Unity is Hard... by Belkis Lehmann
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Unity is hard. It doesn’t seem to matter if we’re trying to build unity between two countries, two ethnic groups, or just two people.
Unity is hard because it requires common ground or goals. Many today find more in common with those who share political and social perspectives than with other believers. This should not be. Instead, let us unite around Jesus, his mission, his gospel, and his ways.
Unity is hard because it requires a common enemy. Nothing brings people together like a common foe. Who is our enemy? It is not each other or the world. The Bible is clear, “our battle is not against flesh and blood but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” If we continue to fight each other, we will never succeed against the evil one.
Unity is hard because it requires self-denial. We must be willing to set aside our agendas, our feelings, even our very selves. This is not easy to do when we are convinced our thoughts, ideas, and perspectives are right, better, and godlier than our brethren.
Unity is hard because it requires humility. An African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.” Unity requires that I humble myself and admit “I need you. I can’t do this without you.”
Unity is hard because it requires worship. It requires laying down our kingdoms and embracing Jesus’ desire as expressed in His high priestly prayer. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Unity requires God’s help. For all the reasons stated above, unity is hard, and we cannot do it on our own. We need God’s help to shift our goals and perspectives, to help us embrace self-denial and humility and to bow our knee in worship.
Unity is hard because it is powerful. The enemy of our souls knows the power of Christian unity and utilizes every scheme at his disposal to fight against it. Yes, unity is good and pleasant, as the psalmist extols. But it is more than a lack of conflict. It is the very presence of God. It is like the anointing oil that was poured on Aaron and ran down his whole being. It is a full and complete covering like the dew on Mount Hermon. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelt in unity from eternity past to the present day. They are not self-serving. They know what is true and what is not. They are completely committed to each other and to the mission of restoring our Father’s kingdom to this world and his image to humanity. They dwell in eternal love and in eternal life. They invite us, his children, to dwell with them and to receive this blessing, even life forevermore.
Prayer: Father, please forgive me for sitting in judgment of my sisters and brothers in Christ and for thinking I am better, smarter, or godlier than them. Forgive me for anything I love or cling to more than the glory of your name, your mission, your gospel, or your ways. I humble myself before you and admit that I cannot accomplish anything without the partnership of your Holy Spirit and your holy people. I receive your invitation to dwell in unity with you and your people and I pray that the world will know that you sent Jesus as they look at us and our unity.”
It's Easter Sunday and all around the world Christians are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins so we can be forgiven and go to heaven when we die. This is true but not the WHOLE truth! There is so much more. I think we need to rethink the gospel this Easter and what it's really all about.
Jesus cleanses us from our sins so that God’s original design of dwelling with us can be fulfilled. God wants to dwell with us in this age and in the age to come. We don’t pursue a life of holiness and righteousness for its own sake. That is moralism. We do so because we desire for God to dwell with us.
What is sin? That is a good question! To answer this question, we need to go back to Genesis. That’s where everything starts. In Genesis, we find the original design and divine purpose of human beings. Why do we start here? Because in order to evaluate if something is functioning correctly, we need to know its purpose. Think of your phone. You say, “it’s broken—I’m not getting any calls, or the screen has gone dark or is frozen.” Simply put, it is not doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s not doing what it was designed for.
So what were YOU designed for?
Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image…” Being made in the image of God gives us identity, value and purpose. We were created to be like God. Our identity is to be squarely found in being created in the image of God. We are his offspring so to speak. Because of this we have the highest possible intrinsic value. We don’t have to DO anything to be valuable. We are valuable because we belong to God. And our purpose? Our divine purpose is to bear God’s image to the world
Knowing that our identity, value, and purpose are rooted in our divine creation (made in God’s image) defines all our relationships.
Let’s get one thing straight. God is NEVER the author of sin. Once a student told me, “Yes, I went off the rails, but that was so I could appreciate God’s grace more.” NO! God's purposes for us are always good. He never leads us to or desires us to sin. He’s always on our side. This is clearly stated in James 1:13 reminds us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”
It goes on to say, in 1:13-15, “Each one is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desires and enticed.” There are evil desires in our hearts like lust, greed, and covetousness. There are also good desires that God has given us such as the desires for provision, companionship, sexuality, excellence, etc. Yet, even good desires can become evil if we fail to submit them to God and determine to fulfill them in our own time and in our own way.
James continues with, “Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” Desire leads to action, even mental action. But first it starts with a desire. Our desires are corrupt because we are broken. We have wrong desires – not all of them – but a good bit. “And sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.” Death is the fruit of sin. Now and later. Sin is a sin, and it cannot produce anything else but death. Sin is like taking a little bit of poison bit by bit until it kills you.
That’s the bad news. The good news is we are not made for sin! We were made for God, to dwell with him and for him to dwell with us. God’s already made a way to bring us back to “factory design standards” and restore our identity, value and purpose. It’s through Jesus, because of the Father’s Love and by the power of the Holy Spirit every day.
