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Reflections on the 2017 Just Gospel Conference

Over the past few days 10 members from our church attended the Just Gospel conference in Atlanta hosted by The Front Porch.

The three-day conference was a compilation of two biblical expositions, several monologues, and 17 panel discussions. The focus of these discussions was on the way biblical justice in the local church intersects issues of race, secular movements, abortion, education, orphans, widows, young men, murder in Chicago, hip-hop, women’s issues, incarceration, and sex trafficking.

Our church has been discussing issues of race, grace, and reconciliation for a number of years, so I was looking forward to attending and processing these important issues together.

Here are a few of my thoughts that have been shaped by the help of others who attended.

  1. Social meetings are better than social media.

Discussions about important issues are always better face-to-face. Social media often cultivates an atmosphere where being heard devours the desire to hear from others. At this conference, people came to be fed, led, and given room to process. In an age where many find safety behind a screen, this conference confirmed afresh how essential it is to move conversations about race and justice from blogs and Tweets to dinner tables and live dialogues.

The conference atmosphere was warm and the format of discussions modeled for the listeners how to dialogue about difficult issues. Our group met for meals several times to talk about what we heard and how it affected us personally and our church corporately. The give and take modeled at the conference helped us lovingly learn from one another.

 

  1. Diverse friendships aid our ability to see injustices we would normally overlook.

Most of my life has been lived in contexts where people look like me, think like I naturally think, and experience life as I do. As a middle-class white man I have never worried where I would sleep, never sold my body for a meal, never been fearful of a police officer, or feared for my life in my neighborhood.

God has graciously brought people into my life that have welcomed me into their weeping and their rejoicing. The topics of the conference were educational, challenging, and at times confusing. But having friends to help me process has been invaluable. One reason is that as I have grown in my love for them I have seen realities I would have otherwise overlooked. Tripp Lee rightly said, “We can’t bear each others burdens if we don’t know what each other’s burdens are.”

What this conference did is further help me understand that many people don’t have the option to not think about issues of injustice. I think about issues of justice most normally if they show up at my doorstep. Many don’t have that privilege. They live in areas where injustice is less like a package dropped on their doorstep and more like a shadow; a constant companion in life.

Privilege is mishandled if it used to perpetuate indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of my neighbor. Everyone in our group was able to point to things they learned about history that gave a fuller picture of how injustice is perpetuated today. The continual realization of this is not a comfortable reality, but is a necessary one if I am to be a Christian who will labor for justice, even or especially if the injustice is not directly aimed at me.

In the end, my black friends and I likely won’t agree on everything and will never experience things exactly the same way. But loving friendships are marked by patient, empathetic, offense-overlooking love. Christian love endures because it is empowered by the Spirit of Christ. He makes us one, and gives us the power to walk as one, until that day when we will struggle no more.

 

  1. White conferences must begin to diversify their speakers. 

This statement is not about affirmative action or being politically correct. This is a conviction that has crystalized for me over the past few days. I was introduced to numerous African American brothers at this conference who are exceptionally gifted in handling the word. This wasn’t a surprise, but sadly not a privilege I have had often enough. Victor Sholar’s message on the Good Samaritan out of Luke 10:25-37 was one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard in a long time.

When I initially looked at the lineup of contributors for the Just Gospel conference, I was put off because only 2 of the 37 contributors were white. But then I began to wonder how my brothers and sisters of color feel when they attend evangelical conferences where there is very often an all-white or all white + a token minority in the line up.

I come from a tradition where most of my influencers are middle to upper class white men. These men are faithful and love God, but their experiences affect the way they interpret and apply the Scriptures. As Dr. Jarvis Williams explained, we gain different insights from people who are “looking up” at commands about justice than we will from people who are “looking down” on them. The insights and applications brothers were drawing from the Bible were fresh for me and challenged me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be challenged.

The voices of marginalized brothers and sisters are often unheard by people like me. I suspect this may be why I have rarely, if ever, heard a sermon on practical justice that was not a cry for religious freedom or condemning abortion. Both of those injustices matter, but they are not the only justice issues. The body of Christ is made up of people from various ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Diverse perspectives bring Gospel implications to light that would otherwise be overlooked. Diverse voices in my life help me be more faithful to God. I want and need that, and especially hope that my brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention will make strides to grow in this in the days ahead.

 

  1. We must have a patient urgency.

People are complex. Issues of justice are complex. Applications of the Gospel in diverse churches are complex. This complexity requires patience with one another as we navigate how we can grow together in Christian unity.

At the same time, there is great urgency. The church does not have the option to walk by on the other side of the road while our fellow man lies bloodied in the road of injustice. The plight of minorities, babies in the womb, orphans, widows, sex slaves, abused women, and refugees must matter to us.

Figuring out how to navigate these two realities is very difficult. Anyone who gives effort to engaging grows weary at some point. I saw this weariness and heard people testify of it. I have felt it often as I try to figure out how I’m not “getting it,” or why others don’t see my perspective. These conversations are hard, but they must happen.

