God is Our Inheritance: An Expression of Genuine Faith

33But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.

Joshua 13:33

Joshua 13:8-33 describes a point in Israel’s redemptive history where almost all of their enemies were defeated in Canaan – the Promised Land. Israel now had rest from war and was dividing up the land for each tribe to dwell in. As Israel was granted the land of Canaan and its resources as their inheritance (or “portion”), the tribe of Levi could only watch. Any rejoicing on the part of the Levites was a rejoicing of the heart that God was blessing his people and fulfilling his promises, because by comparison to the rest of Israel, their hands were still “empty.” What the Levites received could only be received by faith, because it was YHWH himself. It took genuine faith (a belief that God is who he says he is and he will do what he has said he will do) for the Levites to still rejoice in God as their inheritance while the rest of Israel got land in addition to the God who provided the land.

The concept of “genuine faith” vs. superficial faith is worthy of consideration in this story because anybody can claim they have faith when they’re receiving material blessings from God. However, that faith is put to the test (and sometimes exposed as false) when it must wait in humble silence while material things are withheld, given to others, or—more difficult still—stripped away. We don’t know if every Levite possessed this genuine faith or if theirs was merely superficial, an outward act to conform to social expectations. Because we know man is naturally sinful, we can presume there were Levites on both sides of the fence. Genuine faith isn’t something we do, but a work that God initiates in every one of us and refines each time we’re faced with trials that force us to consider whether He is enough. We ought to rejoice when we see evidences of genuine faith and pray for it when we see it lacking.

For YHWH alone to be one’s inheritance requires a special kind of faith, a humble trust that what we receive on this side of heaven is enough and that the greater reward when God brings us to himself will far surpass any earthly blessing. This type of faith satisfies down to the bone. It drives out pride, greed, self-righteousness, and bitterness from the heart. This type of faith imparts wisdom to those who embrace it. It helps us rightly interpret the blessings and burdens of this life for what they are— temporary signs pointing to a greater reality.

Watching others acquire wealth, land, and earthly blessings is a direct assault on the selfish tendencies rooted in the heart of every man. For many, the effect is either self-righteous anger—a bitterness at not getting what we clearly deserve (in the court of our own opinion). For others the effect is self-pitying sadness—an all out war on ourselves that criticizes every fiber of our identity and existence in the attempt to provide concrete reasoning for why we aren’t getting what we want.

To live faithfully as a Levite during the journey into the Promised Land required this genuine faith to remain glad in God and his service. For us today, genuine faith expresses itself as gladness in God in every circumstance, because the Lord is our inheritance. He is the inheritance of all who place their faith in Jesus, the Living Water to our thirsty souls, the Bread of Life to our spiritual hunger, the Good Shepherd who leads us into green pastures, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, the Head of the Church who nourishes and cherishes his body. All our needs are met in Christ. In him, we can stand firm (and happily) in genuine faith like the Levites, saying together as they did, “the LORD is our inheritance.”

He Will Not Fail

We covenanted with the Light, to journey through the darkness together.

And yet, He has not failed.

We promised faithfulness, ignorant to the ferocity with which our flesh would tear and claw to separate itself from another sinner, screaming to leave and run to safety.

And yet, He has not failed.

We hoped for joy and healing, anticipating their arrival with time and security, unaware that sin, pain, and powers of darkness would repeatedly rob us of both.

And yet, He has not failed.

We stayed, when our hearts told us there was nothing left of our dreams to stay for.

And yet, He has not failed.

We stay still,

praying for the passing of this present suffering,

the wind and crashing waves, the fiery trials of faith,

decaying bodies, broken hearts, and failing minds,

believing we may only crawl across heaven’s threshold

as though some faint tug were pulling us forward,

crawling with weary souls and scarred hands,

aware that it was the scarred hands of Another drawing us in.

And yet, He will not fail.

N. R. Barnfield
Written 5/3/22.

When a Man Becomes Rich

A Reflection on Psalm 49:16-20

16 Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. 17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. 18 For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself— 19 his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. 20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
Psalm 49:16-20

An encouraging truth to reflect on: We have more than we could ever need in Christ.

For many of us, seeing the wealth of others around us wouldn’t cause us to think twice about our own state. However, I’m convinced that everyone has something, whatever it may be, that when we see others obtain it will cause us to evaluate our life and relationship with God. With the critical eye of an insurance adjuster examining the damage to a house after a storm, we will examine our own lives trying to determine the amount we need God to give us to restore us to our “proper condition.” God will graciously remind us that our relationship doesn’t work like that, but on the heels of this sobering moment we’ll wonder if our value is different because He withholds the thing(s) we desire most. Regarding this tendency in my own heart, I was encouraged by Psalm 49 today and I want to help you apply this text to where you might be in your life and relationship with Jesus today. 

