Racial Strife: Finding the Antidote to the Enemy Within

Racial Strife: Finding the Antidote to the Enemy Within

If you’ve ever watched the movie Independence Day, or one of the many other films that have been made over the years about aliens attacking the world, you know there’s one consistent theme with all of them: There is a common enemy that seeks to annihilate mankind, and this common threat brings together people of every race, background, and even religion to fight the enemy. The myriad of differences of the people no longer matter. Rather, the people become united as one because without such unity they will surely die. 

 

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“American will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

The President who led our nation to battle the evil of racism, which resulted in the deaths of 620,000 Americans, had a front row view of the hatred that nearly destroyed our nation. And he ultimately lost his life because of that hate.  

Since the founding of our great nation, the scourge of racism has pulsated through our communities. If we are honest with ourselves though, racism flows in all directions. It is not limited to a particular race or skin color. 

But racism is not the root of the problem, any more than the spaceships of the aliens were the underlying threat to mankind. Rather, the aliens within the spaceships were driving the threat to annihilate mankind. 

Likewise, racism is merely the vehicle that carries the real threat: Hate.  We hate others because of their skin color, or their socio-economic status, or their geographic location in our nation, or the wealth they possess, or the education they were provided, or the President they voted for, or a host of other reasons. 

Pure and simple, Americans Hate. And the latest stage where we have seen that hate playing out is in the streets of Charlottesville as KKK and other white racist groups battled with BLM and other black racist groups. Sadly, if we’re honest with ourselves, hate is often present in our own hearts and lives. As we view the bloody scenes of men and women clashing in the streets, what wells up in our hearts?  Is it anger or sorrow?  Is it the desire for retribution or forgiveness?  Is it rationalization or condemnation?

Jesus said that we should be willing to forgive our brothers up to seventy times seven, symbolizing an unending flow of forgiveness. Yet, are we willing to do so?

Consider that unforgiveness is a sin that directly severs our relationship with God, as Jesus affirmed:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15

Later, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

The antidote to the poison of hate is a two step process: forgiveness and love. This process requires a daily commitment on our part to insure that the enemy of mankind, hate, does not well back up in our hearts. Unless we commit ourselves to the discipline of forgiveness and love, the future of the union for which so many bled and died is at stake. But more importantly, the eternal destiny of our own souls hangs in the balance. 

Thank you for reading and if you enjoyed this post, would you mind forwarding it to a few friends?  Thank you.

Chattanooga: A Polluted City

Chattanooga: A Polluted City

I remember first moving to Chattanooga when I was 18.  Excited to move south, I was eager to complete my college education and then launch out into the real world.  

Having grown up in Madrid, Spain, I was accustomed to pollution, given Madrid’s awful track record in the 1960’s and ’70’s.  But despite this, one of the first things I noticed as I settled into my new home city in Tennessee was its own pollution.  It was just a decade earlier when Chattanooga had been declared to have the worst air pollution in America, and there was no avoiding the dirt, filth and smog.

But nearly forty years later, one of Chattanooga’s claim to fame is the way in which it acknowledged its worst standing in America.  As the #1 polluted city, Chattanooga put a plan in place to tackle the scourge for which it had become known.  Government officials, agencies, businesses, and civic leaders all came together to lead in confronting the literal cloud that hung over them.  Today Chattanooga is known for its vibrant and rejuvenated downtown and is now regularly acknowledged for the beautiful city it has become.  

But in spite of the pride Chattanoogans have for the city we all love, there is another pollution that is much more serious than the smog and dirt that permeated our air just a few decades ago.

I was recently reading in the Bible in Numbers 35:33 (in the Old Testament) and I came across this astonishing statement:  “Murder pollutes the land.”  Stop for just a moment and let that statement sink in.  I wonder how many of us have ever truly considered the impact that a murder has on a city, or nation?  

Of course, murders happen everywhere.  But in some places murders happen in more frequency.  Chattanooga is one of those places.  Sadly, in 2016, Chattanooga ranked as the #9 most dangerous cities in America for crime (in the under 200,000 population category).  Much of the reason the city known for conquering its air pollution problem, sank to a #9 ranking in crime, is due to its increasing murder rate.  

If murder pollutes the land, then Chattanooga is being polluted at an ever increasing rate.  But unlike the air pollution of the 60’s and 70’s, the impact of murder is a permanent one.  The loss of a life is perhaps the worst kind of tragedy that one can experience.  The families, friends, neighbors and co-workers of a murder victim are forever changed.  

