Archives For Justice

In March, a group of students from the University of Oklahoma chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity (OU SAE) was caught on video celebrating with a racist chant. The OU SAE video went viral, making sure racism remained prominent in the non-stop news cycle. It was an appalling moment representing an appalling history. It was also a reminder of why pastors and churches must engage the issues surrounding racial reconciliation and justice.

For me, this hit close to home. After seminary, I served as a pastor on a church staff in North Dallas near the homes of the two college students in the OU SAE video. Now, I pastor a church in Oklahoma, not far from where this video was recorded. The proximity was hard to overlook. I do not know these young men or their personal stories, but it is not hard to imagine they might have been in our church building a time or two. Maybe they had even attended an event for students somewhere along the way. They almost certainly would have known people who attended our church. These realities serve as a reminder of the great responsibility and the great opportunity for churches to bring about real change. People all around us need the gospel, and our cities need the gospel to be lived on her streets and in her living rooms.

Royce Cafe Edmond, OK

Royce Cafe Edmond, OK

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I find that many pastors increasingly feel a need to do something about racism but are uncertain about how to proceed. To be honest, that’s how I have felt much of the time. Over the last few years, I have been trying to engage in the conversation knowing that I will likely make some mistakes. Its seems better to speak poorly (and learn from it) than to remain silent. We can not do everything, but we must do something. You may not have an international platform or have all the answers to end systemic injustice, but you can take some first steps to engage in the conversation.

1. Be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak

In this conversation, listen more and talk less. White evangelicals especially need to heed this warning. This command from James 1:19 means more than patiently waiting your turn to talk. This is a two-part command. The first is as important as the second, for it is grounded in our love for others. We need to purpose to listen—really listen—to our friends. Not listening for the sake of politeness or argument, but for love’s sake. Lean in. Listen up. Love the person in front of you. Then, when we speak, let us do so with wisdom and much grace.

2. Build Real Relationships

The most significant aspect of my journey has been the real relationships I have with African American friends. Understanding increases more from twelve real conversations than from reading twelve-hundred tweets. When I am in a friend’s home, sharing meals, and watching our kids play together, things change. I hear about in-laws who refused to attend the wedding for their interracial marriage. I hear about the time they were handcuffed face-down in the street for no reason. I hear about the insults cops made to their spouse on a routine speeding violation. They loan me their book on lynching. I feel their longing for the shalom of God to break into our world. Then, their struggle has a chance to become my struggle.

3. Invite Diversity into Your Church

Find ways to bring diversity to your church, even if it’s a short-term connection. When we need a guest preacher or guest worship leader, consider bringing in a guest that would add to the diversity of your room. The same might be done with special events, retreat speakers, or curriculum choices. Over time, we ought to consider how to grow our diversity throughout our church, but we can immediately take a first step with the guests we invite to serve our body.

4. Follow Key Influencers

In the digital age, it is easier than ever to connect with a broad collection of people. Find out who the influencers are on this topic. Read their blogs. Follow them on social media. You don’t have to read everything, and you certainly do not have to agree with it all. Even occasional reading will raise your awareness about how others are thinking. It will show you which landlines you should avoid and point you to common ground you may share. Missionaries are students of culture.

5. Research Local History

Find out about your city’s racial history. When I pastored in North Carolina, people said there was no racial tension, in spite of the fact that we were situated on Tobacco Road and the town square bore a statue to the Confederate soldier. However, when the county courthouse later burned down in a fire, one black friend told me he wasn’t sad to see it go because of the number of people he knew who had been hurt by the injustice that took place there.

In my current city of Edmond, Oklahoma, I was able to connect with a professor of African American Studies who shared with me his research, including some advertisements giving clear evidence of racism in our local history. It’s easy to see how religious people in past decades missed the mark. These serve as a warning to our churches about our need for the gospel and it’s implications. We would be foolish to think that these histories do not extend into our congregations and our cities.

6. Preach the Word

Racial reconciliation is not the gospel, but the gospel results in the reconciliation of diverse people. The implications are evident throughout the Bible, and these need to be brought to bear on our lives and the lives of those in our churches. Our people need to see “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). When you craft your sermons, allow racial reconciliation to become an illustration for how the gospel works itself out in life. When appropriate, allow reconciling with others to be an application point. Consider adding a sermon or short series on race to your preaching calendar. God’s love for all people is clear: Jesus’ blood “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). May our preaching nurture a godly love for others and a passionate longing for the day when all people will stand shoulder-to-shoulder as brothers under God’s reign.

