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),

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!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Psalm 32

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to preach from Psalm 32 to the dear people of New Life Fellowship Church in Vernon Hills, IL, where Rev. Louis Love is pastor. You can listen to the message here:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On this King Holiday, what I’m thankful for

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States, a personal incident from many years ago comes to mind.

I no longer remember when this happened—it was probably back when I was in high school or junior high. But, one day, having seen films in school, and documentaries and movies on television, about the Civil Rights movement and the white racism that at one time was so pervasive in the American South—and knowing that my great-grandma (born in 1896) grew up in the “Heart of Dixie”—the state of Alabama—I asked her if she ever saw the Ku Klux Klan in person.


“You never saw them marching or anything like that?”

“No, I never saw that.”

That puzzled me, because I got the impression, from the documentaries and movies I saw, that the Ku Klux Klan was everywhere in the South.

“Well,” I asked, “did you have any trouble with white people down South?”

“We didn’t really have any trouble with the white folks,” said Grandma.

Now I was thoroughly confused. I had been taught about Jim Crow and lynchings and the black struggle for Civil rights, and here was Grandma—who grew up in Alabama—telling me she didn’t have any trouble with white folks down there.

“Well, how did you not have any trouble with whites?”

Grandma said, “Because we stayed in our place, and the white folks stayed in their place. So, we didn’t have any trouble.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever considered what it means to have a “place” you must stay in. It means all your dreams, hopes, goals and ambitions have all been circumscribed by society. It doesn’t matter your intelligence, gifts or potential. You can only be what others say you can be. You can go thus far, but no further. And the implied message was, “Stay in your place, or else!” That was what life was like for black people in the rural South when Grandma was growing up.

For Grandma, staying in her “place” meant that she could only go as far as the 8th grade in school. Staying in her “place” meant that she spent a lifetime doing menial labor, first on her father’s small farm, planting and hoeing and picking cotton and other crops. Then, after the family migrated north to Illinois, working as a maid, then as a short-order cook and, finally, as a self-employed hairdresser for 37 years, working out of the basement of her home, until she was 80 years old.

Imagine the potential damage to one’s spirit knowing “people like you” must “stay in your place.” Regardless of your talents, regardless of your abilities, because you are born “not white” you cannot aspire for anything higher or better in life than what society says you must be. Imagine the feelings of inferiority, resentment and bitterness that could develop.

Yet, I never detected a note of resentment or bitterness in Grandma. In fact, she was one of the most unresentful and contented individuals I’ve known. What was her secret? I never discussed it with her, but I think I know what her answer would’ve been: as a teenager, Grandma came to know Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. I believe it was Jesus who gave her contentment in spite of the limits imposed on her by society. I can hear her now, saying those words she often quoted: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11 KJV).

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m thankful for two things: I’m thankful that God raised up a Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead a Civil Rights Movement that broke down societal barriers that kept black people like me in “our place.” Because of Dr. King, and countless others, doors were open to me that Grandma never dreamed of. But, I’m also thankful to God for the example of my great-grandma, and others of her generation who, by the grace of God, not only survived life in a racist society, but came through it without hatred or bitterness, because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


This would be my advice to Tim Tebow: Pay no mind to your friends or your detractors; listen to Jesus.

Jesus said,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1, 5-6)

Now, before all of Tim Tebow’s fans rise up in his defense, I’m not insinuating that Tim Tebow is kneeling and bowing on the sidelines in order to be seen by others. I have no idea what his motivation is (and don’t want to know, actually). However, I can read what Jesus said. Jesus said, “Beware”, so we should heed the Lord’s warning and carefully examine our motives because, “The heart is deceitful above all things...” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Something else to consider: Tim Tebow’s act of kneeling on the sidelines after he makes touchdowns, to some degree, has been a subject of controversy (and yes, I realize most, if not all, of the controversy has been stirred up by the media). The apostle Paul wrote, “‘All things are lawful’ [quoting what, perhaps, some in the Corinthian church were saying], but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor. 10:23). In light of all the tongue-wagging in the media, I can’t help but wonder if Tebow’s public acts of prayer might be unhelpful.

