Sometimes we need a good reality check. The rich culture we live in (yes, we are filthy rich in comparison to 90% of the world) is constantly promulgating the idea that the apex of life is achieving a state of financial independence so that one can enjoy constant ease and recreation.
Is there something wrong with ease and recreation? No, certainly there is place for balanced ease and recreation in the life of a Christ-follower. However, if we focus our mind’s attention and heart’s affection on getting to a place of capitalistic nirvana, we will slowly let our guard down and begin to choose what is expedient for ourselves rather than what is effectual for the mission of God.
Exposing ourselves to this popular ideology and accommodating to the mission of mankind can reap tragic results. Why? Because we forget we live in the middle of a warzone where the casualties far outnumber the survivors. When we let our guard down we begin to forget we have been called to live against the grain of the world system that is opposed to the truth and grace of Jesus Christ.
All-too-often it is so easy to forget about the stark living conditions that Jesus outlined for His followers. I don’t know about you, but I can get caught up in the jazz and pizazz of our glitzy culture. Yet Jesus painted a radically different picture of life for those who walked down His dusty path. As He instructed His disciples before sending them out to declare the Gospel of the kingdom during His earthly ministry, Jesus offered this portrait of reality:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles…” (Matthew 10:16-18)
To be honest, I would like to believe we do not have it so difficult. I would like to think Midwestern America is the bastion of genuine Christian faith and that we are surrounded mostly by well-meaning sheep, rather than a pack of hungry wolves. But this is not reality. At all. We live in a world no less opposed to Christ and His message.
Proofs of Reality
Earlier this year, the Asian chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was reportedly denied officially recognition by the University of Michigan, because InterVarsity requires that leaders of the group adhere to its doctrinal statement. Fortunately, U of M later reversed their decision. However, numerous other schools have chosen to “de-recognize” this broad, evangelical ministry, without reversal. Vanderbilt University, Rutgers, Tufts University, State University of New York at Buffulo, and Rollins College have all argued that InterVarsity should be removed from their official role of student fellowships simply because InterVarsity requires that their leaders adhere to the essential doctrines of Christianity. This, in effect, they claim, violates their anti-discrimination policy.
Chik-fil-A Gets the Boot
The latest news, this week, comes from Emory University, which has chosen to remove Chik-fil-A from their campus restaurant venue due to Dan Cathy’s (Chik-fil-A’s president) public position against same-sex marriage. Despite the gracious and Christ-like tone of Cathy’s comments about his position as a Christian, Emory’s Dean of Campus Life, Ajay Nair stated, “Chik-fil-A has become a symbol of exclusion for some community members… Emory University has a long history of creating access, inclusion, and equity for Emory’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Public positions by Dan Cathy, President of Chik-fil-A, do not reflect these values of access, inclusions, and equity.”
Stomping on Jesus
Just this past Thursday, a report emerged from Florida Atlantic University that a student was suspended from school after refusing to “stomp on the name of Jesus.” This sounds rather ridiculous doesn’t it? Hard to believe? Yeah, that is what I thought too, that is, until I read the article by Todd Starnes at Fox News.
Here’s an outline of the course lesson: “Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper… Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
After FAU student, Ryan Rotella, brought his concerns about the assignment to his teacher’s supervisor, he was promptly suspended. As shocking as it might seem, the school has not rescinded their decision.
Rob Bell’s New Marriage (version)
To make matters even worse, one who formerly served as a pastor and author within evangelical Christianity has now publicly affirmed same-sex “marriage” as acceptable and compatible with his belief system. Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, made this pronouncement at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA: “Yes, I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man….I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”
Living in Love
Now the point of all this sad and tragic news about how the post-Christian culture of America responds to our faith is not meant to send you out in a fitful rage of alarm or conspiracy theorist sensationalism. I do not wish to be a gloomy doomsayer or create little lemming-like doomsayers.
I am also not calling for us to huddle together in isolated flocks of “pure” white sheep, in an attempt to keep away from the danger of wolves. This sort of action would miss Christ’s point entirely. He sent out His followers to live out His mission among people who were opposed to Him and His message. If we run off into the Yukon wilderness to escape the dangers of the mission field (i.e. the entire world), we will fail on God’s mission and eventually find the same stinking stench of sin in our own lives and in the lives of our offspring.
Furthermore, I am not calling for us to form picket lines for political revolution to force wolves to start acting like sheep. Most of us have been there and done that. I, for one, am ashamed of my ignorance and belligerence in treating people outside of God’s love like a political project for personal gain.
However, what you and I do need is a constant reminder that opposition is a reality for everyone who follows Jesus Christ. Rejection should be our expectation. Temptation will be a constant lure. Don’t forget the stark reality of our living conditions as followers of the One who was opposed, rejected, abused, and killed by the people He had created. Jesus went on to say, “A disciples is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24). If they rejected and bitterly fought against Christ, then we should expect no less for us.
But Jesus loved them. Every single one. He offered His life for people who wanted to see Him die. When they sneered at Him with looks of hate and blasphemy, He loved them. When they spit on his face, He loved them. When they ripped muscle tissue right off His bones, He still loved them. He never returned their curses, hate, spit, or violence. He won through love… even through the love of the Cross.
Christ’s mission calls us to the same love. Don’t run away. Don’t hide. Don’t gather a little following of fear-filled frenetic friends. And certainly don’t fight back by picking up the stones they are throwing at you and, in turn, chucking them at the crowds of people who don’t know God’s love. Win them through the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Do a reality check. Our expectations are often so skewed and the pressure to give into the drive for capitalistic nirvana is so strong. But you and I have been sent out by Jesus to live among people who are more likely to reject us than listen to us. Yet we are to love them anyway… just like Jesus, the One who chose us and loved us in the middle of our mess and offered us hope and life in His name.
Listen to the full audio message entitled “Reality Check” (Matthew 10:16-33) by simply clicking on the play button below or by subscribing to our iTunes podcast. This message was originally delivered at Evangel Baptist Church on Sunday evening, May 19th, 2013, for our annual High School Grad Night service.