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What If Racism Were A Sin?

August 26, 2012
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Since the founding of the United States, there has been the assumption that there are morally neutral matters that God could care less about. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet in the effort to appease the pro-slavery Americans at that time, contra the notion that we’re all equal, Blacks were deemed 3/5 of a man.

Jerry Bridges wrote a book that centers on this very irony, Respectable Sins, that there are sins God cares about and there must be sins that God could care less about. Mr. Bridges wrote with the intention of his readers confronting sins we tolerate….all the while understanding God never did. This blog has that same intention with one particular sin in mind.

Not only is racism an ugly, historical, constitutional blur, and daily reality, but it comes with friends that serve as leeches. Its friends are prejudice and catch-22. The prejudice leeches deceive people into thinking they’re not as bad as they really are. Folks can willingly admit they’re prejudiced, but have the hardest time confessing to racist thoughts and justification for their ignorant behavior. The other leech is the catch-22 leech, and it’s just as deceiving. This leech allows a person to both accuse someone of being racist while excusing their own racist-ness that they eventually disguise as being prejudiced.

The ‘race card’ is another element to this equation. We can label it as the distant cousin who sometimes finds its distance shorter and shorter depending on the persons involved. The ‘race card’ is like the elephant in the room. Everybody and Stevie Wonder can see it, but most cower to mention it, point it out, admit to it, or fix it. But the ‘race card’ isn’t anything new to history. In John 4, Jesus sat at the well to talk to the Samaritan woman. Listen to her words filled with catch-22 leeches: “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.

The ‘race card’ is also being presently played in our society all over the world. Over the last few months, the political frenzy has brought along racism with its 2 friends. An older Black man approached me to ensure himself that I would vote for Obama simply because I’m Black. This man displayed so much racism during our talk (because I informed him I have no plans to vote for him) that I felt sorry for him. He repeatedly told me that he was going to pray for me (specifically that I’d change my mind) all because he wasn’t able to walk away feeling assured that I had passed the ‘is he Black enough’ test. All of this took place in a YMCA as I awaited my friend’s arrival. So before he left, I made sure to ask him a few questions of my own.

“Sir, are you a Christian?” Yes. “So you’re telling me that you placed your faith and hope in a Jewish man?” Yes. “The same Jewish man who died for all kinds of people all over the world that don’t look like you that are now your brothers and sisters in Christ?” This is where any racist heart objects, as did his, which I fully expect. The question posed in the title really isn’t the main question. Racism, is a sin, always has been, and God never tolerates it. The true question is, how and when will you confront the sin of racism that you have tolerated for so long?

So I leave you with words that pierced me and made me confront my own racism. I pray it does the same for you.

11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. 17   the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. 22 You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

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Conditional Forgiveness

August 24, 2012
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My good friend, Woodley Victor, has kept his side of the bargain and has indeed allowed me to post ‘his position’ on the topic of forgiveness. I look forward to chewing on this for some time.

 

Conditional Forgiveness (A brief response to Steven’s article)

It was a couple of years back, when one of my professors in a seminary class challenged a long-held position of mine relating to forgiveness.  He asserted that, one cannot truly forgive another person unless that person is willing to repent.  Over the years, I have grown in my conviction that this is the most faithful to the bible, (which is not shared by many). I will briefly respond to my dear friend’s post who I disagree with. Anyways, my posture is such that, if I find inadequacies in my argument, and find Steven’s more convincing, I will gladly let go of this one, and submit to the other. For now, I hold that we Forgive others on the condition that they repent.

God’s Forgiveness For us is Conditional!
Those who hold to the “unconditional forgiveness” position rightly highlight the passages that basically say – our forgiveness for others should be grounded on God’s forgiveness for us.  Since this is true, it is only right for us to first examine God’s forgiveness towards man. Let’s examine a passage together.
“I have no pleasure in the death of the one who dies.” Says the Lord GOD. “Therefore (emphasis mine) turn and live” – Ezekiel 18:32
This passage highlights a crucial element of God’s forgiveness that cannot be missed.  Truly God does not wish that any man should perish.  In other words, our Lord does not sit in heaven, waiting for someone to slip up, so that he can finally zap them to hell.  It is encouraging to be reminded that when we sin, God does not take pleasure in seeing our destruction.

