If you visit the front page of the Westboro Baptist Church’s website, you will be bombarded with all kinds of hateful messages. ‘God hates fags’ to ‘Thank God for 2 more dead soldiers’. I don’t know about you but it makes me sick looking at the hate being displayed towards those they should be loving. Most of us are well aware of their protests and many have seen the photos of them holding up signs proclaiming disgust for the sinner along with a glee of their impending doom. They come across as hateful, self-righteous and hypocritical to a watching world. Most of us would agree that their methods are way off target, and in fact are making enemies of those they claim to be reaching with Christ’s love instead of building relationships. I think it’s safe to say that they are doing more harm than good.
But I wonder about how the ‘rest’ of us come across to a hurting world? An issue comes up that gets our Christian community all worked up, and we go on the warpath, protesting on social media, demanding boycotts of this movie, that book, or some political figure. I have been guilty myself of ‘protesting’ on social media in the past and found myself acting like a jerk, building walls instead of bridges. Are we justified in our ‘methodology’ often acting like jerks while we decry ‘Westboro’s’ practices? Whatever our position is (on anything), if we can’t communicate it in love, we’re nothing more than a clanging cymbal and our message is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13).
I am not saying that we don’t warn other Christian brothers and sisters by shining the light of God’s word on the dangers in the culture, especially dangers that might hurt our children or the little ones (new believers) within our care. I am not even saying that we should never prayerfully ‘protest’ and or ‘boycott’ as we sense the Holy Spirit’s prodding, such as when the medical system is brutally murdering unborn children, when assisted suicide is becoming mainstream, when paedophilia is being championed as normal by some in the psychiatry world. The gospel tells us that God is concerned for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. Obviously, there are times when we can’t remain silent and we have to step up and make some noise.
But here’s a news flash… our culture doesn’t care what we think about the evil creeping into our world. In fact, the culture is already evil, has been for a long time, ever since a couple named Adam & Eve. Honestly, what do we think the world thinks when we stamp our feet and tell them we’re upset with them for not acting like Christians? Think about that for a moment. Here’s the point – they aren’t Christians. That being the case, why do we expect them to act like Christ?
The thing is that we are called to be influencers in our culture. The question however is just how do we live and act to be those witnesses we have been called to be? If we truly believe that we must be influencers in our culture, as I do, allow me to share five ways that I believe will make a difference.
1) Intentionally become involved in the lives of those we live with
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
Since Jesus stepped into our culture and journeyed beside us, working to renew us, I believe that it be-hooves all Disciples of Christ to commit to becoming a part of the lives of individuals who make up the culture around us to see them transformed to live for Jesus.
That means then that we must be a part of the shaping of, engaging in & participating with culture to see it renewed. We’re not called to be taken out of the world but to use the things God has given human culture in order to bring glory to him: things such as music, movies, artistic expression, technology, etc. It is our privilege to redeem it to his glory – personal and cultural renewal through the gospel of Jesus.
More specifically, I believe that the local church needs to be equipped to be an outpouring of our relationship with Christ in our communities by identifying the needs of the community and then using the gifts at our disposal to meet those needs. This can only truly be done as relationships are created with the surrounding community otherwise all we become is a program machine instead of a place where mission meets needs.
2) Sacrificially love the neighbour we come in contact with
In the book of Jeremiah, we read about how the Israelite nation had been destroyed by the Babylonian empire, and were now relocated to that great city of Babylon. How should they react to this strange new foreign world and culture? What was their attitude supposed to be now that they were living there as a part of it?
Possibly they could just keep to themselves, stick their heads in the sand and have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Maybe they could just make lots of noise to point out their case whenever something they didn’t agree with came into view. They could have, but God said something to them that spoke to a unique way.
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7
God was saying that they were to put their energies and their focus into making Babylon a great city (culture) to live in. We’re not talking about a prosperity gospel thing or a social gospel thing, rather we’re talking about a societal welfare through loving others thing. In other words, his approach for them is to serve their neighbours – even though their language is different and have different morals and they don’t believe what they believe.
God wants them to pray for the city and people, which really means to love them. Love them, pray for them, and look for ways to help them become a prosperous, peaceful city, to become the greatest place to live. God’s campaign platform was “Make Babylon Great Again!”. In other words, God was calling them to a totally different approach than what we might have expected.
3) Humbly serve the people in our sphere of influence
Jesus was the perfect model for gaining influence through humble service and unconditional love. How did he respond to his enemies? He didn’t call down legions of angels to fight them, instead he died for their sins, and even as he was dying what did he do? He prayed for them!
