I thank God for folks who speak biblically about race. Whether it’s a black mom teaching her children that they also bear God’s image, or a white sister writing a prophetic blog post—there are many brothers and sisters take up this worthwhile battle.
And it is a battle—with wounds, fatigue, and conflicting sides. Though there are many sides, I’ll mention two: on one side are folks who try to lovingly share biblical truth about race, and on the other side are people who reject it, often with hostility. Trillia received this hostility personally in a comment on her blog post, which said:
I’m convinced that when black people talk about “diversity” that the real message is just anti-white…For too long we’ve had this burden of white guilt hanging around our necks. Every time I see an article about race, every time I have to go to some mandatory ‘diversity awareness’ training at work, every time I read about black criminals terrorizing people – I just get more and more resolved to fight for my race. I’m done apologizing to you.
Regardless of how gracious folks from the first side are, the other side lobs these devastating verbal grenades. Nonetheless, I pray that this post encourages those in the race battle. After all, when someone receives a comment like the one above, there’s a strong temptation to despair and quit the fight altogether.
I sympathize with that temptation, and I want to give grace to those who decide to step back from the race conversation (or certain parts of it). Like any battle, there are times to retreat, recover, or even retire, and let other parts of the troop push forward; no one should haveto subject themselves to attack. Yet for those still in the trenches, I have two encouragements for you.
1) Some people are being convinced of the truth!
Though we can’t always see them, there are people who are listening, learning, lamenting, and loving in a new way because of what’s being written, shared, and spoken. Though we may feel like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, the Lord does have 7,000 out there devoted to the truth. Francis Grimké, a black pastor from Washington D.C., saw the 7,000 of his day. Grimké wrote about them in a sermon series he delivered in 1898. He preached:
“I have faith in a brighter future for us [blacks] in this country because both in the North and in the South there are some white men and women, who do not approve of the present treatment which is accorded to us, or share in the sentiment which regards us as naturally inferior to the whites…”
Grimké hopefully persevered in the battle because he saw the truth win some people. But what about people the truth doesn’t win? When we encounter them, I’ve been helped to remember that…
2) We cannot convince everyone, but God can convince anyone.
W.E.B. Du Bois, a civil rights activist and writer, wrote haunting words in 1935. He knew that he couldn’t convince everyone of the truth, when he wrote:
It would be only fair to the reader to say frankly in advance that the attitude of any person toward this story will be distinctly influenced by his theories of the Negro race. If he believes that the Negro in America and in general is an average and ordinary human being, who under given environment develops like other human beings, then he will read this story and judge it by the facts adduced. If, however, he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation…then he will need something more than the sort of facts that I have set down.
Du Bois reminds us that truth does not necessarily cure ignorance or racial resentment. It’s tempting to think that there’s a perfect way to talk about race, one that can win the listener without offense. In a fallen world, however, such a way does not exist because sin is not just an abstract, mental falter that can be simply fixed with information; rather, sin is a willful rebellion of a heart that rejects the truth, and it must ultimately be fixed by transformation—that is, getting a new heart from God. There may be more strategic ways to talk about race, but Christians have a greater hope than our own skill in having this conversation. Praise God, we do have “something more” that can make our words effective–even to the hardened hearer.
That “something more” is prayer, as Jesus encourages us to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44); that “something more” is the Spirit of God, who can give a terrorist a heart of flesh (Acts 22:7). With us, it is impossible to change the hearts and minds of the racially resentful, but with God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).
Du Bois stated that he was not writing to people who needed “something more” to be convinced, and maybe we shouldn’t either. There are times when we shouldn’t answer fools in their folly (Proverbs 26:4).
Yet the same verse from Proverbs also says there are also times where we should answer fools in their folly. When we do answer them, let’s keep our eyes on God, especially since whom we fight ultimately isn’t just hostile flesh and blood. Brothers and sisters, we fight against the cosmic powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12).
Yet despite what any fool might tempt us to believe, truth will overcome falsehood, light will overcome the darkness, and the battle will be over soon.
