Blending in with the culture

In the previous articles in this series we talked about why we do not view where we live with the same focus and intensity as we do when we go to other countries for missions because we spend all of our time focused on making this life our home.  But why do we do that?

The reason we get so sucked into the comfort of this world is because we have adopted the philosophy and ideals of our culture. In many ways we have become part of the world.  What is it we do that sets us apart from non-believers?

Every year hundreds of billions of dollars are spent in advertising; just to tell you why having those Nike’s will make you run better, why you need the latest iPhone (or Android) or how Coca-Cola will refresh you more than any other drink.  They spend that much money because it works.  We are bombarded with those images every single day while we try to entertain ourselves with television and then we get obsessed about needing the next new thing.

But in order to get all that fancy stuff you need to make more money, which means spending more time going to school for that better degree and working overtime.  You spend all this time dwelling on these obsessions and it steals our thoughts and our time away from the family and away from our mission, the gospel.

Then we get hindered even more because we don’t want to share the gospel with those we work with because someone might get offended and we will get in trouble which means no raise this year or even loosing your job.

Welcome to the American Dream.

The American Dream is a vicious cycle that we get ourselves trapped in.  We have fun with all of the latest stuff but then it catches up to us.  I got so caught up with this trap that I had to borrow money to buy more stuff because I did not want to wait a few months to get my iPad or a second car with cash.  Now I have to work just to pay off the credit cards and loans from things I purchased in the past that I do not even use anymore because I replaced them with other things I bought with yet more borrowed money.

And then we think nothing about it because the rest of the culture is the same way.  Even the culture of the church is caught in this trap.

But while you or your church and your pastor may not think much of that lifestyle, God is offended by it.  God even goes as far as calling those who do live like society enemies of the Cross.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. – Phillipians 3:17-19

By focusing on the things of this world instead of God you are not just failing to do what is best, but you are being an enemy to Christ, to His mission, and to the cross.  Christ came for a mission and if you are so distracted by the things of this world that you are ignoring those around you that are dying, then you have become an enemy to that gospel.

You can’t be in the middle, there is no neutral position, we are either For Christ or against Him (Luke 11:23) and this verse in Philippians 3 makes it clear that we are really seen as the enemy of the cross.

You will, of course, deny that you are the enemy of Christ, I mean, who would admit that?  Unless you are an atheist who directly opposes God you would not consider yourself an enemy of God.

But then look at the rest of the passage.  Does that describe you?

“Their god is their stomach”… Do you care more about what you eat and drink than you do about serving Christ?  Does eating and drinking consume more of your time than you give to God?

“Their glory is in their shame” really hit me.  How many times have you bragged about something and found joy in something that, in comparison to God, you should be ashamed of?

“I got so drunk last night I don’t remember what happened.”
“She’s hot. I would sleep with her.”
“Check out this new beamer I got. Only $500 per month.”
“Last Saturday we had a Lord of the Rings marathon… It literally lasted all day”

How  many of these things that we brag about would we, or should we, be ashamed of if we thought about bragging about it to God in light of our mission?

Simon Cowell at the National Television Awards...
Simon Cowell at the National Television Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, London, October 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I boasted for a while that I got to meet Simon Cowell (You know, from American Idol).  I would tell everybody that I met that I thought would be slightly interested.  “Hey there guard on the military base, did you know I got to meet Simon Cowell?  Yeah, I did! Met him in a hotel hallway, I even got my picture taken with him!”

Yeah, I was so proud of that moment…

And then God whispered to me “Why are you not this excited to tell people about me?”

None of that stuff is wrong in itself but they shouldn’t be what we are proud of or things we really find joy in.  We should be boasting in Christ because we are sinners and honestly we have nothing worthy of boasting about outside of Christ.

Next time you want to brag about something, think about bragging to God about it.  Is it something that you should be ashamed of in light of His holiness and perfection?

Then the final part of that passage I know hits me hard, and almost all of our culture as well.  “Their mind is set on earthly things.”

What is your mind set on?  Do you spend your time dwelling on things of this earth, or on God and His mission?

This ties back to the beginning of this article series.  If you are in Africa on a missions trip you are focused completely on the gospel, on your mission, on others.  When we get back home our mindset changes back to “normal” and we focus only on the things of this earth.

That shouldn’t be.  Our minds should always be on Christ and on the gospel, on our mission, nothing else matters even a tiny bit in comparison.

Am I saying that you are not allowed to have any fun on earth at all, and that our life needs to be nothing but witnessing on the streets, going to church, and living with the bums on the street and if I sit down to watch one movie I am being an enemy of God?

Well….

Find out in the next article on this series. 🙂

“How are you today?” Do you really care?

How many times a day do you say to someone “how are you today?” How many of those times do you actually care?

The phrase has become just another standard greeting that means nothing more than “hello” which makes it deceiving. There is a lot more meaning in those four little words; meaning which is greatly ignored today. Because this phrase has become so common we typically give a common response, nod your head and say “I’m good,” if you give a response at all.

The other day i was at church, busy filling out something, when my pastor passed by and asked how I was doing. Thinking it was just the typical question everyone asked I just nodded and continued on doing what I was doing, only to turn and see that my pastor had stopped and was actually waiting for an answer. He also seemed to show true concern for how I was doing, not just giving a careless, in-passing greeting.

I was so caught off guard by this strange behavior that I just said I was doing good; I didn’t really have a response to give. But this stuck with me for weeks.

It is not often that we meet someone who is genuinely concerned with how we are doing, especially people we do not normally interact with.

Next time you pass by someone and want to say hi, think about what you are actually saying. Do you really care to hear how that person is doing? If they said not well, would you be willing to stop and pray for them and talk with them even when you are busy?

Christian Application

Caring for those around us is one of the things that is supposed to set Christians apart from others.  John 13:35 says that “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  What better way to share that love with someone than to show that you care about them with this simple question?

So many people today feign interest in each other by asking this simple question, putting on the mask of caring but behind that mask they do not care at all.  This presents Christians with a very easy and profound way to share the love of Christ with others.

Next time you pass by somebody in the hallway, do not just give a passing “Hey, how are you,” actually say it like you mean it.  Make eye contact, I know it is scary, but the person will not bite, usually.

Make eye contact and keep that contact until they answer, let them know with your body language that really are interested in hearing about how that person is doing.

But don’t fake it

If you do not feel like listening to a person open up with what they are going through then do not ask the question.  Do not be the fake that so many others are, only pretending to care when you really don’t.  Instead just say “Hello” or “Good morning” or something that is neutral.

There is nothing wrong with this neutral greeting.  It may not be as friendly but at least you are being honest with the question and not just pretending.  We do not always have time to listen to others, sadly, but when you ask the question “how are you” make sure you mean it and that the person you are asking knows you mean it.

What if they do not care?

Are you afraid your efforts to show that you care will go unnoticed? Trust me, they won’t.  I am sure that my pastor thought I didn’t notice much when I was caught off guard and just gave the typical answer, but months later that moment still stays strong in my mind.

But even if they never show that appreciation, just take comfort in the fact that you are sharing God’s love, you are serving Him by caring for others, even if they reject you.

You never know how much this one little statement, with sincerity behind it, may brighten a person’s entire day.  It may even give you the opportunity to share the gospel with them.

Next time my pastor, Pastor Eric Cartier, asks how I am doing, I will make sure I give him a real answer.