The Color of Bravery

halfstaffrespect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed – Romans 13:7

Recently while walking on one of those picturesque Southern courthouse squares, I was troubled while looking upon the granite memorials sitting atop the Saint Augustine carpet. On both the World War I and World War II monuments in this small southern town, there were not one, but two alphabetical lists of men who died in their country’s service. On one monument there were two sides, “Colored” and “White”. On the other monument the “Colored” list came after the first list (presumably the “white” list).

It is one thing to be divided in life, it is quite another to be divided in memoriam. I know the history. I know units were desegregated in 1948. But these monuments are not military rosters, they are monuments dedicated by a small town to honor their local heroes (both monuments were erected in the 50’s).  To add insult to injury, there is not one, but three Confederate monuments on this same lawn (not to say having one is inappropriate).  I am not necessarily advocating the removal of any monument or even necessarily the replacing of present monuments, I am simply reflecting on the sad state of a community that differentiates its heroes in such a graven way. I am not an advocate of erasing history, but I do hope for the day of an equalizing of history. We may also note not in this town, but in other towns, there are courthouses built of red clay bricks bearing the thumb prints of the slaves who made them and laid them while the granite cornerstones give credit to white architects, civic leaders, and financial contributors. Acknowledgement is due to all who built and contributed to communities regardless of their lineage or heritage. Every man and woman who lived, loved, and died in these communities loved freedom and is an indelible part of the American fabric – a quilt woven together by the lives given to hold her together.  The artificial division of those lives on a stone monument is a travesty. What differentiates the men on these monuments is not their color but their courage, not their status but their sacrifice.

The colors that matter are the red that ran through their blue veins and the white in their determined eyes. On this Memorial Day, let us be grateful for all of America’s true heroes with no distinction but the bravery with which they fought.

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Where the Fire is Hottest

Johnblackmon's Blog

watergiftLast week at the Together for the Gospel conference, I had a new experience. For the first time, I heard Dr. David Platt sound his usual resounding call to the nations with me knowing I had to some extent answered. Don’t let me misrepresent myself. A little over a week, strange food, and jet leg are no sacrifice. However, I did get to look through the open 10/40 window and see at least, in part, what is before us. Due to a life-long friendship, I have a direct connection to a part of the world where one of the five largest unreached people groups still are lost in darkness, superstition, idol worship, and daily dissatisfaction with life. I’ve walked the streets, I’ve smelled the smells, I’ve seen the people. I’ll never forget my first impression of smells: incense, cigarette smoke, and human feces – in that order. I’ve heard the…

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The Saddest Grave in the World

View-Lake-Luceren-from-Pilatus

The above picture seems quite serene and beautiful but legend tells a different story. It is a view of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland from the view of “Mount Pilatus.”  The mountain is named for Pontius Pilate, a former first century procurator of the Roman province of Judea (AD 26 – 36), who ended his political career in shame and exile or execution. Two legends persist. The first indicates he was exiled to modern day Switzerland where he ended his days in despair, most likely taking his own life. The second is that he was condemned, executed, and dumped in the Tiber River where his body was eventually washed upstream. In either case, the end of both stories is his remains came to be in the depths of Lake Lucerne. Legend says his ghost rises every Good Friday from the watery grave and washes his hands in the pure blue waters of the lake crying, “I am innocent of the blood of this man; I wash my hands; it is not my fault!” Though this ghost tale is untrue, it is a ghastly reality that sadly haunts the soul of Pontius Pilate in to eternity.

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Overlooking Lake Lucerne is this Lion statue that recalls the 1792 massacre of Swiss soldiers during the French Revolution. Mark Twain once called it “the saddest monument in the world.”  Perhaps that is true. If tradition is true, it certainly overlooks what perhaps is the world’s saddest grave. Even if tradition proved to be false, the truth remains:

The saddest grave in the world is not the grave Pilate had sealed, but the one he himself would fill.

Though he declared himself “innocent of this man’s blood” the opposite is true. Only the blood of “this Man” makes the guilty innocent.

A Pleasing Aroma to the Lord

GoodfridaycrossRecently I have been reading the book of Leviticus with fresh eyes (maybe “open eyes” in light of Luke 24:32).  I started with my morning reading a little over two weeks ago in Leviticus 1 with a pen and notebook beside my Bible as my mind woke and my hand warmed on my mug of coffee. My heart began to burn as I jotted down words that practically leaped off the page in to my mind and heart. (At this point it would be helpful if you read Leviticus 1 as it is). Now, in re-reading – Allow me to highlight some words:

Offering. Male without blemish. Entrance of the tent of the meeting. Accepted before the Lord. Make atonement. Throw the blood. Flay. Cut to pieces. Wood. Pleasing Aroma to the Lord. Blood thrown. Pleasing Aroma to the Lord. Blood drained beside the altar. Tear but not sever completely. Pleasing aroma to the Lord.

