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.
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)."
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.
We sat silently at a downtown coffee shop, swirling the Rwandan brew in our cups, the Cincinnati skyscape towering over our sidewalk table — two Ohio Assemblies of God pastors sharing hearts and vision.
He asked, “How would you counsel me to lead my (midsize, suburban) congregation into a multiethnic future? I feel a profound burden to do this. We can’t stay where we are. Our city needs this. Our church needs this. But I don’t know what I don’t know.”
This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this. It seems God is burdening many hearts these days for church reflecting heaven on earth.
Our own story as Peoples Church Cincinnati involves a 20-year transition from a 98 percent homogeneous white commuter church to a 50 percent nonwhite congregation comprising 30-plus nations. And despite the racially charged times in which we live, we are 25 percent African-American. The Lord has done this.
As I contemplated my friend’s earnest question, I felt stirred to reply, “Start with theology. Whatever you do, root it in Scripture. Hell will fight you on this, and when it does, you want this vision anchored in God’s Word.”
I shared from Ephesians 2 and 3 about a biblical model of a multiethnic church. The intensity of God’s mind on this matter captivates my heart and astounds me.
The Ephesian Model
New Testament Ephesus compares to today’s American society. With a mix of Gentile God-fearers, conservative zealots, marketplace liberals, idol worshipers, indigenous people, and internationals, the city was ethnically, economically, religiously diverse. This port population center on the western edge of what is now Turkey flourished as a cosmopolitan melting pot, the Roman Empire’s third most influential city.
The Ephesian church was also a collective — united in Christ, Spirit-filled and gospel-rooted. This diverse congregation was making known the “manifold wisdom of God” — in the city and “in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10). Did you catch that? Not only was the church influencing society and spreading the gospel, but its Christ-centered existence in diverse unity was capturing attention in the spiritual realm.
Paul calls this diverse unity of formerly disparate and hostile Jews, Greeks and Romans the “mystery of Christ,” which the Holy Spirit revealed (Ephesians 3:4-6). As this church came together, the mystery of Christ, hidden for ages, became apparent. Let that sink in.
Our fractious United States could benefit from the same prophetic, reconciling Kingdom congregations. Such a movement would shake the gates of hell.
In Ephesians 2, Paul provides a compelling vision and model for diversely united churches in our day. After unpacking the gospel, he links it to the idea of a diversely united local church. This message is applicable to your church setting — whether rural, suburban or urban.
Continue reading here
(Used with permission)
So, I'm turning 50 today. Not as old as some and lots older than others. My fifteen year old daughter told me yesterday, "How old are you gonna be Mom, 50? Dang! ...That's not so old." That about sums it up. Age is relative. It is one's relative place in their journey of life. And as I turn 50 today I'm thinking about the journey of my life, the journey of driving diversity in Christ's church, which is a huge part of the call God has placed on my life, and about journey's in general. Can I share these thought with you? .
We are all on a journey. It starts the day we are born and ends the day we enter eternity. As the old poem says, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Like life, living out God's kingdom on this earth is a journey. In my work training and coaching leaders to partner with the Holy Spirit to see God's kingdom diversity in their local Christian communities, I stress this element of journey. We all begin somewhere, we are all at different spots on the journey, and we all need to keep moving forward. These are simple thoughts, but essential ones none the less.
1. We all begin somewhere. When I was 11 I had a friend who took piano lessons. I wanted to take piano lessons too but I thought I was too old, so I didn't pursue it. Sometimes we talk ourselves out of starting a journey because we feel we are already so far behind, there is no point to starting it now. Here is the truth. God's will for his people is unity and holiness. A segregated church is a contradiction in terms. It doesn't matter that you haven't done anything in this space before, start today! It is never too late to partner with our Father in something he desires. This is actually our job as his servants.
2. We are all in different spots. I don't know why, but our relative places in the journey of kingdom diversity is often a point of contention, judging, and frustration. Sometimes, those who are farther ahead look at those who are farther behind or haven't started at all with very little grace or kindness. This hinders the progress or start of these individuals. If you have a passion for God's kingdom diversity, I beseech you to let that passion drive you to bring others along with you. Pray for the stubborn or those who don't see it or get it. Prayer is powerful. Share, encourage, entice, challenge, teach, beseech, in other words, let the Holy Spirit use you to minister to his people where they are and move them along to where HE wants them to be. After all, they are not our people to judge or get frustrated with. In my fifty years, which like my daughter said, "that's not so old" I have seen many brothers and sister who didn't seem to care, suddenly start the journey and become heralds and advocates. Unfortunately, sometimes they too will fall into the trap of criticism and frustration; perhaps because this is what was modeled to them. Love is ever hopeful. Let's love each other in this way.
