Racism

Bridging the Great Divide: The Gospel and the “isms” of Our Day

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A lot of things sort-of collided this week. First, of course, we’ve got this pandemic looming over us with all that entails – including the enforced social distancing rules that are making daily life increasingly stressful and depressing. Next, I had a few people texting me and asking about how we can have the Lord’s Supper, communion, as a church. Could we prepare it ourselves at home and then all watch the video and do it. Would that be ok? I also came across a bunch of people and posts – from people inside and outside Christianity – that kept saying that we don’t need to gather together as a church in order to be Christian. The general gist of the argument was that a person’s connection to God, their relationship with Jesus, was only an individual one and a Christian doesn’t need anyone else to have a full and healthy relationship with God. And then, mixed into all of this, came the explosion of riots and protests in the US and Canada, as a result of systemic racism.

As I processed all of these huge issues – social distancing, communion, the church, the riots – it occurred to me that there is an underlying, common theme. Essentially, at the heart of it all, is the problem of “division”. Humanity is divided. Social Distancing because of the pandemic has divided our communities and families. Don’t visit grandma, don’t go within 6 feet of any human being, don’t shake hands, don’t sing together, don’t give gifts, don’t share meals, don’t worship together. That alone is catastrophic for the human soul.

But, of course, human divisions have existed long before COVID-19 came along. The bigotry of racism, sexism, ageism, classism, nationalism has divided us since Cain and Abel. In our modern context, another “ism” has grown: “Individualism”. The idea that a single person is more important than the group, that people should work for their own advantage, and that their thoughts and actions are valid simply because they are their own – and no one has the right to judge them. This individualism has infected Christianity, which is where the people who say, “I don’t need any other believers, I don’t need the church, I don’t need accountability, or elders, or theology books, or a church family – it’s just me and God and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Right now, as I speak to you, humanity might be the most divided it’s ever been. It’s one thing to be sexist and think one gender is worse, another to be nationalist and think every other country is evil, another to be ageist and think every other generation is stupid, another to be racist and think that people with different coloured skin are somehow inferior – but when it comes to individualism – the belief that every other person on earth is worse, evil, stupid, and inferior, to you ­– I don’t think you can get a society more divided than that.

As I said, this moment in time might be the most divided humanity has ever been.

Origins of Division

Where did all this division come from?

God’s plan, which we see in Genesis 1 and 2, was a united humanity. God created Adam and Eve – who were probably brown people, by the way[1] – and placed them in the Garden of Eden. Already, at the very beginning, there was the potential for problems. God is Creator, Adam and Eve are creation. Adam was male, Eve female. Adam was first, Eve was second. But instead of division, there was perfect community, perfect unity, between God, Adam and Eve.

It didn’t last long. In Genesis 3 we see Adam and Eve rebel against God when they start to think that God is being prejudiced against them! So, in ignorance and jealousy, they fall for the devil’s lies and bring sin into the world. From that moment we were divided.

With sin came a curse. The results of sin caused cracks and fissures to form in every aspect of the universe. Humans would be divided from their Creator because God cannot be in the presence of sin. The earth would turn against itself and against humanity, as death and corruption entered the world, even the ground itself would work against us. The division would be between Adam and Eve too, men and women, who, even though they would be drawn towards each other, there would be endless strife. In Genesis 4 we see the story of Cain and Abel, two of the children of Adam and Eve. Cain wants to worship God one way, Abel does it a different way. Cain is enraged when God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not his and kills his brother. Then, by the time we get to Genesis 6, the hearts of men are completely corrupt as evil takes over the world.

Heart, soul, mind, body, creation, relationships all divided. Emotional walls, spiritual separation, intellectual disagreement, physical strife, a corrupted universe, destroyed unity – all because of sin. God sends a flood to wipe out the world but, in His grace, spares one family – Noah’s – because Noah was the only one who was listening when God sent the warning. After the flood subsides, humanity starts to spread all over the place, populating the world – creating civilizations, but also bringing sin, suffering, war, and division, wherever they went.

Regardless of if you’re an evolutionist, an “old-earth” person, or a young earth person, the agreement is that it was after a great dispersion, as humans started to settle in parts of the world that had different climates and vegetation, that we start to see minor variations in the human genetic code, as generation after generation develop differences in their skin colour, hair colour, eye shape, etc.

You see, God didn’t create many different races – He created one: The Human Race. You cannot use the Bible to condone any form of racism. It’s not in there. People have used a lot of evolutionary theory to defend racism – saying that some colours are more “evolved” than others – but you can’t defend racism from the Bible.

God didn’t create many races, He created one: The Human Race. God didn’t create many religions and “paths to Him”, He created One, faith in the Son of God, The Messiah, Jesus Christ. God doesn’t prefer one gender over the other. He made them equal and complimentary. God doesn’t prefer one age over another. He knits the baby together in the mother’s womb, loves and defends children, trains up and uses young men and women, and gives important work and honour to the elderly. Salvation through Jesus Christ came through the Jewish People, Jesus came as a Jewish Man, but it was to offer salvation to everyone, regardless of race, nation, age, or gender.

In Revelation 5:9-10, as the story of the end begins and the first scroll is opened, it says they sing,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

In Revelation 7:9-10, it says,

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

In the kingdom of God, there is no division.

All the division we see and experience has one source: the human heart. The corruption sin brings to the human heart is what divides nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. It is sin that creates every terrible “ism” inside us. That’s not from God – that’s our sin.

Racism, classism, ageism, and all the others are not just political or economic issues. It’s not because of a lack of education or a bad upbringing. Yes, they have political, economic, and social implications – but they are not the source or the solution. The source of the problem, the root of the weed, the thing you have to dig all the way down to in order to kill the problem – is the corruption of all human hearts because of the curse of sin.

The Solution

That’s why the only solution to the problem of racism, ageism, sexism, and all the other terrible “isms” is only found in Jesus Christ.

The Gospel, or the “Good News”, of Jesus Christ begins with the bad news. The first words spoken in the Gospel of Matthew are the angel telling Joseph not to divorce Mary, but that “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20–21) The first words of Jesus in the gospel of Mark are “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) In Luke we read that the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist’s whole job, was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus by telling people to repent “for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).

