justice (4)

This Week’s Question: James 2:5 teaches that God has chosen the poor of this world? Why has He done so?

The story of the rich young ruler is instrumental as a backdrop to this question. The ruler began by asking in Mark 10:17, “…what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus, in response, listed several commandments and the ruler acknowledged compliance. Scripture teaches that Jesus’ love for this young man prompted Him to address a deeper issue; one that promises to keep many who claim to be Christ’s followers, out of Heaven – a weak faith! In Mark 10:22 Jesus said, “…One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Jesus’ instructions proved too costly for this young man, despite the fact that his Heavenly reward would far eclipse his earthly possessions (see Mark 10:23)!

James does not claim, absolutely, that the poor will inherit the kingdom. Instead, he adds the qualifier, those who are “rich in faith.” To be rich in faith one has to be totally dependent upon Jesus, which disqualifies many “privileged” believers. Putting one's total faith in Jesus means a person cannot rely upon one’s personal traits, assets, or external factors to survive or gain social advantages over another person, race, or group. Common factors used to one’s advantage are gender, race, possessions, class, social standing, ethnicity, family name, position, unfair laws and practices, the criminal justice system, educational systems, and notoriety. If a person systemically capitalizes on such factors to gain an advantage, then his/her dependency is not wholeheartedly on The Lord, and their faith, if any is claimed, is weak.

That was the sin of the rich young ruler; and we see this scenario being played out in today’s college admissions scandal. We also see it ever present in America’s political, criminal justice, civic, social, and financial institutions. For poor people, who have few social advantages, many have no recourse but to place their welfare squarely in God’s hands out of love for Him and His justice. For that group, Matthew 6:31-33 is their hope, “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This deep and unfeigned faith in a loving and caring God was manifested in the rich theology of the Negro Spirituals which survived the slave experience, the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, and some have been woven into traditional Christian circles. It was also the impetus behind the Civil Rights movement in which protesters (of all races and nationalities), countered bitter hatred and vitriol with faith, hope, and love – the three pillars that undergird Christianity. Oppression, discrimination, and social injustice have historically forced many African-Americans to maintain a strong faith in God’s justice; whether it is realized in this world or the next.

This unfeigned faith of many African-Americans is also a major factor in why my father, the late Rev. Clarence L. Hilliard, and founder of the church I currently pastor, prophesied that the Black Church, as a group, will lead Christ’s Church Movement in these latter days. Two passages The Lord placed on his heart while unveiling this prophecy are Zephaniah 3:10, “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, The daughter of My dispersed ones, Shall bring My offering;” and Psalm 68:31 “Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.” My father effectively used social action and mentorship to help bridge the racial divide within the Christian Community while simultaneously serving two evangelical associations in leadership capacities: National Black Evangelical Association (NBEA); and National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) – the effects of which are still being realized throughout Chicago and its suburban communities.

Unfortunately, Many Black churches (but especially the mega- and more prosperous churches), have forfeited its leadership responsibility because they have adopted the ways of the dominant culture, or have figuratively sold their birthright for a mess of pottage (see Genesis 25:29-34). But for those lesser churches that continue to put their faith, hope, and trust completely in The Lord; it is quite possible that this prophecy will become reality in a manner that continues to spillover into the evangelical community, and reach those who are burdened by the plight of the poor, powerless, and oppressed here in America and beyond. Nevertheless, the only bond that can keep them unified, as a group, is, they are rich in faith; and therefore, are the rightful heirs to the kingdom of Heaven!

Next Week’s Question: What is the fundamental missing element implied in this James passage? And why is it so important?

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Philip L. Hilliard - Who Am I?

Who am I? I am Rev. Philip L. Hilliard, the Senior Pastor of Austin Corinthian Baptist Church (ACBC), located on the Westside of Chicago. ACBC, was founded by my father, the late Rev. Clarence L. Hilliard – my mentor and spiritual leader, and I studied and received Biblical training under him. Therefore, I have no formal Bible Training since my undergrad degree is in business and I spent over 30 years in the Information Technology field; most of which was spent traveling coast-to-coast managing the implementation of and building computer information systems as a consultant. I assumed the role of Senior Pastor in 2005 when my dad went home to be with The Lord!

