I AM A RACIST.

PrintI am a racist.  There, I said it.  I’ve wondered about it for many years, wished it weren’t true, worked against it, and have never to my knowledge acted upon it until now.  I took a survey to see if I indeed judge people as good or bad based on their skin color, even subliminally.  I went over to implicit.harvard.edu and took their test which asks questions so quickly that you answer out of your nature and instinct instead of convincing yourself that you believe something else.

I discovered that implicitly I prefer my race to the African American race.  I answered more quickly that whites are good than the speed at which I answered blacks are good.  I took this test yesterday.  I’ve been wrestling with racism in this country and in my heart for years. This issue came to the forefront this past year as my wife and I adopted two children of different races into our white home and I even preached on the disgusting practice of partiality that we as the church are complicit in. My Denomination, the PCA,  as a whole passed an overture of repentance for taking part in heinous sins of racism and for not only failed pursuit of racial reconciliation but also actively working against it.

I preached from James 2 where it says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” The word partiality is in the plural so it could say – “show no forms of partiality” which includes racism..  How ugly is it to say you’re not welcome here!  For example, to argue that #alllivesmatter or #bluelivesmatter when a black man was just murdered is inconsiderate of the context that THIS black life mattered! Or as Arthur Chu said its like someone who “runs through a cancer fundraiser screaming ‘THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO.’

I preached on this, I’m convinced of the truth that black lives matter and that all human life is marked with the imago dei (image of God).  That every single person is of infinite worth!  I loathe racism and, yet I’m still a racist.  I’m a passive racist.  I prefer my skin color because I prefer my culture because I prefer me over you.

I fall short of the royal command that James refers to a couple verses later to, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  I have only loved myself.  I have not thought, “how would this affect a whole group of people?” I live in white privilege and am blind to the privileges I have.  I don’t even like that term because it cuts me off from the prideful idea that I have earned my status.  This term, privilege, reveals that I am only as far as I am because God has privileged me to be where I am.  It makes me a debtor.

But, Oh, to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee: Prone to wander (to racism), Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above!

God has grace for racists.  Because that’s not all I am.  I am also an adopted son.  A forgiven enemy.  A prodigal with a party waiting for him.  I pray we all can acknowledge the depth of our sin is deeper and darker than we would like to think.  I pray we can see our hearts are prone to racism; to not love our neighbors.  And this would drive us to the gospel and in turn produce the first step of racial reconciliation.

Some Resources Moving Forward:

James 2 Sermon Referenced above:  Partiality, Racism and Its Aftermath

Heal Us Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church.  Doug Serven, General Editor

RAAN (Reformed African American Network) 

What Is The Christian Life?

The Christian life today is like a carnival of mirrors. You look in one mirror and you are short and fat. You look in another mirror and you are tall and skinny. You look in a third mirror and you are split-in-two and upside down. What is the Christian life? Do we just pick an option? Do we bounce from tradition to tradition and theology to theology? Do we simply find one option that works? Do we seek a sign from God? Do we feel superior to those not in our camp? Does it even matter? Everyone is struggling to figure out the Christian life today: Romans 12.1-3 welcomes all strugglers.  

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship” (v.1). Whatever the Christian life is, it is perfectly reasonable, logical, and even the sane way to live. In other words, not to live the Christian life is irrational, illogical, insanity.

“Present your bodies” (v. 1). Whatever the Christian life is, it is a concrete life, a real life, not an abstract spiritual life. In other words, the Christian life is wherever our body goes. This means the Christian life is a way to present our bodies or build our identity, relationships, work, or handling of money, circumstances, conflict, suffering, etc. For example, is the Christian life an identity built around performance and human acceptance? Is the Christian life building our relationships around control? Is the Christian life relating to our money in order to get respect, power, or security from it? Is the Christian life handling suffering in terms of no hope, despair, or even feelings of deserving it?

“By the mercies of God…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (v. 1). This is temple imagery, specifically temple sacrifices. There were two kinds of temple sacrifices in the ancient Jewish world: (1) sin offerings and (2) thank offerings. This is a Christian, so it cannot be a “sin offering.” The Christian life is not presenting our life as a way to pay for our sins, deal with our sins on our own, or earn our salvation. However, this does not prevent us from trying. We make sin offerings when we hate ourselves and cannot forgive ourselves for failing. We make others bring sin offerings when we do not forgive, withhold love and acceptance, or feel superior to them. Jesus is the Christian’s sin offering… all self-sacrifices are over.

