The Bar of Bigotry – Part 2

Some years ago, my fellow pastor Joshua and I went to the island of Zanzibar to preach the gospel. One evening our host tuned his TV to a channel which I had never seen before. It was an Arabic Christian channel, and in that particular program they were singing gospel songs in Arabic. The words they were singing raced at the bottom of the screen and I could clearly see that these were Arabs singing songs of praise to Jesus.

Let me say in all honesty that at that point in my life I had never heard of a saved Arab, and it had never entered my contemplative realm that an Arab could get saved. My view of the Arab was permanently one of a violent and incorrigibly irreconciliable species.

As I sat there watching this program, the tears began rolling down my cheeks. In the weak light provided by a low-watt bulb, I allowed myself to cry like a baby. What I was witnessing was contrary to what I thought I knew. I never imagined the day would arrive when I would be seeing with my own eyes an Arab praising Jesus!

But here I was seeing Arabic brothers and sisters – saints – magnifying our Lord Jesus Christ! Deep in my heart I repented of my pride and folly.

Ever since that day I have come to realize that I have a lot to learn about God’s grace and love.

People in the modern world might not notice it, but the natural differences that Paul outlines in Colossians 3 are some of the most notorious roadblocks for believers. But they are just that – natural, a result of the flesh. And yet people – believers – allow the flesh to imprison them in racism, bigotry, prestige, self-importance – and they miss God’s mark.

But scripture is un-ambiguous. Once we are in Christ, all our differences, whether genetic or whether picked up along the way, all get bulldozed to the ground. That is the power of the gospel. If the gospel cannot break down the barriers that separate us, then that is simply not the gospel of Jesus Christ!

“… there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free”.

Neither in Paul’s day nor in ours could the name “Barbarian” be referring to a civilized people. And in fact history does relate that the Barbarians and the Scythians were extremely barbaric races. They were certainly not anyone’s idea of a neighbor, let alone a ‘brother’.

But one day the gospel of peace knocked at the gates of these war-like tribes and Paul intimates here that these people also accepted Jesus into their hearts. Many other assorted races and tribes also received the gospel, including many uncircumcised (whom Paul told to stay put with their skins on).

The minute these people began turning to the Lord, the whole equation changed. Now they were no longer classifiable as “barbaric”, “uncivilized” or ”uncircumcised”. On the contrary, these were now dear, beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord.

It may be that they still carried with them their uncivilized customs, but Paul is reminding everyone that once a man is in Christ, we can no longer regard or measure them in any physical aspect.

“… henceforth know we no man after the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:17).

(To this day, most tribes that circumcise have a problem accepting those who do not. Paul, a circumcised man, had no such problem).

But for the spiritual man all that matters now is living the crucified life, where we are called upon to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.

Unfortunately, there are still people in church, brethren, who will want to consider things in the flesh. They will regard their fellow brethren in the flesh, and they court relationships in the flesh. It is incredulous, but you will find in church people attached to each other by restrictions of color, race or tribe; education or social status, or wealth. People ‘grade’ themselves in church! It is so sad that these things should be so. This indicates that these people have failed to clear the bar of bigotry.

And yet the Apostle Paul says that the only thing that matters after we receive Christ is how we walk a holy, Godly and loving life. That life is our common denominator. God will praise or ‘grade’ us to the extent that we are willing to live the Christian lifestyle, which in practical terms translates to losing our lives for the sake of Christ.

I am so thankful for the many brethren, men and women from all walks of life and from West to East, whom God has brought my way and given us the grace to know and love one another in truth and in the Spirit. Yes, I thank the true church of Christ, of whom I am a part, for enriching my life beyond my wildest dreams.

[Below: With Pastor Joshua]

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The Bar of Bigotry – Part 1

9 … seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;

10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. Col. 3:9-13

I once wrote a post in which I stated that my favorite sport is athletics. (They say opposites attract each other which is true in my case: despite my love of athletics, I could easily bag a gold medal for being the most un-athletic person in the world! I could take a week to finish a city marathon.)

