Remembering July 7, 2016 (Psalm 22)

Two years ago, at the end of protests on the night of July 7, 2016, a lone shooter ambushed a group of Dallas police officers, killing five men and injuring nine others. The ambush came amid high tensions across the nation concerning a rash of police shootings that received massive media scrutiny and sparked nationwide outrage, particularly in black communities.

Dallas is a city that has witnessed horrific events before. In 1963, JFK was assassinated here. After September 11, 2001, the skies above DFW, normally filled with flying machines, hovered quietly and somberly for days on end as the nation attempted to come to grips with what had happened that fateful day.

Two years after the shootings in Dallas, tensions and dissension remain. Yes, the focus and topics have changed, but the societal gaps have widened. We are not a nation that has been drawn closer together. The cohesiveness and unity of the day after 9-11 are a distant memory.

In the days that followed the cowardly attack, I had the privilege of attending several of the funerals for the officers. Pulling up to park at the memorial service for Dallas Police Sergeant Michael Smith, my friend Mark Jones and I were blown away at seeing the thousands of police cars and motorcycles lining the streets around Watermark Church. Mark and I lamented the state of race relations in America, discussing how, as ministers, we should respond to the ever-increasing tensions between our two respective races.

While we did not assess people by their skin color, we knew that people in the world did. We both believed in law and order and supporting those who protected our families and communities. Our hearts ached for the fallen officers and their families and the tensions splitting our nation apart. Walking to the church, neither of us knew that the Lord would call my friend Mark home the following year, days before the one-year anniversary of the ambush.

One Dallas

The focus of those days has shifted. The vitriolic venom, though, has not subsided. Our country is not any more united today than it was on that day. The divide still exists. Protests continue. As a nation, we are weary. Weary of the terrorism, tired of war, fed up with the drug epidemics, and frustrated by the unending protests against seemingly everything and everyone.

Psalm 22 The Message (MSG)

A David Psalm

22 1-2 God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

3-5 And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
  leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
    they cried for your help and you gave it;
    they trusted and lived a good life.

6-8 And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
“Let’s see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him!”

9-11 And to think you were midwife at my birth,
setting me at my mother’s breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
since the moment of birth you’ve been my God.
Then you moved far away
and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.

12-13 Herds of bulls come at me,
    the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
    like a herd of buffalo on the move.

14-15 I’m a bucket kicked over and spilled,
every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
of melted wax in my gut.
I’m dry as a bone,
my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
in the dirt.

16-18 Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes.

19-21 You, God—don’t put off my rescue!
    Hurry and help me!
Don’t let them cut my throat;
    don’t let those mongrels devour me.
If you don’t show up soon,
    I’m done for—gored by the bulls,
    meat for the lions.

22-24 Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
he has been right there, listening.

25-26 Here in this great gathering for worship
    I have discovered this praise-life.
And I’ll do what I promised right here
in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at God’s table
    and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
    is here, praising him.
“Live it up, from head to toe.
    Don’t ever quit!”

27-28 From the four corners of the earth
    people are coming to their senses,
    are running back to God.
Long-lost families
    are falling on their faces before him.
God has taken charge;
    from now on he has the last word.

29 All the power-mongers are before him
—worshiping!
All the poor and powerless, too
—worshiping!
Along with those who never got it together
—worshiping!

30-31 Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.

The Devotional Guy_preach the gospel

In Psalm 22, we find David weary and frustrated, feeling despondent, and wondering if God had forsaken him. Yet, he remained confident that God would look after him. Frustrated by God’s apparent lack of response to David’s prayers, he found encouragement through remembering God’s past faithfulness and goodness.

David teaches us a valuable lesson through his response. We see David demonstrating attitudes and concerns in similar ways that we do when the world seems to be piling problem after problem at our door. Amidst the turmoil swirling around his situation, David steps back long enough to remember the Lord’s previous mercies and grace. This made his present troubles appear small in retrospect.

David outlines his dire circumstances and then confidently expresses his personal trust in the Lord and belief that the same God who provided for him before will deliver him from certain death now.

When we find ourselves mired in the valley, we forget what we experienced on the mountaintop. My late friend Mark would often say something like “Don’t forget in the darkness what God showed you in the light.”

Yes, in this life we will have trouble. But, as we see in this Psalm written by David centuries ago, we can be confident that we serve a God who is trustworthy. God is able. With an able and faithful God on our side, we have nothing to fear in this life.

As a nation, I pray we will remember what we share in common is far greater than that which divides us. We must move past the vitriolic discourse and begin having honest conversations about what ails us. In my lifetime, I have seen our nation move far away from God. We have forsaken and forgotten Him, pushing Him out of virtually every facet of our lives. We’ve taken the wheel. We’ve become the pilots now. At best, we ask God to be our co-pilot, to ride along with us, as we pursue our will and seek out our own ways. Along the way, those who have pledged to protect and serve us are slaughtered on the battlefields far away and those close to home.

