How activists against racism may be reinforcing it deeper into our culture.

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I watched a video the other day of a passionate young adult working to prove that racism is a very real problem that must be dealt with.  By the time it appeared on my Facebook feed it had been watched hundreds of thousands of times. 

Actually, he did a good job identifying problems that do exist and areas in our culture that need to be improved.  The problem is HOW he was making his viewers aware.  He basically said repeatedly in different ways, “You’re a racist!”  He was bold and passionate. 

Before we proceed let’s assume his information was 100% accurate and his heart was in the right place.

I still think he, along with many others, are making things worse. 

Here is why.

There is an important piece to the maturation process psychologically – identity.  Professional counselors and educators have been aware of this for a long time.

If an alcoholic is trying to improve, it’s one thing for him to admit he has a problem.  It’s something else to have him come home night after night to a spouse that calls him a “worthless drunk.”  Counselors long ago realized that berating and name calling doesn’t help.  In fact, it makes it worse.  Being made aware of a problem is very different than being told your problem is your identity… repeatedly. The wife may hate that he is an alcoholic– and at the same time reinforcing it IS his identity more deeply into his heart and soul! 

In education, it’s the same way.  If you have a young child who struggles with math, it’s one thing to identify there are places he needs extra attention; it’s another to remind him repeatedly he is “stupid.” You can absolutely point out an area in which he needs to improve, but ratifying in him that being “stupid” is a part of his identity will do more damage than good.  He may even actually come to believe it is who he is, accepting it even deeper into his identity. 

Moreover, social uniqueness (identity) is formed by what you are for AND by what you are against, from religion, politics, national identities, even artistic preferences.  Identity IS divisive and being unique is a basic human desire.  What’s important is HOW we approach uniqueness.  Racism (used broadly), by practice, is not only preferring a unique trait, but also believing the PEOPLE who have or prefer other unique traits are somehow less valuable or even worthless.  Our culture has ignorantly tried to throw out both sides of this by pretending to be blind to differences in general.  Trying to say there is no gender, color, intellectual or athletic gifting and the like is silly and limits the beautiful diversity of humanity.  For example:

People need to stop saying things like “kids don’t see color.”  Yes, they do.  They just aren’t bothered by the difference.  In fact, they can openly talk about it because a difference in skin color is a vastly inferior issue to the friendship they have.  What needs to be elevated is the priority of love.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.

We don’t want to live blind to the complex beauty that is humanity, or be afraid to see differences in each other. However, the binding agent of this uniqueness is love. 

Lastly, abhorrent name calling, violent marches, and belittling trigger the primal fight or flight instinct.  There are countless articles and research papers showing that people struggle to learn when they are deeply angry or afraid.  Every well-intentioned video or article that provokes the primal fight or flight may be highly effective click-bait (meaning a lot of people see it) but will not help move hearts toward love and respect.  In most cases as your blood pressure goes up, your ability to reason goes way down. 

So, what do we do?

In my home: I will not label my kids as a racist, idiot, bully or the like. Even if I think their values are wrong. That’s not their identity and not who they have to become.  That said they are unique and absolutely can improve themselves in many ways.  Not everything they like or dislike will be right, but that has no bearing on their value as a person.  In Christianity, human value is not subjective but objective. I will teach them there is space to love people deeply and talk about differences, even debate them. As a Christian, I tell them all humans are made in the image of God and have immeasurable value– from the unborn baby to the elderly dementia patient, from those born in the heart of India to those born in the heart of Kansas– and we should treat all as Christ sees them over how we may feel about them.  So, in our home we may challenge each other’s ideas and prefer different music styles, but love remains.

Identity: People are eternally valuable creations of God. 

Objective: Teach my children to approach a complex world the way Jesus did. You can challenge people, wrestle with ideas and ideals, but you cannot take away their transcendent value.  You don’t have that power.

In our culture: The battle is won by education and in relationships. I decided to do a little “research” and spent an evening watching interview after interview on YouTube of people who overcame racism.  I couldn’t find one that overcame racism with more physical or emotional violence.  The victory was always won through relationships and education.  If the objective is to win HEARTS– tangible forgiveness, mercy, and love are far more powerful than taking up arms and stone-throwing. If you want to change hearts, don’t work to prove there is hate without also working to demonstrate how it can be overcome. Don’t divide people further, build a bridge to speak into their life.

