Opposite Gospel

One of the ways I seek to develop my preaching is by listening to sermons from a wide variety of preaching styles. I usually listen to brothers within my theological family such as Tim Keller, Eric Mason, Ligon Duncan, and Russ Whitfield, but I am also beginning to listen to preaching from popular mega-church preachers such as TD Jakes and Steven Furtick. I want to glean from their obvious gifting and communication techniques. Listening to these men encourages me to become a better communicator.

But in the process of learning, I can’t help but be deeply grieved. Yesterday, I listened to TD Jakes preach on the story of Mephibosheth from 2 Samuel 9. You may remember that God took the kingdom away from King Saul because of his disobedience. Then Saul became the sworn enemy of God’s anointed successor, David. Eventually, Saul and his sons were killed, and David ascended to the throne. But David, a man after God’s own heart, wanted to show kindness to one of Saul’s remaining descendants. So he brought Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson who was “crippled in his feet,” into the palace to “eat at the king’s table like one of the king’s sons.”

Jakes opened the sermon with a very powerful illustration. He asked the audience if anyone had a $100 bill. A lady quickly came down and Jakes exchanged it for $20s. But he only gave her $60. In the awkward moment that followed, he began to explain that she had been “shortchanged.” Jakes then preached for 55 minutes about how people are shortchanged in life because of neglect and abuse, poverty and sickness. He compared this to how Mephibosheth lost the kingdom and how he was dropped as a baby, none of which was his own doing. Jakes said, “You’ve been shortchanged, but God’s going to put you on somebody’s mind who is in a position to restore what you lost!” Jakes closed the sermon by paying back the lady from the crowd and giving her even more cash than she started with. You could feel how this resonated with the crowd. It was a powerful rhetorical moment.

But here’s the problem. People walk away from that message feeling like they are victims that have been shortchanged, and worse, that God owes them something. This entitlement attitude is the essence of what is often called the “prosperity gospel.” But the true gospel is just the opposite. God doesn’t owe us anything. We are the ones who owe a debt to God because of our sins, and it is a debt we can never pay. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are not just innocent victims who’ve been shortchanged in life. We are God’s enemies who deserve death. The true gospel is the message that God shows kindness to his enemies, like David did to Mephibosheth. By his grace, God forgives our debt because Jesus gave his life as full payment. Like King David, God not only forgives us, but brings us into a place of honor. We are seated with Mephibosheth at the King’s table, not because we deserve it, but because of God’s bountiful grace!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think TD Jakes is trying to help people, and I have mad respect for his leadership and oratory skills, but getting the gospel right is a matter of eternal life or death.

“For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

Fear Not

You’ve seen that illustration with the rocks, haven’t you? If you put the little rocks in the jar first, you won’t have room for the big rocks. But if you reverse the order, prioritizing the important things, then you’ll have plenty of room in your life for the little things, too. I love the imagery, but it’s never quite worked out for me in real life.

I was sharing some of these frustrations with a friend last month, and he suggested that I write out a prayer to express my deepest fears to God. It was a terrifyingly honest experience. I filled three pages of my journal, digging deep into the things that paralyze me, and I asked God to help me overcome.

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This week, I listened to a podcast called “How to Finally Beat Procrastination.” As the psychologist described the negative internal effects of procrastination, something she said jumped out: “You may feel that you are a fraud.” This reminded me of something I’d written in my “fears prayer,” so I looked it up. Sure enough, I had written, “I fear that I’ll be seen as the fraud that I know I am.” I was intrigued. What does feeling like a fraud have to do with procrastination?

The psychologist explained that most procrastinators are not actually slackers, but perfectionists. Delaying important tasks is rooted in a deep fear of failure. Here’s how it works: procrastinators wait until the last minute and then scramble to “pull it off.” When the result is predictably less than perfect (or even really bad), the procrastinator blames it on not having enough time. So you see, procrastination is self-sabotage. A procrastinator never has to deal with absolute failure because they never take time to do their best. Hence, the feeling of fraudulence.

This cut me deep. I was ashamed. But for the first time, I understood why my efforts to overcome through better productivity methods had never really worked. This was a spiritual struggle. It was a struggle to believe and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ. God was using my “fears prayer” and this random podcast to graciously reveal my sinful perfectionism. It is a false god that demands my allegiance and delivers nothing but fear of failure and feelings of being a fraud.

