Friday, August 20, 2010

All We Really Have to do is Obey by Guest Blogger Marvin Lawton

We are blessed to have Brother Marvin Lawton, one of the members of Abiding in the Vine, contribute a very timely message about obedience. I think you'll find his message to be honest, humorous, and insightful. Be sure to drop him a line on the Abiding in the Vine message wall (It's not too often we hear from the brothers.). Enjoy!

I grew up in the typical urban ghetto plagued by drugs, gang violence, roaming stray pit bull dogs, and the list goes on. And despite being very fortunate to be reared in a two-parent household, the desire to give into these external temptations was ever present. Like most Christian parents, they knew that keeping me in church was the best combatant to my urban environment. Of my many fond as well as quaint memories of growing up in the “hood”, the most prolific was my church experience.

I was brought up in holiness (shout out to all the COGIC folk!) whereby church was more important than school. Heck, even as a lad they made us fast so much I could never figure out why we had any obese people in the edifice! Like many kids we played church, laughed at the women who danced out their new hairdos every Sunday, and slept in the back during the weeknight service in lieu of doing homework. But soon, I too had that same religious experience at the ripe age of thirteen that once tickled me every Sunday morning via the rhythmic stomp of stiletto pumps enshrined by the long skirts of those holiness women. It happened to me at a Sunday school convention in the summer of 1988. The details of the experience aren’t as important as the instant and more importantly, reflective change that took place. After going back to the hotel room to have my first legitimate prayer with God, I began to ponder how could I return home earnestly showing this wonderful change that had taken place in my life? At the time, although I knew I was going to evangelize the good news to all my peers, my main concern was how could I be a witness in my parents’ household? It wasn’t like I had a job, a car or driver’s license for that matter; nor did I have a means of paying any bills. The word God gave to me was to simply go back home and “Obey”. As complex as I wanted the exhibition of my change to be, it really was that simple. As a child, the only real tool I had to be a witness was to obey my parents. So I did just that; from thirteen to adulthood my parents never had to raise their voice, punishment became a foreign word to me, and the only whooping that ever took place was maybe when I beat them in a board game or Scrabble (that one is for you Marita!!).

The above account is the prelude to a simple devotion on Obedience. In John 21:15-17, we find Jesus asking Peter the same question three different times. He told Peter to “Feed my sheep.” If we examine the passage more carefully, noticed He prompted Peter by asking if he first loved Him? Many of us could empathize with Peter’s frustration of being asked the same question over and over again even from the Savior. But what Jesus was trying to convey was the fact that God doesn’t need us to show Him love by what we think is good, instead love Him by doing what He asked us to do. If your wife asks you to spend time with her and watch a movie once a week, a husband shouldn’t go by her a Louis Vutton purse in place of not spending that time with her (although I’m sure the ladies would give you a pass with that gift!).
Like the example of me being a lad and adhering to my parents wishes, so should we be with God. Think about it, we may have the means of doing certain things as human beings, but in regards to God what can we really render? He’s omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Like the congregational song we sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands!” Outside of receiving salvation, following what He already put in His word is how we exhibit our love for God. Being chairman of the deacon board is great and associate youth pastor second assistant is a wonderful position of service within the church body, but if we are not living according to His Word it’s null and void. As a single male, I do a pretty good job in trying to keep the basic ten on a daily basis, and for the most part my primary battle is with that “thing” in the words of Lauryn Hill. But conceding to that struggle or giving into temptation in exchange for being the musician, trustee, custodian, and church security guard does not make it okay. God would rather I be a basic member and walk upright before Him than hide behind my self-glorified good works.

