Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Parables of Jesus: Matthew Chapter 25

Video Message:

Recently I went to see the movie Darkest Hour with my dad at the theatre, a stunning film revolving around the decisions and speeches of the great leader Winston Churchill during the dark days of World War II. The whole world was at the brink of collapse.

Let’s go back in time: It’s 1939 and darkness is spreading through Europe. The Nazi military seems unstoppable. There is a genocidal regime so terrible that it’s exterminating millions of Jews and Christians. Think about how it must’ve felt for the people of Great Britain. They saw Austria fall, then they saw Poland fall. Then even the mighty French army is crushed and the Nazi flag flies over Paris. You send your troops to help the French, but in just a few weeks, they are forced to flee in retreat. Europe, conquered by the Nazis. And it seemed there was no hope for civilization left. Imagine that situation, and your Winston Churchill, prime minister, shivering at the thought of the fall of not only Great Britain, but of all free people on Earth.

This reminds me of the situation we are in as the church today. Our forces are crumbling. Corps are seeing decreased attendance, and are in danger of shutting down. And we’re afraid to face that reality. We’re losing. And we seem to be losing ground each day.

Thankfully Jesus lives, and we are his people. We are the soldiers of the Salvation Army, and as such we have a great calling ahead of us.

I imagine Winston Churchill felt the same way when he looked across the channel toward occupied France. Or when he felt the concussive force of bombs dropping over London. Is this the end? He must’ve wondered. But sometimes it takes just one man, one woman, willing to believe in the impossible, who can change everything.

Winston Churchill was courageous. He said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Great Britain fought on. And eventually the war was won.

Similarly, we are soldiers in a grand campaign. And as soldiers our job is to obey the orders of our commanding officer, the Lord Jesus. And he has commanded us in the great commission: To make disciples of all nations.

There is so much corruption, poverty, immorality, and brokenness in this world. But at times like these, when everything seems to be crumbling, God loves to work mightily. It's at times like these that we'll know through and through, that it was only by God's power that we could overcome such darkness.

So as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, as warriors, we must stand the test. We must fight the good fight. We must do what the master has taught us. Jesus gives us instructions in Matthew chapter 25, regarding what he expect of his disciples in these fallen times.

1.The Ten Virgins - First of all we see that Christ calls us to be on our guard, alert, and ready for His return by storing up zeal and practicing spiritual disciplines to remain strong in the faith. It says in our first parable from Matthew 25: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.” –Matthew 25:1-10

There is always the danger in life to forget who we are, and drift away from our daily Christian practices. Our God knows that, and He reminds us clearly and warns us that we must continue steadfastly in the faith.

How can we do this? We can read our Bibles each day, and pray daily. This isn’t a sprint competition; this is a long distance run. We don’t know which day will be our last. We don’t know when Jesus will return. So we must be prudent, just as the virgins were prudent in storing up oil for their long journey.

2. The Talents - Next we turn our attention to the parable of the talents. The parable begins in this way: “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” –Matthew 25:14-15

So we see a master, and his slaves. The master is going away, so he entrusts certain measures of wealth to three of his servants. Then we see the story develop, time passes, the servants make their decisions and the master returns. The first slave uses the wealth to double the master’s profits. So he is rewarded. The second slave does the same, with a smaller amount, doubling that amount. And once again the slave is rewarded. The third slave insults the master, accuses the master of not even having authority over his own possessions and then says that he buried the money, and returned what he had been given to the master. The master rebukes the slave, and takes the wealth away from him, and gives it to the faithful slave. And it concludes in this way: “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” –Matthew 25:29-30

We of course want to be the faithful servant of Christ. We want to be the servant that wisely invests his talents and gives a return to the master. Each of us, just as if we’d been given $20,000 dollars, or 50 acres of property, have each been given gifts, talents, and special abilities. We’re usually pretty well aware as to what they are. For me, one of my gifts is writing. So I ask myself, how can I apply this gift of writing toward God’s kingdom? We should seek to take our gifts, which God has given for his glory, and apply them to the glory of his kingdom. Part of investing our talents, is developing them. How has God gifted you? Are you talented at public speaking? Develop that skill and put it to use. Are you musically talented? Develop and hone that skill to the glory of God.

