Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,
NEXT— ungrateful at Thanksgiving
Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,
NEXT— ungrateful at Thanksgiving
One of the oddities of our day, or maybe every era, is that genuine Christians never seem to rise to the occasion. We wait to see what happens before we respond or step in. To my way of thinking we need to step up our game. We need to be leaders within our culture and community, not waiting to see how things go and then reacting.
One of the causes of this is that we are too wrapped up in church work. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but if it keeps us from our primary mission of drawing people to Christ then something is seriously wrong. We create a comfortable confined faith imprisoning ourselves from the world out there. I never saw Jesus draw that us/them dichotomy.
In the world, but not of it. Remember?
So…, how do we step up our game? Some thoughts—
Start by cutting back. You are probably excessively frantic & over-committed. [Aren’t we all?] You will never be able to have an effect on your surrounding community unless you make time for them— and that means cutting.
Listen to people around you; friends, neighbors, work associates, waitresses. Learn from them. It may take a while before they open their lives to you, but there will come a time when you become a safe person for them. Wait for it. Wait for it.
Up your silence before the Lord. Listen more before him than you ask for things. ‘Nough said.
Find someone with a common mind and heart to yours; someone who shares your passion for this world and the people in it. Meet often. Talk about your discouragements too.
Never forget that our Adversary prowls about like a roaring lion who wants to eat you up. [1 Peter 5:8]
Finally, stick to it; stay committed. It is too easy to become distracted and exhausted when our Lord calls you to make a difference.
There will always be challenges-to-complacency in life. Don’t give in to the illusion of safety.
Honor God, honor people…, make a difference,
2. To the best of your recollection, what is the Christian Gospel?
a. Now find someone who is NOT a Christian and ask them what it is.
b. Tell them your understanding of the Gospel. Ask for their feedback.
3. Interview people, Christian and otherwise, about the statement- The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths. What did you learn?
4. Ask people if they have overriding principles that govern their actions. Learn.
5. How are your overriding principles apparent in your actions?
6. Given that throughout history the Christian faith has adapted to fit into every people group, culture and era around the world, what do you think of the idea of a postChristian Gospel? Is it opening Pandora’s Box?
7. To what extent is our message a mind-to-mind transfer of information leading to a decision to follow Christ? To what extent is it a heart-to-heart thing leading to an encounter with Christ that can be explained later?
8. In what circumstances is a problem-solving model of the gospel more appropriate? In what circumstances is a fulfillment model more appropriate?
9. How do you discover the presuppositions and assumptions a person holds about life and the Christian interpretation of life?
10. How simple is the Gospel? How expansive could it be?
11. How are you doing at being in the world, but not of it?
12. Where do you have a tough time bein’ green?
You know how it goes. You finish something, then you finish it again— similar to the “here’s my first final draft” submission scenario of so many doctoral theses. This first last entry will set forth practical ideas so you won’t simply put it aside and do nothing. First, to deal with the realities of this major cultural shift to a postmodern/postChristian society, I’ll suggest some personal characteristics which you will need to integrate, with some degree of wholeness, into your life and livelihood. Then I’ll lay out more general observations to keep in the back of your head as you move about, surrounded by a postChristian/post-moral population. Please, as you read this blog, know that these recommendations are only applicable if you are serious about relating to the emerging set of people we presently refer to as postmoderns. I prefer to describe them aspostChristian, or even as post-morals.
First, you will need a little patience. It takes time to understand paradigm shifts and how they affect everything. It takes time to gain an eagle’s eye perspective on your own culture, community, and personal heritage. You almost need to have an out of body experience, to be able to fly over your world like an eagle to truly see yourself, in this place & time. When you step back a bit and observe, even your own self seems different; and in many ways, people today are different. Flash observations just do not work.
