Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Prayer request

I would like to solicit prayer for myself.

This Saturday, I am speaking at a men’s retreat sponsored by an A.M.E. Church my family and I used to attend. Then on Sunday, I am preaching at New Life Fellowship. I’ve finished writing my teaching for the men’s retreat, but I still have lots of work to do on Sunday’s sermon (from Galatians 4:21-31). On top of all this, my 14-year-old is graduating from Middle School tomorrow night, our small group is having a little get-together at our house Friday evening, and both boys are performing in a piano recital on Saturday afternoon (I’ll drive straight from the retreat to the recital). As if this wasn’t enough, my mother-in-law will be spending the weekend with us. I drive up to Milwaukee tomorrow afternoon to pick her up.

Fortunately, the school year is over and I have officially begun my summer break, so I have time on my hands.

But, pray for me, please. This sermon is not coming together quickly, and I’m already having trouble concentrating. I also need some time to think deeply and pray about Saturday’s retreat. Finally, I desperately need grace to deal with my high-maintenance mother-in-law.

I probably won’t be writing any more here until things settle down, either Sunday night or Monday, but please pray for me in the meantime.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

“Come On, Children, Let’s Sing!”

Here’s another video clip of the late Mahalia Jackson, in a live performance, singing, “Come on, children, let’s sing about the goodness of the Lord”. I love that part of the song that says,

He has been my all in all,
He will never let me fall.
That is why I can sing, that is why I can shout,
Because I know what it’s all about—
The goodness of the Lord.

God won’t let His children fall (Jude 24). He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). That’s just how good God is to His children!

“You Can’t Hurry God”

Through a YouTube link that a friend sent me, I stumbled upon all these wonderful video clips of classic Black gospel music performed by some of the great gospel artists of days gone by.

This particular video clip, a performance by the late Mahalia Jackson, was a helpful reminder to me to trust God’s sovereignty and loving control over my circumstances: “He may not come when you want Him, but He’s right on time.” Amen. So, what should I do while waiting? Trust Him!

I hope this song encourages you, too.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How much of a feminist am I?

You Are 53% Feminist

You aren't a total traditionalist when it comes to gender roles. But you're no feminist either.

You generally think that women should be treated as equals, but you're not convinced the world should be gender neutral.

This was somewhat surprising. According to the results of this survey, I’m not as anti-feminist as I thought I was. Actually, as is true of many surveys, some questions were quite difficult to answer in a 100% accurate way, because of how they were worded.

One of the survey questions dealt with women and careers. I think this is where I picked up some feminist points. You see, I do not believe that mothers absolutely must stay at home and raise the children. I think that’s ideal, but economic realities sometimes call for other arrangements. Throughout nearly 17 years of marriage, by God’s plan, I’ve never, ever earned an income sufficient to meet the needs of my family. We’ve always needed two incomes to survive financially. And, to date, my wife has always earned more than me.

Perhaps this economic reality has forced me to be a bit more liberal in my thoughts on women than some of my fellow conservative, Christian brothers. Please understand: I don’t knock stay-at-home motherhood—not at all. I was raised by a stay-at-home “mom” who worked in the home. Grandma, you see, was a “hairdresser” who operated a shop in our basement. She was simultaneously stay-at-home mom and career woman. However, there also happen to be some outstanding mothers (like my wife) who have careers outside the home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Zealous for the honor of God

I read this today, and it really got to me.
I ask you, as I ask myself: Are you zealous for the honor of God? I think I, too often, fail in this area. The honor of God should be the priority of everyone who professes the name of Christ, don’t you think? Read Numbers 25, and read this post by Thabiti Anyabwile.
And then, get alone somewhere, and pray.

The Supremacy of Christ

Watch and listen to this excerpt from a message by John Piper. It's all about Christ Jesus. Powerful!

Monday, May 21, 2007

“Walk by the Spirit”, Part 3

Please, pardon me for taking over a week to finally get around to the last installment in this series. If you’re just now getting in on this, you can read the previous installments here: Part 1, Part 2.

By this point, we have seen that to walk by the Spirit is to live a life of active trust in God, the Holy Spirit. We “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). But, how can we know we are walking by the Spirit? Will there be any verifiable evidence?