1 John 1:8-2:2 gives us some great action steps in response to sin:
And this transformation is glorious. Unlike Moses, whose exposure to glory diminished with time, it is a transformation with ever increasing glory. Every day is more glorious. How? This is a work of the Spirit of God. Just remember: you were made for this! God made a way for you through Jesus. He now dwells with you. You are God’s temple- the dwelling place of the living God.
In This Moment - by Belkis Lehmann
In this moment, things are being revealed. Ugly truths so long ignored are on display for all to see. The underbelly of our society is being exposed. People are speaking up, sharing things they’ve kept silent. People are hurting. People are mad. People are coming together. People are being driven apart. We may not agree on everything, or for that matter on anything, but I think we can agree that we are in a moment.
My heart’s cry, and the reason I am writing this blog, is this: I don’t want us, God’s people, to miss this moment. The definition of a “moment” is a “very brief period of time.” I fear we will miss this moment. I beseech us not to miss this moment. Perhaps you are with me. You don’t want to miss this moment either. You know we must do something, but what? What is the responsibility of God’s people in this moment? Hopefully we know it is not to defend a political party or perspective, to defend the history (ancient or recent) of our country, or to convince anyone of our opinions.
The purpose of the church (the people of God, not the place they sometimes gather) is the restored purpose of humanity: to live in such a way individually and corporately that the world around us get as accurate a representation of our God and his kingdom as possible. In other words, the purpose of the people of God is to bear his image to the world.
In this moment, the church must return to the simple purpose of representing God in this world. This is simple to say, but difficult to accomplish. It is difficult because it requires us to die to ourselves, take up Christ’s cross and follow him. It requires us to live like him and do things his way.
I am glad to hear so many confirming the value of human beings (ALL human beings, BLACK human beings) with the affirmation of Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Yes, this is true. This is good. It is powerful. It is liberating. It is transforming. The world has no such foundation on which to build its ideas of equality and human rights. It is long overdue that we not only affirm this, but SHOUT it. But while we affirm the value of humanity this verse speaks of, let us not forget the other truths found here: our identity and our purpose. Bearing God’s image not only defines who we are, but what we do. Let this purpose be our driving force in this moment.
In this moment, the church must lay down its idols and in humility pray as Jesus taught us, YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done. What idols, you ask? The ones keeping us from seeing our purpose and living it.
The “everyone is entitled to their own opinion” idol. This is not only an idol; it is a stronghold, a way of thinking contrary to our Father’s kingdom. If you are Christ’s ambassador (and 2 Corinthians 5:20 says all believers are) then you are not entitled to your own opinion. Ambassadors do not have opinions. They do not represent themselves, but those that send them. We represent the living God. We must lay down this idol and ask God to deliver us from this stronghold so we can clearly see his will.
The idol of nationalism. This is the thought that our country is synonymous with our Father’s kingdom. It is not. God has been building his kingdom long before the United States was founded and will continue to do so, long after it has slipped from the memory of this world. “YOUR kingdom come!” This must be our plea, our cry, our driving purpose. Just as we cannot serve two masters, and we cannot build two kingdoms. We must choose allegiance to our Father’s kingdom alone in this moment.
In this moment, the church must rediscover our compassion displayed in action. At the top of my “saddest moments in the Bible” is the account of Jesus in the region of the Gerasenes. He delivers a man who has so many demons they call themselves legion. What is so sad about it you ask? Read how it ends, “Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” I don’t know of anything more sad than a people visited by God in the flesh, come to set them free from sin, flesh, and the devil, whose response is to plead with him to leave their region. Why did they do this? What motivated them? Was it just too overwhelming to see this level of transformation? Was it the financial loss of the pigs? Was it the thought that their livestock could be next? I do not know. I just know, whatever their thinking, the well-being of this man was not as important to them as that which fueled their fear.
You can tell a lot about a person by what makes them happy, what makes them angry, and what makes them sad. We know Jesus was angered by the money changers who were using the temple courts for financial transactions, instead of its intended purpose, “a house of prayer for all nations”. A good question to ask ourselves is, “what is making us angry in this moment?” Are you angry to see those made in God’s image treated with disdain and little value? Or are you angry at financial loss? I do not for any moment condone the destruction of property or of violence in general. But I do think we need to search our hearts and to see why something makes us angry. If we say we value people above all things, (and as Christ’s ambassadors, we should) then to see people hurt, oppressed, and murdered should anger us above ALL. Our value of people must drive our compassion. Compassion is sown in mourning and lamenting and grows into action. We must act in this moment.
In this moment, the church must search for truth. We cannot act without knowledge. The racial problems in this country are long, complex, and difficult. Anyone who says, “we just need to change this one thing,” is being incredibly short sighted. It’s taken us hundred of years to get where we are. We cannot undo it with a few simple measures. The overwhelming nature of the problem can lead to hopelessness and paralysis. Often folks talk about crossing the street but the space that divides us is more to the Grand Canyon than a road.
