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

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.

Hospitals Aren’t Meant To Be Homes.

I remember the first “hospital visit” I ever went on (Note: It is weird starting a blog post like this, because I am not “in the ministry” right now, and I still do not normally make “hospital visits”). It was the very first week of my internship in Jacksonville, FL. A former pastor of the church I was interning at was having some chest pains, and for precautionary measures he was taken to the hospital. I remember being terrified to walk in the door to his room.

Walking down the hallway was bad enough. The myriad of smells permeated my nose. If only it was a myriad of fatty food or decadent delicacies like that on a busy urban street way. It was a cluster of scents my nose could not accustom to. It was a myriad of smells I can only now characterize. It was like a scented diaper met a scented trash bag, and the two decided to procreate. And I had to walk down the long hallways where every turn labyrinthed into the next. I was caught in a maze and there were no signs of escape.

As one of the pastors and I walked into the hospital room, suddenly everything changed. The former pastor we were visiting was as jolly as could be! I have never before or since seen a person so happy to sit in a hospital bed and eat their terrible excuse for food. But this man was a true man of God and knew where to find his joy. He knew that he would soon be leaving that hospital bed and go back home to his own bed. I was still a novice and was still figuring out where to find my faith. Good thing I put my lack of faith to rest that day.

I hear many people today explain that Christianity and the Church are not museums for the saintly and holy but hospitals for the sick and hurt. Some profess through spoken word on the internet. Others firmly state it from the pulpit – to their congregations, youth groups, and leaders. These same churches have different slogans and methods on how to reach people for the lost. Some structure their sermons with a “prayer for salvation” at the end. Some structure their church so that newcomer’s are challenged to make a commitment at a small group. I know others that do street evangelism and worry about all of the other stuff later.

They forget that though the Church may seem as though it is a “hospital,” the truth is, that they aren’t – not completely at least.

Hospitals aren’t meant to be homes.

You might expect me to forcefully and Pentecostally start preaching about heaven and how going to church today is “making us better” until we are taken “home” to the Pearly White Gates of a grander tomorrow. Though we are being made more like Christ every day, I think we are using this “hospital” excuse as a way to stay the way we are. I mean, if the Church is a hospital, then it is okay if one still sins even after becoming Christian?

Well, no. It isn’t okay for anyone to sin.

And this is a place where the hospital analogy makes sense. Being a fallen human is a condition that happens to all of us, and it seems to be genetic with symptoms starting at birth. The Church is good in that it sees people hurting, and that it is their responsibility to bring all sinning mankind in as sick. But what does one do after they bring a sick person in if the Church is only seen as a hospital? Does everyone remain sick until they reach the golden shores of eternity?

For starters, Christians are reconciled to God at the point of conversion. The sickness of a person should be flipped the second they make a decision to follow Jesus. Any person might have the option to come to church as they are, but they can’t stay and be a member without changing the core of who they are – stripping off the old and putting on the new. And though there might be forms of rehabilitation until they reach the end of their days, once a person truly accepts and embraces Christ as their Savior they are free to walk out the hospital doors (in this analogy)…

So let’s take this analogy a step further.

The Church should be discipling people so that believers become doctors to the broken coming through the doors – working with the authority and knowledge given by the Great Physician. Today there seems to be too many patients in church and not enough doctors. As Jesus said in terms more suited for his day, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

Pastors aren’t embracing the true Mission of the church.

The Church is missing the true Mission of God – the mission that the whole world needs to be RECONCILED to God through Jesus Christ. And there are the Christians that are saying that Christianity is about a relationship and not a religion. But a one-on-one relationship can only go so far when you are commissioned to be a part of a worldwide organism to reconcile the world. Just because the word, “religion” has a bad taste with some people does not mean that we throw out the word and embrace a “Your-Own-Personal-Jesus” Christianity. Christianity is embraced by individuals who are united by a cause – the Kingdom of God. It is embraced by people who are bringing healing and restoration to the rest of the world. If that does not sound like a religion, I don’t know what does (If you hate the word so much then call it, “a movement”).

You can be an individual and still function in a group. That is why the church is called “the body.” Just don’t lose sight of the Head – Christ. Our lives should be that of progress – in our personal walks and in our communities. That is what the Church is. Not a hospital. Hospitals aren’t meant to be homes. Church is the home for God’s promise of reconciliation. Church is the home of the statement that, “all nations will be blessed…” Church is the home, and those in it are waiting for the master of the house to come back.

Hospitals aren’t meant to be homes.