If you have your Bibles, would you go ahead and grab them? Let’s go to Acts, chapter 10. We’ve said here for quite a while (in fact, I’ve tried to use this language in particular, because I find it to be most helpful) that the meaning of the word gospel is good news, and for news to be good it invades dark spaces. What I mean when I say that is for something to be good news, there has to be the chance for something bad to occur or the reality of something bad that’s already in place.
Good news invades the dark spaces. Good news invades the bad spaces and sheds light where there isn’t any at all. This is the nature of the gospel. It’s what it does. On a thousand different topics, what the gospel does is invade brokenness, mistrust, anger, unforgiveness, hate, fracturing of relationships, and it enters into that brokenness and reconciles.
This morning I want to do what I don’t know I’ve ever heard anyone else do. That’s just talk bluntly and straightly about race. Do you feel that discomfort, that awkwardness? It’s going to get worse. I know some of you are like, “Matt, I am sitting next to a black dude. Don’t do this, Chandler. I don’t even know what to do right now.” Then I know some of you African-Americans are like, “Say something.” In the end here, you can already feel kind of this, “Can we do this? Are we allowed to do this?” I’m telling you, we’re allowed to do it.
I’ve been pastor here for going on 11 years. When you start talking about race, and racism in particular, I think you have to tease out some things, because I think there are people who are racist, and then I think there are people who are just ignorant. Not to say that racist people aren’t ignorant. I’m saying there are people who are racist who aren’t quite sure why they are, where that came from. They have been discipled poorly. It’s not their heart; they just haven’t been informed. So let me flesh this out in a way I think is helpful.
I met a man here years ago. (By the way, neither one of these families attends The Village anymore, so if you’re like, “I will never tell him anything ever…”) He told me he would never let his daughter marry a black man, and if she did they would not be welcomed in their home. I thought, “Am I watching a civil rights movie right here? Are you the bad guy in the story? Are you serious? Did you just say that out loud?” That’s just blatant racism. That’s not, “Oh, bless his heart.” It’s, “You are a buffoon.”
But there’s a subtle form that honestly requires you not to just rebuke outright, but for you to encourage and correct. About three years after I became the pastor of The Village, I was sitting on the front row over at the HV Campus. The service was over, and a man walked up to me and sat down next to me and just said, “Hey man, I love it here. I’m really thinking about joining this church. I just have a question.” Now at that time we were shifting all sorts of things, so I had no idea what question I was about to get.
Here was his question: “I love your preaching, I love the worship here, but I don’t know what to tell my kids about all of these interracial couples.” I went, “What do you mean?” I honestly didn’t know what he meant. He said, “Well, doesn’t the Bible say we’re to come out from them and be separate?” Now listen to me. He’s quoting Moses telling the people of Israel as they head into Canaan that they are not to intermarry with the Canaanites who worshiped and served pagan gods.
Somebody in this poor man’s trajectory had sat him down, had opened up the Word of God, had read that verse, and said, “This verse means this.” For our brother who’s not going to let his white daughter marry a black man, I have rebuke for him. For our brother who wants to know what to do with these interracial couples, I simply took him to where we’ll go here shortly, Ephesians, chapter 2, and showed him the beauty in it.
“This is what you tell your kids. You tell your kids that Jesus Christ has broken down the wall of hostility, has restored and established peace, and there is now one race, not two. That’s what you tell your kids, and you rejoice in that.” Do you see what I’m saying? There’s racism in this room, and it isn’t all Anglo. The reality is the gospel enters this tense, “How do we approach this? How do we talk about this?” type of nonsense, and it settles the soul, and it settles the ground, and it gives us the opportunity to reflect more perfectly what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Let me establish a couple of things, and before that, let me lay my cards on the table. I think in some ways this is a simple issue, and in some ways it’s an extremely complex issue. This isn’t just about skin color, because within groupings of skin color there’s racism. If that is blowing your mind, I’ll unpack it. From the Anglo side of things, you have your white-collar boys and you have your rednecks. Then, if you look at how African-Americans have historically fleshed this out, it was the house Negro and the field Negro.
Don’t think I don’t know some of you right now just went, “Oh my gosh, he said ’Negro.’” Yeah, but what is that? That’s intra-race racism. That’s “I am better than you. I am more valuable than you. I have more worth than you.” It is a dehumanization of another person and another group of people. That’s the essence of racism. In fact, every genocide that has ever occurred, almost all injustice that has ever been birthed, has been birthed out of this idea. “We are superior to…” God help them. “…by birth.” What did you do? You got born. How does that make you superior? That you were born?
