Monday, June 30, 2008

Words of eternal life

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

The news about humanity is not good:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

This is the harsh truth about you and me.

Against this bleak backdrop shines the glorious light of the gospel—the “good news” about which Paul wanted to remind believers: “Christ died for our sins…was buried” and “was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Why is this good news? I believe Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, states the case accurately when he says, “The heart of the gospel message, the whole reason the church exists, is that every one of us has sinned and separated ourselves from God. But God, in his tremendous and incredible love, has taken on flesh in Christ, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross in the place of every sinner who turns and trusts in him. And he calls us now to repent and to believe in him” [Mark Dever, The Message of the New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2005), pp 218-219.].

For people enslaved to sin, alienated from God and under an eternal sentence of death—people like you and me—the gospel is a message of liberation, reconciliation and life eternal. The gospel is the message by which we are saved. Good news, indeed!

Notice, the gospel is “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). It cannot be found anywhere else. Think of it: If God had not given us his word, we would have never known the gospel, and no one would be saved. This is why we must “hold firmly” to God’s word; our lives depend upon it. Within its pages are “words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

God’s unchanging, powerful word

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23-25).

We live in a world of rapid change; very few things stay the same. However, there is one thing which never changes: the word of God. The sixty-six books which comprise the Bible are not today being added to; there are no new revelations from God. God has spoken! Neither does anyone have the right to remove (or ignore) any part of the Bible which is already there. In fact, God has given stern warnings against adding to or taking away from his word (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).

According to the apostle Peter, the Bible is “imperishable” (you can’t destroy it), “abiding” (it can stand up under any attack) and it “remains forever” (it is immortal). How do we know this is so? Because God’s word is as eternal as God is. The Bible lasts because God lasts. The Bible is forever relevant because God is eternally relevant.

Not only is the Bible unchanging, but it is a living book, alive with God’s power and authority, through the Holy Spirit. How much power? Enough power to raise dead sinners to life.

Without Christ Jesus, every human being is spiritually dead, alienated from God and lost without hope (Luke 15; Ephesians 2:1-3, 12; 4:18; Colossians 1:21; 2:13). Dead people can’t raise themselves. It is only through the word of God that people are born again and given spiritual life. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Without the Bible, absolutely no one can be saved. Through the preaching of the good news about Jesus, dead sinners live!

Dear reader, have you heard and believed the good news about Jesus which the Bible declares? Have you experienced the life-giving power of God’s ever-living word? Do you daily depend upon its relevant and trustworthy guidance?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let’s spend more time doing this

What’s the most useful thing that evangelical, Bible-believing Christians can do for the Presidential candidates? Pray for them. Instead of criticizing, try praying for Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, praying especially for their salvation. Both men need Jesus, don’t you agree? Praying is something every Christian can do, and it’s a whole lot more effective than criticism.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Basking in the afterglow of the New Life Fellowship Bible Conference 2008

The 2008 New Life Fellowship Church Bible Conference was, truly, a blessing to our souls. The epistle to the Galatians was expounded each session, as we asked the question, “What Difference Does the Gospel Make?” All the speakers were greatly used by God to open up His blessed word: Pastor Louis Love (Introduction & chapter 5), Anthony Carter (chapters 1 & 4), Stephen Love (chapter 2) and Thabiti Anyabwile (chapters 3 &.6). On Sunday morning, our souls were fed God’s word as Dr. Hensworth Jonas of Antigua powerfully preached Romans 6:17-22, and after the worship service, our bodies were fed good food, provided by the loving people of New Life Fellowship.

A great weekend was spent singing and worshiping God, listening to the word of God, and sharing warm fellowship with the people of God. Information about recordings can be obtained here. Below, I have posted a few photos:

Anthony Carter

Stephen Love

Pastor Louis Love

Thabiti Anyabwile

Dr. Hensworth Jonas singing and accompanying himself

Yours truly, preparing to lead the gathering in song

Friday, June 20, 2008

What Difference Does the Gospel Make?—June 19-21

The theme for this year’s Annual Bible Conference at New Life Fellowship Church is “What Difference Does the Gospel Make?”—a study of the book of Galatians. The speakers are Anthony Carter, Assistant Pastor for Preaching and Teaching at Southwest Christian Fellowship, Atlanta, GA; Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; and Louis Love, Pastor of New Life Fellowship.

