Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Presence of a Monument Cannot Twart The Power of A Heritage

The presence of a monument can invite the power to make a statement. The photo presented below was taken in mid-1966 while my father was deployed in the Republic of Vietnam, serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. His deployment occurred in the midst of very volatile times at home and my mother's disposition reflected the tension of the times and the danger of Dad's duty assignment.

The occasion of the photo was a visit to the most prominent monument in the town of Port Gibson, Mississippi, during my father's deployment. This visit was not a minor issue and invited some controversy at the time, yet allowed us to make a statement - literally and figuratively - that my parents, raised at the height of Jim Crow in the very heart of Dixie, were now making sacrifices in freedom that obliterated the philosophy of slavery and servitude espoused by the system that erected that monument.

The presence of such monuments rightfully stir strong emotions, yet also provide us with powerful opportunities to reflect on the bad,  commit ourselves to the good and educate those who follow us regarding the costs of evil and the sacrifices required to overcome it and sustain truth and beauty in a free society.

I am concerned that the demolition of such monuments will eventually lead to the denial of transgressions and a sweeping cultural amnesia that will open the gates for evil's reemergence and render prior gains in vain.  I propose that we allow these monuments, in all of their offense, to provide us with opportunities to remember, teach and learn with bold intentionality.

Using these monuments as vivid reminders of our nation at its worst can provide us with powerful  reminders of how we should not live so that we might avoid revisiting the unrighteousness of our past and so that this great experiment called America might not perish from the earth.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The War Rages On – Confronting Torches and Hoods

The War Rages On – Confronting Torches and Hoods

In the modern era of warfare, there is much discussion of “winning the hearts and minds” of those we engage in combat.  This objective gets mixed reviews, and is sometimes met with annoyance by those who are more focused on the less ambiguous objective of “closing with and destroying the enemy.”  Nevertheless, as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who “no longer studies [the making of] war,” in the military sense at least, I find that the Bible has much to say about conflicts being resolved in those very places.  The Bible presents strong evidence that the seeds for conflicts are fertilized for germination in the hearts and minds of people.

Jesus declared that the act of murder incubates in a mind consumed with anger. A major Biblical theme argues that it is the ill-intentioned, misdirected, driving passions of humans that lead to conflict, quarrels and destructive pursuits.  This has been the human condition since The Garden.  Nevertheless, from the Beginning, God has invited humans to seek Him out and to embrace the Way that leads to a transformation of one’s life pursuits through the renewing of one’s mind.
Our nation’s struggle with this renewal manifests itself regularly in issues of race. This struggle flares up repeatedly to the point of producing violent clashes in the streets in every generation. The conflicts and challenges have not only multiplied, but intensified and grown in complexity.  The sweet tastes of victory we have celebrated with great joy, seem woefully na├»ve upon reflection in the present day.  The true source of these conflicts and challenges must be understood to be overcome on any meaningful level. 

In pursuit of such understanding, as the Apostle Paul addresses his Sisters and Brothers in Rome on how to conduct themselves issues of human interaction in Romans chapters 12 leading with two primary guiding commands: “Stop being conformed to the pattern of thinking utilized by everybody else in the world.”  Rather, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  One cannot carry out the New Commandment issued by Jesus with the Old Patterns of thinking dominating one’s mind.  The act of transformation Paul demands generally does not occur in rallies or marches but is forged in the kiln of committed friendships and nurtured in the solitude of prayerful contemplation.  As this transformation takes place, it is solidified by the casting of applied action in real life, real time.
The conflicts we are experiencing are not an accident and should not be a surprise.  

While U.S. culture celebrated unity in 60’s Coke commercials, 70’s Discos and 80’s appeals for peace – all “good things” on the surface, we laughed at racially charged jokes, used racial epithets behind closed doors and subtly nurtured stereotypes about friends and neighbors under the guises of “street smarts and reality.”  In the process, we fell into a self-made trap of complacency, relying heavily on symbolic gains while neglecting to secure, reinforce or protect those gains with lifestyles and out-of-sight behavior that reinforced the strides toward unity we believed we had made.  We failed to follow through with the gains achieved, because meaningful follow-through requires on-going risk-taking, unceasing work, and a willingness to be vulnerable over and over again.  As humans, we just don’t want to put in such a significant amount of effort and our laziness has produced a crop well integrated with weeds.