We have to learn to live alongside people who are increasingly different from ourselves. Don’t jump to conclusions after one encounter with people outside your own social group; people have arrived where they are in life over long, hard roads; some roads, quite far from your own path. Take time to win the right to allow people to trust you with their road’s story, on their terms, on their turf. Some time ago, I met with an ALPHA group. We had met together before, but never quite like this— one Australian, two Iranian Muslims, and four Chinese students from Beijing (all in their late 20s–early 30s). Our small group fell into a discussion of the differences between being raised in a Christianized society (America), a Muslim society (Iran), and an atheistic society (China). The Muslims were convinced that Islam was the one true religion because it was the most recent, which meant that it was the most complete, incorporating all previous religions into it. The Chinese, not-quite-atheists were brand new to the idea of a God even existing. How could God be Jesus if Jesus came to earth? It was an exciting evening of interchange, disagreement, and friendship as each person was able to speak without fear of recrimination or evangelistic attack. No one had to win. As the only Christian in the group, I was honored to watch our Lord begin to work His miracles in these people. I just needed to be there, modeling honest, transparent Christian faith, speaking the Truth in love. It was not a time to whip out a Gospel outline and proceed to read through it; it was not a time to maneuver the conversation around to Christian things. It was rather a time for me to be still and to listen for the voice of God’s Holy Spirit coming out of these curious individuals. I was amazed at the genuinely Biblical images and ideology they espoused without even knowing it. Then I just had to wait. As said earlier, God is in control; we don’t have to be. New expressions of faith evolve naturally with time and generational transitions[i]; so learn patience.
On the other hand, as Christians in a rapidly evolving society, we do not have a lot of time to adapt to our changing world. It used to be that paradigm shifts occurred about every 200-500 years. When the printing press enabled merchants to carry information (as well as their wares) across Eurasia those shifts accelerated paradigm change to about every 40-50 years. With the dissemination of communication technology that figure is accelerating even more today. What communicates our faith today will have to change or update not every 20 – 30 years, but every 5 years. George Barna, in BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century,[ii] says that, at best, we have no more than 3-5 years to catch up before things shift again. Then, we need to surpass the culture in breaking ground for the next shift to follow.[iii] “If you can see the future coming,” says Barna, “it’s too late.”
NEXT time, in the first-last-entry, I’ll leave you with some observations about how to immerse yourself in our new postChristian world, and how to fall in love with her people. Seriously.
Writing one final EMPulse in this series…, maybe,
[i] “Generational Dominance” refers to the overall influence any particular generation, or subculture within that generation, exerts over a regional or national culture in general.
[ii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001.
[iii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001. p.20.
Grappling with our culture’s swing to a postChristian mind-set has not been easy for me. In my conversations with normal people the idea of accountability to anyone outside my immediate self sounds nonsensical. It’s tantamount to explaining thermonuclear dynamics to a classical ballet dancer; there is no overlap in perspective or interest.
So, thank you, for bearing with me in my attempts to explain God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to a vast majority of people who have no notion of “god,” let alone of their need for salvation.
Let’s be honest as we continue opening Pandora ’s Box. We want a god, if, indeed, we want a god at all, with whom we are comfortable; a god who resembles us, who has human qualities, but not divine ones. We want a god of our own design, not one who tells us who He is and who we are; we want a god who plays by our rules. We do not want a God like the Christian God who sets up the parameters of how we are to relate to Him and His world.
Even so, this is the God that postModern people need to see for who He truly is; not a watered-down version of Him, nor a Christianized-sweet-Jesus version of Him. They need to see the God of Glory, the Creator-Sustainer God who desires to love us and enable us to fulfill what He intended for us from the foundation of the universe. And we can only see that happen in reestablishing a connection with Him in Jesus Christ. Confessing sin, seeking His forgiveness for rebellion, and finding fulfillment, need to be blended together for this postChristian era. Any partial “formula” for a relationship with Christ will lead to death, literally.
I do not want to be seen as heretical in my view of God, of Holy Scripture, and especially of the Gospel of our Lord. But it is past time when the Problem Solving/Sales Model gospel presentation needs to be laid to rest. Even those who live in enclaves of evangelical America are so familiar with the content of these formulations that the words have lost their definition and Biblical context. Summary outlines, though helpful to remember the “main points” of the message, can lack an authentic depth and life-context. It is time for followers of Christ to build rich relationships with those who don’t have the slightest clue as to what our faith is about. The Gospel is much more than a simple 4-5 point summary. It is time we put flesh on the Words of Scripture; it is time we started reading our Bibles and not simply quoting from them. It rests upon us to learn the heartbeat of the Scriptures and the language of our surrounding society…, & to bring them together. We need to frame our faith and message in ways that can be understood, felt, seen, and lived out in our individual and corporate lives, as one.
