Black Lives Matter Sunday – December 14, 2014

black lives matter

I am not attending a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) or Assemblies of God (AG) church, but this statement from George O. Wood, the Superintendent of the AG is a good statement about how Christians can love and support the Africxan American community and work towards reconciliation in America. I encourage you to read it through to the end. I have added the emphasis on my own, but I thought they were especially noteworthy parts.

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Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. of the Church of God in Christ has asked COGIC churches to observe Black Lives Matter Sunday this coming Sunday, December 14, 2014. As Bishop Blake’s friend and counterpart in the Assemblies of God, I ask that all AG churches do the same. I have two reasons for doing so.

First and foremost, black lives matter. The lives of all people are precious to God, of course, but at the present moment, many of our black brothers and sisters in COGIC and the AG feel that their lives are not highly valued by many in white America. As examples, they point to the recent controversial decisions of grand juries in St. Louis County, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, not to return bills of indictment against white police officers in the deaths of two black males, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Whatever your opinion of those controversial decisions, can we stand with our brothers and sisters and affirm the value of black lives generally and of their lives specifically? Scripture teaches that God does not take pleasure in the death of people, not even the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). If so, then whatever the circumstances, we can be certain that God did not take pleasure in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Therefore, neither should we. Can we affirm, then, the grief our black brothers and sisters feel about these men’s deaths? Think of it this way: If the families and friends of Michael Brown and Eric Garner attended your church, how would you minister to them in their sorrow?

Scripture teaches us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Black Lives Matter Sunday is a way for all Assemblies of God churches to do that with our black brothers and sisters in the Church of God in Christ, our own National Black Fellowship, and the many multicultural churches in the Assemblies of God. Scripture teaches, “If one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Let us suffer with our brothers and sisters in their time of mourning.

Second, America is racially divided and needs the Church to heal its divisions. The Pentecostal movement, to which both COGIC and the AG belong, traces a large portion of its spiritual genealogy to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California, at the start of the twentieth century. In that revival, led by a godly black man named William J. Seymour, the Spirit of Jesus Christ powerfully knit together the hearts of people who attended, regardless of race and ethnicity. For a shining moment at Azusa Street, when the surrounding culture was segregated by color, “the color line was washed away in the Blood,” as Frank Bartleman famously put it. Unfortunately, the forces of segregation reasserted themselves among white Pentecostals, and for many decades thereafter, they allowed the spirit of Jim Crow into their churches.

Great strides have been made in civil rights and racial reconciliation over the past century, of course, but America still experiences racial divisions. If Spirit-filled Christians cannot find a way to work together to heal these divisions, what hope is there for the rest of the country? The Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God share a like, precious faith, including our belief in and experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ has already united us in doctrine and experience, in other words. If we cannot unite at this hour, how can we expect America to be united, when it has no spiritual foundation for unity?

Because black lives matter, and because America needs the Church to heal its lingering racial divisions, I ask that Assemblies of God churches join the Church of God in Christ on Sunday, December 14, 2014, and pray for the following things:

• Pray during the service that God would bless the ministries of the Church of God in Christ, our own National Black Fellowship, and the many AG multicultural churches, enlarging their territory through Spirit-guided influence on the communities where they minister.

• Pray that God would unite the hearts of all Spirit-filled believers, but especially COGIC and the AG, so that together, we would become a “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12) in our nation.

• Pray for law enforcement and judicial officers, especially Spirit-filled believers among them, that they would be servants of justice, reconciliation, and peace in the communities they serve.

I recognize that some of you may find my request to observe Black Lives Matter Sunday controversial because of deep disagreement over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. I do not wish to be controversial or to bring further division within the Church or within America. We have enough of that already.

Rather, I wish for us to find points of unity and cooperation across racial lines. We can take steps together in that direction by affirming the value of black lives and by praying for unity in our churches and our society this Sunday, December 14. I hope you will join me in observing Black Lives Matter Sunday with our brothers and sisters in the Church of God in Christ.

Finally, at this Christmas season, may we take to heart once again the glorious announcement of the angel that the birth of Jesus is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10)!

Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak & Separation

fighting coupleThere’s really nothing funny about divorce. No humorous little anecdotes can ease into this conversation. I’ve never met a divorced couple that was untouched – unscathed. The truth is that divorce hurts. As a pastor I wrestle with helping people discover God’s ideal and standard regarding marriage and divorce on one hand and then trying to find a Christian way to live after the divorce is final.

Truth be told, I find that the biblical perspective on divorce is really unpopular. People don’t want to hear what God has to say if he conflicts with what they want to do. I recently preached on divorce in my church. I have a habit of letting my church know in advance what the messages will be about (it helps get people in a mindset to receive the word for that day). I know of at least one person who intentionally skipped church because, as a divorced person, he didn’t want to listen to God’s perspective. This saddens me – that he felt we couldn’t have an honest discussion about God’s ideals without feeling judgment and condemnation. No one is perfect, and divorce is merely another sad reality of broken people living in a broken world. But we should still know what God’s ideals are. So here’s my take on what the Bible says:

First – divorce is NEVER God’s ideal. His preference is for a lifetime commitment, a covenant, between one man and one woman. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says:

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

But even the Bible has some “exception clauses” that recognizes that broken people live in a broken world and end up breaking relationships. One of the divorce exceptions is, in the event of infidelity, the victimized spouse has permission to divorce and start life over. The Apostle Paul notes that if one partner abandons the other then the abandoned spouse is no longer bound.

All said and done, while divorce is NEVER God’s ideal – God recognizes that it happens. So you’re divorced. Now what?

  1. As much as possible, reconcile with your ex. WHAT?!? Not my words, but the Apostle Paul’s. The Christian life is about forgiveness and grace, so as much as you can try to reconcile.
  2. Ask God to help resist hatred, resentment, and bitterness towards your ex. You may be hurt and your ex might have acted in horrible, villainous ways. You can’t change the past, but you can work on your present attitude.
  3. Forgive and ask forgiveness for your role in the divorce. Sometimes a spouse is a real dirtbag and does damage to you. Sometimes there are two sides to the story. In all honesty, ask yourself what role you played in the divorce. You may need to seek forgiveness for your part.
  4. Continue to behave in kind, Christian ways. This one is HUGE. I’ve seen so many people forget how to behave decently when it comes to an ex. Mean talk, back-biting, and hurtful words come easily. Swallow them. Don’t do it. Keep your mouth shut. Behave in kindness and do nothing out of anger or hate. It’s about your behavior before God, regardless of what she did (or what he did). Here’s your model – follow Jesus’ example as he still behaved decently and sought forgiveness to the people who terribly wronged him.

Though divorce is a serious matter in God’s opinion, it’s not an unforgivable sin. God shows a lot more grace to people and their brokenness than we show to each other. If you have found yourself in a divorced status I hurt for you. It is not God’s desire for people to hurt each other and split. If you are divorced please know that you are not a “second-class citizen” in the church. You matter to God just like everyone else.

Through it all remember that God desires us to live in strong, healthy, and committed relationships. If you’re married and struggling, God can mend broken hearts and restore relationships. If you’re divorced and hurting, God can renew you from this point on and you can begin living in God’s grace, building healthy relationships from here on out.

No matter who you are – you matter to God.