The Most Dangerous Kind Of Racism

All racism is dangerous. But there is one particular strain that is even more deadly than the rest. It does more damage than the Klansman in a white hooded sheet could ever dream of. It’s deadlier than the rich, young college student fighting over a statue.

The most dangerous kind of racist is the one who has convinced himself that he is not a racist. After all, he doesn’t like the Klan. He’s never showed up to a white supremacist rally. She loves that black running back on her favorite football team. She even likes a few Outkast songs.

But deep down in her heart, there is hatred. And it feels perfectly normal. As a result, her kids grow up never really being taught what it means to love their neighbor. In word and in deed, they are taught to look the other way when an entire race of people suffers. Even worse, they’re taught to blame that entire race of people for the suffering they endure. So the racist jokes told in the church parking lot aren’t really all that bad. It’s just humor. And the segregation of the last century is most certainly condemned but it’s replaced with a much more acceptable variety of segregation.

And it all feels perfectly normal.

I’m 42 years old. To put it another way, I’ve been sinning for over four decades. Sure, I’ve been a Christian for most of those years but that doesn’t change the fact that I desperately need the gospel. Without it, my heart is bent toward selfishness, pride, envy, lust, murder, and yes, even racism.

Not one person on the earth can truly say, “God, I thank you that I am not like that racist over there” (Luke 18:11).

Rather, we must prayerfully and honestly address our sin and repent. The answer is not found in self-righteousness or life-long, low-grade guilt.

Only when we pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” will we truly know what it’s like to be reconciled to God and one another (Luke 18:13-14).

In the book of Acts, we are given two examples to help us as we try to live this out in our day to day lives. The first example shows us the importance of repentance and the second the importance of discernment or critical thinking.

The early church was growing by the thousands. And they did it without giving out free iPads to the first 100 people to show up or by mailing out risqué flyers about how the next sermon series is going to be on sex. Imagine that! Their growth was the result of God’s work but everything wasn’t perfect.

Church leaders had to care for hundreds of widows without any assistance from a government welfare program, the Internet or even phones. They failed. But they didn’t just fail. They failed in a way that looked like racism.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of the complaint that was made by the Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews.

“Hey, Peter and John. I know it’s hard to feed everyone but why is it that our people are always the ones getting left out?”

The response of Peter and John and the rest of the church leaders is one that we would do well to follow today.

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2 (ESV)

Notice what they did not say. They didn’t say, “Oh, you don’t understand, we have plenty of friends who are Hellenists.” And they didn’t tell the Hellenist widows to, “Pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Instead, they changed their system. For them, loving others was more important than saving face or doing it the way they’ve always done it. I pray that the same could be said of today’s church. May we be a people who are quicker to repent than we are to defend an old human system that hurts others.

This requires critical thinking. It means that the thoughtful Christian will not jump on every bandwagon just so he can be, “on the right side of history.” We need more discernment and less Group Think. We need to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17.

Paul had just been kicked out of Thessalonica for preaching the gospel and he found himself in Berea. The biblical description of these people is noteworthy.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 (ESV)

God used Paul to write a majority of what would later come to be known as the New Testament. But when he preached to the Bereans, they still wanted to measure everything he said against the Scriptures.

Such wisdom and discernment isn’t only unusual these days, it’s not allowed.

Some on the right would have us to believe that daring to question a Republican president when he is wrong means that you are a “snowflake” who hates America.

And some progressives would have us to believe that if we question Colin Kaepernick’s affinity for Fidel Castro, we are somehow blind to the injustices of the world.

Both assessments are wrong and are the result of misplaced worship and a lack of critical thinking. Many Christian leaders have soiled their garments because they worship the idea of having a seat at President Trump’s table. They have forgotten that it’s more important to have a seat at the table of their neighbor who has a different skin tone than they do. Many Progressives care more about Colin Kaepernick’s next job after he walked away from millions from his former employer than they do their neighbor’s next job after he was laid off with nothing more than best wishes.

Navigating our way through these complexities requires less group think and more of the wisdom of Christ. It requires more repentance and less self-righteousness.

Before I see that they are the problem, I must see how I am the problem.

Before I condemn their hatred, I must carefully examine my heart for my hatred.

Otherwise, I’m much more dangerous than I think I am.

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Antifa, The Alt-Right, And The Gates Of Hell

Remember the good old days when a military conflict or a natural disaster seemed to bring us all together, even if it was only for a few days? One would think that if anything was going to make us all join hands and buy the world a Coke it would be white supremacists radicalizing a car and using it to plow over their fellow Americans. Or maybe a crazed leftist trying to assassinate an elected official would make us take a second look and put aside our differences. Neither one did. Instead, they only highlighted the giant wall separating this country.

We are more divided than ever.

And, for some reason, many in the church feel the need to pick a side.

