Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Knots in the Family Tree, Part 4

     The final female name in the family line of the Messiah found in Matthew Chapter 1 is that of "Uriah's wife." She is not named, but we know from 1 Samuel 11 and 12 and 1 Kings 1 that this is Bathsheba. Perhaps the very stigma of adultery keeps the text from naming her since Matthew's gospel was being written primarily to a Jewish audience.
     Bathsheba is presented to us as an adulteress, and later, as a plotter and a schemer, working to make sure that her son by David is placed on the throne (even though it had already been declared to David to be God's plan).
     So in the Jewish mind, she already has two strikes against her to be listed in this or any other genealogy - she is a woman and a sinner. But wait, there's more! It would seem likely that, being married to a Hittite, she was also a Hittite, which would make her, yes - a Gentile (strike 3, yer out!) How about that? Four women in this genealogy - two Canaanites, a Moabite, and a Hittite, not one Jewess.
     But God, through Matthew, is saying right from the get-go in Chapter One of the Newer Testament, that some things are going to be different with this Messiah, this God-in-the-flesh, this "Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." Perhaps the biggest new thing that the Jewish people will need to get used to is that God is and always has been interested in more than just Israel. At one time, they knew this (and we'll explore how in future blog posts). But during the years between the return from Exile and now, when God was largely silent, the Jews had gone from being a people who wanted to imitate the nations (the reason they were in Exile in the first place), to a people who wanted to isolate themselves from the nations. In their misguided attempts at reform that started out well under Ezra and Nehemiah, they had quickly gone to drawing a circle around themselves and were determined to keep everyone else out.
     But Jesus would have none of this.
     Women? Pay attention especially to Luke who includes women a lot in his gospel as supporters of Jesus' ministry and shows Elizabeth and Mary to be heroic in his birth narratives.
     Sinners? Again, Luke, but not only Luke, shows Jesus going after the ones Israel had shut out. He is called a glutton and a drunkard and is regularly criticized for eating with sinners ("sinners" meaning anyone who did not try to meticulously keep the law and traditions).But even an adulteress?
Yes, according to John 8, where he tells the woman who was caught, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."
     Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
     Thy own presence to cheer and to guide;
     Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
     Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside.
     No condemnation for the past. Strength to go forward into new life in the future. The promise of God to all who trust in Him.
     Gentiles? Read Luke 4 again carefully, and see what the people of Nazareth were really so fired up about that they tried to throw Jesus over the nearest cliff. (Hint: it wasn't that He claimed to be the Promised One. That's what I used to think, too.)
     So Bathsheba, who had an affair with King David and who stood silent while the king plotted to have her husband conveniently killed on the front lines of battle after David had gotten her pregnant, became the mother of a child who died. Yes, there are consequences to our sins. But the repentant David had the faith to say, "(the child) will not return to me, but I will go to him." He was able to commit the child into the loving arms of God.
     Consequences - but also grace. Because God gives this couple a second son, Solomon, who would become the most influential and expansive leader in Israel's history. And because of this, Uriah's wife shows up in the line of Jesus Christ. Amazing grace!
     Whatever reason you have to feel like an outsider today, Christmas brings good news. Jesus came for you. Jesus loves you. Jesus will include you, if you come to Him by faith in His finished work on the cross and let Him remake you into a Christlike follower.
      As I said last time, I grew up trusting in my own church life and moral goodness and had to have a radical transformation at the age of 19. Since then, I have done more than my share of wrong and faithless things. But I have always trusted in His grace and have never found Him lacking. To God be all the glory. Amen!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Knots in the Family Tree, Part 3

     In this post, we will look briefly at the third "knot" in Jesus' family tree, namely Ruth, the Moabitess, and thus, yet another Gentile. Ruth is distinguished by being the most moral of the four women Matthew chose, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to include in his geneaolgy in Chapter 1 of his Gospel.
     As we saw last time, Ruth ended up marrying a good man, Boaz, who, it turns out was the son of Rahab, the converted Canaanite prostitute. So even Boaz had non-Jewish blood in him. Evidently, interracial marriages were not necessarily uncommon in those days.
