An Apostle’s Cultural Assimilation: Reaching One More, Part 4

Let’s play a game called, “Do You Know What Song This Is?” Ready, set, go!

  1. “All right, stop! Collaborate and listen…”
  2. “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down…”
  3. “I got my first real six-string, Bought it at the five-and-dime…”
  4. “Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world…”
  5. “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?… ”

How’d you do? My guess is that you got 5/5 (check the end of the article for the answers!)

The crazy thing about this list is that it covers a myriad of different areas. There is a TV show theme song, the title song to a movie soundtrack, a rap song, and classic rock hits! Yet, most of us know these songs by heart! This isn’t just a lesson to the power of music and how what we listen to sticks in our brains, but it’s more importantly a lesson into the effects of culture and its influence.

This is where things get a little interesting. Many people within the church have been raised to think that culture is evil. That culture equals the world, and that it is antithetical to the gospel. But when we pin ourselves against the things in our culture, we forget one VERY important thing.

We are trying to reach people who are living in that culture.

The moment we see culture as evil, the moment we miss the forest for the trees, is the moment we lose the people who we are trying to reach. And don’t get me wrong, there are values that the world holds dear that are rooted in greed and all sorts of evil. But there are also many things in culture that can used as a bridge to reach the lost. Let’s take an example from Scripture.

In Acts 17, Paul is in the middle of one of his missionary journeys when he stumbles upon the town of Athens. Athens was a very philosophical town, and was full of many different gods that the people and the leaders worshipped. When Paul started preaching about Jesus, the men were utterly confused as to what Paul was talking about. They thought Jesus and God were another idol they could add to their repertoire. So, Paul decided to use some of their own language as a vehicle to carry the Gospel.

Athens was full of gods, and there were so many of them that there was actually an altar made “To an Unknown God.” Paul saw the altar and realized that it could be used as an illustration to the God of the universe who was unknown to them! But Paul not only used this altar. He also knew that these men were philosophers, so in the middle of his message, Paul used quotes from two popular philosophers of the time, men named Epimenides and Aratus. These men were the furthest thing from God fearing philosophers. One was Cretan and one was a Stoic, and both quotes that Paul says were actually regarding ZEUS! Yet in this instance, Paul was inspired by God to reference these earthly men and their false thinking to show these men of Athens the truth behind the gospel of Jesus.

This isn’t the only instance of Paul assimilating to the culture and speaking to people within their own situations. When writing the church in Ephesus and Collosae, Paul falls in line with the rhetoric of the people and includes a household code – something only commonly included in this area of the world. When many people read this code today, they do it in isolation; but in the first-century, the people would have compared what Paul said about the household to Aristotle’s household code written in his book “Politics.” Theologian Ben Witherington writes that, “Non-Christian household codes almost always direct exhortations only to the subordinate members of the household. What is new about the code here then [in Colossians] is the Christian limitations placed on the head of household. That is what would stand out to an ancient person hearing Paul’s discourse for the first time.”

Paul repurposed a set of rules and roles for the household and showed a more level playing field for those who were under the care of the head of the household. Paul was aware of the freedom that we now have in Christ, and there are many parts of what he wrote that showed how he cared for women, children, those in the lower classes of society, and minorities. Paul quoted other philosophers in other books, but the theme stands clear – God can redeem things in our culture to bring him glory.

What songs can you quote, what books can you reference, what talk show host can you mention to show someone the love of Jesus. If we view culture as our enemy, we immediately make an enemy out of anyone living in that culture. Let’s speak their language, let’s show them the truth in their world instead of only pointing out only the falsehoods. All truth is God’s truth. So, let’s be like Paul and study what our peers study. But let’s use it to reach one more!

Oh! And here are the answers to the above questions!

  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr
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Our Stories Have Significance: Reaching One More, Part 3

Have you ever grown up thinking one thing only to realize later in life that you were utterly wrong? We all think we know the lyrics to that song that’s always on the radio only to be met with strange stares from our friends when we belt it out in the car! Or we think a place from our childhood is ginormous and wondrous, but upon visiting in our adult years, we realize that it was really us who had ginormous imaginations and an eye open to wonder.