3. The Judgment – Finally we address the 3rd and final parable of Matthew chapter 25. In this account we see Christ reward those faithful sheep who have followed the shepherd, and achieved victory through the struggle.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” –Matthew 25:34-40

Jesus says if we do these things, if we visit the sick, and the prisoners, if we feed people who come to us in need, then there is this reality: The people we feed, and visit and serve, they are actually Jesus. Behind the eyes of each person you and I serve, are the eyes of Jesus, looking back at us.

I started my work with the Salvation Army working intake at a homeless shelter. I used to hand out Bibles to every person that came in to the shelter. I loved that part of it. And in the story in our heads, that’s where it ends. We nobly feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and they give us a big hug, and say “oh thank you sir.” And then they accept Jesus as their savior.

But in reality that’s not often what happens. What often happens is you’ll see that person again, making progress, then slipping back, over and over, and it can be very difficult to deal with. And I recall I’d hand out Bibles, and a week later I’d go over to the book case in the main room of the shelter, and collect the Bibles I’d given out. They’d been left there. So, I’d just hand them out to new people! That’s the challenge of ministry. It’s not easy. The truth is, in this sort of messy ministry, they are Jesus to us.

So how do we put this into practice? Sometimes we can have the mistaken idea in ministry that it’s all about the pastor. And the congregation becomes the audience. But that’s exactly backwards. The chief role of the pastor is simply to teach, lead, and then step back, and empower Christians to do the real work of ministry.

We are good soldiers of Jesus Christ. And so it is our duty to serve. Let other churches and congregations be vacant audiences to show time services. But in this army we are soldiers.

So what ministry is God calling you to serve in? God could be calling you to volunteer with a feeding program. God could be calling you to serve in children’s ministry. Or maybe God is calling you to start a Bible study? Be creative. Think about your talents and gifts. What is a unique way that you could serve?

We are purchased with the blood of Christ, our lives are not our own. Jesus has purchased us, He owns us, and therefore we must do as He instructs us. It amazes me that Christ would choose you and I, with such a peculiar and specific love for each of us. It's what spurs us to do anything. Not to buy His love, not to earn it, but because we already have it in Christ.

So we will fight. We must fight. Remember that we are faced with a world rapidly crumbling. People are so confused in our day and age, and sin is rampant. We are in desperate need of good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We’re the last line of defense. Time is running out. But just like Winston Churchill, perhaps you’ll be one of those people who determine in their minds that God will change history. As William Booth the founder said, “God loves with a great love one whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Victories and Tragedy of King Solomon the Wise

Today we’re looking at the saga of King Solomon of Israel, the decisions he made, the impact he had, and the legacy he left behind. How did Solomon impact Old Testament history? What were some historical and cultural facts that played into Solomon’s reign as king? And what larger biblical themes play out in regard to who God is in Solomon’s story, and how can those truths apply in our modern world? We’ll see that King Solomon was a clear example of how God blesses and calls those whom he loves, yet our propensity to sinfulness and pride mire even the most beloved of God. This all points us to the need for the savior Jesus Christ. King Solomon was both a testament to the goodness of God and the deceitfulness of sin. But we see that in the end, God has the final victory even in the life of King Solomon.

Solomon was the last son that King David had during his life, and Solomon was a result of David’s marriage with Bathsheba, the woman he took from another man, whom he had killed (2 Samuel 11 NIV). Solomon was a child of David’s old age. David had tired of constant war in the kingdom, and so he named his last son “Solomon” which means “the peaceful one” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). Nathan called him “Jedidiah” which means “beloved of God” which echoes the name of David “beloved” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). Nathan cared for and raised Solomon along with David and his court. When David was very old one of his other sons Adonijah attempted to claim the throne from Solomon but failed, and Solomon was made king over Israel.

Solomon reigned as king over Israel for 40 years, from about B.C. 1015-975 (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). He achieved a great deal during the first half of his reign as king. The construction of the temple of the Lord began in Solomon’s 4th year of reigning and was completed in his eleventh. He also constructed a giant palace, which began in his 7th year and was completed in the 20th. His reign over Israel saw the nation at the height of its influence and power, renowned across the world, wielding massive armies, huge treasure troves, and unparalleled wisdom in King Solomon himself.

