The Lord has taken OneRace and the church in our city on a Journey into His heart on issues of race this year. The major themes on this Journey have centered on knowing, owning and changing the story for future generations. This is part two of a three-part blog series related to those major themes: know the story, own the story & change the story.
Intercession of the Righteous
In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God says, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven forgive their sin and heal their land.” This was spoken by God to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, as a promise to the people of God that in times of trial and judgment, God would show them mercy if they return to Him with all their heart. We see this in the life of Daniel, and in the intercessory prayer he makes on their behalf, however, Daniel was not the only intercessor who stood in the gap on behalf of the nation of Israel during the time of their captivity. Ezekiel the prophet, Nehemiah the builder, and Ezra the priest each played an integral role in both interceding and leading in the restoration of their nation. Each of these men, first, from the place of prayer and lament individually owned the collective sins of their people, though they themselves were righteous.
Contrition and Confession
Ezra cried out to God with deep sorrow because of the sins of the returning Israelites. In Ezra 9, he declares, “Still in my torn garment and robe, I fell to my knees with my hands outstretched to the Lord my God, and said, ‘My God, I am too ashamed and hurt to turn to you, because we’re in our iniquities over our heads. Furthermore, my God, our sins have grown as high as the heavens.’”
Nehemiah acknowledged the sins of his nation and asked for the favor of God to return and rebuild Israel, which was in ruins. Nehemiah prayed in Nehemiah 1, “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.”
God was attentive to Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah’s prayers and restored their nation. They were following the prescribed remedy for a diseased and troubled nation that God lays out in Joel 2:12-13, “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So, rend your heart and not your garments, return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him.”
We see the power of the intercession of these righteous servants of old when they owned the collective story of their people as their own, and we take to heart that God promises to His church the same restoration when we turn from our sins and turn toward him. James 4:8 tells us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Let us pray and ask God to forgive us for our sins, and to lift us up into His presence.
The Lord has taken OneRace and the church in our city on a Journey into His heart on the issues of race this year. The major themes on this Journey have centered on knowing, owning and changing the story for future generations. This is part one of a three-part blog series related to those major themes: know the story, own the story & change the story.
This is Tragic
“As a preacher, I would certainly have to agree with this. I must admit that I have gone through those moments when I was greatly disappointed with the church and what it has done in this period of social change. We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at Western Michigan University in 1963
This is a moment to give pause and ask ourselves, “Has much changed since this statement was made by Dr. King 56 years ago? Are we different?” I think we can agree, much has changed and there is much to be celebrated. But, is the church still the most-segregated institution? This is tragic.
It’s tragic that this oft-quoted portion of Dr. King isn’t met by the obvious question: How did the 11 o’clock hour on Sunday mornings become segregated in the first place? Or a better question, how did we get here? Whose fault is it? And why is the church still lagging in the conversation on race and culture? It is indeed tragic.
Know The Story
We need to KNOW THE STORY! Know the story of race in America. Know the story of race and the church. We need to know each other’s story.
We need to know the story of the White Lion and that when it docked on the shores of the European colonies in the U.S., it began a dark night that has yet to end.
We need to know the story of the economic implications of men owning men. We need to know the heartlessness of saying, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” to a bootless man.
We need to lean into one another and seek to understand with sincerity, HOW WE GOT HERE.
Know the Story Disclaimer
It must be said that this is not a comprehensive review of the history of America and the church. The goal herein is to provide a broad overview. To create a framework to answer the question, “How did we get here?” Additionally, this work focuses primarily on the African/African American experience, as it is the 400-year anniversary of African-slavery in the colonies/US. This is not to ignore or to make small of other ethnic experiences. We are simply using this narrative as an on-ramp for the conversation on reconciliation and racial unity, and to exemplify its necessity.
“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7 those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
8 they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God, they drink
the wine of those who have been fined.”
Know the Story: 400 years of history
In late August of 1619, the manifesto of John Rolfe, most notable for his marriage to Pocahontas, stated: “20 and odd Negros” arrived on the shores of the European colonies aboard the White Lion ship. This began the terror known as the Transatlantic slave trade.
Where is the Church?