Americans are known for our interest in cleaning up our environment, protecting our natural resources, and generally tackling problems until we find their solution.  But to date, the pollution of murder in Chattanooga is not seen as a crisis for our city.  And until it is, or until we begin to recognize that murder is polluting our land, I fear we will continue to see this scourge poisoning our lives and that of our fellow citizens.  

I have come to realize this truth over the years: “That on which we focus we excel.”

To date, Chattanooga has offered much lip service to tackling the scourge of murder in our midst, but the focus has been lacking.  And by focus, I mean across the board, from all corners of our community.  The underlying factors that brought us to a #9 rating did not happen overnight, anymore than sinking to the worst air polluted city in America did.  And just like reversing our air pollution took a multi-disciplinary approach, likewise, saving lives by reducing our murders will require the same.  Government officials, agencies, courts, business leaders, churches and individuals must all come together to lead in finding the solutions.  And we must continue to do so until the solutions work. Unless or until we do, the pollution of our city will continue, and likely worsen.

In the second half of the verse in Numbers we read this:  “No sacrifice except the execution of the murderer can purify the land from murder.”  While it may sound insensitive or old fashion to some, the truth is that prompt and commensurate punishment is a strong deterrent to crime.  So when it comes to the taking of life, the way to purify the land from this pollution is to execute the one who took the life.  This is harsh, but this is justice.  And this is God’s remedy.

Finally, I have learned that what we see on the outside flows from what is in the inside.  The murders and other crimes we continue to see proliferated through our city and nation are merely a symptom of what is inside us.  Until we clean up the pollution inside our own lives, we will never clean up the pollution of murder, as hard as we try.

So what about it Chattanoogans?  Or for that matter Americans, since murder happens across this land.  It’s time to step up and tackle the pollution of murder in our midst.

“…for murder pollutes the land.”

Possessions, Wealth, & Stewardship: Truths That Should Compel Change

Possessions, Wealth, & Stewardship: Truths That Should Compel Change

“My houses. My cars. My bank accounts. My businesses. My properties. They are all mine. I’m a self made man.”

These phrases are frequently referenced and even celebrated in America.  We use them so routinely that it’s almost second nature.  But truthfully, in the nation that prides itself on capitalism and entrepreneurship, it should come as no wonder.

But in an era that condemns #FakeNews and seeks #Truth, are these statements accurate?  Are they true?  Or is there something deeply misleading about them?

In my years of pursuing the “American Dream” and seeking a bigger house, faster cars, larger bank accounts, and more profitable businesses, I have come to understand that there is a truth to these pursuits that sadly too often escapes our understanding. 

As I’ve taken time to ponder, research and seek the meaning of life as it relates to possessions, wealth and stewardship, the following key truths have become clearer to me.

Truth 1:  It’s not yours or mine 

The first truth is that you and I don’t own what we routinely call ours or “Mine.” That home, car, property, bank account, business, or fill in the blank, is not yours or mine. There is a higher Power and Authority to whom it all belongs. The same One who created the universe, and you and me, also entrusted you and me with the possessions we have that we call our own. There are so many references in the Scriptures that affirm this truth, but here are just a couple:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.”  (Psalm 24:1)

Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.”  (1 Chronicles 29:11-12)

Truth 2:  The “self-made” man does not exist. There is no such man 

The idea that a man makes himself, as in his achievements, possessions and such, and they are are all his own creation, and it is he who is solely responsible for them, is false.  In fact, it is the epitome of arrogance and it’s highly disingenuous to ignore every other person and circumstance that came together to enable such a person to achieve and possess. But worse, the idea of a “self-made” man ignores the One who breathed into each of us the gifts, skills, intellect, and health, and orchestrated the right circumstances that led to what our culture defines as success. 

