Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What A Time, What A Time, What A Time.

“What a time, what a time, what a time!” That was just one of the comments made regarding this year’s Revival 2K12 conference. Trust me there were many more. What in the blazes was R2K12 you ask? The revival conference series is a gathering of God’s people who long to see the living God revive and renew His people’s passion for the witness of the gospel and the extension of Christ’s kingdom into the lives of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities. The conference grew out of the long time fellowship of several PCA pastors who serve multi-ethnic churches located in the northeastern part of the country. These pastors meet 4 to 6 times a year to catch up, discuss various aspects of ministry and encourage each other in the journey.

The conference has three aims; firstly to see God revive His people so that we cultivate and crave a desire to worship Him more fervently, walk before Him more diligently and witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ more actively as an end in and of itself. For us, the living God isn’t the key to the blessings we want, He is the blessing we want. Secondly, we hope that God will revive His people to the end that we will eagerly use our gifts, skills, abilities and time to engage our communities with good works and thus build bridges to declare the gospel. Finally, our prayer is that God will use His people to propel a multi-ethnic church planting movement that will significantly increase the number of mission driven, multi-ethnic churches in our suburban areas.

Why a ‘multi-ethnic’ church planting movement? Shouldn’t we just seek to start churches without bowing to the political correctness that so infects our society? The movement must be self-consciously multi-ethnic because that’s the kind of church our Lord Jesus specifically commanded us to have and the very kind that the American evangelical church has so consciously rebelled against for much of our history. The gospel of Matthew records our Lord directly telling His closest followers to make disciples (i.e. active followers who orient their lives around our Lord’s worship, His word and His witness) from people of all ethnicities, (see Matt. 28:19 where the word translated ‘nations’ is ‘ethnos’ from where we get the English term ‘ethnic’.) Thus we seek to start self-consciously multi-ethnic churches not to pander to some politically correct notion of diversity, but to finally demonstrate the biblically correct virtue of unity. For us the issue is the gospel and its implications. And in a society in which there is still a significant amount of ethnic tension, strife, separation and hostility it is the church of the living God who can demonstrate the unifying power of the gospel through mission driven churches that prize the virtues of humility, love, hospitality and sacrifice.

So this year we returned to Baltimore for our second installment which was held at Faith Christian Fellowship. And as that one sister said, from the call to worship on a stormy Friday night to the very first note of the very first song ‘what a time, what a time, what a time’. God truly met us throughout the entire weekend. He met us as we gathered for God-honoring, Christ-centered and Spirit-filled worship through the joyful singing of the FCF worship team. He met us in the moving testimony of Flo Brindle a dear young woman who is such a blessed example of His grace, power, steadfast love and faithfulness. He met us in the powerful, timely and clear preaching of Rev. Russ Whitfield, Rev. Irwyn Ince and Rev. Wy Plummer who exhorted, challenged and called us to run this race toward unity. He met us in each and every workshop where dedicated servants instructed us on issues with which the souls within our communities grapple each and every day. Issues that if we’re wise and diligent we can speak to for the sake of the witness of the gospel. God met us in a slamming holy hip-hop concert where the Brindle brothers and a few of their good friends dropped some sound, lyrical theology.

Our gracious God met us in greetings from and the presence of four of our faithful fathers in the faith who were there for the weekend. Rev. Randy Nabors and Craig Garriott followed God’s lead and began self-consciously multi-cultural church over thirty years ago long before it was even a topic of conversation with most evangelicals. Dr. Carl Ellis and Rev. Wy Plummer are truly pioneers in the PCA having settled into a denomination that for the most part seemed to have little interest in reaching beyond its core constituency. They remained faithful to God’s call on their life and we’re more than grateful to stand upon their shoulders as the Lord leads us into this next phase of ministry. God also met is in the powerful, humble and outstanding service of the FCF staff led by Pastor Stan Long. They were on time, on the ball, whether it was directing folks to the right workshops, helping to serve refreshments, getting our lunch together, recording the proceedings or just being their with a warm smile and hug.

