Monday, July 31, 2017

The Goodness of Affliction

I continue to be troubled by the on-going and ever-increasing callousness and hostility evident in our daily interactions over the airwaves and social media.  It seems we cannot discuss differences without denigrating those who hold a different opinion.  We cannot win, without humiliating those we have vanquished.  We cannot succeed without crowing about the failures of those we have surpassed.  We lack compassion.  We lack the willingness to understand. We lack love.

There appears to be a hardened refusal to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.”   It is not convictions upon which we stand in refusing to consider differing points of view, but rather we stand upon mountains of arrogance. We do not take refuge in strongholds truth and beauty as much as we hide within fortresses of pride and prejudice.  We either scoff at those who are struggling as viewed from our perspective of achievement and success or else we berate those in need, supposing in our privileged estimation that those to whom misfortune seems to cling, deserve their wounds or else have earned their difficulties. 

As a pastor, I am often asked “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  The short answer is, “I don’t know.”  Nevertheless, after experiencing a significant personal failure earlier in life and while currently dealing with a chronic health issue, I have come to see losing and suffering as great teachers in the school of character development and priceless guides along the path of walking with Jesus.  What’s the lesson?  Psalm 119, verse 71 best captures the heart of the curriculum, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Affliction – be it in the form of a setback or an ailment – can transform one’s indifference to the plight of others to a sensitivity in the difficulties encountered throughout life. While the affliction itself may not be good, it can lead to good for anyone who uses the pain of it to enlighten, inform and sensitize them to those situations when for whatever reasons, life just doesn’t go one’s way.  Affliction can draw someone closer to God and allow them to learn His decrees, understand His precepts and walk in his ways with a freshness and energy not always experienced when one is caught up living the good life, problem-free.

If the medicine of affliction has its greatest impact, the person afflicted will not just be more sensitive, and compassionate in practice as well as in theory. Justice Roberts captured the essence of this impact in expressing his hopes for a group of youngsters he addressed in a graduation speech.  He said,
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don't take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.”

If we can grasp the kind of compassion and understanding about which Justice Roberts spoke, perhaps the afflictions we experience in life will not have been for nought and our interactions with one another might lead to more understanding and cooperation in our daily dealings.  Though I don’t wish ill for any of us, I do pray that each of us can extract the precious stones of understanding from the ashes of life’s setbacks, and mine the gold of compassion from depths of our seasons of despair. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Dealing With Race In the Southern Baptist Convention

Recently, a Brother Pastor announced his parting of ways with the Southern Baptist Convention over a rather clumsy handling of a resolution presented during the 2017 national meeting of the Southern Convention in Phoenix.  The purpose of the resolution was to affirm the Convention’s commitment to the Gospel’s affirmation of the equality of all people regardless of ethnicity, specifically by issuing a rejection of “Alt-Right” theological heresies.   After being asked by a number of friends what my thoughts are on the matter, I decided to post my convictions for anyone who cares to know them.  These convictions are my own and questions or thoughts should be addressed to me.

Regarding Lawrence Ware’s assessment of his Southern Baptist experience that have moved him to sever ties, I believe it is an honest reflection that accurately describes some churches, local associations and state conventions, but not all. I cannot speak for Southwestern Seminary or other associations exhaustively, but I can speak about my own experiences in 3 separate Associations and State Conventions as well as one seminary.

I've been a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville for 2 years now and have seen the administration there make great attempts to confront issues of racial justice.  I can also affirm that there is no political “Trump Bandwagon” at Southern.  In fact, during the election, the president of Southern clearly expressed his concerns and why he would not support then candidate Trump’s White House Bid in the face of much criticism (  The professors I have had the privilege of knowing have woven the issue of racial justice into the classes I have taken in the Global Missions Track and there is a robust desire to reach more African Americans and Latinos, though minority professorships are wanting -- as they are in many institutions of higher learning in general, even secular liberal ones.

My own faculty advisor is the descendant immigrants and the son of missionaries who served in Colombia, where he was born. He and his family have served the Lord in Spain and Morocco, and are all multilingual.  He and his wife have 2 sons, one biological and one adopted African-American son. I am deeply impressed by his heart for reconciliation and trust him immensely to speak and live out the truth in love. Another leader at Southern has lead with true candor, acknowledging at an official function, the burden of the school's segregationist’s and pro-slavery past, including exposing the racism of the founder for whom the undergraduate school is named.  This kind of honesty has been the rule, not the exception in my experience at Southern and I have found like honesty in other pastors and leaders I have known throughout the Convention.

More directly, in my own history with my wife in the SBC as church planters since 1992, we've found people of like mind who love Jesus and passionately pursue social justice as a crucial part of Gospel living. I’ve also met others I wouldn't trust any further than I could throw a Confederate monument.  In our experiences, we have also found similar realities wherever we have served, whether dealing with “conservatives” or “liberals” or members of the SBC or other “liberal” denominations.  In every walk of life, whether we’ve found gaps between practice and preaching or faithfulness in following Jesus, lifestyles always centered more on the personal convictions of individuals, not the denominational handles they carried.

Nevertheless, I understand and respect Pastor Ware’s choice. Like all choices, one’s immediate experiences will greatly flavor one's decisions.  My experience with Luz has been a mixed bag, as has been my life among many different Americans in various locations and areas of service. As for us, as long as individual churches remain autonomous in their associations within the Convention, and as long as I see a substantial remnant fighting for righteousness – and I do see that reality presently - I see no reason for me to disassociate myself from the convention.  The Convention is not perfect, but in its recent history, the Convention has made significant attempts to openly acknowledge its failures (  Biblical convictions have also touched the hearts of many who remain in the Convention and who are at the grassroots level doing the hard work of being peacemakers and bridge builders.
I have always tried to live as a “human Bridge of reconciliation.  I accept that part of my mission as a bridge means getting walked on.  At this time in my life, my post and orders are clear to me and I will guard this mission post of reconciliation until properly relieved.  In my limited human view, that probably means the Death Angel will be the Captain of the guard who issues my final relief. Therefore, I press on!


Samuel D. Jackson 
Church Planting Missionary/Pastor