There are numerous examples in Scripture that speak to the flawed concept of a “self-made” man but in Deuteronomy 8 we read this warning from God:

“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…”  (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

Truth 3:  Gifts do not appear out of a vacuum

Along with the misunderstanding about someone being “self-made” is the idea that our unique giftedness is simply our own doing.  It’s true that gifts can and should be cultivated, but they are initially embedded in us by a Power much greater than ourselves.  Again, we see this truth playing out repeatedly in Scripture.  For instance, when God led Moses to build the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant, God singled out a man named Bezalel to be responsible for all the work involving precious metals, gemstones, and woodwork and also appointed Oholiab to be his assistant.  We read this about these two men:  

“Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel… I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!  I have personally appointed Oholiab… to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make.”  (Exodus 31:2-6)

Truth 4:  You and I will give account someday for all the assets that were placed within our control

Perhaps this is the most sobering truth of all, at least for me.  Whether we acknowledge that God owns it all, or that a “self-made” man is a delusion, or that our gifts come from God, someday you and I will give account for all that God placed within our control.  The bank accounts and every other tangible asset and intangible gifts that we have controlled or will control are being monitored by our Heavenly Father.  We will give account to Him for how we have managed and stewarded them.  This also includes our time.

When I personally think about this truth, I am greatly disheartened as I recognize the many times I have mismanaged God’s resources, finite ones that He entrusted to me.  But this truth also compels me to not merely look backwards but more importantly to focus on what is ahead.  I cannot change yesterday but I can impact today and tomorrow.

What about you? Do you recognize that someday you will be called to account for every asset that is within your control?  And if so, does that cause you to reevaluate your actions and priorities, and how you are using the finite resources in your life?

One of my favorite stories from Scripture relating to the topic of Stewardship is the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew 25. The quick summary of the story is this.  

A master goes away for some time but before he leaves he provides his three servants with funds to work with while he’s gone. To the first servant he gives five bags of silver; the second he gives two bags of silver; and the third he gives one bag.  While the master is gone, the first and second servant get to work. When the master returns, they both doubled what the master gave them, with the first earning an additional five bags of silver and the second earning two more bags. Consequently, both servants are amply rewarded.

However, when the master calls the third servant forward, he is only able to return the original one bag of silver, having earned nothing for his master.  The master rightly becomes very angry, takes away the one bag of silver that had been entrusted to him, and the third servant is severely punished.  

So we come to understand that just like these servants, we are all given varying amounts of resources, but someday we will be required to account for everything that God gave us, whether a physical asset or an intangible gift, or even an opportunity or our time, that we may have squandered.  Recognizing this truth should cause us to reevaluate our view of possessions, wealth and stewardship.  And as you and I do this, I trust we will become the kind of stewards for whom our Master will someday say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

 

The Purpose of Liberty: Are You Fulfilling It?

The Purpose of Liberty: Are You Fulfilling It?

July 4th: a day that many Americans will spend with family and friends, enjoying food and fireworks.  It’s a day that we celebrate the founding of our nation, more than two centuries ago.  That day in 1776, was a day like no other for the men who penned their names to our founding document, the Declaration of Independence.  Their grievances were serious, real and legitimate.  And their public defiance of the King was a certain death warrant, leading them to mutually pledge their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.”

Their unwavering commitment to the principle of Liberty, resulted in innumerable blessings for us today.  But have you ever considered what the purpose of Liberty really is?  Is its end simply the “pursuit of happiness?”  While this question begs a much deeper and more thorough discussion than what follows, I trust these brief thoughts will serve to challenge you and me to go deeper in meditation.  And as we do, perhaps our thoughts will call us to a higher level of accountability than what we as Americas are accustomed to acknowledging.

The First Liberty: In a Perfect World

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”  I would assert that this phrase, known to most people across the world who have been blessed with the knowledge of the Scriptures, is the greatest opening statement of any manuscript ever known to man.  In the passage following this opening truth, we find that God not only created the entire universe and all that is within it, but He also established the principles and laws that would control all things.  These laws would govern not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual, and even what our Founders referred to as “unalienable rights.”

So when God, on the sixth day, created man in “His own image,” He presented to that first couple a state of perfection.  In that perfect world, God offered Adam and Eve the freedom to exercise liberty, and then he defined how they would do so.  The first couple would initially exercise dominion over the world God had created — every creature, plant and the entire earth.  Secondly, Adam & Even would express their love by multiplying themselves, thus reproducing life.  And lastly, they would discharge their free will, and their understanding of liberty, by the choices they would make.

As Adam and Eve partook of liberty in those first few days of perfection, enjoying a deeply personal and intimate fellowship with God, they were free to experience all of God’s creation.  A smorgasbord of sensual pleasures surrounded them everywhere they looked.  The radiant beauty of their environment, the luscious delicacies their taste buds enjoyed, and the intellectual and emotional stimuli they were exposed to during their daily walks with God, was beyond any experience modern man can fathom.  

