Giants Don’t Have to Be Tall

26 08 2016

The tears are not an uncommon site among girls her age so no alarm bells were immediately ringing in my head.  You see, we all know how young girls can tend towards the side of being emotionally fragile where feelings can be easily hurt.  I have heard them described as immature (a description I have used myself at times).  I will be completely honest.  My first thought was that someone had made an innocent comment that she projected onto herself and this immature girl was not handling it appropriately.  I was quickly reminded again to never judge a book by its cover.

This girl continued to walk away from the crowd in what was becoming a torrent of emotions.  I excused myself from the conversation I was having and walked slowly toward the girl.  Her face was filled with red splotches that appear when people have an emotion their face can’t contain.  The tear stained eyes told a story of hurt and pain.  My presence did not stop the flow of tears as she wiped at her eyes with hands that could not take away any of what she was feeling.

I asked of this girl a simple question that any adult would ask but received an answer that continues to haunt me nearly 24 hours later.  As I simply asked what was wrong the words first came out in an unintelligible fashion.  It was a mishmash of emotion as the girl could not utter what it was that had produced the tears.  I leaned down to her level and looked this girl in the eyes to provide a presence to calm her.  I soon realized what I saw in those eyes was much more than pain and hurt and tears.  I saw a vulnerability that appears when innocence is lost; a vulnerability that signals some uncomfortable truths about the human condition in which this girl was all too quickly receiving a lesson.

Empathy is a lost virtue in this culture.  It certainly is lost on me far too often and I find that is usually the case because by nature we seem to only care about the issues that are personal to us.  But, if I remove myself from the man in the mirror and can begin to listen to the stories by which people are personally affected maybe, just maybe, I can be moved more often to empathy.

As I stood eye to eye with this young girl this feeling of empathy began to take its hold and would increase as the source of vulnerability was revealed.  This girl was standing with a group of “friends” when an African-American person close to their age walked by.  Cordial good-byes were shared among the group and this person retreated toward their destination.  It is an encounter that happens time and again millions of times across this country.  However, as this PERSON walked away the stinging words of a “joke” would pierce the heart of this girl as someone uttered, “He needs to go back to the cotton fields.”

And there she stood, innocence stripped away as the stories of racism she has heard about and believed only existed in the annals of history were now staring her in the face.  Now comes the added presence of peer pressure as the others gave approval to the “joke” with their laughter.  Here is where we adults tend to make a mistake because we think peer pressure only exists for those trying to survive adolescence.  How wrong we are!

If you are being honest with yourself you are probably being reminded and replaying in your mind a moment where you were confronted with something similar and as the peer pressure mounted your demons shouted down the good intentions of your better angels and kept you silent.  As I type these words those moments are replayed in my head as I stood quiet, giving tacit approval and perpetuating a culture that would rather avoid the fruit that comes from virtuous confrontation.

So, there I stood on the precipice of a lesson that would come from the most unlikely of sources:  my daughter.  This story is not the story of some child from yesteryear.  It is the story of a 12 year old living in today’s progressive society.  A society where racism is accepted by calling those who speak against it as being politically correct, or in 12-year old parlance, being unable to take a “joke”.

See, this girl I am so proud to call daughter did not cower in the face of peer pressure or wilt in immaturity as I had assumed.  No, this girl that is all of 4 feet and 9 inches tall and is maybe 70 pounds dripping wet stood as tall as a California redwood.   She put her head directly in the mouth of the lion by simply commenting that this was not funny and should not be said.  Her “friends” did not agree as the orator of these words said he had all manner of black friends so was free to “joke” as others rallied to his cause and told her to stop being offended.  Funny, how 12-year olds reflect the culture they see.

So, the girl, feeling the tears welling up decides to simply walk away so as to provide no further fodder for the cannons.  She had spoken the truth, so had done all she could do.  This girl walked among the giants last night and taught me a lesson.  Culture changes when committed people take real action no matter the circumstance.  Lord, grant me the courage to walk in the example of this amazing little girl.

