My Current Thoughts on Racial Justice and Reconciliation

Over the past week, we have seen some disturbing and unforgettable images. First, we saw the unnecessary death of George Floyd, a black man, literally killed by a police officer who used illegal means to control him by forcing him to remain on the ground with his knee on his neck for 9 minutes while other officers watched without stopping it. Floyd’s crime? Passing a $20 counterfeit bill. If I had been in his shoes there is little doubt that I would still be alive.

As the country was brought to the attention of this evil, many people began demanding justice, as they should. See, this isn’t the first time in recent history that a black man died at the hands of white policemen. And while the circumstances or legitimization of each preceding case may be in question, it’s undeniable that there has been a history of targeted enforcement on people of color. 

Let me be clear: racism throws away the biblical principle of imago dei, the image of God in ALL of us. Racism is a sin against all God’s people and God himself.

So over the past week, people have demanded that something has to change. And they took to the streets so their voices could be heard. Non-violent protesting has a long history in the Christian faith and in this country. Many martyrs of our faith in have been persecuted and then murdered, without raising a hand of defense. Ghandi, and then MLK Jr., took up non-violent protest to call out injustices in both India and the U.S. It became known as civil disobedience. In this country, in the 60s, it became a powerful tool to change the hearts and minds of Americans about the evils of racism and segregation in this country. 

Some are arguing during this time that things have never been better for POC in this country in regards to many metrics. And yet, we still see the effects of racism in many areas of our country. Like my friend, Dr. Stout, likes to say, “In the old days, you could tell who the white supremacists were by the white hoods on their heads. Now, they just hide in the larger public.” I think there’s no doubt that “Things are better!” But better. Isn’t. Good. Enough.

We have to remember where this sense of right and wrong is coming from. The outrage and cries of injustice arise out of our God-given, moral compass that’s found in being made in the image of God. Look, I know sin has marred all of creation and our culture has drifted far away from many Christian values. But the cry and awareness for racial justice isn’t one of those areas. That should encourage us.   

So what’s the solution? That’s a complex answer. That’s why I am often hesitant to speak on these subjects. I’m processing all of the information. I’m receiving and the information keeps changing and the images keep getting worse. We see thousands of peaceful protestors…& it just takes a few to ruin the message.

What we’ve been seeing most recently on the news is rioting and looting. The message of justice and racial reconciliation is getting drowned out by those who seek the opportunity to foment further division through violence. That’s not civil disobedience and it often causes a reflexive reaction that provokes white people into discounting the original reasons for protest and the questioning of the motives of those who seek change.

Let’s not conflate the peaceful protestors with the rioters. These are different groups with different agendas–one righteous and the other perverse. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. While righteous anger is of the Lord, uncontrolled fury is a tool of Satan. Rioting and looting have no place in the cause for justice. BUT, while we are quick to condemn looting and rioting, we also have to check our own attitude towards looting and rioting. How angry does that make US? Are we more angry about the original injustice of murder or of the destruction of property? Which makes us more uncomfortable?

Here’s the truth: 1) Our longing for justice and racial reconciliation is from God’s image in us. We cry out for a world that looks different and where Love reigns because we are not of this world.

2) The uncomfortable truth: it will never be perfect. As long as we live on earth there will be racism and other sins that confound us, especially those in our own lives. Maybe that’s why there is so much anger. We realize that we have been working on this as a nation for hundreds of years and we still aren’t there. So our reaction is heightened and when we aren’t guided by God’s spirit we say and do things that multiply the hurt, and injustice is paid with further injustice. The violence of the few drowns out the message of the many and ultimately mocks the principles of justice. It will never be perfect in this life. That’s why our souls long for a new earth and heaven.

3) There is hope. The Christian message of redemption isn’t simply about our salvation and getting to heaven. We believe that through the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit we are in the middle of a reclamation project. Through the blood of Jesus, God has reconciled to us through grace and by faith. The Holy Spirit is in the process, if we let Him, of changing us each day more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ act on the cross of redemption was the beginning of this reclamation project. Maybe a better word than reclamation is renovation. God has reclaimed us and this whole world. He’s renovating it heart by heart, to look more like his perfect son, Jesus. This renovation project has been going on for two thousand years! Demonstrably, there has been immense progress with much more to go. And one day it will end, and all things will be brought to its proper place.

But during this time it means that all of us are called to participate in this renovation project. It’s our job, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to change the way the world works. It will be painful and full of heartache as dealing with sin always is. But it’s also full of joy as we celebrate victories, small and large. We will be frustrated by those who think we are wrong and we will be hurt by those who seem to agree with us but then use means of change that we can’t agree with. But we must never stop trying. 

What’s the solution? I don’t have ALL the answers to that question. There are a few political things that should happen but I won’t comment on those here. The one thing in our immediate control, as people of faith, and the one thing God has commanded us to do, is to love our neighbor. Seek racial justice and reconciliation in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your school, on your team. My white friends, we simply have no idea what it’s like to walk in the shoes of those who are different from us. We just can’t. But because Jesus is our Lord, we must love all people in word and in deed. When we hear about acts of violence or discrimination or racial epithets, we can let them know we stand with them. When we witness those things, we must call out and seek to stop people from doing those things. 