But there was just one, ever so small, limitation that would test their understanding of liberty. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the center of the Garden of Eden, was off limits.  The perfection they daily enjoyed eventually came to be overshadowed by their knowledge that there was one singular item, stored away in the middle of their “heaven on earth” of which they were to steer clear.  Their “dilemma” is akin to being given the key to Whole Foods so that anything you desired to take and eat was yours, except for one box of cookies on a counter in the middle of the bakery department. 

So liberty’s purpose was clear.  And liberty’s test was even clearer.  Mankind’s destiny literally hung in the balance as Adam and Eve grappled with the concept of liberty.  Would they fulfill God’s purpose?  Would they exercise dominion over every aspect of God’s creation, including the tree in the middle of the garden?  Would they tame and control their own free will to conform to God’s singular restriction on their liberty?  Or would they chose to pursue a distorted view of liberty, one that suggested they could do anything they pleased, with no consequences?

Sadly, we know the rest of the story as Adam and Eve trampled the liberty God gave them, exercising their free will to violate the boundaries that liberty imposed.  

Liberty in an Imperfect World

Since that tragic day when Adam and Eve traded true liberty for a lesser form, man has continuously sought liberty.  But not until the founding of these United States of America has there been a nation whose very DNA was infused with liberty as ours.  Many of our nation’s greatest icons carry the theme of liberty.  The Statue of Liberty.  The Liberty Bell.  The Liberty Tree.  Sons of Liberty.

So it seems only natural that Americans love liberty and seek after it.  But do we understand what liberty is, and more importantly are we fulfilling its purpose in an imperfect world?

Thinking back to the initial purposes of liberty as revealed in the opening scene of the world, we are to have dominion over all of creation.  The world is ours.  God has granted it to us but will also hold us accountable for the way in which we subdue it.  Are we acting as the stewards that God intended in every asset, gift, and relationship that God bestows upon you and me? 

Secondly, are we reproducing and embracing life?  Life is under attack like never before.  The forces of evil are seeking to dismantle life, convincing us that children are a hassle, and in a million instances a year in American, not even worthy of life.  Our birthrates in America are not even sufficient to replace ourselves.  So do we truly value life?  Yet, liberty demands that we must.

Finally, liberty is a test, between good and evil.  In a sense, Adam and Eve had it much easier.  Their choices were sorted into two categories.  In the first column was the one item in their world of infinite good that they were told to reject:  the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In the other column was everything else!  They were presented with only one bad option and literally millions of good choices.

Not so in our lives.  The truth is that we have literally millions of options and choices available to us at any given moment, both good and bad. And because of the free will that God granted to us when he created Adam, we have the liberty to chose either, the righteous or evil.  But sadly there is a plethora of wrong choices today.  And it seems that it’s all too easy to default to bad choices, at least I know it is in my life.  But while liberty gives me that option, liberty also demands better.  Liberty instructs that we must resist that which is not good, not only for our own good, but for our family, friends and nation.  For if we learned anything from Adam and Eve, we can understand that our choices are not made in a vacuum but rather they ripple out, resulting in either a wave of good or a flood of bad.  

So at the end of the day, the purpose of liberty is simple.  It is a test.  Will you and I pass the test?  Will we weigh every choice by God’s perfect standard, rejecting those that don’t measure up?  Or will we abuse liberty to do what we want, regardless of the impact on ourselves and others?

Only you can say.  But as we celebrate another July 4th, may we never again forget the purpose of liberty and with God’s help, exercise our liberty in a manner worthy of God’s blessings.

The Sands of Time

The Sands of Time

The sands of time
So quickly pass
In the slender neck
Of our hour glass

Our life ahead
At two score and five
With dreams intact
We feel so alive

As life grows busy
The sand keeps beating
But we pay no thought
To the years now fleeting

We’ve known others younger
Whose sand drew still
Their premature death
Briefly testing our will

But our own life plans
We are confident yet
Will align in due time
With our diminishing grit

For surely our grains
Will continue to fall
Until the time of our choosing
Has arrived with a crawl

But when will we realize
That it’s God who allows
For the number of grains
That remain in our vials

May we refocus our thoughts
To what really will count
When the sands in our glass
Do finally run out.

 

Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days…”