Loving Father or Tyrannical Boogeyman?

Loving Father or Tyrannical Boogeyman?

Our smallest offense deserves the full wrath of God. That’s hard to hear if we forget that God has indeed not only covered our sin because of Jesus, but also allows us to continually approach him to receive that grace anew. We also know that God is holy—set apart in his perfection, glory and majesty. We are sinners who sin every day. Our sin should grieve but not condemn us, because we serve a God who is good and gracious but also holy and just. So, what are we to do with this enigma of our sinfulness and God’s holiness, which clings so close to us? Repent and receive God’s amazing grace.

God, the Boogeyman?

There it is again. That eerie dark shadow lurking in the closet. He seems so unpredictable. What might he do next? What might happen? Will he jump out and get me? MOM!

Those used to be my fearful thoughts as a young child. I would fearfully snuggle into my bed, waiting for the boogieman to jump out of the closet and get me. When I became a Christian, I realized that much of the way I related to God was like that childlike fear of the boogieman. I felt like I didn’t have much control over my life, but instead of realizing I was in the hands of a good and loving Father, I viewed God as tyrannical. He had all the control, I thought, and the only love he showed was on the cross (which of course would have been enough!). I really did think God was like the boogieman hanging out in my closet just waiting for the right moment to punish me or cause some harm.

How sad.

If we only know God as the sovereign ruler of the world, then we might make that same mistake I did as I young Christian. It wasn’t until I understood the great love of God that I began to see all His ways as good and loving. Yes, even those tough things in our lives are part of God’s loving hand (1 Pet 1:3-9; Heb. 12: 3-17). We can rest knowing that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways and yet he is still thoughtful of man (Isa. 55:8; Psalm 8:4). We see evidence of this in Isaiah 55, which begins with an urgent call for us to come and drink—God delights in meeting our needs (spiritual and otherwise). We have a Father who invites us to the throne of grace to receive help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). And though I didn’t fully grasp the significance of the cross as a young Christian, I now understand that God displayed his ultimate love for us through the sacrifice of His son on our behalf. Is there a greater love than this?

God is not the boogieman. He is the sovereign, loving, awesome God who came to redeem a people for himself. He is good and loves us relentlessly. So, in response to our knowledge of His loving character, we discipline ourselves to daily repent of the sin Christ already died for.

Walk in the Light

One of the many side effects I’ve experienced from getting older is an inability to see the road while driving at night. Everything glows and if it rains it’s as if someone is shining a bright light in my eyes. Like the responsible adult I am, it took me months to go to an eye doctor. So, I was driving around in the dark, blind as a bat. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this as Christians. We’ve seen the light. The gospel has shined light into darkness and this light isn’t disorienting, it’s a gift of grace that purifies and guides us.

But perhaps you’ve been walking around like you are still in the dark. God calls you to walk in the light. To walk in the light means to walk in the goodness and grace of God, living a life that is reflective of the Savior, and walking in a manner worthy of the gospel. Repentance is one of the clearest ways to walk in this light. John tells us that, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). To walk in darkness is either to walk with the knowledge of sin and ignore it, or to walk as if we are completely without sin never repenting (v.8). The grace of God allows us to not only acknowledge that we indeed continue to struggle with sin, but also to turn from our sin.

We see clearly that our walking in the light isn’t perfect, not even close. We will never reach perfection on this earth. That’s why repentance is such a beautiful gift from our God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Oh what grace! We confess our sins to God—acknowledging our great need for him to turn us from our sin and what does he do? He does what he’s already done—pours out the grace we need to change. His wrath was reserved for Jesus. We don’t receive punishment or wrath for our sins—we receive grace. There are, of course, consequences for sin but even still our standing before God doesn’t change.

God is sovereign and rules over all. He is holy, yet because of Jesus we can approach him. Run, don’t walk to the throne of grace. Don’t walk like a blind man while you have the capability to walk in the light that is available to you. Walk in the light. Confess your sin and receive grace. There is no condemnation for you. Grace, that’s all he has for you and me.

 

A version of this article first appeared in Tabletalk

A Call to Prayer During Anxious Time

A Call to Prayer During Anxious Time

Praying is never an overreaction.

I shared that sentiment a few weeks ago on twitter and I believe it is true. While prayer is never an overreaction, I would dare to say it’s not always our first reaction. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, encourages us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4: 4-7).

We live in an anxious world and in an anxious time. Likely many of you are anxious about something right now. When we take one look away from God and His Son, we can easily fall into despair. This seems especially true given our current cultural moment. To say that we live in the most racially divided time in our history would be erroneous. But for those of us born in the 70s, 80s and 90s, we have acutely felt this heavy weight of race division. We continue to live in a racially divided time.

