Before a track meet in Omaha, Nebraska, the first Saturday of this month, Terence “Bud” Crawford was most renowned for his perfect 38-0 record as a professional boxer. His unblemished record includes 29 knockouts, but he, then later millions more, saw his seven-year-old daughter deliver the most unlikely knockout blow many of us have seen. Little Talaya ran out of her shoe at the starting block, then fell behind the rest of the pack by 20 meters in this 200 meter race while she put it back on. Not only did she not give up, she stormed back and won the race with seconds to spare. She has aptly with words like grit, determination, and undaunted. Heroic and inspiring have also been bandied about. Perhaps her drive not to lose comes from her father, but she certainly reflected well on him (ESPN report here).
The Bible refers to life as running a race (Heb. 12:1). Paul urges us to run in order to win (1 Cor. 9:24). He was concerned about running in vain (Gal. 2:2). He was determined to finish the course (2 Tim. 4:7). While Paul and the writer of Hebrews describe a race that sounds more like a marathon than a couple hundred yards, it will require all the more grit and determination to successfully complete. There will be encumbrances and entanglements. Whether problems or pressures, things will happen that can bring us to a standstill. In those moments, we may be tempted to quit. Those are the times we can remember our Father and reflect His ways! In our case, He’s not just watching! He can help us win.
Are you discouraged? Do you feel defeated? Maybe it’s something someone has done to you. Maybe it’s something you have done. Whatever it is, perhaps you feel it’s useless to go on. By getting back on track, you may not only win the race yourself but inspire so many others through your successful finish! Don’t give up! The reward is worth the effort. “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
I recall a decision in 1999 to take the “scenic route” home from the Richmond (Virginia) metropolitan area, where I had attended a lectureship, to my home in Coffee County, Tennessee. West Virginia and Kentucky indeed proved to be beautiful states, but I added about three hours to my trip. I was exhausted. I decided to stick to the fastest route in the future.
In New Testament times, there were many routinely taking the longer route. No, they were not enjoying the scenery. According to Charles F. Pfeifer, author of Baker’s Bible Atlas:
“Prejudice was so great that many Jews chose to detour across the Jordan and travel through Peraea, rather than go through the land of the despised Samaritan, when making trips from Galilee to Judah.” (Pfeifer 1)
It appears a trip through Peraea was more palatable since it was a district inhabited by Jews during New Testament times. I wonder how many hours this detour added to their journeys?
Jesus made a point by traveling through Samaria on this one occasion. What was that point? Everyone needs Him. I imagine this point seems less significant compared to the “meatier” portions of John 4. Typically, we focus on His discourse with the woman at the well. Yet, note verse 4. Translations vary in the wording, of course, but the gist is that Jesus had to travel through Samaria. (I do not deny that His rationale may have been logistical, to save time. Regardless of the exact reasoning, however, Jesus intended for the Samaritans to hear the Gospel. We see early Christians taking the Gospel there in Acts 8. Therefore, Jesus provides an example by speaking to the Samaritan woman, showing Samaritans deserve the Truth.
That the Gospel is for all was a hard lesson for even the Apostles to learn. Consider the example of Peter. The Lord chose Peter to preach to the first Gentile convert to the Faith (cf. Acts 10.9-15,28). Even so, Paul had to later rebuke Peter for avoiding the company of Gentiles for the Jews who had recently come from Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 2.11-14). Can this not also be a hard lesson for us? In our era of identity politics, it is easy to feel uncomfortable among those who do not share our demographic. Thus, we go out of our way to avoid others with whom we share less in common. We avoid others because they have more or less melanin in their skin. Socioeconomic difference likewise becomes a justification for avoidance. Maybe we don’t want to associate with someone less educated than ourselves. Whatever the reason, we may go out of our way to avoid such persons.
It is time for us to stop the unnecessary detours we take to avoid contacting those making us “uncomfortable.” Everybody needs Jesus. The Lord expects that you and I must go through Samaria too!
