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Posts Tagged ‘Racism’


When you say the name “Pedro” many people think of Napoleon Dynamite and “Vote for Pedro”. For me there is really only one Pedro: Pedro Martinez.

Pedro Martinez tells his story, along with Boston Herald writer Michael Silverman, in the simply titled Pedro. This is a generally interesting book. As the Boston Globe noted on the cover, “Pedro the book is as smart, funny, and diva-esque as Pedro the pitcher.” This captures Pedro’s personality well.

A few years ago I read Mariano Rivera’s autobiography. That also captured his personality well. These two men, from similar backgrounds and similar dominance at their position at the same time had very different personalities.

Pedro contains more of his views and fewer of the details of his career. Mariano was a bit more factual in regard to the game, and didn’t focus as much on his views. Perhaps Pedro figured most of us had seen his career and wanted to know a bit more about what drove him. Pedro found ways to motivate himself. Every slight, real or imagined, was the catalyst to drive him harder and farther. He speaks much of how the Dodgers didn’t believe in him. Lesser accomplished pitchers with less talent were called up ahead of him. This was added to the chip that was growing on his shoulder. Contract negotiations would water that chip and help if grow. He’d imagine someone had kidnapped and threatened his mother to pitch better (this is a reality many Hispanic players have had to deal with).

This book is more earthy than Mariano’s. There are more cuss words (I don’t recall any in Mariano’s book), and colorful language as well as his greeting for new managers. Liking to be naked in the club house, he’s jump on a bench and “wiggle (his) johnson”. Yes, don’t believe what you heard, locker rooms are sometimes places with behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable elsewhere.

Pedro speaks a little about his faith but it is very vague. Mariano is more specific about his faith. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, and I’m just making an observation. Mariano comes across more like you’d expect a professing Christian to sound. Pedro less so. Yet, as I preached this past Sunday, Christianity is about the heart and not man-made rules or traditions. I’d put the language in the file under man-made rules. But not knowing what he believes makes it harder to know. You know?

Pedro focuses on his family of origin, particularly his parents and his older brother Ramon. Pedro loved playing baseball but never thought of making a profession of it until Ramon got his signing bonus and bought the family their first refrigerator. Think about that. Pedro, like the big brother he idolized, wanted to provide for his family. We see glimpses of his providing for others, particularly under-privileged kids in the Dominican Republic and the US. This, I imagine, is part of how his faith influenced his life. We read very little about his romantic life aside from his first romance as a minor league player in Montana until he mentions his relationship with Carolina until they won the 2004 World Series. She and his kids figure far more prominently in the epilogue and afterward.

Riveria also talks about his life in poverty and his family of origin. His wife and child factor in his book more frequently, however. They factored, it seemed, into more of his decisions.

They are very different men. But what made them famous was their ability to throw a baseball. Pedro mentions the people along the way that helped him to pitch better. He didn’t learn to toe the rubber until spring training. During his first All-Star appearance while with the Expos he sat and talked with Maddox and Glavine and learned how to pitch, which helped when he lost his velocity. Unlike Schilling, who wrote it all down, Martinez kept hitters strengths & weakness, tendencies all in his head.

There are some unflattering stories about others. Most of them have to do with the racism he experienced. Or at least cultural insensitivity. Anglo coaches often didn’t realize what life had been like for many of these  young Hispanic men from other countries. In one case, while in the minors his first year, the players were told to hurry up and get on the bus. He and another player went straight to the bus, not wanting to disappoint the coach. They didn’t realize they were expected to shower first (the coach didn’t say that). The coach lit into them and called them dirty as in lacking good hygiene.

Pedro really didn’t like Joe Kerrigan. He was Martinez’ pitching coach in Montreal, then Boston and eventually his manager in Boston. From a distance Kerrigan seemed like a good pitching coach. When he took over for Jimy Williams it all went south from the outside. But Pedro’s relationship with him was burned in Montreal when Kerrigan tried to fit Pedro into his box instead of figuring out what worked well for Martinez. He wanted no stars, and his own way. From Pedro’s perspective Kerrigan tried to take credit for other people’s success. If you are the start pitcher and you watch the coach who really had nothing to do with your greatness get accolades, you understand. There were also rumors of how Kerrigan stabbed Williams in the back. Needless to say, Martinez was not disappointed with the new ownership group fired Joe and hired Grady Little which earned a wiggle of the johnson that Grady probably could have done without.

Pedro mentions a number of players, but very little about what happened behind the scenes. He criticized Mike Piazza at times for his play, but he avoids naming names when it came to steroids. He is no Jason Giambi.

I wish there was more about the 2003 & 2004 Red Sox. Every Sox fan wants to know more about the Idiots who broke the curse.

A few events stood out to me. Martinez talks about a series in NY against the Yankees in 2001. The first game was rained out and rescheduled in June. As a result, Pedro’s next 3 starts were against the Yankees. I had tickets to that rained out game with one of my best friends who lived in the area at the time, and the woman who would become CavWife. She and I ended up at the Cheesecake Factory after we’d driven all the way to the Bronx and parked in a garage before hearing the game was canceled.

My friend, Eddie, and I went into the city on Thursday for the travel day game that afternoon. We didn’t have tickets and the box office said they were sold out (lots of season ticket holders who didn’t show up). We finally found someone selling tickets on the street (remember, this is when there was not Stub Hub). We were in the nosebleeds but I think this was the only time I saw Pedro pitch live. He pitched well, but lost that day. Certainly better than when I went to Fenway (I haven’t been back since) and saw the wrong Martinez, Ramon, get rocked in another day game while I baked by the Pesky Pole.

The other memorable event was his final negotiations with the Red Sox. I read this as another Boston legend, Tom Brady, hit free agency. John Henry, Tom Warner and Larry Lucchiano all wanted to sign Pedro. Theo had his computer with all his graphs and projections that indicated that Pedro had about two good seasons left in him. Pedro wanted at least 3 years (he got 4 from the Mets which the Sox refused to match). I just thought of Bill doing the “math” in his head indicating Brady was declining and having to deal with an owner who likely would do anything to keep Tom. Like Theo, Belichick made the unpopular but hard call. Theo was right. Time will tell if Bill was. Brady may be the next Roger who really wasn’t in the twilight of his career after all.

