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James Merritt - Are Church People Bigoted?

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    James Merritt - Are Church People Bigoted?

I love so many things about my wife Teresa. If you go to our church, you know that I talk all the time about how even we've been married four decades. I'm more in love with her today than than I've ever been. She's my best friend. She is absolutely the greatest household manager in the world. She's the secret sauce to any success that I've ever had. But one of the things that you may not know about Teresa is she is the absolute queen of bargain hunters. My wife loves bargains. Now, to be honest, for Teresa, next to Jesus, the most exciting beautiful word in the English language is coupon. It doesn't matter if you're getting your oil changed. Doesn't matter if you're buying yogurt at the grocery store, Teresa will have a coupon for it and she even knows who will take the expired coupons.

I've done, she's done this for. I said, listen, this is not, this is seven years old. It's okay they'll take it. She loves bargains. Well, I did a little study of the greatest bargains in American history and amazingly the top three were all land purchases. You may know what they were. Experts say the greatest bargain that we've ever had in our history is Manhattan. I didn't know this. A Dutch trader bought Manhattan for the equivalent today of a thousand dollars. Lemme put that in perspective. Manhattan today is worth $1.74 trillion. Wouldn't it be great if you lived 300 years and you could have invested a thousand dollars in Manhattan? I'd call that a great deal. Coming in at number two is Alaska Secretary of State, William Seward led the country to purchase Alaska from Russia of all countries in 1867.

People thought it was so nuts that it was so foolish, so crazy. They called it Seward's Folly. But this folly wound up buying 586,000 square miles for pennies an acre. And today, Alaska is a priceless piece of land that's filled with vibrant cities and tourism and gorgeous landscapes. It is now a critical outpost for our national security. I wouldn't call it a folly. Coming in third, Louisiana purchase. Matter of fact, some of you, many of you are either from or you live where that land was purchased with a stroke of a pen. Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the United States buying 828,000 acres.

Listen to this. For 3 cents an acre, all three of those deals would've been foolish, stupid, dumb, crazy if we had not taken them. But having said all of that, I want to make a proposal. I believe the greatest bargain in the history of this planet is offered by Christianity. The sales pitch is the gospel. The package deal includes a relationship with God and forgiveness of all your sins. And oh, also eternal life. You say, well, what's required of me? You won't believe this. Just place your faith in Jesus Christ that's it. Just believe, just trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, forgiveness, eternal life, peace with God, a home in heaven, it's all yours. Now, you would think that'd be an easy sell. You would think people would be lined up by the millions saying, "Let me have a piece of that. I'm all in. I would be crazy to turn that down". And yet that's why we're in this series that we're calling "From there to here".

Because the fact of the matter is more people reject Christianity than accept Christianity. And experts have been doing a research on this and they have discovered there are basically five reasons people give for saying why when they look at where they are and they look at what Christianity has to offer, they simply say, "I just can't get there from here". We're calling this series from "There to here". And today we're dealing with one of the reasons why people reject the church and reject Christianity. And it may be the hottest of all the topics going on right now. And that topic is bigotry. Because when people look at the church today, they think bigots.

When they look at Christians, they think bigots. Bigotry is a hot topic. And it's so broad. It's used for example, if you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, which we do as Christians, at least I do, you're bigoted against other religions. If you believe that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful, then you're bigoted toward LBGTQ people. If you believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, you're bigoted toward free choice. If you believe that a nation has the right to control its own borders, you're bigoted against immigrants. And frankly, there are a lot of people today that think we Christians have our number one hobby is bigotry. Our number one hobby is discrimination. And in the eyes of many, a big part of our image problem is the problem of prejudice.

Now having said all that, let me surprise some of you 'cause you've probably were thinking before I say what I'm about to say. You're trying to defend all this. Actually I'm not. I'm gonna be honest with you and tell you, as a pastor, pastor at five churches, the charge is valid. The charge is real. It often has been true and it often is true. Have I ever pastored bigots? Absolutely. Have I pastored racists? Absolutely. Have I pastored people who hated homosexuals? Absolutely. Have I pastored people who live in a bigoted prejudiced worldview both by their attitudes and their actions? Absolutely. If you see yourself ever as superior as someone else, or if you ever see someone else as inferior to you, you're gonna lead them in a bigoted, prejudicial fashion.

