Black Lives Matter

No life is worth more than another. God sent Jesus to die for all because all lives matter to God. If all lives matter to God then all lives should matter to us. However, we also know that some lives are more broken than others. Brokenness is the root of racial tension wherever it may be found. Some people are afraid to admit that because when they admit it they become accountable to respond, especially if they consider themselves a ‘Christian.’

Racism is a real issue. It has been for a long time, particularly in the United States.

All lives indeed matter. However, saying ‘all lives matter’ in an attempt to divert attention away from the brokenness brought on by bigotry is a cheap move. Imagine going to the doctor with a broken bone and the doctor saying, “all bones matter.” You say, “Yea Doc, I know, but this bone is broken and I need you to fix it.” He says, “You’re overreacting, all bones matter.”

Everyone knows that ‘all lives matter.’ It goes without saying. And while we should value every single life, to ignore the brokenness that stems from decades of oppression that the black community has faced is like denying the fact that your leg is broken when the bone is showing through the skin and you can’t walk.

Before you read any further know that this blog post is not an official statement regarding the Black Lives Matter or the All Lives Matter movements. I really don’t know enough about those organizations to have an opinion. However, I do have many black friends and I’ve seen them suffer because of the color of their skin. Their lives matter to me.

I’d like to share a few stories of regret that I’ve lived with for a very long time.

Carlos was my friend in 5th grade. He was black. I’ll never forget how excited I was when his mom said he could come over for my birthday party. We attended a school in a city that had a large black enrollment. My cousins also came to the party. They attended a school in the county where very few, if any, black kids attended. Carlos came home with me from school that Friday. The plan was for everyone to sleep over and go home Saturday.

My cousins arrived within a few hours. They had never met Carlos. Within the first 15 minutes of their arrival they pulled me aside to ask me why I had invited that “N!@$#&” to the party. They were angry and told me that they were not going to spend the night if Carlos stayed. I told them I wasn’t going to ask him to leave. However, during the remainder of the evening they made him so uncomfortable that he called his mom to come and get him. I stood by silently as my cousins bullied my friend simply because of the color of his skin.

My first real job as a married adult I met Michael and Mitch. Even though he was 20 years my elder, Michael and I became good friends. I wanted to learn from him because he was the best salesperson in the company; he was often named salesman of the month. Mitch was a good salesperson too. He was arrogant and not as good as Michael, but good nonetheless. Michael was a true gentleman, gracious and considerate; he was also black. Mitch was a bit egotistical and aggressive; he was also white.

After a few years an upper management position came open. Whispers among employees began to circulate. Most believed Mitch would get the promotion even though Michael had been with the company longer and had an impeccable track record. It was no secret that the owner of the company had never promoted a black man to upper management. The time came, and sure enough, Mitch was promoted. We could all sense the disappointment with Michael. Within the next year, he left the company. My friend, who deserved a promotion, didn’t get it because of the color of his skin.

I could tell many stories of discrimination mixed with southern charm. It happened at school, church, and even in my own family. No one in the south is a stranger to people being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. It bothered me then and it bothers me now. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ I say unashamedly that I stand against racism in any form.

I’m a white, middle-aged, upper-middle class, southern, conservative, Christian suburbanite and I believe that the racial hostility toward black lives should matter to all of us. I believe the black community has had more than it’s share of brokenness. We cannot turn a blind eye to the systemic oppression that our African-American brothers and sisters face.

Whether or not you are bothered by racial injustice doesn’t change the truth that it’s an ugly reality in our country. We can choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. If you’re a Christian then you’re called to be part of the solution. If you remain silent you’re part of the problem. Turning a blind eye and keeping a sealed lip is not an option for committed followers of Jesus.

If you say things like, “I don’t owe ‘them’ anything” or “I’ve never wronged ‘those’ people.” Let me assure you that you’re more racist than you realize. Besides that, you’re missing the point. We are talking about fellow human beings: real people who, by and large, have been mistreated for a long time. Our ancestors owned their ancestors. Think about that. If you don’t believe that’s a psychological impairment on an entire race of people, then you need a psychologist yourself.

