What I hope my white children learn from #Ferguson

In my last blog,“What I hope my black children learn from #Ferguson,”  I shared seven things I want my black children, adopted from Ethiopia, to learn from the recent events in Ferguson, MO.   The last few days as I’ve been reading blogs and comments from others I realized that it’s not just my black children whom I hope learn some valuable lessons from all of this but my white children, too.   A lot of what I have been reading on the internet seems to suggest that if you are white your opinion shouldn’t count, or you should be ashamed to share it (this view is most often, in my experience perpetuated by other white people who think it more righteous to carry “white guilt” on themselves while heaping it upon others – more on that below).    I believe this is a false-humility which only serves to exacerbate race problems.  It sends the message that your race is a problem, and you should be embarrassed of it rather than liberated from it.   Yes, liberated from it.   I don’t want my kids – black or white – growing up to believe they are slaves of the color or culture or context they inhabit but instead celebrate all that they are in Christ and the freedom they have knowing that it is in Christ (and not their race) that they live and more and have their being (Acts 17:28).   So with that said, here are 7 truths I want my white children to know.

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You are beautiful.  You are beautiful because you are a child of God, created to be the object of God’s eternal joy and affection.   Your beauty has nothing to do with the amount of or lack of melanin in your skin.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God in your mother’s womb.  God doesn’t make junk, and you are one of the treasures for which he died to save.

Family. Your true brothers and sisters are your spiritual ones of all colors, stripes and histories.  The moment you place your faith in Jesus you were adopted into a family far bigger than the one mom and dad provide, or even our color or nation.    Your brothers and sisters are Arab, Jewish, Chinese, German, Cuban, Hispanic, even Southern and Yankee and everything in between so long as they have faith in Christ.  And those who don’t?  They are your neighbor, potential brothers and sisters whom you are called to love and pray for and bless as often as you have the means to do so.

White Guilt.  You don’t have to be embarrassed that you are white.   There are plenty of well-intentioned albeit misguided Christians who will try to tell you that because you are white you should forever carry with you a sense of guilt and shame over what our ancestors have done to blacks.   But you are no more responsible for the sins of your ancestors as Michael Brown is responsible for the sins of his.  The beauty of the gospel message is this: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ!   This is true of every one who places their faith in Christ and it’s a glorious truth!  Do not allow white guilt to silence you which thereby sends the message that there is no real freedom to be found from our past sin and that personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions mean less than the color of your skin.

Privilege.  Your greatest privilege is that you are an heir of our Lord Jesus Christ.  You have been bought with a price, therefore, bring glory to God in your body (1 Cor. 6:20).  Any privilege that others lavish upon you is because we live in a fallen world that loves to make idols out of many things, including race.   Instead, have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was God did not count equality with God as something to cling to, but instead humbled himself, choosing to be born a slave, a servant of all, even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:1-11).

Speak up and out.  It’s your duty as a Christian to speak up and out against injustice wherever it is found, whether among those who cannot speak for themselves or among those who can.  Seek the truth in all things and do not be persuaded by the talking heads in the media or the opinions of every human with internet access.   Remember the Apostle Paul, who though in chains asked for prayer not that he would be set free but that he would speak boldly the Good News which is available to every person alive irrespective of race or parentage (Eph. 6).   Point people everywhere and in all seasons to the sinfulness within each of our own hearts and our great need for a Savior.   Do not be sidetracked by agendas and issues which seek to make this world the utopia for which only Christ’s return can and will establish.   Be the voice calling out in the wilderness, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Love without agenda.  Outdo others in showing them honor (Rom. 12:10) not because they are black or white or any other color but for this simple and profound truth:  God commands you to do so to everyone.  So love the person in front of you today.  Love the neighbor whom you meet today.  Consider the needs of others before your own and in this way you will be like Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve.   When you seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first, all other things will be added to you.

It’s all about Jesus.  When we first adopted your brother and sister from Ethiopia we thought it was our duty to make everyone else look like us – integrated.   The problem with this is not so much the goal (integration is a good thing) but the motive behind it.   We were more concerned with the church and society looking like our family than we were with ourselves and our neighbors looking more like Jesus.    The truth is, you can surround yourself with all sorts of different people and get absorbed in any number of good causes while your heart is still far from God.   If you will focus all your energy on becoming more and more like Jesus, and encouraging others to do the same, you will discover that the agendas and issues and causes which are important to God will become natural by-products of the life you are living. In this you will find great joy and peace, and the hurting world that doesn’t know Jesus will be attracted to you because you look like Jesus, not because of the color of your skin.