Now, everybody loves to say, for the most part, "Well I'm not a bigot. Not me. Don't look at me, look at somebody else. I'm not a bigot". And we pretend we're always totally objective, but I'm gonna be the first one to admit I'm not always totally objective. I have prejudice at times in my heart. I can be bigoted towards certain people in certain situations. And the truth of the matter is, although I can honestly say most Christians I do not believe are bigoted or want to be bigoted, some of us are at times we are. Well, here's at least a little encouragement for me as a pastor, the early church dealt with the problem of prejudice. They dealt with the bias of bigotry 2000 years ago, as a matter of fact, James, the Lord's brother, the brother of Jesus, actually dealt with his problem in a book that he wrote. You might wanna turn to it. It's in the "Book of James". It's about, I don't know, about 20 books due east of Matthew. So it's in James chapter two.

Now, today when we think of bigotry, we think primarily in terms of race. That's not what was going on in the early church, believe it or not. They did not really have a racial issue. Their issue was affluence and achievement. It wasn't ancestry. But what you're going to see is what Jesus said to the church then applies to every kind of bigotry today, including racial prejudice and racism. And James does us a big favor. He doesn't just tell us what a bigot is. He tells us what a bigot does and why any form of bigotry is not a misdemeanor, but it is a felony in the eyes of God. So I want you to remember this and I'm preaching to me as well. Whatever you're guilty of even getting close to the precipice of bigotry, you're doing three things according to the "Book of James". We're in James chapter two. Number one, "bigotry discriminates against a life from God". "Bigotry discriminates against a life from God".

Now James gets right to the point, here's what's going on. He said, "My brothers and sisters", he's talking to the church. "Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ". That's what he means by brothers and sisters. "You must not show favoritism". So to be clear, doesn't matter whether you're a believer or not, it doesn't matter whether you're a Christian or not. James is very plain bigotry, racism, prejudice, favoritism are wrong, but they are especially wrong. For those of us who claim to be brothers and sisters who claim to be believers who claim to be followers of Jesus. Lemme tell you something, two things cannot exist in your heart at the same time. Not for long. Belief and bigotry. Redemption and racism, faith and favoritism.

Matter of fact, the Greek word for for favoritism, is interesting word, it's actually a combination of two words. One word means faith and the other word means to seize or to grab. What it literally means is, is to take hold of a person's faith in those words, lemme tell you what bigotry is. Let me tell you what prejudice is. Let me tell you why racism is a problem. Here's what this word literally means. It means you judge somebody based solely on what you see on the outside. Whenever you judge anybody based on just what you see on the outside, you are practicing bigotry. You know we've all heard the old saying, "Never judge a book by its cover". Well what James is saying here is "You should never, ever judge a human being by what you see on the outside".

As a matter of fact, let me tell you this. If every human being was a book, every book would have the same thing on the cover. Every one of us, you know what it would say? It would say, made in the image of God from now on. Every time you look at anybody, I don't care if they're black or white, I don't care if they're gay or straight, I don't care if they're liberal or conservative, I don't care if they're liberal or democrat. I hate to say this, I don't care if they're a Georgia bulldog or a Florida Gator. Every human being has stamped on them, made in the image of God. And if you judge people by first impressions or you judge people by what you see on the outside, whether it's the color of their skin, how they're dressed or how they look.

The vast majority of the time, you're going to be sadly mistaken and it's gonna be a tremendous misjudgment. I thought about my son, my son's a lawyer my oldest son. I thought about him the other day. I read about a judge that was trying to select a jury for a trial and everybody kept giving excuses why they couldn't serve, Well, his patience was kind of running thin. And he looked at one perspective jury and he said, "Look, why can't you serve on this jury"? And the man said, "Your honor, I'm gonna be honest. I'm prejudiced and I'm biased". And the judge said, "Why"? Well, he pointed to a man in a suit and he said, "I took one look at that man and I was convinced he's got to be guilty. He looks guilty, he's got to be a crook because he looks like a crook". And the judge said, "You idiot, that's not the defendant, that's his attorney".

Now you've gotta be careful of judging people by what they look like on the outside. By the way, that word favoritism that James uses in verse one, that word was invented by writers in the New Testament. It's a New Testament word. It's found four times, but the word is actually plural. It literally says acts of favoritism. In other words, James is dealing with all kinds of prejudice against poor people, bias in favor of rich people, which applies to any kind of bigotry or bias. He's simply making the point. Don't look on the outside what people wear, what color their skin is, whether they're wearing a Rolex or a Timex, it doesn't matter how they're dressed, doesn't matter what their hair looks like or they have no hair, it's irrelevant. You do not make decisions about people based on external factors. I've told you before, we all discriminate at times. We just do it for for different reasons.

