This past Christmas season, I was eating out and was being waited on by a young waitress that I had come to know over a period of time. I asked if I could pray for her and she mentioned her husband needed work and couldn’t find it but that she had been able to work some overtime and that tips had been a little better but she still didn’t have enough to buy a Christmas tree for the kids to have their presents under. As I ate my meal, I thought about the joy of my own childhood Christmas’s, the presents, the tree. After I finished eating, I paid my check, left a tip along with an extra $25 to buy a small pre-lit artificial Wal-mart tree.
In Chapter 6: Engaging Culture, in the book Real-Time Connections, Bob Roberts begins by telling the story of his love of art and how he began developing friendships with artists in the galleries of Hanoi, Vietnam. These friendships had been made possible through the efforts of Northwood Church and their willingness to venture out of their safe zone into a world that didn’t offer the safety and security of their worship centers, Sunday school rooms and church offices. One of the first things that Roberts is quick to remind us is that:
“When you really understand the scope of God’s Kingdom, all the work that a disciple does is ‘religious’ work.”
All throughout the New Testament, the writers, especially the Apostle Paul is quick to remind us of the universality of the redemptive work of Christ on all aspects of the human experience beginning with the restoration of the honor and dignity of the human existence as it reflects the image of God, to our relationship with our creator and then with one another in our families, friendships, work place connections, and acquaintances with those working in the grocery store, the waitress at your favorite restaurant and the check out girl at the Wal-mart…and so on. He also reminds us that each disciple of Christ should be able to verbalize what it is that Christ has done for them and is currently doing in them; but, at the same time, God wants to use each person to bring a visible manifestation of His reconciliatory work to the world through work, gifts, skills and relationships. All of the core elements of life in education, agriculture, communication, science/technology, government and so on are all elements in which disciples are supposed to permeate all activities of life. Religion/faith is not a separate part of society, but is in reality the filter and mechanism through which we operate in all the other arenas of life.
In a culture where people withdraw and become apathetic in regards to the political process, pull kids from public school in favor of homeschooling (I’m not against homeschooling when it’s an honest God-call, but not just because it’s a fad in “religious” circles), resist expressing our faith and worldview in front of our friends, family, co-workers and others, we tend to sit around and lament and complain about how bad things are in the world when Jesus reminds us time and again that this is the type of behavior we should be ready to expect because they are lost and don’t know any better.
“Don’t be surprised when they abuse you and treat you spitefully…” and “don’t fear when they hate you because they hated me first” the BDN (me) paraphrase….
They point is that we have not been called to separate ourselves from culture and become a subculture that exists in a pseudo-reality. Instead, we are called to exist within the current culture, engage it, exist within it and teach it what it means to live with the honor and dignity that a God-led life contains. As Bob Roberts puts it:
“Christianity is an integrated faith. It permeates every area of life-family, work, government, play and relationships…When we integrate with others, it doesn’t necessarily mean complete assimilation. As followers of Jesus, we do not let the world swallow us into its value system and give up our convictions.”
Jesus called has called us to be salt and light and while many fine sermons have been preached on the characteristics and qualities of these things, the most important thing to remember is that both salt and light, when applied to a specific environment, brings a fundamental change to that environment. Christianity that has created a paranoid, defensive posture brings no relationships, no community and eventually, the church itself breaks down and fails to be the complete body of Christ and becomes a group of schismatic cliques that vie for power and control. It stops being a serving faith that engages its towns, cities, neighborhoods, states, nations, or its world for the cause of the Gospel of Christ with the same unconditional, unmerited, undeserved, un-earnable love that God showed us “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Would the world be so fortunate that we would die to ourselves and live in Christ to be salt and light and bring it a fundamental change? The next time you eat out, ask the waitress how you can pray for her, and when she says she needs parts to keep the car running to get the kids to school and herself to work…give her an extra $10 for a tip…