The Map to Hope

“I’m lookin’ for the map to hope…you seen it?”

– NF (Hip Hop Artist)

I’ve been listening to NF a lot lately.

If you’re not familiar with his music, it’s known for having a moody, dark, yet refreshingly authentic vibe. NF deep dives into the roots of his emotional trauma, and does it in a way that is so creative and relatable that, in his own words, Even if you hate it I make you feel like you’re in it though.

Processing emotional trauma.

Yeah.

I can relate.

I’ve had to wrestle lately with the emotional trauma of being a young black man in America.

I don’t say that in anger, and I assure you that this isn’t going to be some vitriolic rant. But I won’t lie to you and say that I haven’t been sorely tempted to go in that direction…or worse.

Then again, part of that has been my own fault. I’ve been on social media too much. I’ve probably wasted too much time trying to convince some people that the trauma is real, that it’s not imagined, that it’s not something I’ve been spoon-fed by the media.

Only to be met with statistics that “prove” I’m not thinking rationally, or that I’m just being gullible.

See? Even now I’m getting distracted. Sorry about that.

Like I said, I’m in a wrestling match with my emotions right now, as is the vast majority of the black community. And it’s so tiring.

And as you can see, we’re responding in different ways. Some of which are admittedly wrong and counterproductive, yes. But truthfully, many of us are just struggling to find or hold onto some sense of hope.

It’s like hope is this far-off destination that we’re desperate to get to, but we feel like we’re lost. And in dire need of a map.

Because we’ve been down this road before. Over and over again.

And before you say it, I know that as a follower of Jesus, I technically have this map already. I appreciate the reminder.

But you can feel lost sometimes even if you have a map.

I guess what I’m really trying to get at is this. Some of us feel like we don’t have a map to hope at all. Others of us do have the right map, but it’s a little blurry right now looking at it through our tears. We’re in different places in the process right now.

Please, bear with us. Cry with us. Allow us space to be honest about our feelings, even if you disagree. A listening ear goes a long way in times like this.

To be honest, even writing this post has been therapeutic for me. And I’m grateful to God that He’s been patient as I clumsily navigate this process.

To quote from my map:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.

It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.

They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24 (KJV)

“The Obvious Antidote…”

Treasuring Christ is the obvious antidote to treasuring idols.

Nothing destroys false worship like true worship.

When we see the majesty, glory, greatness, and sufficiency of God, we are drawn out of ourselves and toward Him.
Robert H. Thune

Sorrow Mixed with Hope

Sorrow mixed with hope…yeah, that’s pretty much my mood right now.

Welcome to my brain for the next several paragraphs.

My mind is reeling and my heart aches, because yet another young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was unjustly cut down. Yet another senseless death, yet another mother violently deprived of her son.

Simply because he “fit a description.”

But after 2 months of no action being taken, the two men responsible for it have finally been arrested and charged. That’s reason enough to be hopeful, right?

Yeah, but you’ve seen this movie before. The “justice system” will probably find some justification for his slaughter. He had prior convictions, he was trespassing, he was seen as a threat, he shouldn’t have reacted the way he did.

It is what is, Wayne. It’s just the America that you live in. It’s hard to swallow that this is still reality, and that you yourself “fit a description”. But don’t grow bitter…scripture warns you about that.

And besides, you’re not alone in how you feel. And it’s not just other black people who are calling for justice, either. You’re seeing plenty of white brothers and sisters…many who you know personally…speaking out loudly and showing genuine sympathy and love.

Yeah, that’s actually pretty comforting.

But scroll a few posts down, and you see the exact opposite. Victim blaming, denying that racism still exists, bringing up the issue of black-on-black crime, pointing out that blacks and other minorities can be racist too (a true but situationally irrelevant statement). And, to top it off, there are whole social media groups now dedicated to seeking justice for the perpetrators.

That is definitely hard to stomach and look at, Wayne. Try getting off social media for a little while, okay?

Okay.