“…we’ll wonder if our value is different because He withholds the thing(s) we desire most.”

Look at the words “Be not afraid when a man [becomes rich].” Think about that. Maybe money isn’t a controlling desire for you. (It isn’t for me.) Maybe there is something else that you long for, that if God were to give you today, you would be almost uncontrollable in your expression of joy. Sometimes you may even daydream about the future moment you are granted the desire(s) of your heart, and in that moment you quietly say to yourself, “Then I could finally show everyone how good God is.” I want to lovingly confront that desire for you with the Holy, Inspired Word of God. Let’s try reading it this way first, “Be not afraid when a man __________.” Now think about your desires. Substitute whatever desires you find constantly resurfacing in your heart. A beautiful, Godly wife (or husband). A large, healthy family. Power and influence. Unlimited freedom. A fruitful ministry. A successful career. The list goes on.

The Psalmist’s aim is to encourage God’s faithful people to not be discouraged at the prosperity of those around them. It doesn’t specify if the “man” referred to possesses saving faith, but we’re left with some clues that what he possesses in this life is better than what he’ll possess in the next. Verse 19 says, “his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light.” This implies that this man’s eternal state will not be filled with the pleasures he enjoyed during his brief lifetime on earth. It’s worth noting that the prosperity of others can only be attributed to God’s wise, loving providence and common grace to all mankind in this life. He gives to some riches, to some poverty, and to others seasons of both, independent of their merit.

“It’s worth noting that the prosperity of others can only be attributed to God’s wise, loving providence and common grace to all mankind in this life.”

Be encouraged, beloved; the takeaway here is not, “don’t covet a rich man because he’s just going to die.” There is better truth to set our hearts upon. For us to understand the saying “be not afraid…[he] will never again see light,” we need to spot the breadcrumb the Psalmist leaves us earlier in the passage. This breadcrumb leads us along the trail of learning the life-altering truth of why God’s covenant people have something better than met desires or material prosperity. He says in verse 7, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” God, through the author of this Psalm, is telling His people that no amount of wealth, success, or good works can deliver a man from sin. Each of us is utterly powerless to remove the guilt and shame of our sin when standing before a Holy God. Logically, if we can’t remove our guilt before God, we can’t enjoy the blessings only available to God’s beloved people. Beloved, removal of guilt requires a sacrifice as a ransom, and we can sacrifice until we’re blue in the face but neither the blood of animals or our best intentions can wash our sins away. We need a Redeemer to pay our ransom! Here is where we must preach to our hearts and direct them toward Christ Jesus. 

  • Jesus is the wealth we desperately seek in our spiritual poverty. (Matthew 13:44; Philippians 3:7-11
  • Jesus is the perfect spouse who completes and beautifies us. (Isaiah 54:5, 62:3-5) 
  • Jesus created from Himself the spiritual family in which we enjoy the fullness of His household in joy and unity. (Ephesians 2:13-22
  • Jesus’ breath rests upon every molecule in Creation, and He uses His power and fame not to serve Himself but made Himself a servant of others. (Matthew 8:23-27, Philippians 2:3-11
  • Jesus, who as God is entirely independent and free, sacrificed His freedom to come into the world and take on our burden of sin, shame, and pain so that we could freely and safely enjoy His gifts of infinite grace for all eternity. (Romans 8)
  • Jesus’ ministry of priesthood on behalf of His people is eternal, and the most fruitful ministry there ever has been and will be. (Hebrews 5:5-10
  • Jesus began his earthly career as an anonymous carpenter and finished as the Crucified and Resurrected King of Creation (Colossians 1:15-20)

Beloved, take heart today. We have more than we could ever need in Christ. He is all we need. In every day and in every circumstance, we must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is enough, because He is. May we cry, like the Psalmist, “23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23-26)

Hope for the Blind

Worm that I am, such a lover of sin,
White washed without, decaying within.
Bloated with pleasure, fattened with lies,
How blind is the blindness that can’t see, though has eyes?
Could ever a man charmed and spellbound as me,
Reach out for a Savior come to make those blind see?
This savior by grace offers sight to the eyes,
Offers gladness of heart and to make the soul wise.
Yet reach out I cannot, ever turning to sin.
Outwardly I greet him Him though I curse Him within.
Trapped and helpless in blindness, my soul’s need to see,
This Savior is daily, ever reaching for me.

A commentary…..

