CROSSFIRE SERMON SERIES
JANUARY 29, 1995
During the summer prior to my freshman year in college a group of young people from our church traveled across the sprawling city of Houston, TX and put on Backyard Bible Clubs. We pretty much had a blast interacting with all the kids, teaching them about the Bible through song, through drama, through arts and crafts. Every day, as I worked in this Backyard Bible Club ministry, I would watch how black children, white children, Asian children and Mexican children would hug and hold hands, and laugh, play together, interact and have a wonderful experience. As I was watching this going on, I knew though in the back of my mind that these children in just a few short years would come in contact with something that would cause them not to want to hug each other, that would cause them not to want to hold hands, not to interact, not to really talk and not to really become friends any more. And the something that I knew they would come in contact with is called racism.
Racism. Whether it is in Bosnia, Russia, South Africa, the Middle East or even the OJ Simpson trial, we all come in contact with racism. Billy Graham said racism is the biggest problem facing our world today. Biologists tell us that our skin only weighs about six pounds. Isn’t it amazing that we let six pounds of flesh cause so much alienation, separation and oftentimes death? Six pounds of flesh. Within all of this the Bible screams loudly along these lines. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:11, “For God does not show favoritism.” In other words, we serve a God who is colorblind.
Today I am beginning a very controversial series called Crossfire. This morning I deal with racism, next week abortion. Kind of light topics, aren’t they? The following week, the environment. I want to spend the lion’s share of today’s message addressing the three big questions of racism. Because if the church addresses these questions Biblically and correctly, we can cure this problem that effects all of us. The three big questions of racism. If you are taking notes, here they are. Number one. What is racism? Number two. What is the reason for racism? Number three. What is the remedy for racism? What is racism? What is the reason for racism and what is the remedy for racism?
What is racism, anyway. Racism is giving a group of people a negative feeling or emotion based on the behavior of just a few. It is coming to general conclusions, very rapidly, just because of hearsay or maybe folklore. For instance, saying a group is a certain way and that is because they have this skin color or this background or this problem. Suddenly you have racism coming into play. Bigotry. And I will show you how it happens.
About a month ago I was in Frankfurt, Germany. I had never been to Germany before in my life. We fly in and we have a shuttle that takes us to this hotel. As we check into the hotel, I meet the hotel manager. This German female was not a happy camper. In fact, she was rude, crude and mean. “You do this. You do that.” And as I got my room key and made my way to the elevator, I told my friend, “I don’t really like Germany. In fact, I don’t want to come back to Germany because all Germans are rude like this lady, aren’t they? Man, this is bad. I can’t wait to get to Israel.” Sound familiar? Huh? Coming to general conclusions, rapid conclusions based on the behavior of maybe just one individual, one hotel manager. The next morning I board an airplane and I am greeted by three of the nicest flight attendants I have ever met in my life. We had a great conversation about this church, about where they were spiritually. And I felt bad in the deep recesses of my mind that I had made that broad-brushing, sweeping racist statement about Germans. You see that is the seedbed for racism. You see one person doing something you don’t agree with and you say, “Well, they are all that way.” We just typecast and generalize. That’s the way the whites are, the blacks are, the Asians are.
I learned a song in Sunday School as a kid that said, “Red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in God’s sight.” And if they are precious in God’s sight they need to be precious in our sight.
Question two as the plot clots. What is the reason for racism? What is the reason? Have you ever wondered, why is there racism everywhere? Why? This is painful to admit but I want to give you some reasons. The first reason for racism has to do with our parents. Our parents. Much of what we feel about people from different cultures, different backgrounds, or those who act differently, comes from Mom and Dad. Parents, we have a mighty opportunity, I am talking about a great opportunity. We have the chance to mold our children into bigots or bridge-builders. The option is up to you. Am I going to rear a bigot or a bridge-builder? Am I going to rear someone who says well I am this race and this is the best race and I will not play or interact or build any kind of relationships with someone from another race. Or you can rear a bridge-builder. You, parents, can show your children the diversity and the uniqueness of all people and say that everyone is created in the image of God. This person who is black, this person who is Asian, this person who is white, love them for who they are and get to know them. Build a bridge to them. What an opportunity we have. Parents, what kind of job are you doing? It is sad to say but I have talked to many nine, ten and eleven years olds who I would call bigots and racists. Why? Because they are just acting the way they see their parents act.
