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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Don’t Come To Our Church

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It wasn’t one of my finer moments. The conversation started off just like hundreds of others that I’ve had. But by the time that it was over, I realized that I was more like a Pharisee than I cared to admit.

The man told me that he was interested in visiting the church where I am a pastor. I told him the times and that we’d be glad to have him. And then he started telling me about his church and the reason why he wasn’t happy there.

He wanted to find a new church because too many blacks were coming to his church and he didn’t like being around them.

My immediate response was, “Well, if that’s how you feel, I don’t won’t you at our church.” I didn’t say that out loud, of course. Just to myself. When our conversation ended I kept thinking about what the man said. And then I thought about how I responded in my heart.

If I don’t want this man coming to my church, who do I want coming?

What the man said was wrong. His words obviously came from a heart that was not loving God and neighbor like the Bible commands us to. To put it plainly, he was a sinner. But isn’t that exactly the kind of person we should want coming to our churches.

Churches talk a lot about reaching out to society’s outcasts. In reality, I’m afraid that we’re just interested in reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts. Churches brag about reaching out to homosexuals, prostitutes and drunks. But let’s be honest. In our culture, those lifestyles are fairly accepted.

Thankfully, blatant racism is less accepted than it once was in many parts of the country. But that doesn’t mean that the sinners behind the racist comments should not be accepted in our churches.

When I was a kid, I heard a preacher say that churches should move the altars out in the parking lot so that people could get their act together before coming into the church. I’ve spent my entire ministry ridiculing that argument. It wasn’t until quite some time after my conversation with the racist that I realized that I was becoming the preacher I had been criticizing. I wanted the racist who was interested in coming to my church to get his act together first. I wanted altars in the parking lot.

Jesus doesn’t call us to get ourselves together before coming to him. He comes to us. Even while we are still his enemies.

That goes for prostitutes and homosexuals.

And racists.

Our churches, if we take the Bible seriously, should be open to sinners. Not so that sinners can feel comfortable and affirmed in their sin. And not so that sinners can take things over and start running the place. But rather so that sinners can become saints by the grace of God.

As Christians, we should all ask ourselves the following question.

Am I reaching out in the love and truth of Christ to social outcasts in need of the gospel because I love them or am I simply reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts so that I can feel better about myself?

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Is Oscar A Racist?

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I went for a run early Thursday morning. My route took me through several areas of town that are mostly populated by black families. As I passed folks, some waved. Others laughed about it being so cold. No one, I repeat, no one said anything to me about how much they hoped that the day’s Oscar nominations included enough black people. But a few hours later, that’s what I read on my newsfeed.

I tried to sympathize with the people voicing their frustrations over the apparent snub of Straight Outta Compton. But I couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried, and it wasn’t that hard, I couldn’t make myself care. And I think that the people I passed on my morning run would say the same thing. The only ones who care about this sort of thing are the ones who are paid to care. Or, to be more blunt, the only ones who really care about the lack of black presence in Academy Award nominations are those in the media who are paid to get us all worked up about such nonsense.

Forgive me for being so insensitive but it’s movie awards. It’s not like we’re talking about the lack of diversity on the Democratic Presidential debate stage where we have a white crook, a white Santa Clause and a white guy that no one is voting for.

Racial tension has gotten so out of hand in this country that we can’t even enjoy movies without being reminded of how we’re not supposed to be enjoying movies or getting along. Long before the new Star Wars movie came out there were numerous reports that the film would promote the mass killing of white people. A few days before I took my family to see the movie, a media personality lectured the country on how the movie was racist because Darth Vader wore a black suit.

Maybe I was too busy enjoying the movie for what it is, but I didn’t see anything having to do with racism against whites or blacks in the movie.

If we’re ever going to get along with each other in this country, we have got to stop listening to the people in the media who keep reminding us that we’re not supposed to be getting along. It’s up to us to do this. If there’s one thing that people of all political persuasions can be sure of, it’s the fact that our elected officials do not care about seeing this happen. Some are more concerned with marching to the drum beat of their big money donors while others exploit, or even promote our division to gain more control.

In response to the Oscar nominations, Al Sharpton said, “Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets.” That doesn’t exactly sound like something Martin Luther King would say.

On the other side, conservatives have Ann Coulter who does a better job of promoting anger, the high blood pressure of her audience and, well, Ann Coulter than she does at promoting anything having to do with liberty.