This is a poem I wrote on 5/28/20 in a time when I was battling an onslaught of temptation and sin. Years of indulging laziness, lust, and the foolishness of poorly stewarding God’s precious gifts take a toll on one’s soul, as the flesh is fed in its war against the Spirit of God living in us. In this battle, we are helplessly reliant upon the rescuing grace of a loving Father in heaven who sees us in our struggle and knows our every weakness. (Hebrews 4:15-16) Our confidence is not in our ability to “fight” or “win” in our own strength, but in the steadfast love of our Savior who guards us and watches over us. (Psalm 121)

Sometimes the rescuing grace we need comes in the form of God’s wisdom, spoken to our hearts through the Holy Spirit, to grant us the wisdom we need to apply the truths He reveals to us for our good. This wisdom came to me as I read Proverbs 3:5-8, particularly verses 7 and 8. “7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” True wisdom is found in fear of the Lord (Job 28) and casting ourselves upon His mercy when we are too weak to resist sin’s tug on our hearts.

The Church and Its Witness in the Face of Injustice: A Helpful Course of Action

To the Brothers and Sisters of St. Rose Community Church on America’s present reckoning with the sin of racism….

Where do we start?

There is no shortage of thoughts or opinions on the present issues stemming from the world’s explosive reaction (and rightfully so) to the deaths of Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the most recent victims of injustice that were, in part, due to racial prejudice. I was asked by a sister within our church how she should rightly react to events like these and how we as a church should react to show empathy and love for black brothers and sisters who are agonizing over the horrific events caused by racism. I have spent years lamenting at how blind I have been in my own life, enjoying the perks of being raised by a white family in a white culture, one that I learned earlier on to navigate to avoid many of the hardships of being black. This served me well until God sovereignly orchestrated events in my life that reminded me quite clearly that I am not a white man, but a brown skinned biracial man, which meant two things: 1) that I was not immune to racism in my own life and most importantly 2) it is a sad betrayal of who I am to live my life trying to escape the negative consequences of being black while enjoying the pleasures afforded me because I have learned how to “be white.” So for the last few years, I have allowed the Lord to do the painful heart work of showing me blind spots I have myself, and ways that I have been inconsiderate of my brothers and sisters who look like me. In doing so, I was not only lacking love for brothers and sisters in Christ but denying myself the great privilege of being who God had fearfully and wonderfully created me to be to display His glory in the world. It is in that truth that I now see how important it is that the Church of Jesus Christ boast in the beauty of diversity among reconciled sinners united by His blood. (Revelation 7:9-12)

The voices calling for change can be deafening, and the church must do something, but it is our belief that only the Spirit of God can change hearts enslaved to sin and hatred. So as the Body of Christ and His representatives in the world, what can we as the Church do?

Here are four things that I believe we can do to help us better care for our brothers and sisters in our church, our community, and our world who are broken and burdened by the oppression of racism. This list is not exhaustive, and I’m sure there are better voices than mine seeking to lead God’s church to offer peace and healing to a suffering world through the Gospel of Christ, but I hope this is a good start.

1) Mourn

They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14)

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

→ We mourn the specific evil causing present pain.

Part of properly caring for our brothers and sisters who are suffering requires that we acknowledge the specific thing causing them pain. We do not have to totally understand their pain or have an immediate solution for it, but to show empathy and compassion, we must be willing to listen. You can have a lot of differences with a person and still acknowledge their pain to show them that you care. This is a great first step towards offering someone Gospel hope. 

→ We mourn the systems of injustice that result in repeated acts of evil.

Like many who grew up in a world with few black friends or influences from non-white people, I learned at an early age from the new channels watched in my house and the conversations held during Sunday lunch with fellow church members how to pre-qualify a person for justice. Questions and statements like: “Well, what did he/she do to deserve it?”,  Did they comply?”, “They shouldn’t have resisted.”, “Were they breaking the law?”, and “If they didn’t dress or carry themselves like a ‘thug’ they would be treated differently.” are just a few things that informed my ability to question anger at injustice stemming from racism. With age, maturity, and, by God’s grace, the renewing work of His Spirit, I can see how wrong and unhelpful these statements are when viewing the suffering and evil committed against another human being made in the image of God. You can have a lot of differences with a person and still acknowledge that there are broken systems in our world that were put in place to benefit some people at the expense of others.

→ We mourn the futility of this world enslaved by the power of sin.

Each new death, each act of injustice, each guilty person who walks free for something a black person would have never seen the light of day over, the people of this world groan in agony at a world subjected to the futility of sin. (Romans 8:20-23) It is good and right to mourn the worldwide effects of sin, for in doing so, we are brought to the sobering realization that this world is not our home and that the things of this world cannot ultimately deliver us from the sting of death. This sobering work is a divine help to us, as we are pointed upward to Jesus as our great Redeemer.

