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


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.



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!



After quite an extensive interview beyond the video clip it is quite clear.  Nate technically is a heretic.  Right?

People flip out over heretical teachings. What about heretics of character?

I am always amazed at how angry some Christians can be, how Christians love to take every idea that doesn’t line up exactly with how we were raised and declare, “Heresy!”

So what is heresy?  My grandpa was an electrical engineer by day and a South Dakota-born, Sturgis Harley rider by night. There were years when he had multiple motorcycles parked in the garage.  I have memories of going to motorcycle shows with my grandpa and him pulling me away from a tent saying, “Don’t go in there!”  Some of my relatives on that side of the family had a little different perspective of what was appropriate and what wasn’t.  Though they were great people, it wasn’t uncommon to hear words that would have landed me in the bathroom with a bar of soap in my mouth, but did it make them heretics?

Awhile back I had a beard.  One family in the church who was related to a group similar to the Amish wasn’t bothered by it at all!  Another family who had old school holiness roots thought it was inappropriate for a pastor to have such a scruffy beard.  Heresy?  Or what about the great spiritual leaders that have gone before us?  Martin Luther, heretic or hero?  It depends on who you talk to.

Even now after years of studying theology I often hear wrong teachings by good people!  Did you know that to use the Lord’s name in vain has nothing to do with cussing, but has to do with acting in a way contrary to the nature of God and calling it Godly?  When someone cusses using a name we attribute to God, though inappropriate, it isn’t technically using the Lord’s name in vain.  The Crusades would be an example of using God’s name in vain.  Under the banner of Christianity they did something quite contrary to the nature of Christ.

I can’t tell you how amazed I am at how much false teaching there is out there when it pertains to the Bible, but are they all heretics?

Believe it or not, this isn’t a new problem.  The inception of the church left our early spiritual fathers to wrestle through cultural differences and theological discrepancies.  Creeds were formed all to bring light to what is core.  Since the Chalcedonian, Nicene, and Apostle’s creeds, theologians have been seeking to define what is core.  There is another piece of this though, 2 Peter 2:1-10 teaches that the heart’s intent along with the content of the teaching is what makes someone a false teacher.  The difference between an immature growing Christian lacking in Scriptural knowledge and a dangerous heretical teacher is absolutely content of teaching, yet we should also pay close attention to content of character.  Christian, don’t just grow in knowledge grow in character!

Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  1. Do I line up with scripture in what I teach?
  2. Do I line up with scripture in how I live?

Just maybe some Christians out there have great scriptural knowledge, but are heretics of character!

Cultures colliding as we become one. “E. Pluribus Unum”

“E. Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one)

The great American Seal carries an interesting phrase that is possibly more true today than ever before: “E. Pluribus Unum,” which is Latin for “out of many, one.” In the early days of our country Pierre Eugene du Simitiere suggested it, and it stuck. Our country was the definition of diversity. Little did they know that this would soon be even more true. Countless people from all over the world would migrate to this great nation. Statistically speaking most of us originate from another part of the world. If we were to trace our roots back a few generations, we would probably find our ancestors migrated from a land other than the grand ol’ USA. Now a few generations later, we are one nation, still becoming one people group.

There is a fear in all this transition. The “one” we are becoming may eventually no longer be our personal definition of what “one” should look like. As cultures collide what will thrive?

Our global economy and modern technology has made the world exponentially smaller. It’s exciting and a bit scary. This fear of losing identity has caused great resistance to people who are ethnically or even socioeconomically different. In cities you see people grouped together, like little China, or little Italy. Even here in Indianapolis there are sections of town that are predominantly made up of people with the same ethnicity.
Did you know this is true in churches too? Different can be intimidating.
We stand at the brink of powerful cultural transitions. We can’t help that the global economy and technology have produced a very small world. In the collision of societies we need to wrestle through what is truly dogma and what is just tradition even in the church. Is Christianity an organ, a piano, hymnals, or a suit and tie? It sure can be, and I’m okay with that. I own suits! What I am asking is, does it have to be these only? What are the essentials that cross cultural divides? I believe the foundation of Christianity isn’t tied into the aesthetics that so many people worship. It is objective truth that cultures should build on.
1 Corinthians 9:22b
“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
Paul is clear in all of 1 Corinthians 9 that there is dogma, but there is also cultural freedom. Though this is sometimes tough to wrestle through now more than ever we need to.  So here is the million dollar question.  What is culturally transcendent dogma and what is just my opinion?  I believe the right structure is absolutely necessary.  Here is why:

Why do they hate Christians?

The other day I was on a news webpage.  Belief in God came up in the feed below the article and I decided to read the thread of responses because the debate was between what appeared to be a staunch atheist and an agnostic…interesting. The atheist came out with both guns a-blazing.  He was just furious and bitter, bashing religious people with each tap of the keys.  The agnostic kept asking him why he was so angry, trying to explain that he was behaving in the exact same manner he condemned religious people for.  The atheist fellow couldn’t seem to put his finger on why he was so mad, traveling down a rabbit trail or two with little rationality. The agnostic gentleman made it clear he wasn’t a believer, but seemed to imply he didn’t know what to think yet.

I noticed something I haven’t before. They both have an eternal awareness. They both are wrestling with something… but where does this “something” they are wrestling with even come from?

I believe deep inside man there is a seed.  When man was created, God, like a farmer, threw seeds of eternity in our hearts.

I think the primal reason for animosity towards a Supreme Being is because people are unable to disregard their eternal awareness, and have such difficulty dealing with the reality of death.  So they learn to hate it rather than accept it, like being too short or too tall.  It’s a part of who you are and you can’t ignore it.  You either accept it or hate it, but you can’t change it.  It’s in you.

Let me put this a different way.  Abraham Maslow was a famous psychologist who created a hierarchy of needs.  Psychologists today still use his work to help evaluate people.  It is a human needs continuum, beginning with the basic needs like breathing and ending with self-actualization.  Actualization is the highest level of thinking, where man wrestles with meaning and purpose in life.

 I believe the greatest battle of the “actualized” man is what to do with his eternal awareness.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

 Eternity is written in our hearts, you can either try to ignore it, accept it, or learn to despise it, but it’s there, waiting for your response… So what will you do?