Pandemics are nothing new. They’ve been around throughout the history of this globe. How we respond though has differed, as we’re seeing in 2020.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen fear as an overriding emotion, along with anger, distrust and division. And unlike other national crises of the past, America has not united as one family.
Nineteen years ago, when terrorists attacked our nation, we saw both politicians and citizens come together as one. We recognized that when the planes hit their targets, thousands died, regardless of their politics, ethnicities, gender, or faith. Granted, it wasn’t long before that unity began to crumble, but it did occur initially.
Today though, there is no national unity on anything. None. If Trump says yes, the media says no. If scientists say no, Trump says yes. If stats indicate X, vast armies of opinions state Y or Z, with their own set of stats. And the lines of division grow deeper and deeper.
While this division has been growing for some time, historically we’ve seen that times of crises resulted in a warring family putting down its weapons, since the members understood that blood was thicker than water.
Not so today. Rather than laying down its arms, this American family is picking up more arms to wage war even more aggressively. Before I hear the response “Yeah but they…” let‘s remember that “it takes two to tango” and all sides of the growing conflicts in this nation are trigger happy.
➖There’s a kind of blood lust for those on the other side of every argument. Sadly though, this blood lust even flows from professing followers of Jesus. Imagine that!
So you may ask, what does Jesus, Peter, Paul and masks, have to do with the national “civil war” we are witnessing? Everything, at least it should for those who claim to look to these three men for authority and direction in their lives.
Every decision these days further divides. Masks has been one of them. There are those who listen to certain authorities who admonish the value of masks for both their own protection and that of their neighbors. Then there are others who refuse to touch a mask, since it’s a restriction on their “freedoms.” They quickly cite this nation’s founding documents, or some other argument. Some may not disagree with the idea of a mask, but they resent being forced to wear one.
As I was thinking about this, I wondered what Jesus, Peter and Paul would do today if they were present for this controversy? Would they gravitate toward one side of this argument, or another? Would they rally and chant? Would they take to social media to shout down those who differed from their position? I think not, in answer to all these questions.
At the heart of the attitudes of many believers today is an unwillingness to submit to authority. This flows from a belief that freedom trumps all.
This demeanor reminds me of a chaotic time during the early years of Israel, as chronicled in the book of Judges. There we read that “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” If you want a recipe for chaos, division, and ultimately anarchy, embrace that philosophy. It’s this spirit that rules today in America, including in the hearts of many believers.
But Jesus and the Apostles were always respectful to authority. During the three years of Jesus’ ministry, as He instructed His disciples, we saw numerous instances when Jesus modeled submission to and respect for earthly authority.
Recall the instance when Jesus instructed that we should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” There are several truths wrapped up in this short command, but one is that we should respect and submit to earthly authority.
In another instance, Jesus also taught his disciples to pay the temple tax. Likewise there are many truths to learn from this short passage in Matthew 17:24-27, but one key point is found in verses 26b-27:
“…Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
Clearly Jesus was teaching that, despite their freedom to chose whether to pay the tax or not, they should pay it, so as to not offend the temple tax collectors.
Perhaps though, the greatest illustration of submission from Jesus to earthly authority was when He stood before Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem. He did not rebel, challenge or resist. Rather Jesus submitted to an evil earthly ruler, even unto death.
The disciples were slow students at first, as they clung to their old way of life, fought amongst each other, and regularly failed in the lessons Jesus was teaching and modeling for them. But their three years of intense study under Jesus profoundly transformed them, to the core, particularly after Jesus ascended back to heaven, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The men they used to be, the attitudes they displayed, and the things they once valued were all changed, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. The metamorphosis was like nothing the world had ever witnessed. A dozen ordinary men changed the world, because they where wholly transformed in their hearts, and obedient to Jesus.
So let’s quickly look at the attitudes and teachings of just two of these Apostles, Peter and Paul.
