Memo From SBC Headquarters

We’ve all heard it hundreds of times—SBC Headquarters is the local church and not some denominational agency. If this line is nothing more than a misleading notion humbly tossed out under the pretense of sounding spiritual, then we should stop saying things we do not really mean. However, if it is indeed true, since I represent one and only one such local church, I am compelled to submit this memo from my SBC Headquarters Branch to every Southern Baptist institution in general and to the ERLC in particular. It is our policy here at headquarters to extend great latitude toward our entity leaders as they appoint staff. However, since these organizations are funded by all Southern Baptists, it is certainly within our right to address the vetting process used in such leadership selection.

On September 11, 2013, Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention approved President Russell Moore’s appointment of five new staff members—Phillip Bethancourt, Joe Carter, Daniel Darling, Trillia Newbell and Daniel Patterson. Though not at all unqualified due to any lack of competence or character, most of these candidates should nevertheless have been disqualified in the vetting process due to their denominational affiliation—or lack thereof. Personally, I have nothing at all against these individuals. I do not even know them. I bear no animus or ill will in my heart toward them. I pray God will bless them and their families profoundly as they serve in His Kingdom.

To be clear, I do not advocate their removal from Southern Baptist office. Rather, I am simply asserting they should never have been hired in the first place and urging that we never do this again. In doing so, I stand on the principle that the leaders of a denominational organization should first of all be members. Before ever serving in elected public office, a politician should already be a citizen. Before one is ever made a teacher or a deacon at a church, one should already be a member of that church. Faithful Southern Baptists should select leaders who are already faithful Southern Baptists themselves. Unfortunately, on the day these five employees were hired, only two were even members of a Southern Baptist Church:

  Phillip Bethancourt   Southern Baptist   Highview Baptist
  Joe Carter   Non-Denominational   Grace Community
  Daniel Darling   Non-Denominational   Gages Lake Bible
  Trillia Newbell   Sovereign Grace   Cornerstone Church
  Daniel Patterson   Southern Baptist   Highview Baptist





Concerned that outside influencers might lead the SBC in directions more consistent with their own religious identity than ours, I contacted ERLC Trustee Board Chairman, Dr. Richard Piles, inquiring about one of the three candidates specifically. He assured me this man would join a Southern Baptist Church soon after his relocation. I trust that by now all of these appointees have joined our denomination. In future Southern Baptist vetting processes, let us insist upon membership as a prerequisite for leadership. For many years, we have frowned upon the practice of missionary dating  in our youth groups. Let us not experiment with the practice of missionary hiring  in our staffing decisions—adding to our SBC membership rolls by selecting leaders outside of our denomination and bringing them on board by starting them at the top.

One related concern with these candidates that simply cannot be overlooked is a disturbing juxtaposition discovered by placing their denominational affiliation side by side with their theological orientation—only two are Southern Baptists but all five are Calvinists, as evidenced by the clear connection in every single case with an organization known as the Gospel Coalition, whose confessional statement is unquestionably reformed.

At this point, Calvinists sometimes employ a fairly agile sidestep by insisting they are merely Amyraldists—four pointers whose view of the atonement disaffirms limited sufficiency  while preserving limited efficiency. However, the principal thrust of Calvinism remains in both of these varieties. Man’s depravity is still viewed as his total inability to exercise libertarian free will apart from his prior unconditional election by God. Those fortunate enough to receive this unconditional election are regenerated, after which they cannot possibly resist God’s grace and will therefore become believers. Of course, those souls so unfortunate that they do not receive God’s unconditional election must endure His equally irresistible wrath. Four point Calvinism may rescue one from Limited Atonement, but it fails to negate Calvinistic determinism. Frankly, it is fair to consider all five of these writers, speakers and participants in the Gospel Coalition to be Calvinists.

What conclusions are we to draw when a slate of five candidates for leadership in a Southern Baptist institution is 100% Calvinist but only 40% Southern Baptist? Such disparity appears to view being a Calvinist as mandatory  and being a Southern Baptist as optional. Here at headquarters, the only legitimate approach is precisely the opposite—being a Southern Baptist should be mandatory  while being a Calvinist should be optional. If a day ever comes when another slate of ERLC appointments is 100% Gospel Coalition and only 40% Southern Baptist, then let it be the day when this institution’s name has been formally changed to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Gospel Coalition.

