Monthly Archives: March 2016

Because He Lives

This past week I felt utterly bombarded by bad news. Part of this is because of my own failure to disconnect from electronic media. But part of it is that we just live in a very dark, hostile, and broken world. It’s scary out there. It can be easy to believe that the world is spiraling out of control.

But today is a day to celebrate the day that Jesus rose from the dead! And that day changed everything. It changed everything for the world. It changes everything for us.

I’m reminded of the words of the old hymn “Because He Lives”. The chorus goes like this:

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

From here we could go on and on:

Because he lives death is not the end.

Because he lives the powers of evil have been disarmed.

Because he lives I know that not only can God break into history, but He has in a decisive way.

Because he lives no matter who has power for now on earth, Jesus sits on the throne of heaven.

Because he lives I know that since, in what looked to be a moment of utter defeat, God gained the ultimate victory, no situation can be too bleak that God cannot show his power.

Because he lives I know Jesus is the righteous judge who brings perfect justice in the end.

Because he lives I have the power to live a life pleasing to God.

Because he lives I am free from the slavery of sin and the fear of death.

Because he lives one day I will live in a resurrected and incorruptible body.

Because he lives I can trust God when he says that there will be a time of “no more crying, no more tears.”

Because he lives I know that God is able to transform all of creation.

Because he lives I know that history, in all its bleakness and decay, will have a happy ending for those who trust in the one who died and rose again.

Because he lives… because in time and space the God-man Jesus who was really dead, really came to life… because this historical reality is attested to by those who, with nothing to gain, gave up their lives to tell what they had seen and heard… because he lives, I know that he really is the Resurrection and the Life and the right now, in him, we experience the power of the resurrection, and that in the future we will experience it again, and then without the devastation of sin and the sorrow of death!

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Healing the wounds of racism through Jesus and His Church: Notes from the Church Ministries Conference

Last weekend I attended the annual Church Ministries Conference and Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. One of the workshops I attended was called “Healing the wounds of racism through Jesus and His Church.” Here are the notes that I took:

The Problem

Our culture is divided by race. This division is fueled by a politicization of racial issues. There are people on the Left and on the Right that profit from this exploiting this tension and from perpetuating false narratives that feed their followers already entrenched views of the world. The result is that divisions along racial and political lines only deepen. We begin to view race through a political lens and, in doing so, adopt all the false narratives from those who profit off of the anger that is stirred up.

The church should be well situated to bring peace and reconciliation to this issue but is itself divided by race. Sunday mornings are still one of the most segregated times of the week. We are not immune from the cultural and political divide facing our nation. We are also more likely to view racial issues through the lens of politics rather than through the lens of the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

Definitions: Racism and White Privilege

These were the definitions provided by the presenters:

Racism (older definition): A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race: racial prejudice or discrimination.

Racism (newer definition): Ethnic prejudice plus Power.

The strength of the older definition is that it describes racism on personal terms. Racism is an issue of the heart. The problem is that it doesn’t address the “systematic” nature of racism.

The strength of the newer definition is that is gets at the systematic/power dynamics involved in racism though it might excuse the wrong heart attitude of the “weak.” This newer definition does not mean that minority groups could not exhibit racism. “Power” can come from different sources. It could come from political power, economic power, or physical violence, none of which are necessarily exclusive to a “majority” group.

Systematic/structural racism is often something ignored particularly by White America. This has something to do with our highly individualistic view of sin.  We tend to view sin only at the individual level. But sin can become entrenched in culture in a way that is more than a mere heart problem. Abortion is an example of systematic sin. It has become embedded in our culture as something acceptable and is protected by a series of laws and court rulings. Those who defend it have a whole new language which serves to gloss over the reality of what it really is.

In some places racism still exists at this structural and systematic level. The presenter described two different police forces to illustrate the role of power in racism. In both police forces about 1% of the police officers were actively discriminatory. In city A those “bad apples” were disciplined by those in power. In city B those police officers were protected by those in power. That power dynamic made the minority residents of city B feel the effects of racism far more acutely since those officers who harassed them were able to continue to do so without impunity.

We need to understand the dynamics between people and systems as it relates to the totality of the Fall. Racism is a condition that exists within a person. People inhabit “systems” (politics, business, religious organization, etc.). Those people affect systems and systems, in turn, affect people.