Two things come to mind. First of all, if we are walking by the Spirit, living “[habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]” (Galatians 5:16 Amplified), then it follows that our lives will manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23):

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”

A life that is “responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit” will manifest the Spirit’s fruit. The Christian life is not merely a matter of just “taking it by faith”, with no corresponding evidence to validate the reality of our profession. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, lately. It’s so easy for many professed Christians to glibly confess, “I know God!” “Jesus is Lord!” “I’m a Christian!” But, upon closer inspection (and, sometimes, you don’t even have to look that closely), one finds there is absolutely no evidence to validate their profession, no separation from the world…at all…in anything! I’m reminded of what Grandma used to say: “Talk is cheap!” It doesn’t cost anything to run your mouth. The Christian life, however, is a changed life, requiring a disciplined walk. Where the Spirit is truly at work, it will be evidenced in a life that manifests His character. In other words, the Spirit will make His presence known. Jesus said (John 3:8, emphasis mine), “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound…”, that is, the Spirit produces His effects—evidences of His presence and activity in the human soul. If we are walking by the Spirit, there will be proof: the “fruit of the Spirit”.

Secondly, if we are walking by the Spirit, our lives will conform to the Bible—the Scriptures—the very word of God which the Spirit inspired. Jesus said (John 14:15), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Obedience is an evidence of genuine faith in Christ and characterizes one who is “in step” with the Spirit of God. A question we need to ask ourselves is: How is my obedience?

So, in answer to the question of how we may know we are walking by the Spirit: We may know we are walking by the Spirit by whether or not our life conforms to God’s word, and whether or not the fruit of the Spirit is the habitual outflow of our personality.

How do we get to the place where we are walking by the Spirit, “responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit”? Based on the texts we have been looking at, I would suggest a two-pronged strategy.

The first prong in our strategy is Scripture. If we want to walk by the Spirit, we need to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures. Our lives will not be in line with the Bible if we don’t know what the Bible says. We can’t keep Christ’s commandments if we don’t know what those commandments are. If we want to learn to walk by the Spirit, we must immerse ourselves—our souls and minds—in the word of God. We need to learn what God has already said. Biblical illiteracy is rampant in the professing church. Is it any wonder that our Christianity is at such a low level? The word of God is essential.

The second prong in our strategy is prayer. If we want to learn to walk by the Spirit, we must pray to that end. Pray that our minds would be sensitive to and responsive to the Spirit’s influence. Pray that we would be submissive to the Spirit’s control. Pray for the Spirit’s guidance and direction. Pray that God would make those things we learn in the Scriptures, concerning walking by the Spirit, a reality in our lives. In a way, we’re talking about praying for the Holy Spirit, for in prayer, we acknowledge our dependence upon God and our need of the Holy Spirit. Consider the words of Jesus (Luke 11:9-13):

“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

I think all true believers in Christ want their lives to be Christ-honoring, free from the bondage of sinful habits and fruitful in the work of the Lord. The word of God points the way (Galatians 5:16): “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Let’s immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, so that we may know God’s word, and seek God’s face through prayer, that this precious truth from God’s word might be a living reality in all our lives.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Scripture or sentiment?

From the “Pyromaniacs”: Here are a couple of blog posts (first, second) urging us to let our theology and viewpoints be shaped by Scripture rather than sentiment, that I think are very much worth reading and heeding.

Friday, May 11, 2007

“Walk by the Spirit”, Part 2

If you don’t mind, I’m just going to “think out loud” a while on this subject of walking “by the Spirit”.
In order to answer the question of what it means to “walk by the Spirit”, it seems to me we must know what the word “walk” means. Just a quick glance in the English Bible at how the apostle Paul used the word “walk” in his writings reveals that he consistently used the word as a synonym for “live” (as in lifestyle). So, for example:

“Let us walk [live] properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).

“For though we walk [live] in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3).

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk [live] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk [live] according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17).

In every instance in which Paul used the word “walk”, “live” could easily be put in its place. So, with this in mind, we can say that to “walk by the Spirit” means to live one’s daily life by (or by the power of) the Spirit.

This interpretation is confirmed when we look at Galatians 5:16 in the Amplified Bible:

“But I say, walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh (of human nature without God).”