Leonce Crump summed the struggle up well by urging us to have “present urgency with an eternal perspective.” Patience and urgency are not enemies. Christians know this because James 5:9 exhorts us, “be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We must keep these truths before us as we labor for justice.

 

  1. Self-justification short-circuits conviction. 

 Conversations about the intersection of race, grace, and justice are both edifying and offensive. They are edifying because my heart is stretched to see implications of the Gospel that are unnatural to me. God uses them to show fresh ways I need His help. Through them I have developed deeper relationships with diverse friends.

At the same time they are offensive. Sometimes I am offended because I am wrongly accused, but more often, I am offended because I don’t like being exposed. There are racially-charged sins that abide in me. My heart is home to perspectives that are ignorant at best and murderously sinful at worst. I don’t want to be racist or even tempted to have prejudiced assumptions about people.

When an accusation comes against me, I want to justify myself. I make excuses. I shift blame. I do what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. But this is not the right response of a Christian. Rather than justify ourselves, we must rest in the justification given through faith in Christ. Tony Carter’s closing comments reminded us that we are all sinners, justified alone by faith in Christ which frees us to see one another as equals—equally justified, and equally sinful—and begin the difficult work of meeting one another where we are.

This frees us to allow God’s Word and the insights of others to do work in us. Not every accusation that comes against us will be grounded in truth, but some of them will. Are you open to correction? Do you receive the challenges of others? This conference and the conversations I had because of it brought these questions home afresh for me.

 

  1. The Scriptures must remain central.

One of the best parts of the conference was pastor Bobby Scott who always had his Bible open and reading verses to give guidance to the conversation. I believe more than ever that the best way forward is on our knees with humble hearts before open Bibles.

Allowing the Scriptures to guide our conversations guards God’s glory. As Dr. Kevin Smith said, “We want people to understand we are springing forth from the Scripture.” This gives help to God’s people and hope to the world, a world lacking the power of the Spirit of God to address the challenges we face.

One theme that came up on the first day was the need to render aid to the afflicted in the context of Christ’s call to discipleship. Liberation without Gospel transformation is just another form of worldly incarceration. The Bible tells us that all people’s greatest need is to become and grow as followers of Jesus. The Gospel reconciles us with God and with those made in His image. If you are able to listen to the conversation between Thabiti Anyabwile and Roland Warren about abortion, you will hear an excellent example of this.

The wisdom of the world will call us to compromise convictions about God’s designs in sexuality, roles of men and women, the mission of the church, and racism. Many have wandered from the faith in the name of compassion. But many others have wandered from the faith in the name of safety. Jesus calls us to follow Him on the way that is hard, on a road that is narrow. There are temptations to stray on every side. As we journey together we must walk closely with Jesus, according to His Word, because He knows the way.

 

As with any conference or sensitive discussion I’ve been a part of, I had several concerns, critiques, and areas of needed clarification. These centered around a desire for more clarity on complementarianism, added pastoral wisdom about ways to engage in arenas of difficult ministry, and a desire for even clearer Biblical instruction about issues of justice. I am processing these privately with some of the brothers involved, but I do not want them to overshadow the encouragements and challenges our group received from our time at the conference.

I am thankful to see God moving in our day, and I am hopeful that discussions like this can be used by God to bring unity and maturity to Jesus’ church as we move forward together.

The Great Tragedy of the 2016 Election

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A great tragedy occurred on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

The tragedy was not found in the celebrations or concessions of elected officials. It was not colored red or blue, and it wasn’t rooted in the dark cloud that hung over this scandalous political season.

The tragedy I’m speaking of is far more grievous.

You see, in this land of the free and home of the brave, there were many people whose ballots were not cast. Their convictions were silenced. Their opinions were not expressed. Their voices were not heard.

Why not?

Because they were dead.

The great tragedy of the 2016 election is that roughly 31,103,051 million would-be voters are not with us because they were murdered through abortion. That means from 1973-1998 roughly 31 million babies had their right to live taken from them by their own parents. Of those, over one third were African Americans, the very people abortion was designed to extinguish.

This is an unspeakable tragedy.

They didn’t get to cast a vote for the first woman president or the political outsider or write in another candidate. They didn’t get to make a stand against racial injustice or make a stand for integrity. They were robbed of watching results come in with their friends. They weren’t allowed to rest their heads on a pillow in the land of the free.

That is a great tragedy. But the tragedy isn’t over.

Why?

Because over 3,000 babies will be aborted today; and each day leading up to Tuesday November 8th, 2020. In the 3 minutes it takes you to read this post, approximately 7 babies will have been aborted in the United States of America. Their voices will be silenced. Their freedom not experienced. Their opportunity to be brave not known.

 

Close to Home

This is a tragedy that hits close to home for me. When I was 19, I chose to end the life of my first child through an abortion. My friend and I were in a scary place, we didn’t plan to get married, and we felt we had nowhere else to go. So we chose to end the life of our child.

