of God and a long forgotten figure in the history of Black America, I seek to accomplish this task. Regardless of race, I pray that all who read are challenged, convicted and encouraged.
Soli Deo Gloria...

'Twas mercy that brought me from my pagan land
Taught my benighted soul to understand 
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew
Some view our race with scornful eye,
'Their color is a diabolical dye'
Remember, Christians; Negros, black as Cain
May be refined and join th' angelic train.
-On Being Brought from Africa to America, by Phyllis Wheatley (America's First Black Poet)

In light of our most recent holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and with Black History month speedily approaching, there's no better time than the present to reflect upon the struggles and accomplishments of African-American people in this country, right? However, in our reflections, sometimes perspective gets lost in the spirit of the chase. We tend to take mantras such as "We Shall Overcome" and "Free At Last" and we rob them of their glory by our shortsightedness. This is why I find it appropriate to reflect on Ms. Wheatley's 'On Being Brought from Africa'. This poem's primary focus is on the overarching sovereignty and purposefulness of God in all of life.

Wheatley says that it was 'mercy' that brought her from her 'pagan' land. She was kidnapped and brought to America on a slave ship when she was about seven years old. Yet, she calls it mercy. Today, this statement may be seen, even in the Christian community, as controversial. Yet to Wheatley, this is a good thing because it brought her to salvation, despite the means that were used to attain it. After all, as she states, it was by this act that her 'benighted' soul was taught 'that there's a God and a Saviour too'. In her biography it states that she was bought by a Boston family that took her in as one of their own and taught how to read and write (Greek and Latin as well), and even more particularly taught her in the way of Scripture. Wheatley, in her reflection upon the events of her life, clearly connects the dots for us. She is well aware that if not for the Hand of Providence putting her on that ship to America, she never comes in contact with the Wheatley family. If she never meets the Wheatleys, she never hears of God or Jesus Christ. This theme of sovereign mercy is unrelenting, even as it turns to the social tensions of her day.

Many saw blacks as being sub-human and evil because of their native ways and skin tone. Wheatley does not shy away from this at all as she recalls:

"Some view our race with scornful eye, 'Their color is a diabolical dye'."

Now, take note of her admonition in the final stanzas:

"Remember, Christians; Negros, black as Cain, may be refined and join th' angelic train."

Notice that the petition is not to all of "white America” or even to the government. Her appeal is to the Christians; Wheatley's primary concern for her fellow Africans is not emancipation, but evangelization. Wheatley understands that the only way for them to be truly free is through the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross. Even as she herself was freed by her family, in the legal sense, all other forms of freedom are subordinate and secondary when it comes to the liberation of the soul through the Gospel. The reference to Cain helps to drive this point home. Cain was "marked" and "blackened" as punishment for the murder of his brother, Abel. Yet, while this was a curse, it was also God's way of showing mercy towards Cain, as it would protect him from the same fate that he had dealt to his brother. If anyone is to murder Cain their punishment will be sevenfold. The color of his skin gives him a chance for redemption; to repent of his sins and find peace with God, with whom, at the moment, he is at enmity (sadly, he does not). Wheatly, being a student of the Bible is well aware of what this imagery conjures up with the Christian family. She is appealing not just to the darkness of Cain's skin, but to the greater darkness of his heart, which is the way of all men who have never encountered Christ. While true that Africans had been "marked" for slavery by the whites due to the color of their skin, behind the horrific history of the slave trade is a glorious history of redemption that is to be unfolded. This is the urgency in Wheatley's message. Seeing the work of Salvation through Christ in her own life has prompted her to seek true liberation of her enslaved people; a liberation by which no government can deliver. So, she restricts her message to the Body of Christ, urging them to remember the darkness that they once knew; calling to remembrance that while they were still in sin, darkened in their understanding, God reached out and saved them by washing them clean in the blood of Christ. Sin is the ultimate "slave master" from which she wishes to free her countrymen; once freed from sin, they will be free to be the bondservants of Christ.

Though short in length, this piece is pregnant with imagery and insight. This summation of it all is this: Even as we look back today, we cannot deny that much of this sentiment has been lost. I believe that Phyllis Wheatley gives us an accurate model of how we should see all of the atrocities of our world from a Christian perspective, be it racism or any other forms of social injustice. Although they exist, we must understand that Providence is at work behind every action, though we may not understand or see it at that moment. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that all of the wrongs of this world, are brought on by our own inherent sinful natures. We are all 'black as Cain' and 'benighted in our souls' apart from the redeeming work of Christ, regardless of our status or position in the world. It is the church's job as those who have been called out of the darkness, to take the light of Christ back into the darkness, understanding that Christ, and only Christ, is the answer to changing of the hearts and minds of men. Putting grace before race is the only way liberate all men and restore human dignity among the various peoples of the world. No matter what advancements are gained by any group of people or individual-- without Christ, they are still in bondage.

