God created and loves all colors.
Since the video surfaced a few weeks ago of the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery I have been mulling the deep-seated and long-term racial divisions that still exist in the USA. I spent some emotional days thinking through this and trying to put words to my thoughts. It’s tough work. I commented to Sandy a few days ago that entering into any kind of divisive relationship carries with it the dimensions of spiritual warfare. Now, we are reeling from this tragedy of George Floyd’s death, and subsequent rioting, vandalism, and looting. The enemy of our souls, Satan, looks to steal, kill, and destroy. He’s crafty and does this in so many ways. Sometimes it shows up as “Steal our joy, kill our hope, and destroy our unity.” In the area of racial division, especially between black and white Americans, there have been centuries of fractured relationships. Yes, by God’s grace, there have been pockets of scattered togetherness. In Christ, the middle wall of partition is broken down, and He is our peace. Thank God for healing and the breaking down of walls! That said, there is still such a deep need for healing, and there are more walls to be broken down if there is going to be genuine relationship.
Healing. What does it take for a sick nation to be made well? What does it take for a sick soul to be made well? What does it take for a sick church to be made well? Thank God for the salvation found in Christ alone! That is where healing is found. But even in the church of Christ, there is still division and disunity. We need healing, church. I think it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that the most segregated hour in America was the Sunday morning church service. And then we read in Revelation that John saw people from every nation, tribe, and tongue standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. Most of what I have to say in this post is addressed to white and black Christians. But people of any shade of melanin must turn to the cross of Christ, lay down their lives to love the Lord our God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and look to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This “love your neighbor” mandate should move us outside our comfort zones to neighbors near and far. I am not promoting multi-culturalism as a “First thing.” Jesus Christ and him crucified is our first thing. However, I do believe that a by-product of Christ-centered, Spirit-directed living should be an active desire to know and commune with brothers and sisters of other backgrounds and cultures.
I wonder how Jesus would address the “Church in America” if he decided to write a letter? For one thing, there is such a broad range of “church” that he probably would need to address each specific church. Sadly, there is more diversity of sin in the “church” in America than those 7 churches Jesus addressed in Revelation. From where I sit, it seems that the sins of Laodicea are likely the closest to American churches. Listen to how Jesus addresses the Laodiceans regarding their need for healing: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' --and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked--I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
I don’t have enough money to buy that eye salve. But thank God! He gives eye salve to all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus with repentance, and to those who ask him to open our eyes, so we can truly see. Will you ask him to open your eyes?
We need healing. In Christ, there is healing. He gives eye salve, so we can see. He opens our ears to hear. He opens our mouths, so we can speak. Look at what Jesus does in Mark 7 with the deaf man who has a speech impediment.
“Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
There we go. Christ makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. He gives voice to the voiceless, and he heals the deaf so they can hear. He counsels the blind to get eye salve to put on our eyes so we can see.
Dear Christ-followers, let us stay rooted and grounded in the love of Christ as we move to break down the dividing walls of partition. After all, Ephesians 2:14 tells us that Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. This passage refers to Jews and Greeks, but could it not be applied to blacks and whites, and any other ethnic division? By the grace of God, we need to enter more fully into the healing that comes in Christ. Consider Hebrews 10, which tells us that Jesus, “After He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” In Christ, we have been given eternal life we are counted among "those who are being sanctified." He is our gentle healer.
To my dear black brothers and sisters, I thank God so much for the privilege to share in the communion of saints with you in the family of God. Although I was not around in the 1700’s and 1800’s during institutionalized slavery when there was such a dehumanizing message spoken about black people even in the church, I pray that God would forgive our nation and bring healing to your hearts of the deep wounds that still implicitly and unconsciously lie below the surface. I was not around during the bitter share-cropping years of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and I was not present to witness the systemic oppression prior to the civil rights movements in the 1960’s, but those wounds are still a part of our nation’s history. Those wounds have sometimes made some of you put walls up to protect yourselves. And some of those wounds are often there, implicit and unconscious in your shared memory. I pray that, in Christ, we can become like those Jews and Greeks of Ephesians 2, and say together by the grace of God, with celebration that “Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
From my church background in the Mennonite church, most of my brothers and sisters during my first twenty years of living were white, and we have done a poor job of moving into your lives and allowing you to move into ours, with love and grace. Silence has not helped us. We need Jesus to teach us how to speak. We do not listen well. We need Jesus to teach us how to hear. And we need eye salve from Christ, to help us to see. If I can be a part of the healing touch of God that brings healing to the wounds of our nation’s history, please help me to see what I can do. At this point, I have little to say, but I have much to learn. Please forgive me for my ignorance and my often unconscious insensitivity towards you and your feelings and emotions. I have sometimes focused on “truth” and “statistics” and a clinical and forensic view of what I thought was the situation, and I have often failed to hear your heart. Will you allow me to move into your life so I can listen and understand? Will you allow me to open up as well without fear of reprisal? Can we pray together, for each other?
