Friday, February 25, 2022


 This, then, is how you should pray: 

“Our Father  in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,  on earth as it is in heaven….”

-Matthew 6:9-10 (NIV)

Today, there’s news of invasion and war from Europe. Russia, led by a man with too much power and no one to say “No” to him, has sent troops, planes, and shells into Ukraine. Business as usual in our world, nations and kings vying for dominance and control. Every nation does it, with economics or trade or technology or politics  if not with guns and tanks and fighter jets. Of course, that’s small comfort today to the people of Ukraine.

     I was reading the prophet Obadiah recently. That’s not a part of the Bible I’ve spent much time with in a while, but I was reminded as I went through it — it’s a short book, the shortest in the Old Testament, only 21 verses — that it’s a book about war and invasion. It’s about a nation deceived by pride into thinking that it was untouchable and entitled to its neighbor’s territory, that took no pity on its neighbor during a time of catastrophe. The book of Obadiah is a message to that nation, warning it of coming disaster: “the day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

     Now you see why no one likes to read Obadiah. I don’t think there’s ever been a nation in world history that would look forward to being measured by that standard. Americans can condemn Russia’s action, and we should, but we shouldn’t forget that our country wasn’t exactly uninhabited “from sea to shining sea” when Europeans first arrived. 

     It’s how Obadiah ends that is really sticking with me. See, it doesn’t just end with this nation getting what’s coming to it at the hands of another nation. It ends on a different, abrupt note. One sentence, seven words in the English translation I’m using right now. Just three in Hebrew: “And the Kingdom will be the LORD’s.”

    “Then the LORD will reign as King,” another translation puts it. Obadiah’s message is that God will break the cycle of nation conquering nation, ad infinitum, and he’ll break this cycle by ruling the whole earth. 

     This is all through the Old Testament. Daniel’s vision of the image of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay, remember that? Daniel tells the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar that those precious metals represent a succession of kingdoms, each one blending into the next, until a large rock cut out of a mountain “but not by human hands” crushes them all and “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.” Not exactly subtle.

     There’s Psalm 22. If you know it, you might think that it “predicts Jesus’ crucifixion.” Well, not precisely. It’s more like Jesus’ crucifixion fulfills Psalm 22. It’s about a righteous sufferer, like Jesus, whose cries God hears. God delivers him, and then that sufferer proclaims God’s name and praises him. But notice what the Psalmist says happens as a result of this: 

“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.”

Through this righteous sufferer’s ordeal — and his rescue by God — God will be proclaimed King.

     Examples could be multiplied, but the calling of Israel in the Old Testament was always for the purpose of demonstrating what it looks like when God was a nation’s true King. That’s why God told Samuel, when the people asked for a king, that they were rejecting him, not Samuel. It’s why Israel’s ideal king, David, was “a man after God’s heart.” It’s why Israel was intended to be a “light to the Gentiles.”

      And it’s why, when Jesus came into the world, he came with one very simple, very clear message: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

     To people with ears to hear, Jesus was saying that the hope they should have had all along, that God would become King and end the cycle of violence and suffering brought about by endless conquest, was coming to fulfillment.

     He told stories about that Kingdom, beginning them, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” He healed and cast out demons to show that he was the authentic representative of God’s kingdom, in which disease and evil would have no place. He taught his followers to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is heaven.” He didn’t deny it when Pilate asked if he was a king. And when they crucified him, they put a robe and crown on him and proclaimed his title in every language, so that all nations would have a chance to read it: “The King of the Jews.”

     That seems impossible to us, that he could be crowned as king in such a way. But that’s actually what the prophets said all along. Isaiah talked about the suffering of Israel — or at least Israel’s representative — but promised it would end with redemption. (Isaiah 53:1-12) He promised that Servant would “bring justice to the nations” and be “a light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7) — as a good king should. 