Does it matter? Well, Paul goes on to write, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33). So, as believers, we should be concerned to not unnecessarily give offense and, as best we can, try to please everyone, with the goal of seeking their salvation. I don’t think this situation is as much about a Christian being criticized for his faith as it is about the need for Christians to set aside their “rights” and put others before themselves. Since prayer is directed to God, it is not necessary that others see and hear us pray. And since prayer doesn’t require kneeling, it is not necessary to kneel. So, if people are bothered by a quarterback kneeling in prayer on the sidelines after he makes a touchdown, what harm is there—how is his praying hindered—if he just takes his seat on the bench with his teammates and prays from there?

Please understand I have nothing against Tim Tebow. In fact, I’m not a sports fan at all (sorry), and I watch very few sporting events (my wife is the sports fan in our household) so, before I started writing this, I hardly knew what Tim Tebow looked like. From what I hear, he is a fine, upstanding, Christian young man. I have no reason at all to question his faith, sincerity or Christian devotion. My questions are mostly about Tim Tebow’s Christian fans. Why are they so quick to defend his public kneeling in prayer, when Jesus said “go into your room and shut the door”? Remember, we’re not talking about a gathering for Christian worship; we’re talking about a football game! Is it really necessary to kneel at that time and place? Can’t Tim Tebow (or any other player who wants to pray) pray just as well sitting on the bench?

More importantly, are the Lord Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 and the Apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 10, optional?

Maybe we should all listen more carefully to Jesus. He said, “Beware”.

Monday, January 09, 2012

God is there

Heaven is heaven because God is there, and hell is hell because God is there.

Have you ever thought about that? There is simply nowhere that an omnipresent God cannot be. If there was someplace where God was not, then God would not be omnipresent. It is a sobering thing to consider. The same Holy One who, for the righteous, is the joy of heaven is also the torment of hell for the unrighteous: “He will be tormented in the presence...of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10).

“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’” (Isaiah 33:14).

“For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).

The reality is there is nowhere to go! That truth alone should motivate us who trust in Christ to do all we can to warn sinners of the wrath to come.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What I have been up to

Hello! I’m back…for a moment. So, what have I been up to? Making music. The school year began a little over a month ago, and so I’m back at work. I work part-time at the local community college as an adjunct faculty member, serving as the accompanist and rehearsal assistant for the choral program. A surprise this semester is that I was asked (two days before classes began!) to teach a class in sight-singing and ear training. That’s been going well. This past summer, I picked up a weekly gig accompanying a chorus at a nearby retirement community. The dear ladies and gentlemen who sing in the chorus appreciated my assistance so much, they changed their rehearsal night so that I could continue once the school year started and my rehearsal obligations at the community college resumed. Finally, I serve my church as a worship pianist, worship leader, organist and choir accompanist. Probably, the most stimulating thing I do musically is play the organ at church. My primary instrument is piano, but organ has always been my love—a hobby of sorts. We don’t use the organ every week at our church, and I don’t get as much practice as I need or would like, but it’s always fun when I get a chance to play it. Here’s a video clip of me playing the well-known Toccata from Organ Symphony #5 by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) as the postlude after worship service last Sunday morning.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Is it mid-July already?

It’s hard to believe that 2011 is halfway done already. Right now I’m enduring a hot, humid July evening at home—hot and humid not only because the heat index was around 100 degrees today, but because our air conditioning system decided to quit working this afternoon. I’ll be calling the repairman first thing in the morning.

It has been a while since I’ve blogged, because it’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing. If you think of it, pray for me and my family as we, like a multitude of others, go through financial difficulties (too much month at the end of the money). In spite of the stresses, I’m grateful for every blessing God sends our way, and I WILL rejoice in Him. Although financial situations change, God never changes, and He remains good toward us.