In the end, let’s just acknowledge this is not just an Anglo issue, and this is not a white/black issue or a white/Latino or white/Asian issue. With that said, let me also say this. Predominate culture privilege (let me use this word; it’ll be helpful), white privilege, is a reality. There are doors that are available and open to Anglos that we did not have to kick open, that were just normative to us; so normative that we don’t even know they exist and will get offended if someone brings up white privilege.
“I worked hard.” Well, sure you did. But listen to me, brother. There are a whole slew of people who worked hard and didn’t get the opportunities you got to outwork that hard work or to work out that hard work. White privilege is a reality. By the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must seek to deconstruct it and reconstruct in its place the supreme value of every human being, regardless of skin color, background, socioeconomic status, or whatever. This is what the gospel does.
Now with my cards on the table, yes, white privilege. Absolutely. I’ve worked around the world too much, worked around this city too much, to pretend we all are born with equal footing and if we would just exert the same amount of energy we would all end up at the same place. You are not seeing the world correctly if that’s how you see it. I love you, but you’re not seeing the world correctly.
If you’re an Anglo who’s thinking that, then I’m telling you you’re seeing because you’re Anglo, and the only way you know to see is to see as an Anglo, the predominate culture. Predominate cultures just think everybody has the same opportunities they do, and it’s not true. It’s not. At the same time, this is not just an Anglo issue.
With that said, here’s the reality of the human heart. All of us, regardless of color, are drawn toward homogeneous units. We’re drawn toward those like us, because to embrace diversity is to lean into uncomfortable conversations, to risk being misunderstood, and it takes longer to get from point A to point B in diverse settings.
Do you know who never misunderstands me? Are you ready for this? Thirty-nine-year-old white dudes never go, “What do you mean by that?” Never. Because most of us have the same background. We speak the same language. We have experienced the same offenses, so we’re able to speak with one another in a way that doesn’t require a lot of clarification. You enter into diversity and the rules change. It’s harder work. Things start getting exposed.
See, the dirty secret of sanctification that nobody wants to talk about is it hurts. To be matured by God is a painful process, or you’re doing it wrong. It’s the constant exposing of the wickedness in our hearts before a holy God to be confessed and repented of. That’s how we grow, that’s how we’re sanctified, and that’s what we must do around this issue if we have any real hope of becoming the picture of God’s people in a way that most magnifies the beauty of his name.
We are drawn toward homogeneous units, drawn toward those like us. All of us. It doesn’t matter what color you are. This is the draw. We don’t drift toward diversity; we drift away from it. Even people who have had points in their lives where they’ve anchored down (“I’m not a racist”) will find themselves drifting toward homogeny, toward those just like them.
I’ll show it to you in the Bible. Acts, chapter 10. We’ll pick it up in verse 28. Let me set up the story. The apostle Peter is in Joppa at Simon the tanner’s house doing ministry. In Caesarea, a few days’ journey away, a man named Cornelius of the Italian Cohort (so a non-Jew, a Gentile, perceived by the Jews to be unclean and second class) has a vision, and an angel of the Lord says to him, “Send for Simon at Simon of Joppa’s house and bring him to yours.” So this God-fearing Gentile sends a group of soldiers to get Peter.
Peter at that same time is up on the roof praying, and he becomes hungry. As his belly rattles, he has this vision. A blanket is lowered from heaven, and in that blanket were all sorts of animals and unclean things the Jews viewed as what they would call “common” or “dirty” or “unclean,” things they were forbidden by law to touch. A voice spoke and said, “Kill and eat.” Peter has a little post-traumatic stress syndrome. That’s what happens when Jesus calls you the Devil. You don’t get over being called by Jesus “Satan” without going, “What do I do here?”
The blanket is lowered, a voice says, “Kill and eat,” and Peter, trying not to be Peter, becomes Peter and argues with the voice. God says, “Kill and eat,” and he’s like, “I’ve never touched what is unclean. I’m not eating that stuff.” God goes, “If I made it, it’s not unclean. If I made it, it isn’t common.” At that, there was a knock at the door. The knock at the door was the men from Cornelius’ house. The next day Peter and Cornelius’ men head back to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius. Now we’re going to pick it up in Acts 10:28. Here’s Peter’s “Hey, guys” to the room of Gentiles.
