Daily Devotional 8-7-14

Enough Is Enough
volume 13, number 21, May 22, 2014

” . . . are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven,” Nehemiah 1:3-4.

My friend Alton Hardy was preaching on a recent Sunday afternoon in Fairfield, Alabama at Urban Hope, a church plant of Evangel Presbytery of the PCA. He was introducing a series of sermons he is to preach from John’s gospel, emphasizing that Jesus, the true Jesus of the Bible, not the one manufactured by many preachers who promise health and wealth to those who have faith, is the only Savior; and that to believe in Him means that one must obey Him, keep His commandments. Alton has been working with twenty young black men, from age fourteen to twenty-six, all fatherless, and he has been telling them the necessity of sexual purity, of being a man and marrying and staying married to one woman. He said the violence of urban Birmingham and beyond is due to young, angry, fatherless black men. Within thirty seconds of pronouncing the Aaronic benediction, seven shots from an assault rifle rang out a couple of houses down from the church. A young black man, playing dominoes, sitting on his porch next to his eighteenth month old daughter, was shot. Alton ran immediately to the scene and predictably, there were no men there, only women crying hysterically. Two nights before Kerry Delano Hardy (no relation to Alton, as far as I know), a forty-six year old Christian writer and motivational speaker, became the sixteenth murder victim in 2014 in Birmingham. He was found slumped against his car, shot to death with multiple gun shot wounds to the chest. By God’s grace Kerry had put his life together after serving many years in prison for drug dealing. God had saved him, renewed him, and was using him powerfully to speak to young black men and women in Birmingham and beyond. The city of Chicago registered its one hundredth homicide of 2014 on April 27. Most of these homicide victims are young black men, murdered by young black men.

God promised His covenant people blessing after blessing if they chose to obey Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but He also warned them that failure to obey His commandments and statutes would bring His curses upon them (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). At one point Yahweh says, “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. They shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendants forever,” Deuteronomy 28:45-46).

We know what happened in the nation of Israel. They refused to heed the voice of their God. They chose not to obey Him. For centuries He patiently and lovingly sent them prophets to warn them, to call them back to Him in repentance. The prophets spoke to the kings, the princes, the fathers, and all the people of the land, but they acted unfaithfully, sinned against Him, rebelled, and did not listen to His voice (Daniel 9:7-10). With a few, short lived exceptions, they continued willfully and deliberately to go their own way into idolatry and rebellion. Yahweh finally sent the Assyrians on the northern tribes in 722 B.C. who took them into slavery and exile. The southern kingdom of Judah lasted longer, but they too eventually were taken into exile at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian empire in 586 B.C.

Now, many years later, after Yahweh has once again shown His covenant people mercy by bringing them back into the land, Nehemiah, a Jew serving the King of Medo-Persia, asks how things are going back in Jerusalem. He was told that the walls around the city were still in ruins, broken down. No doubt others had heard this report, but apparently no one else was concerned enough about the deplorable condition of Jerusalem to do anything about it. Why was Nehemiah upset? He knew the wall around Jerusalem was the city’s primary means of defense. To not have a wall around the city was synonymous with being defenseless, like our country without an air force, army, or navy. Nehemiah’s response is instructive for us all. In essence he is saying, “Enough is enough. I cannot stand this any longer. Something must be done right away.” Nehemiah wept and mourned for days. He fasted and prayed to the God of heaven. Nehemiah had the intolerable burden-an intense agony, grief, and alarm at the status quo in Jerusalem.

The young men in our urban communities are defenseless, the walls of protection have long been in ruins. Most of them have no fathers in their lives on a daily basis. A father is to bring his children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). He is not to exasperate his children lest they lose heart (Colossians 3:21). Fathers are to instruct their sons on how to acquire wisdom, on the ways of the adulterous woman, on spotting bad friends who corrupt good morals, and on the necessity of diligence and hard work (Proverbs 4-7). They are to model godly and responsible behavior to their sons, but when there is no father in the house, when there are no men around, then the young men are bereft of their vital wall of defense. Their mothers often do the best they can and should obviously be commended, but a son needs a manly, godly, Jesus man in his life. He needs a father’s strong hand of love and discipline. He needs to see a father get up every morning and go to work and to be there at home at night.

What has gone wrong? Obviously I am not a preacher in the urban context. I have not lived where these young men have lived. I grew up with a very loving father and mother who held me accountable. My father arose every work day at 4 a.m. to work in a hot, dirty foundry in Birmingham, Alabama. Nonetheless, from a distance I can see the problem and so can you. The fatherlessness of these young men in our urban centers is destroying them and will, in due time, destroy all of us as well. Here’s what I mean-in most of South Africa, with the exception of the Cape province, the black on black crime has now spilled over into the white, more affluent communities. Angry young black men are invading nice communities, holding older women at gun point, demanding their diamond rings and BMW’s, and often murdering or raping them to boot. In the United States the killing is mainly black on black but it is only a matter of time before it spills over into Mountain Brook, Alabama, Skokie, Illinois, Avon, Connecticut, or other affluent communities.

What is the remedy? Only the true preaching of the true gospel of Jesus will do. You need to pray for men like Alton Hardy who are committed to reaching our impoverished, fatherless, urban centers. I am profoundly thankful for the growing number of Reformed, African American preachers who are shepherding flocks in the suburbs. Praise the Lord, but we need men in the “hood” as well; and we need many of them. We need men who are committed to the doctrines of grace, to the Westminster Confession of Faith, who will fearlessly preach Christ crucified and apply this glorious gospel to the particular problems and issues of their communities. This is an exceedingly difficult enterprise. Alton and others like him do not wear the mantle “Apostle”. They don’t milk the people of their money. They do not preach health and wealth. They don’t shy away from telling their people that the great plague in the black church is sexual immorality. Most of the preachers there will not touch this issue, just as many white preachers in the suburbs will not touch the sin of worldliness. We will also need to rethink our credentialing process to get men ordained. At present we require a four year college degree then a three year Master of Divinity degree. We cannot wait that long. Besides, once we take them out of the hood and send them to some university and seminary in a leafy suburb, when they return to the hood, if they ever return to the hood, they are seldom able to relate to the people there. I am not saying these men do not need theological education. I am saying we need to find a better way to do it.