Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hey Christian, YOU ARE Ray Rice...

By now I shouldn't be surprised when I check my social media or turn on the TV and someone new is in the news for some screw up they've done that many of my fellow “Christians“ are going to share their compassionless thoughts and opinions. And the fact that I shouldn't be surprised bothers me greatly, because we as believers should expect better from us as believers in this area. This blog article is not about the Ray Rice incident. This is about a heart issue that we must address.

How would YOU like it if YOUR sin/mistakes were broadcasted for almost everyone to see? Would you not seek and ask for grace, mercy, forgiveness? Does not God grant this to even murderers who repent (see Moses & David)? Self-righteousness is one of the most glaring deformities of Christians. You’re not perfect. Your life smells like boo-boo at times. Your actions, conversations, and thoughts are at times foul. But because the world doesn’t see it you think you can front like your life is always pristine. We have to stop being scared and fronting like we got it all together and learn to wear our brokenness as a badge of honor unto God’s grace (2Cor. 12:7-10)!

Guess what Christian? YOU ARE Ray Rice...and Darren Wilson, and Chris Brown, and any other person we’re ready to lynch via the media/social-media because of their sins/mistakes. YOU at times sin with a smile and hope no one caught you on camera. But God sees all and it’s by His grace and mercy that He doesn’t blast YOUR sin/mistakes for everyone to see. So be gracious and merciful to others in return, whether they deserve it or not, because let’s not forget we received God’s grace and mercy and we don’t deserve it. Remember, YOUR “righteousness” is filthy rags apart from Jesus; YOUR “goodness” is nothing and means nothing apart from Jesus. Thus, you have no righteousness or goodness in yourself to boast in anyway. We are to boast of and in Jesus’ righteousness and goodness manifested in our broken lives. Self-righteousness is but pride and idolatry of self camouflaged as selfies of our good actions and good character; it’s a glaring deformity that we choose to not see because we’re too focused on looking at and highlighting only or primarily the “nice parts” of ourselves.

This is why I try to boast of my weaknesses and brokenness more so or as much as my good, because any good you see or think you see in my life or from my life is all from God and for His glory. I am completely aware that if Jesus is not in my equation, if He is not my center, if He is not who I am daily surrendered to, I am a vile dude, point blank period. And guess what, so are you. So before you vent or share your opinions about other people’s sins/mistakes on social media or in your offline circles, think of YOUR sins/mistakes being put on blast by God for all to see…and remind yourself that He doesn’t. Then be merciful like your Heavenly Father is merciful (Lk. 6:36) and don’t comment like the Pharisee, comment like the tax collector (Lk. 18:9-14).

We who have received such great compassion should be the first to extend such great compassion to others (e.g. Matt. 18:21-33). Let’s pray for those (and their families) whose mistakes are put on blast by the media and lynched via social media. May they come to the loving embrace of Christ and be transformed by His grace and Spirit!
Jesus said, ““Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then He added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”” (Matt. 9:12-13, NLT, emphasis added)


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ferguson: A Reflection, A Response, & A Charge to the Church

When the Newtown, CT tragedy took place I shared my reflections and response. I too felt the need to do the same on the Ferguson, MO situation that’s been swarming the news and web for several weeks now. I have sat, observed, and been thinking deeply about this situation. At times during the past few weeks, I’ve experienced a myriad of emotions. I’ve taken them to the Lord. My wife and I have spent hours discussing this. We’ve spoken to our oldest son about it. Quite frankly, that’s what has taken me so long to write something on this incident, the processing of it. There are a number of reoccurring concerning problems I’ve observed throughout this ordeal. I wanted to gather my thoughts appropriately and specifically. I will not touch on every problem I’ve observed, just a few. Here is my reflection, response, and charge to the Church. This is rather long (just a little) and may be tough to hear, but I encourage you to read it all.

What’s the Media feeding ya?
I must address the media first. Why? Because media can be both a help and a hindrance. And in this case, it has been both. If you did not know, all media is selective. Yes, even your favorite media outlet is selective. Each media outlet has their own business mentality (they have to stay on the air), political views, personal worldviews, and differing opinions on news and what they consider news related or coverage worthy issues. Therefore, the news we receive will always be prejudiced because of these factors. For example, it appears as if the news (both national and local) overwhelming reports just the negative (murders, robberies, violence, political clashes, racial injustices, mistakes in the name of religion/faith, terrorism, etc), and sometimes only particular negative stories are worded and reported in a way to fuel and propagate a specific ulterior view/agenda. Rarely do we see the majority reports of good or inspiring things. There are many more positive and inspirational things happening in our nation (and in this Ferguson situation) than what is being portrayed in the news. But because all media is selective, this is what they choose to give us. The same is true in this Ferguson situation. Each media outlet is choosing to give us what they want us to see and hear and know from their perspective.

