Category Archives: Multicultural

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25 Reasons Why Christians Should Welcome (Not Ban) Immigrants & Refugees
1) God cares for all people, not just those inside a particular national border.
2) As Christians, global citizenship trumps national citizenship.
3) Christianity affirms that all people have the same value, regardless of their current religion, since all of creation comes from God.
4) The Good Samaritan story includes ethnic dimensions: (1) those outside of your ethnicity may surprise you with kindness, and (2) our neighbors include those of other ethnicities.
5) The Golden Rule requires it: treat others as you would like to be treated.  (If you were endangered, you would want someone to help you.)
6) Personal safety is not the ultimate ethic for Christians, while love is.
7) Political policies are not divinely insprired and often contradict God’s call for justice.
8) Political policies should never be superior to Christ’s commandments.
9) “Love your neighbor” is not limited by a country’s border and includes those from other countries.
10) Hospitality is an important motif throughout the Bible (e.g., Abraham welcoming the sojourners, Jews welcoming and not welcoming Jesus, the Apostles welcoming Paul, etc.)
11) “Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you” includes atheists and those of other religions.
12) Religious litmus tests may increase personal safety, while hindering the spread of the gospel.
13) Religious litmus tests are inaccurate; after all, some people within our own churches are “faking it” for one reason or another.
14) Religious litmus tests work against the gospel, since at one point, you yourself were not a Christian; being banned by Christians would have turned you away from, not towards, the faith.
15) Welcoming other religions to your country offers an opportunity for mission without ever leaving your homeland.
16) Ignoring human rights issues for the sake of personal safety merely perpetuates the problem.
17) Love always involves some degree of risk, so risk itself is not an excuse not to love.
18) The innocent, such as children, should not be slaughtered with the guilty.
19 Abraham was a sojourning immigrant (in Egypt).
20) Joseph was an enslaved immigrant (to Egypt).
21) Israel as a nation was an immigrant (in Egypt), poorly mistreated yet protected and rescued by Yahweh.
22) Moses was a refugee and immigrant (in Egypt).
23) Jesus was a refugee (in Egypt).
24) In the Bible, marked by the recurrence of Egypt, the necessity of immigration and the importance of hospitality cannot be ignored.  (Lev. 19:33-34)
25) Jesus sacrificed His personal safety for the betterment of others, including those outside (Gentiles) of His own ethnicity (Jewish).

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“Blessed are the poor.” – Luke

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” – Matthew

 

In my own life, I have recognized that my reading of Luke has varied depending on life circumstances.

 

When I have been poor, I have found extreme comfort in seeing ”poor” without qualification – a reminder that God remembers me in my physical poverty.  And when my economic condition has been better, my reading moves towards Matthew’s ”poor in spirit,” meaning that I focus more on spiritual poverty. I mention that because as we read Luke (whether in poverty or affluence), we need to be aware that our economic “lens” may influence our reading of the text.

 

So in the times of life when you have abundance, remember that others, such as those in impoverished countries, are reading Luke differently than you. That’s not to say that their exegesis is better or worse.  It’s a reminder to always see the rawness of Luke’s gospel — keeping in mind that poverty is not merely about a lack of means, but a lack of well-being.

 

In other words, poverty affects people holistically, since poverty often results from economic enslavement to a person or a system. So at the end of the day, poverty is not so much about possessions, but powerlessness. It is easy to lose hope when overwhelmed with poverty, but into that hopelessness, Luke speaks a powerful word: “Blessed are the poor.”

 

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Christians, love in victory and in defeat.

When looking at situations throughout history and around the world, we know that Christians are not defeated by governments or political movements. Christians are not defeated by fire (Nero), policy (Mao Zedong), poverty (Indian castes), expulsion (Columbian tribes), terrorism (al-Shabaab), kindnappings (Boko Haram), or beheadings (ISIS). Oddly enough, Christians are not even defeated by crucifixion.

Even still, if you feel defeated by recent events, keep in mind that in every situation (not only situations of our choosing), Christ taught us to love God and to love our neighbors. Those are not conditional, but unconditional commandments — and are even more applicable in times of uncertainty, challenge, and confusion. So no matter how you feel, remember that we serve a resurrected King, and in His Kingdom, true love never waivers.