How many of you like to eat lettuce? Do you like lettuce, I do. How would you like to have lettuce for every meal? Nothing else, just good, old, fresh iceberg lettuce. I wouldn’t. No diversity. You know when I eat lettuce, I want to have some carrots with it, I want to have cucumbers, maybe some celery. Just the right salad dressing because all those tastes blend together to make an awesome salad. If you just hang out with one kind of person from one race and that’s it, you are missing out on the diversity and on the different relationships and opportunities that God wants you to be involved in. And that is sad because many of us get into a rut and we don’t take the risks to build bridges, to really build those bridges of love and compassion to people who are different than we are. We can learn from those folks and they can learn from us. Parents play a major role in the racial puzzle.
Also the pressure of our society plays a role. Sociologists tell us that even if our parents don’t really influence us negatively regarding racial differences, then we just kind of conform to society. And society has stories and folklore regarding all different races and most of us just kind of accept what we hear and it becomes a part of us. Then something will kind of prick that part of us and we will have racist attitudes. Let me show you what I am talking about. I want to give you very briefly a test regarding racism. Are you ready? Give me one nod, I know it is cold and early. If I ask you to name the nationality of the leaders of the drug cartel what would you answer? You would probably answer, the Colombians. They are the leaders of the drug cartels. You know what though. That is kind of a racist way to look at things. Are you saying that all Colombians are drug dealers? They are not. I know many who aren’t. What if I said name the greatest athletes in the NBA and describe their skin color. What would you say. Black. Black, Ed, black. Do you sometimes, though, limit the worth of the black man or the black woman just to their athletic skills? Do you ever do that? What if I said, name the race and the skin color or the race that has no rhythm? What would you say? Of course, white. And that’s not true either. You just saw our band and the praise team. They have the rhythm. You see what I am talking about? We just accept these things as fact and most of it is folklore and tradition. But we begin to label and generalize and typecast. And these two reasons are legitimate. Parental pressure and the pressure from society.
Some of you are thinking of saying, wait a minute, Ed, time out now. There seems to be an underlying cause of racism, much deeper than just Moms and Dads and television and society. There seems to be something else that might cause this and if you are thinking that you are right. I am talking about you are absolutely 100% correct. The underlying reason for racism is that southbound, gravitational pull that we all have and the Bible calls it old-fashioned, human depravity. In other words, sin. The true reason for racism is the sin in your life and in my life. We all have this feeling within us that we want to be a part of the in group, don’t we? We want to be included and not excluded. And once we get into the in crowd, whatever that means, we want to say, well I’m in, you’re out and we will do anything to keep that position. We will laugh at a person, we will ridicule them, we will make fun of them, we won’t really make eye contact with them, we will be rude and snobbish to them, just because they are different. The Bible says that is committing cosmic treason before a holy God. That is committing sin before a God Who is colorblind.
The Bible doesn’t talk on and on and on about how great and wonderful and beautiful and sweet and kind and righteous and sanctified and justified man is naturally. I mean the Bible says that we, in our natural state, left alone, are like the prophet Jeremiah described in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Man, left alone, is in severe trouble. Just take a quick glance around our world to see what is happening.
And that brings us to the third and final question today, what is the remedy for racism? The Bible says we have a heart that is sick. Human depravity. Sin. The Bible says we need some real help and we need help from one person. And that person is the person of Christ. One of Christ’s titles was the Great Physician. Jesus is the only person, the only person that can truly cure racism. Education is fine. Legislation is great. But the major thing has to be salvation. We have to come to know Jesus Christ personally and once we know Him personally, then we can cure this horrible disease.
I want to quickly take you through the life of Christ and show you how He dealt with racism, because He dealt with it head on. I want to read to you one of the most powerful verses in scripture on racism and, if you are like me, you have skipped over this and you have not thought about it because you have focused on the story coming up right after this verse. But listen to it, John 4:4. Are you ready? “Now He (that’s Jesus) had to go through Samaria.” Is that profound or what? Now He had to go through Samaria. “Ed, come on, did you have too much coffee this morning? You’re telling me that is a powerful verse on racism? Jesus had to go through Samaria. Well whoop de doo. Rah, rah, rah. I went through Irving to get here today. Man, that is really profound.”