THEREFORE,
God did not say, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, therefore, I will forgive everyone their sins.” No! God will forgive sins on the condition that we turn (or repent), as this passage in Ezekiel indicates.  Time and time again, Israel is called to repent, in order to experience the forgiveness of God. Brother’s we are not Universalists. Although God is sovereign, his forgiveness is conditional.
So, first conclusion: REPENT
My first conclusion is that we are forgiven, only on the condition that we repent from our sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation.  (Disclaimer: This does not mean that we have to know all of our sins, and repent for each of them in order to be forgiven. But the biblical pattern is to ask in order to receive forgiveness).

GUY FROM 2 Corinthians & Josephs brothers
It seems on the outset that the apostle Paul asks the Corinthians to forgive an unrepentant brother. But upon close examination of the text, one realizes that Paul was informed that this brother had already repented.  It seems more probable to believe that this brother has been repentant, and because of this, the punishment inflicted upon him was enough.  Isn’t this the pattern of Church Discipline?  We are to receive the one who asks for forgiveness. The brother seemed to have been overwhelmed with sorrow and guilt. In that case, they should not bring up the sin before him, but forgive him, and reaffirm their love for him.
In the same way, Joseph forgave men who were in a humbling situation.  Joseph was careful not to hurt them anymore while they were in an already humbling situation. He simply brought to their attention who he was and explained how sovereign God was in the whole event.  I do not suspect that the purpose of this passage is to show a step-by-step instruction in how one is to forgive another person.

Another Example
When Nathan confronts David, he did not simply say, “Hey Dave, you sinned, but you’re forgiven”.  He brought his sin to his remembrance, in order that David would repent. And of course David humbled himself before God, (Psalm 51), and found forgiveness.

Conclusion:
When your brother sins against you, don’t simply pass over it.  Go to your brother and show him his fault.  If he does not repent, than do not pass over it, call another brother.  If he still does not sin, bring it before the church.  Repentance and Church discipline has to go hand-in-hand.
I wish I can write more, but this has been an enormous task, and my time is extremely limited this semester.   I fear that many might come out with negative implications, and grow bitter towards another until they repent. This is not my goal.  We must all, as God, not will that any should perish, and pursue reconciliation.  Seek reconciliation with all men, if possible. Some situations will not be impossible, though you seek it diligently.
May the Lord grant us understanding to know how to pursue each other in love and reconciliation, and not merely pass over sins, that are sins.

 


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Forgiveness: In-depth Discussion

August 19, 2012
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I have a great friend living in Louisville that has engaged me in conversation over this topic for some time now. As of a month ago, we really started talking past the surface and began seeking to win the other to the ‘right’ view. Then my friend told me he’d set aside some time to write his view out and so graciously dedicate it to me. So I decided to do the same. Hopefully he’ll be able to draft up his side soon and allow me to post it on my blog.  We’ve mainly discussed the biblical teaching of forgiveness in light of church discipline. He’s under the view that forgiveness is conditional; I believe its unconditional. We’ll both let our ‘position’ papers speak for themselves.

Forgiveness

It’s my intention to allow the entire Bible to speak to the topic of forgiveness in a sweeping manner only the way it can, and then link all it says to the reconciliation of forgiveness and church discipline. Some object to my view because they hold on tightly to what Jesus said in the New Testament, while, in my view, setting it over and against the rest of the bible’s teaching. I call that the Jesus-only teaching. Here’s how I intend to break this down: first, provide a pre-Jesus/pre-calvary point of view; second, provide a post-Jesus ascension/post-calvary point of view; third, deal with the Jesus-only points of view; and fourth, tie in my view of unconditional forgiveness with Jesus’ instruction on church discipline.

