A few minutes before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. Eighteen American naval vessels, including five battleships, and almost 200 airplanes were destroyed.
In 90 minutes, a total 2,403 Americans died in the attack, and another 1,178 were wounded.
I often think we live in a nation with too short of a national memory, thus today's blog post. We should never forget, and we should always value, those who gave their lives for our freedom. That day changed America. We entered a war which most Americans didn't want until after the attack. Additionally, Germany and Italy soon declared war upon us. And we found ourselves fighting again in a horrific conflict: World War Two.
There is a monument within sight of the USS Arizona Memorial which has written upon it the war-time prayer of America's First Lady at the time, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. It's a prayer she carried with her every day. It is a prayer which may help us to remember those who have sacrificed for us.
Dear Lord, Lest I continue
my complacent way
help me remember
somehow out there
a man died for me today.
As long as there be war
I then must ask and answer,
“Am I worth dying for?”
Last night at our Bible Institute, I shared this video with our students.
The Kimyal people live in West Papua, Indonesia. They were untouched by the outside world until 1963 when two missionaries, Phil and Phyllis Masters, made initial contact. A few years later in 1968, Phil was marytred and cannabalized. He was 36 years old.
The gospel, however, took root in the hearts and minds of the Kimyal. Finally, in 2010, they received the New Testament in their language. And the hands that proffered the first New Testaments were those of Phyllis Masters.
This video records the Kimyal's thoughts and celebration upon the arrival of the very first New Testament Bibles.
If you are a lover of God's Word, please set aside five minutes to view this. Warning: you may want to have a tissue handy. To read a brief firsthand account of that day, click here.
As I have been hearing and reading reports from Ferguson, MO., as a Christian, I am compelled to care and pray. As a pastor who shepherds people with black, brown and white skin tones, I must feel the pain of all people, seeking to lead LCC to be a church that promotes unity.
Watching the Ferguson TV coverage reveals pain, anger, a deep sense of injustice, and a rising sense of gloom. Tragically, a black teen named Michael Brown was gunned down by a white police officer.
Around the same time, Dillon Taylor was also shot by a police officer. Dillon, a 20-year-old white man, was unarmed when he too was shot on August 11 by a Salt Lake City (UT) police officer - who happens to be black. Another family mourns, and feelings of injustice mount there, too.
These two stories compel me to wonder why the news is completely blanketed with Ferguson but no mention of Salt Lake? Incidents like these, and the seeming biases contained within the community of those who tell these stories, make us face racial issues from different perspectives. Whites (European-American), they tell us, view these stories one way, and blacks (African-American) the other. But do we really? And if we do, should we?
And while we ponder these things, the hyphenated American divide grows wider each day.
I turn to a colleague and pastor by the name of Derwin Gray. Derwin, a black man, pastors one of the fastest-growing churches in America: Transformation Church near Charlotte, N.C. He wrote a piece that was published by Christianity Today and I thought it so good, that I wanted to share it with you.
In August, Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white policeman, in Ferguson, Missouri. Tonight, we learned that the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson on any charges related to the event.
In the months since the shooting, the world has watched closely to see how America faces its racial issues. We may wish we lived in a post-white/post-black world, but recent events affirm that we do not.
While we may never know all the details of what went down in Ferguson, we do know that black Christians and white Christians interpret these types of situations very differently. According to a recent CNN poll, “Fifty-four percent of nonwhites––including blacks, Latinos and Asians––say Wilson should be charged with murder, while just 23 percent of whites agree.”
So inside the church and outside the church, it appears that black people (and other minorities) and white people see events like the tragedy in Ferguson from totally different perspectives.
As a pastor of an intentionally multiethnic, multiclass church, I believe Jesus’ church can bring healing to the deep wounds in our country by being a testimony of how the cross and blood of Jesus can bring about reconciliation and justice.
What if black and white Christians, as well as other minorities, were members of multiethnic churches instead of segregated ones? Nearly 90 percent of churches in America are homogenous, meaning one ethnic group makes up more than 80 percent of the church. Sometimes geographic demographics cause this, but often it is a choice we make to remain segregated as Christians. For example, churches are 10 times more segregated than the neighborhoods they are in and 20 times more segregated than the schools that are near them.