7. Make Disciples

When I wrestle with a problem as big as racism, I can become overwhelmed or discouraged. When global solutions seem hard to find, I find it helpful to focus on first steps. So, let me encourage you: start with the people in your room. Disciples are people. They are not a theoretical group, but a collection of individuals in need of gospel transformation. These individuals have their own stories and struggles. They need help applying the gospel to their life situations. If we are going to sever the real roots of racism in our world, it will be through the application of gospel truth to the sin in our hearts.

When I consider the two young men from the OU SAE video, I know we have work to do. This is not a problem with a quick fix. This conversation will continue, and our call as the people of God is to be a voice of reconciliation and hope for all people that speaks loudest in the gospel of Jesus.


Note: The post card above is in the public domain as a royalty free image, but may also be purchased via the website in the watermark.

This video made me hit the pause button on my day. I’ll admit I had to fight back tears. Not much needs to be said. Just watch and consider:

  1. Everyone has a story. When we enter into others’ stories, we connect with their humanity and remember our common Creator.
  2. Use your gifts for good. God has given you talents, training, and experiences so that you can serve and do good in the world. Find the good you were made to do.
  3. Imagine the beauty that God sees. If a talented artist like Rick Guidotti has eyes to see such beauty in the midst of struggle, can you imagine the beauty that God sees in the ones that he himself created?
  4. One day, God will make all things new. May we love and serve others, especially the marginalized, until that day. Come, Lord Jesus.


What stood out to you as you watched the video? Did you find the story as moving as I did? If you or someone you love deals with one of the conditions mentioned in the video, I’d love to hear your honest thoughts on this.


*Sorry I had to link to an external site; apparently, wordpress can’t embed NBC video player. It’s worth the trouble.

I recently finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand has turned an amazing story into a profound book. Hillenbrand also penned Seabiscuit, which was turned into a film, and I can’t imagine it will be long before Unbroken finds it’s way onto the big screen.

I wanted to share with you a few thoughts I had as I read Unbroken. If you’ve read the book, I hope that it will resonate with you (I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book in the comments at the end). If you have not yet read Unbroken, I hope that this will encourage you to add it to your “need to read” list. Or, perhaps this can serve as a discussion guide for your book club or reading group.

Spoiler Alert: I am going to provide a thematic overview of the book, so you will get a sense of the significant turns in the story by reading this post.

1. Turnarounds aren’t predictable.

Louis “Louie” Zamperini was an angry young man headed for trouble. Smoking at 5, drinking by 8, stealing things just to get away with it. In every way, he was heading nowhere good. But the beautiful thing about life is that course-corrections are possible.

We too easily overlook or even discard people who seem like they are just too much trouble. But some things that have been used for bad purposes may also be used for good.

“In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.” (pg 7, italics mine).

2. Everyone needs a mission.

Louie’s course correction was a quick one, primarily because he was fast…really fast. Urged, encouraged and trained by his older brother, Zamperini discovered that he could outrun almost everyone on a track. No longer wasted his days getting in trouble, he began to experience the joy of giving his life to something with a sense of urgency.

We all need the internal confidence that our lives matter and that we have a mission to which we should give ourselves.

At 16, he ran a two mile race against college competition in UCLA’s Southern California Cross Country meet, and he won by more than a quarter of a mile. Hillenbrand rightly notes that what was more important even than the win was “the realization of what he was” (pg 18).

This reminds me of Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

3. People are capable of greatness.

Photo credit: Louie Zamperini (

What Louie accomplished in a very short a time as an athlete is remarkable. At the age of only nineteen, after only four attempts at this distance, Zamperini ran the 5000 meters in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. These games were made famous by the great Jesse Owens and the horrible Hitler. In 1938, still young by miler standards, he ran the fifth fastest mile ever. People began to speculate that he would be the first man to break the 4:00 mile mark and would be a lock for the Gold Medal in 1940.

Louie’s accomplishments inspired his family, his town, his state and his nation. Human beings, as God’s greatest creatures, can run or sing or sculpt or write or invent in ways that infuse our daily struggles with awe.

4. People are capable of monstrosity.

I remember asking my grandmother if she wanted to see Saving Private Ryan. Her answer: “Why would anyone want to experience that again?” Her brother had served in France during WWII. After reading Unbroken, I have a better understanding why she felt that way.

