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Monday, November 2, 2015

The Power of Words

The Power of Words

Words can be powerful. Let's start by looking at God's Word and then see how that relates to our word. Let me begin with this statement and tear it down from there:

"God’s Word spoken in love and in accordance with God’s will creates something from nothing."

We know and can trust from Scripture that God is love. The Bible, God’s Word, we call it, says that God is love. So, every word spoken by God comes from a place of love. Why would we serve God if he were not love? So, if there is a God worth serving, we can agree that he is loving. So, we can assume that anything that is God's word is spoken in love.

And, every word spoken by God is according to his will. As humans, we are imperfect, we lie, our words are not always in accordance with our own will let alone with God’s will. You see that. But, that is not so with God. God is not divided. God is one. God is not a liar. Everything that God says we can assume is according to his will.

So for the sake of brevity, we can shorten this statement to:

"God’s Word creates something from nothing."

Now let me talk through what that "something" is. What is God creating?

We can read in 2 Tim 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed [God’s Word] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Useful - God's word is practical. It does something. It creates something. In this verse, it is described as creating righteousness.

Righteousness -  The purpose that this verse gives for creating righteousness is so that the servants of God will be able to do good works.

Good works - This is a new possibility that was created by God in his servants. Now, unlike before God spoke, they are able to do good.

In Hebrews 4:12 we read that the Word of God is alive and active. It has life. It is powerful.

Isaiah 55 puts it this way:
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Like rain brings life, God’s word brings life. It creates new life and new possibilities from nothing. It does. It always, 100% of the time, does. Without fail. Otherwise, it is not God's word. So, we can change the statement this way:

“God’s Word creates new possibilities from nothing.”

Now, let's look at the word nothing. Where are those new possibilities coming from?

We see this most clearly in the creation story of Genesis 1 and John 1.

Genesis 1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

He repeats this day after day, speaking this universe into existence. It would be amazing to think about him still speaking everything into existence now and now and now.

John 1 describes the original creation this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

The Word here is referring to Jesus Christ. (Check John 1:13 if that is a question for you.) So, everything that was created by God in the beginning was created through Christ. Life was in him and came from him. And, nothing was made apart from him.

So, now here is the final statement about what God's Word creates in this world:

“God’s Word creates new possibilities through Christ."

Now let's see what we can say about the power of human words.

We were each created. We were a new possibility through Christ. "I am a new possibility created by God through Christ." Try repeating that sentence every day. It might change our lives to think that way. Wouldn't it?

Try repeating it now. Maybe even say it aloud. Try it on for size. Does it fit?

We are created in God’s image according to Genesis 1:27 and knit together by God himself according to Psalm 139:13-14.

The Creator created human beings in the image of the Creator to be like the creator in creating.

Our likeness to the creator is not perfect or complete. "We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23). But, we were created like Him, in His image, to be creative with our words. And, I don't mean using descriptive vocabulary.

We can create new possibilities through Christ when we speak in love and in accordance with God's will.

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

This amazing idea is echoed in many verses in the Bible. (Matthew 7:7; Mark 11:22-24; John 14:13-14, 15:7, 16, 16:23-24; Philippians 4:6-7; James 4:3)

So, our words can have power, if they are spoken in love and in accordance with God’s will. If in essence they are God’s words. God can speak through us. 

Or, through Christ, we can speak God's words. And, when we do, God creates new possibilities for us.
(The flip side is also true and this shouldn't be overlooked. There are many exhortations in the Bible to beware false teachers and false prophets whose words have the power to destroy instead of create. Our words can also potentially have destructive power which we see and feel everyday. Almost every fight has been begun with words and has escalated with words.)
Notice I said, they have the potential to create, not that they always do. God’s word has power and always accomplishes what He desires, and it achieves the purpose for which He said it.

Our words are not guaranteed to create because our words are not always spoken in love and aligned with God’s will.

How do we align our words with God's word so that we can create new possibilities through Christ for ourselves and others?

