An Unknown History

In 1939, a Jewish man named Abel Meeropol penned a significant poem inspired by a horrific picture—“Strange Fruit.” Abel, an English teacher in New York, saw a picture of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith that took place in Marion, Indiana on August 7th, 1930.

Thomas and Abram were in custody due to accusations that were never confirmed. An angry mob with sledgehammers came to the prison they were in, broke them out and beat them, and then hung them on a tree. Lawrence Beitler took the photo.

After Abel composed the poem, music was put to it, and a brave African American woman sang it in jazz clubs. It is hard to listen to the breezy voice of Billie Sunday and not see within your mind’s eye, black bodies swaying in the tree. This is not simply strange fruit, this is horrifying fruit.

Yet, I had never heard of Billie Sunday until a few months ago, or of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith until today as I researched the song. I saw for the first time, the photo of men, women, and children celebrating what they did in hanging the two accused black men. Apparently, photos at lynchings were common. In fact, they would print them and sell them like baseball cards. But as a white man who grew up in integrated schools and have close friends of color, I never knew of the gruesome reality of lynchings.

I do remember, however, an incident that happened on June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas. This was the summer just before my freshman year of high school. I remember seeing and hearing on the news of an African American man who was dragged behind the pick-up truck of three white supremacists. The news called it a “hate crime.” James Byrd Jr. was the first name I ever heard in connection with lynching and similar violence. But come to find out, Texas was ranked in the top three among states with the most lynchings.

Of course, I learned of the dreamer, Martin Luther King Jr. I was told about his strong, non-violent stance for equality. I also learned of his assassination. And then there was Harriet Tubman, the conductor of the underground railroad. While I did learn a little history of my African American brothers and sisters, it was only a little. I had not heard the story of Emmett Till, or the many others who were oppressed and killed because of the color of their skin.

But let me be clear, I cannot rightly blame my ignorance of African American history, heritage, and suffering on others. Still, where is this kind of education taking place regarding such a saddening past? While some might know and understand the plight of the African American community, I believe that many in the white community do not. There is an ignorance that exists, and I am afraid that to a certain degree, it could be willful.

Here then is the problem for the church—how are we to have discussions on race and reconciliation if we are unwilling to learn and experience a history that is unfamiliar or altogether ignored?

I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention truly desires racial reconciliation. In Atlanta, in 1995, the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention, a resolution passed that sought forgiveness and reconciliation with the African American community for the convention’s past stance on slavery. Likewise, in 2016, the convention passed a resolution that encouraged Southern Baptist’s to no longer display the confederate battle flag, so that we might stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. More recently, in 2017 at the Phoenix meeting, a resolution passed against the Alt-Right group, but not as easily as it should have. But while these resolutions are important, and even beneficial, they do not fully address the deep-rooted anguish and suffering that so many went through. Let’s be honest, we will not understand the outcry of the African American community today until we understand not only what they have been through, but what they are going through.

February is Black History Month. Take some time to learn the history and heritage of our African American brothers and sisters. Sit and listen to their stories, their struggles, and their victories. Invite a black friend to walk with you through a Civil Rights museum or read some books written by black authors regarding the struggle for equality. Preach peace, unity, and celebrate the beautiful diversity of God’s people.

I thank God that in spite of all that divides us as human beings, we can find unity and solidarity in the Gospel. It is only at the cross where all men are equal. There, all are found equally guilty of sin, and there all can equally find salvation from sin. There, the love of God was displayed in His Son, and by the death of Christ, the dividing wall of separation has been torn down. Unity and solidarity are indeed possible through Christ and His Gospel.

I pray that such a unity and solidarity could exist among peoples of faith regardless of race, but until we address the whole elephant in the room, we will never fully understand the depth of reconciliation still needed today.

For His Kingdom,

Boasting Only in the Cross

20 million. That is the sold number of copies of William Paul Young’s book The Shack. Now a film, this author’s message has spread to an even larger audience. But is this a good thing?

Michael Gungor, from the popular band, Gungor (the one that wrote songs utilized in worship services around the US such as “Beautiful Things”) recently shook things up when he tweeted that if God needs to be appeased by blood, such a thing would not be beautiful, but horrific. What do Gungor and Young have in common? They both fail to see the glory that is in the cross.