A dissuading aspect of the solution to the challenges of pursuing racial unity is, there is no easy way. Every generation will either contribute to unity and building understanding by laboring in the garden of loving one’s neighbor, or else abdicate the harvest to the unrelenting weeds of apathy, laziness or selfishness.  Marches and symposiums cannot replace conversations and meals.  Lawsuits, boycotts and shaming cannot replace dialog, forgiveness and reaching across the fence to truly seek to understand my close by, but very different neighbor.  Real life, unlike sitcoms and inspirational movies, doesn’t end with “happily ever after” but rather constantly reboots with, “so they kept on trying!” 

For that reason, I am not panicked by the events of the week, though I am troubled by them. While bothered by them and while shaking my head in sadness, I do not widen my eyes in surprise.  Since becoming fully engaged in the battle for truth and beauty after becoming a Jesus follower, I have never ceased to understand that we are at war!  It is a war for hearts and minds. It is a war for the souls of people.  It is a war that goes beyond what can be seen, invading the hidden trenches of thoughts, ideas and convictions.  Such a war must be fought perpetually, with spiritually powerful weapons, and physically manifested with real life, real time application day in and day out until our change has come.

For this reason, brothers and sisters, I call you not to protest or resist, but rather to fight with your face to all enemies of truth and beauty.  The Apostle Paul issues the “war cry” in this way,
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
 The scope of the effort expected of those who follow Jesus is extensive – taking on every pretentious, ungodly lie, and disciplining ourselves by reigning in every thought and submitting it to the standards of Jesus.  Our application of efforts must be unwavering in intensity and consistency and untarnished in purity and commitment to goodness.  Such effort may cause us to be misunderstood and even vilified by those choosing an alternate path.  I humbly remind you that while other paths may appear at a glance to be more satisfying and offer easier solutions to the challenges we face, the Scripture warns, “There is a way that There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 14:12.)

A major point that must be clearly understood in waging the war for truth is enemy identification.  Those holding opposing views in the battle for truth are not the enemy!  The Scripture says, “… we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12.) We are warned rather to watch out “your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8.)  Jesus stated that part of His mission – and ours – is one of rescue:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come

For this reason, we should approach those in opposition to righteousness not as enemy combatants, but rather as brainwashed POW’s, suffering from spiritual “Stockholm Syndrome,” powerfully under the influence of the enemy, but desperately needing liberation from captivity.  Therefore, let us not seek to strike down those who are bound in ignorance, but rather attack the “speculations and lofty arguments” that originate from the enemy himself. Rather, let us steadfastly follow the new and living way Jesus has prepared for us, embracing the difficulty, looking past the ridicule that often accompanies righteous living and pressing on armed with love, perseverance and truth.  Let us not grow weary in doing good, being overcome by evil, but let us endure and press on, overcoming evil with good!  This is a war that will not soon end.  Therefore let us renew our resolve, focus our efforts and start knocking down the pretentious and speculations continuing to fight the good fight until our last breath or until our change has come.



Monday, July 31, 2017

The Goodness of Affliction

I continue to be troubled by the on-going and ever-increasing callousness and hostility evident in our daily interactions over the airwaves and social media.  It seems we cannot discuss differences without denigrating those who hold a different opinion.  We cannot win, without humiliating those we have vanquished.  We cannot succeed without crowing about the failures of those we have surpassed.  We lack compassion.  We lack the willingness to understand. We lack love.

There appears to be a hardened refusal to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.”   It is not convictions upon which we stand in refusing to consider differing points of view, but rather we stand upon mountains of arrogance. We do not take refuge in strongholds truth and beauty as much as we hide within fortresses of pride and prejudice.  We either scoff at those who are struggling as viewed from our perspective of achievement and success or else we berate those in need, supposing in our privileged estimation that those to whom misfortune seems to cling, deserve their wounds or else have earned their difficulties. 