So, what do we do? Well, before we can decide on changes, we must listen and learn. We must do a good bit of learning on our own. There are lots of books and articles we can read, podcasts we can listen to and movies we can watch. There are stories we must become familiar with like Emmett Till, the Central Park Five and others. We must also listen to the stories of those around us. Love demands that we listen with an open mind and a teachable heart. Ignorance is no longer an option in this moment.
Stop. Lament First - by Belkis Lehmann
“What’s going on in our world? What’s happening? It seems to be coming apart at the seams.” These are some of the thoughts I hear from people these days. We see civil unrest, demonstrations, and riots. There is a lot of anger on all sides.
How should the church respond? Should we jump in with the anger, the rhetoric, the violence? Should we strategize, problem solve, and work at finding solutions? Should we educate ourselves so that we better understand what’s going on?
I think before we do anything, we need to stop and lament. A lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. There is so much to grieve over--to mourn, to lament. We need to take the time, a lot of time, to properly lament before we even think about solutions.
Why We Lament
As the Diversity Director for a national campus ministry, I often find myself crying in prayer. I am entrusted with helping our movement accurately represent our Father and his kingdom through our ministry. This is a somewhat impossible task. The church has mostly failed at this task during most of its history. Yet, we still work at it because it is our purpose as God’s people to represent him—to bear his image in this world.
I am compelled to pray and to work. The gravity of the work is not lost on me. I feel the burden of it each day. I see our failures and shortcomings. I listen to the experiences of students and staff from different ethnic groups. I know we can do better. All the time, I see the many ways we can be better image bearers, show the campus a more accurate Christ. And so, I cry. I lament. I mourn. Sometimes, I even wail.
When my kids catch me crying in prayer and ask me about it, I tell them, “I’m sad. Crying is what we do when we’re sad.” When there is loss, trauma, injury, and wrongdoing, crying is the right thing to do. We should be brokenhearted over these things. It should make us feel. The Father feels. In Noah’s time, the Father “regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” He “saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” and He mourned.
The Bible is full of examples of God’s heart breaking over the wickedness of humans, over the injustices we perpetrated on each other. No, these are not new, but they are still wrong. If it hurts our God, it should hurt us as well. How can we say we are in fellowship with him, we are his children, if we are untouched by the things that touch him?
What We Lament
There is so much that needs lamenting that I cannot possibly do it justice in this short article. Here are just two thoughts. Take the time to think and pray through them and the Holy Spirit will bring to mind more areas that need your lament.
Injustice. Justice is doing right. The wicked are condemned and the innocent are protected. Think about the history of our country in relation to African Americans, Native Americans, other ethnic groups and the poor. There is no doubt that these groups of people have not found justice in our society. From the time Europeans arrived on our shores, they have endured one injustice after another: enslavement, displacement, rape, murder, separation of families, physical abuse, torture, and dismemberment is not a complete list. Are these ethnic groups the only ones who have faced injustice? Of course not. Human beings and the systems they develop are inherently unjust. The amazing thing about our country for most of our history though, is that it has been assumed justice is primarily for Whites. For others to think they could or should have the same justice has been a foolish thought.
God’s kingdom, on the other hand, is inherently just because God is the definition of justice. As citizens of his kingdom we love justice and hate injustice. Just the existence of injustice around us should break our hearts. Letting the suffering of others touch us and caring for their situations is core to the gospel. God became flesh and dwelt among us. He did not shy away from walking in the dirt of this world. He embraced our suffering. Are we not to do the same?
Failure. As I mentioned before, the church has mostly failed at accurately representing our Father and his kingdom to the world. If you do not believe that, you need to study the Scriptures and history more. Most of the injustices listed above have been committed by those wearing the Christian banner, sometimes those wearing the missionary banner. We can say these individuals were not “real Christians” and separate ourselves from them like we try to do from the Crusaders and Conquistadores. But how is the world to know the difference if one group is publicly doing wrong in the name of Christ and the other is doing nothing.
Of course, there are Christians we can point to in history who stood up for justice, believers like William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr. But unfortunately, they are the minority, a part of the remnant who did not bow their knees to the idols of the time: greed, complacency, and fear. They chose courage over comfort and often paid with their lives. These are the exceptions. Where were all the other Bible-believing, Spirit-filled believers during these times? Huddled in a corner, disconnected from the world, fearing contamination?
As a Pentecostal believer I don’t have to look far to identify our failures. Our movement was birthed in a revival in Los Angeles led by an African American preacher named William Seymour where those gathered were from multiple different socio-economic levels and ethnicities. For a moment we tasted of heaven as believers gathered together and affirmed that there is “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Unfortunately, it did not take long for division to arise along racial lines. Is this not something that should be lamented? When we as the church take a good look in the mirror, do we not see many ways we have been complicit with racism, ethnocentrism and white supremacy? lf you need examples of the last, just look at the pictures of Jesus with white skin and blue eyes in many churches’ stained glass or Sunday school materials.
