We Need a Clearer Vision of Our Multi-Colored World

I’m 38. I grew up in the 1980’s and early 90’s. I remember President Ronald Regan addressing the nation, the launch of MTV, and using an antenna switch on my tube-style television so I could play my Atari. For some of you, I’m really old. But for many of you, I’m still quite young, relatively speaking, not having lived through World War II, Korea, the hippie movement, disco’s heyday, or the birth of roller derby.

For many of us, civil rights issues were for a previous generation, but ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when we finally outgrew all forms of systemic racism. Sure, a few people here and there still have their prejudices, but there is no longer any excuse for a non-white person in America to claim that they’ve suffered under the weight of our fairly balanced system, right?

Laws are one thing. Culture is another. When I was thirteen years old, my cousin and his family picked me up and took me to their church, three miles away. As we passed a home belonging to the local leader of a white supremacist group, we saw a cross burning on the far side of their pond and a couple of guys with hoods on standing guard by the road with rifles. Later, the Pastor of that church spoke out against the white supremacist group and the church mysteriously burned down.

My high school was quite divided along ethnic lines. Large numbers of white people and large numbers of black people were constantly scuffling. Once, a white friend of mine was in a fight with a black student, left the school angry and died later that day in a tragic car accident. What resulted was a lot of blame and a lot of tension. Dozens of white students skipped school the next day and showed up an hour late, circling the parking lots with horns blaring and rebel flags flying (so forgive me when I don’t believe for a second that flag has nothing to do with race) in protest, challenging black students to fight.

I took on my first pastorate at age nineteen and learned the hard way that at nineteen, I didn’t have the life and relational experience necessary for the task of shepherding a flock. On World Missions Sunday, I brought church bulletins with a picture on the front of a globe, covered with a close-up of a tribe somewhere in Africa. One of that church’s leaders refused to take a bulletin and let me know there wasn’t room for black people in his church and that “they have their churches, and we have ours, and it’s better that way.” That was 1997. I lasted five months in that pastorate.

There is still plenty of racial tension remaining, fifty years after the signing of the Acts designed to put an end to it in America. As a matter of fact, ethnic tension exists almost universally around our planet. It’s not exclusively an American problem. In nearly every country on earth, families and tribes of people don’t like each other because of skin color, religious and cultural values, and skewed perceptions. Furthermore, racism not only affects every land, but every era of time in modern history. Biblical history reveals ethnic tension close to four millennia ago. Why?

It’s sin.

Sin causes us to hide in shame, from God and from others. Sin causes me to place my need for self-preservation above my need to get along with people. Sin leads to fear, which causes me to stick with “my people” where I feel safer. And sin also leads to pride, which causes me to think that “my people” are better than “your people.” And fear and pride manifest as anger. Because of sin, we wind up fighting against people who are different than we are, who threaten to make us uncomfortable.

And here’s where I’ll get gut-level honest. As I genuinely peer into the dark corners of my own sinful heart, I have to acknowledge that I have this same tendency – to keep others at a safe distance so that my way of life isn’t too threatened. I’m trying to root this out, to rid my heart of prejudice, and to truly value every person equally. But it requires humility.

One of the reasons I believe we can’t get over our racism problem is because, as self-preserving sinners, we’re all so stinkin’ defensive. Me, racist? Me, prejudiced? Oh no, nothing like that could exist in my heart. It’s those other people, with the hoods on. Meanwhile, we avoid the parts of town that don’t look like our neighborhood and we keep throwing our support behind the politicians and influencers who will do the best job of preserving the way of life I’ve come to enjoy.

We even brag about being “color blind.” Oh, I don’t really see color, I just see a human… The problem with this is that it denies the experiences and realities that belong to people of every color. Color-blindness is actually part of our problem. I really need to see your color because I want to have a clearer vision of a multi-colored world where everyone is truly equal.

Here’s what I’m getting at. My vision of a truly diverse world that celebrates the equality of all people is clouded by my own sense of privilege, of losing the comfort of the way of life that has treated me quite well.

