Righteousness & Justice Kiss

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Location: Charleston, West Virginia, United States

Sunday, April 01, 2007

“You are the blackest white I have ever met!”

“You are the blackest white I have ever met!”
A Journey Toward Wholeness
Pastor Ron Thaxton

“Why do you do what you are doing?” I was sitting by the bedside of Rev. James Mitchell, Sr in the Intensive Care Unit of Thomas Memorial Hospital when he unexpectedly asked me this question. Rev. Mitchell is a retired Black Baptist Preacher who had been an essential part of the Pastors’ Prayer Movement in our city until age began to slow him a little. My initial response was decidedly inadequate, “I don’t know?” It took me a moment to catch the full grasp of what he was saying to me. And even now, a few days later, I am still struggling with an adequate answer to his question–for it involves the call of God on my life.

“God, why did You do this to me?” This is a question I often ask. You see, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with an emphasis on Accounting. I liked it because when you got to the bottom of the columns and they didn’t add up properly you could always go back and figure out why. Numbers are like that. They are predictable, following set patterns. They are easy to reconcile. On the other hand, there is nothing predictable about people and they are never easy to reconcile. Sometimes I think God has a slightly cruel sense of humor–at least where I am concerned.

For the past thirty-five years, my wife Nancy and I have had a burden for the reconciliation of the Body of Christ. A major portion of our time, energy and resources have gone toward this objective. My subsequent response to Rev. Mitchell’s query was to say, “So that we all act like we are on the same team.” That is true, but it was still grasping for answers. He was probing for something deeper–maybe it was God telling me it was time to do a checkup on my motivations?

As the Psalmist, David pleaded, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:23-24 NLT This is always a healthy posture to maintain. It will keep us continually revived–totally dependent on Him. If we stray from this attitude, He is faithful to bring us back to this place of stark objectivity.

Why did He put men and women of faith such as Rev. Mitchell in my life? If I were to start a list it would go on and on. He knew that there was something that needed to be added–awakened possibly–if I was to get beyond the reconciliation of numbers to the ministry of reconciliation. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:...” 2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV If we in the Body of Christ are unreconciled among ourselves then we invalidate the very ministry bequeathed to us by Christ through His suffering and ascension.

As I have listened to the stories - not the complaints - of my friends in the minority community in our city, I have heard a sound–a call to action. It is the doing of justice. Authentic justice is the testimony that enmity has been dealt a death blow and peace has been ushered in. Peace is the fertile soil of reconciliation. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,...” Ephesians 2:14

There can be no lasting peace without the doing of justice. Covetousness is the root cause of strife–someone or some group attempting to improve themselves at the expense of another. This is injustice. Authentic reconciliation must fully incorporate the doing of justice. If one continues to benefit in any manner at the exploitation of another, peace is impossible. The problem will only be compounded for further angst - confusion and frustration - will be added to the equation.

Some may say, “Well, it’s really all about love.” And I would agree. But love makes demands. Actually there is nothing any more demanding than love. The Scripture tells us that we are to owe no man anything but love. Therefore, love creates a debt–and a debt demands payment.

“Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God’s law.” Romans 13:8 NLT All other forms of debt can be satisfied, yet the debt of love is so great it can never be fully quelled. This is not a debt toward God, but toward our fellow man. It is the horizontal member of Christ’s Cross - the level line in the building of the House of the Lord - and it calls us to do justice.

This was the great motivational force in the life of the Apostle Paul, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 NLT He had died to all desire for personal aggrandizement. He only wanted to be identified as a bond-slave of Christ. This truly great man who at one time could make his case for personal worth by exalting his accomplishments at the expense of others, no longer had any desire but to be identified with Christ in His suffering. He had found his wholeness and his glory in Christ and Christ alone. “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” Philippians 3:3 NASB

“You are the blackest white I have ever met,” was Rev. Mitchell’s comment to me as I prepared to leave his side and allow him to drift off into healing sleep. “I take that as a compliment,” was my response. I believe that what he was saying to me was that I had begun to bear his burden–to even identify with it. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” James 2:8 NASB

This is what motivates me to return to Africa again and again–to share with our struggling brothers and sisters just a little of our abundance. They do so much with so little. I am continually exhorted by their faith. What they seldom understand is that I, we, need them as much as they need us–maybe even more. I never fail to issue this plea, “Uganda! Pray for America! We do not have what you have and our money cannot buy it! Uganda! Pray for America!” Without them we can never be whole–we can never experience true reconciliation.

Yet, it is not the plight of the disadvantaged alone that provides the clarion call to action. It can never be! If it is, it will cause us to become misguided. Our focus can become man-ward and we end up worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. “Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen.” Romans 1:25 NLT Yes, if we glory in our accomplishments–no matter how noble, we have succumbed to idolatry.

We only dare to exalt what God is exalting. To attempt to exalt what He is not exalting is to be in trouble with Him! We would rather be in trouble with the Devil, then to be in trouble with God.

His glory - the full revelation of His glorious manifold wisdom - must be our sole pursuit. Our conviction is that His glory can only be fully and adequately revealed through a Church that is whole. It is one that is reconciled within itself. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 3:10-11 NIV The word manifold here can also be translated as variegated, many-colored, multifaceted or the one I like the best - many-splendored. Each facet of the Church gives expression to a characteristic - a splendor - of the Glory of God, but it is only when these facets are joined together is the full revelation of His Glory made known to all–even to powers and principalities in heavenly places.

Only this true light is able to dispel the darkness clouding the minds of unbelievers. “Satan, the god of this evil world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe, so they are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News that is shining upon them. They don’t understand the message we preach about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

This is evangelism at its greatest height–extreme evangelism! This is the call of God on the Church in the City. Her debt of love is to reveal His Glory to a watching and waiting world. After I had prayed with Rev. Mitchell my words to him as I stood up to go my way were, “I love you.” Did he and I always see eye to eye? No, not at all! Did that matter? Not in the least. I needed him if I were to be whole–and he needed me. Our debt of love demanded that we transcend anything momentary that might hinder our eternal purpose.

Rev. Mitchell’s prayer and hope in the twelve years that I have known him is that the Lord would not take him until he was able to see boys and girls, black and white, rejoicing together in the streets of our city. Now, at eighty-eight years of age, that hope is closer than it has ever been.

“For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay. Habakkuk 2:3

As we conclude this chapter of our odyssey let us turn to our Lord’s prayer for us: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:22-23 NASB

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy

“Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert.
“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.
“They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.”
Psalm 126:4-6 NLT


As I walked out of Grace Bible Church this past Wednesday morning at the conclusion of a gathering of our local City Impact Roundtable one of my pastor friends approached. Preceded by a period of fervent prayer, we had just experienced another intense encounter–deepening the relationships with one another and further clarifying our hope to see verifiable transformation come to our community. He remarked to me as I leaned against my open car door, “Ron, I would’ve liked to have shared also, but I would have broken down in tears.” He continued, “All that we have labored for these many years and longed to see is coming to pass!” What we had just experienced was a group of pastors and ministry leaders willing to lay aside all personal ambition and group identification that the very least - the smallest child - might experience the richness of salvation in Jesus Christ–and that He might be the only one to receive the glory and honor!

I have adapted a saying in this regard. “We must lay aside our logos for the Logos (the Living Word) and our egos for the Ego Eimi (Ex. 3:14 - I am He or I alone am God!).

Our fortunes are being restored in our city–we are being renewed as the streams of living water give hope to our barrenness. David’s great Psalm on the unity of the brethren concludes with this verse: “Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life forevermore.” Psalm 133:3 NLT

The tears are as the dew of Hermon, the birthplace of the River Jordan, eventually becoming a torrent of living water giving refreshing to all that it nourishes. The dew rises up from the earth - the harmonious prayers and petitions of His faithful ones - and once it is joined with the rain from Heaven it becomes the River of Life. When the Father sees this genuine humility, especially among the pastors in a community, He will exult it by adding to it His Nature. There (at the base of Mt. Hermon), Jesus revealed to them (His disciples) his purpose to build his Church and to go to Jerusalem to die and be resurrected (Matt 16:18-21). It is at the base of the mountain that the various waters spring forth and join in confluence to produce a single mighty stream. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” Psalm 46:4-5 NASB

My relationship with this pastor began more than thirty years ago as we both wore the blue and burgundy of the United States Postal Service. It was deepened as we stood together on the platform of Charleston’s historic First Baptist Church in 1995 for our initial Concert of Prayer and God broke our hearts for one another and for our city. As we wept together, God showed me that I could go nowhere without him! We can go nowhere without relationships such as this!!! He became my door of invitation into a great adventure–my rich journey into the culture and values of the African-American Church in our city.

And there are many other relationships like this throughout our city–deep bonds forged in the midst of adversity, but heralds of a new day of refreshing. Misunderstandings have been and are being turned into Ebenezers in this path toward wholeness. They are “spiritual markers” on the road to transformation.

There is a warning from the Prophet Hosea: “You have cultivated wickedness, you have reaped injustice, . . . ” But with it a hope: “Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” The tears are softening the ground hardened by injustice that it might be broken up to receive the righteous rain from heaven. Then the fruit will spring forth to the praise of His glory!

