Thursday, August 17, 2017

Practical Suggestions for Redemptive Ethnic Unity

In light of the recent incident in Charlottesville I wanted to follow up on a friend’s request for a few suggestions concerning the pursuit of redemptive ethnic unity. I define redemptive ethnic unity as the tangible unity God’s people are called to experience and enjoy in the local church. This isn’t exhaustive as each point could be developed further. Hopefully, it will provide a good starting point for those who wish to pursue the authentic unity of God’s people.
1. Begin by asking yourself the following question: Does the church I serve need people from various ethnic groups to demonstrate a biblical, relevant witness to my community, my fellow church members and our children?
2. Remember this is a gospel issue since it's God's express will to bring people from different ethnic groups into one multi-ethnic worshiping community called the church. (Gen. 12:3; 18:18-19; Ps. 72:8-11; Isa. 2:1-5; Jer. 3:15-17; John 10:16; Ch. 17; Acts 2; Eph. 2:11-3:21; Rev. 7)
3. Pray about these things consistently. Through prayer God does some miraculous things in the human heart.
4. Cultivate the practice of thinking redemptively instead of ideologically. For example, redemptive thinking leads us to consider our responsibility to pursue unity across ethnic lines. Ideological thinking can lead to complacency with the status quo. Redemptive thinking emphasizes biblical virtues like sacrifice, love, humility, kindness and compassion. Ideological thinking stresses American virtues like individual rights, fairness, merit and tolerance.
5. Pray about working toward more ethnic unity within your local church. It can do little good and seem hypocritical for us to say that 'all we need is the gospel' if the gospel's power can't begin to reflect God's will in this area within our churches.
6. Read some insightful books on the topic such as Free at Last? By Dr. Carl Ellis, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. Edited by Dr. Anthony Bradley, Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Heal Us Emmanuel, (Edited by Rev. Doug Serven) One New Man by Dr. Jarvis Williams and Winning the Race to Unity: Is Racial Reconciliation Working? Clarence E. Shuler. 
7. Listen to podcasts like Pass the Mic and Truth's Table to gain some solid, biblical insight into these issues.
8. Consider attending the LDR conference. LDR is a yearly gathering on Labor Day weekend that focuses on biblically based redemptive ethnic unity and social justice.
9. Be sure to have actual face to face, and not just Facebook conversations with minorities who tend to have a different view from most people in your church or circle of friends about this.
10. Consider coordinating a church effort to establish a relationship with church of a different ethnicity. You can begin with joint worship services and then move to joint men's, women's and youth retreats. One of the goals is to build genuine relationships with a group of God's people. These relationships will enable you to talk about your lives, our common faith, along with some of the ways we differ in our approach to race.
11. Learn the history of conservative evangelicals on race relations from the late 19th into the late 20th century. It will help to place our current challenges into context. You can begin with books like God's Long Summer (Charles Marsh) and For a Continuing Church (Dr. Sean Michael Lucas).
12. Related to that is the importance of learning about African-American history during this period. The following is a sample of where you can begin: Rev. Dr. King's Letter from A Birmingham Jail, The Souls of Black Folk by Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and the video documentary series Eyes on the Prize. Eyes on the Prize followed the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 through 1965.
13. Check out our art. A people's art is a window into their souls. Read poetry, listen to music, attend theater productions and movies. The following is a very short list to get started. The characters in these stories examine African-Americans as they struggle with issues of dignity, identity and what it means to be human in America. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Fences by August Wilson, Crash, Boyz In the Hood, Precious, Twelve Years a Slave, 42, Selma, and Ragtime (musical).
 14. Finally, remember that redemptive ethnic unity matters to the living God. As such we can trust in Him to do the impossible in this area. Take some time to carefully read Eph. 2:11-4:6. See what the passage teaches about our unity across ethnic lines and then reflect on Paul’s exclamation of praise concerning God’s power to bring it to pass for His own glory. Finally, note how God has determined to receive this glory from His multi-ethnic worshiping community called the church and His Son throughout eternity.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Joyfully in Christ, 
Pastor Lance

Monday, August 7, 2017

RAGING UNBELIEF

Raging unbelief, but I’m not talking about atheists.  I’m not referring to skeptics, agnostics, or any unbeliever who struggles to have or understand faith.  I’m speaking about myself.  I’m classified as a believer, as a Christian, Reformed, orthodox, and conservative in my theological confession.  Yet, it seems God has decided to face me with my raging unbelief.  It is raging because it deprives me of all the things I say I believe and happens almost before I know it.
   