It would be a mistake to think that I teach this well, or even model it well, all the time.  But I pray that by God’s grace I will grow in each of these truths myself, and my kids would follow suit.   As a Christian, I am convinced that given the option between feeling sorry for my kids (and thereby allowing them to feel sorry for themselves) or pointing them towards the Gospel (even with crooked fingers), the latter is far better, and far more hopeful and empowering.   Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

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What I hope my black children learn from #Ferguson

Your newsfeed probably looks a lot like mine today, with everyone talking about Ferguson.   One post that caught my attention was from a friend sharing a snippet from an email written by an 18 year old student.  It read,

I can’t even describe to you how much it makes me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I feel hopeless. And powerless…. Because I’m black….I didn’t ask to be black…. I don’t even want to be black anymore.

I’m the proud father of five children, two of which are black.  They weren’t born here but in Ethiopia, and they became part of our family 6 years ago while they were 4 and 5 years old.  They were born into a family and a life that isn’t fair, one that no one would wish upon any child, and they have been brought into a family that I can only hope provides them with love and hope, but as is all things, is far from perfect.   My adopted children can, I think, identify with the sentiment of the girl’s comment above.  Somewhere, somehow, they picked up along the way that their skin color seems to matter to some, if not many, people.   Eli, who is now 11, said to me and my wife not too long ago that he wished he wasn’t “brown.”   In his mind he perceives his skin color to put him at a disadvantage.   Conversely, my three white kids have never wished they were something else.

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All of this got me thinking about what I hope for my kids to learn from all of the recent events in Ferguson.   I know I don’t want them turning 18 feeling hopeless like the girl who caught my attention on Facebook this morning.   Here are seven truths I hope to instill in all my kids – both black and white – in hopes that they will be better prepared to face the harsh realities of life.  This list is far from exhaustive, and by sharing it here I hope I can learn from you how to make what is here better or add something I’m not seeing.

You are beautiful.  You are beautiful because you are a child of God, created to be the object of God’s eternal joy and affection.   Your beauty has nothing to do with the amount of or lack of melanin in your skin.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God in your mother’s womb.  God doesn’t make junk, and you are one of the treasure for which he died to save.

Be known by your fruit.  Be known for who you are, not what you are.  Don’t waste your life by reducing yourself and everyone else to the color of skin.  Allow, instead, the light that is in you to shine brighter than any color the world can see.   Jesus said that the world would know who belongs to him by their fruit – not what we look like on the outside but by how our hearts respond on the inside.  Choose to be known for the greatness of your character, which is Christ in you.

The world is unsafe and unfair.   We live in a fallen world where not everyone will see your beauty and not everyone will look for, or care about, your fruit.  This same tendency is in you, and me, too.   Sin infects all of our hearts and we should not be surprised when we see it manifest itself in any manner of ways, including racism.   The battle we are waging is not against flesh and blood – or between whites and blacks – but against spiritual realities which are at work in every one of us, regardless of race.   Your battle is with sin, with the spiritual forces at work in this world, and no matter what your skin color, there will always be people who will hurt you, treat you unfairly, not live up to your expectations, even treat you cruelly.   Don’t be surprised when this happens and don’t play the victim when it does.   Jesus, when he was brutally tortured and hung on a cross, prayed for those who sinned against him.   We can and should strive to do the same when people sin against us.   Pray for your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.

Justice.  Love mercy and work for justice.  But do so humbly, walking with God (Micah 6:8).  Pray for peace and stand alongside the oppressed.  But do this not because you dream of a utopian society here on earth but out of obedience to God.  In this way you will not grow discouraged when things do not go as you think they ought.  It may look like your hopes and dreams are being nailed to a cross but you have no idea how God might use your faithfulness.  Remember, the reason Jesus did signs and wonders was not to bring justice to the world but to make the One who is Just known to the world (John 20:31).  Your acts of random kindness and works of justice may never bring about radical social change to our fallen world but it may topple someone’s misunderstandings about God brining about a radical change of heart.

We all need Jesus.  Racism is just one of the many sins you will experience in this life.  Whenever you encounter it, or any other sin, learn to pray.  Pray for the ones committing the sin as well as for yourself, that you would be able to extend the same mercy to them as Christ has to you, even while we were his enemies.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful or set boundaries or even that you must trust everyone.  God never commanded us to trust fallen people or systems.  He commanded us to trust him and him alone and to love people.  It’s OK to feel powerless in the midst of life’s storms.  It is in our weakness that God’s strength can be made known to you in ways you would be unable to see through the delusion of self-sufficiency.  Remember that we are all a mess without Jesus.   Apart from him, we can do nothing.

Live by faith, not feelings.  Feed yourself on the promises of God and in so doing you will live by faith, not feelings.  The enemy of your soul will tell you that you don’t matter, that your life is pointless, that the grass is greener on the other side, that the world owes you, and anything else it might use to cause you to feel justified in grasping upon anything or anyone in order to meet your needs.   On this side of heaven and hell you will everyday be presented opportunities to move towards one or the other, and if your feelings are your only or must trusted guide, hell will be more and more your reality, in this life and the next.

