Saturday, July 05, 2014

Why I don’t get excited about the 4th of July


 
To me, the United States of America is the greatest country on earth.  This is my home, my native land, and I know nowhere else in the world I would rather live—and I’ve visited other countries (Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, China).  Yet, yesterday—the 4th of July—Independence Day—I had two recurring thoughts:

First, I thought of the hypocrisy inherent in these words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”—words written and endorsed by men who held black people like me as slaves, as mere chattel.  Historically, the United States has so often practiced and endorsed various forms of injustice towards blacks, Native Americans and a host of other people groups, as to make a mockery of these noble words found in the Declaration of Independence.
 
Secondly, I thought of how sinfully proud we are as a nation.  Americans, generally, are full of a sense of our own self-importance as a nation.  And we don’t think we need God.  This is evident by how much and how often we Americans simply ignore God’s word and do what we want to do, and legalize what we want to legalize, with absolutely no regard for what God has said.  Just a casual glance at Scripture tells me our nation is headed for big trouble—trouble from God Himself.  Consider:
 
“Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
 
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
 
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
 
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
 
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
 
But, we don’t have any fear of repercussions from our individual and national unrighteousness because we don’t really believe God’s word.  We’re clearly told, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), but somehow we imagine our nation is special in the eyes of God and is, therefore, exempt from God’s wrath.  But God shows no partiality (e.g., Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9).  Therefore, the United States of America is no more special to God than other nation, nor are we exempt from His laws.  The unrighteousness that America practices and endorses will ultimately be her downfall.  The wrath of God is coming, and we don’t see it, and we don’t care.
 
That’s why I, generally, just can’t get excited about the 4th of July.  All is not well in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

The best is yet to come


Left to right: Me, Grandma, Aunt Willie, and my cousin, Gabriel (1970-2014), probably late summer 1971.

It’s not over until God says it’s over. Sometimes your last years can be your best years. For examples, I need not look any further than my great-grandmother, Minnie Duncan Gray (1896-1986), and her sister, Wylodine Duncan Alexander (1898-1998). The year I was born, Grandma turned 67 years old, and Aunt Willie turned 65. In my opinion, their greatest usefulness for Christ was in their senior years.

First of all, they knew Jesus, having both professed faith in Christ on the same night—September 19, 1913—during a “revival” meeting at Oak Grove A.M.E. Church in Florence, Alabama. All the time I knew them, they lived consistent Christian lives, and were the same people at home as they were in church on Sunday. I believe it was because of their faith that they were probably two of the wisest people—wise in terms of godly wisdom—that I’ve ever known.

Interestingly, they both had the spiritual gift of teaching—teaching the word of God. Aunt Willie taught the Bible both in her home, with friends, and at church, for the adult Sunday School class. Aunt Willie became involved in the start of a new church when she was 74. In this new church, she organized and taught the adult Sunday School class, organized and taught a Wednesday night Bible class, and organized and directed the choir (for which she drafted me as the musician at age 9), as well as served as church treasurer and one of the church trustees. When Aunt Willie left our church to become a part of this new church, Grandma stepped up to teach the adult Sunday School class at our church. Grandma taught this class for 11 years, “retiring” when she was 87. Over the years, countless people told me what a blessing Grandma and Aunt Willie were to them, both as Bible teachers and godly examples. Even during the last 3 years of her very long life, paralyzed and blind in the nursing home, Aunt Willie was a blessing to many as she demonstrated patient and cheerful endurance in the midst of her obvious physical suffering.

Most significant to me is that Aunt Willie and Grandma taught me the Bible. They taught me, not only by precept, but by their faithful examples, to believe, honor and obey the Bible as the very word of God. It’s no exaggeration to say that in my pre-adult years I learned more about the Bible from Aunt Willie and Grandma than I ever did at church, and my view of the Bible was shaped more by them than by the church or its preachers. And, these women prayed for me (in fact, near the end of her life, Aunt Willie told me she specifically prayed for me twice a day). I am convinced that I am saved today in answer to their prayers. And by God’s providence, it was through Aunt Willie, in 1980, that I received the gospel message which the Holy Spirit used to bring me to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

I was led to reflect on all this as I thought about all the Lord has done in and through me these past 33 years (He has brought me such a long way), and as I thought about what He may yet have in store for me and my family during this next chapter of life in Washington, D.C. As far as effectiveness for Christ, I believe Grandma and Aunt Willie’s last years were their best years. I pray that, in whatever time the Lord gives me, these next years would be the best years in my service for Christ.

