Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bringing Knives to a Gunfight

I recently visited a relatively new website, The Black Church Page . I guess you might call this the Wal-Mart of online "black" church information. You name it, you can find some info about it at this site. Unfortunately, like many "black" churches this site is heavy on culture and light on Scripture.

Desiring to understand the foundation on which this site was built, I naturally visited the site's "About Us" page. I could not help but to shake my head in disbelief at what I found. You know that I had to get in touch with "The Black Church Page". Here is my e-mail . . .

" Dear Mr. Matthews,

My name is Keith L. Tolbert. I am a newcomer to your website. I was struck by the opening paragraph of the "about us" section . . .

'God implanted into the spirit of Alphonse D. Matthews long ago that the answers to the socio-economic problems that exist with The African American community are within the African American church. The answers to unemployment, wealth creation, education, poverty, drug abuse all are within the walls of the African American church.'

I have always heard that the best way to chop down a tree is not by cutting off the branches, one by one; but by chopping it down at the trunk where the whole tree will fall down. Why is solving 'socio-economic problems' viewed to be the most pressing need in the 'black' church? It is plainly evident, according to Scripture, that the most pressing need for the "black" church as well as the body of Christ as a whole (where does the Bible ever address a 'black' church?) is to deal with that which so easily entangles us all . . . sin. "Sin" is the tree, our 'socio-economic' problems, et al, are but branches on this tree.

All of us (black, white, yellow, red, etc.), even the saved among us, are still encumbered with a sin nature (indewlling sin). And until this root issue is confronted by the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, the tree (sin) will live and the branches will grow back two for every one you chop off. When will we, especially the 'black' church, understand that our temporal issues such as racism, poverty, education, equal opportunity, etc. are just that, TEMPORAL. As Christians, we are to be fervently mindful of eternal verities. As we deal with the true culprit behind our temporal troubles, we become less vulnerable to them.

The truth is we may not overcome most of these temporal issues in this life. Contrary to popular teaching, the Kingdom of God has not been consumated yet and this life is filled with tribulations and trials. All due to our own sinfulness. The Gospel of Jesus Christ ALONE is the antidote for all of this. And there is less and less of this being taught today in the church, yes even the 'black church.

And when I say the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not only mean Jesus' death, burial and resurrection that is only part of the story which is all too easily romanticized. I additionally mean Jesus' sinless life that fulfilled the requirements of God's holy law which qualified Jesus as a perfect sacrifice. I mean His selfless suffering in our stead that we now (as was the apostle Paul) are blessed (yes, BLESSED) to share in (see Phillipians 1:29; Romans 8:17 etc.). His current reign and intercession at the right hand of the Father on behalf of His people.

We often acknowledge that this life is brief and but a vapor; but we still cling to it as if it were all there is. Should not our attitude, and consequently the message of websites like this one, be like that of Paul's who taught us in ll Corinthians 4:7-18 that 'though we are afflicted, we are not crushed. Though we are perplexed, we are not driven to despair. Though persecuted, we are not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. That this "slight momentary affliction is PREPARING for us an ETERNAL (not temporal) weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look NOT to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are UNSEEN are ETERNAL'.

Since Jesus' ascension back to the Father the church has endured great suffering for the cause of the Gospel. Our brothers and sisters in Christ (not just black folks) have endured being fed to lions, burnings, disembowelment, and relentless torture for THIS cause. Not for "socio-economic" empowerment. I think that it is past time for this shallow, Christ-betraying selfish hew and cry for material health and prosperity. Jesus made it crystal clear that these things make entering His Kingdom
difficult (Matthew 19:23), please consider why we should play up a mindset that only makes our ultimate goal of living with our LORD and Savior, eternally, more difficult.

I think you would be hard pressed to confirm anywhere in Scripture where the goal of the church has been to remedy 'unemployment, wealth creation, education, poverty' and 'drug abuse'. The clear purpose of the church, biblically, is to train God's people in holiness and righteousness and to facilitate their maturing in Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. Success in these areas will necesarily lead to a Christ-like response to the problems you have cited.

