Race and the Gospel: A Savior for All.

When Morgan Godwyn came to the American Colonies as a young minister in the mid-1600s, he came with a desire to convert African slaves to Christ. Unfortunately, his efforts were met with resistance from white slave owners, most of whom claimed to be followers of Christ themselves. Godwyn noted in his journal the typical response of these so-called Christians: “What, such as they? What, those black dogs be made Christians? What, shall they be like us?”

In my opinion, one of the saddest and most abhorrent blights upon the church of Jesus Christ has been the presence of racial bigotry among those who claim to be followers of Christ. As I stood to preach from Mark 7:24-37 yesterday, I told our people that racial bigotry has no place in the church of Jesus Christ. In this text, Jesus demonstrated God’s love for all people as he ministers to two Gentiles.

In the Jewish mindset of Jesus’ day, there were only two races of people on earth: there were Jews and everyone else. It made no difference the color of your skin, or your country of origin; if you were not an ethnic Jew you were a Gentile. Further, I believe it’s fair to say that many Jews were racially biased against the Gentiles. Much like the prophet Jonah, some could never conceive of God pouring out his love and forgiveness upon Gentiles, simply because they were Gentiles.

But such beliefs by first-century Jews were based on misunderstandings of, or ignorance of, Scripture. For instance, when Jesus encounters the Gentile woman in Tyre—located in Lebanon—she seems to know how the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah in this case) foretold of a time when God’s salvation would be poured out upon the Gentiles (Mark 7:24-30): “The deserts shall rejoice…the glory of Lebanon…will see the glory of the LORD, the majesty  of our God” (Isaiah 35:2).

In other words, she seems to understand from Scripture what many Jews of Jesus’ day did not: God’s salvation offered to the Jews was also intended for Gentiles. The bottom line: all people are welcome in the kingdom of God, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, or their country of origin.

Like many Jews before, many self-proclaimed Christians have justified racial prejudice based on gross misunderstandings of, or simple ignorance of, Scripture. Some, for instance, have claimed that God forbids interracial marriage based on poor exegetical conclusions from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (and other Old Testament texts). Not only are such conclusions based on faulty exegesis, they also show complete disregard for God’s character, and demonstrate ignorance of Scripture. Three examples should suffice.

First, Moses—perhaps the greatest Old Testament figure—was married to a “Cushite.” Cush was south of Ethiopia, where the people were known for their dark-colored skin. Interestingly, in Numbers 12:1-10, when Moses’ sister speaks against Moses’ interracial marriage, God strikes her with leprosy! Secondly, Joseph, the man God used to protect the human ancestry of Christ, married an Egyptian (Gen. 41). Third, there is the supreme example of Jesus Christ himself, whose human genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17) includes both Gentiles and Jews and at least one interracial marriage between Ruth (Gentile) and Boaz (Jew). Obviously, God has no problem with interracial marriage.

I say all of that to say this: racial bigotry has no place in the the life of those who claim to be Christians. Racial prejudice is an affront to God’s character and an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you harbor any ounce of racial bigotry in your life, you should seek God’s forgiveness and repent, lest God judge you as he did Moses’ sister.

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to Missions

Landscape

As I stood to preach from Mark 6:7-13 a couple weeks ago, I shared with our church family some sobering statistics concerning the health of the church in the United States.

Consider the following from LifeWay Research:

  • Over the next seven years, 55,000 churches will close their doors.
  • Only 20 percent of churches in the United States are growing.
  • Only 1 percent are growing by making disciples of Jesus Christ.

No matter how you slice it, the church in the United States is losing ground. It’s easy to cast blame on the broader culture, but if the church is to reverse these trends it must first examine itself.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Generations of Christians have assumed that if they remained faithful to come to church, give their tithes and offerings, sit under faithful gospel-preaching, etc., the church could never fail. After all, Jesus said so right there in Matthew 16! The above statistics prove otherwise. Many of those 55,000 churches have been faithful to preach and teach the gospel within the walls of the church edifice. So why are so many “faithful” churches failing?

It could be that we have misunderstood the imagery of Matthew 16. When Jesus speaks of a “gate,” he is drawing imagery from the ancient world, in which city gates were the most strategic defensive weapons of a city. City gates were designed to keep invading armies out, and to keep the people inside secure. When Jesus says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail,” he is suggesting the church is like an army on the offensive, and its primary mission is overrunning the kingdom of hell.

This reminds us of an important principle of mission: our mission lies far beyond the walls of our church buildings. We can’t set the captives of hell free by playing it safe in our own sanctuaries. We must invade enemy territory to transfer people from the domain of Satan into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). When the church lives for this purpose nothing can stop it, not even the gates of hell.

We see the seeds of this principle in Mark 6:7-13, where Jesus sends his disciples out on their first mission endeavor. He’s trained them and equipped them, and now they are ready to invade enemy territory. As the disciples went, Jesus “authorized” their mission. Note specifically that he gave them authority to exorcise demons—to overrun the gates of hell (Mark 6:7)! He also instructed them to go with the bare necessitates, trusting God to provide. In the same way, Jesus has authorized us to “go” (Matt. 28:18-19). As we are faithful to go, I believe we can trust God to provide all we need.

