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.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on Year One

uhalNext week will mark one year of service for me as pastor of Main Street. On the Sunday I was installed as pastor, I told our people: “I never want to move again!” Kernersville was our fourth move in six years, so by the time our family unpacked yet another U-Haul, we could not bear the thought of doing it again. For that—and other reasons—my aim from day one was to serve and lead with a view toward the future, with the prayerful hope that God would graciously allow me a long tenure at Main Street that would result in much gospel fruit abounding to his glory. One year later, my prayers and desires for the future remain unchanged!

As I reflect on the past year, I am grateful for all that God has allowed us to accomplish. It’s been a busy year, and, from my perspective, we haven’t been busy for the sake of being busy! Every accomplishment of the past year has been designed to lay a solid foundation for the future; preparing Main Street to be a viable gospel-witness in the heart of Kernersville for generations to come.

Below are some of the highlights of the past year:

  • Instituted Membership Class: To my knowledge, Main Street never had a membership class before. The membership class not only introduces prospective members to who we are, it also encourages people to join. This class has paid dividends—we have welcomed 16 new members into our fellowship since September.
  • New Website: In the twenty-first century, the first door most people “walk through” is the website. Understanding this principle, it was critical that we update our website. Although our present website may not be the hippest, it is at least functional, easier on the eyes, and more user friendly compared to the previous site!
  • Rebranded: Along with a new web design came a new logo, which reflects my desire that we will be a church that “Exalts Christ” in all we do.
  • Transitioned to One Service: When I arrived at Main Street I soon discovered that I was the pastor—in effect—of two churches; one worshiped during our “contemporary” service; the other during our “traditional” service. For several reasons, both theological and practical, I realized immediately the importance of transitioning to one blended service. Though it took much time and planning, we made the transition in March with relative ease.
  • Staff Changes: In June, we transitioned our former Youth Director to a new position: Director of Missions, Outreach, and Discipleship. This move was born out of a deep desire to transform Main Street into a church that is faithful to live on mission to the glory of God.
  • Baptisms: We baptized eight new believers in Jesus Christ this year. Six of the eight are somewhat unique in Baptist life: adults who were never baptized as children. The other two were children.

I am grateful to God for how he has moved at Main Street in the past year. I’m also grateful to the members of Main Street who have embraced much change. They are to be commended. The above could never have happened without their support.

Going forward, much work remains undone and many challenges lie ahead. But I am convinced as much today, as I was twelve months ago, that Main Street’s best days are ahead of us, and not behind. If we remain faithful to the task God has given us, I have no doubt that he will continue to bless us in the months and years ahead.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:19

 

 

 

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.

 

Revelation Primer: The Purpose of Revelation

This coming Wednesday we will begin a nine-week study of Revelation at Main Street. I’m excited to study this important book with my Main Street family because I’m convinced Revelation has much to say to Christians today, although my understanding may be different than most popular approaches. I’m also a bit apprehensive to teach from a book that has puzzled theologians and scholars throughout church history. That John Calvin and Martin Luther each took a pass on writing a commentary on Revelation reminds us to approach the book (as with all Scripture) with much wisdom and humility.

Christians are fascinated by Revelation, drawn to it by its striking imagery and prophetic vision of the future. Unfortunately, this fascination often grows into preoccupation, leading to fruitless speculation regarding the meaning of the seals, trumpets, bowls, the 1260 days (12:6), the dragon with multiple heads and horns, the 144,000, etc., etc. A wide array of speculation is bandied about concerning these symbols, mostly under the assumption that Revelation speaks exclusively of end-time events, and that the book’s symbolism serves to unlock specific clues related to those events. This has given rise to “newspaper” theology, in which Christians scan the headlines of world events and superimpose them over the symbols of Revelation, wondering if the end is nigh. To me, such an approach misses the primary purpose and meaning of Revelation.

While Revelation certainly speaks of events yet future (Christ’s return/the new heaven and new earth/the final judgment), there is good reason to believe that much of its symbolism and imagery was never intended as keys to unlocking precise details of future events and persons.

For starters, an end-times-only lens of interpretation fails to account for the book’s original audience—the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3)—and what it meant to them. When this fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is considered, we soon realize that much of the book’s symbolism was intended for John’s original audience to understand and apply to their specific situation. If they could understand the meaning and significance of the symbols—which seems likely—then it stands to reason very little of it was intended solely as interpretive keys for a future generation of Christians. Moreover, the book states that the events of the book were to take place soon (1:3; 22:10), and promises a blessing to all who read it and keep its message (1:3; 22:7).

The point is, any viable interpretation of Revelation must begin by understanding that Revelation was intended to be understood by its original audience and every generation of Christians thereafter, not just those fortunate enough to live at the time of Christ’s return. Endless speculation and “newspaper” theology was never the intent of Revelation. This is confirmed when we remember that Jesus warned his disciples about becoming preoccupied with the timing of his return. Instead, they were to remain focused on the mission at hand (Matt. 24:36-51; Acts 1:7-8).

Revelation carries a similar message. The book was written to Christians; some of whom were suffering persecution; some of whom were compromising their faith and values with the world. To the persecuted Christians, Revelation is an encouraging reminder to stand firm in their faith, trusting that Christ will vindicate them and that all evil will be punished by his coming wrath. To the Christians seeking worldly compromise, Revelation sends a sobering message of the need to repent, or else they too will endure divine wrath.

Therefore, Revelation is first and foremost an enduring call to Christians of all generations to remain faithful to Christ to the end. Those who endure can lay claim to immense blessings promised to all who obey the teachings of the book and overcome. All who overcome will have their names recorded in the book of life (Rev. 20:11-15), and reap the reward of everlasting life in the presence of their great and mighty Savior, Jesus Christ, in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21).

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.