Hate is at every turn. I can’t turn on the TV or log onto social media without seeing the evidence of how this fallen, broken world has affected race relations in our country and in our world. And I know the divide and pain isn’t something that’s only found out there in the world, it’s right here in the church too.

The reality is we will not see this anxious division become whole until Jesus returns. But are we simply resigned to anxious waiting until that day?

What if instead we took our anxiety related to racial division and turned it into faithful prayer?

What if we took our anxiety related to racial division and turned it into faithful preaching, writing, or your own unique creative outlet?

What if we took our anxiety related to racial division and turned it into faithful action?

Our hope is not in our prayer, our preaching, nor our action. Our faith and our hope is in our God. We can rest and trust him. We look to that future grace and hope of a new heaven and new earth to motivate us to bring heaven to earth now.

Ultimately, we need to trust God for our future. The future doesn’t look bright to an anxious world. When we look out at the landscape of our culture, it looks dim.

But don’t listen to your fears.

Fear has a way of whispering lies in our ears about who God is.

Fear tells us that there’s no hope for our nation.

Fear tells us that the gospel isn’t enough for unity.

Fear tells us that there’s no way that God can save this community.

But God.

God.

God is not a genie in a bottle ready to grant all of our wishes. We don’t shake a magic 8-ball to learn all that he is doing. We wait and trust. God is always working whether we recognize it or not.

And one day our faith will become sight.

God is not on this throne wringing his hands hoping we get our political act together so things can be fixed.

God has not given up his rule and authority.

We can resist anxiety and fear by remembering what is true about God. We have a different and better allegiance and it is not to any ruler or authority on this earth. We must remember that our kingdom is of God and is of heaven.

God is awesome.

God is sovereign.

We are not entrusting ourselves to a wimpy, powerless God.

God is also our loving Father and he invites his children to come to him and find rest in our Savior who died for our fear and anxiety. He is our peace.

Read again, the words that Paul writes: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Right now we have a great opportunity to submit our requests to the Lord. Would you join me in the month of September to praying for racial harmony in our country and revival in our churches?

Some ideas for how to pray:

  1. Go on prayer walks with friends
  2. Set out to pray every morning
  3. Organize a prayer gathering at your church
  4. Journal your prayers
  5. Get in your prayer closet alone

Your prayer time does not have to be anything elaborate, but I am praying that for you and me, it will be consistent–every day in September. You do not need to sign up for anything, just commit in your heart and get started.

Some ideas for what to pray:

  1. The gospel to penetrate hearts
  2. The gift of repentance for our own racial bias
  3. The gift of repentance for those who struggle with racial pride
  4. Strength, wisdom, and courage for church and religious leaders (pastors, seminary presidents, organizational leaders, etc.)
  5. Unity among believers
  6. Opportunities to love your neighbor
  7. Racial harmony, reconciliation, etc.
  8. Healing—where there is hurt, need for forgiveness, etc.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

 

 

 

 

 

Mind: Stop Spinning

Mind: Stop Spinning

I’m an advocate for gaining knowledge, being informed, and keeping up with what is going on in the world. As I heard a friend once say, “Ignorance is not bliss, it’s just ignorance.” But with all the information that we are presented with throughout each day, I have wondered, for myself and for you, is it possible to sit and watch a sunset without worrying or thinking? Are we able to simply sit any longer? Do we ever shut off our minds? The answer is likely sometimes, but more than likely hardly. World events aren’t the only things that keep our minds spinning, the daily mundane tasks, our unfinished projects, broken relationships, worrying about finances, the list goes on and on because the cares of this world are many.

So what are we to do?

In an interview recently regarding race, I was asked how I practice “self-care” so as not to burnout and to be encouraged in my soul. My answer was simple: I stop. I stop thinking about the issues for a moment. I don’t forget them. And I don’t pretend that they don’t exist. But there comes a time when, in order to have true and lasting peace, we have to understand that burdens were never meant for us to fully carry and taking captive our thoughts is a means of caring for our souls. I don’t do this perfectly—I never will—but stopping is a practice that reminds me that I’m not God and He desires to carry all the things that keep my mind spinning. And sooner than later, the spinning stops and there’s peace. I’m given the grace to think clearly and I remember—God.

Today, if you are troubled about many things, may I encourage you to stop, to pause, and ask God to clear your mind. Even if it’s just for a moment, it will be worth it. I believe God will honor your act of faith, trusting Him with your concerns rather than carrying them on your own. He is faithful.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa. 26:3).

 

Stand Fast: When the Race Conversation Turns Hostile 

Stand Fast: When the Race Conversation Turns Hostile 

Guest post by Isaac Adams

I thank God for folks who speak biblically about race. Whether it’s a black mom teaching her children that they also bear God’s image, or a white sister writing a prophetic blog post—there are many brothers and sisters take up this worthwhile battle.

