Friday, March 30, 2007
Sernett, Milton C., ed. African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. Pages 69-74.
There are also some important writings by important figures in Black American history located in this volume, which I believe would be worth your reading, if you’re unfamiliar with Black American history. I think it would be worth your splurging on this book. I especially recommend this ex-slave conversion account on pages 69-74 to my cessationist brothers and sisters, so that they can get themselves out of their emotionless, rationalist-cessationist ghettos, and learn something about the rest of the Christian world.
I also recommend two more volumes which contain only the transcribed accounts of ex-slaves. Learn what American slavery was about straight from the mouths of those who lived the experience.
Mellon, James, ed. Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember: An Oral History. New York: Avon Books, 1988.
Berlin, Ira, Marc Favreau and Steven F. Miller, eds. Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation. New York: The New Press, 1998.
But, then again, like I said in yesterday’s post, they are responding out of fear—fear of that which they don’t understand. It’s like individuals who don’t like people of a different race than their own. Most likely they’ve not actually made an effort to get to know people of a different race. Rather, their dislike of other races is fueled by a fear of the unknown. In my opinion, it’s much the same thing here in the obvious hostility of cessationists. Sad.
I wonder what these brothers and sisters in the Lord would think of Aunt Sylvia? My Aunt Sylvia was about 50 or 51 years old when she was saved way back in about 1954. Although she would attend church, Aunt Sylvia had never professed faith in Christ. As Aunt Sylvia told the story to me, she eventually came under conviction that she needed to be saved, or “profess Christ”, as she put it. She told me that she became so bothered about her relationship with God, that she would regularly get up at night and go shut herself up in the bathroom, so as not to disturb Uncle Fancie (yes, his name was “Fancie”), and there she would seek the Lord, reading the Bible and praying.
I don’t know how long Aunt Sylvia sought the Lord, but eventually the time came that she made up her mind to make a public profession of Christ and join the church. Now, I personally believe that Aunt Sylvia was saved by this time. However, the old folks believed you needed to “walk the aisle” and join the church in order to come to Christ. So, it was with this mindset that Aunt Sylvia decided she would join the church. To make a long story shorter, Aunt Sylvia did join the church that particular Sunday—and what a joyous occasion it was. In fact, 30 years later, the old folks were still talking about it. You see, Aunt Sylvia didn’t just “walk the aisle” that day. Oh, no. That day, Aunt Sylvia literally ran to the aisle…then leaped…and shouted…and “fell out” in the aisle! She, herself, told me she really didn’t remember what happened, but this is what Grandma (my great grandmother) and Aunt Willie (Grandma’s sister) told me. Our church had a young man as pastor at that time. They told me Aunt Sylvia about scared him to death!
You see, Aunt Sylvia was so overjoyed, so thrilled to be saved—to be “delivered…from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13)—that she lost all control. I wonder what my cessationistic and non-emotional brothers and sisters would say about Aunt Sylvia? I guess her experience was an example of emotionalism run amuck. Just another example of the backward and heathenistic ways of the Black Church (By the way, I do wonder what they think about the worship of the Black Church).
For my part, I can fully understand how Aunt Sylvia must have felt that day. Even as I sit here typing I feel my eyes well up with tears. To think, here you’ve been lost, under the wrath of God and headed towards hell for 50 years! And now, by God’s grace, all your sins are forgiven, you’re made a child of God, and you're given a home in heaven! Of course she shouted and leaped and ran! And—bless God—at 90 years of age, Aunt Sylvia was still shouting God’s praise!
