Jesus, justice, & the multicultural church

As I look at the church, I’m quite concerned about the white-washing of Jesus, the toxic absence of justice, and the potential dangers of the multicultural movement. Which is why I am so thrilled to spend the next few days with the great civil rights activist Dr. John Perkins. He lives for the biblical Jesus, true justice, and a truly multicultural church. Here are some random thoughts to prime the pump for anybody joining us this weekend.

The earliest church was multicultural from the jump. Acts 2 describes an incredible variety of backgrounds from Rome to Asia to Egypt and everywhere in between – ethnic Jews and Gentiles alike. Racially and nationally, the first church was all over the map. When the power of the church was the greatest, the membership was the most diverse. We read about the same reality in the Azusa Street awakening at the turn of the 20th-century. Led by the African American preacher William Seymour, the revival united people of all racial and demographic backgrounds. “One of the most remarkable things was that preachers of the Southern states were willing and eager to go over to the black people in Los Angeles and have fellowship with them,” Frank Bartleman wrote. “The color line was washed away in the blood.” As potent and far-reaching as that movement would become, as soon as racism set in, the power was diminished as everybody ran back to their homogeneous sides of the racially divided church.

The very diversity that reveals God’s glory challenges man’s sensibilities. Racism is not a 21st-century phenomena; it’s not a white or black thing; it’s a human thing. Wherever there has been power, and whenever there has been a majority who possessed the privilege associated with that power, there has been human struggle.

When I hear Christians express their desire for diversity, I wonder what they mean. If what we mean is to be in a room with a variety of colors on people’s faces, this is not only insufficient, it can actually be dangerous. If we want someone’s face on a stage but do not want their voice where it counts, then this is a deceptive diversity that insults the very image of God. It is a diversity of color, but not culture. And whoever sits in the seat of majority will always have a privilege that is as natural to a human as water is to a fish.

This is why, when a black man and white man engage in multicultural relationships (or church), it usually comes with a very different cost. In the mind of a white man, unity means he needs to flex a bit. Maybe 10%. That 10% feels like a significant concession, since he’s not used to giving much up. For the black man, that same unity usually means he’s moving 90%. The “unity of the Spirit” has a higher price tag for the minority than the majority. When diversity means minority adaptation to the majority culture, we’ve performed spiritual malpractice. What does this mean? For starters, it means Jesus is not just asking the minority to move toward the majority, He’s asking the majority to move just as graciously toward the minority. This is the “one new man” Paul described as who we are becoming.

It’s helpful to remember that the early church – which was turning the world upside down – had these same struggles. But they confessed it, they addressed it, and the they invited God to be God. You cannot change what you will not address.

Because many churches have majored on a righteousness-message that functionally starts with Pauline epistles while neglecting the totality of Scripture (like the Prophets) which never divorces righteousness and justice, much of our message rings hollow to our hearers. When we present the words of Jesus without doing the justice of Jesus, we lose our credibility.

If only this world could hear the whole Gospel.

Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus because it really is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. Jews, gentiles, black and white. They are precious in His sight. No more white-washed, justice-neglecting, majority-leaning Jesus. Let’s have courage to embrace the real Jesus with His whole gospel and become the church that turns the world upside down once again.

Somebody pray!

Questions I’m asking while fasting

There are so many things you could do with your life. What are the few things that you should do? Filter through the many and choose the few that make sense in the light of eternity.

Setting apart time at the beginning of the year to pray, fast, and reflect are powerful ways to give you space to prioritize. When you would have been eating, spend time reflecting. Here are some questions I’m asking this week (straight out of my journal):

………….

What am I wired to do?

What is my mission? Is it written?

What can I do that will bring the greatest contribution?

Is there anything God has clearly told me to do that I have left undone?

Have I clarified what I desire to see happen this year? Is it written?

What new habit do I need to establish to line up my life with my mission?

What habit do I need to break?

What smaller, doable goal can I accomplish this month to give me momentum?

What’s important now? (W-I-N)

What books do I need to read this year?

Who are the people who make me better? Who causes my heart to burn for Jesus and eternity? What’s the plan to make more time for these people?

How can I make disciples who make disciples this year?

Am I harboring any bitterness or hardness of heart?

Am I fueled by grace or striving in self-effort?

 

Why do we fast?

Not my will, but yours be done.

What a stunning thought that Jesus, the King of kings would feel the need to pray these words. That he could will something that was contrary to Father’s will – and yet remain sinless. Possessing a will contrary to God’s is not a sign that you should give up, it’s a sign that your human body is still living on planet earth.

This is where fasting comes in.

