Peaceful Protests & the 40-60

If you have insisted on peaceful-only protests, you really need to affirm when athletes protest peacefully.

Yesterday, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the floor in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Some voices complained when pandemic entertainment was put on hold, as NBA players used their voice to demand justice and change. So if you are one of those who has condemned violent protests in the past, you really should applaud these players who have used their voice peacefully, clearly, and powerfully. I think I just became a Bucks fan.

To all my friends who feel exhausted by the cycles of collective trauma: I am so incredibly sorry. It’s real, it’s valid, it’s evil. I can’t even imagine the emotions that the children of Jacob Blake are going through today. I can’t fathom what kind of grace and understanding will be needed to walk this journey with these children. No child should have to watch their daddy get shot in the back, and no people should have to watch the replays of all-too familiar violence. Lord Jesus, we pray for these children, and we cry out for justice.

This brings me to an appeal.

I keep hearing people call for unity and reconciliation and peace – and I get it. We want our cities to stop burning and our social media feeds to get back to normal. But there is a thought I can’t shake from one of Martin Luther King’s later writings: “The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap. The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates.” (Where Do We Go From Here?)

What exactly is the cost of “unity” in our country? For a white man, it has meant taking about five steps toward the middle ground of reconciliation. It’s a bargain rate. But for the black man – if we are honest – the middle ground has required something more like 95 steps. Multiply that by generations of oppression, and it’s exhausting.

I was speaking with a pastor friend this week when we talked about this very reality. I’m white. He’s black. And he’s exhausted. “Let me be honest,” he explained. “I’ll meet you in the middle, but I’ve only got about 40 steps to give. I’m tired, and I’m going to need you to give me 60.”

This was incredibly helpful.

And this is my appeal. It’s not exactly in the Bible, and I have no scientific data to support a “40-60 proposal”. It’s just fresh out of the dialogue of my friend and me trying to walk a journey together. I’ve heard people call for a relational 50-50 or 100-100, and I understand the rationale. Nevertheless, I ask you to consider some version of this unity-path moving forward. If you are lighter-skinned, I believe now is a really good time to leave your comfort zone and make the journey toward true peace, not another insulting false peace. Perhaps this starts by simply asking your friends, what would it look like for me to make a 60 step trek?

People in the majority often ask, what is required of me? The prophet Micah posed a similar question centuries ago. “He has told you, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you?” It’s such a great question. His answer was strong: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) My friend was letting me know: Mike, you have lived with a set of privileges that have allowed you the convenience of taking five steps for every 95 of mine. But this not sustainable, this is not just, and this is not love. There is a price to pay, privilege to acknowledge, and humility to embrace. Real change is not cheap, and true reconciliation does not come at a bargain rate.

Just look at the Cross.

 

Protesters & Protestants

I wish every breathing American would go read the Letter From A Birmingham Jail again. The relevance is uncanny.

As I keep reading the arguments about all the looting and marching, I remind myself that I am a Protestant. I come from a tribe of protesters. I have always looked back on the 1950s and wanted to believe that I would have marched. I read about the Underground Railroad and want to believe that I would have joined. That I would have used my voice, and leveraged my influence, and led my church to follow the ministry direction of Jesus himself in Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the POOR; He has sent me to heal the BROKENHEARTED, to proclaim liberty to the CAPTIVES and recovery of sight to the BLIND, to set at liberty those who are OPPRESSED.

I remember listening to Jack Hayford when I first became a Christian. He was preaching about racism and commented on how slow he was to repent of his prejudice. He just could not see it. He regretted the fact that, although he was following Jesus in the 1950s and 60s, he did not recognize the Civil Rights Movement for what it was: a move of God. If he could go back to his younger self, he would have told him to open his ears and listen to what the Spirit of God was saying to the Church. Of course there were obscenities shouted in the marches. Of course a disciple of Jesus should never participate in stealing or violence. Of course the lives of the law enforcement at the rallies were valued by God. But he was so distracted by the constructs of his world that he missed the move of God when it was happening before his eyes. I’ll never forget the tone in his voice as he repented to the black brothers and sisters in the audience.

