Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Price of Reconciliation

A LONG but necessary Introduction to an article I recommend, the link of which is found at the end of this reflection.

There are stories that need to be told, but often aren't told because those who experience them are either not in a position to make the stories known, or because of humility those who take risks for the good are usually hesitant to present themselves as heroes. Since 1992, Luz Bautista Jackson and I have served in various capacities as missionaries of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board, formerly known as the Home Mission Board when our journey with NAMB began.

During that journey, we have met people much like the ones presented in this article. They did what was right, when it was right and it often cost them. I actually rubbed shoulders with Jack Kwok, mentioned in this story and was always amazed by his friendly and supportive manner for newbies like us in the Oho Convention when we first started. This article helps me understand more about his heart and his consistently loving support.

Luz and I were benefactors of people who did what they could to make a difference. The wanted to do something and sometimes, that "something" was calling an eager, yet inexperienced couple, ready to build bridges between people. Richard Alan Duncan, Ken Render, Dennis Betts, Matt Trombley, Kevin Butcher , Paul Rhoads, Jerry Worsham and Jamie Rasmussen, along with countless others took chances and walked with us during very stormy seasons as we joined them in trying to make a difference for the Kingdom of God, among people of different cultures.

As I continue to grow in perspective, my appreciation for these people grows as well. I remember these co-laborers and others like them who embraced us as friends and colleagues. The were not and are not perfect. If perfection is the goal, reconciliation will forever elude us. Along my life journey, I too have made missteps, wrong steps, backward steps and sometimes, no steps where progress should have been made. In many cases, I received much grace and as allowed to press on. Where forgiveness was not extended, I remembered the feeling of hopelessness that came from good intentions rejected out of hand, and have sought to be more gracious in my own dealings when others make mistakes as well.

I share this article to offer a little illumination from the inside. Evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular are favorite targets of those claiming to pursue understanding and unity with the United States between races. While high profile members of any organization or theological bent may make statements that are outrageous and divisive, in a nation as large as ours and groups as large as the Southern Baptist, those with the biggest microphones do not necessarily represent all members of any given group. Also, those fighting the good fight are generally too busy fighting the fight to advertise or "speechify" what they're doing. They are too engaged making a difference than to tell others about it and to do their own promotion as well. In addition, don't expect too many articles or news flashes on pockets of active cooperation and efforts to get along, even when they exist, because good news doesn't tend to attract good coverage.

But do take the time to read this article. The people mentioned therein didn't seek this recognition for themselves. Thankfully, someone noticed the similarities of heart and sacrifice, decided to shine a light on it and to share it for others to be encouraged. Personally, it's great to know that while Luz and I often feel alone, the reality is that God has yet reserved "seven thousand -- all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him." May their tribes increase!


Samuel D Jackson

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Joy At Calvary

You read a passage hundreds of times. You memorize it. You study it. You preach it. But then, one day, you are gripped by its true significance and it overwhelms you! Jesus, "for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame..."
Because of His love for us and the joy He derived from doing the Father's will, He endured he intolerable. He refused to be overcome by shame, but instead scoffed at it, looked past it, focused on His mission and overcame, loving those who hated Him, forgiving those who punished Him and saving those who had mocked Him, while on the Cross! All He taught on the Sermon on the Mount, He exemplified on the Mount of Calvary!
As the tears flow, the chorus of a great hymn comes to mind,
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty,
At Calvary!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Day 40 of 40 Days of Prayer: Keep on Praying!

As we come to the end of our 40-day period of prayer, let us not close the Book or lock the doors of our prayer closets.  In his writings to the ancient church in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul gives instructions for the standard conduct expected of those who follow Jesus,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
While it is always appropriate for churches and groups of Jesus followers to issue a call to corporate or special prayer anytime, everyone who follows Jesus is expected to have a heart and mind attuned to prayer at all times, ever-ready to offer petitions for others and for God’s work in general.  Paul further instructs that this readiness should be accompanied by a joyful countenance and heart filled with thanksgiving in every life situation, knowing that such attitudes please God and demonstrate submission to His will.