Fasting is not about twisting God’s arm to get him to do my will. It’s about untwisting my soul to desire his will. I strongly encourage you to pray through Isaiah 58 over the next few days to develop this idea.

Fasting is not about giving up desire. It’s about foregoing lower desires for higher desires, lesser joys for greater joys, weaker glory for stronger glory, temporary satisfaction for eternal satisfaction.

Fasting reminds me that I can be ruled by God. That I really don’t need to live by bread alone. That I really can wrap my life around the will of God. And that’s the thing about God’s will: there is always a deeper joy on the other side of that choice. It may be delayed gratification, but rest assured, joy comes in the morning.

Your will is an awfully big deal. Submit it to God and you’ll start to see things go on earth as it is in heaven. Fasting helps your will bow to God’s in ways that nothing else seems to do.

And so we move into a 10-day period of prayer and fasting. I invite you to join in. Eyes on Jesus. Feast on his words. Purge the urge to twist your fasting into dead religion. And stay the course. You won’t be sorry.

 

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, & Racialized Sin

Blog - Alton SterlingTroubling thoughts keeping me up late and waking me up early:

1. It’s devastating to see non-Christians more torn up over black people dying than white Christians. I’m sad and angry and embarrassed and grieving.

2. Implicit bias is more dangerous than overt hatred because it operates underground. It has been stunning to witness all the racism that has risen to the surface over the course of Obama’s presidency. My head was in the sand.

3. Refusal to address racialized sin has undermined our capacity to fulfill our Romans 12:15 calling to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Mika Edmondson) As a son still grieving the loss of my father, I can tell you how incredibly healing it is when you encounter people who choose to grieve with you. And how painful it is when people do not. I grieve and feel for the family of Alton Sterling. My heart breaks for the family of Philando Castile. Their lives matter.

4. Refusal to call out racialized sin has blocked our capacity to heed the warning of the prophets of old: Repent. It is embarrassing that it has taken the ubiquity of cell phone cameras to open the eyes of culture to injustice that has been there all along. If the church won’t say it, it seems that God will allow Youtube or BET to bring it to light. Injustice must be confessed. Hatred must be addressed. Indifference must be forsaken. The blood of the innocent cries out to heaven. God forbid that we block our ears. I have been a part of the problem, and I repent. My silence has been part of the problem, and I repent. I have benefitted from a system where the playing field is not level.

5. If you question the need to repent of corporate or systemic sin, then I challenge you to consider Nehemiah (1:6) or Daniel (9:20). These giants of the faith found the need and humility to repent of both personal and corporate sin. Tell me what I can do, people ask me. Please read The New Jim Crow. I don’t want to hear another white person tell me they never owned a slave. I never want to hear another white person bring up black on black crime. Enough. Lord we confess our sin of racism, which we have sinned against You. Have mercy.

6. Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week. Why are all the black kids on one side of the spiritual cafeteria while all the white kids are on the other side? Because the church forgot who we are. The church forgot our prayer, on earth as it is in heaven. And in heaven it’s every tongue and every tribe gathered in reconciled unity under the blood bought banner of Jesus.

7. I don’t want to hear another person invalidate the pain. Or fear. Or suspicion. Or anger. Or hurt. Or outrage. The tears are rolling and the hearts are broken. Friends are asking me, how can people be so passionate about abortion and human trafficking and clean water halfway across the world, and then be so cold to death in their own backyard. These same people that prayed with you, worshipped with you … How can they be so blind? And it’s hard to not feel like they’re blind on purpose. Maybe they wouldn’t pull a trigger, but how can they be so silent when it happens? If my white brothers and sisters in Christ don’t get it, what white person will? I thought they’d be different. I’m angry. We’re struggling – in a different way. A lot of us in a speechless way.

8. Someone has to be different. If you’re a majority, we need you to model the way in humility and understanding and contrition and repentance. Grieve. If you’re a minority, your challenge is something like what you’re needing from white believers. Be different. It is rare to hear a God-centered response in times like these. When the heat is on, Christians are so tempted to play the predictably tune of the rest of the world. Taking their cues and becoming echoes of whatever talking head they just heard. Stop being an echo when you were made to have a voice. I just hung up the phone with Civil Rights activist John Perkins. This is the man whose brother was killed by white policemen. This is the man who was imprisoned and beaten to the point of death because of the color of his skin. This is a man who bears in his body the marks of racial injustice. Yet he constantly warns me: Feel the pain. Be angry. But bring it to Jesus, and let Him make it redemptive. If your eyes move away from Jesus, you won’t see straight. You never beat hate with hate, you beat it looking at the One who took it with whips and thorns and beatings.