This is the Father’s eternal plan in His Son: “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:15-16 NASB

“Father, we are tired and weary of being about that which comes and then goes and produces no lasting results. We pray that You would build in us that which would endure to the praise of your glory. Do it here, in our city, now, we would be so bold as to ask! Amen”

What Is The Missing Link In Cityreaching?

What Is The Missing Link In Cityreaching?

“If you do these things, your salvation will come like the dawn. Yes, your healing will come quickly. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.” Isaiah 58:8-9a NLT

In the title of this article, I did not ask if there was a missing link in cityreaching. My question is: “What is it?” We cannot ignore the fact that something is missing!

We have been involved in 30 years of city and statewide prayer ministry! In 1976 we were gathered on the steps of our State Capitol to pray, worship and preach. Our hopes and expectations, along with those of many others in our city, have been ascending to God. The Golden Bowls of the Book of the Revelation (5:8; 8:5) are being filled with the smokey fragrance of the incense of the prayers of God’s faithful ones. There have been many victories, but we are not seeing our city get any better! There is a war yet to be won.

Other leaders on a national scope are also coming to grips with this reality. What we have been doing is not working. It is not accomplishing the desired results. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect different results.

We don’t want to try to conjure God, but what is it that attracts God’s attention–what does He notice? He says He will seek out - He is looking for - those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. What is this true worship? What will cause the bowls to be finally tipped over and poured out upon our city–the answers to our prayers? Are we just to make more noise–or are we to do something different? Do we continue to pray more - yes!? But does our praying need to take on more of His nature? He is not only holy, He is also whole. He is not only righteous, He is also just. Is there something else therefore that needs to be added? Is the smoke of the incense too light to tip the bowls? Must there be something weightier added to the balance’s bowl that will finally cause it to be tipped toward sustainable transformation? “Woe to you, . . . For you . . . have neglected the weightier provisions . . . : justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23

Isaiah tells us plainly that there are things we must do! “...the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” Isaiah 58:6-7 NLT

The Lord through Isaiah calls His people to give heed to the injustice that surrounds them. It exists when an individual or group profits at the expense of another. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight.” Proverbs 11:1 Injustice gives our enemy a cause to continue fighting. If we will remove the burden, we will deprive him of his ammunition - his ability to continue to wage war. “If you remove the yoke (of injustice) from your midst, . . . ” Isaiah 58:9 NASB “Stop oppressing the helpless . . . ” NLT

The pursuit of righteousness alone can result in a smug self-satisfaction which is deadly. It is the exact opposite of humility. How many of our prayer events focus solely on becoming more righteous without even a nod toward justice? They are often fueled more by human determination than by the Spirit of God. This is what Isaiah was prophesying against–a spirit of religion that was of no value against fleshly indulgence.

“Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, As a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.” Isaiah 58:2 NASB What is wrong with this? The Lord says that they expected Him to give just decisions while the Scriptures are abundantly clear that it is our responsibility to do justice! Righteousness is imparted–justice is imputed! Righteousness denotes our relationship with God–while justice is the benchmark of our relationship with our fellow man. Yet the two are inseparable! Together they are the foundational pillars of His throne–His divine authority (Psalms 89:14; 97:2).

The doing of justice must be added to the righteous prayers before the balance is tipped toward transformation. This is what the Father is looking for. This is what will attract His attention!

I believe the decision of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) was the pivotal moment in the life of the early church. Their decision to do justice and righteousness thrust the Church onto the world stage and prevented it from becoming just another isolated enclave within Jewish society. (I have written more on this elsewhere.) It would seem that today the church has slipped back into this morass and has become an isolated enclave within society as a whole. We are maintaining our existence as a subculture rather than as the advancing counterculture we have been commissioned and equipped to be.

This decision by the Council at Jerusalem was precipitated when God’s attention was attracted by a God-fearing Gentile and He sent His angelic messenger to the House of Cornelius. “And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.’” Acts 10:4 NASB (The purpose of alms is to correct injustice.) And from another translation: “Cornelius stared at him in terror. ‘What is it, sir?’ he asked the angel. And the angel replied, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have not gone unnoticed by God!’” Acts 10:4 NLT

The Lord took notice of Cornelius the Centurion because he was a God-fearer and his prayers (righteous acts) and alms (doing of justice) ascended to heaven as a lasting memorial–that is, their efficacy is enduring and continual. We have done many things on a citywide basis that have emphasized the principle of righteousness, but we have not yet done anything on a citywide basis to rectify injustice. We believe that this is the missing ingredient which will cause those Golden Bowls filled with the hopes, dreams, visions and petitions of His saints in this city to be finally poured out as citywide transformation!

The doing of justice on a citywide basis - calling all of the resources of the church in the city together - is cityreaching’s missing link! I am not talking here of isolated events which may be nothing more than guilt assuagement, but a systematic ongoing process that gathers momentum as it rolls along. “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:23-24 NASB “Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry.” NLT

We have many wonderful justice ministries in our city. One dates to 1911 and another is celebrating its 80th birthday–others have just come on the scene within the past few years. All are doing a great work, but there is no whole-church citywide coordination. As a result, the resources with which our Lord has blessed our community are not being as effectively administrated as they could be. God will release further resources - tip the balance - when He sees that they will be wisely stewarded.

Where is injustice the most glaring? What must we do to confront it in wholeness? What are the trust levels that must be attained–the friendships that must be cultured? Our journey in cityreaching is to discover the answers to these questions.

In the process of writing this I visited a meeting called by some of our local African-American pastors–my friends. As a community they are seeking to address unrighteousness and correct injustice. This is especially true where the disintegration of the family is concerned. What is happening within the African-American Community is not atypical to society as a whole. It, unfortunately, is leading the way. This is where it must be stopped!

Driving home in a dark, cold rain two disturbing observations clouded my mind. 1) How can an institution that is capable of commanding such a vast array of resources be so totally unable to check this alarming slide? 2) “We are fiddling while Rome is burning!”

There has been some concern expressed that our African-American brothers are trying to go it alone. My response has been, “Why should they expect otherwise?” Historically the majority community church which represents a society that has reaped benefit from harsh injustice has been strangely silent. Restitution is a component of justice and without it the process will be incomplete. Once again, we may find ourselves only bandaging the wound while the bitter bullet remains inside continuing to fester its deadly poison.

I implore you, my dear friends of the African-American Community, will you dare to trust the majority community just one more time? You have been tragically disappointed again and again, but one more time I plead. May we march forward joined together hand in hand and heart to heart fighting together for the faith–the whole church taking the whole Gospel to the whole community!

We believe the John 17:21-23 prayer is a Mandate, not an option. God cannot, and indeed will not bless, in a substantive manner, anything which is other than in absolute harmony with this entreaty of the Son to the Father–prayed on our behalf. Jealousy, strife, discord, et al must be addressed first/simultaneously inside the minority and majority communities as these communities come together to identify the causes and consequences of past injustices and unite as one to end injustice in the Church and the city of the future.

If any segment of the Church attempts to address injustice on its own, when there are others in the Body that want to engage with them but are either intentionally left out or not given the instruction they want and seek (albeit very belatedly) to be able to also be agents of change, God cannot bless the effort supernaturally, which ultimately is our only hope. Working in a segregated manner may indeed produce an isolated 'effect', much like the Good Samaritan did . . . real, tangible, but having no significant impact on reducing the continuing magnitude of other kinds of future injustices. If, however, our intent is to 'affect' and continue to change the culture on an ongoing basis, as 'The True Fast' of Isaiah 58 cries resoundingly for, it is going to take the supernatural enabling of the Lord. That is just what Isaiah 58 promises and we so desperately need!

So what will be our operating system for such a process? I suggest 'DOS' or even 'Windows Vista' is insufficient to encompass all the complicated operating dynamics of any new (as in new to us, but not new to God) process. May I suggest we install the original version of 'Philippians 2: 1-16' per the manufacturers original design and intent. Also, because of the contaminated carnality of all variations of the human animal (challenges with pride, power, ownership, who is in charge, etc.), we also make sure that an ongoing active anti-virus scan as per '1 Corinthians 13: 1-8', be made operative.

As we look at the desperate brokenness, pain, and vice in our city and state, if we keep doing what we have always done the way we have always done it, we will get what we have always got. If we want to see our Lord do what only he can do to bring His healing, we have got to do our part HIS WAY!

Where do we go from here? “Is there not a cause?” 1 Samuel 17:29b These words were uttered in frustration by the young David, the emerging leader of the people of God. Today, we are being opposed by the uncircumcised Philistine, the giant, who is taunting the army of God. And the army is cowering in fear and confusion.

I believe that this giant represents the gentile spirit of which Jesus spoke: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, . . . ” Matthew 20:25b-26a Our Lord in the Book of the Revelation warns the Churches against the teaching of the Nicolaitans–the etymology of this word is “those who lord it over (oppress) the people.” The Lord was warning His Church not to be influenced by the ways of the world–instead of being overcomers, they were in danger of being overcome. (If we don’t lift oppression, we will become oppressed ourselves.)