     Ruth is heroic for several reasons: (1) her loyalty to Naomi after the deaths of their spouses (we forget that those words used so often at weddings were not originjally spoken to a husband but to a mother-in-law); (2) her humility in following Naomi's counsel and in her respectful attitude toward Boaz; (3) her industry, as she worked hard to gather the gleanings of barley in Boaz' fields. (God would fit in with both major political parties today in that respect - personal responsibility combined with social compassion toward the poor); and (4) her purity, as she did nothing untoward in her approach to Boaz, but followed the custom of the day.
     In turn, Boaz sought to win her and to be her kinsman redeemer, which he was able to do successfully. Warren Wiersbe points out how Boaz is, for us, a picture of Jesus Christ, OUR Kinsman Redeemer. Like Boaz, Jesus was't concerned about jeopardizing His own inheritance; instead, He made us a part of HIS inheritance. Also like Boaz, Jesus made His plans privately, but He paid the price publicly; and like Boaz, Jesus did what He did because of His love for His bride - in our case, His multi-colored bride.
     Becaue of their determination to become a couple and a family, Ruth from Moab and Boaz, the son of an Israelite and a Canaanite, joined the line of ancestors of our Lord.
     But remember, Ruth began as a pagan worshiper and journeyed toward a relationship with the God of Israel. In Chapter 1, Ruth is not even aware that there is a Boaz; in Chapter 2, she is a poor laborer, gleaning in Boaz' fields and receiving his gifts. To her, Boaz is only a wealthy man who is kind to her - kind of like many see God today. The turning point comes in Chapter 3 when Ruth yields herself at Boaz' feet and believes his promises. The result is Chapter 4, where Ruth is no longer a poor laborer. Now she has Boaz and everything he owns belongs to her.
     This is the journey of every human being, no matter their culture and ethnicity - from not knowing God to thinking we must work for God and be blessed by Him, to believing Him and what he promises, to being a child and heir of the King.
     Whether one is "bad" like Rahab or "good" like Ruth, we all need a Savior. I was one of the "good" ones, growing up in church, and avoiding the common vices of my classmates. But I had to learn that this would not cut it for me. I still needed grace and salvation from my own goodness. I can only trust in the righteousness of Christ.
     Pagan families and Abraham's family - both needed redemption. I close with some good words from writer Ann Voskamp.
     "...so when we sat around the Christnmas tree tonight, and got to that part tonight in the story of Jesus' family tree and read it: "What someone else meant for bad, God means to make it good." No matter what tries to tear you apart, (sexual sin, war, famine, my words) God holds you heart. No matter what bad was meant to harm you, God's good arms have you. You can stand around your Christmas tree with a family tree as messy as Joseph's, with cheaters and beaters and deceivers, with a family tree like Jacob's, who ran away and ran around and ran folks down - but out of a family that felt like a mess, God brings Jesus, the Messiah. God always brings good out of bad. God always makes hard things into good gifts ... and right then, one kid reached over and squeezed my hand? Sometimes just a moment can feel like all the hard things being turned into a gentle draping of a many-colored grace."
     That's my story, too - and I'm sticking to it.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Knots in the Family Tree, Part 2

     In this post we'll look at another "knot" in Jesus' family tree found in Matthew 1 - Rahab. Her main story is found in Joshua Chapter 2. She is described as a "prostitute." While it is true that in the Hebrew, the term could also mean "innkeeper," the New Testament Greek uses a term for her which can only mean "prostitute." Sort of like with the term "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14. Yes, in Hebrew, it can also be translated "young maiden" (which liberal scholars have had a field day with over the years). The problem is that when the verse is quoted in the New Testament, and when the term is used of Mary, the Greek word, parthenos, can only have one meaning - one who has not had sexual relations with anyone. The Holy Spirit knows whereof He speaks through His Word.
     For our purposes, Rahab also represents another Gentile in the family tree, specifically another Canaanite. As we said in the last post, the Canaanites were a very wicked and violent people. In Tamar's case, she had something very bad done to her, and in turn, she retaliated by doing something very bad to Judah. There is no record that she ever converted. She may have, we just don't know.
     But with Rahab, we do know. She had heard the stories about the mighty acts of Yahweh long before the spies, "by coincidence," found their way to her. (Joshua 2:8-11) She eviently had chosen to believe in this God. This explains why both Hebrews 11 and James 2 describe her act of hiding the spies and helping them to get back to Joshua as an act of faith. For her work of faith, she and her family were spared when the Israelite army destroyed Jericho after God brought the walls a tumbling down. From that day on, Rahab lived among Israel as a member of the people of God (Joshua 6:25).