This Christmas, I am believing the words of the angel: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). “Fear not.” Rather than seeking perfection in myself, I am finding it in Jesus. He was born of a virgin, the Son of God incarnate, and he was humanity’s second chance at obedience and faithfulness. The good news of great joy is that Jesus did it. He lived a righteous human life, always doing his best without procrastinating. Through faith in Him, I am forgiven of my sin, my shame is covered, and my guilt is nailed to the cross. With Jesus as my Perfection, I can risk doing the big things first. I have nothing to fear.

Merry Christmas!

The Next 500 Years

Tuesday marked the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the seminal act that sparked the Protestant Reformation, a movement that recovered the biblical Gospel; the good news that salvation is received by grace alone through faith alone.

Last Sunday, a group from New City gathered with other churches in our presbytery in Charleston to unite in praise for what God has done and in anticipation of what He is going to do. Rev. Howard Brown preached an unexpected sermon on Matthew 10. It was unexpected because it did not focus on rehearsing the glories of the past, but on Jesus’ urgent call for continual Reformation here in the South where the church is still largely divided along racial lines.

Sharing from personal grief and baring his own sinful soul and need for God’s grace, Rev. Brown urged the congregation to “engage in conversations about how and why our denomination is so white.” Why are we complacent about this? Why do we often ignore the pain of our black and brown neighbors whom Christ has called us to love? In Matthew 10, Jesus calls us to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as [we] go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:6–8).

The call to go to “the lost sheep of Israel” means embracing their suffering, being misunderstood and rejected by those closest to us. Jesus said, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Anyone who brings up the sin of racism in polite, Southern churches will meet a similar fate that the disciples did. But in the face of this, we were urged to lay down our anger and pride. Rev. Brown proclaimed, “Jesus gave [us] HIS power to go and be reformational. It is out of his power and his righteousness and not ours.” That is the central message of the Protestant Reformation (i.e., It’s not about you.) and this is the grace we need to carry the movement forward, addressing the entrenched sins of the modern church.

It won’t be clean or easy. The Protestant Reformation certainly wasn’t. So let us begin the next 500 years by deepening our faith in the finished work of Christ and walking in his love toward all our neighbors.

Weekend with Nabors

This weekend, we were blessed to have Rev. Randy Nabors in town. He is the founding pastor of New City Fellowship, PCA in Chattanooga, TN. Randy now serves as the coordinator for urban and mercy ministries with Mission to North America, PCA. He also leads the New City Network, which seeks to connect and serve churches that are urban, cross-cultural, include the poor, have joyful worship, and have sound biblical preaching. He was here this weekend to offer training and support for ministry in Orangeburg. We kept him busy. Thank you Randy!

Randy preaching at Trinity PCA

https://www.buzzsprout.com/28545/556657-theology-ethnicity-and-culture-acting-in-line-with-the-gospel

New City 101: ministry training

Good and Pleasant

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity! ––Psalm 133:1

Last week, after a few hundred torch-wielding racists dominated the headlines, a friend texted me, “Just thought of you and Laurie. Do you think we should have a community prayer gathering?” It was a great idea. My wheels started spinning.

I shot off a couple emails and messages to local pastors and friends. We need to pray together. We need to mourn these evil expressions of racism and ask God to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Our City Councilwomen loved the idea, and before I knew it, the Memorial Plaza was reserved––complete with police protection and a sound system. Another friend volunteered to write a series of prayers and Scripture meditations to serve as a guide.

And then I got an unexpected phone call.

The NAACP was also planning a prayer vigil, and both groups had already laid fairly solid plans by the time we knew we were running parallel. So I called a business owner whose personal mission is connecting the dots of Orangeburg. He brilliantly suggested that since both events were already planned, we could simply promote them as a “series of prayer gatherings.” He put me in touch with the local NAACP president, and later that day, I was sitting down in her office discussing how we could pull this off––together.

We gathered for prayer on Sunday night at the historic Trinity UMC where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had addressed the congregation in 1959. The prayer vigil was scheduled just one hour before New City’s monthly preview service, so an apologetic group of New City folks had to leave early. Then on Wednesday night, we all met at the Memorial Plaza downtown where we joined generations of believers who have gathered there to pray for unity and peace in Jesus’ name.