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On this wonderful MLK day, let us remember the sacrifice and dedication of all those who have continued Christ’s work of bringing together all people. Our God is a God of reconciliation, and He is the one who unites different races and ethnicities. Let us celebrate His work through His Son and through His people.

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For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us… He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.  Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.

(Selections from Ephesians 2-3)

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Hark, the voice of Jesus calling,
“Who will go and work today?
Fields are white and harvests waiting,
Who will bear the sheaves away?”
Loud and long the master calls you;
Rich reward he offers free.
Who will answer, gladly saying,
“Here am I. Send me, send me”?

If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus;
You can say he died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked
With the judgment’s dread alarms,
You can lead the little children
To the Savior’s waiting arms.

If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Offering life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your bounties
You can do what God demands;
You can be life faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.

Let none hear you idly saying,
“There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying
And the master calls for you.
Take the task he gives you gladly;
Let his work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when he calls you,
“Here am I. Send me, send me!”

Hymn # 318 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Joseph Barnby
Tune: Galilean
1st Published in: 1869

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In our current global milieu, we live in a “world of religions,” and increasingly, Christians are confronted with how to relate to these religions. Ida Glaser approaches these issues with clarity and authenticity in her book The Bible and Other Faiths: Christian Responsibility in a World of Religions. As a Jewish Christian who reaches out to Muslims, Glaser has firsthand experience in how crucial and delicate these matters can be. With an important contribution to Christian theology, Glaser helps Christians distinguish between primary and secondary questions, focusing believers on what we can genuinely know and cannot know from Scripture. In other words, The Bible and Other Faiths is an in-depth look at how the Bible speaks to our own personal interaction with people from other faiths.

In the first chapter, Glaser separates interfaith questions into two categories. On one hand, there are externally-focused questions that focus on judging other people: Are people from other religions saved? Is Jesus the only way to know God? Do other religions consist of any truth? These questions often dominate our religious dialogue, but Glaser argues that these questions may not be the “right questions.” (13) While this is somewhat controversial, especially for conservative Christians, Glaser says that these questions should be secondary to more pressing concerns.

According to Glaser, there is a second set of questions that “focuses on other people’s welfare and our own responsibility,” and it is upon these questions that she primarily focuses. (13) What is God doing among people of other religions? What does God require of us in response? How should we respond to other religions? And how to we apply the great commission and the great commandments to our interfaith context? Certainly these kinds of questions are related to the first kind, but this second set is more “urgent” in the sense that they affect our actual relationships with people.

Developing this further, the author outlines three major approaches to interfaith relations – or more specifically, how Jesus applies to other religions. These can be generally understood as exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. An exclusivist holds the belief that salvation comes through explicit faith in Christ alone; that God only offers special revelation through Israel, Christ and the Bible; and that Christ is Jesus of Nazareth. In light of its exclusive claims, exclusivism strongly emphasizes our personal need to spread the message of Christ. Without this message – and an affirmation of a particular doctrinal truth – a person will necessarily go to Hell.

An inclusivist allows for “anonymous Christians” from other religions because salvation is through Christ, but not necessarily explicitly. It is possible for a spiritual seeker to find Christ, even if they meet him through another religion or know him by another name. Special revelation can be found apart from Christ and Scripture, including the possibility of finding some truth in the sacred texts of other religions. The Christ who saves is visible in the person of Jesus, but is not limited to him. This perspective emphasizes the sovereignty of God and an individual’s response to the Holy Spirit more so than evangelism efforts.

A pluralist believes that salvation is available through all faiths, whether by denying the inconsistency of these religions or by diminishing the significance of such contradictions. Christ is “cosmic” in that He is merely one option among several. All religion, including Christianity, is humankind’s response to the transcendent. There may be mistakes within a particular religious system, but these are to be expected. For a pluralist, what truly matters is not doctrinal correctness, but a genuine response of faith to the transcendent God, whoever that God may be.