Pleae don't misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that we show no concern about these problems. But if any of these issues of socio-economic problems are to be lessened in this lifetime, it will NOT be by focusing the 'branches', we absolutely must deal with the "trunk" continuously. You have quite an opportunity to make a difference with this website. Please do not squander it by joining in with the 'popular' nonsense that is being promoted by far too many pulpits ( black and white) today. We must stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ and His Word. Not what itching ears want to hear.

He who has an ear . . . "

To this Matthews replied . . .

"Keith Tolbert,

I appreciate you sharing your viewpoint, however with all due respect this is misdirected. Unless your view is one of I am either lying on God, or I am mistaken about what He shared with me...You would have to take this up with God as to why He gave me this information.

If you do feel that I am lying, or that I am mistaken, then you should pray me and/or this site.

But based on the fruit of this site, and where He is currently taking us, I am going to hold on to what I believe He told me.

Thank you for your comments,
Alphonse D. Matthews
The Black Church Page"

Now, I have no problem with Mr. Matthews sticking to the direction he has chosen; but I would have appreciated a response to the BIBLICAL objections that I raised. Do you notice how he immediately retreated to a self-defensive posture? I didn't accuse him of lying on God or lying at all. I merely challenged him to do what Scripture tells us to do anytime we receive an impression on our "spirit". I John 4:1 admonishes us to "test the spirits". Had Mr. Matthews done this, I believe there would have been a chance that he might have discerned much of what I said to him in my e-mail.

I replied to Mr. Matthews reply with this . . .

"Mr. Matthews,

I am in no way accusing you of lying on God. In fact, I'm not accusing you of anything at all. I just wanted to express my hope that your website would be bold enough to take the less traveled path of refusing to cater to the least common denominators among man: self and materialism. I wanted to both encourage you and prove to you that there is in the 'black' church a market for the strong meat of God's word, sound Biblical exposition and a Christianity that is not characterized by earthly-mindedness. Please do not leave us out of your considerations for the content of this website.

Thanks for reading, considering and responding to my comments. May God bless all of your Christ-centered endeavors!"

And . . .

"Mr. Matthews,

Upon further reflection on your response to my e-mail, I just wanted to ask you what you meant by my viewpoint being "misdirected". I am positive that I presented a purely Biblical viewpoint which was worthy of consideration.

Your response addressed none of the Biblical points I made and seemed to immediately retreat to a defensive position. Please understand that my comments were not an attack upon your website. As I stated in my previous reply, I only hope that you will also consider the needs of the full spectrum of believers within the "black" church community. Such as those who hold to a Reformed, Christ-centered, Biblical perspective of the historic Christian faith; rather than only the man-centered, materialistic, emotion-driven variety. Or should we look for another . . ."

To which he replied . . .

"Mr. Tolbert,

The way your email was presented, it basically stated that the direction that I received from God was not correct. You are entitled to your opinion, but this one you would have to take up with God; not me. (Misdirected)


O.K., maybe I got a little dig in there with the "the man-centered, materialistic, emotion-driven variety." thing; but if this website wants to be the site for the "black" church, it ought to "represent" for all of the "black" church! You betta reckanize!

It seems that the Bible is off-limits at this website. So, if you are in the mood for more "Christianity-lite" please visit "The Black Church Page". Be warned, if you want to be armed for a deeper walk with Jesus, these guys can only give you a knife for a gunfight.

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

HOW NOT TO WALK THE PLANK (The one in our eye, that is)

I'm still being enthralled by Jeremiah Burroughs this week. Although I had completed my reading of his, "A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness" a week ago, I felt compelled to read it once again. This time I observed a stern warning for those of us who are reformed and are strongly drawn to apologetics. So for all you "word-faith" fans and "little gods" out there, we reformed folk do turn the radar on ourselves!

In chapter five of this superbly insightful book (Nine Proofs of Earthly-Mindedness), Burroughs warns us to beware that "through some predominant lust for something else, a man may seem to despise some earthly thing". Basically, he is saying that a man's apparent despising of one sin may actually be due to a lust for another rather than a true hatred for the first. For example, a man may apparently despise the love of money but only because he doesn't want to be generous. This, according to Burroughs, is also a proof of earthly-mindedness.

Burroughs uses Isaiah 13:17 for a text that illustrates this principle. Scripture, here, describes the Medes as a people that did "not regard silver, and as for gold they shall not delight in it", apparently the love of money was not a problem for them. God, however, still describes them as wicked and heathen and having no grace in them at all. Burroughs elaborates, "Some men think it is through the work of grace because they are above the base covetousness they see in other men. They do not regard silver and gold, or getting all for themselves and they despise those men who are of such a base, covetous way". Burroughs states that this makes a man no better than a Mede. Although he may disregard silver and gold, it is only because his spirit entertains a different lust.

Herein, I believe, lies the stern warning for those of us who are reformed and love apologetics. Is our readiness to hold others' feet to the fire only a means to deflect further investigation of ourselves? Is our love for sound doctrine and biblical accuracy somehow a disguise for our own sin? In other words, have we removed the plank in our own eyes in order that we may see more clearly to remove the speck in another's eye? This calls for much self-examination.

Burroughs provides a strong test. He challenges us with this: "Can you say this, you who seem to scorn covetousness, and hate such base sordidness as you see in some men, "The LORD has made me to know what communion with Himself in Jesus Christ means; and since that time I bless God that my heart has been above all these earthly things. And that's the reason that I look upon all these earthly things as vanity, because the LORD has revealed to me those excellent and glorious thing that are infinitely above these earthly things . . . where lies the chief joy and sorrow of men's hearts? What is it that most troubles your heart? Is it the loss of the light of God's face or the loss of an estate; the loss of a voyage, or the commission of a sin? What's your chief joy, your profiting from the Word or gaining from a bargain? You have come to the Word and, sometimes, God has there revealed some truth to you, and you have profited. Can you go away rejoicing because God has made you to know His Law?" This is indeed a stern test. May all who endeavor to decry the abuses of the modern pulpit first pass it before ever uttering a single criticism.

The Apostle Paul instructs us through Titus to "rebuke them sharply (false teachers), that they may be sound in the faith . . ."(Titus 1:13) and this is not to be disregarded. However, the Apostle James also warns, "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment". For,with the same measure that we mete, so shall it be meted unto us!

There. Now, having fulfilled my contractual obligation to be self-effacing let us return to the business at hand; that Benny Hinn is a . . .

Be Like the Bereans Baby!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Recently, it has been my privilege to read another convicting and growth-provoking book from one of the most piercingly insightful and most beloved writer/pastors of the English Puritan era; Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646). In his "A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness", Burroughs accurately diagnoses what remains a blight on Christianity today. We have often heard the cliche that someone can be so "heavenly-minded that they are no earthly-good". I think that it is safe to say that much of Christianity, especially that sector that subscribes to "word-faith" theology (oxymoron), need not have any fear of that because the lion share of the popular preaching and teaching in the American church is firmly rooted and grounded in the dust of the earth.

In the foreword, Dr. R. C. Sproul (founder of Ligonier Ministries) is quite forthright about his low expectations for the reception of this venerated book by today's Christians. He states, "My guess is that few people will ever pick up this book and read it. Its theme and content are too alien to modern Christianity. Twentieth-century Christians have been seduced by a world-view that makes the thrust of this book seem archaic. It simply doesn't fit our times . . . Our thinking is earth-bound . . . Gone is the Biblical doctrine of the soul. There is much concern about self-image, self-esteem, and self-gratification. Yet, in all this, the 'self' itself has become a philosophical conundrum."

In focusing on only a portion of one verse of Scripture, " . . . who minds earthly things . . ." (Phil. 3:19), Burroughs sets out to defend his doctrinal statement: "The great difference between a wicked man and a godly man is that one minds earthly things and the other has his conversation in heaven". Burroughs explains that in the preceding 17th verse, the Apostle Paul argues that the earthly-minded are " . . . enemies of the cross of Christ, and they make their belly their god, and they mind earthly things". His defense of this point is irrefutably expounded throughout the remainder of the treatise. For the purposes of this post, I wish to focus on that part of this treatise that, I believe, is particularly contradictory of the far too popular "word-faith" teaching that is infesting the minds of far too many professed Christians today.