Not too long ago, I updated a Facebook status that read something like this: “You gotta love church! They let you have any ministry as long as it’s for the Lord…I’m thinking about starting a beat boxing ministry!” As cynical as it sounds we all know how true it is. Churches now have sewing ministry, baking ministry, prison ministry, dance ministry, children’s ministry, and even aerobics ministry! I honestly believe that it’s a blessing to have an environment where Christians can use their diverse gifts and talents for God. Along with edification of the saints, when done properly these ministries have drastically changed lives and improved many of our urban communities. At the same time, we should not let these ministries overshadow our fundamental responsibilities as Christians. Many times we get entranced in building a better church culture, but forget to be basic followers of Christ. Have you ever found yourself wondering if you are in God’s will? What is my purpose in life? Is this decision I made really of God? The answers to those questions lie in the simple yes or no answer to if you are obeying His Word. Are you feeding His sheep? We can debate over the Old Testament ten, but Jesus saved us the headache of the ongoing ecumenical discussion by giving us a new commandment that “we love one another” (John 13:34). Obedience is the true will of God. There’s really no need try to complicate it with our own zeal or doctrine. I strongly believe it’s the reason we always frustrate ourselves in trying to “hear God”. We are too consumed with trying to listen for something He gave explicit instructions to do a long time ago!

So although I know that a song rendered from my beat box ministry will probably never supersede the morning message in place of the praise dance ministry (that’s comprised of the pastor’s daughter who counts on the one instead of the two messing up the routine every Sunday!), I have a peace in knowing that as long as I OBEY God I am in His perfect will. And although I’ve made some decisions based on me trying to hear God, the true reality is that I may never hear Him. Life is not what it’s supposed to be, it’s what it is. But as long as we continue to do what He told us to do over two thousand years ago, which is to love thy neighbor, we will always be in His will and be pleasing to our heavenly Father. Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Be Blessed,
Brother Marvin Lawton

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Does the Black Church Really Keep Black Women Single?

I got an e-mail from a friend who forwarded a CNN article to me that really has me fired up. In fact, this devotional blog is going to be very “out of the box” for me but hopefully relevant to some. I have extracted the gist of the article by Liane Membis below, but you can read it for yourself at:

"Cooper, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner, recently made claims on her blog that predominantly black protestant churches, such as African Methodists, Pentecostal, and certain denominations of Evangelical and Baptist churches are the main reason black women are single. Cooper, who is black and says she is not strictly religious, argues that rigid beliefs constructed by the black church are blinding black women in their search for love."

The article also includes a statistic that 55% of African Americans “interpret scripture literally.” Of course, the implication is that those of us in this group are misinterpreting the Word of God by striving to live our lives according to it. A few in the article further suggest that women are limiting their potential for relationships by having high biblical standards (being equally yoked).

To say that “[r]igid beliefs are blinding black women in their search for love” is an example of I Corin. 1:27, which reads, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” This a flawed deduction and dismisses many other factors that aren’t even brought up. Most importantly though, this is a conclusion that the world has come to that has no spiritual validity.

The Word goes on to say, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (I Corin. 1:30). Christians strive to make wise choices, but no amount of rational or intellectual thought, statistics or anything else can supercede Christ’s work on the cross and the godly wisdom that only comes from Him, the true life source. For believers, our final authority is the unadulterated Word of God. Yes, we take it literally.

Furthermore, I Corin. 2:11-13 says,
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man, which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

Those who aren’t Christians can’t understand the lives of believers. The Word and lifestyle is silly and foolish to them. It is only through the power of God’s Holy Spirit that we can understand and obey His Word.

Again, the remainder of chapter two in I Corinthians explains that only by the Holy Spirit can we attain insight into the plans and thoughts of God. The closer we get to Christ, the more peace, love and joy we have. His purpose for our lives can be disclosed to us through interpreting the Scripture fully and literally.

I was very disturbed by many points in the article, but mostly for attempting to tear down the church and for subtly appearing to persuade women who are praying for a good mate to lower their standards. As they say, the devil is a lie!

The problem with the increasing number of single black women is not because of a true, Bible believing faith-based church or the Word of God.

The Word says that “Eye hath not seen, nor hear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The key to having fulness of joy is staying in His presence and in His Word.

I would love to hear from you on this topic. Drop me a line on the Abiding in the Vine Group page.