The Gospel and Failure

11 07 2016

I will be completely honest.  I never really liked Perry Noble all that much.  Actually, that is an understatement.  I never liked him and his ministry at all.  There are a list of reasons I could walk you through that would allow me to feel justified in my sinful pride but the reality is that none of them are really all that important right now.  In all honesty, they really are not all that important at any time because my issues with someone should be discussed in a biblical model of direct confrontation and all too often, I like many of you, engage in the more unbiblical model of sinful gossip.

This morning I took what is far too often becoming the radical approach…I prayed for him.  I prayed for Newspring Church.  I prayed for his wife and his children and the Lord led me to remember a very important truth about the gospel.  The story of the gospel is one of much failure…And only one victory.  The gospel has shown us that at each and every step that man takes, when done in our own wisdom and in search of something outside of Christ to heal our pain and hurt, that it only leads to failure.  Christianity does not make Christians immune from this.  The bible is filled with 2000 years of historical failure with one incredibly important victory.

Fortunately, the gospel does not end in failure for it also is filled with 2000 years of redemption.  As we have seen this past week, humanity left to itself will, in fact, commit the most evil of atrocities and we will do this even to ourselves.  We will make decisions that no one would believe or understand.  David did the same thing; so did Moses and Sampson and Barnabas and Peter and Paul.  So, it should not surprise us when people stray and make poor decisions; even those that are destructive to themselves, their family, their ministry and their career.

I will only be surprised if this story of Perry Noble does not end in redemption because that is what Christ does in his people.  He redeems us at our very worst until our day of completion.  I will pray toward that end for Perry Noble and his family and Newspring Church.  I will pray toward that end not because I am perfect or better or more pure or because I have all this figured out.  No, I will pray toward that end because I still see the evidence of redemption in my own life in very real ways and I simply challenge us all to not judge him even though the temptation will be strong.  No, he and his family need extra measures of grace for the world would love nothing more than to point at personal failure and say there is no God…We, as a church, should understand this is false.  We, of all people, know that failure points us to the gospel.  Failure proves the gospel because from this failure Christ raises us up in redemption that could only come from outside of ourselves.  So, Perry, even though I have never met you and though I am certain you will never read this I am praying for and I hope that you can find healing in the very place where you have begged others to find it as well.  Take this failure to the gospel and walk down the hard, long road of healing for there you will find you are a victim of your own failure, but not a victim that has been defeated.  No, you are a victim of grace and there you will find some of your greatest joy…

Black Deaths: A Culture That Needs To Care

7 07 2016

The clock continues to tick as this day passes slow and methodical toward its inevitable end.  I watch it pass by as my thoughts continue to jumble and I search for words to understand what is happening before our very eyes.  I have taken the scripture’s words to heart and have been praying continually.  I have confessed my own shortcomings that are plentiful and I have humbly sought to understand my own role in all of this to help change this culture.

See, with all the media conversations and all the social media bantering and all the videos what we know to be true and what should chill us to our core is that two more black men are dead today.  But we also know and understand another truth and that truth is that they did not have to die.  Their names did not have to become hashtags and their mothers did not have to lose their sons.

I have patiently watched this day slowly unfold as people have painted their own narratives from the biased perspectives with which we all live life.  I certainly have my own biases, but if we step away from all of our biases and perspectives and boil down what is happening it is really quite simple:  black men are being taken from this earth when they do not have to be.  They are being killed and in many cases being tried for their own deaths.

This is already starting in the case of Alton Sterling who apparently has a criminal background and was a registered sex offender.  But here’s the thing…None of that matters when you have been struck with a taser and are lying on your back incapable of movement with two grown men having subdued you.  The threat is over at that point; yet Alton Sterling was killed in the street, shot in the chest and the back.