Would you take time to pray today and this week, for our brothers and sisters in the African-American community? Pray that God would help them FEEL safe and that God would actually protect them from the effects of racism. Pray for the Holy Spirit to restrain sin against people, simply because of their color. Pray for justice to be done in both the George Floyd case, and other cases of violence in this country. Pray for our police officers, most of whom are trying to do their job to the best of their ability, that they would be protected during this time and would conduct themselves in ways that are honorable and protective of our wider communities. Pray that Jesus Christ would be honored and praised, for He is our Lord and Savior, conqueror of sin and death, and from whom we receive this divine inheritance as his adopted children, regardless of color.

Three Reasons We Don’t Care Enough for the World

Jesus called us to care and serve the world. Like the Priest and the Levite, we find it much easier to cross the road and avoid those hurting around us. Why are we so apathetic to those needs?

The volume of information we’re exposed to is overwhelming. For example, if you’re going through your social media feed at any given time, you might read about an earthquake in Asia, a cat in Iowa fell into a hole, a car bombing in the Middle East, your friend is doing a gofundme fundraiser for a 12-year-old that needs surgery, and somebody saw the face of Jesus in their French Toast. It’s difficult to care when there are so many things to care about. We’re exposed to tragedies all the time. It’s just another tragedy, another thing to be outraged about, another tornado, another bombing, and it’s so difficult to care.

We feel helpless to make a difference. The truth is many of us do care about what we see and we’d like to do something but we’re thinking, “Who am I? I’m only one person. How can I make a difference? Besides, I’m just trying to pass the class. I’m just trying to pay the bills and keep my job. I’m just trying to get my 2-year-old potty trained. Whatever it is, I really do care but I don’t think I can make that big of a difference.”

We’re blessed and cursed with comfort. We’re blessed with comfort in that most of us can order a pizza from our mobile device and have it delivered within thirty minutes. I talked to Alexa last week and ordered a pair of shoes. “Alexa, send me new dress shows.” She replied, “Based on your ordering preference, you might like these.” “Yes, Alexa.” Within two days, Amazon Prime will deliver them to my door. That’s amazing! You can binge watch your favorite show on Netflix but get grumpy when your wi-fi buffers. We’re blessed and cursed with comfort because what’s so difficult is the more comfortable our lives become, the more life tends to be about us. The more self-centered we are, the more self-focused we are. Comfort is like a drug. When we get a little bit of it, we want a little bit more of it and a little bit more of it. Befpore long, as Christians, we’re actually trying to leverage God as the god who gets us what we want. “I want to go to a church that makes me feel comfortable, where I don’t have to do too much, where they don’t make me feel guilty. I want a god who makes my headaches go away and makes my bank account go up. I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to suffer. God, I want you to do whatever it takes to make me more comfortable because we’re blessed and cursed with comfort. Life is all about me.”

How do we overcome this incredibly repulsive attitude of apathy? My two quick ideas are #1, Find something to be passionate about. One way to eliminate a general apathy in life is to be passionate about something, anything, a hobby, a pursuit, something that is bigger than just you and your own wants and your own stuff.

#2, a much bigger idea, think through the reality of what Jesus did and your identity in Christ. The realization of exactly how much Jesus loves us and the extent to which He demonstrated that, should shake any apathy out of us.

Fathers, Do not Embitter your Children

Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Tough verse to live up to sometimes. I know I’ve sometimes embittered my children because of my own selfishness, not because I was doing what was best for them. No one wants to be a “discourager” but rather an “encourager.” Older translations say, “exasperate your children or they may lose heart.” So when we frustrate our children to the point of bitterness then we are not being wise, loving parents. We need to learn to walk the line of love and truth, challenge and acceptance.

The Heart of Worship is Surrender

The heart of worship is surrender.

Romans 6:13 (TEV) Give yourselves to God…surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes.

Surrender has negative connotations because it sounds like we are “giving up” or have “lost.”

Three barriers that block our total surrender to God: fear, pride, and confusion.

We need to answer these three questions:

  1. Can I trust God? the more you realize how much God loves you, the easier surrender becomes. “Love casts out all fear.”
  2. Can I admit my limitations? We don’t want to admit we’re just creatures and not in real control.
  3. What does it really mean to surrender? it’s not passive acceptance but active sacrificing your own wishes and walk for God’s.

Prayer is Like a Ladder

Prayer is like a ladder, an ascent to God, step by step. This imagery can show us where prayer begins and to what heights it is capable of rising.

Step 1: Emergency prayer. Prayer commonly begins with the cry of escape. The lowest step on the ladder of the soul is the cry wrung from disaster or adversity.

Step 2: Confession. The next step of the ladder is the stage when prayer for outward help becomes a cry for deliverance from sin. Initially there is no thought of anything but the calamity which has befallen us. But slowly, as a person prays for help, there steals on him the strange conviction that he needs something deeper than assistance and that he is a sinner. So we cry out for a clean heart and right spirit.