If these leadership selections were to represent proportionally the theological commitments of all Southern Baptists who financially support the ERLC, then all five of them would have been Southern Baptists, while only one would have been a Calvinist. Twenty percent is a much more reasonable estimate of the Calvinistic influence in our convention than one hundred percent. Selecting a totally Calvinist slate both antagonizes and marginalizes the traditional Southern Baptist majority that serves as the financial base of the ERLC. I, for one, find myself extremely hard pressed to support financially any institution that so clearly values being a Calvinist more highly than being a Southern Baptist.

I am confident the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, along with every other Southern Baptist institution receiving this memo, is well versed in what happens when Americans feel yoked by a sense of taxation without representation, that nagging consciousness that we are placing money into the coffers of organizations in which we are afforded an ever diminishing degree of influence. Although our money is gladly received, our suggestions are ignored and our place at the table is removed. If future Southern Baptist leadership slates do not better represent the identity, culture and theology of the people actually paying the bills, then at some point—and we are getting very close—all the alienated Southern Baptists will finally tire of paying King George for his arrogant indifference, and will simply exercise their libertarian free will as they completely immerse their sweet tea in the harbor.

Not Just a Black Holiday


Every year in January, government offices, the USPS, and many schools close in observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday. In my area, several schools with a majority white population are remaining open today. The rationale? “It’s not OUR holiday, so why should we celebrate it?” In my conversations with white friends, and my experience in majority white communities, I see a reluctance by many to observe the day on the grounds that MLK day is a “black” holiday. As a white Christian, I could not disagree more.

Martin Luther King day is MY day, it’s OUR day. Dr. King’s vision of a society where all men and women were free and treated equally is not a black ideal, it’s a human one and a distinctly Christian one. True, King arose at a particular time in history and for the particular cause of African-Americans in an unjust and segregated society. The Civil Rights movement had and has particular significance for African-Americans in their four-century struggle. But King’s ideals – his dream – extends far beyond the historical moment in which he arose. America does not observe MLK Day merely to celebrate a man, but to celebrate and champion the vision for which he lived and died.

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail,[1] Dr. King reminds us that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In that letter, King chides the white church for its tepid response to the injustice of blacks. He lamented the “lukewarm acceptance” of white Christians toward their Black brothers and the “shallow understanding” of their plight. Now, fifty years later, much of the social landscape has changed. The victories of the Civil Rights movement have meant greater freedom and equality for all. Yet, while Jim Crow has come to an end, there remains inequality, injustice, and racism in the world. While overt prejudice has declined, the Sunday worship hour remains “the most segregated hour in America.” We still have a ways to go, and as long as there is human sin, there will be the need to stand for liberty and justice for all.

MLK Day is not merely a celebration of a man nor his particular cause to end segregation in this country. It is a celebration of a godly vision. For Christians, it provides an opportunity to affirm our belief that “God created man in His own image” and that “every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”[2] As Baptists, it gives us an occasion to recommit ourselves to our “obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society,” to “oppose racism,” to “contend for the sanctity of all human life” and “seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.”[3] Let us take advantage of this Federal holiday to affirm the thoroughly Christian values that it is intended to celebrate.

The fact that many see MLK Day as a “black” holiday, I believe, is a symptom of the same attitudes that King observed from his jail cell. While we white Christians are “people of good will,” we look at the world with the false notion that, for the most part, there is justice and equality for African-Americans and other minorities. We don’t see that we have a “shallow understanding” of the issues that African-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities face. When it comes to racism, we look at the people we know and at our own hearts and believe racism is uncommon and rare. We remain willfully blind to the social structures that continue to favor the majority and erect barriers for success to people of color. We examine our own attitudes toward race and give the self-evaluation “I am not a racist” while at the same time making assumptions about people of other races and acting with partiality. We declare ourselves open to fellowship with our brothers of other races and ethnicities but do not pursue such fellowship with any kind of urgency or priority. We agree with the Bible’s assertion that in Christ we are one people of God, yet we have not moved much past the “lukewarm acceptance” that so bewildered King.

I will be celebrating Martin Luther King Day today, not merely in celebration of a man, but in solidarity with the dream he laid forth. I do so as a reminder that wherever injustice exists, I must be on the side of justice. I do so as a reminder that I must honor and value all people as made in the image of God and having inherent dignity and worth. I do so as an outworking of the gospel imperative to live as one people of God with all people who have trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do so longing for that day when people of every tribe, people, tongue and nation will worship together at His throne.




[2] BFM2000, article III,

[3] BFM2000, article XV,

From King to Obama: A Fulfillment of Jewish Prophecy? (by Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.)

In Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday January 20, 2014

Psalm 68:31
“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”

Does the Hebrew Scripture predict descendants of Africa occupying seats of worldwide political influence and power before the Lord returns? Was the election of Barack Hussein Obama a fulfillment of biblical prophecy? Does a study of Noah’s descendants throughout the Bible demonstrate a pattern of how God has operated in the history of mankind? Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have a unique sense or intuitive knowledge of the special role of Israel in world history? The answers to these questions from my vantage point are, Yes! Yes! Yes! And Yes!

My thesis is:  A study of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament regarding Noah’s sons and their descendants will indicate that the children of Ham would experience political and spiritual empowerment and renewal before the coming of the Lord within a Judeo-Christian context. Are we in the midst of witnessing, “Princes coming out of Egypt, and the Ethiopian stretching out their hand to God”? Could President Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pastor Fred Luter, Justice Clarence Thomas, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, Lecrae and Kofi Annan be partially fulfilling this verse (to name just a few)?

The day after Senator Barack Obama won the election for President of the United States in 2008, an Anglo Texas Southern Baptist Convention Pastor sent the following email to a close friend of mine who also happened to be an Anglo Southern Baptist Convention pastor:

“If our ancestors had known that the country would come to this they might have picked their own [_____] cotton.” [You can probably guess correctly what word was originally in the place of the blank, that I chose to leave blank.]

Africans were brought to the United States to pick cotton, not to pick Presidents, and certainly not to be elected President. If the slave masters realized that Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Richard Allen, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King and many of the men and women who voted for Senator Obama were in those slave ships, the ships would not have been allowed to leave the docks of West Africa.

Dr. King understood the commonality of suffering and being victimized by discrimination shared by the Negro and the Jew. As the guest speaker at the first American Jewish Congress convention held in a Southern state, Florida, King noted:

“My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.” (Rabbi Marc Schneier, Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. & The Jewish Community, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT, P. 34)

Rabbi March Schneier, author of this insightful and engaging book, Shared Dreams, also acknowledged and affirm the roots of the relationship between Jews and Africans go all the way back to the Bible:

“The relationship between Jews and blacks dates back to the days of the Hebrews. The forefathers of Abraham were the dark-skinned Cushites. Moses had no difficulty passing himself off as olive-skinned Egyptian, and his wife, Tzipporah was a woman of color. The line between Jews and darker-skinned people was pliable and porous—and often it completely disappeared.” (Schneier, Shared Dreams, P. 20)

The late Radio Bible Preacher, J. Vernon McGhee provides an interesting, arresting, and I believe accurate understanding of the identity and historical development of the races of mankind recorded in Genesis 10:

“The first great civilization, therefore, came out from the sons of Ham. We need to recognize that. It is so easy today to fall into the old patterns that we were taught in school a few years ago. Now the black man is wanting more study of his race. I don’t blame him. He hasn’t been given an opportunity in the past several hundred years. The story of the beginning of the black man is that he headed up the first two great civilizations that appeared on this earth. They were from the sons of Ham. Nimrod was a son of Ham. I’m not going to attempt to develop that line any further.” (J. Vernon McGhee, Through the Bible-Genesis, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, 1981, p. 51)

McGhee further elaborates on Genesis 10:

“In chapter 10, seventy nations are listed. Fourteen of them are from Japheth. Thirty of them come from Ham. Don’t forget that. It will give you a different conception of the Black man at his beginning. And twenty-six nations come from Shem….

Why has the white man in our day been so prominent? Well, I tell you why. Because at the beginning it was the Black man, the colored races, that were prominent.

Apparently, we are currently in the period in which the white man has come to the front. It seems to me that all three are demonstrating that regardless of whether they are a son of Ham or a son of Shem or a son of Japheth, they are incapable of ruling this world.” (McGhee, pp. 33-34)

The sons of Japheth were remote in the Old Testament and very little is said about them there. Recorded history for the Japhetic races does not begin until about 1000 B.C.

