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Tough Stuff 2015

Every time I preach on a Sunday morning, I send Chris a message directly after the service thanking him for two things. But since he is here this morning, I would like to thank him in person. First, thank you for the opportunity to preach the word of God to our people. I consider it a great privilege to be able to serve our body in this way.

Second, it is only after preparing, and praying, and studying to be in the pulpit that I recognize what you do week in and week out. It is a labor of love, but it is a labor nonetheless, and I am grateful for your faithful study and proclamation of truth as you feed us each week from the Word of God. So thank you. And now that I have buttered him up, maybe I will get another shot at this.

Just a little over two weeks ago, on June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof entered a historic black church in South Carolina to attend a Bible study and prayer meeting. A snapchat taken a short time later showed him sitting at a table, next to the pastor, behaving in a seemingly normal way. But a little over an hour after entering, he took out a .45 caliber pistol and threatened to kill everyone in the room. The youngest person present, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders stood up to try to talk the assailant down. “You don’t have to do this,” he said.

But when it was clear that Roof was going to pull the trigger anyway, Tywanza positioned himself between the shooter and the oldest person present, his 86-year-old great aunt, in a courageous attempt to protect her. He was the first to die and she was the second. Over the course of the next few moments, seven more were gunned down in cold blood as the assailant would reload five times before finishing his killing spree. Just before leaving the church, he asked an elderly lady if she had been shot. She said, “No,” and he replied, “Good. I’m not going to kill you, I’m going to spare you so you can tell them what happened.”

What makes this even more shocking is that the attack was racially motivated. Before opening fire he said, “I’m here to kill black people.” After a brief manhunt, Roof was arrested and is now incarcerated awaiting trial.

There is a unique law in South Carolina that allows the victims and the victims’ families to speak to the perpetrator. Let me ask you a question–if you were given the opportunity to confront the man who killed your mother or your brother or your son in an act of racial hatred, “What would you say? What message would you want to send?” Think of the raw emotion, the overwhelming sorrow, the confusion, anger, hatred, and feelings of revenge that would be present in your heart. What would you say?

It’s difficult to put ourselves in that situation and even to imagine this type of atrocity happening to us. Instead, we are quick to distance ourselves from the tension of racism, seeing this as something happening out there, far away from here. We do a personal inventory and quickly come to the conclusion that racism is not an issue for us, and so we dismiss it as having little to do with our lives.

Let me make a bold statement, lest you think that this message is for someone else. Every person in this room is a racist. Now that is a strong statement, but I believe it to be true. You may have no specific hatred of black people or of white people, or people of any other color for that matter. But every person in this room has racial issues lurking in your heart. All you have to do is think about your last trip to Walmart, where you saw so many different types of people. Or remember the last time you passed a bad driver, only to look over and feel justified when you noticed their nationality. The reason I say this is because the issue of racism isn’t biological–based on skin color. And it’s not socio-economic, based on income. And it’s not the cultural nuances that make us different.

The issue is not out there–the issue is in here, within us. It is in our hearts. One southern Baptist pastor rightly said, “Racism is not a skin problem, it is a sin problem.” You see, the problem of racism, valuing one person or group of people over another, stems from the inherent belief that we are superior to others around us. Thus the root of racism is pride.

It stems from a lack of viewing self rightly and of valuing others according to their worth. We evaluate and judge others by our own self-made criteria–appearance, intelligence, physical abilities, schooling, type of job, etc. We quickly assign a value based on how they rank in our personal system of judgment. And it all happens at the speed of thought.

But God hates racism. Racism belittles your fellow man, mocks the Creator, and undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are in the midst of a series at FBC called Tough Stuff, and in case you couldn’t tell, this morning’s topic is racism. And I believe that the Word of God has something to say to every one of us on this sensitive subject.

My goal is to help us understand why we struggle with racism, and then show that racism is categorically inconsistent with the life of a Christian. This morning we will not solve the problem of racism, in fact we will barely crack the surface–but this is an effort to put it on the table, to create conversations, and to biblically inform us of our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the lost world around us.

With that as a backdrop, let’s begin. I want to give you four reasons that we struggle with racism. You will struggle with racism if . . .

1.  You ignore our common origin

In order to get into this point, allow me to take a step back in time to tell you about the history and development of racism in the modern world. The classification of races has gone through many iterations. Since the common worldview was based on Scripture, most early anthropologists believed that man should be classified into three races, one for each of Noah’s sons–Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Genesis 10 details their genealogies. This is known as monogenesis–that all peoples of the world, regardless of race, spring from a common origin.