You get a picture of a man whose greatest strength was also his weakness. This is true for most of us. The anger that drove him to get better caught the attention of the Dodgers and a reason for some of them to question his character. But it was a book that left me wanting more. You can certainly say worse things about a book. And a great player always leaves you wanting to see more. He left us memories of 3 Cy Young award reflecting incredible dominance in the steroid era, his incredible 1999 All-Star game performance, and that gutsy relief performance against Cleveland while hurt in the playoffs. Such greatness and glory is fleeting, so watch it while you can.

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Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

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I’ve been wanting to read some of John Perkin’s books for some time now. His new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win, is a great place to start.

This book is a little bit of everything. Partially autobiographical you get insight into the events that have shaped John’s life and ministry. This also gives people like me a better grasp of the black experience in America.

He also provides some background to Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and summarizes the Three R’s (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution). He also allows himself to dream and invites us to share his dream.

So, there is a little bit of everything John is about in this book. Hopefully it will pique interest in his other books to develop areas on interest more deeply.

John has about a third grade education, and notes he had some help in the process of writing (we all need good editors). As a result the book is easy to understand and generally easy to read. It is not overly complex but not simplistic either. At times it does seem to change direction unexpectedly. There is a stream of consciousness feel to it as if you’re sitting down and listening to John over a cup of tea (you can have coffee if you’d like).

He begins with his story as part of the larger story of segregation in America. Things most of us take for granted were out of the realm of possibility for many/most black Americans. For instance, he noted not only blacks having different waiting rooms for the doctor, but not having appointments. They were for white people, and blacks got the left over time on a first come, first served basis. The medical clinic he founded in Mendenhall was intended to help blacks gain access to health care as if they were white people. And they didn’t exclude whites.

“Black citizens weren’t allowed to participate in the society they had spent centuries helping to build.”

He then shifts into the history of the CCDA. It is based on a biblical view of a new humanity in Christ living and working together for the common good. It is a vision of a “multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass” community based on the same elements in God’s kingdom.

Perkins returns to race relations more specifically in talking about poor whites. Often the only relationships in which they had an power was in their relationships with blacks. They were often damaged and gained some sense of power and worth by playing the oppressor toward the one group lower on the social scale then they were. This, in turn, damaged them even more (oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor).

“Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression, making them overseers or guards or sheriffs charged with taking care of the dirty work to keep black people in their place so they didn’t have to. In reality, though, this just fueled the resentment between blacks and poor whites.”

He moves toward his experience with non-violence in the face of oppression. The move away from this is one of the things that concerns him about the present and the future. He believes people have the power to win with love, but often think they don’t (or don’t have the time) and resort to violence and rioting that makes they no better than their oppressors.

“In the face of power, some resort to violence as a way to create chaos. That’s terrorism. That’s what people use when they don’t have the power to win. Nonviolence is a better way. It’s radical.”

“I quickly came to realize that nonviolence takes more strength than violence- and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes in our weakness and brokenness.”

From here he moves into the 3 R’s mentioned above. To assist a community, he believes it is best to live there. This often means relocating into the community so you help from the inside, not the outside (and security of your gated community). While there you seek reconciliation between groups and individuals in conflict. This can be race, class, culture or other barriers used by sin to divide and impoverish. He speaks of the redistribution of opportunity, not free stuff. Not working robs people of dignity. He addresses stewardship- sharing our skills and opportunities (like networks) with people who don’t have those skills or opportunities. These new relationships give the poor new opportunities. In the Gospel we see Jesus “relocating” to planet Earth as a man, reconciling all creation to God through the cross and making Himself poor to enrich others. This notion of incarnation is addressed in the next chapter.

“Reconciliation is God bringing people into relationship with Himself and other people. Redistribution is caring for others’ needs as we care for our own.”

“I long to see the church give up its power and privilege the way Jesus did when he came to earth to give us the greatest of gifts.”

Perkins then talks about justice, and the differences between theology done by whites and blacks. He speaks in generalizations, obviously, but those differences affect how we view justice. White evangelical theology has focused on the personal side of redemption thanks to our commitment to individualism (among other things and despite some people’s commitment to covenant theology). Black theology, often written in response to white oppression sees redemption as communal as well as individual. Both are true and in tension with one another. But we tend to be polarized and talk past one another (on many topics unfortunately). He notes how both sides have sins in need of repentance and forgiveness.

After a very personal chapter about his son Spencer, he moves into human dignity, the final fight (love) and forgiveness. I’m not sure about the order there but all three are important if we are to discuss reconciliation and justice. He sees the church as the primary communicator of these truths. Sadly, we’ve allowed tribalism (Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, poor vs. rich etc.) to set in so we now disparage those who disagree with us (unAmerican, denier, homophobic etc.). He mentions immigration in particular (recognizing government’s role as possibly different from a Christian’s view) as a place we should be able to talk, and disagree, peaceably.

“So becoming a Christian is discovering God’s love for us, and being a Christian is learning to love God back- and then finding ways to show God’s overflowing love to the people around us.”

I certainly agree with him that the noise in our culture is too loud and we must move beyond it to think and act as responsible people instead of performing a series of knee jerk reactions that perpetuate the conflicts of our time.

“There is too much noise in our society right now, and that noise just keeps getting louder. We need quiet time for reflection. We need to be still and know that God is God.”

He briefly concludes with his dream which shouldn’t surprise us if we were paying attention throughout the book. It is the dream of a civil rights leader and Christian. It is a dream we should all share, one that is not simply about externals but about the heart. I leave John Perkins with the final word.

“I want to see a real community of love. Everyone wants to fight crime, fight violence, fight racism, and fight injustice, but love is still the final fight, and unless we have these communities of love, we will never see this dream realized.”

