Obstacle 3 // We Have Not Engaged Well in the Significant Issues of our Time.
Come to Jesus and all your problems will disappear.
We have often taught people, young and old, that Jesus is like some sort of fairy godmother who makes all of our dreams come true. He’s here for you; have it your way. Of course, it’s not long into our faith journey that we realize this is a lie. Life with Jesus is better; it’s fulfilled, hopeful, empowered. But it’s also hard; a, challenging and difficult struggle. God doesn’t do it your way; he does it His way. (Which is always better, but that’s another story…)
Our teaching has sometimes treated Christian faith like an invitation to dwell in a secure bubble of security rather than a challenge to take up your cross and die. And that’s what it means to come to Jesus – we have to follow him. We have to put our desires, our wants, our fears, to death. Cultural influences have taught us the exact opposite, corrupting the adventurous call to costly discipleship.
In a false effort to protect ourselves from the worst that culture has to offer, we have failed to recognize that we mirror the culture in so many ways. We enjoy our comfort, our money, our excess, just like everybody else. Our first thought is for our security and not for the service of others. In times of transition, we cling to our God-given resources rather than share them with those who truly have need. The church has often provided us another place to hoard and control. Yet, we are called out of our holy huddles to live in the real world of pain and desire. When we do that we recognize that perhaps we have been compromised all along.
Once we identify the counter-claims the gospel makes on our cultural skin, we are ready to embrace what we are given in return: We are given a purpose, a mission, sent as ambassadors, lives soaked with meaning and hope. This is life in the Spirit.
Life in the Spirit is not isolated and hidden. It is out for everyone to see. The Spirit is active in our communities before we ever get there. He’s in our schools, our neighbourhoods, and workplaces. We don’t need to fear connecting with people who are not Christians, because God is there long before we show up. And yet, flawed and weak as we are, he chooses to use us for his glory.
The attitude we bear is crucial. I hear regularly, “Canada is a mission field! We need to bring them the truth!” The truth is, the only thing we have is a person for people to meet. We are called to become relational hosts in our culture rather than purveyors of canned doctrines. An attitude of judgement, without recognizing also our own sinfulness within our history and our today, leads us to a dysfunctional engagement with our world, and an inability to speak with integrity to the big issues of our time.
An attitude growing out of integrity, on the other hand, encourages us to connect with loving creativity, and joyful hope, even as we identify the truth of what the gospel is, and is not. Integrity means ‘wholeness’. It means holding together our sin and our reason for hope. It means being honest about our limits and encouraged about our potential as disciples in this world. It means recognizing that only God can do anything, and yet he sends us as his ambassadors to the world.
Integrity leads us to ask three questions that will help increase our ability to identify the key issues of our time, and that condition our right engagement with the world.
What lies beneath?
When you read a news story, or see a film, watch a show or have a conversation, the real issue is not often on the surface. You have to think deeply, and dig down. What ideas, beliefs or philosophical assumptions give rise to that account of reality? Rather than waste time on petty arguments, these more formative ideas are the things that we need to address as Christians, and tackle theologically, biblically, and humbly, because chances are, these same philosophies or ideas have influenced us too.
What is Good News?
Missionaries have long known that when you encounter a culture, you have to ask afresh, ‘What does good news look like here, for these people, right now?’ Our immediate reaction to what we think is good news may not be the best response. Again, thought, prayer and deep digging are necessary. Once you’ve exposed the ideas that lie beneath culture, and reflected on them theologically, you can wrestle with clarifying what good news is in this context.
What’s our responsibility?
Understanding what’s going on might make you a good guru, but until it is formed into action, it’s not discipleship. What is my responsibility to bring good news to this context right now? What’s mine to do and what’s not? Often we have rejected opportunities to serve the common good because we thought we were supposed to be cultural preservers rather than ambassadors of reconciliation. Our responsibility before God for others is much broader than we have sometimes thought.
If we are going to engage well with the issues of our time, we cannot imagine that our problems will all disappear when we come to follow Jesus. But we can be sure of a vision and a power beyond our own to bear Christ to the world.