And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10; my bold and italics).After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (7:9; my bold and italics).
Archives For Ethnicity
This past week I had the privilege of taking part in a weekend conference for the Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles. Like many Chinese churches, this church consists of three congregations: English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
Though the whole conference was great, perhaps the most impactful moment came on Sunday morning as all three congregations worshiped together. We sang the same songs, and words were displayed on the screen in both English and Chinese. We were told to each sing in our own language, and the worship leaders shifted between singing in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin (or maybe just between English and Cantonese OR Mandarin—I have no idea).
Here’s what this was like from my perspective as a visitor. The tunes were familiar. The instrumentation and setting were familiar. I had sung these songs before and genuinely worshiped God through these words.
But around me: a kind of controlled chaos. It’s almost like being at a concert where everyone’s trying to sing along but doesn’t quite know the words. Or being in a church service when the worship leader introduces a new song: everyone wants to sing, but they don’t quite know when to sing which words. I could hear others singing in English, but I could hear other sounds mixed in as well.
A touch disconcerting? Yes. Initially. But highly moving? Absolutely. The thing is, the slight challenge of continuing to sing when all of the sounds don’t match exactly was quickly drowned out when I considered what was happening.
We all had the same love for God in our hearts. We all had the same basic concepts that we wanted to communicate in song. And when we pushed those words through our vocal chords and out into the room, the sounds didn’t match. But God heard our voices and the cry of our hearts. He was worshiped in three languages simultaneously.
If you think about it, that’s an extremely simplified version of the praise he will receive when people from every nation, tribe, and language praise him in unison (Rev. 7:9). God loves diverse praise, and this was a small taste of the full reality.
That morning, our mismatched words didn’t fight each other as though two people were trying to sing different melodies at the same time. They complemented each other, like a well-sung harmony—not identical, but creating a fuller and more beautiful sound.
For me, it was a reminder that what unites us is greater than what divides us.
I don’t understand Cantonese or Mandarin, and I wasn’t the only one. Others could not understand much English. I was very different from many in that room in terms of my national heritage, my cultural assumptions, my communication style, and the overall look and feel of my everyday life.
And yet I stood there with hundreds of people who were more profoundly like me than not. The color of our skin didn’t match exactly, but we had all received matching hearts, compliments of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-27). We couldn’t all communicate directly, but the Spirit was producing the same fruit in all of our lives (Gal. 5:22–23). Our lineage stems from different continents, but we are all citizens of the same country—and I’m not talking about America (Philip. 3:20). We walk different paths every day of our lives (aside from this one weekend), yet we are all following the footsteps of the same Man.
This was a powerful reminder that I am inseparably connected and eerily similar to people I have only briefly met (and multitudes I have never and will never meet) and who externally are almost nothing like me.
The Olympics are indisputably amazing. Some of you have blocked off huge amounts of time so as to miss as little as possible. Others, like myself, hadn’t planned on watching much, but couldn’t stop watching. (We tried to turn off the TV when men’s gymnastics came on, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do it—so amazing!)
It’s not hard to justify the Olympics’ awesomeness. Unbelievable feats of strength, spectacular shows of grace, combinations of strength and grace that simultaneously horrify and inspire me. We see the drive of competition and the beauty of teamwork. We see tears of joy as years of sacrifice pay off and tears of disbelief as dreams slip down the drain in a thousandth of a second.
As I have been watching the Olympics, I find myself invariable rooting for the Americans. That’s natural, I suppose, but I don’t give any thought to the abilities of any of the contestants, their stories, or their beliefs. If this sprinter is American, she’s my girl.
But then I had a moment of clarity. How cool is it that 200 nations all got on board for a single event? How amazing that people from such diverse backgrounds, with so little in common, with so many reasons why they shouldn’t be interacting with one another, all gather in the same city with a common purpose?
The Olympics are so colorful (though seldom in the humorous sense). Think of all the shades of skin tone in London right now. Think of all the colors in the uniforms and flags. Think of all the cultures and languages struggling to interact and communicate.
We can look at the Olympics as athletes deadlocked in heated competition. Or we can look at them as God’s children gathering together to play. They bring some of the best of God’s physical gifts, carefully honed through years of training, and gather with the rest of God’s children to demonstrate just how amazing God made people to be.
Of course, the Olympics also reveal a lot of idolatry as athletes who have neglected everything for the sake of their own glory stand atop pedestals and are all but worshiped. But not every Olympian is like this (I think of the daughter of my Greek professor, Allyson Felix, who genuinely gave glory to God after taking gold in the 200m). And as Christians we can see God glorified in the Olympics because we know that every ability these athletes have was hand-picked and delivered to them from God himself.
We can also see the Olympics as a signpost of things to come. Look at so much of the world joined together in celebration, and understand that this pales in comparison to where history is headed. Ultimately, every knee on earth will bow before the King. At the end of all things we will be joined together as representatives from every nation, every skin color, every language, and every culture join together to praise not humanity, but the Maker of humanity. There, in what will be a sort of Closing Ceremonies and Opening Ceremonies all wrapped into one, humanity will join together to give glory to the only One who truly deserves it.