Toxins in the Permafrost

After the racial protests of 2020, I began reading to learn more about racism in America. The most informative book I have read so far is Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Part One of the book begins with a powerful analogy. In 2016, a heat wave hit the Russian peninsula of Yamal. So many children were getting sick from a mysterious illness, the authorities declared a state of emergency. Then scientists discovered that the extreme heat had eroded the permafrost, exposing Anthrax, a toxin that had been buried in the carcasses of reindeer since 1941.

Racism is a toxic pathogen. For much of my life, I believed that America had largely buried it. But just as unusually hot weather in Siberia exposed long-buried anthrax spores, rising heat in human hearts exposed long-denied racism in the United States. What reignited the flames? Wilkens pointed to one catalyst: the U.S. Census Bureau’s projection that by 2042, the U.S. will no longer be a white-majority nation.

The prevalence of racism today is often attributed to institutional or systemic racism, the embedded social practices that lead to discrimination against people of color. According to Wikipedia, the term institutional racism was first used in 1967 in the book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Institutional racism is much more subtle and harder to detect than individual racism. Today many whites quickly condemn individual racism as immoral but are not so quick to condemn the racist practices embedded in our culture.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited India, he was introduced to a group of high school students as “a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” King was surprised and a bit peeved to be described as an untouchable. But he realized it was true; he and other black people had been consigned to the lowest caste in America for centuries.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it.

Isabel Wilkerson

Years ago, missionaries visited my church to talk about the Dalits, India’s lowest caste, once known as the “untouchables.” We were given clay cups to remind us of the daily oppression of the Dalit people, who aren’t allowed to drink from the same cups as people in the higher castes. The oppression of the Dalits seemed like an other world problem. Now I realize that caste is very much a part of my world. It is not a foreign problem.

In Caste, Wilkerson draws parallels between the unnamed caste system of the United States and those of India and Nazi Germany. As described by Wilkerson, the upper caste consists of white people of European descent, the middle caste is made up of Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, and the lower or bottom caste is made up of black people of African descent. White people have historically been the dominant caste, the favored caste, the ruling majority. Black people have historically been the subordinate caste, the disfavored caste, the powerless minority.

In another powerful analogy, Wilkerson compared America to the stage of a long-running play.

The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them. The people in these roles are not the characters they play, but they have played the roles long enough to incorporate the roles into their very being, to merge the assignment with their inner selves and how they are seen in the world.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

White people have become accustomed to our dominant roles. We take little notice of the people in the back unless they try to veer from the script; then we step in and put them in their place. If they protest too much, we silence them.

Caste makes distinctions among creatures where God has made none.

A native of India

The American caste system is a tragedy. As a nation, we have an ugly, horrific history of dehumanizing people based on the color of their skin. And although those of us living today did not create this system, we inherited it and may unwittingly play a role in keeping it in place.

The caste system thrives on dissension and inequality, envy and false rivalries, that build up in a world of perceived scarcity….A caste system builds rivalry and distrust and lack of empathy toward one’s fellows.

Isabel Wilkerson

Today, we can see the American caste system at work in the restrictive voting laws that are being enacted all over the country. I believe that these bills are designed to keep the ruling majority in power. Others have pointed out the symbolism of the governor of Georgia signing a bill that restricts voting rights while surrounded by white men standing in front of a painting of a slave plantation.

I agree with Wilkerson that understanding the American caste system may be the key to dismantling it. In part three of her book, Wilkerson describes what she calls the eight pillars of caste, the beliefs and practices that keep a caste system in place. I will reflect on each of these pillars in future posts.

****

Photo by Daniel Born on Unsplash

The Middle Way

Recently, my pastor shared a quote from Blaise Pascal. The quote I found online at Good Reads was translated differently:

The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery.

Blaise Pascal

In the version shared by my pastor, the word ‘wretchedness’ was used in place of the word ‘misery.’ For me to better understand the quote, I have to make it more wordy.

The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride. The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle way because in Him we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness.

The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride.

