Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson - Voddie Baucham

In early August my wife and I, along with seven of our nine children, left for a month-long ministry tour in Africa (Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa). It was a couple of days before we got settled and had any access to media. As such, I was taken aback when I began to receive Google alerts, emails, and Facebook and Twitter messages either demanding that I comment on “Ferguson,” or condemning me for failing to do so. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Who, what, or where was Ferguson? Why was it such a big deal? Why was I being condemned (along with other “high-profile” evangelicals) for “failing to speak out on such an important issue”?
I eventually got up to speed. Or at least I found out what all the fuss was about. Over the next several weeks I viewed this issue from a unique perspective. I was an American in Africa watching an issue ignite ethnic tensions in my homeland. It was almost surreal.
Who Am I to Speak?
My first response to Ferguson was to say nothing. I was on the outside looking in. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the communities or the issues surrounding the tensions. Second, I chose to remain silent because people were demanding that I speak—even condemning me for my silence. In this age of “I sure would love to hear your thoughts on” I get tired of the sense of entitlement with which people approach those whom they deem to be popular or high-profile Christians. No one is “entitled” to my opinion. Nor is my faithfulness to God determined by how quickly I respond to “relevant” issues.
As a pastor, I have a responsibility to my flock. If those for whose souls I care (Heb. 13:17) want help thinking through these issues, I am obligated to them. I have a duty to walk them through issues like these to the best of my ability, and with sensitivity to their particular needs. What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.
The Plight of Black Men
Rest assured, I do believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men. These issues are violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And all of these issues are rooted in and connected to the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to black men if we don’t first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately.
There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus, if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black. I want to apply the gospel and its implications in a way that addresses the real issue. If a few black men being killed by cops requires a national “dialogue,” what in the world does the overwhelming number of black-on-black murders require? If the police do not see black men through the proper gospel-centered, image-of-God lens, what does the black-on-black murder rate say about the way we see ourselves?
In addition to violence, black men are plagued with criminality. Low-income black communities like Ferguson know all too well that black criminals preying on their neighbors makes life almost unlivable. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I know all too well what it’s like to have bars on the windows and doors for fear that thugs will break in to steal or kill. I remember being robbed at gunpoint on my way home from the store one day. It was one of the most frightening and disheartening events of my life. The fear, helplessness, and anger I felt stayed with me for years. And it taught me an unfortunate lesson: the greatest threat to me was other black men.
The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness. We know that fatherlessness is the number one indicator of future violence, dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and future incarceration. And in the black community, more than 70 percent of all children are born out of wedlock! Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community.
Nor is this plague forced on us. It is as common as morning dew, and as overlooked as dust under a refrigerator. Where are the marches against this travesty? Where are the protestors who demand better? Where are the black “leaders” who . . . oh, that’s right, they have just as many illegitimate children as anyone else. Again, it is common knowledge that this is the most immediate root cause of the ills plaguing black Americans.
But What About Racism?
I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”
Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.
It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.
I don’t care what advantages my white neighbor may or may not have. If he does have advantages, God bless him! I no more fault him than I fault my own children who have tremendous advantages due to the fact that they were raised by two educated, Christian parents who loved, disciplined, and taught them. Ironically, when I think about THAT advantage, I am filled with joy and gratitude to God for his faithfulness. People are supposed to bequeath an advantage to their children and grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Why, then, would I be angry with my white neighbor for any advantage he is purported to have? And what good would it do? How does that advance the gospel? Especially in light of the fact that growing up with the gospel is the ultimate privilege/advantage! It is the advantage that has granted us all “American privilege”! Are we guilty for being citizens of the wealthiest republic in the history of the world? I think not!
As a father of seven black men, I tell them to be aware of the fact that there may be times when they may get a closer look, an unwelcome stop, or worse. However, I do not tell them that this means they need to live with a chip on their shoulder, or that the world is out to get them. I certainly don’t tell them that they need to go out and riot (especially when that involves destroying black-owned businesses). I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs. I tell them, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay'” (Rom. 12:19). And I tell them that there are worse things than suffering injustice. That is why we must heed Peter’s words:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:15–17)
In the end, the best lesson my children can learn from Ferguson is not that they need to be on the lookout for white cops. It is far more important that I use this teachable moment to remind them that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth.
My sons have far more to fear from making bad choices than they have to fear from the police. The overwhelming majority of police officers are decent people just trying to make a living. They are much more likely to help you than to harm you. A life of thuggery, however, is NEVER your friend. In the end, it will cost you . . . sometimes, it costs you everything.
The Gospel Coalition - November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stand Firm in Christ!

Philippians 4:1-9          November 23, 2014              Link for audio/video/manuscript

As we move forward as a church, stepping out to reach our community for Christ and working within to prepare and develop our fellowship for the next season of ministry to reach the next generation for Christ – we must “stand firm” against the obstacles and struggles and pressures we are facing and will face as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” When we find ourselves in conflict, are to agree in the gospel. When we are fearful and anxious, we are to pray and give thanks for all things. When we are living for Jesus and sharing Jesus in our culture, we must sift everything with a Christ-centered screen

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pressing Toward the Goal of God

Philippians 3:12-21             November 16, 2014            Link for audio/video/manuscript

There will be a day in the future when Jesus will return to earth to take us home; as citizens of heaven he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body, and we will reign with him forever and ever. But in the meantime let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus by living out the good works of God in our lives in a way that reveals Jesus in us, so that those who do see us will come to know Jesus. Let us hold true to what we have attained – and let us press on toward the goal of God until we have fully attained it!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lay Aside the Weight of “I’ll Never Change” – Jon Bloom

