045: Anger in the Streets (and in Our Hearts)

You’ve seen it in the news. It fills your social media feed. But the most troubling place to find it is in your home and in your heart. In a season filled with many emotions, there is one that seems to be everywhere today — anger. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen is joined by Bruce Wesley to discuss what anger is, where it comes from, and how to overcome it before it destroys us all.

RESOURCES:

A Small Book about a Big Problem by Edward Welch

Good and Angry by David Powlison

A Gentle Answer by Scott Sauls

Wednesdays at Home: 7/1/20

This is our mid-week opportunity to stay connected online with our pastors to receive mid-week scriptural encouragement, prayer, and updates on how we are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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The Justice of the Kingdom

As a lawyer, justice is always forefront in my mind.

But even if you don’t practice law, you can see that there is injustice everywhere in our world today. Within our culture, we are inclined to take on an adversarial stance, making every attempt to identify a guilty party, justify those on our side, or oppose any group that seems untrustworthy. Conversely, we may be tempted to wash our hands of the situation completely, like Pontius Pilate, thinking, this has nothing to do with me.

But, as followers of Jesus, we must be willing to courageously take a different path. Biblical justice doesn’t only entail the responsibilities of the government to maintain law and order. Though these concerns are important, biblical justice encompasses much more than punishments; it is also about making things right. True justice is about restoring what is fallen and repairing what is broken—from property to policing, from principles to people.

As we read through the minor prophets, it’s hard not to notice an emphasis on God’s concern for the vulnerable. He consistently calls for his people to enact justice on behalf of those who have been exploited, oppressed, or victimized. 

 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against one another in your heart.’”
– Zechariah 7:9-10

 

God’s perfect justice always holds retribution and restoration together. Because of his covenant with Abraham and Moses, he judged Israel for their idolatry and then rescued them from foreign oppressors and their own sin time and again while continually promising a day of complete justice for all people.

That promise was fulfilled in Jesus, who perfected justice on our behalf. He not only atones for our sins, covering the debt that we owe, but through his death and resurrection, also restores us—the Gentile, the Jew, the Samaritan, the leper, the poor, the outcasts—completely to intimate relationship with God. We are transformed into new people who love and serve one another, freed from slavery to sin and able to live life to the fullness that God created for us.

So what is our response to this type of life-altering, eternally transforming love? Is it simply to be thankful and move on? Or is to be transformed into those who will do the same for others? How can we, saved from the justice that we truly deserve and restored to life in Christ, look away when we see people made in the image of God who are victimized, oppressed, or persecuted?

Our values, behavior, relationships, and hopes are all transformed through Christ as we follow him, reflecting his image more closely each day. As citizens in the kingdom of God, we are called to continue his work of restorative justice, setting the world right to reflect the kingdom of God. Jesus, God himself, stepped in to rescue us in our deepest need. In the same way, we must each lend our position, influence, and voice to serve those who are vulnerable or marginalized, offering the love of Christ and acting in selfless sacrifice for the benefit of those around us.

We live in the already/not yet time of history. Jesus is king over all, and yet sin still runs rampant in this world. We grieve together in the midst of injustice, but we also hope in the return of Jesus. As we wait for that day, we are commanded to live and love as his representatives. It is our call, as missionaries of Christ, to do whatever we can to implement justice. 

 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
– John 13:34

 

Law school taught me all about our country’s adversarial court system, including its benefits and challenges.

As a lawyer, I know our secular justice system is necessary—imperfect and complicated, but necessary. As a Christian though, my ultimate hope is in the justice of God. The justice of God is greater—it is perfect—in both its requirements and promises.

Jesus, by the grace of God, has fulfilled the requirements of justice and fulfills the promise that all things will made right. God is at work, and as his followers, we must also be willing to sacrifice and serve to bring about his restorative, redemptive justice.

Father, help us to be a people who seek justice in your name. Give us the conviction and courage to step into the mess of this world and the injustice around us, and help set it right — to bring your kingdom to earth as it is heaven.


 

From One White Christian to Another

As I watched the public response unfold after George Floyd’s death on May 25, much of the controversy around the conversation of race and justice seemed distant. The vitriol was coming from politicians and media figures far away. The absurd headlines and offensive memes were being shared by people in other places, with a few exceptions. The hatefulness and ignorance were coming from other communities.

It turns out, I was ignorant too.

When local citizens organized a peaceful protest march in my neighborhood, I was shocked by the hatefulness shared by some in our community. It weighed on me. So I did the only thing I knew to do: pray.

I used social media and Nextdoor to invite others to join me in prayer at our neighborhood park six hours before the protest march. I was shocked again when some in our church and others in our community made assumptions and accusations about my invitation to pray.