➖Regarding submitting to authorities they said this:
➖“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished… give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” Romans 13:1-2, 7b
➖“For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right… Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17
➖“Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” Titus 3:1-2
➖Peter and Paul also had this to say about not offending others and respecting their needs:
➖“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” Romans 14:1
➖“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” Romans 14:13
➖“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” Romans 15:1-2
➖“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble…. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:9,13
➖“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
➖“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Galatians 5:13-15
➖“…for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” 1 Corinthians 3:3
While there are many other verses we could point to, in summary, these are the key takeaways, that affirm that Jesus, Peter and Paul would unquestionably wear a mask because:
1. They taught and modeled submission to governmental authority.
2. They desired to be good neighbors, as they followed the teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
3. They were willing to give up their own freedom and rights, if asserting them would offend another brother, or cause them to stumble.
4. They prioritized humility, gentleness, and service to others, above their own needs and desires.
So today, where are you on the mask issue? If you’re willingly wearing one, good for you. Do so in humility, not in pride. Pray for your fellow brother and sisters who are struggling with this issue.
But if you’re not not wearing a mask, or if you’re doing so begrudgingly, seek God and His Word. Ask Him to speak to you and to give you the strength to follow His example and that of His disciples. And then remember this final admonition from the Apostle John:
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6
“‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’” Numbers 14:18
As I’ve contemplated the continuing and extensive societal upheaval that is permeating our nation, the above verse came to mind, which affirms the following:
➖God is love. ➖God is slow to anger. ➖God is merciful. ➖God is forgiving.
But… we also know that:
➖God is just. ➖God does not excuse the guilty. ➖God punishes our sins.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see example after example of a wayward people and nation being disciplined for their sinfulness. God’s discipline came in all shapes and sizes, but it was always certain, even though at times the punishment might be delayed for years, or even generations.
In a sense, God was and is predictable. He could be and still can be relied on. We are told this is because He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” (While this quote from Hebrews 13:8 references Jesus, we can apply it to God the Father as well.)
So you might ask, what does this have to do with us, as Americans? I say everything. Since God is unchanging, the same attributes that He displayed, both in living example and also in written word, thousands of years ago, can be relied on today. And so when we read that God “lays the sins of the parents… to the third and fourth generations” it’s not too hard to surmise that the national upheaval we are seeing is a direct consequence of a national sin.
One of our current national sins, that is again erupting onto center stage, is the sin of racism. At its core, racism flows from pride. We reckon ourselves better or more deserving than someone else, based on an external characteristic: skin color. It is pride, plain and simple. And evil. It’s a superior vs inferior attitude that will permeate every part of our being, and nation.
How God must have been grieved:
➖when He witnessed white people abusing and devaluing black people, using them as slaves to enrich their own white lifestyles;
➖when He saw an entire portion of a nation rise up to defend the sin of slavery via a civil war;
➖when He witnessed politicians, representatives of their constituents, pass evil legislation we refer to as Jim Crow laws;
➖when He witnessed, and continues to witness, systemic racism cooked into a nation’s attitudes and policies, and more.
But perhaps what is most grievous about these realities, all the way through 2020, is how the church has enabled and embraced these many sins. Yes enabled and embraced.
When we study our nation’s history we see that “Christians” were every bit as responsible, as unbelievers, for these racist sins of America’s past. Christians owned black slaves. Christians fought to preserve their right to own slaves. Christian politicians and their Christian constituents voted for Jim Crow laws that affirmed their belief that men and women, boys and girls, were lesser then themselves, because their skin color was darker. Christians even donned white robes and pointed hats, thinking they were disguising their identities, not realizing that God saw their hearts, with or without their hideous outfits.
How evil. How un-Christian. How grossly wrong. How unbiblical. And how horrible that there was no difference between the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians.
These sinful and evil attitudes were mainstream with Christians. They were pervasive. And yet, the Bible, the Book every Christian maintained in their homes, and carried with them to church each Sunday, was replete with teachings, truths, and stories against racism, pride, and prejudice.
How obvious to so many of us now. How blinded so many were then. But we should not miss another important point. While Christian’s may have been blind to Scripture, unbelievers were not. They saw the attitudes and sins of Christians were incongruent with the Bible those same believers claimed to follow.