3. We need to keep moving. Before we had kids, my husband and I used to backpack. It's an interesting experience fraught with good life lessons, the simplest of which is, if you just keep going eventually you'll get there. Simple right? It is simple. Diversity in God's church is not easy. It is a battle. Mostly it is a battle of dying to self, denying to our preference, privilege, and power. It's work. It's more than we think it will be when we start. The important thing then is to keep moving forward. If you just started, move forward. If you have a beautiful multi-ethnic community, move forward. If you have a beautiful multi-ethnic community with profound, authentic, transparent, loving relationships, keep moving forward If you have a beautiful multi-ethnic community with profound, authentic, transparent, loving relationships that is working together to manifest God's kingdom of justice in your larger community, keep moving forward. Basically, there is always a next step. We provide the diversity development rubric to help leaders learn the fulness of God's kingdom diversity and how to move forward in it. Yes, it's work for a lifetime, but you can get where our Father desire's you to be, if you just keep moving forward.
Today is my birthday. They'll be celebrations and gifts (my kids put them on the dining room table last night). Tomorrow, will be another day. I won't be celebrating the milestone of 50, but I'll be moving forward none the less, hopefully I'll have influence in somebody's life in some way as I choose to walk in his kingdom ways. That's really all I can do in this journey of life.
Every day workers in a certain town crossed a shallow river to collect wood. This wood provided raw materials, heat, and trade goods. Although wading through the water was inconvenient, wet, and often exhausting, the laborers bore the heavy load to provide for their town.
One day a businessman from a neighboring town arrived to conduct his trade. Upon seeing the laborers struggling to cross the water, he resolved to build them a bridge. After all, the wood business was highly profitable and this new bridge would buy immense goodwill with the town’s mayor.
Upon meeting with the businessman, the mayor immediately granted permission for the bridge. Although no one consulted the laborers, this was hardly noticed as excitement spread to other towns nearby. If the businessman made this village a bridge, perhaps he would build others too.
When the bridge was finished, the businessman and the mayor held a celebration. The abundant supply of wood raised the fortunes of many in the town. The businessman went home congratulating himself on a job well done.
But a few months later came the rainy season. The river banks swelled, the waters rose, and the bridge’s foundations washed away. Nothing was left of the new bridge.
The town was devastated. Some blamed the mayor. The mayor blamed the businessman. The businessman mysteriously cut ties with the town and disappeared. The laborers bickered among themselves and some of the laborers refused to go back to wading through the river. Many in the town discussed building a new better bridge but without the financial support of the businessman, they felt they didn’t have enough resources.
After several years, things returned back to the way they were before. Until one day a new businessman came to town.
Many of us often function like the businessman. We enter situations in which we have limited knowledge and immediately see a problem. After hearing the complaints and seeing the issues, we set about immediately to solving them. But often times, we don’t know what we don’t know.
The businessman couldn’t have known how high the river would get during a peak storm. He couldn’t have known that the mayor may not have the best interest of the people in mind. He didn’t know that some of the laborers had some concerns about the bridge, but didn’t feel empowered to share them with him. And although the businessman thought he was helping, in the long term, his act of goodwill actually set back the whole town. Instead of believing that they could build their own bridge, many in the town believed they needed the help of a powerful businessman to do it for them.
When it comes to cross-cultural ministry and creating multi-ethnic communities, we should be aware that many problems are not easily solved. What might seem like bright solutions may actually be more like bandaids. We might think we are helping when are actually not helping at all. None of see the whole picture. And certainly, none of us have the power to change human hearts and minds.
Only God knows what people need. Only He knows how to solve the difficult problems facing the world. Although we are often clueless outsiders, he is the Ultimate Insider who became flesh. He dwelt among us, overcoming sin and defeating death.
You and I don’t have all the solutions. But we do have a God who does. So when a student from a different background has a problem, we can learn to listen. When there are controversies on our campus, we can first listen. When our best efforts are met with attitude instead of gratitude, we can listen better than ever before.
Because we want our bridges to last. We want them to survive the next storm. We need God to provide the foundation, God to build it, and God to sustain it. As we listen to Him and honor one another in Christ, He will do it.
The second way to increase diversity in your group is talking. In the same way that you get what you pray for, you also get what you talk about. So talk about diversity with your staff team, your student leaders, your students- just talk to everyone. Talk about why God cares about it. Talk about who’s missing in your group. Talk about what need to change so you can how to attract, integrate and serve a wide variety of people.
Talk in your large group meeting. Share the vision for Kingdom diversity through times of teaching and challenge. Celebrate small victories. We value what we celebrate. While you celebrate be honest about where you are. It’s ok to tell the truth and recognize the long road ahead. This will actually increase your credibility.