Solomon is most well known for being an exceedingly wise king, at least in his early years. Famously, Solomon went up to the high place at Gibeon and made a sacrifice to the Lord (1st Kings 3). While there Solomon had a dream where he saw the Lord, and God offered to give him what he would ask for. Solomon famously replied: “…Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” -1st Kings 3:9 (NIV)

This response pleased the Lord, and so God gave Solomon great wisdom and additionally God gave Solomon wealth and honor. And God indicated that if Solomon would be careful to follow the instructions of the Lord he would have a long life, and there would be no one like him before or after (1st Kings 3:10-15 NIV).

God blessed King Solomon and his wisdom was unmatched in the ancient world. According to 1st Kings 4:32-34: “He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.”

Unfortunately, King Solomon became greedy, prideful, and power hungry, expanding his wealth, taking many foreign wives, collecting thousands of horses and chariots, and accumulating great wealth, which are all acts clearly prohibited for kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

Solomon established alliances with Egypt and Tyre through marriages. It’s clear that during the reign of Solomon Israel became increasingly powerful, with his acclaim reaching across the ancient world (1st Kings 4:31 NIV). Many foreign kingdoms were feeble compared to the might and power of Israel at this time, coming to Solomon to offer up tribute.

According to 1st Kings 4:20-21 (NIV): “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.”

The high point for Solomon came at the completion of the temple of the Lord, with a great celebration and Solomon dedicated the temple to the Lord and prayed to God in regard to it (1st Kings 8 NIV). At the height of Solomon’s accomplishments, the Lord once again came before Solomon in a dream. The Lord indicated His pleasure with the temple and the fact that His presence would abide there. But the Lord offered Solomon a choice: Observe the statutes of the Lord and follow all of His ways, you and your descendants, and you will be blessed and Israel will be great. But if you do not obey the Lord, and turn away from the Lord, the temple would come to ruin, and Israel would become a broken bygone country among the nations (1st Kings 9:1-9 NIV).

After this Solomon completed many great feats, he accumulated a massive army, many horses, great wealth, built great ships, high walls, and great cities. The whole world sought audiences with King Solomon, including the Queen of Sheba (1st Kings 10 NIV). He gathered 666 shekels of gold each year, and accumulated many jewels and rare treasures. He gathered massive amounts of silver, so much so that silver was as common as stones in Jerusalem. His wisdom was unparalleled among the nations and lesser kingdoms and peoples came before King Solomon offering tribute and wealth to Israel.

We see a great downturn in 1st Kings chapter 11, although Solomon had already been disobeying the Lord in other ways prior, Solomon’s marriages with many women of foreign kingdoms truly began to change who Solomon was as a king. It says in no uncertain terms “His wives led him astray” (1st Kings 11:3 NIV). In 1st Kings 11 (NIV) it continues indicating: “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.” King Solomon’s heart was divided as he grew older, and his many wives and concubines guided him toward false gods. And despite all of Solomon’s wisdom, the seduction of his wives, along with these false gods successfully turned his heart away from wisdom. The Lord had spoken directly to Solomon twice, and still Solomon turned away from the living God. And so the Lord spoke to King Solomon a 3rd time indicating His anger, and declared that the kingdom would be torn away from him, and he would be replaced by an unworthy subordinate (1st Kings 11:11-13 NIV). God also promised to raise up an enemy against the kingdom, though for the sake of David the Lord promised that these things would occur after Solomon had passed.

Trouble began to stir in Israel, and Jeroboam became powerful in the kingdom, but then rebelled against Solomon. Solomon tried to have him killed, but he fled to Egypt. King Solomon later died, and his son Rehoboam followed after him as king. Just as the Lord promised, due to King Solomon’s disobedience, the kingdom of Israel was ripped apart and divided, and Rehoboam suffered greatly for Solomon’s sins.

