White Church, Black Church

joining-hands-in-circle1Monday was Martin Luther King Day in the United States of America. I spent most of this day in a shooting house waiting on a trophy buck to come into a food plot. Alas, he never showed. It is amazing how much work I can get done in a shooting house. Thanks to my iPhone, my calendar and a few choice books I can get quite a bit of work done. Part of my daily routine is to read several blogs and news services. Monday my reading was overwhelmed with articles about Martin Luther King. I came across an article I wanted to interact with. This article is available for reading here, “The Most Segregated Hour in America.” Let me share with you how that I love Dr. Chuck Colson and encourage you to read Breakpoint as often as you can. However, I want to push back a little on this Breakpoint article by John Stonestreet.

In the article John Stonestreet argues that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. Stonestreet shares that 8 out of 10 Southern Baptist churches are racially segregated and 70% do not believe anything needs to be done about this. Bro. Stonestreet makes a few comments that I want to interact with. It is with love and respect for John Stonestreet I offer a little different view on the segregated church in America.

1. There will be solidarity and segregated groups until the end of time.

Stonestreet rightly concludes of Christian love, “First and foremost are theological considerations. Jesus, we know, prayed in the Garden that His people would be unified. This is more than a “let’s just get along” vision. Jesus said in John 13 that the way people would recognize us as His disciples would be our love for one another. We all know that love is not merely the absence of hate – it’s proactive. That seems to be missing.” He argues that Christian unity is a reversal of Babel and a foreshadowing of Rev. 7 where all nations and tongues worship God together.

Allow me to share one correction on Bro. Stonestreet’s thoughts on this matter. One of my favorite surveys of the Old Testament is Albert Baylis’ “From Creation to the Cross.” In this survey Baylis offers a slightly different view of Christian unity than Stonestreet. Consider the separation of human beings.

In Genesis we read Man was to subdue, move out and populate the earth. (Gen. 9:1) They refused to do so; they found a plane (Babel) and were content to live in one place. (Gen. 11:2)

God introduced a barrier (language) in Genesis 11:7 to human unity. This barrier would force humans to spread out and populate the earth. As long as humans were in rebellion against God, unity would be dangerous. It was God who forced people to segregate and populate the entire earth.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes and the tide is turned and all people can be unified in Christ. The language and national barriers are overcome by the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is seen in Acts 2. It is a glorious picture, people from all nationalities making up the body of Christ.

What was hinted at on Pentecost comes to completion before the throne of God and the Lord Jesus. We read in Revelation 7:9,10 the nations cry out in unison, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” All nations crying in one voice praising God and the Lamb.

My push-back to Stonestreet would be that what happened as a result of the the fall of man and in particular the confusion of the language at Babel was not reversed as he contends at Calvary but stemmed. Baylis contends this in his survey.  We still live in a fallen world that is under the influence of the fall of man. These effects will only be reversed in glory. We as believers should belong to one solidarity group, the redeemed of Christ, but often that is not the case. We can be unified on the earth but in glory we will be unified. Then all the effects of the fall will be reversed.

2. Just because we are not worshiping in the same church does not mean we are divided.

Here is a quote by the author of the article, “White evangelicals remain largely unmoved by the hurts and concerns of our non-white evangelical brothers and sisters, particularly African-Americans. This was exposed in last year’s racial explosions stemming from Ferguson and Staten Island.” It seems Bro. Stonestreet contends that whites and blacks do not worship together because whites are not concerned over the pain of non-whites. If I read him right this is a huge indictment on the white church. I pastor Vaiden Baptist Church in Vaiden, MS, a town of about 700 people. We have three churches we will call white churches and 4 we will call black churches. The church I pastor will have 200 + white people worshiping every Sunday morning. We occasionally will have a few blacks and more regularly Hispanics. My contention is some whites are segregated from other whites and blacks from other blacks. This segregation is due to theology, worship styles, preaching styles, mission philosophies, etc…  I believe in the deep south today that culture, style and substance has more to do with our segregation in church than race. I arrive at my office every Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. The black church meeting in the school auditorium across the street is already singing. When we begin our worship service at 11:00 a.m. they are still singing. After I have had my Sunday meal at the local diner my family will swing by our church parking lot around 2:00 p.m. to pick up my vehicle, the preacher is still preaching. I can speak as an authority on VBC, my church family does not want to worship that long and in that manner. I suspect the same is true as well for our black brothers and sisters concerning our worship. We have to be unified in Christ but this does not mean we all have to worship the same way and the same place. Just because we are not all worshiping together in Vaiden, MS doesn’t mean we are divided. I have a great relationship with the black community in my area. We interact with each other on a daily basis. My part of Mississippi is one of the most integrated places in America. The fact that a town of 700 citizens has 7 churches does not mean we are divided especially on the lines of race. Such an assumption is wrong.