If we worshiped side-by-side in the body of Christ, could we address racism, oppression, and injustice together? We could move towards being one (John 17:21, 23).
In the first century, the churches the apostle Paul planted had their own version of ethnic strife. In Christ, former enemies became co-worshipers in the same multiethnic local churches.
What if black and white Christians shared life with each other in a local church community and heard each other’s stories and walked in each other’s shoes?
“For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Eph. 2:14–16, NLT).
This reconciliation is not just for first-century Jews and Gentiles. It is for all humanity. The reason the church is segregated is that we don’t believe deeply enough in the power of the cross. It seems to me that Christians seem to not really believe that the cross of Christ has anything to do with racism and injustice.
But the gospel-reality is that “Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Eph. 2:16, NLT)
Put. To. Death.
Be an Ambassador
Do you wake in the morning with a sense of urgency every day? I hope you do. As the firestorm in Ferguson reveals, the stakes are high. Listen to Romans 5:10–11, ESV,
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Outside of association and allegiance to Jesus, humanity is an enemy of God. This is why ambassadors of Jesus wake knowing deeply that our time, talents, and treasure are to be leveraged so that God’s enemies can be reconciled to him through Jesus. Reconciliation means that through Jesus, enemies of God become friends of God. It also means that in Christ we are unified into one body, a new man (Eph. 2:15).
When you signed up to follow Jesus, he gave you the ministry of reconciliation. Your life is a bridge over which people walk from death to life.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:18–21, ESV).
God has entrusted you and me, his church, with the message of reconciliation. Are you giving that message away? God pleads with people to become his friends through our lives.
Are we only sharing that message with people who look like us or have the same socioeconomic status we do?
There is a hurting world that needs to know Jesus became what God hates most––sin––so that they could become what he loves most––his children. When we sit in segregated churches we loudly proclaim that we love some of his children more than we love others.
For all eternity, followers of Jesus will enjoy Jesus and each other. But we will not share the message of reconciliation. There will be no need to. But there is a need today! That’s why Jesus left us here as his ambassadors to announce that the kingdom of God has come and that salvation belongs to our God.
So are we just going to scream “Racism” and “Injustice” from behind our segregated church walls, or are we going to start building multiethnic communities that embody what God’s desire is for the world to be?
I’m thankful for the courageous local churches in Ferguson who are calling for peace and reconciliation.
Church, this is a pivotal time in history. Will we rise to the occasion?
Marinate on that.
[Jeff here again] As we move ahead in our country and in our churches, facing racial tensions and hopefully also seeing some vignettes of racial harmony, may we carry with us the message of reconciliation.
Derwin L. Gray (born April 9, 1971 in San Antonio, Texas) is a former professional football player in the NFL and is the founding and Lead Pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina.
My guest blogger today is my daughter, Emily! We are so proud of her and the godly young woman she has become. Em is currently a senior at (where else?) Clemson University where she is majoring in Elementary Education and is looking forward to a May 2015 graduation. Even more exciting is her wedding a few weeks after graduation on May 24 to Devin Solberg. She blogs at: My Plans to His Hands. I encourage you to check out her musings.
Em recently posted "Funny Thing Is, He Does Listen," and with her permission, I share it with you. There's a lot of wisdom here!
When a church seems to be floundering and direction-less, is there any hope? When we seem to be going through the motions Sunday after Sunday, and seemingly taking no ground for the kingdom, what can we do?
At some time or another every church leader asks these questions. And the good news is that there is always hope - because there is always God.
There are some specific steps a church can take in shaping a biblical purpose and vision for their unique setting. Let me describe a few:
1. Have an agreed upon, biblical statement of purpose or mission. A good one clarifies why we are here and what we will do and are doing. It says, "Here is where we are going and how we will get there." It also defines what a church will do.
2. Pay attention to demographics. The people living around the church, their income, their social habits, and many other variables can often tell a church a great deal. Church leaders ignore demographics at their own peril. Often, communities change while the churches never do. And a community/church disconnect follows. An astute observer of the community will be able to spot needs. A church desiring to minister to its community can then develop ministries to help address those needs. And when community needs are addressed, people are helped. And when a church helps people, they often end up in visiting that church. And when they visit that church, the Holy Spirit often moves and works in their lives.