In chapter six of his treatise, Burroughs presents "Seven Reasons of Men's Earthly-Mindedness". Reason #4 gives us the first ingredient of the antidote for "word-faith" teaching, " . . . these things of the earth have a fair show in the flesh. Under this head, Burroughs directly addresses what drives false teachers. Quoting Galatians 6:12, Burroughs explains that there will be men who dress themselves luxuriously and having handsome features will be splendid to the eyes of all who behold them. These, he says , are false teachers who desire to make a "fair show in the flesh". They take satisfaction in having fine estates and appealing apparel and all creature comforts. They, according to Burroughs, are here enemies of the cross of Christ. They think suffering for Christ, poverty, or disgrace looks bad. But those who would make a fair show in the flesh and be somebody in this world, forsake the truths of God and seek to provide for themselves in the things of the flesh (pp. 70-71). This was first published in 1649 people! Same dog, same tricks!

What do the false teachers of our day, (the Dollars, the Harrison-Bryants, the Jakeses) all have in common? Among other things, is it not a virtual deluge of temporal and material goods. The very things that Jesus warned us would make entering His kingdom all the more difficult. I guess these guys are willing to take the risk after all they are spiritual giants; so they must be able to handle it.
Of course, they always frame they're riches as a means to demonstrate what Jesus can do for His people. Yeah, so that whole fulfilling the law, being savagely beaten, being nailed to a cross and dying thing was just so we could have the wealth of the world! Which is going to be destroyed anyway. How could I have missed that? Talk about rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic!

In chapter seven,"Eleven Considerations to Take the Mind of Earthly-mindedness" (pp.73-75),Burroughs deals another death-blow to "word-faith" teaching. He says, "First consider this: if you could possess all the thing of the earth that your mind and heart are upon, there is still not enough good in them as to undo the evil of the least sin, not the least sin of thought . . . if you had but one sinful thought, there is more evil in that than there is good in all that you shall get all the days of your life". He further explains that if this is so it concerns us rather to have our minds on how to avoid sin, how to get the evil of sin removed, and how to mortify (kill) our sin. In other words we much too concerned with the wrong problem. It's not about to get back the stuff that "satan" has stolen from us (which usually translates to material things in "word-faith" circles); it's about dealing with our all too present and persistent sin.

A second consideration under this heading is this: "the chief things that are in the earth have been the portion of reprobates (the unsaved) heretofore and are to this day, and shall be the portion of multitudes whom God hates and has set apart to glorify His infinite justice eternally". The reprobate has his reward now, in finite time. Our treasures in Heaven are eternal and without regret. God has made man for higher things than the things of this earth. Consider, these earthly treasures are the treasures of a fallen creation. Of how much greater worth are eternal treasures. Here's a four-letter word for you: delayed gratification.

Consider what Jesus had done, he took man's nature and died for man. As Burroughs exclaims, "Surely there must be some other manner of things that are the fruit of the purchase of the blood of Christ than the things of the earth". He says, of all the creatures God has made on earth we are the only ones capable of knowing Him. God has given us a nature that is capable of conversing with Him. therefore there are infinitely higher things that God has made us for than to have meat, drink, and clothes just to live here for awhile and enjoy creature features. Doubtless meat drink and clothes are necessary but when we live for the material, the eternal suffers greatly. Ask the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:1-30).

I would ask my "word-faith" believing friends to consider who is truly the focus of this atheology. Is it truly Yahweh, or is it Yourway. Yahweh is eternal. Yourway leads to death. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Proverbs 14:12).

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Lil’ Somethin’-Somethin’ for the Ladies (one in particular)

Dear Readers,

I have to venture out on a slightly different path with this post. Please allow me a little unburdening time as I deal with the 800-pound gorilla in my living room. Maybe those of you who have had their daily dose of theology and doctrine will be interested in a little “nuts-n-bolts,” “rubber-meets-the-road” Christianity.