Pre-Jesus/Pre-Calvary

Joseph gives us a great example of forgiveness in Genesis 45:1-15 as he, after being sold to Egypt, came face to face with his brothers, the slave traders. He doesn’t rehash the past and recount their wrongs. He doesn’t take subtle jabs at them in the midst of their misfortune during the present famine. Joseph even doesn’t ask questions of them as to why they purposely mistreated him in the truest sense of the word. Joseph willingly forgives them and helps them in their time of need. He hugs them, cries over their meeting, kisses them all, and invites them to great tangible goods to carry back home to their father. The first book of the Bible leaves us with an indelible mark of forgiveness.

Post-Jesus ascension/Post-Calvary

The book of Philemon is challenging in and of itself. In this one chapter book, we see Paul writing to a brother in the Lord about a guy who ran away a slave and was being sent back a brother in the Lord. Onesimus parted from his slave owner and providentially ran into the preaching prisoner, Paul. Now verses 17-21 show us a post-calvary picture of forgiveness: “So if you consider me  your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord.  Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” Paul simply calls one Christian to forgive and receive back a Christian who had wronged him. There’s no allowing Philemon to Q&A Onesimus, just charge it to Paul’s account and take him back. Again, this text gives us another example to factor into this discussion.

2 Corinthians 2 is one of those Pauline chapters that’s used to ultimately prove a point, and most times I find it done out of context. Properly seen, 2:1-11 is jam-packed. In 2:1-4, Paul is speaking of pain caused to the Corinthian church by the party set on discrediting Paul in the eyes of the believers. Verse 5 speaks of the leader of the party who suffered some form of punishment (v. 6), probably excommunication. In 2:7-8 we have the ‘blow you away‘ passage as I call it. Now this is important to notice. A leader of an opposing party brought pain to the church by attacking the character of their pastor. This leader underwent some form of church punishment, and now Paul’s instructing them to forgive and comfort him! Paul even begs them to reaffirm him. Just like that. No repentance sought out; no godly sorrow that leads to repentance confirmed; no re-telling of the gospel to hear him repent and believe verbally. Simply forgive him so that he doesn’t experience excessive sorrow.

Turning our attention to Colossians 3, Paul describes the saints there as “God’s chosen ones” before he runs off a litany of commands. Commands like put on kindness, humility, and patience. Being children of God affords them the ability to obey those commands. In 3:13, Paul commands them to bear with each other, and if a saint has a complaint against another saint, then forgive her. Straight up forgive her. Again, notice there’s no mention of confront, confess, console, and move on. Just forgiveness. And why? Because the Lord has forgiven you. So we in turn forgive.

Ephesians 4:31-5:2 is no different. Put off wrath, anger, bitterness, and malice from you in order that you can be kind and tender-hearted. Not only that, you are to forgive as God forgave you. This is in-step with being imitators of God. This behavior signifies how saints walk in love.

That’s enough of the post-calvary evidence. Now we will focus on the sole New Testament gospel book that offers guidelines for how we understand and practice forgiveness. Matthew is that sole book in which this issue forces us to look beyond ourselves onto the name of Jesus and wiles of the devil. Any person in Christ is now able to and required to forgive due to God forgiving them based on Jesus’ death. Meanwhile, the devil’s intentions are to destroy the witness of the church. How? By eroding the faith, love, and unity of the church. And unity is achieved through mutual forgiveness of the saints one to another. Therefore, mutual forgiveness must actively accompany Christian living to strengthen the church’s witness.

Jesus-only

The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:14-15 is a pre-calvary/pre-ascension text that clearly points to a life of forgiveness. Except this passage takes it to a whole new level. Earlier in Matthew 6:12, Jesus teaches a model for asking God for forgiveness. As Christians sin and their personal relationship with God is strained, Jesus instructed the disciples to seek restoration through those heartfelt words, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Having received God’s grace, Christians ought to be moved to forgive those who wrong them. Jesus goes on to say that if you forgive others, your heavenly Father will forgive you. It’s that serious, ladies and gentlemen! And the reverse is true, also.