With that being said, what should we do? First, we have to be careful to not adopt the slant of our favorite media outlets. I’ve seen many people (especially with this Ferguson incident) get sucked up into their favorite news media’s slant to the point that they will proclaim and defend it like the news came from God Himself. Remember, it’s selective and from their perspective. It’s not absolute objective truth. Secondly, we have to remain objective and not base our judgment/conclusion of matters solely on our favorite media outlets (or the media in general). We have to use wisdom and extend grace in situations like these.

Best to Worst
Ferguson has shown the best of us (people of all walks of life peacefully rallying together for support and justice) and the worst of us (people being insensitive to a life lost, a family’s pain, a family’s fear, a city in turmoil, real racial struggles and injustices in our nation, etc). I have seen empathy and compassion. I have seen a stand of solidarity in support of both sides (Mike Brown and Darren Wilson, the people and the police). I have seen and heard how community leaders and churches have stepped in to be voices of reason and peace. Unfortunately, I have also seen stupidity, selfishness, and hatred from people (blacks and other non-black people). Sadly, for the blacks that thought looting and rioting was acceptable, they’ve fed the stereotype of black people in America, and they exhibited why (what some would call) unnecessary reactions from the police may be to some degree understandable, because black people are unreasonable, violent, ghetto, and do stupid things like this. This is definitely not true of all black people, but it’s easier to group all in this category from the idiocy of some. I have also seen avoidance, indifference, coldness, and ignorance of racial injustice towards black people, primarily from other non-black races (and even from my non-black Christian friends), and from within the black race as well.

But then that raises other questions. What about the non-black racial injustices? Do people of all walks of life peacefully rally together for support and justice in those situations? Do black people display the same empathy and compassion they want when it’s not their race being killed (or being killed by other blacks)? What about within the church? Will non-black pastors speak up for black injustices? Will black pastors speak up for non-black injustices? Will we as the Church stand together and support one another through these racial injustices when it’s not our race? You know what I’ve figured out. It’s easy and clean to not put forth effort in this way. It’s easy and clean to remain prejudiced and willfully ignorant. It’s easy and clean to condemn a whole race or the majority based on a few bad seeds. It requires hard work and getting your hands dirty to die to oneself, reach across the racial isle, and love another whom you’ve never taken time to understand but simply label according to your view and the media’s selective perspective.

Ferguson is no longer about Darren Wilson versus Mike Brown, or the police versus the people, or black versus white. It’s not about one race’s injustice. It goes deeper than that. Ferguson has brought to the surface racial injustice across all races and within the heart of the Church. That’s why there’s such a divide over this. And rather than us humbling ourselves to be empathic towards anyone who suffers racial injustices, we’re selective (like our media) and we choose avoidance, indifference, coldness, and ignorance to those we deem unworthy of our empathy and compassion.

A young teen is dead (that could be your son or brother). A police officer may be going to jail for the rest of his life (that could be your son or brother or husband). Both families are suffering. We should be empathic and show compassion for the grieving whether we agree with them or not. We should be empathic and show compassion period, but even more where losses are prevalent and especially as Christians. As I wrote about loss in my article for the Newtown tragedy,
“Loss is the greatest knock-the-wind-out-of-your-chest blow. Loss has a way of K-O’ing us. Why? Because when God created us, He hardwired us for relationships and purpose (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:15, 18). Therefore, losing something we dearly love and dearly value never to have it again is the hardest thing for human beings to cope with. It’s the reason why depression and anxiety are so common and deadly. We have a hard time dealing with loss or the thought of loss.”
Ferguson just helped put our selfish and compassionless hearts on an international stage. And some of you are proudly declaring your selfish and compassionless hearts online with no consideration, just cold and indifferent. Some of you are smart enough to not declare your selfish and compassionless hearts online, you keep it offline so no one can see how you truly feel and think. Either way, God sees it and your actions speak louder than your words and feelings, so eventually others will see it too.

