December 25, 2005

December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

May the spirit of the Lord, Jesus Christ, always be with you!

December 20, 2005

Without Reservation

**The following text was excerpted from**

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. . . . And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. . . . Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. . . . And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her."

Luke 1:26-38

Imagine Mary, a young virgin, being told by the angel Gabriel that she was to have a child and that he would be the Savior of the world. The amazement. The wonder. The wondering. How? Why? Who?

In those days, an unmarried pregnant girl risked much. If the father of the child didn’t marry her, she would probably remain unmarried for life. If her own father rejected her, she could be forced into begging or prostitution to earn a living. And the fact that Mary claimed she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit? She could have been considered crazy as well. But look at Mary’s response: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Remember how Abraham and Sarah responded when they were told they were going to have a child in their old age? Sarah laughed! (Genesis 18:9-15). And how about Zechariah upon hearing that he and his wife would have a baby? He doubted (Luke 1:18), and the angel struck him mute for the rest of his wife’s pregnancy because of his unbelief (v.20).

It’s likely that Mary didn’t have a clue as to what the future would hold for her or her son. She didn’t know if she would be ridiculed by her peers; she didn’t know that her son would be rejected and murdered. But she didn’t ask for the details either. She only knew that God was asking her to serve him, and she did so willingly and obediently.

What faith! God proved once again that he can, and does, use ordinary people and occasionally extraordinary events to accomplish his purposes.

What’s God asking you to do? What does your response to unexpected circumstances show about your character? What does this show about your relationship with God? Don’t wait for all the facts before you offer your life to God. And don’t think you’re not ready to be used by God because you’re not “special” enough.

Be like Mary, who willingly offered her simple, ordinary life without reservation. —Peggy Willison, Michigan

seeking: Father, what have you just revealed to me about my need to obey and follow you? What extraordinary things have you helped this ordinary person see?

responding: How do I usually react when asked to do something out of the ordinary? With laughter? With doubt that I can do it? With a lot of questions? With total willingness? • What is God asking me to do for him today? Will I do it?

Father, I praise you, for you are God. Your will is perfect and your ways are righteous. I surrender my will and seek to follow you in obedience.

following: God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary acts.

December 14, 2005

Psalm 91

Psalm 91 (New King James Version)
New King James Version (NKJV)
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Psalm 91

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler[a]
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
8 Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
12 In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

December 13, 2005

A Sinner's Prayer

God create in me a clean heart!
Lord, create in me a right spirit!
Lord, let your Holy Word and Holy Spirit guide my life, my actions, my thoughts, my responses, my interactions, my speech, my mind, and my work.
Lord, equip me with Your wisdom and discernment.
Help me to think things through more thoroughly with You in mind, Lord.
Help me to be obedient to your will.
Lord, like that boy's father of long ago, I truly do believe, but I need you to help my unbelief. Help me to stand firm on your Word. Help me to weigh Your Word in all situations - personal and professional.
Forgive me for any of my actions, responses, or behaviors that have been contrary to your Word and Way.
Lord, I apologize for any wrong I have done, knowingly or unknowingly.
I ask forgiveness in the precious blood of your son, Jesus Christ, and
I accept Jesus the Christ as my personal, Lord, and Savior.
I am committed to live a life that is pleasing to you, and I surrender it all to you.
Lord, so walk with me.
Soothe the anxiety and the insecurity.
Fill me with your love, grace, mercy, and patience.
Help me to endure, Lord.
Walk with me, Lord.
Let your Holy Spirit bring comfort, peace, and joy.
In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

1 Peter 1:13-15
"Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy"

December 10, 2005

Sanctification, Liberations, and Black Worship

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Sanctification, Liberations, and Black Worship
By James H. Cone

"Black American spirituality was born in the context of the struggle for justice…. When the meaning of sanctification is formed in the social context of an oppressed community in struggle for liberation, it is difficult to separate the experience of holiness from the spiritual empowerment to change the existing societal arrangements."

MY concern in this article is to examine the spiritual foundation of black worship as reflected in its components of preaching, singing, shouting, conversion, prayer, and testimony. Hopefully I will be able to clarify the connection between the experience of holiness in worship and the struggle for political justice in the larger society.


Black worship is essentially a spiritual experience of the truth of black life. The experience is spiritual because the people encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst. Black worship is truthful because the Spirit's presence authenticates their experience of freedom by empowering them with courage and strength to bear witness in their present existence, what they know is coming in God's own eschatological future.

Have I got a witness?
Certainly Lord!
Have I got a witness?
Certainly Lord!
Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord.

This call and response is an essential element of the black worship style. Black worship is a community happening, wherein the people experience the truth of their lives as lived together in the struggle of


James H. Cone is Charles A. Briggs Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary, New York. He has been prominent in the development of a "black theology" movement and is the author of such well-known books as Black Theology and Black Power (1969), A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), The Spirituals and the Blues (1972), and God of theOppressed (1975). The substance of this article was delivered as an address by Dr. Cone at the Sixth Oxford Institute on Methodist Theological Studies, Lincoln College, Oxford, England, July, 1977.

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freedom and held together by God's Spirit. There is no understanding of black worship apart from the presence of the Spirit who descends upon the gathered community, lighting a spiritual fire in their hearts. The divine Spirit is not a metaphysical entity but rather the power of Jesus, who breaks into the lives of the people giving them a new song to sing as confirmation of God's presence with them in historical struggle. It is the presence of the divine Spirit who accounts for the intensity in which black people engage in worship. There is no understanding of black worship apart from the rhythm of the song and sermon, the passion of prayer and testimony, the ecstasy of the shout and conversion as the people project their humanity in the togetherness of the Spirit.

