Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Got Enemies? Imagine ...

Imagine ...

As it often does, my morning meditation today began in Proverbs.

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord will reward you." (Proverbs 25: 21-22; Amplified)

Imagine if everyone actually treated their enemy in such a fashion? Imagine if all of us actually treated those difficult people in our lives, those ones we have a hard time appreciating, in such a fashion? I imagine we would soon turn the world on its head to such an extent that even wars would be a thing of the past. Perhaps we could even go so far as at least thinking about dismantling our military forces. After all, why would we need them if we actually treated our enemies as Proverbs 25:21 suggests? Do you imagine I'm taking this too far? Hmm, maybe ...

Jesus said, "But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, To show that you are children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His sun to rise on the wicked and the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike]." (Matthew 5: 44-45; Amplified)

Imagine if everyone who calls themselves a Christian proved it (Jesus said "to show") by the way they loved and prayed for their enemies? Imagine if the church actually obeyed Jesus in this? After all, Jesus also said, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46; NIV). I imagine that it's probably very difficult, if not outright impossible, to even have an enemy if I actually sincerely and unpretentiously loved and prayed for that person. Imagine if we believed Jesus on this one?

But, alas, man has always chosen to rather do things his own way rather than God's way. Sometimes I imagine we must not think too highly at all of the one we call Lord, based upon the way we so mistreat one another, for whom I might add, Christ also died. Alas, man's inhumanity to man; now there's something worth hating.

Imagine ...

Photo Credit: Dennis Skley, Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Online Communities: Shaking Off the Dust

Do you participate in online communities? If so, I will bet that like most of us, you also have some mixed feelings about them from time to time.  I know that I sure do.

An ironic thing happened to me yesterday in one such community that left me scratching my head in confusion and facetiously thinking about this Bible verse:
And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”   (Luke 9:5; ESV)

Let me back up and set the stage a little

Some time ago I joined a couple of “Christian” G+ communities, one whose community guidelines stated the following:

A Christian community for everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion. 
Community Guidelines: 
1. Keep posts concise and relevant. Use the categories. 
2. Be respectful. 
3. Original posts are preferred. No spam, self-promotion (including promoting your blog or community), cross-posting, or memes. 
4. Include your own thoughts or questions when you post links, videos, or Bible passages. 
5. Posts are allowed by individuals only, not pages.6. No "one translation only" conspiracy theory posts or other ax-grinding.  
All posts are subject to moderation. These guidelines are in place to encourage quality content. Thanks for your help!

That all sounds well and good, doesn’t it?

“A Christian community for everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion.” That sounds like it could be a good thing. Lord knows, I’ve enjoyed innumerable hours of Bible study and a plethora of fellowship discussion times centered in the Scriptures.

The only negative in their guidelines was the potential censorship as suggested by the “subject to moderation.” Still in all fairness, I understand the need for a moderator; I too moderate comments on my blogs. The difference, however, is I do so simply to block out spam; not to censor those who may think differently on a certain matter than me, and especially not when they put forward an obviously well thought out rebuttal or counter argument to my post. The irony here is that the G+ Community in question even claims it’s for “everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion.” Apparently that is not entirely true.

Unfortunately, my experience with online communities and groups hasn’t always been very positive. Quite frankly, there does seem to be a lot of junk, even in groups and communities that claim to be “Christian.” I get it, we’re all imperfect people, saved by grace alone, but who still do a lot of stupid stuff. Who hasn’t scratched their head a time or two at all the seemingly loveless online arguments, even on sites that claim to be “Christian?” Perhaps we've even been guilty of it ourselves a time or two. But sometimes, enough is enough and you have to get away from the junk for a while. Consequently I put myself on a sabbatical, so to speak, and simply stopped participating in too many such groups.

Fast-forward a few years to yesterday

I went to visit one of these G+ communities again, read some posts, made a comment or two, and even received a welcoming comment back from one individual. For the most part, it was all-good.

I then noticed that this particular community has a category heading called: “Bibles, Books, & Study Tools.” Great, I thought! I’ll put in a plug for “Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.” I shared a link to Amazon and wrote a few encouraging promotional words (or so I thought), posted it in the G+ community, and found it promptly deleted by the moderator.

Huh? What just happened?

