Racism & Injustice, 7 June 2020

Racism and Injustice
Series—What in the World is Going On?
Featuring special guest Pastor Donald Smith

Big Idea:
Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

What in the world is going on?
If you’re like me, you’ve asked that question a lot lately.

The deadly coronavirus is one thing. The lockdowns and ensuring chaos have been—at least for many—even worse.

The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are one thing. The ensuring protests and violence are—at least for many—even worse.

What in the world is going on? Are these the last days? Is Jesus coming back soon? If so, what difference does it make?

Our world is a mess. But this is actually not a new thing. Read the Bible! Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden, we’ve all been involved in the deadliest force in the universe…sin.

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

we are engaged in a war! We’re in the middle of a battle! It’s easy to forget that sometimes in our air-conditioned cars and houses with our flat-screen TVs, and La-Z-Boy recliners. We enjoy prosperity and freedoms in this country others on our planet can’t even imagine.

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

We’ve seen blatant sin in full-color. We watched a man murdered. We witnessed violence toward police, civilians, whites, and blacks. We’ve seen buildings burned, businesses looted, …and there are a hundred different narratives to describe these disturbing events.

Tragically, it’s nothing new. Racism isn’t new. Pandemics aren’t new. Hatred and violence aren’t new. They’re simply signs of our enemy, satan.

Paul wrote these famous words to the church in the city of Ephesus in what is modern-day Turkey:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

The enemy loves to steal, kill, and destroy. Sin leads to death, and it’s the hallmark of satan.

Years ago, I heard Ravi Zacharias respond to whether the decline of Christianity in the West or the rise of it in the developing world was more significant. He said they balance each other out.

That makes sense to me. I don’t believe angels or demons reproduce. According to my math, there are two angels for every demon. We will win the war, but the battles are real.

Two weeks ago, I gave a sermon entitled, “
Love Well.” In it, I reflected upon the fact that as a church family, we are diverse. We are different. We have a huge variety of views on politics, football teams, theology, fashion, and music. But we’re family. We’re a Jesus-centered family. We exist for God’s glory, not our own.

We are a Jesus-centered family
Restoring God's masterpieces
In Toledo and beyond
For His Glory.

I’m really glad we’re different. It would be so boring if everyone thought and acted like me! Sure, I have opinions and preferences, but when my focus is on God’s glory, I can set them aside. Sometimes I actually do!

Jesus said,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

That phrase “love one another” was echoed in the book of Romans (13:8). Peter preached it (1 Peter 1:22; 3:8) John restated it (1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 5).

We are to love one another, even when we disagree. I think we were created to disagree! Again, it would be boring if we were all the same, but our differences allow us to be stretched, challenged, and grow. As someone once said, the purpose of marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy. I think that’s true for family, too.

Today I want to put some action behind this idea of love well, of loving one another. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the analogy of a body to describe the Church, the family of believers. It’s a brilliant metaphor vividly showing how we are all different, we’re supposed to be different, and when we are united, beautiful things emerge. When we are divided, of course, things get ugly…quick. Paul wraps up his instructions by saying,

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

If you stub your toe, your whole body suffers. If you have a sliver in your finger, attention is drawn to it. When you have a migraine…

Family, we have some parts who are suffering. It’s not a new pain, but one they have known since birth. It’s a suffering I can’t understand, but I can empathize. Just like I’ll never know the pain of giving birth, I can appreciate the agony as I hear it described (or by being an eyewitness three times!).

It’s easy for people in the majority culture to dismiss the struggle of those in the minority, whatever the situation. I’ve heard people of the lighter hue for years talk about how there’s equal opportunity, everyone should pick themselves up by their bootstraps, look at Oprah and Obama, and turn the other way whenever racial issues are presented.

Racism is not a political issue. It’s a biblical issue.
It’s a human issue. Jesus died for all masterpieces. We are all created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. All of us.

Pastor David Swanson writes, “It is deeply disturbing that so many Christians think that racial reconciliation is some kind of liberal, politically motivated social agenda that has nothing to do with their faith as followers of Jesus Christ.”

Tragically, some Christians seem to have more in common with those who share their race than those who share their faith. Some are more influenced by politics than Jesus.

Racism is not a political issue. It’s a biblical issue.

Proverbs, the book of wisdom, includes this important instruction:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

I’ve often heard that verse used by the pro-life movement, which is appropriate. Dr. Tony Evans said this week that God, “Wants to protect the life of the unborn in the womb, but wants to see justice of the life once born to the tomb. God wants a whole life agenda, not a term agenda.”

Evans said, “We’re in a medical pandemic. Simultaneously, we’re in a cultural pandemic because we’re seeing the devolution of our society…and we’re in a cultural pandemic because we’re in a spiritual pandemic.”

Family, I’ve spent countless hours these past several days praying, reading, and listening. Again, I confess I simply want to fix it! How? Should I run for political office? Will a great sermon do the job? What can I do on social media to make a statement? Is peaceful protest the answer?