Americans should stop listening to both of them. In their absence, we need to start having meals with each other. We need to take the time to get to know individuals, not the groups we believe them to represent. You need to get to know Jackie, not that black lady who you think probably, maybe perhaps could have voted for Obama. You need to develop a relationship with Ed, not the white dude who you think might be stockpiling weapons to kill black people with just because he has the audacity to drive a truck.

Racism is a problem in this country. But it’s not going to be fixed on Facebook, by a president or with Oscar nominations that we approve of. It will be improved in our neighborhoods. You know, the places where people don’t care about Oscar nominations. The places where people live next to one another. The places where, for the most part, people get along with one another despite what Al Sharpton and Ann Coulter have to say.

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The Myth Of White Privilege

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We need to have an honest conversation about white privilege. The current one just isn’t working.

Yes, there is such a thing as white privilege. It’s quite common for a white thief to get away with simply paying back his victims while a black person who does the same thing get 3 to 5 years in prison and ten years of probation.

But the myth is that privilege is somehow confined to one particular race.

There’s just something funny about the Black Lives Matter activist drinking a $12 cup of coffee while typing away on his $2000 laptop about the horrors of white privilege. The white kid in Boone County, West Virginia where they are about to close one third of their elementary schools might wonder where his white privilege has run off to. He might even have something to say about Activist Privilege.

I did my graduate work at an evangelical seminary. During my time there, I got to know guys who were certifiable geniuses. While I was writing papers just do get them out of the way, the papers these guys wrote were destined to one day become books. It was interesting to hear what these guys were going to do next. Many of them planned on continuing their education and getting doctoral degrees. They dreamed of getting accepted to Yale or Harvard or some other prestigious east coast school.

Most of them didn’t get in. But why? It wasn’t because they weren’t smart enough or didn’t work hard enough. Their rejection was due to the fact that those prestigious schools had a quota of how many evangelicals they would accept into their school of theology. My genius, evangelical friends suffered from Liberal Theology Privilege.

That’s one reason why our current conversation about white privilege needs to change. It acts as though no one else is or can be privileged.

The current remedy to white privilege is guilt. Beat yourself up for being white and avoid commenting on any social issues for a while and maybe, just maybe, you can appease the political correctness gods before it’s too late.

The Bible gives us a better remedy.

 

Contentment.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)

Contentment is the enemy of greed and the opposite of guilt. When I am content, I rejoice with my neighbor when he works hard and saves wisely to pay cash for an automobile that I can’t afford. Contentment prevents me from looking down on him and from thinking that I’m somehow better than he is simply for having less.

But we aren’t content. We don’t know how to live when we are brought low. We think that everyone else needs to be brought low with us and that if they don’t they are evil. And we don’t know how to abound. We place our identity in what we have and we always want more. Without contentment, whether you’re poor or rich, white or black, male or female, you will always be greedy. Always.

There is a secret to successfully navigating our way through failure, success, privilege and greed.

Christ.

Doing all things through Christ’s strength wasn’t written to help football teams win state championships. It was written for entitled people who think that they deserve more and who are tempted to hate others who have more. It was written for you and me.

In one way or another, we are all privileged. And we’ll do anything we can to both deny our privilege and keep it.

Jesus took a different approach with his privilege.

He gave it up. He didn’t give up being God. He didn’t give up his personhood or the essence of who he is. He just gave up his privilege.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:4-8 (ESV)

Maybe if we followed that example, instead of living in a perpetual state of guilt or self-righteousness, we would all start getting along a little better. All of this guilt and self-righteousenss is preventing us from loving one another. It’s a breeding ground for hate. But if we live with the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:4), we can begin to love our neighbor and pursue his good. Otherwise, when injustices happen to him, we’ll just think that he got what he deserved.

If you want to play the I’m Bigger, Badder, Richer and More Important Than You game, you’ll never win. There is always someone with a little more. Even Donald Trump can’t win that game. The same is true of the other game, the one called, I’m More Abused, Harassed, Rejected and Poor Than You Are. There is always someone with a little less. You’re not going to win.

So instead of basking in your privilege or seething at the privilege of others, be content with who you are and where God has you. Come to grips with the fact that, no matter your color, you are privileged. But instead of comparing your privilege to others, follow the example of Christ.

Put it to the side.

And move toward others in love.