 

 

There should be no, “Yeah, but what about that time when they…” after attempted murder at a softball game. There should be no, “Well, the other side…” after what we just saw in Charlottesville.

But that’s what we’ve got. And many of those excuses are coming from the church. After last weekend’s violent riots in Virginia there are still those who want to remind us of something that was done by someone on the left rather than simply weeping with those who weep and doing the necessary self-evaluations to see how we got to this point. It’s easier to look down your nose than it is to look in the mirror. Even for good church folks.

We would do well to heed the advice of Gamaliel.

I don’t usually hold Gamaliel up as a model for us to follow. He was a religious leader who, two thousand years ago, helped oppose the early church. But in his opposition, the esteemed religious leader showed us the difference between a movement of man and the body of Christ.

Peter and the apostles were agitating. Their gospel proclamation and good works were stirring up the establishment. So they were detained and told to stop. Key leaders wanted them dead. That’s when Gamaliel spoke up.

He reminded the other leaders of a man named Theudas. Theudas was the leader of an uprising. But Theudas was overthrown and his movement came to nothing.

After him came Judas the Galilean. He too tried to start a revolution but lost his life in the process. His movement came to nothing.

And then Gamaliel dropped this nugget of wisdom about what to do with Peter and his friends.

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Acts 5:39 (ESV)

Antifa is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.

The alt-right is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.

The Democratic and Republican parties are both of man and they will both fail and come to nothing.

So why, as these movements are in the process of driving off into the ditch, must Christians pick which side they want to crash on? Why must we explain one side as not being as bad as the other? Why must we place our identity in them?

The church is supposed to be different. It will last forever. This is liberating for Christians. It means that we have the freedom to say to Antifa and the white supremacists, Democrats and Republicans, “A plague on both your houses.” It frees us to call evil what it is without fear of upsetting the base, whatever that means. And it helps us to preach and live the gospel, no matter how unpopular it may be.

It’s time for our local churches to do some self-evaluation. Are we content with being the body of Christ or would we rather be a movement of man? If we choose to be the body of Christ, we may not be liked but we’ll be known for our love. If we settle for being a movement, we’ll just be known as the people who still haven’t gotten over the Broncos cutting Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick not standing up during the national anthem. And we will come to nothing.

While the world is busy trying to fight one brand of hate with another one, the church must remember that it was Christ who died for us, not a Civil War general or a flag. It means that we’d rather live in harmony with our neighbor than win a debate against him by using crime statistics we found somewhere on the Internet. It means that we love like Christ rather than arguing like a talk radio host.

Antifa’s days are numbered.

The alt-right’s days are numbered.

And the same is true for churches that settle for being movements of man rather than the body of Christ.

But not so for the true church. A few years before Peter was called to stand before Gamaliel, he stood before a much greater leader named Jesus. And Jesus told Peter an even greater word about the church that we need to hear today as we consider transferring our membership to a political party or racial identity.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

The gates have opened and Hell has poured out into our streets.

But it is no match for the body of Christ.

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The Carjacking of the American Church

She just wasn’t having it. It might happen to someone else, somewhere else. But not here and not now.

Surveillance footage showed two carjackers running to a car where a woman was pumping gas. Somehow, that woman was able to jump in her car and lock herself in. Score one for the good guys.

The bad guys weren’t done. They just moved to the next available car at the Hialeah, Florida gas station. But as soon as one of them jumped into the driver’s seat, the female owner of the car pulled him out and tore off his mask. Although the two men were armed, they were no match for the mother of the one-year-old and the seven-year-old who were in the backseat.

Carjackers are lurking around the American church. In many cases, they have already taken control of the wheel and made it back to the chop shop. But such is not the case for every church. It is with the same ferocity of that young mother that we must fight off those wishing to take control of the body of Christ for their own evil purposes.

Hucksters, politicians, racists, and sometimes combinations of all three wrapped up in one have tried to carjack the church over the years. We can’t let it happen.

But that requires some sacrifices.

We have to denounce white supremacy when it rears its ugly head, whether it be at a Virginia rally or out in the church parking lot.

No longer can we prostitute ourselves out to whatever politician will tell us what we want to hear.

We have to take the time to actually know the gospel so that we can know the fake gospels when they come running up on us. For example, when we hear a white supremacist like Thomas Robb tell us that the Great Commandment just meant that you’re supposed to love your own kind, not those of another race, we should be so familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan that we can chase off such evil like that mother who just wasn’t having it that day.

And we must remember what it means to love God and love our neighbor. If we’re honest, we don’t love like we’re supposed to. We cry for justice when a black person fails to meet our standards but we turn our nose up at the Philando Castilles of the world. We talk a mighty fine game about our Second Amendment rights but not so much when it comes to our neighbor and his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights.

