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.
A disproportionally large amount of people (relative to the size of the community) filed into a little Baptist church in rural Missouri. The average age of this congregation can be described in one word; gray. There were a few children present, but the small town was primarily older folks so I would not have expected to see more young ones in attendance.
We were in town because my wife’s grandmother lived there and we were visiting her for the weekend. Grandma would not have let us leave town without going to church, even if we had great excuses to skip. Plus, she promised us that she was going to make her world-famous chili for lunch so that was incentive enough to humor her.
The church was small and the last time the décor was updated was sometime around the late seventies or early eighties. These were the good ‘ol days when aliens invaded the earth and felt like their main contribution to the world be wood paneling in all homes and public venues.
Every square inch of the building needed an update, and the handheld microphones had those awful bright colored covers on the microphone heads that stood out like a sore thumb. All in all, it was a place that didn’t look inviting according to a young pastor standards, but everyone had a smile on their face so I was going to keep my heart open.
You see, by this time, I already had a bachelor’s degree in ministry and was about to start seminary. I was obviously an expert in all things pertaining to leadership and was already developing a critical eye and ear when visiting churches.
The music began and, as was expected, the song lineup consisted of both songs I had never heard and ones that I remembered from my childhood. The older lady leading the music was not exactly gifted for the part but her passion was obvious. No new contemporary Christian top 40 hits were played, and, at the time, I saw this as a serious flaw.
How would they minister to people without the newest methods, songs, or a fresh look? How can they minister to people who were advanced in age when every book I have read on “church growth” tells me that the younger generation should be their laser focus? It obviously wasn’t the case here. They seemed to have a routine that many were comfortable with, and everything had a distinct rhythm.
The pastor began to preach, and the content was great but the delivery of the sermon left a little to be desired. He wasn’t even in the middle of a catchy series! This pastor had been with this congregation for many years, and most people had gone to that church for a long time. There was a comfort there that could be felt with the shepherd of this flock.
As I looked around during worship, one thing was apparent. These people were genuinely interested in what was happening in the worship service. They were responding to the sermon, singing the songs loudly, and taking notes to better absorb the message for the day. Every family had a Bible that was nearly destroyed from use, and the children that were there seemed to pay attention to every word. The bulletin recorded evidence that these people participated in missional activities in the community. Could it be that the books I was reading about ministry distracted me from a deeper truth? Is it possible that I was wrong about what church “should” look like?
Attending that church made me feel a little different about serving in ministry. In an age where so many pastors spend much of their time looking for the next “new thing”, it seemed foreign to encounter a ministry that didn’t try to fix something that wasn’t broken simply to put more butts in the seats. The back of the platform was not painted black, the lights were not dim, there were no laser lights, and there were no fog machines; yet there was something intensely spiritual about this experience. People were lifting the name of Christ, and learning how to love others more. They were simply worshiping.
I have often been intoxicated by worship experiences that were designed to put people into a spiritual trance. Experiences that were defined by scheduled perfection and rehearsed timing. I think God sees through these type of things, and I have realized that a little Baptist church in a place that is not even on the map can be as intensely faithful as the megachurch down the road with much more to offer.
I pray that all Christians will fall in love with God like this small Baptist church. If we do, we will see a genuine revival happen throughout the world.
I still have so much to learn.
Let’s get back to basics.
Love you all.
When will we erase these hateful notions
That the cure for debate involves explosions
Realizing bitterness is a sour potion
Wishing our enemy would die
It makes no sense that the color of skin
Or the past life, or where people have been
Or even who you claim as closest of kin
Could feed the posionous lie
I believe in 2 or 3 generations
Racism will be purged, uniting the nations
The king will come and restore relations
And lift our spirits high
Really, I am no better than you
I was born sinful and needed rescue
I have even lived through pain too
And bleed like any other guy
What I fear is a world for my kids
Women being sold; bought by high bids
Babies dying; abortion…SIDS
Evil and good locked in a tie
I think though, everything will be fine
As long as humans who have a spine
Acknowledge the One who gave us a sign
For, in the end, He will descend from the sky.