But with the advent of naturalism and the theory of evolution, more theories began to emerge and so did biological racism. No longer was man different simply based on culture or language, but now he was different biologically. Evolution teaches that as man is the most advanced and developed species on earth, he is therefore superior to all other animals and some races of people. It was argued that the Caucasian was the original racial form, and all other types were aberrations from this. In 1800 one scientist wrote, “We must consider white as the stock from whence all others have sprung. Adam and Eve and their posterity, till the time of the flood, were white; in the first age of the world no black nation was to be found on the face of the earth” (Ebenezer Sibly).

Noticing that a man with white skin will grow progressively darker in a tropical climate, but can recover his original, normal color by returning to a more temperate zone, he suggested an experiment whereby a number of native Africans would be transported from their homeland to Denmark, and kept there in isolation and under observation. It would then become clear how long it would take for such people to turn white, blonde, and blue-eyed–that is, back to their more “normal” form. In case it’s not obvious to you, in pretty much every case, those forming these theories were white.

In an attempt to further classify race, scientists used the size of the skull, length of the forearm, the shape of the ear, and even different variations of lice taken from people in different parts of the world. The conclusion to most all of these efforts, which were obviously conducted by white men, favored the white race as superior. But trying to split race into such subgroups has proven to be a fool’s errand. In his book, The Forging of Races, Colin Kidd says, “Race exists as a property of OUR minds, not of THEIR bodies. It is a bogus scientific category rather than a fact of nature, and belongs not so much to the realm of objective biology as to the quite distinct realm of human subjectivity.”

What is the point? There is no biologic distinctive that separates us from one another. The human genome is almost identical across the entire species. It is therefore absurd to think that one is superior or inferior to others based solely on biology. The most we can say biologically is that we are different. This is what the study of genetics tells us. And it took us all the way until the mapping of the human genome before the world came to this conclusion. But this is what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years. Let me show you.

a) We are all made from the same stuff—Dirt

And if we are to look at the creation account, we will find that all along the way God speaks, and the universe springs into existence. Everything is formed ex nihilo, that is “out of nothing”. But then we come to man in Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man is made from dirt–not from a precious metal, not from sugar and spice and everything nice, not from stardust–dirt. Plain dirt.

In Genesis 3:19, after cursing the earth God says, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And in Job 33:5 Elihu says, “I too have been formed out of the clay.” Or the Psalmist in 103:14, “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

Here is the bottom line–there is nothing special about any of us. There is no reason for one to boast over another–we are all just dust. It is also why Paul calls us clay pots in 2 Corinthians 4:7, and why Isaiah says to God, “We are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). We all have a common origin—dirt. And we have a common destination–dirt. And if you forget this, you will struggle with racism.

b) We are all made in the same image–God’s

This earthy shell is a repository. It is a vessel that holds something far more valuable. There is something special about how God made us, and it is different from the rest of creation. We find it in Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” No matter what skin color or other physical characteristics a person possesses, every human being, in every ethnic group, of every age, every gender, and every social class has an immortal soul created by God in His own image.

Man can reason, he has the ability to make moral judgments, he experiences spiritual affections, and he has the capacity to have a relationship with his Creator. Mark Twain wisely said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” And the day you find out why is the day that you come to know that you are the creation of an almighty God who made you in His image to have a relationship with Him. When we look down on others from a position of racial superiority, we are casting aside the dignity of man which belongs to each individual person based on the worth given him by the Creator.

c) We are all descended from the same ancestor—Adam

This is back to the term monogenesis–that man came from the same origin. In Genesis 3:20 it says, “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” Adam and Eve are not figurative or symbolic people as some believe today. They are real, literal people, and they are our first parents.

The New Testament confirms this in Acts 17:26, “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” We all have solidarity in Adam. We are united in Adam as his descendants. Consequently, we all share in Adam’s curse and we have all inherited Adam’s sin nature.

“Therefore, just as through one man [that’s Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men [that’s us], because all sinned” Romans 5:12. As descendants of Adam we have sin in our very nature, which is why Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” Our sin has put every one of us under a similar fate. We are all under the judgment and condemnation of a holy God.

In the words of Daniel 5:27, “You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.” And Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Every person will stand before God, and the color of your skin will not help you in the Day of Judgment. We are all under the same condemnation.

When I was in college, I decided to go bodysurfing right after a hurricane had passed off the coast of Mexico. I hopped in the water near Santa Monica, and swam out past the break, only to find that the waves were so big that they were cresting on the bottom of the pier to which I was swimming too close. Swimming too close to the pier marked my second mistake of the day. The first was not listening to Tracy (who was my girlfriend at the time) who had told me not to get in the water at all. My final mistake was misjudging the mother-in-law set as it rolled in (that is the abnormally large and cantankerous set that breaks farther out than the rest of the waves) and caught me by surprise.