In Matt 7:15, false prophets are equated to ferocious wolves in sheep’s clothing.
God is not condemning wolves. He is condemning deception and ferociousness.

We are all inauthentic. We all lie, to each other and most often to ourselves. But, these wolves lie about being wolves. They lie about being inauthentic. They pretend that they are open books when in reality they are hiding. They are hypocrites.

Our integrity is crucial to speaking words that have the power to create new possibilities. Integrity comes from a commitment to being authentic. But, since we are all inauthentic, it is a commitment to being authentic about being inauthentic. That is integrity.

That’s God's condemnation of false prophets. They have no integrity.

And, whether you are a prophet or not, recognize that “God’s Word creates new possibilities through Christ.”

You have the power to create new possibilities through Christ as you speak God’s word in love and in accordance with God's will.

At first, our words take on power when we declare with our mouth "Jesus is Lord." Remember the righteousness that God was creating in us through His word as described in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. When we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth "Jesus is Lord," we are forgiven of our sins and are saved, making us righteous not because we do good things, but because Christ's righteousness is imparted to us. Here's how Paul described it.

Rom 10:6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: ... SKIP ahead to verse 8 “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

[And, like in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, it is so we can be thoroughly equipped to do good works. And, the first good work is to speak to others so they, too, can experience the power of God's word. Paul continues...]

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

If you want to see the power of God manifest in your life, speak God's word to create new possibilities through Christ. First, in ourselves, as we declare "Jesus is Lord" and then, in others, as we declare "Jesus is Lord."

Friday, October 30, 2015

That Voice in Your Head: Living Powerfully

            You know that voice in your head that talks to you and just won’t shut up. Yeah, that one. The one that is saying, “Oh yeah, I know that voice.” Or maybe you aren’t like that. So, the voice in your head is saying, “What is this guy talking about? I don’t have a voice in my head!” Yeah, that’s the one. Or, maybe it’s saying, “Oh, do I have a voice in my head? I wonder. Well if everyone has one, then I guess I have one.” Yeah that’s the one. And, if you are really truly unique, the voice in your head is saying, “Not me. I don’t have a voice in my head. I’m no ordinary person. I am different.” Yeah, that’s the voice I'm talking about.

            What does that voice tell you? It depends. It depends on what language(s) you speak. Right? Otherwise you wouldn’t understand the voice in your head. (Now that would be confusing. Kinda cool, though.) What that voice tells you also depends on where you were born and live. Makes sense, right? Otherwise, the context would be all confusing and wouldn’t make sense. It depends on your personality. It depends on your relationships. It depends on your parents. It depends on your children. It depends on where you work. It depends on whether the guy behind the counter put whip cream on your latte. It depends.

            That voice is common to the human condition. It is part of being human. It is something that we all share. We all have a voice in our head. Also, that voice speaks from a certain perspective. No matter what it is actually saying, it comes from a common foundation that we all share:

1 – “There is something wrong here, and, that something is me.” What is the voice in your head saying right now? “Oooowww, that’s deep. Such a profound idea.” Or maybe it’s saying, “@#$%! That’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Or maybe, it’s saying, “Ok, I can see that.”

The voice in our head tells us things. It tries to guide us through life. It directs us on what to believe and who to trust. It tells us what to eat and what to avoid. But, the first thing underlying all of that is this, “There is something wrong here, and that something is me.” So, your voice has told you something like: look prettier, get stronger, be more guarded, be more sensitive, to live in the moment, eat less and exercise more, read more, keep growing, hide, don’t take anything serious, laugh more, play more, numb the pain, or maybe all of the above at one time or the other. The voice in our head has a lot to say. It almost never shuts up.

The voice in our head assumes that we are the something that is wrong and either wants to fix us or tries to avoid facing the fact that something is wrong. Each moment, you and I have to decide whether, on the one hand, to do what the voice is saying or to fight against the voice.