1 “New Testament Palestine.” Baker’s Bible Atlas, by Charles F. Pfeiffer, Baker Book House Co., 1961, pg. 191.
The definition is stark and candid: “A thing that is accepted as true or certain to happen, without proof.” We live in an age where making assumptions is rampant and relentless. In current society, we make assumptions about one another based on political affiliation, skin color, and even masks. Charity and the benefit of the doubt are disappearing from too many circles, and that should have us all concerned. But, instead of panicking and giving up, Christians should see this as an opportunity to reach hearts for Jesus.
Immediately after writing about how powerful the command to love one another is (cf. Mat. 22:40; Rom. 13:8), Paul warns, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15). The current, so-called “cancel culture,” public humiliation, online shaming, boycotting, etc., is presumptuous and worldly. While the nuances of what we are seeing these days may be unique to us, the mindset and behavior are ancient and basic. If you keep reading Paul’s words, you can identify the culprit. A failure to walk by the Spirit leads us to carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
How can we know which characterize us? It is palpably simple. Notice.
Check Your Deeds
Paul lists out 15 specific deeds of the flesh–plus an encompassing “things like these”–which keeps the practicers from inheriting the kingdom of God. Nestled among sexual immorality and drunkenness are “enmities” (hostility and hatred), “strife” (to express differences of opinion with antagonism or hostility), “outbursts of anger” (intense, passionate “boiling over” of displeasure; rage), “disputes” (a feeling of hostility or being against), “dissensions” (party strife within a community, TDNT 89; i.e., Republican, Democrat?), “factions” (division based upon different opinions or loyalties)(Gal. 5:20). If God chose to drop the apostle Paul into our country right now for a week, surely he would preach this text to us! He’s describing the current crises and even many Christians’ response to it and one another. These are very nearly half of the deeds of the flesh specifically mentioned. Read your newsfeed, look at the articles being forwarded, watch cable or online news, and the like. More personally, I need to ask if I am exhibiting these deeds of the flesh in my words and actions.
The antithesis of such deeds and the fruit which counteracts and conquers them. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (22-23). Insert each of these qualities into your deeds and see if those fleshly deeds can survive. It has become routine and expected to see the incivility and hostility of the deeds of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit will overcome them! But we must discipline ourselves to exhibit them, even in the face of those employing those worldly ways.
Crucify Your Flesh
Sounds painful doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like something that comes easily or naturally. But, if Jesus owns you, these “passions and desires” must be put to death (24). Kill them! Harness the hostility and defeat those desires. We cannot give ourselves the old “that’s just the way I am” pass. We are not our own. We belong to Him. Nail it to the cross of self-denial!
Chart Your Course
Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (25). “Walk” means “to be in line with a person or thing considered as standard for one’s conduct” (BDAG 946). It means living in conformity with a set standard. We don’t have to guess what that is, and understand that it will look very different from the world’s standard. We cannot stoop to their level or conform to their rule (Rom. 12:1-2).
Consider Your Brethren
To end this discussion, Paul tells us how not to treat others–“boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (26), then how to treat others (6:1-2). We gently restore one another and bear one another’s burdens. We are protective and constructive. We care about souls, and that takes precedence over winning arguments and having our incisive one-liners quoted. We see souls like Jesus sees them!
It’s discouraging to see our society losing the ability to reason and discuss respectfully. It is destructive to see our brethren giving in to such devilish tactics. May we be aware that we are not serving and honoring our Master if our means to accomplish our ends cause us to use fleshly ways. Paul says it best: “But each one must examine his own work” (Gal. 6:4). God help me to do so humbly and honestly!
I wonder if we’ll ever live in a world free of racial turmoil, tragedy, inequity, and bigotry. Whenever we make assumptions, blanket statements (or beliefs), or judgments about people based on something so literally superficial as skin color, we miss the deeper possibilities–love, relationship, and unity, just to name a few. One thing we can never legitimately do, when seeking to prop up racial prejudice, is to lean on the Bible to do so.