Besides being able to couch our message in the mindset of our host culture, we also rests upon us not only to learn their language (Missionology 101), but one thing more— we need to learn to earnestly learn to love them. Love them?!? Love people who are so different from us!?! That’s easier said than done. Quite true. We can hardly love the differences among ourselves. Jesus understood how diverse a people His Church would become; that is why He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) We MUST learn to genuinely love one another (also read- forgive) if we are ever to love “the world!?!”
Any communication to people who have no Christian understanding whatsoever, true postChristians, must be couched in their language, their experience-set, and their precepts. To do so involves expanding our own understanding of the extent and very substance of the Christian message. The gospel is not simply about solving the sin problem. It is so much more. It is about pulling the entirety of human history back in line with the principles that God our Creator set down for us to live by. The greatness of Christ’s message reaches far beyond simple conversion; it calls for relief for those who are poor, justice in our courts, freedom for the oppressed, and healing for those in need. Jesus knew this when he read—
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set oppressed people free.” (Luke 4:18 ISV)
The gospel in a postChristian era has more far reaching effects and implications than individual justification: it involves challenges for the whole person, the whole culture, and the whole world.
NEXT TIME~ Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing — part 5.
In many ways this EMPulse is what you’re really looking for in this series. For those interested in the shift from a Modern worldview to a postModern/postChristian worldview you are well aware that we have analyzed this shift to death. Between George Barna and George Gallup we have compiled enough statistics to fill a barn. But understanding is not the issue. It’s what to DO about the shift that is the real issue. That is what this section will address. What follows are some simple things you can do to change, adjust, adapt, cope, whatever— first, on an individual level, and then, [Part 2] corporately as a Body of Christ. On the one hand, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and on the other hand, we have entered into a new phase in history. An entire generation has been born in the West with no Christian history, no Christian memory or experience whatsoever. Any semblance of “Western Christian culture” is fading into oblivion as a forgotten archeological relic. Let’s begin… .
Paradigm Pioneers Get Shot First: ~don’t be too quick to sign up!
First, a warning! You need to understand that as someone who is concerned, frustrated, or even angry at Christianity’s seeming inabilities to adjust to a new set of cultural rules, you will not be a popular person, especially with the powers that be. True Christian leadership within this postModern mentality is what is desperately needed. We’ve all seen those SUCCESS sections in Flight magazines— you know, the ones with motivational posters to put up in your office. [You can find another series at the website www.despair.com that offers a truly different slant on motivational posters.] The one I find most germane to being a paradigm pioneer depicts an eye-level bright green lawn, with one blade of grass standing taller than all the rest. The caption reads— Remember…, it’s the tallest blade of grass that gets cut first. Get the picture? Ask yourself— “Are you more interested in a position of authority, where you are respected within the Christian matrix, or are you convinced that you want to lead the way in reshaping our faith in this emerging postmodern/postChristian world?”
If you find yourself in the latter position, then you must adjust your self-perception to a new reality— YOU are a target. To be sure, ALL Christians are targets…, it’s just that some are more selected targets than others; they are the tallest blades of grass. If you are sure, then rest assured you will take the first shots. The sad thing is that the shot is more likely to come from the back— not from enemy lines. Christians across North America have long valued their own comfort and safety over frontline battle. If you do find any comrades-in-arms you will probably find them on the fringes of faith. Outfielders, without whom the ball game would be lost.
But every new wave of the Spirit of God always starts with committed, called, set-apart men and women of vision, courage, and risk. In short, any changes or ideas to be implemented in the Christian community must be initiated by people like you. It’s up to you. Are you up for it? If so, you will not find yourself alone, but you will find yourself scarce. Such are the postmodern/postchristian prophets— you, a Christian paradigm-pioneer. You will be the first to take the shot. If this sounds like fun to you, keep reading.
Another preemptive move must be addressed before we tackle the practical stuff. Your spiritual health and your spiritual perception are the primary armor you will need to do battle in a postChristian context. Do not even attempt to pioneer anything without a firm grounding in personal cleanness and righteousness before the Lord God. Leadership in postChristian times is always a matter of sticking your neck out. This has been true throughout the history of the church. So…, let’s go.
