I’ve been to South Korea many times and in one of my trips to Seoul, I was in a conversation with a pastor who had been in the United States for four years and doing a doctoral program, and had just arrived back in Korea to continue his work as a pastor. And I asked him how his return was. He said something I will never forget. He said, “I’ve come back to a culture I do not know and I do not understand.”
I think that’s an experience of many believers in our culture. There has been such a rapid change in our culture that often, I feel like I’m living in this world that I don’t understand anymore. People have said, “I feel like I’m attending some other family’s family reunion and I don’t get the culture and I don’t get the language.”
There have been massive changes, particularly, very rapid in the last ten years. Most of that, driven by a social media form of communication, where communication is constant and it’s instant, where the entire world is available to us, where we know what everybody’s thinking, from no-name individuals to people of tremendous influence, where everybody has a voice; and the den of that conversation can be very distracting and very confusing.
We carry in our pockets and in our purses these communication tools that have dramatic power to inform us, to distract us, to confuse us. I believe when Steve Jobs made the decision not to hand us a phone, but to hand us a screen, the world changed and, perhaps, we’ll never be the same again. It’s had a seismic effect on the way that we think, the way that we live our lives and the things that we carry around inside of us.
Just some examples, there’s been a massive change in the use of language. There’s been a coarsening of our language. Terms regularly used in public and in conversation that would have once never been used are changing the way that we use language. As a culture, we can’t even decide what pronouns to use for people anymore. And so, language is an important thing and that rapid change of language is confusing and threatening.
Just the whole way human sexuality is viewed has dramatically changed from its presence in advertising to the domination of erotica on the internet. The presence and role of human sexuality is dramatically different than it was 50 years ago.
Our whole conversation about gender. There was not a conversation 20 years ago. Gender was an assumption and we all understood what we meant when we talked of a man and a woman and we used gender terms; and that’s dramatically different as well.
Marriage and family. All of a sudden, you can’t use the word, “family,” and expect everybody is going to have the same mental picture that you have because now, there are a variety of definitions of what a family is.
The general sense of morality as a culture. There was a time when you could make moral assumptions that you thought everybody else carried as well, but that’s all been blown up and we’re in a very, very different place.
And again, all of this change is made even more rapid by our ability to communicate about these things, to interact with these things that advances the conversation very quickly and can make you feel like you’re an alien in your own world.
So I want to think with you, how do you live as a Christian in this world gone crazy? And I want to start by this. It’s very, very important that you understand your position as a conservative, Bible-believing Christian in the cultural setting that we’re now in.
And let me say it this way. If you would go back, maybe even 50 years, surely 75 years, the church was a center culture institution. Pastors were generally expected. The church was generally understood. There was some kind of sense in the culture of the general elements of a Christian worldview.
Now, when you’re the center of the culture, you can assume that people get you. They understand what you’re about. They understand what you think. They understand what you believe and you can assume common language. And that’s actually a very helpful, very easy place to be. It’s a very comfortable place to live where you know the people around you, they may not believe everything you, but they get you. They get your language. They get what you stand for. You are a normal part of that cultural community and that cultural functioning.
It’s very important to understand the church is not a center culture community anymore. We’re a fringe culture community. We’re on the edges of the culture now. We haven’t moved our position. The culture has massively moved, which has de-positioned us to a different place. And when you’re a fringe culture community, you are generally misunderstood. People don’t get you. They don’t get what you’re about. They don’t carry your assumptions; and what you stand for and the way that you stand for it is generally misunderstood.
Here’s an example. It seems horrific to most people out there that you would ever care about who marries who. “Just let people marry whoever they want and let them be happy. Why do you have to be such a bigot?” That’s because the rootedness of that concern is no longer understood by the culture that we live in because the culture has little understanding of the content of the Bible and, surely, almost no allegiance anymore to the basic elements of a Judeo-Christian worldview; and so, we’re misunderstood.
Fringe communities – this is important – are generally threatening because we are a threat to the general assumptions now of the culture because we don’t carry those assumptions. Assumptions about marriage, assumptions about sexuality, assumptions about gender, assumptions about morality. We are in a very, very different place and so, we are looked at as a threat, rather than a wholesome help, people who love and serve.
So you need to realize in your relationships and in your communication with your neighbors, your fellow workers that you don’t have the comfort anymore of being a center culture community. You’re a fringe culture community and that should shape the care by which you present yourself, the care by which you communicate because you’re now speaking from the fringe into a culture that doesn’t understand you and often sees you as a threat. That’s the first thing. Know your position.
