I sat between two groups of pastors: one entirely English and Afrikaner, the other Sotho, Xhosa and Zulu. I was the only non-South African in the room, and the only woman.
It was 1990. Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison. Change was happening in South Africa, but people still lived in racially separated areas, and the church, with a few exceptions, was segregated. I’d been given the opportunity to bring these ministers together for a joint outreach.
I was not prepared for what I saw happen. Separately I knew them to be “men of God,” filled with His Spirit, in love with Jesus and committed to advancing the kingdom. But before my eyes, in the room that day, something very painful unfolded.
As the conversation began, the tone and demeanor of one group suddenly became superior and demanding. They’d never spoken to me that way. Nor had I seen them speak to one another like that. Then I watched as the second team, these faith-filled, dynamic men responded by lowering the volume of their voices, hunching their shoulders, looking at the ground and losing their confidence to speak freely.
I don’t believe either group was aware in that moment of what was happening. This way of relating to one another was so normal. Despite their calling, their knowledge of God’s Word and their good intentions, deeply ingrained old patterns of thinking about themselves and others had risen up and unseated their “new in Christ” perspective.
Jesus calls to us, “Come, follow me” (Matt 4:19, NIV). At many points on our journey, He confronts us with paths that are foreign to the ones we have been following. He asks us to lay down our lives. This involves self-denial and obedience.
It also requires a loss of our old identity. He tells us to shake off what used to define us: the human templates of thought that, up until Christ, determined the scope of our activities and relationships. He challenges us to daily take up an entirely new identity: one that loves what God loves and hates what He hates.
I’d like to hope that, if I could rewind, I’d do a better job of helping all of us in the room that day to move toward the fullness of what it means to be God’s new people (Eph. 2:14-16, NKJV). I’ve had many opportunities since to dismantle strong walls of division that separate us. And sometimes I’ve failed even to show up to the fight. On my best days, I’m intentional in my efforts. If I’m sitting “at a table” with individuals whose gifts are devalued because of biases, I try to make room for them. When I encounter hostile attitudes toward the very people we are called to reach with the message of reconciliation, I speak up.
We are partakers of the nature and Spirit of God. Within these sin-scarred vessels, He has deposited His life and love, enough to resurrect us from death and to powerfully work toward ongoing transformation. God has done so much to restore us to His image! But He does not do it all (see Rom. 12:1-2 and Eph. 4:22-24). If we can ditch those old beliefs and “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (v.24), we will become a people known by how we love one another.
- Lord, do my thoughts about the lost reflect Yours?
- Lord, do my thoughts and actions toward people who are very different from me reflect Yours?
- Lord, what are you asking me to do to carry your ministry of reconciliation to those around me?
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