Bedtime seems to be a place of interesting conversations with my children. On one hand, I love that they enjoy talking with me, on the other hand, sometimes I just want to clock out for the day from being a parent (let’s be honest) so I am ready to tell the story, pray the prayer, and get out. There are times with my son, though, I stick around longer to field any questions he has stored up throughout the day. Often they are whimsical, and other times they are pretty deep. One day, he had questions that I couldn’t easily answer without introducing him to a world that didn’t exist for him as of yet.
This day was one that we had driven a lot around downtown Indianapolis. We had our fun, ate our meals, and came home to pour ourselves into bed. Children, as you know, don’t always feel that sleep is as urgent as we do. My son started the “question machine” and by the nature of the questions, I could tell that I was going to be there a while. The inquiries ranged from the intricacies of the Power Rangers storyline to ones deeper, and more theological in nature. The last question led to an explanation I wanted to avoid.
“Dad, today when we were out, why were people sleeping on the sidewalk”. I wasn’t really understanding what he meant until I thought about our day. He was speaking about the homeless people that we passed. I had the uncomfortable conversation about how there are some people who do not have homes, enough food, or even a family. For my son, this conversation ended in tears, and his heart visibly broke for these people. I felt convicted, because I had been so desensitized to the sight that I didn’t realize he noticed.
At first, I felt horrible that I had never exposed my children to this concept. Then, I realized what happened because I didn’t. My son, was so heartbroken by the sight that he wanted to do something about it. Granted, there could have been a better and more deliberate way I presented the concept to him before this, but the fact that he was sheltered from it caused him to see that there was something not right. I also realized we need to speak about this more in our home.
The same can be said about so many other areas of life. Cursing, sexuality, graphic violence, and addictions…the list could go on. I shelter my children from these things for 2 main reasons. First, because I want to guard their hearts from pollution, and secondly because I want them to enter a world in which they are so thrown off by sin and pain that they recognize that it is not normal or “okay”…thus desiring to make the world better. I want them to be emotionally shattered by injustice so that they develop a holy anger to make things right. Also, I want to be the one (along with my wife) that helps them navigate their feelings in a healthy way when they do encounter the unknown. That way, we can also shelter them from hating those who are different or looking down on those who they don’t understand.
Why have we decided, as a nation, that is is now okay to slowly poison our children’s souls so they are immune to the “real world” when they enter it? Why have we decided it is okay to steal our children’s innocence by forcing them into a life of pain from nearly day one?
Now, I want you to understand my heart. In no way am I judging the methods by which other parents raise their children, because judgement involves condemnation and sentencing. What I am saying is…I want people to know my strategy and passion, so that they can either embrace or disregard based on their own views.
So, my kids are the ones that have never said or heard course language, watched that one show, and who call adults Mr. and Mrs. I understand you are concerned that they may rebel due to strictness, but I will pray on how to handle that if it happens. I have a great support system with my church, family, and friends that will come in handy during this time. Plus, they have free will and their own individual life purposes, but I want to show them it is possible to be a Godly person in private and in public. Parenting is so much more than simply keeping our kids alive until they leave home. It is a process in which we pour ourselves into them and invest in the future of humanity.
That’s my take on it. Take it or leave it.
Love you all.
As I write this today, I am sitting outside enjoying the afternoon breeze. The sun is shining, the grass is green, and the gentleman no more than 15 feet away from me puffs nervously on his cigarette. His vice is one that I can not rightly pass judgement on because I imagine people look at me the same way when I am at my prime at a local all-you-can-eat Asian food establishment. I have learned to understand that whatever we consider an idol involves an attitude of sin. Sin that separates us from God. Regardless, I am still enjoying the beautiful flowers. They are perfect.