     Jesus came to show us the world we’re supposed to be hoping for. He came to show us how to create little outposts of God’s kingdom wherever we are. And then in his suffering, God crowned him King. John says more than once that Jesus was “lifted up” — exalted, glorified — at the cross. He tells his disciples, when he appears to them after his resurrection, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Once again, “all nations.” He tells the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the Messiah “had to suffer and come into his glory.” Cross and crown. The Messiah — the King — had to suffer in order to come into the full glory of his kingdom.

     When the early church said “Jesus is Lord,” the world around them was, literally, saying “Caesar is lord.” The New Testament writers saw “the kingdom of God” as the “inheritance” of those who put their faith in Jesus (Colossians 1:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, James 2:5, 2 Peter 1:11) — and that there was a way to live that would disqualify a person from that inheritance. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:5) That inheritance is our hope and expectation, to be fulfilled when Jesus comes (2 Timothy 4:1). But there’s also a sense in which we are already “receiving” this kingdom “that cannot be shaken” — and so we should be filled with gratitude and worship. (Hebrews 12:28)

     The cross is not just about the forgiveness of my personal sins — though it is about that. Forgiveness of sins is a part of the Kingdom of God, the state of things when God reigns and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. In the cross, that Kingdom has commenced. Our lives should reflect our conviction that Jesus is Lord. We should proclaim with our words and actions the good news — and it is good news — that the kingdom of God has come near.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Cloud of Witnesses: Annie Tuggle

      Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

For Black History Month, I thought that it might be good for me do some remembering, particularly of Black people and the contributions they’ve made to the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ, of which I’m a part. If you're a part of that particular “tribe” as well, I hope you’ll find some insight into your history helpful. If not, I think you'll still find these stories of Black Christians serving the Kingdom in spite of obstacles and resistance — sometimes by other Christians — to be challenging and inspirational.

     This week, I’d like to introduce Annie Tuggle to you. I’m indebted to Bobby Valentine, Michael Casey, Wes Crawford, and Edward Robinson for introducing me to Ms. Tuggle. 

     Annie was born in 1890 in Shelby County, TN. Her grandfather, Quinton Roberts, was the son of a slave, Mahalia, and plantation owner Schuyler H. Roberts.  She was born to Haywood Tuggle and Mollie Roberts. She was baptized in 1908 at the age of 17. Though she had a love for learning, poverty and racism made it difficult for her to get an education. Her experiences gave her a heavy burden for helping others become educated.

     At the age of 7, Ms. Tuggle attended Featherton School in Shelby County. Since she could partially read, she tutored other students. At 17, and in the seventh grade, she was able to study at Lane College in Jackson, TN. 

     Before graduating high school, Ms. Tuggle became a teacher and even a principal (at age 19!) of The Promised Land School in Millington, TN. In 1913, she came to the attention of G.P. Bowser, an educator and preacher in the Black Churches of Christ, who invited her to study at his Silver Point Christian Institute. After she complained about the condition of the facilities, Bowser sent her out to raise funds in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Among many others, she visited David Lipscomb, who convinced A.M. Burton to contribute and encouraged readers of the Gospel Advocate to do the same.

     Wanting to complete her high school diploma (Remember, she had been too busy teaching others and fund-raising to do so!), she enrolled at Walden University in Nashville, where she graduated as Valedictorian in 1923 at age 33. She enrolled at Fisk University (but dropped out when she found out she’d have to attend their chapel services instead of her own church), and studied at Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State University).

     Ms. Tuggle was theologically very conservative, including her attitude toward the role of women in the church. (She once refused to baptize her cousin because she didn’t think she could do so as a woman. Another time she wanted to start a congregation with several new female converts, but wasn't sure she had that authority, so she consulted with an elder at another congregation in Shelby County, who “gave her permission.”) Despite living within a set of fairly narrow restrictions about her place in the church, Ms. Tuggle pushed back in numerous ways. Once, during a sermon at Silver Point, the preacher was asked a question. He asked her to answer, since she was, in his words, “a young lady in the audience who is well versed in the Scriptures” and “has studied to show herself approved unto God …” She often read the Bible aloud during gospel meetings and sermons because many preachers of the time were functionally illiterate. 