Second thing, know your job description. This is really important. There are two passages of scripture that I find incredibly helpful. One is just from the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus basically disciples the basic elements of a gospel-centered worldview and their marching orders.
And, fairly, in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is this. I love this. “Let your light so shine before men, before people that they see your good works your Father who is in heaven.” Now, what we often do, and I think there’s biblical reason for doing this, but it misunderstands this passage. The minute we hear “let your light so shine before men,” we think of the biblical connection between light and truth and we think that’s a call to be truth-tellers.
It’s actually a call about the manner of your life. It’s live in such a way that your life is attractive; that your life speaks the content of the gospel; that you’re known, not because you’re against gay marriage and have a different view of gender. What you’re most powerfully known for is this is a gracious, loving, kind, humble person, that your life attracts people. Wouldn’t it be great if you are a person that would be hard to get mad at because you’ve been so kind and so patient and so loving and so willing to serve, and so gracious in even the ways that you talk about the hardest of issues? We should be the most attractive community on earth. People should say, “I hate what those people believe, but I love those people. I wish I could hang with people like those people.” That’s our job description.
Peter says it in a different way. In 1 Peter, he’s writing to people who are misunderstood. He’s writing to people who are suffering and he says this. “3:13 Now, who is there to harm you if you’re zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts, honor Christ as Lord, as holy; always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asked you for the reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
That’s an amazingly helpful passage of scripture. I love the picture of being ready to give an answer for someone who asked you the hope that’s within you. Now, think of what is being described there. You have lived in such a positive, hopeful, loving, attractive way, that the person watching you is asking inside, “What makes this guy tick? What makes him respond the way he responds? There’s something positive in this person that I’d like to know about.”
Man, I would like to be that kind of person. I would like to be a person who, generally, is misunderstood, is seen as a bit of a threat, but there’s something that’s deep inside of me that people want to get at and want to talk about.
Now, why is that important? Well, here it is. If I have two people that I need to talk to and I know that I need to share with them the hardest thing they could ever hear. And know this, the gospel is horrible, bad news before it’s good news. And if you don’t accept the bad news, the good news won’t attract you.
So I have to tell these two people this horrible, bad news. And one of them misunderstands me and is threatened by me and is threatened by me, is afraid of me. And the other one deeply believes in his heart that I love him. He’s experienced my kindness, my gentleness, my patience, my willing to sacrifice my comfort for his good.
Now, listen to the question. Which person is predisposed to listen to my message? It’s not hard to answer. It’s the person that knows I love them. That’s why the job description that’s given in Matthew 5 and 1 Peter 3 is very important for us. Your means of having a voice in this crazy culture, of breaking down the misconceptions is not first your message. It’s your life. Your life will give an opportunity to speak in this culture the message that’s so important because you have to break down those misconceptions. Break down that misunderstanding and you do that by living a life that is attractive to those around you.
The next thing I would say is stay informed. It doesn’t take a whole lot to stay informed. Know the movement of your culture. Understand those changes and then push what your cultural competency through the word of God. And I would just encourage you, get up on the internet and find some good Christian thinkers that are regularly interacting with culture.
One of those I would mention is Al Mohler. Al Mohler does a wonderful podcast everyday, where he pushes culture issues through a biblical lens. It’s wonderfully helpful and you’ll find it encouraging and informative. Be informed because this is the culture you’re called to serve. This is the culture you’re called to minister to. You’re called to be a light in this culture and you want to understand the culture that’s around you.
I think of it this way, that we're called to this two-sided hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. On one side, because I love God, I want to be an adequate interpreter of the word of God, so I can understand His true meaning. But because I am called to love people, I want to be a skilled interpreter of people, so I can understand who they are and why they function the way they function. And those two come together, I need that biblical hermeneutic and that people hermeneutic in order to have any ministry in the culture in which I live.
Now, that takes work and you need, we all need to be committed to be students, students of the world that we live in and students, even more importantly, of the word of God. Never think you have learned enough. Never think that you know enough. Read good books. There are wonderful books out there that are analyzing the shifts in our culture. I myself find them enormously helpful. There are books on what's going on in our culture and sexuality and gender, and how to properly relate to and handle social media, and how to live in this adversarial, political landscape.