Jesus talks about sinners in scripture. Many times in fact. He doesn’t condone it. Quite the opposite actually. Often, when He approaches those in sin, Jesus takes it much more seriously than I do. In the “Parable of the Weeds” He compares those living in sin as figurative weeds in a garden or a pasture. Jesus says that God will not remove the “weeds” because this would have negative consequences for the “good plants”. So, when reading that throughout my life, I have always been on alert. “Weeds (sinners) are all around me…I need to be on guard”, I have always thought. For a long time, I developed an attitude of defense when it came to these dangerous sinners. The idea was that I should not get too close or the evil darkness of their hearts will infect my pure, innocent soul.
I thought this until my brother taught me a little about landscaping. My interpretation expanded a bit. He taught me something he did not intend to be spiritual, but now guides my ministry thought process. It also gave me deep insight on the parable mentioned above.
My brother owns a small farm and understanding the needs of the land is a massive passion of his. He raises chickens, grows vegetables, and takes pleasure in God’s creation. Every time I visit the farm, we walk together and talk about things like ministry, work, and parenting. A few weeks ago, I presented him with a question I had been saving up for a few weeks. The question had to do with how to get rid of the ugly weeds in my front yard. So, I asked. The answer somewhat surprised me.
“Don’t be mad at the weeds”, he said. “The presence of weeds simply tells you what the greatest need is.” I stared at him with a puzzling look. He knew I didn’t understand so he expounded. “When you have weeds in your yard, many times it means there is some nutrient that is lacking…the weeds tell you your needs.” He went on to describe scenerios pertaining to more and less nitrogen, chemical balance, and other things that brought about certain families of pesky flora. I learned more than I cared to know in that instance. At the time, I really didn’t want a long explanation…I just wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to avoid them.
When we read the “Parable of the Weeds” in scripture and we begin to think of “weeds equal bad” and “no weeds equal good” I think we miss the point. The presence of weeds tell us the needs. So, we can think of it this way…God calls us to look at the sinners around us through His eyes. These are people with needs. Not just stubborn folks with no moral compass and lacking in wisdom. The need is food. The need is relationships. The need is healing and hope. The need is Jesus. How can we really judge, when God is trying to open our eyes to the great need?
Pray for God’s eyes today. Let’s attack sin.
It was 101 degrees and the building had no air conditioning. Instead, the attempted remedy for this minor inconvenience was one that would not have been my first choice. Those in charge decided to open every door leading to the outside so that the wind could circulate around the room. It didn’t work. I was sweaty, tired, and somewhat hungry.
I was a teenager on a mission trip in the middle of a Navajo reservation, so I decided to take these discomforts in stride and accept the experience for what it was. It was different…and it was their way of doing things.
First…a little background: I was raised in an amazing church. One that was (and still is) known for its thriving ministries, wonderful preaching, and inspiring music. Everything was polished and perfect. No distractions other than the occasional baby crying, but no one minds for the most part. People lined the altars on a regular basis to give their heart to the Lord, and no one doubted the anointing in that place. You could (and still can) feel the Holy Spirit thick and active in that place. I have become accustomed to a certain type of experience.
The church I was sitting in on this particular Sunday morning was different. The moment I sat down, I was uncomfortable. Hot. Sticky. Tired. We were there early, so not many had arrived. To be honest, I really wanted to go to a big church; one with better programs, great music, and a dynamic preacher. I suppose, however it was only one Sunday morning, so I could survive this little church (that could only seat about 40-50 people at the most) for one Sunday.
Ten minutes before the church service started, a few more people trickled into the tiny worship space. It wasn’t until about 2 minutes before the beginning that, we as a group of teenagers, got to see the true commitment of the worshippers dedicated to that church. We saw it alright. A space that would feel full with 50 people sitting in it was packed with over 100 attendees. People were on the floor, sitting on the back benches, and standing in the doorways. There were people everywhere.
The pastor walked up to a podium. He looked like what Colonel Sanders would look like if KFC were a biker club. What he said next blew my mind (because there were so many people there)…He looked to the left and the right and asked if anyone knew how to play the piano. They needed a piano player to play the hymns for the day. One of our teens knew how to peck out a few tunes and had taken some lessons, so she was the one chosen. No other musicians were in attendance. The songs were old too…really old, but the members sang at the top of their lungs. Our poor piano player tried to keep up.