For one year, we lived in a condo in southern California. My next door neighbors were a sweet French couple. Across from me were an African-American family and a multi-ethnic family. We were, in that neighborhood, the minority. We shopped in malls where most of the people around us were Asian-Americans and we attended a church where at least 67 languages were spoken. I was glad that my kids experienced that kind of diversity. They’re going to experience it again someday in heaven where people from “every tribe and tongue” will be gathered. And I’d love for them to experience a world, here and now, where everybody gets along as true equals.

But I think we still have a long way to go. At least I do.

Sermon Video: We Stand For EQUALITY

The Bible, from cover to cover, reflects the inherent dignity, value and worth of the entire human race, indicts us all equally for the guilt of our sin, and speaks of how all of us, any of us, can be redeemed and reconciled through Jesus Christ. Someday, when all the scores are settled over sin and all of God’s redeemed children stand in heaven to sing his praises, souls from every tribe, every language, and every ethnicity will enjoy perfect harmony forever. THIS – equality – is what our church stands FOR!!!

We Still Don’t Get It… Human Life is Precious

Just after the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Texas’ laws restricting abortions, I posted a simple status update about all human life being precious…

“All human life is precious. ‘You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother.’ Ps 139:13”

It got lots of likes and amen’s.

Since then…

Alton Sterling was shot and killed. His death is tragic. Also tragic is the response of so many white people who dismissed the fear and angst that black people live with. And before you dismiss my assertion, know that I’ve heard well-respected black leaders and pastors speak of the fear they have about their black children playing with toy guns – something I’ve never thought twice about with my white suburban boys.

Update: A few hours after I posted this, Philando Castille was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. He was compliant, had no record, and had alerted the officer he was carrying (and licensed to do so). 

Update #2: I just removed the word “All” from the title of this post. I’m not a fan, whatsoever, of the “#AllLivesMatter” snarky comebacks to a people in such deep pain. For black people, who are trying to figure out how to show us that they matter as much as anyone else, it’s unkind and unnecessary. The fact is, #BlackLivesMatter. 

200+ people were killed in ISIS terrorist suicide bombers in Iraq. But we didn’t really notice because they aren’t westerners. They were mostly Muslims being killed by other Muslims.

25 people died in Yemen, again at the hands of terrorist suicide bombers. But… it’s Yemen, an Arabic country.

I’m pro-life, and that means way more than being anti-abortion. It means that every single human life represents a soul bearing the image of God, infinitely valuable to the Creator.

Born and unborn; babies and senior citizens; black, white, and brown; male and female; Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Sikh, and Hindu; criminals, addicts, the terminally ill, the developmentally challenged, gay, straight, married, single, divorced, tattooed, pierced, westerners, easterners, middle-easterners… ALL human life is precious.

We humans have a terribly significant sickness gone epidemic among us – we don’t value each other nearly enough!! We’re dismissive of the stories of those who are different than we are. And until we get this principle – that ALL human life is precious – we humans will continue to be the greatest contributors to the problem of human suffering.

Thankfully, ONE came who is different. One came and valued the woman at the well who had been married five times. One came and pardoned the woman taken in adultery. One came and dined with sinners and tax collectors. One came and devoted his life to the final drop of his blood to the very people whom he knew would turn on him and nail him to a cross.

“… You are bought with a price.” – 1 Corinthians 6:20

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and When Dreams Become Movements

Go see Selma. Angie and I caught it on Saturday night and were moved by its message. Be prepared for Lyndon Johnson’s profanity and some scenes that are shockingly violent. Both represent realities of the era. Here’s the trailer…

Dr. King has been an inspiration to me for a number of years because of his intense passion for seeing a world where color no longer divides humanity. One doesn’t have to read much of the New Testament to discover that this was certainly a priority of Jesus as well. His new Kingdom would be one in which “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28 NLT)

This verse, and plenty of others, aren’t about denying the physical realities of variances in our skin pigmentation or the anatomical differences between male and female. The bigger point is that when confronted with Christ, we must acknowledge the universality of certain characteristics on a spiritual level.

  • We are ALL created equal in worth and dignity, in God’s image.
  • We are ALL sinners in need of the redemptive grace of God.
  • We are ALL made acceptable to a holy God through the same Savior, Jesus.
  • We are ALL endowed with fresh, new life in Christ.