I also wonder what my cessationistic brethren would have to offer to my wife’s late grandfather who, when he died, just one month short of his 101st birthday, still couldn’t read. Or my great-great-great grandparents—former slaves who never learned to read. If God only speaks through Scripture, what hope is there for the illiterate? The answer, of course, would be that they can listen to the word of God being read or taught. Okay. But, what if you don’t have anyone to read to you or teach you? I wish I could put my finger on it, but I have a book somewhere which has the stories of former slaves, as told by them and transcribed, sometime in the 1930s. I recall the conversion story of an old woman who was a slave. She told how God, literally, spoke to her, how she prayed to a God she had never been told about, and called on a Savior she had never been taught about before. As I recall, her testimony was thoroughly biblical and conformed to the gospel message, but this woman couldn’t read. No one had taught her the gospel. Only thing she knew was God spoke to her. What do you do with that, if God can’t or won’t speak outside of the Bible? Was she crazy? Was she merely hallucinating? Was her salvation a fraud?
Or is your cessationistic theology a fraud?
My friends, cessationism doesn’t square with the Bible. Acts 9:10-16; 11:27-28; 13:2; 16:6-10; 21:10-11, plus many, many other examples in the book of Acts and throughout the Old Testament, testify to the fact that God can and does speak outside the Bible. No text of Scripture says He stopped talking. I only affirm that God can and does speak outside of the Bible because the Bible affirms it.
We just need to stop trying to figure God out. Our brains are too puny and feeble to understand what God can do. In my opinion, this kind of academic and cerebral religion would have left illiterate Black slaves lost in their sins. And an emotionless and rationalistic religion doesn’t appeal to the majority of the descendants of these Black slaves. We wouldn’t have a religion we couldn’t feel…at least, sometimes!
Thankfully, that’s not the religion—the Christianity—that Scripture presents:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9, emphasis mine).
“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (Acts 3:1-10, emphasis mine).
Tell me, do you think this lame man who was healed leaped unemotionally? Did he praise God in his thoughts, silently? Notice, he wasn’t rebuked by Peter and John for being emotional.
I wish—I only wish—I had this kind of liberty in the Spirit. Anyone that knows me will tell you I’m no emotional extremist. In fact, I’m usually quite reserved. I wish I wasn’t! I feel deep emotions, but self-consciousness and thoughts of what others will think or say help me keep my emotions pent up (except for “manly” emotions, like anger). Oh, how I wish I felt as free as Aunt Sylvia to shout and leap for joy in God! This kind of emotion is fitting, because our great God is worthy of great praise!
“I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:1-3, 21, emphasis mine).
“Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11, emphasis mine).
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
In case you don’t know, I consider myself a continuationist. That is to say, I don’t believe that God has revoked any of His gifts to the Body of Christ; I believe all the gifts of the Spirit continue (hence, the term, “continuationist”). Cessationists consider the so-called “sign gifts” (see 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) to have ceased with the death of the apostles and the completion of the New Testament canon. So, basically, when the apostle John completed The Revelation and “kicked the bucket”, that spelled the end, or cessation, of most of the gifts of the Spirit. I have long considered the cessationist position to be pure “hogwash”. Scripture states clearly that “when the perfect comes, the partial [prophecies, tongues, knowledge] will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:10). When I compare 1 Corinthians 13:12 with 1 John 3:2 and Ephesians 4:11-13, it seems clear (to me, at least) that the “perfect” is the return of Christ. So…since Jesus ain’t back yet, guess what? All the gifts are present and operative in the Body of Christ! That seems simple enough. But, hey, what do I know? I don’t read Greek, after all. However, I do read English, and this is what I understand my Bible to say.
I don’t consider myself a charismatic because, as I have always understood the term, a charismatic is a person in a non-Pentecostal church who has experienced the Pentecostal “baptism” with the Holy Spirit, with the “evidence” of speaking in other tongues (at least this is the definition I learned some 21 or 22 years ago; if it has changed since then, no one has let me in on it). I cannot say without a doubt that I’ve had this experience, therefore, I don’t consider myself a charismatic. However, I am open to whatever gifts or experiences God desires for me.
John Piper, Wayne Grudem, C.J. Mahaney and others, are all continuationists with influential conference and writing ministries that are having an effect in changing attitudes towards the present-day ministry of the Holy Spirit. I think cessationists are simply reacting out of fear and defensiveness because people are being convinced of the biblical rightness of the continuationist position. As an example, just read these articles from the “Pyromaniacs”, and the comments that follow: here and here.