Reality for a Black Person
To any non-black person who is reading this, please allow me a moment to explain a reality for black folk in America since I am a black man. There are some police that racially profile and unjustly arrest and/or kill some black people, just because we fit a general description: we’re black. I’ve experienced this after being saved and a law-abiding citizen. I’ve been handcuffed, frisked, and told to kneel because I met the description of a suspect in the neighborhood. I should note, I’m a light-skinned black (multi-racial) person and I wasn’t in an “urban neighborhood”, I was in a multi-racial suburb. So when I asked the police what was the description, I was told “a young black male in a coat”. That could be anyone! This is what black people have to deal with in America at the hands of some police regardless to geographical location.

Most may not be aware, but there is agitation between some cops/police stations and some black neighborhoods/blacks in the neighborhood. We shouldn’t ignore this, but nor should we as black people filter every police injustice where blacks are concerned through this agitation grid. It’s hard though for those who don’t trust police or the system because they’ve been burned by it to wait to come to a conclusion after an investigation they believe may be slanted against them from the beginning. It doesn’t make it right, but it should be mentioned and at least understood and taken into consideration. Thus, when this reality does get national coverage, those who suffer from it or are close to those who suffer from it take that opportunity to express it. Not everyone does it the right way, but that shouldn’t discredit the reality, and yet so many do.

So I ask, how often do you as a non-black person have to experience racial profiling and unjust racial targeting? Have you ever experienced this? How do you think you’d feel if you did? If you’ve never been on this end of this reality, it will be hard for you to imagine it. Just like it’s hard for Americans to imagine having their heads cut off from some terrorists overseas. Do some people warrant this kind of police response? I say yes! You cannot act a certain way and not expect to be responded to in a certain way. However, for all black people in general to be subject to that likelihood simply because we’re black is unjust and unwarranted. Again, Ferguson goes beyond Mike Brown and Darren Wilson. Regardless to the innocence or guilt of black people, this happens and does not always get coverage, or when it does some non-black people play it down and think it’s justifiable. I’ve witnessed this firsthand from some of my non-black Christian friends (especially on social media recently). As friends of mine, their obliviousness to their insensitivity and ignorance saddens me deeply.

The Good Samaritan
So who is your neighbor Christian? Only those from your race or your socio-economic class, only those who you think rate it or those whose injustices you deem worthy? Jesus has an answer for you.
“The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story: “A [certain man] was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A [Levite] walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. “Then a Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:29-37, NLT, [emphasis added])
Notice the “priest” (who would be equivalent to a leader/pastor) and the “Levite” (who would be equivalent to Christians—those who’s inheritance is the Lord), those two were God’s people, had His holy law, and lived for His glory, and yet they were the ones who lacked compassion and ignored the injustice of the man attacked and abandoned. But notice the “Samaritan”, the outcasted one, the one not worthy to worship God on His holy mountain, he showed compassion and comfort and support and grace and love! He displayed God’s heart more than the “people of God” who knew the right thing to do. And then Jesus says “go and do the same”. Your neighbor, in this context, are those who suffer these injustices right here in your own country, probably in your own state, possibly in your own city. So which one are you Christian: the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan?

The Church, the Gospel, & Race
No person should be unjustly judged and/or unfairly treated based on the color of their skin and biological characteristics. Race is not a sin. Race is a distinctive part of God’s way in which He creates us in His image. To be a racist is to hate the image of God in others. To unjustly judge and/or unfairly treat others based on race is to disgrace the image of God in others. To sit idly by compassionless toward racial injustices is to belittle the image of God in others. And to be a Christian and do any of this is utterly disrespectful and defaming to the Creator and Father you call your God.

How can we as Christians (of all races/ethnicities) be silent, indifferent, or cold toward any injustice when we, better than anyone else, should thoroughly understand injustice! Jesus Christ, the Incarnate, suffered the greatest injustice to satisfy His own justice towards our sins. For you and I, whom are born-again, to receive God’s grace is the greatest injustice ever! We don’t deserve it. It’s not fair for us to experience it. Justice for us is eternal separation from God because of our sin. That’s our justice! That’s what we deserve! And in this we celebrate our injustice that led us to salvation. So how dare we who have received and experienced such grace, such loving injustice as this—being declared innocent of all our sin and it’s eternal penalty, were once enemies alienated from God now completely forgiven and reconciled in a loving relationship with God—be silent, indifferent, and cold towards the racial injustices of others (especially other believers)?, and be racially wedged apart from other members of the Body of Christ? Where is the desire to break down walls of racial division and seek for racial reconciliation? Where’s the giving of grace to others that was freely given to us? Do you weep and mourn and seek to comfort our fellow brethren who have or are suffering racial injustices?