Solomon’s legacy is quite full of contrary themes. King Solomon worshiped God almighty and established the temple, yet Solomon was later turned to foreign gods. “The Song of Solomon” is a beautiful book of the Bible depicting true love between husband and wife, yet later Solomon would give himself to foreign women, and eventually have 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon led Israel to great prominence and power in the ancient world, yet he enslaved over 160,000 people put to work in the forests of Lebanon (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). King Solomon penned much of the book of Proverbs and most likely also penned Ecclesiastes, yet the foolishness of his decisions in disobeying the kingly laws of Deuteronomy, and his endless pursuits of treasure and pleasure ruined his kingdom. He left a lasting legacy of wisdom and power, yet the kings who followed Solomon were corrupt and ruined the progress Solomon had made. In fact, one can attribute the division of Israel into Judah and the northern kingdom to Solomon’s slave labor programs, and his sexual immorality. The great kingdom Solomon had established once again dwindled into obscurity and would eventually be completely destroyed and driven into captivity in Assyria and Babylon.

King Solomon had so much wisdom, yet he was seduced by the pleasures of this life. He penned the proverbs, but those proverbs could not save him from the wayward woman he wrote about (Proverbs 5-7 NIV). Solomon asked for a discerning heart from God, yet later in his life the scriptures say Solomon’s heart was divided. But perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes was Solomon’s work of repentance, declaring that all the pleasures he sought were “meaningless, meaningless!”

So what can we learn about who God is from the life of King Solomon? I think there’s several things we can learn. Firstly, wisdom is exceedingly important to God. And God delights in giving his people wisdom. God is the source of all wisdom, and God is the one who grants wisdom. Wisdom does not have human origin, but is a gift of God, and God delighted in giving this gift to Solomon. Wisdom’s importance is great; which Solomon wrote in Proverbs: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverb 4:7 NIV).

Secondly, sin is exceedingly seductive, especially sexual sin. If the wisest man who ever lived could be seduced and carried away by sin’s seductiveness, then it is clear that sin is exceedingly appealing. Solomon allowed the door to be opened to sin, and very often, once the door is open it is exceedingly difficult to close again. Perhaps pride was the chief sin that Solomon failed to recognize in himself. Perhaps Solomon thought “I can handle it” when he married the many women he married, and assumed that nothing could turn his heart from God. Yet that’s exactly what happened. The influence of his wives led him to begin to worship false gods. Sin is seductive. And if the greatest and wisest king in Israel’s history was seduced by sin, then we should be twice as concerned with shunning even the mention of sin.

Thirdly, we see that sin has serious, long lasting consequences. The sins of one man, King Solomon deeply impacted the history of Israel. The sins of Solomon can be directly attributed to the division of the nation into Judah and the Northern kingdom. Solomon’s sin affected his son Rehoboam as well. Despite all of the accomplishments that King Solomon had as king, expanding the kingdom and building the temple, his sins meant that in the future the temple was destroyed and the nation was crushed by Babylon and Assyria. Similarly, in our modern day and age, we must be aware that our sins can have long lasting consequences on society. Our personal sins can affect our entire family, and the sins we allow in the public square can tear apart society all together. We often fail to recognize the full dangers of sin, and we must be aware of how pervasive and destructive sin is on society and our future.

Fourthly, God will have the last word. Despite all that Solomon accomplished, it all came to ruin. Yet God had the last word in the life of King Solomon. Despite all of Solomon’s mistakes, God brought Solomon to repentance. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” God will have the last word in our lives, despite our sins, despite all our mistakes, God offers us chance after chance to repent and turn again to Him.

In conclusion, King Solomon had a massive impact on the history and life of the nation of Israel. He was a wise, Godly king for many years, but later allowed himself to be led astray. Solomon was a great king of Israel, yet his decisions caused much harm to the future of the kingdom. Today we can learn from the example of King Solomon, that seeking wisdom from God is a mighty quest to partake of; but we must also remember that sin can seduce and lead astray even the best of us if we under-estimate it’s power.


Hindson, E. E., & Yates, G. E. (2012). The Essence of the Old Testament: a survey. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic.

Smith, W. (1884). Smiths Bible Dictionary. Chicago, IL: The John C. Winston Co.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wrestling with God: Things I Struggle with in the Scriptures

Often it is assumed that followers of Jesus don't struggle with the tough questions of faith.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We struggle just as anyone else struggles.  I have my beliefs, and the evidence for them, but I also struggle with tough existential issues, like the reality of evil, the problem of suffering, and such other issues for those who consider the state of the universe and the human heart. 