Have you ever really thought about what it’s like to walk in a black man’s shoes? As a white man, a security guard in a department store has never followed me because they assumed I was a shoplifter. As a white man, I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer for driving through a neighborhood where I didn’t live. As a white man, my grandparents didn’t have to use separate restrooms, go to different schools, drink from a different water fountain, or sit in the back of a public bus.

So, to my friend Carlos, if you ever read this, I’m deeply sorry that I didn’t stand up for you with my cousins. I wish I had sent them home that night instead if letting you leave. If I could go back I would change it. I want you to know I’m deeply sorry for the way you were treated.

To my friend, Michael, you should have got the promotion. You deserved it. You were by far the most qualified. The boss was wrong. If I could go back, I would have resigned with you. I think of you often and pray that your family is doing well.

To my black friends, I love you. And although I’ll never really know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, I stand with you.

Remember, all bones matter, but the one that’s broken get the most attention until it heals. Sometimes the healing takes longer than any of us would like. Nonetheless, we nurture the one that’s broken until it’s whole again. Broken lives matter, they matter to God and they should matter to us. It’s really that simple.

Refugees

Jesus was a refugee. Born on the run due to intense persecution, he entered the world with no place to call home. He was executed as a leistaí (λησται). This Greek word implies that he was accused of being a bandit, a rebel, and an insurrectionist. Jesus was none of these things, but make no mistake, to the Romans Jesus was a religious fanatic who would no doubt try to overturn their social order if allowed to gain too many followers. Get this in your mind: Jesus was a refugee.

The Apostle Paul was a terrorist. He promoted Roman ideology and intentionally persecuted the church, killing Christians in order to prevent an uprising. After he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road everything changed. The message of Christ’s love was branded in his mind through the response of the very ones he was persecuting. After his encounter with Jesus instead of the persecutor, he quickly became the persecuted. Get this in your mind: God can save terrorists.

There’s a lot going on in our world today that parallels early biblical times. Refugees are fleeing their homeland because of extreme persecution. Terrorism has become a part of modern life in an attempt to promote social, political, and religious change. Terrorists are killing people because of misled and evil ideologies. Don’t misunderstand; I think we should relentlessly fight terrorism. We must stand against the injustice that’s plaguing our world and fight to protect the innocent.

With all that is happening in our world it’s easy to respond with fear. In doing so we forsake the good news of Jesus Christ. He teaches us a different way. Love is always Jesus’ response, not fear. I wonder about the innocent refugees. Should we let them die as we cower in fear? Should we refuse to care for the hurting because it would be uncomfortable for us? Should we ignore them so we can sleep better at night? If so, the terrorists have won. In the tradition of the Apostle Paul, we must risk all for the sake of the gospel. And then there are the words of Jesus:

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~Matthew 5:44

Christians are not called to live in fear. Instead, we are called to love the Muslim (our “enemy”), and I hope Christians will step up with love and not hate for Muslims regardless of their view on immigration. We can lead Muslims to Jesus. ISIS is evil, but there might just be another “Paul” among them who will become an ambassador for Christ. We have an opportunity to be the church among the refugee crisis as people flee a land of violent persecution and enter a place where we are free to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would dare say many people who call themselves “Christian” are more American than they are Christian. They are more interested in saving their life than they are losing it. They are more interested in safety than they are the gospel and more interested in comfort than they are the cross. Period.

Following Jesus isn’t safe. If you want safe you need to pick someone else to follow. Following Jesus is scary and dangerous. It takes you places that make you uncomfortable. Following Jesus isn’t simple. He asks us to balance loving our enemies and protecting the innocent.
 If you want simple you need to pick someone else to follow.

Following Jesus requires us to welcome the stranger as a friend and be wise about who we associate with. Following Jesus means rising above fear and responding with Christ-like love. God gives us the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
 If you want safe and simple you need to find someone else to follow… because Jesus is not safe, but he is good!