Let me say, I understand the cessationists’ concern. I have seen and heard—live and in color—my fair share of aberrant teaching, emotionalism, fanaticism, and the like. But, it seems to me that some of my cessationist brothers and sisters in Christ have a nearly irrational fear of anything that is beyond their control or emotional in nature (they also seem overly confident they have God all figured out). In other words, they fear that which they don’t understand. Well, this is how I see it: First of all, God is God. In other words, He can do anything He wants to do. God is a super-natural Being, therefore, He can work in super-natural ways. God can do things you won’t understand! Get used to it! Secondly, God created people with emotions. If we can shout, holler, jump and dance at sports events, what’s wrong with ecstasy in response to God? Every week, millions in America cry over “Extreme Makeover Home-Edition” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (TV shows). For goodness sakes, God is greater, more exciting, more awe-inspiring, more thrilling and more marvelous—by far—than either Oprah or a home makeover! God is worth being emotional about! Plus, it makes sense to me that when frail humanity meets God, there will, of necessity, be an emotional reaction. We simply can’t encounter God—really and truly encounter Him—and remain unmoved. So, I think the cessationists are responding out of a misplaced sense of fear and defensiveness. In my opinion, they need to “chill out.”
On the “other side”, I find the articles of brothers like Adrian Warnock and Dan Edelen to be much more balanced and reasonable. I commend them to you. At the very least, I think we should all be more excited about God and what He, through Christ, has done for us than about anyone or anything else in the world. I’m just sorry that I’m not more excited, more emotional, more “fired up” for God. I pray that God would melt the coldness and hardness in my heart, and stir my soul once again.
Monday, March 26, 2007
As usual, it was a delight to join my brothers in prayer. The amazing thing is here you have men of different cultural backgrounds and life circumstances, with different needs and abilities—yet in Christ we are one and united in prayer. I always leave our times together encouraged, with my problems looming a little less large, and my perception of God increased.
During our time of prayer, one of the guys read from Psalm 121. One verse—verse 2—stood out to me: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” I find this truth to be such a great comfort. I don’t know about you, but I know I need help. And what greater helper could there be than “the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
God daily brings along circumstances and events to make me constantly aware of my weaknesses. For instance, I know that, apart from the grace of God, there’s nothing good about me. I mean, I know about other people, but I know me. I can honestly say I’m the worst sinner I know. Then, there are those time when I feel so ignorant. There seems to be no end to things I just don’t know. In fact, the older I get, the less I know. Then, there are those issues and problems that seem virtually insurmountable. I’ve thought about and pondered them until I just can’t analyze them any further. I simply have no answer and no solution; there’s nothing that I can do.
Into these circumstances comes the word of God: “My help comes from the LORD…” What this word says to me is, I can’t handle it, but God can. I don’t know enough, neither am I wise enough, but God is. The downward pull of the world, the flesh and the devil is strong, but I have a helper—“The LORD, who made heaven and earth”—and He is stronger. Why, if God could make heaven and earth, surely He can handle my little problems. If God, in creation, could call forth something out of nothing, then surely, if He but speaks the word, my needs can be met. What a great comfort, what a great assurance, to know “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
And yet, this truth is even more wonderful than immediately appears, because our help is not a God “up there” somewhere, far removed from us “down here”. The Lord Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
What a tremendous blessing! “Another Helper”—of the same kind as the Lord Jesus (i.e., fully God)—“with you forever.” One who “dwells with you and will be in you.” So, you see, our help is not merely from without, but in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Helper lives within. What an encouragement!
I see here a connection to Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” [emphasis mine]. God is our Helper, “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” But, He helps us by working within us by His Spirit—“according to the power at work within us” [emphasis mine]. The Holy Spirit—the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9)—supplies what we lack. This is why Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
So, you see, our help does, indeed, come from the Lord—our Lord Jesus Christ, dwelling within the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit. By faith, we draw upon the inner resources of the Spirit of God.
I happen to believe that God enjoys syncopated rhythms and bluesy chords, like I do. I also think God enjoys toe-tapping, hand-clapping Black gospel music. I don’t even think God is bothered when someone, out of sincere joy in Christ, “cuts a step”, and dances before Him! God knows I love fine choral music and hymns. For instance, this afternoon, I attended a very enjoyable concert by a Chicago-area college choir that was given at a church a few miles away. It was a great way to spend a portion of my Sunday afternoon, listening to music by Mozart and Brahms and Moses Hogan. And then, there was this morning, at my own church, when I was substituting for our organist. We sang that great old Wesleyan hymn, “And Can It Be”; and, you know, I just love pulling out the 32’ pedal stop and making that organ rumble as we lift our voices on that final refrain:
Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
My Lord! I don’t know how one can not be stirred by that hymn! So, yes, I love “proper” church music of all kinds.
On the other hand, I also love that music that I learned at home from my “folks”: that good old-fashioned Black gospel music that I used to hear in church. Tonight, I sat down at the piano and laid into some “Come On, Children, Let’s Sing”:
Come on, children, let’s sing about the goodness of the Lord!
Come on, children, let’s shout all about God’s rich reward:
How He guides our footsteps every day,
Keeps us walking in the narrow way.
Come on, children, let’s sing,
Come on, children, let’s shout
About the Lord Almighty that brought us out—
There’s none like Him, without a doubt!
Come on, children, let’s sing about the goodness of the Lord!
If you can listen to that kind of music and not, at least, tap a toe, you must be dead! The music makes you want to move! I tell you, I had that Steinway rocking! I even broke a sweat! But, that’s all right, too. Whether stately hymns or foot-stomping gospel music, I believe it’s all pleasing to the Lord. After all, this is what I read:
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2)
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy! (Psalm 47:1)
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! (Psalm 105:2-3)
As we launch into another week, I encourage you to be glad, and rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice, not because things are going well with you—in fact, things might be going quite badly—but, rejoice because of who God is and because He’s had mercy on you. And sing to Him. Literally, sing to Him. Your voice, singing God’s praise, is sweet music to His ears. And, if you feel so moved (and no one’s watching), I don’t think God would mind one bit if you just danced for joy before Him. However you choose to express yourself, determine this week to celebrate God!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Thabiti Anyabwile of “Pure Church” continues his series of meditations on “The Pastor’s Heart in Paul’s Letters”, Part 4. This is good stuff.
Desiring God Blog follows up John Piper’s post on hearing the voice of God by answering the question, “Does God Speak Outside the Bible?” I say, “Yes!” But, I want you to make up your own mind. Read the views and Scriptural explanations of John Piper and the folks at Desiring God and see if they make a convincing case for God’s speaking outside Scripture.
Dan Edelen of “Cerulean Sanctum” has posted a series on “Mysticism” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). To those who are inclined to have a strong bias against the topic, I would say, hear him out. If you’re familiar with the writings of the late A.W. Tozer, you’re familiar with Tozer’s view of “Christian Mysticism”. Edelen is writing along these lines.
Douglas Groothuis gives “Thoughts on Reading” or how to become a better reader. After reading sometime ago that Dr. Al Mohler reads up to 7 books per week, I feel like I need to step up my pace. So many books, but so little time! Anyway, Dr. Groothuis gives us some helpful suggestions.
The “Ephesians 4:14” blog posts an article on how to be a better listener to sermons. We could all benefit by putting these suggestions into practice.
Finally, at “The Shepherd’s Scrapbook”, Tony Reinke recounts an old story by Charles Spurgeon, as an encouragement to preachers: “Tell them that again”.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Meanwhile, at “Pure Church”, Thabiti Anyabwile continues his series of meditations on “A Pastor’s Heart in Paul’s Letters, Part 2 & Part 3.