The conservative church in America is much like the church in Ephesus. For the most part, we hold to the truth. We resist false teaching. We do good works.

But we’ve forgotten how to love.

Jesus’ indictment of the Ephesus church two thousand years ago could just as easily apply today to the First Baptist Church of Bible Belt County. 

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Revelation 2:3-4 (ESV)

We have learned how to build great cathedrals and programs. We know how to draw a crowd. We can fight against the Progressives with the best of them.

But we have forgotten how to love.

If you showed up to your church next Sunday and the air conditioner was broken, your church would manage. If your building burned down in the early hours of Sunday morning and you showed up to a pile of ashes, your church would still be just fine. But if you remove the love from the church, you no longer have the body of Christ but rather a slightly more moral version of the Church of Satan.

Paul told his young understudy, Timothy, that, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV) I’m afraid that the same cannot be said for many American churches. They have been carjacked and control has been handed over to talk radio hosts, political pundits, and angry social media ranters who tithe well.

And we wonder why we’ve lost our influence.

Maybe it’s not all the fault of the godless and radical left. Maybe some of it has to do with the godless church folks who love the morality and sentimentalism of Christianity more than they do the Man from whom the movement originates. And as a result, we riot over the removal of a statue and we let the band play on at the news of another black life lost.

Thankfully, it’s not all like this. In my small town and small church, I know dozens of people who are fighting off the carjackers. They are having necessary conversations, inviting people into their homes, and crossing borders to share the love of Jesus.

Carl Zogby, speaking on behalf of the Hialeah Police Department about the mom who fought off those carjackers was straight to the point.

“She was a mom, and what that bad guy didn’t know, in the backseat of that car were two kids. She wasn’t gonna let them be taken, so she fought, she dragged the guy out of the car, and they both ran away like cowards.”

Cowards.

There’s a fine line between cowardice and courage. The coward often starts out boldly but withers away when the fight gets tough. And many times the courageous person is consumed with fear but does what needs to be done anyway.

The American church is at a bit of a crossroads. Will we hand our keys over to the cowards and hope for the best for those under our care? Or will we stand and fight against both the evil trying to get in and the evil that already is in our hearts?

Time will tell.

And we can be sure that Jesus is watching.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent. Revelation 2:5 (ESV)

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A Call For Cooler Heads And Broken Hearts

I just read a paragraph from a respected political commentator that startled me.

I might as well plant my flag in the ground on this point. I will actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other. The rhetoric is so overblown, so heated, and so believed by a bunch of people who should know better.

It startled me because he may well be right. Listening to the way people talk these days and watching how they respond to tragedy leaves me no reason to believe that this was mere sensationalism. That’s the startling part.

Here’s the sad part.

The church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be salt and light. We find our identity in Christ, not a statue, a flag, a color, or a president. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten all of that.

We don’t care about the truth anymore. We just care about what we want to be true. On social media, some of the biggest spreaders of fake news are Christians. You know, the ones who belong to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And it’s all in an effort to stick it to the biased media.

Here’s the thing. Everyone is biased. MSNBC is biased. Sean Hannity and Fox News are biased. The guy sitting in his mother’s basement in Bulgaria making up those fake news stories that so many Christians share is biased. I am biased. You are biased. That’s why we need discernment. Without it, we just stick to hearing what we want to hear and reinforcing stereotypes. With it, we can actually look and act different in an angry world.

It appears that many in the church have settled for life without discernment.

This anger is on both sides of the political aisle. And on both sides of the political aisle, the hypocrisy runs deep too. Conservatives use words like snowflakes when describing the students who walked out on Mike Pence, forgetting that just days before the election there were several conservative, middle-aged snowflakes who promised to march on the streets with guns if Donald Trump was not elected.

Liberals all of a sudden care about journalistic integrity now that an easy target is in the White House. With the exception of Jake Tapper, no one at CNN seemed too concerned when President Obama threatened the media and targeted citizens with the IRS.

Liberals love to talk about resisting the power while at the same time gladly taking handouts from that very same power and laying down and rolling over when it’s their guy in power. Conservatives ramble on and on about respecting the office of the presidency now that a self-identifying conservative is in power. However, I lost count of how many memes I saw over the past eight years comparing the Obama’s to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

Blindly identifying with a political party makes good men into hypocrites. Identifying with Christ actually makes a difference.

In our own country, armed guards are patrolling city streets while people remove statues. It matters not to me what you feel about Lincoln, General Lee or the Civil War. Here’s what really matters. What is your neighbor thinking? As a follower of Christ, I am called to love my neighbor before I’m called to love a flag, whether it be confederate or American, or a statue, whether it be Jefferson, Lee or Lincoln.

One day we will stand before God to give an account for our lives. In spite of what you may have read in some whitewashed, Americanized study Bible, you will not be asked your opinion of a statue or a flag. But your love for neighbor will come into play.