The conference began last night with Pastor Love introducing the book of Galatians and Pastor Carter expounding the first chapter of Galatians. We benefited from some good teaching about the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you live within driving distance of Vernon Hills, Illinois, it is not too late to catch the remainder of the conference tonight and tomorrow morning. From more details, time and location, click here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

“Thank You, God, for ‘Pa Bill’”: Father’s Day 2008

Today was Father’s Day and, as this day comes to a close, I want to pay tribute to the man who was “father” to me: my great-grandfather, William Gray—or “Pa Bill”, as all of us grandchildren and great-grandchildren called him. Pa Bill was actually my maternal grandfather’s step-father; he had no children of his own. So, for all practical purposes, from the time he and “Grandma” agreed to take me in when I was two-months old, I was Pa Bill’s son.

I would have to write a book to fully describe Pa Bill’s significance in my life. Until the end of his life, Pa Bill was my greatest supporter, and was a true father to me. For one thing, Pa Bill was present and involved in my life. He attended every piano recital I performed in, every concert and every graduation (junior high, high school and college). He took me to Sunday School and church (and was in attendance, himself), and was present both when I joined the church and when I was baptized. Although terminally ill with cancer, Pa Bill was also there when I preached my first sermon. For every major event in my life, until he died, Pa Bill was there.

Pa Bill taught me so many things: how to ride a bike; how to use a hammer, saw, planer, level, sandpaper, wrench, screwdriver; how to paint, how to smooth cement, how to cut grass and shovel snow, how to start a car, how to check the oil and un-stick a carburetor—I could literally go on and on. Ironically, Pa Bill also helped me learn how to read. Ironically, I say, because he could barely read, himself.

Although Pa Bill held no position of significance in the eyes of the world, he meant a whole lot to me. He was God-fearing, law-abiding, hard-working, dependable and honest—a real man a boy like me could look up to.

Pa Bill died almost 19 years ago, but his influence lingers on in my life. I hope and pray I can have the same lasting influence for good in my sons’ lives that Pa Bill has had in mine.

I thank God for giving Pa Bill to me.

“The glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6b).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

“Proud” of my country?

This morning, in the Chicago Tribune, I read the following quote of Tennessee state GOP chair Robin Smith, about Michelle Obama (you may recall that Mrs. Obama stated, after one of her husband’s primary wins, that she felt “proud” of her country for the first time in her adult life):

“Her comments substantiated that Barack Obama and his wife don’t relate to the average American, who still flies the flag on the 4th of July, still gets chills when the Air Force planes fly over… It just feeds the narrative that they’re essentially out of touch with America.”

Personally, I found that comment insulting and condescending. Why? Because, I think I understand exactly what Mrs. Obama meant or felt when she made that oft-quoted comment. For one thing, Mrs. Obama and I share at least one thing in common: We are both Black. We have both experienced living as Black people in America. Am I, somehow, “out of touch with America” because I can relate to Mrs. Obama? I don’t think so. I am a native-born American. My family has been in this country at least 180 years (my best guess as to when my most recent African ancestor was brought to this country as a slave). My grandfather and my father-in-law were World War II veterans. One of my uncles served in the Peace Corps. This is my country and I don’t desire to live anywhere else. It is for these reasons—and because I understand where Mrs. Obama is coming from—that I seriously doubt Sen. and Mrs. Obama are out of touch with America.

On the contrary, I think Ms. Smith is out of touch with Black Americans.

You see, I grew up in an all-Black neighborhood (and it wasn’t a “ghetto”, by the way). I don’t recall many flags flying on the 4th of July, nor do I recall many (if any) Blacks relating to me how Air Force jets flying in formation overhead gave them chills. Does Ms. Smith think that Black people like those who lived in my old neighborhood were, somehow, un-American because they didn’t get goose bumps over the mere mention of the USA?

