Monday, July 28, 2008

Washington, DC, and the providence of God

Last Wednesday, my family and I returned from five days spent in Washington, DC—our first visit to this important and historic city. We had a wonderful time! There is so much to see and do, and we did not have nearly enough time, but we enjoyed everything we were able to experience.

In the span of those five days we walked to The White House and Washington Monument; visited the Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt Memorials; saw the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials; visited Arlington National Cemetery and the graves of John, Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy, the Tomb of the Unknowns (and saw the changing of the guards), and the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial); we also went into the Capitol, the Supreme Court Building and the Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul (the Washington National Cathedral). Finally, we also made a quick visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Whew!

The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

Ethan looking serious in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The Washington National Cathedral—an immense and grand structure, and the 6th largest cathedral in the world.

The following Sunday, we had the privilege of worshipping with the good people of Hillcrest Baptist Church of Temple Hills, Maryland, where Eric C. Redmond is the pastor.

Hillcrest Baptist Church (I copied this photo off the web)

After worship we had the opportunity to meet and talk with Pastor Redmond. I also had the delightful surprise of running into Michael Mewborn of Reformed Blacks of America who, with his family, is a part of Hillcrest Church. That Sunday also happened to be my 45th birthday and the following Monday my 18th wedding anniversary!

On my birthday, outside the National Aquarium in Baltimore: Ethan, Evan, Catherine, Mary (Carl’s friend), Carl and me.

Still going strong after 18 years!

So, you can see our trip was, indeed, eventful. However, that wasn’t all for, by far, the highlight of our trip was meeting, for the first time in person, my biological father, Carl Wilson! This was intentional. You see, I met Carl over the phone only three years ago (that’s another, long story). We have talked and corresponded ever since, hoping one day to have the opportunity to meet. This trip was our opportunity.

Some background: Like my mother, Barbara, my father, Carl, was also a teenager when I was conceived. As you can imagine, the news of my mother being pregnant was rather traumatic. My family had never met Carl, so it came about one day that he was invited over to my grandparents’ house to meet my family. Unfortunately, when my father arrived, my grandmother, in what must have been a fit of rage, pulled a knife on him and, literally, tried to kill him. Fortunately, my grandfather intervened, grabbed his wife and held her, while Carl ran for his life. Understandably, Carl stayed away from my family after that (The irony is he would have received an understanding, compassionate reception from anyone else in my family, had he a chance to meet any of them. Unfortunately, he never got that opportunity). Ultimately, Carl moved to Washington, DC, where he has lived for the past 40 years.

Last week, thinking about my life history, and about the spiritual state of my biological parents and my now-deceased maternal grandparents, I was reminded, once again, of the providence of God. God, working behind the scenes, sovereignly guides all things—including the minute details of our lives—towards His appointed end, to accomplish His appointed purpose. From the perspective of 45 years of life, I clearly see God’s hand of providence in my life from before my conception until now. Without removing me from my immediate blood family, God so arranged circumstances that I was placed in the one home in my family where I would be exposed to the gospel and nurtured in a Christ-ward direction: with my great-grandparents. So, even though I was an “illegitimate” child, born out of wedlock, I still grew up in a two-parent household, had a “father”—my great-grandfather, “Pa Bill”—and a “stay-at-home mom”—my great-grandmother, “Grandma”, was well-provided for and given the opportunity to go to college and finish…and, on top of that, I was exposed to the gospel! What more could I have asked for? God worked through bad circumstances to bring about good.

Why has God seen fit to bring Carl into my life after all these years? Perhaps God has a gospel purpose in mind. I don’t know, but it’s both comforting and encouraging to be reminded that my life is still in God’s hands, and God can be trusted.

“But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand…” (Psalm 31:14-15a).

I’m also reminded that our sin does not have to be the end of the story. Our sin cannot thwart the sovereign purpose of God. You and I should be glad about that! God’s plan is not derailed because of our sin and rebellion and disobedience. Our God is sovereign, even over our sinful choices, and He is more than able to work out His purpose in spite of us.

If you, like me, have sinned and messed up, first of all, you need to repent, turn to Christ Jesus as Lord, and receive the forgiveness He purchased with His blood on the cross. Then, be encouraged to know that your sin is not the end of the story. God has a plan, and His plans have never been thwarted. He has the power to bring good out of bad, to the praise of His glorious grace.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Soul Loves Jesus

These kinds of songs and hymns, sung in the inimitable style of the Black Church, move me like no others can. They “take me back”, causing me to reflect on the journey. Jesus has “brought me a mighty long way” (as the old folks would say), by His grace. I owe Him thanks; thanks is due Him. I thank the Lord Jesus for His life, His death, His rising again. My soul does love Jesus, but I love Him because He first loved me.

