The Least Segregated Hour of the Weak

GradyHosp“I will show you, come with me. . . ” said a smiling Middle-Eastern immigrant woman in a hijab as she led me down a fluorescent-lit hallway through a secure door pressing the button of an air phone for admittance to a secure area. She was friendly, I was responded in kind, and was frankly excited for the opportunity to interact with someone whose culture sets up many barriers to interact with someone like me and my culture builds walls preventing congenial interaction with people like her. The setting was a hospital. I was visiting a church member in a trauma ICU and she was the receptionist at the desk. In the room, my eyes awoke from prayer to see an African American nurse who was expecting a child. My wife and I are also expecting. The nurse and I began to share with each other our joys and fears about the expectation of a new birth and the gift of life, as we also shared our faith and joy in the New Birth we have in Christ. When I exited the room, my eyes roamed up and down the hallway. I saw prim and proper city dwellers and laid back ball capped and camouflaged country folk.  My ears listened to conversations. In English I heard country twang and mid-western plain.  I also detected Spanish, Korean, Arabic, and Mandarin. I boarded an elevator full of people who did not look like me, and we smiled and shared jokes and encouragement.

I was filled with joy and awe at the experience of so many different people interacting on so many levels and was subsequently prompted to ponder: So many of us through our social media avenues, neighborhoods, shopping choices, and social gatherings voluntarily choose to isolate ourselves from others not like us. In a hospital we do not have such a choice. We have to interact. We need each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated an oft repeated observation, “Eleven o’ clock on Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week.”[1] Fifty years after his untimely death, this unfortunately remains predominately unchanged. We need to ask ourselves why this is. At a time when many minorities are exiting predominately white evangelical churches it is time to take our pulse.[2] What is the medicine we are offering? What is the care we are providing? What is the encouragement we have?  When those who call themselves followers of Christ find any major identity in any other source than the Source of Life (Acts 3:15) we are violating the dictum to “do no harm.”[3] We are certainly not good Samaritans, and we have not put others’ interests above our own (Phil. 2:4). Instead of honoring a spiritual “Hippocratic Oath” like good doctors, we are instead committing malpractice as hypocrites. One reason we have this problem is because too many of us think we are too healthy for our own good.  Jesus reminded us it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick (Mark 2:17). Essentially, once we have forgotten we are all sick (Jer. 17:9), we have decided we no longer need Jesus, and if we don’t need Jesus then we don’t need the body of Jesus – we don’t need each other. The reality however is this: There is none healthy, no not one.

If our churches were more like hospitals and Christians interacted more like the soul-sick people we are then we would begin to make unprecedented progress. Grady Hospital, where I was visiting, was officially integrated in 1966. The scene I experienced would have been unheard of in 1965 Atlanta.  As one of the picketer’s signs proclaimed, “Disease and death know no race.” For Christians, let us continue to strive for, long for, and pray for the day that “health” and life in the church will also know no race.

[1] King’s original wording was “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

[2] Campbell Robertson, “A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshippers are Leaving White Evangelical Churches” in the New York Times, March 9, 2018.

[3] See the Hippocratic oath.



A Light Shone, The Legacy of Billy Graham

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  – Matthew 5:16 KJV

Five years ago I was part of a group of local pastors asked to reflect on the life of Billy Graham in what was thought to be his final days. Those final days extended to another half decade as he went home to be with the Lord early this morning. An aspect of his ministry that is too often forgotten is his contribution to racial reconciliation. Let us hear the Rev. Graham himself:


“Though the race question has important social implications, it is fundamentally a moral and spiritual issue. Only moral and spiritual approaches can provide a solution.” (Reader’s Digest. 1960)

He also stated in a broadcast in 1963: “Only the supernatural love of God through changed men can solve this burning question. Christ was not so much a reformer as He was a transformer. This does not mean the race problem is not to be preached and taught, but it is not to be our Gospel. … The racial problem in America will not be settled in the streets, but it could be settled in the hearts of men in a spiritual dimension.”