My child would be 20 today. He or she would be off at college or working hard at their craft. They’d be praying for God’s grace on our land and working to make the world a better place.

But, they won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be sitting down with them and explaining how to think about policies and the candidates that represent them. I won’t be able to tell them about freedom and justice for all. I took that freedom away with my injustice.

I cannot undo what I’ve done in the past. None of us can. Only Jesus, who shed His blood for sinners like me can heal those wounds. Jesus gives us great hope in the midst of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies we face in this life.

 

Refuge in Jesus

If you have committed an abortion, I want you to know that there is a refuge in Jesus. He will heal your wounds. There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess your sins and turn to Him in faith, He will wash away all your guilt and all your shame. Listen to and believe this promise from Him, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 10:28).

If you support abortion, I want you to know that I do not demonize you. I too have felt the fear of an unplanned pregnancy. I too have known the tidal wave of confusion that swirls around. My encouragement to you would be to pray and ask God to show you if abortion is something that pleases Him or not. I know this may seem odd, but the reality is that God cares about everything we think, do, and say in this life.

I realize you have your reasons for supporting abortion; I did too. But I encourage you to take the time to read what God says about life and who has the right to give and take it away. If you’d be open to reading what the Bible says about abortion, you can read this.

 

Difficult Choice

If you are a Christian, be patient with those who view things differently than you. But don’t just be patient; speak truth in love to those who are in need. Find ways to help those who are struggling through unplanned pregnancies. Investigate options for adoption and invest in the lives of those who are facing difficult choices.

Today I looked at a picture of a 6-year-old boy at a football game.  He’s a 6-year-old boy who nearly wasn’t with us today because of the difficult place his mother found herself in. She was unmarried, pregnant, and scared. But my wife met with her and prayed with her and took her to a Christian doctor who showed her the heartbeat of the baby in her womb. That young mother had the courage to keep her child.

That young boy’s smile reminds me that God can save children, one at a time. But God does this by using His people to come alongside those who are struggling and lovingly showing them the Christ who can walk them through any terrifying situation, even an unplanned pregnancy.

 

 

I believe that the only hope to turn the trend of this tragedy around is for people to turn their hearts toward the God who made them through the way paved by His Son Jesus. Jesus changes hearts, and changed hearts change a nation. May God give grace to us as a country, and may God give us courage to stand up in the midst of this tragedy so that, if the Lord tarries, we might see this kind of tragedy come to an end.

 

Lord Jesus, we need your help.

 

How Christians Can Pray for Muslims During Ramadan

As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, Christians should cry out to the true God of heaven on their behalf.

As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, Christians should cry out to the true God of heaven on their behalf.

Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Sunday, June 5, 2016, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Tuesday, July 5th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

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When I was young, we took a family vacation to Maine. My father spent his summers there as a kid and wanted us to experience the beauty of its wooded wonderland. During our stay we did some fishing, went sailing, and ate as much lobster as you can before turning into one.

Near the end of the week, dad told us he had something to show us. So we piled into the car and drove along a dark, windy, pine tree-walled road that led out to an open field. The field was home to a tall, black-ironed fence that enclosed a well-kept acre of tombstones that dated back to the 1800s.

We were confused (and a little concerned) about why dad was taking us to a graveyard near the end of vacation—but we followed as he led us down a well-worn path that steered into the heart of the cemetery.

Gravestone - My Dear Young FriendWe watched as he and my aunt scanned tombstone after tombstone until they found the one they were looking for. As we made our way over to the sunken grave he asked us to gather around as he read from a gravestone that had nothing on it but this inscription:

“My dear young friend as you pass by,

remember you were born to die;

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

On that day, a no-named dead guy delivered a message that has never escaped my memory: you will die.

Of course that wasn’t the first time I’d heard this fact of life, but ever since that afternoon in the graveyard I have remembered the message and a few lessons from it.

Lessons from the Tombstone

1.  Death is coming.

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Death is the one appointment that all of us will keep. When it comes, it comes without discrimination. Death comes for the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the light-skinned and the dark-skinned. Death takes Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, married and single—death comes for us all.

Our date with death was secured for us long ago in a garden quite unlike that graveyard. It was a perfect Garden, one whose name meant “delight of the Lord.” But it was there in Eden that our first parents turned away from the Giver of Life.

God responded to Adam and Eve’s sin by placing a curse on them, and on all people who have come after them. The LORD told Adam that life would be interrupted and that he would “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Since that day, life has a black cloud hanging over it reminding us that we were born to die.

2.  Death should stir reflection.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2

Despite the fact that we know death is coming, we seem to do all we can to avoid considering it’s impending arrival. We prefer to turn up the volume of distraction and numb ourselves with entertainment. Wisdom however, teaches us to approach our deaths differently.

In what could be seen as morbid counsel, King Solomon prescribes his listeners to fill their time attending funerals instead of fiestas. Why? Because when you sit in a room with a casket and a lifeless body, your soul has an opportunity to be sobered.