The bad news of sin, the acceptance that we are sinners, must come first – and one really good word to describe the results of sin would be “division”. Sin divided us from God (Isa 59:2) and each other. It created a deadly, untreatable infection to come upon our souls, it built an unbreachable wall and dug an uncrossable chasm between humanity and God, and fractured humanity into an irreparable mess. Jesus came to cure the disease, smash that wall, take the judgment – the sinless one became sin, took the whole of it onto Himself, and then was judged and killed in our place – so He could become the bridge that allows us to cross that chasm, and to remake, reform, recreate our individual hearts, and humanity into being whole again.

Look at the life and ministry of Jesus. There was no barrier he didn’t cross. He loved men, women, Jews, gentiles, Samaritans, soldiers, slaves, Pharisees, prostitutes, tradesman, tax collectors, children, seniors, the sick, the possessed, the wealthy and popular, the poor and outcast – equally. He saw every one of them the same – as sinners.

When Jesus declared Himself to be the only “way, truth, and life” (John 14:6) He was calling us lost, lied to, and dead. We are all, as Jesus describes us, sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36), lost people who needed finding (Luke 19:10), sick people who need a physician (Luke 5:31-32), lawbreakers under judgment (Matt 12:36), spiritually dead people who needed resurrection (Rom 6:23; John 14:6). Jesus’ mission wasn’t merely to set a good example for us to follow – it was to, by his own death, to mortify (or kill) the sin inside us, and that has infected the whole world, so that we might rise as a new creation, just as He rose from the dead.

Take a minute and consider what happened at the very birth of the Christian church. Jesus gathers a diverse group of men and women, dies, rises again, ascends to heaven, and tells them to go and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So they do. About 120 followers of Jesus were gathered together in one room, praying, worshipping, talking together. Men, women, young, old, Pharisees, tax collectors, all gathered in the name of Jesus, waiting obediently for what He promised.

Then boom. Look at Acts 2, which we just read last week,

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1–4)

A diverse group in one place, and what does God do. How does he send the Holy Spirit? Audibly and visually. Everyone hears, everyone sees. Everyone in the room experiences the tongues of fire divide and rest upon everyone else. Not just the apostles, not just the men, not just the old people… everyone is given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in their hearts. And then everyone starts to speak in languages that they didn’t know before.

Unity upon unity. Jesus unites a diverse group in His name, demonstrates the seriousness of that unity with wind and fire, and decimates the division of races, languages, and nations by equipping His people to share the gospel with the thousands of people around them who were, as verse 5 says, “Jews… from every nation under heaven”.

Peter preaches a long sermon, and presumably, the other 119 take their turn sharing and interpreting, and the crowd yells out (in verse 37), “What shall we do?” Peter answers in verse 38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” First the bad news, then the good news, then the invitation to join the reunited, reformed, recreated, family of God. Who gets access to the Holy Spirit? Just the original followers? Just the people that heard Jesus teaching, and experienced the crucifixion and resurrection? Nope. Everyone. God reverses the curse of the Tower of Babel and unites the people under one banner. As Ephesians 4:4-6 says,

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Then in Acts 2:42-47 we see the Holy Spirit of God working in the hearts of the people as they devote themselves to worshipping together, learning the word of God together, and taking care of each other. Verses 44-45 we see the destruction of classism as

“all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Now, if you remember, Jesus’ command to the apostles right before he ascended was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” But they didn’t want to. They liked what they had going, so they stayed put. So God sent persecution to force a bunch of them to get out of Jerusalem and do what they were supposed to be doing.

Within a short period of time, there were churches all over the place – Macedonia, Galatia, Greece, Rome, Egypt – and it starts to freak the apostles out a bit. Racism starts creeping into the church. It had already been there during the first crisis when the Greek-speaking Jews and the Hebrew-speaking Jews got into a big fight (Acts 6), but now there were people from all over the place, every nation, tribe, tongue, colour… all claiming Jesus as Lord.

Weirdly, it seems the first instinct of the apostles is to say that non-Jewish people couldn’t have access to the Holy Spirit, couldn’t be a full part of God’s family. But God squashes that thought in a hurry!

In Acts 10 God gives Peter a vision of a giant picnic blanket full of every food imaginable – including all kinds of foods the Jews weren’t allowed to eat. God tells Peter, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” (v13) And Peter says, “No way, Lord! I would never eat anything ‘unclean’.” And God says, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”(v15). Then it says that Peter saw this vision three times in a row as God hammered home the point, but Peter still didn’t quite get it.

So God used a non-Jewish, Roman Centurion named Cornelius to explain it to him. While Peter was standing in Cornelius’ house, sharing the gospel with a whole household of non-Jewish people, the Holy Spirit came again the same way He came the first time: he gave the gentiles the ability to glorify God in languages they didn’t know before that day.

Peter declares in Acts 10:27, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”, which is just a fancy way of saying, “Well, I guess everyone really does get to be part of God’s family!”

It reminds me of my first church. I was a young man. 27 years old when I started. It was in Cleveland, Ohio and it was in rough shape. The building was beautiful. 3 story stained glass window, immaculate flooring, beautiful sanctuary, amazing kitchen in the big basement. Every room was stuffed with ministry material – but it was never used.

When I came to the church, the average age of the people there was 72 years old. The majority of them were German immigrants, who had left a post-World War 2 Europe, and had banded together to start a German church for all their fellows who were coming to America. And for decades the church grew. A boatload of German Baptists would come, and they would come to the German Baptist church. But after a while, there were no more boatloads.

Then the children started growing up. They were attending American schools where they spoke English. They had English friends. They spoke English at their jobs. The only place they spoke their native language was at home and at church. So the young people asked the older people to let them have an English service. Something a little more in their style. Something they could invite their friends to. The parents said “No, the old ways are better.” And family by family the children left – until all that remained was a handful of grey-haired old people who, in desperation, had changed to an English service and called a new, young pastor.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but there wasn’t just ageism in the church, but racism too.

I started to preach and have outreach ideas and God started to bless. But God is hilarious and very smart, so the first people that were saved and came to church were a couple named Senolia and Julio. Senolia was a black woman from the west-side of Cleveland, Julio was a Hispanic rapper full of tattoos. They first came to the church so I could marry them. Senolia said they had called 12 other churches but the pastors wouldn’t perform the marriage because of their race, or because it was a mixed-race marriage. I was more than happy to marry them, but I said that I wouldn’t do it unless they did a bunch of weeks of pre-marital counselling. It was during the premarital counselling that I was able to share the gospel and they were saved and baptised.