“And he said to them, ’You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.’” Let me tell you why that verse doesn’t unsettle us. It doesn’t unsettle us because we said Jew or Gentile. It will unsettle us if you put white and black in there. This sounds like some Jim Crow nonsense. “You yourselves know it is illegal, unlawful for me to eat with someone from another nation.”
If we can get our heads around this, this is a white dude walking into the living room, surrounded by a bunch of African-Americans, and saying, “You yourselves know it’s illegal for me to associate or eat with you, but God has shown me you are not unclean.” I mean, I’d get nervous for that brother. I’d be like, “Man, I hope you kissed your family goodbye. You’re about to get worked.” Right? That’s what just happened. This is a race issue. That’s what has happened here. You have God beginning to break down this wall between the Jews and the Gentiles.
If you don’t know who the Gentiles are, they are us. “What do you mean by ’us’?” I mean all of us. Any non-Jew is a Gentile. God is beginning to break down the walls between the Jews and the rest of the nations to create a new man, to create a new people. So Peter goes from there. They respond kindly by explaining the vision. Peter goes, “Okay, I’ll preach the gospel and see what happens,” and here’s where we’ll pick it up in verse 44.
“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised [Jews] who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ’Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”
You know you’re preaching when you don’t even get done and the Holy Ghost falls and people start speaking in tongues and getting saved. Peter didn’t even get to get to his third point. He had studied that week. He was ready. He had a cool little poem to tie it all off with. He’s in the middle of the second point, the Holy Ghost falls, tongues, everybody is getting baptized.
What an epic moment, if you can imagine. A lot of us are church folk. What if right now, 15 minutes into this message, the Holy Ghost were to fall on us in such a way there would be no need for me to say anything else? We’d be caught up in who God is, and salvation would be birthed and repentance would come out, not just because of the preaching of the Word, but because God simply dumped himself out on us. That’s what just happened. That’s a soul stirring… Like as a minister, that’s a “Do that every weekend” kind of thing.
It doesn’t say it, so this is conjecture. Peter has to be hopped up and a bit nervous. These are the first Gentile believers. Again, a little PTSD for my boy. I mean, he has just constantly been rebuked, constantly made mistakes. Now here he is baptizing Gentiles. Our boy Peter, who is not known for his spine, shows back up in Jerusalem, and here’s what we’ll read in Acts 11:1-4:
“Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying…” Listen to what their accusation was. “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” That’s crazy, isn’t it? I mean, here the Holy Ghost had poured out and men and women had been saved, had come into the family of faith. He gets back to Jerusalem, and here’s the criticism that awaits: “You ate with who? Who did you eat with?”
Peter, again, not known for his spine, is not having it. In a rare act of bravery (until later on in Peter’s life), he digs his heel in. “God gave me a vision. God gave him a vision. God did this. You have a problem you take it up with God.” You’re like, “Man, Peter is in on this.” Racial reconciliation? He’s our guy. He’s the Jew guy helping us out with the rest of the Jews, telling them, “It’s a new day.” Yet, because of our sinfulness, we always drift back toward homogeny. We don’t tend to stay rooted in diversity. It’s uncomfortable. We tend to offend. Things get difficult. We’re misunderstood. We don’t like to do the hard work required. So he drifts. We read this in Galatians 2:
“But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ’If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”
Let me paint the picture. Peter shows up in Antioch. He’s hanging out with the Gentiles, eating a bacon sandwich, learning new music, trying to figure out where that beat falls and rises. Because with the Jews it works like this, but now it’s on a different beat. He’s loving it, and he’s with them. Then the Jews roll in, and he walks away from that, and he’s saying, “You shouldn’t be eating pork sandwiches. You have to become like us.”
So the predominate culture says back to the subdominant culture, “For you to be accepted, you must learn to live in our world. Here is our music, here is our food, here is what we do, and if you’re going to be a part of us, you must become like us.” Paul was like, “Bro, you were just eating a bacon sandwich, listening to Tupac. How are you going to say that now?” That’s what just happened.
He did it to his face in front of everyone, which makes me wish I was there. I mean, you want to talk about awkward. “Peter, can you stand up for a second?” Peter probably thinks he’s about to teach, like Paul is about to go tell them. Instead, he confronts him to his face in front of everyone. “Remember that bacon sandwich you were eating? How now will you tell our brothers they’re not allowed to eat bacon?” He exposes his hypocrisy.
