Our Inadequacy and Christ’s Sufficiency

How do you handle feeling inadequate? Recently, someone asked me this question in reference to my clinical practice. But I have recently become a parent, which has revealed my insufficiency. I can’t distinguish her screams. I can’t get her to sleep when I want her to. I don’t know what is wrong with her sometimes. I feel inadequate.   

It is antithetical to our sinful nature to admit our inadequacies. According to Elliot Aronson, our brain labors to convince us our actions are right, despite contrary evidence. In the words of Paul Tripp, we have an “inner defense lawyer.” Our inner defense lawyer argues for our competency. Before the judge of life, it offers various excuses as to why we are sufficient.  Although, that is not what the Bible says.

Sinful Inadequacy

Russell Moore was asked by Anderson Cooper about a tweet in which he was called “a nasty guy with no heart.” Moore said he agreed with the tweet and “we sing worse things about ourselves on Sunday mornings. Our hymns contain harsh language about us, which aligns with Scripture. We are born in sin and by nature, we are children of wrath (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3). We are unrighteous and our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Romans 3:10-11; Isaiah 64:6). Our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). Evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, and adulteries are within our hearts (Mark7:21). Sin touches every word, deed, and thought. Sin makes us inadequate.

Christ Is Sufficient

Nothing is outside the power of Jesus Christ. Christ created everything and he upholds it (Colossians 1:15-17). The Lord has the power to change hearts (Proverbs 21:1).

In other words, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Nobody has the power to stay his hand (Daniel 4:35).  In him, there is no darkness or trace of sin (1 John 1:5). He is perfectly pure. He has no equal. His power knows no end. Sin and Satan are subject to him. Christ is sufficient.

Look to Jesus

We lack the ability to have completely pure motives. Sin contaminates every aspect of us. It makes our service, worship, and work impure. Compared to Christ we are inadequate. Apart from Christ, we can literally do nothing (John 15:5). This is our reality until Christ comes or we go to meet him.

Let your impotent state cause you to look to Christ. Jesus sanctifies every aspect of us. He makes our impure service, worship, and work pleasing to the Father. Whenever you see your inadequacy gaze at the sufficiency of Christ. Robert Murray McCheyne says “For every look at self—take ten looks at Christ!” How do I handle feeling inadequate? I embrace it and let it lead me to gaze upon Christ.

I don’t have the power to sway the hearts of men, but Jesus does. My words don’t hold the power to save, but His word does. I am powerless on my own, but he is almighty. My intelligence has its limits, but he knows all. Beloved, don’t trust yourself. We are weak, foolish men. Trust in Jesus with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5).  Trust God is more than enough even in your inadequacy and He always will be.

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Is It Because I Am Black?

I wonder if he just noticed what just happened.” I was on a recruiting trip at a conference and it was lunch time. My white colleague and I decided to explore the mall in hopes of finding a place to eat. After looking at the long line and the other restaurants we decided to eat at a place that served chicken and waffles. There was no line. A Caucasian girl was taking orders and preparing food. We ordered the same meal. Before we received our order of chicken and waffles she asked if we wanted hot sauce and honey. We were both are from the south so we said “YES” without hesitation.

I watched her pour the honey into one cup. The bottle of honey was almost empty. She squeezed the bottle until no more honey would come out. The cup was filled halfway. Then she went to the back to get a new bottle. She finished filling the first cup to the brim. Then she filled the second cup only halfway. Next, she started to pour the hot sauce.  She filled the first cup, but the second cup was only filled halfway. When I saw the unequal portions of the cups I thought “She is going to give me the cups that are partially filled.” I waited, hoping I was wrong.  Sadly, I was right she handed me the half-filled cups.

I walked away wondering if my white colleague saw what happened. I also pondered another question, “Was I given less because of my blackness?”

The Hovering Question 

Is it because I am black?” I ponder this question quite often. Often I walk into spaces where I stick out because of my darker skin tone. However, I imagine many other African Americans ponder this question as well. But situations like the one mentioned above always bring the question back to mind. My white colleague was dressed similar to me, ordered the same meal, but he received more. I don’t know the reason the girl gave him more, so I am just left with assumptions. However, this is not the case in other situations.

The Hovering Facts

Black people make up 13.3 percent of the population in America. We make up 37.7 percent of the prison population in America. Black people make up 38 percent of the people in poverty in America. More than half of black children in America are born in single parent homes. Twenty-four percent of the people shot and killed by police in 2015 were African American. The unemployment rate for African Americans is 7.9 compared to the 3.8 white unemployment rate. African American boys are perceived to be older and are not perceived to have the same childhood innocence as their white counterparts.