It’s sad when those who reject the Bible, can understand it better than those who claim the Book as their own.
But are we still guilty? Could it be we are still blind? Do we simply point to laws, facts, and stats to “prove” that we’ve rooted out racism in America, as we lull ourselves into believing that it does not exist within the church? If that’s our approach as Christians, have we ever left behind the “sins of our fathers?”
It’s always so easy for us to point out the sins in the lives of others, but there has never been an instance in history, where one person was able to resolve a sin in another person’s life. Never. Sin can only be addressed by the person sinning. Perhaps that’s why Jesus gave us this command:
💡“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Matthew 7:3, 5
So, if the sin of racism possibly resides in our own life, we should look inward vs outward and begin to grapple with our own hearts. As we do, here are a few more questions to help us in our examination:
➖Are we defensive when someone raises these issues, particular when that person’s life story is completely different than ours, and they assert they’ve been the victim of systemic and lifelong racism? ➖Do we raise objections based on political arguments? ➖Have we checked our hearts? ➖Have we allowed the “perfect law of liberty” we know as God’s Word to shine its penetrating light of conviction into the secret recesses of our hearts? ➖Are there attitudes in those corners that bear exposing? ➖Have we intentionally sought out brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than us to listen to and develop relationships with, which will enable us to begin to identify areas in our lives to which we might be blind?
Racism is a cunning enemy because it’s tied into our pride, which flows from the father of lies, Satan himself. So we must be intentional in our desire to expose it. Then we must humble ourselves by acknowledging it, if God convicts us of this sin.
In closing, there are consequences to sins. Both individual and national. As such, I truly believe that the rapid disintegration of our nation economically, socially, politically, and more, is flowing from the seeds we have planted for centuries. True, some of the seeds of racism were at the founding of our nation. But sadly, we have continued to sow the same seeds, and cultivated them from the outpourings of our heart. And we are now reaping a horrible harvest of all we have sown.
But all is not lost. Whether or not America can recover from this national sin, is irrelevant to whether you and I can address any seeds of racism that might be found within us. So as God has once again elevated this deep national sin to center stage, may Christians across our nation, humble ourselves and do as the guilty Psalmist confessed:
💡“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalms 51:1-3, 7, 10, 17
The year was sixty, The lines were drawn T’was 1860 And hate lived on
The forces were firm Convinced with pride That truth and right Was on their side
The war did come And bodies torn Six hundred twenty Thousand mourned
But many more Did bear the wrong From wounds so deep And hurts still strong
One hundred and sixty Years came and went And laws were embraced With such great intent
But wounds from years Too many to count Still surface again As generations mount.
And so 2020 Moved in as a cloud God’s plan was unclear For a nation so proud
Unyielding and firm We placed ourselves first We each sought our gods And ignored such a curse
Whether wealth or power Or glitz or fame Or whatever else Our desires did claim
Our pride we wore So good and bold The red white and blue Was ours to hold
But God would not dare Bow down to our flags Or yield His glory To all of our rags
And so our pride Was on full display When COVID hit And God halted play
Wall Street did stumble And Main Street shut down Our leaders confused In town after town
God had pressed pause To get our attention But soon the division Became more dissension
Our views so sure Were all that mattered The pride displayed Left friendships shattered
But then that virus From Eden born Of pride thru racism Did rise with scorn
The cry “I Can’t Breathe” Was heard by all Those final words A rallying call
But rather than bow And confess our sin We rallied and chanted Our views once again
The anger was seen In cities and streets And felt so deep In hearts and tweets
So today we repeat What’s happened before When lines were drawn And all kept score
But should we resign To another cruel end Where sisters and brothers And neighbors won’t bend?
Should we just assume That all is now lost And what we do see Will be gone with great cost?
There still yet is Hope But it will not reign When we will not see Injustice and pain
No, this Hope demands We turn from our pride And humbly accept What we have denied.
Our God above all Is able to heal But not on our terms Let’s submit and kneel
When Pride is torn down And God is restored Then black and white Will walk in accord
So will we defeat This virus of old That continues the hate And maintains status quo?
