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by David Platt / January 30, 2017

The scope of today’s refugee crisis is truly unprecedented, affecting nearly 60 million people. Never before have so many been displaced, put in danger, and forced from their homes. In Syria alone, more than half of 22 million people have either been displaced or killed. More than 4 million have fled to neighboring countries. I share these numbers to remind us of the sheer enormity of this crisis.

Much of our response to the refugee crisis seems to come from a foundation of fear, not faith. Much of it seems to flow from a view of the world that is far more American than biblical, far more concerned with the preservation of our country than the accomplishment of the Great Commission.

As church leaders, we have a responsibility to help people think biblically about this crisis. Perhaps more than that, we have an unprecedented opportunity to respond intentionally for the spread of the gospel among refugees.

Hell on Earth

Last year I spent time at the border between Greece and Macedonia. As my coworkers and I worked in refugee camps, we heard story after story, each of them more harrowing than the last. A Syrian woman who’s now the only member of her family after bombs flattened her house. A Yazidi woman who saw seven of her family members beheaded by ISIS.

Much of our response to the refugee crisis seems to flow from a view of the world that is far more American than biblical, far more concerned with the preservation of our country than the accomplishment of the Great Commission.

I spoke to normal people with normal lives—professors, engineers, doctors—all of them forced to flee across Turkey where they were exploited every step of the way. To cross the Aegean Sea, they paid an exorbitant sum for a spot on a raft. Designed to hold 20 people, the raft slowed under the weight of 60. The destination wasn’t much relief: a camp built for 2,000, jam-packed with more than 15,000 refugees, huddled up in their makeshift tents.

One night I walked around the camp. I heard babies cry and children cough as freezing rain fell on these small tents, now mired in the surrounding mud. It was like walking through a semblance of hell on earth.

In light of such atrocities, what can we do? How does God’s Word compel us to respond? Does it say anything? We need to know. We need to know because we need to help the church know how God’s grace and his Word compels our response to this situation in the world.

Obviously, there’s much one could say, but I want to frame this discussion with five brief truths that lead to five brief exhortations.

Five Biblical Truths

1. Our God reigns sovereignly over all things.

As we look around at all that’s going on in the world, we must remember for ourselves and we must remind the church that God is sovereign over it all. Every day, the wind only blows at his bidding. The light of the sun only shines according to his command. Not a speck of dust on the planet exists apart from the sovereignty of our God.

He’s sovereign over nature, yet we know he’s also sovereign over nations. Our God charts the course of countries. He holds the rulers of the earth in the palm of his hand—and this is really good news. It’s good news to know that Assad in Syria is not sovereign over all. It’s good news to know that ISIS is not sovereign. It’s good news that Vladimir Putin is not sovereign, and neither is Donald Trump.

Our God is sovereign over all, even the suffering in this world.

Did you know that in the Book of Job, God is called “the Almighty” 31 different times? Amid all the mystery of the book, one conclusion is clear: The power of Satan is limited by the prerogative of God. Satan cannot do anything apart from divine permission. Satan is on a leash, and God holds the reins.

Satan is on a leash, and God holds the reigns.

Job makes it clear: God is sovereign over comfort, and God is sovereign over calamity. Remember when he tells his wife, “Shall I receive good from God but not evil?” And the Bible tells us, in all his questions, Job did not sin with his lips.

There are entire theologies out there that have been developed in order to claim that God is simply doing the best he can under the circumstances. Ultimately, these thinkers say, he doesn’t have sovereign control over evil and suffering.

But we know the opposite is true—and we must proclaim that God is always in control, and that Satan is always controlled. God is sovereign; Satan is subordinate. We reject a kind of Star Wars dualism where good and evil forces are equally warring against one another. God does not deal in dualism. This is domination, and it’s all over Scripture.

When Job is afflicted, God is in control. When Joseph is sold into slavery, God is in control. When evil kings act in wretched ways toward Israel, God is in control. When religious leaders and Roman officials sentence Jesus to death and crucify him on a cross, God is in control. When Christians today preach the gospel to the nations and are killed in the process, God is in control. When we get to the end of the Bible and we see the cosmic battle for the souls of men and women throughout history, God is in control. He’s in control on every page of Scripture and on every page of history—including the refugee crisis that currently surrounds us.