And here we are in 2020.

I have fielded more than a few questions about why people are marching. Here’s why: I know there are many in law enforcement who see problems, want justice, and are putting their lives at risk every day to bring needed change. But the truth is there’s little they can do. I’ve heard from some insisting that there is no systemic issue to address. I have also heard from others – from chiefs to detectives – who have expressed the desire to reform their departments, but they’re prevented by the structures in place. I’ve heard cops themselves describe the system as immovable, as something many inside the institution want to change, but can’t. The system doesn’t need minor tweaks at local levels. It needs reform at the national level.

Most cops are heroes; don’t judge the entire profession by the few bad apples. And most protesters are peaceful; don’t dismiss their cries because of the fringe lawless criminals. Be wiser than that. Recognize the complexity of the moment in which we live, and respond in the love and kindness of Christ.

If ever we needed a people who knew how to make peace, it’s now. I cannot expect CNN or Fox News to make peace; they are in the business of making a profit. And their profit goes up as our peace goes down – that’s how they sell more cars during commercial breaks.

Yet Jesus speaks to our age. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

We really must stop telling the oppressed, abused, and afflicted that they are disrupting the peace. Don’t tell the whistle-blowing abuse victim that they are ruining the peace for the rest of the family. I am begging us to stop rebuking the brokenhearted when they don’t protest as we would like, and start healing the brokenhearted in the meekness of Jesus. Listen, Jesus can handle our imperfect protests. Jesus is patient with my slowness in responding to the evils of this world. Jesus has already dealt with the humiliating stain of my sin. But will we weep with those who weep, lift our voice for those who can’t, and work for the freedom of the oppressed? Don’t settle for a false peace. It dishonors the Prince of Peace.

I am begging us not to miss what the Spirit is saying to the Church right now.

This is the worst moment ever to be a pastor and a people pleaser. I promise you I am not looking for a fight and I am not just trying to stir a pot. My email inbox is currently loaded with disgruntled people on the right (who feel like I’m just trying to please the left) and people on the left (who feel like I’m trying to cater to the power brokers on the right). I cry out for justice for one reason: Jesus is Lord.

He is the King. He calls the shots. He makes the rules. He has the throne. And He is on the move. I’m asking you to stop channeling your inner Rush Limbaugh, Chrissy Tiegen, Donald Trump, Shaun King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan or whoever else you follow, and go channel your inner Jesus. Not white Jesus. Not tame Jesus. Not American Jesus. Not predictable Jesus. Not liberal Jesus. Not conservative Jesus. The real Jesus.

If you’re conservative, I’m begging you, please go read the Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Talk about it in a small group or microchurch or at the dinner table. When football season starts and players take a knee, determine to be a peacemaker, listen for their hearts, and act exactly like Jesus. Please give people grace. If you’re a liberal, I’m begging you to put Jesus back in your activism. He is the greatest revolutionary there ever was. Don’t be ashamed of His name. And I’m humbly requesting your patience. I know it’s exhausting. But our superpower is our unity, because it attracts the presence of our King. Please give people grace, it’s one of the only things our world cannot explain. And for all of us, please join me in praying.

May Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

 

 

Racial Justice Reading List

Serious times.

More than a few white people have asked me for a racial justice reading list over the past few weeks. Part of this is because they have seen me speak out; part of this is because their black friends are exhausted.

Before I give you the list, you should know that the Bible has been the single strongest justice-influence on my life. By far. Please stop dumbing down the Bible. Treat it like the razor-sharp, two-edged sword that it is. Every time I hear somebody claim that Scripture reinforces injustice or that Christianity is a white man’s religion, I realize they either don’t read the Bible, or they are performing gross interpretive malpractice. I beg you to consider reuniting the terms righteousness and justice the way that God does. This was a game-changer for me. The separation of personal “morality” and structural “justice” is an unbiblical tragedy. (Go check out this sermon if interested: What is Justice?)