Here were my comments at the time that I now offer a hearty “Amen!” to this morning:

I look to Dr. Graham as a personal hero in way of race relations.  Billy Graham led in this fight in incalculable ways. He caused a stir when he invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to pray at his New York City crusade in 1957. He personally removed ropes intended to segregate crowds in Chattanooga, TN in 1953. Other times he boldly insisted on the integration of crowds or said he would not come to cities from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Jackson, Mississippi to Johannesburg, South Africa.  His actions speak louder than words. These are real gospel moments when the man of God insisted on bringing together the people of God. I pray this part of his legacy will not soon be forgotten.Billymen

Today I add this video of Dr. Graham, George Beverly Shea, and Cliff Barrows singing, “This Little Light of Mine.” It makes me smile. I am thankful these men let their lights shine. I hope they do an encore real soon.


Dear Mr. Potter

baileypotterAmongst the citizens of Bedford Falls dwells a man by the name of Potter. He waits for disaster to strike then manipulates everyone and everything to revolve around him and to regard him as some sort of a savior. This is a subplot of the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, but it is also the reality of many traditional and rural churches. In those churches Mr. Potter may be a man, a woman, or a group of men and women, but very few Bedford Falls do not have at least one Potter deigning to transform Bedford Falls “Church” in to Pottersville “Church”. In the film, the disaster is the Great Depression. In your church the disaster could be a financial, theological, or personnel crisis. The results are the same. Mr. Potter is waiting to pounce.

Enter George Bailey. George is an upright and honest young man. He’s energetic if not somewhat brash and in need of growing in life and wisdom. He does not intend to stay in a town like Bedford Falls his whole life. No. His eyes are on the globe and he is hopeful about his education, prospects, and adventures. Disaster strikes: death, sadness. George stays, but it’s okay, there will be another way out. He is a loyal and caring young man. This is the recurring story of George Bailey and of many pastors set upon the mission of revitalizing small town and rural traditional churches: stuck, barely making ends meet, not earning many dollars, but making many friends.

In many ways, George Bailey and Mr. Potter live parallel lives. They go to the same bank, live in the same town, and each grows rich in his own way. Both are blind to the value of true riches. When disaster strikes, both keep their heads. One is thinking of others, the other is thinking of himself.

At a key point in the film when George has an epiphany he gives Mr. Potter an incredible and scathing speech. He points out that he is “nothing but a warped frustrated old man” who “spins his webs.” He further determines to continue operating his father’s “penny-ante building and loan” just so the people in the town have a “one horse institution where people can go without crawling to Potter.”

With that in mind, let me take a moment to address all the Mr. Potters out there:

Dear Mr. Potter,

Stop being a warped frustrated old man. Stop spinning your webs, figure out what is gnawing you and repent. You are not the Savior, and neither is George. You are not George’s enemy and he is not yours. You both have the same Enemy, and the same Savior.


George Bailey

Finally, due to the mistake of someone else, under the responsibility of George, comes a situation that cannot be ignored and Mr. Potter sees a way to twist the situation to his benefit, do George in, and win. (Again, a recurring plot in many of these traditional rural churches in need of revitalization). However, due to life investments and grace, George Bailey will survive.

What John Brown wrote to a younger protégé minister may well be said to many real life George Baileys who venture out bright-eyed and ready to conquer the world:

“I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.”

The truth of the matter is, all situations will not work out the way it does in a Frank Capra film, but what we have is more sure. We have a faithful Shepherd Who rewards His shepherds with a crown (1 Peter 5). So from one George Bailey to another, in the words of Alistair Begg, “Stay steady!” After all, Bedford Falls, and especially Mr. Potter, needs Jesus. It truly is a wonderful life.

Throwing the Lever

genevabibleThe true hero of the Reformation is the Word of God.  The role of the Word of God in the Reformation is the single most important event of this period in church history. As personalities are studied, celebrated, and rightly set in their places by those who follow in their footsteps,  we must also recognize their chief work of translating, disseminating, and teaching the Word of God as their most enduring contribution.  As Charles Spurgeon observed, “The Reformation was the liberation of the Bible.”