Perhaps against my better judgment, I promptly wrote another post on the same community and under the same heading and invited the moderator to dialogue with me over this obvious misunderstanding. While some folks weighed in equally shocked, the moderator apparently did not think my question for clarification was worthy of a reply. Ultimately I deleted the post and thought the whole thing not worth it.

So here we are. I am not disgruntled, and I still do wish to leave that community with my customary “Peace & Blessings” that I often sign off with.

Why do I mention any of this?

I do so because I find the whole thing strangely ironic, and maybe even a little amusing (in a sad sort of way). In trying to share with the Christian community a new Christian book on “Unity Within Diversity,” the “unity” was apparently overshadowed by the “diversity,” which in turn led to my post being deleted by the community’s moderator. Oh the irony of it all!

Well there you have it. That’s how I ended up thinking of “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town [G+ Community] shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” The flip side of that, however, is that the even the notion of doing so somehow seems, well, rather "un-Christian" in that it sounds like we're abandoning people. Hmm.

For the record, I haven’t actually left the community yet (and maybe never will), for perhaps I will still have opportunity to clear the air if contacted by the unknown moderator. Besides, there are also some really neat people there that I have enjoyed conversing with in the past.

Discussion questions:

  • Given Jesus’ words concerning shaking off the dust as a testimony against those who do not receive or welcome us, how far do we go to promote “unity” within the “diversity” of our communities, and especially when others do not seem to share our passion for it? Do we just walk away?

  • Is there a greater likelihood for misunderstanding in online discussions as opposed to in person face-to-face discussions? Are people too quick to play the “spam” card, either to mask the topics they do not like, or simply out of ignorance as to what's really being said? If so what, if anything, can be done to try and correct that unfortunate tendency?

  • Obviously face-to-face and in person fellowship discussions are preferable, but they’re limited and not always possible. If it were not for social media, I never would have come to know some of the great people that today I proudly call my friends, but whom I’ve never yet met face-to-face. Having said that, do we modern Christians tend to hide behind our computers a little too much rather than seek good old fashioned times of face-to-face fellowship with other believers around us?

Something to think about. Peace & Blessings.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity

I am humbled and honoured to have been asked to be a part of this exciting new book venture. Twenty-four brothers and sisters in the Lord, all whom I only know from online connections, have come together to share their stories of "Unity Within Diversity." What an exciting time we live in that such a thing is even possible. I'm sure that previous generations never would have imagined such a thing. Praise God!

Here are a few thoughts from our editor, Eric Carpenter, on what this book is all about:

"What is simple church? This is a simple question that does not have a simple answer.

"Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is an attempt to shed light on the above question and provide some answers. The twenty-four contributors all hope this book will help people, both inside and outside the church, better understand what simple church life is all about.

"Far too often discussions about the church descend into arguments that accomplish little. We have no desire to take part in that. Rather, each person who has written a chapter for this book desires that it will lead to increased communication, understanding, and ultimately unity within the body of Christ.

"Twenty-four writers means twenty-four slightly different perspectives. We certainly do not agree on everything. You will see that as you read through the book. What we do agree upon is that simple practices often lead to great opportunities for edification and service - both inside and outside the church. We want to share these ideas with other followers of Christ and explain what it is all about. If you would like to know more about simple church from a positive perspective, then this is the book for you!" (Taken from the back cover of the book).

Well there you have it; simple church. I'm sure all the fine contributors would agree that we've still not got this Christian walk perfectly figured out, but by the grace of God, perhaps we're a little closer today to where He would have us to be than when we've first begun our walks of faith. Again, I am grateful to be counted among such an insightful and fine group of sisters and brothers. If any praise be had, may it all be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As for my own chapter, it is entitled: "Losing the Graffiti" and deals with the important subject of "Mutual Edification" in the Body of Christ.  If you're curious to know more, please do watch your favourite Christian bookstore for "Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity," expected to be on the shelves by Christmas 2014. Oh, and by the way, a special "Thank You" has to go to Wayne Jacobsen for his kind words in the foreword.

May God bless each of you and give you and yours His perfect peace. Amen.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Conniving with Ananias and Sapphira

"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37; NIV)

Todd Agnew has a song he calls “My Jesus.” In the lyrics he asks a couple of disturbing but valid questions: “Which Jesus do you follow? Which Jesus do you serve? If Ephesians says to imitate Christ, then why do you look so much like the world?