The first part of the quote makes me think of two types of people. One type is the person who says things like, “I’m a good person. I’ve made mistakes but I’m doing fine on my own. I don’t need religion. I don’t need to be saved.” This person uses other people as their measure of goodness. When talk of religion comes up, this person may bring up the second type – the religious hypocrite.

The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word ‘hypokrites,’ meaning ‘an actor.’ The religious hypocrite has knowledge of the Ten Commandments and religious virtues but lacks knowledge of their own wretchedness. They are self-righteous and self-important, pious, holier-than-thou. They make a display of their good works. They look down on and condemn other sinners.

Both types of people are relying on themselves to earn salvation. Thinking you are morally superior to others is a form of pride. But anyone who does not acknowledge their own sinfulness in relation to God is using a false measure of righteousness. The proper measure of righteousness is not other people. The right measure is God. We all fall miserably short of our glorious, holy Father.

The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair.

The second sentence makes me think about people who compare themselves to others and conclude that they are inferior, unworthy of love. They may even say, “I’m a bad person. I’m a failure.” Perhaps they have been criticized and verbally abused by others so much that they have no self-esteem. They feel remorse for their mistakes and wish they could undo them. They feel wretched. They can’t stop thinking about the things they have done wrong.

The person who has knowledge of their wretchedness but no knowledge of God may feel hopeless, especially if they have never been shown grace. They know that they can’t earn their way to salvation. They know they don’t deserve to be forgiven.

Jesus is the middle way.

In Jesus, we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness. Many people have knowledge of God but they don’t know God. Jesus shows us who God is because He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:6-7

My sinfulness created a vast canyon between me and God. Jesus is the bridge between us. Jesus makes it possible for me to have a personal relationship with God.

Jesus taught me that God’s commands are more than a list of do’s and don’ts. God’s commands are about love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Jesus pushes me to be a better person than I would be if I just followed the Ten Commandments. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Turn the other check.

Jesus taught me that the contents of my heart are just as important as my behavior. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.

Jesus sees right through hypocrisy and condemns it. Do not do what they do for they do not practice what they preach. Everything they do is done for people to see.

Jesus taught me that God has compassion for sinners, for the outcast, for the least among us.

Jesus taught me that God rejoices when the lost are found. Even in our wretchedness, we are as precious to Him as rare pearls.

Lord Jesus, you are the way and the truth and the light. You are the cure for my wretchedness. Thank you for saving a wretch like me. In you, I see God and know His love and mercy.

****

Matthew 5

Matthew 22:37-40

Luke 15

Colossians 1:15-22

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Good News in Bad Times

I pray for church pastors who are charged with leading their congregations during these difficult times. They know that the congregation, like the country, is divided politically and that many people are frustrated and angry.

A couple of weeks ago, my pastor encouraged the church to spend more time with Jesus than we spend with our sources of information, whether that be social media or a news/opinion network on TV. He made a really important point. How can a weekly sermon at church override the negative influence of everything we are exposed to outside the church on a daily basis?

I have to admit that I spend more time watching or listening to news/opinion shows every day and reading articles than I do reading my Bible and praying. I know that constant negative news and exposure to the toxins of social media aren’t good for me.

Too much exposure to bad news and negative people can take our eyes away from the hope we have in Jesus.

The kingdom of God has come near. Turn away from your sins and believe the good news!

Jesus, Mark 1:15

No matter what happens in this world, the good news of the gospel is still Good News!

****

Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

Get Acquainted with God

A.W. Tozer said that he wrote The Knowledge of the Holy because he believed that modern Christianity wasn’t producing the kind of Christian who can experience life in the Spirit. In writing his little book, Tozer hoped to promote “personal heart religion” and to encourage others to practice “reverent meditation on the being of God.” Although Tozer’s writing style seems archaic to me, with lots of thee’s and thy’s and verbs ending in “eth,” his message is as relevant now as it was sixty years ago. There is a need today for personal spiritual revival and the key to this revival is to get acquainted with the holy God.

