the sin of racism and the gospel

February is Black History Month. I met an African American lady who is past 100 years of age at the nursing home I visit on Sundays. I would like to visit her and listen to what she might want to say about her own experience. And as a young girl, she certainly would have known a few who actually were slaves in the Old South.

Of course the ending of slavery, as great as that was, was not at all the end of racism as is all too known by history. The Jim Crow laws were experienced by many who are still alive (I was around 9 years of age, when they ended). Strict segregation from the large things, including churches and schools, down to the smallest things like restrooms and drinking fountains was strictly enforced in the South. And blacks who fleed to the north, if anything found just as strict a segregation in practice, if not overtly, still definitely in place in private and community practice and I think government policy. The most segregated places in recent decades have been in the north.

I’m sure this next part would be criticized by some, and labeled liberal or whatever, but the United States is far from being a Christian nation when one considers that humans were stolen and made slaves, looked at as less than the whites who enslaved them. Of course I’m sure there were examples of slave owners who mistakenly saw the practice as parallel to the practice of slavery in the Bible, which actually was indentured and temporary, or at least was quite different as a rule, in Bible times. The idea that we have to get back to some utopian idea of early Christian America is pure fiction in my opinion, and at best is not without problems.

The gospel is the one solution that helps everyone overcome the sin of racism. Of course there is a tendency in the best within humanity made in the image of God to see through the wrong of racism, and call it what it is. But to think that most of us haven’t struggled with prejudice toward each other in some way, is surely to live in denial of the truth.

In Jesus, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, we can say neither black nor white: we indeed are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). And yet our rich diversity is not lost, as we see in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. In the end, all cultures of humanity worship together, and are enriched by each other. We worship the God who through the Cross brings forgiveness and healing, and indeed has broken down the hatred existing between various peoples. Through the cross there is complete reconciliation to God and to each other. All in and through Jesus.

And so let us endeavor in some seemingly small way as a first step, if we haven’t done so already, to reach out in listening and learning from a black sister or brother. Let’s be open to the reality that racism is still very much alive even in the least expected places, sadly including Christian institutions. Most all of us need to repent. Let’s pray that an essential part of our witness of the gospel, needed just as much as any other part, will be fulfilled: how in Christ not only do the old divisions end, but how we’re one family in him. We should at least pray that this will be seen in the demographics of our churches, including the leadership.

The needed change comes through the grace and kingdom of God which is present with us now in and through Jesus, and the good news in him.

in Jesus we are invited to intimacy and enthronement with him

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire,so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3:14-22

We may live in a Laodicean kind of age, not at all related to any dispensational scheme, but with something of the kind of Christianity we see in the Laodicean church of old. They were well off and satisfied with their lives, even as they named the name of Christ. But Jesus told them that there was something vitally missing. It wasn’t necessarily that they lacked a personal relationship with Jesus altogether, though it does seem weak at best. They are told that they are loved by God, and therefore being disciplined, at least that is intimated.

About a personal relationship with Jesus. I know that is bashed in some quarters of the church, but even if it might be overemphasized by some, while other matters of importance which are also central to the faith are largely ignored, it still, I say, is important. We have to keep reading scripture to really see if that’s the case, but I think a fair reading of the Final, New Testament will amply bring that out.

Yes, Jesus is on the outside knocking, so to speak. He wants a close fellowship, or communion with us. That is among other things which is at the heart of the faith, and in a way, we might say, at the heartbeat of it all.

And the idea that we’re not in a battle, and that it should all go easy if we’re in the Spirit is simply not a matter of fact either in reality, or in the pages of the Bible, including the New Testament. We are, and to realize that, we can say, is half the battle. Of course being “in the Spirit” will help us deal with the hard places, but it is no less a battle, of course spiritual in nature.

And what we’re promised if we’re victorious in and through Jesus is shocking and mind boggling. We are told that we’ll end up sitting with Jesus on his throne, even as Jesus after his victory sat with his Father on his throne. I can just imagine millions upon millions upon millions getting to take their turn seated with Jesus on his throne, and in the Spirit somehow always seated with Jesus on his throne. It’s interesting that even now we are seated with the ascended Christ, who is at the right hand of God, enthroned with the Father; that we are seated with him positionally, and perhaps by the Spirit there (Ephesians 1-2).