But now I’m stuck with my thoughts. And they’re still mixed.

Because for all of the small glimmers of hope I feel, there’s still the reality that I have to live in. And that brings a ton of sorrow.

I wish I could just have all hope and no sorrow…you know what I mean?

And sometimes I wish that following Jesus could guarantee this for me. But I know that’s not reality. At least, not for now.

It is something that He guarantees down the road, though. But down the road seems so far away.

(Sigh).

I find some comfort in knowing that He’s pretty well acquainted with sorrow Himself, though. Yeah, that part helps.

I’ll hang on to that for now.

“Surrendering The Future”…

In these unprecedented times, it’s natural to want a sense of control by looking to the past.

You will likely hear many people, including some Christian leaders, offering certainty about what is to come. Faith does not mean trusting our ability to predict the future by looking at God’s past actions.

True faith means surrendering the future and trusting in God’s character which is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Skye Jethani

A Subtle Fragrance…

The ministry of the gospel in our churches involves more than doctrinal argumentation. The work of the gospel is subtle, like the work of a fragrance.

It is not just brute facts landing hard on someone’s mind, but an aroma wafting into a heart. And this light contact proves to be life or death.

Such is the astonishing power of the gospel of God.
Ray Ortlund

Jesus Junk…

Americans spend nearly $7 billion a year on Christian merchandise.

That’s a lot of Jesus t-shirts and bible covers. But if all the ‘Jesus junk’ was taken away, how would anyone know you belong to Christ?

Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples by our love, not by our bumper stickers.
Skye Jethani

Classy and Clever

What do a country music superstar and a Hall of Fame NFL running back have in common?

Apparently, a future career in politics. And an amazing sense of humor.

So…here’s the short version.

Garth Brooks takes an Instagram picture wearing a Barry Sanders jersey. Sanders just so happened to wear the number ‘20’ during his illustrious NFL career. A certain Trump-supporting portion of Brooks’ fan base then jumped to the “blatantly obvious” conclusion that Brooks was giving his endorsement of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Hilarity ensues.

I couldn’t help but laugh looking at some of the angry jabs that were thrown at Brooks so hastily. They ranged from “I don’t like you anymore”, to “Keep politics out of your music”, to “You’re not as intelligent as I thought”.

Please note that the actual comments were MUCH NASTIER than the cute way I chose to frame them in the previous paragraph.

But Brooks and Sanders (Barry, that is) took it in stride. Sanders playfully asked Brooks to be his running mate for office, and Brooks gladly accepted.

Classy and clever, baby.

Oh, if only we could take a page from their book on how to handle politics nowadays.

Do you know how many senseless squabbles, futile fights, delusive divisions, and needless knee-jerks could be avoided if we were just more classy and clever? Especially when it comes to politics.

With a couple of classy/clever tweets, both Garth Brooks and Barry Sanders rose above the negativity and demonstrated a level of civility that effectively squashed the noise. For all I know, they may have very different political leanings, but you wouldn’t have known it based on their interaction.

Now that I think about it, that was a real Jesus move on their part.

Classy and clever, baby.

More Than Theological Insight…

The Gospels are more than books of theological insight.

They do more than reveal doctrine, and Jesus wasn’t just motivated by an eschatological impulse to reveal God’s kingdom.

While all of that is true, none of it negates his profoundly emotional, personal care for the hurting individuals he encountered.
Skye Jethani

Toxic

There are some words nowadays that you don’t ever want to be labeled with.

Homophobic and racist are two that come to mind immediately.

But I think the trending word-weapon of choice in our current cancel culture is toxic.

The word sounds as nasty as it’s meaning. And it’s effects on your reputation are devastating. Being labeled as toxic is almost the equivalent of being handed a social death certificate.

But for a word that is so lethal, it sure is thrown around pretty carelessly.

It seems commonplace now to arbitrarily place the toxic label on people; not because it accurately fits them, but because we feel like they deserve it.

