Monday, June 25, 2012

Racism: The Old Elephant In The Church Parlor

What God has made clean, you must not call common. (Acts 10:15)

God had to repeat Himself three times in a supernatural vision to prepare Peter to step over the racial divide and preach the Gospel to Gentiles. Then it took a divine sign, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues, to convince him that the Gentiles were truly capable of receiving the Gospel and being born again.

Racism is nothing new to humanity, and it is nothing new to the church. Even after the glorious salvation of the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion home, Peter's ministry was called into question by those of the Jewish ethnic in Jerusalem. Peter had to defend preaching the Gospel to and baptizing Gentiles. When he relayed the story to the Jewish church, the initial reaction was shock, "When they heard this they became silent."  Finally, however, the Holy Spirit's work was accomplished in them and "Then they glorified God, saying, 'So God has granted repentance resulting in life to even the Gentiles!" (Acts 11:18)

I could go into great detail here about my upbringing, how far it was from the racial tensions of the deep south in which I now pastor, how I became aware of my own racist prejudices even though I thought I had none. Yet, that is not important. What is important is the issue of racism raised by the election of an honorable, and godly black pastor from my state to lead my denomination.

In 1995, my denomination issued an apology for its support of slavery and the civil oppression of black people in this nation. In 2012, it elected Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans as its president. All I know of Fred Luter leads me to respect him and rejoice that he is our president. Not all, however, in our convention will rejoice. A few will probably leave. A few will shake their heads and wag their tongues.

Fred Luter knows the significance of his election, and is much more aware than I am of the issues within the entire church over race. So, there is no reason to avoid this old elephant, or pretend that it has gone away.  This elephant is as old as the human race, and he is multicolored, for racism is a series of two way streets which run in all directions. 

It took God awhile to work on Peter, longer to work on the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and apparently longer to work on some of us. May He never stop, and may we, all us followers of Christ, never settle for anything less than the image of Christ being fully developed in us . . . red and yellow, black and white.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Love Needs No Angle

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn.13:35)

There used to be only a few varieties of salad dressing -- Ranch, Italian, French, and Thousand Island. You might find Blue Cheese in a fancy-shmancy restaurant. Now, there are more varieties of each one than there used to be dressings -- Buttermilk Ranch, Garlic Ranch, Spicy Ranch, Southwest Ranch, Bacon Ranch, Cucumber Ranch, and the beat goes on.

There used to be only a few church brands, and you knew what you were getting when you went -- Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Church of Christ. Now, there are as many varieties of each as there were denominations --  Reformed, Cowboy, Biker, King James Only, Contemporary, Traditional, Liturgical, Emergent, Emerging, and the beat goes on.

You know when my mom made Ranch dressing from those powdered mixes, I don't remember one single conversation like, "Mom, I really wish we had another flavor of Ranch dressing."  I just remember how good Ranch was.  My point is this. All those different flavors of Ranch are simply the marketing attempts of dressing makers to keep people interested in Ranch dressing.

I wonder if all these different varieties of church aren't just man's attempt to keep people interested, to play to the flesh in an attempt to excite the spirit, to find an inroad into a lost world, to get a few disinterested lost people interested. A friend pointed out that love really doesn't need an angle. If we love one another like Christ commands and enables us to through the Holy Spirit, then we will love the others like He commands and empowers us to.

Maybe that's what all those varieties are about, at least to some degree. Maybe they aren't some human attempt to market Christ and His Church. Maybe they are, at heart, an expression of His love. Maybe . . .

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Longing For An End And A Beginning

"For we know that if our earthly house, a tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. and, in fact, we groan in this one, longing to put on our house from heaven, since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we who are in this tent groan, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepare us for this very thing is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. Therefore, though we are always confidence and know that while we are at home int eh body we are away from the Lord -- for we walk by faith, not by sight -- yet we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:1-8

I was reading this passage while listening to worship music on Pandora when the Shane & Shane song, played. Here are the lyrics . . .

Why since you've wounded my heart, don't you heal it?
And why, since you stolen my heart, do you leave it so?
Oh, this heart of stone.

Why don't you carry away my heart,
You have stolen and left here broken?
Why don't you carry away my heart, already taken?

The dawning of a new heart where stone begins to bleed.
For the arrow of God that runs through me,
Leaves me in need, here in need.

Why don't you carry away my heart,
You have stolen and left here broken?
Why don't you carry away my heart, already taken?

How long, how long, how long?
And how long, how long, how long?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

At Peace In An Unmarked Grave

The hillside is unkempt. Weeds, dead but still standing from last spring, are the only sentinels. The orderliness one expects of a cemetery is missing, graves arranged haphazardly as if the diggers cared little or were in a rush to be done with their task. A few weather-worn wooden crosses are scattered here and there, many fallen. Most graves are marked with old temporary metal markers that have faded so that no name can be seen. Some have nothing more than a crude stone, a rock really, stained red by the clay soil. Very few are marked by a proper granite or marble headstone.

Well, perhaps we should be grateful that someone cared enough to put any marker down. At the same time, the thought occurs that it may have been done more from a practical concern than from an attempt to honor. After all, who wants to dig a grave and find bones already in the hole?

Would you be at peace in such a grave? No one knows. No one remembers. There are no flowers, no visitors except the flora and fauna and even they seem to care little. There is One who knows, though. One who remembers.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. In the future, there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Don't Swim In The Water

"I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, asks whatever you want and it will be done for you." (John 15:5-8)

The last few months have been interesting. Barach Obama became the first sitting president to declare his support for homosexual marriage. His justice department has refused to defend the DOMA, and just last week a federal appeals court found the Defense Of Marriage Act unconstitutional Continuing his presidential policy, he has once again proclaimed June LGBT month,

Miss Rhode Island won the Miss USA pageant. Many attribute her win to the answer she gave when asked if she thought it fair that a transgendered contestant could win the pageant. She said, yes, "because it's a free country." One of the judges who crowned her, Cat Cora, is a lesbian raising four sons with her partner. Another of the judges, Arsenio Hall, beat out Clay Aiken recently in Pageant Owner Donald Trump's reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. Aiken professes to be a born again homosexual artist. Rounding out the entertainment news, DC Comics has outed the Green Lantern, making him their first gay character.

There is even more bizarre news in this bizarre culture. People have been eating people in a string of zombie-like attacks. And, conservative Christians are lining up behind our nation's first Mormon presidential candidate.

And, here we are, swimming in this water, this culture. Is it safe? This is a culture in decline, not because of one issue like homosexual marriage, but because it has abandoned God. Personal choice has been deified and God's truth diluted to the point that we find it tolerable, if not acceptable or even laudable, that a person can profess faith in Jesus while following the teachings of Lucifer.

We are not immune. We have trusted our minds, and the minds of our children and grandchildren to this culture. We swim in it like catfish in a septic pond. Our culture is toxic to the truth, meaning to the Christian faith. There is no longer any room for passivity in the area of what we believe.  We've been told that our younger generation is abandoning the faith. I meet just as many adults and senior citizens who are as morally relativistic as my daughter's agnostic college professors. Professing Christians of every age are passively sliding toward apostasy.

We must love the people, live in this world, and preach the good news of freedom in Christ without embracing the culture. It is possible. It has been done for two millennia.We have to live in this world, but we do not have to be part of it. That, however, requires tough choices: choosing to believe in the Gospel, choosing to immerse our minds in His Word, and then choosing to follow His teachings.