Unity is possible between God and man because of the cross where our sins were paid for. And unity is possible between people because of the cross as well. Yet, racial division still continues to exist and fester, even within the church. In my first pastorate, a leader was upset with me for printing a bulletin that had black children on it’s cover. His rationale was that “they have their churches and we have ours.” I managed to last an entire five months as their Pastor.

Dr. King’s dream was bold. It seems almost utopian to believe that the world can be so radically changed by the power of love and non-violence that equality would eventually be achieved. But Dr. King’s dream did indeed come to pass, at least institutionally. And while there are still deep crevices in the soil of our culture ethnically speaking, a younger generation has certainly shed much of the prejudices that existed in a previous one. We should continue to hope that Dr. King’s dream will continue to unfold.

We should learn some things from Dr. King about dreaming big, audacious, impossible dreams. But even more, we should learn the power of turning a dream into a movement. While a dream is a mental picture of what reality could look like, it takes even more guts, brains, and heart to lay out a plan and pursue it relentlessly.

Selma depicts several crucial aspects of the kind of movement Dr. King led. First, there was a willingness to speak up in spite of the silencing threats of enemies. His movement has a voice. His speeches changed America. Second, there was a willingness to organize, to involve an entire community of people by going door-to-door, holding meetings, and giving real instruction to people about the non-violent approach. And third, there was a willingness to march, and to keep marching and then to march some more while being pelted with rocks, beaten with clubs, and spat upon even by unknowing white adolescents.

Sometimes, to really love is to be willing to be hated and to keep moving anyway.

I long to see Dr. King’s movement continue, but even more, I long to see a movement of awakening people to the life- and world-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our nation, and almost every other nation in our world, needs to learn the lessons of love and equality. And this unifying, hatred-breaking power rests nowhere more than in the cross where Jesus died to reconcile us to God and to one another.

Dreams are vital, but movements make dreams come true.

Diversity Was God’s Idea to Begin With

Diversity and equality have been hot topics in the last decade of American life. We’re in the midst of various shifts in our culture surrounding these concepts, especially in relation to ethnicity and gender, and some of these shifts are good. When my family lived in southern California, we were ethnically not in the majority in our neighborhood, and we appreciated it greatly. Our church was home to people from dozens of ethnic backgrounds, and we loved that even more.

All of the tension between ethnicities as well as what we have termed the “battle of the sexes” is really our problem – it’s of human origin. What is of divine origin are the ideas of the beauty within diversity as well as the equality of all peoples whom God has created. Just peruse the first chapter of Genesis to see diversity on display.

Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind… God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals… So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:20, 25, 27 NLT

It was God’s intention that there be a veritable rainbow of sights to see in His wonderful creation. Did you know there are about 8.74 million species of animals and plants on earth? And inherent to the diversity with which God created all things are wrapped up two ideas we must hold in tension: unity and uniqueness. When we fail to value uniqueness, we esteem one ethnicity over another. And when we fail to value unity, we allow cultural wedges to divide us.

When it comes to the human race (there is only one “race” represented in many, many ethnicities), God made one particular distinction. We would be male, and we would be female. Gender is rooted in our pre-fall and pre-sin story. Men are men. Women are women. And there are three essential facts we often confuse and forget.

First, men and women are of equal worth and value to God. When we forget this, one gender tends to dominate the other in the culture. Second, women and men are designed to compliment each other, establishing the basis for marriage as one man and one woman in an equal partnership of mutual dependence. And finally, not all men are exactly like all other men, and not all women are exactly like other women. There is a vast diversity wired into our unique personalities and experiences.

Diversity and equality are God’s ideas. They are not the product of any particular cultural phenomenon, though we’ve certainly fought as a human race to rediscover them at various points along the way. Diversity and equality are rooted in the history of God’s handiwork and put on display for His glory. And what and awesome God He is proven to be by the canvas we see every day we spend on planet earth!

Make Disciples Out of Everybody, Without Limits

When I was a kid, we sang a sweet song that went Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Years later, I saw a different take on that song designed to point out our tendency to be ethnocentric. They edited the words to White and white and white and white, they are precious in His sight… And the point was proven. Sometimes, even passively or subconsciously, we hug the gospel to ourselves and never venture beyond the comfort zone of other people who look like us to share the good news.

