TIL 058 : Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, And The Dallas Police Massacre

On this edition of Truth in Love, Dr. Lambert addresses some of the racial tensions in our culture. He addresses some specific situations that have happened in American society and then gives Christians some practical suggestions for how to engage these issues.

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There are listeners to Truth in Love all across the world but this week we are going to talk about an issue that has happened in the United States of America. In the United States it has been a brutal and a bloody week. Two black men were killed by police officers, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Then eleven police officers were shot, five of them fatally, in Dallas by a man who had the stated intention of killing white police officers. People are reeling in the aftermath of these shootings, in the United States in particular, and even across the world. In the minority and law enforcement communities there is genuine concern about a situation that seems to be spiraling out of control. All Americans in general and Christians in particular wonder what they can do about a devastating body count that continues to rise. We want to talk about solutions to the problem on the podcast this week.

There are solutions to this problem but I’m convinced that so many Christians need to rethink our approach to this. We tend, Christians do, lately, I think to be thinking in terms of political solutions. We’re demanding that public policy be reviewed, we’re demanding increased training, we’re demanding an approach, we’re demanding a review to the socioeconomic problems that lead to this kind of devastation and there is a time and a place for such responses in terms of public policy. But most Christians will not have their most important impact on this issue with regards to public policy. For most of us, the way we can have the largest and most significant impact is as we handle this matter personally with those we know, with those we love and care about, and not as we handle it politically. So I want to talk on the podcast this week about how to address this problem as normal, everyday Christians living in our communities.

I think there are a couple of ways that we can handle this problem. First, we have to admit that there is a problem. We do not have to get the details of every headline correct to know this. I am aware that not all of these shootings are created equal and there are lingering questions and investigations underway even now to determine what happened in these shootings. I am aware of that. But we do not have to know all of those details to recognize that there is a problem in this country.


The reason we know there is a problem in this country is not first and foremost because of the headlines but is first and foremost because of Scripture. The Bible teaches us about a doctrine of sin. Romans 3:23 says that, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” All of us. Every single member of humanity is broken and that means that hate is real. There are white people who hate black people and some of them are police officers. That does not ignore the fact that most white people do not hate black people anymore than it ignores that most police officers are doing their work responsibly. But we are not being honest if we fail to confess that sin warps some white people so that they hate black people and even to a degree that they wish to do them harm. But the shoe is on the other foot there. There are also black people who hate white people. It does not mean every black person has it in for white people or wants them dead but we have to be honest that a doctrine of human sinfulness means that black people hate white people and white people hate black people in many instances. Hate is real and the doctrine of human sinfulness teaches us that. The Bible also teaches us because of its teaching on sin that fear is real. All across this country, right now, today, there are minorities that are scared. They are scared that they are going to be driving in their car and they are going to be pulled over for a routine traffic stop and they are going to be shot because that does not go exactly the way it is supposed to go. And all across this country there are police officers who are scared.

They are scared that as they discharge their duties in their law enforcement capacities something is going to go wrong, as often happens in the line of police duty, and they are afraid they are going to shoot someone and be in a headline and be accused of racism. Look that is the fact. There are minorities who are scared; there are law enforcement members who are scared. You know some of these men and women. You go to church with some of these men and women. They live next door to you. You work with them. Hate and fear are real. This is a problem that we have to admit and the headlines merely bear out what the Scriptures teach clearly. So we have to admit that there is a problem but also we have to confess together that there is a solution. There is a solution that while we should work towards and pray for political solutions there are things we could do this afternoon, there are things we can do right now to begin to address this tragedy.

I just want to mention a few things that every Christian can do to address this problem. First, we need to pray. Ephesians 6:18 encourages us, indeed it commands us to pray at all times. So we can pray for a number of things. Right now we can pray for the victims of these shootings. We need to pray for Alton Sterling, a father, a friend, a child. We need to pray for Philando Castile whose family right now is in the throws of grief over his loss. We can pray for the slain Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson. All of whom left friends and loved ones behind. All of them regardless of their skin color and regardless of the uniform they wore were precious men created in the image of God, whose lives are now at an end because of sin in a fallen world. We can pray for these victim’s families. We can pray for the law enforcement community to discharge their work responsibly and in an even godly way. We can pray for the minority community, that they would not live in fear. We can pray for all of these and more. But we must pray.