There are a lot of people in this world I disagree with and I actually enjoy a well-mannered debate.  Yet, I do not have any power to remove someone’s value. Even if I disagree with them. In my opinion their value is assigned by the Creator. 

He loved people so much that he sent what was dearest to him, his son, to die, so that they may be rescued.  The very people he knew had wrong affections and values.

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I’ll let pastor King be my final thought…

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

picture: https://www.pexels.com/photo/portrait-dark-black-and-white-eyes-12087/

 

Conditional Grace

Conditional Grace

A decade in youth ministry gave me a front row seat to a lot of messy lives.

Abortion, drug use, broken families, teen pregnancy, and lots of drama.

Youth ministry was messy.

It wasn’t messy lives that really bothered me though.  I expected that.  I knew that was the life of a youth pastor long before I took the job.

One thing that really hurt I didn’t expect.  In fact, I was a part of the pain and didn’t even see it at first.

This one thing that hurt me most is something I call Conditional Grace. 

Conditional Grace, or selective kindness, we could even call it discriminatory love.  It’s when a person offers love, kindness, and grace to certain people and not to others.

Let me give an example.

When I served in youth ministry a long-term core family member in our church could have a child that struggled with something like a drug addiction, we would bend over backwards to help them out.  That’s great.  I have no problem with that.  Yet when students that weren’t part of the “core” families came to the church with tough issues, often less severe, they were dangerous and I was expected to “protect the flock” from them.

Wait… when it’s someone in our inner circle of kids that smokes weed at a youth camp we offer grace and want to help him through this difficult season, but when a student visitor smokes a cigarette outside the church before our youth services start we have to kick him out?  Oh, the incredible conditional grace!

We all want to help SOME people, show them grace, as long as we like them. Can you see it?  We want to help people we WANT to like, not those we don’t want to like.  We give them the benefit of the doubt, we forgive the annoying things they do and put up with their difficult “seasons” in life.  I fully agree with grace!  We just need to make sure it isn’t so conditional.

Remember, while we were enemies of God, Jesus came to us (Romans 5).  He came while we were alienated from God and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Col. 1:15-21).

I challenge you to show grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  Show grace to someone who you don’t want to show grace to. 

Go love the poor, people from the other political party, immigrants, those who struggle with sexual identity, the uneducated, or even someone from another religion. They also need the truth of Jesus Christ given through loving, gracious hands.  Let them see the good in you and know it’s because of what Jesus did.

Want more?  Check out this sermon!

7 relational lies that need to be confronted

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7 relational lies that must be confronted!

The Lie: People in great relationships always get along.    

The Truth: Conflict is required for intimacy.  If you are constantly running from conflict, my guess is you don’t have deep friendships.  Learning to speak truth in love will create an enviornment of transparency that satisfies deeply.  It only comes through healthy conflict and transparency.  Don’t be FAKE! 

The Lie: A healthy relationship will eventually be free of conflict.  

The Truth: We are all flawed. There is a term in the Bible called forbearance, which in context often means the refraining of enforcement.  This means there will be times where you are absolutely right about something and the other person is absolutely wrong.  However, you choose to forgive (not necessarly ignore) for the sake of the relationship.  Sometimes the relationship is more important than the issue. This also applies well to our most familiar flaws.  Much like a physical weakness or flaw, sometimes there isn’t a magic pill or miraculous counseling session that will fix it.  You choose instead to forbear and graciously move forward together!  Hear me clearly, ALL of us have issues.  Healthy relationships know, recognize, and reflect healthy forbearance. 

The Lie: People fall in love. 

The Truth: People fall in lust.  True love is work, a journey of focused commitment. History teaches us instant-conflict-free relationships are most likely to be found in fairytales.

The Lie: Lucky people experience great friendships. 

The Truth: Loving, sacrificially committed people experience great friendships.  It’s like a group of friends embarking on a long ocean voyage. The friends in this ship live it up together when it’s calm and steady each other when the storm rages. 

The Lie: I don’t need people. 

