April 30, 2015

Embers to Flames: A Pastor’s Perspective on the Baltimore Riots

by George Lawson

Baltimore Landscape We love Baltimore and it saddens all of us to see what has transpired in the last few days.  The senseless acts of vandalism, looting, arson and destruction of our own neighborhoods, in addition to violent attacks against innocent by-standers and the public servants of our city, have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with the depravity of the sinful human heart. Any claim to be concerned about justice cannot be taken seriously while a CVS is burnt to ashes and cinderblocks are thrown at keepers of the peace.

Baltimore CVSThe criminal behavior that has caught international media attention, has nothing to do with supporting a grieving family (the family has already condemned the violence).  It has nothing to do with honoring the memory of a deceased loved one (only a small fraction of the protesters even know who Freddie Gray is).  Even less are these disgraceful acts about social programs, better education, or equal opportunities. Rather, this is what happens when the fear of lawful authority is removed and we are allowed to peer into the darkness of the heart.

Over the next few days and weeks we will hear much from the media, community leaders, friends and family about what the root of the problem is in Baltimore.

It’s fair to acknowledge that I can relate to some of the frustration young people feel.

There were clear violations of department policy and many are still waiting for answers about what happened during the 30-minute ride to the police station.Baltimore Freddie Gray

There is also significant tension that exists between law enforcement and many of our urban youth, who are under the impression that they are assumed guilty until proven innocent. As a teen, I was never involved with drugs or gangs but I still remember being surrounded by police cars while reading a book outside of my building, having an officer point a gun at my back while walking home from a game of bowling and being stopped numerous times for no apparent reason.

But I also have a deep respect and appreciation for the difficult and dangerous work that officers are expected to do. They are often required to size up a situation in seconds and those that look suspicious usually are (how many people run from cops who are not guilty?).  It is an extremely difficult job and there are many honorable men and women in uniform.  The Scriptures make it very clear that our responsibility is to honor and obey our governing authorities.

Baltimore Police CarRomans 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

The picture of cop cars being set on fire, while their belongings are paraded around as trophies, says much more than what people think about the police. Ultimately it communicates what they think about God and their desire to throw off His authority.  This is what they would do to God if they could get to Him.

Romans 13:2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God;

But even solving this tension between citizens and law enforcement is not the root of the problem.  Jesus addresses where the heart of the problem really lies.

Mark 7:21-23 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,22 deeds of coveting andwickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride andfoolishness.23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”Baltimore riots

The root of the problem with the teens that began these riots and the many others who joined in was not, what was outside of them but what was inside of them.  Have you ever considered what man is capable of, when he thinks he can actually get away with it?  Why was there an American slave trade or Nazi Germany or a Rwandan genocide?  There were people, who convinced themselves, that there was no authority that would stop them and after the restraints were gone, the wickedness of the heart was set loose.  What else would make a person cut the very firehose that was intended to save the only store in his neighborhood?Baltimore Cuts Hose

As soon as a group of young people in Baltimore felt emboldened and believed the governing authorities would give them room to destroy (and that their parents would not hold them accountable) many seized the opportunity. Addressing poverty, improving infrastructure and repairing relationships with law enforcement will not change that.  The only hope for changing hearts is the gospel.  We must be born again. Baltimore Mom

This is the message we desire to bring to Baltimore.  This is not a time to retreat.  I am even more excited about our opportunity to shine the light of the gospel in Baltimore because of the darkness.  As I’ve heard Dr. MacArthur say, “The darker the night, the brighter the light”.  Would you pray for us in the following ways?

Pray for an open door for the gospel:

Colossians 4:3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ

Baltimore MondawminMondawmin Mall, where these riots began, is the very same place we have had the privilege to do ministry for the last two years.  Pray that the seeds of the gospel that have been planted, would take root and produce fruit.  The good news is not that we can save this perverse generation but that we can “be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).  Pray that souls would be saved.

