Monday, June 30, 2008

Ungratefulness leads to Prejudice

“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:11-19, NIV).

This story is an enlightening story of Jesus healing ten men of a terrible disease. Jesus gave each man a clean bill of health. Nine appear ungrateful with only one returning to thank Jesus. The one person who returned to thank Jesus, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet, was the only person who was not a Jew in the whole bunch.

Nine Jews were willing to hang with this foreigner, a Samaritan, in sickness, but as soon as health was restored old prejudices returned. There is a lesson we can learn in this story that is often overlooked. Sickness humbles us, makes us less than whole, and we are then able to mingle with others we see as less than us. Christians need humility to cross racial, cultural, and social divides; and, Christians need humility to worship Jesus Christ, as pictured by the Samaritan. Pride is the trait that prevents Christians from associating with other cultures, races, and social group, and it prevents true worship of our Lord. Pride is a terrible sin. You will recall that God cast Lucifer out of heaven because of pride in the life of Lucifer, don’t let that same pride keep you out of heaven.

Ingratitude is not the cause of prejudices, but rather the result. Any Christian can excuse their prejudice by whatever excuse is acceptable, but excuses still reveals ingratitude and interferes with worship of Christ. Therefore, the next time you hear someone making an excuse for their church being a single race church because of music, style, or tradition, challenge their gratitude. Gratitude will bring a healed Samaritan to the feet of a Jewish Messiah in worship. This is a good, because in Scripture everyone is either a Jew or a Gentile.

Pour another cup of coffee, take a sip, and meditate on this with the Lord. Ask Jesus if there is a lack of gratitude in your heart. When thankfulness feels your being, prejudice will flee.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Grace or Race?

One of the wonderful gifts of being President of a Seminary is that I have the opportunity to worship in many different churches. As I go from church to church, it is an observation that churches are more segregated than any group except perhaps the KKK or the Black Panthers. Very few churches have ever glimpsed what John the Revelator saw and wrote. “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, NIV).

It seems overly obvious that God, in his perfection, will return when heaven is complete. God, it seems to me, will not overcrowd heaven, nor leave the streets vacant. In His sense of completeness and creativity, God will ensure that heaven is perfect. According to John, this perfection calls for the assembly of worshippers from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Any way you address this scene, the worshippers are multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-lingual. This is God's idea of perfect worship!

Yet, the church continues to mirror the comic's equivalence of inbreeding hillbillies, keeping the faith in the family of brothers and sisters, and an occasional cousin. When it comes to the twenty-first century church, it seems to be more about race than about grace. This unbiblical teaching crosses cultural and racial lines and has steered the church along a path of segregation, although God calls the church to lead the way to racial unity. Congregations are often so proud of their heritage and accomplishments that they put forth no effort to reach other races or cultures. Other congregations seem content to gather in their stained glass buildings for moments of racial respite from the world. Still other congregations, while bound together by language, divide themselves by nationality or social status.

Kingdom people will look beyond race, culture, and social standing and create an atmosphere within the church that invites guest from all arenas of life. Kingdom people certainly wish to worship with God's children who are unlike them, people of a different culture, a different language, and a different nation. It is important to God, therefore it should be important to His church, and it should be important to every believer within the Christian Faith. Each of us must assist the church in moving beyond its prejudice and racism, and embrace true agape love.

Not only is coffee better with God, it is better when consumed with people of different experience and backgrounds who love the Lord. So let us get with God's program and willingly assist our churches to be more like heaven.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Question from God

“…Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:57-58, NIV).

The Greek word translated “honor” is a negative particle meaning unhonored or positively dishonored. It is translated despised, without honor, or less honorable. Since Jesus experienced this, surely the rest of us will also experience it, if we are walking in obedience to God.