The Truth: There is nothing more powerful and satisfying than to be deeply known and loved. Known, meaning you are relationally close and familiar with that which makes another unique, the good and the bad. Loved, meaning someone affectionately chooses you, no matter what. Nothing satisfies more than to be chosen and loved, in-spite of our flaws. 

The Lie: Marriage is old fashioned and divorce is no big deal. 

The Truth: It’s often harder for people to get over a divorce than it is to recover from the death of a loved one. Betrayal after intimacy hurts deeply.  Marriage is intended to be a covenant, with boundaries, protecting a developing relationship.  The Biblical view of marriage isn’t a list of rules holding you back.  It is a treasure map showing the route to a deeply satisfying relationship.  If you don’t follow the map, don’t expect to find the treasure.

The Lie: Porn is the not-so-bad norm. 

The Truth: All porn, whether soft or hard core, is sacrificing to a false idol.  Porn plays dark games in your mind.  Hear me clearly–this includes romance novels, or what I call porn for women.  Romance novels “Photoshop” false relational images with words and create expectations that are far from reality. It seems as modern Christianity permits romance novels as acceptable, the more marriages seem to crumble.  So, why does this continue?  Let’s change that and change our marriages!  

Of course, there are more relational lies and truths.  Here are just a few, to get you thinking!

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The Emptying

 

The emptying.

“Suppose,” St. Augustine says, “God wanted to fill you with honey; if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey? The contents of the vessel will have to be thrown away, and the vessel will have to be washed immediately, painstakingly washed and scoured, so as to be fit to receive this mysterious gift.”

John Piper states, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.”

John testifies about Jesus by saying, He must become greater; I must become less.”

The apostle Paul stated, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

It is possible that the greatest barrier to us enjoying the goodness of God is us. God allowing seasons of emptying could be the most beautiful and painful gift we can receive. The withering you are facing just might produce the fertile ground God may use to establish an eternal hope that far exceeds the potential of our previous desires.

If you are going through something really difficult, maybe instead of asking God to remove it, ask him to establish Himself—His eternal, unchanging, always faithful self.

Devoured? Dealing with hurt by spiritual wolves.

Ever felt abused by leadership? Mistreated by a boss? Maybe you find yourself unable to trust. Possibly it was even a church that just ran you over and the thought of darkening the doorway of a worship center brings back painful memories. I think this tends to cut even deeper when it comes from a Christian brother or sister. Too often people believe working with Christians or for Christians will bring blissful spiritual unity. When the human nature inevitably comes roaring out, we are left disappointed, and understandably dumb-founded. What do you do now? Know upfront this is written primarily to those who have been hurt by these so-called Christian leaders, though some of these principles also apply in the secular world.

I want to add a disclaimer: if you have been hurt in an illegal way, please seek professional counsel right away.

That being said, here are five things that I hope will help you find healing:

1) Remember, most systems that have become domineering started with good intentions. So the real question is, how do shepherds turn into wolves? The difference between a love that desires to cultivate life and law that demands control feels worlds apart, but the step from one to the other is actually quite small. Please take a moment and watch a message of mine out of Titus. This should help explain how the Pharisees who were heroes in the Old Testament became the very men who hung Jesus on the cross.

2) This next idea can be difficult to accept, and the idea comes from the Scripture that tells us, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Matt 5:45. The truth is, a win in life is not health, wealth, or prosperity despite what many pastors teach. Evil people make great money, pastors whose lives are far from Biblically-aligned grow huge churches, and very Godly men and women live difficult lives. Grab a copy of “Foxe’s book of Martyrs” and you will see that good people do suffer. So let me make a few clear statements:

-Suffering doesn’t make you evil, bad, or out of God’s will. Yes, you heard me right.

-A good job, lots of money, and big ministry does not always mean someone is honoring God.

-The condition of your heart matters most, and you may not see the fruits of faithful living until you die and stand before Christ. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,” 2 Corinthians 4:17.

-Take courage, other great men and women have suffered too! You are not alone.

