Race and Culture

It goes without saying that we are experiencing a contentious time in our country as it pertains to race, culture, class, etc. Sadly, the church as a whole has not been at the forefront of reconciling these differences. We have followed the culture’s lead and have parroted the stereotypes and perspectives that have been so divisive. Shame on us! We have been given the “ministry (service) of reconciliation” -2 Corinthians 5:18. Maybe we have forgotten that we serve a God who formed everyone in his image. That means its wrong to see fellow image bearer as something different then us, which quickly moves us to seeing them as less than ourselves. Its basic empathy we are lacking.

 

One of the best lessons of this is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The overall point is that we have to show kindness and compassion to our neighbor, who don’t look like, sound like, or think like us. I’ve been intentionally sharing this message in predominately white environments to hopefully change the false narratives we have sadly embraced as the people of God. We must do better, for after all “judgment begins first at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We the church have a problem and we can’t expect “the world” to fix an issue that we are too afraid to face. Below is the response from one young lady that has begun the long process of becoming a reconciler...

 

Dear Damian,


I am writing to you today because I have felt compelled to write to you ever since you spoke at _____________(Large predominately white church -LPWC) back in July. I am a little ashamed that I have procrastinated until today. My intent was to email you, but I figured Facebook was as good a venue as any.
My name is _______________. I live in _____________(Suburb), and have pretty much lived in white suburbia my whole life. I have never known poverty and hunger and desperation the way you preached about it that Sunday morning. I have been in church my whole life, saved when I was six.
I just wanted you to know that in all of the sermons I’ve heard my whole life, no one ever preached on the Good Samartian the way you did. It impacted my life and changed my heart forever. Since then, the Holy Spirit has been chipping away at the judgmental privilege that has been rooted deep inside my heart.
I have always been afraid of talking to people who look different than me, who do things different than I would. “I would never stand on the side of the road and beg for money.” “I would never let drugs and alcohol ruin my life so bad that I’d be homeless.” My condescending sinful nature allowed me to look past their humanness and see only their mistakes. But, you changed that. You challenged me to look in their eyes and see the same Jesus that looked into mine.
The phrase you kept repeating-that if it wasn’t for the grace of God, that could be me-has been stuck in my head. It has changed the way I deal with co-workers. It has changed the way I view my students at my school. It has changed the way I parent, and the way that I respond to my husband. And I just wanted to say thank you.
I also wanted to share with you a story that happened the very next weekend after you spoke this past summer. I had taken my three month old baby to Alabama to meet some family, and on the ride home, I stopped for supper in (what I didn’t know at the time) was a shady area of town. I don’t like to travel alone and I was already a little on edge because I was in an unfamiliar city with a newborn.
I pulled into Chick-fil-A (thinking that that’s where the good Christian white people would be) and walked around the car to get my baby out of his seat. When I turned around to close the car door and go inside, there was a man standing a little to close for comfort. I had my purse, keys, cell phone, diaper bag, and baby all in my arms. My immediate response was to be afraid. But, your sermon came flooding into my mind. So, I prayed for peace and I simply said, “Hello.” He quickly began a much practiced spiel of “Did I have any money, could I please spare $5, he was so hungry, he’s desperate” etc, etc. My typical response of, “I’m so sorry I don’t carry cash” was stuck in my throat because I knew full well my husband gave me emergency cash for my trip. I didn’t know what to do. I had never given money to a stranger before. I was terrified to put my baby down on the ground and get out my wallet. A million scenarios flashed through my mind of me being caught unaware, looking down, digging through my purse, being mugged, or my baby kidnapped (new mom hormones are vicious). But, somewhere inside, I had that peace that passes understanding, and I did just that. I set my baby’s car seat down. I put the diaper bag back in my car. I began to dig through my purse and found my wallet. I didn’t know what was appropriate to give him, but all I had were $20s. So, I handed him one. He said, “No, this is too much! Are you sure?” To which I replied, “Yes, I’m sure.” And he started to walk away. I started to sort through all my emotions and tried to calm my pounding heart. Right when I had gathered up all of my things again, he came back asking to use my cell phone. I kindly said no, because to be honest, I was terrified he’d run away with it and I’d be stuck in a different state traveling with a baby without my phone.
I really hope that you can understand what a spiritual victory this was for me. I know that it seems trivial, and typing it out right now, I am almost ashamed at being so proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone by giving a stranger a crisp $20. (especially in light of who I’m writing to and all that you do for others) Looking back, I see now that there are so many other things I could have said or done that would have shown him the love of Jesus. I didn’t pray for him, I didn’t invite him to sit with me. I didn’t talk to him, I didn’t buy him supper. He came inside and used my money to buy supper. He asked to use the CFA phone, and they let him. He sat alone while I sat alone. However, it was a step in the right direction. I feel a little more like the Samaritan and a little less like the priest.
I want to thank you for coming to LPWC that day to bring the Word in such a way that changed my life. Thank you for being bold to preach the gospel. Thank you for calling out my white judgmental privilege. Thank you for challenging me to be more like Jesus. Thank you for smacking me in the face with the truth that I am not so unlike that man I encountered. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow my Spirit-filled life. Thank you for inspiring me to see those who are different from me as someone to be seen and not overlooked.
Now, I have an envelope in my glove compartment with a couple of $20s. It stays there. It’s been prayed over, dedicated to accomplish God’s work. I’ve asked that the Lord would give me confidence to give as the Spirit leads when the occasion arises. Because I’ve learned that if it weren’t for the grace of God on my life, the people who come asking for it could be me. I know I have a long way to go, but I just wanted you to know that you had a part in changing my story for the better.
Many thanks,