Luther was teaching through Psalms, Romans, and Galatians when he “felt born again, saw the scriptures in a new light,” and “walked through the gate of paradise.” Ulrich Zwingli was preaching verse by verse through the Greek New Testament and translating in to Swiss German as his parishioners began to understand faith alone and began eating sausage. William Tyndale was always “singing the same note” as he poured out his life translating Scripture in to English from the original languages so he caused “the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the scripture. . .”  One of the most reverberating actions from John Calvin is his return to Geneva after a three year forced hiatus when he simply picked up with the next verse of Scripture from which he had left off the Sunday he was ran out of town. The common thread through the Reformation is the Word of God that was read, preached, and understood.

I read these words from J.C. Ryle (a 19th century Church of England Bishop in the Church of England) in the October edition of Banner of Truth magazine and realized I could not articulate this truth more poetically than he did:

“The grand lever which overthrew the Pope’s power in [Germany] was Luther’s translation of the Bible into the German tongue. . . It was the royal permission to have the Bible translated [into English] and set up in churches, so that everyone who liked might read it. Yes.  It was the reading and circulation of Scripture which mainly established the cause of Protestantism in England, in Germany, and in Switzerland… The people knew too much.  They had seen the light. They had heard the joyful sound. They had tasted the truth. The sun and had risen on their minds. The scales had fallen from their eyes. The bible had done its appointed work within them. . .” (emphasis mine)

If we wish to see the powerful earth-shattering culture-shifting movements such as the Reformers saw in their day in our day, then we must put forth the same effort in to translating, disseminating, and teaching the Word of God (especially to those who have never heard). That is the work, and nothing more. Sola Scriptura  indeed.

“I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise, I did nothing. The Word did everything.” – Martin Luther

As we oppose the false gospels in the world, proclaim the true Gospel, and point others to Jesus, may we be able to conclude, as did Luther, we have done nothing, but may the Word do everything.



Rich Words

I wrote this post two years ago. Today, on the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the most brilliant lyricists and brave poets in Christendom, I thought it worth sharing again.

Johnblackmon's Blog

MullinsI wrote this post two years ago. Today, on the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the most brilliant lyricists and brave poets in Christendom, I thought it worth sharing again.


Eighteen years ago this month I remember riding to school and the announcement that Rich Mullins had been killed in an accident involving a jeep and eighteen wheeler the day before came on the radio. All I knew then was that he was the author of “Awesome God.” The radio station then said, “Rich is now experiencing God’s awesome presence. . .” and they went immediately in to the song. For whatever reason, the moment impacted me. Over the past nearly two decades (particularly the first), especially after viewing the documentary, “Homeless Man,” the life, words, and music of this eccentric (ragamuffin) child of God have been formative for me. One object I have in my office is…

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Home. Free.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” 

There are many times at funerals I either neglect to mention something I intended to say or there is just simply too much to say. After my grandfather Bob Drye’s memorial service this past Saturday, I remembered a conversation we had in which he reflected on coming back from Germany where he had been stationed with his artillery battalion during the Korean conflict. He said seeing the Statue of Liberty was one of the most beautiful sites he’d ever seen and he thought of all the others who must’ve been so glad to see her. As he was the grandson of a German immigrant, I always thought this was particularly poignant. Today I am thankful for the freedom, home, and safe harbor she represents to all who have fought for and all who have sought after the Liberty for which she holds the flame.
My grandfather came home from Germany.

His grandfather came from Germany seeking a home.

This is America.

How Montana Prepared Me for International Missions

tipiFor the past five years, our church has partnered in multiple ways with Montana Indian Ministries and Pastor Bruce Plummer based on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. In this partnership we have been part of effective evangelism through service by partnering with local Christians who will continue discipleship long after we have gotten back on the plane. This mission and ministry is a worthy end it itself. However, my experiences as well as those of our teammates, have served and can serve as preparation for missions and ministries in other places around the globe. Here are several things I have been exposed to and a few things I have learned:

All “Nations”

It is important to note that in some significant ways, this mission and ministry actually is international missions. This comes from a proper understanding of the word “nation.” Native Americans themselves grasp this as they refer to themselves as “nations.”  A nation is a “people group” – a group that shares common traits, religion, language, way of life and cultural distinctives. Once you begin to understand the differences between Gross Venture, Assiniboine, Cree, Crow, Cheyenne (Northern and Southern), etc. you begin to have  a further delineated understanding of people groups that further prepares you for understanding tribes and “nations” throughout the world.

