Archives For Ethnicity

David SterlingLike most everyone who heard the news of this past weekend, I was angered and appalled at the news of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s (alleged) racist conversation with his former girlfriend V. Stiviano. His words are almost unbelievable and unbearable to listen to.
I don’t believe I have a racist bone in my body. If I become aware of any racially insensitive thoughts or comments, I seek to change them immediately. I have friends from numerous races, nationalities, and ethnicities. I teach on racial unity. I speak against racial prejudice (prejudice of any kind, for that matter). I believe people should be treated like human beings regardless of color, class, creed, culture, or whatever other category we like to tag each other with.
I have listened to and read on the public outrage over Sterling’s comments. The people of the public are right for their shock and anger over such racism. It’s heinous.
Yet I find myself asking: How many of those who are commenting on this issue harbor racist thoughts themselves? How many of those who decry his racism speak and/or act as racists themselves? What if their conversations were recorded like Sterling’s were? What if we were able to hook them up to a “racial heart monitor” to see what’s happening on the inside, in their thought life? Are we naive enough to believe that many of these people wouldn’t be exposed for having racist tendencies of their own? It’s one thing to condemn very public comments by a very public figure in a very public way; it’s another to condemn yourself for thinking, speaking, and acting like him yourself.
What about you? What about me? Are we harboring “closet racism” ourselves?
Please do not mistake my questions as any kind of defense of Donald Sterling; if he is truly guilty of these words then he is indefensible. (My prayer is he would publicly confess his wrongdoing and take responsibility for his hurtful actions, and that his wrong would further eradicate racism from all races.) I in no way am coming to the defense of this man. I just believe his stupidity gives all of us an opportunity to examine ourselves and see if we are like him in any way.
Racism is a result of humanity’s fall into sin and death. God’s original plan for the world was for people of every color and culture to bear His image and bring about His ways on the earth in total peace and complete harmony. He has never abandoned this vision. The book of Revelation shows us that He is redeeming and restoring people from every ethnicity:
Art Night 003

“All Nations” by Andy Barber (2014)

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).
All of this was launched in our crucified and resurrected King, the Lord Jesus. When He came announcing the return of His Father’s kingdom (see Mark 1:14-15), He did so by treating people as human beings. He did not view people through the same lens as we so often do based upon our prejudices. And His death tore down the greatest racial divide in human history: the one between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Everyone who is in Christ is now a member of this renewed humanity that God is forming in the world—a people of all colors, cultures, and classes. The church is to embrace one another in love without prejudice (see 1 Cor 12:12-13; Gal 3:25-28; Col 3:9-11). We are to lead the way in showing the rest of the world what racial harmony, unity, love, and peace looks like.
While Donald Sterling’s comments are awful, what if we took the time to see if our own reflections come back through our TV sets or computer screens as we watch or read about the fallout of his words? What if we used this time not so much to stand in judgment of him but instead we rushed to judge ourselves, making sure to cleanse ourselves of the filth of racism in our hearts and in our churches? Maybe—just maybe—times like these would lead people to look to the church for the answers to the problems that still plague our world, giving us the opportunity to tell them the good news of Jesus.

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.

US BorderUnited States citizenship is a hot issue. Many people in the world would love to become US citizens. And many people inside of the US are trying very hard to keep them from becoming US citizens.

Now, like almost every other American, I admit that I did nothing to earn or deserve being born in the United States (and thus becoming a US citizen).[1] I also acknowledge that statistically the odds of me being born in the United States were not in my favor.

I was born in 1983. According to the United Nations 2012 Revision of the World Population Prospects,[2] there were 646,453,000 people born between 1980 and 1985. Of that number only 18,331,000 were born in the United States. So, I basically had a 3% chance of being born in the United States. This was slightly better than my chances of being born somewhere in Central America (a lower 3%), but slightly worse than my chances of being born in Pakistan (4%). I probably should have been born in China (an 18% chance) or India (a 19% chance).

Almost everyone in the world would admit that there are advantages that come with being a U.S. citizen. As a Christian, I think it is only fair to ask myself, “How am I using those advantages for the sake of the gospel?” and “Will I be held responsible if I do not use those advantages properly?”

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the talents. In the parable, a man puts a certain amount of his wealth in the hands of his servants before going on a journey. We are told that he gives to each of his servants according to their ability. When the master returns, he asks for an account of what his servants did with his money. Those servants that were faithful with what they were entrusted with are praised by the master and then given even more responsibility by the master. The servant who was not faithful has his talent taken from him, and he is thrown into the outer darkness.

