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Archive for June, 2015

Equality is Rooted in Eternity

We’ve been surrounded all week by talk about equality. The hateful shooting in a Charleston S.C. church has brought to the surface the enduring existence of racist thinking in the minds of some; though it has also brought to the fore the remarkable response of forgiveness from many of the families impacted.

This was a hate event that turned into a grace event.

In light of that, what does the Christian gospel have to say about race relations?

Actually, a lot – but I want to focus on one foundational passage that should forever settle in our minds how we think about others that are “different” from us (as individuals or groups):

…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

May I give a little bit of context for this remarkable, we’re-all-on-the-same-level passage?

The Christian message came into a time and place where the Israelites – the physical descendants of Abraham – were “the chosen race.” This was nothing inherent – they did not possess superior humanity – but it was strictly through the election of God.

God was “with” Israel – and everyone else was an outsider. Gentiles were dogs. Samaritans (half-breed Jews) were despised. The sense of superiority was both tribal and religious.

That was the reality; and throughout human history, from the ancient past to the current day, you’ll never find a time when people of varying tribes, races, cultures, and belief systems did not look down upon, make war with, and subjugate others. Tribal strife in the Middle East is nothing new. Slavery, ethnic cleansing, oppression – where and when have these ugly practices NOT occurred??

We are a fallen HUMAN race; prideful superiority is woven into the fabric of our corrupted hearts. Not a single reader of this post is free from it – nor is the writer.

But into this mess came the radical message of the gospel of Christ.

All humanity had already been levelled under the dominion of sin. But the divine announcement of the Christian faith was that ANY and ALL could have equal standing with God based strictly on believing in the emancipation proclamation of Jesus as Savior. Jews and Gentiles; slaves and free; men and women; all races, backgrounds, cultures, standings in life, genders; even all stained with every variety of moral shortcoming and rebellion – ALL are welcome to turn from sin and come to Jesus, and be granted the status of spiritual offspring of Abraham. Chosen ones. Equally fallen, equally forgiven, equally adopted – equal in status before God and one another.

The body of Christ is one, composed of many. Different, yes. United in a common humanity and salvation? YES.

From the richest to the poorest, all robed in one righteousness, one faith, one hope. Jesus Himself. We retain our racial and cultural and other differences, of course; but all pride in such distinctions is obliterated.

This is why racism is so wrong; and this is how it is overcome. Apart from the gospel, racism is a fact of life. In Christ, racism must bow to a salvation that levels every human being before an infinite and wise God. You have to drop your superiority when you humble yourself before the living God.

Love wins, in other words.

And the amazing-grace response of the people of Charleston demonstrates that fact. Forgiveness, in the face of such hurtful hatred? It is the grace of God at work – so eloquently described by President Obama in that city’s memorial service this week.

Grace is what will overcome racism. Equality is not derived from something so flimsy as legislation, though laws can help usher in more equal practice. True equality is not acheived through the pile-on pronouncements of social media mobs. No – equality is ultimately a God-thing. Even the Declaration of Independence explicity declares that fact:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”

Equality is rooted in eternity. When we personally know God’s embrace of our unworthy souls, we will fully grasp that we are all equal; and then, in humility and gratitude, we will embrace one another.

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I love Southern magnolias.

I was first introduced to these magnificent trees with their large, waxy leaves way back when I first went to college at Vanderbilt (in Nashville, TN). But since I was on campus only from Sept-May each year, I missed the best part – until I spent my first summer in Nashville after graduation.

The gorgeous, fragrant white flowers that bloom in the late spring.

I can’t begin to describe the scent of these things – it is so sweet and powerful that you must experience it to believe it. And, happily, our current home here in Franklin, TN has a lovely magnolia in the front yard, which we’re enjoying immensely right now.

The thing about white magnolia flowers, though – they don’t last long. They burst into glory and then fade off in a matter of a few days.

Magnolia

From bud to flower to gone in the blink of an eye.

Our life spans seem long by comparison, but in the light of eternity, they’re really not – we’re here today, gone tomorrow. I just received an e-mail yesterday about another high school classmate who has passed away. Wasn’t it just yesterday that a bunch of fresh-faced kids from Berlin (CT) High School were graduating, ready to tackle the world? Wasn’t it just a few moments ago that we were setting up the dunking booth at the Berlin Fair to raise a little money? Now we’re talking about medical procedures and grandchildren and retirement.

Our parents are leaving the scene (or have already left) and we‘re the generation between now and no more. How did that happen?!?

Reading in recent days in the New Testament book of 1 Peter has reminded me afresh of how brief our mortal lives are – yet, there is something far more enduring that is our true hope.

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)

When we see the fleeting blooms of spring, and the green-today-brown-tomorrow life cycle of grass, we are meant to realistically consider how temporary we truly are. Youth becomes old age at a bewildering pace. However…

There is permanence. It is not found in ourselves; but instead, in the immortal and unchanging God who created us and all things. Not only does the verse above reference the enduring and abiding and imperishable Word of God, but earlier verses in the chapter describe an eternal life that is anything but fleeting:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

An unfading inheritance that is kept – guarded – given – by the power of the eternal and unchanging God. Born once according to the flesh, we only have decay and death awaiting us. But born a second time, through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ, we look forward to immortality. “Salvation” is not just some emotional experience on earth. It is deliverance from sin and death, and a (guaranteed) never-ending life in the presence of an ever-living Savior.

I will still always love the scent of magnolias, as fleeting as the enjoyment will be. But it makes no sense to put all my hope into this fading world. I will wither; but, through the grace and power of the gospel, I will be eternally renewed. I will die; yet I will live – because Jesus died and rose in my place, and shares His eternal life with me and with all who call upon Him.

That’s the promise of an unfailing God.

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