Each day the Israelite army would sally forth with much bravado shouting forth their battle cries, but when Goliath appeared to challenge them they cringed in fear and turned their back on the battle running to the false security of their flimsy encampment. Even the great reward promised by the king was not enough motivation to keep them on the battlefield. (Think about that for a moment?) They never once actually engaged the enemy! It was all a shadow with no substance.

After rejecting the armor of Saul - who having rejected the Godly counsel of Samuel became in effect a Gentile - David chose five smooth stones with which he would face the giant who was defiling the army of Israel. These stones represent the completeness and sufficiency of all that God has provided for the equipping and the victory of the Church in the City (Ephesians 4:11-13). With that adequacy, David ran toward the battle!

F.B. Meyer writes, “If our faith can but make Him a passage, along which He shall come, there is no Goliath He will not quell; no question He will not answer; no need He will not meet.” This is the question with which we are faced, “Are we creating a passage along which He shall come to our communities, or we are only erecting further hindrances?”

As a ministry we return to our original prophetic commissioning: Surely thou shall put on the armor and not the armor of Saul, but thou shall take the five smooth stones and go forth to destroy this uncircumcised Philistine that has held the army and the saints of the Most High in bondage and in fear and in service. November 26, 1983

This battle requires the Whole Church to demonstrate the Whole Gospel to the Whole Community!

Psalm 99:4 “Mighty king, lover of justice, you have established fairness.
You have acted with justice and righteousness throughout Israel.
5 Exalt the Lord our God! Bow low before his feet, for he is holy!” NLT

“Yes, Lord, we bow before You! Do what You love in our city is our plea!”

Friday, April 21, 2006

“UGANDA - AN EYE OF AFRICA FOR THE WORLD!”

The Twin Foundational Principles To Delegated Authority
The Requisite Components of Godly Stewardship

The Lord is king! Let the nations tremble!
He sits on his throne between the cherubim. Let the whole earth quake!
The Lord sits in majesty in Jerusalem, supreme above all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name. Your name is holy!
Mighty king, lover of justice, you have established fairness.
You have acted with justice and righteousness throughout Israel.
Exalt the Lord our God! Bow low before his feet, for he is holy!
Psalm 99:1-5 NLT

We had come from West Virginia and Ohio in February-March, 2005 and were gathered with 100-150 Christian Business Leaders at the Worker’s House in Kampala, Uganda. This East African nation is riding a crest of spiritual renewal in which the Gospel of the Kingdom is pervading every area of society. Such a national transformation may be unprecedented in the history of the Christian Church. Yet, there remains what could be termed a dangerous undertow that threatens to drag down those that are caught in its grasp. This perilous current is that of economic depravation. The youth of the nation who comprise 58% of the population are especially susceptible to this hazard.

These men and women who are fast becoming our good friends were eagerly receiving the basics of successful leadership that we were sharing with them both from our own experiences and from the Bible. They want to prosper for they know that successful entrepreneurship will herald the final phase of transformation of their nation and will rescue their youth from the drowning suffocation of hopelessness.

In the midst of the Summit an insight occurred to me, “If God wants us to be successful, what does He require of us?” If we are desiring to be successful, we are asking God to entrust us with His blessings. He must also delegate His authority to us if we are to make effective use of His resources. This is the Kingdom (Matthew 25:1, 14)! God is looking for faithful stewards (Matthew 25:15-30). A steward is one who administers the resources of another. We must fully comprehend the fact that if He has called us then the call is His! If we had called Him the call would be ours, but since He is the one who does the calling–the call is His and His alone. He will delegate His authority, but the responsibility remains in the hands of our benevolent and sovereign Lord.

God revealed Himself to Abraham as his Provider. That is His Name - YHWH-jireh! And it is His nature. This revelation came to Abraham as in obedience to God he took the son of the promise to the mountain to offer him back to God. God is our provider, but the provision belongs to Him–He retains ownership. When the lad asked, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Genesis 22:8 We cannot miss the fact that Abraham said that God would provide for Himself! When God provides for His people He is providing for Himself so that His purposes may be accomplished in the earth through His chosen instruments. Abraham had told the young men that had accompanied he and Isaac to the foot of the mountain to wait until they returned for they were going up to worship! True worship is giving back to God what He has given us to give Him. A faithful steward is a true worshiper for he recognizes that only faith is pleasing to God and faith is utter dependence on Him–abandonment. Abraham called the name of that place: “The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.’” Genesis 22:14

God had called Abraham to be the chief steward of His blessings to a multitude of nations. He had told Abraham that He would bless him that he might be a blessing. Those who are of faith understand that they are the ones through whom the blessing comes and not just to whom. We dare not stop at being repositories of God’s blessings, we must come fully into the realization that we are conduits. God had tested Abraham and He knew that He could trust him–that he would be a blessing.

God had charged Abraham to do justice and righteousness. “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” Genesis 18:19. This passage is pivotal and to fully appreciate its eternal implications we must look at it in detail.

 First God declares that He has chosen Abraham. We cannot take one step forward if we believe anything other than the fact that God has chosen us for His purposes. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” Ephesians 2:10. God will only complete what He has begun.

 Then God goes on to say that Abraham will instruct his family, friends and heirs to follow hard after God as he followed Him in faithfulness and obedience. That would guarantee Abraham a lasting testimony which is what God had promised to him.

 He was to instruct them “to keep the way of the Lord.” To know His ways is to know His nature - to know Him intimately. The Psalmist also reiterates this concerning Moses: “The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses.” Psalm 103:6-7a NKJV

 We walk in the way of the Lord by “doing righteousness and justice.” Since these are the twin foundational principles of all that God does, they must also undergird all that we say and do–indeed, who and what we are will be framed by them. Righteousness is the plumb line and justice the level for the building of the House of the Lord so that it will have integrity.

 All of this leads to the fulfillment of the promise–that the Lord would bring upon Abraham all that He has spoken concerning him. This is the last word to Abraham before the realization of the promise–it is now wholly and completely engaged. God had confirmed the promise several times before, but never again. There remains nothing left to be said. “Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.” Genesis 21:1-3

 God had to bring Abraham to a place of utter dependance before He would entrust him with the Promise. Now in Isaac, Abraham has become the father of many nations.

In a previous confirmation of the promise God had revealed Himself to Abraham as El Shaddai - the All Sufficient One! At this point his name is changed from Abram to Abraham. When we have this type of a view of God everything changes–it must!

“I am God Almighty (El Shaddai);
Walk before Me, and be blameless.
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly.” Genesis 17:1-2

The word “blameless” also means to be complete, perfect–having integrity or wholeness. This is the nature of God. He is whole, complete, perfect–He is lacking in nothing! He is ONE! He is just and He is righteous. He is holy and the people who will walk before Him shall also be holy. As God Almighty -- the All Sufficient One, He is sufficient all by Himself. As El Shaddai He promises fullness, completeness. This is divine prosperity.

The great declaration of the Hebrew nation, The Shema, was: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Deuteronomy 6:4 This proclamation distinguishes the God of Israel from all other gods. He has no needs! And in Him we have no need of other gods. “Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?” Exodus 15:11 He is whole, there is nothing lacking in Him.

Now as Abraham walks before Him knowing and doing His ways - justice and righteousness - he becomes the steward of the promise of God. This is success according to the Kingdom of God. Abraham will become the father of a multitude of nations and through him, in the Messiah, all the nations will be blessed.

The key to successful stewardship and to the release of the blessings of God is the doing of justice and righteousness–this the way of the Lord. We have seen that this was true in the life of Abraham and also of Moses. Other great leaders of God’s people also exhibited these characteristics.

+ “So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.” 2 Samuel 8:15 (1 Chronicles 18:14)
+ Solomon - “Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you, setting you on His throne as king for the Lord your God; because your God loved Israel establishing them forever, therefore He made you king over them, to do justice and righteousness.” 2 Chronicles (1 Kings 10:9). (These words were spoken by the Queen of Sheba.)
+ “Did not your father (Josiah) eat and drink And do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well.
‘Is not that what it means to know Me?’ Declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 22:15-16
+ Jeremiah 23:5 (33:15) “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch (Messiah);
And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land.”
+ Isaiah 9:7 “There will be no end to the increase of His (Messiah) government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
+ Isaiah 28:16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone (Messiah) for a sure foundation;
the one who trusts will never be dismayed.
17 I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;...” NIV

For those rulers who forsake the doing of justice and righteousness - the way of the Lord - these twin principles will testify against them:

+ “Woe to him (Jehoahaz) who builds his house without righteousness
And his upper rooms without justice,...” Jeremiah 22:13
+ “Therefore, O king (Nebuchadnezzar), may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor (justice), in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.” Daniel 4:27

We had also been blessed during our final week in Uganda to be among over fifty pastors who had come from all over the nation to The Miracle Centre Church of Entebbe sharing in fellowship and mutual encouragement. On that last Sunday morning together with them we were able to bless them with some clothing, with what we hope may become the beginning of a small stipend and a Bible in their own language. (Many of these pastors did not have a complete Bible and there are only about 2-3 in each village congregation.)