In the quietness of that mortuary, you hear sniffles of sorrow similar to the ones that one day will be cried over you. You see flowers that lay on a box similar to one you in which you will be laid to rest. Your mind is given opportunity in those moments to consider that as they are now, so you shall be.

One of the oft-forgotten ministries of Moses was that of a funeral conductor. As he wandered in the wilderness for forty years, he buried an entire generation of people and wrote Psalm 90 as a reflection upon it. After remarking about the brevity of human life, Moses asked God to, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Wisdom is birthed out of an awareness that the sands of time are sinking from the hourglass of our lives. Every moment that we have sinks into a unretrievable arena that will one day be evaluated before God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-15). Our mortality ought move us to be wise with the days we have, which must include preparing for what comes after we die.

3.  Death is not the end.

“An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29

During a later trip to the graveyard, my uncle found a note attached to the base of our memorable tombstone. The note read like this, “To follow you, I will not yet; Until I know which way you went.”

The witty chap who left this note was on to something. Our fallen friend had invited us to prepare to follow him, but before we follow him in death, it is important to know which way he went. You see, death is not the end—for any of us.

Death does not end our existence, it merely serves as a gateway into our next existence. Death is the doorway that leads to our final, eternal dwelling. While we cannot know which way our fallen anonymous friend went when he died, we can know which way we will go.

How? 

Because there is Another who was born to die, and born to live and give life to others. While He lived on the earth Jesus gave this promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Jesus was the Son of God who came to earth to die on a cross for sinners and then raise from the dead. Jesus calls us, while we have time, to repent of our sins and follow Him in belief. For those who do this, they are promised a future day of resurrection.

One day soon, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command…and the dead in Christ will rise first…then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

 

And that is the hope of those who trust in Christ. We know that one day we will escape the grave’s grasp and be taken up to be with our Lord forevermore. This too can be your hope if do not know Jesus.

His message is similar to the one on that gravestone.

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

Jesus came as we were so that we might be as He is. He is coming soon, so let us prepare for our day of death by trusting in the One who died and rose and promises to raise us from the grave to be with Him and like Him forever more (1 John 3:2).

Come soon, O risen Lord Jesus!

How Grace Triumphed Over Empty “gospels” – Toni Meadors’ Baptism Testimony

toni meadorsOn Sunday, I had the honor of baptizing Toni Meadors. What follows is her account of how Jesus delivered her from trusting in empty Gospels by showing her the Gospel of His saving grace.

I grew up going to church and hearing about Jesus, but I had a shallow understanding of salvation. I spent most of my teen years believing I was a good girl because I didn’t follow the path many around me took. However, when I turned 17 years old, I followed the “gospel of the world” and got involved in all kinds of reckless behavior of which I am now ashamed to speak.  Eventually, because I was afraid of the consequences of my behavior, I told my mom what I had been doing and she took me to church.

That Sunday I walked an aisle, said a prayer, and sobbed rivers of tears.  At that point, I thought I had become a Christian. But that was not the case. The church I was attending increasingly began to teach the “prosperity gospel,” so for a long time I saw God as a means of personal fulfillment and gain.

Once I understood the fallacy of that gospel, I began attending a First Baptist Church.  The teaching was better, but looking back I see now that I learned and believed a “moral gospel” that taught me how to be a good person without any inward transformation.  During this time, I met and married my husband Tim, whom I love very much.  The army moved us around and we ended up in Virginia.  We attended church together, yet, I created lots of distress in our marriage because I had no power to recognize or fight sin in my life.

Despite my inability to truly love my husband, I was able to deceive myself (and everyone else) into believing that I was a born again Christian. I attended church, listened to Christian radio, was actively involved in a ladies’ Bible study group, had a quiet time every day, was passionate about conservative politics, gave money to various ministries, and even shared my faith. But looking back, I believed the lie of the “works-based gospel” and didn’t understand that I could never do enough to make myself right and acceptable before the Lord.

By God’s grace, 13 years after my initial profession of faith, I started listening to John Macarthur’s sermons online.  Initially, I did not like what he said as he continually preached about the great sinfulness of man and of a Christ who came to save men from their sins.  Through his preaching, God opened my eyes and I saw the multitude of sins for which I was guilty.

I saw the empty, sinful soul that was hiding behind the mask of morality and the mask of religion.  By His grace the Lord opened my eyes to see the truth, and for the first time, I embraced the Gospel of God’s grace. I believed the good news that God’s Son Jesus Christ saves and redeems men from their many and great sins, and from the punishment they deserve.

Shortly after God gave me this new life, we moved to Kentucky.  I attended a Gospel preaching church and began to read lots of theology.  Unfortunately, although I was born again, I began to become puffed up and was not loving my family as I should. My pride hindered me from humbly living out the Gospel that had saved me.

But once again, God showed me mercy, and brought me to Del Ray where I have learned that right theology and love can and must coexist.  I am by no means a perfect wife, mother, daughter, or friend but with God’s help I am learning day by day how to love and to live for His glory.