Editors are constantly encouraging me to develop a catchy introduction that captures readers’ attention right away to encourage further reading. And so when I was thinking through sharing thoughts about why writing on race and ethnicity can be difficult, I literally thought I’d just skip the introduction and get straight to the facts. Why do that? Because writing about race is so incredibly hard. Some even go so far as to question the need to read and process material about race.
I have been told that speaking and writing about race could hurt my ministry. That publishers may not be able to publish me because my “platform” would be hindered by my communication on the topic of race. But for me, it’s more than a topic. Race, racial reconciliation, racial harmony, you name it, is about people made in the image of God. It’s not a topic that I can just ignore. And, as a black female in predominantly white spaces, I face the reality of my ethnicity every single day. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply reality.
“We are in 2017 and, surely, we are all past the race issue,” I’ve heard. My short answer is “No,” we aren’t past these issues. People are still quite unaware of the struggles of various members of our society. Even just recently, I shared a picture of my husband and I as we both lamented and celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the legalization of interracial marriage. Many of my friends didn’t know that something so precious as interracial marriage was illegal in our country at one point in time (and as recently as 50 years ago). I imagine that for those who became aware, they also gained a deeper understanding as to the pain that many African Americans continue to feel in this country. Fifty years wasn’t that long ago.
So, I continue to speak and write about this topic not because it’s near and dear to my heart alone, although it is so important to me, but because I believe wholeheartedly that this “topic” is a gospel issue and that the church, which I’m a member of, must speak up about it.
God cares: The Word addresses ethnicity extensively. Genesis 1 through 11 seems to focus rather intently on developing creation and establishing cultures. We see God rebuking racism in Numbers. Head over to the New Testament and God establishes that the gospel is for all nations and on the last day all nations will be present worshipping Him. I am only scratching the surface of God’s Word about his love and thoughtful creation for all people. He cares deeply about all nations and tribes and tongues. This is a great motivator to continue to write about the subject of race (and I would say for those who aren’t writing, to read). God does not discriminate.
It’s important to Jesus: There are probably several verses I could draw our attention to in order to demonstrate the importance to Jesus, but I can’t help but think of the most overused, but oh so rich, verse in the Bible. John 3:16 is rich because it sums up the gospel and includes the profound words, “God so loved the world.” Jesus died for anyone, specifically for “whoever” believes in Him and places their faith and trust in His finished work on the cross. Jesus gave his life for the nations, for anyone and everyone who believes! Go on and read the gospels, Ephesians, Galatians, Revelation; shall I go on? You will find the gospel–you will find Jesus. You will also find the wall of hostility has been broken down in the body of Christ– there is one new man. Jesus does not discriminate.
I write and speak, even in hard places, because I am convinced this is important to God. I write and address these topics because, until Christ’s return, strife among nations and people will continue. And maybe in some small way, writing will help advance understanding. It’s not easy but my prayer is that it might inspire others to move and speak because so much is at stake. Perhaps a catchy introduction will help hook readers, but I believe it is the gospel that will cause our hearts to be knit together in a way that only God can do.
I’d like to invite you to join the conversation. How can we all learn to gain a better understanding of each other? How do you think the gospel applies to this conversation?
This isn’t a topic left to the public, news sources, and/or politics, rather this is a topic that the church must not only take up, but be on the forefront of engagement. It’s about people – all who have been bestowed with the gift and honor of being made in the image of our God.
Lately, I’ve found myself evaluating in greater depth what I’m spending my time and attention on. I’ll ask myself questions like: What is the most important thing for me to do today? Why am I interested in this post? Will this help my family in the long-term? These questions aren’t born out of a struggle with guilt, by the grace of God. And I am not operating under a system of rules that I think will add to my favor before the Lord, by the grace of God. The reason for why I’ve been asking these questions isn’t complicated, it’s simply learning to guard the little time I have within the 15 or so hours that I am awake within a 24-hour period. But these series of questions have led to more questions like: What do I find myself obsessed with? What would I like to do this year? How can I serve my neighbors better? What have I done for my church lately?