Rome was founded in 750 B.C. City-states in Greece did not begin until 800 B.C. The sons of Shem did not emerge as a racial or cultural group until the time of Abraham (1800-1600 B.C.). However, the sons of Ham ruled Shinar (Sumer) as early as 4000 B.C. Hamites ruled Ethiopia from 3500 B.C. to this present day. Hamites ruled Egypt from 3500 B.C. to the Persian conquest of Egypt in 525 B.C. Hamites ruled Canaan from 4000 B.C. to 1200 B.C. and Mesopotamia from 4000 B.C. to 2350 B.C. The ancient Egyptian and Sumerian people enslaved Japhetic, Semitic and even other Hamitic people. Seemingly the dominant group always rules the minority people. Hamites ruled India from 3000 B.C. until conquest of the Persians in 500 B.C. In every instance, these peo­ple led extremely advanced civilizations and cultures. Dr. T.B. Matson, a former professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theologi­cal Seminars); had this to say about the early descendants of Ham:

“Those who emphasize the curse of Ham need to remember that some of the descendants of Ham, even some of the chil­dren of Canaan, were quite prosperous. They built great cities, such as Ninevah and Babylon. They were rearing palaces, dig­ging canals, organizing governments and founding empires at a time when descendants of Japheth were wandering over Europe with no better weapons than implements of flint and bone.” (Dr. T.B. Matson, The Bible and Race, Nashville, TN, Broadman Press, 1959)

Observation: History can be divided into three dimensions. Generally speaking, each race has been given 2000 years to reign: the Reign of Ham – 4000 B.C. to 2000 B.C.; the Reign of Shem 2000 B.C. to 300 B.C.; the Reign of Japheth – 300 B.C. to the present. What will happen when Japheth’s reign is over? Could it be that we then enter into a period that I call the Reign of Jesus? John the Apostle envisioned the time when all the redeemed “of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” would stand before the throne and worship Jesus (Revelation 5:9). “He which testifieth these things saith, surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)

As the election of Senator Obama to the presidency of the U.S. began to look like a possibility in the fall of 2008, it prompted me to reflect on McGhee’s view of racial history. Understanding that the sons of Ham ruled 2000 years, the sons of Shem ruled two thousand years, and for the past two thousand years the sons of Japheth were ruling—it triggered the question in my mind, what would happen at the end of two thousand years of European/Japhetic Rule? I thought of only two possibilities: (1) The return of Jesus; or (2) The return of a son of Ham to political leadership.

President Obama is undeniably a son of Ham, or Africa. The President of the National Baptist Convention in 1973 began his address with these words:  ”The sons of Ham have gathered.” The Bible calls Egypt the land of Ham (Psalm 105:23, 27; 106:22). The Yoruba Tribe in Nigeria traces their roots back to “Ham.” The unusualness of a direct African descendant being elected President of the U.S. is staggering and astounding to many. Many of us disagree vehemently with his abortion and same-sex marriage policies, but we must admit he was God’s sovereign choice for this position. He certainly provides poetic justice for America’s racist past.

Many Americans of all colors and political persuasions thought that they would never live to see the day that the son or daughter of Africa would become President of the United States of America. I was no different. Yet, in the back of my mind I was cognizant of McGhee’s view of racial history, and I was also aware of Psalm 68:31; therefore, it was not totally out of the realm of possibility from my perspective. The original King James Version reads:

“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”

The word “Princes” in Hebrew can mean bronze. The root word for “Princes” means political figures, nobles, kings, envoys or ambassadors. Princes, kings, and/or envoys shall come out of Egypt according to the Hebrew Bible. The Ethiopian will soon stretch out their hands to God.

When the Bible speaks of Ethiopia, Egypt, and the land of Ham, it is talking about the entire continent of Africa. On the earliest maps, the entire continent would be labeled by one of those three names.

In this obscure verse, God was showing David something. I’m not saying this with certainty, but, it appears that David was saying that descendants of Africa would have a political impact beyond Africa. David said Princes shall “come out of” Egypt or Africa. Africa would be their roots, but their “shoots” would be elsewhere.

Perhaps this is the reason that Barack Obama’s dad is not from Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, or Tennessee. Who would have ever thought that America would have a President named with a Hebrew and African name: “Barack Obama”? President Obama’s name and his dad are directly out of Kenya. Kenya is just below Egypt and at one time Egypt engulfed that whole area. Princes, political leaders, kings, nobles and dignitaries will emanate from, or come directly out of Africa. They will have a political impact according to the Psalmist.

Dr. King in an interview with BBC in 1960 stated that America could have a Negro President in forty years. He missed it by eight years. If Dr. King could see it, I believe the Hebrew writer of Psalm could also see it. We have seen a proliferation of African descendants in political leadership at every level in America over the past fifty years. Canada and Europe have also seen African descendants occupy political seats in their domain. This was out of the question in the first half of the last century, with few exceptions.