The black church congregation is an eschatological community that lives as if the end of time is already at hand. The difference between the earliest Christian community as an eschatological congregation and the black church community is this: The post-Easter community expected a complete cosmic transformation in Jesus' immediate return because the end of time was at hand; the eschatological significance of the black community is found in the people believing that the Spirit of Jesus is coming to visit them in the worship service each time two or three are gathered in his name, and to bestow upon them a new vision of their future humanity. This eschatological revolution is not so much a cosmic change as it is a change in the people's identity, wherein they are no longer named by the world but named by the Spirit of Jesus. Roberta Flack expressed the significance of this eschatological change in the people's identity in her singing, "I told Jesus it would be all right if he changed my name. He told me that the world will turn away from you, child, if I changed your name." This change in identity not only affects one's relationship with the world but also with one's immediate family. "He told me that your father and mother won't know you, child, if I changed your name." Because the reality of the Spirit's liberating and sanctifying presence is so overwhelming on the believer's identity, the believer can still say with assurance: "I told Jesus it would be all right if he changed my name."1

The Holy Spirit's presence with the people is a liberating experience. Black people who have been humiliated and oppressed by the structures of white society six days of the week, gather together each Sunday morning in order to experience another definition of their humanity. The transition from Saturday to Sunday is not just a chronological change from the seventh to the first day of the week. It is rather a rupture in time, a Kairos-event which produces a radical transformation in the people's identity. The janitor becomes the chairperson of the Deacon Board; the maid becomes the president of Stewardess Board Number I. Everybody becomes Mr. and Mrs., or Brother and Sister. The last becomes first, making a radical change in New York, 1969.


1 See Roberta Flack's record album, "First Take," Atlantic Recording Corp.,

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the perception of self and one's calling in the society. Every person becomes somebody, and one can see the people's recognition of their new found identity by the way they walk and talk and "carry themselves." They walk with a rhythm of an assurance that they know where they are going, and they talk as if they know the truth about which they speak. It is this experience of being radically transformed by the power of the Spirit that defines the primary style of black worship. This transformation is found not only in the titles of Deacons, Stewardesses, Trustees, and Ushers, but also in the excitement of the entire congregation at worship. To be at the end of time where one has been given a new name requires a passionate response with the felt power of the Spirit in one's heart.

In the act of worship itself, the experience of liberation becomes a constituent of the community's being. In this context, liberation is not exclusively a political event but also an eschatological happening. It is the power of God's Spirit invading the lives of the people, "buildin' them up where they are torn down and proppin' them up on every leanin' side." When a song is sung right and the sermon is delivered in response to the Spirit, the people experience the eschatological presence of God in their midst. Liberation is no longer a future event, but a present happening in the worship itself. That is why it is hard to sit still in a black worship service. For the people claim that "if you don't put anything into the service, you sure won't get anything out of it." Black worship demands involvement. Sometimes a sister does not plan to participate too passionately, but before she knows what is happening "a little fire starts to burning and a little prayer-wheel starts to turning in her heart." In response to the Spirit and its liberating presence, she begins to move to the Spirit's power. How and when she moves depends upon the way the Spirit touches her soul and engages her in the dynamics of the community at worship. She may acknowledge the Spirit's presence with a song.

Everytime I feel the spirit
Moving in my heart I will pray.
Every time I feel the spirit
Moving in my heart I will pray.

Upon the mountain my Lord spoke.
Out of His mouth came fire and smoke.
In the valley on my knees,
Asked my Lord, Have mercy, please.

Everytime I feel the spirit
Moving in my heart I will pray….

Song is only one possible response to the Spirit's presence. God's Spirit also may cause a person to preach, pray, or testify. "I believe I will testify for what the Lord has done for me" is an often-heard response in the black church. But more often the presence of the Spirit elicits what W. E. B. DuBois called the "Frenzy" 2 and what the people


2 See his The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Fawcett, 1968), pp. 141f.

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call the "shout," which refers not to sound but to bodily movement. "When the Lord gets ready," the people claim, "you've got to move," that is, to "stand up and let the world know that you are not ashamed to be known as a child of God."

There is no authentic black worship service apart from the presence of the Spirit, God's power to be with and for the people. It is not unusual for the people to express their solidarity with John on the Island of Patmos and to say with him: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Rev. 1:10). Like John, black people believe that to be in the Spirit is to experience the power of another presence in their midst. The Spirit is God's guarantee that the little ones are never, no not ever, left alone in their struggle for freedom. The Spirit is God's way of being with the people, enabling them to shout for joy when the people have no empirical evidence in their lives to warrant happiness. The Spirit sometimes makes you run and clap your hands; at other times, you want just to sit still and perhaps pat your feet, wave your hands, and hum the melody of a song: "Ain't no harm to praise the Lord."

It is difficult for an outsider to understand what is going on in a black worship service. To know what is happening in this eschatological event, one cannot approach this experience as a detached observer in the role of a sociologist of religion or as a psychologist, looking for an explanation not found in the life-experiences of the people. One must come as a participant in black reality, willing to be transformed by one's encounter with the Spirit. Those who are willing to receive the Spirit, being open to what God has in store, will probably understand what the people mean when they sing:

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Since I laid my burdens down.
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
Since I laid my burdens down.

I'm going home to live with Jesus,
Since I laid my burdens down.
I'm going home to live with Jesus,
Since I laid my burdens down.