The offering plate was passed, the announcements were made, and pastor prayed a prayer. He then stood up to preach, but was less seasoned in the art of preaching than I had hoped. I started to grade his performance and delivery. Meanwhile, I couldn’t hear some of the message because so many were “amen-ing” every word he said. It was bizarre. This one room church, that could not hold many people, was overflowing with people eager to experience the love of God through worship. Then, something even more powerful happened. The pastor called the congregation to a special time of prayer. This was a time of requests, confession, and praise. The power was palpable. There were some on their knees. Others were sitting with their head bowed. A few were standing while holding their fussy babies. All were praying out loud.
At the time, my mind could not compute what I was experiencing. The music was not planned out well, the preaching was not amazing, kids were running in and out of the sanctuary, and the building was unattractive. In fact, the sign in front of the church was old and rusted so you know that this church was not heavy into marketing. There were other churches in town, too.
I realized the presence of God does not favor the polished, put together, and the talented. The presence of God favors (for lack of a better word) things like desperation, desire, and dedication.
That small, Navajo church taught me something I have never learned in any church growth book. God must be present if real impacting growth is to happen. As a pastor, I can manufacture excitement, and manipulate people to fill the seats in many different ways. I have studied enough psychology. What church, though is really worth being at if God’s spirit is not there? There must be power.
That day changed the way I look at church. It is not about an incredible experience or impressive marketing campaign. If God is real, then he can take the preparation that we are able to give, the heart we sacrifice, and the attitude that we offer, and use that to change hearts. His spirit works.
Love you all.
Policies. Procedures. Regulations. These words define the generic protocol for nearly every occupation that exists. In the medical realm, many of these policies involve taking extra precautions to protect the information of patients. The impetus behind these actions is a desire for privacy.
The financial industry has similar steps to protect information. My day job, as some of you know, involves working for a bank. This industry has developed many layers of verification to protect the identity of people who do business with each institution. Some find the process to be a drudgery, but our goal (like any other bank) is to provide beneficial products while simultaneously guarding the assets of any particular customers willing to invest.
There are people out there, however that spend most of their time attempting to defraud banks and steal that which was hard earned. In their mind, their goal is to convince the institution that they are another person in order to gain the benefits of that person’s assets. This is why we have many ways of confirming identity. It is about protection and building trust.
Fraudsters are everywhere. In every industry, and in every area of society. They want to convince others that they are someone else to gain rewards. When these people are successful, it inevitably results in a distrust in the institution that allowed them to perpetrate. Identity thieves do anything they can to look, sound, and act the part.
When talking about your spiritual life, the question needs to be asked…Are you an identity thief? Do you gladly accept the label of “Christian”, but abandon the life you are called to live? Do you claim the religion, but have no desire to deepen the relationship? Does the fruit you produce match the affiliation you claim?
Do these seem like harsh questions? Why? In any other area of life, it is insulting to claim association without assimilation. To a person who does not believe in Christ, saying something like this may sound legalistic. How many of these same people, though, complain when a Christian does not act according to the basic principles they proclaim? Folks…the world is waiting for us to prove that following this redemptive process is not worth the struggle. We know what freedom from captivity truly looks like. That is what we should project to a dying civilization.
There are things the Bible talks about that specifically feed and grow the Christian. These things are prayer, getting deeper in God’s word, fellowship and worship with a community of believers, selfless service, personal sacrifice, and generosity. These things don’t make people Christ followers, but they are identity verification. They are natural for those who follow with all their heart.
There are far too many people who call themselves lovers of God, but do not live a life that reflects this claim. This develops a deep distrust with those on the outside looking in.
Don’t be an identity thief. Don’t simply slap on the label, but forsake the Lord behind it. Allowing Him to take control means that you must leave your comfort behind, and accept a new identity.
Following Christ means you look a little different. Perhaps strange. That’s okay. In my next blog, I am going to talk about this concept. Stay tuned.
Love you all.