Listen…and reflect…and worship.

“At the Cross”

“Down At the Cross”

“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”

“Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”

“He Will Carry You Through” (“Yield Not To Temptation”)

“Oh, How I Love Jesus”

“My Soul Loves Jesus”

“Truly Reformed”

Dr. Ray Ortlund writes on his blog,

“I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation, I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian—or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.”

Read the entire post…

On a related note, there is this post which I wrote almost two years ago: “A Christian, first”.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Blacks, Obama, and the Election

For those (and there are many) who wonder why conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing, pro-life, Black Christians would consider voting for Barack Obama, I would suggest you read this article by Eric Redmond. He put into words what I feel in my heart—and I’m sure I’m not alone in how I feel about this election, even if I can’t always put it into printable words. So, if you’re wondering what’s going on with Black folks, read what this brother has written, and read, keeping a fair and open mind about it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

“The Glory of Preaching the Bible”

Today marks the 499th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (July 10, 1509-May 27, 1564). John Piper writes of how Calvin inspires him to persevere in the task of preaching the Bible. Read it, and pray that God would be pleased to bless the church in our day with real preaching—preaching which is deep and powerful and searching.

We are family…

Last weekend, my family and I were in Memphis, Tennessee for the Lovelace Family Reunion. Most of this branch of the family tree live in the South (Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia), although there is still a fairly large contingent of us in the Chicago area and in parts of Ohio. However, having been raised by Southern-born-and-bred people, I always feel right at home in the South. We had a great time.

This reunion was a gathering of the descendents of Robert and Harriet Lovelace, my great-great-great-great grandparents. As slaves, they arrived in Florence, Alabama in 1833. Most of those present at the reunion, including myself, come through Robert and Harriet’s son and daughter-in-law, Sam (1849-1921) and Mollie Rice Lovelace (1852-1926).
A few interesting facts about Mollie Rice Lovelace: Mollie was the daughter of her slavemaster, Mr. Rice, through his slave Sarah. Mollie was, what was commonly termed in those days, a mulatto: the offspring of one white and one Black parent. That, in part, accounts for the very light complexion of the older generations of Lovelaces.
Between 1871 and 1899, Mollie gave birth to 16 children by Sam Lovelace. Three died before the age of 3, but the other 13 all lived to adulthood.
Also, through Mollie Lovelace’s family, we can trace back to an African ancestor, Betty Rice—Sarah Rice’s mother and Mollie’s grandmother. Betty Rice (also called “Granny”), according to her own testimony, was a Hottentot. The Hottentot were a tribe from the area in and around what is today the country of South Africa. It is a testimony to the remarkable providence of God that captured Africans, like “Granny”, and their descendants not only survived slavery, but have thrived as a people.

Here is the only known photo of Betty “Granny” Rice:

Below is a photo of last weekend’s reunion gathering:

Finally, here are some photos of Sam and Mollie Lovelace and 12 of their 13 surviving offpring:

Back row (left to right): Cornelia, Mollie, Mattie Sue, Ella and Ada Lovelace. Front row (left to right): Jim Lovelace, Jim Hawkins (a cousin), Sam Sr., George, Sam Jr. and Albert Lovelace. This photo dates from about 1905.

(Left to right) Sisters Lizzie Lovelace Duncan (1874-1962) and Frankie Lovelace Duncan (1876-1946). Frankie is my great-great grandmother. Some trivia: These two Lovelace sisters, against their father’s wishes, eloped and married the Duncan brothers, Barney and Richmond (my great-great grandfather) on Frankie’s 20th birthday, February 5, 1896. All indications are both marriages were happy, and lasted until Barney’s death in 1945 and Frankie’s death in 1946.

Robert Lovelace (1871-1957) and Cornelia Lovelace Mosby (1895-1958).

Albert Lovelace (1892-1943), Ada Lovelace Ingram (1897-1953) and Andrew Lovelace (1899-1939).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gay pride?

This past Sunday, several big cities across the country held “Pride Parades” in commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall riots and in celebration of “gay pride”. Obviously, our world has changed but, in this respect, I don’t think it’s been for the better.

Why do there have to be pride parades? What is the purpose of advertising one’s sexual orientation? For example, I’m very happy to be married to my wife (soon to be eighteen years), but I don’t want to celebrate in the streets what happens in our bedroom. Why? Because it doesn’t belong in the streets! In fact, it’s nobody else’s business! So, why do homosexuals want to parade their sexual orientation before a watching world? The idea of parading one’s sexual orientation in public strikes me as bizarre, even narcissistic.