It is the people's response to the presence of the Spirit that creates the unique style of black worship. The style of black worship is a constituent of its content, and both elements point to the theme of liberation. Unlike whites who often drive a wedge between content and style in worship (as in their secular-sacred distinction), blacks believe that a sermon's content is inseparable from the way in which it is proclaimed. Blacks are deeply concerned about how things are said in prayer and testimony and their effect upon those who hear it. The way I say "I love the Lord, he heard my cry" cannot be separated from my intended meaning as derived from my existential and historical setting. For example, if I am one who has just escaped from slavery and my affirmation is motivated by that event, I will express my faith-claim with the passion and ecstasy of one who was once lost and now found. There will be no detachment in my proclamation of freedom. Only

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those who do not know bondage existentially can speak of liberation "objectively." Only those who have not been in the "valley of death" can sing the songs of Zion as if they are uninvolved. Black worship is derived from the meeting with the Lord in the struggle to be free. If one has not met the Spirit of God in the struggle for freedom, there can be no joy and no reason to sing with ecstatic passion "I am so glad that trouble don't last always."


There are six principal components of black worship: preaching, singing, shouting, conversion, prayer, and testimony.

Expressing his admiration for the black preacher, W. E. B. DuBois called him, among other things, "a leader, a politician, an orator, a 'boss,' an intriguer, an idealist."3 But DuBois did not include "prophet" in his list, certainly the black preacher's most important office. The black preacher is primarily a prophet who speaks God's truth to the people. The sermon therefore is a prophetic oration wherein the preacher "tells it like it is" according to the divine Spirit who speaks through the preacher.

In the black church, the sermon is not intended to be an intellectual discourse on things divine or human. That would make the preached Word a human word and thus dependent upon the intellectual capacity of the preacher. In order to separate the preached Word from ordinary human discourse and thereby connect it with prophecy, the black church emphasizes the role of the Spirit in preaching. No one is an authentic preacher in the black church tradition until called by the Spirit. No person, according to this tradition, should decide to enter the ministry on his or her own volition. Preaching is not a human choice; it is a divine choice. Just as God called Amos from Tekoa, Jeremiah while he was only a youth, Isaiah in the temple, and Paul on the Damascus road, so also God speaks directly to those set aside for the ministry. It is expected that the preacher will give an account of this calling, about how and when the Lord touched a soul and set a person aside for the proclamation of divine truth. Some preachers testify that it was late one Wednesday evening or early one Thursday morning. There is no rigidity about the time or even how the call came. But what is important is the authenticity of the call so that the people know that they are encountering God's Word through the sermon's oration, and not simply the personal interest of a given preacher.

In the black tradition, preaching as prophecy is essentially telling God's story. "Telling the story" is the essence of black preaching. It means proclaiming with appropriate rhythm and passion the connection between the Bible and the history of black people. What has the Scripture to do with our life in white society and the struggle to be somebody in it? To answer that question depends upon the capacity of the preacher to tell God's story so that the people will experience its


3 Ibid., p. 141.

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liberating presence in their midst. That is why the people always ask of every preacher: "Can the Reverend tell the story?" To tell the story is to act out with the rhythm of one's voice and the movement of the body, the truth about which one speaks. We can say of the black preacher what B.D. Napier says about the Old Testament prophet: "The symbolic acts of the prophets are simply graphic, pictorial extensions of the Word, possessing both for the prophet and for his observers-bearers a quality of realism probably unfathomable psychologically to the western mind."4

If the people do not say "Amen" or some other passionate response, this usually means that the Spirit has chosen not to speak through the preacher at that time. The absence of the Spirit could mean that the preacher was dependent too much on his own capacity to speak or that the congregation was too involved in its own personal quarrels. Whatever the case, the absence of a "hallelujah" and "praise the Lord" when the preacher speaks God's Word is uncharacteristic of a black worship service. For these responses let the preacher know that be is on the right track, and that what he says rings true to the Spirit's presence in their midst. An "Amen" involves the people in the proclamation and commits them to the divine truth which they hear proclaimed. It means that the people recognize that what is being said is not just Reverend so-and-so's idea but God's claim upon the people.


Next to preaching, song is the most important ingredient in black worship. Most black people believe that the Spirit does not descend without a song. Song opens the hearts of the people for the coming of God's Spirit. That is why most church services are opened with a song and why most preachers would not attempt to preach without having the congregation sing a "special" song in order to prepare the people for God's Word. Song not only prepares the people for the Spirit, it also intensifies the power of the Spirit's presence with the people. Through song a certain mood is created in the congregation, and the people can experience the quality of the Spirit's presence. One cannot force the Spirit to come through manipulation. The Spirit always remains free of human choice. By singing a song, the people know whether they have the proper disposition for the coming of the Spirit.

In many black congregations, there are special songs which are led by particular people, and no one would dare sing another person's song. That would be a sure way of "killing the Spirit." I grew up in Macedonia AME Church in Bearden, Arkansas, and I can remember several people's songs in that congregation. My mother's song was:

This little light of mine,
I'm goin' to let it shine;
This little light of mine,
I'm goin' to let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine.


4 "Prophet, Prophetism" in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), p. 912.

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Sister Ora Wallace, unquestionably the best singer at Macedonia, would always sing:

I'm workin'on the buildin'
It's a true foundation,
I'm holdin' up the blood-stained banner for my Lord.
Just as soon as I get through,
Through working on the buildin'
I'm goin' up to heaven to get my reward.