Thus, the start of a new series…
Over the summer, I’d love for you and me to explore questions together. These questions won’t likely be theological questions, rather I want to explore practical everyday life questions that might be actionable, or they could lead to confession and repentance in an area, or maybe the questions will help to stir love and affection for the Lord. They will likely be questions that I’m asking myself or asking my friends. They may even be questions based on a trend I see via social media.
And I’d love for you to participate.
If you feel compelled, I’d like to hear your answers to these questions either via the comments section of this blog or on my social media posts. I hope you would join me as we think and reflect on various aspects of life together. Every now and then, I’d love to feature your answers on my site. I’m going to give you a bit of a head’s up for next week’s question, which is: What Am I Truly Obsessed With?
I was inspired to ask myself this question after seeing someone quote a friend who said she’d like to be obsessed with the thing she’ll be obsessed with for eternity (paraphrasing). Next week, I’ll seek to answer honestly about my obsessions and then share why I hope to be more obsessed with the person I will have the joy of being obsessed with for eternity.
Until then, are there any questions you’d like for me to explore? Any questions you think would be useful to consider as an online community?
Recently, I watched a hilarious video about a couple pretending to visit churches looking for what might “fit them” the most. The parody has been viewed almost 200,000 times and counting, and it’s for good reason, it’s just that funny. And like most satire and parody pieces, there’s an element of truth to what it’s poking fun at. In this case, this satirical video touches on a problem.
There are many possible lessons or ideas we might be able to discuss from the video, but the thing that struck me the most was the fact that we do have churches with different DNA. I have had the joy of visiting various churches around the country and although many of the heart struggles of the men and women I’ve interacted with in those churches are the same, each individual church has its own overall unique feel, and every culture has its own emphasis. And for this reason I think it’s good for each of us to ask ourselves, when we talk about church life, disciplines, godliness, or living for the Lord, are we proclaiming ourselves and our culture, or are we proclaiming Jesus?
If you are a Christian, you have a ministry to others whether it’s “official” or not. We have a “job”, so to speak, to proclaim Jesus. As I was writing this post, I began to add scripture references to support that we are ambassadors for Jesus, I quickly discovered that there were too many to count. But perhaps the greatest commandment is enough: to love God with all of our hearts, minds, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). If we truly believe the gospel to be true, there’s no greater gift and no greater way we can show love than to proclaim Jesus.
But, if we are honest, how often do we proclaim Jesus? When you look at the blogs and articles that are written, and at our organizations and even our churches, would it be easier for someone to point out all the things we are for besides Jesus? Now, please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying if you have an Etsy shop you need to make sure it’s blatantly about Jesus. Instead, I’m thinking specifically of church cultures and what comes out of our mouths when we are living out the Christian life and interacting with others. And do these various church cultures and norms actually shutout people who need Jesus? Do we have a desire to proclaim matters that are grey in the Scriptures such as: working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, homeschooling vs. public schooling, diversity vs. less diverse, traditional services vs. contemporary, etc. What are we more likely to proclaim about ourselves, our churches, and our communities—the culture or Jesus?
In Michael Reeves’s excellent book, Rejoicing in Christ, he says,
“The center, the cornerstone, the jewel in the crown of Christianity is not an idea, a system or a thing; it is not even “the gospel” as such. It is Jesus Christ.… He is not a mere topic, a subject we can pick out from a menu of options. Without him, our gospel or our system—however, coherent, “grace-filled” or “Bible-based”—simply is not Christian.”
Yes! No Jesus, no Christianity. No Jesus and we are just stuck with culture. But, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:28). Our only boast is in Jesus our Lord in whom we find our wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption (verse 30). If we are to proclaim, let us learn and grow in proclaiming Jesus: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (1 Cor. 4:5). It’s not about us. Our living for the Lord isn’t about us. Our worship isn’t about us. Our desired practices aren’t about us. If we are going to proclaim anything, let it be this: Christ and Christ crucified.
