Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother’s Day tribute to Grandma

Grandma and Pa Bill - 6/28/1980

I am grateful to God that the two people who gave me life, my mother and father, are both alive and well, and are a part of my life.  However—as I think most of you know—I never lived with my biological parents, who both were teenagers at the time of my birth.  In fact, I did not meet my father until 7 years ago.   As God in His sovereign will would have it, I ended up being raised by my maternal great-grandparents (specifically, my maternal grandfather’s mother and step-father), William and Minnie Duncan Gray—“Pa Bill” and “Grandma,” with whom I lived until their deaths in 1989 and 1986.

On this Mother’s Day, I specifically want to pay tribute to Grandma.  For all intents and purposes, she was my mother.  Granted, Grandma did not give birth to me, but she did raise me and care for me—all the way into adulthood.  Like a mother, she made sure I was fed each day.  When I was sick, it was Grandma who nursed me back to health.  Whether I suffered skinned knees or hurt feelings, it was Grandma who soothed the pain.  In many ways, Grandma was the ideal mother.

There are many stories that come to mind, many examples of how she nurtured me.  If I were to take the time to write them out in full, I probably could come up with enough print to fill a book of several chapters.  Just thinking about some examples of her tenderness brings tears to my eyes some 40-plus years after the fact.  Remembering laughs we shared decades ago still make me smile today.  I don’t exaggerate when I say that I don’t know of anyone who seemed to be such a perfect balance of love, tenderness, calmness and self-discipline.

To this day, I remain amazed at Grandma’s personal discipline.  The amount of housework she could accomplish in a day, while also maintaining her business schedule as a hairdresser until she was 80 (she maintained a beauty shop in the basement of our home), was simply amazing.  Never rushed, never stressed-out, yet always on time, always finishing what she set out to accomplish.

And Grandma was blessed with wisdom.  In all honesty, I believe Grandma may have been one of the wisest persons I’ve ever known.  She seemed to always be able to correctly assess people and situations, always know the right thing to do or say.  She wasn’t a gossip.  She wasn’t a flatterer.  She wasn’t proud—didn’t think more highly of herself than others.  She wasn’t domineering; neither was she a push-over.  Grandma was humble, down-to-earth, plain-speaking, and wise.  Now, as I near the end of my fifth decade of life, I know that part of her wisdom came from just living.  You see, Grandma was almost 67 when I came to live with her and Pa Bill.  That means I was the blessed recipient of the wisdom of her senior years.  But, another source of Grandma’s wisdom was the Bible.

You see, Grandma was a real Christian.  By that I mean she had been born again, having professed personal faith in Christ as a teenager, in 1913 (September 19, 1913, on the “mourner’s bench” at Oak Grove A.M.E. Church in Florence, Alabama, to be exact).  Whether it happened then or later, it was evident to me that somewhere along the road of life she had come to personally know the Lord.  She was not perfect, but she lived a consistent Christian life.  She wasn’t highly-educated (only completed 8th grade), but she was biblically literate, reading a portion of her Bible every day (Scofield Reference Bible, King James Version, of course).

A fond memory is that of seeing Grandma sitting in her bedroom (the simple wooden chair in which she sat sits beside my desk right now as I type), or in the living room of our house, reading God’s word.  Her example would put most of us church folks to shame because, without benefit of a reading plan or accountability partner, Grandma would read through the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation.  She didn’t feel the need to read the Bible in a year—she was in no hurry—she would just start at Genesis and read a portion each day until she finished Revelation.  Then, she would go back to Genesis and start all over.  By that method, I believe she managed to read through the entire Bible several times.

I believe that it was, ultimately, because of her faith in Christ that Grandma was the wonderful mother that she was.  By her words and example, she kept before me the reality of God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son.  In fact, she was my first Bible teacher, as she would explain to me the truths of God’s word as I sat at her knee.  I believe that I am a Christian today at least partly because of the spiritual seeds she planted in my life.

Grandma also demonstrated what a wife’s godly submission to her husband should look like.  I don’t remember ever hearing Grandma discuss the subject of submission, but I watch how she and Pa Bill interacted.  In many ways, he was dependent upon her.  She was smarter than he was (he only completed the 6th grade), could read much better than he could, but she never embarrassed him or talked down to him or made him feel inferior.  In fact, there were several small ways she never called attention to (but that I observed) in which she used her abilities to help Pa Bill take the lead in the family.  She was not a “doormat” by any means, but she wasn’t a feminist, either.  She was a strong woman who didn’t feel the need to dominate a man in order to prove her worth as a woman.  I watched that.  I learned from that.  And when, much later, I learned what the Bible had to say about the husband and wife’s roles in the family, I realized that Pa Bill and Grandma had been living that out in front of me all along.  Grandma showed me what to look for in a wife.

