Diversity Starts Here

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.“ – Max Dupree

Business has long understood the value of diversity. Corporate America recognizes that diversity is not a luxury, but a business necessity. The latest research finds that companies who rank high in gender, racial and ethnic diversity, are more likely to have financial returns above the industry average. Diversity is a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time. Diversity makes a company better. Diversity also has the ability to make our churches better. 

Think about what happens when you don’t have diversity. But there’s more to diversity than the color of the skin. There’s gender and age, geographic upbringing, personal interest, language, family structure, education, spiritual gifts and personality traits to name a few. What happens when you are not diverse? Consider this scenario: You clone yourself hundreds of times and once you have at least a hundred you start a church. Several hundred you’s may be interesting, but it would tend to be uninteresting and predictable, possibly even boring. There would be no one to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, experience or abilities. There would be no unique ideas or suggestions.

God created us as a diverse people and He wants us to work together to further His kingdom. That’s why He gave us different skills and strengths so that we would recognize our need for one another, while still appreciating our individuality. God made us different to make a better whole. And His love for variety is not just visible in us, but in all aspects of His creation. There are approximately 4,740 species of frogs around the entire world, not including the 120 species that went extinct over time. 

Diversity enriches the Christian experience. We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are different from our own. Diversity can go a long way to challenging stereotypes and preconceptions. It also encourages critical thinking and helps us learn to communicate with people of varied backgrounds. It fosters mutual respect with each other regardless of color, ethnicity, or culture. 

Diversity is embracing and following the original blueprint of the early church. The early church came to realize that followers of Jesus may not look alike, act alike, sing alike, and we are all in need of the love of Jesus Christ. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe diversity is Biblically mandated? Do you believe cross-race relationships enrich our lives?
  2. Do you see value in greater diversity in the church? Why or why not?
  3. Do you believe diversity will help with our prejudices? Why or why not? 

Prejudice Someone

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” –  Audre Lorde

Most of us would like to believe that discrimination and prejudice ended in the 60’s. It is difficult to believe that prejudices have any place in modern America. But the truth is, we are a long way from being free from prejudice, and we need to face any prejudices we have because it has no place in Christianity. 

While there are many kinds of prejudice, the one that comes to mind is racial prejudice. If you are white, you may never totally understand what it feels like to be treated prejudicially simply because your skin is not white. Even so, as Christians, we have the personal obligation to root out any prejudices toward other races, and to work toward understanding and relating to everyone regardless of any differences.

Jesus made a point of ignoring the racial prejudices of His day and teaching His disciples to do the same. For example, when He chose to talk to the Samaritan woman at the well, He shocked the disciples because Jews hated Samaritans and considered them to be second-class citizens. A Jew never talked to a Samaritan unless they had to, but Jesus chose not only to talk to this Samaritan woman, but to reveal great and marvelous truths to her and lead her to become His follower. And then there is the story of the Good Samaritan who helped the wounded person. To the Jews of his day, it was a message loud and clear against prejudice.

God wants us to see people as individuals, created and loved by Him, of equal importance and value. We must, by His grace, root out the prejudice within us so that we can show the world what God’s love is like. This is especially important within the church, and I pray that we will get serious about facing our own prejudices and asking God to forgive us and teach us to see others as He sees them. That’s the secret—looking at the world through the eyes of Jesus. Because we are prone to judge others according to outward characteristics, rather than to accept them as individual human beings on an equal par with us.

Here’s a radical prayer request: Ask God to show you your prejudices. When He does, obey Him by putting your prejudices to death and by showing His love to those whom you might not naturally be inclined to like. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you have fears or reactions based on prejudicial stereotypes?
  2. Consider talking to people of another race and ask them what it’s like to experience racial prejudice. 
  3. Ask God to show you where you have prejudicial attitudes.

Love and Accept Those Who Are Different

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.” – Romans 14:1-3. 

I don’t think there’s anybody who would deny that the greatest teacher that ever lived, the person who has impacted history more than all others is Jesus. Not just by how He lived, and not only by the resurrection, but His teaching. The last night before He died, Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34)

Surely, Jesus didn’t mean to love everybody. Jesus’ expectations are a little too high. Jesus never saw the way people treated me in high school, or the way my friends abandoned me or the degrading way my boss treats me. If so, surely He’d know that it’s not so easy to love everybody. 