In the words of former slave trader turned Christian hymn writer, John Newton:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed! Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.  -Amazing Grace

Scripture Study References:

Genesis 4:1-16; Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:8-9; Genesis 50:20; John 8:34-36, 12:32; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Philippians 3:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

 Posted via web from THE CENTER (ROOM 116)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Faith & Reason: A conversation about religion, spirituality & ethics

Reading this article brings to remembrance Isaiah 1:17. Be prayerful...

Youth in lawless Haiti at risk for sex trade, slavery, murder

Brace yourself for a new level of horror in Haiti: Vulnerable children and teens sold into slavery and the sex trade, or simply shot in the streets for no reason.
You can take it from an expert on these miseries. Nicolette Gramms, who worked with an human rights agency, the International Justice Mission that specialized in rescuing the victims, writes for The Atlantic that "natural disasters unfailingly bring us new business." She says:
In today's world, the twin causes of human slavery -- poverty and vulnerability -- increase exponentially after natural disasters... Even without the pandemonium unleashed by a 7.0 earthquake, an estimated quarter-million Haitian children are trafficked (into slave labor or the sex trade) within the country each year.
Now, Rev. Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church who is known nationwide for his blunt talking sermons and in-your-face evangelism, has seen the sex trade revving up amid the rubble.
Driscoll and James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago raced down to Haiti to assess the damages to the church infra-structure and launch a drive to rebuild places of worship, churcheshelpingchurches.org.
Faith groups offer the fundamental social network for education, welfare and health in a nation with virtually no government -- and that was true before the quake. .
Driscoll's reports on quake deaths of church choirs, pastors who have lost families flocks and buildings included two particularly chilling experiences, posted to his PastorMark Twitter page and Facebook accounts.
Driscoll described those experiences to me in his first interview back in the states last night.
They were standing at the near the entrance to the Evangelical Theological Seminary, a 75-year-old school on a hill that is now sheltering 5,000 homeless Haitians, when they heard, "Pop! Pop!"
They looked just a few feet outside of the refuge and there they found a teenage boy has been murdered "for no apparent reason. He was just shot in the head and left in the street."
Driscoll and Macdonald also saw a glimpse of what lies ahead for many young girls. His posting on line:
If u want a phone, cigarettes or a teenage girl you can get them here in Port au Prince. Like the American who said he's on a relief mission and bought a hungry girl despite our confrontation.
I asked Driscoll more about that scene in a brief phone interview with him last night, minutes after his return last night to the USA.
We were downtown loading up our film crew. There were no police, no medics, to be seen by a huge park with hundreds of people camping out with no where else to go. There was a little cart with a red umbrella and a man selling cell phones and cigarettes -- and a few young girls.
"You want to buy loving?" the guy asked me. I said, "What in the world are you talking about?"
But there was another guy there, who claimed to be a translator for a relief agency, who was negotiating a price for a girl. I asked him what he was trying to do. He said, "Oh, she's a friend of mine. We're just trying to connect."
That's ridiculous. A young girl. A man 20 or 30 years older. I told him this was unacceptable. MacDonald confronted him, too. But there were no police and you could argue all you wanted but the girl took his money and they walked away."
The pastors plan to send the man's photo to the relief agency where he claimed to work but the incident has left Driscoll, a father of four, including a teenage daughter, shaking with anger.
So, if you're within sound or reach of Driscoll or MacDonald this Sunday -- and more than 80,000 people are part of their church networks, millions more download Driscoll's sermons or tune in the MacDonald's radio show -- expect harrowing stories and a challenge from the pulpit that won't mince words. Driscoll says,
We're not going to compete with existing aid groups. We just want to use our influence to help churches effectively mobilize to raise funds for relief...
People are desperate. Young girls are ripe for the worst you can imagine.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? - Micah 6:8

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. - James 1:27

Soli Deo Gloria,

How Will They Hear Without a Preacher?


