Building Bridges And Breaking Down Barriers

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Far too often, the church has been part of the problem and I believe Jesus wants us to to be part of the SOLUTION.

Check out the words of James, the half-brother of Jesus, in his letter to the church.

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. —v. 1

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. —James 2:1 NIV

Then, just to make certain these guys don’t miss the point, James gives them an example…

If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated (discriminated – NIV and NLT) God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? —James 2:1-4 MSG

Go back to Verse 1. It reads like this in the NLT:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. —James 2:1 NIV

The word favoritism gets translated “prejudice” in the NET. Our English word “prejudice” comes from a Latin word that emphasizes a pre-judgement of someone, causing us to form an opinion before knowing any or all the facts. 

Most of my life, church world has been obsessed with externals.  Regardless of what God said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “…The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

We know that verse.  We can quote that verse.  But very seldom do we actually live that verse.

Our tendency is to form our own little “Christian Club Check List” against which we subconsciously, sometimes unintentionally or intentionally, judge everyone:

•          Her hair’s too short.

•          His hair’s too long.

•          He doesn’t even have any hair.

•          Can you believe she’s wearing that?

•          Could his jeans have any more holes in them?

•          Check out those tattoos.

•          Did you see her piercings?

•          Did you know she has a Phd?

•          He didn’t even graduate from High School.

•          They home school their kids.

•          That dude is rich.

•          She is dirt poor.

•          Can you believe that car? We’re talking megabucks.

•          Have you seen their house?

•          She’s black.

•          He’s white.

•          She Hispanic.

•          They’re Asian.

•          Can you believe that bi-racial couple?

That’s some of the prejudice James is taking on in James 2. The Greek word refers to any time we make an assessment on the basis of status or exterior appearance alone!

In James 2, the favoritism, partiality, discrimination or prejudice that James is taking HEAD ON was in the CHURCH!

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It was the CHURCH discriminating, or giving special preference to, the rich over poor, upper class over lower class, the impressive over the unimpressive, the bathed over those who couldn’t afford to take a bath, the have's over the have not's. It was discrimination that was based on outward appearance, social status and financial net worth. But the principles James lays out can be applied to any kind/form of discrimination.

It’s interesting that James begins verse 2 with this phrase, “My brothers and sisters…”  He’s reminding us…  “Guys, don’t think for a moment that this is just a problem out there.  Discrimination, prejudice, favoritism, partiality, racism, you name it, isn’t just a problem in the world, it’s a problem in the church.” 

Unfortunately, one of the most profound statements MLK made almost 50 years ago still rings true today:

“We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing…we stand in the most segregated hour in America…” —MLK, March 31, 1968, Sermon titled, Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution, National Cathedral, Washington, DC

WE MUST FACE THE SAD FACT THAT AT ELEVEN O’CLOCK ON SUNDAY MORNING WHEN WE STAND TO SING…WE STAND IN THE MOST SEGREGATED HOUR IN AMERICA.

So, what leads to the creation of racial and cultural tension and barriers in our world today? 

We could list several causes, but for the sake of time, let me just list FOUR.

1.     Parenting or environment

2.     Social, cultural and economic structures

3.     The presence of sin and evil

4.     Good old-fashioned fear

PARENTING OR ENVIRONMENT

 As much as we might hate to admit it, Parents, we play the single most important and influential role in determining whether or not our kids will be bigots or bridge-builders. 

I'm so thankful that even though I grew up in the Deep South, my parents didn't fill me with a heart full of hate and disgust for groups who were different from us. 

Parents, you are HUGE when it comes to erecting barriers or creating bridge builders.  Set the example!

SOCIAL, CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC STRUCTURES

I don’t have time to walk out the implications of this.  There are several books and documentaries that can help you get an idea of what I’m talking about, but this is one reason that the words of the Prophet Micah need to ring in the ears of 21st century believers:

what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. —Micah 6:8

Dealing with matters of prejudice or racism is going to require a passion for JUSTICE, a love for MERCY and a spirit of HUMILITY.

THE PRESENCE OF SIN AND EVIL

Make no mistake about it, the ultimate cause of prejudice, racism, discrimination and “barrier building” is nothing less than human depravity or SIN. 

if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. —James 2:9 NLT

That’s about as straightforward and direct as you can get!

There is a downward, south bound gravitational pull in all of us that seeks, in this context, to label, exclude and demean certain groups of people for the sheer satisfaction of having the power to do so. 

There is something very evil in many of us that wants to be superior, big, strong, smart, “in” and powerful and is perfectly willing to make other people be little, small, weak, dumb, "out" and different.

When we make demeaning comments about a person who is different from us, it’s SIN, it’s WRONG.  We can disagree with a person vigorously, but regardless of how vigorously we may disagree with another individual, it is always sinful to demean another human being. 

When we demean another person, we are demeaning the very God in whose image that person is made.

GOOD OLD-FASHIONED FEAR

Fear keeps me from loving and reaching out. Fear does crazy things to people. It’s one of the biggest things that causes us to keep our distance, build barriers, instead of building bridges!

If you want to talk theology when it comes to DISCRIMINATION, RACISM and PREJUDICE you need to know that from Genesis to Revelation we see a God who not only values DIVERISTY, but a God who DEMANDS that His people, the bride of Christ, the church, be a MULTIRACIAL, MULTI-ETHNIC and MULTI-LANGUAGE group of people!  

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. — Galatians 3:28 MSG

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There’s a popular saying today that is often made with the best of intentions. People say things like, “We are COLOR BLIND.”

I’m not certain we’re supposed to be COLOR BLIND, because I think God loves every COLOR He created!

Instead of being color-blind, what if we started to call ourselves COLOR-BLESSED? We are BLESSED by every COLOR that calls this place “home.”

If you don’t like DIVERISTY, you may want to cancel your reservation. You won’t be comfortable in heaven. You won’t like it! Because this is the way the Bible describes it:

I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing: “Salvation to our God on his Throne!  Salvation to the Lamb!” — Revelation 7:9-10 MSG

After talking with one of my friends, who happens to be black, about this message he emailed me the following:

So here is my take:

1. My shell is black, kinda short, a hair overweight, and reasonably attractive.  But my true self, my spirit, is perfect, glorious, the mirror image of God, and full of Grace and truth.  This is true of all of us. …perhaps it would be helpful to remind us believers of who and what we are.

2. We are all part of the body of Christ.  Therefore, any division that prevents us from being able to function as a part of the body of Christ is a lie.  We must reject the lie of division because I am God's child and heir!!!  And so are you and everyone else.  Only by accepting the lie of division can division take hold as it has in politics and society!

3. We must do our best to replace the idolatry of division - worshipping the things that make us different instead of holding tightly to God's word that tells us we are all family - with empathy.  Because by trying to understand another perspective, we realize it isn't that much different than our own if put in similar circumstances.”

Wow!  Wow!  Wow! I love this!  And he is so right! We MUST do our best to replace the idolatry of division and instead hold tightly to God's word that tells us we are all family!