→ We look upward to the God who sees and unfailingly brings justice to His people.

As we mourn with those who mourn, we must reflect on the need for the broken and the hurting to have hope so that they are not crushed by despair. It is in this reflection that we are reminded, and can provide the reminder, that there is One who sees every unjust act and all accounts will be settled for the just and the unjust on the day of Christ’s return.

2) Listen

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (James 1:19)

“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)

→ We listen so that the cry of the hurting is heard.

Part of loving is listening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book Life Together, “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.” We listen to validate the pain others feel and show them that we care for them.

→ We listen so that we can learn from those who are not like us.

Listening allows us to put aside our own thoughts and assumptions. Intentionally opening our ears to people who are not like us requires a suppression of our own words, sometimes when we strongly disagree. However, it is necessary and good to cultivate humility in our own hearts and be reminded that many of the beliefs we hold too can actually be more informed by our culture and context than the Word of God.

→ We listen so that we can change ourselves and the world around us.

When we listen to others who have different experiences from us, we can often find inconsistencies in our own approach to righteousness and justice in the world. In doing this, we are forced to examine our own hearts, and seek the help of God’s Word and His Spirit to change the way we think and respond to evil. This can have direct results in how we conduct ourselves in our homes, our churches, our communities, and the world.

→ We listen so that our prayers are informed to properly intercede and repent where necessary.

Isaiah 58 is a wonderful illustration of how God’s people can offer extravagant worship to Him while at the same time being completely blind to the injustice caused by their own hands. Take the time to read through this passage and see how God’s concerns did not align with those of the people of Israel. There was no brokenness for the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. There was a concern for hearing from God, knowing what He had to say to Israel, likely to boast in their privileged hearing from the One True God. Sadly, had God granted Israel’s pleas, their revelation from God would have fallen on deaf ears that refused to hear any truth from those who had not been changed by it themselves. This passage is a reminder that before we can deal with any sin and injustice in the world, we must first deal with the sin and injustice in our own hearts and seek to obey God’s clear command to express our love for Him by loving our neighbors. This may result in repentance on our parts and a renewed desire to intercede for justice on the behalf of others.

 3) Call for Justice

4 “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law[a] will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.” (Isaiah 51:4-5)

“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (Proverbs 21:15)

8 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. (Isaiah 61:8)

→ We call for justice because every human being has a need for it.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18 gives us a good example of the human need for justice. To question the intentions or political motivations of one calling for justice is to deny their right as image-bearers of God to do justice and have justice done for them. The “shalom” (peace, wholeness) that was lost in the Garden at the fall cannot be restored for all until full justice has been administered for every human being, whether righteous or unrighteous.

→ We call for justice because our world lacks it and our communities cannot flourish without it.

Justice has a stabilizing force in communities to ensure that every person can live with a sense of dignity and value. Each human being can interact with another justly on the grounds that they have certain unalienable rights within a just society ordained and governed by God. To advocate justice for some, and not for all, or to turn a blind eye to injustice causes harm and instability to the community. Although this world is not our home, Christians have a responsibility to their communities to ensure that order is upheld, and God’s laws can be honored among the people. Injustice muddies the water and can be a hindrance to our call to offer Living Water to those who are thirsty if that water looks tainted because of how we handle it.

→ We call for justice because the Church represents Jesus, the one who brings justice into an unjust world.

If the Church is to stand distinctly above and apart from every other human institution in the world, we must guard justice as a precious witness we have of the justice and righteousness of Jesus. The One who suffered earthly injustice, taking heavenly justice upon Himself, purchased for His people a pardon of sin and sentence of righteousness. This was the greatest act of injustice ever committed on earth and yet the greatest display of divine justice. If God Himself could not overlook the injustice of sinners, but Himself took on the punishment to pay their debt (Romans 3:21-26), then we as redeemed sinners must model justice in the world and fight for it as a unique witness to the character of Jesus in a world that neglects and despises justice. 

4) Pursue a Relationship

“11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 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. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

 → We pursue relationship so that we can love and be loved by those who are not like us.

“It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18a) Humans are relational creatures, made to be in relationship with one another. It is God’s good and wise design that humans need to receive love, but also to give love to others. When we pursue relationships with people who are not like us, we get to model the character of Christ by crossing cultural divisions and differences to show love to others who are incapable of repaying our kindness or whose differences do not make it as natural to love them. This is to our benefit, as we image Christ when we love those not like us for the sake of their value as image bearers, and in the case of Christian brothers and sisters who are different, their greater identity as fellow sons and daughters who have been adopted by God the Father and purchased by Christ the King.

