This past Sunday during the "How Now Shall We Live" portion of the sermon, I couldn't help but note the look of confusion on lots of faces. I thought it would be best to follow up with some clarification, and ultimately a request for prayer.
First, on Racism. Last night at Restore there were lots of good answers to elder Chuck's question: "What do you remember about the passage & sermon from Sunday?" Some recalled Jacob's request to be buried in his homeland & Joseph's promise to do so. Others were reminded of Jacob's blessings of Ephraim & Manasseh, Joseph's eldest sons. There were a few other things mentioned, but, after a moment of silence, I asked once more, "Anything else?" One sister said,
I'm so glad she mentioned as much. Over the next five minutes God granted me the opportunity with my Restore family to clarify my intentions, and I want to do the same for you here.
You may recall from Sunday's sermon that Jacob blessed Joseph's boys with his arms crossed. I suggested that this "cross" caused Joseph to stumble a bit, as is so often the case for us when we first consider the Cross of Christ. Joseph, not realizing that his father knew exactly what he was doing, attempted to correct Jacob. But Israel assured him, "I know, my son. I know."
It had taken a lifetime, but Jacob had indeed learned that God's ways are not our ways, that God often crosses us up in the way He brings about & accomplishes His will & good purposes. One experience after the next in Jacob's life had proven as much. The same can be said for so many of Jesus' parables: For a seed to bear fruit, first it must fall. If someone wants to lead, first he or she must follow. If we want to live, first we must come to Him & die. And let's not forget Paul's lesson: "When we are weak, He is strong." What an amazing God we have. He is a Father to the fatherless. He gathers the scattered. He makes His family a home for the solitary. (Psalm 68)
So building on the point of God accomplishing things in strange ways, I suggested that I believe that's what He's doing in our nation right now. Racial tension is high in our country. This is a very real problem, a very human problem. Perhaps very personal for some of us? I suggested Sunday morning that,
By "religion", I'm not talking about true Biblical Christianity, but redundant rituals performed by an unregenerate heart. Going through the motions without the heart's affections is worthless. Likewise, we can pass laws all we want, but are laws able to produce real results? They can point out the problem, but they can't fix it. Sure, we can force gritted-teeth obedience with threats of punishment, but we all know that true, genuine change must go deeper than that.
As Romans 7.7-13 teaches, one of the main functions of the law is to expose our inability to uphold the very righteousness that it commands. And, therefore, the law of God reveals our brokenness and our desperate need for a Savior, for a Divine solution to our human problem. And I believe that is what God is doing in our land: resurfacing what many considered a dormant sin that it might be truly healed, rather than swept under the rug again.
Over the course of the last several weeks there have a been number of helpful articles & interviews from God-fearing leaders, Bible-believing pastors, Christ-exalting preachers, and others-loving laymen, from all kinds of racial backgrounds. Followers of Christ from various cultures & ethnicities have gathered together for prayer, conversation, and communication… chartering what I hope is God's path to Biblical, authentic & lasting national healing.
With all the camera shots of chaos coming across the media, it may look like our enemy has the upper hand. But I believe God is working His sovereign will, revealing that our only solution is Jesus, who became one of us in order to put to death the deeds of the flesh, to destroy the works of the devil, to strangle the sin of human bigotry committed against both the Infinite & finite. I have no doubt that the roots of our country's racism stems from humanity's hatred of God apart from the saving grace in Jesus Christ. When, by the grace of God, a man is reborn... when God reveals His irresistible beauty that overcomes all lesser addictions and causes the rebel to happily lay down his arms in the battle against his Maker... then and only then does God begin tooling & teaching him how to heal his ruined relationships.
Just as Joseph was surprised by the way his father crossed things up in the blessing of Ephraim & Manasseh, I have hope that our national struggles are part of our Father's blessing, "crossing things up" to expose any suppressed sin of racism in order to exalt His Son, our Savior.
And now to my second reason for writing this article: Blessing. If you were to take a quick survey of the Scripture, you'd find something that occurs somewhat regularly there & then, but rarely happens here & now: blessing.
Sure, some of us pray over our meals or perhaps for one another, but that's not the kind of blessing we saw in our passage this past Sunday, nor is it the first time we've come across this kind of blessing in Genesis. What I'm talking about--and, more importantly, what I believe the Scripture is talking about--is the kind of blessing that occurs on special occasions, when a leader lays his or her hand on another believer, making public & prayerful observance of a notable quality or characteristic possessed by this believer, and then asks the Lord to use that gift or skill for His glory throughout their future.
Unfortunately, there were only two fathers at our Restore meeting last night, so I had to put the other of us on the spot: "Brother, have you ever blessed your children like that?" I knew this brother had. In fact, he was one of the men who was instrumental in my learning to do so. "Yes," he replied. "As my children pass through various stages in their lives, I conduct what I call 'super secret meetings' wherein one of the things I do is bless them." Here is a unique Christian man: a father who lays his hands on his kids to bless them before the Lord.
I turned to the rest of my Restore family and asked the adults,
So, hey, if you've not blessed your children like that, there's no reason to feel guilty or beat yourself up. It's simply nothing you've ever seen modeled before. But, we do see it modeled in the Scripture, quite often in fact. (Here are a few we've come across elsewhere in our study of Genesis.)
May I encourage you to spend a little time researching & learning more about what it means & how you might bless your family, friends, neighbors, and--as Jesus' commanded, even your--enemies? There's a free book on the shelf at Proclaim that may provide some good help: A Father's Guide to Blessing His Children.
Consider the blessing it would have been for you to have experienced such a blessing from your mentor, mother, father or guardian? Perhaps you have been a recipient of this sort of blessing? I can still remember when I was just a little boy, standing in line after church, waiting to meet a visiting pastor. I wasn't with him long, and I don't remember everything he said, but I do remember him laying his hand on my shoulder & praying that the Lord use me to minister the name of Jesus. I was just a munchkin. I had no idea or intention of becoming a pastor at the time, but obviously it had impact on me: I still remember it.
And today the Lord has indeed blessed me with a whole slew of little arrows in my quiver. (Perhaps even one more by the time you read this article?) I want to bless them, daily in prayer, of course, but also on special occasions, birthdays, etc., when they need to hear their father speak the Truth in love over them, remind them of who they are in Christ, and how He has equipped them for His glory. In doing so, I hope to sharpen these arrows as best I can, so that--when the Lord notches & releases them at the enemy of our soul--they hit their mark with precision and power for God's great fame & name.
And now, as I mentioned at the beginning, let me close with a request for prayer. Chances are few of you are still reading, so all the more important are yours. Would you ask the Lord to help me in my preparation and preaching? I have experienced and am confident that He hears & answers your prayers in the name & for the glory of His Son. Preaching is sobering. Like salvation, I believe it is to be worked out with fear & trembling (Ph2.12). As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2.16, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Not me, and most certainly not apart from His grace through the prayers of His people. The last thing I want to do is create confusion about or doubt in God's Word. My hope is that He might use this article to redeem any confusion I may have caused this past Sunday. Who knows? Maybe this is just how He would "cross things up" so that we might further our pursuit of His blessing: His Divine Son & solution for our human difficulties & delight.
Soli Deo gloria!