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 three of a three-part blog series related to those major themes: Know the Story, Own the Story & Change the Story.
Change The Story
In the 400th year of Egyptian enslavement, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites: Moses.
In the 400th year of silence between testaments, the Lord raised up the ultimate deliverer: Jesus Christ, The Righteous. The One on whose shoulders a new government would be borne. Jesus, the progenitor of salvation. The One who brought reconciliation between God and man and made provision for brother and sister to be reconciled into one.
At this 400th year anniversary of chattel slavery entering the colonies, later to become the United States of America, we are believing for the Lord to raise up a new kind of deliverer: The Church. The Church standing on the Gospel, boldly declaring the truth therein, that God has created all people in His image and in his likeness. This means we all have inherent, equal worth. The Church rising, using her governmental authority as the ekklesia, proclaiming truth to the world. God, through his son Jesus, has provided a means for us to be reconciled to Him and to each other. It is indeed the Father’s desire for us to be one, a diverse beautiful family.
Know, Own, & Change
In Knowing the Story of our collective history, this should drive us to lament the past 400 years of racial terror. Better understanding the church’s complicity with racism and supremacy, for the believer, should start a journey of accountability and reconciliation.
Secondly, we must Own the Story. Lament should be the church’s response to Knowing the Story. This should produce contrition of heart and beg the question of individual and corporate responsibility, concluding with us on our knees in repentance.
The final piece of this journey of transformation is Changing the Story. It was the prophet Amos who exclaimed to the nation of Israel and the nations more broadly what the Lord desires, righteousness and justice:
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Fruit-bearing Always Follows Repentance
The passage in Amos can be summed up in this simple statement: fruit-bearing always follows repentance… Thus, there Changing the Story! At the heart of the message to Change the Story are righteousness and justice. I believe the two are inextricably bound, but one, more often than not, is neglected by the church: justice.
I love what our mentor and champion, Dr. John Perkins, says about this, “Justice is any act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation back to its original intent, purpose or image. When I think about justice that way, it doesn’t surprise me at all that God loves it. It includes both the acts of social justice and the restorative justice found on the cross.”
We must pursue justice. Now, before we can move forward with this idea I think we need to provide some language and background. In Amos’ context, the nation of Israel, by in large, was oppressing the poor and the righteous. They were behaving in an immoral way, such that father and son were sleeping with the same woman and bowing down to the altar of other gods. God is always displeased when our behavior misaligns with his standard for holiness, and so it was with the nation of Israel. Thus, Amos forth tells of these evils and how the Lord disapproves and how He desires for the nation to practice holiness and justice, rectifying the wrongs this community was complicit in.
Justice in Practice
This must be the same approach for us. We practice justice in multiple ways, but there are two I’d like to highlight:
Dr. John Perkins continues, “Justice is a process, and change takes time, but I believe we ought to dream big dreams and make big statements as we pursue those dreams.” Amos didn’t tell the people that God wants justice to trickle through their society. The New Living Translation uses the phrase “mighty flood of justice” to describe what God wants to see (Amos 5:24). One thing we learned in Mendenhall is that once floodwaters start rushing through a place, there’s no turning them back with human strength.”
Together, we can Change the Story. Together, we can raise the prophetic conscious of the church back to the Father’s standards. But, we must all do our part. Change is never easy and should never be pursued lightly. The road is long and the fight is great. There are many social injustices that plague society and systemic issues that must be addressed. This can seem like an insurmountable struggle, but I’d like to remind you of the words of the apostle Paul: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Together, we can change the story for generations to come.
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.
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.
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!
To learn more about how to connect to Reach Atlanta, an effort to mobilize evangelism across our city click here
I grew up in Atlanta during the Civil Rights Movement. As a child, after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, I watched his funeral procession through the streets of downtown. And I remember the race riots that erupted all over the country as a result of his assassination.
Years later, I marched on the National Mall in support of King’s birthday becoming a national holiday. I was militant. My entire life from infancy to young adulthood was steeped in blackness. I attended all-black schools, lived in all-black neighborhoods and espoused all-black causes.
Many Americans, black and white, have a viewpoint just like I did. But after receiving a renewed heart as a born-again Christian, my attitude began to change. The hearts and minds of Americans have to be renewed in the area of race, just like my heart and mind were, if we are to achieve racial harmony in this country.
God called me to view my role in this world as a Christian first, not as a black person first. I still had a driving passion for the causes of my people. But it became apparent to me that my hunger and enthusiasm for God needed to precede my enthusiasm for my race. And that’s exactly what happened!
The cause of Christ became the controlling force in my life, instead of the causes promoting blackness – without any realization on my part, because it happened over time.
As Christians, our minds are not renewed overnight. We still bring garbage from our former lives to the other side of the cross. God had to deal with me; it was a process. When I got filled with the Spirit, I began to hunger for God. I gained an appreciation for other preachers and other musical artists outside my culture. My spiritual hunger and thirst for God was so great, it took me past my ethnic comfort zone so that I was willing to learn from other people outside my culture.
If you have yielded totally to God, you shouldn’t put up a wall when God wants to bring His truth to you through a culture or race that’s not your own.
Too often, though, that’s what happens within the Body of Christ. I call it the “get it syndrome.”
When I talk to black people, they say, “White folks don’t get it. Nor do they want to get it. They don’t know our history. They don’t know our culture. They don’t understand how the impact of slavery and the cruel, involuntary separation of our families have destroyed our ancestry. They don’t understand the effect that Jim Crow laws had on our social, political and financial well-being.”
When I talk to white people, they say, “I get it. Now, black folks need to get over it! Racism no longer exists. We elected a black man and put him in the highest position in the country! You had a black president in the White House! You no longer need any special treatment or consideration. Besides, we didn’t do anything to you. It was our forefathers who made all of the mistakes, not us. So, get over it!”
Consequently, an invisible gulf exists between the races. This gulf represents misunderstandings by both parties. In order to bridge that gulf, members of both races must listen with spiritual ears to truly empathize with each other.
Many social and political advances have been made since I was a child, but one thing remains the same: the country I live in now is as racially charged as the country I grew up in. Despite the social improvements and legal advances, a greater change must take place in the hearts of Americans, black and white.
Just like I was, many Americans are at a crossroads today where their race collides with their faith. They want to really know how to walk as a Christian while not losing their racial identity. I discovered the answer to that question when I realized that God was calling me to view myself as a Christian first, not as a black person first.