When they started coming to church, it was rough. By then a few others had shown up, and they were… shall we say… from a group that the congregation wasn’t used to seeing. For example, there was the young lady who “didn’t dress like a Christian”, her live-in boyfriend who would come to church in a tank-top undershirt to show off his tattoos, and their hyperactive little girl.

Right away I could see there was a problem. The new people sat in their own section, while many of the “regulars” wouldn’t even get up to greet them. The new people would chat with each other, while many of the “regulars” would ignore them, even going so far as to speak to each other in German so they couldn’t be understood.

God was showing me that within this church full of people who said they were Christians and had been attending church for—some of them, 75 years – didn’t know Jesus, didn’t understand His message, didn’t embrace His family, weren’t changed by the gospel. And in the end, and in very short order, only 3 years after I got the job – a year after I left – the church was closed.

Conclusion

The story of the gospel is one of unifying a broken world. The story of the church, when you read the New Testament, is a group of people who are being led by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus’ teaching and example and struggling to be a people who don’t have the barriers of racism, classism, nationalism, and individualism. The church had victories and failures, do good for a while and then do bad for a while, but the consistent message of the Bible, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, is one of unification in Jesus Name.

If you are hearing me today and you have one of those “isms” in your heart – repent and kill that sin right now.

If you’ve elevated yourself above others, believe that you are better and more valuable than others, that you have a special line to truth and connection to God that no one else has – get on your knees and repent because the corruption and darkness of sin has a hold of your heart.

If you have looked down on or talked badly about the opposite gender, stereotyping and jump to conclusions about a person before you even meet them – repent from that sin.

If you have hatred or bias against younger people or older people, valuing one over the other, or disparaging one or the other – you are in sin and need to repent.

If you’ve been watching the news and have been thinking or talking badly about “those people”, prejudging a whole group because of the colour of their skin, where they live, or how much money they have – repent and turn that sin over to Jesus right now. It is ungodly, unbiblical, unChristlike, and is poisoning you and everyone around you.

But you don’t need to listen to me. Listen to the words of scripture:

Romans 10:10–13, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

1 Corinthians 12:12–14, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

Colossians 3:8–14, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Galatians 3:26–28, “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 4:1–6, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 2:14–19, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”

James 2:1–4, 8–10, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?… If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Do you get it? Do you see the heart of God? Do you see His hatred of racism, sexism, classism, nationalism, individualism…? Do you understand His desire for unity? I hope you do.

 

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/racism/are-there-really-different-races/
https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/why-did-darker-and-lighter-human-skin-colors-evolve

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Closedminded Prejudice

It’s been a troubling week again this week as we read about the race riots and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia and the 17 people killed in Barcelona, Spain just this week. It is strange how these things come in waves. Before now I hadn’t really considered how vehicles could be used in a terrorist attack, but now it doesn’t even come as a surprise to hear that someone has rammed people a crowd with a car and killed people. It turns out that suicide bombings are hard to do and more preventable than a vehicle attack, and so we are going to read about this more and more.

What do we do with all this? For a while, up here in our small town in Canada, it was easy to start to think that we were over all this hatred, but in a very short time we witness hatred off all kinds – nationalism, racism, religious – leading to violent outbreaks all over the world – even in our own back yard. Type in “Canada” and “Racism” into Google News and there’s plenty to read.

Fear and prejudice are dividing people more every day. Facebook, YouTube, and our favourite news channels don’t simply tell us what is happening, but turn into echo chambers of what we want to hear so that we’ll keep clicking and watching – which fuels tribalism and separation as we hear less and less diversity of opinion and more and more of ourselves reflected back at us. It’s easy to slip into an “us and them” mentality where I and the people like me are the good guys and everyone else is stupid, evil, and unworthy of our attention or love. And I know for a fact that we are not immune to this here because I’ve heard it and seen this type of thinking from my own friends and fellow believers as they publically denounce other nations, people groups, celebrities, news organizations, movements, religions – even other believers, churches, and pastors. We become more known for what we are against than for what we are about, which not only fuels separation and tribalism, but a prideful, elitist mentality that makes us think that we are better, smarter, and holier than everyone else.

Think about it for a moment. If I asked you to list all the groups you are against, it would be much easier than to list the ones that you identify with and have compassion for, right? I’m not going to list them here because it’s the only thing you would hear and remember from this sermon, but consider for a moment the groups and people you have seen, or have personally vilified over the past weeks, months and years. The people you believe you are better than, smarter than, holier than– and who should just shut up or go away. That’s not love, that pride. That’s not humility, that’s fear. That’s not a Christlike heart, that’s closed-minded prejudice.

Our Role in Salvation

We talked about this over the last few weeks, and even over the past months in our study of 1 Corinthians: Christians are not better than others. We are simply a group of those God has chosen to show the truth to. Yes, that is a bold claim these days – the claim to an exclusive truth – but that’s what we have. We believe that the claims of Jesus Christ being the way, truth and the life, and that no one can come to God except through Him are true – and that every other way is false.

But that shouldn’t lead us to pride, but humility! Remember the verse from Ephesians 2:8-9 last week? We emphasized how much our salvation is not our doing! “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What do Christians believe about our role in salvation? That we are saved “by grace”, “not our own doing”, “not a result of [our] works” meaning that what Jesus did for us on the cross by taking our sins upon Himself and dying in our places is completely undeserved. It was an act of grace. This is the most distinctive feature, the most special thing, about Christianity, which comes right out of the Bible. There is no other system of thought, no other religion, either past or present that teaches that the path to life, peace, heaven, and God, is an act of divine, completely undeserved favour.[1]

Most other religions (like Bahai, Buddhism, Hinduism) believe that hard work and good deeds will lead to their life’s fulfilment and is their path to God, or freedom, or becoming a god, or whatever their version of heaven is – and that if you don’t do enough you get punished in some way. Islam believes that when you die your deeds will be weighed by Allah and if the good deeds (like prayer, pilgrimages, and generosity) outweigh the bad then you can get into heaven. The only way to really guarantee that you will go to heaven is to be martyred, or die in service to Allah, which really tips the scales. Other religions like Jehovah Witnesses or Mormonism have used some Christian language to give their religion credence, but rewrite or add to the Bible to include a whole bunch of extra works and financial giving that needs to be done or you will be rejected by God. Some who call themselves Christians, like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have drifted from the doctrines of grace and teach that not only do you need to believe in Jesus, but you need to check off a series of good-deed and religion boxes or you can’t get into heaven. They also teach that even if you believe in Jesus you can lose your salvation by doing bad things – and have a list of ones that are so bad that you can never be forgiven for them. That’s not what the Bible says either.[2]

Last week we talked about the Doctrine of Total Depravity, the belief that everyone, by their very sinful nature, is bent away from God and would never choose to obey Him – and that even our supposed good deeds are still unacceptable to God because they are still tainted with our own selfishness, greed, false motives, and lack of insight.

