This sermon is part of the sermon series "Project Hazmat: Handling Today's Tough Topics". See series.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded the little nation of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia, knowing it would be next on Saddam's hit list, called Washington and asked for help. Regardless of your political persuasion, you would have to agree on that occasion, then President Bush was at his best. Because President Bush picked up the phone and he called England and Canada and Spain and France, Italy, Turkey and numbers of other countries around the world and built the famous Coalition.
Men and women from different backgrounds, races, classes, cultures and personalities all gathered in the Gulf with one singularly focused agenda—to draw a line in the sand. To serve notice on this madman that not only could he not take more territory, he would have to relinquish the territory he had already taken. The Coalition was to serve notice on him that his days of rule in the Gulf were over.
Now there is another mad person in history and he's called the devil. He's come on territory that he has not created and does not own. He has brought with him death and disease and destruction. But God has responded by building his own coalition, made up of black people and white people and red people and yellow people; made up of tall people and short people; made up of people from various classes and backgrounds, to draw a line in the sand. To serve notice on this mad one that not only can he not take over more territory, he must relinquish the territory he already has. That coalition is called the church.
Our soldiers showed up with new, high-tech weaponry. Now, when Saddam looked across and saw five hundred thousand men and women with all this high-tech weaponry, you know his momma ain't raised no dummy. He said, "I need a Plan B." That's when he launched scud attacks on Israel. His strategy was to draw Israel into the war in order to split the Coalition, believing that if he could draw Israel into the war his Arab brothers would not fight against another Arab brother alongside their archenemy, Israel. So he launched scud attacks to split the Coalition. Of course that's when the heroes of the war showed up—Patriot Missiles. They were electronically released from their silos and met the scuds in heavenly places. And because the Coalition held, the war ended in just a few days.
You see, when you are in a war you don't care about the color or class or culture of the man fighting next to you, as long as he is shooting in the same direction you are. If you know Jesus Christ, you are in a war. This army that we are a part of is made up of people who are different from you, different from me. We may have all come over here on different ships but we are in the same boat now.
Modeling multi-ethnic community
The problem we face is that 11:00 on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. The problem that we face is that the people of God are not holding the standard of God high enough. That society can see that God has created one body with a lot of different looking faces. Unless we are willing to transcend, unless we are willing to rise above the efforts and intimidations of the enemy to allow history, background, culture, class and all the other human idiosyncrasies to divide the common call of Christ, then we will never see the impact of the church in reclaiming the culture.
Make no mistake about it—it won't come because of your political affiliation. For God doesn't ride the back of donkeys or elephants. The solutions to our problems won't be delivered on Air Force One. It reminds me of a story of Joshua when he was in battle array, ready to go to war, in Joshua chapter 5. He came across this man who was getting ready to go into battle himself. He was a huge guy. He was captain of a large army. Joshua looked at him and said "Whose side are you on? Before I go to war I need to know whose side you are on, because if you are on their side then we are going to lose. If you are on our side then we have help to win, so whose side are you on?"
The man looked at him and said "Obviously you are thoroughly confused. I am neither on your side, nor am I on their side. I'm captain of the Lord's Army. I did not come to take sides. I came to take over."
That's God's agenda. He did not come to distinguish between Baptists and Methodist and Episcopalians and Pentecostals. He came to take over. He came to set a whole new agenda that all of his armed forces must operate under. It's amazing how when we come to a gathering like this, we can be one in the name of Christ. But when we leave, we go back into our own uniqueness, not understanding that there is only one army here. Not understanding that God has called a coalition to operate in his unified way. Because, brothers and sisters, the test of the power in this room is not measured inside this room.
