Thursday, May 27, 2010

Memorial Day Thanks

As I write this post, I'm sitting in my living room watching my boys play and anticipating a GREAT pasta dinner my wife is making. Both are a wonderful way to kick off the coming long weekend. Our plans are to do some work around the house, spend lots of quality time as a family, visit some close friends in Gettysburg, and enjoy what appears will be several beautiful days during Memorial Day weekend.

Ironically, many of those we honor during this time will not have these same privileges. They are fighting abroad in Iraq or Afghanistan, or stationed at any number of military bases all over the world. Many others still have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

As a preacher, my calling is not subject to human law. As Paul told Timothy, we are to preach "in season, and out of season." This means we speak of Jesus when it is popular and when it is unpopular; when people like it and when people hate it; when it is legal, and also whenever and wherever it is against the law.

Many who share my calling in other parts of the world are fulfilling that calling under the threat of persecution, arrest, and even death. As a follower of Christ, I like to think that I would also be this faithful to Him. At the same time, I'm thankful to live in a place where I have no fear of being arrested or killed--with government approval--because of my faith.

And the lion's share of credit for these freedoms belongs to our soliders, our airmen, our sailors, our marines, and members of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Just today my wife showed me this very touching photo of a young boy running toward his dad, who had just arrived back from a tour of duty. Take a look:

Upon seeing this photo, my first thought was, "how many countries exist in the world where a child can run toward an attack helicopter with absolutely no fear?" Other places in the world fear their military. Here, our soliders are heros.

To those of you who have served to defend our freedoms past or present, thank you! This weekend is about you and the sacrifices you make. We Americans are a fickle and diverse group of people. Sometimes, we may not even agree with where you are going and/or why you are fighting. But all of us should recognize that you who "follow orders" are the ones who truly guard our freedoms. On this Memorial Day weekend, know that you are loved, appreciated, and will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Racism, Depravity, and the Gospel that Unites

Reading Leonard Pitts' Miami Herald Column in this past Sunday's paper was especially hard for me. Entitled "A Child's View of Black and White," the article described with painful detail new "doll tests" that are given to children to determine if racism might exist. Pitts, himself an African-American, rightly lamented the predispositions of children, both black and white, toward identifying "darker" dolls as "bad" and "dumb." More specifically, he cited an encounter with a young black girl who "did not think she was beautiful . . . because she is dark."

Concluding this very sad column, Pitts wrote in an exasperated manner that we are "40 years into a future where Michael Jordan is an icon, Bill Cosby is a national father figure, and a Kenyan's son is President of these United States. Forty years, and still . . ."

As should be expected, Pitts claims that such a national racial dillemma begs an explanation. "How do you explain the psychology of self-loathing and the futility of judging onesself by someone else's beauty standards?" This is an excellent question, and as a white son of the south, what made this article hard to read is that I know the answer.

There are many things about my background and upbringing that make me proud. The installation of a strong Protestant work ethic, and cultural emphases on honesty, integrity, and helping one's neighbor are just a few examples. My home culture's attitude toward race relations however, is not on this list. Growing up, I heard all the standard stereotypes aimed at anyone who didn't share my skin tone. I heard interracial dating and marriage condemned. And though I was told "we are all equal, no matter what color we are," I rarely saw this "equality" meeted out fairly in my hometown.

Thankfully, God has redeemed me from such prejudice, and over the course of many years liberated me from such ways of thinking. Yet the problem of racism still exists, and I have discovered that the southern United States isn't the only place where it can be found. Shortly after moving to Maryland nearly six years ago, I was shocked to sit in a barber's chair only to hear the word "n*gger" within the first five minutes from the guy cutting my hair. 40 miles north of the nation's capital, I found a more vitriolic form of racism in the northeast that I had never encountered in the south.

The truth is that racism's origins can't be defined by a region of the country, nor can it be traced ultimately to parental attitudes, cultural prejudices, or even extremist groups like neo-Nazis, the KKK, or the Black Panthers. Ultimately, each of these sources of race-based hatred finds its origins in the Garden of Eden, within the minds of our first parents who sinned out of a self-centered heart that desired the opposite of God's design.

Paul tells us in Acts 17:24 that God "made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth." In other words, God's intent from the beginning was to create a diverse human race that would bring Him glory. The various ethnicities that exist on our planet are not the result of the fall, as is so often contended by some ill-informed and badly-biased interpreters of the text. Each originated in the mind of our Creator for His own ultimate glory. Furthermore, we are told that this divine demand for diverse worshippers all over the globe will come to pass, as that great, uncountable multitude of human beings, "from every nation, from all tribes, peoples, and languages" stand before the throne of the Lamb crying out "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever!" (Revelation 7:9, 12, ESV)

In short, God intends to unite every ethnic group and language on the globe under the Lordship of Jesus for His own glory. As one of my mentors once stated, a unison choir is nice, but a choir that sings parts--the same song sung in various tones--sounds much more glorious. Racial and ethnic diversity exist because God is worthy of so much more than a unison choir at the end of the age. Race matters! And it matters because God matters!

Such is the reason why racism is such a deadly and dangerous disease in our culture. When Leonard Pitts describes it, he rightly laments the way human beings created in God's image are mistreated as a result, but he fails to see that the ultimate insult is against God Himself.

All of us are naturally more comfortable around people most like ourselves. When we allow this disposition to evolve into a prejudice, we have at that point made an idol of our ethnicity. When we show a preference for one person over another based on skin color, we are saying to God with our actions, "you are not worthy of ethnically diverse glory."

To summarize, racism is a direct offense against the Creator of all human beings. It represents a denial of and opposition to His aim to make himself known among all peoples so that He receives the glory that is His due. It is a preference for our own glory--the lifting up of our own ethnic identity and value as created beings over His value as our Creator. This is what makes racism such an abhorrent evil.

