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Unspeakable Sins: The Sin of Racism/Discrimination/Prejudice

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Do you know what heaven is going to look like? For most of us, we have images of gold paved streets; we may see angels flying, and a bunch of light. We likely are also looking forward to seeing our family members and friends who have gone before us. The reality, is, however I think our view of heaven is too small. We are not thinking big enough.

Heaven is going to be a place where God is glorified….all the time. Heaven is going to be a place where there is no more pain, a place where there is no more suffering, and there is no more sin.

I’d like to share with you a picture of heaven. Revelation 7:9-12 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

This is a beautiful picture and a reality which come closer by the day. Yet, when we look at this picture, it should also convict us. As Christians, we are called to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth and as we look at our church services on Sunday morning, is this what they look like?

The short answer is no. Not even a bit. Why is this, because we are still experiencing sin in this life. The sin which we must address, is racism and prejudice. Yet, it goes deeper than racism because the church should be on the forefront of making sure everyone has the opportunity to meet the savior. Christ welcomed in the poor, the downcast, the sinners. He met with the people no one else wanted to go near.

Who might those people be in 2019? Who might these people be in Otley? Monroe? Sully? Reasnor? Pella? Prairie City? The fact is, we must welcome EVERYONE because we all have the same label. Sinner.

Check out what Paul has to say to the church at Ephesus, a church where the Jews were having trouble getting along with the Gentiles and vice-versa. You might argue nothing has changed. Ephesians 2:14-19, 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Recently our church made some changes to the sanctuary to accommodate for some of our members. We took out a pew and put padded chairs in their place. We also found, some of those individuals who liked the new padded chairs desired to sit closer. So we moved a couple of chairs where we had a short pew to make room for a wheelchair. Story is over, right? No. Around Christmas we had some of our Harthoorn relatives join us for church from NW Iowa. Our cousin, Landon, has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. Because the padded chairs were in the handicapped space, Landon was forced to sit in the back with his family. Landon, nor his family would not be the type of people to raise an issue, yet it happened. I know if our deacons knew the situation (and the members who used those padded chairs in the handicapped area) would be more than happy to accommodate for Landon and his family. Yet, this has been a teachable moment. Christ opened our eyes and our minds to ask the question, what do we do if this happens again? How can we make sure everyone is welcome at the table?

Friends we cannot discriminate. Friends we must speak out for our brothers and sisters of other races. We cannot and should not discriminate based on color, creed, sex, gender, or anything else. We are called to love. As the late great Rev. Billy Graham said, “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” How well have we loved those who are different from us?

Church, we have work to do. We have to embrace the fullness of God and this means embracing those different from us whether in thought or looks. This means bringing together, Black and White, Rich and Poor, Female, Democrat and Republican, educated and school of life, white collar and blue collar, Iowa and Iowa state, Christian Reformed and  RCA, Calvin and Hope, Dordt and Northwestern, Central and Simpson. It may mean a few sacrifices on our end, but this should be something we do joyfully as we prepare our hearts and ourselves for eternity in heaven.

Unspeakable Sins: Our Sins of Omission

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Earlier this week, I wrote about a controversial topic, abortion. I argued we (as the church) and I as an individual were too silent by not advocating for the lives of the unborn.        While this is completely true, I also think this attitude of silence has permeated too much in our world today.  With the “Polar Vortex” essentially shutting down the Midwest for a couple of days, I find myself wanting to address the unspeakable sin of “doing nothing.”

Why is this “unspeakable?” Well, frankly it is unspeakable because we do not want to think of these as sins…we want to think of them as mistakes or choices. If you open the New Testament book of James, you will note one of the major themes of the book is the relationship between faith and works. James tells us, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Good works do not “earn us a spot” in heaven.  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Yet, when we have faith in Christ, our faith is not “alone.” For those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, we do good works, not to earn our salvation or to pay for it, but in response to the love demonstrated to us by our savior.

