Monday, July 24, 2017


On a recent weekend I was forced to remember how sensitive racial and ethnic feelings are within some people.   It was an interesting juxtaposition of one black man and one white man on two consecutive days in two different places, providing not so much a contrast but a similarity.

   I will tell you in brief about the incidents and then seek to draw some conclusions, and I do this as much for my benefit as well as for yours.

   The African American brother is a former drug addict and ex-con, who has struggled much since getting out of prison in being able to find and keep a job.   He was going church to church to find help, and one church finally sent him to a PCA church (almost as a way of dumping him on a church they resented) but it turned out to be a good thing.  The PCA pastor who pursued a relationship with this brother really began to help him by taking him to a potential employer, vouching for him, supplying transportation for him, and befriending him.  So this black man is now a Christian and growing in his faith.

   He had been to places seeking jobs, and felt insulted with what he had been offered, or insulted in receiving no offer at all.  So, now there were a few of us going out to dinner and we went to a restaurant where he had applied for a job and been rejected, and as soon as we entered he began talking about it.  During our time there the all white staff interacted with us, one lady identifying herself as being from the south as she tried to make some kind of connection with a few of us who were from Tennessee.

    At one point this lady came out from the kitchen and asked us if we had any “black eyed peas” on our table.   The one African American in our group, the man who had already felt disrespected by the people of this establishment became angry.  He let it be known to the rest of us that he felt she had said this as a direct comment about himself, and he because so bothered by it he had to go outside and have a cigarette.

    Now, it is unknown as to exactly what she meant.  The best take on it was she wasn’t speaking about the brother at all, and the worse take was she was indeed trying to needle him.  It was not obvious enough for anyone else to feel it was a racial insult, but the brother did.  When he came back in all of us at the table were a little unsure about what to say, how to deal with it, or how to calm him down before things got worse.  He certainly didn’t need any more legal trouble, yet his feelings were raw and real.

   What followed next was a pretty good time of facing the possibility that this was the worst case, and asking the question as to how we, and especially our brother of color, should deal with it.  How do we deal with our enemies, how do we deal with those who sin against us, how and when should we turn the other cheek?  We felt it would have been wrong to be dismissive about his hurt or his feelings. 

    This brother has truly struggled and suffered in trying to change from his past, and has done very well over the last year in working hard to make a life for himself, and to grow in Christ.  Far too often white folks have explained away racial bias and racial insult on the part of other white folks, working way too hard to come up with some alternate explanation or justification for why a white person said or did what they did.  Attempting to dismiss and deflect the legitimate concerns, feelings, and anger of those disrespected adds further insult to injury.

   Yet, some situations are ambiguous, they can be all about perspective and interpretation.  So, our discussion centered on what any of us ought to do, as followers of Jesus, when we are indeed attacked.   It was not about, “don’t be so sensitive,” or “stop playing the race card.”  It was about the reality that the world is truly fallen, full of trouble and danger, and unfortunately, full of obnoxious people who don’t mean us well.  Thankfully he decompressed a bit, and I had one more experience of how one stray word, phrase, look, or attitude can set off a fire storm, even if it is unintended, or especially if it is intended.

   So, the next day I spoke to a bunch of white men.  The crowd was completely white.   I was in fact thanking them for their support for planting a church in a poor, racially mixed community.  I was trying to inform them of how hard it might be, of how long they might need to stay committed, and of how different this church might be from their own.

    Along the way I made remarks about our usual practice in the PCA is to plant middle class churches and not do much evangelism, but to take advantage of new suburban communities and transfer growth, and to give those new plants just 3-5 years to make it.  I also spoke about how, in a mixed community, the worship might be culturally different, and God help me, I mentioned the Regulative Principal of Worship (although in a positive sense but with contextual appreciation, and attempting to be humorous, which sometimes gets me into trouble). 

    Afterwards, one of those white men, came and got in my face.  He was angry and began to rebuke me for attacking the middle class, from whom most of the money would come to help plant this church and I "shouldn’t bite the hand that fed me."  He was offended by my remarks about worship, and he was offended that I assumed their churches didn’t care about racial minorities as they had a few in their own church, and middle class people needed Jesus too.  He also thought I was referring to white southern churches and shouldn’t think the church (here, up North) had the same racial problems.  This was his perspective and interpretation of my remarks, with which in all honesty I could not agree that what he thought I had said I had actually said.  

    What was similar about these two incidents was the emotion of anger, one that had been directed at others, and one that was now directed at me.  Another similarity was the issue of interpretation and perspective. In both situations others didn’t take it the way the person being angry took it.  By way of contrast, one brother seemed to listen and the other didn’t.

     I was a bit amused that the Devil was tempting me to not take my own advice (which was to not return insult for insult), because I do feel insulted when my words are misconstrued.  In God’s mercy I tried to humble myself, listen to his concerns, assure him I didn’t mean to insult (which when telling the truth I sometimes do but by no means maliciously, at least this time) and sought to make peace with him.  I’m not quite sure how it worked out in his heart, but at least he didn’t hit me.

