The Subtle Forms of Bigotry

4 06 2020

I am not a politician nor am I a political activist.  I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ.  Because of this you will not find me (or any of the staff of Gateway Church) posting or sharing political posts on social media.  If I do that, I immediately alienate half of the people I’m trying to love, reach, and help.  On the other hand, I want to and will share truth because the truth sets us free whereas lies enslave us (John 8:31-32). 

So, as a pastor, let me lead with some truth:  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).  Even if you’re not a follower of Jesus, I’m hoping you can see the wisdom in these verses in the Bible.  Unfortunately, a lot of America is doing the exact opposite right now; we are slow to listen, quick to speak (posting, even yelling, our point of view), and quick to become angry.  Will we ever learn that this contrary approach will never change anything?  Whoever changed their mind as a result of someone yelling at them?  You might get someone’s attention if you yell at them, but you won’t change their heart.

I believe that if we truly want peace in our country, we need to eliminate all forms of prejudicial thinking and behavior.  In principle, I bet that most people agree with that statement.  If you are one of those who does agree with me on this point, then I want to challenge you to holster your pointer and begin with the person in the mirror.  This is where we all need to start.  After all, as Jesus clearly taught us, there just might be some planks in our eyes that we are unaware of because we’re focused on a speck of dust in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

I’ve been noticing a trend (okay, maybe it’s existed forever) that I believe is at the heart of the division in our society and that’s keeping us from even being able to hear one another.  As soon as someone labels someone else as a racist or a bigot the conversation has ended.  After all, who would want to listen to such a person, or listen to someone who supports such a person, right?  However, I’m going to make an observation that I hope we will all at least consider:  when we label individuals and groups this way, this too is a form of bigotry.  Let me explain.

Often the word “bigotry” is used as a synonym for racism.  However, it’s not the same word nor does it have the same meaning.  To be racist means that I treat someone else with ‘prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism because they are a different race and because I believe that my own race is superior to theirs.’  Bigotry, on the other hand, is an “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.”  In other words, it’s entirely possible to be a bigot without being a racist.  And the truth is that probably every one of us has been guilty of bigotry at one time or another.  It’s not what you believe or who you support that makes you a bigot.  It’s your intolerance to the opposing view that does.  So let me give you some examples of how we do this.

The most obvious way we do this is when we use the word (or think in terms of) “all”:  all churches, all Christians, all whites, all blacks, all Hispanics, all republicans, all democrats, all conservatives, all liberals, all cops, all politicians, all who voted for Trump, etc.  Of course, you don’t have to use the word “all” to do this.  For example, “I hate the church,” “that’s typical of Christians,” “What do you expect for a conservative (or a liberal)?”, “Cops are racist,” “Black people (or white people) don’t understand,” etc.  By the way, if any (or all) of those above statements bother you, that’s good.  It should bother us because, while they are not all racist in nature, they are all bigotries.  They are all examples of such intolerance that rather than view each person as an individual, we lump everyone together so we don’t even have to listen to a single voice who might belong to that particular group we’ve singled out.

Another example of bigotry is when someone says, “You cannot be my friend if you voted for so and so or believe such and such” that is bigotry.  In other words, if someone has to agree with us before we can accept them, like them, or love them, that’s bigotry.  LOVE IS NOT AGREEMENT.  God doesn’t agree with everything I say, think, or do.  However, He loves me perfectly.  He loves you perfectly too.  This means that God’s love for us can never get better because it’s already best.  It can’t increase because it’s already maxed out.  Nor can God’s love decrease for us either…no matter what we’ve done or will do.  God is love (1 John 4:8)!  His perfect love is part of His perfect nature:  it’s immutable (it doesn’t change)!  In other words, His love is just like Jesus (who is God incarnate) “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 11:8).  In fact, God doesn’t stop at merely tolerating us.  Who wants to just be tolerated?  On the contrary, Jesus loves us perfectly giving us grace and mercy “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).  Shouldn’t we follow suit for each other and especially when we don’t agree?