     So this Canaanite woman in the family line of Jesus can teach us several lessons. First, we believe by hearing. She believed first by hearing the stories of the acts of Yahweh. We believe by hearing the word of God, specifically the message about Christ (Romans 10:17).
     Second, Rahab shows how true faith demonstrates itself in works. Her faith led her to do the right thing in protecting the two spies from the Canaanites, who would have tortured and brutally murdered them if they had found them. So why was she not killed with all the other Canaanites? According to Hebrews 11:31, it is because she acted "by faith." Then James weighs in by saying that Rahab was considered righteous for what she did. While it is true that with God we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, it is also true that in the eyes of the watching world, we are justified by our works. I believe this is the point James is making, which is why he is not at odds with Paul, who would also say that we act out of what we believe in order to "adorn the gospel" or in the NIV, "make the gospel attractive." (Titus 2:10).
     Finally, Rahab teaches us that when we come to God, we also come to His people. You can't really have one without the other, although many today seem to be attempting that. If you love Christ, you'll love His bride, too, imperfect as it often is. Augustine of Hippo said it rather crudely. "The church is a whore, but she is my mother." And so, as her descendant and fellow Gentile in Jesus' line, would soon say, "Your people will be my people, and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16).
     Lo and behold, this one who was immersed in pagan idolatry and was radically converted to the one true God, and who demonstrated it by her works of faith and who aligned herself for the rest of her days, not only with God, but with His people, married an Israelite by the name of Salmon, and became the mother of Boaz, and thus, the mother-in-law of Ruth, not to mention the great great grandmother of King David.  Salmon, hmm? I guess Rahab might be the patrion saint of all those Christians who swim upstream against the current and who march to a different drum.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Knots in the Family Tree, Part 1

     I want to use Matthew's genealogy in Matthew 1 for the next several posts during this Advent season.  I think most of are aware that Matthew includes four women in the genealogy - but not just four women, four unusual women. They are Tamar (verse 3), Rahab (verse 5), Ruth (verse 5), and Bathsheba (verse 6). Now one would think he would want to place some of the more respected matriarchs like Sarah or Rebekah (though they had their problems, too) in this list. Instead, Matthew chooses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these four, who are unusual for two reasons: (1)each has some type of scandal attached to them, and (2) (for our purposes) each one has either a Gentile origin or a Gentile connection. This, in itself, would have been shocking for his Jewish readers, who thrived on a racially pure lineage, such as those re-established in Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet Matthew seems to take pains to emphasize the mixed nature of Jesus' lineage on purpose. But
remember, this was God's plan from the very beginning, a multi-ethnic, multi-national people of God (Ephesians 3). It's also the Spirit's purpose through Matthew, since He begins with a genealogy that includes persons from other nations, and then ends the gospel with the call of Jesus for His church to "go and make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19)
     One more important note before we go on. I heard Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile make this point several years ago, and it has stuck with me. Matthew begins the family line of Jesus with Abraham. A good Jew, right? Wrong. He came out of Ur of the Chaldees, which became Babylon, and is today, Iraq. So, in Anyabwile's words, "the first Jew was a Gentile!" Think about it. The Jews did not become a people until they came out of Egypt together.
     So let's take a look at Tamar. We find her story in Genesis 38. She was a Canaanite. Judah had broken away from his brothers to marry a Canaanite woman (yes, Judah, the one from whom Christ came!). This entire episode is one based in lies and deceit, and as is often the case, Scripture uses a play on words to emphasize it, because the town where this woman bore Judah his third son was named Kezib (or Chezib), which is related to the Hebrew verb, "to tell a lie." Judah chose Tamar (which means "date palm," suggesting a fine figure) for his son. But after the first two sons had died at the hand of God for their sins without Tamar ever conceiving, Judah had promised his third son to her when he had grown to adulthood, a promise Judah did not deliver on. Apparently, Judah chose to place the responsibility for his sons' deaths on Tamar, rather than on God, because he had come to see her as "bad luck." He had shown his true intention when he sent her back to her father's house.