Pray for our governing authorities:

1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitionsand thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

 

Entreat the Lord for our governor, our mayor and our law enforcement personnel.  We are grateful for the police and the reinforcement of the National Guard.  We honor the authority that God has placed over us and recognize them as ministers of God for our good (Rom 13:4). A son of one of our members is a police officer and others we know are in harm’s way.  Pray that they may do their jobs in such a way as to bring peace and calm to our city and that those who are not saved, would come to the knowledge of the truth. Baltimore Police Car top

Pray for our opportunities to do good:

Galatians 6:10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

Baltimore Gray FamilyOur primary responsibility is to the household of faith, so we are looking first of all for opportunities to serve the immediate body.  But we are also looking for opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ to neighboring unbelievers.  It is heartbreaking to see the businesses and homes that were destroyed as a result of this tragedy.  We hope to minister to families as the Lord gives us opportunity.

We Love Baltimore and pray that the Lord would allow us to be a bright light in this dark city for His glory!

 

George Lawson

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George is a graduate of The Master's Seminary and is the Pastor-Teacher of Baltimore Bible Church, a new church plant in Baltimore, MD (www.baltimorebiblechurch.org)
  • Warner Aldridge

    Amen brother. Praying for you guys out there.

    • outreaching

      Thanks!

  • Linda Rice

    Thank you and well said. I especially appreciate the highlighting of the real source of the problem and your enthusiasm for ministering the gospel to save people for eternal glory for our Lord. May the Lord answer these prayers in abundance.

    • outreaching

      Amen!

    • Larry

      I will attempt to be objective in my response but it is difficult. This post reminds me that most people especially white believers whom I sit next to on Sunday have no idea of the soul crushing realities that blacks, especially young black males, experience on a daily basis. Your post is well written but you seem to easily detach yourself from those who as you say are not obeying the authorities as God commands in His Word. You rightly point to the “heart” I the matter as Jesus details, however when you look at Freddie Gray and the violent reaction to his death which may prove to be murder you see them and I see me. Freddie looks like everyone I grew up with, cousins, classmates and friends most of whom are fatherless, hopeless, depressed, angry, confused and marginalized. I was appalled by white men emphasizing the wrongs done to cops and not the systemic problems foisted upon blacks by poor policies, racism, the sexual revolution, fatherless homes, and no strong presence at all of white majority believers inn this country who sit in in well furnished and expensive houses if worship complaining about what has gone wrong with the world. Even more disheartening is all I the youth group missionaries who flood the inner cities for a couple of weeks, raise up hopes and then dash them by leaving and not continuing any lasting ministry. When I watch what is happening my first reaction is not to focus on the foolish violence of immature sinful and lost kids. I immediately see the frustration of repetitive incarceration that is a way if life in black communities at a rare that is proof if the refusal to bring a living gospel to a racist institution designed to “deal” with criminals instead of dealing with the issues that lead them there. You are very wrong..every black male knows Freddie Gray in ways that make them see themselves. Baltimore’s police force are also evidence of the depravity I Herat that you speak but it’s just not caught on live television for the benefit of sensational tabloid reporting and gawking eyes of those who see senselessness before seeing generations of deep seated pain, confusion and no powerful gospel presence that bleeds with those it preaches to. I would advise you not to cookie cut and paste scripture and to think long and hard about what brings people to this point. god took is people out if Egypt first before taking it out of their hearts. Jesus freed the adulterous woman from the religious/ political hypocrites before grace and “go and sin no more”. Those looters need Jesus but before they can see him they need to see His manhood and compassion and care from His people. Your post is shallow in its approach. It has truth but not love…tough love for wicked people that is tough on those who watch in arrogance and are appalled by what they see on the news. Police are necessary but they can be aidin a corrupt system that seeks only to “do its job” by arresting instead if evaluating how to redeem a broken community. I would like to say more but I think this is good food for thought. Thanks.

