Thoughts from an African-American friend on George Floyd, race in America

Darnell Phillip is a friend of mine, an African-American man. On Tuesday, the day after the murder of George Floyd, he posted these thoughts. This is raw, fresh, and real. At the time, all I could post was the words, “thank you.” His words have stayed with me throughout the week, even as tensions have mounted. I have tried to stay focused in my mind on the single incident, not wanting the unrest and the riots to dilute my sense of shock and horror of that senseless act. His words have further opened my eyes; I truly do not know what it’s like to be a black man in America. I asked if I could share his words, and he agreed. I want all of us to begin to see through the eyes of others.

If you comment, please keep your comments related to his thoughts. If you bring up the riots and how they may or may not discredit or minimize the racial injustice, I will delete your comment. This is not the place to discuss that.

Darnell

“Today has just been a gut wrenching day. I’m reminded of every time that I have been pulled over by police or questioned by a position in authority. I am reminded that no one had to teach me coping mechanisms of how not to appear to be a threat. I am reminded of how I have changed my body language, altered my tone, dressed differently, or walked to the other side of the street as to give you space and made you comfortable. And why do I do these things? Because this nation has taught black men that the consequences of not doing them can be deadly.

“I think of the ways that we have explained it, the lengths we have gone to demand a voice and a place within this society. When we held back our hand and refused to adopt methods of violence, we were hosed and assassinated. When we decided that we must stand up for ourselves by any means necessary, We were vilified and assassinated. We were ridiculed for kneeling during the star spangled banner when no one else would seek change.

“I remember the ways that my hands gripped the wheel each time I drove through long sections of Southern states anxious that I may have a tail light out and a reason to be pursued. And I could comfort myself with the notion that the South is the only region that I would need to avoid. The South has been the epicenter of black suffering and trauma the effects of which are still prevalent today. But that would only be a delusion. These stories of murder at the hands of those sworn to protect us hail from NYC, Baltimore, Minnesota, as well as New Orleans, Ferguson, Florida and too many other places to name. The fact is that this is an American problem. Not a regional thing. Or a blue or red thing. Or a religious thing.

“The most disheartening thing that I experience is people who claim ‘well, we were not there and it’s easy to make a judgment about a video but you don’t know what he did to provoke that kind of attention.’ Or the way that people will scour a black victims social media to find anything that would suggest that he deserved to die. It sickens me when I think that white supremacists have been arrested after killing in cold blood American citizens while black men have been murdered in broad daylight without resisting arrest. I have no easy answers for those who want to help. There are no convenient ways that we as Americans can begin to set right what is so broken within our own society. It’d be so easy for our conscience to donate to a fund because in our own detached way we could convince ourselves that we were in an active role for seeking change. POC don’t need saviors (in any non-religious sense), but we certainly could use allies. People brace enough to speak up and admit that enough is enough. We won’t have any solutions until we can admit what we as a society have done wrong. Can you see America putting down its pride long enough to make that kind of restitution? Right now to be completely honest it doesn’t seem likely. However, I have been encouraged by the people who have asked I wanted someone to vent to or asked how we can help.”

John MacArthur on COVID-19, church closures, NT Wright, God’s sovereignty in pestilence

There is a fair amount of posturing and hysteria online these days. As usual, pastor John MacArthur has a biblical, measured response (originally posted 4/23/20) on the issues facing the Church and Christians in these days. Fair warning – there is a small tipping of his pre-Tribulational views. If you don’t buy into that, don’t let that keep you from this excellent analysis. The first 15 minutes or so covers the questions surrounding the closing of churches on the recommendation/mandate of the State. Theological and pastoral.

Thinking Biblically About the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Interview with John MacArthur

Embrace mystery: thoughts on Ephesians 1:3-14

The following is a portion of a chapter I have written on Ephesians 1:3-14. It is a part of a book I am writing: Framework: Passages That Teach Theology (working title).

There is mystery in these verses; embrace it! Whenever I discuss the issue of the sovereignty of God with other believers, invariably objections are raised. If God has predestined us for salvation, then what about free will? Why should we share the gospel? Why should I even pray? These are all good questions, but I urge you to pump the brakes a little on those questions and simply meditate on the truths that are plainly stated. “The words speak of a mystery, but words could not be plainer.”

All too often, believers look at a passage like this and immediately go in to denial-mode. “Since I know this is true, then that can’t mean…” And what ends up happening in our thoughts is that the truths about God we see plainly stated are mitigated and softened. And before you know it, we’ve created a mental picture of God that we can be comfortable with but is a distortion of what the Bible reveals.

The closer we come to truths about God, the more mystery there is. We will not be able to “figure it out.” If you can’t reconcile God’s sovereignty with mankind’s being held responsible for their sins, then you’re in a good place! Don’t try to reconcile two irreconcilable truths. Embrace the mystery.