And it is a battle—with wounds, fatigue, and conflicting sides. Though there are many sides, I’ll mention two: on one side are folks who try to lovingly share biblical truth about race, and on the other side are people who reject it, often with hostility. Trillia received this hostility personally in a comment on her blog post, which said:

I’m convinced that when black people talk about “diversity” that the real message is just anti-white…For too long we’ve had this burden of white guilt hanging around our necks. Every time I see an article about race, every time I have to go to some mandatory ‘diversity awareness’ training at work, every time I read about black criminals terrorizing people – I just get more and more resolved to fight for my race. I’m done apologizing to you.

Regardless of how gracious folks from the first side are, the other side lobs these devastating verbal grenades. Nonetheless, I pray that this post encourages those in the race battle. After all, when someone receives a comment like the one above, there’s a strong temptation to despair and quit the fight altogether.

I sympathize with that temptation, and I want to give grace to those who decide to step back from the race conversation (or certain parts of it). Like any battle, there are times to retreat, recover, or even retire, and let other parts of the troop push forward; no one should have to subject themselves to attack. Yet for those still in the trenches, I have two encouragements for you.

1) Some people are being convinced of the truth!

Though we can’t always see them, there are people who are listening, learning, lamenting, and loving in a new way because of what’s being written, shared, and spoken. Though we may feel like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, the Lord does have 7,000 out there devoted to the truth. Francis Grimké, a black pastor from Washington D.C., saw the 7,000 of his day. Grimké wrote about them in a sermon series he delivered in 1898. He preached:

“I have faith in a brighter future for us [blacks] in this country because both in the North and in the South there are some white men and women, who do not approve of the present treatment which is accorded to us, or share in the sentiment which regards us as naturally inferior to the whites…”

Grimké hopefully persevered in the battle because he saw the truth win some people. But what about people the truth doesn’t win? When we encounter them, I’ve been helped to remember that…

2) We cannot convince everyone, but God can convince anyone.  

W.E.B. Du Bois, a civil rights activist and writer, wrote haunting words in 1935. He knew that he couldn’t convince everyone of the truth, when he wrote:

It would be only fair to the reader to say frankly in advance that the attitude of any person toward this story will be distinctly influenced by his theories of the Negro race. If he believes that the Negro in America and in general is an average and ordinary human being, who under given environment develops like other human beings, then he will read this story and judge it by the facts adduced. If, however, he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation…then he will need something more than the sort of facts that I have set down.

Du Bois reminds us that truth does not necessarily cure ignorance or racial resentment. It’s tempting to think that there’s a perfect way to talk about race, one that can win the listener without offense. In a fallen world, however, such a way does not exist because sin is not just an abstract, mental falter that can be simply fixed with information; rather, sin is a willful rebellion of a heart that rejects the truth, and it must ultimately be fixed by transformation—that is, getting a new heart from God. There may be more strategic ways to talk about race, but Christians have a greater hope than our own skill in having this conversation. Praise God, we do have “something more” that can make our words effective–even to the hardened hearer.

That “something more” is prayer, as Jesus encourages us to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44); that “something more” is the Spirit of God, who can give a terrorist a heart of flesh (Acts 22:7). With us, it is impossible to change the hearts and minds of the racially resentful, but with God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).

Du Bois stated that he was not writing to people who needed “something more” to be convinced, and maybe we shouldn’t either. There are times when we shouldn’t answer fools in their folly (Proverbs 26:4).

Yet the same verse from Proverbs also says there are also times where we should answer fools in their folly. When we do answer them, let’s keep our eyes on God, especially since whom we fight ultimately isn’t just hostile flesh and blood. Brothers and sisters, we fight against the cosmic powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12).

Yet despite what any fool might tempt us to believe, truth will overcome falsehood, light will overcome the darkness, and the battle will be over soon.

Hang in there, brothers and sisters. Stand fast.

There are 7,000 with you.

lovingly caputred by Sarah Danaher (Ampersand Photography, © 2012)

lovingly caputred by Sarah Danaher (Ampersand Photography, © 2012)

More about Isaac:

Isaac Adams serves as a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and a staff writer for Humble Beast, where he writes on the arts, race, and the local church. You can follow him on Twitter.

Race: A Topic Worth Speaking About

Race: A Topic Worth Speaking About

Editors are constantly encouraging me to develop a catchy introduction that captures readers’ attention right away to encourage further reading. And so when I was thinking through sharing thoughts about why writing on race and ethnicity can be difficult, I literally thought I’d just skip the introduction and get straight to the facts. Why do that? Because writing about race is so incredibly hard. Some even go so far as to question the need to read and process material about race.