Forgiveness and Church Discipline

A few chapters later we run into the passage that causes a lot of trouble for those trying to reconcile church discipline and forgiveness. In 18:1-20:34, Jesus speaks to the way of life in the covenant community. It’s important to understand that the church discipline process is all about restoration. It’s geared towards seeks reconciliation between one offensive saint and the body of Christ. That’s restoration. It also happens to be the same goal of forgiveness. We especially saw this in Matthew 6 didn’t we. Both of these topics point to the same conclusion, thereby able to be reconciled in our minds in a biblical manner. That’s crucial to start off with.

So we see with every step in the church discipline process, the aim is restoration. From going to the person one-on-one, to bringing witnesses, to telling it to the church, the desire is that the saint repents. So where does forgiveness fit? The answer is from beginning to end. Wanting to restore a person to the covenant community stems from a forgiving heart and motive, lest the outcome becomes messy, and the process is carried out on the first guy going to the offensive saint.

Conclusion

So where does this leave us? Forgiveness has to be unconditional for the believer both to those within the covenant community and outside of it because God forgave the covenant community once Jesus died for them, the devil is roaring around, and the world is watching. By this all men shall know that God sent Jesus and we are his disciples. Once again Paul gives us the clearest answer to the “what are we to do now” question, and the answer is found in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you,  live peaceably with all.” Of course this verse leaves us with an open-ended conclusion but it does give us place the onus on us to some degree, and honestly that’s all that can be asked of us. We forgive first and foremost , and if possible, live in a peaceful state with all people. Just remember, God forgave you and restoration is the goal.


How Seeing God Rightly Matters

August 16, 2012
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I often ask myself this question, and others also, “do you truly believe what the Bible says?” Now that may seem odd that a Christian willingly endure a self-examination like that, but it’s only odd to some who don’t know how wicked the flesh is, and how much putting to death of the flesh Christians have to do on a daily basis. Let’s just say regularly confessing that I do believe the Bible is good for many reasons.

“Since then we have  a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,  let us hold fast our confession.”

This Hebrews 4 verse is teaching believers a clear biblical principle: because of who Jesus is (a great high priest and Son of God) and what Jesus has done ( passed through the heavens), reflecting on these truths we can be immovable in our confession of him, thus we will follow him and obey him.

However, it doesn’t just stop there. Jesus is a true historical figure who lived many years ago making a great impact on lives all around him, some for good and some for worse. But Jesus is more than that. For the Christians living today and those who have yet to believe in him aren’t left with some old foggy historical figure that should serve as a time capsule that we dig up every now and again to cherish his memory. Jesus is our benchmark and relevant redeemer.

“For we do not have a high priest  who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been  tempted as we are,  yet without sin.”

Yes, Jesus is our benchmark (in every respect tempted as we are) and relevant redeemer (a high priest who’s able to sympathize with our weaknesses). So far we see who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, how Jesus is our benchmark and our relevant redeemer. So what does all this mean?

It means if we see God rightly, it really affects our lives. In fact, it affects what we do in private most of all, because what we do in our private lives mirrors exactly what we believe. We’ve all been known to put on masks to either hide what we’re thinking and feeling or to help others see us as thinking and feeling something that we’re not. But when we get home, the masks come off and comfort sets in. However, the writer of Hebrews leads us to a different path.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Seeing Jesus our God rightly matters when we need to draw near for prayer. If we think less of God and his power, or we don’t expect God to hear and answer our prayer, or we place too much ability in our hands, ultimately we’ve ceased to daily trust in what this passage in Hebrews 4 is teaching, along with the rest of the Bible. The fact of the matter is we can be guilty of forgetting the person and work of Jesus Christ!

So since we have a heavenly high priest, hold fast to your confession of identifying with him. Since our high priest can relate to our weaknesses and not sin, look to him. Since we all want to receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need, go to Jesus with confidence. Seeing God rightly matters in our approach to him in our prayers full of faith and confidence. May this truth convict us as we endure self-examinations.