One of God’s blessings to my family this summer was the Annual Bible Conference sponsored by New Life Fellowship Church of Vernon Hills, IL. This year’s conference—“HIM We Proclaim: The Preeminence of Christ in the Book of Colossians”—was a real blessing to all who attended. The speakers, Pastors Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Carter and Reddit Andrews, were powerfully used by God as they delivered His word. Honestly, I think some of these messages quite possibly were among the best examples of biblical preaching that I have ever heard anywhere, by anyone—living or deceased—live or recorded. After hearing the preeminence of Christ expounded from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, Christ seems more awesome and wonderful to me than ever before. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.

Although it’s not the same as being there in person, you can hear the recordings of these messages online HERE at the website of New Life Fellowship Church. I encourage you to listen. My suggestion would be to block out an hour or so of undistracted time, have a Bible ready, and prayerfully listen to the word of God.

It was also my privilege to once again lead singing for the Conference. My hunch is that there are very few Reformed Bible Conferences found anywhere on this planet where you can have the opportunity to sing good, ol’, down-home songs from the African-American Christian tradition like this:

Or hear soloists like this:


You will only find this kind of music (along with the powerful and rock-solid proclamation of the word of God) at the New Life Bible Conference. I hope this whets your appetite to consider attending NEXT YEAR.

Oh, and by the way: Registration is FREE.

The Lord willing, I’ll see you next June, here in Illinois.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Life Bible Conference 2011

An affordable (FREE!) & convenient opportunity to receive solid Bible teaching from nationally-known, Reformed Christian pastor-teachers is coming next week to Lake County, Illinois. For the past several years, it’s been my privilege to lead worship & song at New Life Fellowship Church’s Annual Bible Conference, held each June in Vernon Hills, IL. This year, the dates are June 23-25, and the speakers are Reddit Andrews, Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter.
This year’s theme is “HIM We Proclaim: The Preeminence of Christ in the Book of Colossians”, and blessing us during these 3 days with teaching from the word of God will be Pastors Reddit Andrews, Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter. Here is the schedule:

Thursday, June 23, 2011 – 7:00-9:30 pm
Anthony Carter: Colossians 1:1-23, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ Over All Things”
Thabiti Anyabwile: Colossians 1:24-2:5, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Pastoral Ministry”

Friday, June 24, 2011 – 7:00-9:30 pm
Reddit Andrews: Colossians 2:6-23, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Justification”
Thabiti Anyabwile: 3:1-17, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Sanctification”

Saturday June 25, 2011 – 9:30 am-12:00 noon
Reddit Andrews: Colossians 3:18-4:6, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Our Relationships”
Anthony Carter: Colossians 4:7-18, “Jesus Christ: The Preeminent Reward of Faithful Servants”

Each year, those who have the opportunity to attend the New Life Bible Conference always come away with high praises for the great teaching and Christian fellowship. If you are able to get to the Chicagoland area, I encourage you to consider attending this very affordable and accessible Bible conference. More information can be found at New Life Fellowship’s website.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Birthday!

“Happy Birthday!” to my dearest and best friend in the world (other than Jesus)—my wife, Catherine. I love you!

“If you want to know Jesus, be much in His word.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lloyd-Jones on Whitefield

Wow! This is a rare treat (for me, at least): A short, 14-minute documentary on George Whitefield (arguably the greatest preacher of the 18th century) narrated by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (arguably the greatest preacher of the 20th century).

HT: Adrian Warnock

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Music to encourage the soul

The last couple days the Lord has ministered to me through YouTube and the old-school gospel choir music that I’ve been digging up at that site. Listen to these selections from back in the day, and meditate on the Scripture verses I’ve included with each selection. May the Lord encourage your soul.

“We Need to Hear From You”
(1990 - AndraƩ Crouch)

2 Chronicles 7:14
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Revelation 3:13, 22
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”

“God Never Fails”
(1967 - Harold Smith’s Majestic Choir of Detroit, with Harold Freeman & Charles Johnson on lead)

Hebrews 13:5-6
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

“I’ll Get Home Someday”
(1970 – George Jordan & the choir of Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church, Chicago)

Hebrews 13:14
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

Philippians 3:14
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

“The Potter’s House”
(1990 – recorded by Tramaine & the late Walter Hawkins. Incidentally, this song is composed by V. Michael McKay, whom I had the privilege of meeting and talking to, just 3 weeks ago!)