We all must come to terms with the way we are. But there are two ways we must do this. The first is to cultivate contentment with who God designed us to be, which results in a wonderful liberation from trying to be someone we’re not. The second is to lay aside the burdensome weight of the fatalistic resignation that we’ll never be any different than what we are, which results in an enslavement to our sin-infused predilections.
Cultivating Contentment and Fighting Fatalism
Cultivating contentment in the person God designed us to be is based on our belief in the glorious gospel truths that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), knitted us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), caused us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3) so that we are now a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) who lives by faith (Galatians 2:20) in the God who provides all we need (Philippians 4:19) so that we can exclaim with joy, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10)!
Believing these things sets us free to increasingly pursue living in the freedom that Jesus has provided us (John 8:36).
But they can be hard to believe in the face of our persistent sins and weaknesses, things we are so keenly aware of. Instead, we are tempted to believe the horrible, heavy lies that God’s grace toward us must, in fact, be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:10) or else simply withheld by a disapproving, unsatisfiable Heavenly Father, because we keep stumbling in the same old “many ways” (James 3:2) and we’ll never, at least in this age, ever really be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
Believing these things confines us to living in fear, shame, and the apathy of fatalistic resignation. We buy into the seductive, hope-sucking, energy-depleting, self-pitying deception that “I’ll never change.” The destructiveness of this lie goes beyond a particular sin or weakness. It creates a mindset of surrender that leads to further kinds of self-indulgence, compounding our problem and sense of defeat.
We must fight to take these lies captive and destroy their fatalistic arguments (2 Corinthians 10:5) so that we can lay aside the weights of their sins (Hebrews 12:1).
The Key to Transforming Power
The truth is that what keeps us from experiencing change is not a lack of power but a lack of belief. When Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), his point was that we “can do all things through him who strengthens [us]” (Philippians 4:13). For “all things are possible for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23).
In the battle against sin and pursuit of transformation, the Bible appeals almost exclusively to our belief as the conduit through which the Spirit’s power flows. Here’s a well-known example:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
The key to not being pressed into worldly sin, the key to transforming power is a change (a renewal) of mind. What does this change of mind look like? It looks like a change of belief. It’s believing and choosing to act on what Jesus promises and not what the world and all of its enslaving vices promise.
Get Fed Up!
Now, if you’re a regular to this blog or been a Christian for a while, you know this. What you might find yourself saying is, “A lot easier said than done.” Point granted. We all admit it: Sin habits and addictions are difficult to break, some more than others. I’m a sinner with terrible indwelling sin. I know from personal experience that the fight to change a mindset can be hard. And I have loved ones who have walked or are walking through very difficult sin issues, some of them the effects of unspeakable sins committed against them.
But let’s also all admit this: We need less whining and whimpering about how hard it is to change and how we don’t know how or where to start and we can never maintain our resolves, etc., ad nauseam. This has too often been a smoke screen for our lack of desire to make a change. Or we’ve been cowards, letting sin hold us prisoner because we hold our precious reputations so dear that we don’t ask anyone for help. Too often our attempts at transformation have been half-hearted because we’re proud, indulgent, and self-pitying. And we haven’t believed Jesus.
We must get fed up with teeny-weeny mud puddle happiness. Tweet
There comes a time when we don’t need more sermons or seminars or books or how-to’s laid out for us. What we need is some righteous indignation that we have allowed ourselves to be held captive to habitual sin and indulgence by a mindset — an evil argument (2 Corinthians 10:5)! We need to get fed up with “struggling” and start believing God. We need to resolve to stop disbelieving Jesus and start believing (John 20:27) and begin to take texts like these seriously:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:16)
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. . . . For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12, 14)
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
We must get fed up with teeny-weeny mud puddle happiness! Jesus’s promises are ten thousand times better and they are worth bearing some discomfort or suffering to obtain!
The Grace of Slow Change
Pursuing transformation through a renewed mind doesn’t mean change will necessarily come quickly. Change is often very slow. Sometimes this is because we are “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25). But God also has his wonderful purposes in sanctifying us slowly.
Slow change produces spiritual fruit in us that God values highly, maybe more than we do, fruit like patience, humility, kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and self-control. And faith. Slow change often drives us to ransack the Word for promises to trust, an exercise which has loads of benefits.
Slow change also gives us insight into other purposes of God. There is a strong, consistent motif throughout the Bible of the saints waiting on God. Think of how God called Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Israel in Egypt, Hannah, David, Daniel, and many others to wait on him. Think of how long Israel waited for the long-expected Jesus. And think of how the church has waited for the long-expected “revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7).
There is often more in our waiting than we understand. God’s concept of time is different from ours and therefore God is not slow, as we tend to think (2 Peter 3:9). He is at work patiently conforming us into his image (Romans 8:29), and therefore very good work is being accomplished in our waiting. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him” (Lamentations 3:25); they “shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Lay the Lie Aside
There is no need for us to carry the lying weight that we will never change any further. We can lay it aside today and run the race believing the joyful promise that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
And today’s work: Be done with excuses and be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
2014 Desiring God

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Powerful Priority of Passionate Joy

Philippians 3:1-7                   November 2, 2014            Link for audio/video/manuscript

When we "rejoice in the Lord" we then are given a joy that is independent of adverse circumstances. Joy in or from the Lord is inherently strengthening. What this means is that the joy of the Lord is our strength, and so when things in life don’t go our way we have cause to rejoice because our joy is in Jesus and we cannot lose what we have already gained in Jesus. What this means that if we lose any or all the things this world can offer, we will not lose our joy or our treasure or our life, because Jesus is our greatest joy and our greatest treasure and the greatest life that we could ever know. What this means is that if Christ is our Lord and Savior we will not put our confidence in anything outside of Christ. It is the continual rejoicing in the midst of trouble that marks the lives of those who are truly following Jesus!