The “sacrifice” here is a thank offering, which is why it is a living sacrifice not a dead one. What is a thank offering? It is an offering of joyful thanks to God for what he has done. It is feeling joy deep in our bones, joy for what God has done for us, for all his multiple mercies toward us. In this case, the thank offering is our life – our identity, marriage, parenting, career, money, pain, successes, failures…our life as a single person or a student, our gifts and abilities, retirement, etc.

What is the Christian life? The answer is simpler than we think. The Christian life is a gospel life or a building of our messy lives around the multiple mercies of God in Jesus Christ.  

Join Jeff Hatton at noon on Thursdays in the private dining room at El Conquistador Hillsboro for Bible study and fellowship. Today’s article will be the topic for discussion on September 29. 

For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit http://www.redeemerwaco.org.

Special Magic


Psalm 139 has special magic. If a person says, “I know God cares for me, but I am still paralyzed by fear.” Psalm 139 replies, “Well, not really. Being paralyzed by anxiety means you don’t really know God cares for you.” And then Psalm 139 helps the person really know God cares for them. How does Psalm 139 do that? The answer is certainly by its content, which we will look at in a moment, and also by the literary form that carries the content. Psalm 139 is a song.

On September 11, 2001 Rick Rescorla was the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in Trade Center Tower 2. The second terrorist-controlled plane slammed into Tower 2 thirty-eight floors above Rescorla and the Morgan Stanley employees, throwing everyone to the floor. Rescorla jumped up with his bullhorn yelling, “Stop. Be still. Be calm.” No one spoke, no one moved. In the silence Riscorla figured out which stairwell to take and led 2,687 employees to safety. How did he do it? How did he save so many lives? Rescorla learned something in war while earning the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart in Vietnam, something that had the power to break his men’s fixation on fear. What did he do? He sang. He sang while all hell was breaking loose, casting a spell over everyone.

Psalm 139 is a song of David designed to release spiritual magic powerful enough to break him (vv.19-22) and us from fixations of fear. Verses 1-6 are not an abstract explanation of God knowing everything, but rather a window into God’s active intimacy with his people. Everything is covered here: the trivial (walking and standing), the deeply personal (one’s trusts, thoughts, and feelings), all one’s movements in a given day (even sleep), and all our communication (even before it is said). Do not miss verse 5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” This is a military image of an army besieging a city. However, in this case the army is God and his people are the city, and God is not surrounding his people to level them but to love them and to rescue them.

Verses 7-12 are not “I’m trying to get away from God but I can’t!” Think Jonah. But rather, “Oh God, I seem to find myself at times in difficult, dark, desperate places! Where are you?” The answer from verses 7-12 is “I’m right here, with you, of course.” Most people in the world today have some sort of notion of hard things eventually working out: karma, natural selection, fate, circle of life, or the very popular belief, “Because I say so.” The God of the Bible in vv.7-12 says, “Hard things might not ever work out in this life. But even there my hand shall lead you, my right hand shall hold you. For the darkness is light to me.” 

Dr. Edmond Clowney taught a preaching class for pastors before his death where he said, “When you get to the Psalms, remember ‘Jesus is the singing Savior.’” We could say Jesus is the better Rick Rescorla. Jesus is the ultimate singer of Psalm 139, who sings songs of surrounding love and rescue to fear-fixated people.
For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit http://www.redeemerwaco.org.

Can These Bones Live?


Contrary to popular Christian belief, God does go to the movies. God loves video truth just as much as audio truth; thus Ezekiel 37 is in the Bible with its apocalyptic literary form. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to hang pictures on the walls of our imagination–to capture the way we see the world.

Today we resume our story of the stunned Ezekiel stumbling around in a valley-sized cemetery. Who are these unfortunates? “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they (i.e. Israel) say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off’’’ (v. 11). Israel is the valley of unburied bones.  

In the ancient world political alliances were formed by covenants or treaties. The super-power of the day (called the suzerain lord) would form a treaty with a weaker or conquered nation (called a vassal servant), detailing stipulations for obedience followed by performance-dependent threats and rewards (like national security). If the vassal nation breaks the covenant, then the suzerain nation invades, leveling everything to the ground and scattering the broken bodies over the surface of the earth without proper burial as a sign to all: “Here lie covenant breakers. Here lie the cut-off, the cursed.” Israel broke covenant with their suzerain lord, the living God himself, resulting in exile to Babylon, in being cut-off, in being cursed.  

