Friday, August 31, 2007

Living Among the Pagans—How does the world view the church?

I Peter 2:12 says: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."

This year as I preached in different churches, I have begun to see a pattern. The pattern is an oppressive, indifferent, grumbling attitude toward life and the church.

I was talking with a young man who knows that I am a Christian and I asked him what he thought of Christian men. He said the Christian men at his work are viewed as weak and submissive “even though they really are not", he said. I asked about the church. It’s viewed as totally irrelevant; “it needs to change”, he said.

I wonder if we (the church) haven’t brought these problems on ourselves. We are called to be a light upon a hill (Matthew 5:14-16: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”) when in reality we have become a monastery upon a hill. The church is called to be a light to a dark, dark world. Yet we have separated ourselves but in the wrong way.

We have taken upon ourselves to use the model of the monastery not the light upon the hill shinning in the darkness model. The monastery model is identified as a thick stone walled fortress high upon the hill, occupied by people dressed differently than the world (monk garb). We stay in the monastery, we take good care of ourselves in the monastery (the goal is self-sufficiency so we don’t have to touch the dirty world). We speak a strange language (church talk); we are seen as walking in circles around the monastery, mumbling to ourselves (evangelistic campaigns based in the church where only the saved show up to hear the message).

It says in 1 John 2:6: “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” How do we as Christians walk? Where do we walk?

Jesus was criticized for hanging out with the down and out people. (Matt. 11:19: The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners.'" But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”) Jesus had His head anointed with oil by the village whore. He took a cup of water from a women with a checkered past. Oh, we must walk as Jesus walked but we “keep our distance” from our hurting world because we want to keep our “upstanding” reputation. Oh, we might keep our upstanding reputation but the pagans who live among us will view us with suspicion because they don’t know us.

If we are to live among the pagans, we must first live “among” them... We must have relationship with them not just rub shoulders with them as we pass on the street. If we live among them, trust them, include them, they will experience relationship, and once we have a relationship, the door is open and we can share Christ. Is not Christ and the need for a Savior what personal relationship is all about?

There is an old poem, I don’t know the name of it, but it’s about the village priest who wanted to be closer to God. He climbed up the church steeple looking into the heavens and he cried out to God “where art thou God?” and God replied: “Down here among my people.” I believe we are climbing up our steeples to get away from a hurting, sinful world when we are called to live among the pagans. But we are called to be different, set apart from the world, not physically but set apart in our actions and spirit. We are to be in the world but not of it. Romans 12:16-18: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Are we living among the pagans or are we just rubbing shoulders, fleeing back to the monastery on the hill, walking with our head down, and grumbling how bad things are? Are we afraid of the world? Jesus said: “I have overcome the world.” (John 17:13-20 says: "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message",) If we believe this, why are we so afraid to leave the monastery? Why are we afraid to climb down from the steeple?

We do not have to take Christ to a hurting world, He is already there. Let’s go see what He is doing so that as we live among the pagans and they will see our good works.

There is work to do. Let’s go do it. When we are busy doing the work of the Lord, we won’t have time to continue our petty grumbling. Our spirits will be lifted as we see God’s work among the “pagans” and yes, the Holy Spirit will lead and guide these pagans and us as we become brothers and sisters in Christ. Once we engage the pagan world, put on God’s armor and go to battle and fight for Truth, we will not be viewed as “wimps hiding out from the hurting world” but will be viewed as sons and daughters of the living God.

With God’s help, we will turn the world upside down. We are called to do it; we are empowered to do it and the Lord will provide and protect. Let’s go! Wake up, Church, wake up!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jerry! Good stuff as usual! Pastor Steve Thorson, Cokato