If I were to be completely honest with you, I would say that this blog post is one of the hardest I have felt led to write. The reason is not because the topic is a difficult one to articulate or the fact that it is a particularly controversial stance on a “hot button” issue, but because of my heart attitude behind it.
As I get closer to Jesus, I have learned that God honors thoughtful response over angry outbursts. He values the offering of hope over a self-righteous decree of condemnation from my own personal soapbox. So, I want to write today out of love, grace, mercy, but firm resolve and I pray that God will be in my words. I want to talk about the concept of racism.
I sat in a big leather chair in front of a woman who had cried so much that I was afraid she would become dehydrated. He husband had cheated on her. The adultery was getting to be too common in their marriage, and after multiple transgressions, he once again told her it “would never happen again”. This woman was broken, angry, and had practically given up on long term joy in her life. My heart filled with my own brand of anger when she told me the lies that were told and the sins that were committed. The man that she was married to made her feel inferior. He made her believe things about herself that were not true. He made her think this was all her fault. On top of this, over the period of several years, he had made sure that she was removed from opportunities, relationships, more education and much of the outside world as a method of domination and control. She prayed that God would help her and He did. She divorced him and years later, she married the man of her dreams. She also forgave her ex-husband.
The problem is, I really want to hate this man. The carnal part of my human existence wants to show him how wrong he is, and make him pay. I know, however, that a life lived controlled by God’s spirit compels us to seek a much higher level of conduct.
You see, if Christ lives in a person, has complete control, and has forgiven them…it is really hard to go on living with hatred towards another human being. That doesn’t mean that the temptation is not there, but there is a power that is greater in you than that which is in the world.
Racism, at its core, is a systematic desire for a group or groups to express their perceived superiority over others. Often times they will single out a particular community, and do what they can to separate them from society, tell them lies, and openly display their hate for them. In essence, there is not much difference between an adulterer and a racist individual. With that being said, there is a part of me that wants to treat someone who is racist with the same contempt as I would the adulterer. I can’t though. I can’t because I have no idea what type of lies that person has been told throughout their life, and I have to believe in my heart that they are eligible for restoration and love as much as I am. If Jesus cannot heal them, then His death on the cross was a waste of time. Sin is sin.
This doesn’t make the whole issue any less frustrating though. I have heard people who wear gold crosses around their necks say the most awful things about people of different races. This is confusing for many reasons.
So, here is my overall thought. There is no such thing as a Christian racist. I say this, because I have heard people getting upset at the Church for racist acts they have seen in media outlets. And, there have been people who have displayed racism in their lives who claim to be believers. Let me make this very clear. Not disagreeing with the Bible, going to church on occasion, and being raised in a semi-religious home does not make someone a Christian. Nor does giving oneself the label of “good”. A Christian is someone who desires to be like Christ, associates themselves with His crucifixion and resurrection, allows God to transform them, allows the Holy Spirit to guide them, and who has accepted the forgiveness that Jesus offers; all while bearing the fruit of the Kingdom. So, there is no such thing as a “Christian racist”. It cannot exist. Christianity and racism are like oil and water. Sure, there are people who have accepted Christ and who have had to repent of old habits that have arisen temporarily, but that leads to deep grieving and change.
Jesus led by example, and when He wanted to emphasize a virtue, He displayed the virtue through His action. Look at the story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4. There were two main issues being addressed when we look deep into this story. The first issue was the sin (and thus the cure) in the life of the woman (who happened to be a Samaritan). Water was just the illustration. Jesus offered her a way out of her constant searching for love, fulfillment, and forgiveness. Jesus took care of all of that, and offered her abundance. The second issue pertained to race. This woman was astonished that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan, not to mention offering her something to drink. This was unheard of, because of the deep racial divide. In other areas of scripture, the implication is that even the disciples accepted this divide as common. Jesus shatters this mentality, loved this woman, and contradicted the culture.
Hope exists, because there is a God who fashioned all of us from the same dust. This same God declared that we were made in His image. This is a foundational belief in the Judeo-Christian world view. Hope comes from the fact that God forgives and transforms human hearts. He forgives.
The old me wants to hate people that are full of racism and hatred. I have realized that this type of hate is the same brand of hate as those wielded by racist individuals; only in different packaging.
So, a Christian, if guided by the Holy Spirit would spend more time serving, loving, giving, feeding, clothing, proclaiming truth, and praying than complaining and allowing anger to fester and grow. In fact, Jesus did his ministry in the shadow of pagan statues, unholy temples, and hateful hearts. His mind and heart were focused on the people, and He knew the only true kingdom was not this way.
The heart of the Christian is occupied and Jesus does not need a roommate. Hate does not fit.
As followers of Jesus we are called to speak out against hatred of every kind. We are also called to serve those who are not following God.
I end all my blogs the same way…but today I mean it more deeply than I have in the past. With a broken heart yearning for reconciliation, I say it once again…
Love you all.
