The first time I was on deputation, I was going as a church planter to the inner city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. When I look back sometimes it makes me laugh. We would be at a missions conference surrounded by families who were flying across the sea, but the church members would walk up to us and say, “Be careful, I think you’ve got the most dangerous field of any of those folks!” I was always kind, but in my heart, I would chuckle. We had already lived in Pine Bluff for five years. We had knocked on doors in the worst neighborhoods in town. We knew it wasn’t as dangerous as some imagined it to be.
Why were they so concerned for our safety? To put it bluntly, it was because of the population demographic of our city. The neighborhood was over 70% African American, and that scared people. This tended to bring out racial bitterness from the past. I had faithful churchmen tell me, ‘’Better you than me starting a church for those (racial slur).”
On one occasion, I even asked one of the men why he felt so badly towards black people. I received an answer that could have been sapped straight from the sinful lips of satan. The answer was filled with hatred and bitterness. Years ago this man was offended by groups of African Americans. Because of this, he wanted to deprive them of a Bible-believing church in their neighborhood. This would ultimately destroy, degrade, and damn them to a literal Hell simply because of the pigmentation of their skin.
This stance isn’t held solely toward the people of color in our nation. Since I’ve been on deputation headed to Turkey, several people have been angry that my family has a heart to see Muslim people saved. Their reason is the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the martyring of believers around the world. I understand the hurt of 9/11. The sight of those planes crashing into the twin towers is etched into my memory. I also feel the hurt of knowing that my brothers around the world are suffering for the cause of Christ.
Too many churches are okay with the fact that Muslims are dying without ever hearing the true gospel. Why? Because of bitterness that has turned into prejudice. With that in mind, let us consider some verses from scripture to remedy our hurting and hating hearts.
PRAYER IS HINDERED BY BITTERNESS
Mark 11:25 – And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
When I think of those in the American churches who are bitter at minorities and use this bitterness as a justification to not reach them with the Gospel, my mind quickly goes to many of their prayers for Revival in our nation. It’s kind of funny how we are fine with other nations perishing, but we want God’s blessing and renewal on our own. Of course, a quick perusing of the news will reveal that this revival has yet to reach our nation. I wonder if this simple truth is one of the reasons why.
How can we sit in a gospel-saturated nation and beg for renewal when many places haven’t even had the opportunity to become new in the first place. Instead of going to those who have never heard, we ask God to give us a second chance. Sometimes I wonder if our disobedience to Acts 1:8 is the reason for our dying churches in America. Take care of God’s plan and God will take care of your community! America does need a fresh drink of God’s blessings, but before we worry about a refreshment, why don’t we worry for those who are dying of thirst.
We must forgive those who have hurt us. If that includes minorities or illegal aliens, let it be the same. We cannot allow our political views to stop us from obeying our Gospel mandate! We must plant churches in the minority neighborhoods of America. We must send missionaries to the countries we previously feared. We must FORGIVE.
BITTERNESS IS IGNORING OUR SINFUL NATURE AND THE PRICE CHRIST PAID TO SAVE US
Ephesians 4:32 – And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
This is the first verse I refer to when counseling someone who deals with bitterness! Every time someone says, “I can’t forgive” I quickly read this verse and reply with, “I’m glad you’re not God because we’d all be going to Hell.’’ To the man who doesn’t want the Gospel to go to the Muslim because of terrorism, I want to remind him that his sin is just as strikingly imperfect as the radical extremist. We have to remember that if Christ forgave us, we can forgive others. Christ has forgiven many in America. In turn, we can forgive the world and give them the gospel of Christ!
BITTERNESS IS AN ISSUE OF HATE
Proverbs 10:12 – Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.
A bitter man is a man full of anger, lacking love. Bitterness makes sense from a lost man because he is yet to experience real love. But from a man who has drunk from the cup of perfect love itself, bitterness is not even a choice. If the church can’t forgive, nobody can.
In conclusion, I cry out a plea to the American Christian. Forgive any perceived wrongs that you have received by those of other nationalities and skin pigmentations. This is a plea for you to grab a Bible, some gospel tracts, an offering envelope, a passport, and maybe, most importantly, a prayer closet. Beg God to reach those who may be different from you. Let us rise and find a young man to start a church in a Gospel-famished neighborhood. Let us rise and send our best young men and women to the foreign mission field. Let us forgive and act. Let us see this world turned upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.