My Current Thoughts on Racial Justice and Reconciliation

Over the past week, we have seen some disturbing and unforgettable images. First, we saw the unnecessary death of George Floyd, a black man, literally killed by a police officer who used illegal means to control him by forcing him to remain on the ground with his knee on his neck for 9 minutes while other officers watched without stopping it. Floyd’s crime? Passing a $20 counterfeit bill. If I had been in his shoes there is little doubt that I would still be alive.

As the country was brought to the attention of this evil, many people began demanding justice, as they should. See, this isn’t the first time in recent history that a black man died at the hands of white policemen. And while the circumstances or legitimization of each preceding case may be in question, it’s undeniable that there has been a history of targeted enforcement on people of color. 

Let me be clear: racism throws away the biblical principle of imago dei, the image of God in ALL of us. Racism is a sin against all God’s people and God himself.

So over the past week, people have demanded that something has to change. And they took to the streets so their voices could be heard. Non-violent protesting has a long history in the Christian faith and in this country. Many martyrs of our faith in have been persecuted and then murdered, without raising a hand of defense. Ghandi, and then MLK Jr., took up non-violent protest to call out injustices in both India and the U.S. It became known as civil disobedience. In this country, in the 60s, it became a powerful tool to change the hearts and minds of Americans about the evils of racism and segregation in this country. 

Some are arguing during this time that things have never been better for POC in this country in regards to many metrics. And yet, we still see the effects of racism in many areas of our country. Like my friend, Dr. Stout, likes to say, “In the old days, you could tell who the white supremacists were by the white hoods on their heads. Now, they just hide in the larger public.” I think there’s no doubt that “Things are better!” But better. Isn’t. Good. Enough.

We have to remember where this sense of right and wrong is coming from. The outrage and cries of injustice arise out of our God-given, moral compass that’s found in being made in the image of God. Look, I know sin has marred all of creation and our culture has drifted far away from many Christian values. But the cry and awareness for racial justice isn’t one of those areas. That should encourage us.   

So what’s the solution? That’s a complex answer. That’s why I am often hesitant to speak on these subjects. I’m processing all of the information. I’m receiving and the information keeps changing and the images keep getting worse. We see thousands of peaceful protestors…& it just takes a few to ruin the message.

What we’ve been seeing most recently on the news is rioting and looting. The message of justice and racial reconciliation is getting drowned out by those who seek the opportunity to foment further division through violence. That’s not civil disobedience and it often causes a reflexive reaction that provokes white people into discounting the original reasons for protest and the questioning of the motives of those who seek change.

Let’s not conflate the peaceful protestors with the rioters. These are different groups with different agendas–one righteous and the other perverse. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. While righteous anger is of the Lord, uncontrolled fury is a tool of Satan. Rioting and looting have no place in the cause for justice. BUT, while we are quick to condemn looting and rioting, we also have to check our own attitude towards looting and rioting. How angry does that make US? Are we more angry about the original injustice of murder or of the destruction of property? Which makes us more uncomfortable?

Here’s the truth: 1) Our longing for justice and racial reconciliation is from God’s image in us. We cry out for a world that looks different and where Love reigns because we are not of this world.

2) The uncomfortable truth: it will never be perfect. As long as we live on earth there will be racism and other sins that confound us, especially those in our own lives. Maybe that’s why there is so much anger. We realize that we have been working on this as a nation for hundreds of years and we still aren’t there. So our reaction is heightened and when we aren’t guided by God’s spirit we say and do things that multiply the hurt, and injustice is paid with further injustice. The violence of the few drowns out the message of the many and ultimately mocks the principles of justice. It will never be perfect in this life. That’s why our souls long for a new earth and heaven.

3) There is hope. The Christian message of redemption isn’t simply about our salvation and getting to heaven. We believe that through the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit we are in the middle of a reclamation project. Through the blood of Jesus, God has reconciled to us through grace and by faith. The Holy Spirit is in the process, if we let Him, of changing us each day more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ act on the cross of redemption was the beginning of this reclamation project. Maybe a better word than reclamation is renovation. God has reclaimed us and this whole world. He’s renovating it heart by heart, to look more like his perfect son, Jesus. This renovation project has been going on for two thousand years! Demonstrably, there has been immense progress with much more to go. And one day it will end, and all things will be brought to its proper place.

But during this time it means that all of us are called to participate in this renovation project. It’s our job, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to change the way the world works. It will be painful and full of heartache as dealing with sin always is. But it’s also full of joy as we celebrate victories, small and large. We will be frustrated by those who think we are wrong and we will be hurt by those who seem to agree with us but then use means of change that we can’t agree with. But we must never stop trying. 