When the black kid across town got shot and killed, did you write him off as just another thug or did you seek to minister to a family and a community that you were already engaging long before tragedy struck?

When the gay activists mocked the God of the Bible, did you hate her as if she were your enemy or did you hate what the real enemy was doing to her and pray for her eyes to be opened?

Did you go on long rants online about justice in regards to the president and the FBI but ignore lesser reported miscarriages of justice in your own community and workplace?

Did you bend down to help the least of these or did you step up on them to promote your own brand?

Were you longing for the Kingdom of God or were the kingdoms of this world enough for you?

Did you care more about the speck in your neighbor’s eye than you did the plywood in your own eye?

That’s what Jesus really cares about.

It’s just a shame that the church doesn’t seem to share in his concern.

I’ve spent most of my life in the church. I’ve heard a lot of preacher types talk about what needs to be done to save this country. It started with rock music.

“We need to get rid of this rock and roll music if we want to save this country.”

Eventually they moved on to politics.

“We need to elect this one and get this one out if we want to save our country.”

All the while the real problem was neglected.

I don’t know anything about fixing our country again. That’s too complex for me. But I can tell you how we can fix the church. And believe me, that’s a big need.

The church needs to repent.

We need to repent for abandoning truth for what feels or sounds right.

We need to repent for rejoicing over those who weep and making distinctions among ourselves by being judges with evil thoughts (Romans 12:15; James 2:4).

We need to repent for placing our identity in a president, whatever party he or she may belong to, instead of a King.

Everyone is angry. Even the church. And for all the wrong reasons.

We must be different.

We must be the ones with cooler heads.

We must be the ones with repentant hearts.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 (ESV)

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The Woman With One Of The Most Important Jobs In The World

Her ancestors were slaves.

The word ancestors doesn’t seem appropriate. It wasn’t all that long ago. Her parents spent time being educated in segregated schools and drinking from segregated water fountains. Her father was called cruel, racist names by respectable pillars of the community. Once, her mother was assaulted for daring not to move off of the sidewalk when four young white boys came walking by. Her mother still has a small scar under her right eye to remind her of that day.

But those were different days. Slavery is over. Jim Crow is no more. We all drink our water from the same fountain and share the same sidewalk. After all, it is 2017.

But not for her.

No, when she goes to work, it’s 1955 all over again.

She always did well in school. Helping others was what drove her. She knew what it was like to face one roadblock after another. She saw how bitter it made some of the people who she loved. She was determined not to let that happen. She wanted to serve the weak, not keep them down. As she saw it, there was no better career path for her to take than nursing.

She dreamed of working in a busy emergency room in one of the big city hospitals. That didn’t work out. But she never gave up on nursing. She got as much education as she could. It just wasn’t enough to get her out of her small town. Eventually, she came to accept that small towns need nurses too. Sure, there’s no big hospital or busy emergency room where she lives.

But there is a nursing home.

So that’s where she went to work.

For the better part of four decades, that’s where she’s been picking patients up off of the floor, distributing medicine, cleaning out bedpans and helping folks go to the bathroom. She does it with a happy heart, even when smiling doesn’t come easy. She’s not much for talking but when she does speak, it’s never negative. The same can’t be said for her patients.

Every time she walks into room 4A, she gets greeted with a racial slur. She always responds with a smile and some comment about how this is the day that the Lord has made. She sees the irony in helping a man go to the bathroom who in his younger days wouldn’t use the same water fountain as her parents.

The lady in 1C frequently tells her in a creepy, whispery voice, “If you steal from me again I’ll have you killed and no one will care.” Of course, she never has stolen from the lady in 1C. But she has picked her up off of the floor five times in the last two months and gave the lady’s son a strong talk about coming to visit his mother more often.

3B is the hardest. She used to have nightmares about 3B. The guy in that room knew her parents. He’s the one responsible for that scar under her mother’s right eye.

She thought of recusing herself from that room, sort of like judges do when there’s some sort of conflict of interest. But then she thought better of it. She decided that instead of running away from the man responsible for her mother’s facial scar and countless other emotional scars, she would run toward him in his weakness. She remembered the passion that drove her into nursing. Instead of keeping the weak down, she would try to help them. This wasn’t what she had in mind. It is what God had in mind.

The man doesn’t know who she is. She thought about telling him once. It wouldn’t matter. He’s a shell of his former self. His memory, his strength and his family are all gone.

 

She doesn’t think that her job is all that important to the kingdom of God. If you asked her, she’d tell you that the ones with the really important jobs are the pastors and missionaries and famous Christian authors. She’s wrong. As far as the kingdom of God goes, this woman has one of the most important jobs in the world.

