Monday, April 28, 2008

A Church Leader's 'Look At Me' Moment

I just sat through the press-conference of Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. this morning and there’s so much to say I’m not sure where to start. First and foremost, Mr. Wright had 55 minutes of a speech and Q&A, and words spoken in reverence about the Lord Jesus Christ were few and far between. That above all else is the perversion of this whole circumstance.

Anyone presenting themselves as a Christian Leader has a responsibility to ensure that when they are finished speaking, the name and person and Godhood of Jesus Christ is the most lasting image of what was heard and seen. In Mr. Wright’s presentation, the lasting image is one of arrogance, pride, pre-occupation with the “Black Christian Experience” and a decidedly “look at me” persona. The “look at me” part should be quite common for the American audience, as our culture reeks of the stench of such public displays…in our athletes, our politicians and our so-called celebrities. This is so much about what is different about today’s Christian culture when viewed against the Apostle Paul’s teaching about true Christian living: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2 NIV) – The Lord expects us as Christians and I would assume Christian leaders in particular, to demonstrate a level of patience and gentleness with those with whom they differ or disagree. And to be careful in how we attempt to correct others lest we ourselves fall into the same trap of sinfulness: In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:1-3 NIV, italics mine)

I would dare say that the God is disinterested in furthering the self-interests of the “Black Church” just as much as he is disinterested in furthering the self-interests of the “Catholic Church” or any other man-centered church entity. God is interested in furthering true worship of Jesus Christ through repentance, contrition and love for each other. God is not interested in reparations for slavery or about a country's "saying I'm sorry moment". God is interested in contrite hearts and humility in practice. Such behavior on the part of any person regardless of color will show Christ to a dying nation far more than artificial proclamations of "I'm sorry" for something that took place over a hundred years ago. This is not to say that adherents of church institutions such as the ones mentioned previously or any other church denomination should dismiss the importance and sense of belonging that these institutions provide to them. But it cannot be put above the singular worship of Christ.

Mr. Wright in the Q&A session was asked a point blank question about whether Jesus Christ is the only way to God. A question where a simple answer could be heard by millions watching on TV. Instead of a simple and definitive “YES”, Mr. Wright attempted to answer in an intellectual's cleverly linguistic way such that some poor “uneducated” peon in the audience would not have had an opportunity to have the simple question answered in his own mind. Someone, somewhere, had an opportunity to hear then and there that Jesus Christ IS the only way to salvation. Instead he was relegated to simply being an audience member in Mr. Wright’s theater of the self-important. Perhaps our infinitely patient and loving God will give those truly seeking an answer to the question an opportunity at another time to hear simply that YES...Jesus is the only way to salvation. If not, Mr. Wright will have to answer to the God of all about that missed opportunity!

Writers Note: In case anyone is interested, I happen to be Black.

Friday, April 25, 2008

God’s Sea World

I happened to be at Sea World in Orlando today and was able to catch the killer whale show titled "Believe". It was a terrific show with wonderful divers sharing the big pool with the magnificent and talented Orca Whales. As I watched the show, it was an awesome opportunity to marvel at God’s creative magic, as I visually took in the wondrous evidence of His creative powers!

Seated at the very top row of the stadium, I was able to take in not only the whales and performers, but the entire packed crowd in the stadium as well. As I canvassed the scene, my thoughts drifted to the reality that the one true God of the Bible created every living thing that my eyes could survey. The beauty and majesty of these huge and beautiful black and white creatures; the earnestness and enthusiasm of the people watching the show, the talent and passion of the divers and performers who were swimming and co-mingling with the whales. Even the tiny little birds that perched at the edges of the whale tank looking to steal a fish or two for their patience. Our Lord God made them all through the hand of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is how God's Bible explains it:
And evening passed and morning came, marking the fourth day. Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day. Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:19-26 NLT)
The whole Sea World spectacle that I experienced today encompassed everything captured in that Bible verse above. The great killer Whales, the fragile little Birds, the enthusiastic and talented human beings, the beautiful sunshine that bathed us all. This was not a creation of some Big Bang theory or some great explosion that somehow “evolved” into what we were witnessing today. This was the Hand of a Creator! This was the Hand of someone greater than ourselves! Someone who at the very least is worthy of a little acknowledgement!

As I watched the show and thought of our Lord, I was saddened by the fact that all of the announcements and video accompaniments of the “Believe” program was extolling the virtues of our earth… “Mother Earth” they called it; but without any acknowledgement of the creator who made this whole exercise possible. Now I am not delusional to have expected any public acknowledgement of God in this program, but it sure would have been nice. Believe indeed! Believe in the One who created all of the performers and all of the audience in this “Believe” program.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Yes…“Cling” to Your Faith

Presidential candidate Barack Obama presents himself as Christian. As a candidate in the 2008 Presidential Election, it has become a pre-requisite for people to know that you are a “person of faith”. In the last election, it was widely reported that Democratic candidate John Kerry lost because the Bible belt voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. So in 2008 we have Mr. Obama clearly stating that he is a “man of faith”. Therefore (presumably), the Bible belt should be comfortable with him. As such, it was with bemused interest recently that I read about Mr. Obama while addressing a decidedly non-Christian audience in San Francisco, was taped saying (and I paraphrase) - that because of hard times, bitter small town voters “cling to religion among other vices..” as a result of government abandoning them and allowing their jobs to be shipped elsewhere.

I find it revealing and very much consistent that a candidate like Mr. Obama would view “religion” (which is the politically sanitized way of saying Christianity) is something to cling to when the government fails you. Implied therefore is the inference that when the big ship of government is working properly, one wouldn’t have to cling to a mere driftwood as Christianity. To be sure, Mr. Obama uttered these words in what was supposed to be a private meeting. These were words that were not meant to get out to the audience of "bitter" religious voters. The audience in this meeting room was likely a room full of people who has nothing but contempt for religious voters and values. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, God had other ideas about publicly revealing what was meant to be private: For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. (Luke 8:17 NIV).

