Location: Charleston, West Virginia, United States

Sunday, April 01, 2007

“You are the blackest white I have ever met!”

“You are the blackest white I have ever met!”
A Journey Toward Wholeness
Pastor Ron Thaxton

“Why do you do what you are doing?” I was sitting by the bedside of Rev. James Mitchell, Sr in the Intensive Care Unit of Thomas Memorial Hospital when he unexpectedly asked me this question. Rev. Mitchell is a retired Black Baptist Preacher who had been an essential part of the Pastors’ Prayer Movement in our city until age began to slow him a little. My initial response was decidedly inadequate, “I don’t know?” It took me a moment to catch the full grasp of what he was saying to me. And even now, a few days later, I am still struggling with an adequate answer to his question–for it involves the call of God on my life.

“God, why did You do this to me?” This is a question I often ask. You see, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with an emphasis on Accounting. I liked it because when you got to the bottom of the columns and they didn’t add up properly you could always go back and figure out why. Numbers are like that. They are predictable, following set patterns. They are easy to reconcile. On the other hand, there is nothing predictable about people and they are never easy to reconcile. Sometimes I think God has a slightly cruel sense of humor–at least where I am concerned.

For the past thirty-five years, my wife Nancy and I have had a burden for the reconciliation of the Body of Christ. A major portion of our time, energy and resources have gone toward this objective. My subsequent response to Rev. Mitchell’s query was to say, “So that we all act like we are on the same team.” That is true, but it was still grasping for answers. He was probing for something deeper–maybe it was God telling me it was time to do a checkup on my motivations?

As the Psalmist, David pleaded, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:23-24 NLT This is always a healthy posture to maintain. It will keep us continually revived–totally dependent on Him. If we stray from this attitude, He is faithful to bring us back to this place of stark objectivity.

Why did He put men and women of faith such as Rev. Mitchell in my life? If I were to start a list it would go on and on. He knew that there was something that needed to be added–awakened possibly–if I was to get beyond the reconciliation of numbers to the ministry of reconciliation. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:...” 2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV If we in the Body of Christ are unreconciled among ourselves then we invalidate the very ministry bequeathed to us by Christ through His suffering and ascension.

As I have listened to the stories - not the complaints - of my friends in the minority community in our city, I have heard a sound–a call to action. It is the doing of justice. Authentic justice is the testimony that enmity has been dealt a death blow and peace has been ushered in. Peace is the fertile soil of reconciliation. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,...” Ephesians 2:14

There can be no lasting peace without the doing of justice. Covetousness is the root cause of strife–someone or some group attempting to improve themselves at the expense of another. This is injustice. Authentic reconciliation must fully incorporate the doing of justice. If one continues to benefit in any manner at the exploitation of another, peace is impossible. The problem will only be compounded for further angst - confusion and frustration - will be added to the equation.

Some may say, “Well, it’s really all about love.” And I would agree. But love makes demands. Actually there is nothing any more demanding than love. The Scripture tells us that we are to owe no man anything but love. Therefore, love creates a debt–and a debt demands payment.

“Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God’s law.” Romans 13:8 NLT All other forms of debt can be satisfied, yet the debt of love is so great it can never be fully quelled. This is not a debt toward God, but toward our fellow man. It is the horizontal member of Christ’s Cross - the level line in the building of the House of the Lord - and it calls us to do justice.

This was the great motivational force in the life of the Apostle Paul, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 NLT He had died to all desire for personal aggrandizement. He only wanted to be identified as a bond-slave of Christ. This truly great man who at one time could make his case for personal worth by exalting his accomplishments at the expense of others, no longer had any desire but to be identified with Christ in His suffering. He had found his wholeness and his glory in Christ and Christ alone. “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” Philippians 3:3 NASB

“You are the blackest white I have ever met,” was Rev. Mitchell’s comment to me as I prepared to leave his side and allow him to drift off into healing sleep. “I take that as a compliment,” was my response. I believe that what he was saying to me was that I had begun to bear his burden–to even identify with it. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” James 2:8 NASB

This is what motivates me to return to Africa again and again–to share with our struggling brothers and sisters just a little of our abundance. They do so much with so little. I am continually exhorted by their faith. What they seldom understand is that I, we, need them as much as they need us–maybe even more. I never fail to issue this plea, “Uganda! Pray for America! We do not have what you have and our money cannot buy it! Uganda! Pray for America!” Without them we can never be whole–we can never experience true reconciliation.

Yet, it is not the plight of the disadvantaged alone that provides the clarion call to action. It can never be! If it is, it will cause us to become misguided. Our focus can become man-ward and we end up worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. “Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen.” Romans 1:25 NLT Yes, if we glory in our accomplishments–no matter how noble, we have succumbed to idolatry.

We only dare to exalt what God is exalting. To attempt to exalt what He is not exalting is to be in trouble with Him! We would rather be in trouble with the Devil, then to be in trouble with God.

His glory - the full revelation of His glorious manifold wisdom - must be our sole pursuit. Our conviction is that His glory can only be fully and adequately revealed through a Church that is whole. It is one that is reconciled within itself. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 3:10-11 NIV The word manifold here can also be translated as variegated, many-colored, multifaceted or the one I like the best - many-splendored. Each facet of the Church gives expression to a characteristic - a splendor - of the Glory of God, but it is only when these facets are joined together is the full revelation of His Glory made known to all–even to powers and principalities in heavenly places.

Only this true light is able to dispel the darkness clouding the minds of unbelievers. “Satan, the god of this evil world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe, so they are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News that is shining upon them. They don’t understand the message we preach about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

This is evangelism at its greatest height–extreme evangelism! This is the call of God on the Church in the City. Her debt of love is to reveal His Glory to a watching and waiting world. After I had prayed with Rev. Mitchell my words to him as I stood up to go my way were, “I love you.” Did he and I always see eye to eye? No, not at all! Did that matter? Not in the least. I needed him if I were to be whole–and he needed me. Our debt of love demanded that we transcend anything momentary that might hinder our eternal purpose.

Rev. Mitchell’s prayer and hope in the twelve years that I have known him is that the Lord would not take him until he was able to see boys and girls, black and white, rejoicing together in the streets of our city. Now, at eighty-eight years of age, that hope is closer than it has ever been.

“For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay. Habakkuk 2:3

As we conclude this chapter of our odyssey let us turn to our Lord’s prayer for us: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:22-23 NASB


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