Engaging Culture As Followers of Jesus

Part of following Jesus Christ is living as a learner, learning just how to live as his disciple. I’m still learning and sometimes I show how great of a student I am and sometimes, actually a lot of the time, it is evident how much I still have to learn. Nevertheless, because I believe that God is redeeming, reconciling, and restoring all of creation in Jesus Christ, I keep following. I want to participate with him in the mission of God, making the world aware of the good news and embodying that good news in the way I live. Doing that means involves at least two activities: 1) becoming aware of how God is presently at work in the world in order to join in that work and 2) knowing how to faithfully engage in that work among the world. I do neither well, at least not if Jesus is the standard by which I measure myself.

Becoming Present

When it comes to the first activity, part of my daily prayer is to see how God is presently at work around me and how I might participate in that. My trouble is that it more often I see God at work around me only in hindsight and by then, it’s a little too late to join in that work. That’s because I tend to be too tasked focuses on what I am doing and what I plan to be doing that I miss out on what God is doing (that’s not an excuse though!). However, lately I have really felt the conviction of the Spirit that I must become more present to what is happening around me and who is around me in order to more faithfully live on mission with God. And that opened up two incredible conversations this past weekend that I want to share.

  • The first conversation took place at pool-side with another parent while we both were waiting for our children who were having their swim practice. I was reading a book by James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular, for my upcoming D.Min seminar and this parent asked me about the book and why I was reading it. This particular person is a pediatrician who was grew up in England and is about to finish a Ph.D. in botanical medicine. Obviously, ver smart! Realizing that I am a minister engaged in theological studies, she asked me a question about homosexuality and what it means to be created in the image of God. Her own Episcopalian and very politically left background means that she has some different beliefs and values than I have when it comes to this issue, which I was aware of as we talked. Nevertheless, we had a good conversation sexuality and how Jesus showed hospitality to those regarded as sinners.
  • The second conversation happened, in of all places, while sitting in a hot-tub. Someone who knew that I went into Baltimore during the recent riots and protests to pray with and listen to the protesters asked me why I would do such thing. This question wasn’t a passive-aggressive attempt in maligning me for doing this, just an honest question from a person who happens to be Black. So I explained that I am a follower of Jesus and as his disciple, I refuse to let issues like racism and violence divide… that I want to do what I can to bring about reconciliation. So we had a good conversation about this.

Now let me get to why I want to share these two conversations with you.

Which Battle to Win?

As you know, both issues, sexuality and racism, are difficult issues that both the church and culture at large are wrestling with right now. Everyone has their beliefs on each issue and any conversation about either issue has the potential to quickly disintegrate into an argument that only creates further division and animosity. So as Christians, how do we engage in such conversations? This question brings us back to the second reality of participating on mission with God discussed above… of how we faithfully engage our culture, particularly our friends and neighbors.

In engaging our friends and neighbors, we want to remain faithful to Jesus. So besides treating others as we ourselves wish to be treated, we also want to speak truthfully about what we believe. That is, we want to speak the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15). But I want to suggest that sometimes speaking less is what it takes to speak in love and that this is how we must learn to engage our friends and neighbors. And if Facebook is any indication, this is something most followers of Jesus, including myself, need to learn.

This is about deciding what battle it is that we want to win. It requires listening and discerning first in order that we may create a dialogue. Part of the discernment is knowing that not every battle, or the entire battle itself, must be won in in one single moment. Therefore we must decide which battle do we want to win. Do we want to win a theological argument about sexuality and human nature or a political argument about racism and violence in a city like Baltimore? Or would we rather the win be that someone, one of our friends and neighbors, now knows that we are safe enough to ask questions on difficult and potentially volatile issues without being judged and dismissed because they may have some significant disagreements with us?

For me, the big battle, is about helping others to see God at work in Jesus, coming to believe in Jesus and follow Jesus because I believe that God is redeeming, reconciling, and restoring his creation in and through Jesus. I’m still learning how to do this and I already see in hindsight some ways that I could have handled to two conversations mentioned above a little differently… and probably better too. Nevertheless, we must pray that we may learn to be present in each moment, remaining open to the opportunities for engaging our friends and neighbors as followers of Jesus, and remaining patient and wise about what to say and what not to say. God has already won the big battle, we just need to kindly and patiently point others to that victory!

May we, who believe in and follow Jesus Christ, be filled with the Spirit in order to faithful participate in the mission of God!
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