What follows is in no way a comprehensive list of resources (you can always google search a thorough reading list), but I tried to come up with the first 10 books I would love for you to read, each of which has influenced me.

 

Woke Church. Eric Mason was with our church in February during our series called, “Jesus, Justice, and Diversity.” This is a God-centered call for the people of God to be awakened by God. Almost a day does not go by that I watch another person make the predictable descent into some “justice” cause devoid of the name and truth of Jesus. Mason’s wake up call could not be more timely.

Stamped From the Beginning. This is an intellectual history of racism in America. The most compelling thought for me was this: discriminatory action comes first; racist ideas are developed to justify.

The New Jim Crow. Blacks make up 13% of the US population, but 40% of the prison population. Something is up. It is truly difficult to entertain the notion of structural and systemic disadvantage, but this book moves the reader to understand.

Just Mercy. We rented a theatre and took our church to watch the movie earlier this year. Love the work this attorney does with inmates on death row.

The Half Has Never Been Told. We know slavery was brutal. But what I didn’t really learn in my childhood education was all the ways our country ascended to the top of the economic food chain. Cheap cotton, planted and picked by slave labor, provided an economic advantage that changed history and violated generations.

The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois wrote this in 1903 to describe the progress of African Americans in America. It is a sobering read, especially when comparing his commentary to that of people in our day.

Daddy King. This is the story of Martin Luther King’s father. I’m not sure why this has meant so much to me, but it helps me trace the making of a leader and the backdrop of moral legacy.

There Are No Children Here. The tragic story of growing up when the cards are stacked against you. Bad neighborhoods, bad systems, bad families can rob a child’s innocence.

The Warmth of Other Suns. The story of the black exodus from parts of the south and the sociological implications upon the people forced to endure it.

White Fragility. Bring up racism and the emotions run high, people become defensive, and things get awkward very quickly. The title is surely an obstacle for some (who wants to see themselves as fragile?), but the conversations need to be had.

Also: Parting the Waters (very long), Long Walk to Freedom (long), The Slave Narratives (long), Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, and everything by John Perkins!

 

Scripture: These 10 passages have become like like a filtration device for my thinking toward justice.

  • Jeremiah 22:16 – He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know Me, declares the Lord?
  • Isaiah 1:17 – Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppressions, bring justice …
  • Micah 6:8 – He has told what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God,
  • Matthew 25 – Whatever you did to the least of these you did unto Me…
  • Matthew 23:23 – You hypocrites! You have neglected the weightier matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
  • Galatians 2:10 – Remember the poor.
  • Romans 1:17 – In the gospel the justice of God is revealed from faith to faith.
  • Amos 5:24 – Let justice roll.
  • Colossians 3:17 – Whatever you do in word of deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.
  • Luke 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor … liberty to captives … liberty to those who are oppressed.

 

The Problem With Ignoring George Floyd

“I can’t breathe.” How many times will we have to hear those words? The cries of George Floyd fell on deaf ears and you have to wonder where our culture is heading. Some thoughts:

If the Church doesn’t provide a voice of justice from heaven, there is always an enemy speaking a substitute from hell. God’s people need to own the justice conversation. Things always get twisted when the people who know the Judge recuse themselves from the justice dialogue in court of public thought.

My heart grieves to hear my black friends describing more fear of a racial pandemic than a global COVID pandemic. As a Caucasian brother, I hear you. We hear you.

Let’s get honest: the system is messed up. Faulty foundations will always lead to faulty construction. The roots of policing in our country were loaded with racism from the beginning. The slave patrols of the 1700s consisted of volunteer vigilantes who served to round up slaves trying to escape, while thwarting the efforts of the Underground Railroad. The more recognizable centralized police forces began to appear in the 1800s. Their efforts were often more focused on controlling the potential for disorder among the lower class than responding to crime across the board. Implicit bias is more deadly than explicit racism because it operates underground. And unaccountable.