Since I first heard that song, those probing questions have always resonated with me. Perhaps they have with you too. When I think of those lyrics, I’m often reminded of a certain event recorded for us in Acts and wonder if the lesson the early church received has somehow slipped away into the pages of folklore, as it were, and perhaps needs to be re-taught. I also wonder how we today would receive that lesson if God were to re-teach it to us modern Christians in a similar fashion to the way He taught it to the early church. Certainly it isn't beyond the realm of possibility. God hasn't changed. I'm sure that what mattered to Him then, still matters to Him today.

However, I think the question still gets even more complex than that. If God were to do that, would we even recognize the thing as being of God? Or would we miss the lesson altogether because it would clash with some of our adopted understanding of things, such as "God's love," the "Fear of the Lord," and perhaps a few other doctrinal opinions? Have we really understood them correctly? Perhaps the lesson would even clash with our traditions, denominations, and last Sunday's sermon. Sometimes I wonder about such things.

Divine Execution: The Church’s Lesson?

But a man named Ananias – his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him – sold a piece of land, secretly kept a part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.

Peter said, “Ananias, how did Satan get you to lie to the Holy Spirit and secretly keep back part of the price of the field? Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished. So what got you to pull a trick like this? You didn’t lie to men but to God.”

Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard it. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.

Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, “Tell me, were you given this price for your field?”

“Yes,” she said, “that price.”

Peter responded, “What’s going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you’re next.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with. (Acts 5: 1-11; The Message).

That’s the biblical event that I always think of when I hear those lyrics by Todd Agnew. Have you ever been troubled by that story? Do Christians today look a little too much like the world? Have we "trifled" with God? Sometimes I’ve caught myself wondering about the Ananias and Sapphira story, thinking, what was the big deal? Even Peter said that it was his land to do with as he pleased. The more I think about it, however, the more I am beginning to wonder if any problems we have with the story aren’t directly related to a sort of lethargy that has somewhere and somehow crept into the modern church. (A caveat: by “church” I do not mean some institution, but rather the Body of Christ, and specifically, the average Christian). How have we become lethargic? I wonder if, perhaps ironically, we haven’t done so by not truthfully walking in the Light that we profess to be walking in. I may be wrong, but I don’t think the modern church shares the same urgency to truthfulness that the early church did. Too many of us seem to go about our lives with our fingers crossed behind our back, as if to suggest that such an action excuses our untruthfulness.

Light: Walk in It/Him

Ananias and Sapphira’s sin, what ever else it may have been, I believe was primarily a lack of truthfulness in the body of Christ. They were not really walking in the Light as Christians are time and again called to do in the pages of the Bible. I believe that God took their conniving lack of truthfulness seriously enough to make an example of them and teach the early church a lesson. Furthermore, I think that lesson spread far and wide, even beyond the church itself. Consider this verse:

"And none of those who were not of their number dared to join and associate with them, but the people held them in high regard and praised and made much of them." (Acts 5:13; Amplified).

Why did people not dare to join them? Was it because of their honesty and truthfulness? Was it because a few verses back Ananias and his wife Sapphira had dared to join them and they both lost their lives for being dishonest? Word of what had happened traveled fast, even outside the church (v.11). Were they frightened, knowing that they themselves were also prone to less than truthful lives, and thought that maybe God would kill them too if they got too close to those Christians? Let’s take this one step further. Does the world hold the modern church “in high regard” and make “much” of us? Let’s be honest; No, they don’t. And the only “much” that they often seem to make today is “much” of our shortcomings. How sad, and yet, I suspect that in many ways we've brought that upon ourselves.

Again, if we call ourselves Christians, then we are called to walk in the Light. This is not just a mere suggestion; it is a command. There are no loop-holes; it is non-negotiable, and there is no "Plan B." God was serious enough about this that He taught the early church a hard lesson, a lesson called “Ananias and Sapphira.” Consider these verses:

“And this is the message [the message of promise] which we have heard from Him and now are reporting to you: God is Light, and there is no darkness in Him at all [no, not in any way].

“[So] if we say we are partakers together and enjoy fellowship with Him when we live and move and are walking about in darkness, we are [both] speaking falsely and do not live and practice the Truth [which the Gospel presents].