Where has the church been along this 400-year journey? Where has the church stood on issues of enslavement and dehumanization? When has the church raised her collective prophetic voice amidst the onslaught of terror? Well, friends, She has been largely silent. The church collectively has been split, rendered ineffective. Though there were several figures who were proponents of racial justice, the church buy-in-large was silent. We must know the story of the church’s complicity with racial terror.
Here is the later part of Dr. King’s statement: “Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within its own body.”
Through the years many have asked me questions about how to approach racial topics.
Growing up biracial in the South and now raising multicultural children of my own have
given me various experiences to navigate and explore cultural topics. As a child I was
taught to believe that people were created in the image of God regardless of their skin
color, race or culture. That was my normal. As I matured, I began to see that not
everyone was comfortable with people that are different from them.
We have come very far regarding racism over the generations, but I think we can all
agree that we still have some work to do. I believe if we put an emphasis on the next
generation and teaching and living out a united stance regarding culture and race, we
will see a considerable shift in racism. Most of us learned about race from our families
and other people of influence in our lives when we were young. If we can influence the
thinking on the playground, we can shift the nation in days ahead.
So, what does this mean for Christians that are parents, leaders, and influencers of the
next generation? Here are a few practicals that might help:
1. Read the Bible: I know this sounds simple but Christians never graduate from
needing to read and understand the Scriptures. We need to understand God’s desire for
unity in the church. We can do nothing apart from Him. Understanding that unity was
God’s idea and not ours is a great starting point! The Scriptures point us towards what
He wants and then the church partners with God. We won’t know what to do without
reading His Word. Include your children in this; show them Scriptures about unity and
God’s unending love for all people. This will make great impact on them as they grow
and mature into adulthood. Give kids a Biblical view on culture and it will follow them
2. Pray: The church needs to pray. Again, this seems elementary but we complicate
some things unnecessarily. All throughout Scripture, we see men and women of God
pray for future generations. When we pray now, we are praying not only for our sons
and daughters but also for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s generation. I
pray that my kids and grandkids can’t really comprehend what racism is. That they
would live in a nation where it is a thing of the past and that the church will be leading
the way in that reality. Prayer can simply be asking for God’s help. Again, no need to
complicate this. We need the Holy Spirit to help and empower us to walk in humility and
love people of different cultures. Invite your children to pray with you for your family, for
themselves and for others specifically related to race and learning to love who God is.
3. Cultivate relationship: Relationship is essential to community. Take stock of your life
and the people in it. Ask the Lord if you are truly reaching out to those that are different
from you. Most of us don’t, simply because it can feel awkward and because it feels
safer to be around those that are like us. If we want to see racism end, we simply
have to start being ok with being uncomfortable. Reach out, ask someone to coffee or dinner, have a play date, and be intentional about building friendships with those from
different cultures. The next generation needs our leadership in this. As young ones see
adults reaching out, they will follow suit. Multicultural friendships, churches,
neighborhoods, and families will be the normal.
4. Celebrate cultural diversity: It is possible for the church to be one and still be unique
in our makeup. God is a Creator and a Designer. He made different colors, foods,
smells, languages, music, etc., for us to enjoy. I like to encourage friends and family to
learn about other cultures and begin incorporating different things into their home,
schools, and churches alongside their children. Making a new dish to serve at dinner,
having multicultural books in your children’s ministry and at home to read, including
different cultures on your leadership and worship teams are all ways to help the next
generation not only normalize but celebrate God’s design of different colors and
cultures. When we do this, we learn to love and we become a part of one another,
ultimately leading us into unity.
5. Stand up for justice: Racism is unbiblical and not from the heart of God.
Unfortunately, it is still alive today. The young generation needs to see us championing
God’s ways. This is how we correct and instruct a generation. There will be times that
we must raise our voice on behalf of those that are being oppressed. We need to teach
our kids to not just look away when someone is being treated wrongly but to stand up
for justice in whatever way God is asking us to.
Leading the next generation in humility and righteousness is no easy task. Many feel
overwhelmed by the idea of racism and don’t know how to change things. There is
much you can do: look at your sphere of influence, your family, read your Bible, pray,
cultivate relationships, celebrate God’s design of diversity, and stand up for justice.
These small steps are shifting and changing things in the next generation that will help
end racism for good so we can be the unified church that Jesus prayed for.