These numbers stood out to me in the book: 594. 0. 220. First, 594 was the number of bullet holes through Zamperini’s plane, Superman, on a single mission. Zero (0) was the number of survivors Louie anticipated when his plane, the Green Hornet, went down. 220 is the number of punches that Louie endured at the hands of his fellow POWs, who were lined up and ordered to strike each officer once as hard as they could.

Fact is that no number could measure the monstrosity that is carried out in war. Unbroken is a harsh and heart-rending look at the faces of evil unrestrained. [I intentionally say faces of evil rather face of evil, because I am not talking in abstract; I am talking about individual men and women who commit horrific evil against others.]

Mike Cosper writes, “Jesus taught us to pray ‘on earth as in heaven,’ inviting us to look at the world through the hope-filled promise of reconciliation…There is nothing so liberating as the news that we have a better King and an eternal hope…every tyrant’s days are numbered. A King was born in Bethlehem who will one day bring justice and peace” (italics mine). *

5. Relationships are essential.

Photo credit: Louie Zamperini (

Throughout the story, people are at the center of it all. There is the mom who prayed constantly and waited hopefully for Louie’s return. There are the band of brothers that manned the bomber along with Louie. Pilot Phil who survived the plane crash and lived on a life-raft fending off sharks and starvation and insanity for weeks. The fellow POWs who suffered unimaginable cruelty together. The Japanese guard who introduced himself as a Christian and did what he could to protect Louie and others. Photos became treasures because they represented a distant connection to friends, family or a girl back home. Even diaries were kept in secret as a relational link to one’s true self.

“We were created for community” is more than a tagline. Relationships are essential to our survival. Our hearts naturally give themselves to others, and when we cease to connect with other people, we become less than human. Jesus described hell as a place of eternal torment and a significant part of that suffering is to be left alone, forever. Heaven is something we enjoy together with God and with others. **

6. When stripped of everything else, God is still there.

During the ghastly ocean journey on the life-raft, Phil and Louie experienced a moment they would always remember. Hillenbrand wrote:

It was an experience of transendence. Phil watched the sky, whispering that it looked like Pearl. The water looked so solid that it seemed they could walk across it. When a fist broke the surface far away, the sound carried to the men with absolute clarity. They watched as pristine ringlets of water circled outward around the place where the fish had passed, then faded to stillness.

For a while they spoke, sharing their wonder. Then, they fell into reverent silence. Their suffering was suspended. They weren’t hungry or thirsty. They were unaware of the approach of death (Pg 160).

This is no accidental world. Louie would conclude: “Such beauty…was too perfect to have come by mere chance. That day in the center of the Pacific was…a gift crafted deliberately, compassionately, for him and Phil” (Pg 160).

In his address, “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis says that moments like these give us a taste of the eternal, but the transcendence is not in the ocean or the wind or the beauty or things like these. He writes, “It was not in them, it only came through them.”

Lewis continues: “It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers.” *** These experiences point us to something beyond themselves.

It would be years before Louie Zamperini would connect the dots between this experience on the open ocean and the Christian faith, but he would finally realize that God in his grace had both implanted in him a desire for transcendence and granted him a taste of transcendence.

7. Dignity is linked to hope.

Photo credit: Louie Zamperini (

In one of the more profound sections of the book, Hillenbrand remarks, “…the guards sought to deprive them of something that had sustained them even as all else had been lost: dignity. This self-respect, and a sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind. Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain.”

When reading of the torture and humiliation, I cannot grasp the depth of loss they endured. In this tragedy, I know of no where else to turn but the suffering of Jesus, who endured the same at the hands of people he had created. Though I have only experienced a bird bath of suffering next to oceans of suffering endured by these POWs, knowing that Jesus is one who understands, cares, and enters into our suffering brings me comfort. I’m told, from others who have suffered much, that the realities of Jesus’ struggles comforts them too.

8. Defiance is a virtue.

A chapter titled Farting to Hirohito provides some comic relief. In the POW camps, the men invented all manner of ways to defy their captors. One of my favorite lines reads, “A fragrant favorite involved saving up intestinal gas, explosively voluminous thanks to chronic dysentery, prior to [roll call]. When the men were ordered to bow toward the emperor, the captives would pitch forward in concert and let thunderclaps fly for Hirohito.”

From timely expulsions to hidden escape plans to under-their-breath insults, these men managed to oppose evil by whatever means they could. We should all join the fight against injustice, and most of us have much greater opportunity than they did.