“But if we [really] are living and walking in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses (removes) us from all sin and guilt [keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations]” (1 John 1: 5-7; Amplified).

Do we claim that "Jesus is Lord?" Do we claim to "walk in the Light?" That's great, but let's be careful with those professions, because we might just be kidding ourselves. As I've written in a previous post, the profession "Jesus is Lord" might be a lie. Our personal and business relationships, ethics and integrity (or rather lack there of) might betray us.

Truth: The Great Non-Negotiable

Light is associated with truth. John called Jesus the “true light” (John 1:9). We can’t really walk in the Light, that is, walk in Jesus, if we aren’t truthful. I am tempted to even go so far as to suggest that a “lying Christian” is a contradiction in terms, and especially when we add any “conniving” into the mix as Ananias and Sapphira did. How can we secretly pretend something is so, when deep down inside we know that it isn’t so? How can we conspire against the Light by being dishonest? Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3), and not just to man. When we talk of “walking in the Light,” that’s the same thing as “walking in the Truth.” These are not separate concepts; they are two sides of the same coin. Jesus said,

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3: 19-21; NIV. Emphasis mine).

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but if we do “evil,” that is, if we are liars, does that mean we hate Jesus? Ouch! Or are the proverbial “little white lies,” with fingers crossed behind our back, an exception to the rule? How much honesty and truthfulness do we really see in the body of Christ today? How much honesty and truthfulness do we see in each other, in you and me? Are we also guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit? Have some of us become like Ananias and Sapphira, guilty of conniving (Amplified actually uses the word "connivance") our way through our own twisted form of pseudo-Christianity? Does it even matter? Does God still care about such things?

In our abhorrence of being made to feel guilty and judging others, and in our quest for freedom to walk and practice our faith as we choose, have we gone a little overboard and presumed too much? Does holiness, in the sense of being set apart, mean that there should be something noticeably different in you and me from the rest of the non-believing world? Did it ever really mean that?

What if God were to re-kindle that lesson that He taught the early church and make an example of us to the church today by divinely executing us for a "little thing" (in the world's eyes) as our connivance and dishonesty? Hmm, wouldn't that raise an eyebrow or two! Or would today’s church even make the connection?

God help us!

Which Jesus do you follow?
Which Jesus do you serve?
If Ephesians says to imitate Christ,
then why do you look so much like the world?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Knit to God: Untangling Religious Cacophonies

"If any man desires to do His will (God's pleasure), he will know (have the needed illumination to recognize, and can tell for himself) whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking from Myself and of My own accord and on My own authority" (John 7:17; Amplified).

Jesus’ statement here would seem to suggest that people who did not recognize and accept Him, who lacked the needed illumination to get the real God-message, did so because they were ultimately more interested in themselves than in God. If that were not true, they would have been able to discern the message as coming from God. Interesting that three verses later, some in the crowd yelled back that He is demon-possessed (vs.20).

Wow! Clearly some people didn’t get it. Apparently they weren’t interested in doing God’s will (His pleasure), which then by default meant that they were only interested in their own will and pleasure.

Some things never change.

Fast-forwarding to today, I was also thinking about the "needed illumination to recognize" the difference between the message delivered by the true prophet versus the false prophet, between the true pastor's sermon versus the false pastor's sermon, and generally the trying to discern and weave our way through all that plethora of stuff that people want us to believe and that we are bombarded with every day and from virtually every side. Sometimes it can all be a little difficult to know what to believe.

What I saw in this text this morning is that, so long as I keep focusing on "my pleasure" I leave myself open to a barrage of confusion as to the truth. However, if I honestly focus my efforts on seeking "God's pleasure" first, then He will grant me all the "needed illumination" to discern truth from error in all those sermons, in all those TV and radio messages, in all those social media posts (which may or may not even have true Christians behind them), and in whatever other messages that come knocking at our ear drums.

I’m not suggesting that people are necessarily willfully deceptive; I think that most who are in error sincerely think they’ve heard God correctly. Yet as I write this, I am also reminded of the following verses:
"I write this to you with reference to those who would deceive you [seduce and lead you astray]. But as for you, the anointing (the sacred appointment, the unction) which you received from Him abides [permanently] in you; [so] then you have no need that anyone should instruct you. But just as His anointing teaches you concerning everything and is true and is no falsehood, so you must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him], just as [His anointing] has taught you [to do]." (1 John 2:26-27; Amplified).
It appears that some do, in fact, willfully seek to deceive and lead astray. I’m not sure I know what to do with that.