[I received a complementary copy from Baker Books for the purposes of review.]

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If you are white you have probably struggled with it. “I didn’t do it.” In a sense, you are right. I was raised in the northeast, and Roman Catholic, and born during the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws. When we are asked to confess and repent of sins that aren’t personally ours we struggle.

I get that. But we can’t stop there. When we hear these words in our own minds, or from the mouths of our church members, officers and fellow Presbyters we can’t just go, “okay.”

Monday morning I opened my Bible. In my personal reading I was nearing the end of 2 Samuel. There in chapter 21 is a story from David’s reign that addresses this for us.

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

There was a famine in Israel. It stretched on long enough for David to seek God about it. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like what he heard back. It was all Saul’s fault. Way back in the days of Joshua the Gibeonites had tricked Israel into making a covenant of protection. Instead of voiding the covenant, they kept it but the Gibeonites became their servants. During his reign, Saul slaughtered most of them.

God was not happy at Saul’s covenant breaking and murder. He did not immediately judge Saul for this. In fact, He apparently didn’t include this when Saul died in battle for his various sins. The bloodguilt remained.

David was the new king after a period of struggle. This is probably many years into his reign. But God said it must be dealt with NOW. It must be dealt with by YOU. David didn’t do it. Saul did. Saul who was long dead.

When it comes to the covenant community God apparently doesn’t care that you personally had no involvement in the corporate sins of the community. Just as you share in Adam’s sin, you also share in the sins of leaders of the covenant community.

So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?”

David sought out the remnant to see how this could be made right. Note how Saul’s sin is characterized. His zeal was for “his people” and he struck down the Gibeonites. Sound vaguely familiar?

In my previous post I laid out some of the ways the Southern Presbyterian Church, including what would become the PCA, had sinned. Kevin Twit noted that at its founding the leaders of the PCA stressed they were the continuing Presbyterian Church. This is why Sean Michael Lucas’ book is about the Continuing Presbyterians, aka the PCA. They viewed the PC (US) as having departed from the faith, but they were continuing in it. They also continued in some sinful ways. Travis Hutchinson lays out some of the evidence for this on his blog. He points to a book, written in 1987, that is a history of the PCA up to that point which espouses racist viewpoints. This book was given to the denomination so proceeds of its sale could go to the denomination. Yeah, let that sink in. He also shares some personal stories that reveal that racists be among us.

Will we continue to say “It’s not our problem” or will we be like David and say “How can we make this right?”

Ultimately the seven men descended from Saul put to death point us to Christ who bore the full burden of our sin, including racism, indifference and hardness of heart. We can admit we have done wrong, that we share in the guilt of our fathers (like Nehemiah did!) precisely because Christ bears our guilt. We can be honest instead of pretending. The doctrine of justification matters! We can say “We failed you and we are sorry. How can we move forward?” Like David we should seek the blessing of the heritage of the Lord through repentance.

Here is the protest that many of us signed.

We the 43rd General Assembly of the PCA (the undersigned) understand that repentance is not merely a statement, but steps of faithfulness that follow. Allowing that more time is needed to adequately work on such a denominational statement, but also the need for action now, we recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period. We commit ourselves to the task of truth and repentance over the next year for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel. We urge the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek truth and repentance for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.

 

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Thanks to Augustine hope and despair have been on my mind. In the wake of the recent events in Ferguson, I’ve had many thoughts about all if it. Like most people I’ve read lots of musings on the situation, some of them good and some not so good. I find that most commentators hit one aspect of the situation. That is okay as long as we don’t expect them to speak exhaustively. As I’ve turned this over in my mind I see so many angles to it.

On Sunday I used Isaiah 9:1-7 for my sermon text. I’d already planned on that text well over a month ago. It proved very appropriate in the wake of a week like last week.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The Light arrives in the midst of darkness. Here we see the darkness of injustice and oppression. The Son of David would come to end injustice and oppression. His reign is one of justice and righteousness. We who are Christians affirm the NT teaching that this child is Jesus the Light of the World and the Son of David who sits on his eternal throne now.

Scripture and history point us to an already/not yet understanding of this text. Jesus has already come to redeem His people. Jesus already sits upon the throne. Jesus has not yet removed all injustice and unrighteousness. That awaits His second advent. The kingdom has been inaugurated, continues and awaits consummation or completion.

This means we live in the time between times. We, as Christians, have the capacity to treat others with justice and righteousness. But we live in a society that is marked by injustice and unrighteousness. This should not surprise us. We see this in Hebrews 2:

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

Nothing, it says, is outside His control even though it may not look like it. There is still rebellion within His realm. Remember, we were numbered among the rebels. It was His role as the Lamb of God that removed the guilt of our rebellion. We, too, deserved the just wrath of God for our part in the unrighteous and injustice of the world. Those who suffer injustice often respond with injustice and unrighteousness as well. There is a dark, vicious spiral involved. It requires the grace of God to break it. First He breaks it in individuals. Those individuals can work to break it in society by seeking just laws or enforcing just laws. Those who have been oppressed need to share in the power, not to bring an opposite form of oppression but pursue righteousness and justice.

Christ holds off His return, as I mentioned Sunday, to apply the redemption purchased to the elect. This is what is going on behind 2 Peter 3:

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

We see that God is working out a number of purposes, seemingly in conflict with one another. He is bringing grace to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is showing justice to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is working out judgment and salvation, as well as guiding His people into righteousness all in the midst of the darkness of this world.

“Often times the poor man is the oppressor by unjust clamors. We should labor to give the best interpretation to the actions of governors that the nature of actions will possibly bear.” Richard Sibbes

Many of us see this and are tempted to despair. We see these eruptions of injustice and violence and fear that we’ve made no process. Despair can kill us. We can give up and just let the situation continue unabated. We can give up in a deeper sense and either forsake the truth or fight the monster and become the monster in the process.