I can only imagine how the disciples and the extended family of Christ followers felt sitting in a poorly lit room 7 weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They probably felt defeated and completely drained of all hope. When you think about it, the only instruction they had was to “go back to Jerusalem” and pray. This would have naturally seemed counterproductive, but then again they have seen amazing things happen because of time spent in desperate prayer. But…Jesus was gone now…and it seemed unlikely that anything memorable was going to happen.
They remembered the good ‘ol days when just 12 disciples and their supernaturally gifted rabbi healed, preached, and interacted with individuals with the obvious power and authority of Yahweh. 12 followers grew into thousands of families who longed to be affected by this man who seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the long-awaited Messiah.
The remnant of followers reorganized themselves and scraped together the last set of believers to pray as instructed. Then, something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit came and empowered this marginally talented bunch of commoners and the masses came to faith in Jesus. They simply prayed and then were faithful to what God led them to do. Each person had a role and a small amount of people impacted the world. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2, created a domino effect that has changed the course of history. God’s power was shown and people repented of their sin. The world was beginning to reconcile with the Creator; one person at a time.
There have been 2 movies lately that have impacted my view of God’s call on my life. They have been used as an illustration for my divine purpose.
The first movie is Schindler’s List. If you have ever seen that movie, you know that the main character, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the brutal reign on Adolf Hitler in World War II. He spent all of his wealth to employ these men, women, and children from death at the hands of the Nazi party. At the end of the movie, Schindler was stricken with grief because he realized there were still things he could have sold to have the money to rescue more Jews. He could have sold his car, his gold lapel pin, etc.
The second movie is a newer one; Hacksaw Ridge. In this movie, Desmond Doss (who was a conscientious objector in World War II) was a medic who saved many men who were injured on the battle field. He single handedly dragged these men and lowered them down a cliff face to safety. Some estimate that he saved over 100 people (true story). While his hands, back, and arms ached heavily as he lowered them to where they needed to be, Doss kept repeating a simple prayer to help him gain strength. “Lord, just one more”, he said over and over. He wanted to save people so desperately, and he knew he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. He wanted to rescue “just one more”.
There is a theme running through these scenarios. God has shown me that my purpose in life is not to put more butts in church seats, but to help create a traffic jam at the gates of Heaven. I have fervently prayed that God will give me “just one more” person to minister to, and impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire is to see people transformed by Jesus. I know I can’t do this on my own, but I can do what I have been told to do.
Can you pray that prayer with me? Can you pray that God will continue to put people in my path to love, serve, and grow with?
If you follow Jesus…I will pray the same for you.
Love you all.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of crossing the stage at Anderson University with my Master’s degree from their amazing seminary. I remember the way I felt as I walked the graduation path with other students. I kept thinking about the logistics of shaking the dean’s hand and taking the diploma along with smiling for the camera. I can barely walk while chewing gum, so I wanted to make sure I retained deep focus.
My years at this school were so helpful for me and my ministry. I have had many friends attend seminary in different places. Some schools were much smaller, and some were much larger. In all of these cases, the general experiences we all had were pretty universal. I would not take back my time at that school for any reason. With this being said, it is impossible for a school of theology and ministry of any type to fully prepare a pastor for everything they are going to encounter. I wish I would have known more going into ministry, but I honestly think God wants all ministers to learn through experience in many cases.
When a pastor leaves seminary, they are so full of life, energy, and hope. They want to enter their first ministerial assignment and change the world, grow the church, and be viewed as the resident scholar of their flock. They often forget that each church is significantly different, and has their own unique culture. Sometimes, changes that are made are needed greatly and other times the pastor simply has an exciting new idea that they have always wanted to implement.
So, here are 4 Things I Didn’t Learn in Seminary.
- Music does NOT equal relevance – As a pastor, I always assumed that if we had great upbeat music and manufactured an exciting Sunday morning service, then this would be the catalyst for people being converted by the hundreds. I fully understand that music is a great medium for conveying a powerful message or setting a certain tone, but people do not come to Jesus because of how up-to-date we are with the music selection. I have had in-depth conversations with younger pastors who would not dare select certain songs to sing at church because they were “no longer on the radio”. In my experience, people can talk about music all day, but true maturity comes from living life with people, visiting them in the hospital, and rejoicing with my congregation when someone has a baby. Relevance comes with relationship and truth.
- The valleys are vital parts of the church’s ministry – If you don’t read or retain anything else from this blog today, please make sure you retain this. In every ministry, pastors experience highs and lows, and discouragement is simply part of the job description. Many, when hit with a devastating blow, will question their pastoral call and they will pray to God to move them elsewhere. Granted, I want to acknowledge that sometimes there are very evident times for a pastor to move on in their ministry, but I really feel like far too many give up far too early. A young pastor is given the impression that God’s call can only be affirmed if amazing numerical growth is taking place and finances are not an issue. The truth is, people in our congregations need to see how we respond to valleys, because that helps us gain credibility and it shows humanness.