Having fulfilled the 40-days of prayer, extend the streak for countless days on end, allowing the Lord to fill you with His joy!  Then, with thanksgiving, keep those you love and all the circumstances of life lifted up in prayer, knowing God cares and He will answer!
As you maintain the daily discipline of prayer, keep your eyes open for a special series of Lenten posts coming soon!  The Lord be with you all!

Your Brother in the Lord,

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Day 39 of 40 Days of Prayer: Pray For One Another’s Strength!

The Journey of faith is challenging, and trials can wear down the heartiest of the faithful.  We are admonished throughout Scripture to pray for one another.  The Apostle Paul presents a helpful example of how to pray for others to be strengthened.  He writes to the Colossian Church,
… since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience …

Paul’s requests on behalf of this church are bold, specific and filled with faith in God’s ability to deliver a righteous answer with power and sufficiency. We must pray for our churches with the same boldness, precision and faith.  As we run with perseverance, we must ask the Lord to provide the endurance and strength we need to complete the work He has given us and to build up others as they do the same.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Day 38 of 40 Days of Prayer: Raise the Temperature!

When people feel that their spiritual enthusiasm has grown either cold or lukewarm, they often wonder how they arrived at such a state? Romans 12 gives us a good indicator of what might cause such an attitude by giving instructions on how to maintain one’s fire for the faith.  It states,
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Spiritual zeal is directly connected to spiritual service.  Conversely, if one does nothing for the Lord and merely pursues the accumulation of “spiritual knowledge” or engages in pious posing with no true spiritual fruit that impacts lives, one can expect one’s enthusiasm to wither and die.

Therefore, let us engage in vigorous service for God and others, “keeping our hands on the plow,” and demonstrating our faith by our works.  By working hard for the Lord we will stoke the fires of our own hearts for God and inspire others who see what we do to glorify God and devote themselves to service as well.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Day 37 of 40 Days of Prayer: Telling the Story Everywhere You Go!

In the Book of Acts, before His ascension, Jesus instructs His disciples to be witnesses for Him,
in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Jesus wasn’t calling his team to ritualistic enterprise in familiar places.  He was calling them to share life and to share the transforming power of His Message with everyone they met, everywhere they went, inviting those they encountered to experience the transforming power of God they themselves had experienced.  It was a call not to make converts to a system but believing followers to a new way of life.

This same call remains for those of us who follow Jesus today.  Let us share the Story that has transformed our stories and invite others to walk alongside us everywhere we go!

When Specks, Logs, Kings and Trucks Collide

During the Big Game, a Ram Truck advertisement was aired that featured an exert from a lesser-known, but extremely powerful speech by Dr. Martin Luther King in which he addresses issues of economic justice, systematic poverty and the importance of dignity in work.  In the ad, the turnkey phrase is a quotation of Jesus from Matthew 23, which fits the transcendent message of the ad beautifully. In the context of the Bible passage quoted, Dr. King's words could be made to impact a variety of persons, and have the power to touch a number of souls across a wide spectrum of the social strata.

When I viewed the ad without the benefit of commentary and simple took it at face value as I saw it, the ad did not compel me to buy a Ram truck in the slightest. It did stir my heart and remind me of Jesus' call to serve regardless of one's position or financial status.  As an African-American, I ask this question; have we grown so cynical, that we parse every effort to connect with us or every sincere attempt to expose the general population to our greatness to such an extent as to reject those very efforts as meaningless or beneath us because they're not perfect?  How can peace be found when every effort to step towards peace is labeled fraudulent or conniving? 