There is some cause for despair, in a good and not giving up sense. While we have been justified, Christians are not fully sanctified.This means we still sin. We still have blind spots (race issues can be one of them!). The gospel has already begun to transform us into the image of Christ but has not yet finished its work.

Note what Calvin says about us:

Let each of us go on, then, as our limited powers allow, without departing from the path we have begun to tread. However haltingly we may travel, each day will see us gaining a little ground. So let us aim to make diligent progress in the way of the Lord, and let us not lose heart if we have only a little to show for it. For although our success might be less than we would wish, all is not lost when today surpasses yesterday. Only let us fix our gaze clearly and directly on the goal, trying hard to reach our objective, not fooling ourselves with vain illusions or excusing our own vices.

This sentiment found its way into the Heidelberg Catechism.

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

If we cannot act with perfect righteousness and justice how can we expect an unbelieving world to do so. So, we should despair or give up hope in human governments accomplishing this. As Isaiah 9 notes, only the zeal of the Lord will accomplish all this. Hope, as Red noted in The Shawshank Redemption, is a dangerous thing. If our hope is in earthly perfect apart from the return of Christ, we will experience the bad form of despair that resorts to resignation or violence.

“A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope.” Richard Sibbes

Let us set our hope on God’s promises to be fully accomplished upon the return of Christ. This hope can sustain us in the midst of the continuing darkness. It also helps us to rejoice over the modest gains as we see people exhibiting righteousness and justice. We need to remember that God works on the behalf of those who wait for Him. Such waiting is not passive. For instance, William Wilberforce longed to see England free of slavery. He worked for years, first to end the slave trade and then to end slavery. It took decades, and many setbacks, but he saw God bring this about. Yet there was still much work to be done in the human heart which is “naturally” filled with evil and inclined toward unrighteousness.

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3

Righteousness and justice do not come easily or quickly. It times waiting for them feels like we are dying. We want everything to change now. A rightly understood hope enables us to wait. And suffer while we wait if need be.

16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4

Peter, who watched Jesus suffer unjustly, suffered unjustly. We do well to receive his counsel to the early Church. If we suffer we should entrust ourselves to our Faithful Creator and Redeemer. Instead of a useless rage or foolish resignation, we trust. As we trust, we continue to do good.

Doing good can have many faces. It includes forgiving those who acted with injustice. This prevents bitterness from growing and corrupting your response to injustice. It includes helping those who have been harmed by injustice. You can help them pick up the pieces of their lives. It can mean running for office or seeking a promotion that enables change.

Let us remember that there is a despair and a hope that can kill us. There is also a form of despair and hope that can grant life as we lean upon Christ.

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I’ve been trying to not say anything about Ferguson. There are too many problems at work (obstruction, militarization of the police, racial profiling, riots & looting, racism, media manipulation, social activism …) and our culture has a tendency to be reductionistic. There is also a problem of a lack of knowledge (what are the facts?) as well as understanding.

Let’s start by saying that I am writing this as the white father of a black son (and daughter). I have concerns about when they are older and not with me or their mother. At this moment we don’t live in a community with many African-Americans. The racial issues seem to be more about the white vs. Hispanic or white vs. Native American populations. I grew up in a place where the most common minorities were Puerto Ricans (usually poor) and French Canadians (often middle class).

These realities color my perspective. I understand that. So while I don’t want unarmed teenagers gunned down by police or citizens, whether they are black or white, I have seen too many times when our country has been burned when more facts come out. I remember the Tawana Brawley hoax (thanks Al Sharpton), the fact that Zimmerman was a “white Hispanic” and not just Hispanic who was physically assaulted. I remember the false accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team who while not angels were not rapists either. In other words, there is a growing list of false accusations by one community (and the press) against the other. As a result, I withhold judgment precisely because we’ve been through this before.

As a white man, I see knee jerk reactions (fed by the media AND the police who routinely refuse to release information that could defuse situations). I do want accurate, timely information. I completely understand a community’s desire to get information. I see peaceful protest, like Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated, as the best option. Too often I see violent protests and looting (they make for good headlines, I know). Frustration is vented in the wrong directions, and it ends up looking like Do the Right Thing, Part 2. Misplaced rage is an ugly thing and the wrong people get hurt, financially or physically. I still remember the clips of the Rodney King riots when the man was pulled from the truck and beaten with a cement block.

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One of the aspects I’ve been pondering from unPlanned by Abby Johnson is her perceptions of funding disparity between Planned Parenthood (PP) and the Coalition for Life (CoL). In some ways it was an example of “the grass is always greener” syndrome. While working for PP she was amazed at the turnout and funds raised for CoL. She was discouraged because they seemed to win the private funding competition. If you asked CoL workers they would be thankful for the money raised, but having some experience with crisis pregnancy centers know they would still feel a money crunch.

For much of her time with PP money wasn’t much of a problem. They got government subsidies and grants. They won the public funding, but got far fewer resources from private citizens. This is a source of revenue not open to groups like CoL. They are completely funded by private sources of income. PP also generated revenue from procedures. This, of course, became part of the pressure she experienced that resulted in her departure.

Here we have an irony. The government is providing our tax dollars to PP to support and fund abortions for women. While they try to shift focus to other services, they are in the baby killing business. Most of these babies are from minorities and in lower income neighborhoods. And increasing number of women are choosing to abort based on sex: typically female so this is a war on future mostly-minority women. So anti-progressive but true. So… our government is funding abortions and particularly the abortions of black and Hispanic children, and mostly females. Yet the civil rights leaders are at best silent but often advocate for the right to abortion.

On the other hand, a number of our citizens (like me) support organizations like the CoL which seek to end abortion on demand and provide other alternatives for women with crisis pregnancies. It would appear that far more citizens give far more of their own money to pro-life causes than pro-abortion causes. They are, in effect, working at cross purposes with their government. The government, on the other hand, apparently isn’t really listening to the conscience of its citizens on this issue.