Still another example of bigotry is when we share something on social media without even fact checking it.  By the way, there’s another word for this:  gossip!  When we gossip (whether with our mouths or our posts) we have automatically inserted our own prejudice into the matter.  We want it to be true and so we share it as truth.  However, did we even bother to check to see if it is true, or if there’s another side to the story, another point of view, or another perspective?  People are not guilty just because they are accused of something and hearsay evidence is still not admissible in a court of law.  The reason behind this, of course, is that gossip is not accepted in a court of law.  NOTE: cites like TruthorFiction? or Snopes are not perfect (sometimes containing bias), but are often very helpful at getting at the truth or at least showing us another side of the story.

Finally, often calling someone else a “bigot” (or any name for that matter) can be a form of bigotry.  I know that sounds weird, but please hear me out.  It’s impossible to know what is in someone else’s heart.  We can only make a proper judgment from actions alone.  And even then we need to be careful for as Jesus stated so clearly, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).  It’s very easy to misinterpret someone else’s actions or misconstrue what someone else meant.  How can we call someone a bigot when we truly don’t know that person?  Is that fair?  Would it be fair if someone who doesn’t know you labeled you?  In fact, I bet you already have experienced this pain in your life and know what I’m talking about. 

When we label someone it’s often because we want to give ourselves permission not to have to even listen to them.  Even if they say something good, it doesn’t matter because they are a hypocrite, or a bigot, or a racist, or a homophobe, etc.  Furthermore, when we do this we give that other person absolutely no room (and no grace!) to change.

When I was a lot younger I had an anger problem.  In overcoming this issue (that was in danger of destroying my family, my marriage, and my very soul) I had to train myself to look for another perspective when something bothered me or offended me.  For example, if someone pulled in front of me on the freeway, instead of jumping to the conclusion that that other person was a jerk, I intentionally looked for other explanations behind the offense.  Maybe that other person was in a hurry because they were rushing to the hospital to see a loved one who was at death’s door.  Maybe they were late for work and were in danger of being fired.  Or maybe they just didn’t see me and it was an innocent mistake (which I have committed myself).  In other words, I trained myself (with God’s help, of course) to give others the benefit of the doubt…to give them grace and mercy.

What I’m getting at is this…  If we as a nation, want to get on the other side of this turmoil, violence, hate, racism, and bigotry in every form we all need to look in the mirror first.  You can’t change the whole world no matter how much you want to or how loud you yell.  However, you can change you.  So I challenge you to make a commitment that from this point on, you will be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry.  Let us strive to change hearts and not just win arguments, and to truly love one another and especially when we don’t agree.  Love is not a feeling.  It’s a choice!

Mel





That’s What Love Does

28 05 2020

Here I am staring at my screen and my keyboard, trying to come up with something that makes sense of everything, trying to come up with some words that make things better in some way, yet the words are very slow in coming. The fact is, I don’t know what to say. What happened to George Floyd was horrific. It was abusive, brutal, cruel, and, in my opinion, it was murder. However, does stating the obvious do anything to make things better? Do I want to see justice done to the police officer who abused his power and George Floyd? Absolutely! Do I want to see justice done to the officers who stood idly by and watched the whole thing without lifting a finger? Absolutely! Unfortunately, the wheels of justice often turn slowly, and sometimes they do not turn at all.

But what can “I” do? What can “you” do? Is there anything at all that we can do? As I prayed about our country this morning, the Holy Spirit brought some things to mind.

It was right around the turn of the century when I found myself performing at an elementary school in Corsicana, TX. As a professional school speaker and entertainer, I would hook the kids’ attention with yo-yo tricks, storytelling, magic, balloon art, and a whole lot of humor and playful banter. In the meantime I would also be both encouraging and challenging them with an academic and character message. After the show, the kids would then be able to purchase a yo-yo if they wished, though they were never pressured to buy one. The show was generally very well received. However, on occasion there were those who impugned my motives and this created some tension.