Here’s what we need to lean into now. He says in this text that homogenized, separated, separate communities are not in step with the gospel. What does that mean? Go over to Ephesians, chapter 2. Verses 1-10 are epic. They’re a build-out of the gospel. Verse 11 starts one of the main implications of the gospel for those of us who believe. Starting in verse 11:
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ’the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands––remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Simply put, this means the Gentiles were not looking for a Savior. The Gentiles were not looking at the promises of God and going, “One day a Messiah will come who fixes all of this.” They simply weren’t looking forward to that day like the Jews were, and God is about to say, “Who cares?” From there, verse 13:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man…” If you write in your Bible, highlight that or circle that. That becomes profound for where we’re going on this issue. “…in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
There are two things I want to point out here in this text. First, Paul is using extremely pointed language around this idea. What he’s saying here is in the first-century Herodian temple where the Jews worshiped there were courts and outer walls. The first gate you would walk through would be the gate of the Gentiles, and you could walk around in that court if you were a God-fearing Gentile.
Then there was another gate, and if you were a Jewish woman who was, by their standard of cleanliness, a clean woman, you could enter through the next gate into the inner court (not the innermost court, but the inner court) that was made up for Jewish women. Then the inner court where the presence of God was for the Jew was for Jewish men who were ceremonially cleansed and had obeyed the law to the point where they could go in there without fear of death.
Archaeologists several years ago found this inscription in the wall of the outermost court, the court of the Gentiles. It read, “Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.” You want to talk hostility? Again, maybe that doesn’t land on us. Maybe we have to change the language.
If you can imagine chiseled into the stone on the wall, “Black man, climb this wall and you have only yourself to blame for your death.” “Latino man, climb this wall and you’ll have only yourself to blame for your death.” “Asian brother, climb this wall and you will have only death for yourself by your own foolishness to cross this.”
When Paul says to a group of people who worship at the Herodian temple that Christ has broken down by his blood the dividing wall of hostility, he’s saying, “This nonsense is over. It’s done by the blood of Christ.” Now how and why is it over? Well, he tells us. Because what God has done is he has taken what was two and he has made it one. Let me try to unpack that just a bit.
There are two Greek words for one. The Greek word in this text for one is the Greek word kainos. Kainos properly defined means of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of. Maybe this will help. A good friend of mine puts it this way. This is not the 2014 Ford Explorer; this is the Model T. Does that help? Are you tracking with this? This isn’t a new version of what was old; this is something that is brand new.
So what is brand new? What is brand new is that God has taken what was many and has created what was one, so that what he has is a people. When we walk in diverse relationships, God really exposes some things and does some work in our hearts. I can tell you one of the first things that will be created in the hearts of those who walk in diverse relationships is a heart of humility.
Several years ago, a pastor friend of mine leaned over and said, “Hey man, can I ask you a question? I don’t want to be offensive, though.” That’s always a bit of a nerve-racking situation, isn’t it? “Hey man, I don’t want to offend you, but I need to ask a question.” So I said, “Go ahead.” He said, “All right, man. Why is white-folk worship so morose?” I said, “What do you mean?” He was like, “Do you guys not celebrate the Lord? You know you can celebrate, right? You don’t always have to be sad and darken the room. Why are you guys always sad? I mean, he has risen from the grave.”
I wasn’t offended; I was intrigued, because I was like, “Bro, we thought we just rocked that joint out. I’m so confused right now, because I thought we blew that thing up in there. Listen to me, man. There are some white older dudes in there right now going, ’This is ridiculous.’ So I don’t know what… I’m confused.” My very gracious, loving friend said, “Tye Tribbett. Start listening to him and come back. Here’s Charles Jenkins. I just want to help you see some things.”
So I listened to both of those, and here’s what I thought: “Eh.” I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure out how to get in. It was just a different rhythm. I didn’t know how to get into that up/down beat. I couldn’t understand. I’m like, “Do I sing with the lead guy? Do I sing with the choir? Who do I sing with? I’m just confused.” Then, over a period of time, I started to love it. Then here’s what happened to me. “What else do I not know about us Anglos because I’m an Anglo?” Here’s what started to happen to me. “I need help. I don’t know.”