Not many crueler methods of torture and execution exists that parallel to the suffering crucifixions dealt. Assyrians initiated the gory method by simply impaling humans and leaving them out for wild beasts to consume and scatter their bones. It was believed that since they did not have a proper burial, their spirits would be forced to wander the earth, never to rest in peace. The Romans perfected their work. They could keep people alive on crosses for days. Those crucified suffered the elements of weather, mocking, wild animals, and the mental/emotional torture of the knowledge that they would soon die. To be sure, there is nothing glamorous about the cross. Yet, Paul says in Galatians 6:14 that he would boast in no other thing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why then, would Paul glory in an instrument that excels in barbarism? By the cross, the world and all that it offers was nailed to the cross so that Paul could gain all that the crucified Christ has to offer. In Galatians 2:19–20, Paul declares that he was crucified with Christ, and the life he now leads in the flesh is not a life led by the flesh, but by Jesus. Such a life would not be possible if it were not for the cross. But what did the cross actually achieve?

Young, in his recent book Lies We Believe About God, states that if the cross was God’s idea, then God is—in his words—“a cosmic abuser” (see page 149). He goes on to say that the cross was a human innovation and that God submitted to humanity. According to Young, prior to the crucifixion, God already saved humanity, even before Christ even came to the earth. Are you seeing the problems yet? Can you see how Young and Gungor both fail to glory in the cross?

If God had already saved humanity, then it would not have been necessary for Jesus to come, to die, or to be raised from the dead. Likewise, humanity would be going in an altogether different path, for everyone whom God has saved has received God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Here in lies the rub—humanity is not good, and the heart of mankind is desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10–12). The reason the world is in the condition it is in is evidence enough that all humanity has not been saved, but is in great need of salvation—hence the cross.

By the cross, God sent His Perfect Son to die on behalf of our sins. Though He was sinless, Jesus served as our substitute to take on our sin so that we could take on His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus did not obediently submit Himself to humanity, He humbly surrendered to the will of the Father (Matthew 26:39; Philippians 2:28). The cup Jesus asked to pass from Him, was a symbol of God’s wrath and is also utilized in Old Testament passages to signify God’s judgment (Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15). Jesus drank every drop from the cup of God’s wrath so that the stain sin has made would be erased by every drop of Jesus’ blood. This leads Paul to say that our sins are forgiven by the means of Christ’s blood (Ephesians 1:7).

While the truth of Paul’s statement remains true today—the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18)—it is imperative that we who believe in the power of the cross hold fast to the genuine message that is the Gospel, because by the cross the power of God is demonstrated as He saves those who believe in the true Gospel (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18). Such a Gospel leads us to boast in the cross, for by it we see our former lives end, and our new lives in Christ begin.

Loudly then we sing the line from “In Christ Alone:”


‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live!

For His Glory,

The Most Neglected Discipline

Memorization. We shutter at the thought. We might pray, we might read our Bible, we might even tithe, but memorize Scripture, well that might be asking a little too much of us. While some might argue that it is not the most neglected spiritual discipline, it cannot be denied that it is one of the least developed practices within the Christian community. But what do we miss out on when we do not exercise this spiritual muscle?

When I was a child, I went through a Bible Drill program. I learned the order of the books of the Bible and well over 20 verses. Now, my kids are going through Awanas and they are learning the order of the canon, as well as numerous verses. They do this without complaining. In fact, they love it. They look forward to every Sunday night. When my wife and I pick them up from class, they usually begin sharing with us all the verses they are working on.

Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood we stop the emphasis of Scripture memorization. Apparently, this discipline was good enough for us as children, but not important enough for us as adults. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we do not understand the purpose and benefit of Scripture memorization.

What then prevents us from growing in the discipline of Scripture memorization? It is not our inability to memorize, but our ability to make excuses. We can memorize television stations and the schedules of our favorite shows, but then fail to even attempt at being the man who meditates on the law of the Lord for just a moment, let alone day and night (Psalm 1:2).

Still, we are quick to offer up reasons why we cannot grow in this discipline. We comment about our age, or inability to recall. Sometimes we say we just don’t know what to memorize. What we will not say is the true reason we make no effort to grow in this spiritual discipline—we don’t esteem the Bible like we say we do. But if we were to spend as much time in our effort to treasure God’s Word in our heart as we do justifying our ineptness, we would have already seen the growth that comes from meditating on God’s precious Word.

Casual Christianity has given way to a mediocre faith. We have tolerated a minimalistic approach to being disciples and making disciples, and the church is suffering for it. With an abundance of apologies, we miss out on a profusion of fruit. This is one of the reasons why I have led the church I pastor to pursue the discipline of Scripture memorization, so that we might enjoy the fruit that comes from dwelling on the Word of God.

