Recently, I have been reading a book called “Satan and His Kingdom” by Dennis McCallum. In one of the chapters, something hit me while I was reading. He talked about how Satan keeps us from taking territory for the Kingdom through distractions. He then gave an example about how Christians spent years--lots of money and energy--on prohibition (politicking to get alcohol considered illegal). This really did not do anything but produce anger toward Christians. “What does that have to do with diversity?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
For the past couple of months some NFL players have been protesting the American Flag because of police brutality toward African Americans. While there should be a Gospel centered response from the Church, the idol of patriotism has reared its ugly head once again. I truly believe the devil is using this to target God’s church in order to divide us and keep us from what matters most and what matters to Jesus: the souls of people. Is Jesus using this situation to show where our hearts are really at? Does Jesus care about our patriotism? Yes, I believe He does. If anything, I believe it shows where our heart truly lies: with Him and His Kingdom or with our country of origin and our nationality.
I know that this may sting, but let me challenge something. As a black man, I had to have a come to Jesus moment and choose which was more important, being black or being part of God’s kingdom. I had to “die to myself” and release my identity to join God’s kingdom and become His son. I’m not saying I had to give up my heritage or give up being proud of where I came from. What I mean is this: being black comes second to being part of His Kingdom. The same thing should go for pride in our nationality. The love of country and pride in our people should only come second to being part of the Family of God. Sure, we can be proud to be American, but being American should not supersede being a child of God and being part of His Kingdom. Our love of culture and country are offensive to Jesus if He does not come first. As God’s people, we need to reorient our lives around His purposes and His vision for His Kingdom. Here is how we can do this in light of social justice issues:
As God’s body, we should be “loving our neighbor as ourselves”, be “quick to listen and slow to speak”, and demonstrate fruits of the Spirit like love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. These things should rule our interactions with people, especially on hot topics like the NFL kneeling at the flag controversy. How can we claim to be fully part of God’s Kingdom if we do not allow his loving law to take priority control over our hearts, minds and actions?
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)
Again and again, I find myself coming back to Joshua’s encounter with “the commander of the Lord’s army.” I feel it has something super important to say to the church today.
Joshua was Moses’ successor. Moses led Israel for forty years. He prepared the people to enter the Promised Land by teaching them God’s commandments, directing them in the construction of the tabernacle, and interceding for them through all their rebellions. He was the man for the preparation, but not for the advance. For entering the land, they needed a soldier. So it makes perfect sense for Joshua to lead the nation next. After all, the Promised Land would need to be fought for.
The first great battle, if it can be called that, was Jericho. God directed Joshua and Israel there. They had spied it out. They had prepared themselves. They eagerly anticipated and expected their first victory. This is where it began. They were there at God’s command and on his business, and yet…
And yet, when Joshua came near Jericho he saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. He asks a logical question, “Are you for us or our enemies?” This figure must have been somewhat frightening. I would guess he would be the type of man Joshua would want fighting for him, not against him. So I think his question to be both logical and prudent. It’s the answer that I think speaks to us still. “Neither.”
Even though Joshua was about to enter a battle that God himself had sent him to fight, the “commander of the army of the Lord” does not say, “I am here to fight with you. I am on your side.” No, he says, “neither”. The commander of the Lord’s army was not there to assure Joshua God was on his side, instead he was there to make sure Joshua and Israel were on God’s side. It is so easy for us to co-opt God’s endorsement for our side, our views, and our agenda. In just how many wars have opposing sides both claimed God was fighting for them? Are we not guilty of this still today?
Does this mean God does not have an opinion on the battles of our day? I am pretty sure God has an opinion on pretty much everything. The question is, are we seeking it out? Are we humbly bowing down like Joshua did and asking, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Are we getting on his side and working from there? Are we entering the holy place, seeking his face, and with trembling hearts and minds saying, “Father, show me your ways that I may walk in them?” Or, are we instead, giving into the spirit of the age and justifying our venting under the banner, “I have a right to my own opinion and can say whatever I want.”
There are lots of battles taking place in our nation today. The lines are drawn and people tend to pick one extreme side or another. Should those who claim to be Christ’s ambassadors enter the fray, shouting as loudly and meanly as everyone else? Should we not instead, stand out from the crowd? Jesus’ apostles included a tax collector and a zealot, representative from two extremely opposing sides of the issues of that day. They found unity, not on the issues, but by laying down their lives, picking up their own crosses, and following him. There cannot be unity in the church today, unless today’s disciples are willing to do the same. This is the starting place. Like Joshua there will be battles we will need to fight, but like him, first make sure we bow down, humble ourselves, and get on God’s side.