And so a close intimacy in knowing Jesus seems tied to being victorious in him in this life, so that in the end we are honored with him in and through him. As long as we’re in this present life, both are of vital importance.

…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8

 

the gospel breaks the color barrier

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

Maybe my biggest disappointment with the church as I’ve seen it for the most part, with notable exceptions, is just how monochrome, or segregated most churches are on any given Sunday. It is understandable, yet sad at the same time, in my view. God’s grace covers us, and there’s a history behind it. And it’s not like churches who are white or black want to be segregated. There are different cultures involved, and people are at home in different places.

But the gospel is meant to bring together those who likely would never do so apart from it. What is true concerning Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God as one body (Ephesians 2:11-22) is also true of all peoples, bringing for example Palestinians and Jews together through the cross, through Jesus’s death, along with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, everyone. The reconciliation to God extends no less to each other through the good news in Jesus, and the Spirit who makes us one in him.

As a witness to the gospel, and the saving power it brings, we need to show the world how we can work through the barriers, whatever they may be. How our unity in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the love of God in Jesus supercedes all distinctions, breaks down all animosities and hostilities, through Christ’s death, and our repentance and faith, and brings the promised healing and shalom. This new world is now present through Christ in his body the church. As a witness to the world, and as part of the salvation we ourselves need, in and through Jesus.

the prayer of examen during difficult times

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4

I have been frankly unhappy with the continued tacit and even open endorsement of the Republican nominee’s candidacy for the US Presidency by some Christian leaders. And I’ve accepted as prudent to prayerfully consider recommendations from other Christian leaders to vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party. And Facebook and the media has been caught up in a firestorm.

All of this has given me pause. I’m left wondering, not so much just what we’re caught up in, and where it is going, though considerations over such matters are good, but where my heart and mind is in all of this. Is Jesus really central in this deliberation and exercise of mine? And just what does my reactions to what is going on in the American political scene reveal about me that is not altogether good?

I can’t dig this up myself, even though I need to be attentive to it. I need God’s help, indeed his light to shine on my darkness, so as to reveal what needs confessed, forgiven and cleansed. Of course this is not a once for all exercise, but ongoing. And we need to remember that God’s revelation to us of our darkness is always ultimately uplifting to us, for our good, and to help us be his witnesses.

This is not to put myself or anyone else on some guilt trip. But it provides an occasion and pushes us to come before God in prayer, and ask him to reveal to us anything that is offensive and not pleasing to him. In the tradition of the church what has been called the prayer of examen. And that is always a good thing.

And so that is what I’m hoping to do, as I meditate on scripture and go about my work today (and beyond). Better yet would be to spend some time alone in quietness before God, with this petition and question on our hearts and lips. In the words of the psalmist:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

the authenticity we need

Authenticity is very much a staple word nowadays. Being “real” is practically valued above most anything else. And if understood correctly, that thought is helpful. But if not understood correctly, it is not.

What is unhelpful today is a kind of wearing one’s emotions on one’s sleeve approach in which what we ourselves feel and think about something is all that matters. This goes along with the postmodern mood which is a part of our culture. It’s not like what we feel and think doesn’t matter, that’s not the point at all. In fact, before God, and before any good counselor who hopefully is also a true friend, it is good to trust to the point where one can tell all without fear of being condemned, or looked down on and rejected. This is vitally important, and precisely where Job’s friends failed. The kind of authenticity which bears all before God, and appropriately confesses sin to God and to others is highly valued in scripture. “A broken and contrite heart, God does not despise.”

But we in Jesus must not stop with that aspect of authenticity, though neither should we abandon it. The kind of authenticity we need is expressed by James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1

The kind of authenticity pressed for here is a life that is not only vulnerable by being open before God, and when appropriate, before others. But a heart sincere and set in trying to be true by grace to living in accord with God’s word. An authenticity in being genuine not only in regard to who we actually are, without pretense, but also a genuineness in seeking to see our lives and God’s revealed will in scripture and in Jesus being brought closer and closer together.