→ We pursue a relationship so that our community can witness unity between individuals who are different from each other.

Christians should be leading out in efforts to promote justice and unity among Christians of every race and color. There is no excuse for neglecting to call out evil, advocate for victims of evil, and seek justice for the doers of evil. We will give an account before God on the last day. The administration of justice in the world is a first order Gospel issue, because the fruit of the Gospel is a transformed heart and transformed life that seeks to extend Christ’s kingdom into the world. The Church’s efforts to extend Christ’s kingdom into the world should tangibly display justice for those suffering from injustice, righteousness for those suffering from unrighteousness, equity for the disadvantaged, and dignity for those who have been stripped of it. We show the world who Christ is when we do this, and He has commanded us to seek these things all at the cost of our own comfort and even our lives, so that He may be magnified as our greatest treasure.

→ We pursue a relationship so that human flourishing is promoted in the world.

Building relationships across racial lines is for the good of our world, setting the example of human flourishing in harmony with one another. If the world is ever to be impacted to pursue racial unity and equality, they must see it done within the Church. Sadly, many non-Christians are better at promoting racial unity in the world than Christians. The problem is, without an inward transformation from the Spirit of God, this unity in the world, unmotivated by the Spirit’s work and submission to the Word, will only last as long as people deem it to be good and beneficial to themselves. The only lasting unity will be unity founded upon the work of Christ to reconcile sinners to God and one another.

→ We pursue a relationship because Jesus reconciled us to one another as fellow members of the same household.

We pursue unity because we have a new identity. 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. (Galatians 3:28) This verse is not intended to make us colorblind, but to uphold the equal value and worth that each member of Christ’s body has in His sight on the grounds of their being “in Christ Jesus.” As members of Christ’s Body within a local church, and greater members of Christ’s global church, we are to pursue relationships with our brothers and sisters for the sake of fellowship and mission in the present age, as we await our eternal fellowship in heaven with these brothers and sisters in the age to come.

How do we apply these truths?

As faithful followers of Jesus, our life mission is not to eradicate racism. Racism is one of many sins that holds this world in bondage and futility, tainting and destroying the creation that was once called “good.” Christ is God’s solution to racism, because He is God’s solution to sin. The demonic sin of racism was nailed to the cross with Christ when He took the full wrath of God upon Himself to offer peace with God to all who would call upon His name. Those who have called upon the name of Christ, who are washed in the blood of Christ and remade in the image of Christ, have a purpose to live in light of Christ’s finished work. The finished work of Christ is our confidence to proclaim the justice and truth of God to the world. Christ died to purchase for Himself a people who would have peace with God, so His Church should be the driving force in the world to extend God’s peace to others, offering Gospel hope to the racist and the victim of racism alike. 

As faithful followers of Jesus, we know that the glory of our salvation is not merely in a prayer prayed, an aisle walked, or even a single moment of baptism before our covenant family within the Body of Christ. We know, and boldly proclaim, that the glory of our salvation is witnessed in our belief in Christ’s defeat of sin at the cross followed by a life lived in dependence on that same Resurrection power to daily renew our dead hearts. This transformation is to be lived out in community with other believers who regularly gather together to hear the proclamation of the Word of God, which delivers us from the deception of sin and spiritual apathy that participates in or tolerates racism. The right response to sin and injustice, including racism, cannot be done in a silo of self-righteousness or as lone-wolves seeking to take down systems of power. The right response to the devastating effects of racism in the world is to join together with other believers as a local body of gathered believers who have covenanted with God and one another to display His image in the world by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God. (Micah 6:8) Racism, a spiritual darkness covering the earth, cannot be resisted and overcome apart from the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and the means that Jesus has ordained for us to regularly encounter both for our good and His glory is the Church. O Lord, hear the cry of your people!

The Church and Its Response to Injustice: A Helpful Way to Reflect and Respond

To the Brothers and Sisters of St. Rose Community Church on America’s present reckoning with the sin of racism….

Where do we start?

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arberry. ____________…

America is burning right now. Literally. The issue of race in America is dividing communities nationwide as many helplessly watch, paralyzed by fear, anger, and confusion. Black people are dying at the hands of unjust men and women whose failure to uphold true justice and lack of regard for human life continues to flourish in a broken system. Many of these black people are brothers and sisters in Christ, but at minimum, their status as image-bearers of God ought to be enough to garner our attention and grieve at their unjust killing. The violent protests, riots, and further assault on human dignity and property, could never have been predicted as a hot news topic in the wake of a global pandemic, but they do not come as a surprise to many black Americans. As much as I hate that I should even have to qualify the reason for the specific focus of this message, to avoid being a distraction to some, I must point out that people of all colors die every day in this country in an infinite number of unjust ways. However, in this present moment, America must reckon with its historic failure of true justice in tolerating and even perpetuating the sin racism that has caused so many black deaths.

