Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Review: Under Our Skin

"I'm encouraged because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a sin problem." 
- Ben Watson, Under our Skin 

I was in California when I got the e-mail.  It was an e-mail that opened my eyes to just how severe the race issue was at Bucknell University.  Three students expelled.  Expelled because of deeply offensive speech directed towards blacks.  I had been taught in school that racism was mostly dead.  I grew up in a mostly white town, educated in a mostly white public school, and went to a mostly white private liberal arts college.

Racism wasn't mostly dead, I just never experienced it.  Racism wasn't dead, it just lurked in the shadows of social media.

By God's grace, His Word and His Spirit direct us to combat this foe.  It's why I'm thrilled to share my thoughts on the book Under Our Skin by Ben Watson (a current NFL Tight End), because it was truly helpful as I tried to think through how to walk and minister to a culture that seems to be growing in animosity when it comes to racial discussion.  

Here are three things I appreciated:

His Vulnerability - Ben shared very openly about his mistreatment as a young black man.  He shared about his upbringing, family history, his mistakes, and his triumphs.  When speaking of things done to him, he spoke honestly yet with the tone of forgiveness.  When speaking on racism at large, he shared his feelings but did not give full vent to them.  His tone was representative of James 3:17, "The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."  Which leads to...

His Fairness - Ben was not going after shock value.  He did not put the blame solely on one group.  He was even and measured.  Because of this, I wanted to listen more.  He shared his hatred of the sin of racism, but he also shared his hatred of sin that he used to love.  One in particular that was really helpful for me was he shared how while he loves hip hop as a style, since that is something that was common in his culture, he also didn't like how it often became an excuse for crude, derogatory lyrics.  He was both for respecting culture as well as pointing out its flaws.  He wasn't pro-black or pro-white, he was pro-Jesus.

His Understanding - Ben didn't fall into the trap of simplifying the issue.  He spoke to the issue as a complex one.  This is very valuable, since many of us hear or see things in 140 characters or less.  He didn't try to solve the problem, rather he helped expose the many problems in some very complex issues.  It's a good reminder that as we try to bring unity to the body of Christ, it will take time, effort, and understanding.

I would recommend this book to any Christian who is trying to understand how to think through these difficult issues.  One of my primary applications from it is to not assume that everyone has gone through the same experiences as I have.  That often limits my ability to listen and empathize well.

My only critique (and I think it's minor) is he is heavy on personal sharing, and light on biblical foundation.  I think he could have really benefited from sharing from God's Word why these things are issues, and could put up even better guard rails than he all ready put up.  Ephesians 2 especially could have been a helpful text.  However, he hammers home two very important truths.

1. Racism is the fruit of sin

2. The gospel gives us hope, because Jesus died to kill sin.

Those truths alone help start the dialogue.  Will you read this book and join in?

(Another helpful review by Tim Challies can be found here)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Shrugging at God

"Sin shrugs at God." -- Tim Keller, The Songs of Jesus

"Why can't things be the way they used to be?"  Maybe this is a question you've heard before.  Or it's something you've uttered. Why are people walking away from Jesus?  Why is the culture more hostile towards God?  I can appreciate this sentiment.  When I was growing up, I felt like there was a lot more morality and love for God in our country.  

The irony of this is that I was very moral outwardly, and yet very much opposed to God.

Self-righteousness.  Pride.  They were deadly hooks that I still wrestle with to this day.  And they covered my "secret" sins.  Pornography addiction.  Gluttony.  Covetousness.  Gossip and slander.  

It's easy to forget that, apart from Christ, I also was an enemy of God.  Yet, life and culture felt much tamer back then.  Why?  

"I have a message from God concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God in their eyes."  (Psalm 36:1)

Did you catch it?  Sin is the absence of the fear of God.  While morality is included in that, it's not the definition of what sin is.   Sin is first and foremost a desire to seat yourself on the throne of glory rather than place God there.  When God says He is meant to sit there, we shrug.   It's why the gospel often loses so much appeal.  Why would we need the gospel if sin is solely about the line of right and wrong?  Soon, we start to miss who defines right and wrong, which devolves into the same issues you see in the book of Judges: "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes."

Sin is not just about right and wrong, but about who defines what is right and what is wrong.  And if God is God, then He gets that right.  That's the only way we can rightly apply the gospel.  We need a savior not just from Hell, but a savior from sin.  We need to be rescued from ourselves.

Our culture is being exposed.  Exposed in that we want people to go to heaven but not be reconciled to God.   And because of that, we've created a culture where both "bible-believing" Christians and secularists can miss the true horror of their actions: we look at God, and we are unmoved.  We look at His glory and grace, and we are apathetic.  We see His commands, and we question and explain away.  We shrug at God.  How deceived could we be?