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The Least Segregated Place In America

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It’s been said that the Sunday morning service is the most racially segregated hour of the week. Last Sunday, I went to the least segregated hour.

I parked my car in one of the last spaces available and took a deep breath. I had been inside this building before but that still didn’t make it any easier. I always feel like I need to prepare myself before I go into this place.

Inside, I walked quietly through the hallway with my head down. I finally noticed the man that I came to see. He’s white and he was in the middle of a conversation with a black lady. When he saw me, he stopped talking and introduced me to the lady.

He told me that they were helping each other.

They couldn’t have been more different. Their genders, their race and their background where opposites. But that didn’t matter. One thing brought them together.

Death.

I was in a hospice. My friend’s father had just passed away. He was holding it together as good as you might expect. The lady I had just met was helping him. And he was helping her as she coped with the loss of her loved one. Although they were strangers, they were there for each other.

My friend walked me down the hallway to see his dad. Other family members were in there. They were grieving too. But not as those who have no hope. They knew that the man who had been sick for so many years was with Jesus now. Stories of the man’s life and legacy came out with ease.

The family told stories of fatherly discipline.

There were stories of hunting trips, school and playing in the band.

And there was one last story.

Just before death came to that room, one of the hospice nurses came in. She sang a hymn. She was black. The man she was singing over was white. The Savior who was about to receive the man created and loved them both.

We can go to churches and even school based on our racial preferences. Death doesn’t work that way. It comes to us all. And in a weird way, it brings us together.

In that hospice, there was no talk of confederate flags or white privilege or Louis Farrakhan or #blacklivesmatter. None of that mattered. There was only pain. Shared pain. And a hope that was shared too.

A while back I asked a man who has been alive for a few decades longer than me what he thought about the racial tension in our country today. How does it compare to the 1950s and 1960s?

“It doesn’t,” he told me. “It’s much worse today.”

A lot has been done in the name of stopping it. New words have been added to our culture’s non-written Do Not Use List. People are getting angry. The government is spending money. But none of it is helping.

Last Sunday, sitting in that hospice and surrounded by death, it hit me. Maybe we could all get along better if we started living like we do when we’re in the hospice. Maybe if we remembered that in life, just like in the hospice, no one gets out alive, we would stop letting our differences separate us.

For all of our differences, whites and blacks have one thing in common.

Death.

There is no amount of privilege, pride or resistance that will help us to escape it. For all of the pain that it brings us, death brings us something better. It brings us together. That’s how Jesus works. He is the Master of redeeming even the most painful of situations.

When I finally walked out of that hospice building last Sunday, I prayed a prayer. It’s the same prayer that I always pray when I leave those places.

“Lord, send Jesus back quickly.”

There’s nothing quite like a trip to the hospice to remind you of what we will not have once Jesus returns.

But there was more to this particular trip. This time, I got to see just a glimpse of what we will have after Jesus comes back.

The One who will one day forever remove death’s sting is the same one who will One day forever remove society’s segregation. In eternity, the worship services will not be segregated. All followers of Christ will offer up our praise to Jesus. Together.

And they sang a new song, saying,“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 (ESV)

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Happy Monday: I Never Got To Meet Martin Luther King Jr.

The world is on fire. Everyone is mad at someone. Riots are all the rage. Tensions are high. Wars are trendy. And it’s Monday.

With all of that, it’s hard to find a reason to be thankful. Unless you stop to take a look at the things you’ll never see on the news.

1. At dinner earlier this week my son said the blessing. He thanked God for Martin Luther King standing up for what’s right. While he was praying, George Strait was playing on our radio. I’m thankful for that small but significant piece of diversity and the conversation it produced.

2. A friend at church is a retired cop from a major American city. When he was on the force he answered to a sergeant who did not like him. My friend is white. His boss was black. Both assumed that the other was a racist. One day my friend waited outside of his boss’ office. He wanted to make things right. His boss finally came in wearing only half of his uniform. His plan that day was to get dressed in his office. Instead, he had to deal with my friend, the man he didn’t like.

“How can I make things right so that we can get along?” my friend asked his sergeant.

“We’re okay,” the sergeant replied. And then he hugged my friend.

My friend was worried what people might think if they walked by and saw him hugging his partially clothed boss.

But those worries were no match for the peace that came with that small reconciliation between the races.

We could use another Martin Luther King Jr. these days. Until someone like him comes along, we can celebrate the seemingly insignificant.