Finally, our Lord Jesus met us with the real and refreshing fellowship of God’s people. It is s special privilege and blessing to meet, hang with and get to know folks who have a burden and share a vision for the unified witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was just scintillating to overhear and participate in conversations about what our Lord is doing and how He’ll use His people to do it. And we’re especially grateful that our good brother Wiley Rittenhouse expertly captured so much of it on film (or should we say flashdriveJ You can check out some of the photos here

So yes, what a time, what a time, what a time we had.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Joy of Blackness

This post has to do with the beauty of a sanctified appreciation of race and ethnicity.  Recently I lost a friend, one Rev. Elward D. Ellis, with whom I had gone to high school and watched with interest and admiration for as long as we knew each other.  More recently I have been at a meeting put on by some African American pastors and leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America.  The meeting was held in Baltimore at a cross cultural church, Faith Christian Fellowship.
   There were wonderful speakers and enlightening seminars, mostly about race, urban culture, and cross cultural church issues.  Some of the folks there had known my friend Elward when they were younger, and when he was  younger.  One of the observations made about Elward was that he loved being a black man, he was thrilled in his blackness and for it, and he celebrated black culture and history. 
    One of the joyful things about that fact was that he did not find that appreciation for his own ethnicity by way of reacting against white people, or by seeing himself in opposition to racism.  Elward was of course very conscious of racism, outspoken and articulate about injustice.  His positive joy in being black was one of self conscious awareness of the beauty of his people and his own dramatic and artistic soul gave expression to the beauty of his people and their statement of legtimacy as a culture.  I suppose his love and celebration of people as individuals helped him at times over the hurdle of simply seeing people as a race or as enemies. 
   I know he mourned over what he once referred to as "Christian piss" being thrown in his face.  By this he meant the real history of horrible things done in the name of Christianity.   As Elward I love the Lord Jesus Christ and often see him in opposition to things done in his name.  Obviously Christian apologists are stuck with unpleasant facts about the hypocrisy of Christendom.  Thankfully there is none of that in Christ himself, or else he wouldn't and couldn't be the Christ.  Elward was a Christian and a black man and found no contradiction in those two things, and rather in fact found the one to be redeeming of the other.
    Why should being black need redemption?  Is it not a denial of the glory of race pride to admit it needs redemption?  Yes, it is a denial of the glory of race pride because that left to itself does not elevate a people but brings it into such narcissistic self absorption that it not only becomes obnoxious to other people groups but deprives itself of the oxygen of a legitimate and objective standard of glory.  That glory must come from the God of glory who made us in his own image, and refects that glory in various hues and colors, various languages and cultures, and exposes the corruption of sinfulness and how that corruption robs every people group of the power to be what God meant them to be.  Redemption is a life set free, a deliverance from the bondage of guilt and the power of sin, and a restoration of what has been broken, either from the oppression from others or the oppression of our own weakness and proneness to evil.  This is true for all people groups.
    Elward's joy in who he was and in his people was not a starry eyed denial of the destructive power of racism or poverty or drugs or any other manifestation of generalized sin.  For Elward those things were the great challenge and thus the great triumph once those things were overcome in a person's life, by grace and by faith.  Elward believed black folks were beautiful but more fully beautiful once they were in Christ and able to think beyond race without denying it.
   I enjoy Scottish people who revel in being Scottish, and the Dutch, the Irish too, and even the English.  I am thrilled to be an American.  What a mess we all are without Christ, and without living honestly and humbly in the love of Christ, and without needing to see ourselves standing on the necks or riding on the backs of any other people.
    I was glad to be among black folks at the recent revival who loved being black and being with other black folks, and who didn't think that meant making any of us white folk feel like we had lost the right to be forgiven, or to be loved.  Well, maybe we did lose that right, but that is what grace does, it gives you what you no longer have a right to have; mercy and reconciliation.