So, I am here today to be baptized in obedience to the command of my Lord and Savior.  I am here to identify with the One who bore my sins, took my place, died in my stead, and was buried and rose again for my justification.  I am here to publicly proclaim my intention to walk with Jesus in the newness of life for the rest of my life.

 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

 

Praise God whose Gospel of grace triumphs all other false “gospels!”

 

Consider Where Sin Is Leading You

Shadow RoadIn the past few weeks I have witnessed several dear friends flirting with sin in a way that has been terrifying. These friends love Jesus very much, but circumstances in their lives have exposed areas of easy entrance for the tempter.

As I’ve pondered their struggles, and my own wandering heart, I have been reminded of an exhortation I received many years ago.

When I was in seminary, the chancellor was Dr. Chuck Swindoll. “Chuck” was beloved by the seminary students and the chapel was packed for the morning service.

As he stepped to the pulpit, he carried a weight on his brow, a bible in his hand, and a written statement. He proceeded to share with us the news that another pastor from our seminary had fallen into grave sexual sin, disqualified himself from the ministry, and destroyed his family.

After sharing the news with us, Dr. Swindoll shared a message that I don’t remember verbatim, but the heart of which I hope to never forget.

He challenged us to consider the end of our sin, to consider where sin would lead us. Over the years I have followed his advice and I’d like to take a moment to help you do the same.

Consider the End of Your Sin

I want you walk with me through a scene in your future. You need to see what lies ahead on the path where sin is leading you. This is aimed at fellow pastors, but the idea is applicable to all of us.

Envision yourself calling together your elders and sitting in their midst, telling them about how you have betrayed their trust. See their sunken faces and feel their broken hearts.

Listen to them consider how they will tell the church. Imagine the confusion of the congregation and how it will affect those who have heard you speak so often of Jesus being better than anything else.

Imagine how the name of Christ will be mocked among your community and beyond.

Then I want you to picture walking out to your car and getting in it.

Drive down the road near your house, and around your neighborhood a few times. Picture that place where you walked the dog with your children in the evenings.

Now, pull into your driveway and walk up to the door of your home.

Hear the scampering feet of your children running up to you and putting their arms around your legs saying “daddy’s home!” See the way they love you and trust you.

Drink that in deeply.

Now, tell them to go on outside and play because you have to talk to their mommy about something. As you walk toward the kitchen where she is faithfully going about her day, look at those smiling pictures on the wall. Remember the happy days you shared together.

Lead her by the hand to your bedroom where you used to make love.

Ask her to have a seat.

Feel your heart scamper and the lump form in your throat.

See her eyes ask what is wrong. Then watch her weep as you tell her you have been unfaithful.

Hear her wail.

See her sob.

Feel her hit your chest and fall to her knees in despair.

Imagine the phone call to her parents, and to yours. Hear the silence on the other end of the phone as they take in what you’ve told them.

Get in your mind the day you gather your children and sit them down to explain why mommy and daddy are going to be spending some time apart and why you are going to be selling the house they love so much.

See yourself taking down those smiling pictures from the wall and taping up the moving boxes, unsure if you’ll ever open them again.

Do you see it?

Sin doesn’t tell you about those days, does it?

Sin Hides the Cost

Satan does not tell you what sin will cost you, because the price tag is too high.

He is a liar (John 8:44) and deception is his forte (2 Corinthians 11:3). He wants you to think that sin will not cost you as much as it will. He wants you to think that you can keep things hidden or that you can get out at any time. He wants you to think that your small compromises today will not lead to a great fall in the days ahead.

But that is a lie. He only speaks lies.

Sin is stronger than you or I will ever be.

Some of you are standing at a cross road in your life right now. You have been sipping on sin’s potion and are becoming intoxicated by its lies. Satan wants you to keep sipping so that you will become drunk with delusion and not consider God’s warning of the of destruction that lies ahead.

Hear and heed these words with me, please.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

If you are entangled in sin, call a trusted friend right now and tell them you need help. Do not wait another minute. Sin wants you to think that you can stop by yourself—do not believe it. Darkness is the ground in which sin grows strong.

If you think this could never happen to you, be careful, we are warned “let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Satan will be content with you hearing this warning, as long as you don’t part with your sin. But John Owen’s counsel is always true, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Satan’s aim is to destroy your life now and to harden your heart so that you will inherit eternal destruction.

Consider the Savior

Friends, Jesus is an all-sufficient Savior who shed His blood to save you from sin, on Judgment Day, and every day before for it. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews 4:16.

Whether you are a pastor or not, married or not, have children or not, we need grace to resist the power of sin’s deception. Thankfully, Jesus promises to supply it.

Plead with God to help you see the end of your sin, and then flee to the Savior. There is much that can be said about this, but for now, let the sobriety of sin’s end lift your eyes to where our help comes from (Psalm 121:1).

May our words not echo those of the man in Proverbs 5 who ignored the warning of wisdom.

Proverbs 5:8-14 “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation”

Lord, we need help. Make us sober-minded and help us to see the end of our sin.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

You can hear more of how to resist sin’s destruction from a message I preached “Combatting the Seduction of Sexual Sin” from Proverbs 5.

