The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 ESV

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Making Jesus Visible

Alice Patterson, author of Bridging The Racial & Political Divide - How Godly Politics Can Transform a Nation, writes,

"In a meeting I attended, a Black pastor friend who had supported Governor Mike Huckabee in the Primary Election, reported that he voted for President Obama. I was stunned. This pastor was a Republican. He was pro-life. He couldn't even talk about abortion without weeping, yet he voted for Barack Obama. His actions showed me that the breach between Blacks and Whites in the political arena was much wider and deeper than I could ever imagine. Given a choice between two White candidates, he would have chosen the pro-life one. But given a choice between a Black candidate who supports abortion and a White candidate who opposes abortion, he chose the Black one. Is it a stretch to say that for many Black voters race trumps values?"

I've read the book, it delves into a subject few care to talk about, but we all need to talk about and should be willing to address personally - the wide racial and political chasm that separates White and Black evangelicals.

I use the term “racial” reluctantly only because it is the term widely used to describe the differences that separate Whites and other minorities based on skin color, cultural and other ethnic differences. I believe that “race” is poor choice because there is but one race according to Acts 17:26, “...and he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” Like it or not we all come from the same blood line. There is only one race!

I believe that this “divide” between White and Black evangelicals is of great concern to Jesus Christ. He said as much when he prayed for us over two thousand years ago,

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message [that’s us]. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." (John 17:20-21 NLT)

Do we understand the standard to which we are being held? The oneness between believers is to parallel the oneness between the Father and the Son. It is not merely a matter of “getting along.” No, it’s far more organic than that. Our unity is grounded in the act of regeneration common to each believer whereby we “have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT).

Do we understand what is at stake here? The racial and political divide is deep between Black and White evangelical leaders. It is keeping us apart. It has fragmented the Church of Jesus Christ. It is presenting the world with a distorted, if not ungodly picture of the Body of Christ.

Three observations that relate to this divide,

First, our disunity must be an affront to God. As Jesus points out, when the world sees the Body of Christ as "one," the world will believe He was sent by God the Father. In other words, they will recognize He is God. Nothing can be more central to evangelism than the recognition of who Jesus Christ is. Our disunity, our divisiveness, the fact that we choose to remain apart from one another, and are content to remain apart, hinders the world from understanding who Jesus Christ is. That is a serious indictment.

Let me put it another way. As long as the Church of Jesus Christ is divided by “race” and politics, we do not incarnate Jesus to a lost world. They don't see Jesus Christ as the only one who can meet their need for salvation, forgiveness, healing and restoration. In other words, as long as we are divided, no matter what we say, we do not provide a compelling redemptive message to those outside of the Church. I wonder if the word hypocrisy comes to their mind at this point.

In my dialogue with White and Black pastors, I have suggested that we will not see the spiritual awakening in America we claim to long for, until we purpose to intentionally address this divide and are reconciled to one another!

Secondly, earlier in the same prayer Jesus prayed that God would protect His Church "from the evil one." He went on to state that "They are not of the world even as I am not of it.” (John 17:15,16 NIV)

Then He identified His strategy for their preservation, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NIV)

With the Holy Spirit indwelling us, His truth should be that which draws us and keeps us together. Perhaps I expose myself to the charge of being naive or idealistic when I suggest that there is but one “right” answer to many of the issues on which we disagree. In other words, on any political, theological, social or moral issue, God’s truth will always draw us together in consensus, not separate us in dissension. The challenge we face is to come to an understanding of what that truth is - together.

When speaking to pastors or others with whom I am seeking to bridge the divide, I have often asked them to speak into my life regarding issues where we have differences. I have often phrased it something like this. “I am on a learning curve in my efforts to gain insight into how Blacks think on this issue. I recognize that I do not understand the collective experience that shapes the Black perspective on this matter, so I need you to speak into my life. I am listening.”

I suspect that one factor hindering us coming to a consensus on some of the issues, is the fact that we view the issue from different vantage points. However, the nature of God’s truth is that it is both transcendent and absolute. Therefore I believe that a starting point for dialogue might be to work together in identifying and formulating a Biblical worldview through which to examine the social, political, economic, and moral issues where there has been disagreement.

For this to happen, we must purpose to build meaningful relationships. We must take deliberate steps to open up a conversation and dialogue. That means spending time together in open and honest interaction.

I believe that a safe place for that process to begin is praying together. Prayer in itself is a recognition that we need the Lord’s help. What better posture from which to begin the dialogue.

In prayer we can voice our agreement with Jesus’ two thousand year old prayer for us. I have had the privilege to be part of a weekly pastors prayer group of mostly African American pastors and leaders for the last four years now. In my experience, prayer has been the ideal setting in which to develop relationships. When you bow in prayer in the Lord’s presence regularly, love and trust eventually bind your hearts together in spite of the differences. I believe this might be the only context in which we have the opportunity to begin the healing process.

Thirdly, this is first and foremost a spiritual issue - a matter of the heart. The healing will take a work of God the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus was interceding with God the Father on our behalf to that end over two thousand years ago. Based on Jesus’ prayer I believe that His Spirit would take delight in facilitating such a healing.

In my personal journey on this road to reconciliation nothing has been more helpful than the realization that to experience reconciliation with my brothers and sisters, will first of all require a work of God’s grace in my heart and life.

The truth that has impacted me more than anything else in this effort, is repeated throughout the Scriptures. Simply put, humility before God releases His grace. The posture from which God will pour out his grace, is the humbling of ourselves before Him, followed by humility before those with whom there has been disagreement, mistrust and misunderstanding.

Over and over again I have turned to 1 Peter 5:4 and Philippians 2:3-4.
Peter wrote,

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” (NIV)

and in a similar vein, Paul admonishes us,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility consider others better than yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (NIV)

Humility is the great equalizer. It allows us to defer to others. It allows us to see ourselves and others from a godly perspective - as equals in Christ. God’s grace becomes the oil that dissolves our self-righteousness and lubricates the friction caused by of our differences.

As Alice Patterson has put it,

“The Lord places His anointing on those attempting to bring unity across racial, denominational, and political barriers, because it is an answer to his last prayer in John 17:21 that we would be one.”

Patterson's book is a resource I am using in my effort to foster dialogue among Black and White pastors and leaders. I wrote these words on the inside cover of a copy I recently gave to a nationally prominent African American preacher,

John 17:20-21 is burning in my soul.
It is for us today!
It is needed today!
It is God’s will for us today!
Let’s let Him make it happen today!
Verse 20 He is praying for us - [for it] to happen!
You have my ear.
(my cell number)

Mrs. Patterson frames the challenge before us,

“Are you willing to be the one who satisfies the Lord’s longing to find someone that He can use to heal our land? Saying yes requires that you climb down into the gully. Into this wide political and racial divide. Into this broken place. You will be required to stand in this place of brokenness long enough to deal with tough issues so the Lord can heal His body and eventually our nation. It sounds easy, but it must be challenging or the Lord wouldn’t need to search for such a person. He could just choose from the millions waiting in line for the assignment. ‘Choose me, Lord. over here! I’ll be the one.’” take up the challenge to make Jesus visible. Will you?

(You can order or find more about Alice Patterson’s book at her website

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