One of my best friends on the planet, Dr. Calvin Sweeny, offered three suggestions for me:

  • 1. Listen to understand, not respond
  • 2. Learn about racial injustices
  • 3. Lead your congregations toward solutions (not just response) bathed in prayer

  • I’ve been focusing on steps one and two. Today is the beginning of step three.

    I prayed about how to address this issue today, knowing we’re not going to fix it in sixty minutes, but we can’t be silent, either. I spoke to many friends of color this past week—including many of you—and felt led to invite Pastor Donald Smith to join me today. Reverend Smith is the pastor of Sylvania Community Church, our sister Alliance congregation. He’s been here before for joint worship gatherings and I’ve asked him to speak to us today. Please, listen to understand, not respond.

    Interview with Pastor Donald Smith

    You can download our Next Steps resource guide

    You can watch a panel discussion on race, justice, and the Church's response led by Alliance President Dr. John Stumbo

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

    When Under Attack, 29 April 2018

    When Under Attack
    D6 Series—
    Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
    Psalm 109

    Series Overview: The Psalms reveal hearts poured out in inspired song.

    Big Idea: God is our shield and help when we experience injustice and opposition.

    Scripture Reading: Psalm 109:30-31

    With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD;
    in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.
    For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
    to save their lives from those who would condemn them. (Psalms 109:30-31)

    Isn’t that nice? God stands at the right hand of the needy. So that means when we get a flat tire, God is with us. When we catch the flu, God will help us. We will praise the LORD even if we don’t get the promotion we were hoping or when we experience ridicule for being a Christian.

    But what about serious condemnation? Where is God when things get really rough?

    Jesus famously told his followers…

    …you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)

    That word “witnesses” in the original Greek is “martus,” related to our word “martyr.”

    We’ve all experienced injustice and opposition in our lives, but few of us can say our lives have been in jeopardy. I rarely hear of people martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ on American soil, and for that we can be grateful, not only to God but also those who have fought for our freedom.

    Throughout history, godly men and women have been threatened. They have had contracts on their lives. They have been hunted down. Can you imagine? What would you do if you received a death threat?

    Today we are continuing our series, Songs from the Heart, on select Psalms. I have mentioned how the book of Psalms was Israel’s hymnbook…and my favorite book of the Old Testament. The passion, authenticity, and artistry of these lyrics are so real, relevant, and inspiring…thousands of years after their writing.

    On Resurrection Sunday, we saw glimpses of the suffering Jesus in Psalm 22. Then we looked at the Messianic nature of Psalm 72 and God’s love expressed in Psalm 89. Last Sunday we looked at what it means to bless or praise the LORD in Psalm 103.

    Our psalm for today is 109 and it is quite different from the previous psalms we have examined. This psalm was used by Thomas Hardy in his novel
    The Mayor of Casterbridge. It is often called an imprecatory psalm, a zealous prayer and song to God calling out the wicked. This psalm is similar to Psalm 69, but here the writer is innocent, not a wrongdoer. He is a victim, yet his response to his enemies is somewhat surprising.

    For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

    My God, whom I praise,
    do not remain silent,
    for people who are wicked and deceitful
    have opened their mouths against me;
    they have spoken against me with lying tongues. (Psalms 109:1-2)

    Has anyone ever lied about you? Gossiped about you? Slandered you? How does it feel? David understands. He wants God to intervene, to take action, to not remain silent. God, where are you? Do you see this? Do you hear this?

    With words of hatred they surround me;
    they attack me without cause. (Psalms 109:3)

    Remember that old expression, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”? What a lie! Words can actually lead to our bones being broken! Charles Spurgeon said, “In all Satan’s armoury there are no worse weapons than deceitful tongues.”

    In return for my friendship they accuse me,
    but I am a man of prayer. (Psalms 109:4)

    Satan is called the accuser. These people are satanic, they are accusers. David is
    innocent, yet he is being attacked. What a contrast—accusations and prayer. His
    enemies are talking falsely about him to others and David is talking to God. What
    does David do when treated unjustly? He drops to his knees. The Hebrew says literally,
    “But I prayer.” In other words, he’s all about prayer. Are you?

    I wish I could say prayer is always my first response to attack. It’s not. I get defensive. I strategize a retaliation. I seek revenge. My mind refuses to shut off, engaging in imaginary conversations. I want justice. I want to cry, “Foul!”

    They repay me evil for good,
    and hatred for my friendship. (Psalms 109:5)

    No good deed goes unpunished! Notice David’s mention of friendship. No one can hurt you like a friend. You can sometimes forget the words of a stranger, but wounds from those we love run deep. Now David goes into a tirade against his enemy, a singular man. These verses are incredible!

    Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
    let an accuser stand at his right hand.
    When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
    and may his prayers condemn him.
    May his days be few;
    may another take his place of leadership. (Psalms 109:6-8)

    Peter quotes this last verse in Acts 1:20 as fulfillment of Judas’ death.

    We don’t know if David was king when this was written, but David was a warrior. Do you remember what he did to Goliath? It’s important to understand David did not act upon these curses. He left the heavy lifting for God after he poured out his heart.