It is amazing how, in hindsight, we can sometimes clearly see the providential hand of God in our lives.  Looking back, I see that God so arranged that I be raised and nurtured by Grandma and Pa Bill so that I could be saved, because He wanted me as His own.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I want to pay tribute to the one who was mother to me.  “Happy Mother’s Day,” Grandma.  I miss you, but look forward to seeing you again, one day, in the presence of our Lord and Savior.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Some day

Beams of heaven, as I go
Through this wilderness below,
Guide my feet in peaceful ways,
Turn my midnights into days;
When in the darkness I would grope,
Faith always sees a star of hope,
And soon from all life’s grief and danger
I shall be free some day.

Burdens now may crush me down,
Disappointments all around,
Troubles speak in mournful sigh,
Sorrow through a tear-stained eye;
There is a world where pleasure reigns,
No mourning soul shall roam its plains,
And to that land of peace and glory
I want to go some day.

I do not know how long ’twill be,
Nor what the future holds for me,
But this I know, if Jesus leads me,
I shall get home some day.

—Rev. Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You have to take a stand

If Jesus is the eternal God (and He is—just as much God as the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God), and if the 66 books which comprise the Bible are the written word of God (and Scripture is, indeed, the authoritative written word of God), then what the Bible says, Jesus also says. It is a critical error to place the New Testament quotes of Jesus (the words in “red”) in opposition to the rest of Scripture. It’s all His word!

I’m not surprised or overly concerned when non-Christians make the error of separating Christ from, or setting Him in opposition to, His written word. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me” (John 10:27). Not being among Christ’s sheep, of course non-Christians don’t recognize or hear Christ’s voice, let alone feel any compulsion to obey. And they certainly have no problem disobeying! That’s to be expected. But, when professed Christians buy into the fallacious arguments of pagans and ride loose with Scripture, something’s seriously wrong with these professed Christians!

So, Scripture is the word of God (it is also the word of Christ, because Christ is God; and it is the word of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is God). Because Scripture is God’s word (and, notice, I didn’t say it “contains” God’s word, for the entirety of Scripture is God’s word), it carries God’s authority. I can’t say it any better than this quote:

“The first thing to realize is that God’s Word is an extension of God Himself. To hear His words that comprise the whole Bible is to hear Him. To obey His words is to obey Him. To ignore His words is to ignore Him. God ‘invests’ Himself in His words, as Timothy Ward puts it. That is, God so identifies Himself with His words that our response to His words is our response to Him.”

—Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation: How God’s word brings light, freedom, and action to His people (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), p. 48.

Or, again, as Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). If you or I don’t (or won’t) follow or obey Jesus—which is synonymous with following or obeying His written word, which is Scripture—then we are not one of His sheep. This is what Jesus said! If Jesus is Lord (and He most certainly is!), then His sheep/followers—i.e., Christians—are obligated to follow Him. That means all our opinions, ideas, feelings, sentiments, desires, thoughts, urges, likes, wants and “felt needs” must bow in deference to the authority of the word of Christ, which is Scripture—all of Scripture. When it comes to God, there are no such things as “rights”. Jesus is Lord! And His people submit to His word.

So, what’s my point? It is this: Some profess faith in Christ who, nevertheless, are all-too-willing to throw the word of Christ (Scripture) under the bus when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. But we cannot do that—and I don’t believe we will do that—if Jesus Christ is truly our Lord. There’s more to being a Christian than just saying you’re a Christian. Those who have placed themselves under the Lordship of Christ have also submitted their views and ideas (and sexuality) to the authority of His written word.

Scripture, being the word of God, bears God’s authority. The heart of the issue is that those who want to justify sin (whether homosexuality or any other sin) are loathe to submit to the authority of Scripture. That’s why those who are busy trying to force acceptance of homosexuality and legalize so-called “gay marriage” are also busy working to undermine the authority of Scripture. Here’s an example I came across just this week:

“Clearly, there are a few Bible verses that involve same-sex acts…but given the modern advent of recognizing the existence of sexual orientation, we must accept the reality that the writers of those verses were in no way trying to, let alone capable of, acknowledging, understanding and addressing homosexual orientation.”

Notice the condescending attitude of this writer (who happens to be a seminary-educated, ordained minister within an old-line Protestant denomination). Does not God know all things? And even if the men who wrote Scripture in themselves “were in no way trying to, let alone capable of, acknowledging, understanding and addressing homosexual orientation,” would not the God who inspired their writings, who guided their minds in the act of writing (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), have full knowledge of all things?

Those who seek to undermine the authority of Scripture love to say that Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality, therefore He was/is not concerned about the issue at all. In saying this (and in believing it), they reveal their ignorance of both the divine nature of Scripture and the divine nature of Christ. For if homosexuality is addressed in Scripture at all, then Jesus has addressed the issue, because (as I said earlier) all of Scripture is His word.

It is also said that the Bible really does not condemn homosexuality at all, that we’re simply misunderstanding the context of certain passages. But, my friend, no matter what translation in which you read Genesis 19:4-13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Judges 19:22-23; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:9-10, you cannot interpret these passages to be anything but condemnatory of homosexual acts.

Besides all this, while one can find passages which speak positively and approvingly of heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage, you will find absolutely no passages in Scripture which speak positively or approvingly of homosexuality or homosexual relations, and absolutely nothing supportive of homosexual marriage. Nothing. At all. Why? Because God in no way approves of sin, including homosexuality.