If we have any shot at legitimate racial reconciliation, it cannot be driven by white guilt. It cannot be driven by the need to feel like we need to rescue or pay back. It must be built upon, pushed forward, by the gospel of Jesus Christ that is far from paternalistic and says, “Help me, brother. Help me, sister. I want to understand. I don’t. I lay that down. I don’t understand. Help me.”
If this crowd becomes more diverse, that’s not a win if we haven’t become diverse in our relationships. What an epic fail if this room had all of these different colors but our friendships stayed homogenized. What have we won? Nothing. The wall of hostility has been broken down because God has created a new man. That tower-of-Babel, monument-to-self nonsense should die among the people of God.
It’s going to be hard work. It’s long-suffering. Anglos, you’re going to have to find other peoples to grow in friendship with. I know some of you are thinking right now, “Chandler, are you really telling me just to find a black dude and say, ’Be my friend’?” Yeah, I am. If you’re African-American, Latino, or Asian here, just let me apologize. I had a friend come up to me last night who was like, “I had like 20 white people come up tonight and get my phone number.” I was like, “I’m sorry, man.” “Do you really expect me to be friends with 20 white people?” I’m like, “Yeah. Until we get numbers, yes. Yes, I do.”
In the end, this must be fought for, must be worked toward. If you are African-American, Latino, or Asian, hear me. We’re going to say dumb stuff. Don’t push away from the table. It’s not our heart, I promise. Now if there’s legitimate racism here, we’ll find it as your elders, and we’ll stamp it out. There’s no place for that in the house of God. You are welcomed and loved here. Be patient with us. Help us.
It happens all the time. I know you can look around here and go, “Gosh, these just aren’t my people.” No, brother or sister, we are your people, and we need your help. We need to be guided, and we need to be confronted, and we need to lovingly be rebuked, and we need to be encouraged. This is not a white-only issue. Seriously, white people can’t say, “It’s better,” can we? “We’re doing better.” We can’t.
You’re not supposed to say that if you’re a white dude. “It’s better out there for other races.” Shut up. You’re a predominate culture. What do you know? That there are more black people on TV? We must lean in. We must be willing to say, “Don’t say that. I trust your heart here, brother. You should not say that. Let me tell you what I hear when you say, ’He’s so articulate.’ Let me tell you what I hear when you say that.” We have the grace to receive it, and they have the courage to say it without pushing away from the table.
When we walk in these relationships, humility is birthed on both sides. The gospel is seen most beautifully. We have harmed each other. The black eye on American history revolves around race relations. If I get the opportunity to sit across a table at a restaurant around here in Flower Mound (Highland Village, in particular, that’s whiter than rice) and model that “This is my friend,” to have into my home, to go into the home, to be friends with those…
Don’t we display in such a homogenized part of the world that the gospel heals, that the gospel works, that the gospel saves and reconciles and weaves together what was broken? It does. It will reveal our wickedness over and over and over again. It’ll give us the opportunity to repent, and the opportunity to repent is a gift from God.
I want to read this email, then I want to show you a video, and then we’re going to pray a little bit. This was written from one of our covenant members to one of our black pastors. I’ve loved this email since I saw it. He forwarded it to me and said, “You have to read this. I think we’re making headway.” Here’s his email:
“We were glad to have you over. After you left that night, Spencer wanted to talk to me. He told me that, ’All the people we’ve met with really dark skin seem really cool, and I’d really like to have a younger brother who is black.’ It would seem that you are making a good impression on my children. In fact, he prays every night that we would adopt a kid to fit his mental picture: a) a little younger than him, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and b) black.
You know, it’s strange that as I write this, I mention your race and I feel anxiousness. In so few areas of my life do I worry about using the right words to avoid offending people, but I do in this one. Generally, I’m more like a bull in a china shop with my mouth. Some of this comes from our inputs like news, movies, and other cultural stuff, and some of it comes from my knowing friends who perceive every glancing look as racism.
I wonder if this fear of giving off an aura of racism actually leads to a perception of it. Like, if I’m afraid to look at you on the bus because you’re black, which might cause you to think I’m staring, this instead begins to be perceived as ’That dude won’t look at me because he’s afraid of me; he’s a racist.’ Even though I’m talking with honesty here, part of me wonders how this will be accepted as an email. That anxiousness or fear of talking about race in anything more than general terms is making it worse, I think.