Be open about your diversity dreams and your current stage. It’s okay to say “I know our music tonight may not be what you’re used to. It is our desire to have a more multi-cultural worship experience because we value every culture and know our Father is revealing himself to every nation, tribe, people and language. We need the fullness of God’s people to be an accurate representation of God to this campus. Thanks for hanging in there with us while we journey forward. This also means we need you and your help to truly be a family.”
Your talking should include:
Since you get what you talk about, you need to talk about diversity a LOT if that’s what you want. Need help? We have resources. Reach out. We are here to help.
In recent years, racial tensions have torn at the fabric of this nation. From city streets to university campuses, an atmosphere of simmering resentment reminds us that we don’t live in a post-racial society. The reality of this is even evident in many of the churches in which we worship.
This became apparent to me personally during my first year as lead pastor of (then) First Christian Assembly of God. It was April 2001, and Cincinnati was burning. The unrest started when police killed an unarmed teenager of color. The city was slow to respond, and the anger spilled into the streets. The local government instituted a 6 p.m. curfew for several days to restore order.
God had been working in my heart for years that our church needed a big change. We worshiped at the geographic heart of our city, just one mile from the fires and breaking glass during that week of unrest. Yet the congregation was a homogeneous 98 percent white commuter church.
Not only was there a demographic dissonance for me, there was a biblical dissonance. Hadn’t Jesus died to create “one new humanity” through the power of the Cross (Ephesians 2:15)? Couldn’t a reconciling Church be the missing component in our nation’s racial strife? Was the racially segregated church unwittingly contributing to the problem? Even worse, were we as the American Church actually devoid of the most compelling evidence that the gospel is true (John 17:20–23)? These questions caused a wrestling in me that led to a major transformation for our church. Those changes didn’t come easily, and there were a lot of things to learn along the way to becoming Peoples Church Cincinnati.
Today, our congregation is rich in stories and testimonies of racial reconciliation. Allow me to share a snapshot of what we’ve experienced.
Continue reading here
(taken with permission)
We are not the same. We each come from different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. Some days it can seem like all these differences are more of a curse than a blessing. If only I was like everybody else, then I would fit in.
But God often uses people who don’t fit to advance his kingdom. He picks the people who do not belong to do what cannot be done. Here are three quick examples.
Moses was a Hebrew raised like an Egyptian. He ate at Pharaoh’s table and dressed in royal garb. But by blood, he was a Hebrew. He was born to a slave. Although he lived like a member of the royal household, we know deep down he still cared about his people. Eventually he lashed out and murdered an Egyptian who was oppressing his people. His fellow Hebrews wanted nothing to do with him. Neither a true Egyptian royal nor an authentic Hebrew, his identity crisis caused him to flee into obscurity for forty years. But God had a plan for him. Moses alone could demand an audience before Pharaoh’s court and claim a shared heritage with the people he would lead. Among the Hebrews of Egypt, he was not the same.
Scripture tells us of an unlikely queen. As a Jew living under the Persian Empire, Esther’s beauty gained the attention of King Xerxes. But even as the crown was placed on her head, her true identity remained a secret to all. No one knew she was a Jew. But when a plot arose to destroy her people, Queen Esther held a unique position of influence and privilege. She alone of all the Jews could gain an audience with the King. She alone could convince him otherwise and thwart disaster. Through her talent and courage, God saved the Jewish people. Among the Jews of Persia, she was not the same.
Half-Greek and half-Jew, Timothy stood out as an anomaly. He may not have been pure enough for real Jews or Greek enough for real Greeks. But when the Apostle Paul came to his hometown, carrying a unique message of reconciliation for both Greek and Jew alike, Timothy was exactly the partner Paul was looking for. To gain credibility for their journey, Timothy immediately endured the pain of adult circumcision. A bi-racial Timothy accompanied Paul to great evangelistic success and eventually shepherded God’s church like very few in the New Testament. Among the Greeks and Jews, he was not the same.
As I look over these three stories, I can’t help but come to a fascinating conclusion: if God wanted us all to be the same, he would have made it so. Instead, he created us differently. He positioned us in unique situations. He made us credible, trans-cultural, and distinct among certain people in certain places. He did this because He has a greater purpose than what we might initially realize.
Some of us have been given an ethnic identity that doesn’t always match our surroundings. We wonder why we stick out. We think we need to become something we’re not to survive. We may at times grow frustrated by a nagging inability to feel at home among our own people. But perhaps what appears to be a disadvantage is part of the plan.
Moses wasn’t like the other Hebrews in Egypt.
Esther wasn’t like the other Jews of Persia.
Timothy wasn’t like the other Greeks.
They weren’t the same and neither should you be.