If I asked you who pastored the largest church in Europe, would you not assume that it would be a European? No! The largest church in Europe is pastored by an African from Nigeria named Sunday Adelaja, in Kiev, Ukraine. How does a Nigerian get 26,000 Europeans to join his church? Could it be because “Princes shall come out of Egypt, and the African will stretch out their hands to God—meaning that they will come to God and influence the world for God?

In Psalm 72:10, 15, it is predicted that gifts would be brought to the Messiah from Tarshish (Gen. 10:4, Japheth), Seba and Sheba (Gen. 10:7, Ham) and Sheba (Gen. 10:28, Shem). Isaiah 18:2, 7 says that gifts would be brought from Cush or Ethiopia. Perhaps this Scripture was fulfilled when the Wise Men came with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Descendants of Ham, Shem and Japheth brought gifts to Jesus. Descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth have been political rulers at different points in world history.

At the cross, Shem (Jesus) hung on the cross, Ham helped Jesus carry the cross-Simon of Cyrene—an African country, and the Romans (Japheth) hung Him on the cross. The Roman soldier who pierced Him cried out, “Surely, this must be the Son of God.”

In Acts 8:26-39, an African (son of Ham) gave his life to Christ. In Acts, 9:1-19, Saul (son of Shem) was converted to Christ and his name was changed to Paul. In Acts 10:1-33, Cornelius (an Italian 10:1, son of Japheth) was converted to Christ.

In Acts 13, leaders of the first Gentile congregation are Barnabas from Cyprus, a European country, “Simeon who was called Niger” (Niger is a term denoting an African), Manaen, “brought up with Herod” a Roman (son of Japheth), and Saul (Paul, a son of Shem).

It appears that at critical points in history, God tended to work through the various sons of Noah and their descendants.

Dr. King seemingly understood a very special and unique role of Israel and the Jews in World History. During Israel’s 1956 war with Egypt, he wrote:  “There is something in the very nature of the universe which is on the side of Israel in its struggle with every Egypt.” (Schneier, Shared Dreams, pp. 160-161)

In his very last sermon preached in Memphis, TN, Dr. King spoke about his trip to Jerusalem and Jericho in Israel in 1959. “Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30). That trip provided Dr. King with critical insight into the Parable of the Good Samaritan, having observed the peculiarities of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho (Luke 10:30-51):

“You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”

Dr. King’s visit to Israel enhanced his knowledge of the Bible and informed his preaching.

Dr. King cultivated a mutual reciprocal relationship with the Jewish Community. He spoke against anti-Semitism whether it was regarding Jews in the Soviet Union or Negroes in New York. Dr. King’s powerful and positive working and personal relationship with Jews is perhaps the most neglected aspect of his legacy. The Jews in Israel have named a street in his honor. African Americans ought to visibly and tangibly document and demonstrate appreciation and affection toward the legacy of Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

Many African Americans fifty years of age or older would recognize names like Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Hosea Williams, Fannie Lou Hamer, Daisy Bates, A.G. Gaston, Thurgood Marshall, Wyatt Walker and Benjamin Hooks. All of these men and women played significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement.

Oliver Brown was the plaintiff named in the Brown vs. the board of Education case that led to the desegregation of the public schools. But it was a Jewish woman who hired the attorney and raised the funds for his fees. Her motivation was simply that she resented the fact that her Black housekeeper’s children were being educated in a “separate but equal” dilapidated shack that passed as the Black school house. The Jewish woman’s name who led this effort was Esther Brown. Esther Brown’s name ought to be remembered in African American History.

There were many who stood with Dr. King and some lost their lives in an effort to bring liberty and justice for all. Who could forget Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, whose bodies were found not far from Philadelphia, MS? These Jewish men died while on a pursuit to investigate church burnings and the beating of church members by the Ku Klux Klan in Longdale, MS. We need to remember those brave Jewish Rabbis in the South who fought against discrimination:  Perry Nussbaun, Charles Mantinband, and Alfred Goodman.

When one considers the martyrdom of James Chaney, a Black man who was with Goodman and Schwerner, once again, we have descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth participating in a Kingdom enterprise for God’s glory and the common good.

We need to remember the cadre of Jewish lawyers who greatly aided the cause: Morris Abram, Stanley Levison, and Jack Greenberg, who worked as second in command of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, under Thurgood Marshall.

Time and space will not permit the naming of all persons worthy; but suffice it to say that Blacks and Jews have a storied history, even with tensions and strained relationships along the way.