Still, the question remains, whose "pleasure" do we ultimately seek? Do we seek our own pleasure first, or God's? Jesus told the crowds that day, how we answer that question will in large part determine our ability to correctly discern and separate truth from the midst of many pseudo-Christian deceptive messages.

With so much out there today being heralded as “the Word of the Lord,” do you ever wonder what to believe? If so, perhaps we need to first concern ourselves with a little less of ourselves, and a little more with chasing after the things that give God pleasure. As John said, “must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him].”

Perhaps what Jesus was saying was, that when we seek His Father’s (and our Father’s) will first, when we “knit” ourselves to God, which suggests a permanent attachment and oneness with God through Jesus, our eyes will be opened to the truth and everything else He will cause to be sorted out.

Still stressed out as to what to believe? The bottom line is, cling to Jesus; He’s got you. As for the rest of the noise, the more we seek the Father’s pleasure, the less we’ll hear all those unsettling religious cacophonies.

Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Martinak15, Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Racism: In the Bible, In the Church, In Me?

Have you ever heard people speak of seeing something the Bible for the first time? They’ve read the Scriptures countless times, and then suddenly see something new as if it were the first time they’ve read that portion of the Bible. I’m sure we all have, and I’m sure it’s also happened to most of us at one time or another.

The other day, it happened to me … again.

I was reading Paul’s familiar passage on divisions in the church. You know the one in which he writes,
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul,” another, “I follow Apollos,” another, “I follow Cephas,” still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12; NIV)
Up until now, I always thought of this as theological divisions in the church, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve often used that passage to justify my distain for our seemingly incestuous love for denominationalism in the church. However, as I read in between these lines, I wonder if there wasn’t something deeper and more sinister than simply theological division going on in Corinth.

What could be worse than theological division? Racism, and especially when it’s subtly done in the body of Christ. As bad as theological division is, in my opinion racism in the church is worse because it’s usually loveless. In their book, “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes,” authors Richards and O’Brien write,
We may be failing to note ethnic markers that Paul sprinkled all over the text. Apollos was noted as an Alexandrian (Egyptian) Jew (Acts 18:24). They had their own reputation. Paul notes that Peter is called by his Aramaic name, Cephas, suggesting the group that followed him spoke Aramaic and were thus Palestinian Jews. Paul’s church had Diaspora Jews but also many ethnic Corinthians, who were quite proud of their status as residents of a Roman colony and who enjoyed using Latin. This may explain why Paul doesn’t address any theological differences. There weren’t any. The problem was ethnic division: Aramaic-speaking Jews, Greek-speaking Jews, Romans and Alexandrians. (p.66)
This is not just a one-off of possible biblical racism. 

There are many other examples of biblical racism. Remember the story of Rebekah? That beloved wife of Isaac also had racist tendencies. One day she said to her husband, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living” (Genesis 27:46; NIV). Does that not seem racist to you? She was “disgusted” by the Hittite race! What was it that so offended her by the Hittites? The Bible doesn’t say, but clearly it was something that was enough for her to be repulsed by the notion of interracial marriage as an option for her favourite son, Jacob.

Other biblical characters also had problems with interracial marriage. Moses’ siblings were no exception. “Miraim and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite” (Numbers 12:1; NIV). Whatever the problem was, it was an issue based upon race. (As an aside, the irony here is that the Mosaic Law, the one named after Moses himself, spoke against interracial marriage, as in the Deuteronomy 7:3 command to "not intermarry with them." Hmm, what are we to make of that?).

Just as in the years immediately following the Second World War there were still plenty of prejudices against the German and Soviet people, perhaps in those days immediately following the Exodus there were also prejudices against Cushites because of their connection to Egypt, and by default, the oppression of slavery that was no doubt still very much in the minds of most Jews. Furthermore, Cushites were a dark-skinned people who came from the southern Nile river area of Africa. At the risk of conjecturing, perhaps the bottom line was simply that Miriam and Aaron were racists; they were upset that Moses married a black woman, and one that perhaps also somehow reminded them of those difficult years as slaves of Pharaoh.

