Friday, July 20, 2018

Three Ways to Avoid Becoming a Public Spectacle

(Or how to become one if that's what you want.)

In my last post, Three Ways to Maneuver a Cultural Shift, I wrote about how a Christian can stand fast in the post-Christian world. Encouraging words for the believer, but I sensed there was more to say about enduring the daily information overload. About being exposed to every wave of public opinion. It's easy to get pulled in, but avoidance is vital.

The Sunday following that post we recited a verse in church, and a particular phrase stood out. I’d never considered exactly what was meant in this passage by "public spectacle."

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2:13b-15

Later, I looked up the term. Simply put, it can mean any form of entertainment. In Roman times, a public spectacle was comprised of games, festivals, competitions and chariot races, as well as plays. They were also celebrations of military victories, funerals, and exhibitory fights to the death. The Collosians would have thought of a public spectacle as a conquered ruler paraded through the region for all to see.

In the modern world, we might consider a public spectacle to be someone who did something inappropriate or embarrassing, either by accident or intentionally. They may appear ignorant or rebellious, or wildly entertaining. They catch our eye with something we don’t necessarily want to see, but we can’t help but stare. Some people might feel pity, outrage, or disgust. But others will praise the audacity of the act. With the proliferation of social media, anyone can become a public spectacle with little effort.

Sometimes a public spectacle parades such indecency that even the unredeemed take offense. A comedian made a public spectacle of herself on July fourth by dressing up in patriotic garb and spouting offensive jokes in her “God bless abortion” celebration. Perhaps a few other pro-choice militants thought it was funny, but anyone with a sense of compassion must have found the event shockingly awkward. From either side of the argument, abortion is not funny, and it shouldn’t be “on the dollar menu at McDonald's” as that foul comic has proclaimed.

Regarding the verse in Colossians, like a public spectacle in ancient times, the minions of Satan, the fallen angels, and the powers of sin and death were disarmed for all the spiritual realm to see. A show of victory, a funeral for demonic rule, a fight to the death. But wasn’t Jesus the one who died? Perhaps the cheering throng of evil powers thought so for a moment in time, but the resurrection shut their mouths.

The powers and authorities still attempt to mock God and the work of the cross. They rouse acts of ignorance and rebellion among humankind. But to the discerning spirit they're nothing more than shameful. And God will one day shut their mouths, too.

So, how do you avoid becoming a public spectacle in this day and age?

1)    Don’t let foolish talk come out of your mouth.

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4

Yes, even Christians have a problem here. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have needed this instruction.

2)    Redirect your attention.

Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.
Psalm 119:37

Sometimes we can’t help wanting all this life has to offer, even if it's not good for us. The world is seductive, but God is our strength. The psalmist asked God to guide his thoughts and desires. That should be our prayer.

3)    Be careful where your feet take you, where your friends lead you, and where your devotion keeps you.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
Psalm 1:1

This doesn’t mean isolate yourself from sinners, just don’t adopt their practices. If God is greater than all powers and authorities, then your influence on those around you should be greater than their influence on you.

But…if you want to make a public spectacle of yourself, and it seems some people have that ambition, then go ahead and talk like a fool. Lock your eyes on the empty allure of this world. And take your seat among those who mock the God of the Universe. Would He really be offended? We’ll find out soon enough.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Three Ways to Maneuver a Cultural Shift

Those of us who follow Christ are not traversing unaware into the post-Christian world. We’re only human, so at times we tend to recoil when suffering the in-your-face demands of those at the forefront of our changing society. My own views filter through the lens of the Western Church. As an American Christian, I grew up during the era when all the world believed this was the greatest country on earth. Or at least, we assumed they believed it. Now, people around the world, as well as those from among our own citizenship, no longer believe in America, or God. At times we feel they’ve shoved their rights, their goals, and their philosophies ahead of ours. So, how do we navigate the turmoil? Here are three ways to maneuver through the muck, rather than sink into it.

   Remember who you are.

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:19

Yes, we are a part of the family of humanity. We’re earth dwellers, but this is not our home and we can’t expect everyone to like us, support our cause, or follow our rules. Before we were redeemed, we were just as lost as the angry, depraved people who’ve managed to frustrate us with their unrelenting demands. It doesn’t matter if we weren’t as bad, we were absolutely as lost. They can’t help but hate us, but we don’t have to return hatred to them. Let go of the frustration and show a little kindness. We might not stop a cultural shift, but we can still shine a light in the darkness.

2      Remember where your loyalty lies.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 
1 John 2:15-17

Okay, I’m proud to be an American. But it’s not my doing, so I don’t boast in it. God gave me life at a certain point in history, in a specific place. I’m not ungrateful. I simply don’t own it. The will of the people has at times throughout our history become ungodly, and yet God has blessed us. He chose to build this nation to increase His Kingdom, and from our shores the gospel has gone out across the world. For that reason, my pride rests more in Christ, and less in patriotism. That’s not to say I won’t stand up for what is right. For the time being, we still live in the Republic of the United States of America. I’ll still vote, pray for our leaders, and hope for our survival as a nation. But the things of this world will pass away.

3     Remember your destination.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 
Revelation 7: 9,10

The ultimate culture shifter is God. No matter how hard we fight for our rights, we will live or die by His sovereignty. He has determined right from wrong, and no amount of raging over the face of the earth will alter His opinion. The core of humanity is in a battle to create a new world for itself. But this is His world, past, present, and future. The world to come will be filled with a great number from all kinds of people whom He chose to redeem. They will come from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Every political affiliation? Every boundary-pushing movement? Will God redeem souls from among those who hate us? Who distort morality? From the loud, contemptuous public voices that cry out against Him? The shifters are in God’s hands, and He will do with them as He will. Does that mean He might use those of us who are redeemed to draw His adversaries to Himself? Of course, it does. Pray for your enemies. They could become your brothers and sisters.

Maneuvering the cultural shifts of this world might seem overwhelming, but if we’re standing on the right foundation, we will not be shaken. We are His. We’re loyal to His Kingdom. And we’ll soon be going home. Perhaps we need a shift in focus. The outlook of the Western Christian sometimes becomes “me” centered rather than Christ centered. But it isn’t our story. It’s His story. And this isn’t our battle. The battle is the Lord’s, our redeemer and refuge.

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31