Jeremiah 18:1-6
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I... will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’”

“My Soul Loves Only You”
(1983 - Sandra Crouch)

Song of Solomon 3:1-4
“On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’ Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go…”

Friday, March 04, 2011

Televised interview of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

John Piper called Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “One of the greatest preachers of the 20th century” and, from what I’ve read and heard from him, and read about him, I would tend to agree.

Thanks to Adrian Warnock’s blog, I was made aware of this fascinating video which shows a portion of a televised interview from 1970 of Dr. Lloyd-Jones. My understanding is that Dr. Lloyd-Jones made very few appearances on television, so seeing him “live” on this video is a treat for those of us who never had the opportunity to know or see him while he was living. The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust produced this video to mark the anniversary of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ death, 30 years ago this week—St. David’s Day, March 1, 1981.

At one point in this interview, Dr. Lloyd-Jones was asked about his call to preach: “Did you feel in yourself that you had the qualities that would make a successful preacher?” Dr. Lloyd-Jones answered:

“I really was never concerned about that. My concern was with what needed to be preached, and it was this—with burning conviction as to the message needed—that drove me on. I’ve sometimes told people of a story which will help to answer your question, how, having taken my decision to go into the church and to preach, someone very near to me was walking with me one night and asked me the question, ‘How do you know that you’ll be able to preach? You know what you can do as a doctor. Why not go on with that and exercise Christian influence? What if you find suddenly that you can’t preach?’ Well, I’d only tried preaching about three times, in very small places, and the only answer I could give was this: ‘I know what I want to preach and what I think must be preached and I have a feeling, somehow, that I’ll be able to say it.’”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ answer reminded me somewhat of my own call, 22 years ago, to preach, and the burden Christ laid on my heart for His church and for a lost world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do Not Abandon the Gospel

I was in Champaign, Illinois last weekend to participate in the Black Sacred Music Symposium held biennially at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While in town, I also had the opportunity to preach at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Champaign, where I worshipped and served as organist and director of music, during my college and grad school years. You can listen to my sermon, “Do not abandon the Gospel” (based on Galatians 1:1-10), below.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Random thoughts on race (a re-post from 2007)

Here’s another article I wrote in celebration of Black History Month that I’m re-posting. This one was originally posted February 28, 2007. WWD


The most forgiving people I’ve ever heard about were Black people.

For example, my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda Duncan, was a slave in Alabama, owned by the Armistead family. Malinda died in 1929, at the age of 86, and I’ve visited her grave in the Armistead Cemetery (on land set aside by the Armistead family for their slaves to bury their dead). Grandma (my great grandmother) told me that Malinda, who was her paternal grandmother, would tell her about the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her “mistress”, Mrs. Armistead. It appears Mr. Armistead was prone to fooling around with his female slaves (which, obviously, was very common—just look at how many shades of color “Black” people come in). Mrs. Armistead, as a result, was very jealous and spiteful toward her female slaves. Well, one day Mrs. Armistead got a hold of my great-great-great grandmother (who was only a girl at the time), and burned her against the side of her neck with a poker taken from the fireplace. Grandma personally saw this scar. Grandma said when she was a little girl she used to cry as her grandmother would tell her about how the mistress burned her neck. After the slaves were free, and Mrs. Armistead was old, widowed and sick, and near death, Malinda went back and took care of her mistress (I assume until the old lady died).

The words of Scripture come to mind (Proverbs 25:21-22):

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

Can’t you also hear the words of Jesus? (Matthew 5:43-45):

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I ask you, would your Christianity enable you to do what my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda, did?


Speaking of the old Black folks and church: The old folks believed that if you were going to “have church” you ought to really “have church”. They weren’t casual about their worship. God had been too good to them to keep it bottled up inside. Church was the place to let it all out! An old gospel song they used to love to sing at my home church went like this:

I said I wasn’t gonna tell nobody…
I said I wasn’t gonna run for Jesus…
I said I wasn’t gonna shout for joy, but I
Couldn’t keep it to myself
What the Lord has done for me.