Let me give you some background. Samaritans were despised people. The Jews hated the Samaritans. You’re talking about racial strife, you just study them. In 586 BC the Babylonians came and captured Jerusalem and took back to Babylon from Jerusalem the best and the brightest. However, they left some of the Jews there in Jerusalem. The Jews were in Jerusalem, those who remained, intermarried with people from different races. Seventy years later the exiled Jews come back to Jerusalem and when they saw that their kin had married foreigners they called them the Samaritans. They were half-breeds. They weren’t ethnically pure. And the Jews did not like the Samaritans. In fact, they hated them so much that when a Jew who lived in Galilee wanted to go to Jerusalem they would not take the shortest route went through Samaria. A Jew wouldn’t even think about going through Samaria. He would cross the Jordan river twice to make his way to Jerusalem without entering Samaria. You’re talking about racist. If you even set your foot inside Samaria, oh oh, you were not a truly devout Jew. You were a Samaritan-lover. Jesus, though, in John 4:4, He had to go through Samaria. And after that verse He met a Samaritan woman at the well. His disciples could not believe it but He showed that lady and scores and scores of people that the gospel transcends all geographical, political and racial barriers.
We will keep going through the life of Christ. Matthew 22:34, Jesus said these words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Now He didn’t say love your Jewish neighbor as yourself, or love your black neighbor as yourself, He said love your neighbor as yourself. I heard someone say one time that skin color to Jesus was a pigment of His imagination. And it should be to you and to me. Love your neighbor as yourself. And when He said these words someone asked Him, “OK, Jesus, you said love your neighbor as yourself, but question. Who is my neighbor?” And take a wide guess who Jesus used as an illustration to answer this man’s question. He used a despised Samaritan. You have heard about the good Samaritan before haven’t you. A Jewish man was waylaid, he was assaulted. He is dying by the side of the road. A very devout and religious Jew, who was part of the Temple, walks by. He doesn’t really concern himself with him. Another devout Jew walks by and he doesn’t take care of him. But the good Samaritan, this despised man sees him, takes care of him, pays his medical bills. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself.
He goes on to deliver in Matthew 28:19 the great commission. He said this right before He ascended, talking about racism. “Go make disciples of all nations.” The word nations in the Greek is pronounced ethos which means all races. You see Jesus had to go through places like Samaria. He couldn’t take a detour. He couldn’t take the path that racism had blazed. He had to go and show all people that He is for everyone. That is Jesus. And Jesus is the true remedy for racism.
I want to end this time of study, though, by getting radical for a second. OK? Just briefly, let me get radical. I want you to think about Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, performing radical surgery on four parts of your body. And after He performs radical surgery, if you let Him, if you elect to have this surgery on four parts of your body, I promise you, you will be on your way to being colorblind. And skin color from this day forward will be a pigment of your imagination.
Here is the first radical remedy for racism. Something radical is going to have to happen to your heart if, if, if you deal with this issue called bigotry and racism. The Bible says in I John 4:20, “If a man claims to love God and hates his brother, he is a liar.” I know a man now, a friend of mine, who claims to love God with all of his heart. He is active in a Bible believing church yet a day does not go by when he does not spew from his mouth joke after joke after joke regarding African Americans. I have got to wonder about this man. Does he truly love God? Because the Bible says if a man claims to love God and hates his brother, he is a liar.