Preaching to Myself, Too
If you’ve been around here long enough, you know I’m not telling you something that I have not myself already been convicted by or wrestling with. It can be tempting for me to place a great deal of hope in the diversity of my church, for example. I long for it and we are praying for it (and, by God’s grace, we are seeing growth! I have an awesome pastor!). But as I seek this diversity and as I encourage others to do the same, my prayer is that I’d do so because of Jesus. I’d like to say that I always proclaim Jesus, but who does? So, I’m in this struggle with you. Let’s grow together in making sure that our church cultures, mom groups, women’s ministries, you name it, are filled with the grace of God and the name of Jesus. Let’s ask God to help us make him our focus and not our culture.
Oh, and here’s that hilarious video for your enjoyment:
Over the weekend, my friend Thabiti Anyabwile tweeted a link to a clip produced by Together for the Gospel. I watched it, rejoiced, and then wept. The clip is a short section of one of Elder D. J. Ward’s, the then pastor of Lexington’s Main Street Baptist Church, sermons. He had pastored the Lexington church for 19 years before his death in 2008 due to complications from lung cancer. I have only found a little about him (John Piper’s tribute and a pastor attempting to collect his sermons) but what I’ve heard is worth learning more. His sermon will make your heart sing because the gospel makes our heart sing.
Below, I’ve attempted to transcribe most of this video, but please take a moment to listen and watch this clip from T4G. You won’t be disappointed!
I contend this morning that the death of Christ was not an attempt; it was an accomplishment. And now brothers and sisters, when one accomplishes something it means somewhere they had to have an assignment.
Well, what was the assignment? His name shall be called Jesus. For He shall save. Not attempt to save. Not try to save. Not hope to save. Not want to save. But He shall save His people from their sin.
Now I hear this, I hear this on television and I hear it in churches…that God has done all He can do. The rest is up to you. If the rest is up to you, then He didn’t accomplish it. If anything is up to you, He didn’t accomplish it.
I’ve even heard this: you’ve got to help God save you. He can’t do it by himself. If God cannot do it by himself, then He didn’t accomplish it. He’s a false god. He’s a liar and you best not trust Him. If He didn’t do it, then we ought to stop singing ‘Jesus paid it all’. Sing, ‘He paid some of it.’
Now brothers and sisters, if He did not accomplish it, we are here in vain. And you can have all the religion you want, if this was not accomplished, we are going to hell. It’s just that blunt, it’s just that simple, it’s just that clear.
But if He did do it. He doesn’t need your best and your works need not speak for you. If He did do it, you can leave here rejoicing that your sins are now under the blood. And He stands as your substitute, your mediator before God this morning. Pleading the blood. Pleading His blood. That perfect sacrifice that holy attainment, He’s pleading the blood. You can rest that all of my sins are under that blood.
Did He accomplish it? Did He fail? Do we need more having to come after Him? Do we need another prophet after Him?
I declare this morning He paid it all! He paid it all. Every drop of it. Every sin I was going to commit. Every sin I thought about committing. He nailed it to His cross and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
It is well with my soul.
Please watch and be encouraged, friends. Jesus did pay it all and it can be well with your soul!!
My husband’s job sometimes takes him away on trips that last a few days or even a week at a time. Each time he leaves, I battle the fear that he will never return. He boards a flight, and I imagine the plane bursting into flames. He rents a car, and I pray he doesn’t get into a car accident. The truth is, these things could happen (okay, the plane isn’t likely to burst into flames, but go with me). I know women who have lost husbands in car accidents; I know there are times when people walk out the door for something routine and never return; but I can’t live constantly worrying about a future that hasn’t happened.
I’m not sure if there is a greater fear for women than the fear of what’s to come (or what won’t come). You and I rightly pray for our husband, children, schools, and whether to pursue a career, but we don’t often come to God in peace. Instead we come anxiously awaiting our fate. Goodness will follow all the days of her life, or her life, or maybe her life, we might think, but surely not my life. It’s hard not to have control, and one thing that we can’t ever determine is what lies ahead. Thankfully, God’s Word is packed with sweet promises that smash all our fearful thinking.