 In general, we think of sin as the things we “do,” yet this is not the whole picture. For instance, we lie, we steal, we cheat or we gossip. Sin also occurs when we do not do the good we know we have been called to do. These are called sins of omission. James 4:17 says, “17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  One wonderful example of this type of sin is in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The first two, the priest and the Levite sinned because they failed to help their brother who was helpless along the road. Another example may be failing to correct or stop a rumor/gossip.(For those who are interested in learning more about sins of omission, a great synopsis of sins of omission can be found here.)

Friends, we are ALL guilty of sins of omission, but I would like to draw our attention to one glaring issue I see today with Christians. Many Christians quote the verse, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. We should believe this. We should live this, but we do not always apply this correctly. Let me explain. Yes, we are all sinners. We all make mistakes. We are all in need of grace and Jesus provides the means for salvation. In this way, we are all equal. Yet, our fear of judging others does not excuse us from revealing sin in our lives and our world. Paul referred to himself as the “worst of all sinners” yet, he was willing to chastise the church at Corinth for an incestuous relationship, he was willing to call on Euodia and Syntyche to repent and be reconciled. We must be willing to point out sin and point out sin in love.

A wonderful example of calling out sins in love is the prophets. The prophets were not perfect people, yet, they were still the mouthpiece of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Even when it is tough, we are called to speak truth and speak life.

Our desire to preach truth, however, must be done in love. As Dr. Preston Sprinkle says, “We can have our theology right, but when we get love wrong, we are wrong.” We must be salt and light. Too much salt may end up in a batch of bad cookies. This cannot be the only voice they hear from us, they need to hear love, but they must hear truth as well.

At Otley Church, we are in a denomination called the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Moreover, the Reformed Church in America has a taskforce called Vision 20/20. This taskforce has been charge to define the way forward for the denomination in light of our disagreements over homosexuality. The issues run deeper than this however, because fundamentally we disagree over how we interpret scripture.  At Otley Church, we believe that that the Bible is God’s holy word. As God’s holy word, it is both inherent (without error) and infallible (not capable of error).  Other groups within the denomination would not agree.

When we cannot agree on how to interpret scripture, we cannot agree on a definition of sin. Sin then becomes relative to whatever fits your paradigm. The problem is, we must not use our own paradigm, but God’s and I believe God is saying marriage is reserved for a lifelong covenant relationship between and man and a woman.

To be fair to those who are in favor of full inclusion of LBGTQ+ individuals, they fully believe they are following Jesus Christ. They fully believe this an essential part of their ministry. Both sides feel this is a GOSPEL issue.

I feel we must speak. We must speak out against sin. We must speak out against this interpretation of scripture and express this concern to our denomination.

The Vision 20/20 team is asking for your thoughts on our way forward. They are looking at three options: a radical renovation of the denomination, the formation of “Affinity” classes (meaning classes formed based on beliefs), or a parting of ways.

RCA Friends, I implore you to voice your thoughts, and to recommend that the denomination split. We cannot live with this any longer.

If you would be so kind to indulge me for a moment as I share a story.

One day a particular father was listening to his children, make their case for permission to watch a PG-13 that all their friends were going to see. It featured their favorite actor. Some of their friends from church were going to see it. It was rated PG-13 just because of the suggestion of sex, but they never really showed anything. The language was pretty good, and the Lord's name was only spoken in vain 3 times in the whole movie! The special effects were fantastic, and the plot was action-packed. There was some violence, but just the normal stuff, and it was not that bad. The father listened to all this but still his answer was "No". The children were not very happy.