I guess I just see a spiraling problem, and I know that you took this job, at least in part, to help heal some of that wound our country still obviously faces.” I love his conclusion. “Anyway, if I’ve offended you, I’m sorry. That was clearly not my intent. If you want to grab lunch some time and talk more about it, or not talk about it at all, let me know. I have some more thoughts on the topic, but I’m at work and need to get some lunch down.”
This is leaning in. Did you hear it? “I’m getting anxious to talk about this. Is it safe here to talk about this with you? I don’t want to be perceived as a racist, but I don’t understand. Can I ask this? Is this how it works? Is this a problem?” Now you have a full-on relationship beginning to happen here, one that shows the beautiful reality of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ that can cover the most heinous of sins, the most heinous of oppression, the most heinous of injustice: that he has taken from the many and he has made one. Let me tell you a little bit more of our story.
Matt Chandler: I graduated from Texas City High School in 1993. Directly across the street from our high school’s football stadium was the First Baptist Church of Texas City. I actually came to know Christ at that church. The church was beautifully positioned just a block away from the high school and directly across the street from the high school football stadium. We are in Texas. It is what makes the town exist. It was the thing we could all rally around.
I noticed something after my conversion that I had never noticed before it. On Friday nights, that parking lot would be filled with African-Americans and whites and Latinos and wealthy people and poor people and every type of diversity imaginable, all piling into that parking lot to walk across the street to watch a football game.
Now what struck me after my conversion and as I became a member of that church was that the parking lot on Sunday morning looked completely different than the parking lot on Friday night. As diverse and as different as it was on Friday night, it was completely homogenized on Sunday morning. On Sunday morning, 100 percent of the faces and the people in that parking lot were white.
Beau Hughes: You know, it’s interesting; whenever you read a history book of the United States, almost every historian will say that the black eye of United States history, morally speaking, has been race relations, whether that’s the expulsion of Native Americans or it’s the way we had race-based slavery from the very beginning. That’s the black eye of our conscience and of our soul as a country.
Of course, the church, sadly enough, has been so complicit in various different ways, whether that was aggressively or passively, consciously or unconsciously, in that. That’s what has led so many people, even the president a few years ago, to say what sociologists and others have been saying for so many years, that the most segregated hour in America still seems like it’s Sunday mornings when churches are gathered, and gathered mostly along ethnic lines. It’s just tragic, and it shouldn’t be this way.
Matt: Look at how we’re living our lives. We run with people who look like us, who value what we value. When all is said and done, although we wouldn’t say with our mouths that we believe our race is superior to other races, we do not value differences. We’re not drawn toward diversity. We’re not racist, but we run with a bunch of other white people.
We’re not racist, but we run with just black people. We’re not racist, but our crew is predominately Latino. Sure, we’ll have a token one here or there, but only because they act like us or walk like us or think like us. It really is a problem. Although political correctness has taken it out of our mouths, it has not taken it out of our hearts or our lives.
Luis Tovar: I grew up in a house the son of two Mexican immigrants, so my life was saturated with Mexican culture. There was this danger of ideas and thoughts being put in my mind about the majority culture and shortcomings they had or views they had of us, in particular me and my family, or me and Mexican people.
James Nwobu: We took a test in high school, and I remember they broke the results down by race. So they had Asian, white, black, Hispanic. Something of that sort. That ranking they did that showed the results of the test produced a lot of controversy in the school. I remember a particular guy saying he was smarter than a certain people. So he was like, “I’m smarter than y’all.” I think that was the first time that viewing other races became something of substance.
John Warren: I grew up in Lake Oswego, Oregon, which is a suburb of Portland. In my high school of 1,200 people we had four African-American students. So race, diversity, anything other than a homogeneous culture was just not something I was confronted with or thought about. All of my friends, all of my neighbors, everybody I knew were just the same.
Katina Butler: I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is a very culturally diverse city, an awesome arts city, but it is very racially divided. Lots of corruption on the local governmental level as well as police brutality. I grew up witnessing that, seeing that, seeing the divisions in the city.
Beau: What’s beautiful is that diversity is something God created before the fall, something that was actually rooted in his own character. He’s God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, three and yet one, diverse and yet one, and unified within himself. This spills out onto creation, where he’s creating night and day, light and dark, land and sea, and on and on you could go, right up to mankind, male and female. At the beginning, out of an overflow of his character, God creates diversely, and he intends for it to be beautiful long before the fall happens.