I swam with all my energy to try to get past the wave before it broke, and was just able to swim up through the wave as it crashed over me. I came up for air only to feel the all too familiar grasp of the churning forces below as they sucked me back down into the abyss. So powerful was this wave that I was soon pressed on the ocean floor unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to do anything. There I was in total darkness, held against my will, beginning to lose hope, and legitimately fearing for my very life. Well, fortunately for me, I was able to eventually get my feet under me and push off for the surface before the next wave pummeled me again. And you will be happy to know that I survived, and that was the last time I have gone in the water after a hurricane.

Can I draw a comparison? In the same way that I was held under that wave, each one of us is under the judgment of God. Apart from Christ, we are helpless, hopeless, and without any chance of saving ourselves. But unlike my situation, there is no escape. And this judgment will come to every person, from every nationality and every point on the globe, regardless of color, race, or ethnicity–God is no respecter of persons. He is an impartial judge, and every man and woman stands equally guilty in His presence.

So the next time you are tempted to look down on another because of the color of their skin, or their choppy English, or their mixed ethnicity–reflect on the fact that we are all sons and daughters of Adam. We are all made in the image of God, and we are all made from the same stuff–dirt. When you forget our common origin, you will struggle with racism.

Let’s move on to #2. Not only will we struggle with racism if we ignore our common origin, but #2, you will struggle with racism if . . .

2.  You think little of the cross

When one of Tracy’s cousins got engaged, a family member asked two questions—1) is he a Christian? and 2) is he white? That is a shameful thing to admit and to own. This should not be so in the life of the Christian. How can you love Christ and not love your brother? But this has been a problem for God’s people since the beginning.

Instead of fulfilling their role as a light to the dark and unbelieving nations around them, the Jews instead became segregated, discriminated, and even racially profiled the surrounding nations. Such a strong hatred for others developed that even Jonah the prophet would rather have seen Nineveh destroyed than the people saved. In speaking of the Gentiles, one rabbi said, “Don’t go near them not even to bring them the law.” This hatred was so extreme by the time of Jesus, that He gave specific instruction not only to love one another, which should be easy, but also to love your neighbor, that is anyone who crosses paths with you, but to love even your enemies.

According to James 2:10, the sin of partiality is enough to condemn someone. And John said in chapter 4 of his first epistle that if you hate your brother, then you cannot love God. Galatians 2 tells us that when we see this sin, even if it is present in our leadership, we are to confront it directly in love.

So what is the ultimate answer to racism? Where does racism meet its end? Our government has done its best to protect people of every nationality by passing laws and enforcing American liberties and freedoms for all. Our schools have worked hard to bring children of every color and ethnicity together, teaching from the earliest point of human life that skin color is not a reason to hate others. Our media constantly plugs a colorblind society. And yet, racism is alive and well. So what is the answer?

The answer, my friends, is the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the only power in the universe strong enough to break the oppressive bonds of the slavery of sin and set us free to truly love one another. You can educate the young, you can legislate equality, you can promote diversity from every media outlet on the planet, but none of these things can change the human heart. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can effect true and lasting change. That’s why Romans 1:16 calls the Gospel the power of God for salvation.

What I am saying is not a new philosophy or a new methodology or a new political persuasion. No, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in which our old, unbelieving, unforgiving, hateful self dies, and a new, humble, believing, loving self is created by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the image of Jesus, through the Gospel. And Galatians 6:15 says in Christ, we are a new creation–one that has the capacity to love and to forgive and to be at peace with others.

In Ephesians 2:13 to 15, speaking specifically of the hatred and separation between Jews and Gentiles Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall…so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” There is no superiority at the cross. There is no pride at the cross. The ground is level at the cross. Red and yellow, black and white, there is no distinction.

But those unwilling to let go of the bitterness and anger and hatred of racial tension trample underfoot the blood of Christ. When we reject others for whom Christ shed His blood, we are directly opposed to the heart of God. For He is the friend of sinners. He came to seek and save the lost. He reached out to Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3, and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. But Jesus, who was equal with God, chose to submit Himself to the Father’s will, putting aside His desires, His comforts, His position and His rights, and gave His life for those who were His enemies, demonstrating the amazing power of His love.

Every true Christian of every class and culture and race is indwelt by the living Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. It is impossible to really believe and revel in that truth and mistreat a believer [or any other person] of a different race (Piper). Friends, you cannot hold onto the cross with one hand and your biases and prejudices with the other. If the bitter bile of racism is in your heart and it cannot be removed, then maybe you have never experienced the forgiveness of Christ in your own life. The only power strong enough to overcome racial strife and bring about reconciliation and harmony is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We saw an amazing testimony of this in Charleston. Because of the unique law in South Carolina, the victims of the Charleston atrocity did have an opportunity to speak to the one who killed their loved ones. Just two days after their murder, five out of the nine victims’ families came forth, and this is what they said:

Speaking of her son, one mother said to the assailant: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts. I will never be the same….but may God have mercy on your soul.”

