Bryan Loritts, teaching pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Memphis, TN, talks about the need for racial reconciliation in the Body of Christ today.
Bryan Loritts, teaching pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Memphis, TN, talks about the need for racial reconciliation in the Body of Christ today.
Bob: Is the issue of racial reconciliation something that concerns you? Do you think it's something that concerns God? Here's Bryan Loritts.
Bryan: God is looking for an army of people whose hearts are geared towards and pointed towards and aimed towards God – people who believe God and want nothing more than God and His purposes here on earth. That's why you've got to ask yourself – if racial reconciliation is nowhere on the radar screen of your heart, then I've got a question – is your heart really pointed towards God?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 17th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Is there anything you can do to join with God in the mission of racial reconciliation?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. We're going to tackle a challenge subject today, but it's a subject that we ought to be paying attention to.
Dennis: A little thorny. We're going to talk about racial issues. You know, the Bible talks a great deal about racism. In fact, it was Peter who had to deal with his own racial prejudice in Acts, chapter 10, when he had been called to go preach to the Gentiles, and he just wasn't quite sure whether or not that came from God or not, and so God gave him a dream and lowered a celestial picnic into his lap one day, and as he unfolded that picnic blanket, there were all kinds of foods that Peter had been told he was supposed to avoid, as a Jew. And God declared it clean.
Bob: Yes, Peter said, "I won't eat any of this, Lord, because it's unclean," and God kind of scolded him and said, "Don't you call unclean what I call clean."
Dennis: That's right. So Peter ended up getting his marching orders.
Bob: He got the message, didn't he?
Dennis: He was supposed to preach to the Gentiles and take the message of the Jewish Messiah beyond the Jewish community to those that were, frankly, he had a bit of a racial prejudice against.
Bob: And that story from Acts, chapter 10, is something that Paul addresses later in Ephesians 2. He says that Jesus Christ is our peace. He is the one who has torn down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, between Greek and slave. He really makes it clear that in Christ there is to be no racial division.
Dennis: That's right, and to explain this even further in terms of racial prejudice and help all of us be able to love and live with one another in a godly fashion, we have invited a young man, in fact, a friend of mine – Brian Loritts – to share a message with you that he gave a number of months ago. Brian is a pastor, a teaching pastor, at Fellowship Bible Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He and his Cory live there and helped start that church. I'm in a mentoring relationship with Brian and a couple of other men.
Bob: You've spent a lot of hours on the phone talking with Brian, haven't you?
Dennis: Brian is a good man and you know what? He is one of those young men who give you hope that the church is going to be in good hands for the next generation.
Bob: Some of our listeners know Brian's dad, Crawford Loritts, who has been on FamilyLife Today and who has a daily radio program called "Living a Legacy," that's heard on many of these same stations. And if they have appreciated Crawford's ministry, they are going to appreciate – well – the acorn didn't fall far from the tree.
Dennis: I was thinking that same thing, Bob. Let's listen to Brian Loritts.
Brian: In the autumn of 1959, a man by the name of John Howard Griffin had decided he had had enough. He had spent his life hearing about and reading about the so-called plight of the black man in the South and all of his abuses and all of the negativity and all of the things that he had gone through. And yet, as a white man, he had also heard from his white associates and friends that what the black man was going through was exaggerated.
Having had enough, in the fall of 1959, John Howard Griffin decided that he had to experience, firsthand, the plight of the black man in the South. And so John Howard Griffin, a white man, went on what he called "his great experiment." He did research and sought out a top-notch dermatologist, and he took medication that literally turned his skin dark. To expedite the process, this man, John Howard Griffin, submitted himself to dangerous ultraviolet rays that would expedite the process.
Thoroughly convinced that he could now pass for being black – he even went so far as to shave his head – John Howard Griffin, in the fall of 1959, hopped in his little car, waved goodbye to his white wife and his four kids, and over the next four months traveled as a black man through the South. And it became real clear, real fast, that no one was going to mistake him for being white.