Which one dominates is up to you. Whether you choose to stand and fight or run and hide is up to you. Now that voice in your head is saying, “I’m gonna stand and fight!” or “Fighting, no thanks. I’m gonna run and hide.” Or, maybe that voice in your head is saying, “It is not that simple. There are always other choices that we have. I read in a book once, that…” Or maybe, it’s saying, “I’m gonna fight! That’s the right answer isn’t it? Running and hiding can’t be the right answer. Or is it? Is this a trick question?”

And, that’s the point. We have a voice in our head that is responding every moment to the foundational belief that "there is something wrong here, and that something is me." Regardless of what it is saying, that is where it is coming from. It is looking for the right answer, the best way, to get past this life-altering, foundational belief that something is wrong and by working so hard to get past it, it confirms moment by moment, day after day that:

“There is something wrong here, and that something is me.”

The second belief began a little later in life, but it is just as foundational. It is the second underlying belief behind what the voice in our head tells us.

2 – “I don’t belong.” The voice tells you and me that if we looked a certain way and not another then we would belong. The voice tells us to eat a certain way and not another. The voice tells us to change ourselves, educate ourselves, grow, become, transform, metamorphosize into something that fits, something that belongs.

You have been responding to that foundational belief ever since. Your actions in life, the career you have, the spouse you chose, the place you live, the friends you have, the makeup you wear is all in response to that underlying premise, “I don’t belong.”

The voice in your head is again telling you, “Yes that’s true!” Or, “No, that’s crap!” Others of you, the voice, is saying, “Where is this all going? What’s the point already!?”

Fair enough. That’s not the real point that I am learning and trying to share with you. It just is. It is what it is. We have a voice in our heads. And, that voice, regardless of what it says, is coming from this place: “There is something wrong here, and that something is me,” and “I don’t belong.”

Sometimes we do what that voice tells us and sometimes we don’t. No, that’s not the point either. It just is.

So, wait for the voice. Listen for it. Hear it. Then, choose whether to do what the voice says or not. Then, recognize that you made the choice. You decided whether or not to listen. You chose whether to eat that piece of cake or not, whether to get out of bed or not. You chose.

You are not the voice in your head. That voice is not you.

Here’s the point: You have power over the voice in your head unless you give that voice power over you. Either way it’s your choice, your power.

You are powerful. You are great. But, you and I can choose to live powerless and small.

I don’t want to. I like living powerfully. It is fun and allows me to make the kind of impact that I want to make. So, I am going to choose to live powerfully and BIG. Do you want to know why? Because I choose to. I choose to because I choose to. I am powerful and have a choice, and I choose to live BIG.

You are powerful. You are great.You are not the voice in your head. You have power over it. So exercise ... or don't. Just don't believe the lie that you didn't have a choice. You are powerful. You can choose to obey the voice in your head or choose to ignore it. You are great. Be great.

Any questions or want to know more, leave a comment below or contact me directly. This has been a life-changing reality for me. I trust it can be for you. Your choice!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

When Jesus Isn't Enough

Is Jesus enough?

If you were to sit in a church on a Sunday morning, thinking about Scripture, singing praise songs like All in All, Knowing You and Indescribable, you might know what the “right answer” is.

"Of Course Jesus is enough. What more could we need or want? With Jesus, all things are possible. Apart from him we can do nothing."

Is Jesus enough? "Yes."

Well, that would be an awfully short blog post, and because I have been wrestling with that question for days this week, I think there might be some more to say on the subject.

I know that he is enough. I have taught others that Jesus is enough. And, I believe that Jesus is enough. But this week, I didn’t feel like Jesus was enough. In fact, I could have easily named a few things that I longed for that at the time seemed more pressing than Jesus.

Nothing earth shattering happened this week. What happened to me this week was all quite normal, but I questioned one of the central tenets of my faith. Is Jesus really enough?

I was tired, but that is often true because I am out of shape. I felt guilty and un-everything good: unworthy, unlovable, unproductive, unloving. I was lonely and felt isolated from the ones I love. I started to wallow in all of these emotions while I was reading and praying and preparing for this week's sermon which started out being about fasting.