Friday, February 28, 2014

“No turning back…”



Years ago, we used to sing this old chorus:

“I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back, no turning back.”

Another verse was,

“The world behind me, the cross before me…

Then, there was this verse:

“Though none go with me, still I will follow…”

I remember—and this had to be at least 30 years ago—how these words so perfectly expressed my desire and longing to follow Christ Jesus my Lord.  Do not misunderstand: I wanted others to go with me on this Christian journey.  I have always loved people.  And though I tend to be an introvert, and enjoy “alone time,” I don’t enjoy being left alone or lonely.  I long deeply for others to join me in following Christ, especially family members.  Nevertheless, I determined many years ago that if I had to go it alone, for the sake of Christ I was prepared to go alone.  I still feel the same way.

“No turning back, no turning back.”

Friday, July 05, 2013

It takes a husband and wife…

Pa Bill, 1905-1989
Grandma, 1896-1986
One of the greatest blessings of my childhood was to be raised by a married couple (i.e., husband and wife), who loved each other, were faithful to one another, and were there for each another until death.

My great-grandparents, William (Bill) and Minnie Duncan Gray—“Pa Bill” and “Grandma”—raised me, and their continuing value in my life is priceless.  In their home, there was no abuse of any kind, no infidelity, no alcoholism, no pornography, and no habitual foul language.  As the man of the house, Pa Bill led and protected our family, and he was willingly followed by Grandma, the strong woman who was his wife.  In our home, the Bible was read daily, we attended church services weekly, there was prayer, there was singing, there was laughter, and the things of God were regularly discussed.
 
For quite some time now, happily married fathers and mothers, and lived-out Christianity have been increasingly removed from the lives of most American children as theological liberalism has spread, church attendance has fallen, and divorce has become more commonplace.
 
We Americans wonder why our society is falling apart and the institution of marriage is up for grabs.  I don’t wonder at all.

Friday, January 18, 2013

“I believe in the Holy Spirit…”


“I believe in the Holy Spirit”—
Third Person of the Trinity,
“Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27),
“The life of God in the soul of man” (Henry Scougal),
Our Helper (John 14:26),
Our Empowerer and Enabler (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:49),
The Spirit of truth (John 14:17),
Author of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21),
God.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother’s Day tribute to Grandma

Grandma and Pa Bill - 6/28/1980

I am grateful to God that the two people who gave me life, my mother and father, are both alive and well, and are a part of my life.  However—as I think most of you know—I never lived with my biological parents, who both were teenagers at the time of my birth.  In fact, I did not meet my father until 7 years ago.   As God in His sovereign will would have it, I ended up being raised by my maternal great-grandparents (specifically, my maternal grandfather’s mother and step-father), William and Minnie Duncan Gray—“Pa Bill” and “Grandma,” with whom I lived until their deaths in 1989 and 1986.

On this Mother’s Day, I specifically want to pay tribute to Grandma.  For all intents and purposes, she was my mother.  Granted, Grandma did not give birth to me, but she did raise me and care for me—all the way into adulthood.  Like a mother, she made sure I was fed each day.  When I was sick, it was Grandma who nursed me back to health.  Whether I suffered skinned knees or hurt feelings, it was Grandma who soothed the pain.  In many ways, Grandma was the ideal mother.

There are many stories that come to mind, many examples of how she nurtured me.  If I were to take the time to write them out in full, I probably could come up with enough print to fill a book of several chapters.  Just thinking about some examples of her tenderness brings tears to my eyes some 40-plus years after the fact.  Remembering laughs we shared decades ago still make me smile today.  I don’t exaggerate when I say that I don’t know of anyone who seemed to be such a perfect balance of love, tenderness, calmness and self-discipline.

To this day, I remain amazed at Grandma’s personal discipline.  The amount of housework she could accomplish in a day, while also maintaining her business schedule as a hairdresser until she was 80 (she maintained a beauty shop in the basement of our home), was simply amazing.  Never rushed, never stressed-out, yet always on time, always finishing what she set out to accomplish.