   Most of us know what temptation feels like.  As a male human being I know what it feels like to be tempted to lust.  Actually, quite often in my life I just bypassed the temptation and fell into sin.  I know I must have been tempted but it seemed I just sinned blithely and quickly without putting up any kind of a fight.  I am reminded of the young man described in Proverbs 7:22, “All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.”  Did you notice the, “all at once,” line? 

   The sin I am dealing with lately is not lust, though it is just as bad.  I am tempted not to believe God, and I can fall “all at once.”  I did not recognize my sin as unbelief right away.  I was not conscious of saying in my heart or mind, “I don’t believe you God, I don’t trust you!”  I don’t think I would ever say that directly to God.  It would just shock me to say that.  I think though that is indeed what I have done.

    I didn’t have the opportunity to be raised by my father.  He left my family when I was young.  That made me very curious about him.  Later in life I did get to know him, at least to some degree.  I also was able to get some insight into his life from his siblings and relatives.  I wanted to know what strengths he had, and what weaknesses.  I wondered how I was like him, if at all.  Is there any disposition in my personality that comes from my genetics, any proneness to certain behavior?

    I am not saying here that my dad was all bad.  I am still thankful for his eventual reconciliation with me and the welcome he gave to my wife and children.  However, I found out that my dad took offense at anything he felt was a slight or an insult.  He would cut off relationships and not look back.  Once his pride was hurt he tended to avoid any exposure to getting hurt again.  To others in the family it was almost irrational.  They put up with a lot of his nonsense, but he wouldn’t put up with even honest and well-meaning rebuke or criticism. 

   One of the constant reminders in the book of Proverbs is to listen to rebuke, and those who won’t be corrected are “stupid.”  Proverbs 12:1, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”  Whenever I read such verses I pray that the Lord will help me listen, that I would not resist or run away from correction or rebuke.  Evidently I am still sometimes, often times, stupid, and I need to keep praying.

    Whenever I feel disrespected, dismissed, or “dissed” I tend to withdraw inside myself.  I don’t like it and I have, too many times in the past, covered myself with self-pity, anger, and bitterness.  My ego and pride can be bruised so quickly, and there have been times when I just went into a dark cloud for days over it.  I was too proud to admit it was all about my pride.

   Why should anyone’s insults, or even a totally unintended slight, bother me so much?  I have to admit, (and this is hard because I tend to avoid any kind of psycho-babble description of myself), that very deep in my soul, way down deep in the view I have of myself, I feel worthless.  My inner belief is that I am innately and essentially not good enough, I will never measure up to those who are truly worthy of honor, and I have a desperate craving to be esteemed. Now, I have hardly ever articulated those thoughts about my inner beliefs.  I think I am too arrogant to go there, and I don’t like that description of myself.  It just makes me sound so pathetic.

   I can find no other explanation as to why I get so bent out of shape so quickly over feelings of disrespect.  Maybe I think if I was worth something my dad would not have left me, maybe I have a short man’s need to over-compensate, maybe I feel the shame of my sinful failures (and I deserve that shame), maybe I am frustrated in my ambitions and feel like a failure compared to the achievements of others?  These are all embarrassing but possible emotions and motives.

   Today was one of those days when a phrase jumped into my mind as I prayed for God to straighten out my thinking.  That phrase was, “raging unbelief.”  I tell other people they need to keep reading Romans 8, and here I am acting like none of it is true.  It can happen so quickly, by a phrase or a word, and the Devil pours on the hurt, the sensitivity, and I run as fast as I can away from the truth of God’s Word, and I know if left to myself, I would run right out of and on my family and friends.

    Would I, could I, risk so many relationships, to simply bathe in my own hurt?  I know I could, and I know I would, except that my anchor holds.  It is not me holding onto Jesus but Him holding onto me.

   What have I stopped believing?  To give up and abandon all the wonderful things I believe about God and what he says about how he feels and declares as to my relationship with him is raging unbelief.  I believe my sins are forgiven and that he bore all my shame.  I cannot be blackmailed by any of the truth of my history because it hangs on the cross and is buried in the tomb.  I believe he gave me power to become a son of God because I believed in his name.  I believe I am beloved and a son, and He is my father.  I believe I am a friend of God.  I believe I am an heir, and a joint heir with Christ.  I believe that I sit with Christ in heavenly places and that all creation groans waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, and I believe that is talking about me and my future vindication.

   I do believe Romans 8, and so should every true believer, and most of all when we are tempted to disbelieve because of the worthlessness we feel deep inside.  “What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosenIt is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  Romans 8:31-34


   In the end it doesn’t matter what I believe about myself, someone greater has changed my essential identity and definition, and He calls me to believe that. In the end it doesn’t matter what the Devil says, or enemies, or even friends or family.  It is all about what He has said, and keeps saying.  I’m feeling better.