A friend of mine, pastor Rick Warren he says, "There are at least five areas where we're attempted to discriminate". And I've probably been guilty on just about all of these. He said, "First of all, we discriminate on the basis of appearance and we do". Studies even show we tend to favor people who are good looking, taller, or have straight teeth. Then we discriminate on the basis of age. So older people tend to look down their nose at inexperienced youngsters and younger people tend to look down their nose at antiquated old folks. Then we discriminate on the basis of achievement. So we hold the CEO in a much higher esteem than we do the receptionist. We hold the receptionist in a much higher esteem than we do the janitor. We discriminate on the basis of affluence. We live in a society today that idolizes the rich and the famous but ignores people that are not.

And then we discriminate on the basis of ancestry. We look at people of one color different than the way we look at people of no color. Here's what's interesting. Bet you never thought about this. Go back to the first chapter of Genesis and you will find that God proved himself to be a non discriminator of people based on their outward appearance. You say, "How do you know that"? Alright, let me ask you a question. What color skin did Adam and Eve have? You say, "I don't know". Neither do I. The Bible doesn't tell us. Why is that important? The reason why God doesn't bother to tell us what color Adam and Eve were is because it doesn't matter. It's irrelevant because God does not look on the outward appearance. God does not equate value to skin color. Adam and Eve did not have value because they were a part of any race except the human race.

And what distinguished them as humans was just like every other human. The one thing that distinguished Adam and Eve from every other creature on this planet was this. They were created in the image of God. Dr. Martin Luther King said it in his most eloquent way. Listen to what he said. "We must never forget this as a nation: There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble-white to a bass-black is significant on God's keyboard. Precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we'll learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and the worth of every man".

There is nothing big about bigotry. It discriminates against a life from God. Here's a second thing bigotry does. Bigotry also dishonors the love of God. It dishonors the love of God. Now we're gonna read what was going on in this, in this early church that James was so upset about. Listen to what we read. He says, "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes and a poor man and filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say 'Here's a good seat for you'. But you say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or you 'Sit on the floor by my feet".

So let's go back 2000 years. It's a beautiful Sunday morning. People are streaming into the church and all of a sudden somebody drives up in a Mercedes chariot. He's got on his air Jordan silver shoes, he's dripping with diamonds. He's wearing a miniature Rolex sundial around his neck. He walks in the front door of the church and people make way for this man like the parting of the red sea. He's escorted by the ushers to the very best seat on the very front row of the church. Then another man walks into the church he hadn't bathed in a week. He's barefooted, wearing tattered rags, his hair disheveled. And they say, you go stand in the back.

James says, "That's bigotry on steroids. It is the poison of prejudice. It is the demon of discrimination. It is looking down on someone because of the color of their skin or the tattoo on their forearm or the ring in their nose or the braid in their hair. It is the lifting up of what is on the outside and putting down what is on the inside". And then James says this, "Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts"? Listen to me carefully. Bigotry is not just a weakness, it's a wickedness. Prejudice is not just a problem, it's a poison. And when you judge other people based on anything on the outside and ignore what's on the inside, let me tell you something, you do something even God doesn't do.

Listen to this. "The Lord does not look at the things people look at". But let me just stop right there. You wanna know why we got a racial problem? That's it right there. We look at people the way the Lord does not look at them. When we don't look at them the way the Lord does. "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart". Peter, one of the leading disciples, made the same discovery when he said this. He said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism". God doesn't play favorites you know why? Because God loves everybody. You know what else is true? Anybody can love God. God offers salvation to everybody. Who's welcome into God's family? Everybody, because God loves everybody.

I'm gonna make this very easy for you to understand. If you love God the way you ought to love God, you'll love others the way God loves others. If God loves everybody, you ought to love everybody. If you love everybody equally, then you will look at everyone equally. In fact, one of the ways you know that you love God is when you look at others the way God looks at others. And when you look at others the way God looks at others, you will look at them with love. And that's why I wanna say this, I don't want you to misunderstand what I'm about to say. At the end of the day, there's only one solution to the blight of bigotry. There's only one antidote to the poison of prejudice. There's only one cure for the disease of discrimination. And that's love. And that's why James said this, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right".

Now here's what James said. So simple. if you look at every person as your neighbor and you love your neighbor the way God does, bigotry, bias, prejudice, racism will disappear. James calls this the "royal law". You know why? Because love is the king of all laws. Love sits on the throne over every other law. When you love others as you love yourself, you're going to look at everybody as equal to yourself. And that's when you see just how small bigotry really is. Because at the end of the day, the ultimate solution to all bigotry, all prejudice, all racism, all discrimination, at the end of the day is not legislation, it's transformation. Now again, to be clear, and I'm gonna say this repeatedly, I thank God for the civil rights legislation that was passed back when I was a kid. And I think we ought to have laws that absolutely disallow against racial discrimination.