- It is okay to truly love your congregation – In the realm of pastoral leadership, there is an unwritten rule about friendships. You can’t have them. Many pastors are looked at as a remote leadership figure who should not have deep loving relationships with their flock, because there is an implication (elephant in the room) that they will eventually leave to move on to another church. In my context, I am learning more and more that this mentality is not only false but could be damaging to the minister’s family and vocation. People need to know they are loved by their shepherd, and that can’t be conveyed unless time is spent with the people that are being led. I know what you are thinking. “What if that pastor leaves? Won’t there be disappointment?” Yes. Of course, but if we never cultivated deep relationships because of the possibility of pain, then we would be empty human beings.
- Your deepest impact won’t come from new and exciting ideas – It is inevitable. If a pastor gives their life to the call God has placed on them, and preaches the good news of Jesus, then there is going to be a time in the future where someone is going to thank them for it. This is not why we do what we do, but it just makes sense that if a family will be transformed by the gospel and will want to shake the leader’s hand who introduced them to the truth. If you’re a minister on the receiving end of this, you will notice something very interesting. The person expressing their gratitude will not cite a cool new program you thought of, or the knowledge you gained from a trendy growth conference. They will tell you that they are thankful that you cared about them enough to be at their surgery or pray for their wife who had a miscarriage. Exciting ideas about new ministries are excellent tools to facilitate learning and outreach, but they do not replace walking alongside families or individuals in their time of need.
There are obviously many other things that are better learned with life experience than “book learnin’ ” but these are simply a few that have recently come to mind.
My prayer is that pastors keep their mind and heart open to what God wants to teach them.
Love you all.
Across America, churches are doing their best to express creativity when it comes to reaching new people for the purpose of presenting the Gospel. For the most part, the central message concerning the love of God and the deliverance that Jesus brings is preached in these churches, but that does not mean that every congregation looks or behaves in the same way. You may have a church on the east coast that looks more like a coffee shop, and when traveling to a rural part of Arkansas you may encounter a little white chapel far from the hustle and bustle of city life. There are large churches, and there are small churches. That is okay, because we are united in spirit, and have the common bond of Christ that connects us.
From time to time, I have the privilege of visiting churches who are in need of help. In some cases, they have concerns regarding the direction the congregation is heading, and I arrive to help survey various members to try to assess the main detrimental issues that they face. I will never forget one particular church that I visited only a few hours away from where I live. On the outside looking in, they seemed to have everything going right for them. They had a young, energetic pastor. They had a relatively new and beautiful worship facility. They even had a good amount of young people in attendance. Everyone seemed fairly happy with the ministry that was happening, but I couldn’t help but think that there was something missing. Perhaps I was over analyzing what I felt, but I just knew that a heaviness existed that didn’t go away.
One by one, church attenders filed into the interview room I occupied and I systematically questioned them to try to dig further. Each couple that came were in their late twenties and many others were in their early to mid-thirties. Toward the end of my time, I had two interviews that did not reflect the general lighthearted sentiment of the other people I interviewed. These conversations took place with people that fell into an older category. NOT OLD…mind you…but older (before you get upset). The first woman was in her eighties and the next couple were in their seventies.
During the exchange, these individuals expressed concerns about the direction the church was heading. At first, to be honest, I assumed they were just being finicky and trying to cause division. As they spoke from their heart, though, they conveyed the same passion for the lost that everyone else did. By carefully listening with an open heart and mind, I realized that they were not being heard when it came to decisions in the church. Everything was changing and they didn’t necessarily mind change, but their minds were trying to understand the meaning and purpose behind some of the changes. Each change they described was geared to reach a younger generation.
The leadership made it very clear that they wanted to specifically reach out to the 18-35 year olds in their community so they focused their resources and actions in that way. The pastor had gone to a leadership conference that taught him that this was the only way to grow the church. So, with passion and vigor, he came back ready to conquer that large suburb in the name of Jesus.
As I reflected on this experience, my mind went back to all of the leadership conferences I have been to in the past. The takeaways that the pastor came back with are really ones that are conveyed at these events.
Just so you know, I am about to say something that will be very unpopular.
Folks. I think we are missing the mark. I think, when we focus on a certain age demographic, we are neglecting many others. We can change the paint color, music type, seating arrangement, and even the way we dress but, in many cases the tendency is to create a religion that is human focused instead of a movement that is Christ-centered.
Specifically, when we neglect the older generation, we actually disregard the structure and content of scripture. In the Old Testament, the older generation proved to be the most vital generation and the vehicle by which traditions were passed to progeny.
I have a theory that the older generation sitting in our pews is the one of the largest unchurched people groups we regularly come into contact with. That is, if we understand the term “unchurched” as “not belonging to or participating in a church”. We have thousands of older ladies and gentleman who come every service but do not feel like they belong, and do not get involved.
We need to change this. If we are a Biblical movement, we cannot sit on the sidelines and neglect this forgotten generation. They have wisdom and so much to share.
The only things that will radically grow our churches is a dedication to prayer, a passion for those who do not know Christ, and service to the “least of these”. Not a new gimmick or attaching to a cultural fad.
Remember…there was never a story where Jesus did a demographic study before healing, preaching, or even dying on the cross.
Love all. Serve all. Listen.
Love you all.