3. Finally, one does not have to agree with the conclusions of the black community in order to hurt and be concerned for the black community.

Many leaders today in evangelical circles contend that if a white Christian rejects a conclusion the black community has concerning a racial issue then the white Christian is not putting himself in the shoes of black people. I have witnessed the hatred of some in the white community toward blacks. I have witnessed institutionalized racism. I sympathize with anyone who has suffered from racism. However, in Ferguson, MO, the evidence revealed that Michael Brown robbed a store, attacked a police officer attempting to take his weapon, Brown was killed in self-defense. Some people in the black community lied to indict the white officer rather than telling the truth and thus indicting Michael Brown. When the justice system found no evidence a crime had been committed some in the black community broke laws while protesting and demonstrating. These lawbreakers burned, stole, looted and assaulted others supposedly to protest the racism they face at the hands of the police. One can reject every conclusion that the black community has drawn concerning Ferguson/Michael Brown and still sympathize and hurt with them in matters of race. Stonestreet seems to imply that white Christians do not hurt with blacks if they did not agree with the conclusions of the black community concerning Ferguson. I try to understand the effects of 200 years of slavery, prejudice and institutional racism has had on the black community. I can only imagine! That does not mean I have to believe Michael Brown’s death was not justified. I think the evidence says it was.

It is my prayer there will be unity among the children of God. I believe we are segregated but unlike Stonestreet I do not conclude that means we necessarily lack unity. I end this lengthy blog by reminding you that we are indeed one in Christ and one day we will lift our voices in unison praising God and the Lord Jesus. I hope we can also do that in this world.

Christians Go Home And Shut-Up!

Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_Chicago
anti-Christian sign in Chicago

Monday of this week I read an editorial in the New York Times that stopped me right in my tracks. Most of us who are Christians, in America, have had the feeling for some time that we are a nuisance to our nation. In the last week I have read of the fire chief in Atlanta being fired because of his faith, a wounded soldier monument removed from a park in King, NC because it had a cross as part of the display and hatred spewed toward Christians by protesters who are fighting for same sex marriage. However, until Monday I just felt that we as believers were a nuisance to our nation. After reading this op/ed it was clear to me we are seen as a nuisance.

Frank Bruni takes his pen and musters enough gall to tell Christians exactly how he feels about us. I will summarize the article but you can read Frank Bruni’s article here. Frank Bruni’s NY Times article.  Here are Bruni’s thoughts in summary:

1. Frank Bruni seems to be a homosexual who is angered by Christians who oppose same sex marriages.

2. Christians are intolerant people who use their beliefs to practice their intolerance.

3. Bruni equates Christians opposing same sex marriage today with Christians supporting segregation in the past. He sees homosexual marriage as a civil rights issue and we as opponents to civil rights.

4. Bruni declares Christian fundamentalists claim they are being marginalized and kept out of the public square but they are all over the public square.

5. He argues that Christianity has favored status in America and is promoted above other religions.

6. He feels Christians should not have the right to practice their beliefs in public by denying service to others based on religious beliefs. This means Christian florists must arrange flowers for a homosexual wedding and can’t deny service by arguing religious beliefs.

7. Here are his final two paragraphs, “AND I SUPPORT THE RIGHT OF PEOPLE TO BELIEVE WHAT THEY DO AND SAY WHAT THEY WISH – IN THEIR PEWS, HOMES AND HEARTS. BUT OUTSIDE OF THOSE PLACES? YOU MUST PUT UP WITH ME, JUST AS I PUT UP WITH YOU.

Allow me to share my opinion on Frank Bruni’s thoughts.

1. I am overwhelmed at his hypocrisy.

This man gets paid to share his opinions for the public to view. It is his opinion that Christians should keep their beliefs to themselves unless in their pews, homes and hearts. He gets to enjoy the first amendment but we do not.

2. We are Christians 24/7 wherever we are.

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” We are believers wherever we are. Sometimes you will read of the concept of sacred vs. secular in the life of the Christian. This concept holds some things we do are secular, such as drive an 18-wheeler or practice being a nurse and some things we do are sacred such as worship and reading the Bible.  However, the New Testament teaches us that really everything Christians do is to be sacred – devoted to God. Colossians 3:17 reads, “ And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

It is wrong for Bruni to say to Christians check your beliefs as you exit your homes.

3. Our constitution is clear we have the right to practice our religion – everywhere.

The first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Mr. Bruni just doesn’t get it. No Christian who owns a car wash should refuse to serve a homosexual couple who bring their car through to get cleaned. However, the union of husband and wife is part of the foundation and fiber on which our belief system stands. Paul shares several thoughts on the husband and wife in Ephesians 5.  In 5:30-32 Paul describes how the husband/wife relationship is a portrayal of the believers’ relationship with Christ. We must not participate in practices that pervert and corrupt this most important teaching. To refuse service to a same sex couple is indeed practicing our faith. We are to be obedient to the laws of our government until they demand we violate our beliefs or commit sin. Then we must become civil disobedient.

