Want Social Justice? Stop Avoiding Jury Duty.

I came back this past week from a fun but exhausting trip to Louisville where I preached four sermons. We got back late on a Monday night, which meant I was already a full day behind, and all of the weekly responsibilities hadn’t hit the pause button simply because I was out of town. Unless the Lord decided to make the sun stand still, Sunday wasn’t going to wait an extra day to let me catch my breath.

And of course, of all weeks, this was the one I was summoned for jury duty.

Do I really want justice?

I didn’t want to do it. Of all weeks, this was the last one where I needed to get paid a meager $11.80 to spent my entire afternoon sitting, waiting, staring at the wall, and being shuffled in an out of a courtroom.

A friend joked that it was easy to get out of jury duty in our county. Probably true. I could have come up with a host of excuses that probably would have freed me from my civic obligation.

But if not me, then who? If I, a local pastor who–let’s be honest–has a pretty open schedule and makes his own hours, am not willing to serve as a juror, who do I expect to do it?

It is very easy to advocate for justice, to speak up for victims, to stand against abuse, to desire to hold government officials and police officers accountable to the law…on social media. But if I’m not willing to inconvenience myself for one solitary afternoon out of the year–even if that afternoon comes at the most inopportune time!–in order to do my part to see justice prevail, can I really call myself dedicated to justice with any sense of honesty?

Consider these three reasons why jury duty is fundamental to enacting justice in our society.

Humanizing the Abstract.

All debate over proper governance is abstract until we actually enter the courtroom. I was surprised by the way my entire person was stretched to apply the law to specific circumstances with specific people. Participating as a juror forces us to think through the way the laws are written and interpreted. I was struck by the great shortcomings of the law. No amount of legal code can anticipate all of the complexities of our society. Without righteous judges, lawyers, and juries, the law can be twisted and misapplied very easily.

The afternoon re-humanized the legal process for me. All of the sudden things we think about in the abstract, argue passionately about online, or even preach about from the pulpit now have faces and names. They are real people with real families, real hopes, real sorrows, and eternal souls. In a society increasingly distanced from one another through technology, I wonder whether our perspectives would begin to change if we were forced to do a solid week of jury duty each year. How would we grow in compassion? How would we come to see our own near-sightedness and naïvety? How might our perspectives on policies and proper governance shift?

Restraining the Government.

We the people hold law enforcement officers, lawyers, and judges accountable to the law. To enact justice, it takes faithful jurors who are dissatisfied with mere allegations and force prosecutors to present compelling evidence. Police officers should not be able to waltz into court and think that on the basis of a badge they can make assertions about a defendant and expect a conviction. Juries protect against a police state.

If you value a free society, it is your basic duty to participate in that free society as a conscientious juror. It is not enough to feel pretty sure a defendant is guilty. We sit in the courtroom to make sure the prosecution proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, we return the verdict not guilty. Not because we think the defendant didn’t commit the alleged crime, but because we hold a high standard for conviction. We put a heavy burden on law enforcement to prove that the law was broken–and broken by the alleged perpetrator.

Faithful juries actually build trust in the government. When jurors are hard-nosed and insistent on clear evidence, this strengthens good faith in the judicial system and the police, not the opposite. We honor the government as we seek to restrain it. What is more, juries that consistently return just verdicts eliminate the need for vigilante justice.

Loving Our Neighbor.

In the United States, the right to a trial by a jury of peers is an application of the Golden Rule. It beckons us as peers to treat the defendants and victims in the courtroom the way we hope they would treat us were we in their position. As Christians, we show love to our neighbor by doing our best to ensure justice is served. We love victims by holding perpetrators accountable to the law. We love the accused by ensuring they are convicted and punished not on the basis of hearsay, intimidation, or public sentiment but on on the basis of concrete evidence.

Sadly, our nation has a marred history of biased juries especially with regards to racial bias. Not long ago, judges and juries in our region miscarried justice by handing down specious convictions against blacks who had no power to serve as jurors or to elect their judges. What if Christians had taken seriously their duty to love their fellow man–especially those of a different color who needed an advocate for justice in the jury box?

The next time your jury summons arrives in the mail, thank the Lord for a chance to serve your neighbors. Ask the Lord for guidance, compassion, and a clear mind. The world needs men and women filled with the Spirit of God and given the compassionate heart of Christ who strive to see the righteousness of God reign in our communities!