“Live habitually…responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit”. That sounds wonderful! But, how, exactly, is it accomplished? The Holy Spirit is spirit, after all—we can’t see Him or touch Him. How do we live “responsive to and controlled and guided by” One we cannot see?

First of all, we must relate to the Holy Spirit by faith. Remember, the Holy Spirit is God. I call the deity of the Holy Spirit to your remembrance because my observation over the years has been that most Christians tend to be very weak in their theology of the Holy Spirit. My casual observation is that many seem to be scared of the Holy Spirit, afraid to death of the emotionalism or fanaticism they associate with talk of the Holy Spirit. So, they avoid the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, there are those who believe in the Holy Spirit and have no trouble talking about Him, but they don’t seem to know who or what the Holy Spirit is. They think of the Holy Spirit as merely a feeling or force, as some kind of impersonal, supernatural power. I want to emphasize that the Holy Spirit is God—not an “it”, not an impersonal force. He is not some kind of magical “power” that some people “get” and can use at will. The Holy Spirit is the all-sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing God, the third Person in the Trinity. And, like God the Father, the Holy Spirit is unseen. The Spirit is spirit, not a physical presence. Therefore, we must relate to the Holy Spirit by faith, for faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Also, the Bible bears testimony to the fact that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Because the Holy Spirit is God, would it not also apply that it is impossible to please the Holy Spirit without faith in Him? Now, we’ve already seen, from Galatians 5:16-17 and Romans 7:15-24, that we are incapable by nature of resisting the “desires of the flesh” or sin. We need help. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Helper” (John 14:16; 15:26), and it is the Holy Spirit who helps believers to resist the strong “desires of the flesh”. In light of Hebrews 11:6, if we are to effectively appropriate the Spirit’s help, we must believe in Him.

Doesn’t it seem that we are often guilty of acting as if the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist? Isn’t it easier to depend more on our educational training, on psychological methods or sheer willpower more than on the Holy Spirit? Nevertheless, the word God revealed long ago to His prophet, Zechariah, still applies: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). We “must believe that [the Holy Spirit] exists”, that we need Him, and we must trust in His enabling power. We must also believe “that he rewards those who seek him.” Specifically—as it relates to walking “by the Spirit”—we must trust that the Holy Spirit will help us, even as we seek His help in overcoming sin and temptation.

So, walking by the Spirit involves active faith in the Holy Spirit, looking to Him for our strength. Yet, one question remains: How can we know that we are trusting the Holy Spirit? How can we know we are living “[habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]”?

To be continued…

Monday, May 07, 2007

Miscellaneous Bloggage

Archbishop Akinola vs The Episcopal Church
I cannot pretend to be an unbiased observer of the divisions that are occurring in the Episcopal Church, USA. In my opinion, as one who has “been there”, all those who truly acknowledge Jesus as Lord ought to “come out from among them” (2 Corinthians 6:17 KJV), and get themselves out from under the leadership of those heretical and apostate bishops and priests that run the Episcopal Church. Thank God for Bible-believing and God-fearing leaders from the “Global South”, like Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.

Read this, and thank God that the very gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church.

Pressing on to know Christ
Another good word from the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, posted at Adrian Warnock’s blog.

Divine Wrath and Penal Substitution
Some good teaching from Dr. Sam Storms.

And, finally,

I look forward to the release of this book.

“Walk by the Spirit”

The other night, I was reading in the 5th chapter of Galatians, and my mind gravitated toward two verses: verses 16 and 25. What particularly drew my attention was a phrase which is found in both verses: “Walk by the Spirit”.

I’ve been intrigued by this phrase for a long time—about 20 years or so. The reason this phrase has so captivated me is because of the promise attached to walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16):

“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Next to the gospel of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus, I think, perhaps, this is the very best news I’ve ever heard. Paul tells the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit”, and if they do that they “will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” That’s a promise!

The first question that comes to mind as I consider this promise is: What does it mean to “walk by the Spirit”? Before I answer that question, however, I want to look at the expression “desires of the flesh”. Just what are “desires of the flesh” from which we’ll be delivered when we “walk by the Spirit”? Well, from the context, I think it would be reasonable to conclude that the desire of the flesh is to do the “works of the flesh”. Conveniently, in verses 19-21, Paul lists the “works of the flesh”:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

Paul says these “works of the flesh are evident”; that is, they are clearly seen and obvious. They include everything from envy to orgies. We know this is not a comprehensive list that Paul gives us, because he adds, “and things like these”. So, simply stated, the “works of the flesh” are sins—all sins: “big” sins and “little” sins, public sins and private sins, scandalous sins and socially acceptable sins. All kinds of sins.