In light of the events of “good Friday” the ultimate “day of Atonement” (see Leviticus  16), these words ring out significantly.

Jesus was a “male without blemish” – He is the “tent of the meeting” (John 1:14). Only He is accepted before the Lord and makes us acceptable. He makes atonement. His blood was thrown, He was flayed, His back cut to pieces. He was suspended from a cross of wood, His blood drained, He was torn but not completely. Pleasing aroma to the Lord? “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him (Isaiah 53:10),” Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).

Take this Christ-fulfilling way of reading Leviticus 1 and couple it with the other major themes of the book: a demand for God’s people to be holy, the seriousness of sin, the love of God and of neighbor. The crucifixion of Jesus brings meaning and purpose to all of this and to our very lives as God’s people dearly loved and set apart.  Meditating on this passage led me to this thought: If Jesus made satisfaction for EVERY sin committed by His people then it isn’t a stretch to say every Old Testament sacrifice points to Him. A caution, however, is this: when studying the Old Testament, the question isn’t, “how may I search for or find Jesus in this text?” but “how’s this text satisfied & fulfilled in Jesus?”

Finally, one repeated phrase throughout Leviticus is, “outside the camp.” Outside the camp is where the unclean go, where carcasses are thrown and burned and where the “Scapegoat” is banished.  In light of the whole book of Leviticus read these words from Hebrews 13:

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Rejoice. Make Merry. Exchange Presents!

crumpledpaper

These few words strung together out of context would fit most holiday greeting cards and would dress up and adorn any wreath or ornament hung around the house this December. However, their association in Scripture is not a happy one.

My heart stopped when I read this passage in preparation for our Sunday evening Bible study on Revelation 11. I read them again. Yes. This verse (Revelation 11:10) says exactly what I think it says… “and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents” Without too much detail for this post it suffices to say what the people of the earth are rejoicing over is the gruesome death of martyrs who were witnesses for Jesus Christ who had delivered the very message Christmas brings. That is, that Jesus is God in the flesh who came, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose from the dead, in order that we might have peace with God through faith. This they proclaimed, for this they died, and the people of the earth rejoiced, made merry, and exchanged presents.

In meditating on this my mind and heart flooded with all the times I have participated in these activities with little or no thought to Jesus. It then extended beyond myself to the overt commercialization (which Charlie Brown has been complaining about since the sixties) secularization and democratization of “Christmas” particularly in the United States. We should be stunned as we are left with an unavoidable conclusion: It is entirely possible to celebrate Christmas the way the world celebrates Christmas without Jesus. In fact, it is entirely possible to be “merry, rejoice, and exchange presents” entirely opposed to Jesus. This should at least give us pause in what we are doing. Even better, it should motivate us to share good news of great joy for all of these people that the many will be made children of God as they receive the gift of His Son. Let us be so bold as to not let our relatives drink the egg nog or crumple the paper on the floor without sharing Jesus. When the song comes on over the sound system of the department store don’t miss the opportunity to ask the cashier or customer if they know what “veiled in flesh the Godhead see” or “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” means.

The Best of Thanks in the Worst of Times 


Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday on October 3, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln wrote with the cadence of an Old Testament prophet and the urgency of an Apostle. Elton Trueblood rightly called him a “theologian of American anquish.” His deep brow and frowning eyes tell of deep sorrow. The lines of his face are chisel marks of resilience. His almost grin is a testimony of his quick wit. His words of proclamation setting aside the 4th Thursday in November as a day for giving thanks to our Creator remind us that even in the worst of years (i.e, 1863) we have much to be thankful for. 

His words of proclamation appear in part:

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

And He Gave Thanks

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  – Matthew 26:27

Many of us have held the hands of loved ones while the hours they had on this earth were waning fast. Here we see the steady hand of the Son of God holding a cup.

That Same Hand

– That grasped Mary’s finger
– That reached out and touched the man with the withered hand
– That touched his frightened disciples at the mount of transfiguration.

– That calmed the storm and lifted Peter from the depths
– That touched blind eyes and made them see

– That unstopped deaf ears and made them hear

That Same Hand
– That in just a few hours will replace the ear of a temple guard
– That will be bound tightly

– That will be nailed to the cross
– That will be folded in death

That same hand – is holding a cup – full of crimson wine symbolizing the blood now running hot in his veins soon to make wet the dust of Jerusalem and atone for the sins of His church.

And He gave thanks…