How to Lament
Brokenness and humility are the words God spoke to me when I asked him four years ago, “what should the church be doing right now.” Brokenness is what happens when we look at all the evil, all the wrong, all the injustice in our world and we allow it to hurt us. We are broken with those who suffer. Humility is the posture we take as we embrace the reality that there is nothing in ourselves that we can do to bring about any change. When we are honest about our frailty and our failures, we find ourselves in place of utter humility.
I believe the first way we need to lament is to repent. The main reason we have not moved on as a country or even in the church, is we have not truly repented. Every once in a while, when things happen that we cannot ignore or are hard to deny (though many still try to) we will talk about how we need move on. Many, even in the church, think the trick to moving on is to stop talking about it. If we just stopped talking about racism, it would go away. Where a Christian would get the idea that ignoring a sin causes its disappearance is beyond me. You can find no such pattern in the Scriptures. What you do find is God continually, persistently, relentlessly, sending prophet after prophet telling his people basically the same thing. “Stop worshipping idols. Stop oppressing the poor, widows, and foreigners. Do right. Keep the covenant you agreed to. Be the people you’re supposed to be, so the world knows what I am actually like.”
We cannot “move on” until we admit the wrongs we have done in the past and the present. We have to humble ourselves and admit the sins of the church and the country because, as parts of both of them, we have the Biblical obligation to do so (see Daniel 9 for an example of this). We must also repent for our own biases and prejudices. I have an awfully hard time believing I’m the only one in the world with biases and prejudices. If we can be honest and vulnerable about our struggle with lust, greed, and other sins, why can’t we be honest about our struggle with prejudice? The world has made racism today’s unforgivable sin, but God does not recognize this. He offers forgiveness and deliverance from this sin, just like he does all others.
Another way for us to repent is to listen. Truth is we are not very good at this. For most of our history, those facing injustice have gone unheard. Even in this time, so many have told me how they feel silenced. You may scoff at this statement as you see the world shouting. But there are many in the church that feel if they were to fully share their thoughts and feelings, even just their experiences with fellow believers they would be attacked. So, they remain silent. Listening, both personally and through articles and other media is the primary way the church needs to repent right now. Listening will open up our hearts towards brokenness and humility.
Jeremiah the prophet was broken for his nation. He cared. He cried out, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears. I would weep and day and night for the slain of my people.” Weeping I find is a very appropriate way to lament. I do not mean to say if you are not crying, you do not care. But I do find that deep pain often produces tears. If I think about how we as believers have disappointed God and how this world is so wicked and corrupt, and how so many suffer in it, I often feel pain. I am not advocating the false production of tears, but for the genuine embracing of God’s heart for people.
Jesus was once asked why his disciples were not participating in a time of fasting with other religious groups. His answer was simple, “I’m here, so it’s a time for rejoicing,” (my own paraphrase). But he did say the time would come when they would fast. Fasting in Scripture is associated with humility and mourning. We humble ourselves, deny ourselves, because it is a time to mourn. Now is a time to mourn and in place of feasting, we can fast. Isaiah 59 offers a beautiful picture of true fasting.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Fasting is an active work of lamentation that, as Isaiah 58 points out, will lead to other works. Yes, we need to stop and lament first. Then, we need to let our lamenting, continual and growing, be the foundation for true fasting.
It’s 1:05pm and in the last 4 hours I’ve met with eight high impact missionaries on our Chi Alpha team here in Santa Cruz. Six of them happen to be ethnic minorities. Prior to that I had a staff huddle with two couples that are directors of campus ministries my wife and I planted nearly 20 years ago. Their marriages and ministries are thriving. All of them are ethnic minorities. Of the five Chi Alpha ministries we are focused on planting in the next three years on the West Coast, four directors happen to be ethnic minorities. Two of them happened to be women. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog a few minutes ago that I realized just how blessed we are to be a small part in the ever growing picture of empowering a heavenly reflection of His image bearers into leadership.
We didn’t arrive here nor will we proceed into greater measures of kingdom reflection by focusing on recruiting tactics in ministry or leadership that are based on earthly ethnicity or culture. As always, if you ask me about kingdom fruit I will direct your attention to the kingdom focus by which it was produced. The driving convictions that have helped us move forward come from a few streams of divine thinking that I would like to unpack.
1. The most authentic expression of the gospel is delivered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4 & 14:24-25). When the focal point of finding pre-Christians is based on what we see and hear the Father doing and saying, we eliminate opportunity for personal comfort or bias to direct the steps of beautiful feet that bring the good news. This focus is tied to the next in that there is no one more relevant than the Holy Spirit. “Outreach” often gets reduced to a form of godliness that denies His power--opportunistic events that lie well within our ability with no need of His power. These events are noble, but often create risk-free environments for our students to show up and meet people within pre-measured settings. Limited to the attractional value our outreaches hold to individual ethnicities. The Lord modeled perfect missionary work in articulation of the gospel and demonstration of power. Not one without the other. The gifts of God reveal the goodness of God and make room for the hardest of Truth to be met with humility.