     The sordid story continued as Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to entice her father-in-law to sleep with her so she could bear a child for the family line. Judah had deceived her, so it was payback time. When it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant, Judah decided to have her burned to death, until he discovered that she was pregnant by him. Then he showed some measure of repentance. Like his grandfather before him, Judah became the father of twin boys.
     That's where the story ends. Yet Matthew places her in the family tree of Jesus Christ. And not only her, but one of her sons, born of deception, Perez.
     There are several lessons here. One is that we are not safe when we separate ourselves from the community, which is what Judah did. We think sometimes, as believers, that we can get along in the world very well without the church. Judah serves as a warning to us that we cannot. There is always the temptation to live like our neighbors instead of as the people of God.
     And let's note the continued reaping received from deception. Jacob had used a garment to deceive his father, Isaac, and Judah and his brothers had used Joseph's garment to deceive their father into believing his beloved son was dead. Now Tamar used a garment to deceive Judah (Genesis 38:14).
     But over and above this all, the lesson is one of grace. Yes, God disapproves of our sin, and sometimes we pay the highest price for it (like Tamar's first two husbands). Yet despite their imperfections, God used these folks to accomplish his purposes, including the provision of a family line for the Messiah, the One who would come to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). God truly takes the weak things of this world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). I stand as Exhibit A. I like these words of Victor Hamilton:
     "Each of these four women had a highly irregular and potentially scandalous marital union. Nevertheless, these unions were, by God's providence, links in the chain to the Messiah. Accordingly, each of them prepares the way for Mary, whose marital situation is also peculiar, given the fact that she is pregnant but has not yet had sexual relations with her betrothed husband, Joseph. Thus the inclusion of the likes of Tamar in this family tree on one hand foreshadows the circumstances of the birth of Christ, and on the other hand blunts any attack on Mary. God had worked His will in the midst of whispers of scandal." (The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, p.455-456)
     Yet again, for our purposes, let us not forget that Tamar was also a Canaanite, not only a Gentile, but a person belonging to a nation of particularly wicked Gentiles. Yet here she is in the family tree. Let's thank God this Advent season for the One who came into the world from the Father, "full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). And let's keep on dreaming of that church that is made up of all nations and looks a lot like the church that is, even now, in heaven.

Monday, November 24, 2014


     My life changed dramatically in 2005 when, after 33 years of pastoring or assisting in mostly small town and rural northeastern and midwestern churches, I moved to Miami, Florida to begin an exciting new pastorate.
     Since then, I have served an intercultural church for nine years within an intercultural district, lived in apartment buildings with intercultural neighbors, sang in an interdenominational community choir that also happened to be intercultural, have been part of an intercultural local pastors' association, currently assist with an intercultural choir of young adults with disabilities. and now, have married into a family of another culture.
     Now while I can't celebrate that a previous divorce led to this new marriage (not a messy divorce, yet one brought about mostly by my mistakes), still I find myself in a very sweet spot in my life.
     I am thankful for the "wonderful grace of Jesus" that has forgiven my sins and turned the ashes of the past into new beauty and has given me the oil of joy to replace my mourning, (Isaiah 61, the theme of our recent wedding).
     I am thankful for my lovely and incredibly large-hearted new wife, Graciela, who was born and raised in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and who only moved to Florida a few years before I did.
     I am thankful for my two adult children, who continue to love me and accept Graciela (Grace), even as they continue to love and accept their mother, as they should. I am thankful for my three beautiful little granddaughters, Rebecca (Becca), Hannah, and Sarah, that my son, Mike and his wife, Stacy, have presented to us. I am thankful that both of my children, Leah and Mike, are highly gifted by the Lord and are serving the Lord in set-apart ministry.
     I am thankful for my sister, Linda, also in ministry, serving as chaplain at our Brethren Home in Windber, PA, and for her husband, Jim, and for my two nieces, my nephew, and all of my great nieces and nephews, all of whom are seeking to follow Jesus.
     I am thankful that my ex-wife and I can still be friends.
     I am thankful for my new family that I have gained - all of Grace's nieces and nephews who call me "tio" and for her sisters who call me "cunado," and for the family I haven't met yet, some here in the states, some in the D.R.
     I am thankful for new grandchildren, little Samantha, and 11-year-old Natalie, who told me she loves me (caused me to tear up a little).