I know that is a lot of stats and you may be able to forget them. I can’t. I was the black boy who was assumed to be older. I have family in prison. I grew up in poverty and in a single parent home. I have seen the videos of African Americans killed unjustly by police. I have family members who desired a job but struggled to find one. These stats haunt me because those numbers have names and faces attached.

The Steadfast God 

I am troubled by the assumptions and stats, but I am comforted by the God who is mindful and cares for us (Psalm 8:4). My soul rests in the fact that His love and His mercy is never ending (Lamentations 3:22). The hairs on my head are numbered. He knows and controls the stats. His sovereignty is enough to calm my vexed soul. However, I still have questions.

Though the stats may hover and assumptions may be many, my God is still on the throne. He knows what happens because of my blackness and He will never give me less than what is good for me (Romans 8:28; Matthew 7:11).

 

Would love to hear others share their stories or thoughts….

 

Confessions of A Black Seminarian Pt 3: Letter to Black Seminarians

Dear Black Seminary Student, 

God has used you to encourage my soul. I remember so many moments where we discussed our shared experience. You come from various places, but God has allowed us to connect. Your stories have been inspiring and saddening.

I remember the time you told me your child was a victim of discrimination on campus. You have been disrespected in class for telling about the about the African-American perspective. I was there when they misrepresented you. I know how you feel when people call you an Oreo because you do not fit a stereotype.

I understand the burden of having to be bicultural to survive. It is tiresome, feeling like you to have to know about the dominant culture and your own to succeed. I know how hard it is to learn about another culture while trying to hang on to your own.

You have told me about your frustrations. You are in a white space and it is obvious. All your professors are white. The preachers in chapel services are white. The scholars are white. The administration is white. Most of the people in your class are white. You wonder most days “Where the brothers at?”  It causes you to wonder “Who represents you here?” You expressed to me how saddened you are we don’t have more diversity. It is easy to seat back, do your work, be quiet, and get through your degree.

I know it is difficult but, don’t lose heart. Don’t give up on our brothers and sisters from the dominant culture. Don’t give up on the seminary. They need you. Do you remember the time you explained the difference between diversity and multiculturalism? Your classmates needed to hear that. What about the time you discussed pro-life vs anti-abortion? You stated pro-life must include black people killed on the streets. Or what about the time you helped your classmates view the black church rightly? Your voice is essential. Remaining silent denies the seminary the privilege of knowing you and your culture.
Brothers, there are so many people who are part of the seminary community who long to hear your voice. They want to know what you think so they may love their neighbor rightly. They are wrestling with ideas about Black Lives Matter, Racial Reconciliation, and cultural differences too. Several of them might call you a heretic, race-baiter, or black nationalist. In those moments remember “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1)  and “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
Beloved, it is tough being a minority here, but we must stay because Jesus prayed that we might be one (John 17:11). The ability to become one is a product of the gospel (Ephesians 2:11-22).  Becoming one requires growing pains look at the early church in Rome of Ephesus. Our oneness will not come if we chose to retreat to mono-ethnic settings. We can’t complain that 11 am is the most segregated hour if we are not willing to sit a few minutes in another culture’s classroom or pew.

May Grace and Peace Be Multiplied to You,

Your Fellow Classmate

 

Confessions of A Black Seminarian Pt.2: Letter to Seminary Students

Dear Seminary Student,

We have been friends for a long time. Thank you for sharing your stories about the grace of God in your life. I love hearing about what God is teaching you through your classes. Thank you for enduring my conversations about racial issues. Thank you for displaying humility and asking me difficult questions. Thank you for not unfriending me after reading my social media posts. Thank you for your encouragement.

I know you want the church to dwell together in unity. You have expressed your desire to plant a multi-ethnic church. I have heard about your racist family members and church members. I know you love the church.

But I confess I get upset with us. We are quick to speak and slow to listen. Often I find myself more concerned about responding than listening. We need to consider asking more questions, before speaking. The bible tells us the one who responds before he listens “it is to his folly” (Proverbs 18:13). We must learn to listen for understanding, not to respond. The fool takes pleasure in expressing his opinion, not gaining understanding (Proverbs 18:2).

We have discussed doctrine a lot. We have discussed ethics, ecclesiology, and hermeneutics. You know God has given humans value because he has made them in his image. I can see you are quick to rebuke false doctrine. But I have observed you are slow to rebuke false practice. I don’t see you speak out against discrimination. Discrimination infringes upon the God-given worth of minorities like me. I want to hear you like Paul rebuke those who are out of step with the gospel.