2. Our God oversees the movement of all peoples.

This point is simply the outgrowth of the first one, most clearly explained by Paul at Mars Hill:

He made one man. From one man, every nation of mankind that live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26–27)

This truth is obvious throughout Old Testament as God raises up some nations, while scattering others. At the appointed time, God sent Israel to Egypt. At the appointed time, he brought Israel. He orchestrated the exiles from Jerusalem; years later, he orchestrated their return. Even in the New Testament, we see God using suffering—like the stoning of Stephen—to scatter his church from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth.

In his goodness, our God turns even the tragedy of forced migration into the triumph of future salvation.

So when we see the migration of peoples for a multiplicity of reasons, we must recognize that every bit is occurring under the governance of God. In Acts 17 Paul says that God is doing it all for a reason, that people might seek him and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Much more could be said on this point, but we must remind ourselves: The Lord will make no mistake. Our God aims to be sought, found, known, and enjoyed by all the peoples of the world, and he oversees their travels to that end. In his goodness, our God turns even the tragedy of forced migration into the triumph of future salvation.

3. Our God generally establishes government for the protection of all people.

We know this from Romans 13:1–4:

There is no authority except from God. Those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities, resist what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment, for rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Governments exist under God’s authority to promote good and restrain evil. In God’s design, the primary purpose of government is to protect people. I mention this point since any serious thought about the refugee crisis must take into account the role of government under God.

So, yes, according to God’s design, responding to the refugee crisis leads to political discussions. But as followers of Christ, we must maintain biblical foundations in these discussions, for through our our elected officials we shape our own laws, and we must hold these officials accountable to do good as we pursue the good ourselves.

But let’s take this one step further.

4. Though God generally establishes government for the protection of all people, he specifically commands his church to provide for his people.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” He’s obviously not saying we shouldn’t care for all people. But we can’t deny the priority of provision here and elsewhere in Scripture for those who are of the household of faith.

In the same way I uniquely identify with my bride—I hurt when she hurts, I rejoice when she rejoices—Jesus intimately identifies with his bride. While on the road to Damascus, the resurrected Lord Jesus asks Saul a simple question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? When you persecute the church, you’re persecuting Christ.

Truths like this are why we have passages on social justice, like Jesus’s well-known words from Matthew 25:34–40:

Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.

And the righteous will answer to him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, you were thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.”

We know this is not a general reference to anyone who is hungry or thirsty, a stranger or sick. Jesus is specifically referring to “my brothers” (v. 40)—that is, needy members of the family of Christ, the household of faith. Again, this care doesn’t totally exclude those who aren’t part of the church. We love all our neighbors, even our enemies, as we love ourselves.

It is altogether right, then, for the church to consider how to care specifically for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the middle of this refugee crisis. Not only is such care for refugees right; it’s required. Why? Because of the character of God.

5. Our God seeks, shelters, serves, and showers the refugee with his grace.

Remember the Book of Ruth? Elimelech the Israelite, his wife Naomi, and their two sons are driven from their homeland due to a famine. They migrate to Moab, a foreign land full of forbidden people who originated when Lot had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Generations later, Moabite women seduced Israelite men into sexual immorality—and 24,000 Israelites were struck dead. The message was clear: Don’t go near Moabite women.

Yet Elimelech and Naomi’s sons—Mahlon and Chilion—married Moabite women. Not long after, all three men die, and Naomi is left alone with two Moabite daughters-in-law. She returns to Bethlehem and begs them to stay in Moab. One obliges, but the other, Ruth, insists: “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

So a Moabite woman soon finds herself in an Israelite town desperate for food and family. Sound familiar?

Enter Boaz, the lord of the harvest, who sees her working in his field. When he finds out who she is—a Moabite—he seeks her out instead of kicking her out. He goes to her, greets her, shelters her from harm, and promises her safety. Then he does the unthinkable. He stoops to serve her and invites her to his table, where she enjoys a meal of roasted grain. All this leads to a showering of grace as Boaz gives Ruth 30 to 50 pounds of food to take home—at least half a month’s wages.