I confess to you that there is currently trouble in my home. That’s right, Mr. “In Submission to Sovereignty” and his spare rib are at odds. Of course, I won’t go into detail (c’mon, I hardly even know you!), but I just want to comment on some analysis I received from a mutual friend of ours.

Among many other valuable insights our friend said to me, “Well, y’know Keith, Lisa has been through a lot with you . . .” That little chestnut sent me into a firestorm of self examination. I hope some of what I have gleaned will give some of my female readers (if I have any) some food for thought when dealing with the strange creature that God has made called, “husband.”

"Y'know, Keith, Lisa has been through a lot with you . . ." Well, yeah! I make no claim as to being the easiest guy to live with. I’m argumentative, I’m opinionated and I’m rarely wrong. Gimme a break I’m a Marine, I’m Reformed and I am Blanton W. Tolbert’s son fer cryin' out loud! I also have a very clear sense of right and wrong. It seems to me that the “wrong” way always seems to lead to regret and pain in the end. So I figure, “hey, just for spits and giggles, let’s just try it the ‘right’ way, God’s way.” Yes, He’s a little slow sometimes for our taste, but I say what the heck, let’s give Him a crack at it.

One thing that I have pretty much settled in my mind is that the Bible is true. I know that “truth” is a very fluid concept in our postmodern times; however, for my purposes “truth” is objective, it is absolute and it is epitomized in God’s Word, the Bible. Now, call me “foolish,” but I hold all professing Christians to the same standard. I can hear you all saying in unison, “O.K., you’re ‘foolish’.” A guy can dream, can’t he? Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume (yikes) for a moment that my wife, our friend and I are absolutely convinced of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. To say that my wife has “been through a lot” with me brings loads of what the Bible teaches to mind for me.

Immediately my mind flies to I Corinthians 10:6, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” I also flash back to Malachi 3:6 in which Yahweh declares, “For I am the LORD, I do not change.” With these passages in mind, I am led to believe that for a wife to “go through a lot” with her husband is the Biblical norm, rather than the exception.

I think of Noah’s wife. Picture Noah coming home one evening and saying this, “Honey, pack up the kids and get all of your stuff together; we’re going for a ride on the ark that I’m about to build. It’s gonna rain. A lot!” Can you imagine the conversations she had with her girlfriends the next day?

I think of Sarah, wife of the father of the faithful. Abe comes in one day and says, “Sarai, pack up all your stuff, kiss momma and all your family good-bye cause we’re leaving Ur.” Sarah says, “Abe, sweetheart, where are we going?” Abe responds, “I have no idea.” I can imagine Abe’s mother-in-law had her ear bent that night!

Then a few months later, Abe approaches Sarah with this bombshell: “Sarah, sweetie, while we’re here in Egypt, would you mind saying that you’re my 'sister'? Oh, and would you mind being in Pharaoh’s harem . . . just for a little while? So he won’t kill me.”

Lot’s wife also had to go through a lot. One night, Lot walks into their bedroom and says, “Saltina, there are two strangers in the living room and they say we have to leave Sodom, NOW.”
She didn’t even have time to take the rollers out of her hair!

These men received directives from God and responded in faith. If they are our example, should we not be doing so as well and with even greater confidence. For we have the completed text of the “truth” in God’s inerrant and infallible Word. Now, I’m not ringing my own chimes here, but I have trusted Jesus Christ and His substitutionary death on the cross for my sin. Because of that, God now calls me a “righteous” man. God has promised me in Psalm 37:23 that the steps of a “righteous” man are ordered by the LORD. Therefore, knowing that He ordered the steps of Noah, Abraham, and Lot (righteous men), I’ve gotta believe He’s ordering mine too.

What of the wives? Knowing that their husbands were “righteous” men, they trusted them and were spared even while having no direct word from God. Noah’s wife trusted him and was spared having to tread water for 150 days. Lot’s wife was spared from real acid rain, but got homesick and was turned into a table seasoning. Sarah trusted Abraham and became the mother of all the faithful. In fact, she even made the “Faith Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11:8-39). Sarah, as it turns out is the standard to which the Apostle Peter holds all godly wives in I Peter 3:5-6.