I’ll probably never give a memorable speech from Washington D.C. But, at my kitchen table, I can teach my sons about men who stood up for justice.

I never got to meet Martin Luther King Jr. but I’m glad that I know a former cop who has been so impacted by the gospel that he can’t settle for the same old racial tensions that King stood against.

I’m thankful for Dr. King.

But I’m also thankful for the thousands of others who are seeking to live out his dream – one seemingly insignificant moment at a time.

Happy Monday!

Maybe You Need To Stop Calling Yourself A Christian In 2015

Racism.

Now there’s a word that gets thrown around a lot. Too much. The white kid who cheers for Duke is a racist. The black guy with a strong opinion about politics is a racist. Racist. Racist. Racist. As one famous radio caller once said, “It’s all about the racial.”

As a result, we’ve become jaded. We roll our eyes at such outrageous accusations. And, perhaps out of habit, we roll our eyes when legitimate racism pops up. We tell ourselves that it’s not 1965 anymore. We have a black president. Racism is a thing of the past.

Sadly, it’s not.

If you don’t believe me, look no further than the one place on this planet where there shouldn’t even be a hint of racism.

The church.

I know where you’re expecting me to go with this. Sunday mornings are the most segregated time of the week, right? Maybe so but that’s not my point.

A while back someone was telling me about life in their racially-blended family growing up in a heavily populated, diverse suburban area. While racism certainly existed, it wasn’t all out in the middle of the streets. Biracial couples and families were able to navigate their way through life without awkward stares and cruel remarks. For the most part, white kids and black kids got along at school. From this person’s perspective, racism wasn’t even really on the radar, even after a move to a much larger city.

It wasn’t until adulthood that my friend encountered actual racism. It was at church. A Bible-believing church. One where the people loved Jesus and each other. There were men who knew an awful lot about the Bible but who also didn’t think twice about telling nigger jokes. There were women who seemed to model their lives after all of the bad people in that movie, The Help. But boy did the folks in that church ever love Jesus! And each other. But not others. You know, the ones on the other side of the track.

This is no indictment on the church. Jesus came to save sinners so that’s what we should expect to be filling the pews of our churches. But Jesus did not come to affirm sinners. His saving involves repentance from sin, not ignoring it or letting it slide. Immanuel, God with us, was not sent to laugh at your racist jokes or to reinforce your stereotypes. He came because of your racist jokes. Which begs the question. If you’re still hanging on to your silly jokes and stereotypes, no matter how much you go to church, do you really know Immanuel, God with us?

My guess is no.

Don’t get mad at me. Take it up with the Holy Spirit who spoke through the Apostle John.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8 (ESV)

If you are a Christian and you struggle with loving people from another race, you need to take that to Jesus. That’s part of the point of him being Immanuel, God with us. He didn’t leave you alone when he ascended back to the Father. He is with you to help you to become more like him. He is with you to help you to put away hate and to love like he loves.

But if you harbor hatred toward another race without any struggle or without leaning on Jesus to forgive you and to help you love more like him, please do yourself a favor. Stop calling yourself a Christian.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8 (ESV)

We don’t all have to agree. We don’t have to come to the same conclusions on music, the crime rate among black youth or who the next president should be.

But if we claim to be Christians, we better be loving others.

We do not love others so that God will love us and save us from our sins.

Rather, we love others because God has first loved us and set us free from our sins. From God’s holy and just perspective, we were the others. We were on the wrong side of the track. All of us. All races. But God came to us anyway to forgive us, set us free and give us new life.

If you are not willing to show that same kind of mercy and grace to others, it’s because you have never known God’s mercy and grace.

It’s because you have never known God.

I Predict, 2015

Here’s what’s going to happen in 2015. Trust me on this.

Politics

Through the cutting edge research of one of its top donors, Cobra Industries, the Democratic Party will develop a way to bring back an old hero to run for president in 2016. Joseph Stalin.

In typical fashion, the Republican Party will follow suit. But they won’t have to bring anyone back from the dead. They’ll just give us one of the Bush brothers. Jeb, to be exact.

Before the year is over, Stalin and Bush will emerge as the two likely candidates for 2016. Conservatives will encourage us to vote for the lesser of two evils. It’ll take most of us the better part of the year to figure out which one that is. By the time November of 2016 rolls around, only 300 people will care enough to vote. Twenty-five people will vote for Stalin. Fifty people will vote for W’s brother. 225 people vote for one of the Kardashians. If we’re still around, let me know how that works out. You can write me at the following address.