It is the gospel that breaks down these racially divisive walls.
“You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26-28, CEB, emphasis added)
It is the gospel that reminds us that every single human is by nature a bastard race of enemies of God, children of wrath, but…
“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5, ESV, emphasis added).
This is every Christian’s humble beginnings: bastards of sin, a race of enemies of God, children of wrath. Your spiritual race wasn’t determined by your skin color and biological characteristics; it was determined by sin and poised you against God from birth. But God, in His grace, goes beyond our race and rescues us and brings us into Himself in Christ. We need this reminder daily if we’re ever going to move beyond racial division in the Church and be compassionate towards racial injustices. You don’t have the luxury within the Body of Christ to look down upon, turn your nose up at, or think less of other races or their injustices because we who are born-again are all of the same race: “in Christ”. We’re all one flesh in Christ!
“There is one body and one Spirit. There is one hope in which you were called. There is one Lord and one faith and one baptism. There is one God. He is the Father of us all. He is over us all. He is the One working through us all. He is the One living in us all.” (Eph. 4:4-6, NLT, emphasis added)
We hurt the Body of Christ when we’re silent, indifferent, and cold towards the racial injustices of our brethren. We hurt our witness as God’s Church when we’re silent, indifferent, and cold towards the racial injustices of others in general. Think about it, what witness are we Christians demonstrating to those in the world with how we handle race issues and racial injustices in general, and then racial division between our own churches/denominations? How are we conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel in our poor to inept handling of race issues and racial injustices in general, and then racial division in our own churches? It is the gospel that calls and compels us to forgive others if they’ve hurt us and to not hold it against their whole race. It is the gospel that calls and compels us to show mercy and be compassionate to everyone, regardless of race. It is the gospel that calls and compels us to be the good priest, the good Levite, and the good Samaritan!

I am aware this may not be the case for everyone who will read this. You may be beyond some of the things I’ve mentioned here. You may have already been working on these areas or never really had a problem/issue with race. That is the case for my family. We’ve have many years to work out our issues with racial injustices and prejudices. Our children have been purposely raised from birth in a multi-racial, multi-cultural manner—i.e. see, respect, care for, and befriend people not color.

I am aware there are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural churches teaching and demonstrating racial reconciliation and proudly living out together our new race in Christ. As other Christian writers have mentioned in their articles, we need more churches like these! In the same manner I do my part of racial reconciliation and non-racial division—i.e. see, respect, care for, and befriend people not color—through how I treat others and raise my kids and how they’ll raise their kids and treat others, and so on. The church is a household, fathered by God and led by His undershepherds, longing to be raised up to see, respect, care for, and befriend people not color, to make disciples of all peoples/all colors/all ethnicities so to be one people—God’s people. Jesus was crystal clear about this. The world will know that He is the sent Savior from heaven through our oneness as His Church/Body (Jn. 17:20-23). Racial division and racial isolation completely undermines the heart of God and the witness of Christ. We need more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural churches, especially in America.

I am too aware, that some who read this may be upset. Please know that it was not my intent to upset anyone. I wrote this as an appeal from my heart to yours. I hope you can still take something beneficial from this article with you.

If in anyway you have been convicted by what you’ve read or you know you’re guilty of something you’ve read, there is forgiveness because our God is a gracious God. Ask for forgiveness, repent, and move forward one day at a time, remaining in prayer for a new desire in this area, constantly looking to Jesus and His work and yielding to the Holy Spirit to break through those racially divisive and/or racially insensitive walls in your life and around you.

If you’ve been challenged in anyway by what you’ve read, I implore you not to resist it. Surrender it to God and ask Him to continue to work in your heart to reflect more of His heart through you, and to give you the strength needed to walk out the conduct worthy of the gospel in your life.

It’s always tough speaking out on these tender topics and the wonder of how will it be received always looms in one’s mind. I hope that my two cents may help add to the pot of solutions, encourage reconciliation, challenge poor judgment and ignorant thinking, spur hearts to Christ, and remind believers of the call of the gospel. If you were blessed by this in anyway, then praise God! May He be glorified in any and every way through this Ferguson situation and my simple article.

I’ll end with a question I hope you sincerely and seriously consider: How is your view and attitude toward racial injustice and racial reconciliation going to reflect the gospel and represent Christ going forward?

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters...
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
(1Jn. 3:16, 18, NIV, emphasis added)