It wasn’t all bad news, though. Just over 100 people gathered to pray that morning. I have seen countless posts and news stories showing unity and encouragement in the past couple of weeks, and there is a groundswell of support for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

However, my experience with the invitation to prayer has opened my eyes to a larger rift than I knew existed. I am cautious to wade into the broader conversation because I’m a white man, who has lived most of my life in a predominately white community. My family is white, my closest friends are white, and my life experience is white. But the most important truth about who I am has nothing to do with those things.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. He is my king. His teachings and his way of life are my mission.

So, as a white Christian writing to other white Christians, here are three things I would like to share.

 

We have an opportunity

We can’t fully understand the hurt our black brothers and sisters are experiencing, but we can listen with humility and openness. The sad truth is, statistically, we aren’t great at this part. The Barna Group, an evangelical Christian research organization, published an article based on their findings that is worth reading. Barna VP of research Brooke Hempell says, “More than any other segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African American brothers and sisters.”

Wait…what?!? I don’t want that to be true of me. Do you want that to be true of you? Unfortunately, it is true of us.

But, do we want it to continue?

The first step we must take is to lean in and listen intently. What does that look like? It means seeking out conversations with black people in our lives. It might also mean reading things we wouldn’t normally seek out, or watching documentaries that make us uncomfortable, or exposing ourselves to things we disagree with or that offend us. This will take time and we should expect to be uncomfortable for a season, not an afternoon. Listening and learning will help us know how to take the next step.

We have an opportunity in this season to listen. To listen is to love, and love is what will change the world. Love has already changed each of us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16a).

 

Race and reconciliation are not either/or issues

A false dichotomy exists in today’s either/or narrative and it should stop with us. We cannot participate in, or perpetuate, the division portrayed in the news media and on social media. There is more nuance to these issues than a meme can communicate. And nuance requires patience, thoughtfulness, and respectful conversation.

If we are going to listen in love, then we should be quiet long enough to understand all that is being said.

An easy example is to consider the difference between “black lives matter” and Black Lives Matter. One is a humanitarian statement defending the value of life, the other is a political organization with a specific agenda. Every Christian should fully endorse the statement “black lives matter,” but most Christians will find it difficult to support the full agenda of the Black Lives Matter political organization (e.g. the legalization of prostitution).

The conversation about race and reconciliation has become politicized and polarized, and we have been led to believe that there are only two sides to choose from. This is not true. These issues are multi-faceted.

Refusing to accept this false dichotomy should cause us to listen intently without assuming we understand all that is being said. It will also free us up to evaluate each facet of the conversation biblically.

This will help us as we consider the differences between protesting and rioting, police brutality and #backtheblue, inequality and privilege, and a hundred other parts of the conversation.

We must rise above the polarization and politics. The stakes are too high. We must embrace reconciliation as a both/and issue – as a gospel issue.

 

We must do something now

Jesus summed up God’s expectations for all of his people by teaching that the two most important things we must do with our lives are to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). When asked to define what a neighbor is, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan – a story that shows everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus took special care to break down the division of race for his followers.

White Christians, we must love our neighbors who are a different race from us. We must love in active, sacrificial, and uncomfortable ways. We must love humbly like our Savior loves (Philippians 2:5-8).

After listening and learning, we must engage the issues. We cannot sit on the sidelines! But we have to engage the issues like Jesus would. How did Jesus engage the world around him? He loved the broken and the hurting. He befriended the zealot. He washed the feet of his betrayer. Jesus forgave his executioners. He touched the leper. He wept with the grieving. He loved without pretense, prejudice, or politics. These examples show us that Jesus put the person above the problem.

 

What if you made it your mission to love like Jesus did?

What if white Christians across our community went all-in on this type of Jesus movement?

What if God used us to be part of the peace, healing, unity, and justice so badly needed?

What if God used you?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

– 1 John 3:16-18

Want to listen and learn? There are a lot of resource lists available online. Check them out. I don’t think you can go wrong. Don’t know where to start? I like www.bethebridge.com


 

 

George Floyd, Racism, and Grieving with Those Who Grieve

Last Tuesday afternoon, one of Clear Creek Community Church’s pastors informed our Executive Team of the developing news concerning a man named George Floyd. According to a bystander video, Mr. Floyd, a native Houstonian, died as a result of treatment by some Minnesota police officers. The next day gave way to further details of the tragedy. I was heartbroken and posted to my social media accounts:

Grieving with our fellow black Americans who feel like this is the same horrible, deflating, despairing song that’s still stuck on repeat. Grateful for a better kingdom that comes. Come quickly. #GeorgeFloyd

In 2017, Clear Creek did a sermon series on race and racism where, on one of those Sundays, we spent time listening to a panel of four black pastors who shared their experiences of racism in America. It was an eye-opening, sobering, and needed conversation for the people of our church to be a part of. Since then we have preached other messages with applications addressing the sin of racism, but nothing has stood out to me as much as listening to those friends share their stories of heartbreak, despair, and disenfranchisement (as well as their hopes for the future).

I needed those voices.