And then there’s the sadder versions of this realization. Something happens at work and it finally clicks that we are unhappy with our careers and have been unhappy for as long as we remember. We get thrown in the cop car and realize that maybe we shouldn’t have had that last drink before leaving the bar. We wake up one morning and wonder how we grew so far apart from the one we used to love…

Some lessons we learn instantly and others we learn over time. We think that these “experiences” are what shape us into who we are. But in reality, it’s the conflict IN these experiences that shape us and mold us into the men and women we are today. And the Bible is painted with vivid pictures of people, both good and bad, whose lives have been molded by conflict.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Saul.

Saul grew up in a well-to-do family, and in a class-structured society, this not only helped him in the Temple, but it helped him even as a citizen of the state. He considered himself of the most “holy” line; he was a man of honor and deserving of status. He was not only intelligent and articulate, but he had the education to back it up, studying under the most revered teachers of his time. He was named after Israel’s first king, and the stately name was fitting. Saul was being pampered as possibly the next religious leader in a Jewish land longing for redemption from the Roman state that ruled over them.

Saul was the type who would argue with those who disagreed with him. He was NOT afraid of conflict. He was proud, and not just of himself, but of his god. In the midst of his religious revelry, however, he went from serving The Most High God to instead serving the System – what his people called “The Law.” And Saul was so distracted that he missed the fact that Jesus had come and fulfilled the Law and its requirements. Saul stayed his course, not just fighting against God’s people – the church – but actually taking part in the execution of one of its saints.

But luckily, that’s not the end of Saul’s story.

While on the way to further persecute God’s people, Saul was met with a burst of light and sound! And it was amidst that bewilderment and fear that Saul had a realization. He was not only outside of the people of God, but even worse, he was persecuting those who WERE the people of God! Jesus met Saul in a vision while on the road to a city called Damascus, and while it took Saul three days to receive Jesus, it was that moment on the road that changed Saul’s trajectory forever. He was physically and spiritually blinded by this Damascus moment, but once he accepted Jesus, the blindness left him and he could see clearer than he ever had before.

If you heard Saul’s story on the Damascus road without any context, without knowing him or what happened next, it would sound like a tragedy. The newspaper headline would read: “Beloved Scholar and Future High Priest Becomes Delusional, Left Blinded.” And Saul had three days where he was blinded, only left with his thoughts, thinking of how he had gone so far off course from what God intended. Saul didn’t know that from this one moment, Jesus would lead him into a life filled with floggings, beatings, imprisonment, and eventually his own beheading. But even more so, this one moment with Jesus led Saul to a life filled with grace and a life of new meaning.

It still amazes me to think of how I once thought I had it all together… or maybe even better, that at one point in my life I thought I knew everything. And it takes one wrong lyric now to remind me that maybe I still have a little bit more to learn on this green and blue rock. I’m not just amazed at my ignorance, but I’m still amazed by God’s grace and purpose as well.

Maybe you are in the place Saul was before his Damascus road experience, thinking that you have it all together. You’re so busy going with the flow that you haven’t taken the time to see that your stream is leading off a dangerous cliff. Maybe you are in the midst of your shaping moment right now, and you’re left blinded and confused with what the future holds. Maybe you’ve found your purpose, but the new life you’re living is filled with things you weren’t expecting. It’s not as easy as you thought, and you need to be reminded of the love, grace, and purpose you now have with Jesus. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the story, but you’ve forgotten that your story still has significance. Your story can speak into someone who’s still lost – to someone who can’t see how the conflict can be put back together. They’re blinded, and you’re there to lift the veil from their eyes.

Your story has significance. Some will look at your life and where you’ve come from, and they will KNOW that Jesus is the only way you could’ve gotten where you are today… Nothing else makes sense. Or they’ll see the journey you’ve been on, and all they can say is, “How?” That’s when you can point them to that Damascus moment, and they can encounter Jesus for themselves. Take time to remember where you’ve come from. Look and see how you’ve grown. And look to find others that are once where you were, and show them that there’s a greater purpose and a way out of the mess.