Many injustices have occurred since we have known each other. Each one cut me like a knife, and I confess I kept it to myself. I saw you posting about how I shouldn’t feel hurt. You underestimate the sin of racism in America. You can identify individualistic racism, but not structural racism. You don’t believe it is in our seminary and churches. I have seen you question anyone who says otherwise.

Do you remember all those conversations about racial issues? I have enjoyed them all. Thanks for listening to me. But I want you to know I don’t have any special knowledge or skills. In other words, I ain’t got all the answers about racial unity. We have received similar educations. We are both capable of researching and discerning. I have to do research often about racial issues. You can do this too. I would love to talk about your research if you decide to do it. This research will help us develop a broader base for cultural apologetics.

You could start here. If you want to know how to think critically about racial topics from a Christian perspective look up: Jemar Tisby, Thabiti Anyabwile, Dr. Jarvis Williams, Dr. Anthony Bradley, D. A. Horton, and Trillia Newbell. These are only a few.

You are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I desire us to have racial unity. I desire us to see racial reconciliation as a gospel issue. We are the next generation of church, ministry, and denominational leaders. We are being equipped in seminary to reach the lost. We must dwell together in unity to reach the lost. The great commission is a multi-ethnic mission and our collaboration must start in seminary.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Romans 15:5-7

Sincerely,

Your Fellow Classmate

Supplemental Resources:

Jarvis Williams: How the Gospel addresses racial issues

Calling The Next Generation to Racial Reconciliation – Trip Lee Message

Racial Reconciliation, the Church, and the Gospel

Black, and White, and Red All Over: Why Racial Reconciliation is a Gospel Issue | Russell Moore

Panel on Race & Reconciliation in USA – Excerpt 3

Part One Letter to a Seminary Professor

P.S. You are welcome to comment, but I also invite you to sit down and talk about anything that you believe requires clarity. 

 

Confessions of A Black Seminarian Part 1: Letter to Seminary Professors

Dear Seminary Professor,

The Lord has used you to sanctify me and enhance my ministry. Thank you for introducing me to Augustine and Justin Martyr. Thank you for teaching me how to do a sermon outline. Thank you for challenging me to survey the whole counsel of God. I am grateful for the work that you do.

But I confess your syllabus is offensive to me. Your syllabus leaves scholars of color outside the gates. It’s segregated. I have listened to your lectures on the Reformation to Modern church history. I did all the assigned reading and book reviews. Where were the faithful African-American believers? 

You taught be about the preaching of Adrian Rogers, Billy Graham, and Joel Gregory. But you left out the prophetic voices from the black church like E.K. Bailey, E.V. Hill, and Gardner C. Taylor. I learned about William Carey and Adoniram Judson from you. You told me they were the first international missionaries. But you excluded George Lisle, an emancipated slave, who went to Jamaica.

You advanced my knowledge of the Old Testament and the New Testament in your classes. So is there a text that allows you to continue to make African-Americans feel like Gentiles? Paul in Galatians 2:11-14 stood up and rebuked Peter for his racism. Stand up and rebuke prominent Christain figures for statements like this:

As for the lawfulness of keeping slaves, I have no doubt. … It is plain to a demonstration, that hot countries cannot be cultivated without Negroes. What a flourishing country might Georgia have been, had the use of them been permitted years ago? How many white people have been destroyed for want of them, and how many thousands of pounds spent to no purpose at all?

(George Whitefield)

Keep in the step with the truth of the gospel. Stand up for us in your classroom like Paul. The other option is to do what’s acceptable by the majority like Peter.

You taught me about the Southern Baptist Convention in Baptist Heritage. Our forefathers had strong convictions about holding slaves. They believed in white supremacy. Your classroom could be breeding more white supremacists. You must take action. Teach your students about scholars of color and the value of the black church. Without action, they will continue to believe you have to be white to be right.

I am hurt. I sit in class after class feeling like a Gentile. You want me to conform to your laws and practices for an “A”. You want me to leave my culture and history outside the door of your classroom to be perceived as intellectual. I confess I have sat quietly in your classroom, but I won’t any longer.

The theology of the civil rights moment is relevant in church history. The discussion of racism is part of the doctrine of sin. Proclaiming the bible is not limited to one culture’s way of preaching. Racial reconciliation and social justice deserve a lecture in your ethics class.