Any human effort can be found wanting with a sufficiently discriminatory micrometer.  What is needed, some where in our land, is a place where grace and mercy applaud, embrace and reciprocate an honest effort to gain understanding and promote peace.  While I cannot tolerate those who attack us with malice and venom in their hearts, neither can I reject every earnest effort to reach out to me and establish common ground because they aren't perfect.  The same Jesus Dr. King quoted, also said,
... why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Our nation is becoming much to practiced in staring at "specks" while we knock down masses of people with the telephone poles sticking out of our faces!  Might we just try to give each other a little slack, and celebrate even the attempts made to extend meaningful and conciliatory communication towards us?  Perhaps with a dose of grace and a generous helping of mercy, a dialogue towards peace might gain traction somewhere in this land.  Accomplishing this simple feat might be the best place for us to truly begin serving one another.

Peace everyone.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Day 36 of 40 Days of Prayer: God Sightings!

When God’s power is manifested in an undeniable way, people are driven by their sense of wonder to worship!  We are learning as a church that it is just as important to allow testimonies for the celebration of answered prayer as it is to make room for requests. On the occasions people hear the answers to requests they made at some point during our journey of faith together, hearts are touched, and God is glorified!  

Elijah led God’s people in just such a time of recognition, when he called for fire from Heaven to consume the sacrifice made to the Lord as he challenged the prophets of Baal.
When the challenge was finished, God had answered in a way that was undeniable and the people responded in spontaneous worship,

“And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”

As we press on in prayer, we must not forget to share our victories in the Lord.  As we do, we encourage those around us to see God in the answers and we reaffirm that we serve a risen Savior who indeed “is in the world today.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Day 35 of 40 Days of Prayer: Pay Attention to Your Attitude!

Conflicts and challenges are bound to occur in any group, even Christian ones.  The issue is not that churches have disagreements, but rather, how they deal with the disagreements that arise.
In his first recorded letter to Jesus followers of his era, the Apostle Peter gives these closing thoughts,
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

He calls the church to pay attention to their attitudes towards one another in all of their dealings, knowing that if their attitudes are righteous, the outcomes of their disagreements will be as well. Pay attention to your attitude as you deal with brothers and sisters in Christ.  A right attitude increases the likelihood of a right outcome and preserves the unity needed to walk the walk of faith.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Day 34 of 40 Days of Prayer: Submit Yourself to A Checkup!

It is usually very easy for us to see the faults in others, and to call them into accountability by having them undergo some type of personal review or inspection.  However, we are less enthusiastic to allow ourselves to be so scrutinized.

King David experienced this kind of duplicity and wrote of it in Psalm 139.  As he considered people who have hatred and disrespect towards God, he wrote,
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
As his disdain for his enemies rose, it seems the Lord caused David to do some self-reflection, where he remembers some of his own short-comings.  Possessing a more complete perspective, David’s prayer changes.  He asks the Lord to focus on his issues.  He prays,
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

When we allow the Lord to do a check up on our own hearts, we discover that He changes our attitudes and outlooks from judgmental to merciful.  We stop looking for the faults in others and begin to deal with the challenges within us.  As we continue on the 40-day journey of prayer, may the Lord search us for any harmful ways, and lead us to the newness of life in Him!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Day 33 of 40 Days of Prayer: Love One Another!

What identifies a follower of Jesus?  Certain labels may come to some minds in exposing a Jesus follower, such as denominational affiliations or schools of theological training.  Possessing solid doctrine might be a key identifier to others, while doing the right things, such as maximizing the good and minimizing the evil might be traits that convince many more that people belong to Jesus.

While such traits might identify someone who walks with Jesus, they are not what Jesus mentions as the conclusive evidence that a group of people or individual who claim His Name, truly belong to the family of God. According to Jesus, there is one central trait that marks a person or a group as belonging to Him – love!  Jesus said,
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John, the Apostle, who was present when these words were uttered and penned them, continued to emphasize love in his other writings as well and reiterated the theme of love.  John recorded this directive for all those who would claim to walk with Jesus,
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love … Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Therefore,let us lay “aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking” as instructed by the Apostle Peter in his first letter, knowing such behavior can weaken our fellowship and hinder our prayers.  Rather, let us love each other with sincerity and consistency, so that our identities will be unmistakable – that the world might know for certain we belong to Jesus!