There are plenty of causes we might take up. The ones we really care about are the ones we give money to. The disparity shows me that more Americans are more committed to the pro-life movement than are committed to the pro-abortion (sorry, pro-choice) movement. Many of the undecided are those who think they would not choose to abort a child but think (inconsistently) that others should have the right to do so. This is a strange application of the privatization of values. We wouldn’t say this about theft, drunk driving, murder etc. We may not even say this about adultery, though an increasing number are. It is strange, and profoundly sad, application when you consider there is a life on the line. This is not about property or monogamy. It is about life.

Yes, I went off on a tangent. This subject is filled with sad ironies and inconsistencies.

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I’m reading a book on sermons by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on John 4 in preparation for my sermons on that chapter coming up. The book is only 750ish pages. I have plenty of work ahead of me. But some of the sermons are well worth it, like one entitled Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics preached in October, 1966. Think about that for a moment, 1966. Amazing to me how much of what he says fits our contemporary situation.

He begins with noting the essence of Christianity: “we have within us a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The Christian life is a spiritual life under the power and direction of the Spirit. This great salvation “is to enable us to live in the world and to look forward to the glory that is to come.” This positive beginning shifts as the Dr. begins to lay the smack down. He gets quickly to exposing the sins of his time in England that mirror those of ours here in America.

“We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries- the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!”

He was addressing the Jewish-Samaritan prejudice. Later in the sermon he brings us to the problems of Apartheid and the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. The people in England were denouncing the white South Africans and Americans. He admits, obviously, the sinfulness of racism, but takes this as evasiveness. The woman at the well used this prejudice to evade Jesus, and the Dr.’s contemporaries were using those prejudices in other nations to evade the truth about themselves.

“You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself. While you are denouncing these people or friends in America or somewhere else over this racial problem, you are full of self-righteous indignation. That is very clever, but you are just evading the problem of your own life, the running sore of your soul.”

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The Church in America has struggled with the notion of Christian activism over the years. Usually such activism is associated with the “Religious Right” but there are groups that would not consider themselves part of that “Religious Right” that engage in activism as well. Is the Church to be involved with activism? Are Christians to be involved in activism? This is the subject of Appendix E in The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame.

Frame begins with mentioning the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. There they remind people of the great influence of Christians on Western culture. Christians have been instrumental in education (founding many of our colleges), health care (founding many of our hospitals), political freedom, literacy (the original reason for Sunday School) as well as the arts and more.

“Without Jesus, without the gospel, without the influence of his people, all these areas of culture would be vastly different and very much worse.”

The efforts and influence of Christians have not lead to a perfect society. They have lead to a clearly better society in many instances (note I didn’t say all). Here in America, as a result of the Fundamentalist movement, large portions of the Church retreated from social action. Ironically, it was often the more liberal branches of Christianity that lobbied for things like Prohibition which would typically be associated with Fundamentalists today.

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It is that time of year to consider all the “best of lists.”

While it has been a great year for Boston sports (the Patriots nearly made the Super Bowl again to gain revenge on the 49ers, and the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Red Sox won their 3rd World Series championship of this young century) I’m thinking of the best books I’ve read this year. This is not necessarily books that came out in 2013, but what I read this year.

I’ll take them in the order in which I read them. What you will notice is that I’ve probably read less this year, and clearly blogged less. Having 4 kids will do that. As will being pastor of a church that has grown enough to have to expand it facilities to expand ministry capacity. I also read some enormous books, and that takes time.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t identify with all the problems he talks about, and that is a good thing. Some issues are connected to how we “do” seminary and preparation for pastoral ministry. Others have to do with the manifestations of pride and sloth.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a significant book to read. As I noted in the review, for Gaffin soteriology is eschatology. This book explores the significance of the resurrection for our redemption which is a neglected area of thought.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and Christian by John Piper. John Piper looks at his own history with questions of race and brings the gospel to bear on the question. I wish he would have co-authored it with a person of color to balance the perspective. But much of what he says is excellent

The Book of Revelation by G.K. Beale. This is a humongous commentary on Revelation but is well worth the time needed to read it. This is the one to read to understand its connection with the Old Testament. While I don’t agree with all he says (like I prefer an early date) this is excellent.

Freedom & Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church by Kevin DeYoung. He is correct, it is a primer. He concisely addresses the most important texts and questions that arise. He presents a complementarian position but not an extreme one. I highly recommend it.

Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. This little book was an excellent treatment of common mistakes church leaders make. Some I’ve made and I don’t want to make the others.

Sex & Money by Paul Tripp. He talks about the 2 things that occupy most of our time, energy and thoughts. He focuses on the tendency toward idolatry and the healing power of the gospel. Great stuff.

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Typical Sproul. He explains sound theology so the average person can understand. Here he’s explaining the atonement, which every Christian should understand.

Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester. Books on the Trinity are pretty rare these days. Helpful, interesting and accessible books on the subject are even more rare. This is a book that is all three. It isn’t very big, but it is worth reading.

Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis. This is a very helpful little book that helps us understand how the gospel should shape our leadership in the church. I gave this one to my elders and we’ll study it soon.

Modest: Men & Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies & R.W. Glenn. I haven’t read any books on the subject before. What was good about this one is that it is about both men & women, and it is about how the gospel changes the equation. It is not about rules and a moralistic spirit.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard. This was an excellent and challenging book. He tries to balance truth and love (I think Paul said something like that) when we speak to homosexuals. We should not back off biblical teaching, which he explains by looking at key texts. We should not treat people as lepers either and he talks about how we can love them as we communicate the gospel to them as sinners, not just homosexuals.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. This is another enormous book. I have not quite finished the appendices since I’ve been focusing on other projects. This book examines ethical systems and then moves into understanding and applying the ten commandments before briefly discussing sanctification. This is an excellent book even if you agree with his particular end points.

The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. This is another very good book on ministry. His focus is the importance of the doctrine of justification on who we are and how we go about ministry. Theology applied!

Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. It is very short. I read this during a crazy busy time that mercifully should be coming to an end. I gave this to my elders and those who have gotten to it have appreciated its message. It is not just about techniques but the heart.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I’m not quite done with this book yet so it might end up on next year’s list too! As I preach thru the prologue of John’s Gospel this has been a great help. He really pushes the point of “God is love” as we think about the Trinity and Christianity. This is definitely a must read in that rare category of books on the Trinity. Like Chester’s of the same name this is relatively short.

Interesting-

  • 2 books by Paul Tripp and Kevin DeYoung
  • 2 books on the Trinity
  • 5 books on ministry
  • 2 books on salvation
  • 2 books of over 1,000 pages

Not one book by Tim Keller (I left off the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be at least 1 next year.

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I am a baseball fan. I also have a family that resembles the United Nations, or the Church Triumphant depending on your preferred metaphor.

So it made sense for me to see 42. It isn’t the Jackie Robinson story. It really is just the story of 2 years of his life.

You get very little background into his childhood, and what brought him to the point where he changed American history. All we learn is that he father left when Jack was 6 months old. Perhaps this is why he hated to depend on anyone. Just a thought. But it was that toughness it created that enabled him to be the first black player in modern Major League Baseball. As the film Jackie and Branch Rickey both note: God built him to last.

God is not absent from this film. That comment by Jackie was about the only time we see a faith in God in Jackie’s life (that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, just that the movie doesn’t show it). Rickey’s faith is much more prominent in the movie. “He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist.”

Seeing Harrison Ford, an old and over-weight Harrison Ford, play a man of faith is a sight to behold. It is called acting. But Branch Rickey was not some domesticated caricature of a wimpy Christian. He smokes cigars and the occasional profanity leaves his lips. Branch and his relationship with Jackie is one of the main threads of the movie.

It begins with Branch Rickey deciding that now was the time to do what he’s always wanted to do. Over the course of the movie he is often asked “why?” and he provides a variety of answers. Near the end, during a moment alone with Jackie after getting spiked, he finally lets Jackie in on the truth. He had long seen the injustice. That injustice had stolen from him his love for baseball. Jackie gave him that love back.

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I read Reconciliation Blues to better understand the tension between the races that exists in the American Church. I had the blues. After reading this book, I feel even more blue.

I’ve been wanting to read this book since it first came out in 2006. Since it is 7 years old, some of the material is a bit outdated. But many of the issues still ring true- progress is so slow as Edward Gilbreath notes late in the book.

As one chapter notes, the barriers still exist on “Christian radio”. He brings up an interview with Nicole Mullen, whose award winning music was not played much on “Christian radio.” Neither was GRITS, whose member Teron Carter said, “They feel safer with a white face promoting that kind of music than with a black face.” Christian radio still struggles with this. You will hear Toby Mac, but not Lecrae. The names have changed, but not the circumstances.

He knows the blues of being often misunderstood, left out, dismissed and more. He knows the frustration of being the “first black.” Many of the people he interviewed or discusses were older and experienced the bitter sting of racism (hearing white students at school cheering when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered).  Many other stories seem more mundane, unless you are in their shoes of course.

“… it took me awhile to shake the white off I got there- the stiffness, the narrow theological perspectives.” Chris Williamson

There was a provocative chapter on Jesse Jackson. He is a polarizing figure on the national landscape. Gilbreath himself wrestles with how to understand Jackson, as do many black evangelicals.

Much of the book frustrated me, honestly. I felt misunderstood because he (and those he quoted) refer to “whiteness”. It is a subject I struggle with. If whites voted as a block like blacks, I could see this “white mentality”. Even among evangelicals, there is a fair amount of disagreement on issues theological, social and cultural. I more understand what it means to be white by what it means to not be black. And that isn’t very helpful.

“I grew up around whites. I know how they think …” Chanel Graham

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In my sermon series on Colossians, Christ: Supreme & Sufficient, I am getting to the section on sanctification which includes some “vice lists”. What is a pastor to do?

First, Paul is addressing not only sins among the Colossians in general, but among the Colossian Christians. They had to put them to death, and put them off precisely because they were committing them. The sin lists are appropriate for most Christian communities regardless of their context: people struggle with sex, anger & hatred, their speech, covetousness and bias/prejudice/hatred based on ethnic background and culture.

The question I spent half the night (and many other hours spread over the past few months, and years) pondering is how much about my personal life (past and present) should I share in the context of preaching about these sins.

First, I don’t want to give the impression I have arrived, or never sinned. I know, some people live in a make believe land where their pastor never sinned big. If he sinned, it was forgetting to cover his mouth when he burped or some other peccadillo. I was not converted until I was 20. I have plenty of baggage from my family of origin, and plenty of sins (big and small) from which God has delivered and is delivering me. As Paul Tripp frequently notes, we are all “in the middle of our sanctification.” That means there are sins I used to commit and no longer do. That means there are sins I am still in the process of putting away. That means there are sins that God hasn’t even revealed to me yet because I’m nearly overwhelmed by the ones I know about.

Second, I want to be honest about my past and present struggles so people don’t think they are alone. I’m not going to talk about the sins of someone else in the congregation (“Of course we all realize Tom has a problem with …”). I can’ share stories of church leaders of the past. But they need to know that I need grace, AND find Christ sufficient. I know, it should be obvious to them I sin, but since they don’t live with me they may not see how sin operates in my life. Even then, there is the unseen world of my thoughts that is unknown to all but my closest friends. While they can’t, and shouldn’t, know it all they should know some of it.

But it isn’t that easy. There are a few counter-balances I must weigh in considering what I do and do not share about my past and present.

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While we were still in the process of adopting, a friend mentioned a book about the Congo prior to his trip to Africa to do some counseling. I thought it would be a good idea to read the book to understand the recent history of the region. I wanted to keep it so my kids would be able to understand the land they left.

I didn’t expect anyone to say this:

“It is true that the Tutsi killed,” Bugera told me at one point. “But we all had brothers, schoolmates, uncles who had been killed. It’s all part of the whole. Can you portray that to your readers in Arizona or Berlin? Can you make them understand why someone would kill?”

