Is There a Better Way?

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Is There a Better Way?

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When it hit, it really, really hurt. America was already exhausted by not just thousands of deaths from Covid-19, but record unemployment and economic catastrophe in reaction to it. Then came the horrible, high-profile killing of an African-American man by a police officer in Minneapolis, fixing the mid-year capstone of a year gone terribly bad. In the days and weeks following, multiple thousands took to the streets in protest of the death of George Floyd, who quickly became an icon of terrible injustice. Rage and riots engulfed many U.S. cities.

As time passed, three questions dominated: Why did this happen? What can be done? How can we achieve peace and heal the land?

Upfront and personal

For me, the news felt personal. Like many others, I have experienced my own personal share of injustice and oppression. I had come to the United States in 1949 with my Ukrainian parents as an immigrant from war-torn Europe. I was born in a refugee camp in Germany. My extended family knows well oppression, strife and politically driven upheaval of the first order.

Ironically, it was in Minneapolis—the site of the awful death of George Floyd—that a selfless sponsor graciously stepped forward to bring my family from the twisted rubble of World War II to a new future of promise in America.

What seems further ironic to me is the fact that Minneapolis and the Twin Cities area hold a well-deserved positive reputation for accepting, supporting and including refugees from all over the world! So when I learned of this tragic news in my adopted American home, I was cut to the heart.

Relieving oppression

My background helped fuel a lifetime passion for helping people who are oppressed and disadvantaged. In tandem with my lifelong service as a pastor, my wife Bev and I have lived and worked all over the world, providing extensive humanitarian work for the children of Chernobyl in Ukraine (my ancestral homeland) and many relief projects in South America, Asia and Africa—including Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other predominantly black African nations, some of the poorest in the world.

Through all this Bev and I have had the privilege of working alongside people of different colors, nationalities and cultures. We have come to know and love people everywhere, regardless of their stature, economic achievement or place in life. We know firsthand what Paul meant when he stated in the first century: “It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile [non-Israelite], circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (Colossians 3:11 Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).

(Ironically, in ancient times the term “barbarian” or “barbaric” was initially used by Greeks of “babbling” by anyone who didn’t speak Greek—amounting to a cultural slur against anyone outside the Mediterranean area, the rest of the world. Together with anti-Semitism, it represented an early form of racism.)

Racism condemned

To God—who doesn’t show favoritism (Romans 2:11 Romans 2:11For there is no respect of persons with God.
American King James Version×
)—skin color and ethnic background are not what people are measured by. All have full access to Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And as the current president of the organization that publishes this magazine, I can declare with authority that we at Beyond Today condemn racism. We condemn so-called “white superiority.” Neither has anything to do with God!

Referring to the current age, the Bible speaks of the injustice of people and human governments. It reminds one of what the prophet Amos declared: “You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed” (Amos 5:7 Amos 5:7You who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth,
American King James Version×
, NLT).

While injustice is rampant in this world, it is also evident that violence usually achieves nothing in terms of solutions for society and most often makes things worse. Many countries struggle today with finding solutions for economic and societal equality.

Consider this fact: America itself, long a beacon of political freedom to much of the world, allowed almost a full century to lapse from the time the 13th, 14th and 15th U.S. Constitutional amendments were passed—guaranteeing what the Constitution calls “the blessings of liberty”—to the later time when President John Kennedy called for strong laws guaranteeing equal treatment of every American, regardless of race (finally passed into law the summer after Kennedy’s assassination and known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Despite the good intentions of many, human governments fall short.

There is a better way.

“Darkness cannot put out darkness”

Going forward, let us consider the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, Dr. King remarked: “I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice . . . and when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder . . . Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.”

The answer, according to Dr. King? “Love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems . . . I have seen too much hate . . . If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”

Speaking of the words of the apostle John in 1 John 4:7-8 1 John 4:7-8 [7] Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. [8] He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
American King James Version×
, Dr. King noted, “John was right: God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”

From a biblical perspective, that “meaning of ultimate reality” represents a better way.

Again, we know and teach from the Bible that God Himself is love (1 John 4:8 1 John 4:8He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
American King James Version×
). God defines and manifests this incomparable quality, and Paul urges us to “be imitators of God and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1-2 Ephesians 5:1-2 [1] Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children; [2] And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
American King James Version×
, New International Version). There is no room for racism here.

God created the incredible human potential of life eternal, of becoming God’s very children (1 John 3:1 1 John 3:1Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not.
American King James Version×
). His great purpose marvelously focuses on “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10 Hebrews 2:10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
American King James Version×
). This includes men and women of all walks of life, being brought together now as well as in the coming future Kingdom of God.

In a time when the global economy has been savaged and many people are divided in the face of violence, how do we learn to love? How can we find “the meaning of ultimate reality”?

Thankfully, we have a solid pathway that can lead us to the answers to these critical questions. A remarkable Teacher, sent from God Himself, laid out the way.

Become peacemakers

Speaking before thousands of people, Jesus Christ made an important distinction for those who would desire peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
American King James Version×
, King James Version). Note that Jesus didn’t say “blessed are the peace-lovers,” or those who simply wish for peace. Jesus said that blessings will come to those who pursue peace and live peace!

For this we need a standard. We need a clear benchmark to help us determine and measure whether we’re on the path of pursuing peace. This standard must be written on our hearts, driving our thoughts and actions (see Jeremiah 31:33 Jeremiah 31:33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version×
).

And indeed we have such a standard!

British statesman Sir Winston Churchill wrote this a full century ago, referring to the Bible and its teachings: “We owe to the Jews a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together.”

Here are two critical directives from that “system of ethics”:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5 Deuteronomy 6:5And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
American King James Version×
).

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 Leviticus 19:18You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
).

After teaching that peacemakers are the ones who are favored by God, Jesus Christ later declared that these two ancient statements were the core teachings of the Bible, the two great commandments (Matthew 22:36-40 Matthew 22:36-40 [36] Master, which is the great commandment in the law? [37] Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. [38] This is the first and great commandment. [39] And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
American King James Version×
). How important are these? As Jesus emphasized, “All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (verse 40, NLT). They apply equally to all cultures and groups!

Finding and securing peace

Accordingly, if we want to be peacemakers, we must understand that peace begins by having peace with God. When we have peace with God, we can have peace with others.

Note this marvelous statement from Paul: “Christ himself has brought peace to us . . . our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:14 Ephesians 2:14For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
American King James Version×
, 16, NLT).

To be a peacemaker, we have to embrace a standard of performance—we have to love both God and our neighbor. But first we must recognize that we all fall short of that standard and need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. We recognize that we have rejected God and His Word, living cut off from Him, and we need to turn and surrender our lives to Him. When we do that, we come under grace. We receive a new heart that’s oriented toward God. We begin to build, reflect and “experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippines 4:7, NLT).

This world desperately needs God’s truth. Tragically, for many, “the way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths” (Isaiah 59:8 Isaiah 59:8The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whoever goes therein shall not know peace.
American King James Version×
, English Standard Version).

At first, you may not see a way. It might seem futile to you. Can one person choose a path of peace and really make a difference? The answer is yes. One person can be an example to many. Each of us needs to reorder our lives. Put the right things first. Make right decisions. And then trust God to deliver.

What are these right things? “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 Micah 6:8He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
American King James Version×
).

What’s your choice? There is a better way! Reject the injustices and violence of this world. Make peace with God through Jesus Christ, and live a life of love for all people!