The system is not the people. There are incredibly honorable and courageous cops protecting the innocent and keeping the peace on the streets of our cities. If you are one of those officers, we thank you. You are heroes. This is why we need to learn to simultaneously show gratitude for the many good guys (and gals) while calling for change in a system where there are problems. There were some really great people working for Enron, but the company itself had a systemic problem. There are high character people working for low character organizations. It’s a culture issue.

What is culture? It’s what you teach and what you tolerate. Something has to shift in the culture of law enforcement on both fronts.

It is not unrealistic to demand improved and upgraded teaching, training and vetting of police officers. Every one of us is biased. Every one of us is broken in more ways than we have the courage to admit. Put a badge on a broken person and we have a problem – unless we ensure adequate preparation. I won’t let someone do surgery on me unless I know that they have been taught, instructed, and fully prepared. If we kept seeing reports of deadly hernia operations, everybody would demand a change in how we educate surgeons. It is time to call for such change.

Culture starts with what we teach, but it’s revealed by what we tolerate. We have tolerated a system that has not provided equal justice and accountability for all. Regardless of what an organization says it values, the real culture of an organization is revealed by what they tolerate. I have looked in the eyes of girls devastated to watch their family turn a blind eye to their molesting relatives. It’s a toxic culture. Injustice unaddressed torments the soul and poisons the onlookers. And we have a history of police brutality that has tormented the souls of those on the receiving end of injustice. God says it like this: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Rebuke the oppressor. Defend the fatherless. Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17). Those with power must be held accountable.

You cannot correct what you will not acknowledge. Refusal to call out racialized sin has blocked our capacity to heed the warning of the prophets of old. Repent.

It is troubling to hear voices claim that we are falling into a leftist social justice warrior syndrome. Let’s be real. If I want justice for the unborn (and I do), I have to look to the right side of the aisle, because the left is painfully silent. But if I want racial justice, I have to look to the left. It is embarrassing that it has taken the ubiquity of cell phone cameras to open the eyes of culture to injustice that has been there all along. If the Church won’t say it, it seems that God will allow Youtube, Facebook, or Instagram to bring it to light. We really don’t need to hear another person point out that they never owned a slave. Or bring up black on black crime. Or boast in color-blindness. Don’t tell me I’m falling prey to the news media machine if you have not wept with those who wept. Injustice must be confessed. Hatred must be addressed. Indifference must be forsaken. The blood of the innocent cries out to heaven. God forbid that we block our ears. I have contributed to the problem, and I repent. My silence has been part of the problem, and I repent.

If you question the need to repent of corporate or systemic sin, then I challenge you to consider Nehemiah (1:6) or Daniel (9:20) or Isaiah (6:5). These giants of the faith discerned the need for humility to repent of both personal and corporate sin. If you don’t recognize racialized sin in our culture, please read The New Jim Crow. Or watch 13th. Or go ask a black friend what is going on in their heart right now. 911 calls in Central Park. Riots on the streets on Minneapolis. It’s been a brutal week.

I have hope. Especially if we will combine our justice with mercy and humility. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Ahmaud Arbery incident. As I would expect there was pushback from people who disagreed – some of them forcefully. I don’t automatically allow all comments to be posted, frankly, because I don’t want the whole world watching people behaving in ways devoid of love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. Instead I responded with personal messages, just in case people were actually interested in dialogue. Plus, I’m fallible. I miss it. I could say things better. I need to learn. I question my own motives. So I stayed up late one night, wrote some follow-up emails, and hit the send button. I waited a couple days to check my inbox, but when I finally did, my heart was warmed.  People were open. And good. And humble. It’s amazing what happens when people discuss things in the name of Jesus. Instead of arguing online in the name of their hatred. I don’t have any hope in justice without Jesus. But if we’ll acknowledge Him in all of our ways, he’ll direct our paths.