I love it when God pulls a plan together.

Preview Worship

This weekend, we will hold our third Preview Service and Cookout at Southern Methodist College. Worship has been such a blessing! Our musicians have led us in joyful praise, and we have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper. I am preaching a series of sermons entitled, “The Gospel Alone,” which covers Faith, Christ, Grace, Scripture, and God’s Glory. We’ve averaged 60 people in attendance including volunteers from supporting churches who drove down to assist with childcare and setup. We are aiming to begin weekly worship on September 10th!

This week, I am representing New City Fellowship at the PCA’s General Assembly in Greensboro, NC. I am thankful to be part of a denomination that not only proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also takes repentance and racial reconciliation seriously. One of the ways we see the Gospel bearing fruit is illustrated in this photo:

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We are being led by Korean-American Moderator, Rev. Alexander Jun and African-American Chairman of the Overtures Committee, Rev. Irwin Ince. The unity and diversity of the church are on display in the Presbyterian Church in America. Praise God!

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Thank you for continuing to support this mission church so that we can take the time that is required to be an intentionally cross-cultural church. By God’s grace, this preview service will not only be a preview of what we hope New City Fellowship will look like in the near future, but it will also be a preview of what worship will look like in heaven––where every tribe and tongue will join together in one shout of praise to God!

Soli Deo Gloria!

#OneHellOfANight

There was a party at the frat house two doors down over the weekend, and this morning our street was littered with dozens of these tiny square flyers. They are topped by a trinity of attractive women in suggestive poses inviting college students to #OneHellOfANight at Club Indulgence.


As I collected the trash, my temperature rose. I am angry that the Devil’s siren-call deceives our young men and women into lying down on this deathbed of debauchery and self-destruction.

And then I noticed the date. Friday, April 14th… Good Friday, April 14th.

Oh, the irony of this evil hashtag! If only they knew that the penalty of sin is death. If only they knew that all who indulge in the flesh will reap the wrath of God. If only they knew that Hell really does await all who walk in disobedience.

Lord, have mercy!

If only they knew that God offers forgiveness to all who repent and believe in the Gospel. If only they knew that Jesus lived the life we should have lived. If only they knew that Jesus suffered #OneHellOfANight so that we don’t have to!

When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” … And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-34, 38-39)

Please pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit as God’s people spread the Gospel of Truth into every deceptive stronghold of the Enemy.

White Jesus

Recently, I attended a forum called “Race Relations and the Role of the Church” hosted by Claflin University. During the Q&A a black man stood to ask a very probing question. “Why should we continue to allow ourselves to be led around and dominated by a religion that was forced upon our ancestors? We need to embrace our own African spiritual practices instead of following the white man’s God.”Silence.

The panelists did not even attempt to answer the man’s question, but simply referred him to a book he could read. I was very disappointed and disheartened.

Over and over in my conversations with African Americans, I have heard this objection: “Jesus was white. Therefore, Christianity is a white man’s religion.” It’s easy for us to simply dismiss this claim and avoid dealing with the substance behind it. But if we are going to effectively proclaim the gospel to all nations and live in Christian unity, we must eliminate man-made barriers to the message. One of these barriers is how we portray Jesus.

In Western society, Jesus has generally been pictured as a light-skinned, blue-eyed, slender-featured, long-flowing-haired man of European descent. Pick up almost any children’s Bible and you will find a white Jesus. He graces the wall of many a Christian home. Church windows are stained with his image.

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But “White Jesus” is historically inaccurate. The Bible doesn’t say much about his physical appearance, but we know enough to know that a white, blue-eyed Jesus is completely off base. He was born to a Middle Eastern Jewish family. And that means he inherited certain physical qualities and genetic characteristics. He most likely had black hair, dark eyes, and brown skin.It is natural to think of Jesus with skin on, but the second commandment actually forbids us to make an image of God. “You shall not make for yourself a [graven] image… You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4–6). As Christians, we confess the deity of Jesus, so this command applies to Him as well as to the Father and to the Spirit. Making an image of Jesus is breaking God’s law, and since we don’t know exactly what He looked like, it always creates a false impression of God the Son. So we end up worshipping not the Jesus of the Bible but a “white Jesus” created in our own image. That’s idolatry.