3) It’s really hard to tell the difference between a King Saul and a David-in-training. Let me explain. If you have read much of the Old Testament you will know that King Saul had become a mad, jealous old man who tried to do some really evil things. You will also note that in King David’s life he chalked up a few on the ole’ sin score board. Let’s see… slept with another man’s wife and plotted his murder, just as an example, yet let’s not forget David was referred to as a man after God’s own heart. It’s really hard to tell if you are truly in the presence of a mad King Saul or a David in God’s boot camp. To whom again does revenge belong? Even when Nathan the prophet confronts David he didn’t remove him as king. He left all judgment to God. Don’t miss what I am about to say. I picked up the idea from the book I will recommend in section 5. Many well-intentioned dragons kill young Davids in their pursuit of someone whom they believe to be a mad Saul. God may not be done with your leader… just like he isn’t finished with you. You may be thinking, “you don’t understand what I have been through.” You may be surprised. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to share my experiences, too.

4) You’re not free of malice either. Alright I know, another tough section, but this one isn’t as bad. In counseling I often come across people who are going through a divorce. In my first decade of working with failing marriages I had a tendency to side with the person who came to me first. Their sheer passion and perspective would win me over, while the unmet partner seemed to resemble Satan himself. The more I worked in counseling the more I began to realize no one is innocent. This doesn’t make wrong actions right or justify any way you have been treated. I just want you to be very aware of your response. Are you honoring God? Think fruit of the spirit. Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Another important thing to remember is that it is always the truth that sets us free (John 8:32). If you are harboring unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, or any unconfessed sin, you have some business with the Lord, and it is not until we come to a place of full awareness and personal confession of our own sin that we are truly set free.

Let me ask a few rhetorical questions here:

How do you talk about this person?

Do you find yourself often thinking judgmental, accusing, angry thoughts about this person?

Your answers to these questions could reveal some unfinished business in your heart.

5) This one is really simple. There is such power in fresh vision.  This is actually an excerpt from an article I wrote for a paper awhile back.
“What amazes me even more are people who are experiencing great difficulty with purpose, and even at times, joy! Isn’t it amazing what we can endure when we have a clear objective in front of us? A mother in labor experiencing intense pain, yet filled with joyful anticipation. A marathon runner focused on the finish line, physically exhausted, as he pursues his goal with determination. Or what about cancer patients, who because of their children are willing to fight with every ounce of strength, against all odds, just to be with their loved ones a little longer? The truth is, we can survive a great deal of pain when our goal is made abundantly clear and we believe the fight is worth it. The renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl says it well, ‘If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward meaning of one’s life.’ When one’s obsession is on their personal hardship, this only fosters more misery. While none of us can eliminate pain, when we have lasting, meaningful purpose, we can thrive even in the midst of it!

So let me ask a question…does your life have purpose?

Titus 2:13 (KJV)
‘Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.’

God never promised a removal of our pain, but a right relationship with him brings the words ‘blessed hope’ to life!”
Here is the link to the blog if you would like to read the whole article.

https://mcolaw.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/purpose-in-pain/

6) Get a book. It’s not one you would think I would recommend. It’s not foccused on feelings or finding peace. It’s one that can give deep understanding and healthier perspective. “A Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards. Here is the link at Amazon. Seriously, get it, if you’re not too mad at me already. 🙂

http://www.amazon.com/Tale-three-Kings-Study-Brokenness/dp/0842369082/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1326167495&sr=8-3

I am truly sorry for any wrong that’s been done to you, and I want you to find such deep passion and purpose in life and in your Christian walk. You are welcome to click on the contact tab, send me an email, and I will pray for you!

Love one another

John 13:34-35
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

To understand these verses we need to know it contextually:
Prior to this Scripture, in John 13:21-30, Judas’s betrayal is foretold.
After this Scripture, in John 13:36-38, Peter’s betrayal is foretold.

How interesting, nestled in the middle of these two passages, Jesus gives a new command to love. In a prophetic sense, He is implying that they should love in the same manner He is about to show His, on the cross, committed even to death to those who will betray Him.

I also think it’s amazing how tied into this are the words “I give to you.” The Greek verb here is δίδωμι, and is translated “give.” It literally means to bestow, cause, deliver, give, grant, or offer. Jesus GIVES us a different response to use. Notice it is a gift, not a mandate or a burden, but a gift from God Himself! He grants unto us LOVE as our response to one another, and we find this nestled in-between two stories of betrayal!

