BEING THE GOSPEL
I'm thankful that God called me and my family to Tallahassee two years ago. In coming to First Baptist, we knew we weren't just coming to a church, but to a community that needed the gospel of Jesus Christ. We've quickly grown to love Tallahassee. Of course, we also live in a country and a world that desperately needs the gospel. Our community and our country are hurting right now, and they need the gospel. They need it from us.
Just weeks ago we saw a shocking video of Ahmaud Arbery, shot to death, in Georgia. Last week, we saw another video, just as shocking, of George Floyd, dying, protesting that he couldn't breathe, as a police officer had a knee on his neck. While people were arrested in both cases, protests in cities across the United States followed, in many cases turning into riots and looting. Police officers have found their already difficult jobs made harder by the actions of a few of their own, and then the awful reactions of violence. In Tallahassee, we have not had videos, but we have had officer shootings and protests (thankfully peaceful for the most part).
How do we respond to all of this? How do we pray? What do we do when so many people in our country are hurting and angry? When we are? I think for many of us, our initial response is exhaustion, wondering how many times this is going to happen and when is it ever going to stop. For others, it might be numbness or apathy, and for others, despair and fear. As Jesus-followers, our response must be the gospel, it must be determined by the Word of God.
We need to know, beyond any doubt, that God loves and values all people of all colors, ethnicities, races, and cultures. He made us this way as human beings on purpose: the wonderful diversity of who we are as human beings honors and reflects him. Every human being is made in the image of God, and every human being's life matters, deeply. God the Son, Jesus Christ, died for each and every person, showing how much God loves all of us.
As followers of Jesus Christ, this means racism is a vile sin, whether it is present in individual hearts or embedded in our institutional practices. Scripture tells us that hatred of any person made in the image of God is sin (1 John 3:11–15), that mistreating people with the justice system is sin (Prov 17:15; 23:10), that ignoring the cries of those being mistreated is sin (Deut 23:14–15; Jas 5:4). It also tells us that sin without repentance brings the judgment of God (Rom 6:23), not only for those who personally rebel against God's holiness and justice but also those who "give approval to those who practice them" (Rom 1:32).
We need to stand with our brothers and sisters of color (believers or not) and say: "your life matters." Racism, and the partiality in justice it leads to, is a problem for all of us, both as citizens of a free country and a hurting community, and as ambassadors of the kingdom of God that is for "every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev 5:9). As those in Christ, we are called to serve as ambassadors pleading, as though Christ were pleading through us, "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). To be pro-gospel and pro-life and pro-Tallahassee is to be against racism and for people.
Knowing these things doesn't mean we will always know what step to take or what word to say (but of course we don't know that with anything). But this knowledge should direct our prayers, how we talk to and relate to others, how we explain these things to our children, how we fulfill our vocation as citizens, and how we love our community. No matter the circumstances, when people are dead, we should weep and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).
In light of all of this, I'd like to invite you to pray with me, each night this week, over what is happening. Soon we will be able to meet and do this in person, but for now, let us be united by the Holy Spirit, wherever we are. What might God do if hundreds of us voice these prayers together?
Here is how I will be directing my prayers each night:
- Monday — Praying for myself, that God would help me to love all people of all races with the love of Christ, that he would root out sin in my life, whether explicit or not, in how I think or act toward others, and that I would be like Jesus to everyone
- Tuesday — Praying for Tallahassee, that God would do a great reviving gospel work in our community, that God would root out racism wherever it is present, that God would bring reconciliation and peace, that God would lead us toward justice
- Wednesday — Praying for our country, that God would do a great reviving gospel work all over the United States, that God would root out racism wherever it is present, that God would bring reconciliation and peace, that God would lead us toward justice
- Thursday — Praying for the families and friends affected by these deaths, praying for those affected by the violence of rioting and looting, praying for healing, protection, and strength
- Friday — Praying for our law enforcement and police officers, that God would lead all involved toward justice, that God would root out racism in hearts and in practices
- Saturday — Praying for our church, that we would be a gospel community of all different kinds of people and races united around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God, that we would be free of all racism, that we would be a model to Tallahassee of what racial reconciliation can look like
- Sunday — Praying for our world and the nations, that the Great Commission would be fulfilled, that the kingdom would come, that Jesus would be all in all
Yes, these things keep happening. But there is a greater reality that is true at the same time: the kingdom of God has broken into our world in Jesus Christ, and we are its ambassadors. Our city, our country, and our world needs us to be salt and light, to be the pillar and foundation of the truth, to herald the truth of our King.