I struggle with these issues on an intellectual level.  I also struggle with them in my personal life.  C.S. Lewis wrote two books about the problem of suffering that are instructive, "The Problem of Pain" looks at the intellectual problems of pain, in which C.S. Lewis remarks "I'd write another chapter on suffering if this headache would go away."  Indeed.  The second book, "A Grief Observed" is the raw brutal meditations of C.S. Lewis after the death of his love.  Guess which is more instructive regarding the problem of suffering?  

The first issue I'd like to talk about is just that, the problem of suffering.  It's an interesting problem, and it's felt first.  And secondary is the attempt to understand it intellectually.  First, it's a feeling, second a thought.  

We wrestle with these questions.  I wrestle with these questions.  But I've seen enough evidence and seen and experienced enough of God's presence and action in my life to firmly believe that Jesus Christ is a true, living savior, and that the books of the Bible represent the true timeless unchanging word of God.  Yet I still struggle with these questions, but I don't wrestle with myself, I engage in exchange with none other than God himself.  Think of it, to settle and discuss these questions with God himself!  It's a great honor.  And God is only too kind and thoughtful in the process, engaging me, answering me, and changing in me, how I perceive things, by expanding my own perception.  God is a deep, philosophical, scientifically minded artist, with a great and amazing ability to respond simply, yet profoundly.  Yet God can be quite complex when he wants, but always the wiser one, he often answers simply and brilliantly.  Should we expect any less from an infinite creator?  I suppose not.  Let's look at these wrestlings that I wrestle with. 

Eternity. To know the face of God, is to know madness.  Well, no.  Actually that's from Battlestar Galactica.  But when we consider the infinity of God, we come against the very limits of our comprehension.  How could God be eternal, without beginning or end?  It goes against everything I understand about our finite reality.  Time is fundamental to reality.  I'm based in time, my entire existence is based in time and space.  How am I suppose to even consider the reality of a timeless being who created time itself?  There would be no time without God having designed it.  It's the same with the whole universe, and I suppose, the 4th heaven, the place where God exists.  But if there is only God who is eternal, then the environment he lives in can't be eternal, because God is the only eternal one.  

But it boggles my mind.  What does it mean?  What does it say about the nature of reality, the universe, the laws that govern everything to say that God is eternal.  Why does God exist?  What is the reason for God's existence?  Does that mean that the universe beyond our universe, the true reality is fundamentally not a cold-dark place as we think of our universe, but actually quite different?  

Does God wonder why He exists?  I suppose He doesn't, he's self existent.  He's never not existed.  It's crazy.  Before alpha, and after omega, God existed.  If we went to the beginning of the universe, God is there, if we went before the universe even existed, before time or space itself, God is ever-present, timeless, perceiving time like we perceive space. 

Am I humble enough to admit that there are some things that not even I could understand?  Or any human for that matter?  Given the expanses beyond us, the galaxies and nebula, and all the harmonious uniformity, I think that yes, I can say that some concepts will be beyond my reality, like the very concept of eternity, or an eternal all powerful intelligent being we call Father.  

Evil.  When I consider the life of a human sex trafficking victim, the idea that this girl, just a young girl, would be kidnapped, enslaved, beaten and raped repeatedly on a daily basis, until she's given up all hope and become a slave within even her mind, and then be raped tens of thousands of times, until she literally dies of being raped so many times.  That is evil, pure, total, complete evil.  The evil is so extreme, so powerful, so "boss universal" and it seems to be in such control in our world, that the concept of a loving God, it's difficult isn't it?  

This is probably the biggest issue levied against Christianity: If God, why evil? Remember what the ancient philosopher Epicurus said: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

God allows evil to play itself out in time and space, because of the massive issue of free will and choice.  God made a universe, which is intrinsically based on freedom of choice.  If God then stepped in every time I was about to make a bad decision, there would be no choice.  The universe just isn't like that.  Choice is part of every situation.  So through the choices of beings God created, evil came into the world.  Yet we blame God, when we should be blaming the people who DO the evil: People.  Yet we blame God?  God is able to set all things right, and He is willing, when the proper time for that comes.  Epicurus' dilemma is a false dilemma, oversimplifying the situation, and failing to understand the context of the universe, human will, and the factor of time.  

