Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Diversity in God's Kingdom

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Living in a Perfect World".  Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

I realize that 'diversity' is a popular word in our society, and it usually refers to the virtue of variety among the people in a society, whether it is ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, or religious diversity.  I agree that the flavor of a society is enhanced by diversity, though my devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ motivates a desire to eliminate religious diversity.  Yet, as I finish the study of a great chapter like Isaiah 11, I can't help but think about diversity among the people of God...diversity in the church...diversity among Christians.

Linguistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity (and more) all exist in the people of God.  The vision of Isaiah 11 is that the Messiah is a signal to all the peoples...that all nations will inquire of Him (v. 10).  However, at the same time, the nations of Israel and Judah will not be fully cut off.  Jews who trust and follow the Messiah, Jesus, will also be included in His kingdom (v. 11, cf. Rom. 9-11).  Thus, people from every tribe and tongue and nation...from the four corners of the earth...make up God's kingdom (v. 12). 

This vision of Isaiah is echoed in the vision given to the apostle John in Revelation 9:9-10...a vision I often visit.  John writes, "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"  What a beautiful picture of diversity around the throne of God!

While I long for this king of "tribes and peoples and languages" diversity to appear more in my own local church (and other local churches), there is still God-given diversity to celebrate in simply looking around at those who belong to the people of God.  The church is a beautiful tapestry of humanity.  Let me tell you of the people I've interacted with and heard of in the last 24 hours, just to give a few examples.

Yesterday, I sat and talked with a man who is working on his Ph.D. in biochemistry.  He is studying a protein whose activity affects the development of long-term memory.  As he works in the IU School of Medicine, the end of his work could ultimately mean the development of a drug that stops brain deterioration after a stroke.  I have to admit...while I followed most of the conversation, there were moments where I was scrolling through my mental glossary to try and locate some of his terms.  I didn't find them all, but I was in awe of our Creator and found myself later reflecting on his study and glorifying the God who made our brains in this way.

This morning, I sat down with a completely different individual.  He is a writer...at least, by night, he is a writer.  I listened as he read part of his work to me, and I was enamored by his use of language and imagery.  To be honest, I had to fight against my own envy of his ability to use words to create mental images.  This brother wants to write fiction in such a way that it reaches into a mostly unreached and isolated sub-culture of our society...prompting questions that would ultimately lead them to the gospel.  I encouraged him to persevere in it because he really seems to be on the right track to reach this goal.  As he left my office, I thought about how men like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were used to do much the same thing, and I found myself praying that God would give my brother such a platform.

Later, I heard the story of a man whose life had virtually fallen apart.  Because of the choices he had made, he was in a maximum security prison believing he would be there the rest of his life.  He spent the first 18 months  of his sentence in a place of solitary confinement simply called 'the hole.'  Having grown up in a Christian home, he was constantly exposed to the gospel, but he rebelled against his parents and against God.  It was in 'the hole' that he found himself faced with two distinct options.  He was going to kill himself, or he was going to die to himself and live for God.  Praise the Lord...he chose the latter.  The man was saved in that hole, and he was prepared to glorify God for the rest of his life in that prison.  God's providential hand saw fit to do otherwise, and he is now out...on probation...and serving the Lord.

Three more different men one could not meet if he tried (I have not yet met this third man but plan to soon).  Yet, the analytical biochemist, the creative author, and the ex-con all have the same Savior.  It was the same blood of the same Christ that has redeemed each man from his sin.  Each of these men has crossed over from the same death into the same life...they have made their exodus from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus and His light.  It has been said that the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and the brief portraits of these three men demonstrate that truth.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:28-29).  The biochemist, the author, and the ex-con all come from different physical families...in that sense, they have different ancestors.  Yet, the truth is this...they have the same ancestor.  They are all Abraham's offspring because they have the same faith as their ancestor.  They have believed, and it has been counted to them as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).  Each of them, as Gentiles, has seen the signal raised for the nations (Is. 11:12), the Lord Jesus Christ.  They have been brought to His banqueting house, and they now live under His banner, which is love (Song of Sol. 2:4). 

In the kingdom of God, those who might be naturally separated are brought together in one family.  What a beautiful, God-glorifying diversity!  In our day, we live in a 'Christian sub-culture' whose 'experts' talk about 'blue-collar churches,' 'white-collar churches,' 'white churches,' 'black churches,' etc.  I know this is probably helpful for sociological studies and the like, and in our fallen world, this kind of division is and always will be present.  However, knowing what the future holds and knowing the diversity of those with whom we will share eternity, we should be a bit malcontent.  We should long for more kingdom diversity to show itself in our churches...where it's hard (if not impossible) for socioeconomic, ethnic, or cultural labels to stick.  And if God should grant it, may we cherish it as a foretaste of eternity!