      In the early 40s, Ms. Tuggle went to work for Bowser again, this time raising funds for his new school, Bowser Christian Institute in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Later in the decade, Marshall Keeble brought Ms. Tuggle to teach at Nashville Christian Institute, a preparatory school for Black students that was associated with Churches of Christ. Among the students she taught were were Fred Gray, the Civil Rights attorney associated with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Chicago preacher Robert Woods, longtime minister for the Monroe Street Church of Christ.  

     Ms. Tuggle sometimes worked as a maid to pay for her educational expenses, and through that experience   learned a creative way to deal with southern white prejudice. When she traveled, she would dress as a maid because, as she said, "we could go in the front door, get our money's worth and get first-class merchandise, because the merchant thought we were buying for white people.” Dealing with racism wasn’t always so simple, however; she spoke out boldly about sexual advances from White men, including ministers.

     Ms. Tuggle spent a summer in Chicago working in the laundry of a hotel. She moved to Detroit in 1944, where she spent 20 years. While there, she started a pie business, opened a school of her own, the Home Training Christian Institute, and published one of the first histories of Black Churches of Christ. She moved back to Memphis in 1964, but not exactly to retire; in 1967 she went on a three-week mission trip to the Caribbean. She came back a passionate advocate for Jamaica and Haiti, and spoke in churches to create momentum for missions there. In 1971 she moved to Southern California, and at 84 published her autobiography, Another World Wonder — which is in reality a history of Black Churches of Christ.

     It’s a history that I, for one, don’t know enough about.

     In a tract for her school in Detroit, Ms. Tuggle wrote these words: 

“Life is made up of accumulations - here a little, and there a little. So the person who fills his todays to the brim with life and service for God, finds himself in old age drinking from the fountain that never runs dry. His memory, then instead of being the handmaid of bitterness becomes the minister of peace and gladness.”

     If that’s so, then Ms. Tuggle’s memories must have given her a lot of peace and gladness. She taught thousands, including civil rights leaders, entrepreneurs, and church leaders. She swayed opinions, influenced missions, and helped secure an education for many children and adults who otherwise would have had no opportunities to learn and better their lives.

     I learn from Ms. Tuggle what it means to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” None of us have the same race. All of us face a combination of obstacle and opportunity that no one else faces, and all of us have received our own unique calling. Sometimes it takes perseverance to understand the boundary lines of our races. Sometimes it take perseverance to overcome the obstacles. But Jesus shows us how to run, even when he lets us figure out the path on our own. Run your race. Don’t let anyone tell you what it should look like; you’ll know by finding out what you love, what matters most to you, and how your own experiences — good and bad — have shaped you. Run your race. But run it always with your eyes on Jesus; he went first, and by completing his race showed us how ours will be fulfilled.

     And keep joy before you. Run your race faithfully, and you’ll bring the love, joy, and peace of the gospel to many. 

     Think of the memories. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

Cloud of Witnesses: Peter and Samuel Lowery

      Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

Samuel R. Lowery
Samuel R. Lowery

February is Black History Month. Occasionally, less often than you used to, I hope, you might hear someone ask why we need Black History Month. 

     Usually, the simple, quick answer to that question will suffice: We need Black History Month because Black  history is often forgotten, if not intentionally erased, in favor of versions of history more palatable to what has been the dominant (White) culture. Every history is a version of what happened — and it’s usually those in power who decide which version — and every history is incomplete by chance, by mistake, by intention, or simply by oversight. But forgetting some facts of history can have a devastating effect on the present and the future. That’s certainly been the experience of many Black people, if not all. Black History Month is an attempt to rectify that, by remembering the people and events that might otherwise be forgotten. 

     I thought that it might be good this month for me do some remembering, particularly of Black people and the contributions they’ve made to the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ, of which I’m a part. Work by Bruce Daugherty (father of Northwest’s own Mike) and John Mark Hicks, among others, has been helpful and inspirational to me.

     Peter Lowery, born in 1810, was a slave in Tennessee who was able to purchase his own freedom, and eventually the freedom of his mother, three brothers, and two sisters. He worked at Franklin College, the first Restoration Movement college in Tennessee, where he became acquainted with its founder, Tolbert Fanning, who taught and mentored him.