My dad was a Black Evangelical Prophet who put The Lord first in everything he did, and his whole focus was to build up the Kingdom of God by spreading unadulterated Gospel Truths to everyone he encountered. He grew up in Buffalo, NY and was a civil rights leader who fought for justice and fair housing. Because he championed justice, he received hate mail, but that never deterred his fight for justice, and he is noted for the following:

  • Cohorting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by driving him around when he visited Buffalo, NY;9570813274?profile=original
  • Debating Malcolm X on the University of Buffalo South Campus in 1963;9570813298?profile=original
  • Developing the Funky Gospel (an abbreviated version appeared in Christianity Today in January 1976) – an equivocal message that Jesus challenges (then and now), the status quo and sides with the poor, powerless, and oppressed;
  • Being forced out of his team pastorate position at Circle Evangelical Free Church, a church that sought to bridge the racial divide by adopting, what it called, the Open Church;
  • Holding long time Board Chairmanship for National Black Evangelical Association (NBEA) and simultaneously holding position of Social Action Commission Chairperson for NBEA and NAE (National Association of Evangelicals); and 
  • Championing the cause of social justice, with his dissenting viewpoint, at the Consultation on World Evangelization conferences in Lausanne, Switzerland and Pattaya, Thailand.

My mother, Annie Pearl Williams Hilliard, grew up in Oxford, North Carolina, the daughter of a sharecropper. She experienced first-hand the discrimination and injustice imposed upon Blacks in the south. Her own father was arrested and on the brink of a lynching until an influential police officer, when he saw it was Bennie Williams, intervened because of his “good family name.” Eventually, my grandfather left his sons to farm the land, traveled to Buffalo, found work, and saved money to move his family.

A major focus of ACBC’s ministry has been to bridge the racial divide, because that is what the Kingdom of God (which is already among us), is all about! To that end, I meet with a multiracial group of Pastors and others, at least weekly, in different forums to address issues that are dividing God’s Kingdom. It is hard to miss the fact that God’s Word is taking a backseat to political ideology, fearmongering, racism, nationalism, injustice, and equality. On Wednesdays I lead a thought-provoking Bible Study, and we are currently studying James 2 which I believe speaks to various spiritual issues that plagues today’s Church and Evangelical Communities. Each week I will post a question and on the following week my answer and another question. God is a God of justice, so when we live His way, everyone benefits equally!

Today's Question: Broadly speaking, what are the major issues James confronts in Chapter 2, what is the gist of his arguments?

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A Nation Without Discrimination?

Based on recent news reports and political talk shows, I’ve concluded that a growing number of Americans want us to be a nation without discrimination. While you probably think a discrimination-free country is a very good objective, you need to be careful what you wish for.

Let me explain…

According to dictionaries, to “discriminate” means to differentiate or make a distinction. So we can reframe my original question like this: Do you really want a country where no one can differentiate or make distinctions?

The entire Bible is a book of distinctions: God vs. Satan, light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, faith vs. unbelief, and so on. In fact, the very first test given to the human family was to discriminate between two trees, one that would lead to life and the other to death (Genesis 2:16-17). Failing to discriminate properly, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, leading to disastrous consequences.

A nation without any discrimination would be a nation of anarchy. Nothing right. Nothing wrong. Everyone setting their own moral compass without fear of contradiction, because it’s politically incorrect, or even illegal, to say otherwise.

This problem can be illustrated by my annual eye and ear checkup a few months ago. While my senses are in pretty good shape for my age, I had to come to grips with my declining ability to discriminate. When they showed me the eye chart, I could see all the letters, of course. But when the letters were too small, I couldn’t differentiate between “M’s” and “N’s,” “C’s” and “G’s.”

The same thing happened when my ears were tested. I could hear all the sounds, but sometimes I couldn’t distinguish one from another.

You see, discrimination is a great thing when you’re using it properly. It’s terrible if you can’t differentiate between letters or between sounds.

Again, the Bible warns against blurring the lines when it comes to moral absolutes: What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). Instead of bringing freedom and happiness, the result of this kind of nondiscrimination is sorrow and confusion.

None of us wants to be known as a critical, judgmental person (Matthew 7:1-5). However, a normal and extremely valuable part of life is the ability to distinguish between things bearing good fruit and things bearing evil fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).