Here’s the irony: what Mr. Obama meant as a slight or a putdown for religious people is in fact a very necessary aspect of our humanity tied to our worship of God. With all the temptations around us in this dark and dying world, as Christians we MUST cling to our faith, cling to our Christianity. This world is incredibly designed to pull us away from our faith in Christ. Christ warns us about the desires of the world as a barrier to true Christian living: but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1: 14-15 NIV). Unwittingly, what Mr. Obama suggests is quite true. When we have the resources that jobs provide for us, we tend NOT to cling to our religion. We cling to things; the things that our fat or not so fat paychecks can buy for us. We become easily enticed, and all too often, that enticement drags us away from God as opposed to our clinging to Him. God says in the Book of Romans: …hate what is evil; cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).

Christianity (not religion) is something to cling to. We do well to cling to it; else we risk being dragged away by the enticement of this evil and perverse world. If Mr. Obama has his way, his form of government evidently is aimed at eliminating the need to cling to your Christianity. Christian buyer bewares.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Prayer…as our Last Resort?

I was speaking with a co-worker today (who represents himself publicly as a Christian) and he happens to be telling me a story of an incident that occurred recently on a plane ride. During the flight, a man seated across from him had a heart attack. To make a long story short, the plane was diverted from it’s ultimate destination and the stricken man was removed (alive) from the flight. My co-worker in finishing up the story remarked…”all I could do was pray for him”. When he said that, it brought to my mind similar sentiments that I have heard from other people, usually stated such that there was nothing ‘more’ that they could have done, so prayer was all that was left.

Now I know that my co-worker had nothing but the man’s best intentions, and he offers to pray for people’s circumstances quite often, so this post is certainly not meant as a critique (far from it), but it does raise a point that I think is emblematic of a persistent ‘negative’ on the part of some of us Christians. Why is prayer oftentimes viewed by us as “all I could do..” Biblical scholars down through the centuries of written or spoken about the incredible power of prayer. But why does it seem as if this power is lost on us in this current generation? Perhaps it is an indicator of our level of faith in prayer. Never mind the fact that God re-enforces the singularity of prayer as a powerful means of communicating with Him and making requests of Him throughout the Bible. Perhaps throughout too many churches, prayer is relegated to something that the Pastor or Priest “does for you”, as opposed to something that we should also do for ourselves. Perhaps people truly are not certain that God is listening AND just as importantly will act on our behalf in response to prayer? But God tells us anything but this. I did a word search on the word “prayer” in the Bible, and it is stated roughly 102 times throughout : the first was in Genesis 25:21 - Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The last use of the term prayer occurs in 1 Peter 3:12 - For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. In between there are numerous instances of the use of prayer as a means for us to bring our petitions to God. Here are just a few examples:

1 Kings 9:1-3: (A prayer for blessing) When Solomon had finished building the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, the LORD appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. The LORD said to him: "I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

2 Chronicles 30:26-27: (A prayer of Worship) There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.

Job 42:8-9: (A prayer for forgiveness) So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job's prayer.

Isaiah 38:4-5: (A prayer for healing) Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: "Go and tell Hezekiah, `This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.

Matthew 21:22: (A prayer of faith) If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

Mark 9:28-29: (A prayer to drive out demonic spirits) After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer. "

Acts 2:40-42: (An example of Corporate Prayer) With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 28: 7-8: (Another prayer for healing) There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.

Romans 12:9-13 (Faithfulness in prayer) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

James 5: 13-16 (No descriptions necessary) Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

As one can see, God has given us this free access to Him through prayer. We should try not to take it for granted or treat it as an after-thought in difficult circumstances. Seek God through prayer. He will never fail you.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Dr. King: A Brilliant Man of God

Today is the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. It is a day of remberance of one of the most significant men in American history. By the sheer force of his will, intellect, love for his fellow man and (by today’s standards) an uncharacteristic adherence to the Word of God, Dr. King blazed the trail for the social and economic improvements that African Americans now enjoy. He rightfully should be honored by an entire nation whose sense of self was made better due to his efforts.

As I read the transcript of his 1968 speech “I See the Promised Land” it was remarkable to feel his eloquence and humility as he addressed a public audience for the final time the day before his assassination. His was a movement grounded in the ways of God. His call for social justice for African Americans was based on the spiritual law of God that all men are created equal in the eyes of God, and as such should be treated equally without regard to race. But I am sure that the freedom that Dr. King espoused was not a freedom that gave license to live without responsibility. Not the freedom to live to gratify the desires of your flesh, not the freedom to bring fear to others. Dr. King’s brand of freedom always embraced the scriptures. This was its basis. Dr. King would agree to the freedom God talked about in 1 Peter 2:16-17 - Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. Dr. King’s freedom came to serve God, not the other way around. Religion was not a means to a social end. Freedom was a means to serve God’s end. In his last speech, Dr. King used the word “God” 11 times. Civil Rights for African Americans was subordinate to God’s laws.

The modern day people who profess to be leaders of the African American movement (if a single monolith still so exist) could do very well to emulate Dr. King’s subordination to the Word of God. I have seen precious little in the way of real Christian authority as the driving factor that lead these modern day version of so-called leaders. Jesus says: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…” (John 15:5 NIV) It is undeniable that Dr. King “bore much fruit”. True Christian leaders tend to do that long after the Lord has called them home.

Dr. King ended his last public speech with these words:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

On behalf of those who loved Dr. King – to God Be the Glory.

A God who sends people to Hell?