I charged them to “do justice and righteousness” so that it would be said of them as it was of the faithful stewards: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:23

A word had come during the Business Leaders’ Summit from one of the presenters concerning Uganda: “I saw a brief vision of the map of Africa. Uganda appeared on the map as a human eye. It was not drawn on the map, it was a literal human eye that blinked and looked at me from the map. Then I heard the Lord speak. He said, ‘If the eyes are full of light then the whole body will be full of light.’” We are convinced that Uganda is an eye of Africa to allow the light to come–and one that will be seen by the whole world.

Our teammate went on to say: “I believe that God wants to do complete and holistic transformation of Uganda. I believe this is the heart of the Lord and that He intends to turn the eyes of the world toward Uganda. If Uganda is able to break the curse of poverty then the whole world will be ready to listen. ‘Then I realized that though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.’ Ecclesiastes 9:16 Transformation that impacts life through wisdom will not be appreciated for long if it does not produce economic lift. I believe God wants to demonstrate His Kingdom power to smash poverty. If Uganda will follow His principles, He will bless them and cause them to lend and not borrow etc. (Duet. 28).”

Uganda, the Prophet Isaiah speaks to you: “Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day. The Lord will guide you continually, watering your life when you are dry and keeping you healthy, too. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Your children will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as the people who rebuild their walls and cities.” Isaiah 58:10-12 NLT

There are faithful stewards in the nation and as they fully comprehend all that God has for them and do justice and righteousness, all that our Lord has intended for them will be fully engaged. They will be successful and they will prosper for the Glory of the Kingdom of God.

Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the Lord,
Or can show forth all His praise?
How blessed are those who keep justice,
Who practice righteousness at all times!
Psalm 106:1-3

AMINA!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kingdom Authority

Transformation can only be effected through authentic authority that gives full expression to the character and nature of the King!

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah 33:15-16

The Associated Press reported on November 4, 2004: “Wise pardons minister convicted in 1977 killing.” The reference is to a pardon granted to Rev. Lloyd Allan Hill by then West Virginia Governor Bob Wise as a result of the unanimous recommendation of the Parole Board. Rev. Hill currently serves as the President of the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance and is involved in many community development projects. As a youth he had killed another man in a moment of indiscriminate passion. While in the local jail he was gloriously led to saving faith in Christ and powerfully filled with the Spirit of God. He was convicted, sentenced, served ten years in maximum security and had been paroled–but what had led to this unprecedented pardon? An African-American judge had gathered a delegation of pastors to meet with the Governor to seek a pardon for Rev. Hill. Three African-American pastors and two Caucasian made up the group. (This writer was one of the latter.) Attempts to meet with the Parole Board were unsuccessful, so a hearing had been sought with the Governor. The group was met by the Governor’s aides instead and it seemed as if little progress was being made when one of the aides left the gathering and returned in a few minutes with the Governor!

Governor Wise heard what the group had to say, but replied that he would do nothing outside of the recommendations of the Parole Board–but the Board had never granted such a hearing and did not appear likely to at this point. A few weeks later the judge called the group together again. The Board had agreed to hear Rev. Hill’s case! “What difference would it possibly make?” they inquired, “He has served his time, has been paroled and is a free man.” “Yes,” was the reply, “But God has established and recognizes your authority and if you grant this pardon Pastor Hill will go forward with a release of ministry such as he has never experienced–his effectiveness will be greatly enhanced.” After hearing the testimony of each pastor the Board would not indicate their action, but they stated, “Surely, we have experienced the Presence of the Lord in this place today!” It was left to the Press to report the eventual results.

What had happened here? Righteousness and justice were reconciled in that hearing room and the authority of the Kingdom of God had triumphed! “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” Revelation 11:15 The cause of the Kingdom of God has been advanced in our community as a result. Now, let us see the revelation of the Father’s heart through the testimony of the Scriptures.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17 Only that which comes down from the Father, that is delegated by Him, is legitimate. That which is given by Him is whole–it has integrity! Another word for integrity is truth. His word is the truth: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth...” James 1:18a. James tells us that what comes from the Father is whole and complete–there is no variation in His gifts. The components of this governmental truth by which He executes His will in the earth are righteousness and justice. Functioning together they produce wholeness. Someone said to me recently, “Oh, you are talking about marrying righteousness and justice.” My first response was yes, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that answer was wrong. Righteousness and justice have never been divorced–but they have become estranged in the practice of the Church. For the fulness of His government to come to the earth, they must be reconciled! This has been His plan before the foundation of the earth.

The Bible was written from a wholistic world view. There is nothing in the Scriptures that separates righteousness and justice–they were always meant to function in unison. However, what has come to us in the Western World has been processed through Greek dualistic thought which tends to compartmentalize. Just as a house must be built both level and plumb, so justice and righteousness must equally influence all that we do for the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught His Disciples and us to pray that His Kingdom would come on the earth–that His will would be done just as it is being done in Heaven. Immediately following the “Amen” to this prayer He says: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14 To forgive others is just and to be forgiven by God is right! They are inseparable. The issue here is not really one of sequence, but of wholeness–completeness. This is the expected result. This is the way He conducts His affairs. Indeed, rightness without justice is merciless and justice without rightness has no boundaries–it becomes justification. God will have none of this.

“The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” Psalm 9:6-7 NIV King David is writing of the rule and reign of God. True to much of Biblical writing, values are often expressed as pairs–they become something of a pair-bond that will produce lasting fruit. If they go through a forced separation, there will be no germination and no lasting fruit will be produced. Marriage is not complete without consummation. To be consummate is to fulfill or bring to completion–with lasting fruitfulness being the natural result.

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.” Psalm 72:1-2 NIV (A Psalm of Solomon). The authority that God delegates is whole! Without this integrity any so-called authority we may encounter is illegitimate or incomplete at best. Leadership must thoroughly incorporate this fulness of God to be effective–or relevant. The validity of the Church rests solely upon her relevancy. She is incapable of being an agent of transformation without wholeness–or integrity. (Solomon’s very name is derived from a word that means whole, completed or fulfilled. The result is a reign of peace and prosperity.)

Righteousness and justice had kissed one another that inauspicious day at the Capitol Complex of West Virginia. A consummation had occurred and the result was fruitfulness. The values of the minority community are essentially formed by a paradigm of justice while those of the majority community through a world-view of righteousness. This has resulted in the estrangement mentioned previously. But there was something different about this group of pastors. They were men who knew one another, who had wept together and who had rejoiced together. They had shared struggles and they had shared triumphs–they were one in heart, mind and spirit. Resources are held in common–if one has a need, another is quick to share. In their love and respect for one another the differences were reconciled–they were made whole. The authority of the Kingdom of God was made manifest in their midst. This reality became evident to all gathered there. The authority of our God and of His Christ had directly influenced the government of our state in an unprecedented manner.

Pastor Hill’s leadership in our community, not just in the Christian community, but the whole community, has taken on an enhanced effectiveness. The Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance is becoming the Christian Ministerial Alliance for our capital city. The hindrances that have previously existed are being dissolved in the sincere affection and appreciation of the pastors in our community–one for the other. The Father’s House is being built in our midst out of living stones and it is from there that the Lord is presiding.

“Now, O my God, I pray, let Your eyes be open and Your ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. Now therefore arise, O Lord God, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your might; let Your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation and let Your godly ones rejoice in what is good.” 2 Chronicles 6:40-41 NASB

“Now, my God, look at us. Listen to the prayers we pray in this place. Now, rise, Lord God, and come to your resting place. Come with the Ark of the Agreement that shows your strength. Let your priests receive your salvation, Lord God, and may your holy people be happy because of your goodness. 2 Chronicles 6:40-41 New Century Version

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Shedding of Innocent Blood

A Matter of Unrighteousness or Injustice?
What Are The Consequences?

We had just completed a national election in 2004 in which 89% of the African-American community cast their votes for the candidates nominated by the Democrat Party–and a majority of that community is authentically Christian. From their viewpoint the party of the left stands for justice–and as the victims of centuries of injustice–that is where they put their hope. However, among the evangelical Caucasian community, to vote for a candidate or party that supports abortion is abhorrent–and the “pro-choice” plank is a major component of the platform of the Democrat Party. The white Christian community sees the Republican Party championing the causes of righteousness and the “pro-life” stance is one of those causes. This issue possibly provides us with the starkest example of the divergence of viewpoints between these two communities.

An example of this was shared with me by one of my closest pastor friends in the African-American community just prior to the election. In reference to a Republican political candidate who had voiced a strong pro-life position he said, “He doesn’t want to kill the children in the womb, he wants to wait until they grow up and then kill them.” Of the exact consequences of the latter part of his statement I am not sure, but what undergirded it was a lack of an equitable opportunity. This at least led to the inward death of hope and achievement before the outer caught up with it by violent death in the streets, death as a result of abuse either substance or otherwise or death in our nation’s wars because the military offered an escape from the desperation of their circumstances.

His comment was an insightful juxtaposition of the requirements and obligations of justice and righteousness which was born out of his life experiences. Either viewpoint left isolated from the other is deficient, but how does the Lord look on the shedding of innocent blood?

When I first began to consider this issue it seemed as though abortion would be a matter of injustice, but that is not the way the Scriptures view it. The shedding of innocent blood, the murder of the defenseless, in the sight of the Lord is a grievous act of unrighteousness and carries with it devastating consequences.