On May 5th of 2019, for the first time, Miss America, Miss Teen USA, and Miss USA were all black woman. This was significant because in 1984, we crowned the first black Miss America and since then the number of black women who have held that title or similar have been less than 10. As expected, when all three women who held the title were black women, culture rejoiced in this remarkable moment. Black women around the world held their heads high on that day as if they were wearing crowns themselves.
I, too marveled at the moment. I felt a sense of pride and confidence. For me to say it was a good day would be an understatement.
Two days later, a cell-phone video was released of the arrest of Sandra Bland from 2015. Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old African-American woman who was pulled over by police for a traffic violation and arrested. Three days after her arrest, she was found dead in her jail cell. Following her death, protests broke out around the nation alleging racial violence and calling on the police to be held accountable for her death.
As I watched the recent cell-phone video of her arrest, bitterness and anger stirred up inside me. I felt a sense of injustice at her treatment and I struggled to process my feelings. Sandra was around the same age as me. As I watched one of the videos, the idea continued to play in my head over and over again, “That could have been me.”
As I consider my reaction to these two events, one which made me feel proud and the other, which made me feel sadness and anger. I had a realization: identity derived from race or culture is far more easily swayed by circumstances both positive and negative, than identity derived from God’s Word. I believe if our identity is placed in the Word of God, we can allow these situations and ones like them to touch us but never move us.
All throughout scripture, God the Father marks our identity with one word: son or daughter.
“And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18
“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:7
I strongly believe God is inviting us to embrace a higher identity. From the beginning of time, God has desired a family. As we follow the storyline of the Bible we see His burning desire to make that happen. For example, in the New Testament, we see parables like “The Prodigal Son” and “The Wedding Feast.” Those stories show God as a Father, us as children and His desire for us to be a part of His family. God wants daughters. God wants sons. I am convinced this is the higher identity God is calling us to embrace above all else.
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Ephesians 1:4-5
It’s an identity that isn’t based on our good works (For He chose us..).
It’s an identity that started before us (…before the creation of the world).
It’s an identity rooted in the love of a Father (In love… in accordance with his pleasure and will).
It’s an identity that has been tested and has succeeded.
An identity that is unshakeable and fierce.
An identity that doesn’t bow to the current climate of the world or the latest social cycle.
An identity that is rooted and grounded in God’s character.
It’s an identity that Jesus himself carried (Matthew 3:17).
An identity that requires only one thing from us, faith (John 1:12).
I can only imagine what the church would look like if we started seeing ourselves and one another as children of God first. I believe we will see such a massive shift in the church, then as a result, transformation in our culture.
Dream with me, the body of Christ walking around as though we had crowns on our head because we know who we are in HIM.
As I venture deeper into the work of uniting the church and facilitating tough conversations regarding race and culture, I keep running into the same theme. It’s deeply concerning. “Another prayer meeting? What action are we taking to execute justice against the systemic evil present in America?” It’s almost as if these individuals would say, “forget righteousness, give me justice.” On the other hand, I also hear comments such as, “We should not concern ourselves with history, systemic issues, or social justice. Nothing but the Gospel will fix this!” I find a sincere resonance with both and an inexorable concern. Both positions functioning independent of the other should grieve all of us. Because alone, these approaches are like a one-winged bird, it simply won’t fly. They are both indispensable ideas to the work of reconciliation and the Gospel yet inseparable.
What is at risk in this tug-of-war over righteousness and the mudslinging about justice? The Church’s credibility! ‘Are we credible?’ is the question. Continuing on the trajectory that the church is currently on, doubling down in our respective camps, the church continues to diminish its credibility in the eyes of the world. Righteousness alone can’t produce the fruit of love. Justice alone can’t produce the heart of love. Our witness is not one of love when we commit to one and not the other.
8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
– 1 John 4:8-11
Both righteousness and justice are present in the text. When Jesus went to the cross we got righteousness as a result, and God got justice against sin. This is the very scandal of the Gospel. So, what then are we to do? We are to love one another. The fruit of righteousness and justice working together in the heart of the believer is love.
34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:34 – 35
For the Lord is righteous and he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
– Psalm 11:7
The Lord loves both. We should love both. We should practice both. There isn’t a conflict between these two ideas, as there is no conflict in the heart of the Lord. Righteousness and justice are caught in an unquenchable love affair that has been burning since the beginning of time. Righteousness refers to the will of man that is bent towards the Lord’s pleasure. Righteousness refers to the deeds that are done out of a motivation of love and desire for that which is right. In the case of OneRace: catalytic prayer, authentic relationship, and tough conversations are all a part of our righteous responsibility and produce the fruit of love. THE LORD LOVES RIGHTEOUSNESS.
