“Yes but…, Yes but…”

[Note, I first wrote this on my personal facebook page on May 31, 2020]

can't breathe

“Yes but…” 

“Yes but…”                                                                                                                                   

We can’t keep starting conversations on race this way. I’m speaking to me, and the majority of my family, friends, and congregation who are white. If we hold out any hope of convincing our African-American friends, neighbors, fellow believers–or even strangers, that we believe–or seriously care about their experiences of being avoided, excluded, suspected, arrested, and even executed when not guilty (see the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL), listening would be better than asserting.

“Yes but…, we don’t know what happened before the video.  Yes but…, most police officers are not racist and do a good job. Yes but…, looting isn’t the solution to racism. Yes but…, I’ve never personally mistreated anyone of color. Yes but…., slavery was outlawed 160 years ago; African-Americans need to stop acting like victims. Yes but…, since we live in a sinful world we can’t end racism anyway.”

The issue is not really whether our “Yes but…” is false, true, or a bit of both. It’s that starting there is a tipoff that we’re not REALLY interested in listening or learning. Maybe we’re too confident we have a clear eyed view when in fact it could be that we have one eye–or both, closed.

[Moment of truth: I was tempted to include in this post a number of my own “Yes buts…” because of people I know and love who will object that I failed to make any clarifications. But because of Christ’s love, rather than justify and defend we can be part of improving America. Let’s sit down, be quiet, and listen to African-Americans tell us what it’s like to be black in America. Afterwards, be humble enough to admit, “I didn’t know.”  Then link arms with them to be agents of change; or put another way, to be Christians.]

God forgive us

A 25 year-old unarmed black man goes out for a jog in the deep south and is accosted by 2 white men–one brandishing a shotgun, the other a handgun, who shout that they want to talk to him. If I had been Ahmaud Arbery and black I think the last thing I would have thought was, “Oh, here are two law-abiding citizens who simply want to sort out whether or not I committed a crime.” I’d have seen two white vigilantes whom I’d have suspected have a visibly low regard for their darker-skinned brethren, and that on this sparsely traveled street, my life may depend on me getting that man’s gun away from him.

I realize that authorities only this week got access to the video that many of us have watched and then vomited, but how can you have a dead man whom nobody says was armed, an admitted shooter, and no arrests for two months?

Yet again, it is hard to escape the bitter truth that in the US of A where a slave owner once wrote without a hint of irony that “all men are created equal”, 250 years later some are still more equal than others. It’s still hard to escape the conclusion that despite being given nearly 160 years to make a respectable attempt to right the wrongs of the capture, imprisonment, exploitation, killings and brutal treatment of Africans during our centuries of slavery, there’s less evidence than there should be that we Americans who are white believe that creed. God forgive us.

Ahmaud Arbery, 25

And God, bring us together: African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, Eastern European, or Middle Eastern. You painted that picture in heaven (Revelation 7:9-10). Would you do it earlier? Amen.

I have a Suggestion

What if…, everyone who still has a job, gave part or all of his/her $1200 stimulus check to someone who doesn’t? What if, instead of banking that unexpected money or putting it in a retirement fund or keeping it for a future vacation, we gave it away to those in need? Or, gave it to a local ministry whose donations have plummeted? Or gave it to one of our missionaries whose support has taken a hit because some of their supporters can no longer help?

Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. 2 Corinthians 8:12-14.

What’s Below the Waterline?

Most had already gone to bed, some perhaps still reading in their staterooms when the ship shuddered violently. A chunk of what 3000 years earlier had innocently begun as accumulated snow, eventually broke off from a glacier in the Arctic Ocean. Several hundred feet long, what made the iceberg so deadly was its height–most of which was invisible. Rising just 50-100 feet into the air, it boasted a massive but unseen root that may have descended 1/5 of a mile beneath the waves. On April 14, 1912 it sent a ship marketed as “unsinkable”to the bottom of the sea in less than three hours, killing about 1500.

90% of an iceberg’s force lies hidden below the waterline where its mass and muscle stabilize the ice and serve as a crude rudder. Scientists recently estimated that the Titanic killer weighed 75 million tons. Despite its own size, a vessel of 52,000 tons plowing into it at full speed stood no chance.