I do not say these words as an alarmist seeking to rouse your attention, to sway you towards a personal cause, or for the rush of excitement when a group of people’s emotions are stirred by injustice. I hope, as your brother in Christ and as someone who has walked a confusing and at times painful road of dealing with the reality of the dividing lines of race in our world, that what I write to you is helpful to you. In that spirit, my hope is to share some of what the Lord has graciously taught me, patiently walking with me to expose sin in my own heart and rebuke indifference and callousness toward human suffering due to injustice. I write these words in hopes of uniting and mobilizing our church together in mission to serve as a distinct Gospel witness in the community of St. Rose, St. Charles Parish, the Greater New Orleans area, and on into the world. To do that however, we need to take a good look at ourselves and where we are, if we are to fulfill Christ’s command to be light and salt in the world. (Matt. 5:13-16)

Here are my thoughts…

We must respond to tragedy rightly. 

A black man, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of his Creator, died this week while in police custody due to lethal force that was not necessitated by the actions of the man. His death was recorded on video, now immortalized for the world to watch over and over. The black community, a physical family, and a local church family, lost one of their own members in the death of George Floyd. In the year 2020, much can be assumed about a person’s worldview based on how they respond to the news of the death of another black man at the hands of police. If your first response is grief and shock, it is likely that many other unjust deaths have created the same response. If your first response is to ask the question, “What did he do for the police to do that to him?” it is likely that you have been influenced by mainstream media, regardless of political leaning, to view these incidents as tragic for the wrong reasons. Not as tragic for the loss of human life, but tragic because this cultural moment is a new opportunity for someone to force their agenda on you or other groups in America. The right response to death is always grief and the right response to injustice is always anger.

We must understand sin rightly. 

We are a spiritual Body, and much like an illness in our physical bodies, we must trace the symptoms back to the ailment that is causing those symptoms to properly treat what is making us ill. It is a matter of first importance to every member of the church to address the problem of sin in the human heart that results in every kind of evil acted out in the world. Humanity is sick and in need of a Physician who can make them well. Sin is a spiritual sickness in our world, and has a 100% fatality rate if not dealt with properly as the Great Physician prescribes. The spiritual sickness of sin, much like a physical sickness, is a form of bondage humanity is living in. The Bible tells us that all of creation is in bondage to corruption [of sin] and groans with eager longing to be redeemed and restored (Romans 8:21-23). Titus 3:3 tells us that mankind in its sinful state is “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” In other words, all hell has broken loose, destroying and distorting every good thing that God has designed.

Another important step we must take to understand sin rightly is to understand not just what sin has done to our relationship with God, but our relationship with one another. Sin does not just have vertical effects, but horizontal effects as well. One human being’s act of harm or ill-will against another human being is, first and foremost, a sin against God (vertical effect of sin), but it is also a very real event that plays out in this world as an act of sin committed against another image bearer of God (horizontal effect of sin). In the case of racism, the vertical sin makes them a hostile enemy of God and the horizontal sin makes them a hostile enemy of those they hate. Racism in the human heart is hypocrisy of the first order. A person claiming to be good while hating another human being is not good, they like the feeling of people thinking they are good. All the while they are deceived in their sin, and if they will not repent, will die an enemy of God, leaving a lifetime of hatred and destruction in their path that others are forced to deal with. As we love God more, we must hate racism more, because we hate sin and its destructive power more. The expression of hatred for racism is not an indicator of true love for God, but true love for God will not tolerate the insidious sin of racism in their heart, their homes, their church, or their community.

We must understand the Gospel rightly. 

Jesus is the great Physician. He offers healing to all who would look to Him in faith as the sinless Son of God, sent into the world to accomplish salvation for humanity through His death and resurrection. We have the promise in Revelation that Jesus Himself will make all things new. (Rev. 21:1-8) The beauty of the Gospel is that it restores our broken relationship with God and with one another. In Christ, God has forgiven our sins and reconciled us to Himself, satisfying the demands of His holy character while also lavishing His love upon us. His characteristic holiness is satisfied by the justice poured out on Christ in our place, and His characteristic love is lavished on us as the objects of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection. (Romans 3:21-26) This good news of the Gospel offers us hope to the racist and to the victim of racism, because both can be forgiven of their sins through faith in Christ. It is the only hope for humanity, whether in life they are the villain or the victim, as all stand guilty before a holy God. 