It was still about fasting, but the focus became quite clear. Is Jesus enough?

Do you know what I needed, (or maybe "wanted" is a better word for it)? I wanted someone to put their arm around me, rub my back and ask me what was wrong. I wanted someone to listen to me sort through my thoughts and tell me it was going to be OK. I wanted a physical person to sit with me and maybe read the Bible to me or give me some godly advice. I wanted a friend.

And this was a week that I had some good habits.  I took my own advice and spent the first 5 minutes out of bed on my knees in prayer each morning this week, and I read Scripture this week, and I listened to some songs of praise, and I took a walk yesterday to think and clear my head. But, in all of that, I still didn’t feel like Jesus was enough. I still wanted a person, a friend.

My feelings are not really what this post is about though. I have spent maybe too long talking about them. I wanted to talk about them though so that you could relate to what I am saying, so we could get past the easy answer of, “Yes, of course Jesus is enough.”

In theory, Christians all know, “Yes, Jesus is enough.” But, in practice, we all feel at times that, “No, Jesus is not enough.”

That is why when we are faced with a choice between sinning and choosing righteousness, we choose sin way too often. That is why when we are faced with challenging or sometimes tragic circumstances, we ask why and doubt God’s love or wisdom or compassion. That is why when we are faced with a difficult choice, we worry and fear that we might make the wrong choice and will then be headed in the wrong direction.

These are three times when we are faced with the question, “Is Jesus enough?” and often come to the conclusion that he very certainly is not. Sin, Circumstances and Choices:

When we sin, we proclaim that Jesus is not enough.
1.      With pride, Jesus gaining glory is not enough, we want some of that glory for ourselves.
2.      With lust, Jesus’ provision for us is not enough, we want something more for ourselves.
3.      With worry, Jesus’ Lordship is not enough, we want a better god, one that does what we want.
When we sin, it shows us our true belief. We answer the question, “Is Jesus enough?” with a resounding, “No. No, he is not enough. I need more.”

Circumstances in life might pull us to believe that Jesus is not enough:

When your child is in the hospital and you’re afraid.

When you’re hoping immigration will allow you to remain in the country.

When you are wondering if you are going to lose your job.

When your health problems are beyond the understanding of the doctors.

When you don’t know if you will have enough money to pay the rent.

OR, when you are feeling lonely and isolated and in need of a friend.

The circumstances are as varied as our lives, but the question is the same, “Is Jesus enough?” And, quite often, we answer, “No. No Jesus is not enough. I need one more thing. I need this circumstance to work out the way I want it to. Just one more thing, then Jesus will be enough.”


Sometimes when we have a difficult or important choice ahead of us, we have that same question. We know that whatever we choose will redirect the course of our lives.

What college to go to or what career to pursue.

Who to marry or not marry.

Should I adopt or foster or not?

Do I move to this city or that?

Do we or don’t we? The choices could be much smaller than these of course, but the fear is the same, whatever choice I make, when I arrive on the other side of this, “Will Jesus be enough?” If I go the way I want and hopefully the way He wants me to, will Jesus be there with me and assuming He will, “Will Jesus be enough?” It’s so hard to know from this side of the choice. It sometimes feels like this choice is life or death. If I choose correctly, Jesus will be enough, but if I don’t, I’m really afraid that I will be miserable. I will have lost my chance.

Which brings us FINALLY to fasting and Scripture:

Matt 6:16-18
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

He will Reward you. This reward seems to be heavenly. It seems to be talking about something that we receive in the Kingdom of God. But, as we see throughout this Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), the question the Sermon on the Mount is answering is how does the Kingdom of God look here on earth and how do those who are in the Kingdom of God act toward their neighbors.

So, though the reward is heavenly, it has earthly consequences. It effects us today. What we do in secret (like fasting), affects us and those around us in public.

A couple of chapters later in Matthew, Jesus is asked a question about fasting:

Matt 9:14-15
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
Fasting is described as an act of mourning when we have been separated from Christ.