Why do we have a book of the Bible named after a Moabite woman? Because we have a God who cares for the outcasts and the oppressed, the strangers and the refugees.

The stage is now set for the romance of redemption that follows. Boaz eventually takes Ruth as his wife, and they have a child, whose line will one day lead to the quintessential kinsmen redeemer, Jesus Christ.

So why do we have a book of the Bible named after a Moabite woman? Here’s at least one of the answers to that question: Because we have a God who wants us to know how much he cares for the outcasts and the oppressed, the strangers and the refugees. In one of the key phrases in the book, Boaz pronounces a blessing on the otherwise forbidden Moabite woman: “A full reward will be given to you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

There is refuge, the book of Ruth shows us, under the wings of God. And we know Boaz isn’t merely a model of goodwill. He’s a mirror of God. He’s the agent God uses to show how he seeks out the oppressed and shelters them under the shadow of his wings; how he serves the outcast at his table and showers the needy with his grace; and ultimately, how he is faithful to care for the forbidden foreigner.

And so, we’re compelled to do the same. We’re compelled to reflect our Redeemer.

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Jan. 26, 2017

Agape Theatre is proud to announce an upcoming production of BONHOEFFER’S COST. Written by Mary Ruth Clarke with Time Gregory, BONHOEFFER’S COST tells the exciting and moving true story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Agape’s production will be the play’s Texas Premiere.

BONHOEFFER’S COST finds Dietrich Bonhoeffer imprisoned in Berlin’s Tegel Prison during the darkest days of WWII. As the war rages around him and his faith is tested, Bonhoeffer deliberates the cost attached to acting from one’s convictions. In a blind race between the forces of good and evil, will Dietrich make it out alive?

A Lutheran pastor and theologian in Germany during WWII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was extremely vocal in his resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including the Nazi persecution of Jewish people. Out of his resistance to the Nazi regime and their attempted control of the religious community, Bonhoeffer founded the underground Confessing Church. He was also a member of the Abwehr, a German military intelligence organization at the center of the anti-Hitler resistance. In addition to his political resistance, Bonhoeffer is known for writing countless books and essays on theology and Christianity, especially The Cost of Discipleship.

Agape’s production of BONHOEFFER’S COST will be staged in the Sanctuary at Palm Valley Lutheran Church in Round Rock. The beautiful historic landmark was built in 1896. The building’s Gothic style and incredible stained glass windows are sure to enhance the production.

“We are overjoyed to bring BONHOEFFER’S COST to our audience,” says Jeff Davis, Artistic Director of Agape Theatre and Director of BONHOEFFER’S COST. “While he’s well-known amongst Lutherans, Bonhoeffer is nearly forgotten in other circles. Regardless of your religious affiliation, Bonhoeffer’s heroism is undeniable. I know his story will inspire our patrons and keep them on the edge of their seats.”

Davis is also excited about the opportunity to produce the show inside a Lutheran Church. “We are beyond blessed to be staging this extraordinary play inside an equally extraordinary venue,” says Davis. “Palm Valley Lutheran Church is a treasure to our local community. Being able to stage a show about faith inside a church is a dream come true, as is Palm Valley’s passion and excitement for this project.”

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 Last year the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature regarding the health effects of marijuana use. The committee considered more than 10,700 studies for their relevance and arrived at nearly 100 different research conclusions related to marijuana (cannabis) or cannabinoid use and health. Their findings were recenty published in a 400-page report.

Here are nine things about the effects of marijuana you should know based on this report:

1. The terms marijuana and cannabis refer to all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., including the seeds, the resin extracted from any part of such plan, and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds, or resin. The compounds that cause intoxication and may have medicinal uses are cannabinoids, a class of chemical compounds that acts on cannabinoid receptors in cells that represses neurotransmitter release in the brain. The marijuana plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids. Currently, the two main cannabinoids from the marijuana plant that are of medical interest are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

2. There is substantial or conclusive scientific evidence for only three medical benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids: treating chronic pain in adults; treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and nausea after chemotherapy; and improving symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

3. There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.  Self-reported cannabis use or the presence of THC in blood, saliva, or urine, has been associated with 20 to 30 percent higher odds of a motor vehicle crash.