God is worthy of honor, worship and praise.  He is deserving of awe.  And when we see Him (and we all will), every knee will bow.  This is where we need to focus.  There are a lot of issues that are pressing.  A lot of thoughts on what you and I think is right.  But we must bring our gaze back to the Lord.

We must return to God's Word

We must confess our sin

We must gaze upon the Savior

We must allow His glory and grace to change us 

Monday, March 7, 2016

"Remember Who the Real Enemy Is."

"Katniss, when you're in the arena, remember who the real enemy is."  -- Haymitch Abernathy, Catching Fire 

She had one mission: protect Peeta.  Katniss Everdeen was dead set on saving her fellow victor from the first Hunger Games, knowing that she'd be willing to die for him to survive.  As she and her mentor, Haymitch, said their last words to one another before the games, he reminded her of one thing: "Remember who the real enemy is."  It was a reminder to her that, while 23 other men and women were going to try and kill her, there was only one that truly was their enemy: The Capitol.  

The Capitol had arranged the Hunger Games.  It engineered the destruction of 23 young men and women every year, causing disarray, chaos, and confusion.  And for the one man or woman that won, they were changed for life.  While young men and women killed each other to survive, the Capitol engineered it all, oppressing the rest of the districts.  

I doubt Suzanne Collins meant for this to be a sobering picture of our spiritual war, but the fact is we need to be reminded of the same thought.  In Ephesians, Paul reminds the Ephesian church that the days are evil (5:16), that the "sons of disobedience" (2:2) walk in the futility of their minds, are darkened in understanding, and alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance (4:17-19), and that we are not to become partners with them (5:7).  There are people out there who hate Christians.  There are people who hate God.  But they are not our enemy.  They might do things against us or against God that we don't like, but they are not the real enemy.  

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Paul's encouragement is to put on the whole armor of God.  Why?  So that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  You see, our ultimate enemy is not other people.  They might act out against God.  They might sin against us.  But we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.  We war against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Our fight is with sin, with the world, with Satan.  And Satan deceives us so that we might engage in sin and follow the world, forgetting all the while that he has an ulterior motive: to divide the church and conquer it.  

In Ephesus and its surrounding areas, there was major disunity.  Jewish Christ-followers and Gentile Christ-followers were divided, and Paul is writing to them that they would see they are one in Christ!  But they were deceived by their sin.  And it's Satan's plan to distract God's children from their Father, from His redemptive purposes, from their great hope.  

So Paul says to this church, "Remember who you are wrestling against.  You are not wrestling with the sons of disobedience.  You're not wrestling with one another.  You're wrestling against the authorities and rulers you can't see.  So fight back with someone stronger."  And then later, he adds to this: "And fight TOGETHER."  

"In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." (6:16)

The shield of a roman centurion was large.  It wasn't meant for hand to hand combat, rather it was meant to help set up a barricade for the whole battalion to guard them from enemy fire.  That's why he mentions that the shield is used to guard them from darts.  The only way for them to successfully defeat their enemy is together.  As a team.  As a unified force.  If one falters, they are left exposed.  And in our context, when the church is not together in Christ, Satan can disunify us through his deception.  

Do you see how the church might be disunified now?  Consider who, today, you've considered your enemy.  

Is it a political candidate or party?  A different moral position?  A different race or ethnicity?  A different culture?  Different ideas?  

Do you realize that you're doing exactly what Satan wants you to do?  He wants you to put down your shield of faith, or he wants you to aim it in the wrong direction.  And slowly, with each little lie, and each little wrong movement, he enters in and disunifies.  The church falls away from being the city on a hill and a buttress of truth in which our aim is love, and instead becomes a divisive hodge-podge of politics and anger.

So take up your shield.  Do it by remembering and trusting in your real Savior.  He is the hero that brings us home.  He rescues us from hell.  He redeems us from sin.  And He brings true unity to fight the real enemy.

And as we fight the real enemy, against the spiritual oppression against us AND within us, we march unified to win more of the "sons of disobedience" to the Savior.  

So put down the wrong shield.  Politics will not defend us.  Platforms will not guard us from harm.  Our country will fail us.  So use the right shield; faith in Christ.  

Change your aim.  Don't defend yourself from personal attacks.  Be wise, be discerning, and instead defend the truth of the Gospel, and fight fiercely for the unity of the church.

Call others to join the battalion.  As Christ-followers, we need to remind each other that we need to work together.  When we are in conflict, we need to pursue reconciliation.  When we have deep ideological differences, we need to be peaceable and humble.  There's too much at stake.  Don't divide the church just to win your argument or to get your point across.  Dialogue, care, and submit to the scriptures.  And remember you and I aren't the ones leading the army.  Christ is, and as we follow Him, He leads us to victory.  Victory over Satan, over sin, and over death.