When Grace and Evil Collide – A Reflection on Charleston

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015 we witnessed something remarkable.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church welcomed a young white man to sit in their pews and pray with them.

Dylann Roof certainly wasn’t the first white person to visit this historically black church, but their well-documented history reminds us why an unwelcoming spirit might have been a reasonable response when he walked through their doors.

Every Reason Not To Love

Emanuel was born out of a group of freed slaves who began worshipping together in 1791 while many of their wives and children remained the “property” of free white owners.

One hundred and forty members from this church were arrested and whipped by white authorities in 1818.

After a planned revolt by some of the slaves in 1822, white people publicly hanged 37 black slaves, including Emanuel’s founder.

The congregation’s building, which was erected with their own hands, was burned by an angry white mob in that same year.

White people had outlawed its services and the church was forced to worship in secret beginning in 1834.

In 1868, one of their former pastors, Benjamin Randolph, was shot in broad daylight by three white men.

Their church is in a state that flies a Confederate flag and has roads named after white generals who fought to keep them from freely driving to church on those roads.

Over the years they worshipped in a city where whites told them to use “colored” toilets and eat at other tables because “your kind isn’t welcomed here.”

Those memories could have clouded the air when Dylann Roof walked through their storied doors.

But instead of cold shoulders, he was offered a warm seat on a pew to pray.

History would have screamed not to let him in that night. Don’t let him close. He doesn’t deserve your love. He’s only going to hurt you.

Evil In The Face Of Grace

During the hour they sat with their would be killer, the church members shared songs and prayers and words of welcome.

But then evil showed its fangs.

Murderous, racist, grace-hating evil made fresh blood flow from old wounds.

Grace had smiled and evil struck it down.

When their killer walked out their doors, Emanuel AME was left with nine new reasons to hate the people who have hurt them.

Nine more funerals.

Nine more empty seats at the dinner table.

Nine more names forever etched into this church’s grueling history.

Suzy Jackson.

Daniel Simmons.

Myra Thompson.

Cynthia Hurd.

De’Payne Doctor.

Sharonda Singleton.

Clementa Pinckney.

TyWanda Sanders.

Left behind are widows and orphans and weeping family members with new reasons to withhold grace.

But that is not what they have done.

Instead, they have once again extended grace in the face of evil.

Grace In The Face Of Evil

At Roof’s bond hearing family members showed Dylann the same grace he saw when he sat down to kill their loved ones.

From broken hearts they spoke words that have stunned many:

“I forgive you…you took something very precious away from me…I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you…you hurt me and you hurt a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you.” – the daughter of Ethel Lee Nance

“I forgive you and our family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity and repent. Confess. And give your life to the One who matters most, Christ, so he can change it…He can change it.” – Anthony Thompson

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate…everyone’s plea for your soul…is proof that they lived in love and that their legacy will live in love…and so hate will not win…” – Alana Simmons (granddaughter of Daniel Simmons)

Those were not empty words from thoughtless lips.

The hymns they sang outside the courtroom afterwards were not the delirious songs of reeling family members.

What we witnessed is grace. The supernatural grace that flows from a spring that abides in the heart of God’s people.

The slain members of Emanuel AME welcomed Dylann Roof into their midst because Christ had first invited them (1 John 4:19-20).

They pressed past the temptation to say “your kind isn’t welcome here” and offered him a seat because Jesus had first given them a seat at His table.

And now, their family members have done the same. They have offered forgiveness because Christ has forgiven them (Ephesians 4:32). 

Grace Wins

On Sunday, June 21, 2015 the wounded but resilient Emanuel AME church assembled once again. The pews were filled with members and visitors from every color. As they walked through those doors they carried the strange mix of being heavy yet hopeful; afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

The building that was filled with gun smoke on Wednesday was filled with joyful songs on Sunday.

The room that was stained with blood on Wednesday was saturated with praise on Sunday.

The place that was divided by hate on Wednesday was hand in hand in love on Sunday.

As they held each other up and sang hymns and proclaimed promises from God’s Word, the world witnessed the arresting reality that when evil and grace collide—grace wins. When hate strikes down love—it rises again. When Christians are separated from life through death—they are not separated from the love of God (Romans 8:28-39).

Why is this so? Because Emanuel’s strength finds its source in Jesus who was struck down by sinful hate, yet rose again to be the Savior and sustainer of God’s people (Psalm 54:4; Acts 2:22-24; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 3:18).

What the world witnessed on Sunday was the resilience of a church who has not, will not, cannot, be killed.

Do they weep? Yes. Do they grieve? Yes. Will they ever be the same? No. But have they given up? No.

Why?

Because Emanuel AME has a Savior who lives forever to give them grace in the face of evil (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:24-25). Jesus has promised He would do this, and Jesus always keeps His promises.

