Hearing the Music

Weak at Prayer

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According to the Scriptures, prayer makes the short list of difficult things to do for the Christian. Paul says in Rom 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Here Paul puts prayer in the category of weakness. While we know we should probably pray more often, my guess is that most of us don’t ordinarily think of prayer as something that is intrinsically hard. Often when it comes to prayer we put the blame on ourselves, I can’t focus, or I can’t find the right words. Surely these things are true, but they are not at the heart of what Paul says our problem is. 

What Paul makes clear is the reason prayer is so hard is that we don’t even know what to pray for! And this is so true. I look at my kids and I want to pray “good” things into their lives. But I don’t know what “good” is. Maybe in God’s economy they need to experience hardship. I pray for my single friends to find spouses, but is that the “good” God has in store? Does anyone know what to pray for our world, our president? I don’t know?

But the good news here is that though we do not know what we ought to pray for, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Our Counselor takes the heart of what we desire for our kids, our friends, our world and translates our hearts to the heart of our Father. This is yet another plank that Paul is laying in this chapter that proclaims we are “more than conquerors through him who loves us.”

So cheer up! We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit does!

 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The Color of Compromise

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Basketball season is here. Many of you know that my avocation is coaching my daughter Zoe’s basketball team. There are a lot of things that go into coaching: x’s and o’s, psychology of working with high school girls, knowing how to get along with officials (yikes!), and watching film. We watch film to review how we played. We celebrate the things that we did well and we lament the areas that we blew it. Sometimes watching the film is pretty uncomfortable, cringe-worthy even, but in the end, learning from the lows are what improves us as a team.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (C of C) by Jemar Tisby is a tough, uncomfortable, cringe-worthy film session that the Christ Church staff undertook to read this past summer. Throughout his book Tisby, a historian/theologian (PCA), recounts events that mark the centuries of our land and how the American Church has dealt with issues of race. This is not an easy task, both for the breadth of history and the characters that he has undertaken to look at. People and situations are complex and need to be handled with care. Tisby speaks to this complexity, “Many individuals throughout American church history exhibited blatant racism, yet they also built orphanages and schools. They deeply loved their families; they showed kindness towards others. And in several prominent instances, avowed racists even changed their minds. (22)” So with this complexity in mind Tisby turns to look at history. 

After setting the stage in Chapter 1, chapters 2-10 move from the colonial era, through the revolutionary period, slavery, the civil war, reconstruction, civil rights, right up until Black Lives Matter and the present. Obviously this is a lot of history and much is discussed, for the sake of this review, let me highlight just a few items that stood out. As Evangelicals, we are attuned to the roles that George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards played in the Great Awakening. We are aware of the power of Whitfield’s preaching and the sublimity of Edwards’ thought. What we do not often reckon with is the fact that both of them were slave owners and true to the complexity of the situation, utilized slaves to provide for various mission endeavors, including Whitfield’s orphanage. Other debates taking place in the early colonial era centered around questions of whether people of color could be baptized and if they were what that meant for their status as “equals” of whites. Compromise was struck with vows like the following: “You declare in the presence of God and before this congregation that you do not ask for holy baptism out of any design to free yourself from the Duty and Obedience you owe to your master while you live, but merely for the good of your soul and to partake of the Grace and Blessings promised to the Members of the Church of Jesus Christ. (sic, 38).

Because of Southern roots Presbyterianism figures prominently in histories of the church and race. R. L. Dabney a prominent Presbyterian minister and theologian was a powerful apologist for the cause of the south. According to Tisby, Dabney advocated a position that not only was slavery morally acceptable, but it was also positive for the African. Quoting Dabney, “was it nothing that this [black] race, morally inferior, should be brought into close relations to a nobler race. (81)” James Henley Thornwell, another prominent Presbyterian, was less overt advocating for slavery but also dodged the question by advocating what he called the “spirituality of the church.” The main idea was that the church had its sphere and its power to assert what the bible teaches, but that it had no responsibility to society and each Christian must exercise their liberty of conscience to choose how to participate in slave practices (85).

From the Civil War, Tisby moves us toward the present with agonizing stops in the reconstruction period. Some of the scenes recounted and practices adapted during this lesser known time of racial history were frankly hard to read. I often wanted to “look away” or “fast forward” through these scenes, but to do so would be dishonest. Chapter 7 focuses on remembering the complicity of the north, especially key for us in the north who can easily villainize our southern counterparts1. After taking a look at the rise of the religious right, Tisby arrives in Ferguson, Charleston and the two most recent Presidential elections, both polarizing in their own rights.

