Tuesday, 28 January 2014

We celebrate diversity because of the gospel of God!

We celebrate because we have been saved. Col 1: 21-22 says,

‘Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.’

There is reconciliation between you and God - and me and God, so we can have access to God and reconciliation with one another. In Eph 2:14-19 it goes further. It says,

‘For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...

The dividing wall of hostility has been dealt with, in the biblical context between Jews and Gentiles. The promise to a Jew (Abraham) is now fulfilled through Christ and the gospel comes to all nations. We are those that through Christ can have access to one another – the dividing wall of hostility has gone. Behind the picture of the barrier and the dividing wall of hostility is the reality of the temple where there were barriers so that non-Jews could only go so far, women could only go so far, into its courts.

Then there is the barrier between God and man. Eph 2:15 shows us that by abolishing the law and its commands his purpose was to create within himself one new man/new humanity out of the two, thus making peace and
:16 in one body to reconcile them both to God by his death on the cross, the means by which he put to death their hostility.
:17 He came to preach peace to those who were far away (Gentiles) and peace to those who were near (Jews).
:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
:19 Consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and  members of God’s household.

So the gospel does not only reconcile you to God but with people who are different to you, different nations and languages and tribes.

Through reconciliation that only God can bring about, we become a powerful message, a powerful testimony of a powerful missional community, because if you walk into this church now, you can come from anywhere. You can work in the city; you can come from the streets. You can be male or female, you could be black or white – you could come from anywhere in the world and find someone who looks like you. So we become a powerful testimony to the great mission given us by God. We start to authenticate the message. We are the body of Christ - we represent reconciliation with God and therefore reconciliation with one another... and our very unity speaks volumes! 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

We celebrate diversity - because of God!

Ultimately we celebrate because of what God has done in our lives. The diversity of this church, of any church, reflects something of the purposes and character of God. God in himself is diverse – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And his creation is remarkably diverse - mankind, in all its shapes and sizes, shows that. God loves the differences - they reflect something of Him, His creativity and creation.

Eph 3:10 says that ‘the church displays the manifold wisdom of God’. Behind this statement is the picture of a diamond with many facets reflecting brilliant light for everyone to see. This is part of God’s sovereign plan. So when we gather and celebrate as we do today it’s because there is something of God’s salvation history before us. It’s the fulfilment of a promise – that’s why it is a prophetic thing because it means that it speaks as though God speaks. Our gathering is a speaking out – a statement, the fulfilment of massive biblical promise made centuries ago to Abraham, when God chose a man and told him that He would make him the father of many nations. We are part of the fulfilment of that and that’s why we celebrate.

In that fulfilment of salvation history we also see the great commission – God sent his Son who came and taught us to go and make disciples of all nations. Here we have a glimpse of heaven – heaven will be like our church!  Rev 7:9 says,

‘After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.’

When we eventually get there it will not just be a bunch of white people, black people, old people, cool or trendy people. It will be us - the people of God gathered from throughout the generations – the fulfilment of all things, the restoration of all things! Here we have a glimpse of heaven – a promise through the centuries fulfilled in Christ. So we can tell people that there is a way to know God and ultimately there will be a day when there will be one celebration, when every knee will bow before him. If that gets into your spirit and you lift your eyes from the challenge of it – it is an amazing thing and should give us a sense of wonder - even of awe. That God can do this – take you and me, who are very different, and bring us together in Christ! We may have some similarities, but we are different, we have completely different journeys to this point – only God can do this. So we celebrate!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Why celebrate diversity?

Today at King’s Church London we now attend a church where no one group is in a majority. The Nigerians are not a majority, the Caribbeans are not a majority, the white British are not the majority. We are very diverse and I like it that way. But it is appropriate to look at our diversity from time to time to see the challenges clearly, and also to celebrate our differences. To celebrate what we are because there are many things we are not! What we are is a cross-generational, cross-ethnic, racially mixed, cross- cultural church.

Why do people celebrate?  To mark moments. And different cultures do this in a variety of ways. In white British culture we tend to mark the birthdays at ages 18 and 21. Often there will be a family party. Now, I have learned from Pastor Robert Kwami that in Ghana you would mark the ages of 50, 70 and 80 – due honour is given to those attaining these ages. There will be a huge celebration involving the whole extended family – often taking a weekend – with lots of people, lots of food, lots of parties! Best clothes will be worn – and the pastor of the church will be invited and involved! I was invited to the 50th birthday party for a Nigerian recently – it was like going to a wedding!  There was a picture of the family with the cake and then a second photo– one of the pastor with the cake! The pastor was honoured and is given high status in that culture.... I’m just saying...!

In other situations, a couple’s engagement is a moment to celebrate. In white British culture you fall in love and the young man might ask the permission of the father to marry his daughter. In an African culture this relationship is seen as the coming together of two families so it is about more than just the couple. An engagement party would involve exchanging gifts between families. These variations are cultural preferences – there is no right or wrong way involved - but we need to appreciate the differences and learn from each other’s cultures. It is an enriching thing!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Celebrating Diversity!

Today I begin a new blog series on a topic which is highly relevant and important in many urban churches. Diversity provides the opportunity for us to show in our churches something of the purpose of God - not a matter of political correctness but of living out the values we believe...

On a Sunday morning earlier this year I was able to tell the church about some new staff members and volunteers coming on to our team. Photos of them were shown and revealed a mixture of white and black faces all smiling at us... It was a good Sunday to celebrate the diversity God has given us and to preach about it!

I found the following chart on a Facebook posting – it really shows up some of the cross-cultural challenges to living in a diverse community. Communication differences are a major element in this.

What the British say
What the British mean
What others understand
That’s not bad
That’s not good
That’s poor
That’s a very brave proposal
You are insane
He thinks I have courage
I was a bit disappointed that...
I am annoyed that...
It doesn't really matter
I’m sure it’s my fault
It’s your fault
Why does he think it’s his fault?
Can we consider some other options?
I don’t like your idea
He has not yet decided

It is highly probable that each week in church life at some time we are miscommunicating! We need grace to ask the follow-up questions and check our understanding or to cope with being a little uncomfortable as we wonder what people are really saying. This impacts issues of race, but also of ageism and class.

But in King’s church you can find a black businessman relating to a white guy who’s come off the streets. You can find a single mum relating to an elderly person or a middle-class white person speaking to a Chinese student. There is diversity in age, culture and season of life. We need to regularly celebrate our diversity – but not without recognising that there are continuing challenges – communication being one. Ongoing racism, issues of  legacy, the  pain associated with many of our journeys, the guilt that comes, the challenges that arise from the historical issues of colonialism and slavery, or tribalism – all make for a complex situation because people have been sinned against. Ultimately the challenges are connected to our own sinfulness and selfishness and with the fall of mankind. Sin has come into the world and a part of that is the separation of peoples. If we fail to see and don’t appreciate that fact then the whole issue becomes competitive and a challenge.