Of course that’s a lifelong process, involving an ongoing brokenness and sorrow of heart over too often falling short. Yet also seeing the Spirit help us to actually grow more and more into Jesus’s likeness to a significant extent by taking in the word, and letting it expose us, then doing something about it.

The authenticity in Jesus that is desirable is one that’s committed to being conformed to the truth of God’s word, and the truth that is in Jesus, whatever the cost, without imagining that one will arrive in this life. And so an important part of that authenticity is an ongoing brokenness before God. Even as we find ourselves in some ways, enough to be encouraged, growing closer to heart and life conformity to God’s will in Jesus.

taking pains to be (and remain) reconciled

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5

There are times which try people’s souls. And events as in what people do and fail to do, including the words said. Most of the time we can look past the errors of others, even as we hope they look past our own mistakes and missteps. There are times when for a number of reasons we should hold someone accountable. Jesus said that if a brother or sister sins against you, but repents, we should forgive them, not just the seven times spoken by Peter in his question, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven), a hyperbole meaning always. Jesus did say that if our brother or sister sins, we should rebuke them, and if they repent, we should forgive them. So there is an accountability needed which isn’t easy on either side. It’s so much easier to let a lot of things go which actually ought to be addressed. On the other hand, love does cover over a multitude of sins, so there are plenty of things we can let go of, and simply pray about, or not take personally, perhaps seeing past the words to what is really going on in a person’s heart, their struggle. Of course we need wisdom and plenty of it. I get into trouble if I act too much on my own instead of seeking the wisdom from God that I need.

We need to learn to be supersensitive in the right way, by the Spirit toward the other in the way of Jesus in discerning what we should and should not do. And that would include what thoughts we should entertain, and what other thoughts we should summarily dismiss. If we can learn to do that, or to the extent that we can, we’ll avoid major headaches and heartaches, since the Lord won’t let us off the hook over broken or damaged relationships. Of course the peace we’re told to pursue in scripture does not necessarily mean a reconciliation with an offending or offended party, who themselves want no part of a healthy and full reconciliation. In some cases that will be completely impossible. We need discernment in wisdom in these cases, to know what lines to draw, and where to draw them. But by and large there are matters we’ll need to address in regard to others who are offended (or have offended). We do well to do so in a manner which is not about justifying ourselves, but about getting at both the truth and love, together. As we prayerfully attempt to do so, the Lord can honor and bless even our stumbling, halting, yet sincere effort and follow through to address a matter of actual high importance to him, which therefore should be highly important to us. While seeking to avoid such problems in the future when possible. In our life together, the common life in Jesus.

finding root problems, or better solutions

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,
    but one who has insight draws them out.

Proverbs 20:5

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

Life might sometimes bring out both the best and the worst in us. Surely at times, God lets us be encouraged, as God’s children, to be able to see something of the progress we’ve made in our spiritual journey in Christ. But at other times, this or that incident might bring out in us something that needs to be addressed as in exposed and healed, so that we can move on, having dealt with that problem as perhaps a besetting sin that needs to be confessed and repented of, so that hopefully we can get beyond that as far as our character formation in Christ goes. Not that such might never come back again.

This takes an openness before God and before others to see whatever is wrong in us exposed, and to find a better course, what really matters, beyond what we’ve clung to for dear life. In the end it is God’s will in the grace and truth of Jesus which really matters. We have to let go of what might be either not helpful in our own tendencies, as well as be open to what is best, what really matters.

For this to occur, we need nothing less than God’s wisdom, to receive such wisdom in answer to prayer (James 1:5), perhaps through the insight of a friend, or simply through our own struggle to understand. We look for truth, and we also look for the way, or a better way. This isn’t easy stuff we can slough through, or perhaps simply dismiss. We need to take seriously what sore spots and deficiencies in ourselves we find. And seek to address such with the truth of God’s word through the help of the Spirit. It ought to be a given, but it helps to have the ongoing mutual commitment of brothers and sisters in Jesus who live in a deep bond of trust and love, and therefore can be open to receiving and giving instruction or counsel when needed.

Part of what we’re to be about in our life in Christ.