This focus has broken the weakness of personal bias and comfort in reaching students on our campuses. It expands the gateway of bringing people to Christ according to the measure of Gods heart for all ethnicities. This is our foundation to becoming a leadership gateway for Ethnic minorities.
2. Kingdom culture is the perfected state of all culture (Revelation 7:9-10). We do not become culturally relevant by imitating our culture, we become culturally relevant by exemplifying everything our culture was designed to become. This doesn’t mean we ask students or staff to reject their cultural heritage, but our focus is on each person anchoring in their eternal identity in Christ so their culture will be displayed in power and purity, giving glory to God. The Apostle Paul said “I regard no man according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). When we remove our focus from attempting to portray expertise, connect based on individual cultures and place it on an authentic display of kingdom culture (His kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven), Christ is lifted up and all mankind is drawn to Him. This frees the heart of leaders and students to aim at pleasing God and re-presenting Him in love and power rather than the often inadequate attempts to connecting at a carnal level with the multiplicity of ethnicities represented on campus. We were all created to worship. If each believer's witness and connection is an expression of their worship to Him, it creates a gateway for all nationalities to discover, through experience, the God who made them in His image. In other words, a focus on bearing His image begets freedom to bear His image. So our personal culture becomes a being a follower within the perfect culture of His kingdom.
3. We are raising fathers and mothers, not kids (1 Thessalonians 1:6). This is a primary key in becoming a leadership gateway for emerging ethnic minorities. Isaiah 46:10 shows us that our Father’s focus starts with the end from the beginning. When people seek an end of great numerical growth they will always want more students. This is noble assuming the desire to increase attendance is for the sake of spiritual growth and maturity in every attendee. But when the foundational focus of our ministry becomes raising fathers and mothers in the faith we enter into the trans-generational element of spiritual leadership. Similarly we celebrate the desire of any parents that want to have kids. But when that desire is rooted and articulated in the focus of raising great fathers and mothers, it actually shifts the words and actions of how people parent. Remember, semantics are seeds. Our words are the seeds that will form the eternal fruit of our leadership in prayer and instruction. When we form the future by faith just like our Father, in the end from the beginning, our ultimate focus does not become distracted by our immediate options. Our aim to disciple responsible and reproducing men and women of God materializes in the way we raise up and release leaders of all ethnicities into the roles God designed them for. In contrast, when our ministry goal doesn’t exceed “getting more staff on our team” or “getting more students in the door” the impotence of our dreams often only yields our self-sufficient ability to get people like ourselves around us. A focus on raising fathers and mothers of all those entrusted to us will require our hearts to prepare every individual for leadership within our Fathers house without selectively limiting others to our personal comforts or bias.
4. When you get cut my blood falls to the ground (Acts 17:26). We are called to “Reconcile students to Christ…” because this is the only foundation by which mankind can find all authentic reconciliation. There are an unending array of fractions and injustices with varying histories and complexities. But Acts 17:26 says, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord…” (Italicize added). We have all scattered only to be gathered again under one Lord. The reconciliation of all people can't be accomplished in earthly terms--since the beginning of time mankind has found a way to be divided. But the reconciliation of all people CAN be accomplished in the eternal reality of our identities where our bloodlines are reconnected in Christ. Real brotherhood is found in the place where our earthly ethnicities submit to our heavenly identity. I can mourn and rejoice in harmony with anyone who is part of the same Body as me, the Body of Christ.
Let me say this frankly. If you want to be a leadership gateway for emerging ethnic minorities, it begins with a commitment to Spirit-led evangelism. The same Spirit that led Jesus to prophecy over a Samaritan woman, Paul to perform works of power amongst the Gentiles, and Peter to become the Apostle to the Jews will lead every staff and student into kingdom diversity that could not be manufactured by any measure of tactical focus on ethnicity. When we keep our focus on the ultimate, our prayers and plans will flush out to reflect and produce that which our heart bleeds for. It isn’t that Jesus won’t give us tactics, it is that His tactics are much simpler than ours. Abiding in connection and grafting all ethnic branches to His vine is a product of authentic witness and practice that flows from a real relationship with God and others. This may seem too simple and and risky. The only risk is that we have less perceived control over the outcome. But our control is only an illusion. If you are exhausted from attempts at making your ministry look like heaven on earth, I challenge you to begin with these four focuses. This is not a comprehensive blog, but I know the fruit we are bearing today can not be attributed to any measure of tactical effort. I pray God will grace you in fulfilling all that is in your heart for reaching and raising up all ethnicities He has surrounded you with. If I can ever be of service to you or your team please don’t hesitate to reach out.
