This three-week series biblically addresses the topics of both racial tension and gospel-centered reconciliation. It’s no stretch to say that the issue of race has become a hot topic recently. This teaching guide looks at the different ways the local church can better reflect the diversity of God’s Kingdom, listen to those who are different than us, and pursue justice in all areas of life.
Read the SERMON SUMMARY from week 2
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The explosion of a 24 hour news cycle, along with the expansion of the internet and social media has brought mankind from the Information Age to the Attention Economy. There is just so much data bombarding us throughout the day that it’s hard to focus on everything and care about anything. It’s overwhelming. This struggle for your attention forces us to focus on things that we agree with and that line up better with our current world view. The danger comes when people avoid any information or ideas that may challenge their perception of reality.
King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion”. When it comes to political and racial issues, people are quick to share their opinions and slow to listen to others who might see things differently because of their life experience. One of the most hot topic issues that everyone has an opinion on was over Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the national anthem during the 2016-2017 NFL season, in protest of injustices experienced by the black community in America. Most of the conversations I’ve observed go no where because each side is more interested on their side rather than understanding why the other is so bothered.
Regardless of your opinion, our police and military are working under extreme pressures and circumstances, which the majority of us will never understand unless we enlist. But also, those in the black community are dealing with extreme high school drop out rates, an extreme number of children born out of wedlock with no father in their lives, and are engaged in an extreme percentage of violent crimes despite making up such a small percentage of the US population. That is just to name a few. From slavery, to reconstruction, to Jim Crowe and segregation, black people in America have endured an extreme level of trauma.
In 2015, researchers at Mount Sinai hospital and the James J. Peters from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center published their findings, stating that it appears that extreme emotional trauma can alter DNA, causing the emotional reaction to be passed down to a child, causing him or her to live under the influence of the pain without every having experienced the cause. That might sound like bad news, but the good news is that Jesus Christ came and suffered an extreme amount of trauma to his body and soul so that now, all who call on the name of Jesus will saved (Romans 10:13) for by His stripes, we are healed! (Isaiah 53:5). This is not an opinion. This is the Truth, and every “woke” Christian must allow God to work through them in order to carry this message to a confused and distracted world who is slow to listen. This is why we must take a different approach.
In his letter in the New Testament, James is sharing with his fellow believers a very powerful challenge. He opens his letter by saying, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:19-22 (ESV)
How often have you been quick to answer and slow to listen? It’s tempting to be hearing someone speak while the whole time you are waiting for an opening to begin to say what you want to say. That is not the way a follower of Jesus should listen to others, even if what they are saying stands in conflict with the faith, truth, or reality. Being quick to listen also is a way to guard one’s heart from reacting to something that one “thought” they heard. This kind of “anger of man” cannot bring a bought the results that one truly desires. It actually can prevent true change from occurring, or it could make things worse all together. If our good intentions are godless, they are useless.
It’s just like those commercials for some man-made/synthetic medicine or procedure that can cure one thing, but then triggers another reaction which requires a different pill, etc. Don’t be deceived. Godly intentions are more effective than good intentions. This is why we have to allow God to work through us as we put God’s Word to work in our lives. After first receiving the Word a God, one must then respond with outward action and internal self-control.
The Apostle Paul echoes the Apostle James Romans in his letter to the Romans, calling fellow Christians to be participators rather than spectators. He shifts the focus of his letter in chapter 12 with the marks of a true Christian. They ought to externally express a humble and genuine love that is at work internally in their lives. Up until verse 14, Paul’s recommendations are examples on how a fellow believer in Christ is supposed to treat and love another Christian. In verse 14, he begins to share how a “doer” of the Word of God is supposed to treat someone who has yet to hear or receive the Gospel of Jesus.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)
Remember that Jesus died for the person on the other side of your opinion. Learning to be quick to listen and slow to speak will help us to bless and not curse those who persecute, ridicule, or reject us and our faith. Love, peace, and unity should always be our goal, even if it isn’t someone else’s. Being quick to listen and slow to speak also helps us to stay humble and not be so wise in our own sight. We will learn something along the way if we do. But if we don’t, we hope someone will see our genuine love and interest for them and be open to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Also, being quick to listen and slow to speak allows us to be quick to love. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecuted them. When it comes to people, our enemies are those who stand opposed to the Word of God, the Truth of His revelation, and Christ’s saving grace. We should never this scenario as us vs them, but rather us FOR them. For example, It is not wise to talk about how a tragedy could’ve been avoided while people are still being traumatized by the event. That is being slow to listen and quick to speak. People need comfort, not correction during those times. Being quick to listen and slow to speak is the only real way we will be able to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
To weep with those who weep is to put yourself into the shoes of another person’s experience. You might not have gone through it specifically, but you need to find a way to relate to their suffering, in hopes you can point them to our Savior who suffered the consequences of sin on the cross. When it comes to racial tensions, the Church has the potential to reconcile people and bridge gaps like never before if we live in this way. Many of those who rally behind BLACK LIVES MATTER were opposed to people using the phrase ALL LIVES MATTER, not because they didn’t agree, but because they felt like no one was weeping with those in the black community who were already weeping. Like I mentioned before, this community in our country has plenty of reasons to weep, and the Church should be willing to weep along side of them, even if you don’t agree with everything that they think or feel.
