Tag Archives: racial reconciliation

How to welcome those who are difficult for you – Philemon 8-25, Part 5

30 Aug
Photo by Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

Who is difficult for you? Think about it. Who are the people you really struggle with? Does it seem like it would be awful to welcome them into your life? How should you treat them?

If Paul’s message to Philemon is our guide, then what we do will be self-sacrificial, it will be radical, it will cross the societal lines, and it will overturn conventional ideas.  It will be white people, giving up their power, privilege and position for people of color who have been marginalized.  It will be a purposeful embrace of the other who is no longer an outsider, but now in Christ a brother or a sister. 

As we conclude our series on Philemon, consider, then, what Jesus did.  Paul clearly describes how Jesus is an example for us of the very thing Paul is asking Philemon to do:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:3-8

Other translations say that Jesus “emptied himself”.  He gave up his rights, privilege, position and power so that he could reach us.  That meant he had to become one of us.  Think about that.  The one in the position of power and privilege “emptied himself,” as the hymn says, “of all but love, and bled for us.”  To save us, he became one us and died for us. 

In another place, Paul said that this concept was his modus operandi as well:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.” And just a few verses later he says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

1 Corinthians 9:19-20, 22

Jesus, therefore, is asking you and me the exact same thing that Paul was asking Philemon. 

What will you and I do about this?  We are the Philemons of our day.  The time has come for us to welcome the Onesimuses around us as dear brothers.  It might not mean they come to our church. Maybe it will.  But what will it mean?  Ask God to show you.  Ask God to give you his eyes, to see people and situations as he sees them, to act in love to all, because in his eyes all are equal. 

So we would do well to ask ourselves, who do we struggle with?  Who do we look down on?  Who do we think we are better than?  There are so many ways Paul’s letter to Philemon can apply. 

It could be people of a different ethnicity.  And it could be people of a different gender.  Perhaps you struggle with people who are of a different generation.  How about those of a different socioeconomic status?  Maybe people who speak a different language.  What about the immigrants, the asylum seekers, the refugees?  It could be those struggling with homelessness, divorce, bad choices, or a financial struggle.

Who will you stand beside and welcome?  Who will you embrace as a dear brother or sister?

Let’s conclude hearing Paul’s words again, starting:

“[Treat Onesimus] no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.”

Philemon 16-20

How I found out I am prejudiced (how you might be too…and what we can do about it)

26 Sep

Image result for are you prejudiced

I don’t think that I am prejudiced.  At all.

How about you? Do you think you are prejudiced?

This week in my research for my sermon on race, ethnicity and diversity, I came across a fascinating study and book called Blind Spot.

In the book, the authors say that:

“To better understand the roots of racial division in America, think about this: the human brain seems to be wired so that it categorizes people by race in the first one-fifth of a second after seeing a face. Brain scans show that even when people are told to sort people by gender, the brain still groups people by race. … [But] we can resist the legacy that evolution has bequeathed us. [Biases] are learned, so they can be unlearned.”

So they created a test you can take for free online to see if your brain automatically favors one race over another.  On the website, you’ll see that there are many tests.  To find the test about prejudice, I signed in as a guest under the left column titled “Project Implicit Social Attitudes”.  The next screen is a standard “I agree” release form that will take you to the test selection page.  Scroll down the page and you’ll see they have numerous options.  I chose the test entitled “Race (‘Black – White’ IAT).” Basically the test reveals if you have an unknown preference for white people over black people.  I took the test and here are my results:

“Your data suggests a moderate automatic preference for European American compared to African American.”

I was a bit taken aback.  I don’t think I’m prejudiced, but this test told me that I have within me an automatic response to favor white over black.  So I need to be aware of this, be teachable and self-reflective and admit the truth about myself.  As the authors state, “Biases are learned, so they can be unlearned.”

But how?

A major way we can unlearn our biases is to learn to see people like God sees them.

In Genesis 1:26-27 we read this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

All human beings have within them the same image of God.  That means we are all of equal value in God’s eyes, thus we need to see people that way.

The problem is that, like the test indicated, we can become accustomed to categorizing people.

Do you remember the story of when the famous Israelite King David in the Old Testament was first anointed to be king?  We’re talking about the King David who killed the giant Goliath before David became king.  That guy.  Well he was anointed to be King even before that, while he was still a boy, while he had the job of tending his family’s sheep.  There was a prophet in the land, a man named Samuel, and God told Samuel to go to Bethlehem to Jesse’s house, because there Samuel would anoint a new king.  Samuel shows up, and starts sizing up Jesse’s sons.  He had 8 sons.  Samuel looked at the eldest and thought for sure he was the one.  But at that moment God said something amazing to Samuel:

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

We need to learn to see people that way.  We need to stop judging them outwardly.

So I encourage you to work hard at being humble and teachable.  Ask God to convict you if there is even a hint of prejudice in you.  Ask God to wipe it from you.  Then follow through and you yourself work on erasing it from your heart and mind.

One practical way to do this is to develop relationships with people of different ethnicity. Interact with refugees, experience different cultures.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Philippians 2 says “Think of others as better than yourselves.”

When Michelle, Connor and I went to Cambodia in June, we also spent one weekend in Malaysia where Michelle’s sister and brother-in-law live, as he is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel of Kuala Lumpur.  Their church is an international church, and very unique.  I never experienced anything like it.  Diversity galore.  30+ nationalities.  There in Malaysia we were worshiping with people from nearly every continent, people that looked very different.   Africans, Asians, Americans, Middle Easterners.

