It was a rainy Texas night, and we were all tired from a full day of traveling. My family and I were returning home from one of our many family road trips. I woke from a light sleep in the back seat of our Ford Fairlane station wagon as my dad, whom I refer to as “Pops,” pulled off for a pit stop.
We pulled into a small-town bar, the only place in sight, anticipating that we would all be able to take advantage of the opportunity to stretch our legs and take a much-needed bathroom break. I watched as my pops walked into the poorly lit bar, thinking that as soon as he got back, I would get my turn. To my surprise, he returned to the car a lot faster than anyone anticipated. As he climbed back into the driver’s seat, he started the car, put it in reverse, and we abruptly left without a word. Confused, I exclaimed, “Wait a minute, what about me? I gotta go, too!”
“We’re not going to be able to stay here,” Pops responded. “We’re going to find another place to stop.”
Even more confused, I cried, “What?! How come?!”
My father looked back at me with concern in his eyes and said, “Clayton, Jr., some people don’t like Black people. Some people think that Black people are bad people.”
At this point, my seven-year-old mind was blown! I immediately began looking closely at my arm, inspecting my skin, and responded, “I’M BLACK?! I thought I was brown!”
Then my mom chimed in and asked me, “Clayton, Jr., do you know what we do to people like that?”
Many answers to that question were going off in my mind, but rather embarrass myself, I chose to lean into the wisdom that I anticipated would follow – so I responded as any other third grader in my shoes would respond: “I dunno!”
My mother proceeded, “We pray for people like that! We pray for them and bless them!” I was confused, but despite my confusion, I responded, “K.”
Without skipping a beat, my mom turned to face me from the passenger seat. Sensing the nature of our conversation just took on a more serious tone within seconds, I listened intently as she asked her follow-up question I would never forget.
“Clayton Jr., who do you represent?”
Feeling half intrigued with where she was going with this, and half annoyed she’d even ask something that sounded like a pop quiz when all I wanted to do was relieve myself, I answered, “I don’t know, Ma! YOU? ME? I just found out I was Black, so Black people? I don’t know!”
My mom swiftly — in semi-interruptive fashion — responded, “Clayton, Jr., you represent JESUS CHRIST first and foremost. Never forget that!”
I didn’t know it then, but this conversation would leave an indelible impression on the way I engaged racist and prejudiced mindsets because — even in the midst of being disparaged as a family — my parents still took this time to redirect me to Jesus.
This marked the start of my ‘Identity in Christ Over Everything’ home training.
It was in the midst of being judged by the color of our skin (rather than being judged by the content of our character) that my parents reminded me that I was a son of God before anything else: before my political affiliation, before my occupation, even before being African American. Don’t get me wrong: our family FULLY embraced our Black culture and ethnicity. We’re Black, and we’re proud (cue music). However, this ‘Identity in Christ over Everything’ training taught me how to be governed by the counsel of heaven, how to live offense-free, and how to walk in the ways of Christ’s love – even when we’re met with hate.
In Matthew 5:44 (NKJV), Jesus goes next level on us as He exhorts us to “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” Ummm, OK, Jesus… is this even possible to live out in the 2020s? In an age where tempers flare, offense ignites, and outrage sparks at the drop of a hat amid racial tension … how can we realistically make Matthew 5:44 our default response? Isn’t this impossible?!
Yep, this is impossible when done in our own strength but most certainly possible when we rely on Holy Spirit’s strength within us. You see, Jesus didn’t just share a list of best practices for believers in a good mood. These commands weren’t meant only for emotionless scenarios that don’t challenge us. Nope!
Jesus is not only inviting believers into what’s possible when we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit within us but actually reminding us of WHO WE ARE and HOW TO REPRESENT when we’re in Him! This is revealed in the very next verse, Matthew 5:45 (NKJV): “…that you may be SONS of your Father in heaven…” (emphasis added). No worries, ladies – the original translation reads “children” to include both sons and daughters!
Why is this verse so important? Because Jesus is basically saying, “Not only have I come to fulfill the law, but I’m giving you the power and ability to live perfect as your father is perfect through the gift of the Holy Spirit in you.” No longer do we need to respond and behave in the way the world responds and behaves – because we have God in us empowering us to live as Jesus lived and think as Jesus thinks.
Church, Jesus is speaking and releasing identity over sons and daughters of God. Our big brother has not only demonstrated but empowered every partaker of the divine nature to both WILL and ACT according to His good purpose.
So, I’d like to ask you the same question posed by my Ma all those years ago… Who do you represent? And how should this govern our responses? Or better yet, for some, we may need to hear the statement I heard ad nauseam from my mom since our station wagon talk: Remember who you represent!
May we remember who we represent when we engage in heated dialogue.
May we remember who we represent when discussing hot button topics like BLM, peacefully protesting during the National Anthem, the looting and rioting, removing confederate statues, the President’s policies, local government, fill in the blank…
And as we remember who we represent, may we be governed by His love that empowers us to respond with compassion, quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry, seek to understand views we deem different, and forgive and pray for those who offend, persecute, hate, and spitefully use us.
After all, this is already baked into our true identity as sons and daughters.
And when we act out of who we are – it’s THIS that will prove to the world that we’re Jesus’ disciples.
As the Church – may we always remember who we represent!