Whether you are black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Baptist or Methodist … whether you have an outgoing personality or an ingrown personality, there's only one color that matters. That's the color red, the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Identifying the rot of racism
Peter was a man who had to come face to face with this problem. This problem of diversity. This problem of difference. This problem of unity. Peter was a staunch Jew. He was a super Jew. He was proud to be Jewish. Committed to being Jewish and was faithfully Jewish. One day while having devotions on the top of his roof, God gave him a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all manner of food on it. Peter said, "Not so Lord. Not so. I can't eat that unclean food, the food that the Gentiles eat."
God then gave him a lesson of a lifetime. "Don't call unclean what I call clean. Don't use your past standards to govern your present actions. This is a new ballgame now. I've created a new entity called the church." He was then sent down to the home of Cornelius, where he introduced Gentiles to the new reality of a King. This cross-cultural experience made such a great impact that he even went over to dine with the Gentiles on their side of town.
That dinner event is recorded for us in Galatians 2. Finally, he had the chance to eat Gentile "soul" food. So he crosses the railroad tracks and goes dining at the "Soul Shack" where the Gentiles were living. He'd always wanted to taste pig feet and hog moths and chittlin's. He always wanted to know what fat back and pork chops and ham tasted like. There he had his opportunity, ordained by God.
And so we find him dining with the Gentiles. Finding out he could have fellowship with people who are different than he was. Finding out what all the hoopla was all about regarding their background, their history, their worldview, and their diet. What he was finding out was all the good cooking he had been missing in all of his years as a Jew. That's what he found out.
And so in Galatians 2, we find him dining with the Gentiles, enjoying a glorious, sumptuous, marvelous, magnanimous meal. In fact, he had even brought some of his Jewish friends with him and they were all seated and dining together. But a problem occurred in verse 12. It says, "For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they came he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof fearing the party of the circumcision."
Peter, the Super Jew, was there dining with his new brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gentiles. All was fine until some of his homies from the hood showed up. Some of the boys from the hood showed up. Some of his Jewish friends sent by James, who are castigating him for what he was doing. "How dare you, Peter, our leader!" "How dare you! Don't you know we don't do that in this neighborhood? Don't you know that in this neighborhood we don't fraternize. I know we are all one in Christ and all that, but that's theology. Let's get practical. In this neighborhood we don't do that. How could you Peter?"
And Peter was afraid of the circumcision, the text says—he was afraid of what his other brothers in Christ thought. What the rest of the family of God felt. He disregarded the truth of the Word of God told to him in Acts chapter 10. And it says that he withdrew himself. Now you have to understand this is no small withdrawal. This is Peter really withdrawing.
Whenever you see the list of disciples in the New Testament, Peter's name is always first. Because he was the leader of the disciples. So when he withdrew, it says in verse 13, that the rest of the "Jews joined him in his hypocrisy." With the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. Peter is the leader. We all know that a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.
When he fails as a leader to lead centered on the Bible, his congregation follows. The great tragedy of our day is that our pulpits have failed to deal with the issue of diversity, so our pews don't know what to do about the issues of diversity. Because the church has not come to grips with this issue, the people of God have failed to be inclusionary when it comes to the oneness of the body.
And he withdrew; the rest of the Jews went with him. It's interesting that the text says, "Even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy." Not my boy Barnie. I mean anybody but Barnabas. You see, Barnabas was raised in Cyprus. Cyprus, of course, is a Gentile colony. So he was raised with Gentiles, went to school with Gentiles, played ball with Gentiles. That's how bad racism is. It can take a good man and make him bad.
Calling sin what it is
Barnabas, the encourager, is now one of the ones to withdraw because of the pressure, the power, the potency of failed Christianity. Led by Peter, influenced by his own race. He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for one thing. Paul wanted some pork chops too. The text in verse 11 says that Paul showed up and when "Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned." He says in verse 14, "And when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of them, 'If you being a Jew, live like the Gentiles, and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews.'" He says, "You've got inconsistent Christianity."
Now, notice his response. How did he deal with racism, classism, culturalism, whatever the dividing issue is in the neighborhood where you live, the area where you minister? How did he deal with it? Did he have a workshop on race relations? Did he have a seminar on unity?