We have the opportunity to do something special right now. Everybody expects all the kids to run to the black side of the cafeteria or the white side of the cafeteria. Everybody expects every detail of every situation to become highly politicized during an election year. Everybody expects people to be defined by their race. But what if we embrace our race, while defining ourselves by our ultimate identity – beloved of God, confirmed by a bloody cross and an empty tomb? I bet we’d change the world. We are grieving. But let’s not grieve as those who have no hope.

The Killing of Ahmaud Arbery

Hey Jesus-followers. Don’t call yourself pro-life if you’re not crying out for justice right now.

 

My heart is grieving for the family of Ahmaud Arbery. 25-years old. Jogging down a street in a free country. Gunned down in broad daylight. I hear my brothers and sisters of color describing their fear and rage and confusion and sorrow. And exhaustion. Driving while black. Shopping while black. Jogging while black. Replaying the video felt more like a scene from Roots than a newsfeed in the middle of the 21st century. The street names have changed and horses have been traded out for pickup trucks, but for Ahmaud, that Georgia road was no safer in 2020 than it was in 1820.

 

I keep hearing the question, what does it mean to do justice? Here’s a start.

 

Read the Bible.“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17) We really need to expose our souls to the abundance of teaching in Scripture about justice. “The Bible is very easy to understand,” writes Soren Kierkegaard. “But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”

 

Wrestle. Go watch the video footage online. Gather your children or friends or disciples and discuss what you see. What is his family feeling today? How long before things change? What would happen if we had no cell phone video evidence? What is Jesus saying right now? The image of God has been violated. The dignity of humanity has been trampled. The credibility of the church is at stake. May this not be another occasion where the silence of God’s people provides fuel for God’s enemies.

 

Listen. If you’ve never feared being killed simply on the basis of the color of your skin, now is a time to receive from those who have. Feel their pain. Acknowledge their trauma. Really listen. To follow Jesus is to walk humbly. I have been in rooms where I’ve heard people describe how tired they are of hearing about racism. Imagine how tired people must be of living it.

 

Lift your voice. And do it in the name of Jesus. Advocate for life. Sign the petition and then pick up your phone and call District Attorney, John Durden at 912-876-4151 to demand justice in this particular case.

 

Some people lift their voice because it’s their personality. Many lift their voice because it’s in their best interest to do so. Still others lift their voice because something is happening that highlights their special cause. But if you choose the way of Jesus, you lift your voice precisely because you follow Him. You don’t get to cherry pick your justice, because the King of the universe has already spoken. And whether you find out about injustice against an unarmed black man, a trafficked child, a vulnerable woman, or an unborn baby, you speak because Jesus is Lord. No one understands injustice better than the One who endured it on a cross. And no one has more authority than the One who rose from the dead. Stop trying to accomplish justice on earth without the power of heaven.

 

Pray. God, our land is sick, in need of the Physician. We have been hypocrites, and neglected the weightier matters of your Law. We have tolerated evil, we ask for your justice. We have been prisoners to the fear of man, now make us as bold as a lion. Our biases have blinded us, our privilege has numbed us, our sins have separated us. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

(You might want to add a prayer in the comments below.)

 

When should churches open their doors?

The country looks like it is about to open up. What does this mean for churches? 

Here are some of my questions.

Are we clear about what “church” is? (Hint: It’s not a Christian concert plus a TED talk.)

If we were starting from scratch, what would we do? What is essential? What is fluff? What is biblical? What is just tradition? What is obsolete? Have we been honest about the discipleship return-on-investment with our activities? Is our mission (or vision, values, strategy) pandemic-proof? Persecution-proof? How long should a sermon be? How do we get families to disciple their children without rolling their eyes? How much of our music is really just entertainment, and how much is actually worship in spirit and truth?

Are we being salt? Light? Are we a family? Are all the parts of the body engaged? Are we a prophetic voice to the culture or a watered down echo of the culture?

Are we too busy? What idols has this pandemic revealed?

Have we remembered the poor? Sought justice? Defended the oppressed? Taken up the cause of the fatherless? Pled the case of the widow?  Looked out for the interest of the vulnerable?

And this last set of questions is my primary concern as I ponder the implications of churches “opening their doors.”