So now, because of sin, we’re looking for our identity to fix our insecurity in all sorts of things, even the color of our skin, but Jesus steps on the scene and says, “Hey listen, your life is me. Your salvation is found in me. It’s not found in your tribe or your tongue or your age or your job or anything, especially your race. It’s found only in me, and in me these differences can become beautiful again.”
Luis: So for a long time I didn’t think that I had any racist thoughts. I knew they existed, but I didn’t think I subscribed to them. The Lord was really faithful to reveal some areas of my heart where I did do those things, where I qualitatively distinguished between races. I thought this was not something that corresponded to me, but it totally did. So when I felt the weight of that, I realized, “This isn’t right. This is sinful, and I need to repent.”
Kim Smith: I come from a background where there were a lot of fast and upbeat tempos, so at the end of every service, or right when worship would begin, I would actually leave. I would take Communion and leave and told myself it was okay if I listened to my own worship music and praise music when I got home.
If I was going to be a part of the church, if I was going to come here and listen to the message and be a part of this body, I needed to be a part of this body and actually be in the service. Not just for when Matt preaches or whoever is preaching at that time, but be in a Home Group, participate in worship, and worship with the church. By the end of that transition, I felt myself falling in love with this new way of worship that I’d never even considered.
James: The gospel helped me see how much better it was and helped me see the grace of God that was our differences, and embracing those and helping those and using those to learn more about him, about me, and even about how to do life better to honor him.
Beau: As we’ve begun to reflect on the gospel and its implications for our lives being racially reconciled, it has led us into a great amount of prayer as a campus, as individuals, and the Lord has been so gracious in so many different ways, personally and corporately, to lead us into stretching ourselves, stretching our preferences, whether that’s relationally or musically or whatever the case may be.
If this is ultimately something that’s tied to the gospel, then it requires our movement and our prayer. As we’ve done that, the Lord has been so gracious to bring us to a place where we’re continually growing and understanding what it really means to consider others more important than ourselves.
John: The idea of diversity at The Village Church really opened my eyes to an entirely different genre of music, entirely different expressions of worship to the Lord through music. So more than trying to cater to any specific ethnicity or preference, we really wanted to celebrate what God had been doing here and highlight what he had been doing and use music as a way to do that, and to really prefer our brothers and sisters and to love them by preferring them in a different musical genre.
Beau: The ultimate goal was not to have this type of music on the stage; the ultimate goal was to have these types of relationships in living rooms, in dining rooms, and in Home Groups.
Luis: Having the end in mind and thinking, “We can have a glimpse of what heaven will look like, and all it’s going to cost me is stumbling through a couple conversations with people who are different than me,” is not a hefty price to pay to experience what the Bible says we’ll experience in heaven. So yeah, maybe learn a couple of phrases in a different language, or be okay with trying new food, or be okay with welcoming people into your house who you’re not exactly sure if you’re going to offend with something you do. That’s okay. It’s worth feeling uncomfortable for a little while.
Kim: It’s not about you. It’s not about what you like or what you don’t like. It’s definitely something the Holy Spirit had to remind me of. It’s about God getting the glory, and it really doesn’t matter what avenue he chooses to do that in.
Katina Butler: I was really broken. I came really, really broken and really, really crushed. The Village just would not leave me alone. People came up to me and would say, “I’m so glad that you’re here. I see you with your family every week, and I just appreciate you being here. We want to know who you are. Would you come to dinner? Can we hang out? Can we spend some time?” Part of my healing… They pursued my heart. They wanted to know who I was. They wanted to know who my family was, what our passions were. It was just a tremendous part of breaking that heart of stone and the Lord restoring a heart of flesh.
Beau: Now that our lives together are becoming more and more reconciled, I just can’t even imagine not having relationships with people who are different than me and not being in a church that has the richness of different races and ages and socioeconomic brackets coming together to be one in Christ. The fruit in my life has been that now that I’ve tasted just a little bit of what heaven is going to be like, I can’t even imagine being a part of a church or being part of a community in my own life personally that that’s not the case as much as the Lord would allow.
[End of video]
Amen. I wanted us to spend some time together this morning. I think the first thing we need to do as we move toward Communion is to spend a little bit of time in confession. It has been an interesting message to preach, because there have been some really awkward services. I mean, there has just been nervousness. But then there have been these really beautiful moments.