Spiritual Warfare

We must remember if our aim is to share the Gospel, we are engaged in Spiritual Warfare. In fact, if you are a believer and it’s not your aim to share the Gospel, you are on the defensive of spiritual warfare already (and you are losing the battle). We have to be prepared for this, and the way to prepare is detailed in Ephesians 6. Spiritual warfare is all around us. It’s more real where you are than you think, you are just not paying attention. That notwithstanding, the palpable nature in a place where many do not worship the Son of God is intense and the darkness feels darker than you know until you have been there. What is important in these moments is to remember that He is the Light of Men and even the darkness is not dark to Him. Do not go in to battle without preparing to go in to battle. The most important thing we can do is pray constantly. If your assignment is to “prayer walk” take it very very seriously.

Local Partners

It is important to remember what our role is when we go to other places to participate in global evangelization. If there are pastors and missionaries on the field then it is our job to help them and not hinder them. The best way to know how to is to ask straightforward questions. We have a role in the disciple making process, but if we have not moved our lives to these places among these people then we will not be the most effective at this, so it is important that we follow any and all instructions we receive. If there is a local Christian presence, it is also important that we recognize we have come alongside them to partner with them and to investigate what ways we can help stimulate and support what God is already doing. We did not come to “save” whatever people group we are among but to help our brothers and sisters in this process. God saves them, we are just the messengers.  I have grown to know and love others in different places in the globe of different tribes and tongues and there is nothing like the partnership in the Gospel we share. Look for and forward to these opportunities. In many places, they will be the ones who actually get to carry the Gospel to the most extreme unreached because frankly they can go places you and I can’t. If we are not humbled by carrying the Gospel and aiding others in carrying the Gospel, then it may not be the Gospel we carry.

Minority Status

There is nothing quite like realizing how different you are all the sudden. When you are accustomed to being the majority culture and suddenly find yourself as a minority surrounded by a great majority, it can be a bit shocking and maybe a little unnerving.  Preparing for this is only helpful for missions and ministry, particularly if your background is similar to mine. This also prepares you to identify with what is the experience of the vast majority of the scattered peoples in the world. Curious stares by children and looks from adults ranging from interest to disdain will be commonplace no matter where you go. My wife, with her beautiful red hair, is an even further curiosity in some places. In other places in the world we have even had people take our picture just because of how different we are. So prepare yourself and smile for the camera (if culturally appropriate) !

Cultural Sensitivities

You will offend people. Unfortunately you may not know it. This is why it is so important to have familiarized yourself with the culture to which you are going to spend time as much as possible. How loud do they speak? Do they maintain prolonged eye contact? Do they shake hands? How do they feel about feet ( I know you may not like them either, but it some places they really don’t like them)? Will there be venerated or religious objects or symbols around that I wouldn’t have even considered? It is essential in sharing the Gospel, which is offensive, to minimize incidental offensiveness as much as possible by being culturally sensitive.  The best way to prepare or this is to ask a Christian brother or sister who is either from this culture or who has spent a great deal of time with this culture.

Hospitality Culture

Native Americans are very hospitable as are many cultures throughout the world. It is important to both gracefully receive and extend hospitality.  Where I am from, people will offer things and we often over politely decline. This is unacceptable among Native Americans. Anything from a cup of water to a personal gift is to be received and not declined.  In other places you might need to be careful with complimenting certain things, because individuals may feel obligated to give it you.  In other settings, hospitality is extended in order to merit or earn grace, karma, etc. Though that is an uncomfortable reality, receive the hospitality with a genuine heart with the intent of sharing the Gospel.

Real Poverty

There are impoverished people in every region and amongst every people of the globe. However, if we cannot imagine going to sleep on something that is not a bed or even in a “house” or going to “bed” unsure of where our next meal will come from, then we do not understand real poverty. If we engage at any meaningful level this is something we will encounter no matter where we go.  It is important that we are prepared to encounter real and extreme poverty so we know the best ways to help (which are not always what we think).

