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A Gospel Response to Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas

Monday evening my newsfeed was filled with photographs and videos of fireworks, sparklers, and roman candles as our nation celebrated 240 years of Independence. However, the euphoria and gaiety would evaporate almost instantly as FB, Twitter, and news outlets across the country watched in stunned silence as Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground by two police office and suddenly shots were fired. Sterling lay lifeless and bloody. A few hours later the collective consciousness of our nation was seared as we watched Sterling’s 15-year-old son cry out, “I miss my Dad!” as he sobbed beside his grief stricken mother left to raise five children alone. Our hearts should weep for them. Less than 24 hours later during a routine traffic stop Philando Castile, while he was reaching for his license, was shot four times by a police officer. Millions watched live on Facebook as he moaned, bloodstained, and dying. His fiancée wept as the tiny voice of their four-year-old daughter reassured her, “It’s ok I’m her for you.” Our hearts should weep for them. The black community once again mourning the loss of one of its young men organized a peaceful rally in downtown Dallas in order to protest the black lives lost. However, Micah Johnson, fueled by anger and hate brandished a sniper rifle with the intent of, ‘kill[ing] white people, especially white officers.” In cold blood he ambushed twelve Dallas police officers, killing five. Brent Thompson, 43, married for only two weeks was a father and grandfather. Michael Krol, 40, worked hard to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a police officer. Patrick Zamarripa, 32, was married and the father of a 2 young children. Lorne Ahrens, 48, was a valued co-worker. Michael Smith, 55, was married 17 years and a father of two young boys. Our hearts should weep for them. The prophetic words of Isaiah that showered down on Israel over two and half millennia ago are a stinging indictment on our own country…

“[1] Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot  save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have  made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden  his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled  with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies;  your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes  to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they  conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity….[7]Their feet run to evil,  and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts  of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way  of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they  have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” Isaiah 59:1-4,7-8

Throughout the week I watched social media responded with careless indifference to the shootings with thoughtless, flippant, and unloving words. “He should have complied.” “He had a criminal record.” As five officers sacrificed their lives to protect 800 protesters, social media responded with, “They got what they deserved”, “I wish the shooter lived because I’d serve him.” Democrats were pitted against Republicans. Whites were pitted against Blacks. Pro-cop people were pitted against pro-black people. Articles were posted to discredit the claims of the other side. Tweets defiantly declared allegiance to one side with a hashtag and promise that anyone who had the audacity to disagree would be unfriended, unfollowed, or blocked. People smear their opponents and ‘exposed’ their hypocrisy with callous disregard to their plight. We demand justice but we refuse to seek peace. We chastise, criticize, and dehumanize when we should open our hearts and weep for the victims, for the oppressed, and for the broken-hearted. It is no wonder that the words of Isaiah 59:9-13 not only describe ancient Israel but modern day America…

“Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not  overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for  brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind;  we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the  twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl  like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there  is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions  are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our  transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing,  and denying the LORD, and turning back from following our God, speaking  oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying  words.”

My heart weeps while I watch our society stumble through life desperately groping for something to hold on to. We clamor for 2nd amendment rights, gun control, government regulation and oversight, protests, denial of a problem, body cameras, political power, or even violent revenge. Nothing satisfies. Nothing changes man’s heart. Nothing brings healing. Shootings keep happening. Black men keep dying. Cops are being assassinated. All the while pundits are screaming. Protesters are marching. Children are growing up without fathers. Women are being made widows. Parents are burying their kids. Collectively our country spirals out of control. Isaiah 59:14-15 reads as an epitaph for our nation…