But here is what we know: everyone is created in God’s image. So if we are worthy of love, so is everyone else because of who made them. Sin made us unloveable, but Christ changed the rules by offering love, grace and forgiveness (Romans 5:8). If God can love us, surely we can love those around us. Our commitment to accept one another transcends race and prejudices. We don’t have to agree with people that look or think differently. But we need to love them and we need to accept them.

Jesus accepted people unconditionally and indiscriminately. It didn’t matter what their gender was, it didn’t matter their race, didn’t matter their political persuasion, it didn’t matter if they were the worst of sinners. He was a magnet. People were drawn to Him because He did not judge them. You know why? Jesus was better than everybody else but He never treated anyone like He was better than them. He made every single person that came in contact with Him feel like they really mattered, even though they didn’t believe they mattered. Jesus did not place a standard on the kinds of people He would love and care for.

See, if you want to learn how to accept people, be like Jesus. Start by evaluating how you view others. It might be that to be more like Jesus, you have to look at people differently. Try to view people in light of eternity rather than their skin color, appearance, possessions, status, or behavior. Look at the presumption and prejudices you may be carrying against some people. Try to understand them better, try to unconditionally, indiscriminately accept each person and you will see compassion and empathy start to boil to the surface. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are there people or groups of people that we undervalue? Why?
  2. Do I only surround myself with people who think like me, act like me, or believe like me?
  3. Do I say I love people who are different from me, but never invite them into my life? 
  4. Do I love first and judge second? Or vice-versa?
  5. What can I do this week to be more accepting of people?

Open Hearts. Open Minds.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28.

If you were attending a church worship service in 1966 and then returned to the same church in 2016, the changes would be noticeable, but not dramatic. For example, you will in many cases no longer see or hear a choir. Another is that people dress more casual and third, you will see more technology such as projectors, screens and sound systems. If you attended a church in 1966 as a visitor, you would probably hear the words, “Will all our visitors please stand?” The intention was good, but people who were brave enough to walk through the doors of your church, the last thing they wanted was to be singled out. Today, we try to walk up to to them, introduce ourself and learn their name.

Most of the changes were designed to create a more welcoming church. We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we honed our skills at hospitality. All this was not about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world. It is about being a church unchurched people love to attend. A church where everybody is welcome. 

You are welcome if you are single, married, divorced, gay, rich or poor, whether you speak english with a Boston accent or yo no habla Ingles. It does not matter if you are a newborn, four score and seven years old, or a teenager growing up too fast. You are welcome if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or sound like a water buffalo blaring over a PA system. You are welcome if you just got out of jail or haven’t been in a church since your infant baptism. You are welcome if you believe or if you have real doubts about organized religion. You are welcome if you work too hard or don’t work. 

You are welcome if you have a theology degree or if you got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. And you are welcome if you are black, brown, yellow, or white.

At one time the primary division in the church was between Jews and Gentiles. Some Jews who had joined the movement of Christianity were trying to force non-Jewish (Gentile) believers to perform the Jewish rituals. They argued that to be a good Christian, they had to do all the right Jewish religious activities. Paul addressed the subject in Romans: “Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12).

We don’t determine people’s value; God does. That is because we were all leveled at the cross.  The gospel is the great equalizer. There is no place in the Church for discrimination or prejudice as we strive to become more like Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. All people are leveled at the cross. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Should every Christian be seeking to reach those who are culturally different or is this just the gift of some?
  3. What are some of the culturally different groups in our city that the Lord might want us to reach? What should you do?

Know Different

“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.” – Revelation 5: 9-10. 

How often have you heard someone end a sentence with ”… but I know different” or “they are different from” or “different than.” Of course there are differences in our backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and the color of our skin. But are we all that different?  

Our parts are interchangeable. If you need a blood transfusion in another part of the world, chances are someone has your blood type. We all laugh. We may not laugh at the same things and a smile may be harder to coax from one individual than it is from another, but there are things that make us happy. We all cry. We all feel pain whether physical, psychological or emotional. When someone close to us dies we feel a sense of loss. We all want to feel important and accomplished. Not necessarily to be Nobel Laureates, but to feel like we matter. We all want something better for our kids regardless of our color, religion, culture, or geographic location.  