There's a wonderful Christian writing going on. Read good books. Listen to good thinking leaders and then, study the word of God. Be grounded, so that, although at times you feel like alien, you're not confused. You know who you are. You know what your culture is about. You know how to understand your culture biblically and you're prepared for those moments when the attractiveness of your life has given you an opportunity now to speak into the life of somebody, and give an explanation and defense for why you stand for what you stand for.
The final thing I would say is run to the body of Christ. Life in an alien culture is a community project. You aren't hardwired to do this on your own and there'll be moments when it's terribly discouraging. It's awful to be called a bigot when you know you don't have a bigoted heart. It's awful to be mocked. It's hard to be in a workplace where you're not treated the same way as everybody else because of what you stand for. It's hard to say no when people don't understand why you're saying no.
So we need the comfort and encouragement of the body of Christ. We need its insight. We need its love. We need the training that can be found there. We need the strengthening that can be found there. Don't go it alone. If you're a parent, there are all kinds of cultural minefields that you're going to have to walk through with your children. How about talking to other people about how they're negotiating those things? Don't be afraid to admit failure. Don't be afraid to admit ignorance or weakness.
The best methodology for getting the best out of the body of Christ is humility. Don't put on a front. Don't act like things are okay. Don't post happy family Facebook, Instagram posts when your family isn't happy and you're fighting with your kids over cultural things that they don't understand and you're trying to understand. Talk to other people about how they're dealing with work and work relationships in the midst of massive cultural changes, how they're relating to the gay couple that may live next door to them. So take advantage of the body of Christ. Make sure you're regularly under good, sound, practical, heart-transforming gospel preaching.
I love Sunday mornings. I love Sunday mornings for the worship because I can be an identity amnesiac. I can forget who I am and that worship service, once again reminds, me of the glories and the security and the peace and rest and hope that's found in being a child of God. I love sitting under good preaching, and the way it directs me and convicts me and reorients me.
And be ready to confess the way that the massive change in our culture has made you more timid than you ought to be and more silent than you ought to be and maybe, more fearful than you ought to be. Be ready to be at places where you have drifted with the culture and, maybe, you have let things into your life that you would have, maybe, ten years ago, not let into your life.
Be ready to admit that maybe the hours everyday on social media overwhelm the hours of personal study, personal devotion, personal worship; then, maybe you shouldn't be enslaved to your phone. Maybe there has even been a moral drift inside of you that's a result of the powerful pull of your culture. For all these things, find the help and encouragement, the insight, the strengthening, the comfort, the training of the body of Christ.
You see, it's not an accident in the plan of God that we live where we live. Between the "already" of our conversion and the "not yet" of our home-going, God has chosen this to be our address. Don't think there's a massive mistake. This moment isn't in the way of God's plan. It's part of God's plan for you and He's placed you where He's placed you for His glory and for your good.
Be thankful that you can stand as a child of God in this moment; that you actually, by grace, know right from wrong; that you know life-altering truths; that you have been rescued by grace; and that the domination of sin over you has been broken by the cross of Jesus Christ, so you're no longer a slave to things that enslave other people; and that you are regularly being directed, transformed, protected and delivered by grace.
You don't have to be afraid, but you need to be informed, and you need to know your place. And you need to know how important it is for you to break down those misconceptions, not just by speaking the gospel, but by living a beautiful gospel life with all of its love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and self-control. Who wouldn't want to live next door to such a person. Be the neighbor that everyone in your building or everyone in your block talks about, not because you're against everything, but because of the kind of person that you are.
Be hospitable. You got a backyard? Do neighborhood barbecues. Have fun with your neighbors. Mow the grass for the elderly woman down the street. Have play dates with your neighbor's kids. Be part of the life of your community, reflecting the beautiful character of the gospel that's yours because of grace.
Don't look down on people because what you have, you didn't earn and you could have never deserved. You've been given it by grace. And reflect the love that you have received. Don't forget who you are. Don't forget what you've been given. Nobody gives grace better than a person who's deeply persuaded that he needs it himself. And let that manner of living be a platform to begin to have conversations and answer questions in a culture that so desperately needs the truth of creation-fall-redemption and the beautiful hope that can be found in the forgiving and transforming mercy of the Savior that has placed you where you are right now.
This is our moment because we have what the world needs. Understand your position. Understand your job description and live with courage and hope and joy; and watch what God will do.