[14] Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

This comes as no surprise in scripture. The Bible testifies that the Almighty God of the universe created heaven and earth for his glory. He created man and women, black and white, Asian & Latino in his own image to reflect his glory in our love and relationships, our work and creativity, our families and societies (Genesis 1:28). Yet the Bible doesn’t whitewash the reality that mankind is fallen into sin, for we have traded the glory of God, wisdom of God, love of God, and the satisfaction of pursing God for 30 shekels of silver. We crave our own selfish pride (Romans 1:23), our own foolish wisdom, our own self love, and the fleeting satisfaction of the pleasures of this world. Sin has not only severed our relationship with God but it has caused us to hate our neighbor rather than love him. It has caused us to be jealous of our neighbor rather than seek his good. Sin has built resentment between genders, walls of hostility between ethnicities, and has deeply scarred our beautiful planet. The stain of sin has seeped into the deepest reaches of our hearts and expresses itself in hate, murder, exploitation, and racism. Rather than seeking the glory of God that brings life, freedom, and satisfaction, ‘every man does what is right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). This week we watched in horror as seven men bled to death as a result of the sin that has corrupted the hearts of all mankind. As I watched these men died my soul cried out, “How Long, O Lord?” I felt the agony of the Psalmist, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…” (Psalm 137). For a fleeting moment, I understood the raw emotion of Psalm 137:8, “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall be he who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks!” The words of utter hopelessness. Sheer despair. Unreserved bitterness. I watched in horror as my nation was fragmented by the deep wounds of sin. ‘One nation under God’ erupted in an uncivil war. I starred in silence as I pleaded in my heart, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

All week I struggled in my head, “Do I address this or not?” “Is there any words that I can say that can bring calm? Any insight that can bring perspective? Any hope that can encourage despairing hearts?” “Will my congregation listen or will they shut me off?” As I sat down at my desk and look at the words of Isaiah 59 beckoned…

[17] The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no  justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no  one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his  righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a  helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for  clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their  deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his  enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear  the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the  sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD  drives. 

There is an answer to the hate, oppression, and sin that mars our world: The Gospel. The Gospel is the only answer to the blight of racism, abuse of power, the senselessness of violence, and the apathy of pride that is tearing our nation apart. Isaiah 59 promises that the Lord Himself will be the one who will deal with the sin that plagues our world and our hearts. Every man and woman will answer for the injustice that plagues our streets, our homes, and our hearts. God will judge sin with zeal. His wrath he will pour out and His vengeance will be unleashed upon his enemies. God is not silent. He will will answer. In chapter 60 the darkness of the world of Isaiah 59 is contrasted with the radiance of the glory of Zion, the promised city of God where He dwells with his people. A city without violence, devastation, or destruction. A city where men will be free of nagging fear. A city where violence will not spontaneously erupt. A city where women will not weep in the streets for their slain husbands. A city where little boys and little girls will not have to watch their Daddy die before their eyes. A city where men and women will not live in the isolation because they fear retaliation. It is for that city I ache…

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and  the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw  the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,  prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud  voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with  man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God  himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear  from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be  mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have  passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am  making all things new.”  Rev 21:1-4

This city is not a distant fantasy. This city is closer than you think. Scripture promises that this city will be inaugurated by an anointed preacher, the Messiah. In fact the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 has already been fulfilled.

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has  anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up  the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening  of the prison to those who are bound; [2] to proclaim the year of the  LORD's favor…” 

These are words that Jesus read as he declared that God ha s indeed come to save. To bring freedom and liberty to those in bondage and oppression. Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Anointed one has come, Immanuel ‘God with us.” We are not forgotten. We are not alone. Though our sins have cast us from the presence of a holy God, He has not left us to grope in darkness. He has come to us. His love and mercy shines bright in the darkness of our streets, homes, and hearts. He has rescued us from our pride, racism, fear, and rebellion. This is the promise of the Gospel, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Is. 1:18). Brothers and sisters Jesus Christ has come and inaugurate the kingdom of God. A kingdom where the wolf will lay down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the child will play with the cobra. A kingdom where the poor receive justice, the oppressed enjoy freedom, and the lonely will find family. In this kingdom Jew and Gentile will be one. Black and white will live in love and respect. Men and women will thrive in perfect harmony. This kingdom is promised in Ephesians 2:11-22. The hostility that exists between ethnicities and genders has been abolished by the completed work of Christ on the cross. Turn with me to the hope of the Gospel that Ephesians 2:13 declares. [p. 976]