4. In states where cannabis use is legal, there is increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose injuries among children. There is insufficient evidence to support or refute a statistical association between cannabis use by adults and death due to cannabis overdose.

5. Recent cannabis use (within the past 24 hours) impairs the performance in cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention. A limited number of studies also suggest there are impairments in cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention in individuals who have stopped smoking cannabis. Cannabis use during adolescence is related to impairments in subsequent academic achievement and education, employment and income, and social relationships and social roles

6. Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses—the higher the use the greater the risk. However, cannabis use does not appear to increase the likelihood of developing anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder.

7. The evidence suggests that any cannabis use is related with increased suicidal ideation (i.e., suicidal thoughts or preoccupation with suicide), augmented suicide attempts, and greater risk of death by suicide. Studies reveal that heavy cannabis use (used 40 or more times) is associated with a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts.

8. There is substantial evidence that initiating cannabis use at an earlier age is a risk factor for the development of problem cannabis use. There is moderate evidence that during adolescence the frequency of cannabis use, oppositional behaviors, a younger age of first alcohol use, nicotine use, parental substance use, poor school performance, antisocial behaviors, and childhood sexual abuse are risk factors for the development of problem cannabis use. Anxiety, personality disorders, and bipolar disorders are not risk factors for the development of problem cannabis use.

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Biblical Kings and Psalms show us the way

Many of us have felt called to pray for Donald Trump and America. I love to pray the words of Scripture. So as he takes the oath of office and as I search through prayers by and for kings, I’ve been surprised by the rich inspiration and example. In their words…

 

Heavenly Father, with Jewish King Hezekiah we declare, “You are enthroned above the mighty cherubim. You alone are the God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”

May our new president declare this daily in his heart before you. May he enter the oval office with a deep sense that you rule. And he rules under your supreme power, your watchful eye and loving care.

With Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar we agree, “Your dominion is an everlasting dominion, and your kingdom endures from generation to generation…you do according to your will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay your hand or say to you, ‘What have you done?’”

Lord, you have clearly raised up Donald Trump. You may have done it for blessing. Or judgment. Or both. But we look to you in trust and not doubt asking, “What have you done?”

Like Nebuchadnezzar, we praise and honor you “because all your works are right and your ways are just.”

And like him we agree: “Those who walk in pride you are able to humble.”

Lord, we all struggle with pride. In our lives, in President Trump’s life, we pray that you would expose it. Show us how much we need to walk in step with you. Create in us humble hearts that love and serve you and others.

King Solomon humbly confessed that when it came to ruling this great people he felt like a child, “not knowing how to go out or come in.” His Father, King David, sat down before you and said, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”

God, may you give Pres. Trump that same humble heart. And may he turn to you and seek your face continually, like David and Solomon. May he trust not in his own works but in the atoning death of the Lord Jesus for forgiveness and a life of blessing with you.

Also we pray with Solomon, Give our president “an understanding mind to govern your people, that [he] may discern between good and evil.” May he lean into you and your Word and receive wisdom that surprises even him. May he surround himself with godly advisors who will seek you and counsel him from the riches of your Word.

As Solomon prayed, “Give the [president] your justice, O God, and your righteousness! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he have pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.”

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Christians, Let’s Pray for President Trump

  January 20, 2017

Today I have a piece in The Washington Post on why Christians ought to pray for our new President, Donald Trump.

Here’s an excerpt:

Consistently, no matter who is in office we are to pray for success. That doesn’t mean we pray for all of any leader’s ideas to be realized. But it means that we pray that he or she would succeed, would carry out an agenda that leads to the flourishing of the rest of society and, particularly, so that the church may “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” In contemporary American society, we’re supposed to want those we like to leave office as heroes and those we don’t to bumble and fail. That should never be our attitude.

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The screen printer standing in my living room was trying to sell me on a new four-color process for the kids Bible club shirts my church needed. One problem: he came to the door asking for “Mike,” not “Mark” because I kind of forgot to tell him the truth… (I used to use a pseudonymous email address out of overblown security concerns.)