   It might be some people need to wear warning labels over their heads: WARNING –this person might explode or go off at any moment, and your best intentions might be misinterpreted, and you should be careful to remember that some people have a lot of racial hurt and others a lot of racial guilt and they don’t know what to do with it. Others of us need an internal warning that reminds us that there is racism, and some are guilty, and to be dismissive of it makes things worse.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017


This is an excerpt from a book I am writing on ministry....
 There is probably nothing better for your physical heart than to have a happy home life.  If you are in love with your wife, and she loves you, and if you enjoy your children and they delight for you to be home and involved in their lives, this indeed is joy.  There is so much to oppose the achievement of this in modern ministry life.  I will try to give some ideas to make it possible….

1.     Let’s be counter intuitive, to have a happy home you must not make an idol out of it.  Your wife and family have to see you leading them to something greater than time with you, or seeing themselves indulged with all of your attention.  The call of God, missions, ministry, commitment to a local church, justice, the poor, and love for others has to be the value system on which our families are built.  If you don’t want self-centered children than you have to model it, and far too often our quest for a good quality of life is in reality nothing but self-love.

2.    To have a happy home you have to love your wife.  If you want your children to respect you, honor your wife.  If you want respect from your wife, learn to listen to her and take her opinions seriously. If you want your children to be polite, teach them to respect and honor their mother.  Insist on obedience and respect in the home from your children and do not allow signs and acts of rebellion in their early years to go unchecked; it will pay off when they are teens.

3.    Being full of anger and giving yourself over to rage at home is neither healthy nor a testimony to your children.  Many pastors are driven people, often frustrated, and sometimes way too demanding of their wives and children.  Rage, bellowing and yelling, being controlling, and overly strict is not the same as discipling your children.  Do not call them names, except those of endearment (idiot, meathead, lazy, fool, and your mother’s child are not included).  Love and patience with affection works wonders.

4.    Nothing can replace time spent with your wife and kids, and it is a rare pastor who can get through life without feeling guilty over the times he has missed with his immediate family.  There is no way out of it, you and your family will sacrifice to be in the ministry, and you should.  However, that means the times you should set apart to be with them should be sacred to you, so set apart the time and fight hard to protect it.  I failed often at this, as do many pastors, and lay people who must work long hours and sometimes work more than one job to keep their families financially afloat.

5.    Learn how to rest. Set a day off and take it, plan vacations and take them, ask for a sabbatical and use it well.  Try not to replace real vacations with working ones, but sometimes that is the only way to get your family out of town and some place fun, so don’t despise the opportunity if that is what you have to do.  I learned these lessons far too late in raising a family.  I am grateful for every great, but rare, memory of time off fun with my kids and family.

6.    Pray for and practice a healthy sex life.  If you are married you need to not neglect each other, and neither do you need to be obsessive and selfish. Talk to your wife about your mutual needs and don’t fall into habits of neglect, being slovenly, or emotional distance.

7.     May God deliver you from pornography, and if it is any kind of problem get counseling, and help.  Protect yourself from temptation and stop thinking you are above it and can handle everything.  Watch out for counseling sessions with needy women, make sure someone else is around or in the building.  When you travel for ministry take someone with you that will hold you to godly behavior, of the same sex or your wife.  Think of yourself as vulnerable and a target for the Devil and stop listening to his lies that tell you that you are a success and deserve to be admired and can handle sexually dangerous situations. 

8.    Stop obsessing over money.  One can spend way too much time worrying about how, or if, they are going to financially make it, or give way to anger about how they are not being paid enough, or how their spouse seems to have no self-control, or how their children are missing out, or about the car they have to drive, or vacations they can’t take. Pray about your money, be diligent to account for it and use it well, get advice on how to manage and budget it, and learn to be content in whatever situation you are in.  Make sure you tithe faithfully and be generous. Stop your complaining (especially in front of your wife) and learn to be grateful for what you have.  It is unhealthy to have a cheap and greedy heart.

9.    Figure out how to worship as a family and teach your children about our holy religion.  Use the catechism, Scripture memory, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, Christian stories and biographies.  Engage your children in ministry events, mission trips, and service.  Pray with and for them, at the table, when you put them to sleep, when they are struggling with issues of friends, school problems, etc.  Try to stop your bitching about all the failures of the church or the people in it, show some respect for the Bride of Christ.

10.                    For your children; compliment, encourage, use good and positive words.  Stop always saying, “no!” Try to get to a “yes.” Make sure your wife and you are a team and can’t be divided and conquered by those manipulative children. Reward, gently push, ask questions, listen to their questions, don’t judge them for doubts or concerns.  Brag about them, and let them know of your pride in them.  Say, “I love you” a lot.  Let your boundaries be clear and the door always open to your heart.