(photo credit)

Join Me at Dignity & Delight Marriage Conference (April 26-27)

So many marriage resources seem to focus on how to deal with the sinner we sleep next to every night. What if the purpose of Christian marriage isn’t merely learning how to cope with someone else’s sins? What if we began to reorient our focus–choosing to delight in what God delights in? What if delighting in the gospel transformation taking place in our spouse day by day is the pathway to helping one another rediscover our true dignity in Christ?

Join Me in Louisville!

If you live in the area, I’d love to have you at Immanuel Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) where I’ll be keynoting the marriage conference “Dignity & Delight” on April 26-27. REGISTRATION CLOSES APRIL 21! Yikes. Sorry about the late notice.

I’ll be preaching four messages from 1 Samuel 15, Romans 6, Matthew 21, and Proverbs 31 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I’ll be preaching on listening, submission, sacrifice, and the church. Also, Dr. Don Whitney will be doing a session on family worship.

Single? I’m intentionally crafting each of the sermons to focus on an aspect of Christian life applicable to all Christians–married or single. No one will be left out!

Whether you are able to attend or not, I would appreciate your prayers for my family, my preaching, and the marriages and individuals who will be in attendance.

Here’s a sermon from last year to give you a taste of where we’re headed:

Hudson Taylor: Heart for the Lost

In 1861, J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) contracted a serious illness, forcing him to leave behind a fledging church of 21 believers in Ningpo, China, and return to England in hope of recovery. He had been laboring in the mission field for eight years, pressing beyond the coastal cities into the heart of China. Handing out gospel tracts and Chinese Bibles in village after village, he had witnessed firsthand the countless millions without a gospel witness. It was heartbreaking to have to leave.

The lost souls of inland China plagued Hudson’s conscience while he was home recovering in England: “The feeling of blood guiltiness became more and more intense…every day tens of thousands were passing away to Christless graves! Perishing China so filled my heart and mind that there was no rest by day, and little sleep by night till health broke down.” He prayed for China. He poured his labors into revision of the Chinese New Testament. Still, his soul could not find rest.

In June 1865, Hudson’s health had improved, and he was invited to Sunday worship in Brighton by friend George Pearse. The experience left him utterly broken:

“Unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual pain; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service.”

It was that Sunday afternoon on a sandy beach on the South coast of England that Hudson, age 33, was moved to start the China Inland Mission.

That same year, he poured all of his prayerful conviction into China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims, a book meant to stir the hearts of his countrymen to go, to send, and to give. He filled it with statistics about the overwhelming lostness in China. He made constant comparisons to the size and populations of British and Europe countries seeking by any means to make the urgent gospel need relevant to comfortable Englishmen.

His China Inland Mission would target the eleven Chinese provinces “containing together 197.5 millions of our fellow-creatures, for whose good no one Protestant missionary is labouring. No one is unfurling among them the standard of the cross! No one is pointing them to the great Sin-Bearer!” Describing these provinces one by one, each section ended with two words in all caps: NO MISSIONARY.

Pleading with whoever will listen, he writes: “Dear reader, is it not your duty to carry the gospel to these perishing ones?”

Taylor then recounts a heartbreaking personal illustration that happened in 1856, while he was journeying from Shanghai to the city of Sung-kiang-fu:

“In the afternoon of the second day its walls loomed in sight, and I spoke of going ashore to preach the gospel. In the same boat was a Chinaman as passenger, who had been in England; and who, when there, went by the name of Peter. He had heard the gospel, but had not experienced its saving power. I had been speaking to him on the preceding evening about his soul’s salvation, and he had been moved to tears. I was pleased, therefore, when he asked to be allowed to accompany me, and to hear me preach…

Our boat drew nearer the walls of the city, and I went into the cabin to prepare for going ashore, expecting in a few minutes to enter Sung-kiang-fu with my Chinese friend. I was suddenly startled by a splash and a cry. I sprang out of the cabin, and looked around—every one was at his post but poor Peter. The tide was rapidly running out, but a strong wind was carrying us over it. The low, shrubless shore afforded no landmark that we could notice to indicate the exact spot where he fell into the water. I instantly let down the sail and leapt over board, trying to find him…

Unsuccessful, I looked around in agonizing suspense, and saw close to me a fishing-boat with a peculiar drag-net furnished with hooks, which I knew would bring him up.