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns is a difficult book to read. He tries to help you understand “why someone would kill” and not just other soldiers, but even women and children. Correct that, why they think they should kill. It is difficult to read because there are so many stories of horrendous acts. He interviewed many people, and gives us their eyewitness accounts through much of the book.

The book covers the history of the Great War of Africa, which was largely ignored in the West even though millions of people died. Coverage of Darfur greatly exceeded coverage of The Great War even though far more people died in the Great War.

“There is no Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin. Instead it is a war of the ordinary person, with many combatants unknown and unnamed, who fight for complex reasons…”

He theorizes that one reason is that there were no clear cut good guys and bad guys. Everyone had blood on their hands! Another reason may just be how utterly confusing it can be due to the enormous cast of characters. It is like a Russian novel. He has a page and a half of acronyms, many of which are the various military groups.

The first part of the book sets the stage for the war, analyzing the problems that contributed to the war.

“The Congo has always defied the idealists.”

One important factor was that during the time of colonization, the Belgians had set up the Congolese to fail. There were no native leaders that made their ways up the ladder of power. There was no one ready and able to rule and administrate a nation when they left. They had impoverished leadership, and slowly ate up the left over capitol left behind. Called Zaire, prior to the War, it was run by a deified dictator (aren’t they usually) who used privilege to purchase loyalty. But the infrastructure was rotting, and the military leaders were selling off supplies, parts and arms to maintain a good standard of living. Zaire was rotting from the inside out. Stagflation was impoverishing the nation.

The civil war in neighboring Rwanda was another contributing factor. Many of the refugees fled into eastern Zaire. The Hutu, who were in power, were guilty of stirring up the genocide which saw 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu killed by the army and militia groups. Eventually, Tutsi rebels led by Kagame took power in Rwanda. This time it was the Hutu crossing the border into Zaire to find refuge.

“Such is the human being: when he is afraid, he sees enemies everywhere and think the only chance to stay alive is to exterminate them.” Beatrice Umetesi

Racism drove a number of regional conflicts that erupted into larger conflicts. The camps were divided, and refugees outside the camps often attacked those inside. Humanitarian crises broke out in the camps. One UN official noted, “It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.” The UN was not allowed to get accurate counts for well over a year. They underestimated the amount of money needed to provide food and medicine for the refugees. They ended up dying by the thousands. The U.S., under Clinton, not only did essentially nothing but blocked efforts on the part of the international community. They would help in Bosnia, but not the heart of Africa.

Rumble in the Jungle: Zaire in its short-lived glory

Mobutu liked to shelter the enemies of his enemies however. It would de-stablize the region. Eventually it would catch up with him as those foreign enemies assisted his domestic enemies.

It was not just the Hutu who hated the Tutsi. Generations earlier, in the 1800’s, some have moved west into the Congo. Called the Banyamulenge, they were ostracized and minimized. They were considered outsiders even though they’d lived there for over 100 years. They were denied citizenship. Apparently everyone hated them. They didn’t fit in. They were insulted with slang words for “penis” and the word kijuju after a local plant similar to the cassava, but which could not be eaten.

“Everyone seemed to be a killer or a victim or both.”

The Congolese were stirred up against the Hutu and Tutsi refugees. And the local Banyamulenge.

It is here that Stearns makes explicit the pattern we too often ignore in such situations of racism. Each side only remembers the atrocities committed against them, not those they have committed. As a result, each side feels justified in their hatred and thinks nothing of the damage they do in return. Think of race relations in this country. Both whites and blacks have selective memories whenever something comes up.

Mobutu’s foreign enemies needed a Congolese face to head the attempt (which was successful) to remove him from power. They found one of the few domestic enemies that Mobutu hadn’t locked up- aging Communist and eccentric Laurent Kabila. He was crazy, like a fox. They underestimated him. But he would underestimate how hard it would be to rule the Congo.

There is plenty of back story and intrigue in the first part of this book. It could be confusing at times. But the whole story is confusing as seemingly unrelated things all came together to make something greater than their sum. It is a sad, tragic story that reveals the darkest sides of the human condition.

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Only one set of sins has its own chapter in The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. He does not address that set of sins because it is popular to do so (in some circles it is easy to do so).

He addresses them for two reasons. The first is their connection to union in Christ, which Paul draws out in 1 Corinthians 6. The second is that they seem to be the blind spot for the contemporary American Christian. That might not seem obvious to us. Each generation and culture has its blind spots. Earlier generations had a blind spot on issues of race. That is one reason the practice was able to flourish in largely Christian nations. That was why Jim Crow laws and other manifestations of systematic racism were common in this nation in which most people would classify themselves as a Christian.

Sexual sins surround us. Part of Kevin’s point is that while we still call the most grievous manifestations sin (few Christians refuse to call adultery and pornography use sinful) but we have seen an erosion of our sexual mores that represents a significant departure from the biblical standard. Things like fornication, nudity in movies, songs encouraging non-marital sex etc. have become so common place that we are not shocked anymore, and don’t seem to mind them.

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If you follow my other blog, you know CavWife and I have adopted 2 children from Africa. In a recent post there, I mentioned that we expect to experience various forms of racism.

Racism has many sources. Okay, ultimately one source- the sinful heart of a man or woman. Why they sin in this way can have many different causes. Some people have grown up among racists, and “caught” it. They heard various lies all their lives, and take them as true.

Sometimes racism has found a place in our hearts because of mistreatment at the hands of people from that race. We’ve been robbed, beaten or worse. We wrongly project our fears upon all of those from that race. As I have been (slowly) reading about the Great African War in Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, one thing that stuck out to me as the tales of ethnic hatred (racism) was that people recall the atrocities committed against their tribe, but not those committed by their tribe. I notice the same thing in America. Each ethnic group is quick to point out how they have been wronged, but can’t seem to remember how they have wronged the other groups.

Another reason I can think about is fear. Often new ethnic groups threatened to take away job from the working poor. That fear often drives racism. Where I grew up, we saw prejudice against French Canadians and Puerto Ricans. The French Canadians often came south for jobs in construction.