A wise friend once told me, “When my kids are teenagers, I just want them to be angry about the right stuff.” I agree. When fighting against evil, tyranny and injustice, rebellion is right. In our world, compliance is too often considered the highest value, but in many instances defiance is a much greater virtue.

9. The road to redemption is always surrender.

When Zamperini returns home, he struggles with reentry to a non-war world. Still fighting the horrors of his experience, he, understandably, drifts into a life of recurring nightmares, constant drinking, and vengeful desires. He descended into himself and seemed unable to find a way out.

But God specializes in hopeless situations.

Through an invitation of a neighbor and the coercion of his wife, Louie attends a Billy Graham crusade. At first, he is angry and resists Graham’s invitation. But at his wife’s prodding, he agrees to attend one more preaching session. Graham had extended his trip and was preaching several hours a day, seven days a week. In Billy Graham, Louie may have met a man who could match his stubbornness (being stubborn about the right things is a good thing).

At last, Louie surrendered and finally found freedom. He had been physically free from his captors for a long time, but now his soul was also free. He was free to sleep, to forgive, to live, to love.

God uses significant moments of crisis to change our lives, and Louie’s story is no different. But you’ll have to read the book to know more about his amazing journey.

9 Thoughts from Unbroken:
1. Turnarounds aren’t predictable.
2. Everyone needs a mission.
3. People are capable of greatness.
4. People are capable of monstrosity.
5. Relationships are essential.
6. When stripped of everything else, God is still there.
7. Dignity is linked to hope.
8. Defiance is a virtue.
9. The road to redemption is always surrender.

So, which of the above most resonates with you? Do any of these speak to your current life situation? And who is going to play the part of Louie in the movie?


* Mike Cosper, All Oppression Will Cease, Even in North Korea,

** For more in this line of thinking, see C. S. Lewis’ fantastic fantasy novel, The Great Divorce.

*** C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. Quotes taken from pages 30, 40, 42 in the Harper Collins Edition 2001.

Thanks to for pointing this video out.


As I watched this video, I felt my troubles shrink and my hopes expand. The beauty of the blues is that they simultaneously proclaim our despair and our hope without minimizing either. In this, blues music is very much like the Psalms.

Thanks to Ray Ortlund, who first posted this on the Gospel Coalition blog.


Several weeks ago, I posted about a video I had seen detailing the violence that many Christians are experiencing in parts of India, and I shared about some of my experiences in India. You can read that post here – Violence Against Christians in India. At the time, some footage of the video was in question. The video has now been released with confirmed video of violence against Christians. I warn you that this footage is raw and brutal. I personally believe that those of us who live in comfort need to be jolted by its awfulness, but it may not be for everyone.

As I said in my previous post, I was moved to tears by the video, but I hope we will also be moved to prayer and to action for our friends who are suffering for Christ.

Persecution in India: Francis’ Response from Cornerstone Church on Vimeo.

Footage courtesy: Voice of the Martyrs
Music courtesy: The Champion and His Burning Flame


Persecution in India: Francis’ Response on Vimeo.
Footage courtesy: Voice of the Martyrs
Music courtesy: The Champion and His Burning Flame

A Note about the situation in India:

Orissa has one of the worst records for violence against Christians, due in part to the activities of a religious fundamentalist group. Many churches have been destroyed and Christian workers continue to be attacked. There is a law prohibiting conversion and, since 2000, baptism requires the permission of the government. About a year ago, Hindu radicals went on a “bloody rampage that left 50,000 Christians fleeing for their lives into the state’s forests.” (GFA, 2009). – Cornerstone Church

This afternoon, I watched this video of the brutal persecution of our brothers and sisters in India. I was moved to tears, just as I had been similarly moved to tears five years ago when I taught in India. My hope is that you are also moved, but I hope that we are moved to more than tears. I hope we are moved to prayer, moved to action in our churches, and moved to assist churches in India and around the globe. 

1753172-R1-039-18Five years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a History of Doctrine course to a group of 43 graduate students in India.  As I taught these young students, my heart was jolted by their commitment to Christ. In the course of 18 days, I preached, taught for 5-6 hours per day, graded work late into the night, met with students in my makeshift office, and shared tea and meals with these remarkable students. During this time, I had the chance to be both teacher and student.  

What the Teacher Learned

I had planned my last lecture especially well. In closing, I would give them the charge that they now carried the message of Christ to the world–what had been passed from Jesus to the disciples to the church planters of Acts to the elders of churches throughout the globe now came to them. It was their task to carry that same message into the world.