The scene from that Sunday took my mind to a scene in the book of Revelation where we see people from every tribe tongue and nation, standing together to praise the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 7:9–17 “…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!…they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Among those in that future heavenly scene are the members of Emanuel who have been beaten and mocked and lynched and gunned down, including the nine who fell on Wednesday. It is this heavenly picture that has sustained so many of God’s people over the years, and it is what sustains them even now.

Until Grace is All We Know

One day, grace is all we will know. There will be no more racism or evil or hate or murder or division. All those things will be cast in to the lake of fire with Satan and those who followed him. But that day is not yet.

Between now and then, we live here, in a world stained with sin. We walk through doors with stained histories of both evil and grace. Living in this tension is not easy for any of us, nor is it equal for all of us. Many in this life, including our black brothers and sisters from Emanuel and other communities like it, have unique challenges to face as they journey toward that heavenly day.

As a white man, I have so many questions for the people in Charleston. I want to know how the grace of God has sustained them for so long and through so much? I want to hear how are they helping each other avoid despair and revenge? I want to hear how they have leaned upon Jesus and how they have seen Him sustain them.

But I know I cannot just make it about what “I want” to hear. So I hope I can learn whatever it is my black brothers and sisters would want to share. I can’t do that in South Carolina, but I can strive to do that at home.

For people like me, it is easy to see events on the news, and become a spectator who says, “that man’s racist hate is so evil” and “their response is so gracious.”

But we can’t do that. Change in our church or our country or our hearts won’t happen by distant observing.

My prayer and cautious encouragement is for us to be intentional to lovingly and humbly learn from those God has placed around us. We grow when we follow the example of Christ and enter into each other’s worlds. We need to listen to each other and learn from each other.

Not all people will experience life in the same way, but Gospel-inspired conversations are the pathway to true change. Be slow to make assumptions about how others experience life, and even slower to assume no racism abides in your heart. I am still learning how to do this, and you can read about my journey here.

We can learn much about this by following the example we’ve seen from Emanuel AMC. The more we do what happened on Sunday, the more we’ll grow and avoid things like what happened on Wednesday. I don’t say that to be overly simplistic, but I do believe that racism dies when people come together at the feet of Jesus who died to “break down the dividing wall of hostility” that separates us (Ephesians 2:14).

I pray that we will follow the Christ-like path of grace. It is the way forward, because when grace and evil collide—grace wins.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

His Way Was Through The Sea

Red Sea Crossing

Psalm 77:19 “Your way was through the sea”

Very often the Lord’s way is not our way. His perfect path is not the same path we foresaw for ourselves. His way is higher and wiser and better.

After Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the Lord led His people toward the Promised Land. His pillar of cloud led them by day and His pillar of fire led them by night (Exodus 13:21). He was their guide and they made their steps with easy and comfort, because He was with them.

But then the Lord lovingly took His children on a detour to both test and teach them. He called them to camp on the beach in front of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-2). He ordained their curious campout because He knew that a hardened Pharaoh would see it as an opportunity to pounce on the people once again (Exodus 14:3). God called His people to camp there so that they would be pressed hard by uncertain circumstances.

What strange love this is, that God would put His people in a position of danger and distress—on purpose.

And as God predicted, Pharaoh rallied his army and pursued Israel as they camped in their most precarious position. As the chariot wheels bore down upon their resting place, their backs were pressed against the shore of the Red Sea.  What would God do? All they could imagine was that God had brought them out of Egypt to die on a barren beach like abandoned children (Exodus 14:10-12).

They had no way of escape; but the Lord had a way, He always does.

As Pharaoh and his blood-thristy army gained ground on Israel, “Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13). Their campground of certain death was about to be transformed into a stage on which God would display His faithful love.

God had a plan to deliver His people.

What was His way? Psalm 77:19 “Your way was through the sea, Your path through the great waters.”

God’s way was the unforeseen way. It was the unimaginable path. They would not, in ten thousand years devised the plan God had known for all eternity. Moses could never have included the shortcut through the sea on the itinerary of the Canaan-bound children of God.

God’s way was through the sea.

God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are higher than ours. They are wiser than ours. They are better than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Remember this child of God, our Father often acts unconventionally. He regularly chooses the unseen path for His people to walk on. He always has a way to save His people, but very often it is through the sea. He will always provide, but it is often from sources they would not have suspected (1 Kings 17-7; Matthew 6:25-34).

God is faithful, but He is rarely predictable.

God is trustworthy, but He is marvelously creative in the way He cares for us. He seems to delight in bringing us home by the way of the sea so that once we have set our feet on the dry land of our destination we can say nothing except “God did this.” In the end, God ordains His way through the sea that “I will get glory” and so that all “shall know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:4).

What more clear example of this truth can we have than God’s provision of salvation through Christ. Who could have ever imagined that God would save rebels by becoming like them and dying for them and rising from the dead to provide salvation for them?

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Romans 11:33

I am not sure what provision or protection or direction you are seeking from God today, but rest in this truth: God’s way is very often through the sea.

He puts His children in precarious positions on purpose. He does not do this to destroy our faith, but to strengthen it. For once He has helped us to step across the threshold of our straining circumstances, we will see that God is the wise and trustworthy Savior of His people.