It was around 2007 when when we, Peoples Church Cincinnati, were taking the whole congregation through a 20 week long experience called the “Vision Experience”. It was a small group study that we put together internally to help the congregation grow in racial unity and diverse relationships by having difficult conversations about race in a Christian context. Part of the curriculum included historical information, personal stories, and experiential exercises. During the course of the 20 weeks the leadership committee would evaluate how the groups were performing by getting feedback from the facilitators, the church staff, and our own experiences. At one of these debriefs, I remember discussing a subject that had come up in several of the small groups: people of different cultures and different church backgrounds were not enjoying certain aspects of the church service.
At this point in time the church was still very much in transition from being a 98% homogeneous White church to one that was now 15-20% people of color including 1st generation immigrants. Chris Beard, our lead pastor, was pressing forward with a vision of being a Rev. 5:9 church like Heaven: many ethnic groups and languages all worshiping Jesus together. Bringing this vision to fruition was slowly introducing different cultural influences into the church services. Varied preaching styles, an updated look of the facility, and multi-cultural worship music were some of the gradual and radical adjustments that were made. The result was that people who loved Jesus, loved the vision of the church, and wanted to be a part of what God was doing still had difficulty with some aspects of the church. It was during this time that the leadership team came up with the 70/30 Rule to help everyone embrace and celebrate what God was doing in Peoples Church.
The 70/30 Rule says that everyone in the church should expect to fully enjoy 70% of what happens at the church while expecting to not feel immediately drawn to or understand the other 30% because that portion is for someone else’s full enjoyment. Furthermore, when something is happening in church that is not of your preference you should celebrate that because that means someone else is feeling connected to Christ and His church in that moment. To help drive this point home, I would say as a service began, “Make sure you young people here today don’t sit down when the worship team goes into that old school hymn! Make sure you stay standing just the same, even though that is not your type of music. Because that song isn’t for you. That song is for the senior saints that are being brought back to the day they fell in love with Christ during that song. So we want you young folks to celebrate with them the same way they celebrate when your repetitive Bethel worship song is played.”
Many people can relate to not enjoying certain types of worship music, but when it comes to several cultures coming together people will have cultural clashes in so many situations. Food selection at gatherings, dress code at events, start time for celebrations, length of service, outcomes for meetings, and so many other things are effected by cultural norms. Every culture has their standard for these types of things, but when you combine cultures you have to make sure that every culture has an opportunity to lead. This means that someone is always going to feel out of place and we want that feeling to be celebrated. In effect, the 70/30 Rule is the basis for creating a new culture in an intentionally diverse ministry. The new culture is celebrating being uncomfortable so that others will have comfort.
There is no scientific study or mathematic rigor behind the 70/30 percentages, we just went on gut feel when we named it. But over the past 13 years we have found that people embrace it and when they see the beauty of God’s diversely united church they understand the value.
When it comes to racial issues, we the Church have often been on both sides of the aisle. We have been on the side championing the cause for equality and we have also been on the side of silence and championing racial inequality.
When it comes to racial reconciliation, the best place for us to start is the Gospel itself. This gospel is where we receive both the love and forgiveness of God through Jesus.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling[b] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
What does this mean for us? Everything! Jesus has reconciled us to himself.
Reconciliation is God’s idea. He places us in a family with people who don’t look like us, think like us or even act like us. But that is the beauty of it all. I’m a soul food eating, Martin Luther King loving, Tupac listening brotha but I get to be in a family with a white dude named Ernest Jo Fipps who is from Greenville, Indiana. I am in a family with a half Japanese and half Costa Rican brotha who got me out here eating pollo con arroz.
Jesus placed me in this family. And I believe that our reconciliation to God must be played out in our reconciliation with each other as family. We no longer look at each other based on the world’s definition but we look at each other as brothers and sisters because of the Gospel.
Loving each other well in racial reconciliation requires intentional action on everyone’s part. The Apostle John has some helpful words to us on how we can relate to another in Christ:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
- 1 John 3:16-18
Let’s unpack what this means for us on this topic of racial reconciliation:
1. Love Listens
As family when we talk about racial things, we need to listen. We listen not so we can give our opinion or become offended, but we listen from our heart. We seek to listen to each other’s stories and we seek through our listening to feel the pain of those stories. We need to hear each other’s thoughts with our hearts.
2. Love Leans
When we talk about racial reconciliation, we lean into relationships with each other. When something is said or done that we don’t like, we don’t cut ties with our family but we lean into each other and confront the issue. Confronting those we love helps us better love one another.
Leaning into our relationships takes away the façade of shallowness and allows us to jump into the deep end with each other.
3. Love Learns
Our leaning will eventually lead to learning. Because the Body of Christ is so diverse, we can love each other by learning about our cultures. We can eat different dishes from each other’s cultures, listen to each other’s music, and learn about how we celebrate differently. Hanging out with my African friends showed me what it really means to celebrate life. Learning gives us a robust view of who Jesus is: King of all people.
4. Love Leads
Learning should bring us to leading. Reconciliation does not stop with us. It should also lead us to action. Our reconciliation should be shared with other people from diverse backgrounds. We experience this reconciliation with each other so that we can bring this reconciliation to the world around us.
Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Our greatest witness to the world is shown when they see us loving each other well. Even though we are different from each other, we show the world we love each other.
The Story of George Brown
In closing, I want to share a story with you that brings these points of love and forgiveness together. This is the story of George Brown.
George Brown was a Methodist minister and missionary. He was the first African American minister to receive a license to preach with the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1836 he was sent to Liberia to be a school teacher but overtime he felt a call to preach the gospel to the Liberian people. It was said of him that he was “the missionary who was more devoted to African evangelization than anyone else.”
Unfortunately in 1840 the white superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Liberia, John Seys had a falling out with the Liberian government over goods brought into Liberia from the United States. Because of this, Reverend Seys tried to muster support from other pastors to stand with him. But George Brown did not stand with him. Brown firmly believed his only calling was to preach the gospel to the people of Liberia. Because of his stand, he was expelled from the Methodist Episcopal Church in Liberia. He tried to go back to the United States and get reinstated but unfortunately he was not able to leave his wife behind in Liberia. Brown went on to continue ministry in the United States and he eventually died falling through ice on a lake. But in his journal this is what he had to say about his relationship to the Methodist Episcopal church:
“I call heaven to witness that I truly love the M.E. Church with all my soul. I love her nonetheless for what a few individuals have mangled me.” He himself stayed apart of this organization forgiving and loving his brothers even when it was hard.
In my own personal life I see my own story in George Brown. I may not have endured the hardships he had, but I know the same feelings he may have had.
Many now I am the first African American Nationally Appointed Missionary in the state of Indiana. Even though Chi Alpha may be diverse among students, it’s leadership is not. There have been times when I have felt the burden of why am I the only one. I thought these people just don’t get, that I’m out.
I could have allowed those thoughts cloud my judgment. But I knew that Jesus called me to be a part of Chi Alpha. And because I felt the call to be a part we have worked hard to see minorities be a part of leadership in Chi Alpha. We worked hard as a family to listen, learn and lead. Because of this work, the numbers for XA leadership has risen. It is not where we want it but it is increasing. Things are changing. Jesus has called me to be part of this family and as long as I’m here I’m going to walk in love with those around me.
In the same, you have been placed in a body of people. They are your family. What I am asking you is that we practice loving each other well. That we be a reconciled people.
To practice these ideas of loving each other well through listening, leaning, learning and leading, I have some reflection questions for you to go through and consider for yourself and your community.
Partner in Life
Life. This is what Jesus came to bring. He clearly states in John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." God is a God of life. He is a giver of life from first to last. He created Adam and Eve and breathed life into them. He sent his Son that we do not perish but have "eternal life." Not a life that we get after death, but a life that cannot die.
Life, life, life. God is all about life. As believers we are partners with the Father in this world. Thus we are partners for life. As Ravi Zacharias says, "Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive." Yes. This is the kingdom. Yet often we get caught up in changing people's behaviors, thoughts, or perspective, instead of focusing on life. We get off track and replace the gospel (that is all about life) with moralism (which is all about behavior). Why do we do this? Because we are fallen human beings and we have a tendency to focus on ourselves. Behavior is something in our control (though we often feel it isn't), life is not.
We cannot create life, but we can certainly be a part of it. Understanding this relationship is essential if we are to be a part of our Father's work in this world. Take a seed. It has life in itself. We do not give it life by sowing it, but unless it is sowed, it's life will not come forth. Here are 5 simple ways to nurture God's life.
1. Sow God's word in yourself and others. "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63)." Jesus described God's word as a seed because a seed has life in it, but a life that only comes forth when it sown. Sowing God's word includes reading, listening, meditating, memorizing, studying, and of course applying. If we do not sow his word, his life cannot flow to us.
2. Embrace the way of the kingdom. Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, are what I like to call, evidence of God's presence, proof of his life in us. It is not an exhaustive list, but still a good starting point. Fruit is the visible manifestation of something that has been sown in secret. God produces these results in our lives, but these are also choices we make. When we chose love over hate, kindness over retribution, and self-control instead of letting our flesh rule us, we align ourselves with our Father's kingdom, submitting to his ways, and become conduits of his life in this world. When speaking of his coming death, Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." Thus, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of how God's life is multiplied, by sowing his life in sacrifice. We are called to do the same.
3. Feed your soul. Every gardener knows that plants need food. Our life in God, or better put, God's life in us also needs to be fed. We do this be spending time in his presence. Prayer is the food of the believer. A full and diverse prayer life will feed the seeds of God's word we are sowing in our lives and the lives of others. One of the best gifts you can give to another believer is teaching them how to pray, not telling them to pray but showing them how. Prayer includes worship, thanksgiving, praise, declaration, intercession, proclamation, petition, repentance, forgiveness for others, and many others. Communing with God and interceding for others, will feed God's life in you.