I have been told that speaking and writing about race could hurt my ministry. That publishers may not be able to publish me because my “platform” would be hindered by my communication on the topic of race. But for me, it’s more than a topic. Race, racial reconciliation, racial harmony, you name it, is about people made in the image of God. It’s not a topic that I can just ignore. And, as a black female in predominantly white spaces, I face the reality of my ethnicity every single day. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply reality.

“We are in 2017 and, surely, we are all past the race issue,” I’ve heard.  My short answer is “No,” we aren’t past these issues.  People are still quite unaware of the struggles of various members of our society. Even just recently, I shared a picture of my husband and I as we both lamented and celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the legalization of interracial marriage. Many of my friends didn’t know that something so precious as interracial marriage was illegal in our country at one point in time (and as recently as 50 years ago). I imagine that for those who became aware, they also gained a deeper understanding as to the pain that many African Americans continue to feel in this country. Fifty years wasn’t that long ago.

So, I continue to speak and write about this topic not because it’s near and dear to my heart alone, although it is so important to me, but because I believe wholeheartedly that this “topic” is a gospel issue and that the church, which I’m a member of, must speak up about it.

God cares: The Word addresses  ethnicity extensively. Genesis 1 through 11 seems to focus rather intently on developing creation and establishing cultures. We see God rebuking racism in Numbers.  Head over to the New Testament and God establishes that the gospel is for all nations and on the last day all nations will be present worshipping Him. I am only scratching the surface of God’s Word about his love and thoughtful creation for all people. He cares deeply about all nations and tribes and tongues. This is a great motivator to continue to write about the subject of race (and I would say for those who aren’t writing, to read). God does not discriminate.

It’s important to Jesus: There are probably several verses I could draw our attention to in order to demonstrate the importance to Jesus, but I can’t help but think of the most overused, but oh so rich, verse in the Bible. John 3:16 is rich because it sums up the gospel and includes the profound words, “God so loved the world.” Jesus died for anyone, specifically for “whoever” believes in Him and places their faith and trust in His finished work on the cross. Jesus gave his life for the nations, for anyone and everyone who believes! Go on and read the gospels, Ephesians, Galatians, Revelation; shall I go on? You will find the gospel–you will find Jesus. You will also find the wall of hostility has been broken down in the body of Christ– there is one new man. Jesus does not discriminate.

I write and speak, even in hard places, because I am convinced this is important to God. I write and address these topics because, until Christ’s return, strife among nations and people will continue. And maybe in some small way, writing will help advance understanding. It’s not easy but my prayer is that it might inspire others to move and speak because so much is at stake. Perhaps a catchy introduction will help hook readers, but I believe it is the gospel that will cause our hearts to be knit together in a way that only God can do.

An Invitation

I’d like to invite you to join the conversation. How can we all learn to gain a better understanding of each other? How do you think the gospel applies to this conversation?

This isn’t a topic left to the public, news sources, and/or politics, rather this is a topic that the church must not only take up, but be on the forefront of engagement. It’s about people – all who have been bestowed with the gift and honor of being made in the image of our God.

Everyday Life Questions

Everyday Life Questions

Lately, I’ve found myself evaluating in greater depth what I’m spending my time and attention on. I’ll ask myself questions like: What is the most important thing for me to do today? Why am I interested in this post? Will this help my family in the long-term? These questions aren’t born out of a struggle with guilt, by the grace of God. And I am not operating under a system of rules that I think will add to my favor before the Lord, by the grace of God. The reason for why I’ve been asking these questions isn’t complicated, it’s simply learning to guard the little time I have within the 15 or so hours that I am awake within a 24-hour period. But these series of questions have led to more questions like: What do I find myself obsessed with? What would I like to do this year? How can I serve my neighbors better? What have I done for my church lately?

Thus, the start of a new series…

Over the summer, I’d love for you and me to explore questions together. These questions won’t likely be theological questions, rather I want to explore practical everyday life questions that might be actionable, or they could lead to confession and repentance in an area, or maybe the questions will help to stir love and affection for the Lord. They will likely be questions that I’m asking myself or asking my friends. They may even be questions based on a trend I see via social media.

And I’d love for you to participate.

If you feel compelled, I’d like to hear your answers to these questions either via the comments section of this blog or on my social media posts. I hope you would join me as we think and reflect on various aspects of life together. Every now and then, I’d love to feature your answers on my site. I’m going to give you a bit of a head’s up for next week’s question, which is: What Am I Truly Obsessed With?

I was inspired to ask myself this question after seeing someone quote a friend who said she’d like to be obsessed with the thing she’ll be obsessed with for eternity (paraphrasing). Next week, I’ll seek to answer honestly about my obsessions and then share why I hope to be more obsessed with the person I will have the joy of being obsessed with for eternity.

Until then, are there any questions you’d like for me to explore? Any questions you think would be useful to consider as an online community?

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