Scripture highlights the racial tensions that existed on both sides of the Jewish-Gentile divide in both testaments. Yet, instead of endorsing it, the Bible–especially through Christ–seeks to transcend and destroy it. Consider some beautiful truths it teaches about race.
–“He made from one man (literally, “from one”; some versions say “one blood” and others “one ancestor”) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26). As many have put it, “We’re all related through Adam.” Malachi rhetorically asks, “Do we not all have one father?” (2:10). There is biological unity among the races.
–“Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26). The Godhead declares this at the creation, when making that first man. Every person of every race shares this marvelous, identifying trait. No human should suffer an identity crisis, in the ultimate sense. We’re made in the image of God! There is existential unity among the races.
–With no qualifier, Scripture says “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There may be different genetic predispositions or conditions that strike each of the races of humanity, but this inevitable ending awaits us all. There is corporeal or physical unity among the races.
–Among so many passages that relates a similar principle, Solomon writes, “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13). Each individual has a particular makeup, whether we speak of extroverts or introverts, moodiness or even-temperedness, expressiveness or reservation, or the like, but all of us have an emotional makeup. There is emotional unity among the races.
–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Each one of us has unique struggles, weaknesses, and temptations. Ultimately, none of us escapes this reality. There is spiritual unity among the races. This extends to the fact that One man died for all sinners (2 Cor. 5:20). Then, beautifully, because of this, He places every obedient believer in Christ in one body (Eph. 2:16). As Paul declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is [a]neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Men will try to stoke and foment division. The carnal will embrace and inflame such baseness as racial prejudice, with its fear, assumption, and blind ignorance. But let all who do so step away from the Bible and away from the cleansing blood of the Savior. For neither cover such sin! Instead, let us answer the call of Scripture to strive toward unity in every area God sets forth.
It’s no news flash to observe that our culture seems hopelessly divided along political lines. That seems to impact race, gender, and other lines, too. The most tragic consequence of this is that it has not left the church unaffected. Social media is often a barometer for how emotional and passionate brethren on both sides of this divide can become when discussing some specific aspect of this. We cannot hope that social media will provide the answer. Who your friends are and what their leanings are on political issues influence what shows up on your homepage as they share politically or socially charged blogs, videos, and the like. Pundits have, for a few years, theorized and analyzed the reality of a “political social media bubble.” Barton Swaim, in an August 1 article on The Weekly Standard online, said, “more than any other social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter are avenues for the kind of acrimony that has embittered our politics and poisoned reasonable dialog” (https://www.weeklystandard.com/barton-swaim/a-political-social-media-bubble). It’s not just conservative publications making that observation. Google the term “political social media bubble” and conservative, moderate, and liberal outlets can at least agree about its existence (a trip to The Guardian, New York Times, National Review, et al finds plenty of material if written from different points of view drawing different conclusions).Too often, God’s people get drawn into this hurtful, messy arena and turn on each other like gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. The God of heaven must certainly weep.
This weekend, I visited the Lord’s church in Chesapeake, Virginia, a state that is often a political cauldron boiling hotter than many other places. I’m not sure how many congregations were represented, but we had to have had close to half white and half black people attending (with various Asian and Hispanic visitors there, too). Politics were mentioned a few times, but only in the sense that they have too often become a stumbling block and distraction in the Lord’s church and that they cannot solve our nation’s problems. But I was beholding the answer without it having to be pointed out. Those in attendance had a thirst for a “thus saith the Lord.” People of different colors lovingly, naturally worshipped, fellowshipped, visited, laughed with, and enjoyed each other throughout the weekend. It was genuine. It was deep. It was powerful. And it was neither contrived nor manipulated. Its glue and bond was the blood and body of God’s Son. Christ is the great uniter. As we unite on His terms and His way, we destroy barriers. That’s by design.
What Paul says to Jew and Gentile in Ephesians 2:14-18 can have application between black and white, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, male and female, or however our country wants to erect barriers. Christ is our peace and can break down the barrier of any dividing wall. He helps us view each other as “fellow citizens” and “family” (2:19) who are “together” (2:21,22). When we get ahold of that, nothing can keep us apart!