Every day before she walks into room 3B, she prays for strength. She asks her Lord to give her the strength to be like family to the lonely man who did so much harm to hers. She asks for God to give her the power to resist the temptation to turn a blind eye to the man’s suffering and let him get what’s coming to him. Day after day, God answers her prayers. And day after day, the light of Christ shines when a nurse walks into room 3B. By the time she walks out, she has loved her neighbor, loved her enemy and ministered to the least of these.

Just like Jesus did.

And he is pleased.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13 (ESV)

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Milwaukee Foolishness Or Why We Need The Police

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The absolute worst answer to the problem of racism in our country is more racism.

The most foolish remedy to a corrupt government is no government at all.

And yet, we’re seeing both of those things in Milwaukee right now. Yes, I realize that the rioters on YouTube and cable news don’t represent everyone in Milwaukee but it would be foolish to ignore them.

While we were all busy watching Bolt and Phelps dominate the Olympics, they were cursing at police officers, lighting gas stations on fire and just praying for a member of law enforcement to lose his cool. They were saying how they refused to live with white people. They were threatening to slice open the heads of police officers. They were mocking black police officers. They were calling on people to stop burning down the city and take the violence to the suburbs instead. How noble.

Martin Luther King went to jail. Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat. Rioters in Milwaukee are busting the windows out of police cars. Something has changed.

In much of the footage I saw from the weekend in Milwaukee, protesters were chanting the title of that old N.W.A. song. I’ll spare you the title. Just know that it’s a colorful way of expressing hatred of the police. As the crowd kept chanting, the line of police officers kept backing up. They stood arm in arm, absorbing the verbal assaults of the mob. At the command of their leader, the police fell back a few feet. And later, a few feet more. Finally, they climbed in their vans and left.

The crowd cheered.

They had finally gotten their way.

But is that really what they want?

True, none of us wants the local law enforcement setting up shop in our home. But neither do we want them packing up and moving out. It might make for a catchy song but it’s no way to live.

Here’s the reality that few people fail to recognize. There is no such thing as anarchy. There will always be government. It might be organized or it might be chaotic. It might be civil or it might be corrupt. But it will always be.

So the angry masses will never get their way. Sure, they might get their local police to leave the neighborhood. But those law men will only be replaced by lawless men who will demand the same authority as those before them only without any system of accountability. In Rwanda in the mid-1990s, the Hutus and the Tutsis couldn’t put their hostilities with one another to rest. As a result, the government collapsed. What followed wasn’t a group of people who promised to be nice to each other until things got back in order at the capital building. The result was genocide at the hands of local warlords. There is no such thing as anarchy.

There are others who would like to see the federal government become more involved in local police matters. If you think your city’s police department has problems, just wait until they have to start taking orders from Washington D.C.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to take things on a case by case basis in this country. When one black kid does something foolish, we want to blame his entire race. When one cop does something evil, rather than addressing that specific incident, we’d rather burn the whole system down. The race problems in the country require a surgeon’s precision. We have settled for a rioter’s brick. The folks at CNN, by the way, prefer the rioters brick. It does wonders for their ratings until the next plane disappears.

A free society depends on a responsible people. When a member of the police department steps out of line, the citizens can and should speak up. But they must speak carefully. They must, as the Bible says, be angry without sin (Ephesians 4:26). Perhaps that’s too much to ask for a society that has long since abandoned God. At the very least, they must realize that a properly functioning government is a gift (Romans 13:1-7). There are plenty of good police officers. And your neighborhood needs them.

So the next time you feel inclined to join in singing the lyrics to that N.W.A. song about the police, or worse, acting them out, think twice.

You just might get what you want.

And that’s really the last thing you want.

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Gospel Malpractice And A Picture Of Cross-Carrying

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Thurston is a hard worker. Maybe one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. And Thurston is a real man. A while back, when his daughter was going through a difficult time, Thurston stepped up to the challenge like few men would. I’ve never known a Thurston before. Well, unless you want to count Thurston Howell III. I’m glad that I got to know the real Thurston a few days ago.

When Thurston found out that I was a pastor, our conversation quickly turned to church. He’s a church man too. His dad devoted his entire life to leading churches. Now Thurston plays music for the church. When Thurston asked me about the city where I pastor, I told him. He had been to my city before to visit another baptist church.

When he showed up to that other baptist church, everything started out like a normal visit to a new church. At some point during the morning, Thurston and his wife got separated from one another. When they finally met up again in that old baptist church building, Thurston’s wife had tears in her eyes. Like any husband, especially one in a new place, Thurston was concerned and asked his wife what was wrong.

She told him that one of the leaders in the church told her that she and her husband needed to find another church to go to. Their kind wasn’t welcomed at this church.

You see, Thurston and his wife had committed the sin of being black and visiting a white church. This would all be bad enough if it had happened in 1942. This particular instance of gospel malpractice happened just a few years ago.