 

I am honored that God would use me in such a way. She of course has a way to go and will be challenged in more ways than she can imagine, but she took a step! I would of course encourage her to be wise in her generosity. What would this world be if more people made this kind of shift? The problem is, too often pastors are either in agreement with these ungodly perspectives, are quiet about social issues of race and culture, or are too afraid to offend people to deal with this gospel centric problem. I have simply decided to continue to be a voice for what is right. 

Sacred vs. Secular

The term secular used to be thrown around quite frequently in Christian circles. It was usually intended to show a difference between Christian and non-Christian music (mostly), but also art, thought, etc. Simply stated sacred is for God, and secular is everything else. The intent of these terms was to encourage the believer to remain pure (holy) in their thinking and overall internal spiritual climate. The problem is that these terms caused an unhealthy differentiation, in that people to saw their church/spiritual life and all there others aspects of life separately. This is a massive problem!

Biblically, the concept of sacred and secular does exist, but not the way we in the 20th and 21st Century, process and communicate it. Sacred was all about the Holy, that which was for God’s use. The greater thought was that all things sacred would change everything else. God’s Holy presence would alter and adjust our lives where His sacredness would always be in our minds, hearts, and ultimately seen in our actions. Conversely, it was the goal that our secular thoughts, perspectives, and actions would be drawn to His sacredness, and we’d become more sacred. To say it another way, the sacred was always supposed to challenge and change the secular.

The problem is that people have kept the holy/sacred in its own segregated place, and when they enter work, school, restaurants, etc., they somehow feel like their relationship with God doesn’t enter. They can act spiritual in church, small groups, bible studies, and prayer meetings, but God’s sacredness mysteriously disappears by the time they enter into the rest of life. The result…hypocrisy! This was not and has never been the goal of God for His people.

The Bible says, “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill…” Matt 5:14-15 MSG

 “But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” 1 Peter 2:9-10 MSG

 It’s clear that our relationship with God is supposed to be taken to the world. It is echoed throughout the Bible. The 1 Peter 2:9-10 passage takes it one step further. By calling us sacred, we are to go into the secular to make a difference. The sacred and the secular were always meant to come together…but the how is just as important!

The reverse (secular impacting sacred) is not endorsed by sound Biblical teaching. It was never the goal of God that the secular would come in and define and defile the sacred. Since the moment God’s presence began to dwell amongst mankind, we were warned to remain untainted by sin and all of its secular-ness. We are warned to not allow this world’s culture and perspectives to change who we are and how we live.

 “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father.” 1 John 2:15 MSG

I believe a dividing line is being drawn. It is between those who use their sacred to impact the secular and those who abandon what is sacred because of their love for the secular. When we take our sacred and holy into the secular and sinful world, we make it better. When we let the secular and sinful taint our sacred and holy, we get worse. This is not a popular truth, but it is true nonetheless. We can never forget that there is a God who is infinitely Holy/Pure/Sacred who is welcoming us into his cleansing presence and he expects us to carry that same presence into the secular world.

A Hard Conversation on Race

My wife and I noticed our teenaged neighbor walking back and forth in front of our home for the better part of 3 weeks. We have two WIFI signals at our house, one that is open and one private. I quickly realized that he had discovered the open line and had more quickly grown accustomed to free access. He is new to our community and lives the next cul-de-sac down. He is a kind, well behaved, and respectful young man. The problem is he just so happens to be both male and black.

Problem, you ask? Yes, he has the barrier of being his gender and skin color while walking back and forth in front of the houses of people he doesn’t know. It’s a problem that I know all too well. I have the same hurdle and have suffered some of the consequences of this inescapable reality.

In the 3rd week of this routine, I told my wife that I needed to talk to him to keep his naivety from putting him in an unfortunate situation. He cost us $0 dollars in using our WIFI, but my concern was for him. You see we live in a pretty diverse subdivision. But, the one thing diverse faces creates, is diverse perceptions.

So, I had the conversation with him. “What did I do?”, he asked. I assured him that he had done nothing wrong. “I can’t use your WIFI signal?”, I told him that it was not a problem, but then I had to navigate through the awkward conversation about perceptions. I didn’t know how the new couple in the corner perceived this young black man pacing in front of their home. What did the older lady think? The hermit-like neighbor? The family with children? Did anyone see him as someone casing homes for future robberies or waiting for an opportunity to attack or rape someone?