Imagine, if you will, that you are ninety years old. You are most likely frail with gray hair, potentially walking with a cane, though perhaps, these days, spending much of your time in a wheelchair because your once able and strong legs have ceased to perform. Now imagine someone comes to you and says, “Hey, Sarah, you know that child you’ve always wanted? Well, it’s time. You are finally going to bear a child.” You would look at that person in absolute disbelief. You might even laugh. All these years of waiting and longing and then, when every shred of hope is gone, a son is promised.
I am referring to the story of God’s promise of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah. In the pages of Genesis we read of how God promised Abraham a legacy of nations through the birth of one son (Genesis 17:16). Abraham and Sarah laughed in doubt as they heard God’s declaration (Genesis 17:17; 18:12). Sarah, I imagine, must have desired children prior to God’s promise. There’s a host of fears associated with the chance that you might not become pregnant, and, I would guess by her doubtful laugh, she had given up at the age of ninety on the prospect of ever conceiving. Could you imagine actually becoming pregnant at ninety?
With a rhetorical question God challenged Sarah to trust Him, after she had defiantly laughed in doubt that she would become pregnant: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). God fulfilled His promise, and Sarah miraculously became pregnant. But once she did become pregnant, she had nine months of waiting to see how her frail, weak body would respond. Would she be able to carry the baby to term? By means of a miscarriage would God teach her a lesson about trusting Him? I don’t know about you, but those are some of the thoughts I might battle after becoming pregnant at ninety. I would struggle with fear of the unknown. I would want to be in complete control of the situation. Perhaps I would struggle because I’ve had some of these fears come to fruition. I have experienced four miscarriages and have had to fight the fear of losing a child through each pregnancy.
You might be thinking, Yes, but everything turned out exactly the way these biblical characters hoped. Yes and no. Sarah would have loved to have had a child at a younger age (I assume). She died at 127 years old, leaving Abraham a mourning widower, never getting to see her son Isaac marry (Genesis 23:1; 24). And as we know, life continued to be difficult for her descendants. Did it turn out the way the Lord planned? Absolutely! And does God redeem it in the end? Yes. But you can’t see the future in your own life like you get to in God’s Word. We don’t get the whole picture, do we? So we have to trust the Lord because only He knows. But there is one thing guaranteed, which is awaiting you all the days of your life: God’s faithfulness.
Those words—God has been faithful and will be again—appear in the lyrics of “He’s Always Been Faithful” by Sara Groves. In the song she recounts God’s faithfulness through each morning and each season. She recounts, “Season by season, I watch Him amazed; in awe of the mysteries of His perfect ways.”1 Every page in God’s Word shouts of the faithfulness of God. Each story leads to Jesus and to the redemption of the world. And if we look, we can see God’s faithfulness to us now.
Every page in God’s Word shouts of the faithfulness of God. Each story leads to Jesus and to the redemption of the world. And if we look, we can see God’s faithfulness to us now.
In Deuteronomy 32:4, Moses speaks of God as the “Rock” whose works are “perfect” and ways are “justice.” He is “a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” And we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 of Paul’s confidence in the faithfulness of God: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” And elsewhere Paul writes that God will finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6). Psalm 89, though a lament, still sings of God’s faithfulness: “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. . . . O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?” (vv. 1, 8).
You and I have to fight to remember the faithfulness of our Father when we are faced with great fears of the future. Ask yourself, how has God been faithful? This year you can count on the Lord to be faithful again. This doesn’t mean that everything will turn out exactly as you desire. This doesn’t mean each prayer will be answered as you wish. But it does mean that in God’s goodness and sovereignty, He will work all things together as He sees them to be good for you (Romans 8:28). We may not see the evidence of God’s faithful hand until the end of our days, but we know it will be there.
(This piece is an excerpt adapted from chapter 2 in Trillia’s book Fear and Faith. )