Colin Kaepernick, Peaceful Protest, and Racial Injustice

Colin_Kaepernick_in_2013Throughout the history of professional sports in America athletes have used their fame and celebrity status as a platform to take a stand for various social and political views. Most recently, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers stirred up controversy by refusing to stand for the national anthem. His explanation after the fact was that he refuses “to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Many people have praised him for his boldness while many others have attacked him for disrespecting his own country (or the flag, the anthem, the military, etc.) If nothing else, his actions have added fuel to what seems to be an ongoing public conversation about race and social justice in our nation – and that is certainly a good thing. In the spirit of adding to this conversation, which I believe is critical, I would like to share some thoughts about Kaepernick’s protest.

  • Peaceful protest is a valued historic right that we should respect and defend. Regardless of what any one of us thinks about his motivation or form of protest, it is his right. He did nothing illegal, or even immoral for that matter, and we must allow room for people to make their own decisions as to how to exercise their rights.
  • The method of protest can overshadow the message. I think that Kaepernick’s method of protest is unfortunate. I’ve already stated that I believe it to be his right, but to meet it seems unwise. I don’t think that sitting down during the national anthem is the best way to get his message out there. Making such a controversial decision has opened the door for a great deal of criticism in regard to his motives. There are some who see this as little more than a spoiled rich kid performing a publicity stunt before he gets cut from his team. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt (which I do) that he is actually concerned with making a difference, it begs the question: “Does this actually make a difference?” Unfortunately, people aren’t talking about the racial and social issues. They’re talking about him and his “disrespect of the flag.” If anything, he seems to have distracted attention from the cause he claims to want to support.
  • Disrespect rarely has positive results. This even applies to perceived disrespect. I don’t believe that Kaepernick meant to be disrespectful, but he certainly offended a great many people. Generally, when people feel they have been disrespected they quit listening. They don’t care if you have a good reason. They shut down and go on the defensive – or worse, they attack. When peaceful protest is necessary, we should try our best to do so with respect for others. I think this is particularly true in this case when many of those he offended have literally and physically fought for his right to protest.
  • Racism is bigger than disagreeing with someone who happens to be a different color than you. One of the most frustrating things about this incident and others like it is that any and all disagreement gets shot down as racist. You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick and that doesn’t make either of you wrong or racist. In our country, we seem to have reduced racism to agreement or disagreement over issues and this trivializes the real problem of racism.
  • We must acknowledge the racial and social problems we are facing. Whatever we think of Kaepernick’s methods, his message is a necessary one. I think we are well past the point where white conservatives can deny that there is a race and social justice problem in this country. That doesn’t mean every white person is to blame or that every person of color is oppressed, but there is definitely a problem and we need to be a part of the conversation and the solution.

Regardless of what you might think of Kaepernick and his protest, you should consider the issues that have led him to it. Particularly those within the church must rise up and consider the problems of racism and social injustice. The gospel is a message of freedom and equality. We are all equally sinful and we are all equally free to accept Christ. In Him, there are no divisions along racial and social grounds. We should be leading the charge for justice, not blindly turning from the problem and denying it exists. We must enter kindly with open-mind into the discussion. We must listen to those who have been oppressed. We must release our pride and humble ourselves to consider how we contribute to the problem. The solution will not be quick or easy and the journey may look different for each of us, but ultimately we must each heed God’s words from Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

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Aim Higher

Man Worshiping From a Mountain Top Christian Stock Photo

I recently attended a Christian concert during which a host from a Christian radio station issued a 3 day Christian radio challenge. Obviously, this challenge consisted of listening to exclusively Christian radio for three days. Considering the fact that my radio diet consists pretty much of equal parts preaching and ESPN, I wasn’t really that interested. However, the competitive juices began flowing when my 9 year old son leans over and yells out, “Dad could never do that!” That did it. It was ON! The challenge had been issued. The gauntlet was laid. I had to step up. And I did. BIG TIME.

On day 4 I was proudly proclaiming my success at the 3 day Christian radio challenge when everyone burst into laughter and informed me he had said 30 days. It turns out it was a 30 day challenge – and I should probably get my hearing checked. I had hit my mark and believed and declared myself a success, but in fact had fallen woefully short of what the real mark should have been. Everyone had a good laugh and I returned to my regular listening habits, but my mishap got me thinking about this issue of goals and success.

I believe that too many Christians are living lives in which they are setting their sights way too low. We are measuring success by a standard far inferior to the standard we should be looking at. We settle for minor successes and miss out on grand victories. God has big plans for each of his children, but I am afraid that we aim much too small.