My family attends the 7:15, and as I was getting my kids… This feels like home to them, so they were running crazy in here. As I was leaving last night, there was a young white man up in the bleacher seats over there just sobbing and an African-American young man praying over him and encouraging him. I think we need to spend some time just in confession.
I don’t care what color you are, and I don’t care what your background is. I don’t know what has happened to you or hasn’t happened to you. Almost all of us have some spots in our lives where we’re like, “Lord, forgive me. I have presumed on your name. I’ve presumed against your people. I have judged harshly others.” We need to confess that.
The reason I started out with the illustration of the man who said, “If my youngest daughter married a black man he wouldn’t be welcome” is that, for some of you, that’s going to be an issue, and that issue should reveal something about your heart. Like, why is that a deal at all? There are these little markers that expose us, and let’s confess them. Just lay them before the Lord. Unless you’re content with your heart being there, and then I just kind of pity you, feel sorry for you.
I will tell you you are walking in a way that is not in step with the gospel. You are thinking in a way that’s not in step with the gospel. You are living in a way that is not in step with the gospel. I want to give you about four or five minutes just to confess those things before the Lord, and if you’re comfortable, maybe even turn to somebody you came with and just say, “Pray for me. My heart is a wreck on this.”
Listen to me. Own it. You can’t go anywhere if you don’t own it. You can’t go anywhere if you’re like, “I’m not a racist; I just don’t have any friends of any other color.” You have to own it. Maybe what you’re owning is just you’ve been lazy. Maybe what you’re owning is that you’re not giving Anglos a shot again. Maybe what you need to own is bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness at the predominate culture. We all have something to own here. If you’re like, “I don’t think I do,” then I’m going to ask you to ask the Holy Spirit, like David did, to reveal to you what you need to own.
There’s no place for this nonsense in the church, no place for this nonsense in the kingdom of God. There is one man now. We can celebrate our cultural backgrounds or we can celebrate our cultural trophies, but the book of Revelation says that on that day we’ll throw those crowns down at his feet and we’ll worship together. So just a few minutes here. Where you are, let’s just confess our sins before the Lord.
We have been indifferent. We have been bitter. We are racist. We do have prejudices. Let’s ask the Lord for help. Let’s ask the Lord that this church might be a church marked by intimate, deep relationships that cross all kinds of lines, the lines of color, the lines of socioeconomic status. This is not just an external physical color issue; this is a cultural issue. This is a socioeconomic status issue.
Our lives are richer, more full, and mirror more fully the saving work of Jesus Christ when our close friends, when those we do life with, mirror out that there is One who has moved profoundly and powerfully on our lives, that he becomes our identity, that he becomes the definer of our lives, and he becomes the one who lets us know who family is.
Let’s ask him to do it here. I know the demographics of this place. I know that if we were to truly be that diverse at our size in this location we’re going to need a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit. Well, let’s pray it. I’ve been told about 30 times since I became the pastor here that something was logistically impossible because of demographics or because of size, and every time the Lord has kicked open that door and snickered at its impossibility. So let’s pray and ask him to draw unto this place African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, for our good, for his glory. Not just to be in this room, but to be in one another’s lives.
Father, help us. If you don’t help us, what will we do? This is bigger than us, Father. This can’t be a shot of adrenaline. You have to change our hearts. So help us. Holy Spirit, do the sweet work of illumination even now. I guarantee there are fights in our minds in this room. We don’t want to believe we are prejudiced. We don’t want to believe we are racist. We don’t want to believe we are bitter, that we won’t let go of hate. We don’t want to believe that’s who we are, and yet it is who we are.
So expose us. Be unrelenting in our hearts right now, Holy Spirit. I pray not just that we would know these things to be true, Father, but that we would begin to act upon them. I pray that we would enter into awkward conversations. I pray we wouldn’t be quick to leave, Father, that you’d give us eyes that would look around, find those different than us, and begin to build relationships, Father. Not that we would just know that we should, but that we would act upon, Father.
I know we’ll need to revisit this over and over again, but create in this place what only you can create in this place. As Ephesus needed to be reminded, so do we. As he reminded the church at Corinth, so we will need to be reminded. As he had to rebuke Peter, so we will often have to be rebuked. Help us, Lord. For the glory of your name, for the beauty of the gospel, and for our deep joy, help us. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.