“Come!” I cried, as hope sprang up in my heart, “Come, and drag over this spot directly, for a man is drowning here.”

“Weh bin”—it’s not convenient—was the cold and unfeeling reply.

“Don’t talk of convenience,” I cried in an agony, “a man is drowning.”

“We are busy fishing and cannot come,” was the reply.

“Never mind your fishing,” I cried, “I will give you more money than many a day’s fishing will bring you, if you will come at once.”

“How much money will you give us?”

“Don’t stand talking now; come, or you will be too late. I’ll give you five dollars.”

“We won’t come for that; we’ll drag for twenty dollars.”

“I have not got so much; do come quickly, and I’ll give you all the money I have.”

“How much is that?”

“I don’t know exactly; about fourteen dollars.”

At last they came, and in less than one minute brought up the body of poor Peter. They were most indignant and clamorous because the payment of their exorbitant demand was delayed while attempts were being made at resuscitation. But all was in vain–life was extinct.

It’s a devastating account. Taylor presses its implications deep into our hearts:

Dear reader, would you not say that these men were verily guilty of poor Peter’s death, in that they had the means of saving him at hand, but would not use them? Surely they were ! And yet, pause ere you give your judgment against them, lest a greater than Nathan say, “THOU art the man.” Is it so hard-hearted, so wicked a thing to neglect to save the body? of how much sorer punishment is he worthy who leaves the soul to perish, and Cain-like says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord Jesus commands, commands you, dear brother, and you, dear sister. “Go,” says He, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Will you say to Him, “No, it is not convenient?” will you tell Him that you are busy fishing and cannot go?…

Oh! remember, pray for, labour for, the unevangelized Chinese…

Who can forget that it was Jesus himself who called his first disciples while they were tending their fishing nets. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he said. The disciples did not protest or give excuses. They did not complain about the inconvenience or the cost: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-22).

There are vast seas upon this planet filled with the bodies of men and women dead in their sins. Who will drag the net? Who will bring them up from a watery grave with the summons of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will you and I respond to the call? Or will we stand idly by as they perish?

(photo credit)

Articles at 9Marks, Southern Equip, and Think Christian!

It’s been a busy week! I’ve got posts up at three different platforms online: 9 Marks, Southern Equip, and Think Christian. Whether a church member, a pastor, or a music aficionado, you’ll find something for you. Below you’ll find links to articles on rediscovering the “service” in our worship service, the therapeutic nature of expository preaching, and being alone together on Snail Mail’s fantastic Lush.

Putting the “Service” Back in Worship Service

Week after week, many of us attend a worship served not a worship service.

Don’t understand what I mean? Perhaps this will help.

How many of your Sundays look like this?

You show up, and parking lot attendants greet you. Faithful teachers instruct you. Ushers find a seat for you. A well-practiced worship band leads singing for you. Your pastor preaches a faithful, God-glorifying sermon to you. Childcare workers care for your children. And after all that, you pick up your kids and simply return home… (CONTINUE READING)

Expository Preaching Is Good for the Preacher

Here in Newberry, South Carolina, expository preaching is a unicorn. It’s bizarre. I sometimes have a hard time figuring out whether that wrinkle between their brows is from disgust, conviction, or shock. Of course, our regular members have grown to love going through book after book. Honestly, it feels like home for us. And expository preaching is therapeutic for me… (CONTINUE READING)

Alone Together on Snail Mail’s ‘Lush’

The lo-fi production of Lush sounds like Jordan is musing from an unmade mattress in a sadder version of Kimmy Schmidt’s closet bedroom. It’s moody. Caustic. Sarcastic. Needy. (CONTINUE READING)

George Liele: The Church As Global Witness

(This is the first installment of Missionary Heroes, releasing later this year)

In 1775, a young ordained Black preacher crossed the Georgia border into Aiken County, SC, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. On a plantation called Silver Bluff, a small group of slaves gathered regularly to hear the Word preached. It was the first black church in America.