3. Assess the church's personality. What's the make-up of the congregation? What are the strengths? What brings energy? What are the energy drainers? What is the personality of the church (careful: it often reflects that of the senior pastor!)? Before striking out in new directions, it is often imperative to know who and what the church really is.
4. Determine some achievable, short-term goals. I recall setting ten- and twenty-year goals in a church I once served. I look back at that now and laugh! Things move and change so rapidly in today's society and culture that I believe it is wiser to set short-range goals (no longer than five years at the max), and concentrate on achieving those. A church may have a sense of where they would like to be in 10 to 20 years, but only short-range goals will get them there.
For the second year in a row, I have had to chuckle at what God is doing among us. The well-known and widely-respected Outreach magazine has listed LowCountry Community Church among the Top 100 fastest-growing churches in America (#97 this year).
I chuckle because I think to myself, "This has to be one of the biggest magazine publishing mistakes ever made!" But there we are nevertheless.
There are all sorts of responses to this:
Some inwardly fume about us and say that we're getting what we wished for because we're only in it for the numbers.
Others feel jealous.
Some pastors receive the news of this list every year and feel a tinge of failure because their church didn't make it even though great things are going on where they are.
Some immediately play the comparison game and wonder where other churches are on "the list." (And that begins an unhealthy pattern. You never win in the game of comparison.)
After going through the emotions of this last year (I really didn't like that we were on the list for a lot of reasons), let me say what sums up where I'm at on this thing:
First, I thank God for what we see Him doing in our church. So much that it's being recognized nationally. Lives are being changed; marriages salvaged and infused with new life and hope; folks taking new and deeper steps of obedience; people stepping up into ministry; over 200 baptisms in the last 12 months; hundreds of salvations; among many, many other signs of spiritual energy and life.
It is absolutely humbling to think of all God is choosing to do in and through people like us, flying under the radar, tucked away on the S.C. coast in a non-metro area, peppered by swamps, gators, dolphin, and "no-see-um" bugs.
Second, let me say thanks to those of you who are part of LCC's life and community. Thank you for inviting your friends; thank you for bringing your family and co-workers to church; thank you for buying into the vision; thanks for investing in the vision; thank you for being a part of what Jesus is doing in and around the lowcountry region of South Carolina.
Now back to what matters most: glorifying God and seeing people come to Jesus.
It is not only wrong to worry, it is infidelity, because worrying means that we do not think that God can look after the practical details of our lives, and it is never anything else that worries us.
Have you ever noticed what Jesus said would choke the word He puts in? The devil? No, the cares of this world.
It is the little worries always. I will not trust where I cannot see: that is where infidelity begins. The only cure for infidelity is obedience to the Spirit.
- Oswald Chambers
Yesterday, in a sermon series on the family, I preached a message from the book of Job, regarding the hedge of protection God places around those who honor and serve Him (Job 1:10).
At the close of the message I prayed the following prayer over our congregation. I encourage you to pray this prayer, or a similar prayer, over yourself and your loved ones today.
Trusting, Father God, in the promise that whatever we ask you in the name of Jesus you will do it, we now approach You with confidence. We ask from our desire to serve You, adore You, and to live our lives for You that You build a hedge of protection around us, like that which surrounded Job, and to help us to keep that hedge in good repair and the gate locked so that the enemy and all demonic principalities and powers will have no access or means to breach the hedge except by Your expressed will.
Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus, we stand against the spiritual forces of evil, while recognizing our utter dependence on You and Your power.
By the victory Jesus won on the cross, protect us – spiritually, emotionally, and physically –from all evil and rebuke any evil spirits who wish to attack, influence, or breach Your hedge of protection in any way. Send them back to Hell and fortify Your hedge for our protection by the blood of Your Son, Jesus.
Father God, all of these things we ask in the most holy name of Jesus Christ, Your Son. Thank you, Lord, for hearing our prayer. We love You, we worship You, we thank You and we trust in You. Amen.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.
For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony ... It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. - G.K. Chesterton
Image: My grandson, Cade Coker, ready to "do it again" - dig another big hole on the beach - in Hilton Head, S.C.