The poor and vulnerable are always hit the hardest. It has been pointed out that when the economy opens up, many people will have the liberty of minimizing unnecessary travel, proceeding with caution, and working remotely if necessary. But if working from home is not an option, or if you do not have a private office, or if you depend on public transportation, then your risk levels are significantly higher. This is why you’ll notice that the poor are being devastated across the globe. From the indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin to the inner cities of the US, the poor are more prone to contract the virus, slower to identify it, and then provided much inferior health care to fight it. Risk levels slide in the wrong direction for the poorest among us.

Back to the church.

An interesting critique comes from unbelievers. You Christians claim to be pro-life, they say. And yet when the rubber meets the road and people’s actual lives are in danger, you are pushing to gather and put people in harm’s way. Sounds like your pro-life position was more political than practical all along. Or perhaps you pastors are just afraid of losing more offerings. Or maybe you young Christians are just like the throngs of indifferent spring breakers, who don’t concern themselves with the risks of others.

Jesus teaches us that the day of judgment is going to major on the way we treated the “least of these.” Hungry. Naked. Sick. Needy. Afflicted. Part of my prayer coming out of this pandemic is this: Lord Jesus, help us to major on what you are majoring on and minor on what you are minoring on. We will not walk in fear. We are not afraid of death. We know we have a good Shepherd. We know that God is with us. We stand on his promises. But we will embrace our responsibility to care for his flock.

I assume this will mean a gradual re-opening of in-person church gatherings. There will probably be limits to the numbers of people who can gather at one time, at least initially. There may be masks. There will certainly be a lot of sanitizing taking place. There might not be offering plates. But if the church is to be God’s church, we will run all decisions through the lens of how to protect those most vulnerable.

If there is any human on planet earth that is chomping at the bits to meet in person, it’s me. I’m so tired of preaching to an empty room. I’m so ready to sing with God’s people. I can’t wait to watch people get healed. And inspired. And equipped. I long to be with the people of God.

And perhaps that is one of the breakthroughs of this season. A reminder that one of our very greatest gifts is presence.

These zoom calls are better than nothing. Hearing a song on my phone is fine. Joining a crowd online is fun. But I long for presence. I deeply desire to be with my people. His people. It’s a sign of a problem that started with the first humans. When they sinned they lost more than a garden; they lost presence. And everything lost by that first man Adam is being restored by the God-man Jesus. Believe that.

I don’t have a date yet, but the next time we gather, let’s gather in his name – and go wild.

COVID-19 is real

The virus is real. It’s not a hoax. We’re not dreaming. It’s covering the earth. We are living in unprecedented times. It’s a pandemic, and everybody has been called to share the message with everybody of how to save lives.

What is a virus anyway? It’s an infective agent that is able to multiply and spread, usually having a destructive effect wherever it goes. Ebola. Rabies. Influenza. And of course, COVID-19. It’s no joke.

According to Jesus Christ, something comparable to a virus was unleashed on humanity when our first parents separated from God. Call this whatever you want – treachery, darkness, rebellion, sin – this contagion is as deadly as it ubiquitous. Humans without God are like a fish out of water or a plant without sunlight or a mammal without oxygen. We simply don’t thrive apart from God. This has spread from one little garden to every corner of the globe, and the effects are beyond devastating. We need everybody sharing the message with everybody to save lives.

With COVID-19 we’ve been told to heed the Stay-Home order, cancel travel and wash our hands because there is no cure. Good advice. But Jesus claimed that by 6PM on Good Friday something fundamentally changed for the human race. He called it good news. The antidote has been provided. The virus has been solved.

It is finished.

Could you imagine the reaction from hospitals and stock markets and small businesses and professional sports if tomorrow a scientist discovered a vaccine to end this pandemic? That would be good news. And that news would spread (dare we say it?) like a virus to anybody and everybody willing to listen.

Which begs the question. Do you actually believe that what Jesus calls good news is in fact good news? Because I notice a substantial disparity between the Christian claims about this news and their actual sharing of it. People don’t stay quiet about good news.

