Friday, 19 August 2011
We Are All One in Christ
I am prejudiced.
You are, too. In our oh so politically correct world, it’s not an admission most of us want to make out loud. But the fact remains that every single person, without exception, has some prejudice.
The dictionary defines prejudice as: 1) an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason; 2) any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable, and 3) unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
The first definition could be something as simple as saying that I don’t like sushi. The first time I heard of it, I decided I didn’t like it. I have never tried sushi, so it is an opinion I have formed without any knowledge or reason. Perhaps if I tried it, I would like it, but I don’t look for that to happen anytime soon. We can make those kinds of judgments about people who are different from us, as well. We buy into the stereotypes that society has created, and the result is mistrust. Once we take the time to get to know someone, then those barriers of prejudice can be removed. A little prejudice has its place, though. If I am walking down the street alone and I see a group of young men dressed in suits and carrying briefcases coming my way, I probably will have no concerns. But what if those young men are dressed in ripped up jeans and tees and have multiple tattoos and piercings? I might hold my purse a little tighter, or duck into a store until they pass by, or even cross the street. Call me prejudiced, but I am not going to take any chances with my safety. They may be a group of great kids who just happen to dress that way or they might be thugs. Until I can tell the difference, I am going to be cautious.
The second definition tells us that prejudice can be a favorable or unfavorable opinion, so you can give prejudice a positive spin here. I am prejudiced when it comes to my daughter. I think she is one of the smartest, kindest, and prettiest young ladies you could ever meet. Most parents feel that way about their kids. If you have a favorite sports team, you are prejudiced. Same goes for a team you don’t like. When I was at West Virginia University, each Saturday we rooted for the Mountaineers and anyone who was playing Penn State or Pitt.
The third definition is the one we most often think of when we talk about being prejudiced. Let’s be honest in discussing this. It used to be that we only thought about white people being prejudiced against black people. Unfortunately, there are plenty of prejudices to go around: blacks, whites, Asians, Mexicans, women, Christians, Muslims. Despite all the work of the multicultural movement of the last twenty years, I believe that people in general are becoming less tolerable of others. In the time since the September 11 attacks, can you honestly say that you haven’t become a little more suspicious or anxious when you have encountered an Arab person? Our prejudices may be mild – perhaps you just feel a little anxious or guard your feelings in your encounters with people you see as different but you don’t say anything or treat the person poorly. Other people may be blunt in their feelings toward people they are prejudiced against, and they may act accordingly. We call those people jerks. (Was that a prejudiced statement?)
I am NOT a racist.
The dictionary defines racism as: 1) a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others; 2) hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
Racism goes beyond prejudice. Prejudice can be overcome with knowledge and experience – getting to know someone or something and reducing your anxiety. For example, I use to think I didn’t like foreign doctors. Then I reluctantly took my many friends’ recommendations when I chose my daughter’s pediatrician, who was Korean, and I was pleasantly surprised. He was a wonderful doctor and helped me so much. I was sad when he retired. But racism goes beyond having a favorable or unfavorable opinion. Racism is a deep seated belief that your race is superior. Racism says that all other races are inferior and should submit to your authority – that they have no rights. Racism is about hatred and putting others “in their place”, according to its rules. Racism is not so easily overcome. Again, people most commonly associate racism as a “whites against blacks” thing. Unfortunately, history backs that up. So does the media coverage we see of white supremacy groups that actively advocate their beliefs. But racism comes in all colors. History’s most devastating example of racism was the Holocaust – the extermination of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
Jewish refers to a race of people, as well as a religion. I can’t think of any other people that the name of their race is also the name of their religion. What happened to the Jewish people in the Holocaust was a terrible thing – the result of an evil hatred. However, it is also sadly ironic, because history shows that the Jewish people themselves were at one time racists.
