Greetings to all of you, dear friends. I pray that each of you are holding up okay during this difficult season. Between the pandemic and now the ongoing unrest across the nation, these are indeed very challenging times for all of us. My heart is heavy and tired. In moments like these, I am so thankful for the core truths of the Gospel. They anchor me in troubled waters.
We preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ each Sunday because we – all of us – are in need of it yet prone to forget it on Monday. This is an uncanny, uncomfortable part of remaining sin dwelling within us. All of creation groans because of the effects of sin. I don’t like to dwell on sin any more than most of you – it’s not exactly a fun topic of conversation and reflection. But if we fail to understand the reality of sin, then the wretched state of this world will overwhelm us. Sin has infected every part of the world, every family, every relationship and system, every person’s heart – including mine. That is why we see so much evil, injustice, destruction and death in so many different areas of our world.
It is painful to see clearly the effects of evil, the symptoms of injustice, the fraying of society and relationships. It is painful, but it is not surprising. We know that the world is profoundly broken because of our sin, and that revealed truth is vital for us to understand. The ravaged state of the world makes no sense without it, frankly. But Jesus came precisely because we have been ravaged by an enemy we cannot conquer. But He can.
God loved us too much to leave us to our sin and its destructive effects on the whole of Creation. He has come to rescue us from it. On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the condemnation and judgment for our sin. In his crucifixion, the reign of evil over us, its power to dominate his people was broken. Yet the story of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God does not stop with Good Friday. Jesus was raised from the dead in victory over sin, destruction and death. He ascended to the throne. Jesus reigns right now. The King of Glory, the Lord of life has been enthroned over sin, evil and death. And even more, from his throne, Jesus and the Father sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The power of Christ indwells the church to fight sin, evil, and injustice in His Name. Let us not forget that we are an empowered people. He will enable us to love and live for our neighbor’s good and God’s glory. In Christ, we are being transformed by the renewing work of Christ in us. This is good news for us eternally, and it is good news for us today – even when times are hard.
It is that Gospel of Kingdom of God that strengthens us to live with hope when times are hard – and they are very hard right now. My heart breaks when I hear again the story of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the senseless killing of Breonna Taylor. My heart cries out when I see the images of the murder of George Floyd. When I see the tears and anguish on the faces of black friends, neighbors, and family members—when I hear it in their voices as they lament still fighting so many of the same injustices present a generation ago —my heart is burdened for change and transformation. Lord, have mercy! Bring us change today!
My heart breaks as I pray for members our own church who are wonderful law enforcement officers, when some officers in our city have been shot, including the killing of Captain David Dorn. I ache for the victims of looting and riots, some of whom have lost their livelihoods as their businesses are completely destroyed. And we still are dealing with COVID. The effects of sin are still painfully here among us.
Naming sin as the root of the world’s disfunction is helpful, but it is incomplete. We must never forget that we are an Easter people, a people given the power of God to change. Further, we are a Pentecost people, strengthened by the Spirit to walk today in the newness of life that is to come. We are a people who confess, pray and believe, that our Father’s “kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” His Spirit will give us courage when we are afraid, strength to stand when we are overwhelmed, and patience when the wait for his answer is long.
What are we to do in His power while we cry out and eagerly await the Lord Jesus’s return to repair our world and make all of these broken things new? There is no easy answer to that, but I do want to offer a few things I hope will be of help to consider in this challenging season:
Prayer. Our Heavenly Father hears our prayer and desires our good and his glory. Because of this, we pray. He hears our cries of lament. He hears our yearning for justice. He hears our desperation for our very own hearts to be made new – free of sin and full of joy. Since the pandemic began, did you know that we are hosting a daily prayer meeting online each weekday at 12 noon? We gather together to read scripture, to share our burdens, and to pray (you can sign up by clicking HERE). I would also like to make you aware our denomination – the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) – has called members of EPC churches to pray, lament and fast this coming Monday, June 8th. We are called to lament the state of our nation and world, and fast and pray for the Lord to intervene and heal. You can learn more about our denomination’s leadership regarding this topic by clicking HERE. I am grateful for our denomination’s humility to seek to lean on Christ and learn as His disciples, and it will be a special focus for us at our regular noon hour prayer meeting next Monday.
Graciousness. Before 2020 even began, I was bracing at the thought of another election year in our increasingly polarized climate. Our culture seems to have lost the ability to have differences of opinion without being suspicious of and hating each other. And that was true before the pandemic and national unrest. As followers of Jesus’s message and His manner, however, we are called to the fruit of the Spirit, including kindness, gentleness, and patience (Galatians 5). It is a time for many of us to adopt hearts of humble learners, being quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1). Ask a person of color how they are doing in this time; engage with genuine curiosity without assuming how others should or should not feel. Seek to be as gracious with others as Christ as been gracious with us. Cultivate friendship and relationships of give and take with others who are different than you, not out of guilt, nor desiring to manage an image before others. Rather let the graciousness and steadfast love of the Lord compel you into a life of pursuing the good of your neighbor, whether you agree on things or not.
Perhaps it’s easy to be gracious and kind to our peer groups – but what about those with whom we disagree about matters that we are so passionate about? Surely it is harder, but remember, we are an Easter and Pentecost people, indwelled and empowered by the living Lord. Yes, there is egregious sin out there. And it should cause us to lament. But for those of us who have received the free gift of forgiving grace from the Lord Jesus, surely, we understand that we have been guilty of much of the same, in thought, word, and deed. When we remember this common thread, it disciples us toward humility. It helps us to be gracious with others – even and especially when we disagree.
Repentance and Hope. When we hear the loving voice of Jesus reminding us of our own sin, of our own need for mercy and grace, it causes us to turn away from our sin and toward his loving forgiveness. That is what repentance is – a turning away from sin and toward the Lord Jesus, pledging our allegiance to follow Christ our King rather than the pull of our flesh. There is transformational power and hope in repentance. Jesus promises new life and times of refreshing when we call out. Let each of us genuinely ask the Lord to “search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lad me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24). Freely confess and ask the Lord to cleanse where we have given in to sin, to fear, to resentment and suspicions of others, to harsh judgment of others unlike me, to indifference toward the suffering of others, perhaps to hate that no one sees but the Lord.
Because of the bloody cross, empty tomb, and now throne now occupied by the Lord Jesus, we need not be afraid of admitting where we have sinned. We need not be afraid of owning hurts that we have caused. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ! And that gives us the strength we need to repent. So, I ask you: where might you need to repent in your walk with the Lord? With your family? With your co-workers? With people whom you have harbored resentment or even hate? Turn from these sins and turn to the Lord. In this season where everyone seems to be waiving our fingers at one another…how powerful would it be to see repentance flow like a mighty river, tearing down walls of fear and division among us? How powerful would it be for the world to see the church truly lament and grieve injustice and sin, yet do so with a steadfast hope that Jesus is coming again to repair all that is wrong. May that hope for the coming day drive us to action today, the action of repenting from sin, pursuing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.
Friends, I think we all yearn to fix the havoc that is so pervasive in so many areas of the world right now. I wish I had an easy-button for us to use. But I don’t. I know we have hard days ahead. Yet the Lord can give us what we need to live as his peculiar people in this world. Let us recommit ourselves to prayer, to graciousness, and to repentance and hope, and watch the Lord work to renew our broken lives and world in the days ahead. I leave you with one of my favorite benedictions—a good word from God—when I feel overwhelmed. It comes from Romans 15:5-7, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”