When Satan makes his appearance in Scripture, we find him undermining the word of God (Genesis 3:1ff). Today, when we hear and read of philosophies and arguments which ultimately work to undermine the authority of Scripture as the word of God, the same devil is at work. I don’t want to mince words: This push we see for the acceptance and approval of homosexuality, for the securing of special legal rights for those engaged in a homosexual lifestyle, and for the recognition and legalization of “gay marriage”—both in the wider society and within some churches—is inspired by Satan. Those involved in pressing forward this evil agenda are doing the devil’s work. As I said at the beginning, I’m not surprised at all when non-Christians involve themselves in sinful causes like this. But, when those who profess to be Christian take up the devil’s cause, we should be highly concerned about the true spiritual state of our churches.

So, is what I’ve been writing “homophobia”? Is calling out homosexuality as sin a form of “hate speech”? Not at all! I don’t fear homosexuals (which is what “homophobia” means) and, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t hate anyone, let alone hate people solely because of their sexuality. In fact, calling Christians “homophobes”, “bigots” and “haters” because they are true to their faith is the height of intolerance (ironically, those who talk the most about “tolerance” are usually the most intolerant of people). No, I’ve written this because of love—love for God, love for His word, and love for people, especially those who comprise “the household of faith.” In fact, I’ll tell you what a lack of love looks like: to keep silent about sin, knowing the coming wrath of God, because you fear the disapproval of mere humans. Silence about sin borders on hatred.

This post is primarily directed at professing Christians who continue to remain silent regarding the sin of homosexuality. Some professing evangelical Christians have even gone so far as to lend their approval to homosexuality and “gay marriage”. When, in our craving for worldly acceptance, we cast aside God’s written word by either outright ignoring it or twisting its meaning in such a way as to make it appear God approves sin, in what sense are we really “Christian”? God has made it clear that we are not to add to or take away from His written word (see Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19). Our attitude towards God’s written word is a test of the genuineness of our Christianity. To quote Jonathan Leeman again: “God’s Word is an extension of God Himself. To hear His words that comprise the whole Bible is to hear Him. To obey His words is to obey Him. To ignore His words is to ignore Him.”

Christian, you must not remain silent about sin. You must not be afraid to speak up, when given the opportunity. This is certainly not about “reclaiming America” or winning any so-called “culture war.” Who cares about saving American culture! You and I cannot remain silent about sin because GOD is not silent about sin. Stand on His truth, even if you must stand alone. Stand with love, but stand resolutely. Stand because God’s word is right, and everything that stands in contradiction to His word is wrong.

But, for heaven’s sake, let’s be even more vigilant about ridding our own lives of sin. We must practice what we preach! May God help us to do so.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

How will you vote?

As a product of the historic Black Church, currently active as a member of a predominantly-white, mainstream, evangelical church, who through musical associations has been exposed to mainline Christianity, and who through work in secular educational establishments has been exposed to political and social liberalism, it has been my privilege to gain a broad perspective on how different kinds of people tend to think—theologically, politically and otherwise.

When it comes to current Presidential politics and the Christian, I’ve observed that there are Christians who are genuinely puzzled that any real Christian would ever vote for President Obama, while there are other Christians who similarly wonder how in the world a real Christian could ever vote for his Republican rival. As difficult as it may be for some to imagine, there are genuine Christians who voted for Obama, and there are genuine Christians who voted (and/or will vote) for his opponent. A truly biblical and Christian stance does not fall neatly along political party lines. There are sinful practices promoted and/or tolerated by politicians in every political party.

So what does this mean for the Christian as we look ahead to November’s Presidential election? Practically speaking, it means that who Christians decide to vote for will probably boil down to which sins we can best tolerate. In other words, there are no perfect candidates, and there is no “Christian” choice. In my opinion, Christians need to pray, seek God’s guidance in Scripture, and then vote one’s conscience, trusting God who is sovereign over all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What a politician should NOT say

This is how a politician guarantees I will NOT vote for him:

Last Saturday, Rick Santorum said, “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor that [tries] to indoctrinate them.”

Pardon me, Mr. Santorum, but I was raised by a “good, decent” couple, who worked hard all their lives, and who never went to college or high school. Yet, unlike you, they didn’t consider it snobbery to desire that others attain a college education. On the contrary, they wanted me to have what they never had the opportunity to get, and they encouraged and expected me to go to college and get my degree. I’m all but certain minorities and college-educated whites will not find your statement compelling. So, why would you—someone with 3 earned college degrees—make a statement like this? Well, it seems obvious to me that your statement is only meant to play upon the racially-inspired fear, hatred and jealousy of non-college-educated whites towards college-educated black men. That’s personally insulting to me. And THAT’S why, in a nutshell, Mr. Santorum, you will NEVER get my vote!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Psalm 32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On this King Holiday, what I’m thankful for

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

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


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

“No, I never saw that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


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

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 09, 2012

God is there

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

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

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

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

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

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