Then, there was the refrain:

You oughta been there
When He saved my soul.
You oughta been there
When He put my name on the role.
Then I started walking,
I started talking,
I started singing,
I started shouting
About what the Lord has done.

When you think about the hardships, the heartaches, the pain… I believe contemporary folks would go insane under similar life pressures! It was unheard of, back in the day, for a Black person to go to a counselor or psychologist. So, how did they mentally and emotionally survive? They survived because the Lord was their psychologist and counselor and psychiatrist! They shouted and hollered, prayed and cried, walked and ran, and sang and moaned, until they felt better! They could go on for another week, facing racism and poverty and discrimination and deprivation every day of their lives, yet persevering in spite of their circumstances, because they had a friend in Jesus. It’s no secret that Black folks’ favorite verse in “Amazing Grace” has always been verse number three:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Twas grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

This reminds me of the last time my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, attended church. When he was about to turn 100 years of age, the very day before his birthday, our church had a celebration for him during the Sunday worship service. That was Sunday, August 1, 1971. I have only a few memories from that day (I was only 8), but they still stand out vividly in my mind.

Grandpa Duncan was old and feeble by this time and was no longer able to attend church. Since he wasn’t able to sit through an hour-and-a-half to two-hour service, it was decided that the family would bring him to church at noon—half-way through the service. I remember the ushers escorting Grandpa Duncan into the church. On his way down the center aisle to the front pew where the family was seated, Grandpa Duncan saw an old friend, Mr. Charlie Ingram. Mr. Ingram was no longer able to attend church either, as he was about, I think, 96-years-old by this time, and blind and feeble; but he wanted to come and help celebrate his old friend’s birthday. Grandpa Duncan saw Mr. Ingram and the two old friends embraced right there in the center aisle and greeted each other warmly, striking up a conversation!

I also remember Grandpa Duncan partaking of communion that day. In Methodism, we knelt at the altar rail to take communion, and so, Grandpa Duncan was helped to his knees. Well, Grandpa Duncan “got happy” down there on his knees, and he was crying and verbally rejoicing in the Lord. The old man couldn’t hold it any longer. I can only imagine what was on his mind.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word, my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When I think of Black History Month (a re-post from 2007)

The following article was originally posted February 1, 2007. In celebration of Black History Month, I am re-posting it here. WWD


During African-American or Black History Month, Americans recognize the many historic achievements and contributions of Blacks to the United States. The fact that a race of people kidnapped from their native land, separated from their families, tribes and culture, and subjected to forced slavery in this land could, in spite of such evil treatment, rise and achieve so much and contribute so critically to the building of this nation is nothing short of a miracle, and is a grand testimony to the grace and power of God. Ultimately, it was God who set Black slaves free in answer to their many prayers. It was the Lord who brought Blacks through Reconstruction and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Almighty God delivered Black people from lynchings, “Jim Crow” and forced segregation. God, in answer to the prayers of our slave forebears, brought about the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. In a real sense, Black History is a vivid illustration of the grace of God.

But, Black History is not just about famous people and events, but about ordinary Black families. When I think of Black History, I think of my family. I think of my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, who migrated from Florence, Alabama to North Chicago, Illinois (a small city some 35 miles north of the city of Chicago) in April of 1921, during the period American historians call “the Great Migration”. The son of former slaves, he was almost 50 years old at the time. His original intent was to settle in Michigan, but not finding anyplace to his liking, he decided to visit his wife’s uncle, Jack Fowler, in Waukegan. It was during this visit that he found a place that he liked in North Chicago, on the border with Waukegan. He purchased the house and sent a telegram summoning his wife, Frankie, and their two daughters, Minnie and Wylodine, and son, Fancie, to get their things together and come to Illinois.