Like watching video and learning from past mistakes, the history that Tisby recounts needs to be looked at and taken seriously as we seek to understand our present times and responsibility with regards to church, race, and image bearers of God. From the beginning Tisby is forthright about his love for the church and his goal “to build up the body of Christ by “speaking the truth in love,” even if that truth comes at the price of pain. (19) As a Black man, Tisby has a perspective that many of us don’t share, but we need to listen carefully to. In addition to being a historian he also has a lived experience that moves him to advocate for the church to learn from past mistakes in order that all God’s people may flourish. Chapter 11 explores ways that the church may go forward in this vein. By nature of looking forward this chapter is less historical and more speculative. Surely not all of the concepts he explores will have universal acclaim, but they are worth considering as they come from a brother in the Lord. The book ends on a hopeful note:

As the American Church considers facing racism, we must remember that God’s command for Joshua to be strong and courageous also came with a promise. “ Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9). The guarantee that God’s people can do what God commands is the promise of God’s presence. For Christians God’s promise is a person — Jesus Christ. Immanuel, which means “God with us”, took on flesh to make God’s presence real among us.

So why share all this? Part of the journey that Tisby encourages for the church is education. As a staff each of us felt we learned things through encountering this book that will nuance our interactions as we seek to love all God’s children to the best of our ability. We invite you to take up these pages (available in our library or ask to borrow one of our copies) and think with us how we as Christ Church can live faithfully in GR. 

And let me end this film lesson by switching us back to Romans. Yes! We have the presence of the Triune God within us as we live by the Spirit. As we will see this week in vv. 18-25 of Romans 8 though the creation itself is groaning, along with its inhabitants, we move forward, not shrinking from past mistakes but into the glory that is to be revealed to us. Sometimes that glory is hard to see, but who hopes for what he sees? We hope in that which is yet unseen but is certain in Christ.

 

1 For an even closer look at how issues of race impact northerners take a look at A City Within A City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, MI by Todd E. Robinson.

 

A Psalm for Giving Thanks

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It is quickly approaching that time of year when we express our thankfulness.  Each year as we get closer to Thanksgiving Day, I am reminded of Psalm 100, “A Psalm for Giving Thanks.”  Charles Spurgeon said of Psalm 100, “Nothing can be more sublime this side of heaven than the singing of this noble Psalm by a vast congregation.” Augustine said, “A Christian is to be a hallelujah from head to foot.”  With those responses, it is interesting that Psalm 100 is the only psalm in the psalter with the heading “Giving Thanks.”  It may be the only one, but oh how full of instruction it is for us today.  Psalm 100 tells us not only how we are to give thanks, but also why we are to give thanks.

The psalm begins by giving us 3 imperatives (commands) telling us how we are give thanks.  We are to make a joyful noise to the LORD.  This does not mean our corporate gatherings are just one big cacophony.  The Hebrew word here captures the understanding of a fanfare for the entrance of a king.  The second imperative we interpret as serve the LORD.  Some translations use the word ‘worship.’  This Hebrew word carries the understanding of laboring for and with another.  We delight in serving one another because of the service we have received from our Savior.  This is the same word used in Exodus 12 where Israel was told to tell their children the meaning of the Passover when they entered the land God was giving them.  The third imperative is to come into His presence.  We come into His presence with singing.  We experience this every Sunday, don’t we?  We are blessed to have such wonderful musicians at Christ Church and that includes everyone of us as we open our mouths and sing His praises.  Thanks be to God!

The psalm ends by telling us why we are to give thanks – because He is God (verse 3) and He is good (verse 5).  I must admit verse 3 has long caused me to scratch my head.  I grew up with a mother who taught speech and drama.  She constantly corrected our English usage.  Reading our verse 3 in English, I can almost hear my mother’s correction, "You are never to use a proper name followed by the pronoun" (ie “Bryant, he…”) and yet we have it here, “…the LORD, He is God.”  This is a tool for emphasis in Hebrew.  The author wants to be sure we all understand that God is God and we are not.  This is why the psalmist uses different names for God.  You will notice the psalm opens with yehweh which is translated LORD.  This is the name for our covenant making and keeping God.  In verse 3 the psalmist uses the name Elohim which is translated God.  This is the name for the creator.  He is showing us the vastness of our God because HE alone is God.  The psalm ends reminding us He is good.  He has entered into a covenant with us, He has saved us, He has showered us with grace and mercy because He is good.  

Our response then is to give thanks.  F.W. Boreham, an Australian pastor from the late 1800’s, said this, “Every hair of my head thanks you; every throb of my heart thanks you; every drop of my blood thanks you; because you gave your best to save me.”  That is my response to my LORD and my God.  In addition to that, I give thanks for my new friends at Christ Church.  It is a great joy to unite my voice with yours in making a joyful noise, serving the LORD, and coming into His presence with singing.  I’m looking forward to doing that this Sunday with each of you, when we also will be looking at Romans 8:12-17 together.
 

Photo by Kiy Turk on Unsplash

Posted by Bryant McGee

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