And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
Jews of this day did not associate with non-Jews, and they had their own laws about it. In this passage from Acts, Peter has gone to the home of a Gentile, which is any person who is not a Jew. The only people they were less tolerable of than Gentiles were Samaritans. They called Samaritans dogs. Samaritans were half-Jewish people created when the Israelites were taken into captivity and the Assyrians resettled the land with people from other nations. They intermarried with the Jews who were left in the land, resulting in a half-breed race. Their hatred of these people was so bad that they would travel hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid Samaritan villages when traveling to the Galilee area. Contact with Samaritans made them “unclean.” That’s why the woman at the well in John 4 marveled that Jesus, a Jewish man, would even speak to her, a Samaritan woman. He was breaking all the rules she had come to accept. How fortunate for her, and the other Samaritan people who came to know Jesus that day.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Christ, there is no prejudice and there is no racism. God is not persuaded by your skin color, your socio-economic status, your sex, your political affiliation. He is persuaded by the condition of your heart. We are to separate ourselves spiritually from the things of this world, but physically we cannot be separate from the world. We could move to an area and create a Christian-only community, but then how could we fulfill the call of God? We are to go into all the world and preach the gospel. In doing so, we are going to battle our own prejudices. But we cannot pick and choose who we are going to witness to based on their race or what neighborhood they live in or their age or how much money they have.
James 2:1-4, 8-9
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? . . . If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
The book of Acts chronicles the beginnings of the Christian church. The Jewish leaders who hated Jesus also hated His disciples. They lectured and threatened and imprisoned the disciples for teaching in Jesus’ name. Through Saul’s leadership, they aggressively imprisoned and killed those who claimed to be Christians. It’s another irony that Saul would have his own personal encounter with Jesus and be transformed, becoming Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Despite their persecution, the Christian church continued to grow and thrive, and part of that was because they opened themselves up to the Gentiles, which was God’s plan. Peter’s visit to Cornelius’ home was a significant turning point.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”
So God doesn’t care what country you live in or what color your skin is or how you voted in the last election. The only prejudice He has is against sin. He is a Holy God and no sin will be permitted into heaven. Revelation 21:27 says: “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” God loves each and every person, without exception. But He does hate their sins. Thanks to the work that Jesus did on the cross, we can be cleansed of our sin and be reconciled with God. If we accept Jesus as our savior and repent of our sins, then God will forgive us.
In God’s eyes, sin is sin. People, however, tend to assign value to sins. For example, murder is worse than stealing in society’s eyes and the punishment is more severe. Some people believe they have sinned too great to ever be forgiven, but that is not true. Perhaps we cannot get man’s forgiveness, but we can receive God’s. That means that no matter how hard it is for us to understand, God can forgive murderers, rapists, thieves, and pedophiles, if they repent. I might not think that my sin is so bad compared to these, but it will send me to Hell just as quickly. I thank God that He shows no partiality. I thank God that He is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
I am also prejudiced when it comes to God. I think He is the best! Nothing else compares to Him. I have no interest in any other gods, and I never want to go back to my old life without Him. I love God’s people and I enjoy being in church to worship Him with my brothers and sisters in Christ. As for my other prejudices, I am learning to love others that are different from me through Christ. Walls are coming down and bridges are being built. That’s what it will take to overcome prejudices and racism – a sincere love for others. It’s the kind of love that God has for all us.
Posted on 08/19/2011 7:26 AM by Susan Nelson
Friday, 5 August 2011
This Is Not Our Home
If you listen to Christian radio, you have no doubt heard the song “Blessings” by Laura Story. It’s a beautiful song that brings tears to my eyes each time I hear it. Earlier this year I wrote about having a pity party . . . this song helped me out of that dark time.
There is a line in the song that says: “The pain reminds this heart that this is not, this is not our home – it’s not our home.” What is not our home? Earth. That’s right, fellow Christians --you are an alien.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Of course, I don’t mean you are an alien like you are from another planet. You aren’t E.T. I am certainly not supporting the theory that the human race was planted here by extraterrestrials. I know who my Creator is. We are born into this world and grow in this world. But at some point in our lives, we come to the realization that there is more to it . . . that there is something bigger out there and that we are not alone. We either seek it out or ignore it.