My first real experience with dishonor came when I resigned a near eight-hundred member church to do a church plant. A pastor told me that I would suffer a loss of prestige. He was right! Pastors I considered my friends and colleagues were no longer available for lunch, I was no longer invited to “think tanks” and other meetings within the denomination, and I quickly became isolated from my clergy colleagues. I again experienced this from my denomination four years ago when I decided to accept a part-time staff position in an African-American church of a slightly different denomination (I am Southern Baptist and the church is General Baptist). This move to bridge racial mistrust and build racial harmony caused my dear denomination to even freeze my retirement account. They are holding onto the money until I retire, but will not even let me write a personal check to add to my retirement account; punishment for betraying my denomination, even if I am walking in obedience to God.

Ministries can also be without “honor.” I see this as President of a nondenominational Seminary weekly. Even though we are solid theologically and hold the beliefs of most area churches, we are often shunned because we are not “denominational.” Small-minded Christians have a problem reaching across denominational lines to do Kingdom work. I tell you my friends, that God’s Pastors will give an account to God for their failure to reach across denominational, cultural, and racial lines to do Kingdom work. As for me, I decided years ago to serve Christ in the corner of the “vineyard” assigned to me by the Master Viticulturist and not worry about the honor of humankind. I look around me in the Charlotte metropolitan area and I see many ministries that are doing Kingdom work and they deserve our respect, honor, and donations.

I bring people to the Seminary and show them around, introduce them to students and faculty, and ask them two questions. The first question is “Do you believe God is at work here?” I have never had a pastor or laity to tell me that they did not believe God was at work in New Life Theological Seminary. I agree, I see God working every day, building bridges of trust among various races and cultures, and preparing leaders that shape the world. The second question I ask is, “Knowing that God is at work here, and having seen and experienced it firsthand, will you help support the mission and purpose of this ministry and lead your church to do the same?” It is amazing the responses I get.

So today, as I sip my healthy cup of coffee, with God, He wants me to ask you this one question, “How can you know where I am working and not join me in the Kingdom work I am doing?”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Change or Exchange?

I cannot recall ever having a “bad” cup of coffee as the sun slowly climbs its way up across the horizon, but Scripture always enhances the wonderful flavor of a hot cup of brew.

Today's thought comes from Romans 21-27, NIV: “… although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

In this passage, we see humankind given, from the beginning, a twofold revelation of God "in them" and "unto them" (conscience and creation). Therefore, society did not begin with ignorance and gradually work its way up to intelligence; it began with awe-inspiring revelation of the power and wisdom of God, but then gradually turned away from this knowledge.

As the human race turns away from God, it stopped glorifying Him. Societal thinking became more and more vain and foolish, as leaders and followers turn truth to lies. Indifference leads to ingratitude and results in ignorance. People bow before politically correct immoral philosophers and honor their words above the Word of God. This blind ignorance leads to greater poverty and helpless dependence on government. Government is man's invention and is it is foolish reasoning to believe that government will serve the little people; government creates larger bureaucracy for its own sake.

Leaders changed the truth of God and the populaces follow. This word "changed" should really read, "exchanged." Society should always be aware of politicians spouting “change.” Replacing God's truth with Satan's lie is change. What is Satan's lie? Worshiping the creature and not the Creator; worshiping the man instead of God; worshiping things instead of Christ. Satan tempted Christ to do this (Matthew 4:8-11). Note that in Romans 1:18, the Gentiles "held down the truth," and now they "exchange the truth" for a lie! The truth believed and obeyed sets us free (John 8:31-32); the truth rejected and disobeyed makes us slaves. People most against slavery should hold most firmly to those leaders who hold most firmly to God's truth. Our ancestors never envisioned Christians leaving their faith outside the polling booth.

When people with a clear knowledge of God reject the knowledge of God and His judgment against sin, they reach the lowest level of their downward fall; they eventually stop even wanting to have knowledge of God! Remember, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1, NKJV).

God would have each of us as Christians to weigh carefully the words and life of any politician wanting our vote. Christians must be careful not to allow talk of change to take our world further down the path of Satan's lie. Meditate on this and let God's Word simmer in your mind as you sip another cup of coffee.