Or, is there another way? Try not doing so much. Breathe more. Slow down, cut some commitments (even for your kids), and take a hike. Throughout all life there are growth-plateaus where our bodies and minds must come to rest. Are you moving so fast that you must slow down to even hear God? Please, for Jesus’ sake, STOP! Let your spirit catch up to your body. Pressurized postmoderns need to see that kind of tranquility, that kind of s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s, and that kind of trust in our God.
I actually wonder if God didn’t create prayer solely for our benefit, for our sense of connection, communication, and closeness to Him?
NEXT TIME~ Reinventing Church:
So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again? Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.
It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think? You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).
Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns? What happens when we insist on following old maps?
The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itself—So much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off. For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence. As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?” (Ever hear that one?)
The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right. In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.
A Whiplash Effect—
A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—
Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:
The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.
So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!
First, if we are to flourish in our present postChristian culture we must be deeply networked within our church— our Christian community. We need her safety, her training, her friendships and definitely her worship together. We need to tell our stories to one another, share our lives together, and, always, eat chicken & pizza together. Maybe not at the same time.
The relationships we build within the Body of Christ are critically important for those who might attend church with us. They need to see hugging and laughter and prayer and forgiveness of one another. They need to join in on the fun. They need to see what life in Christ might be like.
Secondly, before you can ever get them to darken the doors of a church you first have to get to know them in the midst of their safe-places, among their friends and within their interests. No Christian should dwell in a void, surrounded exclusively by other Christians. We need to embed ourselves inside our office parties, Saturday baseball leagues, our children’s sports teams, even the PTA & library reading club. God never intended us to hibernate away from our surrounding culture except for times of prayer & fasting.
What He expects us to do is to become beacons of light, enjoying the celebrations of this world with the friends we make in it. If all we have are Christian friends we have somehow lost the intent of the Great Commission to “GO!” We are not given the leisure to WAIT for people to come to us. We are called to enter their world; very much, I think, like Jesus did.
WARNING: If you do this you will get your hands dirty. You will have your faith challenged…, and strengthened. Some well-meaning believers will criticize you for spending so much time among “the heathen.” That, too, is what Jesus experienced. It’s where He was meant to be. It’s where we are meant to be too.
For what it’s worth,
In this edition of Beyond Words (Take 6) we will limit our observations to the recipients of our message— the billions of “normal people” across our country and world who span the gamut from cursory familiarity with the gospel to complete cluelessness about anything Christian.
To communicate our message to the diversity of people around the world we need to know their language, their cultural underpinnings, their mores and beliefs. Most missionaries know this. We need to know the extent to which their religious beliefs affect their daily lives. Some may adhere to a particular religion but hold no dedication to that faith whatsoever.
We especially need to know about peoples’ past experiences with the Christian faith— both positive and negative. Some people have had truly terrible encounters with our own “jerks4Jesus” set. Their prejudice seethes deep within. Others were raised in the church and have come to doubt the trustworthiness of any so-called Christians. Still more have had great encounters with Christians and have not ruled out Christianity as a viable guide for life, but…, not just yet.
Then there are differences in the way people perceive life; logical, artistic, as a responsibility, as a game, as a calling, etc. Science prone individuals are not going to put up with a simple gospel; for them, life is full of order and complexity. An artist will want a gospel with vibrancy and life to it. A mother of three— a gospel with some relief and rest. A builder will need to hear a Jesus who is practical that makes common sense.
So if you are asked “What is the gospel?” the correct initial response should be “For Who?” Not that you have to BE all these kinds of people, but at least you should LISTEN to them to understand their world a little better.
Peoples’ life experiences play a huge role in how they will respond to Christianity as a faith, and to individual Christians they may know. They may have already developed their own predispositions to who we are and what we say. To ignore their life experiences is to place your agenda of the gospel over against what God may have been doing in their lives for a long time.
The Truth never changes; but our job is to offer the crux of Christ’s message within the context of their life experiences, where they are on their journey…, not ours. Never forget that.
For what it’s worth,