Finally, at the Desiring God Blog, John Piper has posted an article that affirms a truth that probably needs to be reasserted more in the evangelical church today, entitled “The Morning I Heard the Voice of God”. Read it all the way to the end, and thank God for giving us the Scriptures.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Phil Johnson, at “Pyromaniacs”, posts an excerpt from a sermon by the 19th century British preacher, Charles Spurgeon. Their post, “A Recipe for Church Growth”, is a good remedy for the present-day preoccupation with church growth “methods”.
Adrian Warnock quotes the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, asking, “Dead Orthodoxy or An Encounter With God?”
Over at “Pure Church”, Thabiti Anyabwile) posted a meditation pastors should be interested in: “The Pastor’s Heart in Paul’s Letters”.
Dan Edelen, of “Cerulean Sanctum”, writes about “The Holy Who?” To what he writes, I say a hearty, “Amen!”
The “Black Creole Reformer”, Scotty Williams, has posted “The Truth About Christian Conversion”.
At “The Purple Cellar”, Jennifer Redman has posted “What’s In Your Hand?” (Part 1). Men, it’s all right, you know, to read a blog written by a woman. Go on, and check it out!
At “Between Two Worlds”, Justin Taylor links to an article by Curtis “Voice” Allen, writing about the criticisms he received for performing a rap at John Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis (he was invited, by the way). “Voice” has a good word for all of us on how we should handle criticism.
The blog at “Na—New Attitude” has a link to “Interrogating the Legalist Within”, an article by C.J. Mahaney. I constantly need to be reminded of this truth that Mahaney writes about. Read the article; I think you will find it a blessing to your soul, also.
And, finally, there’s always a whole bunch of good stuff to read, study and learn from—that will also aid you in understanding God’s word—at Desiring God and Monergism.com. And most of it is FREE. Be sure to bookmark these pages and check them out when you have time. You won’t regret it.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Dan Edelen (“Cerulean Sanctum”) has a word to say to all of us Christians who attend Christian conferences. Read it well; what he writes is worth thinking about.
Speaking of conferences: For the most part, with the exception of taking off a day or two to attend part of Moody Bible Institute’s Founder’s Week Conference in February (which is free), I rarely attend conferences. Hourly or daily employees, like me, can’t afford to take off time from work to travel to California or Florida or Philadelphia or Minneapolis. What do evangelical groups have against Chicago? People in Chicago need solid Bible teaching, too! Plus, for just the price of gasoline, my 14-year-old car and I can easily get to Chicago (and I can go home every night and sleep in my own bed, saving myself the cost of a hotel). Just a thought.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
On the Desiring God Blog, John Piper writes further reflections from the funeral sermon for his father by answering the question, “How do you press on to make it your own?”, based on Philippians 3:12.
Also posted are Piper’s “Strategies for Fighting Lust”.
Finally, Justin Taylor opens the floor for a discussion of eschatology with a sample chapter, from an upcoming book on eschatology by Dr. Sam Storms, titled “Problems with Premillennialism”. If you asked me, I’d probably side with the Amillennialists, although I’m still working through this issue of eschatology. But, don’t listen to me; read the link to Dr. Storms’ chapter.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I’m sorry I’ve been away so long—something like seven days (a long time, for me). Between family, work, job search, sermon preparation (I preached last Sunday as a guest at New Life Fellowship, and I’m preaching there again this coming Sunday), my wife needing the computer to enter grades for the classes she teaches, or just being plain tired, I’ve not been able to get around to writing. I even have questions and comments from two readers, Lance and Deborah (Thanks for writing!), in response to one of my posts during Black History Month (February), that I have yet to answer. I haven’t forgotten! I just need to spend some time thinking about a response (and then find time to sit down and write it). So, please bear with me.
Some may wonder what I do to support my family. Since February of last year, my main employment is being a daily (or permanent) substitute teacher at one of the campuses of our local high school, which happens to be, literally, just down the street from our home. It’s a fulltime job—doesn’t pay much—but it’s something to do. In the meantime, I’ve been looking for open high school choral music teaching positions within reasonable commuting distance from our home, but those are fairly hard to come by in Chicagoland. Usually, one has to wait for someone already in that position to retire, move, get fired…or die.