DPD Memorial 2016Please checkout Gary Miller and I discussing “Everythingness” on the WorshipMinistry.com podcast.

Where do we go from here?

Like many of you, my heart has felt heavy since the events of last Thursday night,  July 7,  that saw a lone gunman murder 4 Dallas Police officers and 1 DART officer. In the days and nights since, I have been filled with grief,  burned with frustration at the foolishness of a few, and overwhelmed at witnessing firsthand the LOVE of so, so many.

DPD Memorial 2016

By God’s grace, I was fortunate to be able to attend three of the officer’s funerals in person. This past week, I have had the privilege, joy, and honor of meeting, speaking, laughing, crying and praying with white, black, and brown people from all walks of life. I’ve witnessed firsthand the loving-kindness of a flood of people travelling to Dallas from all over our nation to pay their respects as they grappled to make sense of a senseless act that extinguished the flames of five of our society’s best. Make no mistake about it; the world has lost five exceptional, good men. They did not seek to be heroes. They simply sought to protect and serve.

Much has changed since I was a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s. We have made lots of progress since I was a young man in the 80s. I’ve seen progress continue throughout my life. But, we still have work to do.

The job is not finished.

Unfortunately, the scourge of racism is woven into the tapestry of our nation’s fabric. It is a hurt that has ached too long. While many have done much to eradicate this parasite, it’s stains are not easily washed out. The wounds of racism continue to be slow to heal. Scabs of this national hurt remain, albeit protruding less today than yesterday. With continued vigilance, it can be less tomorrow than today. United we stand. Divided we fall.

Love begins with forgiveness, so to my brothers and sisters of color, I ask, as difficult as it might be, that you forgive me and all of those who at any time made you feel less valued, less seen, less valuable, lesser in any way. You matter equally. You matter, period.

While celebrating our differences and uniqueness, we must strive to keep moving forward as one. Let us no longer be defined by the hateful voices or the destructive actions of a few.

They do not speak for us.

If we are truly going to all get along, we must reject the foolish rhetoric of divisiveness. Sameness is not the objective. That would fall far short of celebrating our Creator’s almighty magnificence. But we can be different and be united. These are not mutually exclusive ideals.

Togetherness, in the bright, shining light of our differences, proclaims what faith, hope, and love can do. Together, we can heal this wound. We must continue to put our minds to it and be willing to keep our hearts in it. Together, we can overcome the deep hurts and divisive pains racism has wrought. To do that, as one of the officers who spoke at this week’s funerals eloquently pointed out, we must begin to forgive.

 

 

Memorial Day 2016

America is a great country.

No, we are not a perfect land made up of perfect people. While as a nation, we may be more divided today than we have been in 150 years, and as the sun begins to usher in Summer, let us turn our focus from what separates us to what unites us.

Like many of you, I still remember how united we stood together in the days following the horrible moments of September 11, 2001 almost fifteen years ago.

America remains a beacon of freedom and a gateway to opportunity. Yes, like throughout our history, there is still work to be done, battles to be fought, and courses to be set. Our Founding Fathers did not see eye to eye on everything either. Yet, they worked tirelessly to overcome their differences and unite around their common desire to create a more perfect Union, ringing in a Nation of unprecedented freedom.  

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Declaration of Independence, 1776

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, 1787

Rooted in early traditions of mothers decorating the graves of their sons who had fallen in battle, Memorial Day grew nationally out of the ashes of the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history that pitted brother against brother and claimed the lives of over 600,000 soldiers.

General John A. Logan, heading up an organization representing Northern Civil War veterans, was one of the first to call on a day of remembrance on May 5, 1868, then known as Decoration Day.

 “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

General John A. Logan

The first Decoration Day saw over 5,000 people place flowers on the 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This tradition would continue to grow throughout America with each passing year, in every State of the Union. Finding itself embroiled in another bitter conflict during World War I, Memorial Day, as it was now called, morphed into a holiday remembering the American military personnel who sacrificed their lives in all wars. Finally, in 1968, the U.S. Congress established Memorial Day be observed on the last day of May, officially beginning with the commemoration of the holiday in 1971.

The three-day weekend celebration cumulates with a national moment of remembrance observed at 3 p.m. local time.

Our nation has faced challenges in each season of its existence. In many of those seasons, young men and young women have paid the ultimate price for freedom by laying down their lives. Let us honor them by celebrating those unique qualities that make America great and through focusing on what unites us, rather than what divides us.

This Memorial Day, let us remember that we live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” And let us not forget, our Freedom has been secured through the ultimate great sacrifice by those who gave their all.