Of all the favorite songs of Macedonia, I will never forget Sister Drew Chavis' song, because she sang it with such intensity and passion that it never failed to bring tears in the eyes of most people assembled:

Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

By the time she reached the second stanza and began to sing "when my life is almost gone, Hear my cry, hear my call, Hold my hand lest I fall," the entire congregation was wet with tears, because they knew that they had to cross the River Jordan. Thus ' they waited patiently for the familiar lines in the third verse: "At the river I stand, Guide my feet, hold my hand. Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home."

It is possible to "have church," as the people would say, without outstanding preaching, but not without good singing. Good singing is indispensable for black worship, for it can fill the vacuum of a poor sermon. There are those who would say that a "good sermon ain't nothing but a song." In recent years, taking their cue from their white counterparts, many black churches have replaced congregational singing with choir singing, thereby limiting the people's involvement in worship. While choirs have their place in certain restricted contexts, the true black service involves the entire congregation in song.


Good singing naturally leads to shouting which is often evidence that one has been converted. As elements of black worship shouting and conversion belong together, because they are different moments in a single experience. To shout is to "get happy." It happens in the moment of conversion and in each renewal of that experience in the worshipping community. Shouting is one's response to the movement of the Spirit encountered in the worship service. For white intellectuals, including theologians, black folks shouting is perhaps the most bizarre event in their worship services. White intellectuals often identify shouting in the black church with similar events in white churches, trying to give a common sociological and psychological reason for the phenomenon. Such an approach is not only grossly misleading from my theological perspective but also from the premises and procedures that white scholars claim guided their examination. How is it possible to

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speak of a common sociological and psychological reason for religious ecstasy among blacks and whites when they have radically different social and political environments, thereby creating different psychological and religious orientations? It is absurd on sociological, psychological, and theological grounds to contend that the Ku Klux Klansman and the black person who escaped him are shouting for the same or similar reasons in their respective church services. Because whites and blacks have different historical and theological contexts out of which their worship services arise, they do not shout for the same reasons.

The authentic dimension of black people's shouting is found in the joy the people experience when God's Spirit visits their worship and stamps a new identity upon their personhood in contrast to their oppressed status in white society. This and this alone is what the shouting is about. This experience is so radical that the only way to speak of it is in terms of dying and rising again. It is a conversion experience. In one sense conversion is a once and for all event and is associated with baptism. In another sense, one is continually converted anew to the power of the Spirit and this is usually connected with shouting. "God struck me dead," recalled an ex-slave, connecting his conversion with the experience of dying.5 But on the other side of death is the resurrection, a new life and determination to live for God. Since one cannot stay on the "mountain top" but must return to the "valley of life," there is always the need to return to the place where one once stood, in order to experience anew the power of God's Spirit. This is what happens on Sunday morning at the "altar call." The preacher invites the entire congregation to renew their determination to stay on the "Lord's journey" and "to work in his vineyard."

The renewal of one's determination is often done with prayer and testimony. To testify is to stand before the congregation and bear witness to one's determination to keep on the "gospel shoes." "I don't know about you," a sister might say, "but I intend to make it to the end of my journey. I started on this journey twenty-five years ago, and I can't turn back now. I know the way is difficult and the road is rocky. I've been in the valley, and I have a few more mountains to climb. But I want you to know this morning that I ain't going to let a little trouble get in the way of me seeing my Jesus."


Prayer is the final element of black worship to be considered. Like the song, prayer creates the mood for the reception of God's Spirit, and is the occasion when the people specifically request Jesus to come and be with them. The people actually believe that they can call Jesus upon the "telephone of prayer" and tell him all about their troubles. They also contend that his line is never busy, and he is always ready to


5 See the book by that title edited by Clifton Johnson (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1969).

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receive their call. It is not uncommon to hear the people say: "Jesus is on the main line, call him up and tell him what you want." Prayer is a way of communicating with the divine. That is why a black preacher seldom enters the pulpit without praying.

Harold Carter, a Baptist preacher in Baltimore, accurately describes the essence of black power: It is "more than a word spoken; it [is] an event to be experienced. The spirit of what happen[s] [is] as important as the words [being] spoken."6 Black prayer should be heard and not read because the rhythm of the language is as crucial to its meaning as is the content of the petition. To know what black prayer means, one needs to hear the deacon say:

Almighty and all wise God our heavenly Father, 'tis once more and again that a few of your beloved children are gathered together to call upon your holy name. We bow at your footstool, Master, to thank you for our spared lives. We thank you that we were able to get up this morning clothed in our right mind. For Master, since we met here, many have been snatched out of the land of the living and hurled into eternity. But through your goodness and mercy we have been spared to assemble ourselves here once more to call upon a Captain who has never lost a battle.7

At this point in the prayer, the deacon is ready to go through his lists of requests which normally relate to the bestowal of strength on the people to survive in a sin-sick world. When he concludes his requests, he moves toward his conclusion:

And now, Oh, Lord, when this your humble servant is done down here in this low land of sorrow; done sitting down and getting up; done being called everything but a child of God; Oh, when I am done, done, done, and this old world can afford me a home no longer, right soon in the morning, Lord, right soon in the morning, meet me at the River of Jordan, bid the waters to be still, tuck my little soul away in your chariot, and bear it away over yonder in the third heaven where every day will be a Sunday and my sorrows of this old world will have an end, is my prayer for Christ, my Redeemer's sake, and Amen and thank God.8

If one fact is clear from our examination of black worship, it is primarily a happening in the lives of the people. Both the content of what is said and the manner in which things are expressed emphasize that black worship is an eschatological event, the time when the people experience a liberation in their present existence for what they believe will be fully realized in God's coming future.


