Thursday, April 26, 2018

We don't give up on others

Maybe the retail, restaurant and business area nearest your home is like ours. Many buildings once busy with activity now stand vacant -- monuments to failed dreams or corporate bottom line.

These empty shells once were inhabited by a Best Buy, Dick's Sporting Goods, Famous Dave's BBQ, Mimi's Cafe, a bank, a party store, a gym and others. Meanwhile, other retail outlets and a restaurant now stand nearly ready to open in this same area booming with new residences.

I think I understand why businesses build new stores instead of renovating empty ones. Reclaiming vacant space doesn't appear to make sense. There seems to be no profit in it.

But it strikes me as sad. These were once destination points for people who had needs -- none that may have been greater than coming in contact with fellow image bearers of God at a time when it is possible never to leave home to work and shop. These were once locations where people gathered to serve and be served. These were once places where people unexpectedly became friends, whether as fellow employees or as workers and customers. Now they know only the sound of silence, their walls possibly never again to echo with the fulfillment of human voices.

But in contrast, there's the church of Jesus Christ. It's made up of previously empty shells. Each part of this building (Eph. 2:21), metaphorically speaking, has been reclaimed. You and I. God has reclaimed us from our fallen state as his image bearers. He has "rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col. 1:13).

Because He has reclaimed us, we don't give up on others -- before or after they trust in Jesus. We might be tempted to think there is no use in continuing to love, serve and appeal to some people. We may be tempted to think some such attempts are unprofitable, even hopeless. We may think our efforts to help a brother or sister aren't worth it because that person won't heed our advice and direction.

We don't give up on people, however, because we don't set the limits of God's grace. With our brothers and sisters, this is true for multiple reasons. For one thing, God has promised He will complete the work He has begun in His children. Also, Jesus has promised never to forsake us.

But it is also true we are eternally intertwined with one another. God demonstrates this in the New Testament. For example:

-- We are one people group from many people groups. "[Y]ou once were not a people, but now you are the people of God" (I Peter 2:10).

-- We are in the same building. We "are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:19b-22).

-- We are in the same body. "[B]ut speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).

We don't give up on others who have been rescued from sin because we belong together. We are bound together. We are being built up together. And all of us are advancing together toward Christ-likeness.

In the church, let's don't give up on anyone. Let's don't leave anyone behind.

-- Photo by MarĂ­a Victoria Heredia Reyes on Unsplash

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Some reflections on the MLK50 conference

My wife and I had the privilege of attending "MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop" April 3-4 in Memphis -- she to listen and observe and me to file reports on in Baptist Press.

The conference -- co-sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Gospel Coalition -- was held in conjunction with other events to remember the life and legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his death. King was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis.

I have written about the event as a reporter. Now I want to offer some reflections as a pastor.

The conference was one of the most significant -- if not the most significant -- I have attended or covered. My hope is the gathering attended by about 4,000 people and viewed livestream more than one million times will help encourage racial justice, healing and unity. Such work is needed in and through America's churches, as well as in this country. Both the church and country continue to be plagued by the bitter fruit of the sins of slavery and segregation and the ongoing, yet often unrecognized transgression of racism.

The speakers and panelists -- primarily African American and white -- provided helpful, insightful and sometimes convicting insights. Here is a sampling:

-- Charlie Dates, senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicsgo, explained some of the frustrations black churches have with white evangelicals: “We have expected you to be our greatest allies in the struggle against injustice. We wanted you to tell your churches and your congregations that God was never pleased with segregation and the systems that segregation has created. . . . We wanted you all to unflinchingly denounce the politics of fear and the alt-right racism that elected playboys while denouncing a black man who was loyal to his wife all his years in office and took care of his kids and did not disgrace America. We wanted you all to preach a gospel that was bigger than the clandestine, provincial and colonial misread that told slaves to obey their masters as if Paul intended American slavery to be ordained by God. . . . But instead of finding allies in the fight for justice on the grounds of righteousness, we have encountered antagonists. Instead of understanding our plight, we have been met with demands to justify our sentiments.”

-- Russell Moore, ERLC president, said, "[King] is relatively noncontroversial in American life, because Martin Luther King has not been speaking for 50 years. It is easy to look backward and say, ‘If I had been here, I would have listened to Dr. King, even though I have not listened to what is happening around me in my own community.’ . . . [T]ime and time again in the white American Bible belt, the people of God had to choose between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow because you cannot serve both, and tragically many often chose to serve Jim Crow and to rename him Jesus Christ.”

-- Matt Chandler, teaching pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, said to white pastors, “You have got to say something. There is no way forward if white pulpits won’t talk. . . . Ethnic harmony is one of the great themes of the Bible. This is the refrain of the Bible over and over and over again."

-- Crawford Loritts, African-American senior pastor of predominantly white Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga., said on a panel, “This issue is going to cost us. Are we willing to pay that price? Love is expensive, and commitment is expensive. And I think God is standing back and saying to the church, 'You all know what to do here. You really do know what to do.' It’s the courage and will to do it and to be it and to pay that price.”

-- H.B. Charles Jr., pastor-teacher of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said as a panelist, “Do not underestimate what God is doing in the local church. Local churches being faithful right where they are might not make national headlines, but God is changing communities and neighborhoods and cities through churches that are determined to be the church.”

Video of the keynote sessions and audio of the workshop sessions are available here.

If you have time to listen to only four speakers, I recommend Dates, Moore, Chandler and pastor/hip-hop artist Trip Lee. Their talks are from 20 to 36 minutes in length.

Time to listen to only one? Make it Dates.

Among the other speakers were Karen Ellis, John Piper and Jackie Hill Perry. Diverse teams from Fellowship Memphis and The Village Church led musical worship, and the Tennessee Mass Choir presented a rousing set of gospel songs.

Of course, the success of any conference is demonstrated in the effect it has on and the fruit it produces in the lives of those who attend or view it.

Here are a few takeaways for me from this conference and from talks at the Together for the Gospel conference a week later:

-- We should listen to and learn from those whose experience in America is different than ours.

-- White evangelicals should listen to and learn from black pastors and leaders and not wait for white pastors and leaders finally to say what African-American saints have long said about racial justice.

-- We should be devoted to thinking biblically -- not politically, culturally or tribally -- about racial justice and harmony.

-- We should be committed to developing friendships with Christians and non-Christians of other skin colors and ethnicities.

-- We should pay the cost required to achieve racial justice and unity in the face of criticism and resistance from others, including some in the church.

May God grant us grace to do all this and more, as well as to become diverse communities in our churches for the glory of God and the display of the gospel and kingdom of Jesus.

-- Photo by on Unsplash