Picture this: you arrive somewhere, and you’re the only one like you. Everyone notices. Everyone else is different. Nothing about them feels like familiar. How do you respond? Do you ignore it? Roll with it? Freak out over it? Embrace it?
Maybe this is a real-life experience you’ve had, like that time you were the only one who thought it was a costume party, or when you had to put a few gallons in your car at that sketchy gas station late at night. Or when you shared the gospel in an Ethiopian village, as many Watermark young adults have done this summer. Or maybe you’ve never had an experience like that, because you only surround yourself with what’s familiar, similar, and comfortable. Either way, like we talked about at the Porch on Tuesday, learning how to deal with differences in a healthy way is a really important part of being a Christian.
I know what it’s like to be different and abnormal. That may sound funny coming from a married 30-something white male living in Dallas, but it’s true. For one, I’m a redhead, which means that only about 2% of the world’s population is like me. But more significantly, I also grew up in Japan as a missionary kid. It’s hard to look less Japanese than I do. For years, everywhere I went I heard people shouting “gaijin!” (foreigner). Some of them ran closer, and some ran away. Everyone noticed.
I also have some diversity in my family. All of my cousins on my mom’s side are half-Mexican. Many of my other aunts and uncles were missionaries overseas. At our family reunions you might hear a mix of English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and German.
I’ve been the first white person that someone ever saw while I was on a discipleship trip to a remote village in Ethiopia. I’ve also been the only white person in a house full of black people, hanging out with my Mercy Street mentee.
This isn’t about me and how unique I am or my family is, but I say all of that because every one of those situations (minus the red hair) happened because someone made a decision to get past their differences in order to follow Jesus. And that’s something that you – and everyone else – needs to do too. Here are three ideas on how to do that more and more.
The Apostle Paul, who interacted with all kinds of people, had a laser focus on the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 he wrote that the thing of “first importance” to him was telling people the gospel – that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
One of the things that this gospel does is bring unity across racial, economic, and gender lines. Paul said in Galatians 3:28 that everyone who has trusted Christ is a child of God, unified with other believers regardless of differences. God knows that those differences exist – He’s not oblivious to them. But he does look beyond them, focusing on the heart and not on external appearance. As God’s children, we should imitate our Heavenly Father in that. The gospel is for everyone, and it has the potential to unite everyone.
Are differences a really big deal to you? Do you struggle to relate to or connect with people who aren’t like you? Maybe you need to spend some time thinking deeply about the gospel and what it means, and ask God to help you see people as He does. If you’re not there yet, ask God for help – He’s able to give you a new heart and transform your mind.
How can you stop thinking like a ______ and start thinking like a Christian?
Dismissing or ignoring differences doesn’t actually deal with them; it just keeps them bubbling below the surface instead of getting aired out. Whatever your differences are with people, talking about them with gospel-inspired grace will help you build a deeper relationship with them. As long as you do it in a loving way, it doesn’t have to feel like you’re a member of the bomb squad when you talk about differences, just hoping that something doesn’t explode.
This is a biblical idea. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 says that as a Christian, you are God’s ambassador to the world, imploring people to be reconciled to God. An ambassador’s job is to build relationships and overcome differences, on behalf the Sovereign who sent them. When you face and engage with differences around you, you should be an ally, not an antagonist. A brother, not the bomb squad. A diplomat, not a D-Day invader. Speak the truth in love about your differences, with an emphasis on love.
What are the differences that you’ve been avoiding that you need to talk about and engage with in a gospel-centered way? Where have you not been a peace-maker?
God wants you to serve people who aren’t like you. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” And Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 that anything we do for the “least of these” is something that we do for Him. God loves people who are really different from you, and He wants you to love them too.
This is not always easy to do. Being a missionary was really hard at times. Sharing the gospel in Ethiopia required training, fundraising, and using time off for that instead of vacation. Building a relationship with a Mercy Street mentee took time and a willingness to hang out in a neighborhood that wasn’t like mine. The amazing thing, though, is that God overcomes differences as you serve as His faithful ambassador. Some of my dearest friends in the world are Japanese. I still share a bond and communicate with Ethiopian brothers and sisters in Christ. And God changed my attitude towards West Dallas from feeling out of place to seeing the people there as my friends. The differences are still there, but they just matter less. What really matters is the gospel-centered relationship that’s been built.
What are some areas where you need to reach out and serve those who are not like you? Trust God, step out in faith, and watch Him work! If you have no idea where to start, check out Unashamed. Don’t let your differences hold you back from following Jesus!