The Holy Spirit will not allow me to issue statements signaling my stand against racism without confessing my sin and the cacophony of clanging idols that have become my first loves and have blossomed into the first fruits of my life.
I’ve tweeted. I’ve retweeted. I’ve read. I’ve listened. I’ve wept. I’ve lamented. I’ve educated others. I’ve raged against the arrogance, ignorance, and inhumanity of others. Looking back over the last two weeks, haunting silence rests in one area: me.
So, I asked: “Search me, Jesus, and show me myself.”
Jesus gave me the image of an overflowing garage, filled with possessions and throwaway treasures. The garage, though middle of the day, darkened by the bounty of a hoarder. It had materials for hobbies I don’t practice. Equipment for activities I don’t enjoy.
I believe the Spirit told me this: You are a hoarder of hypocrisies. Your hands are covered in the dust of unlived ideals and practiced contradictions. I promote a comprehensive gospel of the Kingdom of God on earth. But my life is often vapid.
I’m not an expert on racism in America and I’m certainly not an expert in reconciliation, much less racial reconciliation, but I do know this: there can’t be reconciliation without truth and you can’t enter it without declaring truth about yourself. Racism in our country is systemic, institutional, relational, and personal. Racism is the water of our nation. Injustice is our bedrock. I am part of it at every level. Here is my confession of sin.
I Say Jesus is Savior, But I Believe I Am and Must Be.
So fragile is my psyche that my daydreams are about my salvation. Not Jesus saving me, but me saving others. I cannot conceive of a story or situation in my life that hasn’t carried with it the temptation to fix it and get credit for it. Few relationships and conversations have occurred without my expertise and intellect pouring forth—not to serve—but to elevate myself and make others pay attention to me. I don’t build bridges; I build platforms.
When I moved to Portland, Oregon 11 years ago, I cast vision for a city without churches—and if they had churches they were liberal and dying and didn’t preach the gospel. There were many churches. There were cornerstone churches, historically black churches. I didn’t even see them. I never entered them.
I helped lead a city-wide organization to help churches live missionally in their communities. When pastors came from African American churches, I was condescending. As I led that organization and built a team, I catered it for larger white churches in the area, because I assumed they had the resources to make it work while simultaneously assuming other churches had nothing to offer because they needed me to save them. If Jesus was going to build His Kingdom, it would be with me and people who looked like me. “We can call on them when we need someone to talk about race, or onto the stage to signal diversity.” I thought these dehumanizing thoughts.
As I helped plant a church of mostly white transplants drawn to the city by its progressive ideals, fine dining, and wacky white culture, I helped gentrify neighborhoods that resulted in the shutting down of churches or the busing in of congregants who used to live in the neighborhood but were pushed to the margins. When I thought about what was happening, I blamed others or I shrugged it off as the cyclical reality of cities.
I Say, Jesus’ Love is Never Ending, But I Operate with Scarcity.
In many areas of my life, I believe there is only so much blessing to go around. If I used my privilege to raise up other leaders to live out their calling, would there be enough money to fund my calling? If I invested in working with others and laid down my vision for theirs, would I be satisfied? If I give them the microphone, will I get it back? If I support them planting a church, will I still have a church?
Or, if they succeed, will I succeed? My most honest self tells me, this dominates my complicity within the church.
Motivated by a mixture of purity and public relations, I helped build a diverse leadership team at our church in Portland. Women and men, people of color and white people. These leaders were given responsibilities to care for the marginalized in our city, the finances of our church, and many of the practical areas of leadership within the church. However, they were under-supported and over-controlled. I and others at the highest levels of leadership were over-supported and under-controlled. We held the reigns, and while I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for myself; I operated from scarcity, believing the Kingdom didn’t have enough blessing to go around.
More than unWoke
I haven’t lived in Los Angeles long enough to see the scars of the system I support here, but I know my heart continues to doubt in the saving power of Jesus, the unending force that is His entire Church, and the preciousness of Black lives.
The hard truth is these lies bear fruit in the dehumanizing of others and sin against God. Not only that, I’m a leader who leads others in sin. My sin causes harm to the Church both in what I call it towards and what I fail to call it towards.
I can hold up a sign that says “Black Lives Matter”, but I must also hold up my sin to God and say: “I’ve sinned against you and your people!” I can write to my mayor, but I also must write to my sisters and brothers. I can march, but I need to also meditate on myself.
I’m not ashamed to write these things because I can boast in the grace of Jesus and boast in the forgiveness of the saints! I ask, please forgive me for my sins against you. I don’t operate in guilt because I know Jesus has reconciled me to Himself.