Now let me explain the area of Corsicana that I was in that particular morning for this particular show. It was smack dab in the middle of project housing. In other words, it was a very poor area. Also, the school was predominantly African-American. Now let me be clear, I did not think of myself as being the “odd man out” because I’m white, though I was aware that I could experience some racial tension that day. Still, kids are kids no matter what color they are, and people are people; every single one of us special to God and created in His image. I wanted to be there and I felt like I was supposed to be there.

I took the job as a speaker/entertainer because I love kids (I LOVE PEOPLE!) and I wanted to make a difference wherever I performed. While I couldn’t talk about Jesus within public schools, I knew that I could be a representative of Christ to the kids and teachers at each one. In other words, I could let Jesus love them through me. During my time as a yo-yo man I performed at around 3,500 schools for over one million kids and before every single assembly I would pray that God would give me favor at each school, that He would help me to single out (in a good and positive way) those kids that needed an extra special touch of His love and encouragement, and that He would help me bump people closer to Jesus.

As I started the show in Corsicana that morning, I spied one particular teacher near the front who was obviously not thrilled with me being there. Her body language seemed to convey, “Why is this white cracker here wasting valuable education time and exploiting our poor kids?” Of course, I don’t know what she was actually thinking. However, it was clear that she did not like me nor want me there. So there she sat with her arms crossed, frowning, and determined to not enjoy the show.

So what did I do? Did I ignore her? Nope? In fact, I focused on her. Not by addressing her, but by praying for her under my breath and in my mind as I performed. I refused to just endure this moment. Instead, I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference. I prayed that God would crack that hard shell around her heart and give me favor with her. I prayed that He would open her eyes that she might see that I too loved her kids. I prayed that God would destroy the hate and distrust that divided us. I prayed that God could even heal her heart and use me to do it. And God answered my prayer! In fact, right now it’s bringing tears to my eyes as I vividly recall the memory of her as she dropped her guard.

I had invited a child on stage with me, and as I playfully bantered back and forth with him and then presented him with a ridiculous looking balloon hat, the dam of distrust broke wide open in this teacher’s heart as she threw her arms wide open and laughed enthusiastically. Gotcha!

After the show, many of the kids thanked me for coming as was the custom. Sometimes teachers did so as well, though most were busy managing their students and trying to get them back to class in an orderly manner. On this particular day, one teacher made sure to tell me, “Thank you.” Yep, it was her, because that’s what love and prayer does! They move the immovable. In fact, I hope that one day I will get to see this wonderful lady on the other side of eternity and that we will get to laugh and reminisce together about that day we met so many years ago. I hope for this because I prayed for her soul that day too.

If we want to see change in our country (and I sure do!) it begins with the people of God, not stepping up on soapboxes, but praying, being real, and loving everyone (regardless of their color) that God puts in our path. Step one is PRAY!

Mel





Has Your Heart Grown Hard?

7 05 2020

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it. 
Proverbs 4:23

Stone Heart

Has your heart grown hard? As I write some thoughts about this question and this issue, a warning bell rings in my heart. It would be so easy to read this and think of someone else. However, I want to challenge you to examine your own heart. After all, you can’t control what others do, think, or believe. Neither are they your responsibility. You are responsible for the person in the mirror.

One of the easiest ways to know how your heart is doing is to pay attention to what’s coming out of your mouth. How do I know this? Because Jesus said so: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34). The Holy Spirit shined a light on this truth in my own life years ago while I was fishing.

I was pursuing the elusive steelhead on the Walla Walla River not too far from the church I was an associate pastor at once upon a time ago. It was one of my first casts that day. Up to that point I had been skunked. However, I don’t give up easy when I’m fishing. I enjoy fishing just for fishing sake and being alone in nature. On the other hand, I love catching fish even more than that. In order to do that, successful fisherman know that you need to go to where the fish are and not expect them to come to you. So I eased up the bank and attempted a long cast to an eddy on the other side of the river, and I sailed my lure right into an overhanging branch directly above that eddy.