Then hangs this powerful phrase, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This marks a believer. This is literally part of the bedrock on which people will know who His disciples are. Not just people who speak about truth, but those who demonstrate it by living out love, regardless of the circumstances. Jesus loved those who unjustly and brutally murdered Him….quite an example to follow. We have no excuse.

Reflect with me for a moment on a couple thoughts…
A healthy family is one that is fully dedicated to each other, even in difficulty.
A winning football team must work as a cohesive team to win. The more committed they are, the better they play.
A church that changes the world is one that learns to be a healthy family and a cohesive team, both leadership and laypeople alike.
Remember, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I want to end with a quote:
“Deep longings pervade the human heart. We long for selfless, trustworthy, unending love from someone who can be faithful and helpful.”
-Mark Driscoll

Overcoming Guilt

Take a moment and think about what words describe you!

Athlete?
Popular?
Rich?
Poor?
Outcast?
Angry?
Unwanted?
Unloved?
Betrayed?

Not long ago I had a man walk into my office.  He came in, sank down in the chair across from my desk, and as it turned out, had just showed up at the church to see if he could find some help.  This guy knew pain, betrayal, what it was like to be abandoned by his family, and he also knew what it was like to carry the weight of a life of bad decisions. In his journey for help he ended up giving his heart to God.  As a brand new baptized Christian he sat across the table from me pouring his heart out about what God had done in his life.  He was so happy that God had forgiven him, but he couldn’t forgive himself.  He felt like his life branding was “horrible sinner,” and he couldn’t break free from that.  He needed a new branding.

The Bible is laced with people who went through seasons where they were defined negatively:
King David – Adulterer, murderer
Gideon– Fearful, afraid
Matthew the tax collector– Traitor, thief
Mary– Pregnant teenager
Peter– Betrayer
Jonah– Disobedient
Paul– Persecutor of Christians

Paul writes these words in Romans 1:1 (ESV), “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”  Take a moment and read that again; these words describe someone who had previously hated Christians.  He defines himself as a “servant of Christ Jesus,” and an “apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”  What does that mean?  How does that apply to us?

Let’s take a look at two words from this verse:

1) Paul’s third word in verse one is the word “servant.”   The Greek for this word is “doulos.”  It literally means “slave.”  Paul begins his self-description by calling himself a slave of Christ.

2) The other word I want to point out is the word “gospel.”  It’s the Greek word “euangelion,” which means good news.  Paul’s second self-descriptor is deliverer of the good news.

Paul states that his new definition for living is total commitment to delivering the good news of Christ!  Think about that for a moment.  What defines you?  Liar, fake, outcast, unfaithful, betrayed, or something totally different.  The way to begin to have a new life definition is to live differently.  Ultimately it’s also to live for something bigger than yourself and something that is always faithful and true.  God and His Word is the only thing that never changes and is always faithful.  There is no other life pursuit that evades the decay of time.  Guilt isn’t something that just disappears, it’s something that fades with a new life purpose.  Guilt is so tied into perspective and looking back.  God gives freedom from guilt by giving his followers a new mission.  He gives them a new perspective, one that will produce an emotional, spiritual, and relational harvest that will last forever. It’s time to dump guilt by embracing your mission. I am also a slave to spreading the good news!  I can testify, it’s a life purpose that is awesome and so fulfilling, and I know the relationships and impact I make will last for eternity!  So stop looking back and join the mission!  Guilt will slowly fade away…

*thanks to the guys at Southeast for the “End of Me” video bumper!

The sins of others

In preparation for a message in Joshua 6 I can’t help but think what it would have been like for Joshua to stand there in the face of the gift he was given 40 years earlier. His loss of the promise land wasn’t his fault at all! Him and Caleb were faithful! It was the sins of others that took that amazing gift of God from their hands! How abundantly painful that must have been. He probably felt punished for no real reason. Deeply hurt when he did it right.
Have you ever been there? Hurt by someone when you didn’t deserve it at all? Joshua knew that hurt really well.
Take a moment and read Joshua 6. Think about how Joshua must have felt to finally receive what God promised all those years ago and was stolen from him by sinful people. Just maybe a right response when we feel wronged is to trust God. As you read about Joshua’s victory remember God’s promises for you! Stay faithful. God will be. Your story isn’t done.