Jeremiah chants a lament over Zion whose seemingly impregnable gates have been broken in and the city has experienced devastation. “The kings of the earth did not believe, Nor did any of the inhabitants of the world, That the adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.

Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, Who have shed in her midst the blood of the righteous;...” Lamentations 4:12-13 The shedding of righteous blood demands retribution for, even though spilled upon the earth, continues to cry out for vengeance. When God begins to speak His judgement against Cain for the murder of Abel his brother the chief witness is innocent blood: “He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.’” Genesis 4:10

What I am sharing as follows is an unfolding of what I have discovered as I have searched the Scriptures. I have not tried to back into a preconceived opinion, I have attempted to allow the Word to speak for itself. Much of what I have written previously on the subject of righteousness and justice deals with the need to see justice fully incorporated into the preaching and witness of the Gospel along with the essentiality of the reconciliation of the two. Here, we will begin to look at the latter and then move into the subject of righteousness for its own sake.

Thus says the Lord, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place” Jeremiah 22:3.

The Lord through Jeremiah goes on to warn that the forsaking of justice and righteousness is concomitant with destruction: “But if you will not obey these words, I swear by Myself,” declares the Lord, “that this house will become a desolation.” Jeremiah 22:5. Verse 4 speaks of endurance for those who will do these things–their fruit will remain: “If you obey me, there will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem” NLT. With the doing of righteousness and justice comes the promised hope of sustainable transformational revival.

From the parallelism of Jeremiah 22:3 we see that the shedding of innocent blood is a matter of unrighteousness. This deed will bring condemnation on a people or a person that is nigh irreversible. Proverbs 6:16 declares that the shedding of innocent blood is one of the seven things that the Lord hates. Innocent blood must be avenged. God spoke to Moses and told him that the one who sheds innocent blood is guilty of murder and that he himself will suffer the same fate at the hand of the avenger of blood (Numbers 35:9-34). As the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11, 14), although it is spilled on the ground, it continues to cry out–its voice cannot be stilled.

Jesus in his denunciation of the religious leaders spoke these words of condemnation: “...so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” Matthew 23:35.

Jesus was prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem (the city held accountable) because of the shedding of innocent blood–most notably His own, but also identifying with those prophets of righteousness that had gone on before Him. He lamented over her for he knew that there was nothing short of wholesale repentance that could turn the tide of impending doom–innocent blood demanded retribution. “So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 21:9 Repentance is much more than experiencing feelings of remorse, it indicates a necessary change of behavior.

This Zechariah is probably the son/grandson of Jehoiada who along with his wife, Jehoshabeath, preserved the royal lineage of David in the person of Joash. Yet, when Zechariah spoke against King Joash because of the king’s turn to idolatry the king had him murdered. And as he died he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!” 2 Chron. 24:22b. God’s response was to allow the army of Judah to be defeated by a smaller army of Arameans who slew the officials and plundered the city. King Joash was then assassinated by his own servants because he had shed the innocent blood of the son of Jehoiada–and had not remembered his kindness in preserving his own life. This begins a series of defeats culminating in the Babylonian Captivity–because King Manasseh filled the city of Jerusalem with the blood of the innocents–those who’s angels are always beholding the face of God. (Matthew 18:10 - this reference may be to the spirits of innocent children who are now in the Presence of the Lord {Warfield 1:253-66}. Thus the warning is not to enter into identification with those who caused the untimely demise of these righteous ones. If one is innocent, he is also righteous.)

The Lord is compelled to avenge the shedding of innocent blood–His nature and character requires it. Not to turn His face would be to deny His Holiness.

Because he believed God, through faith, Abraham was reckoned as righteous and he obtained a lasting testimony. This righteousness was ultimately made available through the shedding of innocent blood–sacrificial lambs or the Sacrificial Lamb–with which Abraham identified by his willingness to offer his son as an expression of worship in obedience to the Lord. (“The righteousness of God has been manifested...through faith in Jesus Christ...whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness,...” Romans 3:21-25.) This is an eternal blessing. The testimony of righteous blood does not die for life is in the blood. The faith of righteous Abel passed through the Cross and speaks to us today: “...and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” Hebrews 11:4b. On the other hand, those who shed innocent blood are condemned with an eternal curse. (He said {to Cain}, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” Genesis 4:10-11). At the command of the Lord innocent blood serves as an atonement, but shed in disobedience or idolatry it is a condemnation–this is its efficacy.

Lamentations 4:12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
Nor did any of the inhabitants of the world,
That the adversary and the enemy
Could enter the gates of Jerusalem.
13 Because of the sins of her prophets
And the iniquities of her priests,
Who have shed in her midst
The blood of the righteous;

The city was vulnerable because of the shedding of innocent blood within her in defiance to the One True God. God lifted His protection from her for His face was turned from her. The Father cannot look upon the unrighteousness of the spilled blood of innocents. Indeed, even when His Son’s righteous blood was being spilled out on Calvary’s Cross, He turned His face away as the Son paid the ultimate price for our unrighteousness. “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:45-46. Darkness covered the earth for the Face of the Lord was turned from it. Is this not a picture of the unquenchable fires of Hell–eternal, unrequitable separation from the Presence of God?

This was the transgression committed by Manasseh, King of Judah, that caused the Lord to remove His protective favor from the nation. “Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord.” 2 Kings 21:16 The innocent blood was the sacrifice of children in the fiery clutches of the pagan god Molech: “and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out from before the sons of Israel” 2 Kings 16:3. The commentator Matthew Henry writes: “Nothing has a louder cry, nor brings a sorer vengeance, than that.”

The place in which this abomination occurred was the Valley of Hinnom. The site is also called Topeth which is translated as fire pit. There fires burned with an unquenchable lust for the blood of the innocents. These flames of holocaust have come to be associated with Hell–the place of eternal and final separation from the Presence of God. Hinnom became Gehenna to the Greeks, which is their word for Hell. An example from the New Testament would be: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell (Gehenna), into the unquenchable fire,...” Mark 9:43. The Israelites were told to destroy the peoples in the Land of Promise because of their worship of such false gods lest those who worshiped the One True God would become contaminated also. They failed to completely heed the word of the Lord and Solomon in his old age built temples to these fiery gods in the Valley of Hinnom to appease the foreign wives which he had taken. This was the forbidden fruit of Solomon’s lustful desires. God pronounced judgement against him as a result: “So the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.’” 1 Kings 11:11

This sin, the shedding of innocent blood, was the final provocation of the Lord that led to the destruction of the Northen Kingdom. “Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him. So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah.” 2 Kings 17:17-18

The same fate was not long in exacting its righteous vengeance against the Southern Kingdom also (which was the remnant left to Solomon’s heirs): However, the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. The Lord said, “I will remove Judah also from My sight (His face was turned from her), as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the temple of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’” 2 Kings 23:26-27

Even though Manasseh had repented, the righteousness of the Lord had been so violated that His anger could not be turned. “When he was in distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 (Solomon was the first to build temples to these heathen gods, but Manasseh was the first to sacrifice his own son–a direct affront to God’s eternal plan of redemption.)

2 Kings 24:2 The Lord sent against him bands of Chaldeans, bands of Arameans, bands of Moabites, and bands of Ammonites. So He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord which He had spoken through His servants the prophets. 3 Surely at the command of the Lord it came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, 4 and also for the innocent blood which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; and the Lord would not forgive.

God requires blood for blood. “So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it” Numbers 35:33. The writer to the Hebrews looks back at Leviticus: “...all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (9:22b).
The shedding of the innocent blood of the Messiah brought condemnation upon Satan. Since Christ was sinless–totally innocent, Satan in his attempt to stop Him exceeded his established bonds and became himself guilty before the courts of Heaven. He is therefore powerless over those who will hide themselves securely in the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God. His Resurrection was the attestation of His Righteousness: “...and who through the Spirit of holiness (righteousness) was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 1:4 NIV.

We must ask ourselves this question: “Can any nation or people who is satisfying its unbridled lust at the at the cost of the blood of the innocents ever expect to totally escape the wrath it has incurred?” Every drop of innocent blood shed by the hand of the abortionist cries out as a witness against those who would seek to do what is right in their own eyes devoid of the restraint of the Word of God.

John Dawson writes: I can think of five common roots that lead to abortion:
❧ Lust, because it is often the context for irresponsible conception.
❧ The love of comfort, because the decision to abort is often made simply to avoid the discomfort of pregnancy.
❧ Love of money, because of a desire to avoid financial sacrifice.
❧ Rejection, because in her fear of rejection by society or boyfriend a woman’s solution is to reject the child in her womb.
❧ Unbelief, because we discount the existence of a just God who will surely honor a difficult but righteous decision.

Each of these points is symptomatic of the sin of idolatry–the rejection of the One True and Faithful God for those who are not gods at all. “Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing: They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray. Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood;...” Jeremiah 23:13-14a
The Prophet Jeremiah spoke of the desolation of the city for turning from the Lord: “Many nations will pass by this city; and they will say to one another, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this great city?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord their God and bowed down to other gods and served them.’ ” Jeremiah 22:8-9

Previously we have identified righteousness as being God-ward while justice is expressed toward our fellow man. As blood is a chief component of worship, to shed it wantonly is to defile true worship. This is why the shedding of innocent blood is viewed by God as a deed of unrighteousness. The most vivid picture of this is when the life of the fruit of the womb is despoiled on the altar of idolatrous worship–whether that idol is carved by the hand of man or is fashioned by the mind of man.