So ladies, having these examples and having been forewarned of having to “go through a lot” (Phil 1:29), what then should be your response when these “truths” show up at your door? Should you let what you see and feel dictate your response? Should you pull away from your spouse and regard him as your enemy? It’s my guess that the devil is planning on just that reaction. It would provide just the foothold that he needs to wreak havoc on your family, your marriage and your life.

Shouldn’t you rather turn back to the inerrant and infallible Word of God and heed His charge to walk by faith and not by sight? Is it not wiser that when these “truths” show up at your door we should cling even more tenaciously to each other? Shouldn’t we hold at the very front of our minds the vows we pledged to each other that rainy Saturday, September 5, 1992 afternoon? When we looked deeply into each others’ eyes and promised before God and man that for better or worse, through sickness and in health . . . to love, honor and cherish each other until death do us part. Shouldn’t our words be as inerrant and infallible as our heavenly Father’s words?

Ladies, the Scriptures tell us that we are wise to the devil’s schemes. We know that he comes to you today, just the way he came to Eve in the garden. He slithers up to you and he whispers seductively into your ear: “Adam doesn’t love you. Adam is only thinking of himself. Adam doesn’t care about how you feeelll.” But you are wise to his schemes. When he speaks, he speaks in his native tongue: “lie-lie.” He is the one who doesn’t love you. He is the one who is only thinking of himself (he knows his time is short). He not only doesn’t care about how you feel, he wants to destroy your life and that of your entire family.

God, in His Word, has told us how to respond. He said, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). God, the Omniscient, has declared that you and your husband are “one flesh.” Do not allow the one who was a murderer and a deceiver, from the beginning, to rob, steal and kill yet again. What God hath joined together let no man or demon put asunder. Your war is not against the flesh and blood of your husband. It is against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Yeah, I’m not the easiest guy to live with. Yeah, I have taken her through a lot. But never, no never have I taken a major step without first bathing it in prayer and getting God’s answer. Never, no never have I wanted anything less than the absolute best for my best friend, my helpmate, my wife. Never, no never have I done anything to betray my love’s trust. Never, no never have I tried to crush the gifts that God has blessed her with. Never, no never has my love for her waned or wandered. And with the Holy Spirit to strengthen me, I never, no never will.

Lisa, I don’t know if only two or two million eyes will ever read this post. But I unabashedly declare to you my undying, unyielding and irrepressible love to you. If ever this should change then may my tongue be cleaved to the roof of my mouth and my left hand lose its cunning for naught but Almighty God, Himself, shall ever be able to cleave me from you.

To you other ladies out there . . . remember if your husband is saved, God calls him a “righteous” man. The sovereign God of the universe says that He is ordering your husband’s footsteps. So if bruh’man comes home one day and says: “Babe, we’re moving to New Zealand” or “I think we should get the 72-inch plasma HDTV” and you know that he’s a man of prayer, try giving him the benefit of the doubt. After all, Sarah didn’t make it to the “Faith Hall of Fame” by rolling her neck and watching “Oprah.” As long as he is not asking you to sell your body, knock over a liquor store or cheer for the Boston Red Sox, he ‘s not leading you into sin. Just think about this, do you want to be the one who got in the way of the steps of a righteous man whose steps were being ordered by the LORD?

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!

P.S. To the end that we professing Christians may walk our talk, I leave you with some poetry. I have held this poem near and dear to my heart ever since that dark and crisp night of March 5, 1983 when I crossed the burning sands of
Omega Psi Phi. Enjoy!

Live Your Creed

I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.

I'd rather one walk with me than just to show the way.

The eye is a better pupil and more willing than the ear.

Advice may be misleading but examples are always clear.

And the very best of teachers are the ones who live their creed,

For to see good put into action is what everybody needs.

I can soon learn to do it if you let me see it done.

I can watch your hand in motion but your tongue too fast may run

And the lectures you deliver may be very fine and true

But I'd rather get my lesson by observing what you do.

For I may misunderstand you and the fine advice you give

But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.