Now and Then

by Bob James

Many years ago I wrote an article for our weekly newspaper in the town of Paint Rock. The article was titled "Now and Then," as is this one, because the emphasis was on Christians living in the present and for the future. The emphasis for these articles will be the same. Why? Too often we see Christians who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. If any of these articles are successful, they will help keep your mind on heavenly things, while helping you to live every day life in a way that honors our God.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forebearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB)

The issue of racism is still an issue that affects our society. The issue was highlighted by President Clinton in a recent commencement speech, as well as by his apology to the victims of the Tuskogee experiment. The House of Representatives is considering issuing an apology to blacks because of the toleration of slavery in our history. Last year, the question was heightened by the concerns about the burning of churches with a large percentage of black members.

I have had some problems understanding the concerns of racism in society today. I don't exhibit racism in my dealings with others, at least not that I know of. Many laws prohibit racist acts that were prevalent in the past. Why was it that in the midst of all the legal safeguards in place in our society today that people still claim to be victims of racism?

Listening to someone on TV express concerns that racism still pervades our whole society, I finally began to understand. The problem is a matter of perception. I may not consider what I do to be racist in nature, but it may be perceived by others to be so. That which seems perfectly innocent, even natural, to me may evoke feelings of anger in others because of past history.

The feelings are strong among people of all nationalities. Many whites think that all the laws do is protect the minorities at the expense of the whites. Blacks and Hispanics recognize that laws alone will not solve the problems we have in society today when attitudes and perceptions like these still exist. The question is, is there any hope to solve the problem of racism?

Hope to solve this problem must begin with those of us who been called of the Lord, who have asked Jesus Christ to take control of our lives. We must walk in a manner worthy of Jesus, who made it a practice to see people as people, not as members of any specific group. Jesus talked with Jews, "half-breeds" (Samaritans), and Gentiles and showed the same attitude of love and compassion for all. Even when the Jews of His day drew lines between themselves, He reached out to those considered to be lowest on the social scale. Christians must live in the same way.

So what does that mean? It means that to break through the barriers that we have erected, knowingly or unknowingly, we must recognize that the problem exists. Recognizing that the problem exists, we must begin showing love to those around us by showing humility. Humility is not thinking yourself to be so terrible that you can't do anything. Humility is recognizing where we stand in our relationship to God. It means recognizing that God is perfect, and we are imperfect. In other words, we all have the same problem: imperfection. God does not judge people on their skin color or nationality, He sees us all as imperfect human beings.

Among imperfect human beings, there are two categories in God's eyes: those who have accepted His offer of grace and forgiveness, and those who have not. Christians are those people who have accepted God's grace and forgiveness. This does not make Christians better than non-Christians, it makes Christians more responsible for sharing what they know with others.

Sharing our faith should be done with gentleness and patience. It is easy for those of us who have been Christians for a long time to forget the struggles we went through before we accepted God's offer of forgiveness and grace in Jesus Christ. When dealing with people who are racists or victims of racist attitudes, we are often dealing with feelings of hurt, anger, or inadequacy. Helping people work through those problems is a long term process. Healing will not happen overnight, even when these people have accepted God's gift of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Through God's grace, with gentleness and patience, the racist tendencies will be eradicated.

At the same time, Christians should set an example of proper relationships across ethnic boundaries based upon the kinship we have as brothers and sisters in Christ. Recognizing that none of us are perfect, when those who claim the name of Christ can deal with problems resulting from thoughtless actions or attitudes that seem to be racist in a positive manner, others will begin to recognize that racism can be eliminated from our society. We must recognize that beyond our differences we have a greater unity in the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Christians are called to hate sin. Sin is separation from God. Sins are those actions or attitudes that show our separation from God. Even when people are involved in sins, we are not to hate the individual, we are to hate the action and love the individual. Racism is a terrible evil in our society because it shows a hatred of a group of people. We must continue to hate racism and fight against the evil it represents, but we must also guard against hating racists ourselves. If we don't, we end up becoming the very thing that we profess to hate.

Prayer of Commitment: Lord, I confess that I have sinned by lacking gentleness and grace when confronted by people who show hatred. I pray that my life might show the forgiveness and compassion of Jesus Christ towards others, and that my example might help others to live without hate. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

(NASB stands for the New American Standard Bible (c) 1975 by The Lockman Foundation.)

(c) 1997 by Bob James. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to distribute this article to others without charge as long as this notice is attached. This article may not be distributed commercially either individually or as part of any anthology without the express written consent of the author.


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