While Glaser does not express a particular view, she persuasively illustrates how each camp interprets and omits Bible passages in order to support their respective presuppositions. John 14:6, for example, can be read through the lens of an exclusivist, inclusivist, or a pluralist. An exclusivist would read this verse loudly and emphasize the word “the” in the English translation. An inclusivist would agree that Jesus is the only way, but would recognize the possibility that Jesus could be the only way, the only truth, and the only life in an indirect way. A pluralist, though uncomfortable with such a verse, would point out that this was true at that time and for those people, but does not necessarily apply to all cultures and contexts today.

While this may be troubling for some, Glaser shows the importance of interpreting biblical texts within their literary context. Her approach involves reading John 14:6 in light of John’s prologue in chapter one. As she does so – at least in my reading – she disqualifies the pluralist interpretation, weakens the insistence for an exclusivist interpretation, and validates the possibility of an inclusivist interpretation. Whichever position we may take, we find that this passage does not solve all of the issues that we might have hoped. At the same time, however, by reading a passage within its broader context, we are more likely to see how Scripture was intended to be read. Rather than taking a verse out of context for our religious (and sometimes vicious) purposes, it is essential that we read Scripture with caution and humility.

The book addresses many other important issues, but at its core, focuses on the Bible itself and what it has to say about other religions. Personally, I found this fascinating. If nothing else, The Bible and Other Faiths is worth reading for its helpful summary of Genesis.

Regarding the Old Testament, Glaser discusses the Pentateuch, historical books, wisdom literature, and considers their broader cultural context. While all of this was very intriguing, most significant may be her comments about the Tower of Babel and Abraham. She persuasively argues that Abraham may have originally known Yahweh as “El” from Canaanite religion, and that the Israelites gradually came to the awareness the their God was unlike the other gods that surrounded them. This of course, seems to suggest that people from other religions could gradually come to know God through God’s special intervention.

Concerning the New Testament, Glaser shows that other faiths were frequently present in the Gospels and Acts. The Parable of the Good Samaritan becomes much more poignant when you consider that the Samaritans were idolaters in the eyes of the Jews. Likewise, the fact that Cornelius’ prayers are heard by God should sober us as we consider seekers from other religions. While Glaser recognizes that modern religious systems such as Islam or Hinduism are not specifically addressed, she proves that the New Testament can provide more instruction than we might originally think – not so much in terms of philosophical argument, but in terms of loving others into the Kingdom of God.

In the final chapter, the author returns to her initial proposal that some questions are more important than others. In her view, in which she admits her own uncertainty, we cannot answer all of the questions with absolute certainty. The Bible was not intended to tell us everything that we want to know, but everything that we need to know – or what God wanted to make clear to us. Thus, as surprising as it may be, she does not state whether the Bible is exclusive, inclusive, or pluralist in its claims – for as she says, the Bible was not written with those categories in mind. For many, Glaser’s epistemic humility will be refreshing, while others may become frustrated.

As summarized in the final chapter, one of the main messages of the book is that our responsibility towards other religions is not always clear. However, we should continually search Scripture for guidance. Rather than making blanket statements about religions like Buddhism or Islam, the Bible provides us with insights of how to relate to specific individuals within different traditions. Scripture does not offer a single method, systematic approach to non-Christians, but reorients our own lives, so that we can minister more effectively to the people that we meet amongst the many world religions today. In other words, Scripture is more focused on people than systems.

It is important to recognize our ignorance when it comes to the Bible’s silence, and likewise, we must recognize our own inability to convert others to Christianity. It is better to focus on our own response – what the Bible does talk about – so that we can be faithful to God’s call and eventually lead others to the truth of the gospel. Even though we may not know all of the answers to all of our questions, it is still necessary to reach out to all people in all parts of the world, regardless who or where they may be.

For the most part, I agree with Glaser’s position, and I share many of her concerns. However, I wonder how far we can separate the two kinds of questions that she discusses at the beginning and end of her book. Granting that there is a difference between extrospective and introspective questions, a reader should question how different these questions really are. And since most of the book is founded upon this dichotomy, this is an important issue to raise. Glaser herself admits that the two are “related,” but they may be more related than her book seems to suggest. (13)

My primary concern is that she does not answer a fundamental question that many Christians currently struggle with – namely, is Jesus exclusive or inclusive? To illustrate this point, The Bible and Other Faiths teaches Christians how to interact with other faiths on a daily basis, but what happens when someone from another faith asks us an either-or question? Do we tell that person that we do not know, that Jesus is exclusive, or that Jesus is inclusive? Unfortunately, this book does help in that regard. While it helps us become more charitable, it does not help others by providing them with an objective answer to their most important question.