Anyways, on reading that article, my friend Suzanne Young sent me a clip of an inter-school high jump competition. I don’t know how she knew that I would appreciate a high jump clip, but I believe she was in the Spirit because actually two of the athletes that I admire most are female champion high jumpers Ariane Friedrich from Germany and Blanka Vlasic of Croatia.

I have written about the high jump here because the scripture that we are going to consider today has something to do with clearing a certain bar, the bar of bigotry. My Thesaurus offers a rich collection of words to describe bigotry: prejudice, racism, intolerance, narrow-mindedness (my favorite). We could even add narcissism. If a believer can clear the hurdle of bigotry in his or her life, then such an one is a truly spiritual man/woman. But clearly, this can only be achievable when a true spiritual transformation has occurred in that person’s heart.

In the natural we as humans have many differences. Some of our differences are less harmful than others, like an African’s preference not to walk dogs (I hope I got the terminology right). You would need to pay me a huge amount of money – and that’s just because I needed it – to make me walk a dog up any boulevard. It’s simply not in my system to walk dogs, although I think I love dogs.

Cats I simply detest. I love them only when they are catching rats. Actually, I once had a cat which I really loved. He was a champion rat-catcher.

Both these preferences are very African and I daresay quite harmless – as far as I am concerned, that is. (But there probably is someone on the other side of the hemisphere who is about to burst a neck vein over the fact that I don’t like cats!)

The fact, however, is that being pro-cat or not has nothing to do with the gospel. There are other, more dangerous ‘preferences’ which are the true poison for the child of God.

The really dangerous stuff are things which are rooted deep within our natural makeup. There are, for example, racial perceptions embedded deep in the genes of our physical make-up, things that we can do nothing about. A white man has perceptions about the black man (some justified and some not) over which he has no control. The same is true of the black man. Even if he was born and bred in the Western world, he still has inbred perceptions about the white man which are just a part of his African nature.

These genetic forces/differences are extremely powerful, and it is only the gospel of Jesus Christ that can truly set us free from their power.

[Below: on a wintry day in Singida, a young girl looks wistfully out of a window]


The Wickedness of Man’s Heart – Part 2

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9

Through the new birth, Christ has given us a new nature, and a new heart. We have been born of the Spirit of God and our hearts have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.

But we know that this newness of life is a work in progress. The flesh – our humanness, that old human heart – is there still, an indefatigable enemy of our souls. The Apostle Paul cried out in Romans 7:24, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

This cry of anguish was a result of the wickedness that he saw in his heart.

I sometimes smile ruefully when I ponder the many times that I seek after men’s approval. I want people to think of me as a good person. But it is not true. I am not good, and I know it.

I appreciate the fact that it is by staying hard by the side of Jesus that I can expect to get and maintain a different heart. There is no other way. Any other way is a big lie or a denial.

The Apostle Paul summarizes it very well when he says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul realized how rotten he was. He placed all his hope to be anything different on the grace of God alone.

When we are not walking in the revelation of the cross, we could even be saved and active in church, but our hearts are filled with every kind of evil. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church, “I cannot address you as spiritual people. For you have in your hearts envyings, strife, war, and every kind of evil.” These guys had even someone in their midst who was sleeping with his father’s wife!

If you find people in a church bound by a certain sin, do not be deceived. You will find every other sin running deep beneath the floor boards of that church. If we are not watching over our hearts, we will carry every kind of wickedness in us.

The Apostle Paul would not find any other way to keep his heart pure apart from a true, spiritual knowledge of and relationship with our Lord Jesus. In Romans Rom 7:24, as we have seen, he writes, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

In the very next verse he provides us with the answer: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

In effect he is saying, “Only Jesus can deliver me from the rot that I am!” Paul’s heart was desperately wicked, and he knew it. The greatest challenge that he had was in maintaining a pure and holy heart. More than 50 years after his conversion he writes the Philippians, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended…” (Phil. 3:13-14)

He is not referring to his ministry here. He is talking about his personal walk of faith with the Lord, his life as a Christian. He struggled daily to keep a strong faith and to maintain a pure heart.

A pure heart is needed within the Body of Christ. It is what will keep us holy. It is what will keep us in sincere fellowship. It is what will build us up as a Body.