What’s the solution? I don’t have ALL the answers to that question. There are a few political things that should happen but I won’t comment on those here. The one thing in our immediate control, as people of faith, and the one thing God has commanded us to do, is to love our neighbor. Seek racial justice and reconciliation in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your school, on your team. My white friends, we simply have no idea what it’s like to walk in the shoes of those who are different from us. We just can’t. But because Jesus is our Lord, we must love all people in word and in deed. When we hear about acts of violence or discrimination or racial epithets, we can let them know we stand with them. When we witness those things, we must call out and seek to stop people from doing those things. 

Would you take time to pray today and this week, for our brothers and sisters in the African-American community? Pray that God would help them FEEL safe and that God would actually protect them from the effects of racism. Pray for the Holy Spirit to restrain sin against people, simply because of their color. Pray for justice to be done in both the George Floyd case, and other cases of violence in this country. Pray for our police officers, most of whom are trying to do their job to the best of their ability, that they would be protected during this time and would conduct themselves in ways that are honorable and protective of our wider communities. Pray that Jesus Christ would be honored and praised, for He is our Lord and Savior, conqueror of sin and death, and from whom we receive this divine inheritance as his adopted children, regardless of color.

Christmas Blues

For most people Christmas may be a time of joy and expectation. But not for everyone. I know too many people who get depressed at this time of year.

Carol Nelson said,

Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home.

I’ve known that feeling some years, particularly those years immediately after the death of a loved one. What about you? Or what about those around you? Friends and family and co-workers?

If you’re having a Blue Christmas please talk to someone. Call a professional, cry to a friend; just don’t hold it all in and let it reach a point where you find there’s few options.

Why Doesn’t FCC do Altar Calls?

Someone asked me that question recently and the answer is simple: because people typically don’t make long-term, life-changing decisions right at that moment in a worship service. In my experience most people who come forward are doing so out of a sense of obligation or guilt or emotion only. I believe that the Christian walk is best done in relationship with other Christians and specifically as part of a local church family. That’s why I know 99% of the time beforehand who’s coming up on a given Sunday if I give an “invitation” to confess Christ, recommit your life to Christ, or officially join our church.  That doesn’t mean I won’t surprise people at times or be surprised.

So we don’t do the traditional altar calls but depending on the message I do give “invitations.” I just won’t sing 6 songs in order to get people to come forward.  If the Holy Spirit isn’t urging them in the first 3 minutes then I don’t think any music or verbal manipulation should be done. Manipulation? Yes, if I really want people to come forward and make a decision, I can get that done. I did it when I first got into ministry.  But then I saw the reality of those decisions a week later. Most of those decisions have no accountability and are more like New Year’s resolutions. Few succeed. Many churches have gone to a similar understanding. But that doesn’t mean altar calls are bad or wrong…just memorable. Like this…

What do you think? What’s your experience?

Passionately Love the Church in spite of its Imperfections

It is easy to get discouraged when you look at your church and see the gap between biblical fellowship and reality.

Yet we must passionately love the church in spite of its imperfections.  Longing for the ideal while criticizing the real is evidence of immaturity; settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency.  Living with the tension is maturity.

Want to Know Christ Better? Be a Part of the Church (the body of Christ)

You will never know the depths of Christ on your own. It matters not how intelligent, gifted, or spiritual you may be. It takes a functioning body to know Him fully. And it takes a functioning body to make Him known fully. Paul made it clear in Ephesians that we come to know the length, depth, and height of Christ “with all the saints.” It’s only by being vitally and organically connected with other members of the body in a living way that we experience the fullness of God.

In 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, Paul wrote that Jesus Christ is not a mute idol. He has the power of speech.  Paul then began to unveil HOW Christ speaks. He speaks through His body (vs. 4-31).

Notice vs. 12. The church is Jesus Christ in corporate expression. So, properly conceived, the church is the reassembling of Christ so that he might be made visible on the earth.

You cannot separate the head from the body. You cannot separate the vine from the branches. You cannot separate the foundation from the temple.

Practically this means that we know Jesus Christ through one another, not just by ourselves. We see Him, hear Him, touch Him, and smell Him through our sisters and brothers within whom He dwells.