Thurston told me that these kind of comments never really bothered him. He said that they always bother his wife. I’m white. I don’t know what it’s like to be told that my “kind” isn’t welcomed somewhere. I can’t relate to the pain that Thurston’s wife felt that morning. Even still, I’m with her. Those words really bother me. And they bother Jesus too.

I know that race gets hyped up sometimes. Stories about racism get a lot of views and clicks and attention, whether they’re true or not. But we must not let this blind us to the reality that racism really does exist. Thurston told me about a time when he first started selling cars and he took a few guys out on a test drive. They took him out into the middle of the country, dropped him off and drove off with the new car. This was the days before cell phones so Thurston’s only hope was knocking on doors and asking to borrow a phone to get a ride back to work.

At the first house he went to, Thurston had a gun pulled on him just for walking on the property. And, in his words, he, “wasn’t even dressed up like a thug.” He had on a shirt and tie. But that wasn’t enough to atone for the color of his skin. The next time you’re tempted to think that racism is nothing more than media hype to sell more advertising, I wish that you could ask Thurston about his experiences.

As he drew closer and closer to his death, Jesus devoted more time to teaching his disciples about the significance and meaning of the cross. Those are lessons that we would do well to learn from today.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (ESV)

Not, “Repeat this prayer after me.”

Not, “Raise your hand, walk the aisle, hug the pastor’s neck, sniff snot and sign a card.”

Just, self-denial and cross carrying wherever Jesus leads.

If we have truly denied ourselves, we will not cling to our color tribes. We won’t find our identity in the color of our skin or our politics. Rather, we will obey Jesus. Even when it’s hard. And if we’re carrying our cross, in a small way, we’ll be doing what Jesus did. We’ll be moving toward people who are different from us. We’ll be moving toward them in sacrificial love.

I’ve often wondered why race is such a problem in the church. Why are youth ministers yelled at for bringing in black kids? Why are black families wishing to worship Jesus told to take it somewhere else? Part of me thinks that the answers are far too complex for any of us to ever understand. But another part of me thinks it’s pretty simple.

We have abandoned the cross.

So rather than denying ourselves, we deny others. Rather than taking up our cross, we settle for hanging it up on a wall. And instead of actually following Jesus, we admire him from afar because after all, he might lead us some place we don’t want to go. For many in the church, the cross has become like the American flag. We respect it. We don’t want to see it dishonored. We have certain days devoted to it. But it has nothing to do with what we’re doing, saying or thinking on a Tuesday afternoon.

If we truly are a cross-centered people and not just the kind of people who like to add it to our decorations, we will be a different people. We will remember that, without the cross, we’re all outsiders as far as God’s concerned. But because of the cross, through faith and repentance, we are welcomed in.

Thurston finally got a ride home that day when he was left out in the middle of nowhere by those car thieves. An old white lady drove up and asked him if he needed any help. He explained to her what happened and told her that he didn’t have any weapons or ill intentions. She wasn’t hearing any of it. She just told him to get in the car. Thurston obeyed. He walked around back and opened the door. Again, she wasn’t having it.

She told him to sit up front.

That old lady in her car gives us a good picture of self-denying, cross-carrying discipleship.

There are Jews, Gentiles, whites and blacks who are following Jesus.

But there is no backseat.

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The Summer Of Rage And The Trembling Of Satan

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Three more police officers had been murdered. Details were still coming in. I turned off the television and loaded my family up in my truck. As we drove, I thought about all of the violence that we have seen in our country this summer. That violence was the reason why I was driving with my family.

Last week our church decided to do something about the division in our country. We knew that we needed to pray but we didn’t want prayer to be the crutch that kept us from actually engaging the community. And we didn’t want to fall into the trap of writing angry Facebook posts in ALL CAPS and then patting ourselves on the back for “telling it like it is” or for not being politically correct as if that’s all the world needs.

So we decided to have a cookout. I know. What a shock. Baptists planning something involving food. Don’t judge. We had our cookout in a community that is mostly black and we invited the police. I was afraid when all of this was being planned. I was afraid that people wouldn’t show up. On the way over, I was afraid that the latest shooting in Baton Rouge would keep people away.

It didn’t.

I don’t know how many people came to our cookout. I do know that we prepared for 400 people and there weren’t a whole lot of leftovers when it was all over. And, when it was all over, I knew that I had just experienced one of the highlights of my pastoral career.

There were old white men who listen to Willie Nelson talking and eating and laughing with old black men who like to listen to Al Green.

There were white police officers throwing footballs and racing with little black kids.

There were high ranking members of my community’s police force making themselves available to answer tough questions.

Never once did I hear the phrases Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. No one said anything about Sean Hannity or Al Sharpton. People just ate. And laughed. And talked.