I was concerned that someone would call the police out of nervousness. I was worried that an officer would see him, not as a sweet 16 year old but a menacing 20 something, like Tamir Rice. I was troubled with the idea that this nice kid would mouth off out of frustration and ultimately end up dead in the street, like Michael Brown. I was vexed by the idea that a “well-meaning” neighbor might confront him, and he would feel threatened and the need to fight back, like Trayvon Martin. What bothered me most is that the young Hispanic girl who lived next door to him could do the very same thing and no nefarious intentions would be attributed to her.

I hated having to have this conversation with this great young man whose only flaw that I could see was his naivety. I explained to him that I know what it’s like to be in his shoes and have others unfairly stereotyped me. I know what it’s like to be pulled over and questioned by law enforcement solely because of my skin color and maleness. I hate the fact that young black men have to have a different social education than other children. I hated that I had to be this young man’s teacher. But, what I would have hated most was loosing him to ignorance, violence, and potential racism all because he wanted free Internet.

I was talking to a white pastor friend recently. He lamented at the thought that he would have to share different things with an adopted black son than his white son. I found it incredibly insightful. The truth is, young black men too often are not treated the same or seen in the same light as others. I am not saying that everyone thinks this way. I am not saying that all African American males have the best intentions. But maybe, just maybe, we can admit that things are a bit unfair. Just a thought, that came out of my hard conversation on race.

7 Benefits Jesus’ Resurrection Provides Believers

I have been through more Easter day celebrations than I can count. It always puzzled me that the messages were always about the cross of Christ. Which is always relevant and good, but it seemed important to hear a message that centered on Jesus’ resurrection. The fact that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave means something, and that sermon was largely absent over the years. This past Easter I wanted to remedy that in our church so that is what I did. So, you have 7 things you receive as a result of the resurrection.

It was not until after the resurrection that the disciples are sent as Jesus’ witnesses into the entire world. He didn’t send them/us empty handed or ill equipped. We were sent with an arsenal that even the gates of hell couldn’t repel. This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simple scriptures that show a cause and effect relationship with the resurrection. There are more wonderful benefits found in the New Testament. I encourage you to discover them, but hopefully this will give you a good start.

1. Salvation

“…Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

2. Confidence of our Faith

 “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” 1 Cor 15:13-14 ESV

3. Resurrection Power

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…” Philippians 3:10 Also: Romans 1:1-6

4. Freedom from the Bondage of the Law

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7:4 ESV

 5. New Life

“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4 KJV

6. The Holy Spirit

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11 ESV Also: John 14:15-31 

7. The Hope of Heaven

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV Also: Ephesians 2:4-7

No Requiem for Rest

This last season of my life and ministry has been a major challenge. I outlined some of those struggles in the ‘When Life Sucks’ entry. As we could sense those struggles coming to an end, we along with the Vertical Church board saw it necessary for us to take some much needed time off. So, my wife and I set sail on a 7-day cruise on the largest ship on the seas.

Rest is one of those areas that pastors and spiritual leaders ignore with great frequency. They put their nose to the Kingdom grindstone and don’t stop until they drop dead far too soon with broken marriages and horribly wounded children in their wake. As if it’s God’s will that that we burn ourselves out dramatically. The martyrdom He has in mind for us is a daily death to self or even a more glorious beheading in His wonderful name. Not, by making His church an idol that we sacrifice ourselves to some twisted devotion. How can we reject rest when God Himself gave it to us as a gift.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 ESV

I know of no true pastor, elder, or church leader that would speak against the 10 Commandments, but far too many ignore the one above. My wife and I make sure we do our best to keep all 10 of them. I wonder how many spiritual leaders would lead better lives if they would just have a weekly Sabbath, just a thought.

Make no mistake about it I love the church. The church of Jesus Christ is the one institution He left us. I will also say proudly that I love Vertical Church ATL. I am honored to lead this small portion of His larger church. But, I pray for the courage to walk away should it threaten my marriage, my son, or my health. So, we have a rhythm to ensure that we care for ourselves effectively; it is once a week, a quarter, and once a year. We take a weekly Sabbath, a quarterly get away, and a yearly sabbatical. This keeps us in a healthy rhythm.

So, we found ourselves on a balcony overlooking the ocean, watching the sun dancing off the waves in rhythmic synchronization. The sky painted with felt tip in hues of blues, purples, oranges, and white. More often than not resisting the temptation to try to add a musical soundtrack to the symphony God created. The bass of the waves were playing against the treble of the wind and I found myself lost in thoughts of nothing and everything. I would look out and see other’s arms hanging over the side of the boat enjoying the same ensemble being played before us.

I found my wife retreating to similar moments of blissful ease. All of the stress, worry, busy work floated away. I couldn’t help but think, ‘We were made to do this’. Made to rest. Our bodies have a limit and God knew that when He designed us. We can wear ourselves out, shortening our life’s spans as if we are doing God a favor. WE WERE MADE TO REST! We expect pastors to kill themselves and then we curse them for dying.

Even though we have our healthy rhythms, we still needed to escape to ensure our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. If we didn’t have that, we would have burned out years ago. I want to be here for as long as possible. I have waited a long time to live in my calling, and I don’t want it to be over too quickly. I’m having too much fun. If I am going to have a quality life, a healthy family, and a ministry I am proud of, then rest will continue to be a part of our regime. There will be no end of intentional and strategic rest in our lives.