Holiness, not happiness, is our aim.  God’s desire for you and for me is that we become like Jesus.   Jesus, God’s own son, learned obedience through the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8).   If you are to become like Christ, you can and should expect to go through the same things Christ went through.  Jesus promised that in this world we will know trouble.  We can take heart, however, because we know that he overcame the world.  How?  Through humble obedience to the will of his Father.   God wishes to make you holy, and every time you come face to face with rampant sin in this world, as Jesus did, know you do not face it alone, and that in all things, even this, God will work out for the good for those who love him.  What good might that be?  Your holiness.

It would be a mistake to think that I teach this well, or even model it well, all the time.  But I pray that by God’s grace I will grow in each of these truths myself, and my kids would follow suit.   As a Christian, I am convinced that given the option between feeling sorry for my kids (and thereby allowing them to feel sorry for themselves) or pointing them towards the Gospel (even with crooked fingers), the latter is far better, and far more hopeful and empowering.   Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Follow up blog:  What I hope my white kids learn from #Ferguson

Three Years Ago Today…

My son’s 5th birthday, three years ago today, was one of the darkest, loneliest days of our lives.  Brody woke up to what should have been a celebration only to see his dad’s bags packed as I waited to be picked up by a friend and taken to another state for at least 7 months.   He, and our one year old daughter (the rest of our kids had already left for school) clung to their mother’s leg as I waved goodbye to them all, not knowing if I would ever see them again.

I left town that day leaving a wake of destruction.  Nearly 2 decades of sexual addiction had gutted me of any real desire to change or hope that I could while systematically destroying my wife’s faith and trust in both God and myself.  I wish I could tell you what state of mind my kids were in but the truth is I was too involved in my own junk to really notice or truly care.  I could tell they were sad and scared and confused but I was not in any condition to address their needs when I was powerless to address my own.

This trip to a place called Pure Life Ministries was a last ditch effort to save my life, or what was left of it, and to hopefully turn me into a productive member of society, if not for anyone else then at least for the benefit of my five kids.  They deserved a dad who could stop looking at pornography long enough to hold a job so that they could have food to eat.  Amy had already filed for divorce, so this trip was not meant to salvage a shipwrecked marriage.  It was to save my life.

That was three years ago today.   Three years ago today I living in an economy hotel, taking a taxi to Little Caesars to work flipping pizzas while contemplating ending my life.   Three years ago today I witnessed my kids cry because their daddy was going away and I didn’t have it within my heart to really care.  Three years ago today my youngest son celebrated his 5th birthday and I was numb to the fact that I would miss his party, just like I had missed most of his life because I was so consumed in my addiction.  Three years ago today I was waiting for my divorce to be finalized and trying to figure out how I would pay child support.  Three years ago today was the darkest time of our lives.

It was also the beginning of a miracle. 

I would have laughed in your face three years ago today had you told me that.  I would have told you that you are out of your mind.   There was no way on earth I could have believed that three years ago today would be the beginning of my sobriety.   No way would I have believed that three years ago today, while experiencing unbearable darkness and despair, would be the genesis of a new life rising up out of ashes.   No way would I have been able to believe that three years ago today God was already at work, long before Brody’s birthday, and that He was not finished with any of us yet.

But that is exactly what happened.

Today I am 3 years sober!   Today I am celebrating all that God has redeemed, restored, and renewed.   Today I am rejoicing over the change God has brought to bear in my life, my heart, my mind.  Today I am celebrating what God has done and continues to do in my marriage, my family and in our home.  Today I am in awe of a God who has mercifully restored me to the work of ministry and called me to pastor a church that I love and they love me and where I get the privilege of now witnessing God changing lives, restoring marriages, setting captives free and faith taking root.

And today I am remembering that there is no darkness so dark that the Light of the World cannot overcome.  Today I am remembering that while there will be troubles and trials and sorrows in this world, there is One who has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Today I am reminding myself that God leads the blind in a way they do not know, turning darkness into light, and makes rough places smooth (Isa. 42:16).  Today I am rejoicing that God truly does work all things into good for those who love him and pursue him (Rom. 8:28).   Today I am thankful that the good work God has started in me, and in you, will be seen to completion (Phil. 1:6).  

God’s not done with any of us yet!  If you are in a dark spot I want to encourage you today.   God isn’t done.   If you are in a place of despair and feel that all is lost, take heart.  God isn’t done.   God is willing and able to resurrect new life where there isn’t any.  He longs to make you new, not just better (2 Cor. 5:17), and the best way and only way that happens is when we are brought to the very end of ourselves.   So if you feel like you are in a tomb today, prepare yourself!  The voice of the one who weeps for you is making it’s way to your ears even now:  Come out!  Come out!  Come out!  Unbind him or her and be set free! (John 11).  

What looks impossible to us is totally possible for God.   What will your 3 years from today look like?   God knows.  And with him by your side, the sky is the limit.  I, and the world,  can’t wait to hear your testimony!

Happy birthday, Brody!