We all find it easier to love those like us than for those we perceive as “different”. So the sooner we begin to see how much we are alike, the better for us all. How can we do this? The risen Jesus commands his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28.19-21). This is a mandate for Christians to carry the gospel banner into all nations and to all people groups. The Bible does not say we can dismiss or ignore people because of our prejudices and biases or the color of their skin.  

It is pretty clear that Jesus died for all people. What would it look like if Christians refused to love, serve and preach to people who did not look, sound, or live just like them? Could we be unintentionally opposing our mission of helping the whole world find and follow Jesus because of prejudices or because or racial bias? These are hard but necessary questions. 

Why do we judge by the exterior? Why are we prejudiced? Why do we have biases? Being a Christian is not about exclusion. Being a Christian is not about separation or discrimination. As Christians, we are called to have compassion for people in situations that we may not understand. How can you love people if you can’t look beyond the outside and accept them right where they are at? What every Christian can pour into the life of others is the powerful passion of love regardless of how different they may be.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you find it difficult and/or scary to enter into the conversation about diversity and racial issues? Why or why not?
  2. What kind of conversations do you think that Christians need to have that will lead to racial reconciliation and encouragement?
  3. How does being “in Christ” change the discussion of race? How might thinking of others as made in the image of God change your views of people who are different? 
  4. Where do we go from here? How do you begin to implement the needed changes in order to love those who are different? 

The Poor and Discipleship

“Entering the battle for justice, then, will require at least two basic things of us. First, it will require a willingness to see the scriptures as they really are: it will require of us the willingness to understand that God sees and cares deeply about the plight of the oppressed. Second, it will require our willingness to hear in our sacred texts the compelling call to move outside our small worlds and actually see and experience the world as it really is-inclusive of the suffering and pain that we could easily avoid noticing in so doing, we will experience the invitation of God to engage the world at its point of need and to be transformed in the process.”  Jim Martin, The Just Church

Discipleship is and always will be the core purpose of Northstar. The goal is to do all the things we do such as worshiping God, creating meaningful environments, reaching lost people, etc., through the lens of discipleship.

We tend to make the connection between reaching the lost and discipleship quite easily. But do we connect discipleship and serving the poor?  It can be easy to give the necessary attention to spiritual matters, while pushing the physical into a secondary role. A reading of the Law, Proverbs, Prophets and New Testament will clearly show that God advises His followers to actively care for the poor while cautioning against any indifference toward the needy. For example, Proverbs 31:8-9 says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Or Psalm 41:1: “Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor! The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble.“

Discipleship at its most basic is having a heart orientated to others. Discipleship is about faithfulness, desire, and opportunity. We know what we are called to do, we just need to see the opportunities that God has placed before us. In that context the Lord has placed us in a community that has poor and homeless people. When we evaluate what we are called to do and what we need to do it becomes clear that we should serve and help this community. My prayer is that we will pursue this opportunity, but not without working through first what God has called us as His disciples to do. 

I am reminded that I am blessed to be a blessing. This carries a responsibility to be a helping hand and share my unique resources with those in need. Very rarely does one leave poverty without the support of someone outside of poverty. God has placed us in community so that we can support, help, encourage and disciple one another.

A person in poverty is waiting for you to choose to come and connect with them. We do not need to neglect spiritual needs for physical ones. Those two areas are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, Christ demonstrated care for the whole person, body and spirit.  As His followers, we must demonstrate the same, not allowing other areas of discipleship to prevent us from addressing the needs of the poor in our areas.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe a part of discipleship is helping the poor? Why or why not?
  2. Do you have relationships with those who come from a background of poverty?  If so, how are you involved with them?
  3. Do you actively seek to understand the plight of the poor and marginalized?
  4. After hearing the message, how has your perspective on the poor changed?