 

You know, the stuff we used to do a lot before we started getting our tribal marching orders from Fox News and CNN and our favorite talk radio host or blogger.

The world is an angry place. Tensions are high. Blood is spilling. And people are looking for someone to lead. The words used to describe Israel in the final verse of the book of Judges could very easily apply to America today.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25 (ESV)

Some people’s eyes tell them that killing police officers is the right thing. For others, it’s more angry, divisive rants, sometimes in the name of Jesus.

If ever there was a time for the Church to be what Jesus called us to be, it’s now. If all we ever do is pick sides in a divisive culture, all we’ll ever bring the culture is sugar and more darkness. Jesus calls us to be salt and light. When we are obeying his command, we care less about proving a point or electing our guy than we do loving our neighbor. And if you really want to love your neighbor, you have to go to your neighbor. I think that the Church forgets that sometimes.

But when the Church remembers that, I believe that Satan trembles. I know that in our highly advanced day and age, talk of the devil is seen as silly. I’ll tell you what’s silly. Watching people who don’t believe in the devil, or even evil for that matter, trying to look smart while failing to come up with an explanation for all of the bloodshed during this summer of rage is what’s really silly.

When the Church forgets that we wrestle not against flesh and blood or budget plans or house bills or political opponents but against “cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) it’s no wonder that we fail to have any influence in the world. Forget about losing the culture wars, we often lose the spiritual wars because we don’t even know that we’re in one.

Church, you must remember that your primary enemy is not the Black Lives Matter protestor or the police officer. Your opponent is the Thief who aims to steal and kill and destroy. And lately, business has been pretty good for him.

It doesn’t have to be that way. But that means that we have to step away from our tribe, away from our keyboard activism and across the street or over the railroad tracks to our neighbor’s house. It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. Well, the journey of gospel-centered peacemaking begins the same way. People who live next door to each other but who in reality are a thousand miles apart from one another can come together when the Church takes the first step.

It may be a step with a Bible in hand or it may be a step that’s made while carrying hamburgers. But it’s a step that needs to be made.

There are people who are profiting off of the divisiveness in this country. Their book sales and Facebook likes and poll numbers reach new heights while we burn one another down. It’s up to the Church to put a stop to this. The Church should be the first to say to those who profit off of divisiveness that their business is not welcome in our communities.

Yesterday afternoon, while police officers in bulletproof vests raced barefoot kids, I got to see what happens when the Church takes the first step. It was a beautiful sight and I pray that there are many more steps to follow.

As we were cleaning up yesterday, I had several people come up to me and say that we need to do this kind of thing more often. I agree. Our communities need it.

The talking heads will always talk.

The social media activists will always ramble on.

And things will always be the same.

But when the Church acts like the Church, that’s when we begin to see things change.

That’s when people come together.

That’s when Satan trembles.

And that’s when Jesus Christ is glorified.

photo taken by Casey Harpe

My Church Is Having A Cookout This Weekend

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My church is having a cookout this weekend. More on that later.

A lot of people like to say that they’re following Jesus. What they really mean is that they like following Jesus just so long as he’s going somewhere that’s okay with them. But if you’re really following Jesus, you’ll always be on your way to hurting people. And, more often than not, you’ll always be moving away from your tribe.

Our tribes are killing us. Instead of simply obeying Jesus’ command to love one another, we get our marching orders from Limbaugh or Sharpton or Trump or Bernie. Our ears are itching and we have accumulated quite the team of pundits and politicians who will tell us what we want to hear. As a result, we can’t seem to get along with the people who we actually live with.

In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. If he had wanted to, he could have very easily set up an earthly throne for himself and his disciples. Instead, he went to the other side of the sea. The other side of the sea is where the unclean people lived, at least as the Jewish people saw it. On the other side of the sea, people ate pigs without washing their hands.

Shortly after showing up there, Jesus healed and likely taught another large crowd. Like the mostly religious crowd on the other side of the sea, this crowd got hungry. And Jesus refused to ignore their hunger. He had compassion on them.

Again, with just a few fish and some loaves of bread, Jesus fed thousands of people. He could have simply had the food fall from the sky. That’s happened before, you know. But instead he brings in a third party. His disciples. Their job was to take the food that Jesus had just created and pass it on to the ceremonially unclean hands in the Gentile crowd.

The Church needs to follow Jesus’ example of bringing people together. Food is usually a good way to do that.

Jews and Gentiles didn’t spend a lot of time together in Jesus’ day. They were supposed to be enemies. But that day next to the Sea of Galilee, they came together with needs that only Jesus could meet. For all of their differences, that’s one thing they had in common.