No. The text says, "When I saw him I opposed him to his face. I opposed him personally. I opposed him publicly. I opposed him biblically." You see, we have failed to treat this issue as a sin. We called it a cultural orientation. We called it a historical backdrop. We have given it names of heritage in history, but we have not called it is, what Paul called it, "sin."
It's nothing short of sin. To relate to a brother or a sister in Jesus Christ and to determine your walk with them based on what neighborhood they were raised in, the color of their skin, or their cultural distinctiveness is sin. And sin doesn't need seminars—sin needs repentance. Sin doesn't need workshops—sin needs repentance.
We have a lot of whites that have started coming to our church in Dallas. One of our black members was getting very upset. That's different, isn't it? All of these whites were starting to come to our church. He said, "Pastor, I'm upset. We've got too many whites coming to our church. And you know how they are. After a while they're going to try and take over."
I said, "Well, then you better do a lot of black evangelism then and keep blacks coming in here." He said, "Well, I don't like it and I'm leaving." I said, "Bye."
I didn't need a seminar. I didn't need a workshop. I didn't need a sensitivity session. I needed the Word of God and the Word of God has already told me what to say. It is amazing when we deal with other sins—like stealing, for instance—we jump right to it, or virtually any other sin. But when it comes to this sin we negotiate it. We say, "Well, wait a minute." We say, "I think your being too hard on Peter, Evans, because, after all, Peter was probably raised this way. The Jews that came to him were raised this way. You can't expect him to get over how he was raised in a minute. It's his history and his heritage."
But Paul says, "Unless you learn to hate your mother …" See, if your mother and father taught you 'don't like those people over there,' when you come to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ says you must reject your mother at that point. You must hate any value system—even if it comes through your parents—that does not come in concert with the Word of God. Mom and Dad that's how you raised me, but that's where you are wrong. Until we get that kind of Christianity, that kind of radical Christianity, where we are willing to cross the divide of racial, culture, class, denominational differences, then we will never see a Spirit-empowered church. Because God will never endorse disunity.
Now, don't misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that God is trying to amalgamate us. To make us all the same. To cut us from the same cookie cutter. Not at all. Whatever race you are now will be the same race you'll be in heaven. If you are white now you will be white in heaven. If you're Asian now, you'll be Asian in heaven. If you're Hispanic now, you'll be Hispanic in heaven. Why? Because John said "When I saw that host that no man could number. What I saw was men from every nation, every tribe, every kindred, and every tongue." Whatever you are now is what you will be. So practice makes perfect.
The issue is not to let what you are now get in the way of what God has called you to be. And he has always called all of us to be his committed children—even before the committed parts of a particular group existed in creation. Black is only beautiful if it is biblical and white is only right if it agrees with holy writ. Unless we subject our humanity to Christ's deity we are a failed people of God.
In fact, it's technically incorrect to say you are a "Black Christian" or a "White Christian" because then you make black and white an adjective and you make Christian a noun. The job of the adjective, of course, is to modify the noun. So if Christian is in the noun position and black and white in the adjectival position you must always adjust the noun to be concomitant to what the adjective describes it to be.
Therefore, Christianity must always be in the adjectival position. Your race, class or culture must always be in the noun position. So that if anything changes, it's the noun of your humanity and not the Christianity of your faith.
So God is not attempting to amalgamate us, but he is attempting to position us under one authority. He's not asking you to like Soul music. He's not asking me to like Country and Western, thank God! But what he is asking is that we be the people of God first. That means it's got to start with you, right there where you are. It's got to start to with you, don't wait until your pastor gets it straight, or the rest of the church gets it straight. It's got to start with you and your attitudes. Because, if you're a messed up person and you have a family, then you're going to help make a messed up family.
If you're a messed up person making a messed up family, and your family goes to church, your messed up family is going to contribute to a messed up church.
