“Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?” Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” – Mark 2:18,22
I have been thinking about this question: How do we live as faithful Christians in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile or agnostic to anything related to church, Christianity, evangelicalism, the Bible, and even God himself? Christians are generalized as judgmental, close-minded, unintelligent, irrational, self-serving, hypocritical, unloving, and stuck in a land time forgot. Some of these accusations are completely fair and justified. Others are not, but frankly, there has not been a significant enough of a counter-example to make any difference.
It is not relevant to this conversation to talk about why this is the case. I’ve been a participant and observer of Christianity and church in the US for the past 40 years. All I can say is trust me. But my point here isn’t to focus on the past, it’s to focus on the present and future. I want to have an answer to that question, how do I live? How do we live?
God’s story has always been about ordinary people joining with him and being willing to follow his lead. These ordinary people always had hang-ups, regrets, pains, character flaws, doubts, you name it. I have those things. In spite of those things, God calls us and gives us new identities.
I believe God is crafting a new identity for Christians in this country, in South Florida, in our own community. This new identity is going to look strange, sound strange, feel strange, and be strange to the old Christian identity. The old identity is going to ask a lot of questions and generally going to be grumpy. But we can’t try and patch the new on to the existing, or expect the existing to even welcome the new.
In the story from Mark above, Jesus doesn’t condemn the Pharisees – the old cloth or the old wineskins. He just says, in order for the new to take shape, it can’t be pressed into something it wasn’t designed for. Otherwise, both the old and new are destroyed. And we don’t want to do that.
There are many people who will be fine to just live within the Christian bubble. Many believe that the best thing for Christians to do is hunker down, create their own enclaves, and ride out the storm waiting to be rescued. For some, maybe that’s the best plan. But I can’t accept that. I just don’t see how that is faithful to the story of how God’s kingdom works. His kingdom is like a mustard seed, or yeast, or a really great earworm song. It won’t go away! And it changes things in the process.
That phrase that Christians like to quote, “in the world, but not of the world,” is kind of bogus. It’s a dualism that supports the idea that our bodies and this world are evil and only our spirits and heaven are good. in reality, we’re committed to being human. We’re here, and our future is very this-worldly. The promise of Kingdom-come isn’t a heaven somewhere far away. It’s a renewed earth teeming with life, justice, mercy, and love.
In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples:
“Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.”
Jesus doesn’t say, “They do not belong in this world…” he says, “they do not belong to this world.” Big difference. Most significantly, is what he prays in verse 15: “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.”
God’s plan A for saving the world involves us. There is no plan B. Jesus dying on the cross was not God’s plan B after Israel messed things up. There’s one plan, one story.
In verse 18, Jesus tells his Father that “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.” Wow, that is significant. That points right to Jesus’ words to go and make disciples of all nations. He never tells us to hunker down and wait. But he also never tells us to use the world’s methods to bring people into the kingdom of God. And you only have to go back to verse 19 to see how Jesus planned to bring us into his kingdom: “And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” That is also significant, because I think it points to our method to bring people into the kingdom – self-sacrificial love.
From a means and methods standpoint, this is going to be a foreign concept to most Christians. We are far more acquainted with how the world gets things done rather than how God gets things done. But Jesus had quite a few things to say about how we typically get things done: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” And on and on.
Truth is, we are going to have to learn what it means to sacrificially love. I don’t know how to do that, at least as a lifestyle. I make sacrifices for my kids and have made sacrifices for others out of desire to help them, but this is a reality of life in the Kingdom that goes far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. But as I think about where we are in history, and where our kids will be, I’m aware of the fact that if evangelism is going to mean anything, it is going to come from this place. It is going to come out of loving actions that demonstrate the reality of the kingdom. Not apologetics or winning arguments.
We need an apologetic of love. We have to demonstrate to the world that our primary motivation is love, not being right or protecting our agenda. Col 3:15 says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”
…In the next post I’ll talk about ways to go about living as followers of Jesus in this new world…