I begin this brief article with the reality that I am touching on an incomprehensibly complex issue that no matter what I say will be viewed by some as inappropriate. That issue is racism. Thanks to the proactive nature of Heartland Church Network’s Moderator, Rev. Dr. Ralph Lassiter, HCN has hosted a couple of opportunities for dialogue around the issue of racism. Although we have barely chipped an ice cube off the top of a huge iceberg, we have begun a conversation that I pray will incite future dialogues. Stay tuned for the announcement of future dates and times.
But for a moment, let me ask you to reflect on a familiar parable: the Parable of the Soils/Sower (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15). First, I would note that the parable has two titles based on two very different perspectives—that of the soil and that of the sower. Your perspective - who you are and your life experiences- WILL inform your position on race.
Second, I would note that the parable provides a broad and very general description of four types of soil/ways that people respond to Christ:
A third area I see in the parable stems from my agricultural background. For any plant to be healthy, it needs water and nutrients from the soil. And based upon the plant species, the type of soil and specific nutrients needed for healthy growth will vary. The soil will need the right pH; the right texture, depth, and drainage; the right balance of major nutrients (N/P/K); and the right balance of micro-nutrients. In other words, what works for one person to be able to understand and respond appropriately to the race issue can and at times will be different from that of another.
The fourth area of understanding also comes from my agricultural background. Plant nutrients come from both the air (respiration and photosynthesis) and the soil (absorption). From a human perspective, let me suggest that our root structure absorbs from the very soil from which we were created a sin nature. The name Adam is derived from the Hebrew word for earth/soil. In other words, at the tip of each of our roots (and they can number in the hundreds), we will find a single element being absorbed daily: sin. However, let me push the analogy just a bit, and point out that a plant also gets nutrients from the air (respiration). Note that the words for wind and spirit are the same in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma). Also, note that the sun (our source for light) is the ingredient required for plant photosynthesis. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.” In other words, we daily deal with the reality of our sin nature being absorbed from the very root of our existence; however, its impact can be countered by our willingness to receive the Light of the World into our life and a willingness to surrender our wills to the Holy Spirit which indwells the life of a believer.
As we respond biblically to the issue of racism, we must acknowledge both its complexity and its singular source (sin) as well as its singular solution (radical life-transforming salvation). Keep praying and keep talking to God and to one another.
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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