Thank you, heavenly Father, for the gift of Jesus Christ who has entered our world and brings the eye salve to open our eyes. Thank you, Jesus, for entering our world to open our ears to hear. Thank you, Jesus, that you can touch our speech impediments and allow us to speak words of life and not death. Please do that for me and for all of your church in this area of racial division, Lord Jesus. Please open our ears to hear. And please open our mouths to speak words of Your love and truth. Only you can bring healing to the hurting. Only you can make the two groups one and destroy the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. Please bring full healing, Jesus.
To my dear white brothers and sisters, I thank God so much for the privilege to share with you as well in the communion of saints in the family of God. Please, let us be ready to listen. It’s likely that “ears to hear” is what we need the most. Please, let us come to our Father and ask him to give us ears to hear, from His Word, by His Spirit, and from our brothers and sisters in the black community and elsewhere. May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering! God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should never perish, but have everlasting life. Church was never supposed to be a divisive place. This was never God’s will that this be an “us-them” conversation, but for hundreds of years in the USA it was so. The dehumanization of the black slaves, often perpetuated from the bully “Christian” pulpit of the 1600’s, 1700’s, and into the late 1800’s, is something that needs to be repented of and rejected by all of us. Healing is still needed in the black community from the sins done against them, even all the way forward in history here in 2020. And please understand me, I do not support or condone a victim mentality. Many have been able to move forward despite the history. Still, there is a shared identity in the black community that was repressed and dehumanized at awful levels for a long, long time. This could be a generational sin within the white community that WE, the white privileged class, need to condemn and repent of. Please, let us take the counsel of Jesus to apply eye salve so that our eyes will be opened, so we can see. And one more thing, if your knee-jerk reaction to all the past week’s news is “I’m not racist. What’s their problem? Why are they making such a big deal of this?” You are probably in need of some of an extra tube of that eye salve. And I’m not supporting vandalism or looting when I say that.
And to all my dear brothers and sisters of all shades and colors of melanin, I am forever grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to have a foretaste of heaven here on earth by having friends who have experienced the world differently than I have. We each have a story to tell, we each have a culture that has shaped who we are. If we are in Christ, he has redeemed us and brought us back to His throne room where we can approach His throne with boldness so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
We are in need, church of Jesus. Let us approach His throne of grace so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
I know for certain that the best way forward is in Christ, in humility, with the Word and the Spirit as our guide. I believe, somewhat uncertainly and with a bit of confusion, that I need to deconstruct my cultural background a bit to see what I have been bringing to the table of communion that is not of Christ. My culture can actually keep me from fully engaging with all that Christ has to offer. By the grace of God, let us move towards others who are not of our background and culture. When we do that, sometimes the fishbowl of our culture breaks and we get to understand more of the ocean of God’s mercy. It gets terrifying when we realize our fish bowl was freshwater and the ocean of God’s love is saltwater—but sometimes that just shows that self needed to die more for true life of Christ to rise up. These times of raw anger and exposed hurt are times that Christ can enter with His love and bring healing. The healing may have to begin with our repentance. When Daniel prayed in Daniel 9 “We have sinned” he was identifying with the sins of the nation as he sought the mercy of God. I confess before almighty God that I have sinned in this area of racial healing. There is much more work for God to do in my heart, and by the grace of God He is still working on me. I long to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God and my brothers and sisters in Christ who are black, white, and other.
Will you fast and pray with me this Wednesday, June 3, 2020? We have this pandemic that has struck the earth and all nations are still reeling from its results and the accompanying responses to it. Mass starvation is probably the next "pandemic" we will face. And now we have an opportunity to pray for healing, unity, and deeper relationship between people of color and whites in America, and within the church of Jesus Christ here in America. When we pray, we have an opportunity to fill the prayer bowls in heaven so that God pours out his answers upon His people.
Grace and peace,
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner