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)
Note: This is written for a Chi Alpha audience, but can apply in any ministry context.
Are you dreaming of the multitude of every nation, tribe, people, and language and longing to see God’s kingdom reflected in your local Chi Alpha group? Over the next three weeks we will expound on three simple and proven ministry truths to begin and to make progress in a Holy Spirit transformation in your community. Our first ministry truth is this: you get what you pray for.
#1 You Get What You Pray For
Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” He wasn’t referring to activity. We are very good at doing stuff on our own. He was referring to fruit, fruit that lasts. (John 15:16) To see eternal change in the lives of human beings, we need the holy sap of Jesus’ life to flow through us, and this requires prayer. The first, second, and last place to accomplish anything of significance is prayer. If you want to be a different kind of group, one that represents your campus and more importantly God’s kingdom, you need divine help. I truly believe you get what you pray for, so pray for…
Pray for revelation. Before we can share the vision for diversity, we need a personal revelation of what it means. Diversity is a word that has many definitions in our world, and though we do not find it in the Bible, we certainly find the model of multi-ethnic, unified communities living out a kingdom ethic. Revelation is the product of prayer combined with reading and study. As you delve into God’s word, pray for revelation for yourself, your fellow staff members, your student leaders and every student in your group.
Pray for deliverance. There are reasons our churches are racially and ethnically segregated. Some have to do with preference and tastes, but much has to do with sin. The sins of greed, lust, and power birthed the sin of racism in the United States. We cannot build communities that reflect God’s kingdom without deliverance, and we will not experience deliverance without repentance. Repent for your own prejudices and racism. It is also Biblical to repent on behalf of your nation (people group) and country (place where you live) (Daniel 9:3-19). Pray for deliverance from strongholds (entrenched ways of thinking) that influence many of us without our knowledge. Pray for freedom from the world’s ways of thinking, to no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16). Instead pray for new ways of thinking (Rom 12:2).
Pray for kingdom-minded hearts. Many who love the vision of kingdom diversity don’t act on it for fear of what will happen in their groups or churches. How will my leaders and congregants respond? In a homogenous group, everything is tailored to the dominant group. How will that group feel when confronted with unpleasant truths and eventual changes? It is vital that you take the time to pray for kingdom-minded hearts. Pray in faith knowing that as you undertake your own journey of allowing God to renew your mind and transform your perspectives, you will be sowing seeds for transformation to happen in others.
Pray for protection. If there is one thing I have learned as I work to see our Chi Alpha groups accurately represent God’s kingdom on campus, it is that it is a battle. Anything you do, even if all you are doing is praying (and believe me that is enough), is a direct confrontation to entrenched spirits who have controlled our country for centuries. They have kept people and more importantly Christians separated. This separation, besides maligning the name of Christ, has limited the church’s effectiveness in world missions, reaching cities, executing justice, and yes, this is true even on our campuses. Your confrontation to these powers and principalities will not go unnoticed or unopposed. Pray for protection of your relationships (for this is where retaliation tends to come), your unity, and your community. Guard all your relationships and don’t give way to misunderstandings, wounds, pride, and any kind of unforgiveness.
Pray for wisdom. In addition to prayer, there will be things you will need to do and changes you will need to make to see God’s vision for your group come to pass. You can read books and get counsel, but deciding what to do and how to do it will require divine wisdom. These can be difficult waters to navigate. Everyone has an opinion on “diversity issues” and pretty much thinks theirs are right. Confronting strongholds, acting out our repentance, and making intentional changes in what you do, all require enormous amounts of wisdom. Take heart! God promises wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5).
Pray for partners. Transforming a group from homogenous to multi-ethnic is spiritual work--a work of the Spirit. It is something He alone can and does do. But he also uses vessels like you. However, you alone are not enough. In this case, the goal is also the strategy. Your goal is to see a multi-ethnic body on campus. You must find partners from underrepresented ethnic groups. How? Pray. Pray specifically for what you need and remember you are not praying for something you want, more importantly you are praying for something our Father desires. You are praying as Jesus taught his disciples, “Let your kingdom come and your will be done.” For this is his kingdom and this is his will.
You have a dream, a vision, a driving desire to see our Father’s kingdom reflected in your Chi Alpha group. I am ecstatic! I know that our Father is also pleased. After all, it is his kingdom we are representing. And that is what we must remember. It is his kingdom. He is the one who builds it, we are merely his partners and that partnership begins in prayer. This is the place we receive revelation, deliverance, wisdom, kingdom-minded hearts, and protection. This is where we pray for these for others and where God releases others to partner with us. Pray in faith! You get what you pray for.
“Who is my neighbor?” This is the question that prompted that great story we know as the Good Samaritan. You can read it in Luke chapter 10. This is how it came about:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
I love Luke’s commentary in verse 29. He makes a point of telling his readers that the motivation behind the law expert’s follow-up question was to justify himself. How like an expert of the law to try to find a loophole in the great commandment. And how like our Lord to answer a question of geography with a story of behavior. Because, as this parable shows us, love is, after all, a verb. Jesus turned the word neighbor from a noun dealing with location to a verb dealing with action rooted in value. You see the Samaritan made a value decision when he decided to actively show kindness to the man who was robbed. He decided this man had great worth. He decided his neighbor was sacred.
Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. This was due to a complicated history of abuse and oppression that caused each group to severely dislike and distrust each other. The road to Samaria was full of thieves, many of whom were most likely Samaritans. It was not unusual for a lonely traveler to fall the victim to crime. The man in this instance should really not have been traveling alone. That’s probably what the priest and the Levite who passed on the other side thought. Today we see it as a lack of compassion, they probably saw it as a sign of wisdom.
If while traveling a dangerous road you come upon a victim of crime, you are left with little doubt that this is indeed a dangerous place and it is best to make good speed and get out of there fast! These two religious leaders were simply responding from the basic human instinct of self-preservation. Can we really blame them for that? Would we do any differently? Do we today?
That is why the Samaritan’s behavior is so mind blowing. He does that exact opposite. He does not protect himself. On the contrary, he puts himself in danger in several ways. First, he places himself at risk by helping a Jew whose fallen victim to his own countrymen. Isn’t he siding with the enemy? Is he really thinking through what this could mean for him within his own cultural group? We think it sweet that the Samaritan showed kindness to the enemy of his people. Would his own people view it the same way?
He also places his life in peril by taking this unconscious, naked Jew, putting him on his own donkey and taking him to an inn. What is to stop anyone he encounters along the way from thinking he is the criminal in this case? Here is the man on his donkey, in his possession. Think of the exact situation today. What would happen if an Israeli soldier came upon a fellow countryman naked, beaten, and unconscious in a Palestinian’s car? Would he thank the Palestinian or shoot him? Seen in this light, it seems the Samaritan could use some of the wisdom of the Levite and the priest. His actions really do not make sense. Why would he engage in such dangerous behavior?
Obviously he values the life of this stranger, not just as much as his own, but more than his own. And that sounds just like the kind of point Jesus would make. After all he did say, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)” The amazing truth here is that this man lays his life down, not for his friend, but literally for his enemy. This is so the kind of standard Jesus espouses, a truly insane--way beyond basic human instinct, reason, or common sense--definition of love. It is not the way of this world, but of our Father’s kingdom, modeled by our Lord himself. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). The son laid down his life for his Father’s enemies. Are his followers to do less?
Please hear me. What Jesus says to this expert in the law is more than a legal reply. He is not talking about how to meet conditions or standards. He is not sharing pretty platitudes regarding how we use our time and our need to make room for interruptions. He is saying to this man, to his hearers, to Luke’s readers, and to us today, that love is not a matter of geography and thus convenience. It is a matter of value resulting in dangerous, crazy actions. Of course, the parallels to our modern cross-cultural, cross-racial relationship are hard to miss.
Today, in our country and our world, believers are tempted to huddle in groups under the banner of wisdom and self-preservation. We have our own histories that have resulted in dislike and distrust between neighbors and countrymen. But we are enticed to distance ourselves from them, to label them as other, and thus free from our compassion, kindness, understanding, or relationship. The world tells us to put aside our differences and tolerate each other, learn to live together. Our Lord asks us to lay down our lives and risk misunderstanding, repercussions, and even death to be a neighbor.
YES, doing so will get us labeled and rejected by both our group and others. It will also put us in great company with Jesus himself. We can do no less when once we realize our neighbor is sacred.
This week our Chi Alpha visited Riverside church in Atlanta. Big shout out to Pastor Dale Stephens and Pastor Tim McNeeley and that crew. God is doing a good work through that ministry down there. During a morning devotional, we learned about the value we put on things. Pastor Dale asked us the question, “How can you help raise someone's value so that their identity will rise in value as well?
In our fight for kingdom diversity, we must be willing to put value on kingdom diversity. As we take a look at our leadership and our campus groups, does it reflect kingdom diversity? If it does not, what is it we must do to help our groups become more like the Kingdom of God? When we put value on Kingdom diversity, we will do whatever it takes. No matter the cost, no matter the comfort lost, we will make it happen.
The questions we must ask ourselves to do this is:
As we do this, we will be fulfilling the Law of Christ; Love your neighbor as yourself. Let us set the standard of valuing every nation, tribe and tongue on our campus.
"How do you expect me to be a man when I have never had a f^&@ing man in my life?!"
These words pounded my heart like a heavy weight descending through a bucket of water. I heard these words in a group of African-American young men I gathered with on Monday afternoons. This group, called B.O.S.S. (Brotherhood of Successful Scholars), had graciously taken me in and allowed this 30-something white guy from the cornfields of Indiana to be a part of their fellowship five years prior.
On this particular night, we were exploring what it means to be a man and to hold your head high. The thoughts that flowed in discussion ranged from making money to showing the world that you should be respected to keeping your options open in your love life. The discussion began to pick up when someone interjected, "real men need to live with integrity." One of the young men in our group, who through his self-confession was attempting to leave behind a period of dealing drugs on campus, was troubled by this statement. He grew up in a home where there was no father, no husband and no male image-bearer of Christ. All he had known was his mom and grandmother. All he had known of being a man was to man up and make your way through; keep living and surviving, do what you need to do to stay alive. Now, he is being told to be a man with integrity. What exactly is that?
This discussion got me to thinking: I believe we assume to much. We assume that if we tell people to do something that they will already know what that something is. We assume people have a mutual baseline of common sense (thus revealing our naivete). We even assume that varying people groups in this nation will all see things from the same point of view (yikes!). In this case, this young man got me to thinking about my assumptions. Do I assume young men know what it will look like to be a man? Do I assume that even from one people group to another there will be common streams of thought and standards for manhood? I make too many assumptions...
However, here is where the good news comes in: just like Paul told the Colossians (1:24b) "...in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." (NASB), I also had the same opportunity. We have the same opportunity. What the believers in Colossae lacked was not hearing what Jesus had done for them, or believing what Jesus had done for them. No, what they lacked was flesh and blood; seeing what Jesus had done for them. Thus, through Paul's suffering for proclaiming Jesus' Name, these believers were able to see and experience in flesh and blood what that looked like.
Similarly, young students (esp. young men) on our campuses throughout the country have heard about men...fathers, husbands, men of integrity...but until they see these men they may not truly believe they exist. Until they can experience them in flesh and blood, there will be something pivotal missing in their lives, freeing them to change the trajectory of their lives to in fact become these men of integrity. Until they can rub elbows with, ask questions to and do life with these men, they will not be able to become one of them.
Here is where we come in: we can do this. What I realized was that my ministry amongst this group of African-American young men was me. I needed to live out what a quality husband looked like, what a father who cared about his children was, and what a man of integrity looked like in flesh and blood. I need not focus on being super relatable or even pretend to understand all that they go through as a minority. Just love them where they were for whom they were, and then show out what a man of God looks like. No performance needed, only truth, integrity and care. Already we have seen some young men's lives dramatically changed by the Gospel because of this.
We can do this. Can we take some time to look about us and see what assumptions we have that we may need to reconsider? Can we take a few moments to consider who has lack around us (like the Colossians) that we may be able to fill up with our flesh and blood? If so, the Spirit will make you aware of opportunities around you that need Gospel, that need flesh and blood. May you become good news to those lacking around you.
Fellowship. It’s more than potato salad and pies. It’s intimate sharing, a comingling of persons. It’s taking individuals and making them one.
John the apostle in his letter we call 1 John states clearly his intent in proclaiming what he has seen and heard concerning the word of life that they (his audience) have fellowship with “us”. The “us” being the Christian community. “And our fellowship is unto the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.”
This is beautiful but not original with John. He’s simply calling others to the place he was called by Jesus himself. He records in what we call the gospel of John, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
What a promise! “We will come and make our home with them.” This is fellowship. Abiding in the vine, living in relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.’”
John 15:9-17 (NIV)
Notice that the invitation to fellowship with the Father is also an invitation to fellowship with each other. We are not the only ones in the vine. To love God is to love each other. Of course the command to “love each other as I have loved you” would appear right here. Right where the disciples were told “as the Father has loved me, I have loved you.”
The Father’s love is the foundation of the gospel and it became flesh in Christ. Thus, John testifies to what he saw and heard. But the call is for his disciples then and now to do the same. Love each other as they have been loved.
It is an invitation to true fellowship. Not potlucks and parties, but laying down our lives one for another. Today we also receive this invitation to love, an invitation to unity. An invitation to fellowship with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and with believers from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
“‘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.’”
John 17:20-21 (NIV).
I was recently watching a television show where the host, a white woman, was discussing the topic of Black Lives Matter with a guest. The host was a proponent for the Black Lives Matter movement, and I was happy to see her using her platform to help other people understand more about racial inequality. At one point in the show, the host was encouraging other white people to gain more understanding about the topic through books and relationships with black people. In the middle of her encouragement she self corrected herself and said something like “but you shouldn’t go looking for black friends just to learn about what it’s like to be black, nor should you expect your black friends to be responsible for teaching you about their black experiences.” While I understood that she was trying not to put a greater burden on black people to be responsible for white people's ignorance, I disagree with the idea that black people or any other minority should shy away from sharing their life experiences with white people to intentionally educate them.
As a black man I definitely understand that minorities don’t want to be brought into relationships to be someone’s token friend. I, like everyone else, want to be valued in life and especially friendships, for who I am, not what I look like. However, I know and other people of color should recognize, that who we are has largely been connected with what we look like. A great deal of our experiences in life have been influenced by our race. Where we live, our family dynamics, the food we eat, our struggles, accomplishments, and even the way we speak is connected in one way or another to our race. So the desire to be valued for who we are is inseparable from our looks; I am who I am because I am black. As a result, I have no issue with a white person wanting to be my friend because they desire to learn about my life as a black man. In fact, I don’t think it would be much of a friendship if they didn’t want to know about me.
I teach a class about racial reconciliation in the church. The class is based on a book called Multiethnic Conversations by Oneya Okuwobi and Mark Demaz. As part of the class I encourage people to intentionally make friends with people who are different from themselves. While the encouragement is for the whole group, the people who are usually most in need of diverse relationships are the white people in the class. Because of the United States’ history of racism and by virtue of being the majority, white people have the opportunity to live in an almost exclusively white environment for the majority of their lives. Without making any effort, they may never have a need for non-white relationships. As a result, they often live segregated lives without really even knowing it. Minorities on the other hand must develop relationships with white people in order to navigate through the U.S. Minorities also tend to seek each other out when in majority white environments and therefore develop more cross racial relationships. Because of these realities, white people often have to be very intentional about making cross racial friendships while minorities do not. If they are not intentional they will never learn about the life experiences of other races. And if non-white people are not willing to befriend white people who have a desire to learn, then ignorance persists and no progress is made. Yes, they can read a book and learn some history, but we all know that a personal story is more impactful than a history lesson.
I believe that this is extremely important for those of us in the church. We stand on a foundation that is more significant than our race or our personal preferences. If white people are not intentional about seeking cross racial friendships and minorities are not open to being that friend, then the church will remain segregated and our witness will continue to wreak of hypocrisy. For the cause of the gospel, white people need to take on the primary responsibility of intentionally seeking these relationships. They must do so recognizing that they will be uncomfortable and are possibly subjecting themselves to rejection. I believe their faith can stand up to someone not wanting to be their black friend. And for the same gospel, minorities should be willing to accept these sincere friendship requests. Perhaps Christ will be glorified, and a real friendship will result from the awkward one that began as you being their black friend.
Recently, I have been reading a book called “Satan and His Kingdom” by Dennis McCallum. In one of the chapters, something hit me while I was reading. He talked about how Satan keeps us from taking territory for the Kingdom through distractions. He then gave an example about how Christians spent years--lots of money and energy--on prohibition (politicking to get alcohol considered illegal). This really did not do anything but produce anger toward Christians. “What does that have to do with diversity?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
For the past couple of months some NFL players have been protesting the American Flag because of police brutality toward African Americans. While there should be a Gospel centered response from the Church, the idol of patriotism has reared its ugly head once again. I truly believe the devil is using this to target God’s church in order to divide us and keep us from what matters most and what matters to Jesus: the souls of people. Is Jesus using this situation to show where our hearts are really at? Does Jesus care about our patriotism? Yes, I believe He does. If anything, I believe it shows where our heart truly lies: with Him and His Kingdom or with our country of origin and our nationality.
I know that this may sting, but let me challenge something. As a black man, I had to have a come to Jesus moment and choose which was more important, being black or being part of God’s kingdom. I had to “die to myself” and release my identity to join God’s kingdom and become His son. I’m not saying I had to give up my heritage or give up being proud of where I came from. What I mean is this: being black comes second to being part of His Kingdom. The same thing should go for pride in our nationality. The love of country and pride in our people should only come second to being part of the Family of God. Sure, we can be proud to be American, but being American should not supersede being a child of God and being part of His Kingdom. Our love of culture and country are offensive to Jesus if He does not come first. As God’s people, we need to reorient our lives around His purposes and His vision for His Kingdom. Here is how we can do this in light of social justice issues:
As God’s body, we should be “loving our neighbor as ourselves”, be “quick to listen and slow to speak”, and demonstrate fruits of the Spirit like love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. These things should rule our interactions with people, especially on hot topics like the NFL kneeling at the flag controversy. How can we claim to be fully part of God’s Kingdom if we do not allow his loving law to take priority control over our hearts, minds and actions?
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)
Again and again, I find myself coming back to Joshua’s encounter with “the commander of the Lord’s army.” I feel it has something super important to say to the church today.
Joshua was Moses’ successor. Moses led Israel for forty years. He prepared the people to enter the Promised Land by teaching them God’s commandments, directing them in the construction of the tabernacle, and interceding for them through all their rebellions. He was the man for the preparation, but not for the advance. For entering the land, they needed a soldier. So it makes perfect sense for Joshua to lead the nation next. After all, the Promised Land would need to be fought for.
The first great battle, if it can be called that, was Jericho. God directed Joshua and Israel there. They had spied it out. They had prepared themselves. They eagerly anticipated and expected their first victory. This is where it began. They were there at God’s command and on his business, and yet…
And yet, when Joshua came near Jericho he saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. He asks a logical question, “Are you for us or our enemies?” This figure must have been somewhat frightening. I would guess he would be the type of man Joshua would want fighting for him, not against him. So I think his question to be both logical and prudent. It’s the answer that I think speaks to us still. “Neither.”
Even though Joshua was about to enter a battle that God himself had sent him to fight, the “commander of the army of the Lord” does not say, “I am here to fight with you. I am on your side.” No, he says, “neither”. The commander of the Lord’s army was not there to assure Joshua God was on his side, instead he was there to make sure Joshua and Israel were on God’s side. It is so easy for us to co-opt God’s endorsement for our side, our views, and our agenda. In just how many wars have opposing sides both claimed God was fighting for them? Are we not guilty of this still today?
Does this mean God does not have an opinion on the battles of our day? I am pretty sure God has an opinion on pretty much everything. The question is, are we seeking it out? Are we humbly bowing down like Joshua did and asking, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Are we getting on his side and working from there? Are we entering the holy place, seeking his face, and with trembling hearts and minds saying, “Father, show me your ways that I may walk in them?” Or, are we instead, giving into the spirit of the age and justifying our venting under the banner, “I have a right to my own opinion and can say whatever I want.”
There are lots of battles taking place in our nation today. The lines are drawn and people tend to pick one extreme side or another. Should those who claim to be Christ’s ambassadors enter the fray, shouting as loudly and meanly as everyone else? Should we not instead, stand out from the crowd? Jesus’ apostles included a tax collector and a zealot, representative from two extremely opposing sides of the issues of that day. They found unity, not on the issues, but by laying down their lives, picking up their own crosses, and following him. There cannot be unity in the church today, unless today’s disciples are willing to do the same. This is the starting place. Like Joshua there will be battles we will need to fight, but like him, first make sure we bow down, humble ourselves, and get on God’s side.
What does it mean to welcome someone? When we talk about creating a multi-ethnic Christian community we often talk about being a welcoming place, about welcoming everyone. But how does welcoming really work?
Stores often have welcome signs on their doors. It means they are open, ready for business, and want you to come in. Is that what we mean as well when we tell someone they are welcome to come to our service or discipleship small group? Are we saying, “no one is going to keep you out”, “we really want you here” or is there even more to it than that?
I sometimes have the privilege of traveling to campus groups and churches to share the vision of kingdom diversity. During these visits I am often hosted for meals or even put up in a kind person’s home for several days. In some ways, I am a professional guest. While I try to be a good guest, I am not a trouble free one. Because I suffer from food and environmental allergies, hosting me is not hassle free. Cleaning chemicals, perfumes, and scented candles can trigger a migraine. I can’t eat pizza, sandwiches, or pasta due to a wheat allergy. Do you know how common these foods are? Even some pets can cause me problems. In other words, you don’t want to invite me to your house!
And yet, I am frequently overwhelmed with the amount of time and forethought my hosts take to prepare for my arrival. They air out their houses. They buy special foods. They exile their pets to other rooms. You know how this makes me feel? It makes me feel welcome! Funny, how being a troublesome guest can teach you so much about what real welcome is. It is so much more than opening the door or being happy someone is there. It is really all about preparation.
I think about how our Father prepared the world for us, to make us feel at home in it. It is first act of hospitality. In the same way, if we want to create a kingdom community on our campus or in our church, one that represents our Lord and makes our Father happy, we need to prepare. For my hosts, preparation starts with information. We’ve actually put together a “Hosting Belkis Guide” for this purpose. For you, it may start with asking students from different ethnic groups you are reaching out to, “Hey, what can we do to make you feel at home?”
Sure, I can probably answer that question for you; you might even be able to find the information on the internet (probably even here on this site). But just asking the question let’s people know you care. It does not even have to be a member of your congregation. You can ask anyone you have a relationship with. Something like, “we really want to be a church/group that represents God’s kingdom in every way. We are trying to be more diverse but don’t know how to make different ethnic groups feel at home and welcome at our service. Can you help me?” It is a humble question that expresses your vision and you desires.