  • Nancy Tyler

    I’ve been praying so much for the pastors of Baltimore. I’m thankful you’re there at this difficult time. Lord, heal the broken hearts and lives of this city.

    • outreaching

      We need it!

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  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    I know there is still much work to be done, but more and more I find myself longing for that day that Christ returns and every knee bows.

    • outreaching

      Maranatha!

  • Thanks for this great post. Praying!

    • outreaching

      Thanks!

  • Jason

    * The good news is not that we can save this perverse generation but that we can “be saved from this perverse generation”.

    Amen! We should avoid the deception that somehow the source of the problem can be the source of the solution (human nature) and keep our trust firmly in God for our salvation.

    • outreaching

      I pray that we will all keep our focus on the ultimate solution.

      • CarolynO

        I’m remembering your sermon on Sunday. What was it you and your friend used to say to each other at seminary?

        • outreaching

          No regrets!

  • Susan

    It’s so good to hear a voice of truth pierce through the media storm. Thank you, George!

    • outreaching

      Thanks

  • tovlogos

    Amen brother George.

    Yes, “I am even more excited about our opportunity to shine the light of the gospel in Baltimore because of the darkness.”

    That’s the most important point. Certainly we should obey Romans 13; however, as you know, people who have no relationship with God through Jesus, are not interested in Romans 13. It is also fair to say, becoming a police officer, or any profession doesn’t make a person godly. So, it’s not only the thugs that need salvation.
    Providentially, there are no surprises here. The Philistines, Babylonians, Assyrians, etc. were used to buffet Israel, but were not by any means godly. It is the child of God that is being measured in his ability to be obedient.
    So, yes, prayer prayer prayer, and that by the Spirit.

    “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
    This tells me the depth that is necessary to be effective in prayer. We who pray have to be conformed to his image; and have the genuine experience of John 3:3.

    Hearing the news stations talk about a burning building for three hours is not the point.
    We will keep doing God’s work to the bitter end; and we will not fix this world, which only He can do. As you indicated, Galatians 6:10, as we bring the gospel to an unsaved world, is our agenda. As we pass through all of the evil, God is gathering His family; and as far as I can see, that’s His agenda. Institutional racism is evil, but not the bottom line; Institutionalization in a world where the devil rules by proxy is.

    Thanks George, we’re with you. Blessings.

    • outreaching

      Thanks for the prayers. Without the gospel we are all “thugs” and enemies of God. It doesn’t matter if wear a gang’s flag or carry a badge! Pray not only for our teens but for all in authority as well. God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

      • tovlogos

        Absolutely, Amen.

        Mark

      • Zephaniah

        Thanks brother. Classic line: “Without the gospel we are all ‘thugs’ and enemies of God. It doesn’t matter if we wear a gang’s flag or carry a badge!” Can I quote this?

        • outreaching

          You just did 🙂
          As long as you keep it in context go for it!

  • Dave O

    Very well articulated as usual Pastor George.

    • outreaching

      Thanks Dave

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  • Todd

    How are you Pastor Lawson? Very thankful for your witness in Baltimore and your labor in the gospel. While I appreciate a gospel presence in any city some aspects of your article appear to be very strong opinionated leaps on the hearts of people.

    This quote in particular

    “The picture of cop cars being set on fire, while their belongings are paraded around as trophies, says much more than what people think about the police. Ultimately it communicates what they think about God and their desire to throw off His authority. This is what they would do to God if they could get to Him.”

    This is a strong statement Brother Lawson. How would you reconcile Peter’s lack of submission, brandishing a swinging a sword upon the Lord’s arrest? Or even the Boston Tea Party? Hear me, brother. I’m not being sarcastic, I ask those questions honestly and not to gender strife. (If you believe they will feel free not to respond) I don’t believe the problems are skin but sin. My question and concern is would any lack of submission to authority that is lashed out against to be viewed as this is how we would treat Jesus or is it just the case in modern day riots?