The real fear that I live with though is I have no idea what to tell my son.  If having a transracial family has taught me anything it has awakened me to the concept of white privilege.  I know many of us in the majority culture do not want to hear this; believe me, I did not want to hear it either but it is the stark reality of the world we live in.  Black people (men especially) are shot and killed by police officers at a higher rate than white people are.  That is just a fact.  I am privileged by the fact that I do not need to worry that a police officer is going to shoot me as I sit in my car reaching for my driver’s license because my taillight is broken.  I, in fact, have that privilege.  We who are white need to just accept that reality and to stop creating the narrative that we are all equal under the law and are treated equally under the law when it is just not the case.  So, what do I tell my son as I have the same conversation with him (that I should not have to have) that many black mothers and fathers are having with their sons?  Make sure the officer sees your hands at all times?  Do whatever he says?  Is that the advice?  Because that advice left Philando Castile lying in a pool of blood in his own car in front of a four year old girl as no one called for medical help.

I am praying for justice and as I have watched that clock slowly tick by on this day I offer a small, humble voice that hopes people like me will lead a call for justice.  For until people that look like me, the comfortable all-American suburban white guy, understand what is happening in the world around us and demand that justice be served then we will continue to see this madness perpetuated in the world around us.  And I am talking about real justice.  I am talking about the kind of justice that would stop my friends from trying to find some good morsel in Donald Trump so they can feel better about voting for him.  We should be embarrassed as a nation that nearly half the country will vote for him and espouse his views.  I am talking about the kind of justice that leaves me spellbound as the other half votes for Hillary Clinton.  I want the kind of justice that values life and does not seek to destroy and truly respects the humanity of the person next to me and neither of these candidates respect their fellow man.  I am talking about the kind of justice that is not offended because someone believes black lives matter as if that means they believe no other forms of life do.  I am talking about the kind of justice that is saddened by what has happened in places where Paul once built the early church and rather than seeks destruction has empathy for the broken and prays for change.  I want the kind of justice that does not treat an illegal immigrant with brown skin as if he is a leper when he offers no harm, is not a drain on any welfare program and is simply working to try and provide a better life for his family.  I want the kind of justice that does not demonize public servants who risk their lives every day but seeks to understand just how difficult their job is.

We have simply lost our ability to see the humanity in other people whether you are white, black, brown or otherwise.  We have lost the ability to care about their life because we see them as nothing more than statistical category.  They are a “criminal” or a “thug” or a “racist” or a “liar” and we forget they were made in the image of God whether they wear saggy pants or not.  We have fooled ourselves into believing that these are what defines a person and as long as we dehumanize, stripping away the essence of our humanity, justice will elude us.

So, in all this, two lives are still lost today and I fear we are certainly not done yet.  I live with a legitimate fear that my 5 year old son will one day become a hashtag for simply being what he is:  a black man in America.  I know some of you read that and cringe but I believe it is because you want to believe that is not the reality.  We want it to be simple.  We want to believe that if he was not a “criminal” or a “thug” that these men would be alive today.  We want to believe in that fairy tale but we need to dispel of these pixie dust myths and face the true reality.

I have been told that at times I am too sensitive about these issues and that I have looked for racism and discrimination and privilege in places where it does not exist.  This criticism used to bother me and would cause some periods of silence.  I think I have come to understand that the problem is not my level of sensitivity but that the world around me has become desensitized.  We need to open our eyes and see the world around us and understand what has happened to humanity.  Only then will justice be served…I pray that it will be…

A Prayer

7 07 2016

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.  2 Chronicles 7:14-15

Lord, in all honesty this is a moment where I do not have a heart to pray.  And I approach you with weakness and anger; dumbfounded by what I see in our land.  I want to lecture and argue and express my opinion but I stop and realize what I am really called to do is pray.

I’m called to humble myself; to set aside the strong opinions I have on Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  Lord, if we want our land to be healed then we need our culture changed.  We fight on social media and in personal conversations and rather than being filled with humility we are filled with pride.  We look to lecture those different than us and tout how right we are and none of this is borne from your words in Scripture.

These words remind us that the way we engage these issues is downright sinful and contrary to your commands.  Please humble us to look to ourselves first.  Please show us our own sin and lead us to a place of confession and lead us to turn from these wicked ways.  Help us to look to others, regardless of how they feel, with compassion and humility.  Only then will our prayers be heard.