4. Be ruthless with weeds. Weeds choke out life. They do this by taking the nutrients the plant needs and using it for themselves. A weed can be a sin or just a distraction. In the parable of the seed, Jesus described those things that can keep the seed (God's word) from sprouting and also from growing. "The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful (Matthew 13:22). Anything that chokes God's life needs to be eliminated. Pull these weeds without mercy.
5. Learn to garden. Gardening is a great teacher. One the one hand, it is really hard work. If you drive by a house and see a beautiful garden, you know someone is spending hours there. A garden must be tended. If seeds are not sown, if plants are not watered, fertilized, weeded, and cared for, the garden becomes a mess. Things begin to die. It will not feed anyone or wow us with its beauty. There are things we can and must do to see God's live grow in us and others, but we must never be deceived into thinking we are causing this life. Our Father has given us the ability to partner with him, just like he gave Adam the job to tend the garden of Eden. In the same way that Adam did not create life in that garden but only tended it; we do not create the life of God in ourselves or others, but we must tend it. Thus, both we and God play a part in his life growing in us. He gives life, we tend it. Both are essential.
These simple truths have multitudes of application. For those of us in the work of kingdom diversity we are reminded that this is hard work, grueling work, heartbreaking work which requires many hours and much sacrifice. Still we must remember that we do not cause anything to grow. Thus Paul's words become to us both an encouragement- a call to rest, and a rebuke against pride and arrogance. "So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:7)."
Creating Bridges - by Morgan Fulton
It can be hard to be present on social media when striving to operate in racial unity. When our friend group extends beyond people who think like we think, there is plenty of temptation to argue and debate our views online. This is dangerous for Kingdom unity and diversity. Social media is as real in our world as the daily conversations we have in public. If we want to create unity in the physical, we also have to create unity online. As believers, it is our duty to be unified in our devotion to Jesus and love for one another. I want to talk about ways we can create bridges to unity rather than chasms.
First things first, arguing over social media will never change someone’s heart. Heart change comes directly from the Holy Spirit. While it is important for us to speak truth, we have to trust the Holy Spirit to speak to people's’ hearts. If you really feel it is important to share your views on something, share in person in loving relationship and always be ready to listen. We tend to communicate differently online than we would face to face. Having conversations in person takes away any temptation to forget the humanity of the person we are talking to.
Second, communicate compassionately. We do the Kingdom a disservice when we share our views in a way that is completely devoid of compassion. Compassion doesn’t water down truth, it gives life to truth. Jesus was moved by love and compassion when he told the rich leader to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. That was a very challenging and strong word, but it was spoken out of love for him. We should always do the same.
Third, it is important for us as a Christian community to take personal responsibility for Kingdom justice in our cities. It is easy for us to look at politicians and shake our fists at them, but I think we first should shake our fists at ourselves. How are we looking at the injustices around us and asking God to give us wisdom on how to combat them? When we are busy at work righting the wrongs in our communities, we have an opportunity to invite others into being the solution. I believe that the Christian community is still powerful and able to make radical change in our world today! Do you believe that? Do you believe you can be a part of that?
It is really easy to post a view on Facebook or share a picture on Instagram. It is way harder to share hard truth to a friend and listen when they disagree, truly enter into God’s compassion for the broken and hurting, or take personal responsibility for the injustice in your city; nevertheless, Jesus calls his people to do hard things for the Kingdom! Let’s create some bridges!
I don’t remember learning about Black History Month while growing up. The first time it hit home for me was while I was attending a multi-ethnic church in Oakland a few years ago. Each Sunday for the month of February, one of the worship leaders got up and told us about famous Black people who accomplished incredible things. Inventors, leaders, world changers. These were all people I had never heard about before. I wondered why no one ever bothered to tell me about the enormous contributions Black men and women had made to our society aside from Dr. King and Rosa Parks.
Today as I reflect upon these things I realize that learning about the past is not enough. Here I am with a college degree in history and I can barely name more than a handful of pre-Civil Rights historical figures that are also Black Americans. Knowing the history is important, but I’m also fully aware that in my city we have an ongoing struggle for equality happening every day.
In the city where my daughter goes to school, Black students are suspended six times as often as White students. Are Black students six times as bad? Of course not.
According to Dr. Edwin Bell, a professor at Winston-Salem State University, the research indicates that this disparity exists despite similar levels of misbehavior and across income levels. In other words, it's not a poverty issue. It's a racial and cultural issue.
How in 2019 can we still be content with the way things are? How does Black History inform us about how change happens and what possibilities exist in the future? Is it our responsibility as Christians to do something about the problems in our world or to simply preach the gospel and wait until Christ’s return?
I believe people cannot move to action until they first move to awareness. But that cannot happen if their racial education remains confined to the shortest month of the year. For Black History Month, we must not only learn from the past but also become fully aware of the current moment and how faith communities can start exercising a greater civic responsibility. Or to put it another way, the Great Commission is never separate from the Great Commandment.