Why has this false image of Jesus been so damaging to the Christian witness among African Americans? This is the hard part.

We need to recognize ways that Western Christianity has been influenced and shaped by this false image of God. When our ancestors broke the second commandment by imagining a white Jesus, they also broke the first, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Euro-centric views of the world were rooted in idolatry, and commissioned images of a white Jesus served as graven images to this false god. And like all false gods, destruction ensued. This idolizing of white culture fueled and legitimized the European conquest and exploitation of darker-skinned native peoples around the world.The sin of idolizing a culture has had devastating consequences for the church and still has repercussions today. I felt it during the race relations forum in the awkward silence of that moment.

But there is hope. God stands ready to forgive those who repent and believe the Gospel.

Jesus was not a white man, but he was a real man. He was descended from one specific ethnic group, the family of Abraham. And through this family we can trace the promised “offspring of the woman” (Genesis 3:15) to the miraculous conception of “the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God the Son became flesh in order that He might free us from our captivity to all kinds of false gods, including the god of cultural pride, displayed in a white Jesus. And in his body on the cross, he broke down the dividing wall of hostility, bringing reconciliation with God and among believers of every tribe and tongue.

By God’s grace, we can face and confess these ugly realities with confidence in our Savior, without fear and without ongoing guilt. Let us consider how we might tear down the idols of our culture and proclaim the glory of the one true God, our hope of salvation.

Interruptions

One of the privileges of serving in ministry full time is being able to respond to interruptions that come up during the course of the day. As I’ve shared before, “Ministry is in the interruptions.”

A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to head to my office to prepare a Bible study when Laurie stopped me. “M is starting her new job today and she just called to tell me that she has a flat tire.” “No problem. I’ll just go down there and change it for her.”

Assessing the situation, I quickly realized that the used car she had recently bought did not have the right jack or tire tool, and the one that came with my truck was too tall. Thankfully, a random guy in the parking lot had a virtual Auto Zone in his trunk. I borrowed the exact tools I needed for the job, and got some uninvited assistance thrown in.

As I began lifting the flat tire off the ground, my assistant decided that the wheels needed to be straightened, so he went over to the driver’s side and started pulling on the steering wheel. I backed away from the tottering car a bit because he was putting a lot of force on that steering wheel. With the wheels finally straightened, I finished changing the offending tire. I thanked my assistant and we parted ways.

M came out to check on the progress and I told her that I would take the car to the tire shop to get the flat plugged while she finished her first day orientation. She said I didn’t have to, but I insisted. I got in the car and turned the key. When I grasped the steering wheel, I could immediately tell something was wrong. It felt very loose in my hands and sort of swung freely. It was a used car… so maybe it was like this when she bought it? I drove the car across town and concluded that the steering column must have broken when my assistant was helpfully straightening the wheels. Can you believe it?! I thought, “This gives new meaning to the phrase, When Helping Hurts!”

Well, long story short, I ended up taking her car to a mechanic and paid to have the steering column replaced with a part that he miraculously found in an online junk yard. What should have been a 30-minute interruption turned into a 10-day service project that included carpooling, babysitting, and fundraising.

Ministry is definitely in the interruptions.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

May we see the interruptions of life as opportunities to have the mind of Christ.

We Have Hope

I went to see Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie, with my dad and brother-in-law a few days ago. Aside from being a fantastic film in its own right, I came away with an even deeper appreciation for the original 1977 film, A New HopeRogue One fills in some of the backstory and gives moviegoers a glimpse into the sacrifices of previously unknown background characters.

At the end of the movie, the Star Wars galaxy was left in a place of darkness and despair. Yet the words of protagonist Jyn Erso were still ringing in my ears, “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.” Little did she know, Luke Skywalker, their savior, was just around the corner.

That is how it was for the people of Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah:

“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

But his coming would not be grand. The narrative of Jesus’ birth is a story about previously unknown background characters who were part of a ragtag rebellion against sin and death. There was a hesitant priest, an aging woman, a busy innkeeper, a poor carpenter, a teenage mom, and a group of bewildered shepherds. These are the common people God chose to usher in the advent of a New Hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:12-13).