Ezekiel also prophesied against Jerusalem combining the sins of adultery, idolatry and the shedding of innocent blood together: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you poured out your wealth and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood,...I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger.” Ezekiel 16:36, 38 NIV

Devoid of the constraint of righteousness, the desire for justice will wander aimlessly–it may sell itself to the highest bidder–prostituting itself on the altar of mammon. In futility it will sacrifice its most precious legacy–its children.
In the final days of the Kingdom of Judah before its walls are broken down and it too is consumed in its own fiery holocaust–even the source of its protection, the House of the Lord, suffers destruction–it is said: “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy” 2 Chronicles 36:15-16. Judgement in kind was exacted upon her final king: “Then they captured the king and brought him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and he passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon” 2 Kings 25:6-7. The sin of King Manasseh in spilling the innocent blood of his son made its final demand upon his successor as the last thing King Zedekiah saw before he was blinded was the bloodletting of his sons–the innocent.

The Scriptures give us the following hope as they point us toward the imputed righteousness of the Lamb slain before the foundations of the earth. “A king who sits on the throne of justice disperses all evil with his eyes. Loyalty and truth preserve the king, And he upholds his throne by righteousness.” Proverbs 20:8, 28 “The strength of the King loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob (Israel).” Psalm 99:4

Also: “For the Lord is righteous, and he loves justice. Those who do what is right will see his face.” (He will not turn His face from them.) Psalm 11:7 NLT “He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.” Psalm 33:5 (Righteousness and justice are two viewpoints of the same thing. Their convergence is the character of God which is lovingkindness. It takes both working together to present the full picture–if isolated one from the other our perception of God will be skewed and indistinct.)

Our search throughout this discourse has been for those principles, if heeded, that will lead to transformational revival–or if unheeded will lead to destruction. (There seems to be no middle ground with God!) Here we have seen that if the requirements of righteousness are ignored, the Presence of the Lord will be removed from the land or the people, with desolation being the consequence.
“Who can stand before his fierce anger? Who can survive his burning fury? His rage blazes forth like fire, and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence. The Lord is good. When trouble comes, he is a strong refuge. And he knows everyone who trusts in him. But he sweeps away his enemies in an overwhelming flood. He pursues his foes into the darkness of night.” Nahum 1:6-8

The Prophet Zephaniah, the great-grandson of King Hezekiah, speaks of Judah’s Day of the Lord: “Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s wrath comes upon you. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.” Zephaniah 2:1-3 NIV Also: “The LORD within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.” Zephaniah 3:5 “Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done. For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.” Psalm 9:11-12 NIV
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” Jeremiah 7:5-7

May the Lord, by the abundant testimony of His Lovingkindness, prevent us from standing in opposition to His Purposes in the earth and throughout eternity–that our posterity be not removed from the land.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

“The Orry-O Brothers”

Exploring the Depths of Koinonia - True Fellowship
Righteousness and Justice Reconciled

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6-7

“Phil Dunn is the most spiritual person I know,” were the words of Rev. James Ealy at a surprise testimonial service given in recognition of Pastor Phil’s contributions to our community. My thoughts were, “What does he mean by that?” My world-view would picture such a spiritual person as an ascetic, someone who spent extended periods of time in prayer, fasting, Bible reading and other such disciplines–all of which could be practiced in seclusion. This was not what Pastor Ealy had in mind however. What he meant was that Pastor Phil was just–as was amply demonstrated to him by their bond of fellowship.

Justice may be the most misunderstood principle in the Bible–especially among those that have never experienced injustice. It is most often confused with righteousness and although it belongs in tandem with righteousness, it is not the same thing. This confusion is perpetuated by the King James Version of the Bible which frequently interchanges the words. This causes justice to be interpreted as judgement–and so the Hebrew word mispat is often translated as judgement instead of justice. Viewed from this perspective justice takes on negative overtones and engenders a “God is going to get you!” syndrom. Righteousness involves our relationship with God which is vertical and justice our relationship with our fellow man which is horizontal, but they were never intended to function alone.

To deny either is to invite the same consequences, for to fail to do justice and righteousness is to reject the convenantal benefits of the Lord. “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor (justice). Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place (righteousness).’” “Many nations will pass by this city; and they will say to one another, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this great city?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord their God and bowed down to other gods and served them.’” Jeremiah 22:3, 8-9

Most succinctly stated - justice is setting free those who are oppressed. Any form of discrimination is an injustice and thus is oppressive–be it social, economic, racial, gender, generational, etc. However, to attempt to modify justice in any way will detract from its full value. For my purposes here I have determined to allow justice to stand on its own.

“O house of David, this is what the LORD says:
‘Administer justice every morning;
rescue from the hand of his oppressor
the one who has been robbed,
or my wrath will break out and burn like fire
because of the evil you have done—
burn with no one to quench it.’” Jeremiah 21:12 NIV

According to these words of Jeremiah to fail to do justice in the face of oppression is to do evil and will incur the judgement of God.

Jesus proclaimed of Himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19 This passage brought forward from the Prophet Isaiah is often referred to as Jesus’ Job Description. It is all about freedom from oppression–no matter what form that oppression may take. The justice of God is Good News!

Meanwhile, back to our story, Pastor Dunn cares for an Assembly of God Congregation in our city that is predominantly Caucasian while Pastor Ealy oversees a Black Baptist Congregation. These two pastors and congregations along with Pastor Allan Hill and Liberty Missionary Baptist have met together one Sunday evening each month for several years. This gathering is called “Koinonia Fellowship.” Values are often expressed in tandem, the name they have given to their gathering indicates a double-barreled dose of fellowship. Over the years they have developed deep lasting friendships of mutual respect and appreciation.

Pastor Ealy also directs New Covenant Community Development Corporation which provides educational opportunities for inner city children beyond the scope of local government. Recently his minibus broke down beyond repair and he was unable to transport the children to the Community Center. As Pastor Phil knew he was without the financial resources to purchase another van, he galvanized the resources of the majority - that is, white Evangelical - Christian community to come to the aid of Pastor Ealy. As a result he has able to obtain another van to replace the one that was beyond repair.

Economic inequity is a form of oppression and thus is an injustice. Pastor Phil was able to right this injustice and thus demonstrated true fellowship. This deed, in the eyes of Pastor Ealy, was true spirituality–rightly so!

In the New Testament the Greek word translated as fellowship is koinonia, but it has its roots in another word koinonos. This word means to share or to partake together. It in turn is derived from koinos–“to hold in common” as in: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common (koinos); and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” Acts 2:44-45. The word occurs again in Acts 4:32: “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common (koinos) property to them.”

True fellowship has obligations - it makes demands of those who will enter into its fraternal bonds. This was aptly demonstrated in the relationship between these congregations in our city.

This picture is vividly painted in our celebration of the fellowship meal of Holy Communion–or as could be said “common-union.” Our sharing in the covenant meal is with Christ our Savior and with the other members of the Body of the Redeemed simultaneously. As we partake in the Body and Blood of our Lord, we extend that sharing to one another. One without the other will lack true effectiveness. The validation of the Good News is True Fellowship. Fellowship with Christ is right and fellowship with one another is just. These two aspects of fellowship represent the vertical and the horizontal. This is most vividly represented by the Cross. The vertical member reached up toward God while the horizontal member reached out to mankind lifting us up to where He was. This is the significance of the repentant criminal–Jesus lifted him up to where He was: “And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:43 Justice and righteousness found their full expression in this act of redemption.

Paul writes of this Fellowship Meal: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing (koinonos) in the blood of Christ (righteousness)? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ (justice)? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Dr. Gordon Fee points out: “In this passage the cup seems to focus on the vertical dimension (righteousness), the bread on the horizontal (justice).” He also quotes from Jeremias, “To share in the atoning death of Jesus and to become part of the redeemed community–that is, according to Paul, the gift of the Eucharist.”

Righteousness and justice are reconciled at the heart of Christ on the Cross for it is at His heart that the two members - one vertical, the other horizontal - intersect. This is the heart of true fellowship. Paul exhorts the Philippian Church: “if there is any fellowship (koinonia) of the Spirit, . . . make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” (2:1b-2).

Doctor Fee continues his commentary on 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “Paul’s point, therefore, is not the unity of the body that this meal represents (although it probably anticipates that concern as well), but the solidarity of the redeemed community as one body in Christ that forbids all other such unions.” In our present age we would have to say that Paul was not “politically-correct” for he saw this relationship with Christ and His Body to be supreme over all other relationships.

The Lord revealed to us several years ago in our Pastors’ Prayer Fellowship gatherings that unity was not to be our focus. If we would desire humility, unity would be its fruit.

Under the Old Covenant the shedding of innocent blood was a matter of righteousness. If shed according to the Law it brought salvation, but if not according to the Law it incurred condemnation. “Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” Jeremiah 26:15 NIV

At the Passover the blood was offered to God for atonement, while the body was shared equally among all of the family. This offering fulfilled the requirements of righteousness and justice.