Do I love my country? Yes, I do. However, I also recognize that my country has been guilty of sponsoring or condoning or tolerating injustice towards people of African descent (and other ethnic groups, also) ever since we became a country. Further, I know that racism, racial discrimination and racial prejudice still exist in my country. Nevertheless, I do love my country. Why is it that some people equate love with lying? Can’t I tell the truth and still love? Does love for my country require that I not tell the truth about my country?

Do I think there has been no improvement in justice and race relations in our country over the past 232 years that we’ve been a nation? Of course not! There has been great improvement and advancement in race relations over the past 40 years. Racism is now illegal everywhere, and overt racial discrimination is rare. But, it would be less than honest for me not to admit that, in general, Black people are still not treated equally. Racism and racial and ethnic discrimination nowadays is, for the most part, covert and subtle, hard to detect and even harder to prove, but it still exists.

So, I think I understand why Mrs. Obama said she was proud of this country for the first time in her adult life. I certainly never thought I’d see the day when a Black man would become the presumptive nominee of a major political party. I think most Black people can understand and relate to Mrs. Obama.

Here’s the question, however: Can Ms. Smith (or anyone who shares her expressed view of the Obamas) relate to the average Black person?

Here’s another question: Why is it so important for the Obamas—or anyone else—to be proud of the United States?

I will gladly admit to anyone that I’m grateful for my country. I thank God for the United States. But, “proud” is not a word I would want to use. Why would I want to boast in the United States? What do we as a country have to proud about? We have much to be ashamed of, but why should we boast? If there’s anything good about our country (and, don’t misunderstand, there are many good things about this country), the credit belongs to God, and only to God. Therefore, we should not boast. Remember, “God resists the proud” (I know that truth applies to individuals, but does it not also apply to countries as well?).

I don’t believe that Mrs. Obama not being proud of her country before now is a problem. I think, perhaps, the problem is that those who were so offended by her comment are too proud.

Me and my big mouth

Below is the trailer about the upcoming Desiring God 2008 National Conference. However, the reason I’m posting this clip is because of what is said on here about the tongue. For someone like me, whose thoughts often leak out of my mouth, when they would have been better kept inside my head, this was a helpful and convicting reminder.

James 1:26; 3:1-12

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

HT: Abraham Piper

Monday, June 09, 2008

A better way of doing politics

With the possible exception of the war in Iraq, abortion and homosexual rights issues are foremost in the minds of many conservative Christians as we approach the November election. In general, Republicans claim to be against abortion and the expansion of homosexual rights to include marriage. In general, Democrats are in favor of abortion and homosexual rights, though it’s not clear how strongly they are in favor of homosexual marriage. It would seem, therefore, if we want to change the moral direction in which this country is headed, the Republican candidate, John McCain, would be the obvious choice of Bible-believing Christians.

Yet, how do we know that a Republican President would bring about the moral improvements we seek? Have the nearly eight years of Republican leadership under President Bush brought about the moral renewal we’ve sought? Did the twelve years of Presidents Reagan and G.H.W. Bush (1981-1993) change the moral direction of this country?

Wouldn’t it be so much better for Christians to pray, share our Christian witness, and engage in dialogue and charitable debate with our political opponents, trusting God to change their hearts and minds so that real and lasting change can come to this country? Is it wise for us to continue to use political force to make people do what they are unwilling to do? Grandma used to say, “A fool convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” That’s true! Political force will not produce a change of heart. Honestly, what has all the Christian conservative political activism of the last 30 years (The “Moral Majority”, “Christian Coalition”, “Christian Right”, etc.) actually accomplished for this county? Has our political activism brought about spiritual revival?