    Also, I’ve noticed that most political right wing outlets, even though Christian, focus on the narrative of the riots. Do you believe the citizens frustrations with the police are fictional? From your post it doesn’t appear that you do, Brother Lawson. Do you have any suggestions how we can call for equal accountability and responsibility?

    Let me reiterate, I think it is irresponsible for anyone to say the problem is just skin when it is obviously sin. When John The Baptist challenged the Roman soldiers on their ethics in Luke 3:14 he challenged them to stop using force and false accusations against citizens. This problem predates any racial relations found in America and if the minority became the majority tomorrow the problem would still exist and the shoe would be on the other foot due to sin.

    My concern with that very strong statement is does that assertion just only apply to present day citizens actions or does it apply to any damage of property or lashing out against real or perceived oppressive governmental authority anywhere at anytime?

    I am praying that a door will be opened to you and the citizens of Baltimore and the men and women who serve as officers.

    3rd John 2, to you and your family Pastor Lawson

    • Lynn Arthur

      Maybe the whole “Police vs Blacks” problem would be solved if the police would just stop trying to keep young black men from killing one another and destroying their neighborhoods

      • Todd

        Hello Lynn, I hope all is well with you. Let me tell you I literally prayed for you and your family before I responded. The contents of my prayer for you can be found in 3rd John 2 and Colossians 1:9-11. I pray all is well.

        However, I am wondering why your reply to my comment contained “Police vs. Blacks”. That’s strange because I repeatedly asserted that the problem is not skin but sin. I also asserted that the problem predates any racial relations found in America and if the shoe were on the other foot it would still be an epidemic.

        Maybe you believe the problem is skin and that is why you responded to something that I explicitly did not say. So if you believe the problem is skin………… Ok. I could actually go on and on why I disagree with your statement but since that was not the purpose of the post and since your statement is in no way a reflection of my comments. I don’t believe that this is forum to discuss such things.

        If you feel as if I disrespected you in any way, believe me that was not my intention towards you at all.

        Grace and Peace to you and yours Ms. Lynn

        • outreaching

          Gracious response brother

        • Lynn Arthur

          Hi Todd,

          You’re right, of course. But my comment was not meant to be taken seriously (1st mistake). That’s why “Police vs Blacks” was in quotes. I should know by now that I don’t have a gift for sarcasm.
          Nor was it in direct response to your post (2nd mistake), but to the prevailing attitude of the media and much of our society.
          I believe that in God’s eyes there is only one fallen race descended from Adam and desperately in need of a Savior.
          But, don’t let that stop you from praying for me. I need all the prayer I can get.

          Blessings,

          Lynn

          P.S. It’s Mr., not Ms.

          • Todd

            Thank you!! Please keep me in prayer also:)

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Well, that’s certainly true: If the cops would just ignore crime and go have a donut instead, think of all the money that could be saved on homicide investigations, court costs, incarcerations, etc. It would be a whole new world.

        You should run for office. That kind of “thinking outside the box” is what America needs today. I’m with you.
        /sarc

    • outreaching

      Todd, Thanks for your question. I agree that the statement I made was strong but I would argue that it is no stronger than what Scripture teaches. The Bible makes it clear that people are not friendly or neutral to God as unbelievers but rather are “enemies of God” Romans 5:10 and “hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21) which is made evident by “evil deeds”. I did not write about the lawful protests or complaints against unjust police officers. The law should be applied to them (as it hopefully will be) but a rebellion against lawful authority must be seen as rebellion against God’s authority as well, whether that is conscious or not. I don’t know many unbelievers who would say that they are consciously enemies of God but this is what God calls them nonetheless.

      There might be a historian out there better qualified to talk about the Boston Tea Party but I will say that Peter was rebuked for swinging his sword Matthew 26:52 and Paul in Acts 23:5 apologized for reviling the high priest, not because he honored him as a religious authority but because the high priest was considered a ruler of the people. He was a state recognized authority and Paul recognized that to oppose him at that point would have been to oppose God.