Jesus had a different idea. When Jesus told His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations,” He wasn’t referring to geo-politically defined areas, like Russia or China. Rather He commissioned His church to go make disciples out of every ethnos, the Greek word from which we get the English word “ethnicity.” His command was to go to every people group on the planet and invite them to follow Jesus and include them as fully participating members of God’s family.

If you believe your own ethnic group is the best, or is in some way superior to others… or if you simply believe your ethnic group is somehow more deserving of the gospel than any other group, you have completely missed the point of the redemptive narrative of the Bible. God is actively gathering to Himself a people from every tribe, every tongue, and every ethnic group on the planet. And our work isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples of all of them.

One of the most frustrating aspects of ministry to me is figuring out how to crush ethnic and cultural barriers to bring people together from different backgrounds. I ache when I see a sea of white before me when I preach, especially since I live in a community with large populations of Hispanics and Asian-Americans. Heaven will be marvelously multi-colored and ethnically diverse, and I want my local church to reflect the diversity of its neighborhood.

That will only happen when 1.) we pray for it, 2.) we work for it by befriending people of every ethnicity, and 3.) we celebrate that kind of diversity on Sunday.

People of Every Color: You Must See Lee Daniels’ The Butler

The ButlerWhat have we done, and why would we do it? That’s the pair of questions that kept going through my mind as I sat in a theater in Rogers, Arkansas last night as we watched Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The synopsis is:

As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man’s life, family, and American society. (via IMDb)

I’ve always been a Forest Whitaker fan, and he out-shined all previous performances in his role as Cecil. Oprah was equally magnificent in her role as Cecil’s wife, Gloria. As far as movies go, it was stellar. The acting was superb, the storyline strong, and the emotions deep. It’s a must-see on that level, but it’s also a must-see on a deeper level.

I was born two and a half years after the fall of Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War. While that war happened over there, another war was taking place on American soil – a civil war of sorts, between ethnicities. History is replete with humankind’s inability to get along with each other, especially across ethnic and cultural boundaries, but as Whitaker (as Gaines) says in his narration, while we are shocked at the atrocities of the Nazi’s in the concentration camps of Europe, we tended to ignore the same plight domestically for large number of African-Americans.

People. Human beings. Who happened to have dark skin, were murdered, hung, burned, bombed, beaten, shot, falsely accused, jailed, tried, and executed for crimes such as hoping to be served a sandwich outside the “colored” section or riding near the front of a public bus. A few fought back in hate while many fought back with love and on a large scale, America has repented of its racist past. One of the sweet moments in the film is the reaction of Cecil and his family to the election of the nation’s first African-American President, Barack Obama. We’ve come a long way.


Racism still exists. It exists in places where communities find creative and legal ways to sustain an informal version of segregation using private schools. It exists in churches that refuse to embrace members of every tribe, tongue, and nation (literally ethnicity). And it exists in the heart of anyone who minimizes and ignores the past conditions under which our ancestors placed their brothers and sisters.

And that’s why you need to see this movie. You need to be aware of the potential for evil of depraved humanity. You need to see, from the perspective of one who lived through it, what the civil rights movement was really like. You need to feel the emotion of one who is slapped, spat upon, and thrown in jail for sitting at a lunch counter ordering a sandwich.

And if you’re a Christian, you need to see your responsibility in the reconciling of all people to each other in Christ. It saddens me that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in American life. It broke my heart the day a Deacon in one of my early pastorates looked with disgust at a picture of African-American children and proclaimed, “They have their churches, and we have ours.” And it stings when I hear the “N” word, with which I would have hoped my children would never become acquainted.

Remember that famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “I Have a Dream” speech?

I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.

His dream is being fulfilled in many ways, but for certain segments of American society (including the church, on the whole), it’s still a reality that lies slightly beyond our grasp. Unless we repent. Of our intentional arrogance. Of our willful ignorance. And of our unwillingness to openly receive the entire human family into God’s family, the church, with open and outstretched arms.