     I am thankful for the passion for Intercultural ministry and church planting which the Lord put on my heart when I came here. I am thankful for having the opportunity, through my District, to assist the Haitian Churches in Florida and to share with our churches in Puerto Rico. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit Haiti and to be going again in February to teach Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians in person to the Haitian Brethren pastors there.
     I am thankful that next month, one of our pastors from the D.R. will be coming to visit for a few days to explore the possibility of starting a new Brethren Hispanic project in our area that I will be able to assist with.
     I could go on, but you get the idea. I am blessed, I am thankful, and I will be reflecting on these things this week, as we enjoy our turkey and other fixings and prepare to move into the season of Advent.
     I hope you have many things to celebrate this week as well. If you don't, I will pray that God will soon give you an Isaiah 61 experience as well and will lead you into some new and exciting ministry opportunities for the gospel.
     This new ministry and this page are designed to reflect my passion for new churches and for intercultural churches. I look forward already, to the coming year and what it may bring. And I would love to share with your church or your District about these passions. Please contact me. May God grant you many blessings in Christ.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Curse of Whom?

     As I said last time, racism is stupid. Please read that blog to see my reasoning. This time I want to restate this proposition and expose one of the worst misinterpretations of Scripture in the history of the church - namely, that because God cursed Ham, the son of Noah, it means that people of black skin are inferior. As little as 150-200 years ago, this was still being propogated from pulpits in parts of our land. It would be hard to believe that anyone still accepts this premise today, but it is likely that a few still do.
     Overall, I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but just in case you run into someone who still holds this inane view, maybe I can provide you with some ways to answer them. I am indebted, in part, to Dr. Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, for some of these thoughts.
     The curse-of-Ham argument may have begun as a way for the religious world to explain the reality of racial differences, but it soon became an attempt to justify racial prejudice. This "doctrine" dominated the church during the era of slavery, and, unbelievably, it is still taught in some isolated pockets of the church today. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was used to give permission for the reality of the slave trade in West Africa and the practice of slavery here in the west.
     We find the story of Ham in Genesis 9, following the great flood. We recall that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japeth. Some time after the flood, Noah got drunk on wine made from grapes in a vineyard he himself had planted. He took off his clothes inside his tent. Ham saw his father and told his brothers, supposedly in a mocking tone. Shem and Japheth, on the other hand, quickly covered their father up with their faces turned from him. Noah awoke later and had some understanding of what had happened. Thus came the curse given to his middle son. "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers." Because of these words, the reasoning has been that since Ham moved south into what is now Africa and became the ancestor of the more dark-skinned people, then black people are and always have been under a divine curse of servitude. Black people should accept their place and white people should not feel guilty for enslaving them.
     "Wait," you say, "I thought Noah cursed Ham." No, the Bible never says that. Noah cursed his grandson,. the son of Ham. Why?
     Yes, Ham should have covered Noah up himself instead of going to his brothers and saying, "You should see our father. He's pathetic!" He dishonored his father, a capital offense under the Torah. Shem and Japheth restored their father's honor. After Babel, it is true that Ham became father to dark skinned peoples of Africa, Shem became father to Semitic, brown skinned people of the Middle East, and Japheth migrated north and became father to the more Aryan and Asian peoples.
     But to even speak of a curse of Ham is to misread Scripture. The curse was clearly on his son. Ham had four sons, but Noah did not curse them all, only Canaan. Ham was punished for dishonoring his father by having a son who would bring dishonor to him.
     The curse was on Canaan and his descendants. and these were - the Canaanites: evil, pagan, totally godless and violent people who were in the Promised Land when Israel entered to conquer it. The issue of God's curse was never skin color, it was sin! This is natural, becaue only sin brings about the curse of God. Israel was told to eradicate them.. They did not do a complete job, but those who were not killed became servants to the Israelites, and eventually, in a reasonably short time, ceased to exist as a nation.
     So why did the slave trade even become a reality, when a simple reading of the text would dispel the theory that was being proclaimed? Sadly, it was a chance for profit. In all likelihood, even the preachers knew the truth, but their parishioners (and some of them) were benefiting too much and just could not face the truth.
     By the way, why did God curse Ham's son and not Ham, when it was Ham who did the dishonoring deed? Because God had already blessed Ham (Genesis 9:1), and He does not take back His blessings. So God provided another way for Ham to regret his actions.