We still joke about that. He’s now one of my best friends. But back then I had no idea of the wonderful story of God’s grace in his life. He and his wife were brand new to the area, and my wife and I invited them over and started a friendship. We found out that this clean-cut young man had, not too many years back, been a drug addict. As a last resort his non-Christian family had sent him to a Christian program in a rural area. Most guys go there to get clean, and they’re willing to use the God stuff temporarily if it will help them get their lives back from drugs and alcohol.

But my friend’s experience was different: God wouldn’t let him be temporary. He got hold of this young drug addict’s heart. After graduating from the program, he immediately went on staff, then married the daughter of another graduate. The screen-printing gig was his first venture into “the real world” since coming clean and turning to Christ. He was full of faith, hope, love, and zeal. He and his wife found a church that was known for engaging (ahem, read: wild) worship services, not so much for theological depth.

Pins and needles

So I was surprised when, one Sunday, he called me and asked if he could come to my church, where the proportion of wildness to theological depth was rather different. “Of course!” I said; I was thrilled. But I immediately became afraid, too. My pastor was going through Isaiah. We had just made it to chapter 21, a somewhat recondite passage full of judgments on people such as the Dedanites, Temanites, and Kedarites. I had to listen to a lengthy expository message through the ears of a guy sitting next to me who, as best I knew, had never heard an expository sermon.

To make matters worse, the title of the message that evening was “Shuddering Over a Harsh Vision.” That was me: I envisioned my friendship with this guy ending. In my vision, he was looking at me like I was an alien, and he was heading back to a church where he could be sure he’d never have to hear about the Dedanites again.

My pastor, an experienced expositor who also taught preaching, said something at the beginning of the message that I’d never heard him say before: “This is one of those obscure passages of Scripture that, if it went missing, no one would notice.” Oh no, I thought. The pins and needles under my pew cushion grew longer, and I was required to sit on them throughout the detailed explanations required to get us all through Isaiah 21.

When the service was over, I couldn’t bear to ask my friend what he thought. I didn’t want to put him in the awkward position of having to tell me with a glazed expression, “Church is not supposed to feel like a sentence-diagramming party.” So I changed the subject of our conversation to something else, maybe football.

He changed it right back. With deep feeling he said, “Wow. . . Now there’s one part of the Bible”—and here he held up his hands to indicate the space of about a chapter—“that I understand.”

Shortly thereafter my friend and his wife were eating up the kind of in-depth Bible teaching I was afraid to introduce him to that Sunday; they listened with the zest of someone who has just discovered that meat exists.

Exposition

Expository preaching is sometimes criticized (and sometimes rightly so) for being all about understanding and not about feeling. All head, no heart. But you had to be there to see my friend’s eyes. Few people get excited about hour-long expositions of Scripture. He did, because he had the new heart of the New Covenant. He hungered to know God’s words.

John Piper advocates preaching that is what he calls “expository exultation”—head and heart. And in my experience there’s nothing quite like it. The capacity for deep feeling is itself made deeper by a greater depth of exposition. I’ll never forget singing “The Church’s One Foundation” with my fellow church members after we’d been treated to an exposition of that foundation in Ephesians 2.

As is nearly always the case, Piper’s “expository exultation” is only an encapsulation of Jonathan Edwards, who said in Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England,

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with. (387)

After hearing a message on a harsh prophetic vision, a congregation is supposed to shudder—as Isaiah himself did in this portion of his book (“My heart staggers; horror has appalled me”). The Bible, rightly preached and rightly understood, creates negative feelings as well as positive in hearts made soft to God’s words. The Lord evidently thinks we need to hear passages of comfort as well as of warning. The Bible clearly instructs us both to love the Lord and to fear him. A New Testament preacher must bring in gospel comfort, too, but not by removing the teeth from God’s warnings.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream with the world.

He did more than denounce; he dreamt. He did not merely paint the bleak landscape of racial hostility in the world’s leading nation, but dipped his brush in vibrant colors and painted a country as it could be. He imagined a day when blacks and whites were not only equal in the eyes of the law, but joined together around a table in fellowship: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

On this day when we honor the sacrifice, vision, and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should ask whether his beloved dream has not only made it into our hearts, but also found a seat within our homes, and around our dinner tables.

Who’s Been at Your Table?