Normally, it would have been simple and easy to wade through the stream and disengage my lure from the tree by hand. However, it was the fall and navigating the Walla Walla that day was difficult, and potentially dangerous (because of the recent rain storms). So the safest course of action was simply to break my line off and tie on another lure (which I hate doing!).

You know what’s worse than snagging your lure and breaking it off? Doing it two times in a row! Which I did that day, and as I did so a list of expletives rolled off my tongue. In the very next moment I was apologizing to God for my lapse in self-control (because God does care about the words we use, Ephesians 4:29 and Ephesians 5:4) at which point the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “What’s wrong with your heart?”

I answered, “I don’t know.” However, the Lord had put his finger on my problem, and it wasn’t with my tongue alone. That was the symptom. The problem was with my heart! Over the next few months that is where I focused my attention and cooperated with God in addressing the real problem. Truly it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) because God loves us and cares about the condition of our hearts!

So how’s your heart? Has it become hardened? If so, maybe you feel that you have some good reasons for this, and maybe you do. However, God loves you so much and all the people that you will negatively influence because of your hard heart, that He will not let this go. After all, His covenant with us (the New Covenant) is centered in a new command: the law of love (John 13:34-35).

So here’s what I want to challenge you to do: measure your words, actions, and thoughts against the following definition of love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.  
1 Corinthians 13:4-8

So again, how’s your heart? If God has put his finger on something, don’t deny it, whitewash it, or downplay it. Instead, choose to cooperate with Him, ask for forgiveness, choose to forgive, offer restitution, make things right, and let God heal that hardened heart of yours and make it soft and pliable once again.

Mel





What Are YOU Putting YOUR Stock In?

16 04 2020

World Mortality Rate 2020If there is a silver lining with the Coronavirus, it’s that it’s forced us to face our own mortality.  Last week just over 5,000 people died of this nasty bug.  I heard a doctor this morning say that more people died last week than any given week in modern history.  When I heard this, I said to my wife, Denise, “I don’t believe that.”  This morning when I got into the office I did some research and what I discovered blew me away!

Now please don’t misunderstand me.  Without a doubt, COVID-19 is a potentially deadly contagion (of course, 98% or MORE will recover).  In addition, it has a relatively longer incubation period (the amount of time between catching the virus and beginning to show symptoms) and a relatively longer recovery period than your basic flu bug.

Furthermore, social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates, no doubt have mitigated (at least to some extent) the spread of this disease.  These precautions have also helped both hospitals and research to catch up and bought some time so that better treatments could be found.

However, did more American citizens die last week than any other given week in modern history?  ABSOLUTELY NOT unless modern history started last week!  In fact, less died than usual.  While it was our highest Coronavirus death count in the US, the overall death count for all causes was down considerably.  On average, just a little over 54,000 people die each week in America from various causes.  However, last week 49,770 people died from all causes including COVID-19.  Now, let’s compare this to the week of February 8th of this year when 57,094 people died of all causes and ZERO people died of COVID-19In other words, last week, OVERALL, was a pretty good week in America.  Of course, you’d never know that if you just took the media’s word on it and didn’t check the facts.

The fact is, anyone of us could die in a heartbeat.  The mortality rate for everyone of is still 100%.  Furthermore, Jesus could come back and take us all home even quicker than that.  In fact, the Word of God says this:  “… in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52, emphasis mine).  With that said, what are you putting your stock in, the perishable or the imperishable?  The temporal or the eternal?

When we focus on this life, ourselves, taking care of me and mine, worrying, holding grudges…all of these things are investments of time, energy, and money into what will perish.  However, every moment we put our trust in Jesus, we love and care for others, we give faithfully, we forgive, we share the Good News, we worship Jesus, we say “no” to some things so we can “yes” to God…then we are investing in that which will last forever.