The time is now The choice is ours Will we turn to God Or let pride devour?
Our path to heal These wounds so deep Begins each new day As I awake from my sleep
I am the one I must seek to control My desires submit To a much greater goal
And like Son of Man Who left heaven above And humbled himself To show us true love
May each of us look To love and to labor For God our Creator And the one we call neighbor.
Love God and love others These simple commands Are what Jesus modeled And our God demands.
💡“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.“ Matthew 22:37-39
Politics. It is deeply divisive, even amongst family and friends, including God’s family. Even these fallible thoughts on my part could be divisive, although they are not shared in order to do such.
So why do I share them? I suppose it may be the same reason you share yours. Because we both think that our thoughts have merit. And they do, both yours and mine. But ultimately, I want thoughts to not merely be human-inspired, but God-aligned, both yours and mine.
So recently, as I was reading The Book, Jesus’ words jumped off the page of Scripture when He said this:
“Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”” John 18:36
Before we analyze the thoughts above, let’s set the context. Jesus, the very Creator of all there is, including what we see and don’t see (earthly kingdoms and rulers as well), was standing before an earthly ruler, Pontius Pilate. This governor was no spotless man. He was ruthless, corrupt and evil. A few weeks earlier, Jesus had commented about Pilate killing some Jews worshipping in the Temple (Luke 13:1), but notice that Jesus did not render an opinion about what was likely a ruthless act by a guilty ruler. (But that’s a whole separate discussion.)
So here Jesus is, standing before a miserable man. Think for a minute of the most immoral American President in your mind. Pilate was worse.
Now consider that the God of the universe is being judged by this man, and God does not delve into a litany of accusations or pronouncements about Pilate’s sins and evil actions. Rather, Jesus (God in the flesh) simply bears witness to the Truth, to a power that is greater than any earthly one. Jesus simply points Pilate to that which is this man’s only Hope and Salvation: Truth itself, as Jesus asserted of Himself previously (“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”)
Now, back to the statement Jesus made to Pilate, when the Roman governor asked Jesus why he was being put on trial.
Jesus simply answered with these facts:
My Kingdom is not an earthly one
If it were, my followers would fight an earthly battle on earthly terms
Again, My Kingdom is not of this world
So Jesus had the ultimate opportunity, to simply educate Pilate and all the hypocritical religious leaders observing this kangaroo court, about His rights, His authority, and His greater power. But Jesus had an even greater audience than those in attendance that day at His death sentencing. The entire Christian world for the next 2,000 years would read and witness how Jesus responded to an unjust ruler and religious establishment. And what did Jesus do?
Jesus humbled Himself to the temporal earthly powers, that could never transform the heart. And instead, Jesus pointed billions of men and women since that day, including you and me, to a greater calling: to The (eternal) Kingdom versus a (temporal) kingdom. The former offers heart transformation. The latter offers little to nothing, except possibly political frustration, feuding, dissension, and heartache.
But this is not the end of the story. The first followers (the disciples who became apostles and the Founding Fathers of our Faith) learned well the lesson Jesus taught in that brief exchange with Pilate. They finally understood that there was no need to fret over their earthly rulers, or to dedicate their hopes and dreams to establishing a government to their personal liking. Rather, they committed their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to the only Constitution that truly mattered, the living Word of God. And for the rest of their days on this little temporal globe, they resisted the temptation to go back to their former lives where they grumbled about the political realities of their day. In place of that, they pursued the spiritual Truths that Jesus had taught them, and lived before them, for three years.
And the rest is history. We don’t have a record of a great government that was established by these men. Nor do we have an example of kingdom victories and great political movements. But we do have a record of a world transformed through a simple message, and strategy:
Share the gospel, one life at a time. And as the heart is transformed, souls are saved for eternity, marriages are healed, families are reunited, communities reinvigorated, and at times, entire nations are awakened (if God wills).
But it starts with “The Kingdom” instead of a kingdom. And it results in permanent transformation, in place of short-term “wins” that are quickly lost with the next political skirmish.