I’m sure you may be able to come up with other reasons for racism. I really want to focus on the cure of racism.

I’m sure education has its place. But it really is insufficient. In his book Union With Christ, Billings brings us to union with Christ. As a Christian, individuals have to realize they are not only united to Jesus by the Spirit, but also with all those who are united to Jesus. This means you are united to people of the ethnic group you despise or look down upon. Ponder that. The Reformed Church in South Africa began to ponder that, Billings notes. Separate communion is part of what justified apartheid. Restoring communion between people of different races is part of what dissolved apartheid, or more correctly the racism that drove it.

This is a theological reality that we need to grow into as we are sanctified. We come into a greater understanding and experience of our union with Christ, and one another. This union is not merely an intellectual thing. But as a spiritual union, is done by the power of the Spirit. It is by that union that we receive the power of the Spirit by which God raised Christ from the dead. The Spirit gives us the power to love- both God and neighbor. We begin to ask God to give us, by virtue of this union and the power of the Spirit, love for those for whom we currently have no love.

I am a big movie goer. Or I should say watcher since I rarely go to the movies anymore. But if you watch the movies that deal with racism, like Remember the Titans, American History X and The Hurricane, you find a commonality. Racists change, not because of education, but because of relationship. There was a relationship they had which slowly eroded the lies, fear and bitterness. Soon the hatred was replaced by love.

Too often we want God to just reach in to our miserable, sin-ridden hearts and pluck out the racism and bigotry. He refuses to do this. What He tells us to do is love them, or get into a relationship with some of the people you hate. As you relate to people and get to know them better, the lies and fears will rise to the surface. Now is when the real sanctification takes place. We put those sinful desires to death. We confront those lies with truth. We overcome those fears with courage. We bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on these sinful responses, and begin to love these people we have refused to love in the past.

Racism is a sin against both creation and redemption. It fails to recognize our common ancestry, and (at least for Christians) our common redemption. Racist have a gospel problem, and need the gospel cure. That cure is more severe than forgiveness. The gospel calls us to, and empowers us to, put these particular sins to death. The gospel enables us to put on love. Being gospel work doesn’t mean it is easy. It is painful to face the racism that exists in our hearts. It is shameful to have those thoughts about another’s supposed inferiority based on the color of their skin, ethnic background or other reason not connected to their character. Faith and repentance are painful to the sinful nature. But they are something that must happen if we are to move beyond racism, one person at a time.

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There is a disturbing trend that I have noticed the last few years. I almost fell into myself while reading a book recently.

Karl Barth

The author favorably quoted from Karl Barth. I had to catch myself. Karl Barth had some very unbiblical notions, but as one of the most prominent theologians of the 20th century he had to have a few good ideas.

The theological Pharisee will not permit anyone to quote from those deemed unworthy. We are expected to treat these men like pariahs or we will be treated like them after a good internet lashing.

I’ve seen people like Jonathan Edwards attacked for having slaves. He never wrote about it and defended it (like some others). Yes, he was part of the cultural sins of his day in this respect. But should that invalidate everything he wrote? No.

Others, dead and alive, have defended slavery which is crazy in my book. I’ve never gotten into the “southern Presbyterians” though I am technically in a southern Presbyterian denomination. I prefer the Princeton theologians, overall. But I don’t cringe when someone quotes Dabney. I see what is said and evaluate it.

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Much of Generous Justice to this point has been theological- why we should pursue justice as Christians.  Keller moves into the more practical with the 6th chapter of his book.  Taking Job 29 & Psalm 4 as a starting point- we are to give sustained, concentrated attention to the hows of justice.  We won’t accidentally become just (or mature in Christ).  Often it requires analyzing a situation and using wisdom to determine the best goals and means.

Here Keller brings us some examples.  One is of a car dealer who realized that haggling for prices tended to benefit the rich, men, and whites (who were more persistent negotiators).  The people who most needed a good deal weren’t getting it because the business practice exacerbated inequalities and cultural differences.  So he set fair prices without negotiation (I have negotiating, and always feel ripped off when done.  I am thankful for the Christian businessmen who sold me car at fair prices.)  Businesses sometimes choose the short-term over the long-term.  This car dealer was choosing the long-term.  He knew he was building a loyal base of customers who appreciated his more equitable system.  But he also disadvantaged himself, reducing his profit per car.  Justice cost him.

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One of the books I bought at GA this year was Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology.  It is the manuscripts from the Together for the Gospel conference of the same name.  I started it back in September, but other projects have been distracting me from reading it quickly.

The other day I read Thabiti Anyabwile’s Bearing the Image.  He didn’t really spend time examining the nature of the image of God in which we were made.  He focused on our unity in Adam, in Christ, in the church and in glory.  But what he really focused upon was the issue of race.  Or should I say the pseudo-issue.

In our culture we make much of the issue of race.  Everything seems to be about race these days (yes, an overstatement).  But Thabiti makes an important point- in the Bible there is only one race.  We are all descended from Adam, through Noah.  Obviously secular people will deny this.  But Christians often neglect this.  We end up confusing race with ethnicity and culture.

We are quick to notice the obvious distinctions between groups of people.  You can immediately tell a white person from an Asian from a black person.  It would be erroneous to think that all Asian people are the same.  There are ethnic and cultural differences between people of the same skin color.  And there can be cultural similarities between people of different skin colors.

We tend to accentuate the differences while neglecting the one big common denominator: Noah.  We are of the same race, not different races.  We are all from the human race, despite our differences in color, history and culture.  We may be ethnically different, but we are certainly of the same race.

“One way that race and ethnicity differ is that ethnicity is not rooted in biology as race theory historically has been.”

The point he makes is that our differences are not rooted in biology, our genes.  Clearly, there are some pre-dispositions to different diseases and disorders.  But our musical preferences are rooted in ethnicity and culture, not race/biology.  How we speak or act is rooted in ethnicity and culture, not race/biology.

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