Also, why gay “pride”, as if homosexuality is some sort of accomplishment or badge of honor? Or is gay pride simply an assertion of one’s equality and self-worth because of past discrimination and oppression, sort of like the homosexual equivalent of the 1960s and 70s Black pride movement? Well, since basic male/female anatomy and reproductive biology demonstrates that homosexuality is not natural or normal, and human genetics proves that race is, literally, only skin deep (meaning there really is no difference between Blacks and any other race), it is almost insulting to compare homosexuality to race. To put it another way, Blackness is not a genetic anomaly; homosexuality is an anomaly. Don’t put my race in the same category with a trait that is unnatural and abnormal. There is no comparison.

For those of us who take God’s word seriously, homosexuality is not just unnatural, the flaunting of it not just narcissistic. Homosexuality is also sinful. Homosexuality is never, ever held in a positive light in the Scriptures. Rather, the word of God judges homosexuality as “contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:10-11). In other words, homosexuality doesn’t fit the gospel (and, it should go without saying, Christians should have nothing to do with it). Homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality and such, are “dishonorable passions”, and the acts are “contrary to nature”, “shameless” and in “error” (Romans 1:26, 27). Before God, homosexuality is “an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13).

I’m not trying to be mean-spirited. This is simply what the Bible declares. I certainly don’t want to come across as self-righteous; I know I am anything but perfect. Before the word of God, I stand condemned, along with the rest of humanity. Nevertheless, my sins and imperfections give me no right to ignore God’s word. “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:4). If God calls homosexuality sin, if he says it is shameful and dishonorable—even an abomination—I dare not try to dress it up and make it sound better than God says it is.

Please understand, I’m not naïve; I know homosexuality has been around since ancient times, mentioned in the Bible as early as Genesis. Over the years, I’ve known plenty of homosexuals (in and out of the church, by the way). So, I don’t have in my mind some wild image of homosexuals fed by homophobic hysteria. Most homosexuals I know (and have known) are likeable people. But, niceness doesn’t change the character of sin. Sin is still dirty in God’s sight.

Most people, I suppose, don’t believe nice people are sinners. Two states—Massachusetts and California—have legalized gay marriage, and probably more will follow suit. The United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and, now, the Presbyterian Church, USA, have given their approval to homosexuality at all levels of the church. It’s not “politically correct” to oppose homosexuality. Some would consider what I’m writing here to be “hate speech”, worthy of censorship. But that’s because we care too much about what people think of us and don’t care at all what God thinks of us.

Nevertheless, I remind you, as I remind myself, Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5). It is God, Jesus reminds us, who has the authority to cast into hell. We’d better be concerned about what he thinks.

We live in a sad day. Especially when it comes to the subject of homosexuality, it’s almost like most of the Western world has been put under a demonic spell. We’ve not only lost our ability to discern right from wrong, but we’ve also lost the ability, it seems, to feel shame.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

“Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32).

Sin is nothing to be proud of. Rather, we should feel deeply ashamed. We should not celebrate our sin; we should mourn. Unless we repent, we will most surely face God’s awful wrath.

Talk is cheap!

If you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15).

Love is proven by actions. It’s not that words are unimportant—they are meaningful and vitally important to the beloved one—but the proof of love is in the actions of the lover. This is true in all our relationships: the one who loves will demonstrate that love through acts of love. There’s an old saying: “Talk is cheap!” When it comes to love, talk is cheap. Words of love must be accompanied by loving deeds, if the words are to mean anything.

One definition of a Christian is “one who loves Christ” (e.g., John 8:42; Ephesians 6:24). Question: Do you love Christ Jesus? How do you know? After all, you can’t see Jesus or touch him. Just how do you love one you can’t see? Jesus gave us the answer: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Our love for Jesus is proven by our actions.

Jesus is the eternal Word—God in human flesh (John 1:1, 14). The Bible—both Old and New Testaments—is the word of God: “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, to obey what Jesus commands is, in essence, to obey the Bible.

My friend, whether or not we love Jesus—that is, whether or not we are Christians—is not a matter of what words we say or sing; it’s a matter of how devoted we are to his word, the Bible. Do you love the word of God? Do you cherish the Scriptures? Is your heart’s desire to obey what God has said? If you love Jesus, you love his word.

Believer in Jesus, make it your business to get in God’s word. Read it, study it, know it and, then, obey it. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”