Speaking of her mother, one woman said, “You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you. It hurts me. You hurt a lot of people, but may God forgive you.”

Another said, “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways.”

Do you realize that they could have stirred the entire nation to hatred and anger and rioting and revenge? But because they have their hope fixed on Jesus Christ in the Gospel, they forgave. And in one fell swoop, they ended the hostility–it fizzled out like deflating a balloon. That is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who have been forgiven by God have the ability to forgive others.

We have seen that those who struggle with racism ignore our common origin, and think little of the cross, and #3 . . .

3.  You don’t want church unity

The church is made up of a group of sinners who have been brought together under the cross to put Jesus on display to the watching world. It is the Gospel gone public. It is the singular location in which a lost and dying world filled with strife and bitterness, hatred and anger, can see peace and harmony, love and forgiveness of God. The Church has not always done a good job of this, with some saying that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week, but nonetheless, the true Gospel lived out in the lives of genuine Christians will be a testimony to the watching world.

Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12 to 13, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” We have been made one in Christ. And this is manifest most clearly when God’s people, redeemed sinners, gather together to corporately worship, to love each other, and to be a part of the body. And the world sees Christ. All colors, all ethnicities, all shapes and sizes, all people together under one roof, partaking in one baptism, singing one song, eating one holy food, bound together as brothers and sisters by the blood of Jesus Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This is who we are in Christ. And so if we walk into FBC on a Sunday morning and we avoid certain people, or we don’t reach out to certain people because they are “different” from us, then something is wrong.

Let me illustrate–if you walk in on a Sunday morning, and there are two options of where to sit. You don’t know the people sitting next to the open seats, but what you do notice is that one is next to people who are ethnically like you, and the other is next to people who are not ethnically like you. At the speed of thought you make a decision. Where do you sit? Most of us would gravitate toward the people who are most like us. We associate that with comfort, ease, safety, and therefore greater benefit to us. But this is a mistake, and not how the body of Christ is designed to work.

Philippians 2 reminds us that we are not to look out for our own personal interests, but rather for the interests of others. If the church is to be a place that showcases the multifaceted grace of God to those who enter, then shouldn’t we make regular efforts to get outside of our comfort zone and get to know some new people–especially those who are not like us?

Here is a crazy thought–and I don’t want you to freak out, but check this out. We tried it in our college ministry a month or so ago, and it was great. Maybe once or twice or something, try sitting in a different seat. Move around. Go find people you don’t know, or even people who are different from you, and sit with them. Engage them. Love them. Invite them to lunch or dinner, and build a Christ-centered relationship. I know, it’s super radical–but something to consider.

We are running out of time, let’s look at #4 briefly. And this one ties it all together. You will struggle with racism if . . .

4.  You aren’t excited about Heaven

Turn to Revelation 7:9. In Heaven we will see the consummation of the redemptive plan of God. Jesus sent every Christian out into the world to make disciples in the great commission, and when we arrive in Heaven we will see the final, collective group of those whom He has saved.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands.” Can I just say–there will be no racists in Heaven, just those who have been bought by the blood of Christ. This is the future to which we go. Think of the glory He will receive when He brings together people from every part of the globe, speaking every language, from every people group–and we are united together under the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And look at verse 10, “And they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ Amen.” There will be nothing but adoration, and worship, and the glory of God because only He could take something so diverse, so separate, so diffuse and bring it together for His name and His glory. And verses 11 and 12, “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, ‘Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’”

This is the end to which we go and it is awesome. We will worship together, hand in hand, with one voice, free of sin, free of separation from the One who is worthy. Can you get excited about that? But friends, the racist finds no home in Heaven–nothing there is familiar. Won’t you consider your heart and your bitterness and your anger, whether you are part of the majority or minority, and let go of this sin and learn to love others. Let’s get excited about Heaven.

You will struggle with racism if:

  1. You ignore our common origin
  2. You think little of the cross
  3. You don’t value unity in the church
  4. You aren’t excited about Heaven

A few closing thoughts to take with you:

1)  Repent of racism, prejudice, bitterness and hatred

. . . for the minority and the majority. Is it possible to have Christ in you, filling you with the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) and then go out and live in hatred and bigotry? These don’t work together. The Christian loves, forgives, and seeks like Christ to be unified with others. Today, this morning, right now won’t you come to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who promises to carry our burdens and bind up our broken souls, and confess?

2)  Reach out to people who are different from you

This is a good day to love one another. Think of ways that you can reach out to others in the love of Christ.

3)  Meditate on the cross

This is a great place to start. The soul-crushing truth of the work of Christ will keep us humble and kind to others.

4)  Become a missionary

Get out and get it done. The call is live. It is active. It is to every Christian. Make disciples of all nations. Who will go?

Let’s pray.

About Shawn Farrell

Shawn leads the college ministry and serves as an elder at Faith Bible Church

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