Celebrate Diversity in the Church

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9 NIV)

Tonight is the Major League All-Star game. Professional baseball’s all-star game has always been my favorite among all the major sports of our country.

In recent years, Major League baseball teams have begun to analyze everything. More than just pitching and hitting, Major League teams analyze such complicated aspects as the speed with which a ball leaves a bat, launch angles of batted balls, and the number of revolutions a pitched ball makes from the hand of the pitcher to the batter. For those of you overwhelmed with that information, let me simplify. This is not your grandfather’s or even father’s game anymore.

I recently read how last year’s World Series Champions, the Houston Astros, took this idea of analytics to a matter beyond baseball skill. The Astros management followed the analysis of a couple of psychologists who researched the demographic make-up of every Major League team. They concluded that the best records belonged to those teams that were most demographically diverse in terms of such factors as age, ethnicity, and even pay range. The researchers observed that this factor was especially true if the team had at least one player who could help the team navigate this diversity. The Astros specifically targeted veteran free agent Carlos Beltran to be their guy. The championship proved their thesis correct.

The Apostle Paul declared centuries ago, with his analogy of the church being like the body, (See Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) what the Astros and others spent countless hours and untold dollars concluding. God has declared that the church is at our best when we are able to see the value of our many parts.

As we think about our different churches, let me remind us of three steps to take.

  1. Pray for greater diversity of the church.
  2. Pray for the ability to establish great unity within this diversity.
  3. Celebrate the diversity within the church.

After all, not only are we stronger when we are diverse, the Bible is clear in presenting a picture of a diverse people worshipping eternally around the throne of God.

Walk the Walk

The story is told that in the summer of 1805, a number of Indian chiefs and warriors met in council at Buffalo Creek, New York, to hear a presentation of the Christian message by a Mr. Cram from the Boston Missionary Society. After the sermon, a response was given by Red Jacket, one of the leading chiefs. Among other things, the chief said:

Red Jacket

Red Jacket

Brother, you say that there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the Book?

Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat us, we will then consider again of what you have said.

I suspect that this same story could be repeated over and over again by all generations and all cultures who have wrestled with the validity of the Christian message.

I don’t know where I first heard it, but many times in life I have heard some version of what even might sound like a cliché. That is, “Don’t talk the talk, but walk the walk.” Another version is . . .

Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.

In a sense, this is what Jesus is addressing in the rather short parable about two sons. (See Matthew 21:28-32) When Jesus told this parable, He had already entered Jerusalem for the final week of His life. He has been gloriously ushered into Jerusalem in what we call the Triumphal Entry. They hailed His coming into the city. (Talk talks.) However, the Triumphal Entry quickly turns into the Cleansing of the Temple, the indignation of some over what children are saying about Him, and then the cursing of the Fig Tree which is a serious indictment of the religious crowd of the day. Entering the Temple again, the religious leaders began to challenge His authority. (Walk talks.) This prompts a discussion about John the Baptist which then led to this parable.

Here is an outline of that text found in Matthew 21:28-32.

  • A Shocking Story—Neither son had displayed model behavior, but one obviously worse and the other a change of behavior illustrative of repentance.
  • A Simple Question—What do you think? Which of the two did his father’s will?
  • A Self-evident Answer—The answer was so obvious that the text indicates a two-word answer: “The first.”
  • A Startling Conclusion—Jesus shifted the story on them (and us) from mere story to personal reality.

Application of the Text: So What?

The parable is a mirror instead of a window. The temptation here is to say, “This parable is not about me.” The truth is there is a bit of Pharisee in all of us. Looking into spiritual mirrors, though usually painful is always pivotal. Sometimes, looking into these spiritual mirrors leads to honesty and correction. Unfortunately, other times, these painful moments lead to the hardening of our hearts which leads to the rejection of God’s Word and will for our lives.

Though the parable may sound like a cliché to some, it presents the consistent pattern of an authentic relationship to God.

Jesus’ story reminds me of another story—a story told centuries before Jesus told His story.

So the Lord sent Nathan to David. When he arrived, he said to him:

There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very large flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised her, and she grew up with him and with his children. From his meager food she would eat, from his cup she would drink, and in his arms she would sleep. She was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man could not bring himself to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest.

David was infuriated with the man and said to Nathan: “As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! Because he has done this thing and shown no pity, he must pay four lambs for that lamb.”

Nathan replied to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from Saul. I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that was not enough, I would have given you even more. Why then have you despised the Lord’s command by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hethite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife—you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword. (2 Samuel 12:1-9)

How will you hear? Is there something you need to hear? Will you humble yourself, and respond in repentance. Or will you hear, harden, and reject God’s Word and will?

Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.

Is this going to be a sweet Christian cliché in your life or will you allow this to be a word of conviction and correction in your life?

Pure Worship

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”  Exodus 20:4 (NIV)

Some years ago, I was in Dallas on a Sunday. I thought it was a good opportunity to go to Stonebriar Community Church, otherwise known as the church where Chuck Swindoll preaches. I had heard him on the radio and read many of his books. Now, I was going to see him live. Soon after the service began, someone came out on the platform and said, “For all of those who came today to see Chuck Swindoll—he’s not here!” Most everyone heard the humor in the announcement and laughed. I did not laugh, because that is why I had gone. I looked at my watch and thought maybe I had time to drive across town to hear another preacher. Too embarrassed to leave so soon after the announcement, I decided to stay.  I can’t tell you exactly what the guest preacher said that morning, but I heard a message that morning. I heard from God that morning on the purpose of attending the worship gathering. Why had I come—to hear a man or to worship God?

If we are not careful, we will wind up worshipping “worship” instead of God. That is, we will worship “the things of worship” instead of God. We might worship the leaders of worship. We might worship the style of worship. We might even worship our contribution to the worship gathering. We cannot allow the particulars of worship to stand in our way of worshipping God. The second commandment bids us to make no idols “in the form of anything.” Ask the Lord today to show you the “anything” in your life. You will be glad you did because repentance from that idol will draw you back to pure worship.

Think about these things as you prepare your heart for worship this Sunday.