Bryan Loritts is the pastor of Fellowship Memphis, a multi-ethnic community of faith in Memphis, TN. He is also the author of God on Paper and A Cross Shaped Gospel as well as a contributing author for the book entitled Great Preaching.
We came to Memphis because we had a passion to plant a church planting, multi-ethnic church. . . . Like any city, it’s got some scars underneath the surface.
Tim Keller says that whenever you walk into a city, you should look for the idols. And unfortunately in Memphis, that idol is racism. But we wanted to bring together a gospel-centered, Christ-centered, multi-ethnic church . . . bringing together a taste of heaven. Heaven is going to be a multi-ethnic experience. Jesus tells us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” He’s saying that we’re to make a preview of heaven here. Like my Grandma says, true religion has shoe leather on it. It does something.
Gospel-centered people understand that because they were once orphans themselves, they have a heart for orphans, both spiritually and literally, in this world. . . .
Let me set the expectations: I am not a sociologist, I am a preacher. I want to walk you through Matthew 25:31-46:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
William Wilberforce was at a party with his friend William Pitt. And at one point they say, “Hey, let’s run for parliament.” Wilberforce wins his seat, and for 50 years, never loses his seat. At 25, he becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, and experiences a conundrum:
“On the one hand, I am a newfound follower of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, I cannot reconcile my newfound faith with my vocation.”
I cannot reconcile leading a country that is thriving off the injustice of slavery, he thinks. So he thinks maybe will quit his position and become a pastor. But luckily he was being discipled by a man named John Newton—a man who was in the providence of God involved in the slave trade himself—that is the man Wilberforce goes to see with this conundrum. And Newton tells him that he can redeem his vocation to accomplish God’s purposes in life. These words strengthen him and he gives a six hour lecture in the parliament saying that he will not rest until he sees the abolition of the slave trade.
And they’re looking at Wilberforce, thinking, “have you lost your mind?” He’s beaten, voted down, sometimes beaten within an inch of his life… but eventually abolition is passed by parliament.
Two days ago, I sat at a pro-life banquet . . . and I came away realizing that the issue of fatherlessness and abortion is our 21st century issue of slavery. Two miles from my office is a planned parenthood center, where last year 9,000 abortions were performed. And the tragedy is that most of those were performed by African-American women who were handed down a legacy of fatherlessness.
I don’t want anyone to leave here thinking that fatherlessness is an African American issue. I need you to understand that I’m not playing victim, but I need you to know that the American history of slavery has left a legacy of broken families. The whole system of slavery was predicated on the breeding and separating of families.
Fatherlessness, broken families, orphans, have been part of the African-American families from the beginning.
Richard Pryor, the great comedian, made everyone laugh, but his story was anything but funny. His mother had him out of wedlock. His father left at an early age. His mother tried to care for him, but had to give him up because she was a prostitute. His grandmother took him in… but she ran a brothel. His earliest memories were growing up in a brothel. . . . He was once asked how he views women, and he said, “I see women as taxis, I get in and out of them all day long.” And so we have this legacy, and someone has to step in and say this curse ends here. This legacy ends now.
I think it’s beautiful that many of you have decided to adopt across ethnicity . . . but don’t be like the Drummonds on Different Strokes. The problem with Arnold and Willis is that they were never introduced to their culture. I don’t lead with my ethnicity, but make no mistake, I am a black man—it means I do things differently.
Here’s what I want you to understand—I’m different. And no I don’t lead with my ethnicity because as Paul wrote, in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile… he is not arguing that there is no difference, but what he is saying is that at the foot of the cross, there is no extreme.
I meet so many kids who grew up in white homes who have deep-seated identity issues because their parents have not done the hard work of exposing them to their culture.
All that was not planned for, but here we go. Let’s lay down some theological points. When we come to Matt. 25, we’ve got a major problem, right? It seems like Jesus is preaching works-salvation.
Now one of the rules of good hermeneutics is that you never build a doctrine on one passage. You have to look at what the whole Bible says—and the consistent pattern of Scripture is that salvation is by faith, from Genesis [to] Romans [to] Ephesians…. So seen in its proper context, it’s not salvation by works. So what is it about?
Salvation is a mystery. Jesus is talking to some religious people who did all sorts of great things in his name—and Jesus said, “Thanks, I never knew you.”
Here’s a scary thought: There’s going to be lots of religious people in hell who preached sermons, went to conferences, were virgins….
So how do I know if I’m saved? Fruit. A changed and changing life that is directly connected to the presence of the Spirit of Christ in my life. And if the only sign I’ve got of my salvation is my praying a prayer and burning my M.C. Hammer cassettes, then can I be too sure?
One theologian says about this passage that “our passage deals not with the root of salvation, but with the fruit of salvation.” Genuinely redeemed people as a manifestation of the Spirit in me, I care for the poor, I contemplate adoption… it’s not because I have to, it’s because I get to.
I was that person! I was adopted. I was hungry… a gospel-centered person understands that they don’t sit on it, they give it away!
And for any Christ-follower to not contemplate adoption, Jesus says it’s totally incompatible with faith—it’s not I adopt, so I’m saved, it’s I’m saved, so I consider. I contemplate.
So how do I do this? Here’s my two points:
It’s going to take a deep heart for God. I’m reading through my Bible and I’m being struck by all these verses on the orphan, the widow, the alien…The Bible isn’t concerned with how they got there, it says love them. There are over 2000 verses in the Bible that talk about the poor, the widow, the fatherless. Grudem says that the Bible is the transcript of the heart of God. And I can’t claim to have the heart of God if I don’t care about the fatherless.
We’ve for so long preached a false gospel that says you can be as greedy as you want… I’ve never seen a case of church discipline for being greedy. I’ve never heard of someone being disciplined because of materialism. Materialism is so much a part of American culture that trying to explain it to an American Christian is like trying to explain water to a fish. And it’s totally incompatible with the gospel.
When it comes to adoption, economically, it’s ridiculous. The economy of it is ridiculous. And if we’re going to get there, we’ve got to learn the art of leaving margin in our budgets. We have to learn to wrestle with the issue of enough.
Wesley committed to living off of 28 pounds in a year. Whatever he made over that, he’d give away. One year, he made 1500 pounds off his books. He kept 28, gave the rest away. He learned what was enough.
We have to wrestle with this—how much house is enough. How many rounds of golf is enough…
Secondly, it’s going to take a profound love for people. My mother is the fruit of an adulterous relationship between an 18=year-old girl and a 26-year-old navy soldier. My grandmother got pregnant and we can say fairly certainly is that she contemplated abortion. We can say that because she had five. . . . Broken homes was such a part of my mother’s culture, that she remembered listening to her cousin give a tutorial on how to give yourself an abortion with a coat hanger. My grandmother was abusive . . . my mother was bounced from home to home. And my grandmother had one rule—while she was sleeping off her hangover, the kids had to go to church. And so my mother and her brothers would go to the Presbyterian church, the only black kids at the church, and an elderly family began investing in her and they brought her to faith in Christ. She came to faith because an elderly family got Matthew 25. . . . Friends, if we’re going to be a part of seeing God’s will be done here as in heaven, its’ going to take an army of families.