Baltimore and Beyond

A few days ago, Baltimore police arrested a man named Freddie Gray. While in their custody, Mr. Gray died under suspicious circumstances. When he was later taken to the hospital, Mr. Gray was found to have a series of injuries that included his spinal cord being 80% severed. The Baltimore police have admitted mistakes.

Then, the riots broke out. Stores were burned and looted. Fire fighters and police officers were attacked. Cars were set on fire. On the heels of the riots in Ferguson, MO, it appears we may be on the verge of another summer of riots like we experienced in the sixties.

As Christ followers, how are we to respond to this? What are we to do? Prayer is an obvious answer, but sometimes, prayers have to have feet on them. That is, prayers have to be lived out in our actions.

So what do we do? First, there are a couple of things we don’t do.

One, we reject violence. Violence is rarely, if ever, the answer. The attacks by the rioters will bring a response by the police, which will bring more violence from the rioters. Violence begets violence. It never solves anything. Those defeated will only go underground with their anger, and then it will resurface. It may take years, even generations, but it won’t go away.

Second, we must also reject the “sound bite” responses given by politicians, so-called “experts,” and news commentators. The problem is too complex to be adequately understood in a five-minutes news segment. Not every police officer is a racist and everyone who’s arrested isn’t guilty.

On the other hand, there are several things we must do. First, we have to embrace justice. We cannot sit by and watch lives destroyed by a system that discounts anyone who isn’t of use to the system. What do I mean by that? For a child to be born in the United States of America and not have a chance is just wrong. You and I both know there are children, born in certain places and who live in certain areas of certain towns that, realistically, don’t have a chance. The schools they attend will not prepare them for their future. The streets they live on aren’t safe. The neighborhoods they live in aren’t well served. Christ followers must work for justice for everyone at every level of our society.

Second, we must work to break the poverty cycle that keeps too many of our neighbors trapped. Without a good education, you can’t get a job. If you can’t get a job, you don’t have the money you need. If you don’t have the money you need….and the cycle never ends. Throughout our history, Christians have done some of our best work when we engaged the issue of poverty. The gospel restores dignity to a person. The church brings community to a person and that community provides support and discipline that may be missing in a child’s life who grows up in a broken family.

No, these children aren’t our fault, but they are our responsibility.

Christ calls us to do all of this with love. We often read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings. Yet Paul didn’t write that passage for weddings, but for everyday living. His description of love lived out is a compelling challenge, but it is the way Jesus Himself responded when He was confronted with in His own life. Love is not only concerned with the victim, but with the aggressor. Both are in need of salvation.

Baltimore didn’t just happen over these past few days. These issues have been seething for years, but no one would do anything. Everyone said it was somebody else’s problem and now everyone has to pay.

The local church has to reengage. Throughout history, when the church has addressed those issues no one else wanted to touch (think Mother Theresa dealing with dying lepers in India), we’ve been at our absolute best. The gospel is for the whole person—mind, body, and soul. The church’s mission has to be to the whole person as well.

What Money Isn’t

Most married couples spend way too much time arguing about money. Most parents spend too much time working in order to give their children the things the parents think the child needs. True, no one in church is comfortable talking about money, but in reality, no one is comfortable talking about money.

One of the reasons we don’t like talking about money is that most of us aren’t sure what money is.

Let me begin by listing a few things money isn’t:

  • Money isn’t a measure of self-worth.
  • Money isn’t a measure of how important you are.
  • Money isn’t love.
  • Money isn’t power (political, corporate, etc.).

What money becomes depends on what we choose to invest it in. Whatever we fund is empowered to accomplish its purpose.

Left on the table, money isn’t anything. It doesn’t do anything.

Money isn’t important in and of itself, but how we spend it does reveal what we believe is important. We spend money on those people and things we believe are valuable. For instance, if you don’t tithe, then you don’t think the work of God’s Kingdom in the world is important.