Where do the “works of the flesh” originate? What is their source? The works of the flesh are the result of sin in us. I get this idea from what Paul writes elsewhere (Romans 7:15-20):

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me.”

“The flesh”, you see, is what we are by nature, apart from Christ. These sins—these “works of the flesh—are the fruit of our fallen and sinful human nature, they are what sinners do. In other words, when we sin, we are doing that which comes naturally.

As Paul goes on to explain in Galatians 5:17, when we become believers, our sin nature isn’t eradicated. Rather, the new life that is ours in Christ precipitates an inner struggle with our sin nature:

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

The “Spirit”, literally, is the Holy Spirit who resides within every true believer in Christ Jesus. But, if the flesh represents what we are by nature, apart from Christ, I think we can also speak of the Spirit as representing the new nature that is ours by the new birth and the Spirit’s indwelling. Paul says the sinful desires of our fallen humanity work against the new nature implanted by the Holy Spirit within us; likewise, our new nature is opposed to the sinful desires of our fallen human nature. This, quite obviously, makes for spiritual conflict and struggle within the soul of the believer (Romans 7:21-25):

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

The struggle, says Paul, is between the mind or “inner being” and the “flesh”, which Paul earlier described in Romans 7 as “sin that dwells within me”. As a result of this inner conflict, says Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Again, this is the same situation described in Galatians 5:17, which serves to “keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

So, the enemy we face is ourselves—sin in us.

In the face of “our internal foe” (to borrow a phrase from the late Stephen Olford), Paul gives us this promise: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

So, then, what does it mean to “walk by the Spirit”?

To be continued…

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Church, according to “Jump Start”

My son came across this comic today, and thought I would think it was funny. I do.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting my “fix”

This past Sunday, I got my “fix”!

Let me explain. As you know, from the series I wrote during Black History Month, my family and I attend a predominantly white, non-denominational, evangelical church—Christ Church. Culturally speaking, the worship style at Christ Church is white, the preaching is white, the music is white, etc. The vast majority of the time, that’s absolutely no problem with me and Catherine. For instance, as a “trained” musician (my degrees are in choral music education), I am glad we attend one of the few evangelical churches in our area that still has an organ (most evangelical churches only have a “worship band”), and still sings at least one hymn during the “blended” worship service. It’s a special treat to be able to play Christ Church’s classical electronic organ (an Ahlborn-Galanti organ, the next-best thing to a pipe organ) when I have the opportunity to substitute for our organist-pianist. Plus, the most important thing for my family is the teaching and preaching. You have to understand, given a choice between “culture” and teaching, Catherine and I chose teaching. That’s the primary reason we left the Black Church. It’s regrettable such a choice had to be made, but our church options highlight what is the greatest need in the Black Church: biblical instruction. And this is the reason those who have the educational and theological resources ought to be praying and thinking about how they can come alongside the Black Church and help bring affordable and desperately needed biblical training to the Church in the Black community.

But, I digress.

Although my family and I love the people of Christ Church, and feel perfectly comfortable and “at home”, every now and then I need my “fix” of Black culture. You have to understand: I’ve been Black all my life (just in case you didn’t notice). I was raised in a Black family, grew up in a Black neighborhood, attended a Black church, and my hair was cut by a Black barber (I still get my hair cut by a Black barber. I’m sorry, but I just can’t entrust my hair to anyone but another Black man. I don’t want anyone experimenting on my hair; I want them to know what to do.). Even at the time of death, we were Black. It was exceedingly rare for anyone in the Black community to send their dead to a White-owned funeral home. Virtually all our dead were buried by the local Black “mortician”. And, I want to state, for the record: When I die, if a Black funeral home is still available, I want Black people to prepare my body for viewing. Yes, I said “viewing”. Maybe it’s just a “Black thing”, but there’s no way in the world that I want to be cremated. No way! I don’t want a “memorial” service, either. I want a funeral service (with my remains present and accounted for, thank you), preceded by an open-casket visitation hour. I’ve already told Catherine I want to be “laid out”, dressed up, looking good—“jes’ like he’s sleep”.

