Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th each year, is a national holiday set aside to celebrate the end of chattel slavery in the United States of America. This is a notable and important thing to celebrate! And it’s important to me.
More than a year ago now, during the pandemic of 2020-21, I began a series of ongoing weekly ZOOM meetings for nearly a year with 20 members of our staff and church, discussing racial issues. More than half of those in attendance each week were our African American brothers and sisters. My compelling question to begin the conversation was, “How can I, as a pastor, lead and shepherd an increasingly diverse congregation?”
I did more listening than talking during those meetings, and it was a refreshing time of learning and realizing things I’d never been taught and perspectives I’d never been fully aware of. Juneteenth was one of those perspectives.
That’s the background to this question today: Why is Juneteenth important to us all?
Chattel slavery is among the most evil of all movements on the planet. The term literally means that people were classified as “personal property” owned by an enslaver, who could purchase and sell them like livestock. Under the worst possible conditions, African slaves in America were treated as less than human - and entire generations lived and died as slaves, losing their families and their heritage for the personal profit of the slave-owner.
The abolitionist movement in America required many years to actually abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but the enactment of this proclamation took more than 2 years to communicate and enforce. Finally, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished chattel slavery nationwide on December 6, 1865.
On Juneteenth, we celebrate that victory on behalf of all who were enslaved. We also celebrate because from that day forward the stain and evil of slavery would not be allowed in our nation ever again.
Try to imagine with me what that freedom must have felt like to those who’d previously been enslaved! Try to realize the literal unshackling of chains and the possibilities of the future. At the same time, think about the challenges the newly freed men and women would face in finding a way of life, making families and building a new heritage.
When you look around you at your brothers and sisters of African American heritage, celebrate with them the great significance of June 19th! Acknowledging an event that they have celebrated their entire lives is a step in the right direction. It’s a worthwhile conversation and the bridging of cultures that we in the body of Christ should be known for.
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
We all have “defining moments” in life. It’s a moment that you look back at and remember the exact details a key event in your life. You talk about this event because it has shaped your world in some way.
My earliest memory is one of my parents immersing me a bathtub full of cold water and ice – a desperate action on their part in an to save my life. My 106 degree fever meant I was in danger. I was almost 6 years old, and I remember seeing the concern on their faces.
The fever broke, and I got well, but within the year my parents learned that I’d lost more than 80% of my hearing due to inner ear nerve damage. I would eventually lose 95% of my hearing, which meant that without hearing aids, my world became almost completely silent. My parents didn’t realize I’d lost my hearing, and thought I was ignoring when they spoke to me. It was a first-grade teacher who realized that I was actually deaf and I wasn’t ignoring anyone. People still sometimes think I am ignoring them.
My deafness became a “defining moment” that would affect my life in profound ways. Imagine going from a hearing world to a silent one. Imagine trying to adjust to school and communication. Think about wearing hearing appliances that were larger than your ears and standing out from other people in visible and social ways.
Gratefully, I had an amazing family, a small town community that made every effort to accommodate me, and great teachers! My parents would make the strategic decision to NOT send me to a school for the deaf, and instead secured a compassionate and gifted teacher to train me to read lips, pronounce words and function in the hearing culture. By the way, the teacher was from Houston, so I learned a decidedly Texas accent – the only one in my family. And to this day, I’m a killer lip-reader.
This immovable event made me feel that I was beginning life behind instead of ahead. I moved forward searching for ways to cope instead of just learning. I found myself feeling inferior and lacking – and worried about my future in every possible way one can be anxious. I found myself asking different questions than others about life – like, “Why me? God, where were you?”
We OFTEN ask these questions when big challenges come.
Immovable life events are often experienced in three key phases:
Problem Prayer Provision
As I’ve lived this out over the years, and as I’ve gotten to know thousands of people over these years of life/ministry, I’ve found that everyone has something that has impacted them in a defining moment kind of way.
We all have, at some point in our life, an unsolvable problem.
The verse that begins this article is speaking to the Apostle Paul who had what he called, “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of satan…”. That sounds like a pretty serious issue. We know Paul never solved this problem and we know he leaves the specific issue he was dealing with vague. The end result is that we can all identify with him in some way.