Their experiences of racism, which they confirmed were generally the rule instead of the exception, are ones for which I have no personal context. I have never had rocks hurled into the windows of my childhood home with messages of hate attached to them. I have never been detained by authorities with weapons drawn as I was simply retrieving something from my car trunk. I never had families quickly scatter to the other side of the street when they saw me walking toward them going to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Once again, my black friends patiently remind me that this is par for the course for those in the black community.[1]

That’s why when the recent events of Ahmaud Aubrey and now George Floyd occur, the emotional dam breaks and all the pain and sorrow flows once again from people of color. It’s not just about the details of one event or another but what they represent: the relentless injustice of what daily life in America feels like for the black community.

My social media feed was a cascade from my black friends of sorrow, anger, and cries of “How long, O Lord? How long?”

How long will a people endure injustice? How long can followers of Jesus outside the black community be inattentive to the cries of their Christian brothers and sisters of color within it? How long will it be until believers live out the kingdom of the gospel as it respects race regardless of what it costs them politically, relationally, socially, or financially? 

There are many places to learn how followers of Jesus can better live out the gospel as it concerns race. I encourage you to figure out which steps the Spirit might lead you to better love your neighbor in this endeavor. A good place to start is by simply grieving with those who grieve (Rom. 12:15). Add your voice of support to the despairing masses who feel the crushing sorrow of what feels like another brutal, gut-wrenching reminder that things are not the way they are supposed to be. It could be as simple as dialoging with your friends of color about how they are doing and how you can love them well.

We, the leadership of Clear Creek Community Church, grieve with our black brothers and sisters within our church and also our black friends outside it. We hope that swiftly there comes a day where the stories of hatred and brutality come to an end, and we also hope Clear Creek Community Church can be a partner toward that end as it glorifies the kingdom and King Jesus who brings it.

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.

– Matthew 5:14-16

[1] I use the term “Black community” instead of “African American community” because of some conversations with my black friends who believe the former term to be an inaccurate descriptor of the origins for many black Americans today.

*I wanted to write this because Clear Creek recorded the elements for the May 31st service before the events of George Floyd had come to the surface nationally. Because of this, we intentionally addressed the racial tensions of the nation in our pre-service “lobby time” Sunday morning. However, those who didn’t participate in that time would likely think we went the entire day without addressing this important, national issue. We did not, have not and, God-willing, will not.


 

Imago Dei: Beyond Dignity

Throughout history, the church has been called to be the champion of the vulnerable, the weak, and the persecuted.

This call for justice — whether to fight racial discrimination, defend the lives of the unborn, or end human trafficking — is an appeal to see every human being through the eyes of the Christian narrative which proclaims mankind’s creation in the image of God, or imago dei.

This truth is the foundation for all human rights.

All people have inherent dignity (i.e. are valuable) not because of any aspect of their lives or circumstance, but because they bear the image of God. Although human dignity found within the imago dei is often enough to convince people to avoid harming others, it does not always move us towards active love. In order to move towards the empathy, sacrifice, and desire for justice we are called to as God’s people, we have to understand the depth of what it means to be made in God’s image. It can be easy to downplay the significance of the imago dei, but it isn’t merely a reason to value others. The Bible tells us:

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

In the beginning, men and women were created by God to reflect his character and represent him in this world, but because of the Fall, this image was corrupted. Humans no longer reflected the character of God to each other as intended. Instead, men and women set up their own rules and ways of life, harming one another and persecuting the vulnerable, no longer loving and ruling as God had ordained.

Even the nation of Israel, the Old Testament people of God, did not reflect the love of God toward each other, despite continual commands from God to seek justice and protect the weak. We just cannot live and love as God created us to on our own.

But, a Savior has come in whom we see the true and perfect imago dei.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

Jesus, fully God and fully man, shows us what the image of God really looks like: loving the lost, protecting the vulnerable, and sacrificing for others — even unto death. And, because of Jesus, by the grace of God, we can now walk in newness of life. Through faith in Christ, we are freed from the power of sin and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, to reflect the image of God, loving and living as Jesus.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28)

Imago dei requires us to view all people as having inherent value and dignity. However, the imago dei is not only descriptive, it is prescriptive.

Image-bearing is not just a title, it is a calling.

We — those walking in the footsteps of Jesus — defend the rights of the unborn because every life is valuable. We should also care for orphans because we are representatives of God in his kingdom. We — the church — refuse to persecute the vulnerable because every person bears God’s image and has inherent dignity. We should also protect and love the persecuted, because as we are conformed into the image of the Son, we reflect his compassion and sacrifice.

One day, Jesus will return and make all things new: a restored world and perfect justice for all.

He will.

We rest in this certainty.

Until then, we live in the already and not yet, where there is uncertainty, injustice, and suffering.

Let’s remember that we were created in the image of God – a description of all people, and a call to Christians to be conformed into the likeness and love of our Savior,

Let’s spend less time creating our own rules and ways of life, and focus on reflecting to others a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like: peace, love, unity, and justice.

Let’s cling to Jesus.