Each month we focus on one verse or set of verses in hopes that our unified meditation would shape the culture of our church family and lead us to engage our community with hearts transformed by the Bible. This encouraged discipline now helps shape our worship services and stimulates a greater unity as we come together with one mind (Ephesians 5:1–2; Philippians 1:27). On the last Sunday of every month, we as a congregation, from the children to the senior adults, stand and recite together God’s Word. I cannot adequately describe the joy I felt the first time we did this together. I am more convinced now than ever of the need for churches to grow in the discipline of Scripture memorization. It is not about the quantity that is memorized, but the quality that comes from memorization. So let me encourage you to take up the discipline of treasuring God’s Word, as an individual, as a family, and as a church family, and discover what it is like to be a fruit bearing tree planted by streams of water.

For His Glory,

Gospel Centered Preaching: Ex-pos-i-tory Priority

My family and I have searched high and low for a home, and have finally found one. With a family of six, there are a lot of standards that have to be met in order to satisfy our needs. First it has to be large enough to fit all of us without having to stack bodies. With young children, we need a place where they can play outside, an open and safe space. But we also want to host people at the house, so the living area needs to be open and spacious too. With all this criteria, it is easy to see why it has taken us a while to settle on a home. When looking for a church family, what should be at the top of the list in priorities—music, small groups, mission work? I’d like to make a case that expository preaching should be at the very top of that list. In fact, I’d like to show you how expository preaching impacts all the other priorities that sit on our lists of qualifications, and how it enhances them. But first, let me start by answering an obvious question, what is expository preaching?

What is Expository Preaching?

Expository preaching in the simplest definition, is the preaching that presents the message of Scripture. This means that the pastor communicates the intent of the Bible and not the inverse, which would be the Bible speaking to his message. This kind of preaching would be called topical. Topical messages are essentially messages that speak to particular topics that the preacher would like to address, such as love, prayer, family, etc. In saying this, I do not mean that these pastors have not given themselves to prayer in seeking to discern God’s will and intent for the church. Also, I’m not saying that you cannot preach both expositionally and topically at the same time (topical exposition). I have done this for a few series at First Baptist. Topical exposition, while addressing a particular topic, still seeks to present the meaning of the text and allow it to speak for itself and not for the preacher.

The topical messages that are most dangerous, however, are the ones where the pastor has selected a theme, and strung together varying verses to fit that theme. In doing this, he has taken verses from their contexts and has forced them into his own. But every time we take a passage from its context, we remove it from its genre, from the surrounding that harbors its meaning, and from the author who intended its meaning. So consider a letter written to a spouse. The husband writes his wife saying that his heart is about to burst and that he is dying. Now as a reader of the letter, if I take just that phrase what am I likely to believe? This guy has a serious heart condition and could die at any moment. Yet, as the wife reads the letter, she reads it in its entirety. She understands that the husband is using exaggerated language to describe his love for her, and how miserable he is while he is away from her. Topical preaching is like the reader who takes just a phrase and uses it in a way that it was never intended, to speak to his intent and not the author’s.

Expository preaching then, is the result of seeking to know and understand a given passage of Scripture and the meaning the author of the text wishes us to discover. This means that the preacher has poured himself over the text, studied the overall context of the book it is in, the cultural environment that surrounded it in its historical setting, studied the words from its original language, and studied it in light of the Bible as a whole. Lastly, which should also be firstly, the preacher prays for discernment and understanding. He must depend on the Holy Spirit as he gives himself to the Scripture.

This is no small task, but it is necessary work. Such work reveals that the preacher understands that God’s Word is what brings life and hope, and not his own. The expositor believes that it is God’s Word that deserves the greatest of care and attention, and not his own. The preacher believes that God’s Word is sufficient, and teaches his congregation to depend on every word that comes from God and not his own. A pastor with a high view of Scripture inevitably will lead his congregation to hold a view as well. When God’s Word is elevated, it ultimately elevates everything else within the church.

How Expository Preaching Impacts Our Worship in Song

Music tends to set the emotional bar of a worship service. If the music falls flat, many churchgoers will leave looking for a church that will cater to their emotional need. Now notice, I have said nothing concerning the content of the music, or the spiritual depth of the songs. These songs could be filled with rich theological truth, but if the music is poor, the shoppers will go on to the next storefront to see their music priority satisfied. Some need music to set the mood for worship. This is an unfortunate thing that we must feel compelled to worship, as if swooned into it. Expository preaching then can rescue such a low understanding of worship and elevate it to high and wonderful place where God is exalted and the worshiper is satisfied.