We must understand the identity and responsibility of Christ’s Church rightly. 

Christ’s death was a reconciling work, restoring sinners to relationship with God and making possible their united fellowship with one another. Paul lays out in Ephesians 2 a picture of the New Covenant community, one together in Christ, drawn to Him because of His message of peace, and having access to God the Father through the Holy Spirit. In light of these truths, Paul tells the Ephesian believers “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens and the saints and members of the household of God…” (Eph. 2:19) As members of God’s household, we have a responsibility to one another. 

This is the beauty of the Body of Christ, that we are to care for other members to ensure the health of the Body for maximum flourishing. This is a beautiful truth, but the responsibility that comes with it is costly. If someone knocked you to the ground to repeatedly punch you in the face, then it is highly likely that your body, out of concern for itself, would signal to your hands to raise up and protect your body from the punches thrown at you. This is a single example of how members of one body work together for the good of the whole body, but in the same way, members of Christ’s spiritual Body must be on guard for threats to the body. In moments of chaos and danger, members of the body must be willing to protect against and either eliminate or escape from any threat to the good of the body. In the case of the Church, when our members are hurting because of sin in the world repeatedly playing out at a systemic level, we must resolve not to remain silent and not to remain inactive.

The identity of the church as the Body of Christ, the living breathing image bearers of Christ in the world as sinners saved by grace and united together for mission is an identity that must be protected. The identity of the Church must be guarded from every form of slander, falsehood, and demonic strategy to dilute the pure goodness of Christ’s Gospel. Racism, among many other sins, is a threat to the purity of the Gospel, and does its greatest damage to the Church and to the world when allowed to dwell within or in close proximity to the Church and the preaching of the Gospel.

We must love our black brothers and sisters well by opposing the sin of racism and engaging in the work of reconciliation in our world.

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans. 13:10)

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Cor. 10:24)

Listen. Love. Learn. In that order. 

We must listen to the grief and agony of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is best done without offering response or reasoning in the wake of tragedy and suffering. If the church is deaf to the suffering of the community, then the community will be deaf to the message of the church. By listening well, with patience, compassion, and eagerness to learn, we can identify better as a church with the unique struggles and brokenness of the community so that we will better know how to meet their diverse needs. 

We must commit ourselves to loving the community. This is something that I think our church currently does particularly well, but when was the last time you invited a member of the community to your house? What about being invited to their house? Have you found yourself sitting at the dinner table with someone from a completely different background than yourself in the last year? Our love is not expressed in our ability to invite the community onto the physical premises of our church property. The age of God’s people being a spectacle for all the world to come and see and marvel at has been over for about 2500 years. The age of big tent church revivals has come and gone too. It matters how we welcome people when they come to church so that they will want to come back, but it matters a whole lot more whether people feel welcomed enough to come into your home or invite you into theirs. Biblical hospitality is a means provided to the saints to show the love of Christ, share the Gospel, and share life experiences with one another, in many cases, while sharing a meal. I will go a step further though and say that this love is most enjoyed when it is reciprocated, meaning that others feel so loved and welcomed by you that they invite you into their home and their world as well, leading me to my next point.

We must commit ourselves to learning from others in the community. My former barber (and now close friend) is a black man who quit a higher-paying job driving a truck and took a lesser-paying job working for the parish so that he could be home to be actively involved with the raising of his sons. Each time I came to his apartment to get a haircut I got to enjoy meals his wife cooked, see what TV shows and movies his family watched, and regularly see him interact with his sons, sometimes administering discipline and correction right in front of me. I learned some things about being a dad and a husband from my friend who had invited me into his home and allowed me to see his imperfect walk with Christ to learn from him. Not everyone who you may seek to learn from of a different race will be a Christian, so strategies for evangelism will necessarily change the nature of the conversations, but it is to every Christian’s benefit to befriend and share their lives with people not like them.

We must commit ourselves to the proclaiming of the Gospel. In all our relationships. In all of our endeavors. In worship, in discipleship, in evangelism, and in acts of service. Especially in the case of non-Chiristians of a different race, Gospel proclamation is important because it is hateful to lead a thirsty man to a well with no water. We should not commit our lives to freeing victims from earthly injustice, only to leave them eternally guilty to suffer unending punishment. In our living and in our dying, the world must see a love for the Gospel as the only hope we have of deliverance from the power of sin, both our sin and the sins of others.

Shouldn’t we just preach the Gospel and not worry about everything else?