While I’m on this subject, here’s something you can pray about: About three days ago, I learned of openings (and sent in the online applications) for three different positions (which, let me tell you, is a large number of openings for this region). Combined with the two I’d already applied for, I am now hoping and praying to hear from at least one of five schools. I’m especially interested in two of these school districts because of good pay (which would really be helpful), the reasonable driving distance from home, and the community support for performing arts in school. So, if you feel led, please pray that some school administrator would be interested enough in me to invite me to interview (public school districts in this region pretty much operate on the philosophy of “don’t call us; we’ll call you”). Thanks, in advance, for your prayers!
As a substitute teacher, I often have time on my hand, so that’s when I do most of my reading. Today I was reading John Piper’s recent book, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce (Crossway Books, 2006). Another two periods of hall duty, and I think I could have finished it. Anyway, there were a few sentences about Wilberforce that grabbed my attention. Consider the following (the bold print is my emphasis):
“There was a ray of hope in 1804 that things might be moving to a success (three years before it [the abolition of the British slave trade] actually came), but Wilberforce wrote, ‘I have been so often disappointed, that I rejoice with trembling and shall scarcely dare to be confident till I actually see the Order in the Gazette.’ But these repeated defeats of his plans did not defeat him. His adversaries complained that ‘Wilberforce jumped up whenever they knocked him down.’ One of them in particular put it like this: ‘It is necessary to watch him as he is blessed with a very sufficient quantity of that Enthusiastic spirit, which is so far from yielding that it grows more vigorous from blows.’” (p. 47)
“He sustained himself and swayed others by his joy. If a man can rob you of your joy, he can rob you of your usefulness. Wilberforce’s joy was indomitable and therefore he was a compelling Christian and politician all his life. This was the strong root of his endurance.” (p. 61)
Even as I type these quotes, my attention is drawn to what Piper says about Wilberforce and how that applies to me. I don’t know about you, but I’ve “been there”: defeated by repeated defeats and robbed of my joy. I don’t want to go “there” again; it’s horrible. I think every true believer in Christ wants to be useful to the Lord. “If a man can rob you of your joy, he can rob you of your usefulness.” Think about that! That makes me want to hold on tight to the joy that I have and cultivate a greater and deeper joy in God, that I may be “useful to the master” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
But, I have two other personal reasons to recommend you read Piper’s account of his father’s death. As I read it today I thought, “I hope my sons can say these things about me when I die”, if the Lord wills that I precede them in death. Let your mind ponder the questions that have been on my mind today: What will those who know me best say about me when I’m gone? What kind of father, husband, Christian have I been?
Actually, reading Piper’s account was painful for me. Although my biological parents are living, I’ve never lived with either one. They were unwed teenagers when I came into the world, and never parented me. My “parents”—the ones who actually parented me—were my great grandparents. They died in 1986 and 1989. My pain relates to my great grandfather’s death. He died at home. For various reasons, my great grandfather and I had a lot of interpersonal struggles, especially from my adolescence onward. Less than two days before he died, in an angry rage, I said some very hateful and hurtful things to him. I won’t bother with the details of what would be a very long and complicated story, except to say I acted immaturely, dishonorably, shamefully and sinfully. The venom I spewed forth out of my mouth that day still hung in the air the night he died. I have long since confessed my sin to the Lord, but to my dying day, I will regret every vile syllable I uttered in anger.