Later in the evening, this same father came into the room where his children were watching TV with a plate of homemade brownies. The children perked up and eyed the dark, chocolatey squares with smiles. That is until their father explained that he had taken their favorite brownie recipe and added a new ingredient - dog poop. He had only added a tiny bit, and the rest of the ingredients were top quality. He had taken great care to measure carefully and bake at just the right temperature to ensure they would be moist and chewy, just the way they liked them. As the children recoiled in disgust, the father acted surprised. He assured them that they probably would not notice the dog poop at all. There was only one little bit in that big bowl of ingredients. He was sure they would taste just fine and not really harm them. Still, the children turned up their noses and even refused to touch the dog poop brownies! 

The father then explained that the movie they wanted to see was just like the dog poop brownies. Satan tries to enter our minds and our homes by deceiving us into thinking that just a little bit of evil does not matter. Just as with the brownies, only a little dog poop made the difference between something great and something totally unacceptable. 

We cannot let Room for All and their allies continue to muddy the waters. We must take action. We cannot stand silent anymore. No more sins of omission.

 

Let your voice be heard. Vote in the RCA Vision 20/20 survey by clicking here.

For those who are members of Otley Church or in the Pella Area, we are in the Heartland Synod and a part of the Central Iowa Classis

 

 

 

 

 

No Longer Silent

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Note: This is the first in our blog series, called Unspeakable Sins

Why have we been silent?

 

As I write this blogpost, I must admit, I am trembling. I am scared. This is not an easy topic to address. People on both sides of this issue are very motivated and passionate. In writing this post, I may be alienating members of my community, congregation, and even family, so, despite the calls for being neutral, I feel Christ is calling me to be courageous.

 

“Father, as I write these words (and for those who read them) may they be shared and viewed in love. May my heart for the Gospel and your people be evident. Where there is hate may you send love, where there is frustration, patience, and where there is criticism, understanding. Amen.”

 

January 23, 2019 was and is a dark day. This is a very dark day masquerading as a day of light and celebration. As I spent 2.5 hours shoveling snow off my driveway and sidewalks, two landmark decisions passed. The first, which happened in the heartland, Polk County, Iowa. Last year, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed what we know as the “Heartbeat Bill” which denied abortions in cases where a heartbeat may be detected. For most cases, this generally happens at roughly 6 weeks. Today, a judge declared this bill unconstitutional. This hurts. This hurts more than you know.

 

In another landmark piece of legislation, the state of New York will allow abortions up to the day of the due date if the mother’s health is at risk. This is a slippery slope. What exactly determines “when a mother’s health is at risk”? Who decides this? Is a baby a “health risk”? Friends, this is a slippery slope leading to an avalanche of issues.

 

Why have we been silent?

 

As a W-A-S-P (White-Anglo/Saxon-Protestant) and male, I realize I am the most “privileged” of groups, thus many will discredit my viewpoint. In addition, being male, I will never physically give birth myself. The closest I can get is to witness the miracle of birth. I have beautifully watched my wife give birth to five beautiful children (four princes and one princess) each one fearfully and wonderfully made. Each one a gift of God and a blessing in our lives. I can say unequivocally my wife would say she would endure that pain again in order to bring our children into the world.

 

In our last pregnancy, Krys’ doctor asked if we would like to have prenatal testing for any genetic/chromosomal abnormalities. The most common reason one might test for this is to determine whether your child has Down’s syndrome. Why do doctors “order” this test? In theory, it is to determine if the baby is healthy. For some, it is a reason to decide whether you may not want the said child. We opted in so that we might be prepared in the event we needed to make arrangements for the child. As parents, we put the needs of the child first because it is not about us, it is about the sanctity of life. It is about what God has given to us.

 

If our child would have been born with any sort of genetic abnormality, even if they were not given a high chance of survival, we would have wanted the baby.

 

Why have we been silent?

 

One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 5:6-9 (ESV) which says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” What is this saying? This is saying Jesus Christ GAVE himself up for you. He endured pain to give you life. Was dying on the cross inconvenient? YES it was. Was it something Christ wanted to do? He wanted to do it because he loved all of us. He loved all of us more than he loved his own life. This is the Gospel. The Gospel is giving your life so that others may live.