We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.

A.W. Tozer

Tozer believed that the root of the problem is the Church losing its sense of the majesty of God. Many Christians (e.g. prosperity gospel followers) think of God in utilitarian terms – i.e. what can God do for me? The modern Christian has created God in our own image. I believe that one of the most perverse and false images of God in America today is the image of God and guns.

Christians are the Church, the body of believers. Whatever we are doing is what the Church is doing. Transforming the Church begins with the individual Christian. If we want the Church to change, we need to change. We need to transform our own vision of God. We need to give God the glory and reverence He deserves.

In the last chapter of the book, Tozer shared the “open secret” about how to acquaint yourself with God and gain knowledge of the Holy. Knowledge of the Holy is a free gift available to anyone who chooses to pursue it. This knowledge isn’t acquired through religious study; it takes spiritual discernment.

Tozer listed six conditions that must be met if if we are to know the true, holy God. Tozer noted that these conditions are taught in the Bible but he didn’t cite any scriptures.

Prerequisites to Knowledge of the Holy

1. Forsake your sin.

Tozer’s use of the verb forsake was interesting to me because Christians typically use the verb repent when speaking about sin. When I think of the verb forsake, I think of God’s promise to never leave or forsake us. But just as true repentance requires a commitment to change your actions, forsaking sin is to leave it behind, to renounce it, to give it up.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (NIV)

Forsaking sin is an important condition for knowing God because sin separates us from Him. When we are disobedient to God, He turns away from us. Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God (John 8:47).

As Tozer wrote, we should approach God with a good, pure heart. We should seek him with simplicity of heart. As Jesus said, the kingdom of God belongs to those who receive it like a little child (Luke 18:15-17).

2. Commit your whole life to Christ in faith.

Commit your whole life, not just your Sundays, not just Christian holidays. Commitment is a deep emotional attachment to Christ. If you love anyone or anything more than you love Christ, you are not worthy of him.

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39

Take up your cross and follow Jesus. This means being willing to publicly identify with him, to experience opposition because of your faith, and even to be persecuted or face death.

3. Die to your old self and open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3). To be born again is to be born anew, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives believers wisdom and the ability to understand spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2). The Spirit dispenses spiritual gifts as God sees fit (1 Corinthians 12).

Even those who are born again must resist the temptations of the flesh. Our sinful natures lead us to act in ways that are not pleasing to God. Temptations of the flesh are not just sexual sins; it includes sins of the heart – jealousy, hatred, rage, selfish ambition, etc. If we want to know the holy God, we must live in the Spirit and walk with the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25

4. Repudiate the values of the world.

The world’s values are cheap in comparison to the treasures of the kingdom of God. Worldly people place too much value on money, possessions, status, popularity and fame. Worldly people act out of self ambition, self interest, and self indulgence. If you want to know God, you must detach yourself spiritually from the things non-believers set their hearts upon. Keep a tight rein on your tongue and do not let yourself become polluted by the world (James 1:26-27),

Instead of following the ways of the world, follow the example of Jesus who said, store up for yourself treasures in heaven. You have to make a choice. You can’t serve both God and money (Matthew 6:19-24).

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

5. Meditate upon the majesty of God.

To meditate upon the majesty of God is to practice true worship. As you become better acquainted with God, you may need to alter previously held beliefs about Him. You may need to break away from the lifeless, frivolous worship that prevails in so many churches. At my old church, I stopped going to the large, formal service on Sundays and attended the smaller, more contemplative service where we were given time to sit quietly to reflect and pray.

Withdraw inwardly and meet God in adoring silence. Pause and reflect on his omniscience, his omnipotence, his omnipresence, his immutability, his sovereignty, his holiness, his benevolence, his mercy, his grace, his glory. God’s majesty is more than the human mind can fathom!