Jesus must be more than just a good example for us, he needs to be the ‘heart beat’ in how we actual live out our faith. In other words, if that is his fallback position, that needs to be our starting point too. “If at the very heart of your worldview is a man dying for his enemies, then the way you’re going to win influence in society is through service rather than power and control.”[i]
Jesus certainly got upset at the religious elite for hypocrisy and selfish nonjudgmental-ism, but we never see him getting ‘upset’ at sinners for acting like sinners. The religious leaders saw the average person (sinner) as losers. Jesus on the other hand viewed them as ‘lost’. He cared deeply about them with an unfathomable depth of compassion. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10 When we view people as ‘losers’ there is always contempt, however when we see them as Jesus sees them, as ‘lost’, there is compassion.
The average person in first century Israel saw their religious leaders as unapproachable, judgemental and contemptuous. On the flip side, many of the same people saw Jesus as completely approachable, and as someone who genuinely cared about them.
What about us? We say everyone is welcome in our churches, but do we really believe that? If a transgender person walked into your church service this Sunday, would you genuinely reach out and show hospitality (maybe invite them for lunch) and display sincere love? Remember that a transgender man or woman is a real person trying to discover who they really are, and they, as we, can only find our identity in Christ. Do you have compassion like Jesus enough to commit to walk with them through that journey?
Here’s the thing, people will only trust us when they see that we’re not only out for ourselves, but out for them too with a sincerity in our compassion. It’s when they begin to recognise the attractiveness of our sacrificial love, that we’ll have real influence.
4) Actively live out the gospel to reach the culture
I came across something I read in a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones that speaks to the church being the church…
“I am certain that the world outside is not going to pay much attention to all the organized efforts of the Christian church. The one thing she will pay attention to is a body of people filled with the spirit of rejoicing… If you really do feel what you say about the daily evidence in the newspapers of the moral rot that is setting in in this country, if you feel that we are facing ruin economically and industrially, because people are worshippers and lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of god, if you really believe that and mean it and feel it, then it will be your duty to become a person such as is depicted here, because this is the only thing that is going to persuade men. They say, ‘Oh we know your teaching and preaching, we have had it all before,’ but when they see it in operation they will listen because they are miserable and unhappy. When they see this quality, they will begin to pay real attention.”[ii]
The truth is that outside of the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, the greatest and best invitation to the gospel is a community of disciples living out the active and breathing gospel to the world. Christians who live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to Christ, instead of making demands on a world who simply doesn’t understand or agree with those demands, will inevitably influence the world for good.
5) Shine brighter in contrast to the darkness of the age
Jesus said about us, “You are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14. What does light do? Wherever there is even the least bit of light, darkness disappears. You can be in the darkest place imaginable and just a tiny light has the power to drive away all that black, oppressive darkness. That’s what we do. The presence of a Christian in the world is supposed to be like a light in the darkness, not only in the sense that the truth of God’s Word shining a light into the darkness of humanity’s heart, or as a beam of hope into a despairing soul, but also in the sense that our good deeds can’t help but be seen.
A flashlight can be like a glorious light in the darkness of a mining tunnel, but that same flashlight in the middle of the brightest day and it would be hardly visible. Here’s my question, where do lights shine the brightest? The answer of course is in the darkest of places. So, I wonder, for the witness of Christ to be truly effective, would it not then make sense that the world be dark?
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” – Acts 4:29
I find it interesting that the early church asked for boldness and not for the tribulations they were facing to be taken away. I wonder what would happen to our world if we prayed that we shine brighter rather than asking for the dark days to disappear? After all there is nothing like meeting a Christian who is reflecting the light of Jesus. That person is a thing of beauty in a dull world. That is how Jesus lived and this is what every one of us needs to aim to be like.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” – Philippians 2:14-15
Let’s strive to be just like stars that don’t draw attention to the individual pinpoint of light, but rather draw their ‘oohs’ & ‘ahhs’ because of the expansive majesty of the night sky. We aren’t to draw attention to ourselves but instead put all the focus onto the majesty of Jesus, while we influence our ‘Babylon’ by praying for it, serving with everything we’ve got and by being so sacrificially loving that the people around us, who don’t believe what we believe, may soon come to a place where they can’t imagine this world without us.
[i] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, (Dutton Redeemer, New York, NY 2011) pg. 149
[ii] Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable (Harold Shaw Pub, Wheaton, IL, 1984) pgs. 102-103