     Now quickly, let's balance this out with two other facts. First, the biblical truth: throughout the Old and New Testaments, black people are used of God to bless and benefit and become part of His people, both Israel and the Church. There is no time here to break that down, but in future posts, we will mention some of the black heroes of the Bible. There are more than you think.
     Second, the historical truth: While some pastors and Christians (or at least, professed ones, though we cannot judge their hearts), promoted slavery from this passage, many other Christians like William Wilberforce in England, and Henry Ward Beecher here led the fight to end slavery, finally succeeding in their efforts. And of course, more and more pastors and leaders of all colors are leading His church today and influencing the church and the culture for good.
     The bottom line is this: We are all Canaan. We are all born under God's curse because of our sin. But "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (Galatians 3:13-14) That promise to Abraham is that through his seed (Christ), all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Hallelujah!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

From One Man

Racism is stupid. There, that's putting it bluntly. It's also evil. But it IS stupid. One simple sentence in Scripture puts the lie to it.
     "From one man (God) made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands." (Acts 17:26)
     Paul said these words during his address to the "eggheads" on Mars Hill in Athens. Granted, he was seeking to reach them more by philosophical thought than by Old Testament Scripture which would not connect with these educated Greeks. But in this one sentence, Paul upholds the reality of a historical Adam and plainly states that all human beings descend from him. We could also say that all human beings descend from one set of parents, since the name "Eve" means "mother of all living."
     I like a page on Facebook called "The Poached Egg," which deals with Christian apologetics. I highly recommend it. A few days ago, an author and speaker named Dr. Richard Belcher made a defense of the historical Adam. In that post, he said that without this, the whole Pauline argument of original sin through one man falls apart. http://michaeljkruger.com/the-historical-adam-why-it-really-matters/  I think the argument against racism might also be weakened, if we just began as a group of beings all over the earth. Let's see, Jesus and Paul believed in a historical Adam, Many modern scholars, including those in the evangelical camp, do not. Who will I go with? No contest. I stand with Jesus and Paul.
     In the final analysis, there really is only one race. Now I know that, anthropologically, there are said to be three - CAUCASIAN (Aryans, Hamites, Semites) MONGOLIAN (northern Mongolian, Chinese, IndoChinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Malayan, Polynesian, Maori, Micronesian, Eskimo, Native American) and  NEGROID (African, Hottentots, Melanesians/Papua, "Negrito", Australian Aborigine, Dravidians, Sinhalese) - but, biblically, there is one: the HUMAN race. I say this because the nations were divided in Genesis 10-11, following the Tower of Babel incident. Still, all peoples come from either Shem, Ham, or Japheth, all of whom came from one man, Noah, who also came from one set of parents, Adam and Eve. There is just no way around it. We belong to the human race - that strange mixture of nobility and evil. We carry Adam's genes in us. Unfortunately, we also carry Adam's sin nature (which is why we ALL need a Savior, no matter what our ethnicity or skin color is).
     It would be far more accurate to speak in terms of ETHNICITIES or NATIONALITIES than of races. I believe there is one race (maybe three sub-races, but I'm not sure I'm even ready to concede that. There might be a better term.), with a multitude of ethnicities within it. And God has determined these. He has chosen who would be darker skinned, and who would be lighter skinned. And the old children's song is spot on.
     "Red and yellow, black and white, (all) are precious in his sight."
     An argument simply cannot be made for the superiority or inferiority of any ethnicity or nationality. (More on that in the next blog).
     We have one human father and mother (Adam and Eve), one Creator (God), and if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, one heavenly Father. To share these in common is all we need to be one people of God.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Whence the Imagery?

For my second post, I wanted to explore where I came up with the imagery for the wording I am using for my ministry and my blog address. It all comes out of Ephesians Chapter 3.
     There Paul begins to pray for the church at Ephesus in verse 1, but something takes his train of thought in a different direction. He will return to the prayer in verse 14. From verses 2 to 13, Paul takes the church cosmic in his vision. It's a wonderful text.