We Go To Church Worship Not to be Entertained, but to be Trained

Worship is not merely a personal matter to inspire the individual. It’s about the transformation of the person WITHIN, BY, and FOR the community of faith, the local church, through the devotion and worship of God almighty. While church worship need not be boring, it is also not designed merely to give us good feelings. While inspiration is a by-product of worship, it is not the central aim of worship.

Worship IS a communal activity meant to instruct a people. We tell our stories, learn our language and find our life in the presence of other Christ-followers. We go to church not to be entertained but to be trained.

Spiritual Contributors, not Spiritual Consumers

Often I hear about people “church shopping.” This makes a lot of sense on one hand because when someone moves to a new community they should probably check out a few churches to see where they might fit best or where the doctrine/beliefs match their own. Sometimes this might also happen to someone who has experienced severe conflict in a church which makes them uncomfortable to return and continue there. But the language “shopping” with church really is not the best approach to finding a church home. It implies that the individual is a consumer looking for a church that will “meet my needs.”

I’m glad people want to find a church home. But looking for a church that meets my needs is an unbiblical statement. The church becomes a product to consume. “We loved the children’s programming but the sermons are really boring.”

God has called us to be spiritual contributors. The church does not exist for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world. I am here to serve God and to love people. I exist to make a difference. God created me to be a blessing to others.

So ask yourself: Am I more of a consumer or contributor? If you are a Christ-follower, hopefully you are a valuable part of a life-giving church.Do you drop your kids off in the nursery (without ever serving there), drink some free coffee, enjoy the service, then pick up your kids and go home? If so, you’re a consumer.

On the other hand, do you use your gifts to make a difference? Do you invite people to your church? Do you pray faithfully for church leaders? Do you give consistently of your finances? Do you serve passionately? Then you’re more of a contributor.

I’m not trying to be mean or make you feel guilty. I simply want you to be honest with yourself. If you are using your life to be a blessing to others today, then later you will relish sharing the stories that God allows you to tell. If you’re more focused on yourself than serving others, you’re going to end up with many blank pages–lost blessings that you can find only by contributing what God created you to give to the world.

Church: Comfort and Challenge

An ideal local church should both be comforting AND challenging at the same time. To do that entails 3 things:

1. Remind me who I am.  We are set apart from the ways of the world, yet are to engage the world with loving sacrifice. We are the light of the world, salt of the earth, and city on a hill. We are holy, yet broken. We are broken, yet holy;  broken yet able to carry the presence and power of Christ.

2. Show me what I can become. People are encouraged to identify and live out of their SHAPE (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, experience) and to engage in spiritual habits that grow them deeper. Roots for growth and strength. Branches by which to serve: an invitation to live out our calling empowered by the Spirit.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

I think of my experience at the church I served in St. Louis as an intern and how the church let me explore my gifts. They were patient with me and let me try different things. We have to allow people to try and even fail, all the while encouraging them.

3. Hold me accountable.  Accountability involves the art of encouragement and admonishment.

Encouragement is an indispensable part of accountability. We think mostly of “tough love” admonishment, but without encouragement who can with stand just admonishment? We need fellow Christ followers who are absolutely convinced that we are great and can do great things. We need people who applaud us when we succeed and pull us up when we fail.

Holding someone accountable is not easy; it takes discernment.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

Look at those verbs: warn, encourage, help, and be patient.  That is the grammar of accountability and ultimately a healthy church.

 

The Church Was Not Meant to Become a Consumer Culture

We live in a consumer culture. Each day we are treated as a customer, and this leads us to believe we are entitled to have all of our “needs” met.

In the Church this plays out when people think it exists to “serve me and my needs. The community should not tell me what to do–that is up to me.” But in reality, the Church community exists to shape and guide my soul. The community has a right to expect certain behavior from me, and can provide the encouragement and accountability I need.

Transformation into Christlikeness has been the aim and responsibility of the Church from its beginning.

The soul-shaping role of the Church is not just for our own spiritual nurture. It is meant to propel us out into mission.

Discouraging Conflict During Change is Unhealthy for a Church

When a church discourages conflict, it fails to make the kinds of changes necessary for ongoing health and relevance.

By conflict, I’m not talking about personalized or politicized confrontations!  Rather, healthy conflict is an honest debate–sometimes heated–over competing values.  Healthy conflict focuses on how best to accomplish our mission and what is in the best interest of the greater good.  It requires kingdom thinking.

We often forget how much healthy conflict Jesus encouraged.  He constantly challenged the religious elitism of his day.  He challenged racism and sexism.  He raised issues with his disciples on a regular basis.  Jesus never minimized or avoided conflict.