As a pastor, I am often asked “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  The short answer is, “I don’t know.”  Nevertheless, after experiencing a significant personal failure earlier in life and while currently dealing with a chronic health issue, I have come to see losing and suffering as great teachers in the school of character development and priceless guides along the path of walking with Jesus.  What’s the lesson?  Psalm 119, verse 71 best captures the heart of the curriculum, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Affliction – be it in the form of a setback or an ailment – can transform one’s indifference to the plight of others to a sensitivity in the difficulties encountered throughout life. While the affliction itself may not be good, it can lead to good for anyone who uses the pain of it to enlighten, inform and sensitize them to those situations when for whatever reasons, life just doesn’t go one’s way.  Affliction can draw someone closer to God and allow them to learn His decrees, understand His precepts and walk in his ways with a freshness and energy not always experienced when one is caught up living the good life, problem-free.

If the medicine of affliction has its greatest impact, the person afflicted will not just be more sensitive, and compassionate in practice as well as in theory. Justice Roberts captured the essence of this impact in expressing his hopes for a group of youngsters he addressed in a graduation speech.  He said,
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don't take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.”


If we can grasp the kind of compassion and understanding about which Justice Roberts spoke, perhaps the afflictions we experience in life will not have been for nought and our interactions with one another might lead to more understanding and cooperation in our daily dealings.  Though I don’t wish ill for any of us, I do pray that each of us can extract the precious stones of understanding from the ashes of life’s setbacks, and mine the gold of compassion from depths of our seasons of despair. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Dealing With Race In the Southern Baptist Convention

Recently, a Brother Pastor announced his parting of ways with the Southern Baptist Convention over a rather clumsy handling of a resolution presented during the 2017 national meeting of the Southern Convention in Phoenix.  The purpose of the resolution was to affirm the Convention’s commitment to the Gospel’s affirmation of the equality of all people regardless of ethnicity, specifically by issuing a rejection of “Alt-Right” theological heresies.   After being asked by a number of friends what my thoughts are on the matter, I decided to post my convictions for anyone who cares to know them.  These convictions are my own and questions or thoughts should be addressed to me.

Regarding Lawrence Ware’s assessment of his Southern Baptist experience that have moved him to sever ties, I believe it is an honest reflection that accurately describes some churches, local associations and state conventions, but not all. I cannot speak for Southwestern Seminary or other associations exhaustively, but I can speak about my own experiences in 3 separate Associations and State Conventions as well as one seminary.

I've been a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville for 2 years now and have seen the administration there make great attempts to confront issues of racial justice.  I can also affirm that there is no political “Trump Bandwagon” at Southern.  In fact, during the election, the president of Southern clearly expressed his concerns and why he would not support then candidate Trump’s White House Bid in the face of much criticism (https://caffeinatedthoughts.com/2016/07/albert-mohler-russell-moore-donald-trump-christians-voting/).  The professors I have had the privilege of knowing have woven the issue of racial justice into the classes I have taken in the Global Missions Track and there is a robust desire to reach more African Americans and Latinos, though minority professorships are wanting -- as they are in many institutions of higher learning in general, even secular liberal ones.

My own faculty advisor is the descendant immigrants and the son of missionaries who served in Colombia, where he was born. He and his family have served the Lord in Spain and Morocco, and are all multilingual.  He and his wife have 2 sons, one biological and one adopted African-American son. I am deeply impressed by his heart for reconciliation and trust him immensely to speak and live out the truth in love. Another leader at Southern has lead with true candor, acknowledging at an official function, the burden of the school's segregationist’s and pro-slavery past, including exposing the racism of the founder for whom the undergraduate school is named.  This kind of honesty has been the rule, not the exception in my experience at Southern and I have found like honesty in other pastors and leaders I have known throughout the Convention.