Dr. King imagined a day when the sons of former slave owners and the sons of former slaves could sit down and break bread together. Are any of us cut by the recent words of Albert Tate:

Look at your social calendar over the past six months. If you are a Republican, how many people have sat around your dinner table that voted for a Democrat in the most recent election, or vice versa? If you are an African American, how many people have you invited to dinner who have to put on a lot more sunscreen than you when they go to the beach? This should be a telling experience, as you examine the reality of your social calendar.” (Birmingham, 168)

Our flawed imaginations and deceptive hearts prefer to “round up” when we evaluate ourselves, rather than dealing with specific numbers. Perhaps we should let our calendars speak to us: Do we allow our tables to reflect the love of the entire body of Christ as well as our theological convictions? What specific number of people unlike ourselves have come into our homes, and sat at our dinner tables, since we last celebrated King’s influence a year ago?

History of Distrust

We live in a time when one consistently sees more ethnic diversity in shopping malls, McDonalds drive-thrus, and pee-wee football games than in the local church. We live in a time when one wonders whether the demographics of our congregations may reflect the vision of Jim Crow more than the apostle John. We live in a time when we often eat with those who like us, agree with us, and look like us. Our true church fellowship reflects our dining-room fellowship; our communion around our dinner-tables will impact, over time, who’s sharing communion at our churches.

Historically, the white church’s unbiblical orthopraxy has alienated the black church from its biblical orthodoxy. In other words, a scarred history around the dinner table has caused a breach of trust between white and black Christian communities.

During the era of American slavery (1600–1865), blacks did not break bread with their masters. If they were even in the dining room, it was to serve, not to fellowship as equals. The slave in the room was too often synonymous with the tables they set and the plates they carried — as property, not persons.

In times of segregation and Jim Crow (1865–1949), blacks were allowed to have their own dinner tables. Drinking fountains, movie theatres, restrooms, and (sadly) many conservative, Bible-believing seminaries were marked “white only” and “colored only.” “Separate but equal” reigned supreme, as did oppression, racism, inequality, and mutual hostility. Neither the restaurant nor the dinner table displayed God-honoring fellowship.

In the Civil Rights Era (1950–1968), Martin Luther King, Jr. and others protested the continued injustices. Blacks fought for the right to legal equality with regards to voting, racial segregation, and dehumanizing discrimination. But too often they were met with silence, and even hostility, from evangelical, Reformed, and Bible-believing churches and churchmen who “remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows,” as King wrote in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Only through tumultuous times of police brutality, riots, hosings, and dog-bitings, was a place at Uncle Sam’s table legally granted to African Americans. But even then, segregation still flourished within American homes.

Pass the Potatoes, Bridge the Gap

Our history has shown us segregation in our neighborhoods, segregation in the pews, and segregation around our dinner tables. Today, we still can see segregation in our neighborhoods, segregation in the pews, and segregation around our dinner tables. Dr. King’s dream has yet to fully be realized.

Such is the opportunity before us as the church of the risen Christ.

We the blood-bought people of God know that Jesus alone tears down the Great Wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). The world has merely humanistic motivates for diversity; we have the word of our Creator and the blood of our Redeemer. Jesus bought a place for that diverse brother in Christ to have a seat at our table. Invite him and his family to sit in it.

God Has a Dream

Revelation 19:6–8 is a banner for Christian dinner fellowship:

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.”

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by Jarrid Wilson 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'The Cost of Discipleship' is sure to sear your heart.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ is sure to sear your heart. (Wikimedia Commons )

Looking for some new reading material? Here are 10 books that have helped shape my spiritual life.

1. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cymbala. The times are urgent. God is on the move. Now is the moment to ask God to ignite his fire in your soul. Cymbala believes Jesus wants to renew his people―to call us back from spiritual dead ends, apathy and lukewarm religion. Cymbala knows the difference firsthand. Thirty-five years ago, his own church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, was a struggling congregation of 20. Then they began to pray … God began to move … street-hardened lives by the hundreds were changed by the love of Christ … and today, they are more than 10,000 strong. The story of what happened to this broken-down church in one of America’s toughest neighborhoods points the way to new spiritual vitality in the church and in your own life. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire shows what the Holy Spirit can do when believers get serious about prayer and the gospel. As this compelling book reveals, God moves in life-changing ways when we set aside our own agendas, take Him at His word and listen for His voice.