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” ~Emma Lazarus, Poem on the Statue of Liberty

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” ~Hebrews 13:2

Stop and thank God today because you get to go home tonight and sleep in your own bed, in a house, with your family, in a place you lovingly call home. And remember that on the other side of this globe are a whole lot of people who have no bed, no home, separated from their families, and driven away from their homeland. Just like Jesus, we call them refugees.

(Sources: Jared Henry, Jonathan McClure, Jeremiah McClure, Eric Frey, C.S. Lewis, Don Burrows)

rosa_parks_p1

The movie “City Slickers” depicts the mid-life crisis of three men who were in search of themselves and their place in life. There is a line in the movie where the character played by Billy Crystal, Mitch, turns to his boss at work and says, “Have you ever reached a point in your life where you say to yourself, ‘This is the best I’m ever gonna look, this is the best I’m ever gonna feel, this is the best I’m ever gonna do,’ and it ain’t that great?” The guys in the movie felt “stuck” and that thought was killing them.

Growing up, we all had different dreams and ideas of what we wanted our life to be like. But for most of us, there was a common denominator: We wanted our life to matter, to count for something, to make an impact. Has that changed for you?   Because it doesn’t have to. The question is, “How do you live a life of significance? How do you become a person of influence?” Jesus says, “You become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” That means you learn to live intentionally.

When I think of living intentionally, I think of a forty-two-year-old woman who was on her way home from work on a cold December day. It was a day like any other day. Getting on a public bus, she paid her fare and sat down in the first vacant seat. As the bus filled with passengers, the driver turned around and told her that she would have to get up and move to the back of the bus. You see, it was 1955 and she was black, and those seats were for white people. But for whatever reason, she didn’t move. She wasn’t an activist or a radical, just a quiet church-going woman with a nice family and a job as a seamstress.

Maybe it was the injustice of it all. Maybe it was the years of abuse that she and millions of others had suffered for no other reason than the color of their skin. Maybe she was tired of being treated as a second-class citizen; having to drink from certain fountains, go to certain bathrooms, being forced into certain schools.   Whatever ran through her heart and mind, one thing was clear: this is wrong. So she didn’t move. The driver began yelling at her, and then the other passengers began to yell at her, push at her, and curse her. But she stayed right where she was until the driver stopped the bus, got off, and called the police. When they arrived, they hauled her off to jail. But what they really did was haul her off into history.

That woman was Rosa Parks, and when she took her stand for what was right – or rather when she took “a sit” for what was right – the entire civil rights movement was ignited. She didn’t get on that bus looking for trouble, or with a planned attempt to make some kind of political statement. She just wanted to go home like everybody else. As a Christian she knew she was made in the image of God. She knew she had dignity and worth. For a wonderful, eternity-filled moment, she was the salt of the earth and that salt helped change our world! In an instant, she became the change that our world needed.

Not all of us can be Rosa Parks, but all of us can be the change that the world needs to see as we follow Jesus. But let me be frank with you: Many people believe, many people consider themself a Christian. However, there are many who are Christian in name only. They don’t live it; they’re not serious about it. How long is that going to go on? What are you waiting for? This is your one and only life, and you’re spending it fast. Be the change today!

(Sources: Rosa Parks, City Slickers, James White)

social-justice-begins-here

Social justice is a phrase that’s received a lot of attention in the church in recent years. The phrase itself calls us to a deeper awareness of the need for a “just society.” It hearkens the words of our Savior, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

As Christians we are called to be activists. Christians are not passive people. I heard a preacher say recently, “Calling me a Christian activist is a redundancy.” The point being if you’re a Christian you’re called to be an activist: an agent of change in a world full of inequality. Christians understand that life matters. What we do with our life matters, how we spend our time matters, how we flesh out the life of Christ in community matters. It all matters, and it matters deeply.

Social justice has everything to do with life. As Christ-followers we fight for the poor, weak, and afflicted. We defend those who cannot defend themselves. We give voice to the voiceless and advocate for people on the margins. We spend time, resources, and energy rescuing orphans, feeding the hungry, providing healthcare for the sick, rehabilitating prisoners, and helping widows. We fight for women’s rights, racial equality, and fair immigration laws. We care for the sick, impoverished, and those who have been pushed to the fringes of society. While doing all of this we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ as the way, truth, and LIFE.

