racism and the church

Yesterday there was a most interesting discussion on Joshua Johnson’s show, 1A – Speak Freely, entitled, Big Tent Revival: Southern Baptists Challenge A Racist History. Racism is not an easy topic to broach for me as a white American Christian who has roots and fellowship in the evangelical movement. No one is free of the demon (literally, or I mean here, figuratively) of racism, it seems to me. We can’t just wash our hands in innocence and go on as if nothing has happened, or is happening. We need instead to listen to our African-American sisters and brothers, their story, and what they experience to this day. And that includes Christians right where I live in a conservative Christian belt.

I am grateful to be part of a ministry which is working on diversity and integration in the work force. To say the church hasn’t been involved in racism over the years, even within my lifetime, is to have a profound ignorance of history and culture. Whether or not we think all the complaints of racism today are just, we need to consider that many blacks, including Christians, believe that is the case. And we need to understand just how blind we are to what has been called “white privilege.” This is a sociological term, made political, as nearly everything is nowadays. But there’s no question that more is stacked against African-Americans in this nation, than any other ethnicity.

The gospel in Jesus brings together, and even unites those who otherwise would be enemies. It breaks down and destroys barriers. But it isn’t automatic. The faith requires faith which includes repentance and hard work over time to overcome the prejudices so deeply embedded and ingrained in our psyches. We naturally like to be around people who think, act, and like the same things we do. And who don’t shake up the status quo. But the gospel opens us up to something different. The salvation in Jesus is as big as creation, not only about the individual person, but about all of life. Ultimately to fill all things when Jesus returns, but now to be present and at work in the church. In and through Jesus.

an attitude grounded in faith

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land,  for we can certainly do it.”

Numbers 13

Chuck Swindoll is definitely one of my all time favorite evangelical preachers and writers. A breath of fresh air. Here is something he wrote which speaks needed wisdom to me:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. … The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.

more

One thing we can be certain of (click the link, “more”), we will face problems and adversity. That is a given. What isn’t certain is our response to them. Will we bail out? Will we endeavor to face them feeling overwhelmed and in the end completely worn out, so that we barely have enough to complete the task, or we do so gnashing our teeth in the process? Or do we acknowledge the reality, yet persist in the faith that God will be present, and will fulfill his promises to us in Jesus?

All Scripture is written for us (Romans 15:4). The account in Judges is challenging. Of the fourteen spies Moses sent in to give a report on the land, only Joshua and Caleb had faith in God and God’s word. The inhabitants there looked formidable, but their response was not to give into their fears, but press forward, and take the land, since God had both promised and commanded it.

What about us? What about me? Am I allowing myself to live overwhelmed over everything at hand, along with other looming issues, so that there’s barely enough strength, if that, to get through the course of a day? Or am I trusting in the God who fulfills all his promises to his people in and through Jesus, so that my main concern is holding on to faith, and being faithful?

Attitude. Not about believing in myself, but believing in the God who calls us, sends us, and equips us for the mission he gives us in and through Jesus.

what keeps us going

There are many ways to become discouraged, and to essentially quit. Fear paralyzes and debilitates. Feeling overwhelmed over difficult challenges in life in which there is some inevitable stumbling. Or not measuring up to some self-imposed standard which one may have imbibed through their upbringing, experiences, ideas floating around, or a combination of a number of factors.

What keeps me going is the faith and hope and love in Jesus. To boil it down, for me, the written word and the Word himself, Jesus. I accept something of the Real Presence in Holy Communion, but I believe something of that is given to us in scripture, as well. So whether I feel like it or not, and I might say especially when I don’t feel like it, I keep going back to scripture, and seek to read it all in the light of Jesus who brings us into the life of God.

For me this isn’t a nice thing I do, or something I find enjoyable so that I do it, though there’s some truth in both. For me it’s a matter of life and death. I have to do this, but I want to want to do it as well. My want is good enough for a number of reasons, but essentially so because of God’s grace, that I just keep on doing it. When I wane in doing so, it’s not long until I feel and see the consequences.