And Grandma was blessed with wisdom.  In all honesty, I believe Grandma may have been one of the wisest persons I’ve ever known.  She seemed to always be able to correctly assess people and situations, always know the right thing to do or say.  She wasn’t a gossip.  She wasn’t a flatterer.  She wasn’t proud—didn’t think more highly of herself than others.  She wasn’t domineering; neither was she a push-over.  Grandma was humble, down-to-earth, plain-speaking, and wise.  Now, as I near the end of my fifth decade of life, I know that part of her wisdom came from just living.  You see, Grandma was almost 67 when I came to live with her and Pa Bill.  That means I was the blessed recipient of the wisdom of her senior years.  But, another source of Grandma’s wisdom was the Bible.

You see, Grandma was a real Christian.  By that I mean she had been born again, having professed personal faith in Christ as a teenager, in 1913 (September 19, 1913, on the “mourner’s bench” at Oak Grove A.M.E. Church in Florence, Alabama, to be exact).  Whether it happened then or later, it was evident to me that somewhere along the road of life she had come to personally know the Lord.  She was not perfect, but she lived a consistent Christian life.  She wasn’t highly-educated (only completed 8th grade), but she was biblically literate, reading a portion of her Bible every day (Scofield Reference Bible, King James Version, of course).

A fond memory is that of seeing Grandma sitting in her bedroom (the simple wooden chair in which she sat sits beside my desk right now as I type), or in the living room of our house, reading God’s word.  Her example would put most of us church folks to shame because, without benefit of a reading plan or accountability partner, Grandma would read through the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation.  She didn’t feel the need to read the Bible in a year—she was in no hurry—she would just start at Genesis and read a portion each day until she finished Revelation.  Then, she would go back to Genesis and start all over.  By that method, I believe she managed to read through the entire Bible several times.

I believe that it was, ultimately, because of her faith in Christ that Grandma was the wonderful mother that she was.  By her words and example, she kept before me the reality of God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son.  In fact, she was my first Bible teacher, as she would explain to me the truths of God’s word as I sat at her knee.  I believe that I am a Christian today at least partly because of the spiritual seeds she planted in my life.

Grandma also demonstrated what a wife’s godly submission to her husband should look like.  I don’t remember ever hearing Grandma discuss the subject of submission, but I watch how she and Pa Bill interacted.  In many ways, he was dependent upon her.  She was smarter than he was (he only completed the 6th grade), could read much better than he could, but she never embarrassed him or talked down to him or made him feel inferior.  In fact, there were several small ways she never called attention to (but that I observed) in which she used her abilities to help Pa Bill take the lead in the family.  She was not a “doormat” by any means, but she wasn’t a feminist, either.  She was a strong woman who didn’t feel the need to dominate a man in order to prove her worth as a woman.  I watched that.  I learned from that.  And when, much later, I learned what the Bible had to say about the husband and wife’s roles in the family, I realized that Pa Bill and Grandma had been living that out in front of me all along.  Grandma showed me what to look for in a wife.

It is amazing how, in hindsight, we can sometimes clearly see the providential hand of God in our lives.  Looking back, I see that God so arranged that I be raised and nurtured by Grandma and Pa Bill so that I could be saved, because He wanted me as His own.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I want to pay tribute to the one who was mother to me.  “Happy Mother’s Day,” Grandma.  I miss you, but look forward to seeing you again, one day, in the presence of our Lord and Savior.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Some day



Beams of heaven, as I go
Through this wilderness below,
Guide my feet in peaceful ways,
Turn my midnights into days;
When in the darkness I would grope,
Faith always sees a star of hope,
And soon from all life’s grief and danger
I shall be free some day.

Burdens now may crush me down,
Disappointments all around,
Troubles speak in mournful sigh,
Sorrow through a tear-stained eye;
There is a world where pleasure reigns,
No mourning soul shall roam its plains,
And to that land of peace and glory
I want to go some day.

I do not know how long ’twill be,
Nor what the future holds for me,
But this I know, if Jesus leads me,
I shall get home some day.

—Rev. Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You have to take a stand

If Jesus is the eternal God (and He is—just as much God as the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God), and if the 66 books which comprise the Bible are the written word of God (and Scripture is, indeed, the authoritative written word of God), then what the Bible says, Jesus also says. It is a critical error to place the New Testament quotes of Jesus (the words in “red”) in opposition to the rest of Scripture. It’s all His word!