Article link: David Mathis on reading the Bible

I have a passion for God’s people to know God’s Word. In short, it’s a passion for biblical literacy. That’s not my term; you see it used often. I define it as –

A biblically literate person is able to apply the skills of language, literature, and logic to passages of the Bible, comparing one with another, so that the reader is able to accurately determine the meaning of a passage and to grasp its place in the greater story that God is telling.

25 Bible Passages You Should Know, Mark Knox

There are many articles, books, and tools that can help the believer better understand the Bible. David Mathis has written an excellent one on DesiringGod.org. He’s said it so well. Read it. Share it.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-read-the-bible-better

I am writing a book, 25 Bible Passages You Should Know. Read about it here.

Thoughts on writing a book

I’m writing a book.

Yeah, I know; I’m nuts. There are a million reasons why that’s a fool’s errand. But there are a few compelling reasons to give it a go. One is my passion.

I have a passion for the Bible, and particularly that God’s people know it. There is so much error about these days, and it moves so quickly. God’s people are confused, undiscerning. Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures.” (Acts 18:24) Many today are not.

A number of years ago, I began a list to identify what I thought were the 100 Most Important Passages in the Bible. I’m pretty sure the list is incomplete, but it got me thinking on this theme. If I had to boil down the Bible to its most important parts, what are they?

Now, I know that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) But that’s not to say that we couldn’t point someone to some of the key passages to begin our understanding. Whether it’s the “Romans Road” of the Gospel, or even a solitary verse like John 3:16, we make choices all the time to decide what to study and teach.

So, the idea for the book, 25 Bible Passages You Should Know, was born.

As I begin to work on this book (and hope to complete by the end of 2020), I want to explain some of my thoughts at the outset.

  1. This book is for the purpose of biblical literacy.

    As I said earlier, my passion is for God’s people to know God’s Word, and many don’t. So the focus is going to be more on the content of the Bible than on the application of the Bible. Besides, I believe the better the knowledge of the content, the better the application. Too much writing in popular Christian literature today leads with application. We’ve become a Church full of Christian “How-to” books. While there will be practical implications, this is not a “How-to” manual.

  2. This is not a book of “favorite passages.”

    One of my friends with whom I shared my idea said, “You better put in Isaiah 1; that’s my favorite passage in the Bible!” Well, that’s a great passage, but it’s probably not going to make the cut. I told my friend, maybe volume 2. There are many passages in the Bible that are personal favorites, but in choosing passages, I turned my eye toward those that would give the reader a strong historical and theological framework to understand the message of the whole.

    Some of your favorites won’t be there. Some of mine won’t as well. Sorry, Hebrews 12.

  3. The process of selecting only 25 passages is tougher than I imagined.

    Initially, I thought I might complete my mind game from earlier and include 100 passages. But as I imagined how deep I might go with each passage, 100 was just too many. I thought about 13, which is handy for teaching curricula, since 13 weeks constitutes a quarter, and this might fit well for church groups to use as a study tool. I eventually settled on just over 2 dozen as a sweet spot.

    My planning board has undergone numerous changes as I move passages from the Maybe Pile or onto the Cutting Room Floor. Just yesterday, I realized that I’d omitted an extremely important passage. Even as I write, the selections will probably change.

    I believe in the end I will be moderately satisfied. If Chris Bruno can write a book, The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses (2015, Crossway), I can do this.

  4. I am targeting this book to both new and long-time believers.

    This is not a scholarly text. There will be theology, and I’m not avoiding some of the tough questions. But in my ministry with believers, I’ve found many who simply don’t have any grasp on the story and structure of the Bible. Therefore, they lack the ability to study the Word for themselves and are especially susceptible to false teaching.

    Therefore, I’m targeting my book to this kind of reader. I hope that a new Christian will be able to absorb the writing without feeling overwhelmed. And I hope that a saint further along in the process will be challenged to thinking more deeply about the Gospel and the story of Jesus.

    I anticipate very little analysis of original languages, only so much as is necessary. I won’t avoid theological discussion, but it won’t be every little nuance or questions.

I invite your prayers as I pursue this. I need discipline to write when I’m tired or have other things I want to do. I need wisdom to know what to say and what not to say.

As I finish here, I want your feedback. What passage(s) would you include? It will be interesting to see if yours match mine.

Five Intelligible Words to Instruct

I was reading in 1 Corinthians 14 the other day, and I came to Paul’s words comparing and contrasting speaking in tongues vis a vis speaking in prophecy, one being unintelligible and the other being understandable and therefore edifying to the church. In verse 19, he says, “Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand in a tongue.”