Now let us return to the title of this chronicle which is “The Orry-O (Oreo) Brothers.” These three pastors do a rap together which was written by Pastor Dunn and he stands between Pastors Hill and Ealy as it is performed. The name of the ditty is “Do It Right” and here it is in its entirety.

“On the East Side, on the West Side -
hung a group of really rowdy preacher men.
They loved the Lord and they loved one another,
But they really, really, really, hated sin.
There was Jimmy, Allan, and Phil the deal -
these homeys were tight, these brothers were real.

“We came together, to better see ya -
and called the party a Koinonia.
Sing’n, praise’n and preaching the Word -
worshiping God like you never heard.
We want to be God’s Three Musketeers -
bringing in hope, breaking down fear.
The devil was doing his dastardly deeds -
tearing up lives, pushing his weed.

“The hood was chillin’, the thugs were killin -
everybody lookin for something fulfillin.
They were bustin’ caps around the town -
slammin’ and jammin’ their dreams to the ground.

We heard the call, from God above -
tell the hood about My love.
To be free, is not hard, when your trustin’ in the Lord.
We walk in the power of the Holy Ghost -
He’s One of the three of the Heavenly Most.
We speak the word and the darkness scatters.
The power of Satan don’t really matter.

There is no weapon that can take us down -
God’s got our back, this is His town.
So life in the Valley is lookin’ bright.
We’re the Orry-O Brothers ‘We do it Right!’”

We conclude and summarize with these words: “But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before the Lord,...” 1 John 3:17-19 NLT

Pastor Ron Thaxton
The Church In The City
Charleston, West Virginia
July 2005

Friday, April 14, 2006

Not Without The Black Church!

The African/African-American Church

And finally, from my perspective at least, I go full circle to the beginning of this treatise. A rich deposit of the justice of God was brought to the shores of America in the holds of slave ships. This deposit continues to bear interest in the form of the African-American Church. Dr. Tony Evans writes, “If American society would submit to the justice of God, the way slaves submitted to Jesus Christ, the power, presence, and impact of God in our culture would be beyond our wildest expectations.” Dr. Evans is describing sustainable transformational revival.

Philip Jenkins makes a startling statement. “We can afford to ignore Africa.” The point he makes is that other parts of the world - Asia, the Middle East - cannot be ignored because of their political and economical significance, but this is not so with Africa. But then he tells us that the coming heart of global Christianity will be Africa, not Europe or North America. What this means, says Jenkins, is that “in 50 or 100 years Christianity will be defined according to its relationship with that [African] culture.” I believe that day is not 50 or 100 years away. It is now!
When I was in Uganda in 2003, God was speaking to me from Psalm 105:16-24 concerning God’s redemptive dealings with the House of Jacob through the life of Joseph. I saw Uganda, in particular, as a “Joseph” nation. That is, the nation had once been known as the “pearl of Africa” which bears a striking similarity to Joseph adorned with the coat of many colors (variegated tunic). It had then descended into the pit of murderous despotism under Idi Amin and then Milton Obete to be followed by the horror of the HIV/AIDS pandemic whose epicenter was Uganda. Yet, God raised Uganda out of her despair to make her an example of his mercy and an instrument of His redeeming power for the nations. Again we see the parallel with the life of Joseph. “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7). One of God’s chosen instruments of this border to border revival is John Mulinde. He says, “God changed the reputation of Uganda from a nation forsaken to a model in Africa.” In 1995, the HIV/AIDS infection rate in Uganda was 30 percent of the population. It has now dropped to 5 percent and continues to decline. Our Father has raised Uganda as a testimony of His ability to effect national transformation.

I believe that what is particularly true of Uganda is generally true of all of the African Church, the seed of which is alive to us in the African-American Church. As a Caucasian, I now have more than eleven years of wonderful fellowship within the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance where I have developed some of my closest and lasting friendships. What I have known intuitively concerning the significance of the African-American Church is fast becoming an objective reality. My journeys to Africa, along with the tender relationships developed there have shown me that indeed the heritage of Africa is alive in America in the person of her children. At this point I refer once again to Dr. Evans: “We are a people who see a scarlet thread called justice in the character of God, which is so strong that it can keep a people focused and a leadership baton passing from generation to generation without wavering.” He develops another startling conclusion, “I believe that slavery was allowed as the means by which God would introduce the true meaning of His justice to American culture, which had neglected this aspect of His character.” If we sense any truth in this statement we dare not ignore its implications that have been bought with a tragic price.

When I began my odyssey in the African-American Christian Community one of the first things that challenged me was the jubilant exclamation, “God is good!” This is followed by the positive affirmation, “All the time!” I had to admit that the goodness of God was a foreign concept to me. To testify to the goodness of God is to declare that He is just: unequivocally! “God can do anything but fail!” is another rejoinder. I am thankful to my friends in the Black Church for awakening me to this vital aspect of God’s character.

It would be heard to argue against the fact that the Pentecostal-charismatic movement is globally spearheading the spread of Christianity. Internationally, over 90,000 new born-again believers are being added to the Church daily with the greatest rate of growth in the Third World areas particularly Africa where approximately 20,000 are surrendering to the Lord every day. The vast majority of these are Pentecostal-charismatic adherents. This outpouring traces its origins to a time of great injustice in American history when much of the gains of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation were being swallowed up by segregationists legislation known as Jim Crow laws. Into this dark period burst a flame of revival from a livery stable, formerly the sight of an African Methodist Episcopal Church, on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. This awakening, beginning in 1906, was led by an African-American, a son of former slaves, William Seymour. The color-line was said to have been washed away in the Blood of Christ. Although much of these gains were quickly lost in the U.S. John Dawson writes: “The fact remains that the Pentecostal-charismatic renewal began as a gift of God through the black church to this troubled nation, a movement that now includes more than 100 million people in every nation.”

However, a task remains and it is an imposing one. Coach McCartney says we are facing a widening gulf in the area of reconciliation in our nation. The issue is not just one between races, ethnicities or cultures; it is one of world-views. That is what makes the job a daunting one. George Barna, the Christian demographer and contemporary prophet has observed that African-American Christianity and Western-Anglo Christianity almost seem to be two different religions coming from opposite sides of the planet. I was once asked to comment on this observation based on my experience and I had to agree. Although we read the same Bible we read it through different lenses. African-Americans read it through the lense of justice, while Caucasian-Americans read it through the lense of righteousness. This causes the disparity. To get the whole picture we must use both lenses.

What I have called a disparity should not be regarded within a negative context. It reveals the richness and the pervasiveness of the Gospel for the message of Christianity is an incarnational one. “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father” John 1:14. Let’s look at an expanded interpretation of John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word (the expression of God in action), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (an extension of all that He is in nature and personality in Creation).” Ray Bakke describes the Incarnation this way: “The scandal of the Christian faith is that Jesus became a real person and spoke with a local accent. As Jesus takes up residence in our lives, our most intimate communion with him always takes on local color, language, values and lifestyle.”
The challenge to the American church is to emerge from the doldrums of sub-culture and soar to the heights of counter-culture. Culture can only be countered by becoming sympathetic to it. Sympathy does not mean to feel sorry for, but means to come into harmony or agreement in feeling. It is the ability to share the feelings of another and its root (sumphoneo - to sound together, to be in accord - Matt. 18:19) is the same as that for agreement and symphony. Sympathy gives the messenger the right to be heard and is an issue of justice. If the message is unintelligible - cacophonic - its mission will fail. Our message and mission must resonate in harmony with the pain of the community to be relevant. We cannot stand aloof or apart. Change has to be cultural or it is not change at all. If Christ had come and stood aloof, He could not have become the author of our salvation. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” Hebrews 2:10. This also coincides with the function of the apostolic. It is incumbent upon the church to fully embrace every facet of the community in which it resides in a wholistic manner.

Since the white culture is the dominant culture, an undercurrent of most reconciliation attempts is to draw the minority culture into its paradigms. As a result most efforts at reconciliation in our country have failed. Blacks do not want to lose what is uniquely theirs and rightly so! I was once speaking to a Black congregation and they were in agreement with me until I quoted what has become something of a proverb from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Eleven o-clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in American society.” All of a sudden the equity that I had built up vanished! “What happened?” I thought, “Either they perceive me as having no right to quote Dr. King or they do not want to integrate their worship services with whites.” I have come to believe it is more the latter than the former. What they have is theirs and if they mix it with whites they may lose its benefits. George Barna writes, “Frankly, our interviews suggest that most blacks don’t have much interest in being part of a multi-racial worship experience. They don’t hate whites and they do not dismiss the white spiritual experience - but neither do they feel any need to appropriate it as their own. Their faith culture is unique and is one element that blacks are neither willing to alter nor abandon.” And I would add, that is just the very threat they face.

The Church was the center of the community under slavery and it was the only institution that the slaves could call their own. The pastor therefore was the central figure in the community. This has not changed to this day, nor should it. Who are the spokesmen for the black community? Their pastors are their spokesmen. It is not so with the white community, not anymore at least. To quote Barna once again, “Reliance on the principles of their Christian faith, more than anything else, explains how this segment of society has been able to maintain a positive outlook on life in the midst of challenging experiences.”

