No More Shackles

57939271 - silhouette image of barbwire fence in sunny day

You may not know that today there are people who hate the Gospel of Grace that Paul taught. There are “Christians” who spend time and energy trying to refute the claims of freedom found in the Bible.

They insist on staying in the confines of the Law, enslaved to a system of rules that they can never keep. To do so they have to rewrite Paul’s words or completely ignore them.

I’m grateful for the freedom that comes through believing in Jesus Christ. That’s the true message of the Gospel – the Good News. You don’t have to live in chains or in a barbed-wire fence, afraid to wander to close to the edges.

Jesus calls us to pure freedom through boundless grace.

Jesus is Enough

 

23211327 - the approaching storm over the black sea at sunsetThis past weekend, three of my favorite preachers used the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water in their sermons. You can read the incredible story in Matthew 14. I love this story because it’s such a great picture of our walk with Jesus too.

We heard Jesus call us, and we started out with smooth sailing. Before long our peaceful existence was interrupted by a storm. We don’t like storms. We don’t like interruptions. But what kind of life would a smooth-sailing, non-interrupted life be? He asks, tongue in cheek.

And how many times in a storm have you tried to find Jesus? Why does it seem like he is out for a stroll while we’re concerned that the storm may kill us? In Peter’s case, Jesus’ stroll was toward Peter in the middle of the storm. That’s probably always true for us also.

Peter thought water-walking was pretty cool, and he wanted to try it. Jesus invited him out of his safe boat into the raging waters. I wonder if you’ve ever heard that same call. “Come out of your comfort, away from your comforters.”

Then, reality sank in – no pun intended. Peter was not on a solid surface, this was water beneath his feet! When he realized this, he began going under.

“Lord, save me,” he screamed.

I wonder what Jesus would have done if he hadn’t asked for help. Actually, I think I know. I think Jesus would have reached down and pulled him up.

When you’re in the middle of a storm and all you have is Jesus. Jesus is enough.

 

My Town – My World

 

Tony 1960
I’m (front right) with relatives on a Greenville street in 1960.

I grew up in the South during the latter years of the Civil Rights Movement. My first schools were segregated. There were no minorities in my church, neighborhood, or family. Much has changed in my lifetime to make my life and my world more diverse. In fact, for most of my adult life I have been far removed from racism.
At least, I thought I was. I would have told you that I may be the least racist person I know. The churches I’ve served have all included people of different races, and skin tone is generally irrelevant to me. I’m inclined toward the underdog. For many years, my ministry has been geared toward the underprivileged, underserved, marginalized, and unwanted. I hate seeing people mistreated. I don’t like put-down “humor,” and I think most sarcasm is really rudeness in disguise. I get angry when someone criticizes other people for something that’s out of their control. I have little to no tolerance for racism.

About 20 years ago, I started a job that put me in contact with many lower-income people in our community. The majority of them were African-American and Hispanic. After several months on this job, I began to realize that I wasn’t as colorblind as I thought I was. While racism didn’t rise in me as anger or hatred, I sometimes felt indignation. It became obvious that I often felt that I was better than “those people.”

I knew better. I knew that was not the way a Christian should act, think, or feel. What gave me the right to think I was any different from any of them? I am not, nor have I ever been, rich. I didn’t grow up on the affluent side of town. Our homes were small, our streets were narrow, and our lives were simple. Why did a lighter shade of skin give me an advantage?

The more I became acquainted with these new friends, the more my thinking changed. The more my thinking changed, the more I saw the darkness in my heart.

This change came by being aware of the thoughts that arose rather than suppressing them, by acknowledging the sin of pride that fed those thoughts. I have had difficult conversations with my friends about what I’m really like rather than the image I prefer to portray. Little by little, what I’m really like and the image I prefer are coming closer together as I have learned to value others above myself, to see everyone as a child of God and as my brothers and sisters.

The recent spotlight on deaths of black citizens at the hands of police has been difficult for me to reconcile in our civil society. I know the issue is debateable, but regardless of blame and despite political posturing, we have to admit that our pride still fuels our feelings and actions toward our minority friends. When I respond in humility rather than bucking up in pride, the “changed me” feels sorrow for those deaths and longs for a way to make this world right.

I try to walk in that place of grace-filled humility daily. Recently, as I was walking down Main Street in my city, I saw scores of people playing Pokémon Go. Most were wandering quietly almost zombie-like. Soon, I heard a raucous behind me. As I glanced around, I saw a group of young black men running up behind me, phones in hand, yelling at each other, cursing loudly, and weaving in and out between other pedestrians. My serene stroll was shattered instantly.

The old me would have wanted to scold these men and shame them for their disgraceful behavior in public and particularly, I would have said, around women and children. This time, it was different. I wanted to run after them alright, but I wanted to run with them. I wanted to protect them and urge them to use caution as they enjoyed our city. I wanted to warn them to blend in more.

Wait, I thought, that should not be necessary. 

These guys shouldn’t have to stop being black any more than I should have to stop being old. How can they stop being themselves?

As I write this, there is a black young man in my living room and a mixed child playing in one of the bedrooms. I don’t want either of them to live in fear that their skin color will bring them harm or disadvantage. The way I see it, that starts with me. I must treat all persons equally. I must speak up when there is disparity. I must walk in humility and constantly challenge my misinformed thoughts with the truth.

I guess I have two points.

  1. Racism is a heart issue.
  2. Racism can be stopped by changing one heart at a time.

This past Sunday, our scripture was the “we’re all different, we’re all the same” verse. I believe it is truth.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭3:26-28‬ ‭NIV

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