Reading John Piper’s tender account of his final moments with his father brought back to my mind my shame as my great grandfather was dying (although, truth be told, it’s never that far from my mind). This is why I encourage those of you whose parents are living: Please, love and honor your parents, and let them know how much you appreciate them while you have the opportunity. Although he was far from perfect, I can now say, as a 40-something-year-old man, I love and appreciate my great grandfather. Unfortunately, I don’t think he ever knew that. My opportunity is long gone. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
However, if you find yourself with similar regrets, I encourage you to turn to the word of God. If the one you’ve sinned against is in heaven, he or she is not troubled with memories of the pain you inflicted. The Bible says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes…, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). “They will see his face…” (Revelation 22:4), and the sight of our Lord will be more than enough to banish the memory of any pain or grief you caused. On the other hand, if the one you sinned against is in hell, (and this is not meant to be flippant) they have far worse things to worry about! Your sin infinitely pales in comparison to the eternal, just torments of hell. If the person you sinned against is deceased and your opportunity to apologize to them is gone, what you need to do is confess your sin to God. Seek the forgiveness that Christ purchased with His blood for everyone who savingly trusts in Him.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Let me explain by using this example of a prominent teaching of the 19th century Wesleyan Holiness movement. According to many of the leaders of the Holiness movement, there was an experience into which the believer could enter, called “entire sanctification”. Entire sanctification was considered a “second work of grace” in which the believer was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the sin nature eradicated. Taking quite seriously the words of Galatians 5:16—“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”—advocates of Wesleyan Holiness believed they had achieved an experience in which they could no longer sin. While I am sympathetic to the spiritual aims of the Holiness movement (what believer wouldn’t want to be utterly free from sin?), it erred in underestimating the pervasiveness of sin and misunderstanding the nature of the “flesh”. Sin has infected every aspect of our being. Even our best efforts are tainted with sin. The only way to eradicate the flesh would be to eradicate ourselves, so closely bound together is the flesh with our very persons.
I find the same thing to be true with our racial identities. Through faith in Jesus Christ, I am a new creation in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, an adopted son of God, and an heir of eternal life. Yet my racial and cultural identity as a Black American is so interwoven with my human personality until I don’t see how it is possible, on this side of eternity, to completely separate my cultural identity from my spiritual identity. In fact, I suggest that those White believers who criticize Blacks for “wearing their race on their sleeve” don’t successfully separate their White American cultural identity from their spiritual identity. In fact, I would further suggest that the two are so closely interwoven that most White Christians cannot even see how deeply their expressions of Christianity have been affected by White American culture (but, we non-Whites can see it!).
However, I am not criticizing. Rather, I am suggesting that it’s unrealistic to try to entirely eliminate racial and cultural influences. Why should “minorities” be forced to give up who they are racially and culturally when Whites aren’t even able to do that? And I’m not convinced that God ever wanted us to ignore our racial and cultural differences. Consider these verses of Scripture:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Theological liberals and evangelical feminists usually take Galatians 3:28 to mean that all distinctions are erased in Christ Jesus. But, when people came to Christ in Paul’s day, slaves did not all of a sudden become free; they were still slaves. Jews did not become Greeks; they were still Jews. Men did not become women, and women did not become men. Gender differences remained. However, through Christ all were made members of one Body, all became sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, all became partakers of one Spirit. What I want you to see in this verse, however, is that salvation doesn’t erase racial distinctions or obliterate cultural differences.
In the two passages from the book of Revelation (5:8-10 and 7:9-10), the same point can be made: Racial, cultural and national distinctions are not erased. You still have representation “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Sadly, in my county, there are a lot of unkind and hateful things printed on the opinion page of one of the local newspapers about Mexican immigrants. Statements are made suggesting that most of them are illegal and that they “need to go back where they came from.” Well, I hate to break the news to those that feel that way, but there will be Mexicans in heaven! There will be people from every country and every ethnic group. And it seems we will still speak our native tongue. The point is, not everyone will look like you! Not everyone will look like me. God has ordained that there will be diversity in heaven. Yet, all are one in relation to God and to one another.
When liberal Protestants and Catholics talk about diversity, what they usually mean is acceptance of sin, especially homosexuality. But, we should not let the devil spoil another perfectly good word. Diversity, as God designs it, is good—it has nothing to do with accepting sin—and we should be open to the possibility of creating God-sanctioned diversity in our churches. But, remember, I’m not talking about assimilation—making everybody act White or Black or whatever. I’m talking about appreciating and celebrating our racial, cultural and ethnic differences, and giving people the freedom to be different, because this kind of diversity brings glory to God.
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped (Revelation 5:13-14).