Rabbi Friedlander, a participant in the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 shared personal reflections and a biblical perspective of Jews and Africans marching together. The Rabbi reported:

“Some images stand out in my mind: Professor Abraham Heschel marching in front of me, firm and erect, the wind catching his white beard and hair…. A Negro lady (Mrs. Foster), walking next to me, pointed out the exact spot on that highway where Alabama troopers had beaten her to the ground. ‘Going all the way this time,’ she smiled, and waved to some friends along the road….

But the heart of the march was the group of Negro marchers from Alabama who wanted the vote, each with a red band on his arm, still in mourning for Jimmy Lee Jackson and their other, unknown, martyrs. It was their march; and perhaps our main reason for being with them was the fact that our white skins gave them some protec­tion from the rifles ready in the swampland surrounding us…

If nothing else, we had finally felt the living essence of the words of Amos: ‘Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto Me, Oh children of Israel?’”

What a powerful, scriptural quote from Rabbi Friedlander (Amos 9:7), recognizing that the roots of the relationship between the African American and the American Jew was rooted in Scripture. The presence of the White Jews among the Civil Rights Marches probably saved the lives of many. Thank God for our Jewish brethren!

I want to conclude with a couple of powerful quotes that sum up Dr. King’s position on the important of understanding the Jewish Heritage of the Christian Faith:

“Jesus was a Jew… [And] it is impossible to understand Jesus outside the race in which he was born. The Christian Church has tended to overlook its Judaic origins, but the fact is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew of Palestine. He shared the experiences of his fellow-countryman. So as we study Jesus we are wholly in a Jewish atmosphere.”

“I draw not from Marxism or any other secular philosophy but from the prophets of Israel; from their passion for justice and cry for righteousness. The ethic of Judaism is integral to my Christian faith.” (Schneier, Shared Dreams, p. 32)

May God use this writing to whet our appetites to grow in the Jewish understanding of our Christian Faith! Dr. King is right:  “It is impossible to understand Jesus outside the race in which he was born.” If I may take a flight off of Dr. King’s runway, I might add: It is impossible to understand our Christian faith without understanding her Jewish roots.  May God grant us all the grace to stretch out our hands to the God of Israel, and His Son, Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:21)!

Truly, Israel and Africa historically, spiritually, biblically, emotionally, physiologically, geographically, geologically and cooperatively—are connected. God Himself affirmed and testified to the connection:  “Are ye not like the people of Ethiopia to Me, O Children of Israel?” (Amos 9:7)


Be Awake, Be Ready: A Personal Journey

This is the edited text for my message today at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, IA. 

It would be hard for the Bible to be clearer about anything than this fact: no one knows when Jesus is going to come back. There is a lot about the Second Coming that remains shrouded in mystery, but God has made it clear that this mystery will not be revealed until the moment the trumpet sounds. In spite of the unequivocal and adamant assertions of Jesus that no one knows the day or the hour of his return, people continue to be fooled by those who announce that they have either received some kind of new revelation or gotten a new insight into the Scriptures that renders Jesus’ words null and void. From Edgar Whisenant in 1988 to the failed and embarrassing predictions of the late Harold Camping more recently, the parade of false prophets has continued.

But the Word is clear as crystal. There are some things that we can know today about the end. We know that as time goes on, deceivers will arise and the world will grow more evil. We know that one day, Jesus Christ will ride from heaven to assert his authority over all the world and that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. And we know that it could happen today. We know THAT Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords, but we do not know when. I don’t. You don’t. No one does.

And that is the way Jesus wants it. I would direct your attention to two stories or parables that Jesus told near the end of his time here on earth, just before his arrest and crucifixion. He wanted to prepare his disciples for what lay ahead.

The Ten Virgins: Matthew 25:1-13

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus told a story about 10 young women who were betrothed for marriage – five of whom were wise and five who were foolish. They were awaiting the arrival of their bridegrooms, and the five wise women had flasks of oil to keep their lamps lit. But the others were not prepared. I do not have time today to go into the wedding traditions of the day, and those details are not really germane to the point. Five were ready, five were not. Five were wise; five were fools.

When the bridegrooms came, the wise virgins were ready and rejoiced, but the foolish virgins were left out of the marriage feast. It is easy to over-interpret a parable. This is not about the timing of events of the end-times or anything like that. A parable is told to make a particular point and the point of this one could not be clearer. Jesus states it directly. He says, in verse 13:

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Keep watch. Be ready. O Bride of Christ, Church of the Living God, we have a marriage feast prepared for us. One day, the Bridegroom will come to take us to that feast that we might rejoice with him. But we do not know the day he will come, or the hour. I don’t know if I will even be alive when he comes, or if I will go to him when my life is over. But I know that Jesus is coming one day and my duty today is to prepare, to watch and wait, to hope, and to look up for our bridegroom’s appearing. We are to keep our lamps ready, our souls prepared and our hearts expectant.