And then, if you are a messed up person, contributing to a messed up family, resulting in a messed up church and your church is supposed to be the light to the neighborhood, then your church will contribute to a messed up neighborhood.
And if you are a messed up person, contributing to a messed up family, resulting in a messed up church, leading to a messed up neighborhood, and your neighborhood is in the city, then your messed up neighborhood will contribute to a messed up city.
And then if you are a messed up person, contributing to a messed up family, resulting in a messed up church, leading to a messed up neighborhood, resulting in a messed up city and your city is in a county, then your messed up city will result in a messed up county.
And then if you are a messed up person, contributing to a messed up family, resulting in a messed up church, causing a messed up neighborhood, leading to a messed up city, resulting in a messed up county, and your county is in a state, then your messed up county will lead to a messed up state.
And then if you are a messed up person, resulting in a messed up family, leading to a messed up church, causing a messed up neighborhood, resulting in a messed up city, bringing about a messed up county, causing a messed up state and your state is in this country, then your messed up state will lead to a messed up nation.
And then if you are a messed up person, leading to a messed up family, resulting in a messed up church, causing a messed up neighborhood, leading to a messed up city, resulting in a messed up county, bringing about a messed up state, resulting in a messed up country and your country is in the world, well then your messed up country leads to a messed up world.
So if you want a better world, composed of better countries, inhabited by better states, made up of better counties, composed of better cities, inhabited by better neighborhoods, illumined by better churches, made up of better families—you better start right there, where you are, in becoming a better person. It starts with you where you are.
So my challenge for you is for when you break huddle and go back home, when you go back to your families and your communities and your neighborhoods. Go back, taking with you all of the diversity that God in his magnanimous plan has created and making sure that nothing interrupts biblical unity. My challenge is that you accept and address people based on their spiritual content, not their physical appearance or their denominational title. That the content of their spiritual character and not the color of their visible flesh will determine the joy that you have in your coming together to worship our Lord.
When I was growing up my favorite program was Superman. I loved Superman. Now, of course, Clark Kent was a bumbling idiot. Lois Lane couldn't stand him. Perry White wouldn't use him. Jimmy Olson would make fun of him. But don't let him find a telephone booth. The criminals of Metropolis would come out and wreak havoc in the city and the Daily Planet would get the story and somebody would say "Where's Superman?" Clark Kent would get the word. I'd be sitting on my floor next to my brother. He would take off his glasses. Unhook his tie. I'd look over to my brother and say, "There he'd go."
He'd go inside some closet, some booth and come out with a red and blue jumpsuit on. Now he wasn't Clark Kent anymore. In fact he was totally different. Because he was now faster than a speeding bullet. He was now more powerful than a locomotive. I mean, this dude could leap tall buildings in a single bound. He goes streaking across the sky they say, "It's a bird." "No." "It's a plane." "Uh-uh." "It's Superman!"
Now all of a sudden the topography of the land was changed. Now all of a sudden things became different in the city where he lived. Why? Because this man could catch bullets in his bare hand, break the nozzles of guns, squash knives. Why? Because he wasn't from here. He was from a place called Krypton. But when he brought the power of that sphere and made it work down here in this sphere, he was able to change this sphere to look like that sphere because the power of there lived down here. He was able to transform the environment in which he was.
Many of us need to take a trip to God's telephone booth. Take off that old way of thinking. That old way of walking. That old way of talking. That old way of relating, and come out with an 'S' on our chest. Now that 'S' doesn't mean that you are Superman, but it does mean that you are saved. That 'S' doesn't mean that you are Superman, but it ought to mean that you are sanctified. That 'S' doesn't mean that you are Superman, but it does mean you are a saint. So that when you go back home and people see you coming they say, "It's a bird." "No." "It's a plane." "No." "It's God's Super Saved."
God Bless You!
Tony Evans is founder and President of The Urban Alternative. He pastors Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas, Texas. His most recent book is Kingdom Man.