In 1778, the same minister arrived in Savannah, GA, where he continued to call slaves to faith in Christ. He baptized a handful of believers, forming the second black church in America. Who was this humble church planter?

George Liele (also spelled “Leile” and “Lisle”) was born a slave around 1750 in Virginia to Nancy and Liele. He didn’t know his parents; like many slaves he was farmed out to various plantations throughout his childhood. As a young man, Liele wrote, “I knew no other way at that time to hope for salvation but only in the performance of my good works.” However, at the age of twenty-three, after a long period of distress and searching, he realized the truth:

“I saw my condemnation in my own heart, and I found no way wherein I could escape the damnation of hell, only through the merits of my dying Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; which caused me to make intercession with Christ, for the salvation of my poor immortal soul; and I full well recollect, I requested of my Lord and Master to give me a work, I did not care how mean it was, only to try and see how good would do it.”

Liele was baptized by the white minister Matthew Moore, and the church quickly recognized his spiritual gift for preaching. They gave him a monthly opportunity to preach to the mixed race congregation, and his master Henry Sharp granted him freedom so that he could devote himself to proclaiming the gospel. He became the first ordained black Baptist pastor in Georgia on May 20, 1775.

Planting Churches.

Liele’s former master Henry Sharp was killed in the Revolutionary War, and Sharp’s heirs tried to re-enslave him. He was imprisoned until he could produce his free papers. Under distress, Liele made the fateful decision to seek passage to the West Indies. He left the congregations he had planted to flourish under Pastors Jesse Peters and Andrew Bryan, and he boarded a British ship. Rev. E. K. Love writes,

“He was led by the loving hand of a smiling Providence, though he knew it not…Historians, blinded by prejudice, have tried to rob the brother in black of the honor conferred upon Leile…But the planting of the first Baptist church in the West Indies, so far as human agency is concerned, was inaugurated by George Leile, the black apostle of Georgia, who planted the standard of Christianity in the far-off West Indies, and despite opposition, oppression and persecution, he saw the church strengthened, prosperous and flourishing.”

After securing a loan of $700 from Colonel Kirkland, Liele, his wife Hannah, and their four children made it safely to Jamaica in 1783. He immediately formed a church with four others who had traveled from America, and he began public preaching services at the Kingston Race Course. Initially, the gospel work was met with hostility. Liele wrote British Baptist John Rippon, “Preaching took very good effect with the poorer sort, especially the slaves. The people at first persecuted us, both at meetings and baptisms.” However, by 1791, the First Baptist Church of Kingston had baptized 500 new believers.

Whether in America or abroad, George Liele’s ministry was fundamentally the same: planting churches. His endeavors mirrored the missionary work of Paul:

“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”  (Acts 14:21-23)

Local churches are the enduring global witnesses of the gospel. In his book The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, Mark Dever explains that a proper local church is characterized by two distinguishing marks: “The right preaching of the Word of God and the right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” These were the basic hallmarks of Liele’s missionary legacy.

Preaching the Word.

George Liele was a bi-vocational minister his whole life. He farmed and ran a delivery service. The compassionate pastor refused to take the few pennies belonging to his slave congregation. His industry set a good example for the flock and protected him from accusations by whites of being an idle busybody. However, this did not keep Liele from laboring hard in the Word. The testimony of Thomas Swigle gives a flavor for the kind of preaching he was receiving from Liele’s pulpit:

“I am one of the poor, unworthy, helpless creatures, born in this island, whom our glorious Master, Jesus Christ, was graciously pleased to call from a state of darkness to the marvelous light of the gospel…We have great reason in this island to praise and glorify the Lord, for his goodness and loving-kindness, in sending his blessed gospel amongst us, by our well-beloved minister, brother Leile. We were living in slavery to sin and Satan, and the Lord hath redeemed our souls to a state of happiness, to praise his glorious and every-blessed name…”

Liele was thrown in prison—under threat of his life—charged with preaching sedition in 1802. However, his accusers were ashamed to have nothing wicked to say about the man, and he was honorably acquitted. It was the strong influence of Liele’s gospel ministry that led to the emancipation of slaves in Jamaica on July 31, 1833. Moreover, shortly after his death it was reported that despite persecution and jailing of Liele and others, over 20,000 Baptists converts lived in Jamaica.