Iceberg thought to have sunk the HMS Titanic

While we race to understand and defeat an ominous virus stalking the world, America is on lockdown. With US cases at half a million and 20,000 deaths, we’re following state orders to stay home and wear masks. The most dire predictions suggest the nation’s death toll could reach 250,000. Many are worried–and not just about getting sick or even dying, but about how to feed their families if they can’t work. What does America’s future look like if JPMorgan turns out to be right and unemployment reaches 20% or more?

Though the official news is bleak–and what we’re hearing from friends and family may have us even more rattled, the virus could provide Christians with an unexpected gift: a diagnosis. Could this be a chance to discover what’s below the waterline of our faith so we can strengthen it if needed? The apostle Paul confessed that the terrible time he went through “crushed” him, “overwhelmed his ability to endure”, and that he “expected to die” (2 Corinthians 1:8). But looking back on those terrifying days, he realized that God had been up to something: “…as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Good times can camouflage the tinsel strength of our faith, but often bad times are brutally honest.

Two months ago we were as oblivious to danger as the guests on the Titanic; enjoying good food, good drink, good friends, a great voyage. And then, impact. We have jobs but can’t work; schools but can’t attend; church buildings but can’t gather for Easter. And the most prosperous nation the world has ever known can’t find or make enough medical masks, ventilators, gowns, or even hospital beds. As you filed for unemployment, listen to the news, watch the battering your budget’s taking, get cabin fever, miss your friends and try to explain what’s happening to your 8 year-old daughter, what are you discovering lies beneath the waterline? Has your faith proven formidable and muscular, or does it appear to be a somewhat lightweight version of what you thought it was? In His great love for us, God sometimes leads us to relocate our confidence and satisfaction in Him–not in a life marked by smooth sailing on a glassy sea, but in one whose waters are littered with icebergs. This is a big one, but it could turn out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Man of Conviction, Man of Courage, Man of Sacrifice

Absalom Jones just wanted to pray. Thanks to faithful evangelism by him and his friend Richard Allen, the number of African members at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, had grown substantially. Anyone of any race could become a member of St. George–and despite slavery being something of a norm in colonial America in 1791, Africans were sometimes invited to preach. But as the non-white membership grew, others grew nervous. And on that Sunday when Jones and others tried to pray on the first floor, the ushers pointed to the balcony. As lay ministers for the black congregants, Jones and Allen had organized a mutual aid society for those in need, and their group had generously helped raise money for the church’s new balcony. With the balcony’s completion, its purpose now became clear: segregated seating. James 2:3-4 speaks about a

Absalom Joneschurch segregating according to economics, but the rebuke applies to every way of separating people : “If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’–well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?”

 
When the ushers tried to forcibly move Jones, he and most Africans walked out the door. It would be another year until the completion of a new African Church of Philadelphia, which then affiliated with the Episcopal Church. In 1794, when it called Absalom as pastor, Rev. Jones became the first black priest in America.
 
This is black history month and Christians like me in need of ample amounts of sunscreen would do well to broaden our historical horizons. Jones‘ life and ministry is a great addition. In addition to being a great Christian leader in the church, so he was at home. Jones pestered a number of Quakers (all abolitionists) to buy his wife’s freedom from her master–while he remained a slave. True, there was a practical reason to begin with her. She had to be set free before they had children, or by law they would have became property since their mother was a slave. But if a woman was free, so were her children–regardless of the father’s status. She became a free woman in 1778, but it would be another 6 years before Absalom too was free. Leader, provider, protector; just what a husband’s called to be.
 

Christians & Food & Faith & Fellowship

Please don’t judge me but I don’t eat enough vegetables. And I eat more potato chips than I should. Then there are some friends with the self-discipline of a SEAL who NEVER stumble, never sneak so much as a cookie. Living in a land of plenty with plenty of food options, food–and what can or should be eaten–not only become upper tier decisions but yardsticks for measuring each other. Stacy Reaoch shines the light of the gospel on our choices and chastenings–sometimes of others–but sometimes ourselves.

 

On Alert

Doing some research for an apologetics (defending the faith) series I’ll be preaching starting January 2020, I stumbled across author and blogger Natasha Crain. Wow! She has a fantastic website crammed with resources for parents trying to help their children with answers to common questions either they have–or will have the first time they encounter a friend who does. The following post is a wise callout to Christians about what we discussed yesterday: be discerning who you follow.