9. If you are reading this as part of our faith family, I charge us afresh to embrace our call to offer this world the Gospel alternative. It’s a day to pray and fast and weep. To have hard feet and soft hearts. To open our mouths and spend our lives. To be a community with too much brown to be called a white church, and too much hispanic to be called a black church – a body that models the diversity and reconciliation and redemption and healing and power and grace and justice and mercy of God’s kingdom. I was supposed to be on preaching sabbatical for one more week, but I’ll be coming back early to address these painful realities from the heart of the kingdom of God. Please pray for us.

10. The people with the most hope lead. So let’s go lead, because we have hope. Not because of where we are, but because of where He is: sitting on a throne of justice

Bloody cross, empty tomb

I recently found myself in the middle of a very strange conversation with a very educated doctor when the conversation moved to our faith. Of course the most common approach is to assert the viability of every belief, as long as it’s sincere. But after many months of walking with a loved one through illness and the possibility of death, the stakes felt higher. “Everybody believes in something,” he said. “But what is the basis of that belief?” was my question. And then I said it.

My faith is rooted in a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

It was a strong moment. Months later I’m still chewing on the implications of this truth. As we move into resurrection weekend, I’m asking the question afresh: what does this mean?

It means the Judge has judged.

It means sickness is judged by the cross. Bigotry is judged by the cross. War is judged by the cross. Child slavery is judged by the cross. Rape is judged by the cross. Fear is judged by the cross. Oppression is judged by the cross. Sin is judged by the cross. My sin, my pride, my hypocrisy, my deceit, my selfishness are judged on a bloody cross.

It means the King has risen.

It means light beats darkness. It means life beats death. It means justice beats evil. It means cancer is going to bow. It means molestations will be no more. It means poverty is losing its grip. It means racism’s days are numbered.

It means all things will become new.

It means the stories your believing mama told you have to be taken seriously. It means God hears prayers. It means you can break addictions. It means you can be free. It means your family can be restored. It means you are going to make it.

Because if He can beat death, He can beat anything.

It means you’re not defined by your worst mistake. It means you really can be forgiven. It means God’s grace is stronger than your sin. It means God’s goodness trumps your badness. It means God’s capacity to fix you up is infinitely greater than your capacity to screw you up.

It means your story may have horrible chapters, but you have to read it to the end, because when God is the Author, the story always ends well.

It means there is more hope for you than you thought possible, because the very worst this world can throw at you is death. And Jesus beat it. Which means death may take you from this world, but Jesus will take you from death.

Which means you don’t have to be afraid of anything. Ever. Again.

So turn in your pen, stop trying to force your own script, and let Jesus be your Author, resurrection, and life.

Arise.

Cam Newton, the Super Bowl, & the Race Card

 

I’m not even close to unbiased as we approach the 2016 Super Bowl.

I graduated from the University of Florida. I’m a Gator fan. Gators do not like the Tennessee Volunteers. We struggle to acknowledge that one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time goes by the name Peyton Manning, a Tennessee Volunteer. And yet as extensive as his resume is, let me give you my favorite Peyton Manning statistic: 0-4. That would be his record against my alma mater.

Now we come to Cam Newton. Before he was Superman; before he was a Carolina Panther; before he was Mr. Heisman; he was a Florida Gator. I know Auburn fans claim him as their own, but I remember the kindness and patience of Cam toward children in general, but mine in particular, when he walked off the practice field in Gainesville, Florida. I like Cam.

A couple days ago things heated up as Cam made a statement about being a black quarterback in the NFL. Depending on who you are in the world, his words either ring incredibly true or they carry the stench of the race card.

Depending on who you are the race card is a tool people of color use to blame whites for things that are not their fault or the race card is a term used to disempower minorities and invalidate all claims of racial injustice without respect to current evidence or historical fact.

As I clicked through the comments below Cam’s article, it was once again apparent just how polarized we are. “There’s no bias here,” many argued, “Why is Cam trying to make this about race?”

So I started thinking about my bias.

Growing up in the Tampa Bay area helped me to never get emotionally invested in a football team, as the Bucs found a way to perennially disappoint. But my fan-soul was awakened as I stepped foot on the campus of the University of Florida. Little did I know that I was being immersed into an entirely new culture. Next thing you know, I’m looking at the football world through an entirely different set of lenses. (Orange and blue to be exact.) I didn’t really choose for it to happen; but my days of unbiased participation in the world of football were over.