This seems to be the key to fasting. When we are more keenly aware of our separation from Christ than we are aware of his presence and closeness to us, fasting can help us to reorient ourselves to Christ. He was with us, but now he is not. Fasting reminds us not to fear, because he will be with us again.

Fasting helps us in regards to the three things I brought up earlier: Sin, Circumstances and Choices. In regards to sin, it reminds us that our sinful desires and choices never deliver what they promise. They don’t bring us the peace and joy and love that we long for. In regards to circumstances, fasting reminds us not to worry and fear, but to trust and cling to Christ, that regardless of the outcome of the circumstances, our only peace and joy and love comes through Christ. In regards to choices that we have to make, fasting reminds us that Christ is guiding us even now, but even if we make the "wrong" choice, Christ will be with us on the other side of the choice. And, if Christ is with us, then we can answer the question, “Is Jesus Enough?” with a resounding, “Yes.”

One of the most important verses in my life is a quote of Jesus that Paul writes down in his letter to the Corinthians. This is Paul quoting something that Christ said to him:

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

(But, Paul didn't show up in the Scriptures until after Christ was crucified. He never met Christ! And, everyone knows that Paul never met Christ, so he isn't trying to trick anyone. But, Paul did meet Christ spiritually speaking. And, Christ spoke to Paul, and Paul felt confident enough in his ability to know what Christ was saying to him, to quote him.

We, too, can "hear" from Christ. We can have the confidence that he is speaking to us and guiding us and encouraging us. For more on prayer and listening to God read this post.)

God's grace is sufficient for us. Christ is sufficient for us. He is enough.

But, sometimes it takes more than reading a blog post to believe that. Fasting may be God's way of answering the question, "Is Jesus enough?"

Choosing to fast is choosing to act in Faith. Even if sin or circumstances or a looming choice has us disoriented and wondering if Jesus is enough, we can choose to take the first step in faith. We may take this first step of fasting by faith with the prayer, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" like the father who wanted Jesus to help his son (Mark 9:24).

Fasting is choosing for a relatively short amount of time (1 day to 40 days, usually) to go without something that you might otherwise be tempted to think that you "Need!" It can be food all together, a type of food or drink. It can be an activity that you perform daily. It can be a type of entertainment or media.

For example, drinking coffee is often something people say they can't live without. Well, that happens to be a lie. And, fasting coffee for a week or month could help you move closer to Christ.

Others may check Facebook multiple times throughout the day and their actual dependence upon Christ might be more evident if they fasted from Facebook.

Maybe it's your cell phone, lunches, all food (check with your doctor to see if this is safe for you), reading certain types of books or magazines. Whatever it might be that fasting from it, might encourage you in your walk with Christ, and might remind you that Jesus is enough.

Fasting is an act of Faith and an act of Hope.
I am preventing myself from having this food or drink or media, in faith, though my faith is weak, I trust that God will somehow use this to strengthen my faith. It is also a hopeful action. Our Hope is in Christ that he will meet me here in this act. That this action will have eternal impact in my life and through me to impact this world. “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” 

I need to Fast.

Friday, January 23, 2015

American Roulette: The economics of race relations in America

We've all heard of Russian Roulette, but none of us has played it, I hope. But, unfortunately, whether we like it or not, all of U.S. have been playing this other kind of roulette.

It is a game that has big winners and big losers. It is a game of economics or asset building. American white males started the game and eventually American blacks and even the Native Americans got to play. And later, almost as an afterthought, women got to play too.

It is a game not unlike the one played in casinos across the country.

You know the one, where a wheel is spun, a ball is released that bounces around and lands in one slot of the wheel. If the bettor is lucky enough to have his chips in the right slot, he wins big and if he is unlucky enough to have his chips in the wrong slot he loses. Of course, in the casino game, the odds of winning are much higher, 2.63% if you bet the right number and lots of people just bet Red or Black where there is a 47.37% chance of winning.

But in American Roulette, that's not really an option. 

