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]


Free to Love.

The Jews trace their lineage back, not to Nahor or Terah or any of the early patriarchs, but to Abraham. Abraham was he to whom God gave the specific promise that he would become the father of many nations and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. God Himself set Abraham apart and, after taking him through a battery of tests designed to gauge his faithfulness, God set His seal on him that he and his offspring would eternally be a special people, unique in His sight.

Without going into too many details here, suffice it to say that the Bible makes it clear that the Hebrew nation that came from Abraham’s loins were considered by God to be His chosen people.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, to learn that many of the greatest of God’s heroes had a mixed lineage, that is, they did not come from a purely Abrahamic blood line. There is, for example, in the Bible a book named after an ordinary Moabitess girl, Ruth. This same Ruth became King David’s great-grandmother! The great King David had Moabite blood running in him! In Jesus’ day, this fact would have been unacceptable to some Jews, so prejudiced were they. I am surprised they did not raise a riot, but probably it did not register. At the very least, they would have been greatly humbled to learn this.

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mat. 1:1) is filled with names of strange people, and even stranger relationships:

– There is the incestuous affair of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar;

– There’s Ruth;

– A great Israelite King, Solomon, was born of an adulterous affair, and worse. (The story of David and Uriah’s wife is one that puts God Himself right in the middle of a controversy. But the good news is that God is not afraid of controversy. He loves being controversial! Anyone is welcome to challenge Him.)

What I am driving at is that God is such a God of grace that He does things that are simply ‘unacceptable’ to us. He forgives those we would not forgive; He elevates those we would not even think to look upon; and He accepts those that we would not accept.

I read a story about a man whose cousin was lynched by white American racists many years ago, but after finding Christ he found the strength to forgive the murderers and the community that endorsed the deed. There are many such stories of God’s grace working in people’s lives and we thank God for them. But there are also countless other people struggling with unforgiveness and kindred attitudes, and they are dying a slow death.

Others struggle with accepting people who are different from them in one way or another – probably color, status or whatever.

We cannot hide behind anything. There are so many things we carry that are not a product of the grace of God and oh! how we need to repent of them. How we need to pray for that grace which we see God Himself having! That is exactly what the Apostle James says in 4:6-10, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble… Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

In carrying that grace, we shall show forth the true character of God, who is love. There are many things we will have to ‘swallow’ in order to walk in the reality of that grace.

We all need to be set truly free.  The Bible makes it clear that this freedom comes about through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If people continually hear the right gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, they will learn to stay in that place of true humility and repentance and eventually they will be set totally free. Free to love.

I do not write these words because I myself am totally free in my relationship with other people. On the contrary, these words are a prayer from the depths of my heart. I more than anyone else need the grace of God. I need and I want to arrive at the goal of true liberty which God has set for me. I can only thank Him for any victory that I find in my daily walk with Him.