Even with this omission, however, Glaser offers a considerable amount of wisdom, and many Christians can benefit from reading this book. I found the book encouraging, instructive, and inspiring. Even though not all of my questions were resolved, a book like this that inspires further thought and investigation is definitely worth reading and re-reading. Most importantly, The Bible and Other Faiths focused my eyes on Scripture and challenged me to further search the text. Thanks to this book, I have been motivated to search my own heart and to change the way that I interact with people from other world religions.

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For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.

How Sweet and Awful Is the Place

How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.

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“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”
- Isaiah 11:10

Isaiah’s prophesied to the people of God that a Savior was coming. Through an heir of Jesse, people from all nations would be saved. This was a message of great hope, and hundreds of years later, the people of God would see that the “banner for the peoples” was Jesus Christ.

By taking on human flesh, Jesus displayed to the world who God truly is. Jesus proclaimed rescue and safety for all those who come to Him, and He offered rest to the weary. For anyone that unites with Him, Christ offers spiritual peace by reconciling us to God. Jesus alone can provide the rest that we all long for.

The birth of Christ is a reminder God rules over all of creation. With foresight and divine control, God set His intent into motion hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. Sovereign over all things, God knew far beyond what any human being could predict, for only God knows what the future holds. Nothing in human history is a surprise to God.

For us today, this is incredible news. Because the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Christ, we can find great peace and comfort in the fact that God knows all things, and He is more than capable of taking care of us in our time of need.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for your sovereign will. Our plans shift, change, and fail, but yours remain forever. Thank you for your gift of salvation and for sending Jesus to be a banner for all the nations. This year, may Christmas be more than an American holiday, but may it be a reminder for us that you desire to save all kinds of people, from every nation. We acknowledge and believe that you alone are the world’s source of comfort and peace.

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A friend recently asked me to explain what a hymn is, and it is a great question. Here are a few observations. Feel free to comment and add any of your own.

1. A hymn is not determined by when it was written. The date is irrelevant. Many hymns are being written today — usually more modern in style and easier to sing.

2. Hymns often consist of a progression of lyrics, thus the need for multiple verses. (e.g., progressing from the incarnation to the consummation)

3. Hymns are generally more eloquent and theological, and for that reason, they appeal to the cognitive part of us. Hymns inspire by reminding believers of specific doctrinal truths.

4. Hymns are usually laden with complex truths, which makes them suitable to pair with praise choruses that are often simpler and more emotive. We need to worship in both spirit and truth.

5. Hymns often repeat words, especially during a refrain — a trait that they share in common with praise choruses.

6. Hymns are not inerrant. Some are well-written and worth singing, while others are not. Some wonderful hymns have been treasured by the church and passed down for centuries.

7. Hymns acquire deeper meaning over time as Christians sing them in church, at weddings, at funerals, decade after decade. As a Christian sings them over the years, the truth expressed in the lyrics becomes more precious.

8. Older hymns often have a difficult melody line to sing and can be out of the vocal range of many people. The notes and style are not sacred, however, so musicians should feel free to adjust the melody and arrangement for the sake of the congregation.

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Driving through various parts of Chicago, I was reminded of how scattered and isolated we have become as a nation. This is nothing new, of course, but I realized again how many social and economic barriers we have created amongst ourselves. One block is home to one ethnicity, while across the street is another. As a society, we are not united as much as we think, but broken.

Admittedly, it is easy to criticize the Christian church for not being more multicultural and diverse. While there are usually good intentions within our churches, in actuality, very little is done. This is because there is not a quick solution or an easy program that will erase the societal boundaries that surround us. We face a nearly insurmountable task.

However… we serve an amazing God. Our God is constantly desiring to tear down boundaries between people groups and unite them in love. He is continually destroying the walls of hostility. He unites people through His love.

While we don’t have easy answers, we serve a God who has all of the answers. If our God could part the Red Sea, then He can work miraculously in our communities. But we need to believe. Step one in being more multicultural is trusting in a miraculous God.