Baptizing and Administering the Lord’s Supper.

Liele did not arrive in Jamaica to host revival meetings or to start a movement. All of his missionary efforts were directed at planting churches. New believers were baptized into the local church bodies across Jamaica. The Baptist churches planted by Liele and his partners were pastored by former slaves and had the only pulpits on the island where slavery was preached against. Baptism became the unifier and equalizer, as each new church member—white or black—became one in Christ:

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Many uneasy white masters were hostile to their slaves becoming church members. In response, Liele required all baptized believers to submit to a church covenant: “A collection of some of the principal texts of scripture which we observe, both in America and this country, for the direction of our practice.” This covenant was read aloud by the church before they took the Lord’s Supper together, a reminder of their unity in the faith and commitment to live lives worthy of the gospel. Throughout his ministry, some white masters scorned the Table fellowship in Liele’s church:

“On one occasion, when the church was about to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, a gentleman (so called) rode into the chapel, and, urging his horse through the midst of the people to the very front of the pulpit, exclaimed in terms of insolence and profanity, ‘Come, old Liele, give my horse the Sacrament!’ Mr. Liele, coolly replied, ‘No, Sir, you are not fit yourself to receive it.’ After maintaining his position for some time the intruder rode out.”

Church-Planting Churches.

George Liele understood that the vast need in Jamaica could not be met by his efforts alone. Converted slaves were raised up and trained to take the gospel to their own plantations and more remote parts of Jamaica. Missionaries from Liele’s congregations went on to plant churches in other parts of Jamaica, in Georgia, in Nova Scotia, and in Sierra Leone. He also elicited help across the Atlantic from John Rippon and John Ryland, lighting a fire for missionary efforts from Great Britain to aid and support the work of Liele and his co-laborers.

Liele took seriously Paul’s command: “…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). He died in Jamaica in 1828, but his work continued through the many men and women he had conscripted into the missionary effort. E.K. Love writes,

“The slave who was himself set free to declare the glorious deliverance of his Lord, had brought the fruits of the Gospel’s spirit to thousands who had learned to love his Lord and accept His salvation. The Negro prophet of deliverance had raised up many courageous servants of the Lord to lead his people into their Promised Land of freedom.”

Resources:

New Resource! “Healthy Body, Healthy Members” Bible Study

I’m excited to share a new free resource with you! It’s a 15 week discipleship class meant to help you your church grow to understand the inner workings of a healthy church body. What does it means to be healthy church members, elders, and deacons? After all, a body is only as healthy as each of its members.

Over the course of 15 weeks you will learn:

  • 9 marks of healthy church members
  • 9 marks of healthy elders, and
  • 9 marks of healthy deacons

The first two sections of this study are distillations of two fantastic 9 Marks resources:

You will want to read these short, accessible books as you prepare to teach each week.

This study would work great in a discipleship class setting over the course of 15 weeks. Or, you could take one of the three pieces and use it with your small group, elder board, or deacon team over the course of a few weeks. May this resource help your church body grow in health: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Whole Study (download):

Healthy Body, Healthy Members (Weeks 1-15) (pdf)

Healthy Members:

HBHM — Members (Weeks 1-7) (pdf)

Healthy Elders:

HBHM — Elders (Weeks 8-12) (pdf)

Healthy Deacons:

HBHM — Deacons (Weeks 13-15) (pdf)

Should My Church Be All About Numbers? Y/N

Is it right to care about how many people attend a church worship service? What about those churches that seem so obsessed with metrics and growth statistics that they reduce people to faceless numbers?

In a pair of companion articles at Southern Seminary’s Southern Equip, I argue both for and against being all about numbers. Curious?

“3 Reasons Your Church Should Be All About Numbers”

But what if numbers are actually very important? Could I convince you that how many people gathered Sunday at your sanctuary should be a big deal? In fact, I would argue that the number of people who come to Christ and join your church should be of great concern. I believe you should care how many people are on your membership list — down to the very last one…

“3 Reasons Your Church Shouldn’t Be All About Numbers”

As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be engaging the lost. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there are times when I fall into a subconscious pattern of thinking that I only need to spend enough time with lost people to share the gospel with them. Or even worse, I start to think: I need to get to know some lost people so they can come to my church.

Have you ever thought like this?