Maybe we just don’t like them. Or perhaps there is some hurt (real or imagined) that they’ve inflicted on us that spurns us to retaliate, but in a passive-aggressive way. Maybe they’re a part of a certain opposing political party or social group that we just know can’t be up to any good.

Could it be though that our rush to file people in the radioactive category is a desperate, underhanded attempt at feeling better about ourselves?

For instance, if a relationship doesn’t work out, I can say that it was toxic anyway…and if I’m the one to say that first, then everyone will assume that the other person was the toxin, and I’ll look much better in comparison.

See what I mean?

Am I denying that certain relationships are bad for you? Nope.

Am I denying that there are nasty people out there? Nope.

But everyone has toxins…including us. And if we’re really honest, our viewpoint of certain “toxic” people just might be distorted by the mental hazmat suit we have on. Sure, a hazmat suit is great for protecting you from external hazardous materials.

It sucks at helping you when the hazard is on the inside.

Truthfully, if there is one person who has every right to arbitrarily label people as toxic, it’s Jesus.

Glad He doesn’t use that word so carelessly.

“Unselfing”…

The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to Him alone.

Exalting ourselves always diminishes His visibility.

That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment, ‘unselfing’ by every one of us.
Ray Ortlund

Mamba Down

Dear reader.

I’m sorry in advance if this post sounds more like a bunch of jumbled thoughts than a well-organized, thought-provoking article.

I’m still trying to process that Kobe is actually gone.

In the words of sports commentator Shannon Sharpe, I feel like I’m grieving the loss of a family member.

And I feel a bit silly about it.

Because I didn’t know Kobe personally. I wasn’t close to him like his wife or daughters, or the rest of his family, his friends, his fellow NBA players, his coaches. I’ve never spoken with him, never interacted with him on social media, never seen him in person.

Why am I so distraught over his death?

I guess part of it is the utterly tragic way that it happened. A routine helicopter trip to a basketball game for the girl’s team that he coached, at the basketball camp he sponsored, ended in a fiery crash…a crash that tragically claimed the lives of 8 others, too.

Including his beloved daughter Gianna, who was eagerly following in his footsteps.

And Vanessa…oh my goodness.

How gut-wrenching must this be for her? To have her husband and daughter snatched from her like this. To have to somehow recover from the shock and conjure up strength for her 3 remaining daughters. And those daughters now having to face this harsh reality themselves.

I can’t even imagine the extent of their pain right now. Which, again, is why I feel silly about mine.

Perhaps it’s not fair for me to say that I’m mourning the loss of a family member. But I’m certain that I’m mourning the loss of one of my heroes.

Yeah…maybe that’s it.

Kobe was my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE basketball player, and without question one of the greatest to ever play the game. His tenacious work ethic has literally been branded (the Mamba Mentality).

But even beyond basketball, the way he fathered his daughters truly resonates with me. Kobe grew into a true family man, and despite how much he was away from home, he managed to be there for his wife and children.

His life was not without controversy, though. He had some glaring and inexcusable moral failures on his part. But to his credit, he owned up to them, and did what he could to make amends. To me, there is a redemptive arc to his story that is noteworthy.

Kobe was larger than life to me. But his death is a sobering reminder that…truthfully…none of us are too big to die.

That thought makes me think about the other heroes in my life. They are in much closer proximity to me than Kobe was. If he’s not invincible, then neither are they. I feel compelled to pray for them more than ever.

Okay, I’m done rambling. And for the record, I don’t have a deep theological lesson at the end of this.

I sincerely pray for Vanessa, her daughters, and the other grieving families. And I pray that God would grant them the strength and comfort they need to make it through this.

I hope those reading this will join me.

Our Soul’s Picture

“We look for our true identity, our ‘soul’s picture’, in many things. The culture tells us it can be found in accomplishments, relationships, or possessions.

Scripture tells us something very different. Our true identity cannot be discovered or constructed; it can only be received.

It is given to us by the only One who can see what we truly are.”
Skye Jethani