On the basis of our interpretation of black worship as an eschatological event, it is not difficult to understand why Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was so "confident


6 See his The Prayer Tradition of Black People (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1976), p. 21.
7 A prayer offered in South Nashville, Tennessee, in the summer of 1928, reproduced in Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps' Book of Negro Folklore (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1958), p. 256.
8 Ibid., pp. 256-257.

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that there was no religious sect or denomination [that] would suit the capacity of the colored people as well as the Methodist.9 The process of salvation in terms of repentance, forgiveness, and new birth, so important for John Wesley, is also dominant in the black religious tradition, generally, and in black Methodism, in particular.10 Of course, these are also characteristic of other denominational traditions, notably among the Baptists and the Pentecostals, but we are, for the moment, especially interested in interpreting the black Methodist worship experience. Black worship, in any case, is the actualization of the story of salvation as experienced in the lives of oppressed black people.

The claim that the black church was influenced by Methodism, and other forms of evangelical Protestantism, does not mean that there are no essential differences among them. In fact, the differences are perhaps more important than the similarities. That was why Richard Allen and other blacks walked out of St. George Methodist Church of Philadelphia in 1787 and later founded the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church in 1816. Similar events happened in other blackwhite Methodist contexts, giving rise to the AME Zion Church and much later the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.11 The central


9 See The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Right Reverend Richard Allen (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960), p. 29. For a biography of Allen, see Charles Wesley, Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1935); Carol V. R. George, Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of the Independent Black Churches, 1760- 1840 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).
10 John Wesley's description of the order of salvation emphasizing repentance, justification, new birth, and assurance are prominently present in Richard Allen's account of his conversion experience. "I was awakened and brought to see myself, poor, wretched and undone, and without the mercy of God must be lost. Shortly after, I obtained mercy through the blood of Christ, and was constrained to exhort my old companions to seek the Lord. I went rejoicing for several days and was happy in the Lord, in conversing with many old, experienced Christians. I was brought under doubts, and was tempted to believe I was deceived, and was constrained to seek the Lord afresh. I went with my head bowed down for many days. My sins were a heavy burden. I was tempted to believe that there was no mercy for me. I cried to the Lord both night and day. One night I thought hell would be my portion. I cried unto Him who delighteth to hear the prayers of a poor sinner, and all of a sudden my dungeon shook, my chains flew off, and, glory to God, I cried. My soul was filled. I cried, enough for me-the Saviour died. My confidence was strengthened that the Lord, for Christ's sake, had heard my prayers and pardoned all my sins. I was constrained to go from house to house, exhorting my old companions, and telling to all around what a dear Saviour I had found." (Life Experience, pp. 15-16). The best account of John Wesley's doctrine is still Harold Lindstrom, Wesley and Sanctification: A Study in the Doctrine of Salvation (Stockholm, 1946).
11 The best history of black religion is Gayraud S. Wilmore's, Black Religion and Black Radicalism (New York: Doubleday, 1972). For an historical account of the rise of black Methodism, see Harry V. Richardson, Dark Salvation (New York: Doubleday, 1976). Unfortunately Richardson's book fails to point out the significance of the relation between black faith and history. Careful attention to the theological importance of their relationship would have disclosed the difference between black and white spirituality in Methodism. He seems to be unaware not only of the recent rise of black theology, but also of the theological importance of the rise of independent black Methodist churches and also of the emergence of the Black Methodist For Church Renewal in contemporary United Methodism. There is only one sentence on black theology and one short paragraph on BMCR in the context of about one page on "Protest Movements."
Although it is old, Carter G. Woodson, History of the Negro Church (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1945), is still a very important history of the black church. See also James M. Cone, "Negro Churches (in the United States)" Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 12, Macropaedia, 15th edition, 1974, pp. 936f.

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difference between black and white Methodism was and is the refusal of black people to accept racism and social injustice as reconcilable with the experience of conversion and new birth. We do not believe that it is possible to be sanctified and racist at the same time. If conversion and new birth mean anything at all, they must mean the historical actualization of the experience of salvation in works of piety and mercy on behalf of the oppressed of the land. John Wesley seemed to have recognized the historical vocation of the experience of salvation. He not only took a radical stand against slavery12 but also insisted on the social character of the experience of salvation. "Christianity," wrote Wesley, "is essentially a social religion; and … to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it."13 But John Wesley notwithstanding, North American Methodism, unfortunately, did not institutionalize his stand on slavery.14 The failure of white Methodism in this regard led to the creation of a white spirituality that is culturally determined by American values and thus indifferent to oppressed black people's struggle for social justice.

In contrast, black American spirituality was born in the context of the struggle for justice. The contradiction between the experience of sanctification and human slavery has always been a dominant theme in black religion. It is found not only in the rise of independent black churches but also in our songs, stories, and sermons.15 When the meaning of sanctification is formed in the social context of an oppressed community in struggle for liberation, it is difficult to separate the experience of holiness from the spiritual empowerment to change the existing societal arrangements. If "I'm a chile of God wid soul set free" because "Christ hab bought my liberty," then I will find it im-