He ordains His way through the sea so that His children can forever look back on their lives and see that time and again His ways are good and His love is faithful.

Trust Him today child of God, wait upon His way—even if it is through the sea.

Loving Christians Who Are Tough To Love

“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:21

After love for God, the most basic mark of the Christian is love for other Christians (Matthew 22:36-40). But love for our fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters isn’t always easy.

As a pastor friend of mine used to say:

To live above with saints we love; Ah that will be glory,

To live below with saints we know; Well, that’s another story.

Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean they are easy to love. Sanctification is a slow process (sometimes really slow) that doesn’t transform our personality quirks, theological peculiarities, and sinful tendencies over night.

Love requires patience—and perspective.

Help from Heaven

Having an eye toward eternity helps our hearts to love even the most difficult of believers.

John Newton captures what I mean in a letter he wrote to another pastor who was about to write a letter to a fellow Christian he strongly disagreed with. Here’s a portion of his advice,

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him…you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.”

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

Remembering Empowers Love

Let’s consider three reflections from this letter to help us love our “tough to love” brothers and sisters in Christ.

1. Remember how God has loved you.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

God serves fresh grace to our hearts when we recall the ways He has loved us. It would do you (and others) well if you take a moment to consider how Jesus has loved you.

Think of His persistence in pursuing you, even in spite of your resistance to His pursuit.

Reflect on how many transgressions He has blotted from your account with His own blood.

Consider specific ways He has shown you compassion despite of your defiance.

God has been kind to you. His heart has been tender toward you. If you are in Christ, He has forgiven your debt in full. Shouldn’t your love for others be affected by His love for you?

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

2. Remember that we will soon be with them in eternity. 

There will be a day when all God’s children will stand together before His throne of grace. On that day, all disputes will be forgotten and all irritations will be abolished. Why allow those quarrels to steal love from your brother on this day?

I’m not in any way suggesting that all disputes are small or all disagreements are insignificant. There are weighty things in this life, some which are very difficult to endure. But what I am suggesting is that all of our relationships must be guided and guarded by the fact that one day we will stand alongside our fellow Christians before the Savior who died for them.

That kind of perspective helps us to extend love to those who are not so easy to love. Perspective grants us patience and compassion. Let the sourness of a relationship today be overcome by the sweetness of that everlasting day to which you are traveling together. Ask the Lord to help you see others in light of the love you will share together in the eternal dwelling Christ is preparing for you (John 14:1-2).

3. Remember that you aren’t so easy to love either. 

Spurgeon rightly reminds us “if you cannot bear with your imperfect brother, take it for certain that you are very imperfect yourself.” Our inability to love others perfectly is a faithful reminder that we don’t have it all together either.

Humility about our own lovability serves as a gracious help in extending love to others. What sinful patterns do you have a tough time fighting against? When have you said hurtful words? Where do you still have room to grow in spiritual maturity? How do you think those shortcomings affect those around you?

I’ve found that when I’m concerned with confessing my own sins before the Lord, I’m less irritated with the sins of others. Regularly confessing your sins to God keeps you downwind of yourself and helps you to remember that you’re probably just as as tough to love as the next person.

 

Though no relationship will be perfect on this side of eternity, I am convinced that the more our hearts are set on heaven, and the more that we are sobered by our own need for a Savior, the more our love for others will reflect the love of Christ—including those who are tough to love.

 

 

Jesus is the Greater Aaron – John Newton on Leviticus 8:7-9

This week I’m teaching through the book of Leviticus in a early morning “boot camp” format. As I came to Leviticus 8 and began considering how Jesus fulfills the role as our High Priest, my heart was warmed by this poem by John Newton in a collection called the Olney Hymns.

I encourage you to read it out loud and then give God praise for how Jesus is the greater Aaron.

The True Aaron

See Aaron, God’s anointed priest,
Within the veil appear,
In robes of mystic meaning dressed,
Presenting Israel’s prayer.
 
The plate of gold which crowns his brows,
His holiness describes;
His breast displays, in shining rows,
The names of all the tribes.
 
With the atoning blood he stands,
Before the mercy-seat;
And clouds of incense from his hands,
Arise with odour sweet.
 
Urim and Thummim near his heart,
In rich engravings worn,
The sacred light of truth impart,
To teach and to adorn.
 
Through him the eye of faith descries
A greater Priest than he;
Thus JESUS pleads above the skies,
For you, my friends, and me.
 
He bears the names of all his saints,
Deep on his heart engraved;
Attentive to the state and wants
Of all his love has saved.
 
In him a holiness complete,
Light and perfections shine;
And wisdom, grace, and glory meet;
A Saviour all divine.
 
The blood, which as a priest he bears
For sinners, is his own;
The incense of his prayers and tears
Perfume the holy throne.
 
In him my weary soul has rest,
Though I am weak and vile;
I read my name upon his breast,
And see the Father smile.

Newton

 

 

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14–16