Ordinary People Can Make An Extraordinary Difference

“…if anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will be the same again.”  ? Wm. Paul Young, The Shack

Does it take someone like Bill Gates to make a real difference in the world? The founder of Microsoft is worth more than countries. For example, Bill Gates is worth more than two Kenyas, and three Trinidads. Bill Gates is now engaged in the process of ridding himself of over $28 billion in the hope of improving the lives of others less fortunate than himself. When you hear stories like this, it’s easy to feel as a plumber, or real estate agent, or soldier, that you can’t do a whole lot to fix the problem of poverty. It takes the uber rich like Bill Gates to make a real difference. That is not true. God calls every believer to help solve the world’s problems, and one ordinary person’s life can actually make an extraordinary impact on the world. 

You can make the world a better place through your life even if you are not uber wealthy or a person of influence. When you rely on God to help you impact the world, His power will start to work through you in your neighborhood, city, state, and everywhere else you go. You would be surprised at the impact your life can have on those around you.   

The first thing we need to do is change our mindset from heroism to love. You don’t have to be a superhero in order to make a significant positive difference in the world; you simply need to love people who need love. We, as Americans, look for significant or dramatic ways to help people that would be newsworthy and make a difference on an epic scale, rather than simply make a habit of inviting God to work through us.   

The second thing is we depend too much on formulas. Life is not a formula. For example, we think that to achieve X requires us to do Y. To help the poor you need to give them a few dollars – the universal formula for poverty. The simple truth is there are no rules of engagement. It is simply first, experiencing God’s love and then serving others with that love. Serving others with love can and will take many forms. Our goal should be to discover our own unique way to contribute. So ask God to help you figure out what you’re most interested in doing, and what you do best. Then use that information to discern which opportunities to serve are best for you to act upon. Impacting the world for the better is much more about who you are than it is about what you do.

Pray about what you do before you do it. Pray and ask God to show His perspective to better see the needs around you. Pray and ask for God’s compassion and God’s love for people so that you’ll consider them more important than yourself. Then pray for God’s power to do something about the needs around you.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is one need that you are personally passionate about meeting in people?
  2. What are your abilities and gifts that could help make a difference in the lives of people around you?
  3. What are some of the obstacles that prevent us from getting involved in the needs of the community around us?  What can we do to overcome them?
  4. When you think through your passion, your abilities, and your experiences, do you have any creative ideas on how to get involved in the un-churched community around you in order to help the poor?

What Can We Do

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.“ –  Psalms 5:3.

In yesterday’ s devotional I outlined the importance of opening our eyes and seeing the need around us. Today we talk about what we can do to help meet the needs of the poor in our area. 

As I mentioned yesterday, God calls us to serve and care for the poor, but what does that mean? How are we to care? Each of our responses will be unique and personal, and God calls each of us to love our neighbors in different ways. As such, my thoughts are by no means meant to be a blueprint for what is required. They are merely my limited personal reflections on how we can serve the poor as part of our individual and corporate worship. My goal is not a to-do list, but rather showing God’s love for the poor.

First, I think we need to come to grips with our perception and in some cases prejudices against the poor. The simple fact is some of us were born poor, and it’s not our fault that we’ve stayed poor even if we’ve worked hard all our lives. Remember: Jesus was poor, and so were most of the people He met every day. Think of it: God’s Son was born in a stable, and when He died they placed His body in a borrowed tomb. During His lifetime, Jesus accumulated no property; on one occasion, He pointed out that “foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58). Being poor was no disgrace to God’s only Son – nor should it be to us. Looking down at others has no place in the life of a true Christian.   

Second, because it is so hard to love people whom we cannot see and do not know, it is important to open our eyes and connect with the poor. I know the idea of developing a connection with poor people is something that will probably, at least initially, take us outside of our comfort zone. But it can also stretch and grow our compassion and help us love the way God loves. You may even find as many have, that this interaction will bless you more than it does the poor people you interact with. OK, Marty, you need to be a little more specific on what this “connection” means.  Connecting with the poor could mean taking a homeless person out for a meal, or volunteering at a homeless shelter. 

Third, we can engage the world by being more generous with our money. Christians have historically given more to charity than non-religious people. But can we do better, can we do more? “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:17-18).” We should not trust in our own riches, but should instead allow God to use our money to help the poor. We should give generously. The question is not how much of our money are we willing to give; it is how much of God’s money are we going to keep.