That something bigger is, of course, our God. When we come to know the true, living God, we realize that we belong with Him, and His place is not of this earth. We learn that through a relationship with Jesus Christ, we can have eternal life in a place where there is no more death, sorrow, crying or pain (Rev. 21:4). Once we have come to this knowledge, we have the challenging task of living in this world without becoming worldly. So what does that mean? The dictionary defines worldly as devoted to, directed toward, or connected with the affairs, interests, or pleasures of this world. In Romans 12, Paul cautions us not to be conformed to the world. In other words, don’t get so caught up in this place that you forget to keep you eyes on God.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
In this passage, James is reminding us that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. We have to choose – either God or the world. The opposite of being worldly is being godly. The dictionary defines godly as conforming to the laws and wishes of God. That’s why Paul said we had to transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds. Each day we make a choice of how we are going to live our lives. We have to become spiritually minded and have control over our flesh and desires. We have to become devoted to, directed toward, and connected with the affairs and interests of God and please Him.
Because we have a relationship with Jesus, someday we will return to our real and permanent home in Heaven. But in the meantime, we are here, which isn’t so bad. I have been fortunate enough to travel around our country and have seen some beautiful places. What I haven’t seen of the rest of the Earth, I have seen in photographs. God created a beautiful place when He created the Earth. He gave us everything we would need while we are here: food, shelter, energy, medicine, companionship, purpose. He wants us to thrive and be blessed. Just because we are not of this world, it doesn’t mean we are just supposed to sit down on God and wait to be taken out of here. He wants us to live our lives here to the fullest until it is time to go home.
We read in the Old Testament about how Israel and Judah – the divided kingdom – were each taken over by their enemies and the people taken into exile by their captors. The people had turned their backs on God, worshipping other gods and living like the pagans. They had become worldly. He allowed their enemies to overthrow them, but He did not forget them.
Jeremiah 29:4-7; 11-14
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity;
These scriptures seem to back up the old adage: bloom where you are planted. God has placed you where you are for a reason. He has a plan and a purpose for the life you are living here on Earth. If we seek Him with all our heart, we can’t help but find Him and He will certainly bring us home.
If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Living here on Earth isn’t always easy, though. While there is great beauty here, there is also great ugliness and evil. Humans endure many hardships – pain, sorrow, loss, sickness, poverty, hunger, to name a few. No one, regardless of their religious beliefs or economic status, gets by unscathed by the world. These heartaches of life often drive people to search out escapes, like drugs and alcohol to cover up the pain. But God wants us to draw closer to Him in these times and seek His comfort and peace.
So let’s review. We are living in a world that we know is a temporary home until we can be with the Lord. We have to live our lives to the fullest in this world without being conformed to it. Life here isn’t going to be easy – in fact, much of it will be very hard. Because we have chosen to serve God, we have become an enemy to the world and it hates us. (How much Christian-bashing have you seen lately?) However, we have to love the world and demonstrate to it what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is a daunting challenge, but it’s one that we do not do on our own, but with God’s help.
Jesus knows what we are going through because He lived it, too. He witnessed both the beauty and the evil of this world. He knew pain and loss and all the troubles of life. The world also came to hate Him, to the point that His own people whom He came to save plotted to have Him crucified. When He was questioned by Pilate about being a king, He testified to the fact that He was not of this earth. And if He is not of this earth and we abide in Him, that means we are not of this earth either.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
In our world, we watch the struggle for power and position – kingdom building. You can see it on as big a scale as international interests at war for land and power, or as small as a power struggle at your local PTA. There was a popular bumper sticker in the 1980s that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins!” The worldly view is to amass as much material goods and power as we possibly can. But where does that get you? Matthew 16:26 says: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” It is even worse for those who have known the truth and then turned away from it.
2 Peter 2:20
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
The saying goes that home is where the heart is. Having money, material goods, position and success in this world are not bad things. What is bad is when we take our focus away from God and it’s all about us. What is bad is when we forget about pleasing God and try to please people. What is bad is when we put these things before the things of God.
Life is full of good and bad times. In the good times, we count our blessings and thank God for His provision. We should do the same in the bad times. A child who is ill or hurting goes to his parents for help. When we go through bad times, we should turn to our Heavenly Father for help, comfort and strength. We weren’t meant to go through this life alone. Like the “Blessings” song says, when the pains of life come along, remind yourself that this is not your home. One of my favorite phrases used in the Bible is “it came to pass.” We go through things – but at least we go through and are not stuck in place. They will come to pass. One day we will pass from this life and return to our home, and we all know that there is no place like home.
Posted on 08/05/2011 8:25 AM by Susan Nelson