But I wanna tell, I want you to listen to something else that Dr. King said himself. He said, "The government can require white man to serve blacks at his restaurant. They can stop whites from lynching blacks. But no government can force a white person to love a black one that requires a transformation of the heart". I'll say it again, thank God for the civil rights movement. Thank God for what Dr. King did. I thank God for any legislation that makes it wrong, unjust and criminal to be bigoted and discriminatory just because of what a color of a person's skin is on the outside. But I know this, there's one law that will trump all those other laws. It is the royal law of love 'cause that's not legislation, that is transformation. And the law of love can do what no other law ever can. Bigotry dishonors the love of God. Here's the last thing. Bigotry defies the law of God. It defies the law of God.

Now, James reiterates and repeats his point. Listen to what he says in verse nine. He says, "If you show favoritism", you sin not a weakness, it's a wickedness, it's wrong. "And you're convicted by the law as law breakers". See, bigotry doesn't just break human law. It breaks heaven's law. It doesn't just break man's law. It breaks God's law. And let me make it plain, just take the problem of racial bigotry. It has been well said bigotry. Listen, racism is not a skin problem. It's a sin problem. It's not primarily a skin problem. It is a sin problem. The problem of a racist is not with a skin. Listen, the problem of a bigot, the problem of a racist is not with the skin of another person on the outside. It is the sin on his heart on the inside.

In other words, lemme put it to you this way, why do we even look at skin? You ever thought about that? Why do we even notice skin? Because of sin. God doesn't look at skin, he doesn't look the outward appearance. We look at skin because of sin. And just to show how terrible a sin it is, James continues listen, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles that just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, 'You shall not commit adultery' also said, 'You shall not murder.'" If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law breaker. You may think you're a good person because you've never murdered anybody. You may think you're a good person because you've been faithful to your spouse. But what James is saying is if you're guilty of bigotry, bias, prejudice, racism of any kind to any degree for any reason, he said, "Your sin is just as bad as murder. Your sin is just as bad as adultery".

By the way, murder was considered one of the top two sins in the eyes of the Jews and and and the Pharisees. In fact, in the Old Testament, both murder and adultery were deserving of the death penalty. You see, bigotry breaks the two greatest commandments. If you are a bigot, two things are true about you. You don't love God the way you ought to love God. And you don't love your neighbor as you love yourself. I like the way somebody put it, I don't know who said this, but it's so good. "Prejudice is when a first-class citizen is thrown on the junk-heap of second-class citizenship". And that's exactly what all bigotry does. It downgrades people from the way God sees them. It degrades them from what they really are, creations of the image of God.

And I wanna say it again, that's why bigotry can never go with belief. That's why God created all of us in his image. He sent Jesus to die for all of us. There is no bigotry at the foot of the cross. We can all sing that song "Amazing Grace". Everybody can, because God believes in amazing grace for every race, we're all equal. We're all the same in the sight of God. And when you truly come to know the God of love and the love of God, bigotry has to move out of your heart. You say, "Well why"? Because when you come to know the love of God and you come to know the God of love, bigotry has to move out because there's no room for anything else. So here's what I wanna do.

Recently we interviewed a civil rights leader and a Christian educator. His name's Dr. Robert Wilson. He's one of my buddies. Dr. Wilson is an African American. He teaches at New in Baptist Theological Seminary at their Atlanta extension, which is located by the way, right here in our church. He gave a very insightful, enlightening interview that I want you to listen to. He was in the civil rights movement. He was at the forefront, he was in the battle. He can speak to things that I could never speak to in a million years. And beyond that, I'd also like to offer you a book. I mentor several guys a year. I've done it for several years now. We take different books and different topics. One of the topics we deal with is racism.

And there's a book that we read every year together. And it's by a former NFL Super Bowl winner, Ben Watson. It's entitled "Under Our Skin". And I wanna tell you, it is such an enlightening educating book. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and it's extreme, extremely balanced. What I'd like to ask you to do is this, if you will just text love to 56525. Just text love to 56525 right now, you can read both the interview that we had to Dr. Wilson, which is unbelievably fantastic. And we will send you this book absolutely free. So here's what I'd like to ask you to do right now. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, just put all your pens and papers if you're taking notes down and just put your cell phone down unless you're watching it, of course on your cell phone. And just draw.