     In verses 2-6, Paul writes about the revelation of God which had been hidden to previous generations but which is now revealed through the New Testament apostles and prophets. This revelation is simply that it had always been God's plan to have a multi-ethnic, multi-national people. Verse 6 says, "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." (NIV) The original Greek is more concise. It says that the Gentiles were destined to be "co-heirs" (synkleronoma), "co-members" or "co-parts of the body" (syssoma), and "co-sharers" (symmetocha) in the church. Note the Greek prefix syn (pronounced sun to us) on all three words. In other words, God's eternal plan was that Gentile and Jewish believers now be fellow heirs of the same blessing (see also Galatians 3:26-29), fellow members of the same body (see also 1 Corinthians 12), and fellow partakers of the same promise. (John Stott, "Ephesians", The Bible Speaks Today Commentary, page 117)
     Israel was never designed to be the one and only permanent people of God. God chose them because they were lowly and weak as a people so that He could receive glory through them. Part of their mission and purpose was to be a "light to the nations" (Isaiah 49:6). They failed, overall, in that purpose, first of all by becoming too much like the other nations, and then, after the Exile and Return, isolating themselves in self-righteousness from the other nations. God would therefore send the Messiah to create a new Jewish remnant which would become the catalyst for launching this, as Dr. John R. W. Stott calls it, "third race," made up of Jew and Gentile together, the barriers having been removed through the cross.
     That's the divine revelation to Paul. Then in verses 7-13, we read about the divine commission to Paul, or his ministry - to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to explain the mystery to all of his hearers. In this paragraph, Paul makes a most astounding claim - that God's intent, ultimately, is that the church of Jesus Christ be on display, not only in the world, but in the entire cosmos - particularly to the "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" (i.e. angels). This third race, this church, this new people of God is described as God's "manifold wisdom." But that is not the literal translation of the word "manifold." The Greek term is polupoikilos - many-colored. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the root word poikilos, is used in Genesis 37:3 to describe none other than Joseph's coat of many colors.
     That idea excites me. God's design is that the church be multi-colored (in flesh tones). loving each other in spite of their differences of color, culture, and class. This, in turn, is put on display to the angels, who see these redeemed, transformed people of God, and say, "Whoa! Now that's wisdom. Glory be to God!"  Hence, my blog address, multicoloredwisdom@blogger.com.
     This is reality in heaven right now, for all the saints who have gone before. And it's the daily reality of the areas in which most of us today live. Therefore, the church should be intentional about reflecting those realities and be "heaven's mirrror." And not only heaven's mirror, but "Miami's (insert your own community here) mirror." What an exciting prospect! After 30 years or so of ministry in, pretty much, white rural churches (no dismissal of that at all), I came here to find what God really has in mind for us all. I challenge us to let this be our intention as we move on into the 21st Century. Let's show our communities, our world, our universe, what God intended us to look like all along - a multi-colred people who love each other and reach out with the Good News to everyone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Goal of This New Ministry

     Mark Deymaz of Mosaic Ministries was a speaker at Exponential, a national church planting conference that I attended in Orlando in 2013. I sat in on his special track of workshops and was greatly blessed as well as challenged. Two statistics he shared stood out to me above all the others. Churches as a whole in the United States are 10 times more segregated than their neighborhoods and 20 times more segregated than their nearby public schools. Mark then asked, "If the Kingdom of Heaven is not segregated, how can the churches be?"
     That is why I am starting this new ministry. I am "semi-retired" at this point. I have retired from full-time pastoring, but I have no intention of retiring from ministry. I am excited about what God may yet use me to do.
     Since moving to Miami, Florida in 2005, my life has undergone a number of changes, many good, a few not so much. But one thing that has changed is that my horizons have been broadened in two specific areas - multi-ethnic churches (I served one for nine years), and church planting (my District got me interested in this, and it is now a passion of mine).
     I should add that I have also lived in several multi-ethnic apartment complexes, sung in a multi-ethnic community worship choir, got involved in our denomination's intercultural programming, and am now married to a lovely lady of another culture.
     My goal is to encourage the planting and multiplying of new churches and to push us toward being intentional about these new churches being multi-ethnic and intercultural. Of course, I also want to see our established churches become intentional in this area as well.
     Future blogs will give Scriptural support for these things and get us thinking about why and how we are to be doing this. From time to time, I may address other topics of a more devotional nature.
     I want to be available to the wider church to help in any way that I can to get us to where our churches more and more look like the communities in which we live right now and like the home to which we are going, if we trust Christ, in the near future. Your prayers and invitations will be appreciated.