Over the next several months, he would write, in detailed fashion, of his experiences in a book entitled, "Black Like Me." There is a book that, to date, has sold over 10 million copies. If you have not read it, you need to read it. And when that book was released in 1961, he did not realize the cost he would personally have to pay. In his hometown of Mansfield, Texas, his white brothers and sisters fashioned a dummy, supposedly in his likeness, and painted it sarcastically half black and half white and put a yellow streak down the back of it and hung him, in John Howard Griffin's own words, "in effigy in the middle of town."
The white KKK, as if I need to put the "white" adjective there, as if there's a black chapter of the KKK – but the KKK in this town burned a cross, because of him, in the Negro elementary school. They threatened to castrate him. They threatened to kill him. And he and his family literally had to move out of the country for a time because he dared to make a hard choice to venture outside of his comfort zone.
The flip side of that was that there was a great reward. After Americans, at that time, could not believe that a white man would go to such extremes merely to identify with them, and so when he came back, he was embraced and accepted by the black community with open arms. He was befriended by such people as Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights activist, Dick Gregory. He was invited to speak at civil rights rallies. He was invited to speak at forums all over the world and to champion the cause of what he would later on call his life's mission and vocation – "racial reconciliation."
All of this because a white man in 1959 dared to take the bold, decisive, intentional step of venturing out of what was safe, comfortable, and normal, and to do something radical. As we come to our text tonight, we're going to zoom in on one man – I'm struggling tonight, because I feel as if I'm failing this homiletically. I wish I could deal with so much in this text. I only have time to deal with one man. His name is Peter, and I want us to look at Peter because, as we study Peter's life, we see a man who takes some bold, decisive steps, and that God is going to use as an instrument of racial reconciliation. I want us to zoom in on Peter's life. I want us to look at some character traits, some qualifications that Peter had, because it's going to help us, and I want to talk from the subject tonight – the profile of a racial reconciler.
You need to understand that as Luke is writing the Book of Acts, he is writing to a gentleman by the name of Theophalus. Most scholars agree that Theophalus is, a, a Gentile; b, who probably does not know Christ; and, c, is somewhat of a patron of Luke's. This would make sense, because Theophalus has probably commissioned Luke to give him an account as to this new thing called "Christianity." He's curious. And as you read the books of Luke in Acts, they have a distinctive Gentile aroma and flavor to them, for Luke is giving an account of the work of the Spirit specifically among Gentiles, to his patron Gentile, Theophalus.
As he sits now to write what scholars have called in Acts, chapter 10, the "Gentile Pentecost." Let me explain that. Acts, chapter 2, there is something called the "Jewish Pentecost." On the day of Pentecost, Jews are in town to celebrate this festival, and Peter stands up, preaches the Word of God after the Spirit has fallen upon them, and 3,000 people come to know the Lord. That is, of course, called the Jewish Pentecost, but scholars call Acts, chapter 10, the "Gentile Pentecost," because of its similarities to Acts, chapter 2.
Peter speaks, the Holy Spirit is poured out, people get saved. These people, though, are Gentiles. It's what's called the "Gentile Pentecost." And as our text opens up, Peter introduces to Theophalus a man by the name of Cornelius. I wish I had time to get in this. I could really preach a three or four-week sermon on this. Cornelius – I don't have time – Cornelius is described as a God-fearer. Now, whenever you see the word, "God-fearer" you need to understand it is a Gentile who worships the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph. It is a guy who worships and subscribes to Judaism – he's a God-fearer. It's different from a proselyte. Cornelius is a God-fearer not a proselyte. A proselyte is kind of your first-class section of Gentiles who worship God, for these were brothers who went so far as to be circumcised. Cornelius is, like, I'm not on that page just yet.
He's a God-fearer. He prays. He gives. He's a righteous man, and the text says that as he goes up to pray at 3:00 in the afternoon, which parenthetically was a time in which Jews prayed, which shows you that Cornelius proscribes to Judaism. An angel shows up and gives him a vision. It is a vision telling him to send men to go get a man by the name of Simon, who was also called Peter. Cornelius is obedient. He sends men to go get Simon who was also called Peter. The next day – look at verse 9. About noon the following day, Luke writes to Theophalus – "As they" – the people Cornelius sent – "were on their journey and approaching the city" – watch this now – "Peter went up to the roof to pray." Peter was a godly man.