And yet, racist attitudes are still "tolerated" among our churches. One recent example is a Louisiana Southern Baptist congregation that rescinded its invitation for an IMB missionary to speak because he and his wife had adopted interracially. I don't know whether such evil exists on a congregational level in any of the churches of the Mid-Maryland Association, but if it does, I'll go ahead now and invite that church to tender its withdrawal from our fellowship--before MMBA takes care of it for you! In the end, such a strong stand isn't about being politically correct. Ultimately, it isn't even about the treatment of fellow human beings, as important as that is. In the end, this issue is about whether our churches desire what God desires--a unified universal church where no ethnic or language group is left out! If your church seeks any less than this because of racial prejudice, your church isn't preaching the Gospel and it is very likely that you stand on the precepice of being damned for eternity.

But there is yet another side to this issue. As Pitts rightly points out, we are 40 years beyond the civil rights movement--more than 145 years beyond the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th ammendment, and the spirit of racism is still alive and well. As a journalist, Pitts seeks, and fails, to understand why this is the case. To Pitts, it seems logical that a bloody civil war, sweeping constitutional changes, and monumantal cultural shifts brought on by the Civil Rights Act should be enough to create a culture wherein racism no longer exists. And such would seem logical, were it not for the reality of sin. To be sure, all of the above were the right decision. No nation that presumes any moral authority whatsoever should tolerate involuntary servitude or government-endorsed preference for any race. At the same time, the abolishment of slavery, by itself, doesn't stop one from looking with disdain on his darker-skinned brother. Likewise, goverment emphases like Affirmative Action might help mask the symptoms of racism, but it will never cure what is really wrong with us.

The central problem is that we are in rebellion against our Creator and thus, we hate what He loves, including racial diversity. As such, the solution to racism is the same as the solution to all sin; a bloody cross and an empty tomb. If this message is genuinely preached and lived in our churches, the evil of racism cannot last long.

Pastors and churches overcome this issue by living the Gospel. Churches will confront--and if neccesary remove from membersip--those who are members of groups with racist ideology. Pastors will openly confront these sinful attitudes and call men and women who possess them to repentance. Diversity will be celebrated and reflected in a congregation's leadership, as elders and deacons are appointed who represent and look like the community they are called to reach. Pastors will emphasize the importance of being "equally-yoked" by teaching their people that this means marriage takes place within the same FAITH, not neccesarily the same RACE. Interracial marriage ceremonies will be held that give church members a foretaste of the diverse worship that we are headed for in heaven. Interracial couples and families who have repented of sin and trusted Christ will be welcomed as the brothers and sisters in Christ that they are. Families in the church will adopt children from other nations, cultures, and ethnicities, and such will be celebrated in the life of the church. Denominational entities, from the local association to the national SBC, will take a strong stand on this issue, to the extent that churches which refuse to acknowlege God's plan for all nations are removed from fellowship.

We are racist toward each other because we have sinned against our God. Thus, the Gospel is the only message that can unite us. Churches that understand this and live it will ultimately heal the scars caused by racial prejudice. This is in fact the only context in which genuine racial unity can be realized. Those churches that refuse to play this role . . .well, they may not even be true churches.

Some Comic Relief

More posts are coming shortly on more serious themes, but you MUST see the video below! Absolutely hillarious. Enjoy! Oh, and if you see yourself in it, try not to get too angry. Sometimes, we take ourselves WAY too seriously. :)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Another Gift and Heritage from God

To the left is our new daughter, Abigail Grace Rainey!

Ten days ago our family was driving to a 5-K race to help raise funds for a local pregnancy center when my wife's Blackberry started buzzing. A few seconds later she grabbed my arm in sobs, and while I'm wondering who died, she held up her phone and for the first time, I saw the picture you are now looking at!

For those who read here but were not aware, my wife and I began the process for an international adoption about a year ago. Interestingly enough, we made the decision while on a weekend away from the kids. For many years, we have sensed that God would someday want us to add to our family via an international adoption. In particular, the nation of China has long been on our hearts. Last year, that sense of call expanded to include a heartfelt desire by both of us for a daughter. One year later, it appears God is about to unite us with our little girl.

In case you didn't know, that timeframe itself is a bit of a miracle. According to the law of averages, we were supposed to be waiting for at least another year before being matched. Unbenownst to us, Chinese adoption officials opened up a database not normally accessible to Americans, and our agency was able to gain access--and find our little girl. She was found abandoned by authorities on May 6, 2009, and doctors assessed her age at four days when she arrived at the hospital, meaning that this past Sunday was her first birthday. She currently resides in an orphanage in north-central China, and with the exception of a medically-correctable cleft lip and palate, is believed to be in excellent health.

So at this point, we are simply waiting for an invitation from the U.S. Consulate in this province to travel to pick her up. God willing, sometime in the next 3 to 5 months, Amy and I will be traveling over to get her. In the meantime, I'll be finishing the work downstairs that added another bedroom to our home, and securing family transportation big enough to hold all five of us (the Jeep Liberty is great, but won't hold us all).

For those of you who know us well and have prayed for us during this time, thanks so much for the prayers. The Lord certainly heard them!

We chose her name prayerfully. We will call her "Grace," which is a name that also belonged to her maternal great-grandmother; my wife's grandmother, who was as sweet and godly a woman as has ever walked the earth. Her first name was my choice. Abigail (אֲבִיגַיִל ) was one of the wives of David who showed great strength and character in the face of her first husband's foolish behavior; a woman of great discernment who faced hard situations in the way a worshipper of God should. But its the etymology of her name that was the compelling factor. Abigail means "her father's joy."

That, she already is!