Differing Worldviews

If your intention is to share the Gospel with any people group, worldview considerations are of the utmost importance. One thing they all share in common (including non-Christian Native Americans) is not understanding exactly Who Jesus Christ is and what He came to do. On Reservations the overwhelming majority are monotheists who believe in a single Creator. This is a great place to begin the conversation. In other parts of the world, people have no concept of a Creator in the established philosophy and religion. At any rate, no one really cares for the One Who has created his or her heart unless their hearts have been newly created (Romans 1).  It will serve you well to be familiar with the local worldview(s) in order to have effective conversations.  However, I can also personally attest to the power of the Gospel that transcends worldviews.

I will add: though we share a lot in common if our starting place is as a Christian and our minds are formed by the Bible, there will still be vast differences in worldviews with our brothers and sisters around the globe. Though it will be easier to discuss these issues with Christians, there will still be areas of local sensitivity. Just be aware and prepared to be forgiving and to be forgiven.

The next several items are practical in nature but will greatly serve you in preparation.

Uncertain Hygiene

You may not get a shower. It may not be available. This can range from a limited time to a way of life. If you cannot sleep for more than few days without a shower, then you need to prepare for this possibility. In some places where you get a “shower” there may be no stall and there may be little water pressure. There may be an extreme limit in available clean water. Long showers are rarely appropriate.  So, pack some hand sanitizer and prepare to get dirty for the Gospel.

Uncomfortable Bathroom Situations

It’s going to be uncomfortable. Count on it. In our time with Montana Indian Ministries we have grown accustomed to porta-potties (I may or may not have participated in a covert operation to temporarily relocate said porta-potties). In other places in the globe you will inevitably find yourself behind a tree or in a “squatty potty” and your digestive system will enjoy choosing this time to do acrobats for you. In some places only natural waste is flushable (if indeed there is any flushing involved). Here is another area to be aware and prepared and you do want to bring your own paper and wipes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Extreme Weather Conditions

Montana is notorious for extreme weather in both directions. You can experience 100 degree heat and ice in the same twenty-four hour period. The saying is, if you don’t like the weather, just wait around ten minutes. Extreme weather (heat, rain, cold) will be fact wherever you go to serve and to share the Gospel. Pack appropriately and prepare to endure, drink plenty of water, and wear appropriate shoes.

Unreliable Internet

We live on the internet. It is no longer a destination, it is where we live our lives. There are many positives to this constant interconnectivity and many negatives. With this said, Montana prepares you to know you may go days on end without an Imessage or email. In some situations around the globe you may have to be cautious about what you post and how you post it. To prepare for these situations, try doing internet fasts before travelling and taking all your extra time (which you will have) to pray and prepare.


Going from here to there is often for many the hardest part of sharing the Gospel. This can be as small as crossing the street (which seems to loom pretty large for most people) or as big as a few connections and layovers to the other side of the globe. The only way to prepare for travel is to travel. Being on a plane for several hours and making connections to get to Montana will prepare you to multiply it times three to go to Africa or Asia. An important note however is to remember getting on a jet does not make you a missionary. If you are not crossing the street, then you are not prepared to cross the continent or the ocean.

The Challenge of Cohesiveness

It is important for the sake of the Gospel that we do our best to live peaceably with all those we are working alongside of. Personalities will come in conflict. The question is, how will we respond and make reparations where necessary? I have been on mission trips in which the “team” consisted of my wife and I. We have struggled with this and this is only multiplied by the number of personalities. It is important to prepare to bear with one another in all patience and humility. You will ultimately grow in respect for one another and in awe of a God who can put together people who are so different for His global purposes.

Now Go.

If anything on this list has caused you to second guess going somewhere close like Montana or even further like Southeast Asia, then you need to reconsider immediately. Though exhausting and draining, spiritually and physically, making disciples of all nations and participating in global evangelization is well worth every possible cost and sacrifice you can imagine. So, let’s seek to be obedient, and let’s get to work!