So, again I ask, wouldn’t it be much better and more effective for Christians to do those things that, by God’s grace, will bring about heart change, rather than battle with our opponents in the political arena? Perhaps, the “Christian Right” has been going about this the wrong way. Here’s what the apostle Paul said:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

It seems to me that conservative Christians, over the last 30 years or so, have resorted, more often than not, to fighting the moral battles in this country “according to the flesh”. Maybe that’s why we’re getting nowhere. This country continues on a moral decline. What we need to realize is we’re fighting a spiritual battle. Our enemies are not the Democrats (or Republicans), liberals, homosexuals or “abortionists”. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Why demonize those who are pro-abortion or pro-homosexuality? Scripture states that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4), therefore, shouting at those with whom we disagree won’t change their minds one iota.

Not only that, but while we attack abortion and homosexuality, we conservative Christians here in the United States tend to ignore evils such as the insidious racism in this country (a lot of which, lately, has been directed at Sen. Obama, in my opinion), the irrational xenophobia directed at illegal immigrants, the inadequate funding of the public schools in some of our poorest communities, and the war we’ve waged against the country of Iraq, even though they didn’t have “weapons of mass destruction” after all (someone, somewhere, lied). Some of us have even participated or rejoiced in these evils. Our hypocrisy does not go unnoticed by the world. We can’t continue to act as if abortion or homosexuality are the only—or most important—issues in this country.

I think there is a much better, more Christian, way of doing politics:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Friday, June 06, 2008

“You Must Be Born Again”

This is a video clip of the late Dorothy Love Coates (1928-2002) and her group, The Gospel Harmonettes, singing Coates’ “You Must Be Born Again”. The sound is poor, so I’ve included the words below. Follow along as you listen:

Long ago I didn’t know nothing about Jesus and His love.
I had heard about it, but I had never felt it,
This manna that comes from above.
When this life of sin I could no longer stand,
I asked my mother how could I get to know the Man.
She said, “You must be—don’t you see—you’ve got to be born again.”

You must have that fire and Holy Ghost,
That burning thing that keeps the prayer wheel turning.
That kind of religion you cannot conceal,
That makes you move, makes you shout,
Makes you cry when it’s real.
Keep your hands right in the winding chain
Until your soul’s been anchored in my Jesus’ name.
You’re filled within, free from sin [now]
That you’ve been born again.

One day the fire from heaven on me reigned;
I didn't see nobody, but I felt the change.
Deep down in my soul, I felt a sweet relief;
I had to run, I had to tell it…[?] can’t hold my peace;
I've been washed in the blood of Jesus,
I'll praise His holy name.
Since that day I was converted
I’ll never feel the same,
My life’s been changed, I can't explain,
That you must be born again.
(Words and Music by Dorothy Love Coates)

Understand, this is an experience song. Although Coates was writing about a biblical truth, she wasn’t being biblically and theologically precise in her language. Like many old gospel songs and spirituals, “You Must Be Born Again” expresses how the composer felt. Listening to the words, I believe I understand what she meant. Further, I believe I know how she felt.

Of course, you know this song is based on that passage out of the gospel of John, chapter 3:

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Here’s the important question: Have you been born again? Have you experienced what Dorothy Love Coates and the Gospel Harmonettes sung about so many decades ago? What was true for Nicodemus is true for you and me:
“You must be—don’t you see—you’ve got to be born again.”

Thursday, June 05, 2008

An historic achievement

As everyone knows by now, Senator Barack Obama has become the presumptive Democrat nominee for President of the United States. It is, indeed, an achievement of historic proportions. Rather than give any more of my opinions (which are many) about the Presidential election thus far, I would like to call your attention to these postings by my brothers in Christ, Thabiti Anyabwile (here and here), Anthony Carter (here) and Lance Lewis (here). Please read, and consider carefully and objectively, what they’ve written.

And, while I’m at it, let me mention to those of you living in the Chicago area that you will be able to hear Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter in person later this month at New Life Fellowship Church’s Annual Bible Conference which will be held June 19-21. You can read more information here. There will be some excellent teaching going on…and it’s free! If you can make it, I encourage you to attend.