“[13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been  brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace,  who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing  wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed  in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of  the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one  body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, God’s promised wrath, once promised for the people of God for their sin, has been absorbed. Those whose put their faith in Christ are now apart are ‘one’ body (vs. 15). Verse 21 tells us that this body is the very temple of God when the Spirit of God dwells. A body whose primary citizenship is in the city of God and are fellow members of the household of God. Black, White, Asian, Latino, Man, Women, Rich, Poor, Educated, and Uneducated. If this is so. If these words are true. How can we cling to the sins of the world that seek to divide us? Why do we continue to treasure the sin that drives a wedge between the body of Christ? Why don’t we do under others that which we want done unto us? These were just a few of the thousands of questions that hung in my mind as I watched violence, bitterness, and apathy rage throughout the news outlets, tv stations, and social media. How long, O Lord?

I believe there is hope. All is not lost. ‘It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin that the gospel shines forth. Not until [sin] has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until [sin] has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free.’ (Stott) That kingdom city of Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21 has begun to unfold in the hearts of God’s people. The very first recorded words of Jesus in the book of Mark cry out to our nation, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. We need to remember that we are citizens of the kingdom of God. Our constitution is the Word of God. Our king is Jesus Christ who laid His life down to bring us into the kingdom.

But how does the ethics of a heavenly kingdom influence those of us who live in a 21st century kingdom? Furthermore, what do I know as a middle aged white man who grew up in suburban Connecticut know about what it means to be a black man in America or a police officer on the front lines of law enforcement? To the former: everything. To the latter: nothing at all. But this is what I know…

[17] Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The  old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18] All this is from  God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the  ministry of reconciliation; [19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling  the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and  entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. [20] Therefore, we are  ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you  on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. [21] For our sake he made  him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the  righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ESV)

As Christians, who been reconciled to God, we are called to further the work of reconciliation. To seek peace and pursue it. To seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We pray with our Lord, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” As new creations entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation we seek to further the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That is why the gospel matters in Baton Rouge, LA in Falcon Heights, MN and in Dallas, TX. As Christians, we are to live according to an ethic that is driven, not by the values of the kingdom of this world, but by the ethics of the kingdom of heaven. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, gentleness, and self-control. Our hope is in the gospel, not in the things of this world. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians have resorted to the twisted ethics of the world rather than setting their minds on things above. Therefore, I humbly present four kingdom principles as we seek to promote reconciliation of lost souls to God and seeking God’s kingdom here on earth.

First, all mankind is created in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”(Gen 1:27). How easily we forget this when we bash the president, slander the candidates, and belittle those who don’t share our ideology. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were created in the image of God and therefore their deaths should be mourned not discounted because of their so called ‘criminal record’. Black lives matter because they are image bearers of God. The five police officers who were assassinated by the ‘vicious, calculated, and despicable attack’ (Obama) are mourned because they were image bearers of God. Blue lives matter because they are created in the image of God. The image of God is what gives all life value and should be protected at all costs. The image of God is why we call ourselves, ‘Pro-Life’. We are pro-‘image of God’. Being pro-life doesn’t stop when a child is born. Pro-life means that we seek to protect life inside the womb and work to see life flourish outside the womb. The two are never pitted against each other. It is always ‘both and’ never ‘either or’. The image of God is to be protected from the abortionist’s scalpel, the abuser’s fist, the drug dealer’s syringe, and the brutality of the police officer who abuses the power of the badge. Don’t diminish the image of God in others because of the color of their skin or the color of their uniform. Every human life is precious because it is created in the image of God.