Harsh as it may seem, this parable reflects the reality that God expects his people to make good use of the abilities, opportunities, and resources he has given them. I believe that my US citizenship is one of the “talents” God has given me. In light of this, I decided to ask myself hard questions to see if I was being faithful with this particular “talent.” Here are some of the questions I asked myself:

1)    Am I using my money and my ability to generate income for the sake of the gospel? In 2011, the median household income in the United States was $50,054. In 2011, 33% of the population of India lived on less than $1.25 a day; in Kenya 43% lived on less than $1.25 a day.[3] Those of us in the United States are filthy rich compared to the rest of the world. Am I giving faithfully to my local church? Am I giving generously to groups seeking to further the kingdom of God? Are there areas in my life were I can cut back on my spending so I can be more generous?

2)    Am I making good use of my time? Because of technological advances my family does not need to spend hours each day carrying water or gathering fuel to heat our home. What am I doing with that free time?

3)    Am I taking advantage of my religious freedom to share Jesus with my neighbors? I live in a country where it is legal to be a Christian. Am I actively engaging with people who don’t know Jesus or am I am content to just hang out with other Christians? Am I taking advantage of the freedom to share my convictions with others?

4)    Am I participating in the political process in a way that makes Jesus look good? I live in a country that allows its citizens to participate in the political process. Am I participating in a way that promotes peace? That works to defend the poor and the oppressed? That confronts greed? That encourages the love of friends and enemies alike?

Of course, there are many such questions that we should be asking ourselves. These are only a few. My hope is that Christians living in the United States will begin to see that their US citizenship is not primarily a “right” but a “talent” that God has entrusted to them for the sake of the gospel advancing.

 


[1] If they were still alive I would definitely thank my great-grand parents for hopping on that boat that brought them here.

Zimmerman TrayvonA young man is dead. The man who killed him has been found “not guilty” of murdering by reason of “self-defense.” The media on the left and right is exploding with analysis, accusation, race-baiting, and outrage. People on social media are either celebrating or lamenting. Politicians, celebrities, and other elites are making emotionally charged political statements on both sides of the case. The question is how do we respond as Christians who are citizens of the USA and of God’s kingdom.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on this case. I have personally seen racism but don’t claim to know what it means to be black in America. I am not a leader in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am a Christian pastor. My attempt at answering how we ought to respond is limited to my desire to faithfully proclaim the gospel to a people who need to live well as citizens in two kingdoms.

I do not believe our response as Christians ought to be restricted to a particular set of behaviors, with the exception of prayer. I am not sure what your lot in life is and in what manner you are compelled to respond. Your responsibility here is likely different if you are a politician, pastor, homemaker, mechanic, or college professor. However, I do believe our response to this situation can rightly be grounded in at least three different attitudes of our hearts and minds.

1. We ought to grieve over our fallen world.
I did not celebrate the day George Zimmerman was declared not guilty. I grieved for the parents and family of Trayvon Martin. No matter how you feel about this case, it is tragic that a family lost a young son. Death is a terrible and relentless enemy that pursues us all. I grieved over the racism and division that is so prevalent in our world. It does not matter what you believe about the nature of this case. The fact remains that the debates surrounding the case have exposed a people who are divided over racism. Racism is at heart the hatred of the image of God in another person and is always tragic. We thus should grieve over the fact that an entire group of people suffered egregious injustice in our country for hundreds of years. Let us not so quickly dismiss the ongoing effects of that wound and the manner through which that same group of people now view the justice system. Finally, I grieved over the sinfulness of humanity. Our sinfulness leads to all manner of offense against God and one another. We can see that sinfulness abound in many ways surrounding this trial and the response to it. We ought to grieve because we love God and thus hate what offends him. We ought to grieve because we love people and hate what hurts them.

2. We ought to be thankful for a God who is just and has shown us immense kindness in common ways.
Whether you believe justice was done in this particular case or not, you can affirm our God is just. Whatever happens in human justice systems God is not lacking in his application of justice. He will finally and fully avenge all sin. Further, we ought to be thankful for the common kindness of God we see in a human justice system that tries cases in a courtroom before jurors and not in the mass media before the populace. Our system doesn’t always get it right but I remain thankful we do not live in a country with a kangaroo court.

3. We ought to find hope in the character and work of God as supremely demonstrated in the cross and resurrection.
We grieve but not as those without hope. We are hopeful because we have a God who is both just and merciful. We believe God has demonstrated his justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. God demonstrated that he will not and cannot just let sinners slide by. He paid the penalty for sin due to all of us in Christ. He simultaneously showed his mercy toward sinners in willfully punishing our sin in his Son. This is gloriously good news in which we find hope. However, our hope does not end there because the story does not end there. Jesus Christ was also bodily resurrected from the dead thus being vindicated. Jesus’ resurrection carries the promise that God will resurrect our bodies as well. This means that Satan, sin, death, racism, and injustice don’t have the last word. Jesus has the last word and what hope he provides!

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

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.