I have got to have a heart transplant. I have got to allow Jesus Christ, the Great Physician to get me a new heart. And the Bible says the moment Christ comes into my life, He places the person of the Holy Spirit into my heart. And the Holy Spirit is in the produce business. You’re talking about farmer’s market, He will produce something called spiritual fruit. Galatians 5:22-23, read it this afternoon. The first fruit the Holy Spirit produces is love. Love. Love. I am talking about God-ordained, Holy Spirit inspired, going across all racial lines, true love. And love which comes from the heart. Psalm 26:2 says, “Test me, oh Lord, and try me. Examine my heart and my mind.” Let God right now examine your heart. Do you have a heart of love? How would you feel if a family from another background, from another race, using another language, sat by you in church? How would you feel if someone different from you, and I am taking about race, moved into your neighborhood, right next to you? How would you feel if your supervisor had a different skin color? Do you feel like you might be better than other people or that this race is this way and that race is that way. You, my friend, need a heart transplant, a radical remedy. Something has to happen to your heart.
Another radical thing that has to happen has to do with your eyes. The second radical remedy. Something has to happen to your eyes. I Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at, man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” You see, we need to forget about that six pounds of flesh, we need to look at the heart. You have never locked eyes with someone who does not matter to God. You have never grasped the hand of someone that Christ did not die for. And we have got to get that into our spirit.
Awhile back I was in Florida on a vacation. I was in one of those little touristy-type shops and they had a sunglass carousel, the thing that goes around and around, little mirrors everywhere. I was trying on different kinds of sunglasses, some with pink lenses, purple lenses, green lenses and I was joking around with the kids and everything. And every time I put a pair of glasses on everything around me would change. You have done that before. It would change color like that. If I chose pink, everything was pink. Blue, everything was blue. Green, everything was green. I thought wouldn’t it be great if Christians, those of us who knew Christ personally, who had had a heart transplant, who had maybe a eye transplant could maybe see people the way God sees them, to see people the way I saw people when I put on different lenses. A radical remedy.
A third radical remedy has to do with your brain. A good friend of mine who is a neurosurgeon is meticulous and careful. He is educated and he is a great doctor because he does something important. I mean, if I had a brain operation, I would want someone who is meticulous, careful and who is educated. How about you? The Bible says something must happen to our brains, though. In Romans 12:2, the word of God says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” All sin begins in your mind, and we have talked about this time and time again. But especially think about racism. Could there be in your past, or maybe right now, something that you need to confess before a holy God. Do you need to say, “God I want to tell You the truth about this, I have been telling this joke just for a cheap laugh. In fact, in junior high school I did this.” Maybe you need to confess your sins before a holy God and say, “God, You transform my mind. You do a brain transplant. I know you are the Great Physician, I want you to become a spiritual neurosurgeon in my life.” Maybe you need to do that today.
The fourth radical remedy has to do with our hands. Our hands. For many of us our fists are clenched, our arms are crossed. We are not going to reach out to someone who is different. We are not going to cross those barriers. We are not going to build any bridges. The Bible, though, says in II Corinthians 5:18, “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” He took the initiative, folks. He did it. Not because we deserve it. He did it because He loved us. God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. So if God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and He gave us the ministry of reconciliation, we can’t just sit back. God didn’t just sit back. We have got to get off our spiritual duffs and begin to reach out across these barriers and build Christ-centered, God-honored relationships with people who are different than we are. Aren’t you tired of salad? I mean just lettuce. Let’s get diverse. And here is your goal. Here is your little homework assignment. I want you to pray over the next couple of days, “God, You bring within my life someone into my heart, into a relationship with me who has a different skin color, a different ethnic background, and God, do it now.” And let me tell you something. God will. And once that happens then all of this racial stuff will kind of just roll off your back and then you will be able to put yourself in this person’s situation. Simon Peter dealt with the same thing. Simon Peter was a racist until one day he was praying in Joppa, he probably played in Joppa too because there was great fishing there, I know,I was just in Joppa about a month ago. And he was praying and he said, “God, you show me Your heart, you show me Your mind.” And God showed him that the gospel is for everyone. And Peter protested, “For everyone? You mean even the Gentiles, even those non-Jews?” And God called Peter to Cornelius. Cornelius was a Gentile and God gave Peter the words to say to Cornelius. Peter developed a relationship with Cornelius and from that day forward Simon Peter understood that racism is a sin before a holy God.
I could go on but I am going to stop now. And I am going to challenge you to become like God, to become like our holy God who tells us throughout His word, “I’m colorblind. I’m colorblind. And I want my children, I want my boy, I want my girl to become colorblind too.”