Second, ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). The African American community far too often has to bury the bodies of their husbands, sons, and grandsons far too young. Mourn with them. Some of you know the anguish of burying your child. Weep with them. Black brothers and sisters are hurting but often we are quicker to call their children ‘thugs’ or ‘punks’ and forget that someone calls them ‘Daddy’ or ‘son’. I watched as Philando Castile died in his car. I cried tears of anguish when I heard the voice of his little girl cry out from the back seat. My heart was grieved when the 15-year-old son of Alton Sterling wept on his mother’s shoulder. When we see black men and women hurting it should be the body of Christ that reaches out with love and compassion to comfort rather than prideful apathy that wounds. Likewise, we mourn when the lives of police officers who laid down their life in the line of service, when 49 homosexual men and women are gunned down in a club, when 187 Iraqis are killed by car bombs, and when Bengali Muslims are attacked and murdered while they peacefully prayed. "The Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn't tell us to judge whether they should be weeping” (H.B. Charles) If you cannot mourn with those who mourn I question if we really know the gospel.

Third, ‘be quick to hear, and slow to speak’ these words in James 1:19-20 imparts a kingdom principle that is vital for the task of reconciliation. I do not know what it is like to be a black man in the United States. Therefore, how can I carelessly dismiss the fears and experiences of those my black brothers and sisters? Just because Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Congress ratified the 14th amendment, and the civil rights act of 1964 was passed, the sin of 350 years of rational oppression was not neatly washed away immediately. As a nation we can’t just ‘get over it’. The scars of longstanding injustices take generations to heal and pockets of infection often lie hidden deep below the surface. As a nation we have come so far: We have an African American President, Attorney General, Supreme court justices, and congressmen and senators. Yet weeks like this past week remind us of how far we still have to go. We simply cannot say, “I’m sorry” and move on. We must not be like Job’s foolish friends who did not recognize the immensity of the struggle happening around them and speak, post, or tweat foolish, careless words. Therefore, I would encourage you to sit down with a black brother and sister (and all ethnicities) and ask them about their experience…and listen. Listen to their fears, listen to their dreams, and listen for their hearts. Rejoice with them. Cry with them. Some things they say will make you uncomfortable. Some things will enlighten you. Some things will upset you. Listen anyway. When you are slow to speak, slow to post your FB article, and slow to dismiss someone else’s experience, you will be better equipped to love them well and accomplish the kingdom work of reconciliation.

Finally, the most important kingdom principle is this: Point them to Jesus. To my African American brother, “I don’t know how it feels to be black in America. To be looked upon with distrust and bigotry…but Jesus does. He was reviled but he reviled not in return. Jesus knows the ugliness of racial tension that divided Jews, Samaritans, and Romans. Jesus knows what is means to be falsely accused, lied about, and framed for something that he did not do. Jesus knows the pain of lynching, the agony of beatings, and the ruthlessness of his oppressors. Jesus knows your weakness and he knows how to sympathize with you. Jesus knows all this because he endured all this to save you from your sins. He died to reconcile you to the Father. To make you an heir not a slave. A son not an orphan. An overcomer not a victim. Put your faith in the one who knows your suffering, hardship, and pain. His love is deep, unconditional, and faithful… trust him.

To the many good and decent police officers that keep us safe I don’t know what it feels like to be jeered at, hated, and demonized…but Jesus does. He has experienced the jeers of the crowd, the calls for his execution, and the joy in his pain. He knows the burden of laying his life down for people who do not recognize or appreciate the cost. He knows what it is like to be in isolation and consternation. Jesus knows what it is like to live in a wicked world. I pray that you would trust him with the burden you carry. Trust his wisdom to guide you on your beat, protect you in times of harm, and give you eyes of compassion on a world that in bondage to sin.

Brothers and sisters. Our world is hurting. Our world needs the gospel. As Christians we are called to be agents of reconciliation as we bring the gospel to the nations. May we recognize the image of God in all men, weep with those who weep, be slow to speak and quick to hear, and finally point a hurting world to the only source of lasting hope and heart change; Come quickly, Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

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