Step 3: Request for personal virtue and grace. Deliverance is not everything if our walk is to be well-pleasing before God.  We must become something, something in the image of Christ Himself, full of patience and courage and control. This can only happen through grace.

Step 4: Real submission to God’s will.  We have to learn to get to the place where we can honestly trust God with the phrase, “Thy will be done.” This is the point at which we can have joy in prayer. Most people pray out of duty and not joy. Joy can’t be found in prayer if we come to God demanding our own way. Joy is born when we come to God wanting nothing but God and His ways

What Characterizes Being Filled With the Spirit?

Ephesians 5:18b says that we need to be filled with the Spirit.  How do we know if we are?

1-2. Speaking and Singing (Ephesians 5:19) within the context of worship.  But Paul isn’t just talking about vertical “God praise.”  It should be to one another.  There is a horizontal dimension to worship.  In praising God we consciously should be directing our worship so it edifies others.  Of course our hearts should be directed to the Lord (5:19b) and not in any attitude of “performance.”

3. Giving thanks (5:20).  Thanksgiving is a natural outflow of the Spirit-filled life.

4. Submitting (5:21). Despite the “break” in most translations, grammatically this fits with the previous section.  In submitting ourselves for the good of others, our crucified and risen Savior shines powerfully through us and we are filled with His Spirit.

The Most Important Question We Can Ask of the Bible

The most important question we can ask of a biblical text is not, “What does this mean?” but “What can I obey?” A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to the text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies.

Soren Kierkegaard said,

The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.

15 Questions from I Corinthians 13 (Love Chapter) For Self-Evaluation

Most people have heard 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings and maybe a sermon at church.  But it’s also a great parameter to assess our own “love” for others.

#1 – “Love Is Patient” – Am I giving others the same room to make mistakes as I want them to give me?

#2 – “Love Is Kind” – Do the people that I spend time with actually like being around me?

#3 – “It Does Not Envy” – Am I automatically jealous of anyone who has a great idea?  Do I rejoice when others are rejoicing or do I wish they would be struggling like me?

#4 – ‘It Does Not Boast” – Do I feel like I always need to remind people of my previous victories?  (If we are obsessed with the past, then we’re not advancing towards the future!)

#5 – “It Is Not Proud” – Do I feel that I am the only one that has all of the answers?

#6 – “It Is Not Rude” – How am I treating those who serve me?  Do I treat the waiter/waitress, customer service rep., and others with the respect I would show my own family?

#7 – “It Is Not Self Seeking” – Who is this about–really?

#8 – “It Is Not Easily Angered” – Are people afraid to bring me information that is true and accurate because they know I will lose my mind and begin to yell?  (Don’t shoot the mailman!)

#9 – “It Keeps No Record of Wrongs” – Do I remind people of their past failures or encourage them in their current condition?

#10 – “Love Does Not Delight in Evil but Rejoices in the Truth” – Can people be honest and open with me?

#11 – “It Always Protects” – Do I have the back of my co-workers and friends?  It’s very discouraging to have a relationship with someone who demands loyalty but will not extend it.

#12 – “Always Trusts” – Do I believe others (the staff at church and my wife at home) can make day-to-day decisions without my input?

#13 – “Always Hopes” – Do I always automatically assume the worst or the best about people?

#14 – “”Always Perseveres” – Am I quick to give up on people after they make one mistake, or am I willing to teach them through it?

#15 – “Love Never Fails” – Am I failing others?  Or am I loving them?

Four Signs of Weak Faith

4 Signs of weak faith…

  1. Demanding visible proof (John 4:48). We desire to see and yet we may be deceived through sight more readily than through almost any other sense. Faith based upon sight is weak. “The devils believe and tremble (James 2:19).” It is really unbelief which demands visible proof (John 20:25, 29). People who will not hear God as He speaks through the Bible will not hear Him when He speaks through miracles.
  2. Driven to God only by overwhelming need. Now, such faith is better than no faith, but it is not so good as the faith that draws us to God by gratitude and love. It is better to be driven than not to come at all; it is still better to be drawn.
  3. While it prays it dictates to God. Strong faith prays out of humility which allows God to guide and dictate rather than the folly of thinking vice versa. Those of weak faith have the impression that they could do better than the Lord, if THEY had the whole thing in hand.
  4. Impatience with God.  It is comforting to know that Jesus honors even faith like this. Though impatient and dictatorial, driven by need and seeking visible evidence, He answers the prayer. He pities our weakness. The fire of trust doe not blaze up; He sees more of the smoke of impatience and unbelief than of faith, but He will not allow the sparks to be trampled. Indeed, He fans the sparks into a flame.

 

How To Recognize the “Children of God”

First, the children of God are known by their actions:

  1. They love each other (1 John 4:7).
  2. They believe in Jesus (1 John 5:1).
  3. They love God and keep his commands (1 John 5:2).

As a result, children of God receive certain blessings:

  1. We have victory over the world (1 John 5:4).
  2. We have an intimacy with the Father by which we can call him “Abba” (Romans 8:15).
  3. We become fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).
  4. We await future blessings when Jesus returns (Romans 8:19-21).

So…are you a child of God?  How have you been blessed as a result?