Oct 26, 2015

To be Young, Christian, and Black (African-American)

Recently I was listening to the podcast of the Trackstarz (the conversation starts at 16:10) and the question was asked, "Are Black people really Christians?"  I must admit I was slightly taken aback (in a good way).  Not because I felt offended in any way, but because here are young, Christian African-Americans, who are taking the time to think about what it really means to be Christian.  In my opinion, this is a loaded question for a number of reasons, and I am glad that the group conversed about this topic from a number of different angles.  Being that I am young, Christian, and African-American, I felt a need to touch on some points that I thought were important.

At the beginning, one brother (I believe to be called "Seantana") brings up the fact that some people believe that they are Christian in a sense by birth or culture or relation to a grandparent.  This is truly a problem because it shows that somewhere in their education, whether by family or Sunday School or the pulpit, they were not shown that being a Christian is not just showing up for church on Sundays, but accepting Christ as Lord and expressing his Lordship over your life in every aspect of your life.  The Christ once said that He is the Life (John 14:6), so one should not take that to mean that Jesus is only for a certain time of the week and can easily be put up on the shelf somewhere until next week.  Of course, this makes me feel that Christianity in America today is becoming a lot more like what Judaism had become years before.  I have heard many times that some celebrities and other less-known folk will refer to themselves as "secular Jews," since they accept their historical heritage and some of the rituals, but decline any belief in the Deity of Judaism.  It seems that more young people are desiring to do that today with Christianity in some sense.  They may like Jesus because He seems nice and loving and all that jazz about treating people nice, but to say that He is Lord over their life and to live completely for Him, and be faithful to worship Him among fellow believers is not right up their alley.  Unfortunately, the understanding that being a Christian means a life in Christ and living against the ways of the world and popular culture is falling on deaf ears and being lost in translation.

 

This question also makes me think of an old picture (as you see right above) that I once saw on a social media site some years back.  I am not sure where the comedian, Chris Rock, was to have made the statement about African-Americans being Christian.  I guess he would be arguing that we (Christian African-Americans) are forgetting the history behind how our people came to accept Christianity as a religion.  I once posted the picture on my own Twitter account and sent it to him (which I wasn't really expecting a response) and although I cannot remember my words today, I would say to him or any other person that those of us "thinking" Christian African-Americans have thought our faith through and see Christ as being the Truth, despite our ancestors being given partial truths of the Gospel by evil slave masters that had an evil and confused way of understating God's Word.  There are times when the Truth still stands out, amidst the falsehoods that encircles it.  For example, capitalism as an economic system for our country may be argued as the right system for private owners to make the most wealth without extreme control by the state.  So, if capitalism is "truth," then you couldn't completely argue it away based on the egregious and evil acts done by its grossest disciples.  Focus on Jesus first and the history surrounding Him and his actions and words, then go forth formulating thoughts on what Christianity is and what is its purpose and validity.  If you come up with an idea of Christianity based completely upon the ways of an imperfect adherent of Christianity, then you leave with a faulty view of Christ who actually defines perfectly what Christianity is.  This is why I believe that studying one's Christian faith should be done with the help of Bible-based Christian theologians, Christian philosophers, Christian apologists, and Christian scientists, because they will help you in your thinking about, living out, and defending your faith.

At another time the podcast points out how so many of our young people (I mean Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, etc.) do not take the faith of earlier generations seriously because of the lack of Christ-like living at home and the emotionalism that runs rampant in the "Black church."  This is no surprise to me since I remember thinking similarly when I was a teenager.  I was amazed at how many people could shout and stomp and dance on Sunday, but you never heard of them or saw them crack open a Bible during the week.  As a matter of fact, during my college years, there was a time when I knew I was living in outright rebellion against God, and I never claimed to be a Christian to others that I hung around.  I thought to myself many times that it would be hard to tell folks of my love of the Lord when I was showing them that I loved marijuana, alcohol, and chasing women far more than anything else.  I mean I knew enough Scripture to know that there was no need in me vocalizing about my faith, if my faith was not shown in my walk.  If I am to take the Grace of God seriously, then I should surely know that I cannot live continuously in sin thinking that I am covered by the Blood of Jesus, so I can do what I want, as long as I pray and "repent" later on.  This would go completely against what Paul wrote in Romans 6:12, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By  no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"  We (true Christians) should show ourselves to be true to what God has called us to be, which is many things (and one is the Royal Priesthood which I  preached on not too long ago - https://archive.org/details/01TheRoyalPriesthoodAndTheJoyOfBeingChosen).  We must remember that we are to be examples to the world of righteous and holy living.  Some folks will hate us because we do not back the direction that the culture is going, especially issues surrounding our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and the women's rights to choose to have an abortion.  But I do not want people not coming to Christ because I am not giving faithful imitation of Him.