Lord, I’m sorry for my sins of the past and present that seek to address these issues in just this way when what you call me to is prayer; and to pray first.  I’m called to be slow to speak and yet so often I look at life through the lens of pride thinking that I know more and can relate more because of my own circumstances and none of that is humble; it’s just sin.

So Lord, I do long for our land to be healed.  I long for a day of unity when people are treated with dignity and respect and can live life without fear; both those that have been victimized in this land time and time again and those that are charged to protect our towns and communities.   We do live in a land that is broken and needs healing.  Forgive us for trying to heal it ourselves and humble your people and make us willing to confess our own sin first without pointing to others.  This will change our culture and heal our land and it will be for you and your glory…Change us I pray…Amen…

Prayer of Worry

1 07 2016

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are your anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:25-34

Lord, I come today to confess my most frequent sin.  I worry constantly and so often live as if these verses do not exist.  I lie awake at night and worry about my children and I worry about my career and I worry about my finances.  I worry about what other people think of me and how they define me and whether they like me.  I am a man who too often has very little faith.  I am sorry for neglecting to understand and see your care and your provision and for too strongly desiring the treasures of this earth and putting faith in the opinions of others.  I am sorry for not seeking first the kingdom of God and its righteousness.

Lord, grant in me the plea of creating a right spirit within me as David cried so many years ago.  That prayer of Psalm 51 is as relevant today as it was then as my sin is against you and you only.  Lord, take this anxious heart and replace it with a heart of faith that stands strong and seeks Christ first.  Amen.

Prayer for Husbands

21 06 2016

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  Ephesians 5: 25-27

Lord, raise up a generation of husbands that live these verses to their fullest.  Raise up a generation of husbands who would raise the next generation of husbands to live these verses to their fullest.

You pursued us when we were still sinners yet so often as a husband I want to simply be right and have that acknowledged.  It is nothing more than sinful pride that does not love a wife like you have loved me.  You pursue reconciliation with your people in spite of our sin.  Help us as husbands to pursue our wives in reconciliation regardless of who is right or who is wrong for that is leadership that you desire; leadership that cast aside differences that divide and takes the lead to say I’m sorry.

As husbands, we fail in this arena far too often.  I ask that you would humble us beyond measure.  Oh how the world could be changed by living out this one truth with a generation of men who pursue, with dogged determination, reconciliation.  Lord, may we as husbands take joy in being the first to say I’m sorry.  Amen…

Prayer for Unity

20 06 2016

I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.  And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  John 17: 9-11

Lord, these words of Christ remain ever a challenge for your church today.  May we be unified.  Might you move in your people in such a way that we relinquish our pride and our selfishness and be unified with one another as we recognize our common need for your Son as our Savior.

What a treasure it is to belong to Christ and to be kept in your name!  Sin so easily entangles us, Lord, but we are kept in your name with the purpose of being one body in the exact same way that you and the Son are one.

Lord, move in your church to bring the prayer of our Savior to fruition.  Destroy the petty differences that we make paramount and of utmost importance.  We divide ourselves along lines of race and justify it by saying there are just cultural differences in the way we worship.  We divide ourselves by socioeconomic status because we are comfortable with maintaining the status quo.  We divide ourselves on theology and musical preferences or on simply any preference and pretend we live in a world of unity.  Oh Lord Jesus bring mercy and grace to this church that is failing to unify and forgive me as the foremost of sinners.

Lord, the world will come to see you through the oneness and unity of your church.  Without unity, the world will not believe.  Lord, we live in a world of unbelief and it is because your church is not unified.  Lord, again…TEAR DOWN THESE WALLS!  Break through the barriers of hostility that divide us.  Open our eyes to see this destruction and move in our hearts to cause genuine repentance.  And then move further still to turn prayers of confession into action.

I praise you for the work that is occurring in this way as churches come together to repent, build relationships in unity and minister to our communities together.  Bless these efforts and cause them to move forward bearing much fruit.

In the name of Christ alone I pray…Amen.

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