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 3:23-24

6. Serve your fellow man.

How is serving others a condition for gaining knowledge of God? The more we know God, the more we want to share his love and mercy with others. When we help those in need, we are helping Jesus and bringing glory to God.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

The more we know God, the more we want to follow the example of Jesus in serving others. To know Jesus, the Son of God, the One with whom God was well pleased, is to be like-minded. It is to humbly look to the interests of others and not just to your own (Philippians 2).

In The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer wrote about the individual’s relationship with God. As we become more intimately and personally acquainted with God, we will affect others around us in the Christian community. Tozer wrote that we can do this most effectively if we make the majesty of God the focus of our public service – in our singing, our witness, our preaching, in our writing.

Glory to God in the highest!

*******

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A Prayer for a Forgiving, Compassionate Heart

This is the ninth of ten strategic prayers I am writing in response to Priscilla Shirer’s book, Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. Shirer wrote that if she were Satan, she would make sure that you keep thinking about old wounds and the people and circumstances that caused them to “ensure that your heart was hardened with anger and bitterness. Shackled through unforgiveness.” If you have ever harbored feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment towards another person, you know the damage it does to you and to your relationship with the offender.

Strategy 9 – Against Your Heart

He uses every opportunity to keep old wounds fresh in mind, knowing that anger and hurt and bitterness and unforgiveness will continue to roll the damage forward (Hebrews 12:15).

PRISCILLA SHIRER

I have experienced the bondage of unforgiveness. For years, I resented my mother for cheating on my father and trying to turn us kids against him, for making me and my sisters buy groceries with food stamps under the condemning eyes of adult shoppers, for leaving me, at seventeen, in charge of four younger siblings while she stayed all night with her boyfriend. When Mom almost died, I finally found the grace to forgive her, to let go of these old wounds. I thank God that I had the chance to forgive her. I miss my mother, the wounded, flawed woman who taught me to have compassion for others, and regret not having had more compassion for her.

Forgiveness for the Offender (2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NIV)

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 

Today, my mind is not tormented with thoughts of personal hurts and grievances. But I do grieve at what has happened in my country and I struggle with feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness at the people I blame for it.

*******

Heavenly Father, before I bring my need, I bring my heart. Thank you for forgiving my sins. I confess that I do not forgive others as easily. I need more of Your grace and kindness.

Lord, I am troubled by the divisions in my country. The lies and conspiracy theories that fueled an assault on democracy make me angry. I am angry at the people who silently accepted, condoned, and promoted the lies.

Lord, I am struggling to understand and to forgive the people, including friends and family, who put a wicked man in power and voted to keep him there. It’s tempting to paint them with a broad brush but I know that his supporters are not all alike. Some of them claimed that You put him in power even though they chose to mark his name on their ballots. Some of them chose him because of the single issue of abortion or because he promised to stand up for Christians. Some of them chose him because they are Christian Nationalists and think that Republicans can “take back” America for You. Some of them chose him because they are xenophobic and he promised to build a wall to keep Mexicans out. His most radical and fervent supporters adore a wicked man because they are wicked, as we saw so clearly on January 6th.

Lord, I especially feel betrayed by fellow Christians who were willing to trade Christian values for political power. They were willing to accept racism and to tolerate dishonesty and vile, vengeful, divisive language in exchange for the Republican agenda. Of course, they have not betrayed me personally but their hypocrisy severely damages the witness of the Church.

Jesus, I need more of your compassion. Even as you faced death for testifying to the truth, you prayed for your enemies: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Help me to have compassion for the people who see but do not perceive, who hear but do not understand.

Father, You are good to the ungrateful and the wicked. You cause the sun to shine on the evil and the good and send rain on the righteous and unrighteous. Help me to love my enemies, the enemies of truth. Help me to be good to them with no expectation of receiving anything back.

Lord, as I struggle to forgive those who have aligned themselves with wicked men, help me to remember that my struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of this world’s darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The secret power of lawlessness is at work, deluding those who delight in wickedness.

Father, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon. For it is in pardoning, that I am pardoned.

Amen

*******

Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash

Matthew 5:44-45

Mark 4:12

Ephesians 6:12

2 Thessalonians 2