Also, I walk in repentance and faith even while I still operate in these assumptions, fears, and lies. The layers are deep and varied. There’s an emotional wounded layer. There’s a cultural layer, an educational layer, and a rebellious sinful layer. As I told my wife yesterday, I’ve never resonated more with Romans 7:15: “I don’t do what I want to do. And I do what I don’t want to do.” I’ve also never connected more to this story of Jesus and a leper in Mark 1.
Repentance & Belief
Once, Jesus received a visit from a begging man overcome with a vicious, contagious disease that left him banished to a life in caves while his skin oozed at welts covering his body. This man doesn’t plead for healing, though: “If you’re willing, you can make me clean.”
The Old Testament laws and historical cultural laws adjacent to them are littered with the concept of cleanliness. Objects, food, and people could all be clean or unclean. It wasn’t a moral code, it was a cultural one, and in a few cases, a health code for the good of society. Anything that didn’t fit the parameters of the cultural contract was to be excluded until they were made clean. In many ways, these codes pointed to the pervasive and transitive properties of sin and brokenness into every life. It also revealed the brokenness of life that comes from the results of sin and brokenness. The exclusion of the unclean is a tearing of not just a physical presence, but of community and fellowship. The effects of sin exclude and break a person.
For many areas of uncleanliness, there was a path to inclusion. You could be made clean again through rituals, waiting it out, perfect performance, and sacrifices. However, there is a whole rolodex of unclean realities for anyone with a blemish, sores, or disease that distorts or decays their sin. The only way toward inclusion was through holistic healing.
As this man cries out, he isn’t settling for healing; he wants full and holistic inclusion. He wasn’t advocating for a few rights; he was pleading for the entire package. He’s protesting to the power. Like a crowd gathered outside the gates of the White House demanding human rights, he says, “Jesus, I know you can! So, if you desire, will you make me clean?”
If you desire, can you do what it takes to make me whole? This man had people he was destined to serve. He had a role to play in the Kingdom. He had songs to sing in the temple, children to raise, businesses to run, relationships to build. He had a life to live, but he was entangled in the effects of sin and everything he might do would have to be done through the filter of disease. The cry for cleanliness is not a cry for healing of disease but for a life unhindered; abundant life free from the effects of sin.
Here is the uniqueness of this moment in the life of this man at Jesus’ feet. He is sick and he could cause harm to others. But, there was a limit to what he could do to help himself. No amount of washing, worship, or work could usher him into his house again without the powerful restorative work of another. Here is also the uniqueness of each of our stories: someone must do something in us, around us, and for us to be made whole, too.
The man cries out to Jesus in a moment of clarity: “You, and you alone can do this if you want to!” This declaration of faith is unlike anything so far in the ministry of Jesus. People had dropped nets and followed him. People had demons pulled out of them and sickness removed. Here, this man comes knowing what Jesus can do and knowing what Jesus needed to do to him.
Do we come to Jesus that way? Are we unsure of His capabilities? Do we hide? Do we belittle our need? Do we sugarcoat the deformity of our lives?
This is repentance and faith: “Jesus, you can make me clean!”
On the surface, Jesus’ response is shocking. He is indignant. He is moved with anger and wrath toward what He sees before Him. Jesus sees life as it was never intended. He sees human flesh covered in a disease that demonstrates a human existence consumed with sin. He sees broken humanity. Jesus is moved.
That ought to be a comfort to us – Jesus sees our sin and is moved with righteous indignation. This is not who you are supposed to be. He doesn’t accept a universe in which humans are supposed to be this way. This is compassion.
Jesus stretched out His hand and touched the man while he was still categorically unclean. This means Jesus, according to the cultural code, was now unclean. Jesus, in the touch, enters his space fully. Oh, the grace of Jesus to move toward us, even in our confession of sickening sin!
Then, Jesus gets to work. It isn’t a removal of warts through the swipe of a magical wand. Jesus does more. Jesus comes to him, hears him, sees him, touches him, speaks to him, and sends him.
The healing of this man is not only of the sores on his skin, but of his place in the world: from broken to belonging in the holiest of places. Upon being made clean, Jesus sends him to the holy site of the temple to walk right up to the priest. To present himself without hindrance. Jesus sends him into the world to be clean and to get to work in the Kingdom.
This is what I need Jesus to do to me. Make me clean and put me to work! By His love, He is doing that.
I pray for a revival that begins within the church and begins with confession, repentance, and faith. Revival in our churches, that takes to the streets, and sees a nation healed. I pray for revival that results in justice.
Imagine an internet flooded with confessions and appeals for forgiveness. Imagine a movement walking in personal repentance and public calls for justice. Imagine a nation seeing the vertical and horizontal beauty of the cross.
Have you stopped and asked Jesus to search you and show you yourself?
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