There are so many “identifying” stories these days. A white woman, Rachel Dolezal, identifying as a black woman, was back in the news over the weekend. A biological female who identifies as male and has taken testosterone, Mack Beggs, won the Texas girls wrestling title. In a recent interview, Dr. Keith Ablow suggested that such delusional (he is using the term in a psychological, not pejorative, sense) reasoning opens the door for a young person who “identifies” as a 65-year-old to receive Medicare benefits (foxnews.com). Really, every new case of “identifying” reveals the absurdity behind the thinking. All the wishing, wanting, and hoping in the world cannot change ironclad facts. As we used to say discussing reality of any kind growing up, “It is what it is.”
If there is anything more harmful than delusion, it may be denial. For centuries, good, sincere people have claimed to be Christians who have not followed what the New Testament reveals is necessary to become one. They have followed some humanly-devised plan or idea (accept Jesus in your heart by faith, say a prayer, believe the Holy Spirit gives you an experience of grace, etc.). Leaders and teachers who have devised such ideas do not do so from a sustainable, biblical source. Repeatedly, whether in the gospels (Mark 16:16), the book of history (Acts 2:38; 22:16), or the epistles (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21), we find a simple, but essential, act that stands between one not being and being a Christian. But the idea that one can fail to do this and still be a Christian is pervasively taught, believed, and practiced.
Akin to this is the belief that one can claim to be a Christian, then live any way they wish. Their speech, conduct, and attitude can exactly mirror and mimic the world’s. Their aspirations, pursuits, and values can be completely worldly. But, when death visits a loved one or comes to them or at some similar time when it would be advantageous to claim so, they aver that they are a Christian. While they may have followed God’s plan to become one, they think of themselves as saved and safe even while walking in darkness (cf. 1 John 1:6-9).
It takes more than a claim. Facts are stubborn things. The ultimate source of what is factual is God’s Word. It educates us about gender (Gen. 1:27) and race (Acts 17:26). It educates us about who a Christian is (Acts 2). It educates us about faithful Christian living (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). If we wish to be accurate in the way we “identify” ourselves, we must let Scripture inform our view!
—“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
—“A worthless person, a wicked man is one who…spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12,14).
—“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: …one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16,19).
—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12).
—“Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Prov. 26:26).
—“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).
—“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).
—“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Prov. 17:14).
—“He who loves transgression loves strife…” (Prov. 17:19a).
—“Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21).
—“An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper” (Prov. 28:25).
Suffice it to say, the Lord has not been silent on the matter. Our age is marked by the manufacturing and fanning the flames of controversy, endless argument, and divisive issues. Men seem to take pride in starting strife and stirring the pot. When we share the gospel, in gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24) and love (Eph. 4:15), it can still be met with devastating disagreement and vehement vituperation. But, thanks to mediums like social media, some among us have seized the platform to spread division where they could as easily work to promote love and unity among brethren. I cannot presume heart or motives, but the fruit has been to start brotherhood brawls and to stratify schisms. It is worrisome that while we manufacture outrage on politics, race, law enforcement, “guilt by association,” nitpicking the church, or constantly bringing up the latest “what’s wrong with the church” scenario, 151,600 people die around the world every day (via http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/)! Most of that number will have traveled the broad way that leads to destruction. Surely we can redirect our passion and conviction away from divisive diversions and do our part to stem the tide of such an eternal tragedy!
Meanwhile, we can resolve to see people, not skin color, God’s sovereignty, not party affiliation or uniform, the local church’s autonomy, not an opportunity to be a busybody, and with every other, similar scenario, not major in the minors. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier provisions of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness while scrupulously focusing on matters comparatively minor (Mat. 23:23). We have a brief time to use our talents and influence on this earth. Will our cause be social justice, brotherhood policing, or political activism, or will it be building up the kingdom through evangelism, edification, and benevolence? May God grant us all the wisdom to “not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). Be a builder, not a basher!