So, whatever “Black” means, I’m it! And every now and then, I want to get a taste of what I grew up with.

And, Sunday was my opportunity.

My wife and I have a good friend who happened to be in town this past weekend, conducting a men’s workshop at a Black Baptist church in North Chicago, my hometown (in fact, just one block down the street from where I grew up). I found out on Saturday that he would be staying over until Sunday to preach for their Sunday morning worship service. Well, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to hear him preach again. Since the worship service that we attend at Christ Church is over at 10:20 a.m. (exactly 65 minutes) and the Black Baptist worship service in North Chicago started at 10:45, my family and I were able to take in both worship services. So, right after worship at Christ Church, we hustled out of church and drove up to North Chicago.

We arrived in time and found a seat. Almost immediately, an usher whom I knew came over to where we were seated and asked if I would like to sit with the other ministers (I anticipated this would happen). I consented. So, the usher escorted me to the pastor’s office where I waited with the pastor, my friend who is the guest preacher and three of the local preachers at this church, until time for worship to start.

At the appointed time, all six of us preachers entered the sanctuary and took our seats on the platform. After everyone was situated, the pastor quietly asked me if I would offer the prayer for the altar call later on in the worship service. I gladly agreed. For the uninitiated, the “altar call” is the moment when members of the congregation, who so desire, gather at the front of the sanctuary, in front of the pulpit (at the “altar”), for special prayer. I would liken the “altar call” prayer to a “pastoral prayer”, in that it is a prayer focused specifically on the needs of that particular congregation and, especially, those who have gathered in front.

Well, the worship commenced in typical Black Baptist church fashion. I must tell you, after hearing so much of the Christian, pop-rock music that has become standard fare in many evangelical churches, the music at this Black Baptist church was truly “music” to my ears. I knew I was back “home” the minute I entered the building and heard the Hammond organ.

Then, there were the sights. Black people, traditionally, dress up for church. True to form, the ladies had on their dresses, shoes and hats (my wife, Catherine, even “broke out” one of her wide-brimmed church hats), and the men were dressed up in their suits (I declare, in a Black Baptist church, you’ll see men’s suits in styles and colors you will never see in a white church).

Eventually, the time came for the “altar call”. The people gathered at the front as the pastor called out the names of church members who stood in need of special prayer: the sick, the home-bound, those who’ve recently lost loved ones, and others. Then the pastor introduced me:

“Let us go before the Lord, as Dr. Duncan comes to lead us in prayer” (“Dr. Duncan”?! Wow! I didn’t know I had that much edu-muh-cation!).

Personally, I feel it is difficult to pray public prayers. So many thoughts flood my mind, as I think about what to pray. You see, I want to pray meaningfully, from the heart. I also want to pray in such a way that all can join in agreement with my prayer. I want my prayers to be theologically correct. But, I don’t want my prayers to turn into preaching (a very easy thing to do, by the way). I want to be open to the leading of the Spirit. However, I don’t want my prayer to drag on forever. Because public prayer is difficult, often, before I pray publicly, I pray silently that God would help me to pray. I don’t want my public prayers to degenerate into a mere formality, neither do I want to pray to the crowd (as opposed to talking to God).

Thank God, He gave me His assistance. And thank God for the assistance of the congregation! You know, Black church folks have a way of letting you know that they’re with you, as they voice their agreement with what’s being prayed. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I know I felt great liberty in my spirit as I extolled God’s greatness, thanked Him for His goodness, and brought the needs of that particular congregation before His throne of grace. I haven’t prayed with such hearty responses “backing me up” in so long, it’s a wonder I didn’t pray the rest of the morning (Catherine says I probably prayed about 7 or 8 minutes)!

Eventually, the “altar call” ended, the choir sang, and my friend preached. He gave a great challenge to the church as he pointed out the urgent need for Black male role models for our Black boys (and girls). He preached about an hour or so (I guess he wasn’t watching the clock, either!).

It was well after 1:00 p.m. when the worship service ended. But, you know what? It didn’t matter! It was just good to be able to immerse myself in my native culture for a few hours, as we worshiped the Lord together with “my folks”.

I got my “fix”. I think I’ll be all right, now (at least, for a while).