In this world, it is only Christians that teach that humans cannot do anything good, or achieve any benefit in the afterlife, by our own works. We believe we are utterly and totally dependent on the grace of God.

Consequences

Believing in the Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity has some serious implications for how we think of ourselves and others, doesn’t it? In one sense they can bring us to despair. We love to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and have the ability to impress others, even God, with our good deeds – and finding out that we can’t, can be a blow to our ego. On the other hand, this can also lead to a deflating depression where every time we start to feel good about ourselves we are reminded that we are utterly weak and wretchedly sinful. Wrongly applied, it can lead to a sort of depression that makes us feel worthless.

And so most people ignore it. It’s hard to tell people there is nothing they can do to save themselves because they are totally depraved sinners who are dead in their transgressions. And so the gospel gets repackaged to emphasize the more positive side, telling people that Jesus loves them, that they are special, chosen, children of light, separate from the dark and messed up world – which is all true, but not the whole story!

The Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity don’t merely end in a depression funk where nothing matters – that’s only where it starts because that is where it must start. It’s meant to drive us to the bottom so we must look upward in worship and thanksgiving. Multiple times in the Bible it says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 29:23; Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) And scripture gives us many different stories that emphasize the point.

Naaman had leprosy and was sent to be cured by the prophet Elisha, but didn’t like that the solution would be as simple as washing in the Jordan river seven times. He wanted something grand and dramatic and instant, not something so humbling that took so much time and obedience, so he got mad and was about to go home. It was only when he humbled himself that he was clean.

Jesus opposed the prideful Pharisees who thought their way was better than God’s. The rich young ruler came to Jesus, pridefully believing he had earned heaven, and Jesus sent him away grieving after being shown that his faith was in his riches, not God. Peter pridefully claimed that he would never deny Jesus, and Jesus told him that he wouldn’t just do it once, but three times.

The young, arrogant, powerful Pharisee named Saul, who hated Jesus and helped to imprison and kill Christians, was stopped dead in his tracks and struck blind by the Lord Himself so he could understand who he was really opposing. And later, while suffering on the mission field as an Apostle of Jesus, he says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Looking Up

This is what the Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity do for us, they humble us and make us look up to God as our helper and strength. They make us realize that we are not wise, but God our Father is and He will share that wisdom with us. We are not good, but Jesus is, and He will share that goodness with us. We are not helpful, but the Holy Spirit is, and He will make it so that we can be.

Therefore, when we look at these terrible situations in Charlottesville and Barcelona – and many other atrocities committed in the name of racism, prejudice, hate, and fear, throughout the world and here at home – we can utterly condemn them as sinful and wrong – but never use them as a way for us to feel superior to others. Instead, they become a reminder of the sinfulness that still dwells in our own hearts and how far we have come because of what Jesus has done in us.

Both Christians and non-Christians I know look at those events and feel the same swells of fear, pride, and hatred. Fear of people different than them and therefore worse. Pride that they and those like them are the ones who are right and good and correct. And then feelings of hatred swell and the desire for revenge takes hold. Now, maybe they aren’t the ones who are going to drive a car through a crowd, or bomb a building, or bring clubs to beat down people that disagree with them – but when someone does, they are secretly glad, saying they “got what’s coming to them”, which Jesus says in Matthew 5 and John in 1 John 3:15 is no different than murder because they have murdered them in their heart (Matthew 5:21-22).

A right thinking sees these events and it brings them sorrow. Sorrow for the sin in this world, for the evil perpetrated, for those who died not knowing the Lord, for the judgement on those who committed the crime, and then – sorrow for all the sins in their own heart that are no different than those they just watched. It drives a right thinking Christian to God in prayer, to their knees in repentance, to righteous anger at the sin, and to a desire to help.

Racism is Unbiblical and Unchristian

We look at the prejudice and racism and we condemn it as ungodly and unbiblical. We know the church has dealt with this from the very beginning as the Bible shows us that sectarianism and nationalism even started to infect the church even as it was forming. But it was wrong then and is wrong now.

  • All human beings of all races are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27).
  • God shows no partiality based on external difference. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
  • Jesus told us to love our neighbour and then told the parable of the good Samaritan highlighting the sins of racism and nationalism (Luke 10:25–37).
  • In Ephesians 2:14 we read that Jesus “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between peoples. Jesus smashed all those walls between us where we think we are better than anyone because of something external to us.
  • Galatians 3:28 we read that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Racism and prejudice are wrong and sinful. Jesus died for those sins, and Christians should obey Him by loving all people, regardless of their race. But these events don’t just remind us that something is wrong outside us but remind us of where our own heart is darkened in this area.

It should cause us to reflect on how we have disobeyed God by thinking our enemies are other people and not sin and Satan. Ephesians 6:12 says,

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We should ask ourselves where our own racism and prejudice lies. Who do you hate because of their skin colour or nationality? Who are you prejudice against because of your upbringing? Who are you painting with the same hateful brush, lumping them in with all the others, because it’s easier than seeing them as individuals? Whose souls and eternities do you not care about? Who do you prefer because they are more like you? Who have you deemed unworthy of your attention or time? Are you sitting in an echo chamber that only feeds you what you want to or are you seeking through and turning all those thoughts over to God, judging them by the standards of God’s word?

A Hinderance to Evangelism

I know these stories are troubling, and I know that they can cause a “visceral” reaction within us – visceral means that we create by deep inward feelings rather than intellect – but I beg you not to let them. We are not immune to this and are going to see this more and more in our country and our area. We, in our church, are not immune to racism and prejudice, and we cannot allow them to take hold of our hearts.

We have been talking a lot lately about sharing our faith and this is directly connected. I said that we need to show people love before we share our faith, right? Well, if we hate these people because of our prejudices then we certainly won’t become friends with them, nor show them love, and therefore we will never be able to share with them. What group of people have you decided are not worthy of your love or the gospel?

