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Reach Past Divides

Do you want to know a dirty little secret about everybody in the church? Almost all of us have an unpublished list of people we like and people we don’t like. People we consider desirable, and people we consider undesirable. We don’t talk about it much, because it’s not considered politically correct. But almost all of us suffer from the sin of preferential treatment, if we’re honest.

For some people, it’s racial partiality. Maybe you’re white and you look down on people of other colors. Or it could be that you’re a person of color and you look down on white people.

For some people, it’s religious partiality. You look at people in other Christian fellowships and immediately write them off. “It’s too bad they don’t really know God like I know God. One of these days maybe they’ll wise up and see God exactly the way I see God.” So there’s a sense of smugness, of religious superiority.

For some people, it’s gender partiality. Chauvinism isn’t dead, even among Christians. Some men think of themselves as a little smarter, a little more important than women. Some women condescend to men.

For some people, it’s moral partiality. I’m not talking about taking a stand against wrong. But I’m talking about a tendency to be condescending and judgmental toward people we consider lower on the moral ladder. People whose lives don’t measure up to our standards.

Now the dangerous thing about these kinds of partiality is not only that we’re directly disobeying the will of God. The danger is that we will miss the chance to reach out to people God wants us to rescue. Because God not only warns us against partiality: He calls us to reach out to people who desperately need a lifeline.

God calls us to reach past the racial divide. In the early church, there was a time when Peter was practicing discrimination. He was shunning people of another race. And the apostle Paul had to call his hand on it. Paul says in Galatians 2:11, “…I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Acts 10:34 says, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.” Do you realize that racism is a sin?

Racism is an affront to the God who calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Mahatma Ghandi read the gospels and considered converting to Christianity. He saw it as a solution to the caste system in India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church. But when he walked in, the usher refused to give him a seat. And suggested he go worship with his own people. Ghandi left the church and never returned. He said, “If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu.”

God calls us to reach past the religious divide. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make any difference what you believe. You may have seen the religious survey released by the Pew Forum. 70% of Americans believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. 57% of evangelical Christians believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. But Jesus himself makes it clear that he is the only way to heaven. In Jno.14:6 he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by me.” There’s only one way to eternal life, and that’s thru Christ. Don’t buy into the myth that it doesn’t make any difference what you believe, as long as you’re sincere. You can be sincerely wrong.

It’s a myth to say that all religions are the same. It’s a myth to say that there are many different truths. Christianity says there is one eternal God who created the universe. But Hinduism says that everything is God: You are god, I am god, your house is god. Islam denies that Jesus was God or that he died for our sins. All of these beliefs can’t be true. They contradict each other too severely to be true. Christianity is exclusive, but in an amazing way.

Imagine 2 country clubs. The first club only admits people who have earned their membership. To get in this club, you have to have superior wisdom. You have to fulfill a long list of demands. You’ve got to thru cycles of reincarnation or whatever. But most people won’t get in, because they’re not good enough. They don’t make the grade. This is what most religions teach. But Christianity is different. It says anybody who wants in is invited. Because Jesus has already paid for your membership. Entry is not based on your qualifications. Entry is based on your accepting Christ’s invitation. Is Christianity an exclusive club? Yes, because only those who believe in Christ can be accepted. But is it different from every other club in the world? Absolutely: because it welcomes people on the basis of their faith, not their hard work.

In Mark 9, James and John come to Jesus really frustrated. They say, “Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” And Jesus said, “Do not stop him….for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward” Mark 9:38:40-41. Jesus says, don’t let religious divides get in the way.

We have to approach people of other faiths with a spirit of humility. Sometimes we assume we don’t have anything to learn from people of different backgrounds. Can we be careful not to attach labels that might cause us from developing meaningful conversations with people of other persuasions?

God calls us to reach past the gender divide. Jesus provided the model for us. He constantly engaged in conversation with women and treated them as equals. In Jesus’ day, women were just a notch above slaves. Some men wouldn’t speak to women in public, not even their own wives and daughters.

Jewish men had little regard for women in general. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. Rabbinical law said that rabbis were never to talk to a woman in public. Not even their own wives or sisters. In fact, the rabbinical law said, “It is better to burn the law than to give it to a woman.” In that culture, women were seen as totally incapable of understanding subjects like theology and religion. Most rabbis considered women as inferior. But not Jesus: he affirms the value and significance of women. Jesus crashes thru the gender barriers, big-time. Jesus didn’t have any male ego to defend. He treats women with dignity and acceptance.

God calls us to reach past the moral divide. Sometimes we develop the holy huddle syndrome. We may think, “I don’t know about those people at work. They swear, cheat, gossip, and sleep around. I wish I could work somewhere away from all those non-Christian people.”

Ask yourself: who would it really surprise if you reached out to them? Maybe the employer or employee who ripped you off. Maybe someone who sued you.

Jesus ate with the tax-collectors and the sinners. Who do you think might be at his table? It might include an abortion doctor. A garbage collector. A young man with AIDS. A Vietnamese chicken plucker. A teenager crack addict. An unmarried woman on welfare, with 5 kids by 3 different fathers. Did we miss anyone? Don’t forget to put Jesus at the head of the table, asking the young man to hand him a roll, please, and offering the doctor a second cup of coffee before she goes back to work. The chicken plucker is still wearing her white hairnet, and the garbage collector smells like spoiled meat.

Jim McGuiggan said, “What was it that offended the church-going, hymn-singing, money-giving, sermon-preaching, class-teaching, Passover eating, sin-denouncing, morally upright people about Jesus’ ministry? What was their constant accusation against Him? He was a friend to the morally bankrupt!”

May God help us to reach past these divides!

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