So, if you ask me, perhaps this is the lesson Jesus was teaching as His life hung in the balance. He could have “won” the political battle that day, but an entire world would have lost. So He challenged us to:
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33
Unchartered waters. This is where I would suggest America is as a nation and people, as we continue to sail onward into the stormy waters ahead. While our world has previously faced pandemics and world wars, which took many times more lives, never before have we found ourselves facing such an overwhelming set of problems, with such a lack of wise leadership to solve them.
Regardless of your belief about the cause or response to COVID-19, the reality is that we are facing dramatic challenges, involving public health, rising deaths, political dissension, racial unrest, economic crisis, overbearing debt, collapsing businesses, and so much more. Voices are competing to describe the varying explanations for these challenges. But with each viewpoint comes armies of opinions who line up against those with alternative perspectives. The further we navigate into these murky waters, the deeper the lines are drawn that separate us from our fellow citizens, neighbors, church members, and even our families.
So who is right? What is true? How can we know? Who has the answers?
As I’ve considered all this, I was reminded of a story from ancient times where an answer was being sought by a once great king. This king had a dream that greatly troubled him, but for which he had no explanation. All of his advisors and political allies could not interpret the dreams. Yet there was one man, held unjustly in the king’s prison, who possessed supernatural abilities, enabling him to interpret the dreams of others. This man we know to be Joseph. And the king was Pharaoh.
The time that the dreams predicted would be unprecedented: a season of great prosperity, followed by another season of even greater famine. But without Joseph, the king would never have understood the warnings that were mercifully offered by God Himself to the pagan ruler.
In the years before the sovereign appointment between Pharaoh and Joseph, God had taken Joseph through his own season of trouble and turmoil. This season took him from being the favored son of his father, to being sold into slavery and ultimately ending up in prison, stemming from a false accusation. But all these personal trials were in fact preparing and refining Joseph for what would be his time on center stage.
Joseph responded with humility and trust to the God who allowed, or caused, his dire circumstances. As a result, God elevated Joseph to a position that was second only to the king himself, and blessed Joseph beyond measure. But the blessing Joseph received was not only for his own good. Rather, because of Joseph’s response, his humility, in the midst of great injustice, brought blessings to literally millions of men and women and their families, as the famine descended on the land.
Now fast forward several thousand years to the present. Consider that our nation is facing challenges and struggles that are not only existential to our nation as we know it, but to date they have resulted in the tragic deaths of 100,000+ of our citizens. While we search for answers to the COVID-19 virus, there are no answers for all the other societal ailments that COVID continues to expose.
So the question I am led to ask is “Where is America’s Joseph?” Is God preparing someone to come to the aid of our nation or to our community? Is God still in the business of humbling men and women so that, as we come to the end of ourselves, God can use us as instruments to bless others?
While we as Americans love to focus our attention at the highest levels, beginning in Washington DC, I believe we may be casting our focus in the wrong place. We tend to prefer big solutions to big problems. Thus we start with a top-down approach.
But while Jesus walked this earth, He did not prioritize his efforts in reforming from the top-down. Rather, Jesus’ approach was generally one person at a time. He called his twelve disciples, one person at a time. Jesus healed the sick, one person at a time. He raised the dead, one person at a time. And so on. Yes, he did teach to multitudes, even 5,000 or more at a time. But that was not in the hopes of seeking to bring political reform for Rome, or even Israel. Jesus was always focused on an inside-out solution. He focused on the hearts of people, one at a time.
So is God preparing you to serve Him in a manner that will bring blessing and the message of salvation to others? If so, it may include struggles, even monumental unjust ones. It may require refining that can only happen in the crucible of life’s fiery trials. But if you respond as Joseph did, maintaining your trust in the One who stands with you in the midst of those trials, you can be certain that God has greater works ahead for you. And who knows but that He may be preparing you “for such a time as this.”
