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When Bullets Litter our Streets

When Bullets Litter our Streets

This last weekend I was volunteering at a church being used as a #COVID testing site, in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Chattanooga. I’m grateful to my friend Bill Ulmer, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and the many healthcare workers and non-medical volunteers who have given of their time, resources, and hearts, to administer thousands of tests to needy people over the last couple months.  

As I was standing at the street directing traffic into the church parking lot for the drive-thru testing, I felt a lump under my shoe.  I looked down to see what it was and to my dismay, I saw the spent shell of a 9mm bullet. 

My mind went to the various homes I’ve lived in throughout my adult life, and the churches I’ve attended.  Never have I ever considered that I would find a bullet shell lying outside my home, church, or place of business.  It’s a reality that most of us do not have to deal with.  But while that may be true for many Americans, bullets are all too much a reality for many of our citizens, who live in Chattanooga and cities across our nation. 

Because we don’t see or experience something though doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  It simply means it’s not a part of our bubble.  But if we are going to be people who care about the needs of others, and the fears they deal with, we must be willing to burst our bubbles, and step outside our insulated world, to better understand the ugly realities that too many others live with every day. 

So what if you stepped outside your home, or church, or business, and it wasn’t that uncommon for you to find bullets littering your street?  What if your neighbor’s windows, or your own, were shattered by a drive-by shooting?  What if violence was something that regularly visited your neighborhood?  Would your life be different?  Would you wish that others cared?  Would your outlook on life change? 

I believe that’s part of the message of Jesus when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And it’s also what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:24) 

In Chattanooga there are no shortage of churches.  We often proudly declare we are the “buckle of the Bible belt.”  In fact, approximately 220,000 individuals claim to be followers of Jesus in our county.  A “follower” suggests one holds to and seeks to live by the teachings of Jesus.  If this is true, then is it too far fetched to believe that the problems of violence, poverty, depression, broken families, inner city dysfunction, and many of the other societal struggles could be better addressed by those who claim to, above all else, 1) Love God, and 2) Love others? 

Let me be clear.  The ultimate goal of a follower of Jesus is to honor and glorify God.  One of the ways we do so is by sharing the Good News, we call the Gospel.  That good news is both eternal and immediate.  If it’s real in our lives, it will have a transforming affect on how we live, how we treat others, and the Hope we share with them.  While we may be able to address many of these temporal needs referenced above, ultimately the greatest need we all have is a spiritual one.  But oftentimes the best way to share a spiritual message with others is to first demonstrate that message through tangible physical means. Hence, the Church should be one that ACTS:  Advancing Christ Through Service. 

So if bullets litter our streets, they are simply symptoms of a deeper, spiritual need by the one who fired that bullet.  May we as believers not close our eyes and ears to the needs that are so abundantly obvious.  May we not be like the priest and levite, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who walked by the man lying in the ditch, even though they looked directly at him.  Rather, let’s be like the Good Samaritan, who saw the need, and stopped to help.  This is the true message of Jesus.  Let’s love others and by doing so, we are demonstrating our love for God. 

Jesus, Peter, Paul, & Masks

Jesus, Peter, Paul, & Masks

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 

➖Key Takeaways 

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 Virus of Racism.  Will Pride Prevail or Love Heal All?

The Virus of Racism. Will Pride Prevail or Love Heal All?

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 

Why Jesus Did Not Seek to Change the Political

Why Jesus Did Not Seek to Change the Political

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: 

  1. My Kingdom is not an earthly one
  2. If it were, my followers would fight an earthly battle on earthly terms
  3. 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 

Where is America’s Joseph?

Where is America’s Joseph?

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.” 

When Violence in America Was Affirmed & Praised:  Understanding & Solving Racial Injustices

When Violence in America Was Affirmed & Praised: Understanding & Solving Racial Injustices

One man’s violent anti-government protests

is another man’s just war. 

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? 

The Heart 

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.” 

The Behavior 

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: 

What if… 

   … 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. 

The Shoes 

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 

Summary 

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