Yes, the Gospel is the power of God to save man. (Romans 1:16-17) In fact, the Gospel has so much power that it transforms hard hearts that are either perpetrators of racism or indifferent to the injustice of racism in our world to repent and love where they could previously only hate. However, a blind man will not cry out for the Savior to give him sign sight if he does not know he is blind.

What is the church’s appropriate response to this? 

Lament. Compassion. Open ears to listen to the cry of the hurting. Open arms to show the hurting that they are loved. Open doors to show that the hurting are welcomed, both in our churches and in our homes.

How should Christians respond to their church family?

We have a responsibility to our members to not remain silent on these issues. In this present moment in America we have a responsibility to our black brothers and sisters to make known to them that the sin of racism and its many manifestations in our world grieves our Lord Jesus, were condemned by His death on the cross, and will not be tolerated within His blood-bought, believing community. We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters who are white to remind them that their union with Christ demands that they become active in their black brothers and sisters’ struggle against the oppression of sin, physical and spiritual. The Gospel has been preached, is being preached, and will be preached throughout the world, Christ has promised that, but He also calls His people to actively concern themselves with the well-being of other members of the Body of Christ as if the well being of others was their own. (Romans 12:15) Take the time to listen to, learn from, and love your brothers and sisters God has placed in your midst. 

By God’s wise and good design the love shown among brothers and sisters in Christ within the Church will inevitably overflow outside the doors of the Church and out into the world. The greatest impact the Church can have on the world to set itself apart from institutions broken by racism and injustice is to apply the Gospel and the Word of God, each member to their own lives, to demonstrate a counter-cultural love and commitment to God and to one another.

Some practical ways to reflect and respond…

-Examine our own hearts – Do I love God the way I ought to? (1 Cor. 11:27-28)

-Examine our hearts toward those within our church – Do I love other members of the Body the way I ought to? (Romans 12:10)

-Examine our hearts toward those within our community – Do I love the individuals living in my community the way I ought to? If everyone in my community is like me, do I love those outside the community and are different from me the way I ought to? (Luke 10:25-37)

To Those of His House…

A beginning to this journey:

These words were spoken by the writer of Hebrews to the Saints of the diaspora who were living as sojourners in a strange land that no longer held for them the promise of ultimate satisfaction or fulfillment. These words were spoken to a people looking forward to a better place because they faced the reality that this world was no longer their home. The audience of the writer of Hebrews was (and is) a people living daily in the tension between present grace observed and future glory yet to be had, as those who could call upon Christ as Lord, Savior, and master of their home, present and future.

I write this as a fellow sojourner. One who has tasted of the glory of the Risen Christ only in part, longing for the day when my eyes shall see Him face to face. Yet, I confess that as a sojourner, my affections are not yet what they will be, crying out with the multitude, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:12) My identity in Christ means that I am saved, and yet as a sojourner I am “being saved,” daily being delivered from the power of sin that deceives by the power of the Holy Spirit that works to put to death what is earthly in me. (Col. 3:5-6)

Why write about affections for the glory of God and then follow with a confession of my still pitiful state? Why not write as if I have seen God and been forever changed, in all things joyful and hopeful? I write the way I do because I am familiar with the experience of identifying as a disciple of Christ while at the same time being painfully aware that I still possess within me certain inclinations of the heart that would identify me more with those who nailed Him to His cross.

I write because I too need constant reminding of what lies ahead in the future and what is at stake in the present, that I might live as a faithful member of the household of God. As a faithful member of a local Body of Christ and in the bigger story of Redemption in Christ, I need constant reminding of what my Lord promises me in exchange for the daily death to my own desires and every cheap pleasure that calls for my attention. Thus saith my Lord, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:29)

Finally, I write for those who are reading. I write with the earnest desire that our Lord would use the truths He has shown me to encourage, instruct, and challenge other members of God’s house to live faithfully as ambassadors of King Jesus. If you have read this far then you must believe that something here is worth the value of your time. It is my hope that I might steward the gifts given me to increase in you, the reader, a hunger to know God through His Word (living and written), and apply it to your life as obedient servants. I write in hopes that the spiritually hungry and thirsty would come and drink from the fountain and find fresh strength in words that carry the sweet aroma of a crucified and risen Savior who still speaks through redeemed sinners for the sake of His glory. May the Word of the Lord “speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thess. 3:1) as the world sees “those of His house” increase in their knowledge and enjoyment of Jesus Christ.

To those of His house, may we walk faithfully in the wisdom and grace of our Lord, stewarding the gifts He has graciously bestowed on us for His glory to be made known in our lives.

To Those of His House,

Your Fellow Partaker in Glory

“but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

Hebrews 3:6