A second thing that every Christian can do right now, today, is we can use our words carefully. James 1:19 commands all of us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Not every police officer who opens fire in the line of duty is behaving irresponsibly. And even those who do open fire in a reckless way are not necessarily motivated by race. When police officers misuse force we should speak out loudly against that and when their misuse of force is motivated by race we should definitely speak out against that as well. But before we speak we have to listen and gather information. This takes time and that can be frustrating in a digital age where we want to act quickly and respond quickly but if we act too fast and speak before we have learned we will hurt our cause and we will not help it. And so we need to use our words carefully which means we should at least get all of the information before we start leveling accusations. It is really important that we carefully use our words because all of us are a part of the cultural voice as we interact in our conversations, as we engage on social media, as we write and speak on the Internet. All of us can be a part of creating a culture that is either adding fuel to this fire or is working to resolve it in a God-honoring way and the reality is we cannot resolve it without facts and careful words spoken truthfully and with care.

A third thing we can do is be a friend. Romans 12:21 says not to be overcome by evil but to be overcome evil with good. In John 13:35, Jesus says that they will know we are Christians by our love. Most of us know people who are in the minority community and in the law enforcement community. Some of us are members of those communities. And that means all of us can put our arm around someone that we know and love who’s been impacted by these tragedies and say, “How are you doing?” We can listen to them, we can learn from them, we can try to figure out what their experience is like, we can pray for them, we can serve them, we can commit to walk with them through hard times, we can say things like, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on with all the headlines. I don’t know what all the facts are but I love you. I care for you. And I want to walk with you as a brother in Christ, as a friend, as a neighbor, as a relative, and help you in what must be really hard in a tragic time.” In these kinds of situations where the media seems to report just hate everywhere, that kind of loving friendship will go a long way as we live our lives together.

A fourth thing you can do is talk to your church leadership. You can approach your church leadership and say, “Hey, what can we do to reach out and be the voice and the love of Christ to a law enforcement community, to a minority community that is really hurting and in pain?” In my own local church this week we reached out to a predominantly African-American congregation. Some of their pastors attended our church, and me and a few others of our pastors attended their church. We prayed together, we prayed for the law enforcement community, we prayed for the minority community and we have covenanted together to walk with one another through these hard times. That is one example. What can your church leadership do? You should approach them and ask how you could be apart of the solution.

Here’s the last thing. Every person listening to this can share the gospel with someone. All of us can use this tragedy as an opportunity to speak of Jesus Christ and the grace and mercy that he brings. In Titus 3:3-5 it says, “We also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another but when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared he saved us. Not on the basis of deeds, which we have done in righteousness but according to his mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” This is a text that tells us what we were like before we came to know Jesus Christ. It says that we were full of malice and envy. We were hateful and hating. That is what describes a fallen human existence. But the kindness and love of God appears in Jesus Christ and saves us so that the love, which flows out of his own heart for us, can now flow out of our hearts towards others. It is the love of the Gospel that overwhelms the hate and fear of sinful humanity. We can share the gospel with someone today. We can talk about the gospel when speak of these things.

I look at my social media account and I see so many people, even Christians, tweeting about and Facebooking about the horror of these events and they are talking about how terrible it is and they are missing an opportunity, I think, so many times to point to the grace of Jesus Christ that can overwhelm all of this hate. So lets not be the people who only know how to speak about how terrible the tragedy is. It is indeed and we need to be honest about that but we also need to be honest about the redemption that comes in Christ alone. So lets be honest about the hatefulness, the malice, and the envy of this awful week but lets also be honest that we are not stuck in sin, that the saving mercy of Jesus Christ has appeared and that brings redemption to all men who come to Christ in repentant faith. This has been a hard week to be sure.

I suspect that there will be harder weeks yet to come. As Christians though, however, that does not mean that we are left without anything to do. In fact I was asked by a member of the news media just this morning, “What can Christians really do about this?” and what I said is that every single Christian has countless relationships with other people and we can use those relationships to have conversations that overcome evil with good, and that point to the goodness and the mercy that are found in Jesus Christ. Anyone listening to this podcast, you know hundreds of people. If you took the opportunity of those relationships to not just speak about the tragedy but to speak about the grace that is found in Jesus Christ, that is the city set on a hill, that Jesus Christ talked about. That is what Jesus spoke about when he said that we should so live our lives that people would see our good deeds and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. We can do this. We can be the salt and light of Jesus Christ in a world full of darkness and decay. And the reality is we are going to have to do it because nobody else can.


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