Think about it. Jesus set us free, yet we remain in a prison of our own making due to sin or guilt or shame – all the while proclaiming our freedom. Jesus said He came to give life more abundant, but we declare ourselves successful as we struggle to barely get through each day of a frazzled, hectic and certainly less than abundant life. Jesus said to live our lives for the heavenly kingdom, yet we’re proud of ourselves for going to church on occasion. Jesus said forsake all to follow me, but we say we are His followers while living for ourselves. Do you see the pattern? In these and a myriad of other ways, we aim lower than God’s standard and celebrate lesser victories.

We must aim higher. We must embrace true challenges, not our own deluded versions of them. It has been said that our greatest fear in life should not be failure, but rather success at things that do not matter. Are you truly succeeding at living the life God has for you, or are you merely succeeding at a trivial, self-made version of it? I pray that as the church we can rise up together and set our sights on God’s standard of success.

Get Up, Get Up!

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Earlier this week, the Olympics in Rio provided us with a tremendous example of sportsmanship and all that is good in the world. Runners Nikki Hamblin (NZ) and Abbey D’Agostino (USA) tripped and fell to the ground during their race. While Hamblin lay there, D’Agostino grabs her shoulder and urges her, “Get up, Get up! We have to finish. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.” She did get up and eventually both runners finished the race in what many are calling the “ultimate display of the Olympic spirit.” (You can read the full story here.)

Moments like this really are what the Olympics are all about and this certainly is a touching example of true sportsmanship. However, I also see this as a wonderful illustration of what the church should be. When I first saw this story, I immediately thought of Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” That is exactly what the American Olympian did for her fellow competitor. She spurred her on! She urged her toward a better finish. She compelled her to achieve what was good and pushed her to overcome her desire to give up. This is admirable in an athlete and even more so in a genuine Christ-follower.

Churches are filled with broken and hurting people who have fallen and are considering giving up in life. They are contemplating giving up on a relationship or giving up their faith or giving up their fight against an addiction or some other sin. Whatever it is specifically, they feel like they are down for the count. They have fallen for the last time. And far too often there is a multitude of people waiting to swarm and confirm their feelings of failure. We affirm their choice to give up with comments like, “You don’t have enough faith” or “They just aren’t serious enough about their faith.” We call them hypocrites, we call them unholy, we mock their failure and we avoid them so that their sinfulness doesn’t rub off on us. And this is precisely the worst, most unchristian response imaginable.

Indeed, the response of the church should be love and encouragement. We should be each other’s greatest cheerleaders. We should urge one another to get up! Genuine Christ-followers must spur one another on: “Don’t stay down! We can finish together. You can overcome!” This should be the anthem of the church. We must encourage one another to fight the good fight and to finish the race. Urge one another toward a better finish. We must compel our brothers and sisters to achieve what is good and holy and right. We must push them to overcome dangerous and sinful desires to give up. We must also run with them, showing them they are not alone.

I urge you to think right now about the broken people you know. How can you encourage them? You can pray for them, but better yet – pray with them. Call them up or seek them out and ask to pray with them. Send a card. Offer to help. Smile. Include them. Praise them for something that they’re getting right. Send them scripture in a text or an email. There are endless numbers of ways that we can encourage each other and I challenge you to pick even one and put it into practice in your church and community. Feel free to comment with your stories of encouraging or being encouraged. I’d love to hear how God is directing His followers to say “Get up, let’s finish strong together!”

Your Kids Are Watching

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Recently at a carnival style event at our church, my 7 year old son came running up to me with a prize he had won. He held up this little rubber ducky and said, “Look Dad, your worst enemy – a bath toy!” We laughed together over the silliness of a rubber ducky being my worst enemy, but the reality is that I’m really not a fan of bath toys. I think they’re unsanitary; not to mention they delay the bathing process that as a parent I just want them to finish with as quickly as possible. However, it isn’t actually my dislike for bath toys (as real as it may be) that is of interest in all of this. What I find fascinating is my son’s ability to conclude that bath toys are my worst enemy.

I’ve never set my children down and proclaimed the evils of bath toys or placed them on a list of sins to be avoided. I’ve never forbidden them or said that they were bad. And obviously I’ve never actually declared rubber duckies and the like to be my worst enemy. What I have done is complain about them, refuse to purchase them, make the kids wait until “next time” to play with them, and maybe on occasion throw them away. This behavior toward the toys led my son to conclude they were my enemy. While funny and totally harmless, this incident made me consider just how vital our every-day (every-moment for that matter) behavior is to the raising of our children.