Your instruction will influence future pastors and denominational leaders. I beg you don’t leave my people out of your syllabus. Let your students know how diverse the church is. I plead with you, let your students know about the real black church. T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and James Cone don’t represent the black church.

Teach them about faithful believers of color. Use your instruction to bridge the racial divide in the church. Integrate your curriculum. A segregated syllabus creates divided seminary students. Divided seminary students will lead divided churches.

Sincerely,

A concerned Seminary Student

Supplemental Resources:

5 WAYS CHRISTIAN INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION CAN AVOID WHITE SUPREMACY

ARE ETHNIC MINORITIES EMOTIONALLY SAFE IN WHITE CHRISTIAN SPACES?

RACISM AND ELITISM IN HIGHER EDUCATION

For the City: Race, urban ministry, and cultural engagement

 Feel free to share your thoughts…..

Get Out: Movie Review

I left the theater entertained, but with many thoughts after watching Jordan Peele’s Get Out. SPOILER ALERT: For those who are unfamiliar with the film it is about a young black male (Chris) who is in an interracial relationship with a white woman (Rose). They took a trip to Rose’s parents’ home. While there Chris faced many racial microaggressions from Rose’s parents and guests at their home. He discovered her family was kidnapping black people, hypnotizing them, and selling them to white people. But you should go watch it to get the rest of the details. Get Out left me with many thoughts as a young black male, but it has many insights for believers.

Informed Suspicion

Chris and Rod (Chris’s best friend) were very suspicious of Rose’s parents. They were doubtful her parents were void of prejudice or racism. Their suspicion of the dominant culture (white people) is common among African Americans. This is evident when they are entering into their environment. If you are a member of the dominant culture you believe minorities have no reason to fear you.

But history tells another story. Trusting the dominant culture has lead to exploitation. Trusting the dominant culture has resulted in reservations and the Tuskegee Experiment. What does this mean for the church?

In recent years church planting has become popular, particularly in urban areas. Minorities populate urban areas. Expect informed suspicion if you are seeking to minister to minorities. John 4 gives us a great example of what informed suspicion looks like. The Samaritan woman was suspicious of Jesus. Her suspicion was informed by the history of Jew and Samaritan relationships. This suspicion didn’t stop Jesus and it should not stop us.

Side note: Rejoice if you have gained the trust of minorities in a community. It is a huge accomplishment. If not, pray for God to give your church trust in the community.

Authenticity Reaches People

My dad would vote for Obama a third time if he could,” said Rose. Rose and her dad both told Chris about his political affiliations as an attempt to gain his trust. A couple at the gathering told Chris that they knew Tiger Woods. They were name dropping attempting to make Chris feel comfortable. It may seem acceptable to discuss what you assume black people like, but your assumptions would be based on generalizations.

Before the final stages of Chris’s transformation, he asked the question “Why black people?” He is asking why this group of white people want to transform themselves into black people. The DeAron translation of the response is “Y’all seem better.” I will admit I love black culture and it has a number characteristics that make it unique. Every culture has distinctive features that make it unique and God made them that way. Embrace the culture God has given you.

If you want to evangelize to minorities don’t disqualify yourself (in our eyes) by attempting to imitate behaviors that are associated with black culture. Becoming all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) still requires you to be culturally appropriate. In other words, stay in your lane so some might be saved.

Hope for Interracial Couples

Get Out brought to light several significant struggles an interracial couple can have. The most significant is a lack of understanding about cultural distinctions. For example, Rose was unaware that sometimes black women disagree with interracial relationships. Black men, who date white women sometimes get mean looks that imply “Why is he with her and not a black woman?” I digress if you would like to know more about that click here. The main point is interracial relationships are hard, but not impossible.

I walked out of the theater thinking this film made the viewers think being in an interracial relationship is scary. In case you were wondering it is very unlikely you or your significant other will be hypnotized, auctioned off, and end up in a sunken place. Interracial relationships can be wonderful and flourish.

Interracial relationships can thrive through the power of the gospel. The gospel reconciles cultures and makes us fellow citizens (Ephesian 2:11-22). Gospel-centered compassion makes us love our neighbor, despite history (Luke 10:25-37). The gospel alters how we receive members of the body of Christ (Philemon). The gospel can change your prejudices along with those of your family and friends. Finally, interracial relationships are a reflection of an eschatological reality (Revelation 7:9). They are an earthly picture of what heavenly unity looks like.

Should You Go See It?