I said that we need to pray before we share our faith. Are you praying for the salvation of the people you hate because of the colour of their skin or the nation they come from or the history you have with them? Probably not.

I said you need to tell them your story, right? Does your story include segregation, fear of certain people groups, and hatred against certain kinds of people? Or does your testimony share how you obey Jesus by loving the whole world, just as He does.

And I said you need to be patient with the people you are sharing with, right? Are you patient with those you hate? Jesus has given you much patience. He knows your thoughts and has watched as you claim to be one of His people but continue to sin, dismiss His Word, and reject His Spirit – but He still died for you, didn’t he? He traded Himself for you. He keeps forgiving you, loving you, helping you, equipping you, and listening to your prayers, doesn’t He? Why is he so patient? Because of His Amazing Grace and love for you. Are you showing the same to others? These events should cause us to reflect on and reject our own sin.

Gollum and Frodo

I know it’s not quite right to have an illustration at the end of the sermon, but this one, I think, will close us out well. All of this reminds me of a scene from Lord of the Rings.

For those who don’t know the Lord of the Rings, the ring as a sort of sentience, It’s alive and evil and corrupts all who wear it. There was one person who wore it for far too long. Smeagol found the ring one day while fishing and it immediately corrupted his heart. As he wore it he became more and more evil, more and more corrupted, until he was driven from his home town to live in a cave in the mountains of an enemy land. The ring gave Gollum unnatural life for hundreds of years, corrupting him inside and out until he was almost utterly consumed.

After hundreds of years, one day, when the hero of the Hobbit, Bilbo was wandering through the cave, the ring abandoned Gollum in order to find a new owner to corrupt in hopes of being taken out of the mountain. Gollum attacks Bilbo to get it back, but the ring turns Bilbo invisible and allows him to escape. But right before he is about to escape the mountain Gollum blocks his way and Bilbo is presented with a choice – kill Gollum or try to rush past him. He pulls his sword to put this vile creature to death, but instead of allowing his hate and fear to control him his heart fills with pity and Bilbo chooses to jump past instead.

In Lord of the Rings, the ring has passed from Bilbo to Frodo who has been given the task of destroying it – and we can see throughout the books that it’s slowly corrupting Frodo too. But Gollum has not gone away but is always following, always hoping to kill Frodo and get the ring back.

Then this happens:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrOqnZdvI6M

JRR Tolkien used the Ring as a symbol of sin and Gollum as the creature who has been totally corrupted by it. He is a hateful creature breathing lies, curses, and threats at all times. Frodo feels it would be best if Gollum would have just died. The world would be better off without him. Gollum is hateful and deserves to be hated and dispensed with. He’s in the way, stopping the good people from doing good. But Gandolf, a sort of Christ figure or at least Biblical prophet type in the book, does not hate him – he pities him.

And then he speaks these words: “It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

This reminds me of the Parable of the Weeds that Jesus told in Matthew 13:24-43.

“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’’”

Just as Frodo wanted to kill Gollum, the servants want to go out and pick out all the weeds in the garden, but the farmer says no, stating that his servants are not wise enough or careful enough to be able to do the job without messing up the whole field. They are not reapers and though they think they know what they are doing, they would be pulling out good plants with the bad and would do damage to the crop. He says, “When the time is right I’ll let the reapers do it because they’ll do it right.” And in the next verses we learn that the reapers are angels sent by God – not humans.

What’s the point? We are too much like Frodo and the servants, wanting to hastily jump in with our poor judgement, prejudice, racism, and ill motives, and try to do God’s job for Him. That’s not our job. What does God want? For us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. Our job, according to Jesus, is to love God, love our neighbour, and love our enemies – not dole out our own poorly conceived, ungodly, prejudice plans. We must repent and ask forgiveness for such thoughts….

 

[1] Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Grace”.

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/how-to-get-to-heaven.html

How Should Christians Respond to Racism? (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 36)

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Racism

The 36th episode of “Carnivore Theology”.

Racism is Exploding in North America

Racism has plagued humanity forever, but based on what we’re seeing in the rioting in Baltimore, Ferguson and Miami, there seems to be an explosion of violence based on racism across North America in the past couple months. Canada’s not immune. Similar tensions to the US can be found in our major cities, and all we have to do is look at the treatment of Aboriginal people to see how bad the problem of racism is in Canada.

What is a Biblical, Christian response to racism?

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode MP3.

Here’s the link to the behind-the-scenes YouTube video.

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Integrity: Loving Your Neighbour & How to End Discrimination

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For the past couple weeks, and the next few, we are looking at what it means to look like a Christian. Saying that it is controversial because a lot of people don’t understand, or want to talk about, the fact that there are standards of practice for all Christians.

3 Psalm 15 - Love Your Neighbour - TITLE Banner

“God Loves Me The Way I Am” / “You Can’t Judge Me!”

For some, this list is going to look like a guilt trip, so they aren’t going to want to listen. They’ve told themselves that God loves me the way I am and that it’s ok to stay that way.

Unfortunately, you’re only half right. Yes, God loves you for who you are – but it is not ok to keep on sinning just because you are too lazy or afraid to change.

Along with this is the ever popular “You can’t judge me!” or “Only God can judge me”, which basically means “Don’t tell me that I’m doing anything wrong because I’m choosing to believe my personal version of god is ok with everything I do.” They love to quote Matthew 7:1 which says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Unfortunately they don’t read the rest of it because in the next verses Jesus says, “…take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (vs 5)

Or Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…”.

Or Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Or 1 Timothy 5:20, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”

In no way are we to make excuses for our sin, but to always seek to conquer them through the power of the Holy Spirit and the help of the other believers around us. God’s grace is not a licence to sin.

Grace is Not a Licence to Sin

Please open up to Romans 5:20-21,

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Pauls’ whole point here is to say that “the law” – obeying the rules, following a list of right and wrong, being religious – cannot save you. Salvation comes through believing in the grace of God given to us through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. But some people took the amazing grace of God as a licence to sin!

Look at 6:1-2,

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

They figured that since Jesus died for all their sins, they could just keep on sinning and it would be no big deal. In fact, the more sin they had, the more they could be forgiven, the more God must love them! Paul’s responds by saying, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Listen to his argument for why we need to keep pressing towards righteousness (starting in verse 11):

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

I hope you see this. Going through Psalm 15 may inspire some guilt and shame, but that’s not a bad thing. What that means is that you are learning to hate your sin. You don’t want it anymore. The Holy Spirit is making you more like Jesus and He is using that guilt to point out places in your life where you need to make changes.