As for me, I am not even a little bit scared or nervous “…because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (12 Timothy 1:12).

What are YOU putting YOUR stock in?

Mel





Bend Us, Lord…Bend ME

21 02 2018

Today my prayer changed.  Today my heart changed.  Let me explain…

As is my custom, as I was driving into work today, I was praying the Lord’s Prayer (I often use it as a tool to guide me as I pray).  As I was praying for the Lord’s will to be done in me and at Gateway Church, I had this thought and said it out loud, “Lord, I feel like we’re the Cleveland Browns.”  For those of you who aren’t football fans, please bear with me for a moment as I bring you in the know.

The football team we know as the Cleveland Browns are perennial losers.  They used to be a powerhouse once upon a time ago.  However, they havAP STEELERS BROWNS FOOTBALL S FBN USA OHen’t even had a winning season since 2007.  In fact, that was only one of two winning seasons in the last 23 years.  Because they pretty much always lose, every year they get some really good draft picks.  In fact, this last year promised to be a decent season because they had a really good draft and made a lot of really good off-season acquisitions through free agency.  Could 2017 be the year they began to turn everything around?  Nope.  They finished 0-16.

Once upon a time, Gateway Church in Kennewick, WA (formerly Tri-City Foursquare Church) used to be a growing and thriving church.  As the newest coach…uh…pastor, in the six years I’ve been at the helm, although we’ve had some wins, we definitely have not grown.  Yet each year, I feel like this could be the year we turn things around (maybe you feel the same way…or hope…about the church you attend).  Like I said, “Lord, I feel like we’re the Cleveland Browns.” 

Yet God would change both my prayer and my heart as I moved on to pray for God’s will to be done in some friends who are on the verge of a major transition in their lives.  Because I don’t have a clue about what God has in store for them, but knowing their hearts to make difference for God’s Kingdom, instead of praying just for them, I began to pray for the city in which they live “Lord, your will be done in that city.”  That’s when God changed my prayer for my own situation.  And that’s when I began to pray, instead of “Lord, please bless Gateway Church and help us to grow,” to “Lord, your will be done in the Tri-Cities and help Gateway do its part.”  And as I prayed this new prayer, such a peace washed over my soul (like God’s Spirit was giving me an “attaboy!”).

Lately I’ve been praying a prayer borrowed from the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 where over 100,000 people came to Christ and which led to even more across the world (even to Azusa Street):  “Bend us, Lord.”  It’s a prayer they borrowed from somebody else, and now I’m borrowing it from them.  Today the Lord bent me.  He showed me my pride and self-centeredness.  Today God reminded me that Gateway Church (and myself) belong to the Church of the Tri-Cities’ Metroplex.  Today God reminded me that I belong to a larger team and I need to be a team player.

So let me challenge you to pray for your city and to do your part to help God’s Kingdom to grow there.  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! …For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1-3).

Bend us, Lord.  Bend ME.

Mel





Why Forgiveness Is Not Optional

2 05 2018

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard (even recently) “Christians” say these words:  “I’m not going to forgive…”  There are so many things wrong with that statement.  However, I’ll try to keep it simple.  Here’s how one well-known Christian leader put it:

“[If I am not willing to practice forgiveness, then] I have not even started to think about the meaning of Christian oneness which the world can see. The world has the right to question whether I am a Christian. And more than that…the world has a right to question whether Jesus was sent from God and whether Christianity is true.”  Francis Schaeffer

Forgive-because-youll-be-forgivenBesides the fact that Jesus said, “…if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15), there’s also this jarring truth from the Word of God:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.  1 John 2:3-6

In other words, if we choose not to “live as Jesus did” (which includes not only obedience unto death, but also loving our enemies and forgiving them) then it indicates something is seriously wrong with our relationship with God, that we either don’t know Him at all or that we are deceived (a “liar”).