The first characteristic of the profile of a racial reconciler is that first, foremost, above everything else, they are godly people. They are people whose hearts are directed towards and pointed towards and aimed at God. They are people who, at the end of the day, want nothing more than to want God more than anything else. They are godly people.
It's important for you to understand that, as simplistic as that may sound, because what we are endeavoring to do racial reconciliation, let me state the obvious – it's a hard thing. Racism is so embedded and ingrained and woven into the fabric of our nation, it's amazing, as you study the history about the same time the Pilgrims came, they were bringing slaves with them around the same time. It's just a part of who this country is. It's a part of our DNA, and it is so ingrained, and the walls have been erected so high, and they are so old, and they are so archaic, that for us to think that we can just come along and sing "Kumbaya" with black folk and white folk, and it's all good and it, and it's going to be great is not only naïve, it's foolish. What we are endeavoring to do is so utterly beyond us, that it cannot take anything that we can do in our own strength to make it happen.
The great downfall of the Civil Rights Movement, and I praise God for Dr. King and those guys. I can now sit anywhere I want to on the bus, I can now go to any hotel I want, and I praise God for that, but the downfall is, and Dr. King knew this, the only thing he was doing was changing laws. Racial reconciliation is about hearts, and the only thing that can touch the heart is the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
God is looking for an army of people whose hearts are geared towards and pointed towards and aimed towards God – people who believe God and want nothing more than God and His purposes here on earth, and that's why you've got to ask yourself if racial reconciliation is nowhere on the radar for you – and I want to be careful with that, because we all have different passions. We all have different things, as my dad says, that makes us pound the table and weep. But if racial reconciliation is nowhere on the radar screen of your heart, then I've got a question – is your heart really pointed towards God?
It beings with godly people – watch this – not perfect people, godly people – not perfect, godly. If you study the life of Peter, you understand very quickly, Peter was not a perfect person. He was always inserting his foot into his mouth. He was impulsive, he was speaking when he shouldn't have spoke, he was saying foolish things. On top of that, he committed almost the cardinal sin of denying Jesus Christ and abandoning Him at His greatest hour of need. In fact, the text tells us that when one person said, "Peter, didn't I see you with Jesus?" That Peter hollered out cursing at these people – "I blankety-blank-blank told you I wasn't with the man, now leave me alone." He was imperfect, and if you could add to his imperfections, and, I promise you, what I'm about to say you did not learn in Sunday school, but if you could add to his imperfections this one trait, Peter is a racist.
Whew, I didn't learn that one in Sunday school. They didn't put that one on the flannel board. Where did you get that from, Brian? Of course, I can't make a statement like that without explaining it, now can I? Look at verse 28, I want to show you Peter's racism here. Peter gets to the house of Cornelius and in verse 28 the text says this – he comes into the house, and Peter comes in and says, "Hey, I want you fellows to know that you are well aware that it is against" – then underline this phrase – "against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him."
Now, I know what some of you are saying, "Now, Brian, how can you accuse Peter of racism when he says, "Look, it's against our law." Well, this is a poor translation because, as Luke is writing, he is writing in Greek, and the normal Greek word for "law" has to do with the Greek word "nomos," which speaks of an objective standards of do's and don't's, like the Mosaic law. That's not the word he uses here. He uses the Greek word ahffematos [sp], ahffematos, ahffematos – it is a Greek word. Ahffematos speaks of culture, and "ah" is a prefix which means "against." So, literally, this word means "against one's culture." Peter walks in and says, "Look, boys, I want you to understand that this is against how I was raised. Jews didn't hang out with Gentiles. We didn't go to dinner with you all, we didn't play in the same leagues as you all, our kids weren't allowed to date your kids, the way I was raised, the very fact that I'm here, it's against my culture." In fact, the text is very clear – Peter is wondering why God would lead him there, because it is against the way he was raised.