All this brings me to the next definition: White Privilege

“White Privilege” is one of those loaded terms. It means different things to different people and it carries a lot of baggage. Here is the definition provided at the workshop:

“White privilege is a measureable thing. It’s far too easy to dismiss the perceived experiences of a person of color so studies have demonstrated that it is an objective, measureable reality as much as it is a subjective reality. Numerous examples abound. A white man at a used car dealer will be offered a price that is an average of $200 lower than the black man who checked it out earlier that morning. White children aged 12-17 are more likely to use and sell drugs than black children 12-17, yet black children are about twice as likely to be prosecuted for it. When identical resumes are sent to business with the only difference being one has a stereotypically white sounding name and the other has a stereotypically black sounding name, the white resume is far more likely to get a call back than the black sounding name…”

White privilege doesn’t mean that “a white man was hired because he was white.” It doesn’t mean that all white people are privileged. There are many factors that cross racial bounds (class, family structure, education, etc.) that give or take privilege. Nor (in the view of the presenters) is white privilege a problem. The problem is that people of color are not given the same privileges, statistically speaking.

Solution

The presenters provided three steps for healing the wounds of racism:

Admit that there is a problem. For whites this means admitting systematic and cultural racism as well as personal fears. For minorities this means being aware that anger, misplaced blame (not every issue is a racial issue), and self-doubt need to be addressed.

Submit to God and to one another. For whites this means actively listening and empowering minorities. For minorities this means demonstrating love, forgiveness, and patience with whites who find this hard to understand.

Commit to building bridges across racial boundaries. This means building relationships, being sensitive to one another, recognizing our interdependence, sacrificing preferences for the sake of the other, and embracing the God-given ministry of reconciliation.

The Power of the Gospel

All of this is possible through the power of the gospel. In Christ God has formed one new body of people, the Church. He has made those who were previously enemies into friends through the cross. He has broken down the dividing wall. I pray that the church will be willing to see racial issues through this theological lens, and not just adopt the lens of whatever political party they are affiliated with.

The Gospel for the Angry

I need to repent.

I need to repent of the way I have viewed the world. I knew that just underneath the surface of society there was a seething anger, but I did not understand its extent. More than that I need to repent of how I have viewed people, of how I have viewed the angry, the malcontent, and those who feel betrayed. I have feared instead of loved. I have often thought about what the gospel says about the angry but I have failed to think through what it says to them. I have judged unfairly.

Just as the gospel is good news for the broken and the wounded, it is also the good news for those who are frustrated and angry. It is good news for angry liberals and angry conservatives. It is good news for protestors. It is good news for those who comment on news articles. It is good news for those who are loud in their anger and good news for those who remain silent. It is good news for those who are angry because of some personal slight and good news for those who are angry because of what is happening in society. The good news of the gospel is good news for all – for all who will accept it.

What is the Gospel for the Angry?

Perhaps you are like me. I have nothing really to be angry about. Life is good. I need to be reminded that the good news is good for all, even for those with whom I find it hard to relate.

But perhaps you are angry because of your own personal circumstances or because of some injustice. I address the rest of this post to you.

First, I want to affirm that much of your anger might be justified. There is a righteous anger which is the response to injustice in the world. And there is plenty of injustice to be angry about. This is a broken and sinful world and we are all victims, to some degree or another, of that sin. You may say, “I have a right to be angry” and you are probably correct. I want to affirm that. God becomes angry at sin. Jesus overturned the tables in the temple. Anger is often justified.

Second, though, I am obliged to tell you that you need to repent. You need to repent because, while it’s true that you are a victim of injustice in the world, you are also a perpetrator. If you are willing to be honest you will see this is true. It’s true for you and it’s true for me. Your anger is not always justified nor is it always rightly directed. Your eyes are not clear when they judge. Your anger is not the same as God’s. He is holy. You are not. You may be justified in your anger but you take it too far. It becomes hatred and contempt. It is turned on the innocent instead of the guilty. It is used to justify all kinds of evil, either public or private. The gospel is only good news to the angry for those who are willing to repent.

Third, Jesus has come to heal the anger in your heart. How does he do it? He entered into the broken and unjust world. He was ridiculed and scorned. He was humiliated. He experienced the greatest single case of injustice the world has ever faced. He was nailed to a cross. And in all this he did not sin. He was filled with zeal when it came to the house of the Lord but when he himself was dying on the cross he exhibited only love, mercy, and deep sadness. He took the brunt of the injustice of the world head on.

But he did more than that. He also took on himself the righteous anger of God. He took our sin, our rage, our hatred, our contempt for God and for our fellow man. In doing so he also took on the wrath of God. Our sin was punished in Jesus and the glorious healing of God became available to us. We lay hold of that healing when we turn to Jesus in faith. When we do so, he promises to forgive our sins, but not only that, but to make for us new and softer hearts.

Fourth, Jesus came to heal the injustice in the world. He is healing the injustice in the world through the people who have come to him. If you are a believer in Jesus this is your ministry, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. When the church does this we become a people who bring healing to the world.

But the healing we bring as the people of God is simply a foretaste, a tiny picture, of the justice and healing which God will bring when he returns. On that day we will no longer have any reason to be angry because all wrongs, personal or societal, will be done away with.

Are you angry? Maybe you are justifiably so. God offers you hope. Turn to him.