“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” (v. 3). This is the central question of the passage. Can our messed-up lives live? Can your struggling child live? Can an unbelieving neighbor live? Can a hopeless marriage live? Can our broken city live? Ezekiel gives a lame answer, so God answers his own question. However, the focal point here is not God’s answer, but the way God answers.

“Preach, Ezekiel. Preach my words to the bones.” This is crazy! Bones cannot hear! They are dead. But this is the kind of God that God is–the deader the better. At first Ezekiel does not see a thing but he hears it: “as I preached, there was a sound…a rattling…and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” “Thus…” CLICK! “Thus sayeth…” CLICK, CLICK! I (v.7). I bet right here Ezekiel gets into his preaching! Do not miss what is happening here; change on-the-spot happens while Ezekiel preaches God’s words. As Ezekiel preaches, people are put back together again, become their true selves, are reached, rescued, redeemed, and healed. God’s words release the personal active presence of God upon our lives and the world.

Notice where Ezekiel is when God shows up. Notice that God is the one who leads the bone tour (v. 2); he is very familiar with them. These observations mean that God went into exile with Israel. Jesus’ favorite name or title for himself in the gospels is “Son of Man.” Years after Ezekiel, God asks the better Son of Man, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” “Yes!” He answers clearly without hesitation. Why is the better “Son of Man” so clear and certain? The answer comes from the cross where Jesus cries out, “My bones are dried up…My hope is lost…I am indeed cut off” so that we never are. 
For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit http://www.redeemerwaco.org.

The Madness of Messy Messages

 

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Perhaps the most popular advice column is “Dear Abby.”

“Dear Abby I am forty-four years old and would like to meet a man my age with no bad habits” – Rose.

“Dear Rose, so would I.”

Ecclesiastes 7 is the “Dear Abby” of the ancient world, loaded with popular messages in the ancient near east that messed with peoples’ lives.

The first messy message is found in verse 1, the message that power and possessions define you: “A good name is better than precious ointment…” If you possessed precious ointment in the ancient world you were wealthy, therefore had control and influence over people. There is nothing wrong with wealth and power, but a “good name” is better. Why? The answer is because good character is not defined by power and possessions, therefore the true self does not need power and possessions to be ok in life.

The next messy message is your best life now (verse 1): “and the day of death (is better) than the day of birth.” The day of your birth (this life) is not all there is. Heartache and hardship is not all there is. Living one hundred years on this planet achieving, succeeding, being esteemed and affirmed is not all there is. Our best life is not now according to the Bible, it is coming.

Another messy message is life is only lament (verse 2): “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind…” Philosophy calls this nihilism while personality tests call it melancholy. The point is seeing, feeling, and living life as if the end of all human life is meaninglessness, emptiness, hopelessness, nothingness, vanity. What is missing in this message is the winning works of God or “the house of feasting” (verse 2). The “house of feasting” is where we engage the source and origin of all meaning and life, the Living God, in the great adventure of life in his world.

Life is only fun is next (verse 6): “For the crackling of thorns under a pot (this is a flower pot), so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.” Philosophy calls this hedonism while psychology calls it addiction. The image is picking up a beautiful flower in a shattered pot and in the process shredding your hands. “Life is only fun,” says the preacher, “will shred your heart, relationships, and life.”

The final messy message is pride isn’t so bad (verse 8): “the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Pride pollutes the whole section between verses 7 and 29, pride is: (1) angry (v.9) (2) generationally arrogant and stupid (v.10) (3) self-righteous (v.16) (4) self-sabotaging (v.17) .

There is a better message for us, one with good news (verse 13): “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked?” All the messy messages have one thing in common, they are self-strategies to make straight what is crooked, reverse vanity, fill the forever empty. But they cannot. We cannot save ourselves. We need a Savior, someone who can make straight the crooked, reverse vanity, fill the forever empty. Consider the work of God in Jesus Christ.

 

For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit www.redeemerwaco.org.

The Madness of Church

seaside-ChurchSometimes the meanest people carry the biggest Bibles. Sometimes the church adds more madness to our lives. Ecclesiastes 5.1-7 is an honest, uncomfortable, and yet needed look at the church “under the sun.”

Some of us will think, “No way! Not my church. Not my Baptist-Bible-Methodist-Charismatic-Presbyterian-Victorious Life-First and Full Discipleship Church!” The temptation for some of us will be to over-spiritualize the church – a fancy word for denial. Others of us who have been deeply hurt by the church will say, “Finally. Finally, the truth.” The temptation for others of us will be to leave the church.