Help, my adult child is breaking my heart!

Some of you read the title and began to weep. You remember when your son was seven, or when your daughter was ten and you had such high hopes for them. You love the Lord and want to serve Him–and that’s what you wanted for him/her too.

But somewhere it all went south. Maybe it was in his late teens, maybe in her early to mid-twenties, but despite all that you’d done right as a parent, promises you’d heard from teachers saying X + Y always = Z, were broken.

The son of pastor and prolific author John Piper was on the run from Christ and his family for four years. I can only imagine the groan of grief that must have coursed through John’s heart when he joined his elders in excommunicating Abraham.

Having long since been reconciled to Christ and his family, Abraham has some wise counsel to offer other parents whose adult children are breaking their hearts. https://jimdaly.focusonthefamily.com/12-suggestions-for-loving-a-prodigal-child/

Missionary: No Halo Required

You collide with the gospel everywhere: your church, maybe your parents/family, your friends–even internet podcasts.  Is it even possible in this age of hi-tech communications that there are still billions who have never bumped into the gospel.  Ever.  Nor will they.  They don’t know any Christians, none live near them and no Christian knows their language.  Who will love the Jat people, the Hui, the Pashtun, the Ansaris, or the Kap people enough that they will sell all, sell out, and set out to live among them so that these frontier peoples can learn that Jesus died for their sins too?

May 19, 2019 will be Keystone’s mission conference, “To Congo, with Love”.  And on May 12 I will speak on being “On Mission for the Whole World”.  Every day the number of people who don’t live near any churches or have any Christian friends–who have never heard the gospel, grows.  A few years ago, it was 2.8 billion.  Now it’s 3.15 billion.  Praise be to God for indigenous missionaries evangelizing their own, but the need and God’s call for the West to serve the unreached, has not been cancelled.  What if God called you?

Maybe you so idealize missionaries that you think sainthood-or near sainthood, is required.   Mission biographers can contribute to this nonsense by portraying their subjects with an angelic glow.  The stories of some past missionaries have been so polished that no one can measure up.  That’s why Kathryn Long may have done the world a service by publishing “God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in Amazonian Ecuador”.   I think very highly of Elizabeth Elliot but as reviewer Madeline Arthington shows, she was just a regular woman that–thanks to God’s grace, was greatly used in spite of her very human flaws.  https://www.imb.org/2019/04/22/after-jim-elliot-good-bad-ugly/

Lies Sufferers are Told

Not only is the teaching of the Prosperity Gospel widespread (it has conquered so much of Africa and Latin America that in some places it is the only version of Christianity known), it traffics in half-truths and outright lies.  Sufferers endure the worst.  Initially some see hope in PG claims but in short order, are devastated by unfulfilled promises that heap unfounded blame and guilt onto the shoulders of those already at the end of their ropes.

Tragically, elements of the immensely marketable but sometimes sinister teachings of people like Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen and Fred Price,  have slipped unnoticed into the thinking of many Christians.  While nearly all Christians believe God can and still does do miracles, PG advocates say He’s promised to.  Always.  If only you have enough faith.  Or do quality praying.  Or have a large number of people praying.  Or obey perfectly.  Or…

At the age of 38, Duke Divinity School professor Kate Bowler has stage 4 colon cancer, a battle she’s waged for several years.  The author of Blessed, a well-researched 2013 book on the Prosperity Gospel, she made this observation in 2016.  The “Prosperity gospel is a reflection of American avoidance of our finitude. Their denial of the inevitability of death taught me something about American confidence. Americans want to be in control. Self-determination is a theological good. It’s really hard when it comes to the fragility of the end.”

Battling the PG lies, Vaneetha Risner reminds us how horribly wrong we can be–and how horribly hurtful to others when instead of a worshipful “let God be God” message, we take one to our suffering friend like,”If you just do it right, you’ll be healed/get your marriage back/have a child/child will live/the job will come through/your stocks will go through the roof…”  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/just-have-more-faith?utm_campaign=Daily%20Email&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=70927869&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–MJVPy9__xfBwp2bDZbQ05IywU55yfPCd2j3bjuX5lToSh6f47iX2zi2cyQdyYy4fu6AByLIeU19tnv3EOVkLihILt_De2pKth-3IPueE3YLmTaFs&_hsmi=70927869