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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At The Feet of Jesus

I sat on the ground disheveled, bruised… petrified. There was so much yelling going on around me and there was a precipice before me. It was as if an explosion occurred with all of the surrounding calamity, and my ears began to ring. My life was on the line. And I couldn’t focus. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stay calm. And as I stayed on the ground, fearing to move, one of the men, the man they dragged me to, bent down next to me. It was there that a divide opened between time and space.

He drew a line in the sand.

I was dragged out of my house while in the act of committing adultery and was set at Jesus’ feet, though I didn’t know who he was at the time… But then again, did I really know myself at the time? In the heat of an argument, Jesus drew a line in the sand, a precipice, that divided me from my accusers. “The one who has never sinned should be the first to stone this girl,” he said. They knew at that moment that they all stood condemned. In a world where I was seen as a whore and they as God’s elect, Jesus put us on the same plane – we were sinners. And there, amidst the chaos and confusion is not just where I saw God, but it was where I met Him.

That was the first time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus always knew the right thing to say. That’s why I was always so enamored by his teachings. One time, he and the disciples came over to my house. As Jesus began to teach, I became so enraptured in his words that I completely forgot what I was doing. They were at my house, and I wasn’t doing what was expected of me as a woman or the host. I wasn’t helping my sister clean or tend to the house. But at that moment, I didn’t want to be the host – I wanted to be a student. I wanted to be a disciple. My sister tried to do everything herself but eventually her frustration spilled out, and she asked Jesus if I could be excused to help her. Jesus’ response was astounding.

He said that I chose the better thing by sitting at his feet.

As a woman, I was expected to tend to my male guests. The last thing I should have been doing was to sit while my sister did all the work. In a culture where I was expected to fit a certain role, Jesus included me with his Twelve. I was part of His own. I was a disciple.

That was the next time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

I was with Jesus even when the rest of the disciples fled. It was John who came to me and Jesus’ mother to tell us that Jesus was taken. It was then that we found out that Jesus was to be executed. I observed in horror as my mentor and my friend was beaten within an inch of his life. They dressed him up and paraded him around like an animal. They were making an example out of him, and there was nothing we could do but watch.

We followed him as he carried his cross through the winding city to the place where he would be made a spectacle. I had to look away when they hammered the nails into his fragile hands. What we thought was the end was soon approaching. Through everything Jesus was never hostile or angry. The religious leaders who were putting him to death were irritably standing next to us. Jesus looked at them with compassion and then looked up to the heavens. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” They weren’t his villains. They were merely victims of a sinful world – the world he came to save.

It was then that I realized what it truly meant to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus truly lived out what he said were the greatest commandments – he loved God with everything he had, and he loved others like their needs were his. He deserved more than any ruler or king to have others bow at his feet, but instead he washed the feet of those who followed him. At the feet of Jesus is a place where all sins are seen the same. It is where all people are equal regardless of the gender or race they were born with. It is a place of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Do you sit at the feet of Jesus?

 

A Theology of Expression

Some people have a problem with being thankful. I am not one of those people.

I thank God for things all the time. But I am not one of those irrational people who thanks God for everything – like inventing cars, or soda, or diabetic socks, or bacon. God didn’t invent those things, stupid people. But I usually pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time I eat a peanut butter sandwich that goes something like this: “God, thank you for creating the man who invented peanut butter.” Now, you might say that is George Washington Carver, but you’d be doubly wrong. So, maybe I have to retract my statement about bacon, but the rest still stands.

I’m so glad that God has inspired so many men and women to think, invent, and create.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can cause a person to paint a picture, write a song, develop an invention, or pen Scripture. All forms of expression come from some form of inspiration. The key to discovering a great form of expression is to look at the inspiration. God is the highest form of inspiration there is. He is the Creator of the whole universe – from the stars in the sky to the fleas on a dog. Every night when I walk into my house, I look up at those stars and am continually reminded at how inspiring God is.

Just like you can look at a great painting and see the heart of the artist, you can look at the heart of mankind and see the hand of God. You can look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and see the love of God. You can see the conquest of Joshua and see the wrath of God. You read the Psalms and see how God inspires man. The Bible itself is another example of God inspiring man – in more ways than one.

Expression is only as good as the inspiration behind it. If your inspiration is temporary, if it is fleeting, if it can fail you, your expression loses significance. People who don’t live in an area where there are peanuts probably don’t care for the inspiration behind peanut butter. People who write songs about sex or drugs or money don’t create inspiration. But songs and paintings can be temporary or about current situations in time and still hold eternal significance depending on the inspiration. Great expression always inspires. It’s contagious.

My pastor said a few weeks ago that the gospel isn’t centered on expressing oneself but denying oneself. This is one of those statements though with a paradoxical twist – it is only when denying themselves that people can truly express themselves. If God is the highest form of inspiration, the highest form of expression comes through Him. This can be heard in Handel’s Messiah, seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or experienced while walking through a park on a nice day.

A great thing about expression is it speaks about and to its inspiration regardless of how explicit that mention might be. There are some great worship songs out there that are glorifying and directly speak to God’s character. Then there are those songs that speak through metaphor or situations to point to spiritual and godly truths. I think one of the disasters today of the Christian music industry is its forcefulness of the inclusion of God. People love NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot because their expression isn’t forced; it is fluid and it is natural.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is called “John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens. In the song, Stevens talks about one of the most prolific serial killers to ever live. The song is disgusting and it leaves the listener feeling sickened as the song progresses. In the heart, the listener feels how wretched this killer was. Then in the last line of the song, Stevens says: “In reality, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

There it is.