Freedom of speech may be a constitutional right, but do you ever wish people did not feel so free to exercise that right? It’s hard not to bemoan the cultural lunacy that appears to be another step down the slippery slope from rational to irrational thought. Bruce Jenner claims to identify as a woman despite the biology of his birth. Now, Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who is born to two white parents, identifies herself as African-American. Her story has ignited yet another “identity crisis” conversation, complete with its own Twitter Hashtag (#WrongSkin). Some who have posted there are engaging in some intelligent tongue in cheek and sarcasm, but many more seem to be seriously conflicted about their racial identity. Our ancestors would be in utter disbelief of the lack of critical thought they would hear in such discussions.
But let’s carry this line of “thought” further:
I was born to middle class parents, but I identify as the son and heir of Bill Gates.
I barely passed High School, but I identify as a Rhodes Scholar.
I am a lazy couch potato, but I identify as an elite triathlete.
I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, but I identity as a musical virtuoso.
I scorch water and ruin Ramen noodles, but I identify as a world-class chef.
You know, you can claim anything, but that does not make it so. Sometimes, the best way to expose an absurdity is to escort them further down that slope. Then, they can get a better look at themselves.
Claiming to be a woman when you are a man or to be one race when you are another is head-scratching, but did you know that there are people making a much more serious claim whose incorrect conclusion is infinitely more grave? A great many people, asked if they are a Christian, say “yes.” However, though they identify as a Christian, they have not followed the plan God put in place whereby one becomes a Christian. Jesus says that claiming does not equate to being (cf. Mat. 7:21-23). He also says there is but one way (John 14:6). We can strongly identify ourselves as a Christian, but have we actually been “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)? Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16). Peter said, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Ananias said, “Get up and be baptized, and washing away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Paul wrote, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). He also said, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Peter wrote, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21). Now, Scripture sets other conditions in place one must meet in order to receive God’s grace and salvation, but the overwhelming majority do not reject faith and repentance. They do, however, dismiss the role of baptism as a divine condition for salvation. In light of the above Scriptures (and there are others, too), how can one refuse to obey this and yet still claim to belong to Christ (cf. Luke 6:46)?
I am sad whenever anyone in a position of power and authority abuses that, worse whenever that abuse turns deadly. I am sad whenever anyone, of any color, demonstrates prejudice toward any group, race, ethnicity, or similar common denominator. I am sad whenever anyone tries to commit a crime and get away with it. I am sad whenever anyone resorts to hatred, profanity, and divisive speech, even if venting anger, hurt, and fear. I am sad whenever anyone exerts themselves in contentious and divisive rather than understanding and unifying ways. In essence, I am sad whenever someone does evil and commits sin, but seeks to justify and defend himself or herself in so doing.
Long ago, the Holy Spirit moved Solomon to say, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2). In nearly identical fashion, he writes, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2). Sin constantly occurs every moment of every day throughout every community of the world. At times, individuals will freely confess and without making excuse. However, the more common course seems to be what Solomon says. Parents raising children, asking who left something on the floor or who made a mess, hear the all-too-familiar, “Not me!” If one is caught in the act of wrongdoing, he or she may still say, “It’s not my fault,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It’s not what it looks like,” or “you don’t understand.” Perhaps that’s desperate self-preservation. Perhaps it’s an attempt to deflect responsibility and consequence. But, Solomon cuts through the flimsy excuses, realizing God sees with a perfect, unbiased manner and cannot be fooled. We can try to lie to others to try and mitigate or deny our guilt, but He sees all and knows all.
Horrific images out of North Charleston have sickened and scared us! If all is as it very much seems to be, color-blind, occupation-blind justice needs to be done (cf. Rom. 13:1ff). May it serve as an even greater object lesson that transcends race, law enforcement, and the like. When people become their own standard of right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6; 21:25), they can tend to justify anything (i.e., abortion, pornography, fornication, etc.) that God deplores. Let us remember the second part of Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2. “The Lord weighs the hearts and motives.” He never gets it wrong!