In this is a matter of not just surviving, but in Jesus experiencing a sense of thriving. It seems like faith is always on that edge, the precipice of on the one hand falling into the abyss, though for us in Jesus, underneath are the everlasting arms. And on the other hand, finding ourselves in a kind of paradise right in the midst of a broken down world. That is known even in what can be the aloneness of life. I remember when Paul said that everyone had abandoned him, but that the Lord stood with him so that the proclamation of the gospel would go forward. God’s presence should be even more palpable, or perhaps better put, steadily manifest and tangible amongst God’s people, those in Jesus in his body, the church.

So for me, I carry on for a number of reasons I’m sure, all through God’s grace and working in Jesus. But essentially due to the written word which leads us to the Word, Jesus, Jesus actually somehow mediating that word to us through his fulfillment of it, all of this in and through the Spirit. That last sentence is breaking boundaries I ordinarily don’t believe in crossing. I am moving into what is too high for me, too much to understand. Mystery. Yet we know that it’s both the word then the Word, and the Word then the word. All of this, of course, in and through Jesus.

is God all we need? yes and no

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Genesis 2

It is a common thought in Christian circles that God is all we need. That contains truth, but doesn’t play out well in real life. If one is referring to God as the Source of all things, and the actual Life in whom everything else is somehow meant to live, then yes, God is all we need, and all anything else in creation needs. And add to that God’s provision for all. As we read somewhere in the psalms, the eyes of all look to God, and he provides for their needs (a paraphrase).

But God has made it so that within this God-life so to speak, the ideal life of which humans fall short of, there are needs met by something other than God. Life in the old creation is not the life to come of the new creation in Christ ultimately enveloped by the Triune God. But it is nevertheless dependent on the God who made it. God is still present everywhere and upholds all things in every way. Yet within this sphere humans need food and water, shelter, and as the text above makes clear, other humans. At least they’re better off in relationship to each other. If God was all they need the way it is told here and there, this would not be the case.

In the new creation beginning now in Christ, we still need each other. The body of Christ is a good picture of that. We are incomplete without each other.

And even in the fullness of the new creation to come when heaven and earth are made one at Christ’s return there will still be life grounded in a certain reality in which humanity is fulfilled in a certain setting. What is true now will most likely reach its perfect fulfillment later, except those aspects of creation which are only part of the old creation, whatever they may be. That would include the necessity of food and drink to remain alive. In that immortal state in and through Christ, though it’s apparent we’ll be partaking of food and drink, such will not be needed to survive. We are beginning to touch on areas not covered in scripture, and which are certainly beyond us, so it’s best to stop at that, at least for me here, anyhow.

Everything good comes from God. Part of the true way in which God is all we need. In and through Jesus.

the strongman is weak

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13

This could end up being one of those few posts I delete for whatever reason. But I want to say upfront that something of the very plague of thinking “might makes right” is endemic in our culture, as it was in  Paul’s day. It was a lot about a superior wisdom then to which the cross was pure folly. But make no mistake about it, to the Romans strength and power was also a first order value, the very breath of their existence, and in their minds at least helping them establish their value in the world. And ironically, one could make the case that this Roman grip in its strength, and extensiveness helped immensely in the spread of the gospel.

Give me a person who is weak in Jesus, depending on him, and I’ll see a person whose strength is ultimately in God. Give me a person who is strong in themselves, and depends on no one, and I’ll see a person whose strength is destined to fail, since it’s only in themselves. I realize life can be more complicated than this. We have no further to look than Proverbs to realize that, along with the rest of the Bible, and then some reflection on life itself.