I’m convinced that every person has something in their lives that has affected them in powerful ways – some visible, some invisible. For some, like me, it’s visible and evident – others know about it. For others, it’s personal, invisible. Few may know about them: A traumatic experience. A devastating loss. An incredible disappointment. An overwhelming fear or doubt that pulverizes. A catastrophic failure that cannot be undone. In any case, we realize we cannot do anything about our problem.
It defies human solutions, and when it does, God has us in a position where we must depend on Him. This is often the bigger work God is doing in us. Dependence. Faith! Trusting Him IN and THROUGH your situation.
This is the storyline in every book and every movie that entertains and grips us. Frankly, if a movie doesn’t have a major dilemma that requires action – serious action – I’m just not into it.
This storyline is also the theme of dozens of scenarios in Scripture.
For example: The unsolvable problem of sin. The unsolvable problem of Israel’s bondage. The unsolvable problem of the Red Sea Israel had to cross. The unsolvable problem of Job’s affliction. The unsolvable problem of Goliath in David’s day, the unsolvable problem of 5000 hungry people in Jesus’s day, the unsolvable problem of Lazarus dead in the tomb for four days, and the unsolvable problem of Jesus taken to be crucified. It’s all over the Bible.
The consistent answer to unsolvable problems is always present somewhere in those stories. Scripture constantly reminds us of this.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
Unsolvable problems in our life should lead us to the next phase…prayer.We’re driven to prayer, even seasons of prayer, and sometimes experience…unanswered prayer.
I can’t even count the endless number of times I cried out to God to change my hearing – to heal me. My parents prayed consistently. I remember being desperate in my teenage years – and later on in college. I recall a spring break mission trip where people gathered people around me to pray and ask for healing – and we all believed deeply that God was able and would heal me, but that prayer never was answered in the way we asked for.
Have you been there? It’s part of the process. We must do this. It’s how we exercise our faith, but there are times when no answer comes.
God has his reasons for doing (or not doing) what we ask. We’re left to trust Him – and that’s okay! This is what it means to walk by faith.
What often happens, though, is that we experience an unexpected provision. We look for healing but are surprised by grace. God spoke to Paul, and said, “I’ll make it possible for you to bear this problem. I’ve given you grace.”
It’s not easy to understand and wait for the blessing of sufficient grace. It comes through battling disappointments and grief – but Paul got the blessing, and it also will emerge in our lives when we are willing to trust it. We can see this in Paul’s words. “Therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” v. 9
Paul is literally saying, “I have no complaints! God has been with me.”
My own story of God’s grace is very similar. It’s amazing how He poured His grace out all around me, through people and situations He specifically placed in my life.
His grace has flowed through amazing parents, and incredible wife, and wonderful family members who cheered for me as I struggled.
His grace was so evident in the churches that called me as their pastor, knowing I was deaf, yet seeing that God was using that in unexplainable ways.
His grace shows up regularly through co-workers who give respect, take up slack, and make sure I “hear” it all.
I even find that grace showing up when I’m able to come alongside others who face similar struggles and I can say, “What God has done for me, He can do for you.” I love watching the encouragement that brings people.
I’ve discovered an uncanny ability to hear what I need to hear, and the ability to understand the conversations I must understand – and not hear what I don’t need to hear. We don’t always need to hear everything, you know?
I have absolutely no complaints. It it were completely left up to me, I’m not sure I’d restore my hearing! There are SOME advantages to silence.
I’ve also grown fond of trusting God in daily ways.
Ultimately, your life will not be defined by immovable life events, but in how you allow God’s grace to work through them.
Ron Dunn, in When Heaven is Silent said..."God's power and authority are such that even the actions of the enemies of God and His people must subserve His will. If this is true, it means that my complaints against life and God, no matter how understandable, are not legitimate. If this is true, it means that I have no right to cling to anger or to harbor bitterness against whatever injustices I may have suffered. If this is true, it means that if God subtracted one pain, one heartache, one disappointment from my life, I would be less the person I am now, less than the person God wants me to be, and my ministry would be less than He intends. If this is true, it means that I can climb over those hurts and disappointments, over the tears and heartaches, over the graves and sleepless nights, and stand on top of that ash-heap and declare, "All these things God is working together for my good."
His grace is sufficient for you. It has been for me!
Thoughts from John Meador and insights from God's Word.