I'm not saying Peter was burning crosses in people's yards; it's more of a passive racism. They do their thing, we do our thing, but if you study the Jew's relationship to the Gentiles, it was more than an "us versus them." It was the Jews here looking down on the Gentiles as being common – what they would call "goyim," or "dogs." Peter says, "Look, Cornelius, I want you to know this goes against how I'm wired culturally.
And that's what I want you to see. It is so magnificently paradoxical that God would take an imperfect, rehabilitating racist to take the message of reconciliation to the Gentiles. Isn't it just like God to take the least likely of candidates and say, "I know, Peter, you struggle with racism, but I am going to use you to take the message of Jesus Christ to people you wouldn't even spit on years before."
Some of you are saying, "Brian, this mission of racial reconciliation, this mission is so incredibly hard, it is so beyond me, and you're saying, Brian, if you only knew the stuff that I've done in my life. If you only knew the way that I felt like black folk or as black folk if you only knew the way that I felt about white folks. Can God use me, Brian? The sins that I've committed, and the things that I've done?" Well, friends, as I study Scripture, it is more than normative that God takes the least likely of candidates to accomplish and implement His purposes here on earth. He took a murdered named Moses and used him to liberate the nation of Israel. He took a whore named Rahab and used her to help bring down the nation of Jericho. He took an adulterer named David and used him to lead his people, and he took a racist named Peter to bring the message of Jesus Christ and salvation to a group he couldn't stand previously.
So look at my own life, friends. I am amazed that God uses me. The things I've done in my past, and the attitudes that I've held, the things I've been caught up in, some stuff only my wife and I would know about, and I'll take it to the grave, and the very fact that God uses me blows my mind. Friends, in general, God says "I have some things, I have an assignment on your life," and no matter what you've been caught up in, no matter what you've done, no matter what sins you've been entangled in, no matter what addictions you've had, God's specializes in using sin-stained, filthy Christians who accomplish His purposes here on earth. That's the message. He uses a racist named Peter as an instrument of reconciliation.
Bob: That is Brian Loritts reminding us that God is pleased to use imperfect people to accomplish His perfect purposes. I've heard you express it by saying that God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.
Dennis: Yes, Bob, that was first said here on FamilyLife Today by Dr. Carl Weiner [sp], who is a surgeon here in Little Rock. He was just marveling at how God uses broken people, imperfect people, to accomplish His purposes. And, you know, I think, as Christians, our responsibility today is to make sure we're passing on to the next generation the mandate that we are to be lovers of all people, and our children need to see us doing that, and then they need to be instructed in how to be reconcilers with people of other races.
Bob: It's something that needs to be taught, it's something that needs to be modeled, and it's something, I think, all of us need to wrestle with. I think we need to go before the Lord and, as we often do, with hidden sin in our lives. We say, "Lord, search me, try me, know me, see if there be any wicked way in me." David prayed that in the Psalms, and I think in the case of racial reconciliation, I think it's good for us to say, "Lord, search me, try me, see if there is prejudice that I'm not aware of in my heart. Reveal it to me, because it does not please the heart of God when we look at His creation and think less of another human than we ought to think."
I think back to an interview we did about a year ago with Dolphus Weary, where he shared his story of experiencing racial prejudice, and just hearing his story was helpful for me to look in my own heart and say, "Are there seeds there that I am not even fully aware of?"
We've go the CD of our interview with Dolphus. It's another program that will help you really consider these issues and, of course, if you want to get a copy of Brian's CD, we've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center as well. And Brian has just written a new book called "God On Paper." It's all about the Bible – the wildest story of passion and pursuit that you'll ever read.
If you're interested in getting any of these resources, go to our Website, FamilyLife.com, click the button at the bottom of the screen that says, "Go," and it will take you right to a section of the Web where you can review these resources and order online, if you'd like. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY – someone on the team can take care of your order or answer any questions you have about any of the resources we have on this subject.
Tomorrow we are going to be back to hear more from Brian Loritts on the subject of racial reconciliation and, more specifically, to hear about some things we can all be doing to make a difference. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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