12 See his "Thoughts Upon Slavery" (1774) in The Works of John Wesley, Vol. XI (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), pp. 59f.
13 Cited in Robert F. Wearmouth, The Social and Political Influence of Methodism in the Twentieth Century (London: Epworth Press, 1957), p. 185. Despite Wesley's emphasis on the works of piety and mercy, his view of salvation seems to make social justice a secondary ingredient of salvation and at most a mere consequence of it.
14 American Methodism began by taking a radical stand on slavery. In 1780 at the Baltimore Conference, the Methodists condemned slavery as "contrary to the laws of God, man, and nature, and hurtful to society." And four years later, at the Christmas Conference of 1784, they "voted to expel all slave-holding of Methodist societies … who would not, within twelve months after due notification, perfect a legal document to manumit all their slaves when they reached certain specific ages. The conference also voted to expel immediately all Methodists who bought (except for the purpose of liberation) or sold slaves." However, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, when cotton became king, the Methodists, like other white churches, allowed the change in social reality to influence a change in their stand on slavery. The Methodists not only suspended their 1784 rules within six months, but in 1816 a General Conference committee reported that "emancipation is impracticable." [Cited in H. Shelton Smith, in His Image, But … : Racism in Southern Religion, 1780-1910 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1972), pp. 37, 38, 45.] For an historical account of Methodism and slavery, see Donald G. Mathews, Slavery and Methodism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965).
15 For a theological interpretation of the slave songs, often called "Negro Spirituals," see my The Spirituals and the Blues (New York: Seabury, 1972), and "Black Spirituals: A Theological Interpretation," in THEOLOGY TODAY, April, 1972, pp. 54-69. In my God of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury, 1975), 1 used the songs, sermons, stories, and prayers as primary sources for a black theology of liberation.

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possible to tolerate slavery and oppression. Black slaves expressed this point in song:

Oh Freedom! Oh Freedom!
Oh Freedom, I love thee!
And before I'll be a slave,
I'll be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord and be free.

The historical realization of the experience of salvation has always been an integral part of the black religious tradition. The idea that black religion was and is "otherworldly" and nothing more is simply not true. To be sure, black religion is not a social theory that can be a substitute for scientific analysis of societal oppression. But it is a spiritual vision about the reconstruction of a new humanity wherein people are no longer defined by oppresssion, but by freedom. This vision can serve as an important force for organizing people for the transformation of society. Because black people know that they are more than what has been defined for them, this knowledge of the "more" requires that they struggle to realize in the society the freedom they experience in their worship life.

Sometimes this experience of God's gift of a new identity actualizes itself in political revolution as found in the well-known insurrections of Gabriel Prosser (1800), Denmark Vesey (1822), and Nat Turner (1831). 16 Black religion is by definition the opposite of white religion because the former was born in black people's political struggle to liberate themselves from oppression in the white church and the society it justifies. Even when black slaves could not actualize their experience of salvation in revolutionary struggle, they often verbalized the distinction between black and white religion. Harriet Martineau recorded the instance of a mistress being told by one of her slaves, "You no holy. We be holy. You in no state of salvation."17 A similar point is emphasized in a joke about a slave's reaction to the news that be would be rewarded by being buried in the same vault with his master: "Well, massa, one way I am satisfied, and one way I am not. I like to have a good coffin when I die [but] I afraid, massa, when the debbil come to take you body, he make mistake, and get mine."18

Sanctification in black religion cannot be correctly understood apart from black people's struggle for historical liberation. Liberation is not simply a consequence of the experience of sanctification. Rather sanctification is liberation. To be sanctified is to be liberated and politically engaged in the struggle of freedom. When sanctification is defined as a commitment to historical struggle for political liberation,


16 See Gayraud Wilmore'.s interpretation of these insurrections in his Black Religion and Black Radicalism, Chapter III. For a detailed account of more than 200 slave revolts, see Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publishers, 1943).
17 Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 34.
18 Ibid., p. 35.

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then it is possible to connect it with socialism and Marxism, the reconstruction of society on the basis of freedom and justice for all.


Although black religion grounds salvation in history and refuses to accept any view of sanctification that substitutes inward piety for social justice, yet there is also included in salvation an eschatological vision. It is important to emphasize that this vision in black religion is derived from Scripture and is not in any sense a rejection of history. To reject history in salvation leads to passivity and makes religion the opiate of the people. Black religion, while accepting history, does not limit salvation to history. As long as people are bound to history, they are bound to law and thus death. If death is the ultimate power and life has no future beyond this world, then the rulers of the state who control the military are in the place of God. They have the future in their hands, and the oppressed can be made to obey the law of injustice. But if the oppressed, while living in history, can see beyond it, if they can visualize an eschatological future beyond this world, then the "sigh of oppressed creature," to use Marx's phrase, can become a revolutionary cry of rebellion against the established order. It is this revolutionary cry that is granted in the resurrection of Jesus. Salvation then is not simply freedom in history; it is freedom to affirm that future which is beyond history.

Indeed, because we know that death has been conquered, we are truly free to be human in history, knowing that we have a "home over yonder." "The home over yonder," vividly and artistically described in the slave songs, is the gift of salvation granted in the resurrection of Jesus. If this "otherness" in salvation is not taken with utmost seriousness, then there is no way to be sustained in the struggle against injustice. The oppressed will get tired and also afraid of the risks of freedom. They will say as the Israelites said to Moses when they found themselves between Pharoah's army and the Red Sea: "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt?" (Ex. 14: 1 1 ).

The fear of freedom and the risks contained in struggle are an ever present reality. But the "otherness" of salvation, its transcendence beyond history, introduces a factor that makes a difference. The difference is not that we are taken out of history while living on earth-that would be an opiate. Rather it is a difference that plants our being firmly in history because we know that death is not the goal of history. The transcendence-factor in salvation helps us to realize that our fight for justice is God's fight, too, and Jesus' resurrection already defines what the ultimate outcome will be.