I barely made it through the lecture as I fought through my tears. I had learned something of the hardship they faced and the enormity of their task, and it was more than I could handle. Knowing that these 23 or 24 year old young men would likely take the message of Christ into a heavily overcrowded and poverty-stricken region where very few Christians lived was daunting. That they would most likely set up their churches in an 8 x 10 ft storefront made of cinder blocks seemed impossible. Yet, there was also hope.

1753222-R1-006-1AI was humbled as I watched G–, a student with a learning disability who had once been rejected by his family as a failure, give up cricket games to study my notes (I was told he had to read them three times in order to understand). G– scored 98% in the course (much better than I had done as a student!). One employee at the school was a wonderful fifteen year old young lady that had recently been rescued from human-trafficking as a bride-for-sale. Another student said he dreamed of turning his tribal people from head-hunters to soul-hunters, and I’m certain that he was being serious. When I witnessed the ridiculous levels of poverty in Delhi, I was undone. It honestly took me six weeks to recover (meaning that it took six weeks to become somewhat numb again to the hardship).

Sharing in the Sufferings of Jesus

1753202-R1-024-10AOne connection that gripped me was a student I’ll call M–. M– is from China, although his father is Burmese.  After pastoring 4 years as a teenager, he snuck across the border from China to Myanmar (Burma) and then into India en route to bible college and seminary. Without any stops, that was a ten-day journey on busses and trains. He acknowledged that he shouldn’t be in India because China wouldn’t give a visa for this, but this was the only way he would become trained as a pastor. He had not seen his mother, father, brothers or sisters in five years. His father died while he was away, and he received a brief phone call from a relative. He planned to return to China and pastor a house church along the China-Myanmar border amongst his people.

1753192-R1-021-9In an email to my wife, I wrote, “It is good to be here to learn from as well as to teach and encourage these young men. They truly are young men, which means that I am getting older, but it also means that the task of leading churches in these harsh areas has been left to the young, and that is a little overwhelming for me, as I think of what they will face and the fact that many of them will be forced to face it alone in a village of people hostile to all that they stand for. Gives my prayers a new sense of urgency.” I still feel that way.

A Prayer and Plea

I leave you with an excerpt from my last journal entry from India 5 years ago. May we in our luxury and comfort and silly church battles become broken for those around the world who face such difficulty in being Jesus’ disciples. May our prayers sustain them as we lift them up to our Heavenly Father. May their devotion to our Rescuer spur us on to greater love and faith and ministry.

M–, my new friend from China who travelled 10 days journey illegally to be here, came to see me today. We talked for a few minutes about ministry and he wanted some information that I will email to him. We talked for a few more minutes before I had to turn to some work that needed to get to the copier before close of work today. As our conversation ended, he looked at me and said, “You leave Friday. Tomorrow will be busy day for you. We may not talk again.” I truly thought he was going to cry. I told him that we would eat lunch together tomorrow. I can tell that it feels good to him to know that someone outside of his people knows of his plight. He loves to talk about his people and the ministry he hopes to have among his people. All of the students love to talk about the plight of their people.

Marip Tu is the student on the right

Another student gave me a book today, one that was privately printed by a secret group (he seemed nervous about giving it to me and wanted me to read it “privately” in case someone was offended by the book). It’s over 500 pages long. I leave in less than 48 hours. When in the world am I going to read that? But in a note on one of his assignments, he had mentioned that he hoped to turn his people from head-hunters to soul-hunters. I included a note that I would pray for his people later that day. Two days later, he asks me if I could read this book. I could make no promises there, but it is at my bedside tonight. The students have a great burden for “their people.” There isn’t much national pride for India, but they all dearly love “their people.” And for most, that results in sadness and spiritual burden due to the hardness of the people to the gospel.

Clearly, there will be some sorrow for me in leaving these friends, brothers and sisters. There is much work to do here, and they bear an inordinate burden for the Church. But I will be happy to be home, to be with Nan, to be with the boys. I thought today about being with my church family and longed to be a part of worshipping with them. Going home will be good, but this too has been good.

May God be lifted up in His Church, both here and there.



I wanted to share with you three reminders that justice is worth the fight. I can’t listen to these recordings without having my soul profoundly stirred. Where justice demands our presence, may we love deeply, live boldly, pray constantly, hope vividly, act relentlessly.

The most haunting song I’ve ever heard – “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday.

One of the greatest speeches ever delivered – “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr.


In the fight against injustice, God must be real – “A Knock at Midnight” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seek justice ’til Jesus comes.

– jdl