THE LORD LOVES JUSTICE. We should love justice. We seek ways to make wrong things right. In the American situation, there are many injustices that have been perpetrated over time: chattel slavery, robbing, and slaughtering of indigenous people, the Chinese exclusion act, and the subjugation and degrading of Hispanics presently. These injustices bear fruit that we are faced with daily: rampant murders in south Chicago, the prosperity of Ivey league schools founded with slave money, the public school to prison pipeline, DACA, etc. Is it the responsibility of the church to correct wrong things? Is it the responsibility of the individual believer to be a proponent of social justice? The Lord loves justice. He loves making wrong things right. He certainly loves it when we are swift to stand with the oppressed, the frightened orphan, and the wandering sojourner. The Lord loves justice. We should too.
I would contend that we have an ill view of the Father’s heart regarding righteousness and justice. I would contend that we have allowed our Gospel narrative to be seasoned with a peppering of nationalism, coated with a glaze of party politics, simmered in the humanized liberal agenda. I would contend that we are not being true to the Gospel when we forsake justice and forget righteousness. The Church must correct its course. The church must cleave to that which is good and right in the eyes of the Lord.
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.”
– Psalm 89:14
Church, if we are going to emerge credible in our witness, we must champion both righteousness and justice. We must pursue a higher ethic, which is love. We must correct our orthodoxy, what we believe. We must correct our orthopathy, what we feel. We must correct our orthopraxy, how to practice both. We must realize that righteousness is the progenitor of justice, and justice is the progeny of righteousness. And the fruit of righteousness and justice working together should look like and feel like love to the world. We can do it. We can emerge as the credible witness that Christ so desires.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5 ESV)
Most of my life I’ve read John 15 and have thought of it in an individualistic manner. The picture that I’ve always had in my mind when reading this chapter is me and Jesus and how I need to keep praying and reading the bible. The reality though is that John 15 is much deeper than just a call for us as individuals to be in relationship to Him!
The context of John 15 is that it is a corporate invitation, and not simply a conversation with an individual. He’s talking to many people, not just one and the culture that he was talking to was a communal culture, not an individualistic one. When they heard Jesus saying these words they weren’t just thinking of it in an individual manner but also in a communal manner. When Jesus was speaking to them, they weren’t just wondering how this affected each of them but also they were thinking how it affected ALL of them.
He said, “I am the vine and you (plural) are the branches (more than one).” You can read more about this here.
Abiding in Jesus is a corporate invitation for all of us to stay connected to Jesus and to each other. The call to abide in Him cannot be separated from the call to live in oneness with those in the Body of Christ.
In order to stay connected to the Vine, we must be connected to its branches as well. Many times I have viewed this picture as Jesus being the vine and myself being my own branch. In the context of this scripture, He is inviting them collectively to stay connected to Him. This requires each individual to commit to stay connected to Jesus and to other branches that may be integral to their connection with him.
Another common example that is used is the picture of us being the body of Christ and Him being the head of that body. If we are removed from the head, that is Christ, we cannot live. Also, if we disconnect from other parts of the body we cannot live. If the arm disconnects from the shoulder then the arm will die. If the lungs disconnect from the heart they will die. If a foot disconnects from the leg then the foot will die. (See 1 Cor 12)
Abiding in Christ looks like staying in intimate connection with Christ himself and with our fellow branches. We must get rid of our western, individualistic lense, and begin to understand that the invitation to abide is not only for us alone but for us (the body of Christ) as a whole. Holy Spirit wants us to see John15 as an invitation to remain connected to Jesus and others who are connected to Jesus.
Another analogy is that of a fire and it’s embers. The fires flame represents God (See Hebrews 12:29). Embers and coals represent Christians living in community and oneness together. If you remove a coal from the flame it will burn out. It cannot survive without the flames consuming energy. Also, if you take a coal away from the other coals it will become cold and burn out. But, if you keep the coal in the fire and in a bed of hot coals it will stay burning and hot. Jesus wants us to remain in Him and closely connected to others who are passionate for Him so that we can stay on fire for Him!
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