When it comes to forgiveness, please understand this, my friend…  If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have it within you to forgive (no matter how grave the offense against you) because Jesus dwells within you by the Holy Spirit, and He is really good at forgiving. 

Forgiving someone doesn’t make them right.  However, it will make you free as well as powerfully reflect Jesus.  On the other hand, choosing not to forgive is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person will die of smoke inhalation.

The choice is simple.  TODAY, choose to forgive.

Mel





What’s “Really” Wrong in America

25 09 2017

Jacksonville Kneeling

You know what’s wrong in America?  It’s the same thing that’s wrong in every other country, in our political parties, churches, what’s wrong in so many marriages, and in so many families.  Here’s how Jesus’ put it:  “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”  Out of the heart comes hate and prejudice.  And out of the heart comes pride.

We would like to think that we are intrinsically good as human beings (btw, that’s pride that’s doing the thinking here).  However, the Bible and our histories tell us differently.  Because of pride we judge others by their actions but we judge ourselves by our intentions.  And we can’t even see this because pride blinds us to it.It’s our pride that keeps us from saying, “I was wrong” or “I made a mistake” or “please forgive me.”  Instead of forgiving or trying to understand, we shift the blame, we entrench, we fortify, and we attempt to conquer.

Trump & NFLTake this past weekend for example, it’s because of pride that our President would call several NFL players SoBs (maybe that’s not what you heard, but that’s what “they” heard).  It’s his pride that keeps him from seeing or understanding how this hurt these men, their families, and their teammates.  And it’s pride that keeps him from saying, “I was wrong to use the words I did” or “I went too far” or “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

On the other hand, it’s pride that drove many NFL players in how they responded.  And though their protest was both peaceful and a show of solidarity, pride blinded them from seeing how their actions would deeply offend so many of their fans.  It was pride that kept so many of them from seeing that others might view their response as a protest against America, our flag, and our freedom (and the soldiers who died for that freedom) rather than against President Trump (whose remarks they were actually protesting).  It’s pride that keeps them from seeing that owners do have a right to tell their employees how they should represent their teams (as a pastor I have free speech too, but I can’t say or do whatever I want without repercussions including being fired).

It’s pride that keeps so many supporters of President Trump from seeing and/or admitting when he is wrong or goes too far.  On the other hand, its pride that keeps some from seeing how the players might be wrong or went too far.  And it’s pride that makes anyone of us think that our own personal freedom of speech is more important than anyone else’s freedom of speech.

It’s pride that causes us to prop ourselves up, our gender, our group, or our race.  It’s pride that motivates certain police officers to prejudice and the abuse of power.  However, it’s also pride to assume all white police officers are like this and must be guilty when an African American is shot in the line of duty.

So what’s the answer?  It’s not more legislation.  That can’t change the human heart.  It’s also not more pride.  Pride is not a good thing.  If I’m propping myself up, I’m pushing someone else down.  Pride is a marriage killer, a family killer, a community killer, a nation killer, a world killer, and a church killer (the worst kind of pride is spiritual pride).  Pride is a relationship killer!

So how do we change this nation?  One heart at a time and it starts with the person in the mirror.  The first step and, in fact, the battle is this:  to admit you’re proud.  This is what God showed me a long time ago:  humility is not the absence of pride but the admission of it.  And when we admit this and decide to not let our pride control us, this is what happens:  “God…shows favor [or “gives grace”] to the humble” (James 4:6…brackets mine).  That’s right, you get God in your corner helping you.  On the other hand, if we won’t humble ourselves, we get this:  “God opposes the proud…” (James 4:6).  Do I even have to say it, that it’s not a good thing to have God working against you?  Very well then, enough said.

“…if my people, who are called by my name [not “America” but the followers of Jesus leading the way], will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14 (brackets mine)

Humbly your servant for Jesus’ sake,

Mel








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