And that’s why, Peyton, if you’re reading this, I respect your talent, but I want you to lose in a very big way. Cam, if you’re reading this, I hereby commission you to take this Volunteer down one last time. 0-5.

Back to the race card.

When I hear all these people claiming that they possess no racial bias, I find myself wondering, exactly what culture did you grow up in? Do you really believe that you live in a racially-neutral society? Or, if you recognize the inequities, do you really believe that your soul is somehow immune to the effects? “Stop trying to make something out of nothing,” people are telling Cam. But is it possible, that just as subconsciously as I became a Gator-partial man, that each of us slowly develops into adulthood with all sorts of biases of which we are surely unaware. It’s the air we breathe.

I guess I’m pleading with us to be humble enough to admit we are products of the environment in which we were raised. I want us to be courageous enough to say this publicly: Everything is not ok. And for me to bring up the New Jim Crow of our prison system or for Cam to bring up his experience as a black quarterback is not the problem. The solution to brokenness is never denial; but it almost always starts with humility.

The fact of the matter is, I’m a biased man. I prejudge. I hold on to my privilege. And it’s not just football. It’s my ethnicity. My gender. My nationality. The fact of the matter is we are divided. As awkward as it is to spend time with a dysfunctional family that pretends that nothing is wrong is as awkward as it can be in churches when Ferguson or Baltimore, Maryland or Cam Newton are in the news.

Which is why one of the greatest words to proceed from a human tongue is this one: reconciliation.

PERKINS blogWhich is why I can’t wait to see what happens in our partnership with Dr. John Perkins, a man who has given his life (and been beaten within an inch of his last breath) for Jesus, justice, and reconciliation.

 

My hope is that the body of Christ will be the hope of our nation in achieving reconciliation that comes from truth, humility and justice. And I want to be a part of the solution. Because division is not just an ethnic thing; it’s a human thing as old as the Garden where our first parents broke relationship with God. I know Someone who knows exactly what to do with division.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV)

Game on.

 

What are you chewing on?

It’s not enough to simply read the Bible.

Jesus made an audacious promise at the end of His sermon on the mount: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24 NIV)

Here is the problem. It’s easy to hear the words of God; the challenge is putting them into practice. In between the hearing and the doing I hit a wall. It’s easy to hear about loving your enemies or serving your wife or holding your tongue or sharing your stuff. The challenge is the real world of traffic and trials and jerks.

So how do we put God’s words into practice? Meditation.

Your life will follow your meditation.

Look at what God told Joshua: “This Book of the Law must not depart from your mouth, but you are to meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. Then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

The key to turning hearing these words into practicing these words is this controversial activity we call meditation. It’s an interesting word; it’s a misunderstood word; most of all, it’s a neglected word.

To “meditate” is to chew – again and again. Just like a cow chews the cud, God told Joshua to chew on His Word. The interesting thing about the word is how connected it is to words like muttering, musing, even speaking.  In other words, meditation is not a silent and passive activity. Your mouth, body, mind, and spirit all work together when you meditate.

Your life will follow your meditation. So what are you chewing on?

Truth be told, meditating is not reserved for monks in a monastery. We meditate all the time. You already chew; the question is What are you chewing on? If you’ve ever complained in traffic; if you’ve ever shared a Facebook post; if you’ve ever rehearsed what you wanted to say to your boss; if you’ve ever sung along with a song on the radio; if you’ve ever quoted the lines of a movie … then you know how to meditate.

One of the breakthroughs in life comes when we get honest about the “monasteries” that we belong to. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Blogs. CNN. Sports talk. People magazine. Wired magazine. The National Enquirer. USA Network. Friends and family. Porn.

Your life will follow your meditation. It’s a law. Some objects of meditation lead you to worry. Some will lead you to pride. Some will get you angry.  Others will stir you to gossip.

And then there’s God’s Word.

According to God, the key to transformation is not to empty your mind, but to fill it with His Word.  And the promise is clear: then you will make your way prosperous, then your life will be built on a rock.  (Joshua 1, Matthew 7)

This calls for daily injections of the Bible.  Read it actively, attentively, and with some of your best energy.  You’ll start to feel like God is talking to you (because He is).  You’ll sometimes have the sense that these words are alive (because they are).  So when you hit a passage that seems to really click, or apply, or comfort, or challenge … don’t rush by too quickly.  You might even want to memorize a verse and keep repeating it throughout the day.  Or share it on social media.

Pause.  Chew.  Think.  Write it down.  Say it out loud.  Say it again.  Say it again. Take it deep.  Chew a little more.

Don’t be surprised when Jesus shows up.  Because your life will follow your meditation.