Weeping with those who weep doesn’t mean that you have to abandon all logic, reason, or truth just so you can sympathize with a person. There are many people who are suffering from a victimhood mindset that causes them to live in fear, leaving them without hope, purpose, or value. If you desire to correct someone, strive first to connect with them, so that they may see God’s love for them through you. This will work for some and not others who have made up their minds and would rather share their opinion than gain understanding. That’s why Paul says, “IF possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). God matters than we hold up our part, for His name and for the sake of others. In doing so, these acts of kindness will be like “burning coals”. They will either awaken another person or act as a means of condemnation, knowing that God will punish all who refuse to repent and follow Him when Jesus returns again. It’s not our job to condemn, but rather to connect in love so that many may escape the coming wrath of God.
The extreme forms of evil in this world require Christians to be extremists or the love of God. Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and willing to connect with people before correcting them. Being willing to be surrogate grandparents, father, mother, brothers, and sisters to those who lack them in their lives. Loving the locked up, knocked down, and left out all around us. This is how Godly woke people allow God to work through them for the sake all others around them. This is how we keep from being sucked up into the systemic system of sin in this world. This is how we overcome evil. Not with good intentions, but through the goodness of God.
One of the most well-known and sung songs in the history of the world was written by a man who was first overcome by his own evil and then by the goodness of God. John Newton was the son of Christian parents who prayed for him and taught him about Jesus. He chose to see what the world had to offer. He lived a very liberal and reckless life, engaging in any sin that he was discouraged to participate in. Fast forward to his young adult stage, John Newton is now a sailor on a ship that engaged in the slave trade in the 1700’s. He finds himself being left behind by his crew and later become a slave to an African princess. He was mistreated greatly and regularly relied on the other slaves for help, who were the same kind of slaves he helped transport across the Atlantic. He is later rescued, only to return to his vulgar and sinful lifestyle with a greater level of intensity. But one day, while on a ship, a violent storm came over the vessel and it’s crew. People were either losing their lives or losing all hope by the minute, until John heard a man cry out to Jesus in the midst of the storm.
That name was so familiar to him, thanks to his parents. It hit a nerve in John’s heart, causing him to beg God to save him from the storm. John survived. The weight of God grew heavy on his heart after the storm and he then asked God to save him from his sin. He realized the horrors of the sins that he engaged with and participated in, especially when it came to the slave trade. We know that John was truly “woke” because we can see how he allowed God to work through him for the sake of others. He fought for better treatment of the slaves and later spent the rest of his life fighting to abolish this horrific institution. Years later, reflecting on how far God had brought him, now a pastor, John chose to write a song that would document his faith journey. He then wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” to the tune of an African sorrow chant, whose inspired melody he more than likely heard rise from the belly of the slave ship during those long voyages.
The evil that we see in the world is a result of the sin that lies deep with each person, regardless of your skin color. That kind of evil, causing the blind to see (woke) cannot be overcome with good intentions. It needs to be overwhelmed by the goodness of God. Brothers and sisters, may be be first quick to listen and slow to speak when we pray. May we allow our hearts to weep over what our Lord weeps for. May our hearts break for what breaks God’s heart. May we repent for our sins and for the sins that have hurt others, sympathizing with their pain. May we forgive what others have done to us and to others, so that we may not allow our present to be held hostage by our past, keep us from moving into a brighter tomorrow. But then, may we allow that amazing grace to flow through us in an amazing way.
The storm is raging and the battle to right injustice seems tough, but we are not left without hope. The civil rights activists would sing a song in the 1960’s titled, “We shall overcome”. As believers, we know we shall overcome in this life and in the next because Jesus overcame sin and death on the cross and in the grave. Allow this grace to now first overwhelm the evil in you, then overcome the evil near you, so that the lost can be found in Christ Jesus our Lord all around you.