Parenthetically, perhaps you’re reading this, and you have always been on the outside looking in on all things Christian. I readily acknowledge the long list of hypocrisies, injustices, and failures of so much of the Christian religious bubble. As a Christian, I validate your potential suspicion or cynicism against whatever organized religious complex has you on edge. But please don’t judge the car by the car salesman. And please don’t throw out the message because of the failures of the messengers. God knows how far short I fall. But that doesn’t change the legitimacy of these three words Jesus uttered on a bloody cross: It is finished.

Back to my point.

Like a neighbor watching a house being broken into and doing nothing; like a teenager watching a bully pick on a weaker kid and staying silent; like a city that does nothing to respond to the hunger of children in the inner city; like a doctor who walks by a bleeding man on the side of the road; like a hospital with open beds who turns away a boy wheezing with asthma; like partiers on the beach who disregard the urgent call to stay home during a pandemic – is the Christian who ignores the call to spread the good news of It is finished.

To be sure, our approach is holistic. We must meet physical needs (fight slavery, feed the hungry, dig wells, mentor at-risk students). We need to address and respond to emotional needs (train, counsel, comfort, encourage). But at the bottom of all poverty and abuse and greed and injustice is a disease that is only cured by the good news itself. Don’t withhold the news.

People don’t need me. There are far greater leaders and preachers all over the place. People don’t need our church. There are much better churches all across our city. But people do need the good news. People need It is finished.

If you have experienced this antidote for yourself, it’s time to go public. Share it. Invite somebody (everybody) to “church” online.  Host a watch party. Invite a friend. Tell your story. It’s never been easier to invite somebody to hear the message. Nobody has anywhere else to go! It won’t be perfect. It might not be cool. But the power was never in the location of the message, it was always in the content of the message.

If you consider yourself an outsider to the Christian experience, I’m inviting you to go online this weekend. Why are we having Easter services online instead of in person? Because we want to care for our neighbors and keep people from harm’s way. You don’t have to get dressed up. You don’t have to give any money. You don’t have to join anything. Just give it the same open mind you’d give National Public Radio or the History Channel. And if by chance a friend invited you to check out their church, I’ll let you in on something. Your friends don’t think Christians are right and everybody else is wrong; they just care about you and whatever part of their experience is legitimate, they want to share. Friends share good news.

Because it really is finished. And that is the message we proclaim this weekend. Don’t let the Lysol-wiped Easter eggs fool you;  the cure to this sick world is in a bloody cross and an empty tomb. See you Sunday.

7 Things to Know About Pentecost Sunday

Everybody observes holidays. You will not find a people anywhere who do not have unique days of celebration and remembrance. We got this tendency from our Maker.

It is significant to note that the living God instituted seven holidays (holy days). These are called “the feasts of the Lord.” This phrase makes it clear that these days are God’s days. They belong to Him, and He has chosen them for His eternal purposes. In fact, the Hebrew word that we translate “feasts” means appointed times.

While the feasts are mentioned all throughout the Bible, you can find each of them all in chronological sequence in Leviticus 23. There is mystery and an order and a beauty to each of these feasts.  But above all, the feasts are telling a story – the greatest story, of what God has done, what He is doing, and what He is yet to do. It really is glorious.

Here are seven things you might want to know about Pentecost.

1. Pentecost is the “birthday of the Church.” Check out Acts 2.

2. This is the fourth of God’s feasts, known as Shavuot (“Weeks”). God’s people were told to count seven weeks from Firstfruits (the third feast), and then on the “day after” this feast was to be observed. 49 days plus one and you have 50 days. Pentecost means fiftieth.

3. Jews celebrate God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai 50 days after the exodus.

4. It was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit fell upon 120 believers gathered in an upper room, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. Pentecost came 10 days after Jesus ascended. The Son of God rose from the dead on Firsfruits, then spent 40 days with His disciples talking about the Kingdom, before He disappeared into the clouds. Ten days in a prayer room later, and all heaven broke loose. And the best is yet to come.