In Psalm 103, the worship of David jumps out of the song. His praise erupts from within his soul, not because of the music, but because of God—he wants to praise the holy name of God. Yet, David cannot rightly praise the name of God if he has no understanding of what is associated with God’s name. It is here that we see David list all the actions that speak to the character of God. He forgives, He heals, He redeems, He crowns, and He satisfies. He deals with David in ways that he does not deserve. But God deals with David in a way that is consistent with His revealed character. In verse 8, David quotes Exodus 34:6. It is in that passage where God revealed Himself to Moses, declaring His name and all the characteristics associated with it—He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in loyal love. This was a revelation that occurred 400 years prior to the time of David. Yet, because David has the Word of God, and a high view of it, his praise is then shaped by it.

While the psalm does not speak to expository preaching, it does reveal how important God’s Word plays into shaping our worship. Because David has a knowledge of the Scripture, the Scripture then guided his worship. When expository preaching is a priority in the church, the Word of God is elevated and the knowledge of God is increased. The church that grows in knowledge of the Bible, is a church that grows in knowledge of God, and the church that grows in the knowledge of God, grows in worship. At this point, it will not simply be the musicality that is most important in our worship, but the content. Our desire will be that God is rightly worshipped, and at the sound of His name and not the song, will praise begin to explode within the congregation.

How Expository Preaching Impacts Our Small Groups

Small groups or Sunday school classes center on many things. They focus on age, life stage, fellowship, and more. Community is a very important element of the local church. But on what grounds does the community exist? We could say that it exists on the basis of salvation in Christ, and I would be inclined to agree, but how do we know of the salvation that exists in Christ? The Bible. We know of the Gospel, not just because someone told us what it is, but because the Word of God has record of it and declares it (Romans 10:1–17; 1 Corinthians 15:3–8).

When we look at the early church and see record of their gathering, we find them fellowshipping, caring for the needs of one another, praising and praying, and devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching (which just so happens to be listed first, Acts 2:41–47). Their fellowship centered on the teaching of the apostles, whose teaching centered on the Word of God. We discover the high priority of the right teaching of Scripture. The church that has expository preaching as a priority will grow deeper in the Bible and develop communities that are biblically based, growing together in the Word as well as in life.

How Expository Preaching Impacts Our Missions

Christians want to be part of churches filled with a sense of purpose—missions ultimately satisfy this desire. It is a gratifying thing to discover a church not afraid to leave its comfort zone. These churches create and feel the sense of urgency to bring the gospel to their communities, as well as to the world. Yet, what creates this kind of desperation?

Expository preaching elevates the needs of missions by centering missions on the gospel. Of course, I could circle back to the previous section and talk about where we find the gospel, but instead, I’d like to speak to the fact of where we discover mission. In Matthew 28:18–20, we find what is known as “The Great Commission.” Jesus sent out His disciples to the ends of the earth with the gospel mandate. In this, Jesus delegated the responsibility of evangelization and discipleship to His church. The church then is to go with the message of salvation to all the world, seeing those who respond baptized, and then trained in the Word of God. The urgency is not contrived urgency, but a biblical one. The Bible presents the reality that people who die apart from Christ, will spend an eternity apart from Christ. Further, Jesus said He is coming quickly (Revelation 22:20). The seriousness of our mission is promoted through the exposition of Scripture. As believers are taught the teachings of Christ, there exists within those teachings a natural importance of mission, and those who obey what Jesus has taught will lead a life that goes out to the communities and the nations.

Expository preaching elevates the worship, discipleship, and mission of the church, because it elevates Jesus. When Jesus is exalted, He will draw people to Himself. Jesus is the center of the gospel, and expository preaching proclaims this loudly. This kind of preaching calls all people to lead a life centered on the gospel, centered on Christ. Churches who hold to an expository priority will find that this kind of preaching will impact every facet of the church. Given time, these churches will grow in health and spiritual breadth. These churches will find themselves hungering and thirsting for more of God and His righteousness, and be satisfied. So as you look for a church family to join, let me encourage you to find a church where gospel centered preaching is an expository priority.

For His Kingdom,

A Gospel Centered Life

Is there a way our lives can be informed and influenced with a unifying message and have it shape every other aspect of how we live? Our lives are influenced by countless outside sources. Each day we look to the weatherman for his message, and it informs us on how we should dress for the day. Similarly, our kids come home with mounds of information that relay to us when signups for sports take place, or when picture day is going to be. This influences how we will align our schedules, our financial resources, and how we will lead our children. It is easy for us to become disjointed by the many forms of influence, crashing our loyalties into every rock we believe to be our anchor. How then can we regain stability in our lives and maintain a consistent purpose in our existence? The Gospel.