And lemme just tell you this last story that's so personal to me and we'll be done. I grew up in the next county over from where I'm speaking right now. And I wanna tell you about the first time I ever really saw bigotry firsthand in my life. I told you some of you know this before, when I was in the first grade, my mom and dad both worked. In fact, the school was right across from our house. But my brother Mike and I, we needed somebody to watch after us after school 'cause mom and dad were working. So mom and dad, hired this beautiful African-American lady. Her name was Emma. And she kinda became almost a live-in nanny because they both worked during the day. So especially during the summertime, she would come and she'd be there all day. And then when school was in, she'd be there for when we got home. And she really was like, like a second mom to me.

And I still remember that as I grew so close to her, every time she'd come into the house, I'd run up and I'd jump in her arms and I'd hug her and I'd kiss her. 'Cause she's kind of like my mother, like my grandmother. Well, years passed and we got old enough to take care of ourselves and we no longer needed her services. So I didn't see Emma very much. Fast forward, I'm a senior in high school and my first job was what we used to call back in the day, a dime store. Some of you're old enough to remember what we called a dime store.

Now you'd now it'd be a million dollar store, but back then it was a dime store. So it was in a little shopping center on Atlanta Highway, and it was right next door to Tyler's grocery store. Well I go into work Friday afternoon after school. I go into work. I get there about about three o'clock and I work till six. And six o'clock I had a dinner break. Well, I would always go over to Tyler's grocery store. They had the best hotdogs in the world. They had a little place you could eat. And so I went over there and I'd go over there and eat a hot dog and then I'd come back and go to work. So, you know, one particular afternoon, I walked over to get a hot dog and a coke. And as I and I walked in there at the produce section was Emma I hadn't seen Emma in years. And there was Emma Sweet little, petite little thing. I sneaked up behind her and I grabbed her around the waist and I lifted her off the floor. She screamed loud as you could imagine.

I turned around and she turned around. When I turned her around, we were face to face. And she said, there's my boy, man. I grabbed her, hugged her. I kissed her four or five times. We visited for a while. I hadn't seen her in years. So we got through and I said goodbye, said "Emma, I gotta get back to work". And I'm walking out and there was a young man that bagged groceries in there. I saw him all the time, didn't really know him that well. I'd eaten my hotdog and my coke and I was walking by. And as I walked by, he grabbed me by the arm. And I cannot use the language that he did, but let me tell you what he said to me with fire coming out of his eyes. He said, "You're nothing but a blank blank N lover". That's what he said. And he said it out loud, "You're nothing but a blank blank N lover".

I was stunned at first. And even to this day, I could feel the veins popping out. I was so red hot angry. I wanted to put my hotdog down and I just wanted to just come out swinging. But instead I looked at him and I just said three words. "So is God". I've never forgotten that day. I've never told this story before. I don't believe. But I had one thing affirmed to me that day because Jesus Christ is Lord. He came for everybody. He died for everybody. He loves everybody. He is Lord over everybody. And because of Jesus and only because of Jesus, everybody is somebody. And may the love of God be the bomb that blows bigotry out of the heart of all of us.

Would you pray with me right now with your heads bowed and your eyes closed wherever you are. You may be listening today and you may say, "Man, I'm glad you got some people told. But I'm not a bigot. That's not me". Maybe not, but I will tell you this. Not all sin is bigotry, but all bigotry is sin and all sin is sin. And I can tell you this, you may be the most totally objective person to ever walked the face of the earth. You may be one of those few people that say, oh, "I never look at anybody's skin".

May be true. You may not have a skin problem, but you still have a sin problem. Every person on this planet is a sinner that needs a savior. Jesus died for everyone of every race. And no matter what race you are, you need Jesus. If you're gonna have a relationship with God, you need Jesus. If you're going to have your sins forgiven, you need Jesus. If you're going to know for sure that when you die, you will go to heaven. You need Jesus. If you're gonna live for the purpose that God puts you on this earth for, you can only live it if you know Jesus. Who died on the cross and came back from the grave that you might be saved. So if you have never trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, can I just say this? That's a form of bigotry.

Listen, there's not a greater bigot in the world. I want you to hear this. Then someone that is so full of themselves has such a high opinion to themselves that they think they can get to God on their own. You need Jesus. And if you'd like to make a decision that would change your life forever today, would you just pray this prayer with me right now?

Lord Jesus, I'm a sinner. (Doesn't matter what sin it is.) I am a sinner. I need a savior. I may not be a racist, but I need Jesus just like a racist. I may not be an adulterer, but I need Jesus like an adulterer. I may not be a murderer, but I need Jesus to look like just like a murderer. I need a savior. I believe you died for my sins. I believe God raised you from the dead. I believe you're alive right now. So I trust you to save me. I ask you to forgive me. I'll repent of any sin in my life and I accept your gift of eternal life.

Are you Human?:*