More on that cookout that my church is having. We’re not doing it in my backyard or even on our church property. We’re doing it at the Jackson Housing Authority. Most of the people who live at the Jackson Housing Authority are black. But this isn’t one of those deals where the white church tries to step in and save the black community. We’re not having a cookout to feed the folks at the Jackson Housing Authority. We’re having a cookout to eat with the people at the Jackson Housing Authority.

Oh, and there’s another group of people who are invited to our cookout.

The police.

The relationship between the police and the people in the community where I live is very good. But we want it to stay that way and we don’t want to sit back and wait for something terrible to happen before we decide to act. We don’t want to sit back and wait for our tribe to tell us what to think or do. We don’t want to allow the media to reinforce whatever stereotypes we may have.

We want to follow Jesus.

And when we follow Jesus, we will always be walking toward hurting people.

Some of those hurting people will be white police officers and some of them will be black citizens. Both need Jesus, just like the rest of us. And, by God’s grace, the Church will be used in arranging the meeting.

When we have our cookout this weekend, I don’t expect us to miraculously feed the whole community with five hot dogs and two hamburgers. But I am expecting the miraculous. I’m expecting whites and blacks to come together, share a burger and get along in Jesus name. If you’ve been watching the news lately, such a thing seems more and more miraculous.

But this will never happen if all the Church cares about is winning an argument on Facebook or getting the last, loudest word in an argument. It helps when we humble ourselves, repent and bring our deficiencies to Jesus. For far too long, the Church has stood waiting for the world to repent, all the while failing to repent of, or even recognize, its own sins.

Shortly after Jesus fed the thousands of Gentiles, he had an encounter with folks from his home side. The religious side. He was met by two other groups that usually did not get along but had come together. Rather than coming together around Jesus, the Pharisees and Saducees were coming together against Jesus. In a bipartisan effort, they wanted Jesus Christ dead. Unity apart from Christ never works. It always ends in death.

In recent months, the Church has sought unity with some nefarious tribes, all the while still claiming to follow Jesus. This cannot be. If we are truly following Jesus, we’ll be walking toward hurting people. Hurting people who think differently than we do. Hurting people who don’t look like us. Hurting people who don’t vote like us. But hurting people who need the gospel just as much as we do.

And as we march behind Jesus, we will often find ourselves marching away from our tribe.

Your church might not be in Baton Rouge or Dallas. Perhaps it’s in a  small community like mine. Either way, the people there, whether they wear a badge or civilian clothes, need the gospel. And it’s the Church’s job to take it to them.

You might not know where to start.

That’s okay. Just follow the example of Jesus and give them all something to eat.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9 (ESV)

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Pastor, Do The World A Favor This Sunday

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Pastor, do the world a favor this Sunday.

Preach the gospel.

The world is crumbling. People are hurting. Many are scared. And the last thing any of us needs to hear is part three of your four part sermon series entitled American Christian Warrior: Climbing the Salmon Ladder of Success. Or yet another plea to give more money for some building project. People need to hear the gospel.

I can remember when President Obama was elected. People told us that it was the end of racism in this country. By all accounts, race relations have gotten worse. Not all of that is the president’s fault. But the past eight years have reminded us that his proposed solutions to the problem are insufficient. More government isn’t the answer. In a lot of ways, it makes the problem worse.

Pastor, please don’t be ashamed to preach the gospel this Sunday. And I don’t mean during the final few minutes of your sermon when you try to get people to raise a hand and walk an aisle. Find a passage from the Bible. Pray over it. And explain it to your people. They need to hear it. It will do them much more good than you simply regurgitating what you heard on Fox News earlier in the week.

Don’t underestimate the power of the gospel to bring change, hope, healing and salvation. The gospel is big enough. It’s big enough for the exceptional police officer who is scared to death to go to work the next morning. It’s big enough for the black man who’s a little more nervous about getting pulled over.

The gospel is big enough.

Use it.

But don’t hide behind it.

It’s common for Christians to tritely say things like, “We have a heart problem and our greatest need is the gospel.” That is a true statement but many of us use it to free us from taking any sort of action. Every week I counsel people in my office. The guy who can’t stop watching porn has a heart problem and his greatest need is the gospel. But that doesn’t keep me from telling him to cancel his movie channel subscription. The gospel does not relieve us of our responsibility to take action, it inspires us.

So preach the gospel this Sunday.

And live the gospel this Monday. Find a way to be an encouragement to the police officers in your community. Make a move across the railroad tracks and have a meal with the people whose skin is a different color than yours. Better yet, invite the police to that meal. Don’t just sit around watching the news and mumbling about how bad things are getting. Do something about it.

The gospel is a message of reconciliation. It is the story of God sending his only Son to save his enemies. What a shame it would be if now, of all times, we failed to proclaim that message because we were too busy picking sides. Or building our own kingdoms.

So pastor, do the world a favor this Sunday.

Preach the gospel.

And do the world a favor on Monday too.

Live the gospel.

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