Money does reveal what we believe matters. That’s the conversation most of us need to have: What matters to us? What do we value in our lives? Does our spending reflect that?

Find the answer to these questions and you’ll find a way to talk about money…because it will be tied to those things that really matter in your life.

Some of Us Stay

The story of Jesus and Legion has always been one of my favorite stories. There is something deeply compassionate about the way Jesus reached down to Legion and asked him, “What’s your name?” Is there any deeper desire in any of us than the desire to be known? At the end of the story, Legion wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus didn’t let him. Instead, Jesus told Legion to go home and tell everyone there what God had done for him.

Yes, that would be a great testimony. The man who once lived among the tombs is now in his right mind and coming home.

On the other hand, it would be the hardest place of all to witness. Too many people know the whole story. Too many people won’t let you forget who you used to be. Too many of these same people have hurt you in the past.

Going is sometimes easier. You can start all over. You can do things differently. You can turn over a new leaf.

Staying is hard. But most of the people Jesus dealt with didn’t follow Him. They stayed home. They found their ministry where they lived. In the very same places where they had suffered, now they had to find a way to serve. They had to find the mission in the mundane.

In my lifetime, Southern Baptists have been a great mission-sending denomination. All of our heroes are those people who have left to serve Jesus somewhere else. That’s great, but I’ve also learned the value of those who stay. Those who have the courage to work through their failures in the same place where those failures happened. There is a grace that comes with being able to stay with people when you’ve learned everything about them…and love them anyway. There’s a hope when you say, “I’m not leaving. Let’s do what we can today and we’ll get back to it tomorrow.”

We serve a God who doesn’t leave. No matter what, He never abandons His children. And sometimes, that determined love is shown through His people who are called to stay.

Not all of us go. Some of us stay. Sometimes the most challenging mission field is the one we live in today.

Passing Along Generosity

My father had nothing growing up. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Joking about “thinking dirt was toy,” couldn’t hide the hard realities of my father’s childhood. For that reason, my father couldn’t stand anyone to be in need. He would literally give away his last dollar. Then, he would smile at me and say, “Son, you can’t out give God.”

That’s where I learned about generosity. Generosity flows out of who you are much more than what you have.

As a pastor, I have a difficult challenge of talking about money to people who really don’t want to hear me talk about money. To be honest, I really don’t like to talk about money. To be even more honest, Jesus talked about money more than He talked about anything else. So, if you’re faithful to Jesus in your preaching, sooner or later, you’re going to talk about money.

Parents face the same challenge. How do we talk to our children about money in a generation that has mixed feelings about it in the first place? On the one hand, Millennials have seen money disappoint their parents and grandparents. Many of them remember the recent economic down turn and were impacted by the results. Some of them moved when their parents had to find new jobs and others were told they couldn’t go to the college of their choice because “the money’s just not there.”

On the other hand, they are tantalized by the digital revolution that seems to make “billionaires” overnight. Some “kid” designs an app that a big company buys up for a sum larger than the GDP of several small nations. And boom! Life’s solved.

So how do we talk to a generation that’s hearing both messages—first, that money can’t buy happiness and second, that if money didn’t buy you happiness, you weren’t shopping in the right store.

First, the gospel tells us that our worth isn’t dependent on the money in our accounts. I know this sounds basic, but it’s the basics we overlook that cause most of the problems. Remember the sparrows? We have to first model for our children the good news of the gospel. Life is more than stuff.

Second, talk to your children about money. You talk to them about drugs, cars, sex, grades, music, and sports—so talk about money. It doesn’t have to be heavy handed or dull. Just use opportunities to remind your children of why we make the money decisions we do. For instance, an unexpected car repair can help us teach our children about the importance of having enough money in savings.

Third, when you give to the church, make sure your children understand why you’re giving. It’s more than just paying the bills of the church. Tithing is about worship. Giving is our response to the generosity of God. We are a generous people because we serve a generous God.

All of this assumes you are a generous person. Generosity, like most important things of life, is more caught than taught.