It was this knowledge that enabled black slaves to live in history but not to be defeated by their limitations in history. To be sure, they sang about the fear of "sinking down" and the dread of being a "motherless child." They encountered trouble and the agony of being alone where

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"I couldn't hear nobody pray." They encountered death and expressed it in song:

Soon one mornin', death comes a creepin' in my room.
O my Lawd, O my Lawd, what shall I do?

Death was a terrible reality for black slaves, and as it visited the slave quarters, it left orphans behind:

Death done been here, took my mother an' gone,
O my Lawd, what shall I do?

Death done been here, left me a motherless child,
O my Lawd, what shall I do?

In these songs are expressed the harsh realities of history and the deep sense of dread at the very thought of death. But because the slaves knew or believed that death had been conquered in Jesus' resurrection, they could also transcend death and interpret salvation as a heavenly, eschatological reality. That is why they also sang:

You needn't mind my dying,
Jesus goin' to make up my dying bed.

In my room I know,
Somebody is going to cry,
All I ask you to do for me,
Just close my dying eyes.

December 9, 2005

A Different Type of Prayer

The following text was excerpted from an email sent to me by one of my big sisters:

Heavenly Father, Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every ! day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.

Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive, show patience, empathy and love.

If you send this to 5 people, then you have a chance to touch 5 peoples lives. Working for God on earth doesn't pay much......but His retirement plan is out of this world!

-Author Unknown

December 8, 2005

Baltimore -- Only 2 Saturdays left to Donate New, Unopened Goods for Hurricane Katrina Victims in Gulfport, MS


The Saturday School at the Learning Bank of COIL, Inc. is collecting new and unopened goods for families in Gulfport, MS displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The following is a WISH LIST of items that were requested by families in MS: (Upon their request, we ask that you DO NOT donate clothes or shoes!)

Lowe's Gift Cards
Wal-Mart Gift Cards
Linens (bed sheets, comforters)
Towels, Wash cloths
Laundry Detergent/Bleach
Back packs filled with school supplies (crayons, pens, pencils, notebooks, note book paper, etc.)
Personal Hygiene items (soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shaving cream, etc.)
Plastic buckets filled with cleaning supplies (Lysol, Lysol wipes, sponges, etc.)
Bottled Water
Toilet Tissue
Toys (infant - teenage years)
Hair combs/Brushes
Hair care products (gel, shampoo, conditioner, etc.)
Baby Diapers
Baby Wipes
Baby Bibs
Baby Lotion
Baby Bottles
Depends (adult diapers)
Batteries (aa, aaa, c, d)
Alarm Clocks
Anti-bacterial Soap
Paper cups/Paper plates
Plastic utensils

Please drop-off your new and unopened donated goods to 1200 W. Baltimore Street on the following dates:

December 10th from 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
December 17th from 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.

All donated items will be delivered to the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church located 4538 Old Pass Road in Gulfport, MS on December 26th.

**Gas Cards are also being accepted to help off-set the expense of gas to deliver the donated goods to MS.**

For more information contact Nathalia Gordon or Lynn Pinder at the Learning Bank of COIL, Inc. at 410-659-5452. Thank you for your support!

Resources for Deliverance from Pornography

A Message from Kirk Franklin from everyone. I hope your week is going well and your family is holding on to the commitment that you made to God and each other.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I would share with you guys some important news about something coming up that is very dear to me. Tomorrow I will be on the Oprah show sharing my testimony about pornography. I know you probably wonder why I would go on a show like Oprah and share something so personal and private. I believe that if God can take my broken past and use it to help free some people and some marriages, then God will be glorified through my story; a story He allowed to be written.

Even though I didn’t get a chance to share my faith as much as I would have liked to, I’m thankful for the opportunity the show gave me and I pray that He can take my “fish and bread” and multiply it.

When they contacted me and asked if I would come and be honest about my story and past struggle, I sought counsel from my pastor and prayed for direction. I received a peace and believed that it was a door He opened, and that it was a real issue not talked about because of the stigma in the church about sexuality.

So here I am, wanting to help as many as I can. After viewing the show I want to hear from you. Write me back and also share your heart with others.

I want to give you some resources that I believe in that I pray will help someone who feels lost and ashamed. As an additional resource for more on the story than I got to share on Oprah, check out this interview that Tammy and I did with CBN last year.

It’s now five and a half years for me that I have been free of my struggle. I have no desire to go back. If I can say that, believe me it can happen.

By his grace.
Love yall.

1. Grace Walk by Steve McVey.

2. Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey

3. A website packed with resources, accountability tools and help for anyone dealing with any part of the struggle, including men, women, teens and pastors. Also the home of x3watch, a free accountability software tool.

*The above text was excerpted from

December 7, 2005

December 7, 2005

December 7, 2005 — Wednesday
One Year Journey: Daniel 5-7; 2 John

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." Hebrews 2:1-4

The Christian life is not a destination—it’s a journey. While it began at the moment you came to the cross for forgiveness, it most certainly doesn’t stop there. Are you moving ahead into all the great things God has for you?

One of the primary messages of the book of Hebrews is, “Keep up—don’t fall behind.” The author repeatedly warned followers of Jesus to keep their relationship with God current, not to let their hearts get hard, cold, or calloused to the things of Jesus. We’re told to press on to what’s ahead. “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).

When you received Jesus as your Savior, you made some promises to God. How are you doing with them? Don’t drift away from the most important thing in your life. Here are some penetrating questions to help you keep your relationship with God moving ahead:

• Does my life give evidence that I’ve been truly redeemed by the Son of God?

• Does my faith endure in hard times as well as good times?

• Does my life reflect a growing pattern of righteousness?