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Too Christian For The Culture?

August 8, 2012
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Shout, shout, let it all out, these are the things I can do without…so come on, I’m talking to you…” These words seem to be the underlying message purported by those pleading with believers to appeal to the culture of the world today. Or at least it is to me. So many attempt to ignore the ‘us vs them’ paradigm that is ever so present today, which happens to be 100% biblical, all for the sake of being culturally relevant. I even hear some throw out 1 Corinthians 9:22 as their one-size-fits-all verse.

Oh for shame.

Is there such a thing as being too christian for the culture? Please understand what this question is getting at. The culture is something that’s at odds with the Christ of human history. While the christians are those in reconciled relationships with the Christ of human history as their Lord, Messiah, Savior, and God. So is there such a thing? NO! It’s impossible. How do I know that? Because the very first people who God chose to be his people were given the task of standing out from the culture and being distinct.

Yeah, but hasn’t that changed? I mean God dealt with Israel differently we all know that, but now God wants to save everybody so obviously Christians are to obey the great commission by going to those worldly people in the culture. And not just going to them, but adapting to their ways, talking like them, living like them, dressing like them, and speaking like them solely to be relevant, to be missional, and to be effective. That’s the thinking of some believers. And it sounds like a winsome way, doesn’t it? So what’s the problem? That’s never been the way God has gone about providing means so as to save people.

Ever, ever? That’s right…never ever ever. That thought flies in the face of being “called out ones” that assemble together to serve the risen Lord. It also crucially contradicts another passage that Jesus speaks during his sermon on the mount.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:14-16).

How are we to be salt and light set on a hill for all to see as our being separate and living in a manner that’s separate from the world while being immersed in the culture? God doesn’t need us to invent some new creative  method to advance God’s kingdom. Being missional is biblical if and only if we’re getting our cues from the text, and not from some current seeker-sensitive  approach that sometimes extends from a declining number of yearly baptisms. Being something different to the culture that will hate us is actually biblical, and Jesus already warned us of that. No need to intentionally set out to be ‘offensive’ to the lost, nor are we to be so willing to not tell someone about Jesus just so we can get in good with the lost. We don’t need them; they need Jesus! Let us not forget that.


Identity Check

August 2, 2012
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There’s a lot to identify yourself with around this particular time of the year. There are lines being drawn for political parties and figureheads. There are lines being drawn over equal rights and the Constitution. And there are lines being drawn through the true definition of truth as epistemology and postmodernism clash time and time again under the umbrella of tolerance.

So where does your identity lie? As a professing Christian, how do you see yourself?

This may sound like bragging, but I see myself as a work of art! As a believer, every time I read the book of Ephesians, I walk away telling myself that I’m a piece of work….a beautiful piece of work. Let me explain. Paul starts off the book telling all believers that they were chosen by God, predestined to adoption as God’s children, redeemed by Christ’s blood, and sealed till the day of consummation by the Spirit. And that’s just the first chapter. Then in chapter 2:10, he lays this out:

For  we are his workmanship,  created in Christ Jesus  for good works,  which God prepared beforehand,  that we should walk in them.

Christians are God’s workmanship. We are His piece of work put on display. We are this work thanks to Christ Jesus death and rising. We are this work for the purpose of carrying out good works so that the world would see them and glorify our Father in heaven. These good works were set up by God to be carried out by His children before we were ever His children. And it’s going to happen. How do I know? Because God set all of this up so that we would live out these works.

God is sovereign and will do what He pleases. He pleases to save us with a special set of works set aside for us individually. We as individuals live out the works planned for us. And God did all this beforehand, which can be confusing. He did this before the creation of the world, and I get that as we link this language to chapter 1, verse 4.

So I truly meditate on this truth that I’m all His work, and I revel in God and give him praise. This is my identity check. I was saved and set aside for good works that would be put on a display for the world to see, so they could join in with me giving God glory. My identity is to display the grace and work of God through Jesus filled with the Spirit so that I can glorify God and worship Him. That’s my identity. What’s yours?

 


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