What a phenomenal song to express the fallen nature of mankind and to show the morality engraved in the hearts of man to feel sickened by evil. It is something I loved about the show Breaking Bad. No show in the history of television has painted such a vivid picture of right and wrong. This is the key to great expression. This is a key that opens many doors and leads the artist down many corridors. This is the key that allows one to think outside the box, outside of themselves, and potentially outside their present reality.

What inspires you?

Cat People and Christ Followers – Galatians 2:16

“We are natural-born Jews, not sinners from the godless nations. 16 But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:15-16

Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin is probably the best comedian I have ever heard give one-liners. I don’t know if he is just not a fan of segues or if his brain is full of a bunch of small random thoughts. Whatever it is, Martin knows how to turn one simple thought into something laughable.

For example: “My friend Steve likes cats. People are always saying ‘Oh, Steve’s really a cat person’. No he’s not. If Steve were a cat person it’d be, like, ‘Hey, Steve never goes in the pool’.”

I love this joke because it plays on how we define and describe people. By Steve being a “cat person” most people would assume that he is an avid fan of the fur-balls-whom-shall-not-be-named. But instead Martin turns the idea around and points out that if Steve were a “cat person” he would be half man and half cat… or be a villain who fights Batman – your pick.

Sometimes people get lost in letting the things they do describe and define them instead of letting who they are define them. This is an idea that Paul addresses to the Galatians when he goes over this discourse that he had with Peter.

In the Old Testament, many people believe that what made someone belong to the people of God was if they followed the Law. This is false. The people of God weren’t the people of God, because they followed the Law. They followed the Law (or tried to) because they were the people of God. Make sense? Good. One was part of the people of God in the Old Testament, because they were born into the Jewish nation. God set Abraham apart from the rest of creation and bestowed on him a promise – that He would bless the world through Abraham and that Abraham’s descendants would be innumerable.

The Jews however lost their way. They didn’t follow the Law that God gave them, and because of this, God allowed them to fall into exile. They needed a Savior. That is when Jesus came. Christ perfected the Law in that he obeyed it to its entirety. He came and delivered the people of God from their spiritual bondage through his death on the cross. And after his resurrection, all people were welcomed to be part of the people of God. It didn’t depend any longer on what family one was born into. It didn’t matter if they followed the law. Through Christ’s act of dying on the cross, any one who came to him in faith were welcomed in as God’s people.

Paul’s focus throughout Galatians is not just how one becomes a Christian. The Galatians were already saved. He was concerned about how one continues on after they believe. And he shares here that the people of God are no longer made right with God by following the requirements of the Law.

Many have argued as to whether Paul is refuting the ceremonial law, legalism, or the whole Mosaic Law. Jesus didn’t die solely because of legalism. If salvation was just about legalism, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. And what would Christ’s crucifixion mean if it only neutralized part of the Law. Though Christ’s death extinguished the ceremonial law, which allowed Gentiles to enter into the Kingdom of Christ, it was extinguished through Christ fulfilling the Mosaic Law in its entirety.

We no longer follow the Mosaic Law.

We now follow the Law of Christ.

Does this mean that there are some things that still apply to believers? Of course it does! Following Christ doesn’t equally Lawlessness. It means a new Law – A new Covenant. Instead of it beginning with birth and ending with legalism, it begins with faith and ends with faithfulness.

The Law was merely a symptom, showing the signs of those who deserved death, and all men were guilty. Paul is trying to show this truth to the Galatians. There are false teachers trying to have them go back to this old way of treating symptoms without being cured. But Jesus already cured the Galatians! They were made right not because they followed the Law, but because they put faith in the faithfulness of Christ.

Don’t follow a set of rules. Don’t think you can get your life right and then come to God. Only through Christ can the guilty be seen as innocent, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can a sinner be made clean. It all starts with Christ’s death. He died in order that you can be set right with God. Don’t define yourself by any Law or rule or even by church. All those things are chaff if you don’t have Christ. You can have all the looks of a Christian and not be a Christ follower.

Christ has set the world to rights.

Seek him.

Follow him.

The Passion. The Plan. The Purpose.

Pray Hard, Love Hard, Work Hard.

That is Jeanne Mayo’s three-point plan to a successful ministry.

I had the pleasure of seeing Jeanne Mayo work her magic at Oklahoma A/G youth camp this past month. She is an internationally known youth evangelist. But more specifically she is known for her electrifying sermons, her incredible love and compassion, and her sometimes off-putting candor. And fortunately for the people at the youth camp, this was the first camp she spoke at in over 30 years!

It was at one of our staff meetings where Jeanne said her “three-point plan” for ministry. Among a myriad of youth pastors, leaders, and lay people, this very successful pastor, leader, and speaker shared that she didn’t really have a laid out plan of leadership. Her plan was based on passion. It was her passion for God and her passion for people that drove her to success in ministry.

Through the past few months, God has been reminding me that people don’t gravitate towards plans, but they gravitate towards a passion. This idea isn’t my own. I read it first in John Acuff’s book, “Quitter.” In his book on how to achieve one’s dream, Acuff explains that it is easier to sell people to your passion rather than try to sell people to a plan.

I am reminded this even more when I read the bible: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, the words of Jesus himself).

Many times in my own life I start on a plan, and I get so focused on that plan that I end up forcing things and settling. If I start with a passion though, the plan seems to easily flow from what is in my heart. This is true when I organize lessons for my small group, when I evangelize to people, and even when I write new songs for the album I want to record. It is easier to plan with a purpose and passion than find passion and purpose from a plan.

Plain and simple.

What do you have a passion in? Can you use it for God in an innovative or creative way? Many times God uses our passions and natural talents, and with them, He uses them to further expand His kingdom. Don’t be afraid to live passionately, pursue the extraordinary, and from it to plan purposefully. Love Hard, Pray Hard, Work Hard.