Recently I was watching a video where Pastor Tony Walliser recounted his own testimony of personal struggles and doubt that he had growing up. They continued on as an adult, even as he became pastor of Silverdale Baptist Church here in Chattanooga. Because of these struggles, Tony would regularly default to a feeling of inferiority and doubt about his ability to serve God. Yet, God used the story of Moses to teach Tony that it wasn’t about him and his limited abilities, but rather it is about God, and His infinite abilities. The following verse was the one that God used to confirm this truth to Tony:
“The Lord replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you in the presence of all your people. I will perform miracles that have never been performed anywhere in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people around you will see the power of the Lord —the awesome power I will display for you.” Exodus 34:10
I cannot answer the question “Where is America’s Joseph?” I hope God is preparing him for us today. But whether God is or isn’t, you and I can still learn from the story of Joseph, and how he responded as God used difficulties and trials to prepare the shepherd boy for one of the most powerful positions in the world at that time.
So whether God is preparing you to “save America” or simply to stand ready to serve your family or community, we can know this about our God: “Little is much when offered to the Lord.”
First, let me say I DO NOT condone the rioting and violence that is occurring across our nation, following the murder of George Floyd at the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin. As someone who values that Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” I believe there are other ways we must respond, even in the face of gross injustice. But I also understand that not everyone embraces Jesus’ teachings or His example in this regard, and even if we do, we can all become overwhelmed at gross injustice and feel like our only responses to such are protests and/or violence.
Last night I broke a long standing rule I placed in effect several years ago, and I watched the news for a couple hours, viewing the rioting and protests Live as they were happening. In the two cities I watched, Washington DC and NYC, the vast majority of the protesters/agitators were WHITE, not black.
As I watched the rioting, one announcer made the point that our nation’s founding flowed out of the violent responses of its citizens to unjust laws by its government. Most white Americans celebrate and applaud our nation’s founding fathers who rejected authority, and fought back, violently, to protest and overthrow an unjust government. The Boston Tea Party was one such rebellion. I should note that the organization I founded eleven years ago in Chattanooga, took its name from that act of rebellion and violence.
When I led the Chattanooga Tea Party for nearly a decade (which I no longer do, and I no longer consider the Tea Party movement to represent me), I and other leaders often took solace in these words that were integral to our nation’s founding:
“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…reduces them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government…”
While our organization, and none of the other liberty movements I was associated with, ever took up arms, or resorted to violence, I can assure you that there were many in the movement who were more than prepared to resort to violence had the government stepped across an imaginary line. If you doubt this, then explain why it was that gun purchases were skyrocketing during those years? The consistent interpretation that conservatives held was that the 2nd Amendment was not for hunting or sporting but was to protect oneself from a wayward and unjust government. Let’s also not ignore the fact that even now in 2020, white men armed with assault rifles and other threatening armament have recently been marching into state capitols around our nation.
But back to violence in our protests. Let me reiterate that I do not condone or agree with the violence we are seeing erupt across our nation. As a Christian, I believe we are called to love, peace, and humility, and when others persecute us, our response should be identical to that of Jesus, and the twelve apostles. None of us will ever be as violently persecuted as the Founding Fathers of Christianity (where all but one were martyred for their faith; that is the most extreme form of prejudice one can imagine). And yet, not one of them responded violently. This is the model every follower of Jesus should strive to emulate in our lives. It’s a high bar, which I struggle with personally, in the face of injustices.
As we watch and condemn what is going on, what would we have said if we were viewing the protests at the Boston Tea Party? While there are significant differences between the two, there are also many similarities, including injustices by those in authority and with power. So ask yourself, “What would I have done or said, if I was alive on December 16, 1773, viewing the violence of the Boston Tea Party? Would I have condemned it or embraced it? Would I have participated in it?” Today, most Americans praise this act of violence and rebellion, that destroyed a million dollars worth of property.
My intent for sharing these thoughts is not to provoke anger or incite emotions. Rather, it is to challenge us to stop and think; to put ourselves in the shoes of others.