Rural Route 1

Gretzky Orr, Greenland 45612

Race Relations

Race relations in this country will actually improve after people finally get fed up and decide to start obeying the following self-imposed rules.

1. We shall no longer listen to what someone has to say about race if that someone calls himself a reverend but does not actually go to or pastor a church or if that someone is the host of a show on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.

2. We shall make every effort to enjoy a nice meal with people who do not look or think like us. At said meal we will discuss what troubles us. We will be free to disagree but only under the condition that we have another meal together real soon.

3. I’ll bring the sweet tea and gluten-free brownies.

Freedom

A police department in the northwest will confess to buying a tank so that they can use it to fight against people who own guns and believe in the Constitution. Oh, sorry. That happened in 2014.

Sports

The Atlanta Falcons will make history by becoming the first team to make it to the Super Bowl with a losing record, get beaten by more than 75 points in that Super Bowl, fire their coach and general manager and continue to make their fans pay for a new stadium all in a two month time span. Somebody’s got to do it. Why not the Falcons?

Music

Florida/Georgia Line will win the award for Best Musical Act or Performance to be Used for Interrogating Terrorists. They’ll have to give the award back a few weeks later after Diane Feinstein decides that such torture is simply too inhumane.

Also at the Grammy’s, someone will sing something that involves a gospel choir in the background.

Nickelback will have the number one album in the country for a few weeks but you won’t be able to find anyone who will confess to owning one.

Movies

Someone will make a movie about a disgruntled Atlanta Falcons fan who tries to blow up North Korea after his team gets embarrassed in the Super Bowl and he finds out how much he’s going to have to pay for tickets and taxes because of his team’s new stadium. Florida/Georgia Line and Nickelback will team up to provide the soundtrack for the movie.

And then the world will end.

Unless President Kardashian can do something to save us.

Again, let me know how that works out.

You’ve got my new address.

Pain And White Privilege

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It’s one of the most disturbing sounds I’ve ever heard in my life and it came from the end of the hallway in the house where I grew up.

Our hallway was long. Back then it seemed a mile long. I’m sure that if I went back to that old house on Creekwood Drive today, the hallway would look a lot smaller. Everything seems bigger when you’re a kid. The carpet covering the floor was dirty brown. Not by design. The color was the result of years of pet stains, spilled drinks and dirty shoes. It’s funny how you remember the little things. Carpet color. Stains. Sounds.

I heard crying at the end of the hallway. It was coming from my mother’s room. She was sitting on her bed with her back toward me and the phone against her ear. Someone on the other end was calling about an overdue bill. It was a bill that my mother couldn’t pay. All she could do was cry and say, “I can’t pay it.” It was one of those uncontrollable cries. The kind that nobody likes to see. Or hear. Especially from their own mother.

I was worried.

But, somehow, we made it. All I can point to is the grace of God. But a growing number of people in this country would point to something else. They call it white privilege. The only reason why my mother managed to survive with her two kids in tact, some say, was because of our whiteness.

That’s why, for some, any opinion I share regarding race is tainted by my white privilege. As they see it, it’s also what lies beneath my opposition to President Obama, the Affordable Care Act and affirmative action.

I didn’t feel very privileged that night when I stood outside of my mother’s room, listening to her cry.

I didn’t feel very privileged the summer after I graduated high school when I walked around the woods contemplating joining the army because there was no way that my family could pay for the school I was accepted to.

My white privilege didn’t seem to help very much when I sat in an accountant’s office every year at that same college, wondering if I would have to drop out. I’m pretty sure that my supposed white privilege isn’t what got me all of those Stafford Loans. And it certainly was not what helped me to pay them off, almost 15 years after I graduated college.

My mother was no different. Her whiteness allowed her to live out her final days in a shared room in a small nursing home. One time I had to call the man in charge of running that nursing home because my mother’s sheets were soaked in who knows what kinds of fluids. Later, when my mother died, my family mourned her death and I preached her funeral, none of us ever thought, “This is really tough but hey, at least we’re white.”

My story is nothing unusual. My life was much easier than most. Much easier. And that’s my point. We all have pain. Every single one of us. Some of that pain is a result of race, some is a result of poverty and some is a result of sickness. Some of our pain comes through no direct fault of our own. Some is the result of our unbridled stupidity. But we all have pain.