One of my goals for Main Street is that we would be obedient to “go” beyond the walls of our church. I am pleased to see the church respond well, as just this week we made an important staff change to implement a renewed missions emphasis. Daniel McNeil, our previous youth director, has agreed to transition to Director of Missions, Outreach, and Discipleship. I am looking forward to working with Daniel as we begin to form a strategic focus on missions for Main Street. Please pray for us as we seek to go. Pray that our people would be eager to go. Pray that we will trust God to provide our needs. Pray most of all that the result would be an abundance of gospel fruit, leading to the glory and praise of our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Mother’s Day 2016: A Bittersweet Experience.

It was one year ago this month that Main Street Baptist Church voted me to be their senior pastor. That made Mother’s Day, 2016, one of the most bittersweet days of my life.

Bitter because I stood before Wood Baptist Church that Mother’s Day announcing my intent to accept the call to Main Street. That was, in all honesty, a most gut-wrenching experience. In fact, I cried like a baby when I announced my decision at the close of the service. Wood was a special place, plain and simple. My time in Wood convinced me that there is no other place on earth like it. In my 20 months as pastor of Wood Baptist Church, I developed a deep love and attachment to the people. The people of Wood made us feel like family and we made some life-long friends there. It was also special to me because Wood Baptist Church gave me my first opportunity to serve as a pastor. I will always be grateful for my time in Wood.

But I knew I had to leave, because I knew God was behind the move. That turned an otherwise bitter experience into something sweet.

I’ve never shared publicly the details of how we arrived at Main Street. I’m certain some people questioned my motives: “Is he just looking to move from church to church? Is he just looking for a bigger church; a bigger payday?” That wasn’t the case at all.

One morning in January 2016, my wife told me she had a dream the night before. The gist of the dream was this: when God came to get us, we were to go, no questions asked. Honestly, I was skeptical that morning. But two weeks later I received a call from a friend who told me he wanted to give my resume to Main Street Baptist Church. According to the church’s website, they were looking for a candidate with a minimum of five years experience. At the time, I had a grand total of 16 months experience in the pastorate, and I was less than one month removed from completing seminary. At that moment, I thought to myself, “That will never happen.” But within a matter of weeks I received a call from the pastor search committee. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Some may balk at my wife’s dream. But here’s what I know: the events of the past year have confirmed God’s hand in our move to Main Street. He has blessed us with a wonderful church family and community in Kernersville. More importantly, we see clear evidence of God’s handiwork at Main Street in the past year, and we expect even greater things ahead in the years to come.

Tragic Unbelief and the Offense of Jesus (Mark 6:1-6)

“And they took offense at him.” Mark 6:3

In Mark 6, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, presumably invited to speak in the synagogue. What should have been a time to celebrate the return of a hometown hero ends in tragedy. Mark communicates the tragedy of it all in verse five, saying:

5And he could do no mighty work there,…” 

It wasn’t that Jesus couldn’t do a mighty work. Rather, he wouldn’t do a mighty work. Why? Because the people did not believe. They rejected Jesus in unbelief, and in turn, Jesus rejected them by removing divine blessing. The story is conveyed with a profound sense of sadness. The truth is, the episode in Nazareth illustrates a larger spiritual truth. When people express unbelief in Jesus, Jesus rejects them, and that is always profoundly tragic.

Notice how the people’s rejection began. They were offended by Jesus (6:3). How or why they were offended is unclear. Maybe they were thinking, “He’s from Nazareth, too. He’s no better than us!” Or perhaps they were offended by something Jesus claimed in his message. Elsewhere, Jesus made claims of deity when he claimed to be “the Son of Man” and “the Lord of the Sabbath” (cf. Mark 2:12; 27-28). Both times he created quite a stir! Whatever the case, the people took offense at Jesus.

Their offense mirrors the way modern people take offense at Jesus and his gospel. By its very nature, the gospel is offensive to humans (Gal. 5:11). The gospel says all are inherently sinful, rebellious, and deserving of God’s wrath (Rom. 2; John 3:18). All of this is offensive to the sensibilities of modern men and women, who deny their sinful state and their need of salvation. The fact is, most modern people believe they are basically good and God must accept them as they are. Such perceptions, I believe, distort reality.

Here’s what I mean by that. As humans, we can’t comprehend God’s complete holiness, righteousness, and perfection.  At the same time, we tend to overlook that the very best of us fall well short of God’s perfection (Rom. 3:23). If you are honest with yourself, you must admit this.  What modern man fails to understand, then, is that we are offensive to a holy God. Our sin is what’s truly offensive in this world. Isaiah captures this principle when he writes:

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6

I’m aware of how depressing this must sound—and it truly is. Thankfully, there is good news. Because God is a God of love, he has made a way of salvation for all men and women, regardless of how great—offensive—our sin may be.

Let me give you an illustration. As a father, I’ve changed my share of diapers. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: the older a child gets, the more offensive the diapers become. And I do mean offensive. It’s so bad, sometimes my wife and I look at each other and say, “It’s your turn! He’s your child.” The dirty diaper of a three-year-old can be down-right offensive. But because I love my child, and because cleanliness is important to me, I overcome the offense of the diaper and clean my child.

In the same way, God is willing to overcome the offense of our sin, and he is willing to cleanse us when we come to him by faith, recognizing our need for forgiveness and believing in the person and works of Christ.

“If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Jesus was without honor in his hometown because the people rejected him in unbelief. You must not make the same mistake. To reject Jesus is nothing less than tragic—a tragedy that endures for eternity.  But on the other hand, to receive Jesus by faith is to receive divine blessings for all eternity.