    May his children be fatherless
    and his wife a widow.
    May his children be wandering beggars;
    may they be driven from their ruined homes.
    May a creditor seize all he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
    May no one extend kindness to him
    or take pity on his fatherless children.
    May his descendants be cut off,
    their names blotted out from the next generation.
    May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
    may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. (Psalms 109:9-14)

    Have you ever felt that way? He’s not done!

    May their sins always remain before the LORD,
    that he may blot out their name from the earth.
    For he never thought of doing a kindness,
    but hounded to death the poor
    and the needy and the brokenhearted.
    He loved to pronounce a curse—
    may it come back on him. (Psalms 109:15-17)

    David’s saying, “Do unto him as he has done unto me. Curse him as he has cursed

    He found no pleasure in blessing—
    may it be far from him.
    He wore cursing as his garment;
    it entered into his body like water,
    into his bones like oil.
    May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
    like a belt tied forever around him. (Psalms 109:18-19)

    Now he shifts from an individual to a plural group, perhaps the people led by the man.

    May this be the LORD’S payment to my accusers,
    to those who speak evil of me. (Psalms 109:20)

    He’s honest! He declares his desires, but leaves the matter to the LORD. Then David
    speaks one of the most important words in the English language—“but.”

    But you, Sovereign LORD,
    help me for your name’s sake;
    out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. (Psalms 109:21)

    What do we do in the midst of distress? Call upon the LORD. Ask God for help. Seek
    deliverance. Ask for protection, not on the basis of your own goodness but on the basis
    of God’s name and goodness.

    For I am poor and needy,
    and my heart is wounded within me.
    I fade away like an evening shadow;
    I am shaken off like a locust. (Psalms 109:22-23)

    Even great men like David—king or not—are but dust. Whether we acknowledge it or
    not, we all need God.

    My knees give way from fasting;
    my body is thin and gaunt.
    I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
    when they see me, they shake their heads. (Psalms 109:24-25)

    This is hardly the picture we expect of David! He’s thin and gaunt, pitiful and disgusting.

    Help me, LORD my God;
    save me according to your unfailing love. (Psalms 109:26)

    The appeal is not David’s goodness, but God’s love and mercy.

    Let them know that it is your hand,
    that you, LORD, have done it. (Psalms 109:27)

    He wants God to receive the glory, not himself.

    While they curse, may you bless;
    may those who attack me be put to shame,
    but may your servant rejoice.
    May my accusers be clothed with disgrace
    and wrapped in shame as in a cloak. (Psalms 109:28-29)

    God’s blessings will always be greater than the curses of our enemies. David rejoices
    knowing God is in control and will have the last word.

    Now we see the context for today’s scripture reading.

    With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD;
    in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.
    For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
    to save their lives from those who would condemn them. (Psalms 109:30-31)

    At the end of the day, David knows God is real. He knows his calamity is temporary, his life is but a vapor, a gift. He knows no matter the circumstances, God is worthy of praise, of blessing, of extoling, of worship. His story is not over. There is hope.

    So What?

    D6: The fact that we face opposition and attack because of our faith demonstrates that we are engaged in a spiritual warfare.

    The writer of the book of Romans had some radical things to say about our enemies.

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19)

    Then he quotes Proverbs 25…

    On the contrary:

    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)

    If we are to follow the example of David, we should ask God to curse our enemies, right? That sounds like a reasonable application. After all, David was called a man after God’s own heart. Of course, that doesn’t mean he was perfect. But I love his honesty. He tells God how he feels. He expresses his emotions—constructively.

    You may have been told to never get emotional. Big boys don’t cry. Don’t let them see you sweat. Never question God. Bury your feelings.

    I think David would vehemently disagree! His language is raw. It’s passionate. He feels, but he channels his emotions appropriately. He gets real, but then gives it to God. This is the same God who said,

    It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
    In due time their foot will slip;
    their day of disaster is near
    and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

    It’s as if God says to us, “Thanks for sharing. I’ll take it from here.”

    D6: God is the Sovereign Lord of all. He alone is qualified to deal with those who oppose and attack us.

    Generations later, a descendent of David would pray speak harsh condemnations, too. Jesus said of Judas…

    The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21)

    He said of the Jewish leaders…

    Jesus answered,
    “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:11)

    Jesus was not always nice, but he never sinned, even in his anger, outraged by injustice. And Jesus not only expressed his feelings of outrage, he articulated radical love. In the presence of his enemies, as he is hanging on the cross…

    Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

    What do you do when you’re angry? When you’ve been slandered, oppressed, wronged? I want to encourage you to get real, give it to God, and pray for your enemy.

    Why? Why forgive? Why pray for our enemies?

    First, they are as worthy of forgiveness as you and I. Forgiveness is never deserved. Remember what Jesus taught us to pray?

    Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. (Luke 11:4a, NIV)

    Jesus died for them, too. They might one day surrender to Christ. What if they repent and become your friend?

    Ultimately, we must relinquish control of our pain, let go and let God. He will judge. He will deal with all sins…and sinners one day.

    And one more thing…fear not. God is in control. No weapon—or person—will prevail.

    “See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
    And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
    no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
    This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
    declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:16-17)

    some ideas from D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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