The last thing that I wanted to touch on is the way Christianity is portrayed in entertainment.  It is my opinion that when what you do during worship becomes useful for the routine of a comedian or a hilarious scene in a movie or television show, it is time to rethink your worship.  When I first saw the movie, The Blue Brothers, as a child, I fell in love with it because it was funny and it had great music.  But then I took another look at it when I became a young adult and had a deeper faith in the Lord and had my worldview shaped a bit more by other thinkers.  One scene in particular got my attention and had James Brown in it as a singing pastor.  The music got to going with the organ and drum beat and the massive choir got to singing and then they start bringing out all of these dancers to move to the music as if they were "in the spirit."  That's when it hit me: too many people look at this as Christianity.  Feel good soul music that captivates you for about five minutes, but is completely void of substance that is real and lasting.  Jesus captivating one's life is not some momentary thing that needs to be sparked by a good note from an organ, but His captivating the Christian's life is an eternal thing that is "jumpstarted" and continuously sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We misrepresent what it is to worship the Lord and revere Him when we let ourselves become entertainment to the culture.  Television shows, like "Black Jesus," (which I have not seen, but I have heard and read about it and do not feel the need to see it) will never take our Lord seriously if we ourselves play with God's Name and do not care enough to imitate Christ with a Bible-based life that is rich and robust. 

Can you really be Christian and think of Christ as only worth your time on Sundays?  Can you really be Christian and think that it not important to represent Christ daily and to every young person that you meet?

Can you be Christian and African-American?  Really?!  Of course you can!  But only when your skin color or culture or family ties are not defining your faith, and you know what it is to have a relationship with the One who gave you your skin color, culture, and family.  Jesus is past the foolishness!  Are you?

Oct 13, 2015

YOU CAN'T "STRATEGIZE" SPIRITUALITY

1 Corinthians 3:7 = "So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIV)"
John 6:63 = "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life. (NIV)"
John 6:65 = "He went on to say, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.' (NIV)"

We, the Church, indeed are in strange times when it comes to the lack of faithfulness of many people in going to corporate worship.  Also, the lack of openness of many nonbelievers to patiently wait while the Gospel is being shared with them is all the more abundant today it seems.  It is a sad and distressing sight to see so many empty pews on any given Sunday, especially when you are trying to be true to Christ's instruction and invite others to come worship with you continually to no avail.  Now, although we live in times where this is the case all over America, we should not die to the hope that we ought to have in Christ and give up on the Great Commission.  That being said, we should desire to connect with others wherever we go and find ways to invite and share the Gospel with our "un-churched" brothers and sisters.  Being creative with our invitations can be a good thing, but I would urge us to be very careful in thinking that we could "strategize" an increase in the numbers that darken the Church's doors and to not forget that we, in and of ourselves, cannot bring the "numbers" in anyway.  If that is what God Wills to do, then it Will be done in His Way and in His Time by the movement of His Spirit through His Church.