• Do I have an increasing hunger for God’s Word and a passion for God’s kingdom?

• Is my love increasing for God and his people?

You may be thinking, I don’t want to drift away. What can I do? Again, your answer is in verse 1: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention.” What a great wake-up call! Pay attention—this matters! If you think you might be drifting away a little bit—come back. If you’ve been caught up in other things and have lost sight of your primary purpose—come back to the Lord.

I urge you to stay on course. Whether it’s been several days or weeks since you knelt in humility before the Lord, get on your knees right now. Open your heart before him. Review the five questions. Ask the Lord to show you the areas in your life that need a fresh touch from him and a recommitment from you. —James MacDonald

: Father, what have you revealed about my relationship with you in the past few minutes? How have you encouraged me to keep going in my faith?

responding: Which of the five questions most need my attention? What was the condition of my faith a year ago? Where am I today? In what area do I want to grow this week?

Father, thank you for the opportunity to have my life shaped and changed by your Spirit. Please quicken fresh love, passion, and fervency in me so that I won’t drift away from all that is mine in Jesus. Renew and revive my heart in passionate commitment to you.

following: Pay attention to what God is doing in your life.

December 6, 2005

December 6, 2005

excerpted from "Our Journey: A Daily Walk in the Word" at

December 6, 2005 — Tuesday
One Year Journey: Daniel 3-4; 1 John 5

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Psalm 23:1-6

After the 9/11 terrorist attack, US TV networks devoted many hours to covering memorial services. I was struck by how often Psalm 23 was read during the services. It is appropriate and fitting to use this Psalm to comfort grieving families. But the reference to the valley of the shadow of death is actually broader than it appears.

In his excellent commentary Exposition of Psalms, Herbert C. Leupold states, “The Hebrew word used contains no reference to death as such, but it does refer to all dark and bitter experiences—one of which may be death. So in the common use of the passage, the thought of death need not be excluded, but the reference is certainly much broader.”

The famous phrase could be rendered “even though I walk through the valley of deepest darkness.” The death of a loved one is a valley of deep darkness, but there are other valleys we face in life that can be incredibly dark. The point is this: Whatever valley you are facing, the Shepherd will walk through it with you.

The problem with being in the dark is that you have no reference point. You don’t know where you are. You’ve lost all perspective and all sense of direction. You hesitate to take the next step because you don’t know if you’ll land on terra firma or if you’ll flail in thin air. We hate to be in the dark. It may be in our career, a relationship, or our health that we suddenly experience its stifling ways.

Are you reading this during a dark moment in your life? Is the light of hope far removed from your circumstances? Then take comfort in this truth: You’re not alone. The Great Shepherd is right there with you. You can’t see him but he can see you. He knows exactly where you are. And today he will give you exactly what you need. You may be in the valley of deepest darkness, but you still have the Light of the world lighting your way through it. —Steve Farrar

seeking: Lord, what have you revealed to me about your power over darkness? How have you changed my perspective this day?

responding: What can I learn from facing dark times? How has God revealed his light and love for me when things have been cloaked in hardship? What other Scriptures encourage me when tough times come?

Lord, I thank you for the light of hope and truth that you have revealed. Help me to follow that light and not turn to my own devices. I love you and worship you with all my heart.

following: Darkness cannot overcome God’s deliverance.

excerpted from "Our Journey: A Daily Walk in the Word" at

December 1, 2005

Excerpt from "OUR JOURNEY: A Daily Walk in the Word"

The following text has been taken from "OUR JOURNEY: A Daily Walk in the Word"

"But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. . . .For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." Romans 6:17-19

Even though I don’t know you personally, I know something about you if you’re a believer in Jesus. I know there was a time in your life when you hardly thought about sin at all. You may have felt some vague guilt pangs or regret when faced with a consequence, but as a rule you did not experience conviction.

When you came to Jesus, however, all that changed. Before receiving salvation, you could say and do things without a second thought, but now the Spirit convicts you of what is wrong. Before, you seldom thought about sin, but now you see it everywhere—especially in your own life. Romans 6:17-18 describes this swap of perspectives: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin . . . having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Before we know Jesus personally, we’re slaves to sin and hardly think about righteousness. After we come to him, we’re slaves to righteousness and frequently think about sin.

Are you a slave to righteousness? Perhaps you’re not sure. Take this three-point test: I know I’m a slave to righteousness if . . .

• I’m acutely aware of unrighteousness in me. When you sin, there is this mega-conviction thing that happens. Your heart is grieved.

• When I’ve sinned, I have to make it right. You feel the need to ask for God’s forgiveness first and then to make restitution with anyone who was harmed by your sin.

• When faced with a decision, I ask, “What would please Jesus?” Real slaves to righteousness want to do what pleases the Lord.

A slave can serve only one master. You either serve sin or serve righteousness. In the same way, only Jesus can be first in your heart; he can’t be second or third. Being a slave to righteousness doesn’t mean you don’t struggle with sin, but it does mean that the growing passion of your life is to serve, honor, and please your master—Jesus—in everything! —James MacDonald

seeking: Father, what truths about your righteousness have I just been thinking of? What thoughts about my own righteousness?

responding: In what areas of my life am I still a slave to sin? Galatians 5 talks about having the fruit of the Spirit. What fruit of God’s Spirit do I see in my life?

I praise you, Lord, for the victory that you won over my sin through your death and resurrection. I desire nothing more than to serve you. You are my master, and my life is yours to lead.

following: Slave to sin or slave to righteousness—it’s your choice.

*Text excertped from