And here’s the part that no one likes to talk about as much.

We all have privilege too.

I had the privilege of growing up with a mom who taught me what it means to endure hardships before she was finally set free from hers.

I had the privilege of learning how to laugh when sometimes crying is all that makes sense.

I had the privilege of discovering what it means to work hard, stick to a budget and pay off student loans.

That’s the thing about pain. It has a way of shaping us and preparing us for unique privileges down the road. But not if we allow it to define us. When pain defines us, it becomes our identity and leaves us bitter and angry.

I’ve seen television personalities tell holocaust survivors that it was their white privilege that helped them to get back on their feet. I’ve seen policy makers blame their poor decisions on their own white privilege. None of this, no matter how well-intentioned, ever accomplishes anything other than leaving us with guilt and resentment.

Racism is very real. Before the return of Christ, it will probably never totally go away. But this much is true. It will only get worse if we continue to gripe about the presumed privileges of others while ignoring our own. We would be much better off if we figured out a way to delight in our shared accomplishments while mourning with and fighting for those who are mistreated.

I’ve come a long way since that night in the hallway when I heard my mother cry.

Some say it’s because of white privilege.

I attribute it to God’s grace.

And I think that we would all be much better off if we started modeling that grace toward one another.

Racial Volleyball

A white man kills an unarmed black youth and gets away with it.

Four black teenagers break into a home and kill the owner. They are never found.

Stories like these are lobbed back and forth almost everyday. It’s like a game of racial volleyball. Talking heads ramble on and on about that unjust killing of a black youth. Frustrated viewers respond by posting stories, unreported by the national media, about black kids that killed a white father of two and got away with it. Al Sharpton says something stupid. Ann Coulter responds by saying something equally stupid.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Racial volleyball.

I never see or hear too many stories about young black males like the one that lives next door to the church that I pastor. This kid loves hip hop. And he sometimes wears a hoodie. Gasp! But on Wednesday nights when our church eats dinner together, he’s in the kitchen long before it’s time to eat. Usually I see him putting ice in cups for people. If that’s already been done, he asks if there is something else he can do to help out.

The national news never reports on people like Lynne. She treated her black neighbor like he was her own son. To the best of my knowledge, she still does. When he was growing up, they spent a lot of time together. She helped him get ready for going back to school. She corrected him when he was out of line. Most of all, she just loved him.

But these stories don’t fit the agenda. The agenda is that races are supposed to be divided in this country. And if we’re not careful to turn off the television and take a look around, we will buy in to that agenda.

That’s yet another reason why we need the gospel. It helps us to love and serve the people we’re supposed to hate and ignore. Paul gives us a good example.

He was locked in prison for preaching the gospel. God sent an earthquake that shook the prison, opening the doors, loosening the chains and giving every prisoner his chance at freedom. The jailer, the man responsible for guarding these prisoners, pulled out his sword. He wasn’t interested in using it to keep prisoners from running. He was going to kill himself. For him, suicide seemed easier than trying to explain his way out of the situation.

Paul could have walked on by, happy that the pagan jailer was finally getting his. Instead, he yelled. “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). Paul was thinking beyond his own needs. He knew that Jesus died for him, an overzealous religious murderer. And he also knew that Jesus died for that jailer. Paul’s words changed everything.

And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:29-31 (ESV)

God used Paul’s one act of selfless love to send this jailer from suicide to salvation. The gospel changes everything. And the change kept on coming.

And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. Acts 16:33-34 (ESV)

The man who had played a role in Paul’s persecution was now caring for Paul’s injuries, welcoming him into his home and feeding him. All because of the gospel. The gospel changes everything.

Al Sharpton is selling an agenda of divisiveness. Ann Coulter is too. And the national media is their vehicle. They, and others like them, are merely playing their part in this country’s long, ugly game of racial volleyball. But the gospel helps us to love those who are different from us. Even the ones who are supposed to be our enemies.

There’s a foster family in our church. One day two of the kids, one white and one black, were riding home in the back of the family car. They were talking about girls.

“I gotta get me a black girlfriend.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m African-American.”

“What? You’re not from Africa.”

Confused, the boy looked to the front seat for answers.

“Well, what am I?”

The answer that came back was a result of gospel truth. Gospel truth that changes everything.

“You are ours and we love you.”

Game over.