I remember Richmond Duncan. I was almost 9 years old when he died in 1972. He lived to be almost 101 years old (100 years, 10 months and 7 days, to be exact). I’m thankful for pioneers like my “Grandpa Duncan.” I live in “Chicagoland” today because of Grandpa Duncan's desire for a better life for his family.

When I think of Black History, I also think of my great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Bettie Rice (yes, I used “great” 5 times). “Bettie” was the name given her by her owners, the Rice family. Bettie was a slave. I don’t think anyone ever knew when she was born, and there’s no one alive today who knows when she died. Based on what I was told, I think she died somewhere between 1899 and 1905. I own an old “tin-type” photo of her—the only picture of her—taken when she was an old woman, weary with years, but still carrying herself with dignity despite the horrors she had witnessed in her life. The other year, I made an enlarged copy of it, framed it, and hung it on the wall of our family room for all who visit our home to see. You see, Bettie holds a special place in our family for Bettie was born in Africa. She told her children and grandchildren that she was a Hottentot. The Hottentot were a tribe in southern and southwest Africa. I’m fascinated by an old story, passed down through the generations, that during slavery, Bettie once threatened to kill her own baby girl rather that have that baby sold away from her. Because of her fighting spirit, Bettie was allowed to keep that baby girl. Because an African Hottentot named Bettie refused to give up her child, our family remained intact and we still tell her story today.

Most of what I know about my family, I learned at the feet of my great grandmother—Richmond Duncan’s daughter, Bettie Rice’s great-great granddaughter—Minnie Duncan Gray. Minnie and her husband, William, raised me. Minnie had a phenomenal memory, and could talk at length about the family history. She knew both sets of her grandparents, all of whom had been slaves. I learned about slavery from one that had known and talked to former slaves. I learned from my great grandmother to appreciate family history and what my forebears had to endure so that I could be where I am today. I also learned from my great grandparents about the love of God in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again that I might have eternal life. This is the faith that has sustained many in my family since slavery days. This is the faith I am committed to passing on to my children.

Black people in the United States have come a long, long way. I believe strongly that Blacks should never forget those who came before us. And we should never, ever forget God who brought us through.


Some of you may have noticed that I recently added a photo to my profile (I finally figured out how it’s done). This photo is one of my favorites. It is from the latter half of 1971, as I remember, and it shows 5 generations of the Duncan family. Seated, in the center, is Richmond Duncan (1871-1972), my great-great grandfather. He was 100 years old at the time this photo was taken. The two women are his daughters, Minnie (to the left) and Wylodine (to the right). Minnie (1896-1986) is my great grandmother. Her husband, William (1905-1989), is behind her. Minnie and William took me in when I was 2 months old, and raised me to adulthood. My great-great aunt, Wylodine (1898-1998), who lived next door to us, probably did more than any other person to introduce me to Jesus. I cannot thank God enough for my great grandparents and my great-great aunt; by God’s grace, and because of them, I am what I am today. Standing behind Richmond is Minnie’s only child, my grandfather, Barney Quentin (1919-2000). On the far left and far right are Barney Q’s two sons, my Uncles, Barney David (on the left) and Charles (on the right). In Barney Q’s arms and on Richmond’s lap are Charles’ two oldest sons, my cousins, Adam [1969-2007] and Gabriel. Finally, standing to the right of Richmond, is me (one of the extremely rare photos of me in shorts). I was 8 years old.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Standing Strong

This past weekend, it was my privilege to preach 3 times—Saturday evening and twice on Sunday morning—at my home church, Christ Church Lake Forest. This was my very first time preaching at Christ Church. And God honored His word! He so graciously blessed us at each service. My sermon was from Ephesians 6:10-18a.

You may listen to the audio here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Blizzard of 2011

Starting yesterday afternoon until this morning, we got at least 20 inches of snow in Chicagoland. Combined with wind gusts up to 40 miles-per-hour, it was quite a storm. Here’s the view outside our house this morning.

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!

He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?