     Lowery began preaching in the 1840s, and planted the first Black Restoration Movement church in Nashville, Gay Street Christian Church. In 1857, he petitioned the city council for permission to hold night services, which was denied on the basis that they did not believe any good resulted from [Black] preaching and that Black preachers “could not explain the fundamental principles of Christianity.” (Republican Banner; May 29, 1857)

     Lord, have mercy.

     By the time of the Civil War, Lowery owned businesses worth $40,000, which he lost when the war ended. Despite the harassment and threatened exclusion of free Blacks from Tennessee by the state legislature, Lowery stayed and worked for the rights of Freedmen. He started a college, Tennessee Manual Labor University, near Murfreesboro, to help prepare freed Blacks for their new lives after Abolition. When the college needed funds and white churches refused to help, Gospel Advocate editor David Lipscomb used his influence to try to change their minds. Lipscomb wrote:

“Elder P. Lowery was long an approved teacher of the Gospel by the Church of Christ in Nashville. He has long been a free man; has, by industry and economy in days past, gained property; and so demenned [sic] himself as to command the respect and esteem of the community in Nashville, as his letters of endorsement attest.” (Gospel Advocate 10, no. 11; 12 March 1868. 256)

     While Lipscomb still had blind spots concerning race (in the same article he said he doubted that there was anyone more qualified “among his race” to operate a school), in a world where it was thought that no good could come of Black preaching his support of Lowery spoke volumes.

     Peter Lowery passed away in 1888. His obituary in the Gospel Advocate (Feb 15, 1888, p. 10), written by J. P. Grigg, read in part: 

“Bro. Lowery obeyed the gospel in his young days and had been a proclaimer of the gospel for 40 years. He was a good neighbor and devoted Christian. He lived a devoted member of the church from the day of his obedience until the day of his death. He died in a bright hope of a blessed immortality. I never saw any one who seemed to be more devoted to the Christian life than he. He was always found at church on Lord’s day when he was able. I do not remember of ever meeting him that he did not ask me how I was getting along spiritually and express his hopes of a brighter and better world than this.”  


     I thank God for the life of Peter Lowery because through him I’m reminded that those who have suffered in this life often have a much more vivid hope — a “bright hope” — of “a better world than this.” Lowery preached the good news of Jesus because he believed that it was nothing less than the redemption of a fallen creation in which he and his family could be enslaved and, even after Emancipation, treated as “less than” by those in power. He preached it because he was absolutely convinced that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was the power by which sin in the hearts of the white supremacists who mistreated him and his people, and the sin in his own heart, was finally overcome. 

     But I’m also reminded by Lowery that having such a hope doesn’t absolve us of responsibility to incrementally work in the name of Jesus to remake this world to look more and more like what we hope for. That’s why Lowery began a school in addition to planting churches: he knew freed Blacks needed to hear the gospel, but he also knew that if he listened to the gospel he had to help them gain opportunities and give them the resources they needed to seize them. Peter Lowery’s life teaches us that the gospel is about having life, and having it more abundantly.

      Peter’s son, Samuel, was also educated by Tolbert Fanning at Franklin College. By the age of 16 he was teaching school, and he was preaching at 19. After leaving Nashville due to the closure of black schools and violent threats against free blacks in 1856, he founded the Harrison Street Christian Church in Cincinnati and  served as an evangelist and church planter Canada, sent by the American Missionary Society.

     He returned to Nashville as a chaplain in the Union army during the occupation, and conducted school for soldiers. He worked with his father in advocating for the rights of freed Blacks. By 1875 he had studied and was practicing law in Huntsville, Alabama, where he founded another school, the Lowery Industrial Academy (which won first prize for its silk at the 1884 World’s Fair). Samuel Lowery has a place in history as the first African American to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court.

     Peter and Samuel Lowery are part of that “great cloud of witnesses” that should inspire us to get rid of whatever gets in the way of following Jesus, and “run with perseverance” the course he asks us to run.

     I’m thankful to know of the Lowerys. I hope you are too.