I’m not surprised or overly concerned when non-Christians make the error of separating Christ from, or setting Him in opposition to, His written word. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me” (John 10:27). Not being among Christ’s sheep, of course non-Christians don’t recognize or hear Christ’s voice, let alone feel any compulsion to obey. And they certainly have no problem disobeying! That’s to be expected. But, when professed Christians buy into the fallacious arguments of pagans and ride loose with Scripture, something’s seriously wrong with these professed Christians!

So, Scripture is the word of God (it is also the word of Christ, because Christ is God; and it is the word of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is God). Because Scripture is God’s word (and, notice, I didn’t say it “contains” God’s word, for the entirety of Scripture is God’s word), it carries God’s authority. I can’t say it any better than this quote:

“The first thing to realize is that God’s Word is an extension of God Himself. To hear His words that comprise the whole Bible is to hear Him. To obey His words is to obey Him. To ignore His words is to ignore Him. God ‘invests’ Himself in His words, as Timothy Ward puts it. That is, God so identifies Himself with His words that our response to His words is our response to Him.”

—Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation: How God’s word brings light, freedom, and action to His people (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), p. 48.

Or, again, as Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). If you or I don’t (or won’t) follow or obey Jesus—which is synonymous with following or obeying His written word, which is Scripture—then we are not one of His sheep. This is what Jesus said! If Jesus is Lord (and He most certainly is!), then His sheep/followers—i.e., Christians—are obligated to follow Him. That means all our opinions, ideas, feelings, sentiments, desires, thoughts, urges, likes, wants and “felt needs” must bow in deference to the authority of the word of Christ, which is Scripture—all of Scripture. When it comes to God, there are no such things as “rights”. Jesus is Lord! And His people submit to His word.

So, what’s my point? It is this: Some profess faith in Christ who, nevertheless, are all-too-willing to throw the word of Christ (Scripture) under the bus when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. But we cannot do that—and I don’t believe we will do that—if Jesus Christ is truly our Lord. There’s more to being a Christian than just saying you’re a Christian. Those who have placed themselves under the Lordship of Christ have also submitted their views and ideas (and sexuality) to the authority of His written word.

Scripture, being the word of God, bears God’s authority. The heart of the issue is that those who want to justify sin (whether homosexuality or any other sin) are loathe to submit to the authority of Scripture. That’s why those who are busy trying to force acceptance of homosexuality and legalize so-called “gay marriage” are also busy working to undermine the authority of Scripture. Here’s an example I came across just this week:

“Clearly, there are a few Bible verses that involve same-sex acts…but given the modern advent of recognizing the existence of sexual orientation, we must accept the reality that the writers of those verses were in no way trying to, let alone capable of, acknowledging, understanding and addressing homosexual orientation.”

Notice the condescending attitude of this writer (who happens to be a seminary-educated, ordained minister within an old-line Protestant denomination). Does not God know all things? And even if the men who wrote Scripture in themselves “were in no way trying to, let alone capable of, acknowledging, understanding and addressing homosexual orientation,” would not the God who inspired their writings, who guided their minds in the act of writing (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), have full knowledge of all things?

Those who seek to undermine the authority of Scripture love to say that Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality, therefore He was/is not concerned about the issue at all. In saying this (and in believing it), they reveal their ignorance of both the divine nature of Scripture and the divine nature of Christ. For if homosexuality is addressed in Scripture at all, then Jesus has addressed the issue, because (as I said earlier) all of Scripture is His word.

It is also said that the Bible really does not condemn homosexuality at all, that we’re simply misunderstanding the context of certain passages. But, my friend, no matter what translation in which you read Genesis 19:4-13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Judges 19:22-23; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:9-10, you cannot interpret these passages to be anything but condemnatory of homosexual acts.

Besides all this, while one can find passages which speak positively and approvingly of heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage, you will find absolutely no passages in Scripture which speak positively or approvingly of homosexuality or homosexual relations, and absolutely nothing supportive of homosexual marriage. Nothing. At all. Why? Because God in no way approves of sin, including homosexuality.

When Satan makes his appearance in Scripture, we find him undermining the word of God (Genesis 3:1ff). Today, when we hear and read of philosophies and arguments which ultimately work to undermine the authority of Scripture as the word of God, the same devil is at work. I don’t want to mince words: This push we see for the acceptance and approval of homosexuality, for the securing of special legal rights for those engaged in a homosexual lifestyle, and for the recognition and legalization of “gay marriage”—both in the wider society and within some churches—is inspired by Satan. Those involved in pressing forward this evil agenda are doing the devil’s work. As I said at the beginning, I’m not surprised at all when non-Christians involve themselves in sinful causes like this. But, when those who profess to be Christian take up the devil’s cause, we should be highly concerned about the true spiritual state of our churches.