Once I sat in a meeting and quietly listened as one leader encouraged the group to think about how it may invite more folks into fellowship and worship.  One older person rather abruptly (in my opinion) asked for a "strategy" from the leader.  The person felt strongly about their point that the group needed some kind of plan for getting more people to come into our walls.  I, for one, did not appreciate the way they stated their point (they later apologized by the grace of God), but I also felt the need to make an argument for why there is no top "strategy" to get folks into the church, and to urge Christians to be careful not to forget about what should come after we are able to encourage others to worship with us.  The decline in numbers of people in churches has been happening everywhere in western society, but it is a nuanced issue that has to be carefully studied.  No one should think that there will be a one-size-fits-all type of plan that will get your church booming just because it worked for a well-known pastor in some big city or suburb somewhere.  I have read before that in many cases that many people fall away from the Church due to some relational issues in which they were hurt in some way.  Then, in my opinion, there are too many "churches" in one community, so people may not know where to go, or they go where they are most comfortable culturally or socially, and forget to do a spiritual (and biblical) check when they visit different places.  I live in the Bible Belt, a place where people will have "churches" side by side each other, right across the street, and where there can be up to 4 or 5 "churches" in a square mile of each other.  Huh?!  I do not believe that this is biblical at all, but I may argue this point at another time.  Also, people argue over insane things today, like should we sing contemporary Christian songs or straight out of the hymnal.  Then, churches may split off from one another because of the foolishness of the so-called "Pastor", who may be a wolf in sheep's clothing, but the "flock" would not know if you told them because they do not believe in the importance of knowing God's Word for themselves.  Yes, I could go on and on and on.  My point is that to want a strategy to gain numbers of people back in the pews is a bit dangerous to me, if that is the only goal in mind.

I know a plan is good to have to get everyone on board to see how we may best reach out to brothers and sisters that are not saved or do not have a church home.  But I would also suggest that in any given outreach "strategy" that the Church ought to be careful to not just go for Heads, but go for Souls.  I think in some ways it is not terribly difficult to get large numbers into churches, or something similar to a church (think "Joel Osteen" and many prosperity gospel preachers like "Creflo Dollar").  Think about it: there are many who claim to be servants of Christ and lead "churches" with attendance that could rival some sports venues, but when you check their theology, it sounds like something to celebrate in an end zone, instead of joyful celebration and living that is to be for a lifetime and into eternity.  What I'm trying to say is: "You can't strategize spirituality!"
Numbers can come week in and week out, but we must be careful to not allow for a great number of bodies in the four walls of a sanctuary to fool us in believing that lives are being changed.  I have heard people say before that if they could put on a certain event or run a ministry a certain way that they could have a place hopping with people.  Excuse me!  Let us not forget that it is God alone who enables us to come to Him and who gives the growth of any place of worship.

Besides, people "accepting" Christ and getting baptized out in the open, may not be a true and exact image of what has taken place in their hearts.  Some people think that in going before the Church and saying that they accept Christ as Savior and getting baptized that their work is done.  It is as if some so-called Christians think that just accepting the Lord is enough in this walk with Christ.  Not even close by a long shot.  Obviously we do not work for salvation, because it is through Grace Alone that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8), but we work because of this gift of salvation given to us.  I have not heard of many being effective in sharing the Gospel by way of staying bolted to the pew.  We are to be active in our praise and worship of and our living in Christ.  Therefore, the life in Christ is an active and a joyful one of sharing the Good News to anyone that we come into contact with, while we are continually being transformed into the very image of our Savior.  Again, how can anyone do this activity while sitting is beyond me.  But, here is the kicker: how can they, those who are new to Christ or new to the Church, know better, unless we train them better.  It is beneficial to letting new believers and new members that finding a ministry to be involved with is vital to being in the Body of Christ.  It should be encouraged that to keep the Life of Christ flowing in you, you must be actively attached to the Vine (Jesus) and abiding in Him.  For a person to not be active in the Body of Christ, a person will appear to think it to be of no importance or that person has a huge lack of understanding of what it means to be in Christ.  This goes back to my point that you cannot strategize spirituality.  We should desire to not just increase tithers in our churches, but desire a deeper love of the Lord ourselves, which should spark in us a need to value others so much that we pour our lives (as we imitate Christ only) into them to help them see that without Christ they can do nothing and are doomed to Hell and the joy that they are missing out on.

So, to strategize, or not to strategize?  Is that the question?  Not necessarily?  A better one might be: "How do we strategize in a Spirit-guided and Christ-centered way for God's Kingdom and His Greater Glory?"