Does the church add madness to our lives? Yup. “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God (v.1).” The preacher is saying, “When you go to church be careful.” Why? The answer is because there are fools in church: “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil (v.1).”

Throughout the Bible a “fool” is a self-centered person to their own harm and the harm of others. There are two important ingredients to “foolishness”: (1) a deep suspicion of God, specifically His personal and active love, which creates (2) a deep need to trust yourself instead. Notice that this foolish person is serious about God, enough to know they must bring a “sacrifice” to church. So what’s the problem? What is so evil here? The answer is doing the right thing (offering a sacrifice) for the wrong reason (offering the sacrifice of fools). The point is our heart, we can do church for self-centered or foolish reasons.

Historically theologians have called churched self-centeredness legalism, moralism, or self-righteousness. Some present day theologians call it a “religious spirit” that strives to obey God in order to be loved, accepted, and blessed instead of because they are loved, accepted, and blessed. One present-day pastor and theologian, Sinclair Ferguson, calls churched self-centeredness a “metallic spirit,” meaning a spirit or heart that is metal-like. The preacher says a “metallic spirit” is: (1) always the last to know, while painfully obvious to everyone else around them (verse 1) (2) chronically self-justifying, obsessively asserting itself in thought, word, and deed (vv. 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7).

Good grief! If church adds this kind of madness to our lives, why go to church? The preacher answers with one powerful reason: because God shows up at church, God breaks in to our lives at church (v.1). There are Divine collisions at church, therefore go to church to look and listen for God. When you went to Temple in those days everything about the Temple shouted, “You’re a fool! You’re self-centered! You’re messed-up!” You could smell it, blood was everywhere from sacrifices. You could hear it, the bleating of sacrificial animals. You could see it, every step increased with the potency of Holiness. And yet God says, “Draw near. Draw near because of my Sacrifice. The One who absorbed and atoned for all your self-centeredness on the Cross.” Let’s go to church, to find the kind of God who is already finding us in His Son.

For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit www.redeemerwaco.org.

 

 

 

Madness of Money

SocialSecurityposter2Where is God in everyday life – the boring, mundane, ordinary, and routine? Where is God in ninety-nine percent of the moments of our lives? Ecclesiastes can now be divided into two parts: [1] Ecclesiastes before church (chapters 1-4), [2] Ecclesiastes after church (chapters 5-12). In Ecclesiastes 5.8 the preacher is leaving church and entering the “real world” of everyday life again. Therefore what is the first everyday ordinary area of life he encounters as he exits church? Money.

Money is a big deal, exerting tremendous power in two realms of everyday life. The first realm is the political. Capitalism, socialism, conservatism, liberalism, republican, democrat, independent, tea party, coffee party, or whisky party, the power of money impacts politics, and has at least since Ecclesiastes 5.8 or 2,300 years ago: “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.”

This stacking of officials refers to political power levels embodied in bureaucracies (institutional or societal structures) and leaders. Skip Ryan, a former pastor of a church in the wealthiest section of Dallas, told his congregation, “Many times money becomes the measure of how much of the world you can control.” According to the preacher the power of money fuels both sinful structures in society and power hungry leaders that toxically mix together to do one thing really well: hurt the poor (v.8). “Don’t be amazed at this!” “Don’t be unaware of the poor being abused by institutional injustice and power hungry leaders,” says the preacher.

The second realm money exerts tremendous power over is the human heart. Edward Ugel, author of “Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through The Dark Side of Lottery Millions,” writes that nearly seventy percent of lottery winners end up broke within seven years and “you’d be blown away to see how many winners wish they’d never been one.” We experience the power of money in our lives when we relate to money as if it can satisfy us but: (1) it cannot (v.11) (2) others take it from us (v.11) (3) it keeps us up at night (v.12) (4) we lose it (vv.13-14). The last image in verse 17 is striking: someone eating alone in the darkness with no one to share his meal with, angry at everything all the time, and physically breaking down as a sick soul effects the body. Why is this so? This person needs money, they do not relate to money as a gift for others.

Where is God in the everyday realities of money? The quick answer is all that we are, and all that we have (including our money), and all that we do is a gift of grace not something we earned (v.19). Period. The deeper answer is found in verse 9 where we see a king of power, wealth, and riches committed to setting aside part of his power, wealth, and riches for those who have none. An ancient biblical law commanded this and years later the Prince of heaven and earth fulfilled it by giving not just a portion of his field away but all of it. Come to the King who gives his whole kingdom away to those who are poor, needy, guilty, broken, messed-up.

 

For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit www.redeemerwaco.org.