Don’t listen to this teaching today and let your heart get hard. Don’t start making excuses for your sin. Repent and ask God to help you to “…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…” as an act of worship and thanks for saving you.

Superficial Christianity

On the other hand, some will might read Psalm 15 and use it as a list of ways to look good on the outside, impress your fellow Christians, and try to impress God. That’s not what this is either. This is all predicated on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As I said before, there is a great danger in believing that we can somehow earn God’s love. We can’t.

What these traits describe is a picture of what a life looks like after God has gotten a hold of it, and what a church looks like when the people within it are obeying Him.

We talked about this before. Paul looks at all the impressive things in his resume and says,

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Phil 3:8)

Isaiah 64:6 says that all the good deeds we do, when they are not done within the context of a faithful relationship with God, are like are literally disgusting to Him.

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (or “filthy rags”, literally, “used menstrual cloths”).

There is no such thing as “good deeds” without Jesus. There is no reason to obey Psalm 15 if we are not worshiping and serving Him.

Quick Review

3 Psalm 15 - Love Your Neighbour - HOUSE ILLUSTRATION

Let’s turn to Psalm 15.

You hopefully remember that we are going through the answer that the Psalmist David gives to the question he asks at the beginning of the Psalm 15, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” Or “what does it meant to be a person (or church) that has Christian Integrity”?

And what we see in the rest of Psalm 15 are six descriptions of an obedient, growing Christian. Verse 2 talked about Integrity which we said that it is the roof of our house which is built on the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ.

Our Integrity is held up by the other five traits: Truth, Love, Honour, Trustworthiness and Generosity.

This week we are looking at the second trait – a Christian is Loving: “who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman…” This a baseline for all Christian behaviour and is commanded in the Old and New Testaments – love your neighbour.

Who is my Neighbour?

Let’s take this apart a bit. The Psalmist uses 2 different words to describe who we are to love. Our “Neighbour” and our “fellowman”. The first is “Neighbour” which is the Hebrew word REA. It is comprehensive word used to describe everyone that lives around us. People in the same geographical area, people we associate with. In scripture it is used to describe relationships between husbands and wives, friends, and fellow citizens. The 10th Commandment uses this word when it says “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”

In the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 19:9-18) there is a whole section about how we are to love our neighbours. After laws about not stealing from them, lying about them, oppressing them, or harming them, it summarizes it all like this,

“…love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

The question for the Israelites was always “Who is my neighbour?” The common answer was ,“Only my fellow Jews”. After all, REA meant people from our country — our people. “Who is my neighbour?” was the question the lawyer asked to Jesus, trying to justify all the wrong he had done to people who were not Jewish and the hate in his heart towards other nations (like the Samaritans) (Luke 10:29). But Jesus explained that God’s understanding of “neighbour” was much bigger than theirs when he told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Who is my Fellowman?

The other word is “Fellowman” which is the Hebrew word KA-ROV (QAROWB) which zooms in from anyone around to you the closest people in your life – the ones who you have to deal with every day, who live in your house, who get under your skin the most! This is pretty all encompassing. Love everyone around you and love those who are closest to you. That pretty much ruins any idea of nationalism, racism, homophobia, prejudice, sexism, classism, misogyny, feminism, favouritism, … or any other isms we can think of. God tells us to love everyone!

No Wrong, No Slur

Now let’s look at the commands. There are lots of ways to love our neighbours, but what does God want us to be careful of in Psalm 15,? “who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman”. The first command is to do “no wrong”. That is the word RA and it simply means “evil”. It’s translated a bunch of ways, “wickedness, mischief, hurt, bad, trouble, affliction, adversity, harm.” That’s fairly straight forward. Don’t be evil to anyone.

The next command is to “cast no slur”. This is the word CHERPAH and it means to “despise, reproach, revile, shame”. Don’t hate your fellow man, don’t despise them or revile them, for no reason. One commentary says this is about not picking up “dirt out of a dunghill that he may cast it at his neighbour” (A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Psalms, p. 118). In the New Testament Jesus uses some complimentary words in Luke 6:22 where He says,

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”

We Do Not See The Way the World Sees

When a Christian looks at others they do not see the way the world sees. We see people that God loves, that Jesus died for. We do not judge the way the world does. We’ve already said that we do judge character and hold each other accountable to sin, but we do not judge people negatively based on their races, nationality, gender, external appearance, or other worldly divisions.

We do not do the things the world does. We don’t fling dung for no reason! We do not wrong other people. We don’t do evil to them. We are not mischievous, or troublemakers. We do not make racist jokes, omit people because of their clothing, hate them because of their culture, despise them because of what border they live beyond, or hate them because of their economic status.

Christians know what it means to be reproached, rejected and excluded because of our relationship with Jesus. And since we know that, we never, ever, ever, EVER reproach, reject or exclude others from our fellowship! Everyone is welcome in the church of Jesus Christ, and at the foot of the cross, and no one is turned away. There should a big sign on our door that says: “All are welcome! All may come! You don’t need to clean up your life, or look a certain way, or act a certain way, or be able to answer a list of questions, or have any qualification other than being a member of the human race. We’re all a mess, we are all in need, we all have a past, and we all want to help you in any way we can to come to Jesus and be saved!”

In Mark 2:15-17 it says that as Jesus went to dinner with Levi the tax collector and it says that:

“…many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

We must say, “I am a sick and Jesus welcomes me. I am a sinner and I am welcome. Sinners are welcome at our church. Therefore, homosexuals are welcome here. Abortionists are welcome here. Divorced people are welcome here. Pornographers, prostitutes and pimps are welcome here. Dead-beat dads are welcome here. Narcissistic, self-absorbed, snobs are welcome here. Atheists are welcomed here. Anyone who is tired of their sin and who wants to meet Jesus, is welcome here.” We don’t discriminate. We invite everyone to come to Jesus.

Discrimination Among Christians

I want to park on this idea of discrimination for a while. We like to think that there is no discrimination here in Canada, or even at our church, right? We’re not the most diverse church around, but we think we are inclusive, right? We don’t turn people away, do we?

Many of you think that we don’t struggle with discrimination at all. And though I don’t know where your heart is on this, I want to explore the concept of discrimination among Christians and see that it goes much deeper than skin colour or nationality.