More directly, in my own history with my wife in the SBC as church planters since 1992, we've found people of like mind who love Jesus and passionately pursue social justice as a crucial part of Gospel living. I’ve also met others I wouldn't trust any further than I could throw a Confederate monument.  In our experiences, we have also found similar realities wherever we have served, whether dealing with “conservatives” or “liberals” or members of the SBC or other “liberal” denominations.  In every walk of life, whether we’ve found gaps between practice and preaching or faithfulness in following Jesus, lifestyles always centered more on the personal convictions of individuals, not the denominational handles they carried.

Nevertheless, I understand and respect Pastor Ware’s choice. Like all choices, one’s immediate experiences will greatly flavor one's decisions.  My experience with Luz has been a mixed bag, as has been my life among many different Americans in various locations and areas of service. As for us, as long as individual churches remain autonomous in their associations within the Convention, and as long as I see a substantial remnant fighting for righteousness – and I do see that reality presently - I see no reason for me to disassociate myself from the convention.  The Convention is not perfect, but in its recent history, the Convention has made significant attempts to openly acknowledge its failures (http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention).  Biblical convictions have also touched the hearts of many who remain in the Convention and who are at the grassroots level doing the hard work of being peacemakers and bridge builders.
 
I have always tried to live as a “human Bridge of reconciliation.  I accept that part of my mission as a bridge means getting walked on.  At this time in my life, my post and orders are clear to me and I will guard this mission post of reconciliation until properly relieved.  In my limited human view, that probably means the Death Angel will be the Captain of the guard who issues my final relief. Therefore, I press on!

Respectfully,

Samuel D. Jackson 
Church Planting Missionary/Pastor


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lesson I Learned From My Father (Adapted from an article written for The Racine Insider, July 2017 edition)

Just over a month ago, I laid my father to rest as his earthly sojourn came to an end after an extended bout with early onset dementia.  As a pastor, I have officiated countless funerals, but none delivers the emotional complexity of burying one’s own parent.  All at once, I felt the responsibility of comforting family and friends who needed spiritual support, the duty of ensuring his military service as honored and the grief of having lost my first and greatest hero.  As I reflect on why my father was such a heroic presence in my life, I am reminded of the importance all fathers have in creating a healthy and stable life for their children.

When I describe my father, I usually say that “If you would take Andy Griffith from the old TV show, dip him in chocolate, and make him a married career paratrooper with me in the role of Opie, you’d have a good picture of what my father was like.”  What are those “Andy Griffith” characteristics that made my father such a memorable and impactful character who influenced so many for the good?

My father was courageous.  Leading a family takes courage, and my father had courage in abundance.  As a paratrooper and combat veteran, no one doubted my father’s courage. That courage manifested itself in a commitment to truth, a unquenchable thirst to see righteousness prevail and an inclination to put oneself between danger and those you love and desire to protect.  A good father reassures his family through daily actions of responsibility and endless “stepping up” that there is no obstacle he is not willing to confront nor is there any challenge he is not prepared to face for the benefit of his loved ones.  He exhibits physical and moral courage that not only protects, but reassures and inspires those who walk with him under the family name.

My father was wise.  Friends, colleagues and members of our broader community sought my father’s input for advice and direction.  A good father carries himself in such a manner that his life reflects sound thinking, and his normative actions expose meaningful reflection and consistent application of the wisdom he expounds.  Families need men who think well, seek to grow in wisdom and freely share what they have learned with others around them.

My father was kind and affirming.  We live in an age where the ability to insult others and “play the dozens” is highly prized and loudly praised.  My father was consistently careful in his speech, and even as a military man, he was never one given to screaming, yelling or delivering insults.  He was committed to building others up and his words were always “seasoned with grace.” Good fathers understand the power of words and their speech reflects a commitment to help and to heal.

My father was resilient.  While there are innumerable stories of mothers who have endured all sorts of heartaches and hardships for the sake of their families, even in the face of grinding hardships, fathers sometimes have a spottier record when times are tough. My father was blessed to have men in his life who “hung in there” with him as times got tough and life delivered the occasional setback that can break the will of lesser committed individuals. Surviving a difficult 1940’s and 1950’s Mississippi childhood prepared my father for tough times.  As any good father, he leaned into the tough times, providing encouragement for all our family and stirring hope within us, illuminated by his smile, his confidence and his leadership of presence.  Good fathers do not run away from challenges, they led others through them.

