Every year movie buffs from around the world wait in anticipation to see who will win the industry’s biggest prize, the much-coveted Oscar. But for lovers of fashion, the pre-awards show is just as big a deal. You know, the one that famously asks, who are you wearing? The pre-show, the walking of the red carpet, is as much a big deal as the award itself. For a couple of hours the stars are interviewed, talking about their movie, their clothes and the amount of time it took them to get ready. Essentially, mankind sits in front of the big black box in the living room and watches the televised walking of a bunch of people on a brightly colored piece of carpet. Their smiles are as big as their hair. They gush about what an honor it is to be nominated. And the rest of the world lives vicariously through them for a few hours thinking they’ve got the world by a string. Do you know what I’m reminded of? Church.
Until the last couple years, I had a pretty rocky relationship with church. In fact, I could spend this whole time talking about my frustration at how the American church looks nothing like the church in Acts 2. I could wax poetic about why the church has often failed to raise up a new generation of believers that is so in love with Jesus that the things of this world seem like a waste of time. I could talk about my many self-induced sabbaticals I have taken over the years from church and why. I could lament over the years I spent in a church that greeted me every Sunday morning with nothing but rules and rituals making God look like an angry tyrant. Or I could simply go on and on about how we, I, have turned church into nothing more than a red-carpet event, a place to look good to everyone around me.
I am not under any delusions that the church in Acts was perfect. It wasn’t. But the one thing they had going on that is sorely missing in the 21st century was a rock solid identity. They never grappled with their purpose or role. Nowhere in Scripture was the question ever raised, “will I be able to stand?” After all, some of them had actually seen Jesus and walked with Him. Their faith was set, their destiny determined, their lives spoken for. What about us in the 21st century? Though Jesus hasn’t walked the planet for 2000 years, the Holy Spirit’s existence lives as loudly here and now as His physical counterpart did all those years ago. What we so often fail to realize is that we are on display everyday living a running commentary on what we believe about God to the rest of the world.
There’s a flurry of frustration right now as people are learning the lengths to which our government will go to to spy on us. I’ll admit as a political conservative, this is annoying to say the least. I’m an American citizen, and privacy is supposed to be one of my rights. I wonder, though, if I spent as much time worrying about the fact that the rest of the world is watching me in light of who I say I am if I would live a little differently, with more intention.
Hebrews 12:1,2 says:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The only way to truly start living a life that makes a difference is to throw off that which hinders the call of God on our lives. Last week I spoke about my struggle with debt. One of the reasons I wanted out so badly was because somewhere deep inside I knew there had to be more purpose to my existence, but I couldn’t grab hold of all that God had for me while still enslaved to sin. The throne of our hearts has room for only one God. To attempt to house both God and sin is equivalent to nothing more than looking good on the outside while dying on the inside. Eventually we fall apart, and everyone around us discovers what a fraud we are. What’s worse is the shadow it casts on the name of Jesus.
One of the worst things we can do as Christians is to disengage from society and set up our own subculture. We see it all the time. We create the Christianized version of the world’s systems in an attempt to form a sort of utopia so as to get through life unscathed by this world. There is nothing wrong with Christian schools, Christian music, Christian books, Christian coffeehouses. The problem comes in when that’s the only place we can be found. The non-believer does not live in these places.
When Jesus called us to be in the world but not of it, I don’t believe for a minute that this is what He meant. Yeah, we get the part about not being of it. But how do we live in this world successfully in a way that is pleasing to God and that will draw others to Him?
When I read through the life of Jesus one thing He did not do was disengage from the culture. He did not go off and hide from the world b/c it was just too unpleasant. With the exception of the time He took with just His disciples for the purpose of intense training as well as the times He spent alone in prayer, He was in the world engaging in conversation, debating, living out truth, teaching, meeting needs, preaching the gospel. Based on Christ’s examples and the example of the apostles, I will share with you over the next few weeks what God is teaching me about living intentionally in modern-day America. Each week I will take a different letter from the word ENGAGE (since acrostics are the best way for me to remember what’s worth remembering!) because I believe this is the mandate. It’s time for the Body of Christ to get over its identity crisis once and for all. We have to decide who we are and what we’re about and then live it with everything we’ve got.
“Through him we received both the generous gift of this life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ!” (Romans 1:5,6, The Message, italics mine).