There are several other Old Testament examples that we could look at as well, such as Naomi’s kinsman redeemer’s refusal to purchase her family’s property because it would mean that Ruth, a Moabite (a foreigner) would become part of the deal (Ruth 4:6). It’s interesting that on that note, the racist kinsman redeemer fades out of the story, and righteous Boaz enters the story, who ultimately is memorialized as the great-grandfather of Israel’s much loved king, David.

It all begs the question, Does God have any use for the racist?

The New Testament also had other questionable racist characters with their hate speech, such as Nathanael’s racial slur, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). Granted, his slur was more regionally based, but as often happens, when we make disparaging remarks against a region, indirectly we also do so against the people who call that region home.

Think back in your own life and homeland of one geographical area that was often the brunt end of coarse joking and slurs. Growing up in central and western Canada, two regions quickly come to mind that we often joked about (I'm not going to mention them here). Some of our friends in other countries most likely did not get the negative racist connection, but as locals we got the gist of it quite clearly. Likewise, you and I in our modern world don’t have a negative understanding of Nazareth in Galilee, but the folks in first century Israel sure did. Nathanael, despite being called by Jesus, was to that point, a racist.

The good news is that Jesus still calls racists today.

One really doesn’t have to look too far back in modern church history to see similar examples of religious tension based upon ethnicity. White and Black only churches were once commonplace in the not too distant past of American segregation. Sometimes that prejudice even erupted with deadly violence, such as the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Though that era is thankfully over, and though anyone of us, regardless of our race, can today worship wherever and with whomever we wish, church division based upon obvious ethnicity can still be found. Pockets of such pseudo-Christians remain here and there. As horrible as it sounds, we have to call it what it is … Racism.

What strikes me as interesting, in a sad kind of way, is that we who profess to follow Christ, often do so in such unloving ways. Racism is hatred, pure and simple, despite our attempts to mask it over and justify ourselves in it by some twisted fashion. We don’t call it hatred, but what else would you call ethnic divisions other than making distinctions, us versus them, which in turn limits any genuine expression of loving one another? How do you genuinely love someone that, despite any pleasantries that you may otherwise utter, you still hold off at arm’s length because they’re from a different ethnicity than you? “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile” (Romans 3:22), we love to quote, but do we really believe that? Hmm, I wonder sometimes.

The Racism Riddle

The fact is that our world, both in antiquity and today, is made up of ethnically diverse people with a plethora of rich cultures, customs and languages. I’m sure God created us all this way on purpose, and I cannot help but think that, perhaps one of the reasons that He did so, was to teach us to love one another, just as He loves us.

Going back to Rebekah, Nathanael and the other biblical examples, perhaps I was a little harsh. After all, we could say that the Jewish people as a whole were racist and that God even condoned it by virtue of the fact that they were called the “Chosen People." Perhaps Paul’s appeal (1 Corinthians 1:10-12) had more to do with his attempt to change that racist mindset that the Jewish people were known for, which may make sense when we consider that he was the apostle to the Gentiles.

Perhaps I’m still missing something else here. It is possible that I’ve inadvertently used my modern lens to view biblical racism in a much more negative light than the people of that time period did. After all, if God is a God of love (1 John 4:16), and if it’s true that He doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6), then it logically follows that the form of racism that He condoned was also still infused with His love.

Maybe ethnicity in God’s eyes is little more than the simple “testing of your faith” (James 1:3). Maybe what will ultimately separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) is the degree of racism that remains in us, for if God so loved them, and we in turn hate them through our racism, then there’s obviously a problem. Maybe the real proof of our profession of love toward God really does first lie in the way we love, or fail to love, our fellow man (1 John 4:20-21). At the risk of over simplifying the problems, maybe all of our global woes and conflicts throughout history are directly related to the fact that we still haven’t learnt what it means to love one another, despite all our differences.

An old children's song comes to mind that I'm sure many of us remember:
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
It’s easy to love little children, or at least most of them. However little children turn into adults, and for many of us, that’s where things begin to get messy. The fact is, though, Jesus loves them still, warts and all. My question is, dare we not do likewise, and especially given that God has called us to do exactly that? Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Hartwig HKD, Flickr Creative Commons
Jesus Loves the Little Children: written by C. Herbert Woolston