As you were reflecting on Colossians 3 you no doubt came across verse 11:

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

This is what we’ve been talking about. In the Christian church, because of the blood of Jesus and our adoption as sons and daughters of God, there is no discrimination for any reason. This would have been a huge struggle for the believers this was first written to, just as it is a struggle for some today. And Paul breaks down a lot of barriers in this short verse. Look at the different divisions that he gives.

No Racism

First, it says that in the church of Jesus Christ “there is no Greek or Jew”. In other words, no discrimination based on race or nationality – no racism. Greeks would look down on Jews as uncultured and small minded. Jews would look down on Greeks as immoral heathens who weren’t part of God’s chosen nation. Racism is a struggle for some Christians today – yes, even in Canada. Yes, even in Carleton Place. Perhaps even in the hearts our church this morning. What nationality are you prejudice against? I’m telling you that hating someone based solely on their nationality or skin colour is a sin and has no place in the Kingdom of God.

No Religious Discrimination

3 Psalm 15 - Love Your Neighbour - RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINIATIONNext it says “no… circumcised or uncircumcised”. In other words we are not to have discriminations based on how we practice our religion. This doesn’t mean the different world religions. Clearly we must be discerning when it comes to misrepresentations of God. This is regarding how other Christians practice their faith.

There were some believers that were circumcised, and were incredibly proud of it. There were others who weren’t and were incredibly proud of it! Some Jewish people would try to convince the gentiles that they had to follow Christ their way, worship their way, live their way.

For a gentile, being circumcised was like joining a cult. They mocked how serious the Jews took their laws and religious acts, and said they were all crazy for doing such extreme things. It was a huge problem in the early church. Neither understood the other, and it was a constant source of false-teaching and fighting. And, this is a huge struggle in the church today. Some call it the “worship wars” and it has taken hold everywhere.

Do you ever get wound up about how we are supposed to “do church”?  Stylistic differences create huge divisions, anxiety, separations, cliques and fights. What is a better instrument for worship, the piano, the guitar, the organ, or is singing a cappella the ultimate form of worship music? Can you bring a rum-cake to the church potluck? Is there such thing as Christian heavy-metal music? Are you a better worshipper if you sing while clapping? Or is it better to hold up your hands? Is it one hand or two? Open hand up, or elbow bent?

“I don’t go to the prayer meeting because they pray for too long – or not long enough.”

“I don’t go to bible studies because they are boring and I prefer something more exciting.”

“I don’t go to concerts because God doesn’t like loud music.”

“I don’t kneel down when I pray because that’s too religious.”

“I always kneel to pray because that’s how you’re supposed to do it.”

“You shouldn’t wear hats in church, unless you’re a woman, and then it can only be so big – or is it the bigger the better?”

Does a church have to have a cross on top? Must there be a cross in every room? Are we sitting in a sanctuary, a chapel, a hall, or a worship centre? Am I a pastor, a minister, a priest, a cleric, a vicar, a reverend, a shepherd, or just “Al”?

“A good church uses hymnals.”

“A good church uses powerpoint.”

“A good church sings using a guitar in someone’s living room.”

“A good church has small groups.”

“A good church has big conferences.”

“A good church has a good preacher.”

“A good church has a friendly pastor”.”

“A good church has lots of kids and a big Sunday school.”

“A good church uses real wine during communion.”

“A good church use the King James Version.”

“A good church has less than 100 people.”

“A good church has 1000 or more.”

We all have our own personal definition of what a “good church”, a “good pastor”, a “good sermon”, a “good worship song”, a “good Christian”, a “good devotional”, a “good Bible”, a good “Sunday service”, and a “good small group” looks like. And when it doesn’t meet our standards – what do we do? We complain, argue, condemn and make others try to conform to our idea of what church should be.

What we should say is, “I am blessed because I am experiencing a different side of people expressing and sharing God’s love. The kingdom of God is diverse and I’m part of it! I don’t have to get my way, and I’m glad others are being blessed by this.”

When was the last time you thought: “That kind of thing doesn’t belong in the church!”

“That person, that thing, that painting, that decoration, that whatever doesn’t belong in my church.”

“Why is he or she wearing that to church – it’s too formal, too revealing, too ethnic, too dressed down?”

“That person looks stuck up and religious.”

“That person doesn’t look spiritual enough!”

Slur, slur, slur! And it splits the church into fractures. And once the splits start, Satan gets in there and starts to force his wedge in. Religious division doesn’t belong in the kingdom of God. It will decimate a body of believers.

No Cultural Discrimination

Next it says, “no… barbarian, Scythian.” In other words, no discrimination based on culture. Greeks would call anyone outside their culture a “barbarian”. “Scythians” were a nomadic group located along the coast of the “Black Sea. To the Greeks, the Scythians were a violent, uneducated, uncivilized, and altogether inferior people.” (ESV Study Bible)  Religious discrimination is about how you live out your faith… cultural discrimination is about how you live out your life.

We don’t have a lot of barbarians or Scythians around, but we certainly find other cultural labels to judge other believers by. We look at them and their different ways of life, sit back and judge – even though we don’t understand them one bit. What’s worse is that we sincerely believe that these people must change if they are going to become one of us.

The Greek Christians would look at these new barbarian believers and say, “Ok, now that you know Jesus we need to clean you up and make you into a good Greek!” In the same way, we often look at people from the different cultures around us that get saved and say, “Ok, now that you’re saved… you need to start acting, talking, dressing, eating… like us.”

Some Sub-Cultures to Judge

I’ve done my best to come up with a list of people that – if they sat next to you in church, came into your living room, or went on a date with your daughter or son… that you might have a problem with. Someone you’d want to change into a version of you. And remember, this isn’t about becoming a better disciple of Jesus, or a better Christian… it’s changing them because you don’t like their culture.

I’ll start with an easy one. Bikers. Some people think that if you ride a Harley-Davidson, wear leather, spit tobacco, listen to rock music, and hang around in huge gangs in restaurant parking lots – that you need to change in order to come to church.

Not true! Here’s a website for a biker church chock full of Christians. As a bonus, check out this guy’s awesome testimony.

Reverend Leviathan

What about Emo kids or Goths? They couldn’t be a part of the church, could they? Certainly they have to clean up their act? Well, check out this website for Christian Goths which helps them understand their culture under the Lordship of Jesus, and connects them with other Christian Goths and churches in their area. That is Reverend Leviathan – who is a musician (and I hope is an actual reverend because that’d be awesome.)