God will set all things right and deal with every evil.  Every pedophile, every child sex slaver, will stand before God and give an account, and God will deal with them justly. God will also deal with us justly, because we've all sinned.  We like to point out the evil in the world and then point at God and say why!  How often do I realize the three fingers pointing back at me?  

God didn't cause the problem of evil, and if we want to simply it to it's logical conclusion, the problem of evil is not outside me, or around me as much as I must first consider that the problem of evil is fundamentally within me.  

Why evil?  Why pain?  People do evil.  Our ancestors did evil in God's sight, when paradise was available to them.  They messed it up.  And now evil is part of our lineage, sadly.  But Christ came into the world, died on the cross, to wipe away our sin, and offer us a new life, and a new future in the kingdom of God, if we will simply receive that free gift. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Build a Multi-Cultural Church

We're going to look at a plan to help guide a mono-ethnic corps (church) to more accurately depict the culture of the surrounding community. In a world of rapidly changing demographics there are important challenges being faced by churches in diverse communities. As the body of Christ we are called to reach the “whosoever.” How can we as a church reach different ethnic groups and help facilitate a multi-cultural environment that fosters Christian harmony among diverse peoples? Let’s look at how we can build a better future together.

First of all, the goal should be to begin to make connections with different ethnic groups in the community. It’s wise to look for leaders in the ethnic community one is trying to reach, and develop personal relationships with those individuals. Christ calls us to all people groups, not just those we're comfortable with. 

Knocking on doors and developing relationships can also be a helpful way to begin to develop those connections. I would try to develop close relationships with people of various ethnicities in the community who could help teach me, and help me navigate the cultural landscape. 

Christian multicultural outreach expert M. Ortiz (1996) describes an example in which a church in Baltimore was attempting to better reflect the surrounding neighborhood which was 60% black and 40% white. The Pastor of this Baltimore church had no experience with cross-cultural engagement; but with a lot of grace, and the development of two key friendships with an African-American man and a street-wise Caucasian man, he was able to begin to learn and develop his ministry (Ortiz, 1996, p. 53). 

Once those relationships have been developed and new people are beginning to attend the corps it would be important to begin to connect with these people on a deeper level. I think this process of developing cross-cultural relationships would be greatly assisted through small groups meeting at least monthly (if not weekly) to begin to develop those relationships and deepen them through sharing honestly with one another (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 86).

The second goal I would set would relate to developing a worship service that better reflected and engaged local cultural norms. The Pastor of the Baltimore church did this quite effectively at his church (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). He described the worship service on Sunday as the most important hour of the week in regard to this plan (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). They developed a worship service in which three different styles of music were implemented: African-American worship style, contemporary praise music, and traditional hymn music (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). This helped the various cultures and ethnic groups, young and old alike, to better connect with the worship experience. If I were trying to reach African-Americans, I would implement worship songs that applied the African-American culture, and if I were trying to reach Latinos, I would look for worship music that met the spiritual needs of Latinos in the community. I would also look to provide translation services for those in the church who spoke different languages, if necessary. The entire worship service and message would have to be adjusted to better serve the ethnic groups in the community. 

However, I wouldn't want to go to far into "multiculturalism."  Multicultural engagement should be clearly different from the ideology of multiculturalism.  Multi-cultural engagement is absolutely vital to evangelism, and carrying out the great commission. But the concept of multiculturalism, the idea that cultures coming into the United States should resist assimilation to American culture is not a biblical concept, but a political ideology.  The church should reject pushing multiculturalism, and understand that our job is to evangelize and outreach to communities, and help them to come to Jesus, without undermining American culture in the process. Multi-cultural engagement means connecting to diverse culturals and helping to facilitate a church culture where different culturals can engage and interact as the unified body of Christ.