4. I have never been more discouraged for our nation.

I met Monday with a group of pastors to pray. The conversation turned to the terminated Atlanta fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, and the removal of the cross from the monument in NC. As Christians we often speak of being in a culture war and we are. Some pastors want to rally, petition and boycott. I feel such actions may be futile and useless. Our nation ignores the wishes of the majority and appeases the minority. One person complains about a cross in a public square and a judge orders it removed. We can have 2 million people in Mississippi sign a petition to display the 10 commandments in our schools. This means nothing. A judge will rule and the wishes of the majority  certainly would be ignored. Though discouraged we must still remain on the front line. We must remain up on that proverbial wall.  I know worse is coming. In his article Bruni hints that churches should not have the right not to hire and fire ministers based on sexual orientation. Bruni claims Christians should only be able to practice our beliefs in our homes, pews and hearts. Read closely and you will see he doesn’t even want us to have freedom in the pew.

Some of the things Jesus taught us to do are hard. I prayed for Frank Bruni to be blessed today!

 

Here are three great articles on Bruni’s opinion piece: Denny Burk on Frank Bruni, Ramesh Ponnuru on Bruni, Al Mohler on Bruni. 

Be Content But Never Satisfied.

This is my first blog of the New Year. I pray everyone involved in my life in any way will have a great 2015. Yesterday morning I spoke at the chapel service at the school my sons attend. I challenged the students to strive to improve themselves in 2015. I laid out a simple plan for them to follow that would help them improve as believers in Christ. As I was driving home, led by the Holy Spirit, I did an inventory of my life the last few years. I checked to see if I had improved. I pondered if I developed an attitude that I had arrived at a place where I didn’t need to improve. The message at chapel and the inventory I performed on my own life is the impetus for this blog.

The title seems to be confusing but it really is not. As believers we should be content but we should never be satisfied. There is a subtle difference in these two concepts as I understand them.

1) The Bible teaches we are to be content.

Philippians 4:11 says,  “I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” In this most familiar passage Paul is speaking of being content regardless of his material possessions. If he received a gift from the Philippians or not he would be content. If he had extra money or barely enough goods to sustain him Paul would be content.

I Timothy 6:6-8 reads, “But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” Paul is addressing the issue that some men full of pride have seen godliness as a means of gaining material wealth. Even in the first century we see the prosperity gospel was being preached. Paul says of these prosperity teachers they are conceited, thinking they know something when they really know nothing.  Paul teaches that Godliness with contentment is great gain. 

One more passage that deals with contentment that happens to be one of my favorites is  Proverbs 30:8, “Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me. Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need.” 

It is clear from God’s Word contentment in the life of the believer is dependent upon God. Wherever we are in our lives we desire for our lives what God desires for our lives. We may be on the bottom rung of a long ladder in life we are trying to climb; we may be nowhere near the dreams and aspirations we have for ourselves but we can still be content for God’s desires are our desires and as His disciples we trust Him. He is the One in control of our lives. That means one pursuing a dream of being a fine chef may have to wash dishes in a kitchen for a while. A devout follower of Christ will do so with contentment for he knows God is in control of his life.

So in a nutshell contentment is accepting where God has placed us in life while trusting He is in control.

II. The Bible also teaches we are not to be satisfied.

By this I mean we are not to be satisfied with ourselves. The Apostle Paul was speaking of spiritual maturity when he penned Philippians 3:13,”Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead.” Paul realized that regardless of where he was in his spiritual maturity he could always improve. He could grow more in the Lord. I am going to assume if Paul needed to grow in the Lord none of us have reached maturity.

I am afraid often we become satisfied with ourselves. This not only happens to believers in our walk with Christ but it happens to people in every walk of life. I had a teacher in high school who in 1983 was using the same lesson plan book from 1977. I saw the date on her book. Years later, as an adult, I realized what this meant. She had not changed in over 6 years. Doctors, lawyers, school teachers, accountants, mechanics and most certainly preachers should never be satisfied with who we are. A satisfied person quits dreaming. A satisfied person quits striving. Often a satisfied person simply goes through the motions.

Peter’s last words recorded for us in his second letter was, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen,” II Peter 3:18. Peter, led by the Spirit, chose to end his instructions to believers by reminding us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Peter knew about growing. He once denied Christ 3 times but by the time he writes this second epistle he is willing to be crucified for Jesus. He had grown in the grace and knowledge of Jesus and he desired all believers to grow as well.

So in a nutshell satisfaction, in this instance, means to be pleased with yourself and see no greater purpose for your life than right now. God has saved us all to do great works to glorify His name. None of us who are believers should be satisfied with what we are doing for our King.

My goal for 2015 is to be content in God while never being satisfied with myself. By the way, when I finished the review of my life to see if I had improved any the last few years …….I wept.