 

Friends, I grieve. I grieve because I believe this is a set of decisions, which go completely against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Abortion does the exact opposite. Abortion is the anti-gospel. Abortion says, “Let me eliminate the life so that I can stop my pain”. It says, “I don’t want to be pregnant, pregnancy is inconvenient, it messes up my life.” Our sins messed up Christ’s life. They do not just mess up his life for 40ish weeks, they END his life. We were his ENEMIES. We were completely against him, and he still said, I will go to Calvary, and I am willing to guess Christ would do it even if it would save one life.

 

Why have we been silent?

 

May I ask you a question? The question I want to ask is this: “When does life end?” I am guessing most of us would say that when a heartbeat stops it is a sign of death. Then, the opposite should designate life, should it not? A heartbeat should designate life. In our crooked and depraved generation, we seem to be more passionate about the rights of animals than the rights of humans, and this must stop.

 

The church spoke before. We condemned the actions of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, which exterminated roughly 6 million Jews. Look at this number: 60,069,971. This is the number of babies aborted since 1973 in the United States. In addition, it is only through 2017. That is over 10x the number of Jews systematically killed. This is genocide on steroids and it is not stopping anytime soon, unless we act.

 

Why are we silent now?

 

Unfortunately, many are afraid to stand on God’s word, or they have distorted the teachings of Christ. Within the past year, one pastor within our classis (think district/presbytery/geographical area) co-signed a document supporting a women’s right to abortion. We also have an openly homosexual minister within our denomination who celebrated yesterday’s decision in NYC (@ThatGaysianRev). This must stop. The blood is on our hands. We must speak.  

 

I will not be silent anymore

 

I am pro-life. I believe in protecting those who are unable to advocate for themselves. We must stop letting those who are “pro-choice” control the narrative. It is not an embryo, nor a fetus, a zygote or the product of conceptus. It is not a blob of cells or foreign uterine matter. It is a life. It is a baby. One who is fearfully and wonderfully made!

 

It does not matter if this baby was the product of a loving married couple who prayed for a child for months. It does not matter if the baby is the product of a one night stand. It does not matter if the baby is an “oops” from a couple who may be a little older. It is a person.

 

It does not matter what the color of their skin is. It does not matter about their parent’s financial status is. It does not matter where they may be born and raised. It matters that they are born.

 

Every baby deserves a life, and a voice. Abortion is taking away life from one who cannot advocate for themselves. Abortion is pure evil masquerading as convenience.

Are we really going to allow a baby to die because it was not born a day earlier? A week earlier? All life deserves to be preserved. Even in the case of incest and rape. These are horrible, despicable, deplorable actions. But does that baby deserve to die because their father sinned? Abortion is punishing the child for the actions of the rapist. Are we really going to let these actions control another person’s life?

 

Some might say, well, the mother’s are not in a place to care for the baby. Ok. That’s true, but still, why are we debating this? Are we really going to end the life of children because they may have a hard life? Is not a hard life worth more than not having life at all? This same rationale can be used for everything. Are we not going to allow our children to have friends because their friends might hurt them? Are you not going to take a job because you might be fired? No. It is ludicrous.

 

Christ died. Christ died so that we may live. Why are we not letting these children live?

 

We cannot be silent any longer. Speak Truth. Speak Life. Speak out for the unborn.

 

My parting thoughts...

 

I also wish to address those who may have already had an abortion. You may be filled with grief. You may be filled with sorrow and you are likely filled with pain. The reality is you have sinned, but God still loves you. God still loves you in the midst of your sin. God still loves your baby as well.

 

There is no sin you have committed aside from denying Jesus Christ which cannot be forgiven. Turn to God, ask for forgiveness and receive it. God is faithful, he is just and he will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 

After asking for (and receiving forgiveness) speak out for the unborn and look forward to the day when you are reunited with your child in heaven and with your heavenly Father.