Preaching has fallen on hard times. So suggests a report out of Durham University's College of Preachers. The British university's CODEC research center, which aims to explore "the interfaces between the Bible, the digital environment and contemporary culture," conducted the study to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the College of Preachers. The report is not very encouraging.
As Ruth Gledhill of The Times [London] reports, "Sermons, history shows, can be among the most revolutionary forms of human speech. From John Calvin to Billy Graham, preaching has had the power to topple princes, to set nation against nation, to inspire campaigners to change the world and impel people to begin life anew."
Indeed, preaching is the central act of Christian worship, but its great aim reaches far above merely changing the world. The preaching of the Word of God is the chief means by which God conforms Christians to the image of Christ. Rightly understood, true Christian preaching is not aimed only at this earthly life, but is the means whereby God prepares his people for eternity.
Yet, you wouldn't know this if you judged the importance of preaching by its place in many of today's congregations. Gledhill observes, "In many churches this most vibrant of moments has withered to little more than 20 minutes of tired droning that serves only to pad out the gap between hymns and lunch."
The withering of preaching is not uniform in all congregations and denominations. Evangelicals were most enthusiastic about preaching, while others registered less appreciation for the preached Word. Interestingly, Gledhill reports that "Baptists and Catholics were also more enthusiastic about the Bible being mentioned in sermons than were Anglicans and Methodists."
The Anglicans also expressed a desire to be entertained, rather then educated. The Rev. Kate Bruce, Fellow in Preaching and Communication at the CODEC center, said that "in a culture which values entertainment and likes stand-up, over a quarter [of respondents] said they want preaching to be entertaining, too."
Well, they will have to be quick about the entertainment. Many Anglicans indicated that they wanted the sermon to be less than ten minutes long. As Gledhill remarks, they might be willing to allow up to twenty minutes "if there was no 'waffle.'"
Perhaps the biggest question raised by the report is why so many British churchgoers (96.6%) said they "look forward" to the sermon. Ruth Gledhill comments:
In their report the Durham researchers admit to puzzlement that so many people looked forward to the sermons, and confess that more work was needed to find out why.
The report questions whether people look forward to the sermon so much for the content, the engagement, the entertainment, the theology or simply that it gives them time to switch off.
Time to switch off? According to the report, Britain has only 3.6 million "regular churchgoers" out of a population of over 60 million. That is, only about five percent of Britons even attend church services on any regular basis. Evidently, many of those who do attend "look forward" to a very short message from a preacher that entertains them.
England, of course, is the nation that once gave us preachers the likes of Charles Simeon, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Now, with the rare and blessed exception of some faithful evangelical churches, preaching has fallen on desperate times.
Some observers of British life now estimate that in any given week Muslim attendance at mosques outnumbers Christian attendance at churches. That means that there are probably now in Britain more people who listen to imams than to preachers.
This raises an interesting question: Is the marginalization of biblical preaching in so many churches a cause or a result of the nation's retreat from Christianity? In truth, it must be both cause and effect. In any event, there is no hope for a recovery of biblical Christianity without a preceding recovery of biblical preaching. That means preaching that is expository, textual, evangelistic, and doctrinal. In other words, preaching that will take a lot longer than ten minutes and will not masquerade as a form of entertainment.
Time and time again, God's people have been rescued by a recovery of biblical teaching and preaching. The right preaching of the Word of God is the first essential mark of the church. As the Reformers made clear, where that mark is absent, there is no church at all.
The study conducted for the College of Preachers is interesting, if also frightening. But little is gained from asking confused people what kind of preaching they want. The faithful preacher takes as his first and most sacred responsibility the charge to give the congregation the preaching it needs.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.   - Romans 10:14-17

Soli Deo Gloria,

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sermon of the Week: Contextualizing Suffering Through the Knowledge of Christ

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

“You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.” - John Calvin

    Our Featured Sermon    
Contextualizing sufferingKen Jones | Sunday Service

Posted via web from THE CENTER (ROOM 116)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Evangel Lies: Sufferers Need Not Apply!

Pat Robertson has done it again...unfortunately.
He stated earlier this week that the occurrence of the tragic earthquake in Haiti was due to the fact that they are an evil people ("making a pact with the Devil"), deserving of such an event.

I'm no history major, but I'm almost certain that that's not quite the way it went down. Also, he is trying to say that the other half of Hispanola is better off than the Haitians because it didn't suffer from the earthquake. Once again, Robertson has spoken in places where God has not, and in doing so has failed to rightly divide the Word of Truth in a time where it is most needed. We as Christians should not kick those who are down, but instead use the tragedies that occur in a fallen world as a means of grace to bring them the Good News of the Gospel. All of our care, aid and money should always be front loaded with our own familiar dealings with suffering - which Christians also endure (Hebrews 10:32-36); showing them how the redemption from brokenness of sin only wrought through the person and work of Christ. We shouldn't listen to Pat, but to the Word of God. Tragedy is indeed tragedy, but the hope above all of that is that Christ is indeed Christ. And since he overcame suffering and death, so shall all those who believe in him (Psalm 79:11; Isaiah 53:5; Romans 1:18, 3:23, 8:18-25; Luke 13:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; Philippians 4:11-13; James 1:2-4; Revelation 6:9-11, 21:5).
Whether recessions,earthquakes and everything in between...the answer remains the same.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Monday, January 04, 2010

Jesus Wants The Rose!: The Gospel v. Religion

It's been about a month since Matt Chandler's surgery...I'm praying that the Lord will continue to be with him in his recovery.
Here he is, at a Desiring God Conference from last year, sharing what the difference is between the Gospel of Christ and mere inoculated, religious language. We see and hear from the example given here that sometimes we allow our silly myths and vain philosophies to get in the way of what Christ actually says that we are to be in the world - In it and not of it (John 17:15). All too often, there is the temptation to withdraw ourselves from sinners, which leads us in to sin as well (Galatians 2:11-14). My prayer is this - may we all be convicted, challenged to have a more Christocentric gospel that will lead others with the help of God's grace to Jesus also (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Romans5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Soli Deo Gloria,

Facebook Badge