So, here’s how American Roulette has been played throughout history. Land owners owned the casinos. Slave owners had some of the most profitable ones around. Their wealth increased exponentially with slave labor. Others land owners, who had no slaves themselves, came to play. They traded with slave owners, bought their crops and made business deals with them. They may or may not have disapproved of slavery in principle, but they liked how the system worked to create wealth, so for the most part they played along.

And, of course, everyone refused to let slaves play, so slaves never won, and slave owners almost always won BIG.

You know the saying, “The house always wins.” If the house didn’t always win, then the house would go out of business. So, it just makes economic sense. Slavery continued because slavery was profitable. Slavery made slave owners wealthy.

In fact, with American Roulette, many Americans believed that slave owners had an unfair advantage over non-slave owners. So, as our forefathers were figuring out representation and taxation in the federal government, the politicians came up with a compromise. A slave would be legally counted as 3/5 of a person. Politically, it wasn’t a perfect compromise, but at least the slave owners had to pay a little more taxes even if it meant they had a little more pull in the government.

Morally, that’s a whole different story. This country decided (now remember blacks and women were excluded from this decision making process, so we should say, white men decided…) that slaves were not people in the sense that other people were people. They were less human than other people … white men, to be exact. Remember slave owners agreed to this but so did non-slave owners.

Then one day, the powers that be, led by the President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, decided that we shouldn’t be allowed to use people as tokens to play American Roulette any more. Through the Declaration of Independence and the civil war, we were able to finally declare legally that slaves were human beings and must be treated as such.

Great! But now what… The white males in charge didn’t know what to do with the millions of freed slaves. Fortunately, they also had confiscated hundreds of thousands of acres of land from the Confederate states.

So, Lincoln sent his secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, to Savannah to meet up with the very successful Major-General, William T. Sherman, to figure it out. “Stanton and Sherman met with 20 men on the evening of Jan. 12. All were ministers or lay leaders from the city’s black churches, and 15 were former slaves. Stanton posed a dozen questions to the group. Asked to draw a distinction between slavery and freedom, 67-year-old Garrison Frazier, a former slave who had been selected to act as spokesman, responded

“Slavery is, receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent.  The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage, and placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, take care of ourselves and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.” (from the University of Maryland)

What they desired sounds eerily similar to the desire of Martin Luther King Jr. and even the desires of many impoverished African-Americans today: the desire to earn a living wage from their labor, to provide for their own needs and have adequate representation in the government and military to protect their interests for the long term success of African-Americans and the country as a whole.
With great discernment, when asked whether they would prefer to live interspersed amongst whites or to live segregated into all-black communities, Frazier spoke for 19 of the 20 men when he responded:

“I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over.” (from the University of Maryland) Little did he know that the prejudice he feared existed throughout the North as well. Sherman himself showed severe prejudice against the freed slaves and refused to have blacks join his army.

But, seeing an opportunity to resolve Lincoln’s concerns and find a way to get rid of the flocks of freed slaves that were following his army, he issued Special Field Order No. 15 four days after the meeting. This order gave up to 40 acres of confiscated Confederate land per freed slave for them to work until such time as the national government gave them the opportunity to purchase the land.
New communities sprung up quickly and as per the Special Order were completely segregated and self-governed. 40,000 ex-slaves were transplanted on 400,000 acres of redistributed land within six months of the meeting.

“And what happened to this astonishingly visionary program, which would have fundamentally altered the course of American race relations? Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor and a sympathizer with the South, overturned the Order in the fall of 1865, and, as Barton Myers sadly concludes, ‘returned the land along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts to the planters who had originally owned it’ — to the very people who had declared war on the United States of America. (from

“Even staunch Confederate sympathizers bridled at such injustice. When a federal soldier told Mrs. George J. Kolluck that ex-slaves would be forced to return to work for wages for their former owners, she reported to her son that she answered, ‘very quietly, “this is what your Government calls ‘Freedom’? The injustice to us in robbing us of our property does not begin to compare to the cruelty to the negro himself.” (from the NY Times)

