Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Should We Live?

I’ve been working on a sermon for a passage that I have read many times, Matthew 5:13-16. It seems that sermons are preached on this passage all the time. You probably know it, we are to be salt and light and let our light shine before men. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have seen the light and we are called to shine that light before the world.

It seems like we come down on one of two extreme sides with this passage though. We either say that we need to live as obscure Christians who wear T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other cheesy sayings that “tell the world” that we are Christians, or we remain completely silent, not giving off any sign or indication that we have experienced life change through Jesus Christ. I’m really not comfortable with either of those options.

Option #1: Being a Nerd for Jesus
Don’t get me wrong, I like my “Christian” music and T-shirts, but they become the “end-all-be-all” for Christians. In fact, I have a friend who just published his first book about moving away from the “bumper sticker” gospel and looking at what Jesus said (you can get the book at, it’s worth the read!). There’s nothing like getting cut off or flipped off by someone with a fish, or better yet, a school of fish on the back of their Ford Explorer. Some example of the love of Christ, huh?

Option #2: Being Silent
I admit, oftentimes, Christians say too much. There are certain people (who shall remain nameless) who don’t know when to shut up. But at the same time, there are some who should speak up once in a while. We need to let our actions speak, but there are times when we need to use words.

So, that about a third option, is there one? Is there some middle ground that we can find? This is really what I have been struggling through all week. Where do we draw the line? How do we live in the world but not be of the world?

I was reading something that Craig Detweiler, a communications professor from Biola University, wrote the other day. He was talking about an older book by Richard Niebuhr called “Christ and Culture.” He talked about these different approaches that we take towards culture, how we interact with it, if we interact with it. There is a segment of the Christian population that thinks culture is evil and we have nothing whatsoever to gain from them. That’s just plain ignorant. I think that there is value in finding what the culture is saying, yet we may need to proceed with caution. Just as Paul saw that there were some who were younger in the faith and who may be easily swayed in the wrong direction, we need to know ourselves and what may be permissible for us (I could expound on this, but will save it for a later date).

The alternative that has been presented by this school of thought is to “Christianize” culture and present a tamer, Christian version of it. Unfortunately, that tamer, Christian version generally sucks! It’s so bad and unreal that even some Christians look at it and say, “Is that really the way that we are?” Then we wonder why those who are not followers of Christ look at us and call us “odd.”

The more that I think about it, the more that I think that we are trying too hard to make big statements when we need to realize that small statements will suffice. We feel the need to give out answers for questions that people haven’t even asked yet. Peter tells us to be ready to give an answer when we are asked (1 Peter 3:15). When we give answers to questions that we think people are asking or we want them to ask, those answers won’t be received very well. My father always used to tell me, “Advice not asked for is advice ill-taken.” Wise words from a wise man.

How do we remove our misconceptions and preconceived notions to be able to engage in conversations with people who have different worldviews than we do? We have to find common ground. If we meet people where they are and find ways to engage in conversation, we might find opportunities to answer questions that they might eventually ask. But we need to engage in conversation about things that matter to them. There’s more of a chance of the people that we interact with going to see “The Hurt Locker” or “Harry Potter” or “Star Trek” than there is of them going to see “Facing the Giants” or “Fireproof.”

I’m still working through this whole “in-the-world-not-of-the-world” idea. It’s not easy. What I’m finding is that subtleties open up opportunities for much more blatant explanation, but blatant explanations outright don’t leave me much room for other opportunities. There is no easy fix for this, yet we try to find one. We try to find a formula that will work and that’s just not the way that God made us. We are relational creatures and relationships are not ruled by formulas that are simple, they are abstract.

The best thing that I can think for us to do is to follow Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

May we live lives that cause people to ask us why we’re different, may we act in ways that make people want what we have, and may we do our best to live in the world but not be of the world.

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