In my sermon intro post, I pointed out that unlike my relatives’ church in KL, here 86% of American churches are comprised of one ethnicity, and we are okay with that.  Should we be?  My own congregation is located in a community with 33% diversity, but our Family of Faith is only 5% diverse. Do we have a problem?

When we worshiped at Harvest KL, we saw a picture of the Kingdom of God as it will be in heaven!  In the book of Revelation we read about amazing worship services in heaven with every tribe, tongue and nation.  We will one day be worshiping arm in arm with all peoples, so let us seek to build God’s Kingdom like that here and now!

How do we do that?

We need to be a people who go out of our comfort zone to reach out to the stranger among us to give them a home.  God often reminded the Israelites how to treat the strangers among them, reminding Israel that they once were the strangers, the foreigners.  They were once slaves in Egypt, so they should know not to treat foreigners badly.  Welcome them!  Treat people how you want to be treated.

Refugees are coming into Lancaster in droves.  People of color, of different ethnicity are here in our area.  Welcome them, open your homes and churches to them, love them.

Finally, God is deeply concerned about reconciliation between people.

One author says “The cure for racism is humility and compassion. The wounds of racism will only begin to heal as people, of all races, seek to understand one another.”[1]

To understand we must listen to one another.  The Bible has a few things to say about that!

 “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  Let us be a people that are willing to listen to those of other ethnicities!  Let us see them, and hear them.

Do you remember the amazing story of the Good Samaritan?  That was a story about racial conflict.  The Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  The Jews considered the Samaritans to be terrorists.  And the Samaritans considered the Jews the same way.  Why?  Because they committed acts of terror against one another.  Very similar to the terrorist acts in our world today.  Attacking and destroying buildings.  They didn’t have bombs, airplanes or drones loaded with missiles, but they could still attack one another and they did.  Their hatred for one another ran deep.

So what does Jesus say when he wants to answer a question from some Jews about who we should treat as our neighbor?  He uses a Samaritan.   Here is a contemporary version:

A person was walking south on Prince Street (ghetto area of Lancaster City) to get to Willow Street (suburbs south of the city).  He is attacked, robbed and beaten by a gang.  Then a local pastor walks by and does nothing, he’s late for a meeting at his church, sees the guy struggling, but pulls out his phone and checks his Facebook.  Then a church leader drives by.  He sees the man, but he too is headed to a work appointment, is already running behind schedule, so in his head he prays for the man and keeps going.  Then a Muslim wearing a head covering comes along.  He sees the man, helps him into his car, and takes him to the urgent care center, pays the bill and leaves his cell phone number to make sure the guy is well cared for.

How will you be a neighbor to the people of a different race, a different ethnicity around you?  How will you see them and listen to them?

There was a blog post this week written by a black Christian mom.  In the post she describes her life in middle class suburban America, just like you and me.  Her conclusion is something that I think would be very instructive to us as we interact with people of color, trying to be a loving neighbor.

Here is what she said:

“Tell me you don’t understand what it’s like to be black. Tell me you don’t understand what it’s like to fear the things I fear. Tell me you don’t have all the answers but you want to know more, you want to help, you want to see change. Don’t argue with me about why I’m hurting. Don’t argue with me about why I’m angry. Don’t try to be right. And please don’t try to make me responsible for why these things are happening.

And after all that, maybe ask to meet me for coffee and listen to my stories and my family’s stories.

Maybe try to hear me. Try to hear us. And pray.”[2]

So let me ask again.  Do you have biases?  Prejudice?  What are you going to do about it?  Who do you need to love, to hear, to pray for?


[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-l-briggs/racism-and-the-bible_b_3683157.html
[2] http://latriceingram.com/toallmywhitechristianfriendsregardingrecentevents/

What does God say about race and diversity?

22 Sep

Image result for sermons on race relations

This weekend my sermon is about race.  Our sermon series is called Life in These United States, and we’re talking about what everyone is talking about.  Race relations have been in the news a lot in recent years, and again this week there have been two shootings of black men by police officers.  These shootings have been highlighted by the National Anthem protest that some professional athletes are enacting.  These athletes are not standing during the playing of the Anthem in order to draw attention to the plight of shooting victims across the country.

The ensuing conversation has been difficult and divisive.  There are so many questions.

Can we support the playing of the Anthem while at the same time still supporting those who choose not to stand and their cause?

Can we support the mission of police officers to provide law and order while at the same time supporting the reality of racial profiling and needless killings?

What can we do to bring peace and justice?  What is a proper Christian response?  It would seem the answers should be easy to conceptualize and apply, so why are we having such a hard time?

What is it about race and ethnicity and diversity and our innermost prejudices that makes this situation so difficult?

And bringing it closer to home, what about the church?  Do we have racial tension and prejudice in our Christian fellowships?  Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963,

“We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.”

Is this still true today? A recent Lifeway study indicated that 86% of churches are primarily comprised of one racial group.  And that is the case 50 years after King made that statement!  Again I ask, is something wrong?  The same study also suggests that most churchgoers find this segregation in worship to be OK.  The school district in which my family lives and in which our church is located, is comprised of about one-third ethnic minorities.  The congregation of Faith Church is closer to 5%.  Is this OK?

What does the Bible have to say about this?  What can we do?

Join us Sunday at Faith Church, as we seek to faithfully discuss race and the Bible.