When Discrimination Goes Wrong

Just as the Bible strongly warns that we must discriminate at times, it also makes it clear that we must NOT discriminate based on the wrong criteria.

For example, the apostle Paul writes, In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:26-29 MSG). These were quite revolutionary words at the time! People were discriminating based on invalid distinctions, and Paul rebuked them for not recognizing their inherent equality in Christ.

Martin Luther King Jr. put this in perspective when he said people should be judged based on “the content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. So true. Nor should we judge people based on their gender, ethnicity, or income level.

But today many people have missed a vital component of King’s message. He didn’t say people shouldn’t be evaluated at all. Nor was this a “different strokes for different folks” kind of message.

MLK, in stark contrast to many pundits today, was proclaiming our right to evaluate, discriminate, and judge based on the content of people’s character and the fruit of their deeds. When we’re longer able to do that, our nation will quickly descend into an abyss of chaos and moral relativism.

One More Thing

So I would argue that the Bible gives us every right to discriminate, if our discrimination is based on the right criteria. For example, since we’re told that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV), it’s necessary to have discernment about what “bad company” looks like.

Yet many well-meaning Bible-believers have left out an indispensable part of the equation. They excel at pointing out the bad behavior all around them, but they’ve forgotten another principle found throughout the Scriptures: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV).  

This means we have no license to be mean to those we disagree with! Quite the contrary, we are called to “do good” to EVERYONE, whenever we have an opportunity. This means showing them love and respect. It means serving them, even when we adamantly disagree with their beliefs or their lifestyle.

You don’t have to throw out your biblical beliefs or spiritual discernment in order to do this. It’s possible to walk in BOTH grace and truth, just as your Lord modeled so perfectly.


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“The collapse of the Wall is proof that dreams come true, and continues to offer hope wherever freedom and human rights are threatened or trampled on.” (German Chancellor Angel Merkel)

Sunday, March 9th, marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that heralded the collapse of the communist system. More than 300,000 participated in the celebration. Eight thousand helium balloons stretching across nine miles where the Wall had been were released into the night sky. Tributes were given to the 138 people who were killed over the years trying to cross the Wall and about 1,000 more who died attempting to cross the 856-mile border between what were then East and West Germany.

The Wall, which had not only divided Berlin but also symbolized the "iron curtain" imposed by Communism on the countries where it was the rule of government and society, had stood for 28 years. The Eastern Bloc claimed that the Wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany. In reality, the Wall prevented emigration and defection from East Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period. Eventually, because so many people were fleeing East Germany by crossing into West Berlin, the Soviets had the Wall built.

In the closed state of East Germany, the Stasi (secret police) became one of the most hated and feared institutions of the communist government. Infiltrating every strata of society, they developed a system where children spied on parents, pupils on teachers, friends on friends, and spouses on spouses. Informers betrayed neighbors, employers, lovers, and pastors. Jurgen Fuchs, the writer, described his country as "a landscape of lies." The extent of those lies and was discovered in the Stasi files in Berlin after the Wall came down.

In 1989, as Communism was collapsing in the East, communist authorities gave in to mounting pressure and opened the gates of the Wall, relaxing travel restrictions. The Wall was removed in November 1989.

Berliners and other people around the world were surprised by the fall of the Wall. Most had thought of it as a permanent barrier enforced by Soviet might. When the above picture of the Brandenburg Gate was taken in June 1989, most people did not expect the Wall to fall in their lifetime. Only five months later, people were dancing on it.

Evil has often seemed to overwhelm much of the world…but it is good to remember that God sets limits to human injustice. The despicable beheadings carried out by ISIS are only faint echoes of the heinous wrongs of the 20th century—Stalin’s rule of terror resulting in the death of millions of his own citizens, the genocide of the Armenians under the Turks, the holocaust under Nazism. Someday the Almighty will balance the books—evil will be punished, oppression ended. This may not happen in our lifetime, but we can rest assured God will keep His Word. Heaven on earth is more than a dream—it is a divine promise that will come true.   

When time is over, man’s inhumanity to man will give way to God’s goodness in eternity. There’ll be dancing in the streets of the new Jerusalem.

“When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse.” [Joshua 6:5 NLT]


Johnny R. Almond

Christian preacher and writer

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Read blog at http://GentleWhispersFromEternity-ScripturePersonalized

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