Now it's important to recognize that multicultural engagement is much than simply outreaching to different ethnicities that are represented in your community.  Though this is a key aspect of multicultural engagement. But even if you are in a majority white, or majority black or latino community, there will be subsets called "people groups" within all cultures that have various subcultures.  If your in a small community in the Midwest, you'd probably want to consider how to outreach to a people group like sports fans, or hunters and fishers, or how to outreach to millennial young adults, or how to outreach to working class factory workers, or middle class professionals.  These are all subcultures within different cultures that will find different styles of worship and preaching and evangelism appealing, and others unappealing. 

As we began to outreach to various cultures, we'd have to help establish a multicultural environment in the church. I would teach, preach, and speak regularly to my corps council, advisory board, staff, and church congregation about multi-cultural engagement. I would build up that “narrative” in their minds. I would tell that “story” of who we are as a church, and I would try to inspire the people in my church body with the mission of reaching different ethnic groups with the good news of Jesus Christ. 

I would try to win my church family over by inspiring them, and appealing to their better natures regarding developing a multi-cultural corp. This would require a great deal of prayer (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 65). It would also require many frank discussions, and the ability to work out difficult disputes and miscommunications (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 65). 

There are bound to be people in the Salvation Army corps that I lead that will push back against multi-ethnic engagement. I don’t believe this is because they are bad people, but mainly because this will be something very new to them. I would need to take the process slowly, and develop relationships with those who might struggle with the process. Some people might even leave the church. But I think overall it could be smoothed over and worked out through a lot of prayer, conversations, friendships, and inspiration for a better future.

Fourth, I would need to learn as much as I could about the cultures I would be engaging in the community. There could be some very embarrassing and confusing moments if I don’t learn how differing cultures do things; and what customs and rituals are involved in various cultures, including language barriers (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 95-96). 

One would need to avoid problems like cultural destructiveness, cultural blindness, and other problems of failing to understand and account for cultural differences (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 103). I would try to be culturally aware, culturally sensitive, and culturally competent (DeyMaz, 2007, p.104-105). I think along with this approach of being culturally “plugged in” I would also look to be inclusive in a way that shows other ethnic cultures that they are welcome to join and become a part of the church family, but also, that they are welcome to come and bring with them their cultural and ethnic traditions and express them in the community freely, as long as those traditions and cultures did not violate the scriptures (DeyMaz, 2007, p.112-113). This would help make the corps a more inclusive place with more diverse expressions of culture in its many forms. While "inclusivity" is a biblical concept, inclusivity should not extend to violations of the clear teachings of the scriptures, or lead to a rejection of the Matthew 18 concept of confronting sin in the church.  Inclusivity means providing a welcoming environment, not transforming the church into a politically correct environment pushing a progressive orthodoxy. This should go without saying, but in the current cultural tensions, we have to be wary of such political activism.

Fifth, I would look to mobilize in evangelistic efforts to reach the unsaved in diverse communities. I want the church I lead to be more than a body of Christians inside the walls of a church. I want the corps I lead to be a place of sending out evangelists and missionaries who are going, not to far away places, but to the local community, knocking on doors, handing out fliers, serving food and drink to the needy, and meeting the needs of people in the community. I think this would be vital in increasing the diversity of the corps I lead. There are so many people across such wide lines of ethnicity and culture that need Jesus. 

Reaching these people, understanding them in their cultural context, and leading them to faith in Christ will help develop the corps to be a welcoming place for people of any skin color or cultural background. Of course the growth of the corps should not be motivated by simply increasing numbers, or stats, but about bringing glory to God and leading lost people to the love of Christ (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 120-121). A healthy multi-ethnic multi-cultural church can be an incredible blessing to a community in that people are simply astounded and amazed by various cultures and ethnicities in harmony with one another (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 121).

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” (Smith, 2016). Part of being a successful Salvation Army officer will be fostering an environment in the corps I lead that serves to encourage cultural engagement and multi-ethnic ministry. I intend to do my best to see that this takes place in the corps I serve in through developing connections in diverse ethnic communities, developing a diverse worship experience, helping guide the church members toward cultural engagement, and evangelizing ethnic communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of this will take much time, prayer, and wisdom. But with Jesus Christ all things are possible.

DeyMaz, M. (2007). Building a healthy multi-ethnic church: mandate, commitments, and practices of a diverse congregation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley.
Ortiz, M. (1996). One new people: models for developing a multiethnic church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.