We care about the poor because Jesus cares about the poor and because we were commissioned by Him to preach, heal and deliver those in need.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was your first encounter with poverty? How did it affect you?
  2. Read Luke 18:18-22: When Jesus tells the man about the “one thing” he still lacks, He tells him to sell everything, give the proceeds away to the poor and then to come and follow Him. Do you think the “one thing” is more related to the selling, giving, or following? Why do you think so?
  3. What do you feel most limited by in life, something on the outside of you (money, schedule, job) or something on the inside of you?
  4. Read Luke 4:18-19. In what area do you need freedom right now?

Opening Our Eyes

“Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die; save them as they stagger to their death. Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.” For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve.”  – Proverbs 24:11-12.

It is easier to close your eyes. Homeless and poor people go unseen everyday, as those more fortunate walk by, ignoring their existence on sidewalks, in parks, in subway stations. But perhaps the time we most close our eyes is when the poor ask for help. Requests like “Spare change?” “Got a dollar? and “Please help” overwhelmingly fall on deaf ears and diverted eyes.

When we look with open eyes, the world can appear an unfair and compassionless place. It is a large issue. It is difficult to get our arms and minds around this issue. What can we do in the face of so large a problem? It is easier to shut our eyes. The poor are real, but maybe they will seem a little less real if we can divorce ourselves somehow from their plight and go on with our life. But even if we close our eyes they are still there.

God does not want us to close our eyes. Throughout the Bible, it is made clear that the poor and the oppressed have a special place in the heart of God. God could have manifested himself as the supreme ruler of the world, but instead was born in a manger, lived as a humble carpenter, and acted as a servant to all He encountered. Paul reminds us of that in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” When Jesus announced his ministry, he read from Isaiah (61:1-2) that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19).  Jesus also actively calls us to prioritize the poor as He did. He says, “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:12-14).

God cares whether we open or close our eyes. A preferential option for the poor is not optional. So how can we open our eyes to the poor all around us?

Note: Wednesday’s Devotional is on what we can do as individuals and as a church to help the poor in our area.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was your big take away from this week’s message?
  2. Mayor Bob Free said, “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” Agree or disagree? Do you think this applies to the poor?
  3. What would happen if everyone made it a point to open their eyes to what is happening in our area? 

Poverty Unplugged

“Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.”  1 Timothy 6:17-19.   

Poverty and the poor. When you hear those words, a predictable series of images probably flicker through your mind: A homeless man living under an overpass in a major city. A shoeless child on the streets of Haiti. A jobless widow in Kenya. But there are people in need closer to home than we may think. When we think of these people, we rightly want to help. But how? Good intentions are not enough. We tend to think of poverty as a lack of material things like money, food, or housing. So our first instinct is to give those things to people who are poor. While that may work in the short term, we have other avenues as a church and as individuals to help the poor in the world and in our backyards. 

Here are some things to consider as you think about how we as a church and as individuals can help the poor in our area. First, remember that we are all poor in some way. I’m poor too. I’m in need too. I’m broken too. The world divides people into “those who need help” and “those who offer help.” The truth is we are both. We are all “poor” in that we experience less than the fullness that God intended for us. For those people who are wealthy, poverty takes the form of materialism, workaholic tendencies, arrogance or superiority that looks down on the less fortunate’s love for them.

We need to understand that people who are physically poor are not necessarily also poor in spirit. Don’t pity poor people; view them as equals who simply have less material goods than you do. Let the poor know that not only has God not forgotten them, but Jesus Himself identifies with them. When we approach the poor with an attitude of superiority or when we treat them like projects to be fixed, we forget our own dependence on Christ’s grace. 

Both the “helpers” and the “helped” are loved by God, they have dignity as people made in the image of God. They are designed for community with one another. Always respect the dignity of every person because they are extremely important and valuable to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Zechariah 7:9-10: The Bible talks a great deal about the the poor, widow, foreigner and orphan. In what specific ways are each of these four groups at a disadvantage in society?
  2. What dangers do the poor, widow and orphans face if there is no one to intervene on their behalf?
  3. Thinking of each of these three categories of people, what are practical ways an individual or the church could possibly get involved?
  4. How do we respect the dignity of each of these groups? What rewards do you think you would experience from helping these people?