(Psalm 147:12, 15-17)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Learning contentment

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
—Philippians 4:11-13

Of course, I haven’t “arrived” where Paul was, but this is my goal. Over the past nineteen months that I’ve been without a fulltime job, as I've thought more deeply about the fact of God's absolute sovereignty over absolutely everything (including my employment status, and the resulting financial strain for my family) I've come to see that discontent is really a form of unbelief.

In other words, when I'm discontented with my circumstances, I'm ultimately questioning God's choice to place me in these circumstances of partial employment and reduced income. If God is truly sovereign (and He is: Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11), and if He has the power to cause all things to work together for my good (and He does: Romans 8:28), then I have absolutely no legitimate reasons to be discontented with and complaining about any circumstances which God ordains for my life. Sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow, but swallow it I must! The Lord does “all things well”, and He makes no mistakes.

Contentment, however, shouldn't be confused with apathy (I’m sure Paul would have preferred freedom to imprisonment). Being content doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I must like my situation. Contentment is recognizing that whatever happens to me has been ordained by a good and sovereign God for my good. Contentment is the realization that God’s design is that I be a better man, conformed to the image of His Son. Contentment is the confidence that comes from knowing that God is not against me; He’s for me. Contentment is simply trust in God’s word.

I admit it is exceedingly difficult for me to feel content with many of the things which are going on in my life right now. It’s no fun. But Scripture says I can be content, and genuinely feel contentment, “through him who strengthens me”—through the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of Christ”, Romans 8:9) who dwells within me. How do I draw upon the power of the indwelling Christ? “The just shall live by faith”—faith in Christ.

I’m learning. I’m not “there” yet. Nevertheless, I know God is good and, through the past nineteen month, has been good to me and my family. And He is sovereign. I can trust Him.

“And Are We Yet Alive”—New Year 2011

A fond memory from my days as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church was the Methodist tradition of singing, at the opening service of each year’s Annual Conference, Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive”. As a way of marking the beginning of another year writing this blog, I think it also appropriate to recall Wesley’s words.

And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and praise to Jesus give
For His redeeming grace!

Preserved by power Divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus’ praise we join,
And in His sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What conflicts have we passed,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last.

But out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power
Which saves us to the uttermost
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain;
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.

—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

They received the word with joy

This video is simply amazing: The Kimyal Tribe of Papua, Indonesia celebrating the arrival of the New Testament translated for the first time into the Kimyal language.

This video is also convicting, because I don’t love God’s Word as much as I should.

My heart echoes Tim Challies’ prayer.

“Have mercy on me, O God…”

HT: Tim Challies

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Danger of Covetousness

Yes! It worked!

With “a little help from my friends,” I was finally able to embed audio on my blog! Below is a recording of a sermon I preached back in August of this year: “The Danger of Covetousness”, based on Luke 12:13-21.

I thank God for Pastor Louis C. Love, Jr., and the very gracious people of New Life Fellowship Church, for giving me the opportunity to preach God’s Word.

May you be blessed as you listen.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Bind the “strong man”

“When we use God’s Word in accordance with his will, we have all the consent and power of the Almighty behind us. We therefore take the word of Jesus which commands us to bind the strong man…in order to spoil his goods (the souls of men held in his thrall). We shall find that when we exert ourselves to do this with an energy and devotion at least as keen as we apply to selfish pursuits, lo, people begin to respond to God’s Word, perhaps to our great surprise. It is not to be wondered at. The truth is that men’s hearts and lives are in fact in bondage to Satan (1 John 5:19), and when his power is broken, they are free to hear and heed God’s Word.

“This is a great secret; and yet many of us go on in Christian work year by year, dealing with men as if they were normally free agents willing and able to do what we say, or what they themselves will. They are not (Rom. 7:14-20), until God frees them in answer to prevailing prayer.”

From Towards Spiritual Maturity: Overcoming all evil in the Christian life (revised edition), by William Still (1911-1997), published by Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., pp. 77-78.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

“My Song Is Love Unknown”

A wonderful hymn about our Savior’s love:

“My Song Is Love Unknown”

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne,
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know.
But Oh my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way
And His sweet praises sing,
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

—Samuel Crossman (1623-1683), 1664

HT: Ray Ortlund