That’s why Jesus did not tell us the day. “Stay on watch BECAUSE you do not know the day or the hour.”  Let’s be honest, if you knew that Jesus was coming again in 2018, what would we do? We’d goof around until 2017, right?

I went through school as the king of procrastination. To graduate college, I had to write a 100 page research paper. I started it about 2 or 3 days before it was due (got a “b” because I didn’t have time to correct the typos).  That was how I lived my life. Delay it, Dave. Wait till the last minute. I have always worked best under a deadline. I’m fairly certain that knowing the day of the end would be an excuse for me.

So, Jesus did not tell me. He gave me a much more difficult command. Be ready every day of your life, Dave. Live each day as if it could be the day the trumpet sounds. Will it be today? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. But one day, people will wake up wondering and will find out it is the day!  Will they be ready?

The Master’s Return: Mark 13:32-37

 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mk 13:32–37

Jesus begins this story with the declarative statement. No one knows the day or the hour, not even angels, or the Son himself (during his earthly ministry), but only the Father in heaven. Then he tells another illustrative story. A man leaves home and puts his servants in charge, giving each them work to do. He does not tell them when he is coming back, but exhorts them to stay ready because the master might return at any time.

The principle here is identical to the other parable, except that in this one we are servants instead of brides. But the command is the same as it was in both.

Stay awake. (Mark 13:37).

Be ready, at all times. We have a clear call from God, my friends. We ought not to listen to date-setters, but every day of our lives, every moment of every day, we ought to strive to stay ready for Jesus to come again. We must live every day in the light of what Jesus did for us at the cross, focusing on his amazing love and grace that transforms us. We need to walk in the fullness of the Spirit every day. We need to remain in the Word of God, letting our minds be transformed and our lives conformed to Christ instead of to the world. We need to invest our lives daily in eternal things, in the work of Christ in this world to which we have been called.

We cannot be fools, living for this world, loving the things of this world, seeking the rewards and treasures of this world, and ignoring the call of our Lord and Savior – being surprised at his coming, or at the moment of our death when we go to see him. We must be ready!

A Personal Illustration

I was reminded of this principle in a very stark way this week. Now, the end result of the story that I am going to tell you is that I am going to look kind of silly; a worry-wart who makes mountains out of molehills. But, the fact is that God used this to remind me of a lesson that I badly needed. So, I want to share my recent journey with you, and use it to remind you, as we come to the table of the Lord today, of this important lesson.

My adventure started New Year’s Day in Lakeland, Florida. We were planning to get up and begin our return trip to Sioux City. I had a little bit of a recurring earache during my time in Florida, but when I woke up that morning my right ear hurt a lot and I had a very sore throat. I drove about 750 miles that day to Nashville, TN and the next day, Jenni had to do most of the driving between Nashville and St. Louis. I started to feel feverish and achy. We got home Friday afternoon, and I spent Saturday in bed. Sunday I felt a lot better and was able to preach. But it was right after our dear brother KP’s funeral on Monday that it began to hit me again – this time like a ton of bricks. It is not unusual for me to have a cold and then to have it turn into bronchitis or something, so I knew I needed to see the doctor on Tuesday.

I wasn’t able to see my doctor, but the one I saw took x-rays and told me the word I had feared. “It looks like you have pneumonia.” No one wants that diagnosis, but she prescribed me some antibiotics which I took faithfully. Usually, that fixes me right up but this time, day after day, I was not getting any better. A week went by and I had seen very little improvement – whatever this was, it rivaled the bout of West Nile Virus in had back in 2007. So, after some gentle encouragement from the woman I live with, I made an appointment with my doctor on Wednesday of this week.

After all the blood work, and a fresh set of x-rays, she came in with, frankly, a kind of grim look on her face. “What is on your lung x-rays is not pneumonia,” she told me. My heart sank a little. She said I had a cold, or the flu, or perhaps even a resurgent illness called pertussis. Whooping Cough. She prescribed a new round of antibiotics and frankly, I’m feeling a lot better.