      I do not believe the frustration with police is fictional as you recognized from my article. My focus was to address the lawless and senseless criminal acts. There is injustice in law enforcement just as there is injustice in every institution. The same was true in the 1st century but that did not stop Paul from commanding Christians to submit to the Roman government (Romans 13:1).

      Christians should be on the side of justice wherever it is found, this is to side with God. We should want the truth about Freddie Gray to be known and the wrongdoers to be brought to justice. And Christians should also be on the side of authority, to do this is also to side with God and we should never tolerate the kind of criminal acts and total disregard for authority that I personally witnessed.

      As far as what we can do? I’d love to see more believers become our good cops, good law makers, good politicians, good judges, senators, mayors etc. I would love to see believers being an example of honoring all people, loving the brothers and honoring our leaders. But most importantly what I was trying to point out is that my greatest hope for Baltimore is not peace between citizens and cops but peace between all people and God. We are ministers of reconciliation

      2 Corinthians 5:20-21
      20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

      This is what breaks my heart the most for Baltimore City and I pray that more Christians join me. Hopefully that helps.

      • Todd

        Pastor Lawson I can’t get to Baltimore on my feet but I can join you on my knees. I’m praying for you guys work.

        Thank you for clarifying. Matter of fact, I didn’t necessarily disagree with such a strong statement but I was wondering would you consider applying such a strong statement in other contexts. As soon as you said “we” (which includes all who have fallen short including myself) I completely understood, affirmed and agreed. I didn’t disagree with the comment but must confess, I am always caution when I hear strong statements only applied to particular groups.

        Also, thanks for reiterating that although you made that strong comment, that comment was not the thrust of your post. For me, the loudest part of your post was not your deepest concern. So reiterating your position was helpful.

        Thank you for sharing your steps for solutions. Here in Dayton, Ohio P.A.C.T. (Police and Clergy Together) has been very helpful in trying to create solutions in all areas. I serve as pastor in a multi racial neighborhood, where crack cocaine has decimated one racial group and meth has devastated another racial group. I am always looking for information to establish justice and promote evangelism. If you have any other resources and reading materials that you could recommend please feel free.

        Thanks again for your work, Brother Lawson

        3rd John 2

        By the way, I’m also a history professor at Wright State University so I hope I qualify somewhat as a historian lol

        Take care

  • Betsy Ross

    I will be praying for you. I know your mom and I can see where you get your passion for the Lord. You are both a bright light in the darkness. God bless your ministry. May it grow and lead many to Christ.

    • outreaching

      Thanks for the prayers and say Hello to Mom for me 🙂

    • Trudy Lawson

      I am just thankful to God that my son is so committed to the work of the Lord. He is a thoroughbred that was raised to do just that. He is fulfilling God’s purpose for his life. My only regret is that I am not physically there with him, walking the streets of Baltimore. I will continue to support him especially in prayer. It’s all about Christ alone in total faith and reliance on Him alone. To God be the glory!!!
      Loose the scriptures son, and let them speak.

  • Charlene lewis

    Praying for and with you!

  • NoVivaAnc

    I cannot help but to echo this “The root of the problem with the teens that began these riots and the many others who joined in was not, what was outside of them but what was inside of them. ” If I did not know that you are writing wrt Baltimore I would have thought you are talking about what is happening in South Africa. It is the same everywhere. This is a global phenomenon of the youth being disrespectful and bringing lawlessness and anarchy to the world. You right, our only hope is a changed heart and that can only come through Jesus Christ. Many older folk had worse poverty, worse struggles and they never ever turned to violence to try and resolve their issues.

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  • Trudy Lawson

    Praying for you my son. Go forth in the power of Christ. I only regret that I am not there with you. Be bold in Jesus!!

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