Two of the most asked questions on the site are “Are there any Christian Goths in my area?” And “Are there any churches in my area that will not judge me when I walk in?” Tells you a lot, doesn’t it?

What about Gangsters, Rappers and Hip Hop Culture? What happens when they come to church? Certainly they must have to change their style of music, dancing and clothing, right? Nope! Here’s a Hip-Hop Church with Pastor Phil Jackson and they bring Jesus to hundreds of kids each week.

Here’s a Facebook page for Christian bodybuilders. You know those guys who are only interested in how they look, and how much they can lift? Turns out some of them love Jesus and work out in His name.

What about people who love Heavy-Metal music? They have to change their culture, don’t they? This is metalforjesus.org a ministry dedicated to Christian Heavy Metal Music.

I’ve just scratched the surface – and done some easy ones – but for every one of these groups there’s a group of Christians telling them they need to stop doing what they are doing and become more like them. We are seriously missing out on some amazing things that are going on in the kingdom of God by segregating and dividing ourselves, assuming church goes a certain way, and slurring those who don’t do things the way we do. It is wrong, it is evil, and it needs to change. We might not like it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t please God!

No Social Discrimination

Finally, it says, “no… slave or free” In other words, there is to be no economic or social divisions among us – no classes. No rich churches and poor churches. Rich believers are not more blessed, and poor believers are not holier and more humble. We are to be and do as Acts 2:44-47 describes – helping each other and breaking down socioeconomic barriers so we can all worship Jesus together.

How To End Discrimination

So how can we end discrimination in our hearts? How can we break these barriers? By realizing that “Christ is all, and is in all.”

He is the One, central entity that everything else revolves around. He is the person who brings all believers together. His Spirit dwells within all believers, showing them His love, and helping them love others. He removes distinctions from us. In the light and the presence of Jesus, and the knowledge of our sin and His undeserved grace toward us, we have no way of seeing ourselves as being above anyone else.

He is rich, we are all poor. He is forgiving, we are all sinful. He is perfect, we are woefully imperfect. He is just, we are unjust. He is the source of truth, we were all liars. He is the source of life, we were all dead in sin. He is sinless, we love our sin too much. When we judge ourselves by the standards of God, we realize that we are miserable creatures who are desperately in need of in need of a Saviour – and we have no right to compare ourselves to anyone else. Every other distinction other than “Saved” or “Unsaved”, “Believer or “unbeliever”, melts away.

Five Ways to Kill Discrimination

And Paul, in the next verse (vs 12) gives us 5 very important words that will kill discrimination in our hearts. If you struggle with racism, sexism, or prejudice of any kind… if you struggle to love your neighbour, these five words are what you need to be praying God does for you.

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

That’s how you kill discrimination in your heart. That’s how you learn to love your neighbour. That’s what keeps you from slurring and doing wrong to others!

You see yourself as one of “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. “Chosen!” You didn’t earn ANYHING you have! You don’t deserve anything you’ve got. You deserve Hell and everything else is a gift. You are a chosen person, loved for nothing other than yourself. You did nothing to deserve His love, you can do nothing to increase it, and you can do nothing to lose it. You are one of “God’s chosen people.”

“Holy” means “set apart”. God set you apart – you didn’t rise to where you are, choose your family, pick your race, your gender, or any other part of your life – God put you there. When you realize that about yourself, it allows you to take yourself off of the pedestal you put yourself on, because you now know you don’t belong there. But for the grace of God, you belong in Hell. That’s how much you are loved – and that’s the kind of love you can now pass on to others. Jesus gives us a totally different lens to see your life through.

We now show “compassion” to others – meaning that we feel as they feel, we hurt as they hurt, we desire the best for them – because that has been done for us. Jesus feels for us, has compassion for us, and acted on that compassion to save us. And so we do that for others.

We put on “kindness” because we have been shown kindness. That means we are giving to those who don’t deserve it, careful around those who need care, and willing to let others go before us – just as Jesus was kind to us.

We put on “humility”, just as Jesus did, which means that we see ourselves as less than others. We don’t put our needs, our wants, our requests, our preferences and inclinations above others. We let others have their own way – and we don’t resent them for it – because we realize how far gone we were before Jesus got a hold of our hearts..

We put on “gentleness”, which means we are careful around people who are sensitive. They have hurts, and pains and pasts, and issues that we don’t know about. They may lash out at us, but we speak gently to them, and treat them gently because we don’t know where they are at. Jesus was infinitely gentle with us, not condemning, but saving us.

And we are “patient”. We don’t jump to conclusions, fly off the handle, commit assumicide, or give up on someone because they blew it again. Why? Because Jesus is so enormously patient with us! Can you imagine if Jesus ran out of patience and decided to pull away His grace, His love, His provision, His help? We would be destroyed! Christians realize that people are going to struggle, and sin, and make messes… and we will treat them with patience, just as we want to be treated.

Eating With Sinners (Mark 2:13-17)

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Gospel of Mark Title

We’ve already talked about how Mark is introducing Jesus as the one answer to all the important questions in the world. If you recall, we said that the audience he is writing to are a group of persecuted, Roman Christians who aren’t looking for deep theology, long dissertations or genealogies, or a lot of teaching sections – they want proof that Jesus is who He says He is, has the Power they need Him to, and is the One and Only way to be saved.

They were in a pantheistic culture, surrounded by stories of gods of every sort and kind, so there was no need for another fable or religion to go alongside the rest. The claims of the missionaries that had gone through Rome was that Jesus wasn’t one of many gods, but was the Son of the One, True God, same in worth and power as God. They taught the Trinity – that Jesus was begotten from the Father and had sent the Holy Spirit to empower them to righteous living. They taught that Jesus said there was only one choice. He made an exclusive claim to be the only Saviour and the only One who should be worshiped. This would mean abandoning their other gods and religious activities and meetings, and joining a small group of people who were being persecuted because of their radical beliefs.

Authority and Opposition

And so Mark writes to them binocularly – with two lenses, two themes – one focused on the claims and power of Jesus Christ as He demonstrates His authority through teaching and miracles. The other lens is the reaction of the people around him, especially the religious experts, political power players and the wealthy elite — and they all hated Jesus.

Mark 2 gives us two great reasons why these people hated him so much – First, because He claimed to BE GOD, and second because of His relationships with “unclean”, despised outsiders.   Read the rest of this entry »