Now is a critical time in our city of Baton Rouge. We have been given an opportunity to show the world who Jesus is. Will we take it?
A few months ago I released my first book titled ‘Just Choose’ and the second to last chapter in the book is about what the Lord showed me after the Alton Sterling shooting. I’m posting that chapter here now in the hope that many that haven’t read it yet will do so now and choose.
Chapter 7 of Just Choose By Michael Phillips
I mentioned in Chapter 4 that what we see going on in America right now is the collective heart of America on display. You’d be hard-pressed to find many people who are happy with the direction of our nation and yet it only seems to get worse by the day. Regular “everyday people” blame our leadership; and leadership continually blames “the other party.” I wish that I could say at the end of the day nothing changes, but that wouldn’t be true. The truth is that at the end of the day, things only get worse.
One day while in prayer about the strategy for the All In Movement, the Lord showed me something I hadn’t understood before. Throughout my “all in journey” I’ve been blessed to share the passion the Lord has given me with others and in return I’ve been blessed to hear what they are passionate about. I enjoy learning what God has put on people’s hearts, and the battles they are willing to fight. Some are passionate about ending human trafficking, others may be engaged in the fight to stop abortion, or to stand for religious freedom. There are many worthy battles to be fought, too many to possibly list here, but what the Lord showed me while in prayer one day was that many of His people engaged in those battles are right where Satan wants them to be… distracted.
Satan doesn’t care if we end human trafficking or even stop a genocide. All he wants to do is make sure we don’t tell people about Jesus. While many Christians have in fact removed themselves from every battle because they don’t want to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced; others have become so focused on the battle that they’ve forgotten what the war is really about!
Friend, we care caught in a spiritual war between God and Satan. Revelation 12:17 tells us what the war is really about. John wrote, “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.” (Emphasis added.)
Why doesn’t the devil want us to “hold fast” our testimony about Jesus? Because when people accept Jesus, Satan loses his hold on them. Jesus changes lives. He transforms death into life and sets the captives free. Hate cannot exist where Jesus does.
Only a few weeks after this revelation, something happened in my hometown that further emphasized this point of distraction to me. This event showed me – solidified in me – that Satan is using various battles as a tactic to distract many of God’s people from focusing on the real war.
Alton Sterling was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge police officer on the morning of Tuesday, July 5, 2016. Multiple videos of the incident were posted to social sites and the story was quickly picked up by national media. Protests began within days. A homeless man had called 911 to report that he’d repeatedly asked a man who was selling CDs and wearing a red sweatshirt for money. He gave a location and said that after saying ‘no’, the man showed him (threatened him with) a gun.
The videos show two officers in an altercation with Sterling as he refuses to comply with their commands. He is taken to the ground by one officer and as they wrestle, one of the officers can be heard shouting “he has a gun.” Sterling’s right hand cannot be seen well in the video, but the officer warned him to stop moving or he would be shot and then a moment later he is shot in the chest multiple times at close range.
Another officer immediately reached into Sterling’s right pants pocket and removed a gun. Officers later shared that they tried to taser Sterling, but they were unsuccessful in securing him. Sterling was a convicted felon and was illegally carrying a firearm. He had already done five years in prison and some suggest that he resisted arrest because he knew this would mean he was going back.
Once the protests started it seemed that most people quickly picked a side. Some would say, “He shouldn’t have disobeyed police, threatened the man, or even had a gun.” Others said, “That doesn’t mean he had to die and if he was white he probably wouldn’t have.” I spoke with many Christian friends – both black and white – in the days following the shooting. I tried to stay focused on praying for Mr. Sterling’s family, for the officers involved, and for peace in our city, but it was very difficult as I talked to different people not to get caught up in the opinions of it all. One minute I would feel like the officers probably should have called for more backup or should have been able to secure him without shooting him. Then in the next minute I would feel like Mr. Sterling would still be alive if he had done what they told him to do. God placed me in front of lots of different people, both black and white and opinions were anything but consistent.
At one point, I spoke to a middle-aged black man who was working in an office building, and what he said shocked me. As we discussed whether the officers “had to shoot Mr. Sterling.” The man stood up and said, “Let me show you something.” He then lifted his shirt and showed me a 10 to 12 inch scar from the bottom of his ribs past his belly button. He then said, “This is what happens when you hesitate… and I was lucky.”
He explained that he was now a retired officer. He hesitated when faced with a similar non-compliance situation as these two officers faced. He was shot and partially paralyzed for months. He had two colostomy bags and would never be the same again, but he lived. Here was a black man telling me that based on his experience as both a black man and a police officer, these officers had no choice but to shoot Alton Sterling. I walked away from that conversation, understanding both “sides” of the situation, but I only had one thought… ”the devil is laughing at us.”
The devil had divided us against one another. Each person was forming his opinion based on his experiences and the devil was using that to drive a wedge between us. The black man I was speaking to was no more a racist than the white suburban men and women who had formed their opinion based on their experiences. My black friends, many of whom are pastors and ministers, formed their opinions based on their genuine fear of being pulled over by a cop and losing their life because many had already had bad experiences with law enforcement. They weren’t saying that because they “hate cops.” They were saying it because it’s what they believe and how they feel. What became apparent to me is that it’s all a distraction. The devil doesn’t care if we end racism or not… he just wants to make sure we don’t tell people about Jesus! He is happy to see us caught up in all the divisive details.
On July 17, 2016, just 12 days after the Alton Sterling shooting, an African- American man ambushed police officers with an assault weapon just about a mile from where much of the protesting had taken place. He shot six officers, killing three and severely wounding another. Montrell Jackson, Brad Garafola, and Matthew Gerald lost their lives. Each man had a family that thought their husband, son, or father would come home that day. It was a very sad and sobering day in my hometown of Baton Rouge, but what the devil meant to divide, God used for good.
Within a few hours of the ambush, our city began to rally. Boisterous opinions transitioned to prayer and mourning from both sides. The local church came together, black and white, and prayed for unity in our city. The Lord showed me that a movement started that day in Baton Rouge; a movement that will serve as a model for unity in cities across America.
The church must lead the fight against evil and hate in our world. There are battles to be fought to end racism, abolish abortion, end human trafficking, and many more. The battles are important to fight, but we are not to be distracted and divided by them. We must remember what the war is truly about. We win when people see Jesus! We lose if they do not.
Are you engaged in the war, or have you gotten so focused on a battle that you’ve lost sight of what’s most important? Have you absolved yourself of the responsibility? Have you convinced yourself it is someone else’s job to show them Jesus? Every person is not meant to be a pastor or evangelist, but every person is meant to share the ‘good news’ of the Gospel. Many have convinced themselves that simply living out their lives in a way that makes everyone feel ‘warm and welcome’ is all they are supposed to do. If you think that’s working, then look around.
The last thing the devil wants is for you to worship and honor God with your life. He tempts us daily to worship the world instead of God, just as He tempted Christ in the desert to do the same. We are all called to serve in different ways. I am not telling you the only way is to stand on a corner with your Bible and preach. However, I will say that if you haven’t been intentional about asking Him, then it’s time you did. And if He does tell you to stand on the corner and preach, then you’d better go.
We, the Church, have been distracted for far too long. Some have been distracted by the busyness of life and the pursuit of the “American Dream.” Others have been distracted by a very clever tactic of the enemy that gets us so focused on causes and issues that we forget what is necessary to win the underlying war. We can no longer afford to be distracted. It’s time for the church to choose!