“Try to imagine how profoundly different the history of race relations in the United States would have been had this policy been implemented and enforced; had the former slaves actually had access to the ownership of land, of property; if they had had a chance to be self-sufficient economically, to build, accrue and pass on wealth. After all, one of the principal promises of America was the possibility of average people being able to own land, and all that such ownership entailed. As we know all too well, this promise was not to be realized for the overwhelming majority of the nation’s former slaves, who numbered about 3.9 million. (from

And, so American Roulette was opened briefly to the freed slaves. The house was forced to give each freed slave some of its own stash of chips and welcome them into the game. They had a dream and a promise.

But, within months, during the fall of 1865, the land was returned to its former owners.

Many of the ex-slaves were so limited in their options, that they continued to work the land for former slave owners. Many became sharecroppers limiting their ability to gain wealth and to add insult to injury, their hard work continued to enrich former slave owners. Infuriating.

In the century ahead, laws were written, later called Jim Crow laws, that were designed to provide “separate but equal” resources for blacks and whites, but actually only worked to keep blacks and whites separate. These were a constant reminder to former slaves and their descendants that legally they were second-hand citizens.

In effect, the ex-slaves were given a seat at the Roulette table, but only allowed to place one bet and hope for the best. Maybe one in a 1,000 or one in a 100,000 made the transition from slave to property owner with the ability to achieve the goals that were set out in that ground-breaking meeting with Stanton and Sherman.

One hundred years later, after the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, the laws changed. The descendants of slaves were given protection under the law. Many hurdles still existed though.

And, now American Roulette was opened to all … with one caveat. You could only play with the chips you had. Some descendants of slaves had begun to amass wealth and reach their economic goals despite the huge obstacles they had faced. But, the large majority lived and worked in inner cities and were plagued by poverty.

The other reality is that white males still owned 99.9% of the casinos. And the house always wins.

With only a limited capacity for making money, amassing true wealth was about as likely for the descendant of a slave as the ball landing in the 00 of the Roulette wheel. Some African Americans have hit it big, been successful in business, achieved academic degrees, and amassed wealth for themselves and their descendants.

But, for most, the American Dream remains a fairy tale.

Before you judge the rest of African-Americans, those trapped in poverty, think about the odds. Think about this game that we play, American Roulette. Think about the history that has created a culture and a mindset among impoverished African-Americans that cannot easily be untangled. At every turn, the house has had the advantage. And, at every turn, whites have owned the house.

So, don’t judge African-Americans by the success of whites and ask, “Why can’t they just be like me? I worked hard and found a way to make the system work for me?”

Don’t judge African-Americans by the success of other African-Americans and declare, “We have a black president, black Supreme Court Justice, black leaders in every field. There is no discrimination anymore! They need to quit complaining and get to work!”

In fact, don’t judge African-Americans at all. The Bible is clear, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Mathew 7:1-2)

So, “If we can’t judge them, what should we do?” Glad you asked.

First, stop referring to them as Them. They are Us. And, so some of Us are in this predicament.

Then, We need to walk together through this. We need to begin where it all began and have White leaders and Black leaders, probably from the church or at least those who are community minded and not politically-minded sit down together and make a plan.

Many African-Americans (as well as many whites from all ancestries) have systematically and intentionally been hindered from acquiring wealth. Together there must be a systematic and intentional plan made to undo what can be undone and move forward with what cannot.

It doesn’t help to fight amongst ourselves about it. It’s time to make changes and transform the culture and mindset of our country. It’s time to stop playing American Roulette with its few Big Winners and multitude of Poverty-stricken Losers.

The odds are always in the favor of the house. Who owns the house today?

As, the saying goes, “Follow the money.”

It’s time for all of US to stop playing into the system and start building real wealth. We can’t get side-tracked by racial differences and we need to start to address the injustices of wealth distribution. We need to dream a way for the American Dream to be accessible for all. We need to talk.