But, now that I’ve moaned and groaned, permit me to get to the heart of the issue. My doctor, a good friend as well as a doctor, showed me my x-rays. It was clear that there was something there, but she assured me that it was not pneumonia. That left the $60,000 question. What was it in my lungs? She named three or four possibilities, then she mentioned the one you never want to hear when you are discussing a lung x-ray. Tumor. She was very clear that she did not think it was likely that what was in my lungs was a tumor, but we needed to do a test to rule that out and to find out exactly what was going on there. On Thursday, I went for a CT scan that would hopefully reveal what exactly it was in my lungs.

And then I had to wait, wondering if the doctor was right. I spent a good part of three days this week wondering if I was going to get a phone call telling me my life was over and thinking about the possibility of my imminent death. She was clear that it was likely not a cancerous tumor, but once that is on the table it is hard to ignore. I’m not a doctor but I’m not stupid either. I saw my x-rays. I knew very well that if what I saw was in fact a cancer, my chances of seeing Memorial Day were slim and Labor Day was probably out of the question.

For the first time in my life, I came face to face with the fact of my own mortality.

I thought a lot about my family. I thought about the possibility that I wasn’t going to be around to see my precious grandchildren grow up. I went to visit my mom and dad over the holidays because I was not sure how many more years they would be there for me to visit. What irony that it might not be them going, but me. I laid on my bed upstairs (ordered to stay away from my granddaughter who lives with us) in a kind of stupor from Wednesday to Friday afternoon.

It was during that time of morbid contemplation that God’s Spirit worked in my heart. If I was going to die before my 57th birthday it would be with a lot of spiritual regrets and a lot of unfinished business. Paul said he had fought the good fight and finished his race. I did not feel I could say that. I had to admit that I was just not ready for what could have possibly come!

I’ve never been the kind of wicked sinner you read about. I don’t cheat on my wife and I try to handle financial and business affairs with honesty and integrity. But the procrastination that plagued me in college has also been evident in my Christian life and in my ministry. I have about 6 or 7 books in various stages of production and none of them are completely finished, nor have I made a serious attempt at getting them published. I have things that have been on my to-do list not for years, but decades (clean and organize my office is among them). I have some important projects I really want to do and need to do, but haven’t gotten done! I’ve let my mind get distracted and my heart’s devotion divided.

Frankly, as I faced the possibility of my imminent mortality, I realized that I could not say with Paul, “For to me to live is Christ,” so neither could I say, “to die is gain.”

I had the test on Thursday, and they said I might hear by the end of the day. I stared at my phone but it did not ring. Finally, on Friday at about 1:30, I got impatient and called the doctor’s office. I was not handling this with grace and faith, and so I just needed to get the information I was waiting for. The report had just come in over the internet and the doctor had not even had a chance to read it. I told the nurse how nervous I had been and she began to read the report to me. It was in medical gobbledygook but I heard some words I thought I understood. I asked a question.

“If I heard what you just said right, I do not have lung cancer. Is that correct?”

She said, “Yes, that is correct. There is no evidence of a tumor.”

That is when I began to feel a little silly of course. I’d been told all along that the chance that this was cancer was minimal, so I should not have been fretting as I was. And now, as I have looked back on this emotional and trepidatious week, I think I can see the hand of God showing me something I need to look at in my own life, and to give as a reminder to others.

It is time to wake up and be ready!

I want to be wise. I want to be ready. I want to stop wasting time and putting things off. I do not know how much time I have left. None of us does. But I want the rest of my life to be the best of my life. I want to do more for the Gospel and the Kingdom in my late 50s and 60s and 70s and however much longer God gives me than I ever have. I want to be used by him. I want to be more like Jesus and less like I’ve always been. I want to make a difference by preaching and writing and sharing the love and power of God. I want to walk in the fullness of the Spirit and not be full of myself.

God gave me a wake-up call this week. I don’t want to his the snooze button!

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:6–11

It is time to wake up! Too many of us have been slogging along in spiritual mediocrity and lukewarmness, and we’ve been content with it. We have tried to both love God and the world, even though he said it was impossible. Our hearts have been torn between money and the manna of heaven. We love God, but not with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We play patty-cake with the impurity and uncleanness of the world and call it Christian liberty. We drift from day to day without attempting or accomplishing eternal work. And to those for whom this is true, the Savior has a simple command. “WAKE UP!”

I know that I will continue to fail at times, that sin will never leave me until I see Jesus face to face. But I do not want to waste my life, or my spiritual gifts, or the opportunities that God has given me. I want to wake up and be ready. Maybe the Lord will come today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I will die and go to him. But I want to be awake and ready, my lamps lit and my oil full.

Lord Jesus Christ, make me ready!