Now, I know that Paul is speaking in hyperbole in order to make the point of his preference for prophecy, but my literal mind questioned, “What could you possibly say in 5 words that could instruct?” And my mind answered, “Challenge accepted!”

So, I began to list some 5-word sentences/phrases that are rich in doctrinal truth and teaching, some directly from Scripture and others inferred from the Bible. Any of these would make for some great self-talk or preaching-the-gospel-to-yourself talk.

May these 5 words spur you on to deeper thinking and talk.

In the beginning God created. (Gen. 1:1)

The Lord is my shepherd. (Ps. 23:1)

God sovereignly saves believing sinners. (Eph. 2:1-10)

In all ways acknowledge him. (Prov. 3:6)

All things work for good. (Rom. 8:28) This cannot stand alone, without the surrounding context to show for whom all things work for good – namely, “those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Without those qualifiers, this would be sentimentalism.

I am crucified with Christ. (Gal. 2:20)

God so loved the world. (John 3:16)

There is now no condemnation. (Rom. 8:1)

We have peace with God. (Rom.5:1)

He chose us in Christ. (Eph. 1:4)

He predestined us for adoption. (Eph. 1:5)

Put off your old self. (Eph. 4:22)

We groan as we wait. (Rom. 8:23)

Maybe 5 words is all you need. For all the volumes of books and blogs, 5 words can say much.

What are some truths you can express in only 5 words?

Article link: Skillet’s John Cooper on Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders

In light of recent announcements of a couple of well-known Christian influencers announcing their abandonment of the faith they once professed, I hope to have some comments of my own in the next few days. In the meantime, Cogent Christianity has posted an extended quote from John Cooper of the rock band Skillet. Very insightful thoughts from a well-known musician. Think I’ll have to become a Skillet fan.

https://cogentchristianity.com/2019/08/13/skillets-john-cooper-on-apostasy-among-young-christian-leaders/

Please give this a careful read, and let me know what you think in the comments.

Thoughts on the Sovereign Sender

What follows is part of an ongoing series of articles that discuss places in Scripture where the sovereign plan and working of God are clearly seen to intersect with time.  Rather than trying to fit these descriptions into a pre-determined theological understanding, I aim to let these revealed descriptions stand for themselves. See other articles in this series here.

When we discuss the sovereignty of God in salvation, an objection is usually quickly raised. “If God has determined who will be saved, why should we bother to evangelize and preach the gospel, if it’s going to happen anyway?” Such a question, while understandable, exhibits a deficient knowledge of both the Bible’s teaching and the doctrine of sovereignty itself.

As the 1689 London Baptist Confession states, “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so He hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto.” (Chapter 3, “Of God’s Decree,” paragraph 6, emphasis added) God has ordained that he will save the elect by the preaching of the gospel, and not apart from it. We read in Romans 10: 14-15a, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

Paul final question in that series takes the sovereign work of God back to the very sending of the messenger. We don’t often ponder this, that the Sovereign Lord is working not only in the calling and saving of the elect, but also in the sending of those through whom the gospel is proclaimed.

When Jesus saw the crowds that his preaching and healing were drawing, he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37) I’ve often found this fascinating. Why didn’t Jesus just say that the workers are few, so GO! Why did he instruct them to pray for the Lord of the harvest to SEND workers? As I considered this recently, it became clear to me that the emphasis here is that God is the Sovereign Lord of the harvest, and this includes not only the reaping of elect souls but also the very sending of the messengers.

Paul echoes these thoughts in 1 Corinthians 3:5: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” The Sovereign Lord has not only chosen his elect but also assigned those through whom the Word is preached.

This is an amazing truth and so necessary for our thinking. It is only in this way – that God is sovereign over every step in the chain of redemption – that we can maintain the glory going to Christ. If we only understand the ends being foreordained but not the means, then we rob God of his glory. And God will not share his glory with another. (Isaiah 42:8)

So ponder these truths. Praise the Sovereign Sender, who in his grace appointed the preachers, the parents, the Sunday School teachers, the youth pastors, the friends who would boldly proclaim the gospel to you and reap the harvest.

Question: Who in your life was instrumental in bringing the gospel to you? Have you thanked them? Have you thanked God for them?

Article link: Trade Self-Help for God-Help

Inasmuch as this blog at times becomes advisory – whether of leadership, productivity, or the like – it would be easy to think of my writing as in the genre of “self-help.” And while some of the things I write share similarities to self-help literature, my articles are intended to look at the various topics from a biblically-informed world-view.

That said, “self-help” would not be an apt description for my writing. This leads me to commend to you a wonderful article from Desiring God by Greg Morse, entitled “Trade Self-Help for God-Help.” This article embodies the perspective I share when considering issues that could better our lives, a perspective that puts God and Jesus Christ clearly at the center.

Enjoy.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/trade-self-help-for-god-help