"Blood and soil," they chanted, invoking racist Nazi rhetoric of the past. With what appeared to be a fire of hatred in their eyes, these White Nationalists marched the Grounds of our University and our city seeking to instill fear. They came in hundreds. They came with guns. They came with torches.
How can one respond to such blatant hate, especially when it hits so close to home? Jesus said his followers are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14). As campus ministers at the University of Virginia, we had to think about what carrying this "light" would mean for us. How would we bear the torch of God’s fire for the world?
So we came with prayer. In the aftermath of the violence on our campus and city, we decided to host a prayer walk along the same path the White Supremacists took at our university. We prayed for the reconciliation, healing, love, and truth of God to reclaim what the enemy sought to steal. At various locations, we stopped and prayed out loud specific prayers for God to intervene at UVA. Many of our students and members from other ministries joined us in a moment of Christian solidarity.
We came with conversations. As the forces of darkness sought to build a wall of division between people, we built a conversation wall, literally. It stood all of 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Across the top, where everyone could read, we wrote: “How can you address racism?” In just three hours, the wall filled with hundreds of written responses from students of diverse backgrounds expressing their frustrations, solutions, and hopes. We engaged these students with gospel-centered conversations, offering Jesus as the solution to a world in division. It was the boldest question we’ve ever asked publically at our university, but sometimes we need our strategies to match up against what we’re fighting.
We came with attentive ears. “Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render,” Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together. How many times have we been quick to speak, to assume, or to overlook because we fail to intentionally listen? During this time of heightened racial tension in our country, I’ve discovered how humbling and instructive it is to engage with the experiences of our ethnic minority students. We learn a great deal when we take the time to see our world through a different lens. Take Bonhoeffer’s advice: “listening can be a greater service than speaking.”
The task is far from over, and let’s be humble enough to admit we don’t always get things right. It is out of our necessity that we turn to our God for courage, peace, and wisdom as we seek to carry his torch of reconciliation.
No matter what campus you find yourself in, it is such a strategic time to be on university campuses. We all, as campus ministers, have so much exciting work to do! In Christ, we have the answer for what our country and the world is yearning for-- the ministry of reconciliation. Let us labor with love and unity to be His ambassadors on our campus.
As you process what all this means for you and your specific university campus, I encourage you to pray. Pray for the connections your students are making on your campus Pray for those on your campus who are hurting, angry, or fearful. Pray for unity in the community of believers at our universities. Together, as the body of Christ, we can make His light shine like a city on a hill which cannot be hidden! Together we can persevere to continue reconciling students to Christ!
Chi Alpha at the University of Virginia
Martin Luther King day is a national holiday, but is it a holiday for the nation? Does it affect every single one of us? Or is it just for African Americans? Should I, a Colombian born, naturalized American citizen of Cuban parents, care about MLK Day? I mean, after all, the civil rights movement did not affect or involve my family or me.
Yet, I am planning on honoring the day in several ways. Not because of my ethnic heritage or even my naturalization, but because of my spiritual allegiance to the kingdom of God. As a follower of Jesus I am compelled and challenged to involve myself in the commemoration of this life.
MLK fought for those who society had marginalized and oppressed. Jesus too cares for the “least of these”. He cares for those others would prefer to ignore. His kingdom is one of justice and righteousness as Dr. King so often reminded us. “In words of the prophet Micah, he hoped that one day all persons elected to public office will ‘do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with [their] God.’ His hope for an end to war was rooted in Isaiah's vision that people will ‘beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.’ Biblical promises of ‘peace on earth and goodwill toward all’ were Dr. King's antidote to despair.” 1
As a believer in Jesus I am bound to love what he loves and hate what he hates. Martin Luther King Day is a day of celebration for us all because he, along with many others, helped the nation we call home to move from a place of segregating and discriminating against half its citizens and towards a place of equality. This is something we can all rejoice in. We were all set free. Some were set free from oppression and others were set free from oppressing. It is difficult to know which is the greater freedom.
Yet as we remember the life of Dr. King we must also remember that his vision, his dream has not yet become a full reality. We still live in a world battled with racism and injustice. There are still battles to be fought, perhaps not as obvious as those of his day, yet still as prevalent. As believers in the one who came to set men free, we must work within our spheres of influence to affirm justice, righteousness, and truth. We must fight, not just the battles that affect us personally, but also those that stand against the name, the ways, and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the words of Dr. King, we must be extremist.
“Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”2
1. “Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. King's Vision of Justice: Rooted in the Bible" David J. Lull
2. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Dr. Martin Luther King