Yes, if you are seeking to receive the social commentary and have a discussion about it. Forewarning, it does contain a number curse words.

No, if you are looking for a funny, thrilling, or scary movie. It has a much deeper message than most movies in those selected genres.

Get Out offers many other insights that would be helpful for believers. However, I believe you can get better social commentary from minorities who are part of the body of Christ.

The Sin of White Silence

Lately, one of my family members has had many encounters with law enforcement officers in Wisconsin, and it has terrified me. My family member is not a model citizen, but I still love him. I feared for his life and prayed that the Lord would protect him.

The thoughts streamed through my mind: What if he complied just like Philando? What if he was at home like Korry? What if they thought he had a weapon like Tamir? What if he resisted like Mike Brown? What if they abused him like Freddie Gray? What if they grabbed him like Alton Sterling or Eric Garner? Each scenario I replayed in my head ended with his death.

   I feared he would be the next image-bearer to die at the hands of those who have sworn to protect us. I thought about the many articles that would bear his image and his name, but would be devoid of his dignity. Journalists would have blamed him for his own death, and those in blue would walk away unscathed. I was afraid an officer would ignore his education, his respectful career, and shoot him like Charles Kinsey.

     We could spend time debating the morality and differences of the people mentioned above. The fact is that most of them did not live to tell their story. I was anxious the same fate would befall a member of my family. He could have been the next hashtag, his death could have motivated a riot, or there could have been a vigil for him. He is not your family, but he is your neighbor. He deserves a voice in life and in death.

My Plea

     Church, I plead with you: do not look at racial issues and side-step them. If you are avoiding racial issues, you are avoiding the millions of your neighbors who are hurting. The Priest and the Levite in the parable of  the Good Samaritan are great examples of avoiding the hurting. They looked upon the beaten individual who needed their help and continued on their way. They believed that assisting this wounded person wasn’t their business.

     So often major evangelical voices consider these issues to be concerns for minority churches, but speaking up about racial issues is not limited to minority believers. These issues are Christian issues because they affect the body of Christ and our neighbors—not to mention that these issues are direct results of sin and we must denounce sin.  Thus, if you are in the majority, you can speak up about these matters. Yet, I would also challenge you to listen and embrace before you speak.

A) Listen

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame.”  Proverbs 18:13

We often share our opinions too swiftly. I challenge you to listen to minority believers about racism in American before you give them a lecture on your opinion. You can’t deny the truthfulness of a position unless you have listened to it. Listen to them with the knowledge that you all share the same Spirit of God, and He can correct falsehood better than you.

B) Embrace The Differences

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

  Mark 12:31

This commandment doesn’t contain qualifiers, so we must love our Black neighbor, Asian neighbor, Hispanic neighbor, and White neighbor. God requires us to love those who are different from us. When the topic of race arises, it’s common to hear someone say they are colorblind.” While the sentiment may spring from a positive motivation, this statement is unhelpful because it denies that God intentionally created us with differences and that there is incredible beauty in the diversity of Christ’s Church. We must embrace the differences, not just accept the characteristics we share.

C) Speak

As people who are part of the majority, you have the option of ignoring racial issues, but minorities don’t have that privilege. Frequently we are questioned about our positions regarding racially-charged events. We can’t help but speak about our kinsfolk who are victims of sinful systems. We can’t just walk around them because they are family, and we could be the next victim of injustice. I urge you to speak for those who don’t have voices in your circles of influence. 

Silence is Sin

Imagine the silence among the Jews and the Gentiles before Paul confronted Peter in Galatians 2. Peter feared the Jews so he slowly started to disinherit the Gentiles. There was no Jewish-Gentile forum to talk about the gospel and racial reconciliation.  They did not collectively confront the hypocrisy of Peter. The Jews probably talked to the Jews, believing it is morally right to separate themselves from the sinful Gentiles. The Gentiles probably talked among themselves, believing that the Jews were corrupt and that Peter was a traitor. However, the conversations among the groups possibly never left their sphere of influence, so there was silence about these issues.

But Paul, the Jew who was a missionary to the Gentiles, broke the silence. He confronted Peter in front of everybody. He accused him of being out of step with the gospel. He acknowledged these racial issues were not Gentile or Jewish issues but Christian issues. The question is this: will you break the silence in your church, workplace, community, and family? Will you continue to seek the approval of man or of God? Are you out of step with the gospel? I don’t say this as an angry black man, but as someone who is trying to encourage himself and others to love our neighbors. So Listen, Embrace, and Speak out of love for your neighbors and for the glory of God.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.