Consider this, think on the most defining day in your life and how that shaped who you are and how you live. For me, I could speak to the impact my wedding day had on me, or the days my four kids were born. Each of those moments transformed my life and how I think and how I function. When I married my wife, I no longer thought as a man who was single, nor behaved as one. My life, since March 31st, 2007 and forward, has been committed to grow and function in an ongoing relationship with my wife with her interests at heart. The same is true for our children. As each one entered the world, our lives grew in adjustment to their arrival. So now, I view life as a husband and as a father. But the Gospel informs and influences even those roles in my life and should yours too.

I can be a husband and a father outside the Gospel, but to do so would be to miss a central importance in both those roles. For if I fail to function as a husband informed by the Gospel, I will never love my wife in the way that she needs to be loved. The same is true of my kids. The Gospel then is the only unifying message that can inform and influence our lives in every regard. Until the Gospel captures us so, we will remain adrift pursuing all manners of fulfillment, but finding no satisfaction. It is then imperative that we begin to understand and apply how the Gospel unifies our lives in way that we have never experienced before. Below I’d like to share with you the two key areas informed and influenced by the Gospel—the way we think and the way we live.

How the Gospel Transforms the Way We Think 

In Philippians 1:27, Paul tells us to “Live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” The word behind the translation “Live” is extremely significant to how the Gospel informs and influences our thinking. Most translations fail to capture the full mentality behind the word by translating the Greek term as “Live” or “Conduct.” Only the New Living Translation captures the essence of the verb in a way that best represents the term in our English language, translating it, “live as citizens of heaven.” The word refers to behavior natural to freed citizens. This is relatable for us as free American citizens. We celebrate all manners of freedom and our thoughts are influenced and informed by those freedoms. In fact, if someone attempts to impede on our freedom, we are quick to respond in opposition for our thoughts of freedom have conditioned our behavior. So when leaders threaten our religious freedom, or freedom of speech, we respond in ways that are natural to us as free citizens of the United States of America.

This is Paul’s desire for his audience. They lived their lives as freed Roman citizens and enjoyed that freedom. The thoughts of their citizenship impacted their lives in a way that reflected their free state. Paul says that the Gospel grants a higher citizenship that is found in the heavenly places in Christ. This citizenship supersedes any other earthly citizenship and should then inform and influence every thought in life. The Gospel then becomes the filter by which all things sift through. Every thought must be captured by the Gospel. As we watch a movie, as we hear a song, as we start a new relationship, the Gospel informs our perspective and inspires our motivation. Our thoughts must be elevated by the Gospel, for they dictate our action.

How the Gospel Transforms the Way We Live 

Americans are quickly spotted when traveling overseas. We tend to stick out like a sore thumb. The way we dress, the way we walk, and the way we order our food, all point to the fact that we are from an entirely different world. If you have ever left the country, or if you are a Texan and have left the state of Texas, then you have probably experienced something similar! When we travel, we still carry our citizenship with us. We might be in another country, but we still function as Americans. We hope for the same conveniences; we desire to speak the same language; and we are not even remotely ashamed of it. This is because we are not only American citizens and naturally think as American citizens, we enjoy being American citizens.

The Gospel is something to enjoy. As we begin to comprehend our citizenship in heaven, the excitement of such thoughts overtakes us, and our lives begin to demonstrate that we are not from around here. Our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is lived out best when the Gospel of Christ is enjoyed most. Then as we step out on American soil, we step out first not as Americans, but Christians, citizens of an otherworldly kingdom. As we pilgrimage through this life, we interact with others around us in a way that demonstrates the work of the Gospel in our lives. The hardships of others, social injustice, and the many troubles experienced around us are responded to in a way the presents the future hope and expectation we have as citizens of God’s rule. We fight back against poverty for there will be a day when poverty will not exist. We fight back against injustice, for one day only God’s justice will be enjoyed. We live expectantly in the midst of sickness and sorrow, for the future hope we have in Christ reveals that sickness, death, and sorrow will be no more. Such an understanding of our position in Christ fills us with joy and excitement, and impacts how we live. Again, our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is lived out best when the Gospel of Christ is enjoyed most.

Only the Gospel can bring stability and consistency in our lives. The more we view our world through the lens of the Gospel, the more we will be able enjoy a life centered on the Gospel. This enjoyment is ultimately an enjoyment in Christ. Because of Him “We live, move, and exist” (Acts 17:28), and for His glory we live our lives. A life in Christ is a life centered in the Gospel, and a life centered in the Gospel is a life worth living.

For His Kingdom,