When we judge a person simply by their external actions, we either condemn them or we embrace them, based on the cause they are fighting for. If their protests and even violence affirm our worldview, then we gladly applaud them. However, if their protests and violence are at odds with anything we’ve ever experienced, then it’s likely we will condemn them and find cause to belittle and hold them in contempt.
If we are white Americans, it’s likely we’ve never felt that our life was hanging in the balance when we were pulled over in our cars by a police officer. But many of my African American brothers and sisters have always carried such fear with them. But not only is that fear for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren also. Thankfully, I’ve never known that fear personally, or for my children. But it grieves me to realize that millions of our citizens do, primarily because of their skin color.
Think about that. Then consider that there have been a “long train of abuses” in the eyes and experiences of our black brothers and sisters. Their life is not ours. So until we can figuratively place ourselves in their shoes, we cannot fully comprehend the struggle, the outrage, and the deep rooted hurts they feel each time another man with black skin dies, whether at the hands of someone in uniform, or by a white man in the back of a pickup truck, or a false accusation is called in to 9-1-1.
So what are the solutions to this existential threat to not only the future of our nation, but more importantly to the relationships we should seek to grow with those who are different than us?
I believe first and foremost the solution is Spiritual. The center of this struggle is not in the streets of Minneapolis or other cities, but rather in the center of our beings: Our Heart. God says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”
Even now, it’s possible that your response to my meager thoughts is one of outrage or rejection or condemnation. If so, I believe its possible your heart is deceiving you. Within each of us lies the potential to deceive ourselves into believing the problem is “the other guy; it’s not me.” If that’s my response, I am deceived.
Jesus said in John 8:7 “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” He also said in Matthew 7:5 “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
The point is, introspection is needed, first and foremost. What part have I played, overtly or covertly, in contributing to injustices in our community or nation? If you say none, then I applaud you and I would suggest you write a book so we can all learn from you. And there is no need to read further. But if you feel any need to continue to examine yourself, here’s what I would suggest is next.
Because the heart, the inner core of our being, is deceitful and wicked, we must regularly cleanse it. This cannot be done overnight but requires a continuous effort to transform what is natural (those responses that are wrong) to the unnatural (those responses that are Christ-like). The only way to do this is through a consistent time in God’s Word. We read this in Romans 12:2:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
As we begin to transfuse our minds with the healing power of God’s Word, our values, thoughts and behavior will be transformed. Recently I read a short Bible Plan in the Bible app entitled “How to Love People You Disagree With” and it included these thoughts:
… we exhibited patience?
… chose not to be offended?
… we quit taking everything so personally?
… we changed the degrading way we talk to others?
… we focused on what we did have in common?
… we chose the big picture?
And I’ll add, what if we “loved our neighbor as ourselves?” which Jesus reminded us is the second greatest commandment. These are a few of the fundamental behavior changes we must pursue.
Nearly a year ago, God led my path to cross with someone I had known for years, but never developed a close relationship with. Ternae Jordan is an African American pastor in Chattanooga whom God intentionally brought me to, so that God could begin to incorporate the above principles in my life. As we’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours together since last summer, my heart has softened as I’ve been able to, in a small way, “walk in his shoes.” Beginning to realize and better understand the dreams, hopes, fears, and frustrations that my brother and his family and friends experience, has softened my heart, and changed my thoughts. I’m eternally grateful for Ternae, and as I think of what God has begun in our lives, I’m reminded of this verse:
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
In closing, while the solutions are not that complicated, they are also not that easy. Cleansing our heart (seeking forgiveness and transforming what we think and believe), changing how we habitually behave and respond, and walking in someone else’s shoes, none of these are natural. But the history of our nation reveals that what is natural is not working. So perhaps if followers of Jesus across this land began to pursue supernatural answers to the age old scourge of racism and prejudice, we might begin to see a mighty work of God in our midst. And as we do, I’m hopeful that God will bring about healing and unity, to what has been hurt and division for more than 200 years.
Addendum: Verses to consider as we seek to “Love our neighbor as ourselves:”
“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” James 2:1
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Romans 12:14
“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
“Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” 1 Corinthians 13:6
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:9-10
“Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:4
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:22-23