For some reason, it seems that in conversations regarding social justice, one issue that should be at the forefront is neglected: ABORTION. The Bible is clear that life begins in the womb. “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139:13-14). If we are going to be a voice for the voiceless then we need to start speaking more loudly for those who have no voice at all.

An infant in the womb is innocent… Period. It carries no responsibility for its existence. Science has proven that in the womb we feel pain, express emotion, have dreams, and respond to sound. It amazes me how many people bring up science when speaking of homosexuality, and ignore science when speaking of life in the womb. Life is sacred and abortion is insanity, yet we ignore innocent life and justify death for the sake of convenience.

When you speak to someone who advocates abortion they always list reasons why abortion should be justified. “What if the woman’s life is in danger?” “What about cases of rape or incest?” they say. But the truth of the matter is the vast majority of abortions don’t happen because of rape, incest, or life threatening situations. The majority take place for reasons of personal convenience.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, a staff writer for Salon and vocal pro-choice advocate, admitted what we’ve known all along. She openly states that from the moment of conception the unborn child is a human life. Yet, she argues that this child must be terminated if a woman so desires. The child is a life, but in her twisted view it’s not valuable. Insanity, I know. Let me say again, life is sacred and abortion is insanity.

Scientific fact: the baby inside a woman’s body has its own DNA, blood-type, functioning body organs, and fingerprints. It’s a human being and no one has the right to take that life away. Yet, statistics show that one in four women have an abortion at some point and of course no one ever talks about the men who support and even coerce them into going through with it.

For those who have had an abortion and those who have supported abortion, you can be changed. God can take away the guilt. Don’t allow the spiritual numbness of a secular society to inform you. Refuse to allow your conscience to be seared.  God can make you new again. God is absolutely incredible in the area of life transformation.

This issue is very close to my heart. I’m passionate about it because God is passionate about it. God is the author of life. Jesus came that we may have life. Being a Christian is about life. Social justice is about life. No one deserves to die for no reason. If we are going to be socially just in doing social justice, it has to begin here.

(Sources: Matt Chandler; Shane Claiborne)

Missio Dei starts with God, not with something we decide that we are going to do for God. Mission does not start by implementing a new program or starting a new class at church. God’s mission starts with God himself. We too often assume that it begins when we discover a felt need and respond by giving money or doing a service project.

The “sending” Jesus speaks of in John 17 is plural. This means that we do not merely send people and funds out of the church to solve problems in the world. In other words, the church is not just a “sending agent.” The church is “sent” itself: as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One, when we participate in God’s mission to the world we are one on mission with God.

The church has no mission apart from its participation in God’s mission. As God expands the kingdom we either participate in what he is doing or we do not. To be missional means that the church actively engages kingdom-expansion by identifying where God is working and joining him in his activity. God is always working, but we must have eyes to see and ears to hear.

God is not just working in the church. Instead, he is always working in every part of society and culture. God is at work in the margins, in the places where no one is looking. God never starts in the center and works his way out. It’s his nature to start on the fringes and work inward. “Participation” means that we intentionally look for ways to join God in his mission. When we share in the life of God for the sake of the world, by default, we participate in the mission of God.

In Philippians 2 Paul uses the Greek word kenosis. Literally, it indicates Christ participating in the act of “self-emptying.” It demonstrates the out-poured love of God for the world. Emptying oneself is what being incarnational looks like. If you really want to take on the mind of Christ, if you really want to follow him… it requires kenosis.

How is this relevant for the church? Missional means moving away from attractional models of ministry to incarnational ways of existing with God for the benefit of the world. Only as we identify with the suffering of humanity can we identify with the suffering of Jesus.

God lives on the fringes. That’s where the story of the mutilated Body of Christ begins. This is where we see redemption being established. When we enter the margins intentionally and incarnationally we become the hands and feet of Jesus. Through this participation the kingdom of heaven is revealed.