2. A Tale of Three Kings, Gene Edwards: This best-selling tale is based on the biblical figures of David, Saul and Absalom. For the many Christians who have experienced pain, loss and heartache at the hands of other believers, this compelling story offers comfort, healing and hope. Christian leaders and directors of religious movements throughout the world have recommended this simple, powerful and beautiful story to their members and staff. You will want to join the thousands who have been profoundly touched by this incomparable story.

3. Crazy Love, Francis Chan: Crazy, relentless, all-powerful love. Have you ever wondered if we’re missing it? It’s crazy, if you think about it. The God of the universe—the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and E-minor—loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs and try not to cuss. Whether you’ve verbalized it yet or not, we all know something’s wrong.

Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts—it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same. Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.

4. Running with Horses, Eugene H. Peterson: In Jeremiah 12:5 God says to the prophet, “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”

We all long to live life at its best―to fuse freedom and spontaneity with purpose and meaning. Why then do we often find our lives so humdrum, so un-adventuresome, so routine? Or else so frantic, so full of activity, but still devoid of fulfillment? How do we learn to risk, to trust, to pursue wholeness and excellence―to run with the horses in the jungle of life? In a series of profound reflections on the life of Jeremiah the prophet, Peterson explores the heart of what it means to be fully and genuinely human. His writing is filled with humor and self-reflection, insight and wisdom, helping to set a course for others in the quest for life at its best.

5. Accidental Pharisees, Larry Osborne: Zealous faith can have a dangerous, dark side. While recent calls for radical Christians have challenged many to be more passionate about their faith, the downside can be a budding arrogance and self-righteousness that “accidentally” sneaks into our outlook. In Accidental Pharisees, bestselling author Larry Osborne diagnoses nine of the most common traps that can ensnare Christians on the road to a deeper life of faith. Rejecting attempts to turn the call to follow Christ into a new form of legalism, he shows readers how to avoid the temptations of pride, exclusivity, legalism and hypocrisy.

6. The High-Definition Leader, Derwin L. Gray: The High-Definition Leader is an invitation of grace for churches and their leaders to grasp the ancient call of the early New Testament Church that crossed ethnic and socioeconomic barriers to create heavenly colonies of love, reconciliation and unity on earth. In it, you will learn the theology and practices that will help you build a mission-shaped, multi-ethnic church.

7. The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer: The Pursuit of God is an inspirational book that aims to guide those who wish to follow Christ. It includes biblical teachings that emphasize the concept of pursuing God. The concept of seeking God should be evident in the context of obtaining a genuine relationship between the Creator and the creature. Man must consider God as not only a creator, but also the one who sustains life; hence, all creatures must depend solely on Him.

8. The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

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The Barmen Declaration

karl_barth

The Barmen Declaration of 1934 was a call to resistance against the theological claims of the German Christian movement. The German Evangelical Church had given its support to the Nazi state following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. In opposition to the pro Nazi Evangelicals, the Confessing Church movement was born with the Barmen Declaration as their founding document. Written primarily by Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration was grounded in Barth’s theological conviction that God cannot be made to serve nationalistic interests, God can only rule the nations. Among the original signers of the Barmen Declaration were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. Of the 18,000 Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany, 3,000 became members of the Confessing Church.

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Barmen Declaration

In view of the errors of the “German Christians” and of the present Reich Church Administration, which are ravaging the Church and at the same time also shattering the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

1. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” John 10:1, 9

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.

2. “Jesus Christ has been made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:30

As Jesus Christ is God’s comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God’s vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

3. “Let us, however, speak the truth in love, and in every respect grow into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together.” Ephesians 4:15-16

The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and Sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to have authority over you must be your servant.” Matthew 20:25-26

The various offices in the Church do not provide a basis for some to exercise authority over others but for the ministry (service) with which the whole community has been entrusted and charged to be carried out.

We reject the false doctrine that, apart from this ministry, the Church could, and could have permission to, give itself or allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer] vested with ruling authority.

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