But ultimately, when you get right down to the heart of existence, you have to find your strength in God, and you do that, paradoxically through finding it in the weakness of the crucified Jesus, in whom we both die and live, in resurrection power and life. In the strength which is God’s in Jesus given to us by the Spirit for each other and the world.

the Bible for the real world as it is and our experience in it

Experience can be downplayed by ivory tower thinkers who don’t seem to live in a real world (though they do), but it is where we live. On the other hand, experience can become overplayed, so that it is our one focus, and even somehow mysteriously determines ethics.

The Bible strikes a wonderful balance in taking in all of life just as it is. The material, intellectual, social, even psychological, and yes, spiritual spheres. There’s room in the Bible for all kinds of people, really every kind you can think of, and with all the problems we each carry with us, some with quite special and at times even vexing issues, at least to some.

The Bible is a complex book because it is about real life, life where we live, even the life of the entire world. It was written in a different time and setting, but carries over into every time and setting with some work, and at least prayer and thought.

The Bible was written for experience no less, for real life, for life where we live. It is about the life God created, and the new eternal life which God offers in Jesus. The light which lightens every person coming into the world, even if they haven’t heard of Jesus (John 1). The light for life, for living in the real world, in and through Jesus.

The Bible is written for a real world, and for all of us right where we live. God speaks to us through it, and in other ways as well, as we will see when we begin to turn its pages. Don’t read it hastily, let it sink in. The whole book is important, but if you’ve never read it before, you might want to begin in the gospel according to Mark, and then John’s gospel account. It’s good to read both testaments at the same time, the First/Old Testament beginning with Genesis, and the Final/New Testament beginning with Matthew.

To keep myself on track in the way of Jesus certainly by God’s grace, I am in the word, in scripture, in the Bible daily and throughout the day. I try to read (or one can listen to) larger portions, and chew on, as in meditate or ponder on smaller bits. And it’s important to converse with others about it, like Discover the Word so aptly and helpfully does. And we need the church in its proclamation, teaching and witness to scripture, which ultimately testifies to Jesus himself, and the good news in him.

Life was meant for living in a real world, and the Bible is meant to help us find our way in the Way himself, Jesus, in the way we were created to live. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss out.

the blessedness of unity and the kind of unity that is blessed

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

God seems to put a priority on unity. In Jesus’s high priestly prayer of John 17, that is front and center in his petition for all believers, that God’s people would be one and be perfectly united, even as he and the Father are.

This begs the question just what kind of unity we’re talking about, the answer being self evident already, and especially so when we consider our Lord’s prayer in John 17, along with the context of Psalm 133. Unity is not merely for unity’s sake, as good as that may be. That can definitely be dangerous as well, in a world in which deception and following the crowd, or simply keeping in step with custom is either sacrosanct, or else expected, or at the very least what helps a person fit in and not stand out like a sore thumb.

There is a unity that God brings his people into through Christ, and which God blesses, and is indeed delighted in, and in which we should delight. But it’s not a unity of this world, let’s say some political unity, whether Democratic or Republican, or whatever it might be. Probably many of us are united in things like that, maybe not. But that’s not the unity referred to here. In fact many of the unions of this world are broken down, and shown to be suspect, I think now of such things as reactions to evil which may not be good, and may even end up evil themselves. We have to beware of the human tendency to unite in a way that ends up being in opposition to God, not in harmony with the unity of God, and what God is bringing about in and through Christ.

Only through the gospel, the good news in Jesus, can we enter into this blessed unity of God. This is a Jesus thing. But just because we have entered into it, doesn’t mean that it’s automatic, and we can coast from there. Ephesians 4 makes it clear that our oneness is evident and rooted in a number of ways: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. But we’re told in that exact same passage to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are one body already. We’re to live out what we already are in Christ. And scripture makes it clear that this is an important and even vital part of our witness to the world.

We are already one in Christ. We’re to live that out, through all the complexitites and different circumstances and perspectives we find ourselves in. We each have our part in this in working toward a harmonious whole, which is both a witness to the world of the truth of the gospel, but is also central to who we are and what God is making us to be in and through Jesus.