My reflections on my father have served as a wonderful reminder of how his modeling and mentorship proved vital in shaping me as a man.  As a father who had benefited from such an example, and sought to live up to it, I encourage other fathers to remain faithful to the task, diligent to the calling and faithful to our duty so that future generations might not just praise us, but carry on our example for years to come.




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I Will Obey My Special Orders

In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In the political landscape of the United States, among the so-called Christian politicians and citizenry of all stripes and denominations, those who are supposed to hold the words of Jesus in the highest esteem and follow them, these words are not being demonstrated. We are now in the midst of tumultuous and contentious times where most everyone justifies selective unforgiveness, particularized hate and laser-focused malice towards those they believe “deserve it.”  A poison of hatred is now coursing through the arteries of the nation and is slowly killing our collective spirit. It has been present in our system for some time.  We have fooled ourselves into believing we’re still obeying Jesus by repeating his words, even as we rip into one another with unprecedented ferocity even to the point of justifying behavior we would “normally” call out as hateful or barbaric. 

Jesus did not want to be misunderstood, so he clarifies that we are not just to love those familiar to us and in agreement with us, but also and especially those we are inclined to hate and those we consider our enemies.  If we are to love declared enemies, how much more those who are compatriots with whom we strongly disagree?  For those who claim to follow Jesus, it’s time we stop imitating everyone else, and begin to imitate the One Whom we represent and Who has sent us to be salt and light in this world.  Our responses to those who vehemently oppose us on any issue must fall in line with the instructions of the Lord: Love them.  Pray for them. Greet them. Do good to them – striving for perfection in doing so. If they don’t reciprocate – it matters not. Our actions are not dictated by the actions or reactions of others.

In these times, I am reminded of the 2nd General order of the United States Army which says, “I will obey my special orders and perform all of my duties in a military manner.”  When I am tempted to act like everybody else around me or in front of me on the screen, I remember this order and apply it to my service with my true Commander Above.  I must choose, time and time again, to obey my special orders – the instructions Jesus has presented to me with no conditions or caveats – and to perform my duty, always, in a manner that is pleasing to Him!  I am on a mission from God.  I must embrace that mission with more intensity than my enemies embrace theirs and continue on mission with more tenacity than my fiercest foe. That means loving them, seeking to do good towards them, and blessing them even as they seek to harm me.


This is not an easy mission. If it were, everyone would be doing it successfully.  I am recommitting myself to the ways of my Lord in dealing with the evils of our day. I must choose the discipline of love and forgiveness, expressed in words and actions.  I will seek to tell the truth, seasoned with love and I will strive to exercise self-control in engaging any opposition, even when I get hurt.  Jesus is not offering another plan. If I find myself acting like my enemy, chances are I’ve deserted my post, and joined a different Army.   



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Are We There Yet?

Some days, events are so tumultuous and the world so wicked, one searches for the air evacuation in exasperation, asking, “How long, Oh Lord?”  Earlier this week, I read an account of a father and son from a nomadic people group were on a long journey.  Typical of kids everywhere, the son asked his dad, "Are we there yet?" The dad promptly replied, "We're never 'there' my child.  We're nomads." If that doesn't capture the essence of what our mindset should be like on this earthly sojourn as people of God, nothing does.

Hebrews 11:13 and the verses following says of people who have sojourned this planet during their lifetimes doing God’s work, yet never truly finding a place at which they feel at home, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”


When the troubles of the world are so prevalent that you find yourself feeling as if you’re just not quite at home, remember that if you’re a Jesus follower, you’re not.  We press on through the struggles of life, comforted and energized by the knowledge that, by faith, there is a place being prepared for us –  a Grand and Glorious place - and we’re not there yet! Therefore Brothers, Sisters, and Friends - in faith - Press on!