There are virtues and behaviors that I instruct my children in on a regular basis with somewhat questionable results. I can lecture, talk, teach, preach, beg and plead but they can still forget what it was I wanted them to do or how I wanted them to behave. Yet, without any formal instruction on the matter, my son can conclude that I hate bath toys. The fact of the matter is that the behaviors I most often see in them are not the ones I teach them about, but the ones they see in me.

As a parent it is absolutely critical that you realize your most important and effective teaching tool is your own behavior. You can tell your kids about honesty, integrity, self-control, selflessness, kindness, respect, self-control, service, loyalty and other biblical virtues – and you should. But that teaching is only going to be a fraction as influential as your own behavior. You must consider what you are actually teaching and be intentional about your behavior. In our daily lives we must model honesty, integrity, self-control, selflessness, kindness, respect, self-control, service, loyalty and other biblical virtues if we want them to take root in our children’s lives.

Additionally, we must remember that they are always watching! In a moment of frustration or anger or stress we can unravel all of our intentional teaching behaviors with one thoughtless act. And for some reason that is still beyond me, those are the moments that never seem to slip past them. I don’t know why, but it always seems to happen that way. They seem oblivious to the times when you work hard, control yourself, use kindness or show love; but shout “You idiot!” at one driver that cuts you off and you will hear “You idiot” screamed for the next week every time someone is upset.

Children must come with a built in radar for the moments we least want them to see or hear and they are always there. Always listening and always watching. This can be terrifying, but we must use that fear to cause us to be even more intentional about modeling Christ-like behavior to our children. This includes modeling forgiveness. As we try to model the behavior we want them to learn, we will certainly mess up. We will sin and we will lose control. Though unfortunate, these moments also provide an opportunity to model good behavior. We want minimize the bad behaviors we model and we want to be intentional about good behaviors, but one of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them that the journey of faith is an imperfect one and God is always waiting to forgive. Model repentance in front of your children. They see your mistakes, so let them also see the humility and brokenness that they need to learn for themselves.

For good or bad, they see you. For good or bad, your behavior as the parent is the most influential teaching tool you will ever have. This journey we call parenting is difficult enough on its own; don’t make it harder with careless actions and behaviors. As you look toward the people you want your children to become, begin by being that sort of person yourself. And remember – they’re always watching!

13 Reasons Why I Love Camp!

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I recently spent a long, hot, sweaty, dirty, exhausting week in the middle of nowhere in northwest PA – and I absolutely loved it! I was speaking at Camp Judson, a Christian Camp located on Lake Erie. While this was my first time speaking at this particular camp, I have been involved in camp ministry for most of my life in one form or another. This week gave me the opportunity to reflect on just why I love camp ministry so much. Here are 13 reasons why I love camp ministry and why you should, too.

  1. It’s fun! With non-stop activity from sunup to way past sundown, camp is an awesome place to go have some good, clean fun.
  2. It’s a place to meet new people. Most camps bring together people from a variety of churches and communities and you get to meet people you never would otherwise.
  3. It’s a haven. Life can be tough on today’s kids and camp can be a great place to get away from the struggles of everyday life.
  4. It’s easier to connect with God in nature. I suppose some would disagree with me, but this is my list. I find that being out in God’s creation enhances my worship and awareness of Him.judson fire
  5. It’s an intentional teaching environment. Camp ministry is about creating an atmosphere that enhances the spiritual journey of every student.
  6. It’s a level playing field. For many students, camp is a place to break free of stereotypes and backgrounds and just be a camper like everyone else.
  7. It’s character building. Students have to come together, get along, overcome difficulties and participate in team activities. This increases character development.
  8. It’s socially enriching. Camp is a tremendous opportunity to teach students major social and developmental skill in a short time.
  9. It’s electronics free! At least mostly. We still have some of the necessary technology, but the amount of electronics is drastically reduced. Students have no phones, video games, computers, etc. and it makes for a tremendous learning and growth environment.
  10. It’s an investment in our future. Students are the future of our society, businesses and churches and camp gives me an opportunity to shape that future.
  11. It’s an opportunity for growth. Despite the fact that I go to camp to minister to students, I always learn and grow in my own spiritual journey.
  12. It’s a way to serve God. Jesus said that whatever you do to the lest of these we are doing to and for him. As we volunteer some of our time and resources to serve kids, we are also serving Jesus in a special way.
  13. It’s rewarding. I don’t want to be selfish, but I do love camp because of how rewarding and fulfilling it is. You leave feeling like you made a difference.