 

 

 

A Miracle Not Meant For You: Reaching One More, Part 1

In chairs, the group sat in a circle in a living room. Some were on dining room chairs, some on couches, and some were on recliners. It was the common scene for a church connect group. There were appetizers lingering in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten. But first, the group was in the midst of a discussion. The question was simple, but it was a loaded one: “Who is your one?” Who is the one person whose life choices and circumstances breaks your heart? Who is the person who’s looking for answers in all the wrong places? At Sunday Service, when Pastor talks about “the lost” or those yet following Jesus, who is the first person who comes to mind? THAT is your “one.”

One of the individuals spoke up about his “one.” “There’s a lot of people that come to mind when I think of those who need Jesus. But if there’s a fire, I know who I’m going in to save first.” There might be many people who come to mind, but when push comes to shove, whose salvation is a priority? Whose eternal life is at the forefront of your mind?

Our church just began a small group series called “Reach One More.” It’s seven sessions of guided discussion geared to create conversation and action to evangelize – to reach the lost for Jesus. And while each session may only contain three questions, it stirs up something in people. It’d almost be easier to have more questions that tackle facts that invigorate the mind. But these questions nudge at the stirrings in the heart instead.

That’s why I love what that one group member said, “If there’s a fire.” It’s like saying, “If I knew I only had one opportunity, one chance at a miracle, I’d use up that chance – I’d put in all of my chips – on this one individual.” It’s powerful. And just like a house fire, it forces us to take priority off of ourselves. We have to be all in.

There’s a story in the Bible that this person’s story reminded me of. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas get disrobed and publically humiliated, beaten, and thrown in jail for casting a demonic spirit out of a young woman. As they are sitting naked in this jail cell, they start singing praises to God, which just BLOWS my mind. In the midst of one of the most humbling, humiliating, and horrifying moments of their lives, they take time to THANK GOD for what He’s done for them. And what does God do? He causes an earthquake to open the doors of the jail! They praised God and it led to a miracle! For most of us, it’s the opposite. We praise God after He answers our prayers.

But that’s not the crazy part. Most of us read this story, and we think that’s the miracle. It was Paul and Silas’ miracle and no one else’s. It’d be like being in a burning building and getting out alive. But the miracle of this story happened in the morning. When the guard of the jail wakes up, he sees that ALL the cell doors are opened, and knowing his future demise, is preparing to commit suicide. As he is about to fall on his own sword, Paul and Silas cry out from their cell that ALL of the prisoners are still in the jail.

Paul and Silas could have easily seen the doors open and think that the miracle was only for them. They could have said their thanks to Jesus and been on their way, not even knowing or caring of the future fate of this guard. But instead they stayed. Despite their circumstances, they stayed beaten, tired, hurting, and naked in a jail cell they were wrongly put in… for the sake of one person – that guard. This not only changed the life of the guard, but through this miracle, the guard AND his whole family were baptized.

Paul and Silas took the time to be aware of what God was doing around them. They knew the miracle wasn’t over yet. The doors might have been opened, but God was still at work.

In the midst of turmoil, as we feel like a burning wreckage is falling all around us, it’d be easy to see how getting out alive would be the miracle. Maybe it’s miraculously getting out of debt. Maybe finding out you’ve been mysteriously healed of cancer or set free from drug addiction has been your miracle moment. Maybe it’s that God mended back together a broken marriage that you once thought was irreconcilable. These miracles are good, but they aren’t just meant for us! These aren’t the miracles that have angels rejoicing in heaven!

Getting out of the burning building alive means you have the ability to go in and save one more.

It means that you can speak life into someone facing the very thing you just overcame.

Let us take time this week and remember to capitalize on the moments God has given us. Maybe it’s a window of seriousness for a friend who never gets vulnerable. Maybe you’ll have a random run-in with someone you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you get an opportunity to show love and inclusion in a situation filled with judgment and hate. Let us find those moments of signal fire and smoke and run into those burning buildings with reckless abandonment.

Because “our” miracle may be meant to save someone else.