So, is what I’ve been writing “homophobia”? Is calling out homosexuality as sin a form of “hate speech”? Not at all! I don’t fear homosexuals (which is what “homophobia” means) and, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t hate anyone, let alone hate people solely because of their sexuality. In fact, calling Christians “homophobes”, “bigots” and “haters” because they are true to their faith is the height of intolerance (ironically, those who talk the most about “tolerance” are usually the most intolerant of people). No, I’ve written this because of love—love for God, love for His word, and love for people, especially those who comprise “the household of faith.” In fact, I’ll tell you what a lack of love looks like: to keep silent about sin, knowing the coming wrath of God, because you fear the disapproval of mere humans. Silence about sin borders on hatred.

This post is primarily directed at professing Christians who continue to remain silent regarding the sin of homosexuality. Some professing evangelical Christians have even gone so far as to lend their approval to homosexuality and “gay marriage”. When, in our craving for worldly acceptance, we cast aside God’s written word by either outright ignoring it or twisting its meaning in such a way as to make it appear God approves sin, in what sense are we really “Christian”? God has made it clear that we are not to add to or take away from His written word (see Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19). Our attitude towards God’s written word is a test of the genuineness of our Christianity. To quote Jonathan Leeman again: “God’s Word is an extension of God Himself. To hear His words that comprise the whole Bible is to hear Him. To obey His words is to obey Him. To ignore His words is to ignore Him.”

Christian, you must not remain silent about sin. You must not be afraid to speak up, when given the opportunity. This is certainly not about “reclaiming America” or winning any so-called “culture war.” Who cares about saving American culture! You and I cannot remain silent about sin because GOD is not silent about sin. Stand on His truth, even if you must stand alone. Stand with love, but stand resolutely. Stand because God’s word is right, and everything that stands in contradiction to His word is wrong.

But, for heaven’s sake, let’s be even more vigilant about ridding our own lives of sin. We must practice what we preach! May God help us to do so.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

How will you vote?

As a product of the historic Black Church, currently active as a member of a predominantly-white, mainstream, evangelical church, who through musical associations has been exposed to mainline Christianity, and who through work in secular educational establishments has been exposed to political and social liberalism, it has been my privilege to gain a broad perspective on how different kinds of people tend to think—theologically, politically and otherwise.

When it comes to current Presidential politics and the Christian, I’ve observed that there are Christians who are genuinely puzzled that any real Christian would ever vote for President Obama, while there are other Christians who similarly wonder how in the world a real Christian could ever vote for his Republican rival. As difficult as it may be for some to imagine, there are genuine Christians who voted for Obama, and there are genuine Christians who voted (and/or will vote) for his opponent. A truly biblical and Christian stance does not fall neatly along political party lines. There are sinful practices promoted and/or tolerated by politicians in every political party.

So what does this mean for the Christian as we look ahead to November’s Presidential election? Practically speaking, it means that who Christians decide to vote for will probably boil down to which sins we can best tolerate. In other words, there are no perfect candidates, and there is no “Christian” choice. In my opinion, Christians need to pray, seek God’s guidance in Scripture, and then vote one’s conscience, trusting God who is sovereign over all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What a politician should NOT say


This is how a politician guarantees I will NOT vote for him:

Last Saturday, Rick Santorum said, “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor that [tries] to indoctrinate them.”

Pardon me, Mr. Santorum, but I was raised by a “good, decent” couple, who worked hard all their lives, and who never went to college or high school. Yet, unlike you, they didn’t consider it snobbery to desire that others attain a college education. On the contrary, they wanted me to have what they never had the opportunity to get, and they encouraged and expected me to go to college and get my degree. I’m all but certain minorities and college-educated whites will not find your statement compelling. So, why would you—someone with 3 earned college degrees—make a statement like this? Well, it seems obvious to me that your statement is only meant to play upon the racially-inspired fear, hatred and jealousy of non-college-educated whites towards college-educated black men. That’s personally insulting to me. And THAT’S why, in a nutshell, Mr. Santorum, you will NEVER get my vote!