5. The Pentecostal movement gets its name from this New Testament event.

6. The Christian Pentecost was marked with diversity. People from all sorts of languages and cultures were gathered. While the Tower of Babel separated the people with languages and then into cultures, the day of Pentecost united them.

7. The Pentecostal, Spirit-filled movement was marked by unprecedented racial and cultural diversity. The revival lead led by William Seymour, a one-eyed, black man endued with power from on high. In a world strangled by racism, this movement saw blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asian following the leadership of a son of slaves.

Happy Pentecost.

 

Letter From A Birmingham Jail

Incredible. It is as relevant as ever.

On April 12, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. produced one of the great pieces of literature composed on U.S. soil. Locked up in Birmingham jail, with nothing but a pen and the margins of a local newspaper, Dr. King proceeded to respond to the supposed call to unity from Christian ministers, calling for an end of all demonstrations. More than a half century later, the words are as potent as ever.

The message reverberates through the decades. The Church was never meant to reinforce the status quo; the church is God’s challenge to the status quo. If you have never read these words, I am presenting the first portion for your consideration.

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16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
 While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

Last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Finishing Your Fast Well

Finish well.

I can’t tell you how many times I ended a fast gorging at a barbecue restaurant, only to be miserable a few hours later. And strangely dull in the days to follow as I went back to “life as usual.” So foolish. If you have been fasting, I dare you to consider finishing well.

Start with the physical: come off the fast slowly. As a general rule, raw fruits and vegetables are the way go for the first day or so. Specifically, here’s where I’ll be going in the next couple days:

  • Apples, grapes, watermelon or other easily digestible fruit with a high water content.
  • Vegetable soup. Not the canned stuff, and not creamed, it’s easy on the stomach and wonderful.
  • Eggs. Time to get some protein back in the system.
  • Sweet potatoes are supposed to be another winner. Not my favorite but I’m considering it.

But then embrace the spiritual parallel. In the same way you can physically digress by breaking a fast with all the wrong foods, you can emotionally and spiritually digress by re-engaging in a “life as usual” lifestyle. Don’t do it!

I believe the days right after a fast are as deeply important as the time you spent on the fast itself. Did you make some gains in the area of Scripture intake? Maintain the gain. Did you make progress in the area of prayer? Maintain the gain. Did you discover a heightened focus by scaling back on entertainment and social media? Maintain the gain. Did lust lose a little grip on you? Maintain the gain. This is not to say that you never watch a movie again, but it is to say you consider the possibility of a life other than “life as usual.”

Imagine a life of self-control. There’s a fun word.

Don’t let your fast end without some serious chewing on this potent concept. Consider this wild passage:

Make every effort to add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge SELF-CONTROL, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. If these things are yours and abound you won’t be unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord. (2 Peter 1:5-8)

I see so many believers come to God by faith and immediately embrace some degree of virtue. I’ve talked to singles who started believing Jesus and immediately made the decision to stop sleeping together. It’s virtuous. Then they begin to get into the Scriptures and learn the ways of God. They add knowledge. But then I’ll talk to the same guy who can’t shake porn. I have no self-control, he says.  Exactly. It’s time for more spiritual math. Add to your knowledge self-control.

Few disciplines work self-control into a soul like fasting.

If.

If you finish well.

So finish well.

Prepare your heart for the day after. The week after. Maybe you won’t be fasting physical nourishment. But you can embrace the fasting lifestyle. You can fast self-reliance, and boasting, and wasting your life. You really can choose to not live by bread alone … but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Make these next couple days as holy as the last few days.

After all, this isn’t about you anyway. Our great breakthroughs are not the result of how hard we fast and pray and work; we have victory because our King spent 40 days in a desert where He did the ultimate fast, that led to the ultimate life, that took Him to the ultimate death where He fasted life itself. And then He said, It is finished.

With your eyes fixed on Him, go finish well.