Consider with me the following question for which I do not have a definitive answer: “Does justice carry with it a higher quotient for motivation than does righteousness?” However, I would like to present a postulate. The viability of our Christian witness is singular–the powerful Presence of God in and by the Holy Spirit. Yet, there are two witnesses to this singularity. They are God in us as individuals and God among us as a community of faith. Probably, more than any other New Testament writer, the Apostle Paul brings this out. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 he writes: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Here the “you” is more akin to “you all” - that is, second person plural or community. Paul then drops the other shoe: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you,...?” 1 Corinthians 6:19a. Here the context is an individual one or second person singular.

We must be careful not to relegate Christianity to a bi-polar disorder. In reality it is the perfect integration of both witnesses. There is a duality here, but neither can effectively exist independent of the other. Dr. Gordon Fee writes: “The Spirit is the fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell in and among His people; the Spirit is God present among us.”

For the purpose of our present discussion let us say, “Justice is God among us, righteousness is God in us.” And that, God among us - in community - has a decidedly greater potential to advance the Gospel because of its visibility. Our Lord Jesus bears this out in His High Priestly prayer: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:20-21 The great attestation to His incarnation is His continuing Presence among His people demonstrated by their oneness in Him. Anything that stops short of His foundational principle of justice is not true unity at all, but only a “show of unity.” It is a shadow with no substance.

Paul reinforces this vital principle in his second letter to the Corinthian Church. He uses the generosity of other churches, notably Macedonia, to provoke them to good works in assisting the Church at Jerusalem. Yet, he is careful to maintain the perspective that this is all a means of grace, that is, it is through the gift of God that Macedonia reached out to Jerusalem: “...we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia,...” (2 Corinthians 8:1). Then he urges Corinth to respond likewise, thus validating through justice, the faith that is in them: “ I am not saying you must do it, even though the other churches are eager to do it. This is one way to prove your love is real” (2 Cor. 8:8 NLT). With this deed the wholeness of the Body will be maintained and unity will it have its evidence. Philip Hughes deftly paints a word picture for us of community in action: “We may be sure, further, that Paul regarded these acts of charitable giving as expressions of the organic unity of the Church, which is the body of Christ. They afforded tangible evidence to the world that in Christ the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile had indeed been broken down.”

The West tends to focus on the individual, while the so-called Third World focuses on the community. This may have resulted from culture or from ethnicity, but I believe it is from necessity. In our day, we are seeing the greatest moves of God among those peoples who are community oriented–who have justice as their focus. For an example: Christianity surged in the nation of South Korea until about a decade ago. At that point the nation began to prosper economically and the individual took preeminence over the community–necessity was replaced by complacency. The locus of Christianity has now shifted to Africa and other areas of the Southern Hemisphere. Regions of the world who have no hope other than in God are seeing phenomenal growth of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Sentinel Group recently reported: "Something's going on in Africa. The Lord is stirring there. There's a missionary zeal developing in Africa that is quite remarkable. There is going to be a whole new missions movement of the southern hemisphere to the northern." We are seeing that the waywardness of the Episcopal Church in the United States may have its course corrected (read: judged) within the Anglican Community through the conservative evangelical influence of the growing Anglican Church of Africa.

When righteousness and justice are blended together a strength of community results with a capacity to sustain transformational revival: fruit that remains. “Westerners live in a society focused on the individual, and there they are free to make economic decisions according to purely personal criteria. Africans think in terms of community, they don’t think of anything as being autonomous. They feel responsible for other needs in the community who have less and feel that those who have more are somewhat responsible for their needs.”

Righteousness is often viewed through the lenses of individualism. It becomes a matter of personal accountability. It is then the driving paradigm of biblical interpretation and response. We see this in the oft reference to Christ as our “personal savior.” Justice tends to cause us to see humanity not just as a collection of individuals, but as a community. The issue of accountability then rests on the shoulders of the community. This results in a very different perspective on the Scriptures. That is, God has always been concerned with a people as the focus of His redemption and as the primary instrument of revelation. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Even the weight of original sin is not vested solely on the shoulders of an individual, but on the smallest unit of community–the married couple.

The truth is, we need both righteousness and justice to fully effect the purposes of God in the earth. Personal responsibility must be factored into the accountability of the community. It is imperative that we avoid the dualism of either/or. We must embrace the holism of both/and if we are to be His witnesses in the world.

I recently received a video from my friend, Pastor Aaron Mutebi, of the Miracle Center Church in Entebbe, Uganda. It is of a ten day crusade which resulted in the baptism of 460 new converts to Christ. (They had to haul the converts to the shores of Lake Victoria in trucks!) Knowing that our rate of recidivism for crusade evangelism in the U.S. is near 97%–only 3% of those that respond to the invitation continue on in the faith, I asked Pastor Mutebi how that compared with Uganda. His e-mail reply was that after two years 60-70% of those making a public profession of faith will remain in the local church that he pastors. An additional percentage may find a home in another local congregation in the city and others will relocate throughout the country. This represents approximately an additional 25% that maintain their relationship with Christ. Of those that seem to lose their faith they do so as a result of overt persecution from unbelieving husbands, Muslim parents rising against their children, etc. Their strength of community, the blending of righteousness and justice, retains upwards of 95% of new converts. There is a message here that we must heed!

Another observation of the church in Africa comes from my longtime relationship with Bishop Simeon Nzishura of Burundi. Bishop Simeon represents the only authentic indigenous church-planting movement among the Hutu and Batwa (Pygmy) peoples of his native land. They represent 86% of the total population of Burundi yet have struggled under the oppressive regime of the Tutsi minority for hundreds of years. Bishop Simeon is constrained from preaching the gospel without preaching justice for his people. To him the gospel message is the integration of righteousness and justice and he is unable to separate the two. It is almost like the two poles of a car battery, you will not get a charge to start the engine unless both poles are fully engaged.

I must interject a caveat at this point. My African friends have told me: “You (the West) brought the gospel to us. You must be careful how you represent it or you will damage our faith.” We must be sure that our message is one that successfully integrates righteousness with justice. While in Uganda in 2003 we were devastated by a comment: “We do not have great men of God in Uganda like you do in America.” The reference was to our televangelists who stream their programs into these areas of the world via satellite. They were looking for the element of justice in our message and thought they had found it in the oft opulent lifestyle of our religious TV personalities.

During our recent trip to Uganda in March, 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to the nation via Kampala FM Radio at the invitation of Pastor Jackson Senyonga. The Spirit quickened me to call out to Uganda to pray for America: “Uganda, we do not have what you have! Our riches cannot buy what you have. Uganda, pray for America!”

This relationship with the African church must be reciprocal. Africa has tremendous problems in the areas of health, economics and education that may only find their answers in the technological and economical blessings of the Western World. There are many wonderful organizations that are responding to the needs of the Southern Hemisphere, but it is not enough. The church as a whole must rouse herself from her lethargy and respond to the call. I must reiterate, they will find a chord of justice in the melody of our message. The onus of the authenticity of it is upon us. To rephrase Philip Jenkins’ statement into an interrogative, “We can afford to ignore Africa?” Absolutely not, neither its legacy nor its plight! And it is vitally important that the African-American Church not neglect both her moorings in and her responsibility toward Africa.

While these characteristics are not limited to the Church in Africa, they are found in a greater concentration there. Let’s look at Philip Jenkins once again. “The growth of Black spirituality has powerful implications for the wider picture of world Christianity in the new century. Not only will Africa itself be the religion’s spiritual center within a few decades, but hundreds of millions of other Christians will belong to the wider African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean, and on the soil of Europe itself.” As of this writing the largest congregation in Europe is pastored by an African. Pastor Sunday Adelaja of Nigeria ministers to 20,000 members in Kiev, Ukraine while providing guidance for 48 other congregations in the Ukraine and another 300 worldwide. The largest congregation in England is pastored by an African. One of the largest congregations in the United States is pastored by Bishop T.D. Jakes who is an African-American. The secular national media are touting him as this nation’s next Billy Graham–that is, the voice of Christianity to our nation. And the message is a clarion call for the reconciliation of justice and righteousness!

“The Lord is righteous within her; He will do no injustice. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He does not fail” Zephaniah 3:5. God will do this thing! He will not fail! Through the Prophet Malachi He asserts, “I am the Lord, I do not change!” He will have a people who mirror these qualities in the earth. It was His intention to do this through the Hebrew nation, but now we see that purpose spread from the ultraconservative ascetic sects of Judaism (righteousness) to the liberal agenda of the ACLU (justice). Ray Bakke asserts: “I am convinced that the ancient Hebrews had a holistic view of faith and world that today’s Christians need to recover.” Israel’s hope to recover her place of destiny and integral wholeness on the world scene lies with the Messianic Community–those Jews who have embraced Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Isaiah prophesied of Him: “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will never judge by appearance, false evidence, or hearsay. He will defend the poor and the exploited. He will rule against the wicked and destroy them with the breath of his mouth. He will be clothed with fairness (justice) and truth (righteousness” (11:1-5 NLT).

Impurity and lawlessness are the antitheses of righteousness and justice. We will be slaves to one pair or the other. The first resulting in defeat and death, the latter life abundant and eternal.