In this series, we’ve been facing the reality as believers that there has been a part of us that has stopped caring for the world and our society. We’re trying to fix that by reconnecting to God’s heart and mission and we’ve realized that attitude is not an option for us. There’s no way we can receive God’s grace and then withhold it.
How do we reengage with the world?
Last week we looked at 1 Peter and were reminded that we are exiles in any culture.
Even in a society that is hostile, where Christian beliefs are marginalized and mocked, Peter says it’s ok, because you’ll be ultimately safe, and that you’ll even be blessed when you’re persecuted for the gospel. Your Christlike character matters as a witness to the world.
We talked about a “powerless witness”––we don’t need a platform of power to make a difference in the world. We’ve had a platform in the past, but it’s not a necessary prerequisite. If we act like it’s necessary, we come across as just another group that is seeking power.
Tim Keller wrote an article in The Atlantic about how American Christianity is due for a revival. He wrote that in an ex-Christian society, it’s tempting to use almost any means to keep what we once had. But one of the things that we have to do is escape political captivity.
You’re never going to get over this apathy toward culture until you escape this captivity. American Christians have largely turned to trying to gain power for cultural influence. That’s not what we’re here for. If you don’t escape that, you’ll never get over your apathy for culture.
We’ve been angry and ill-equipped.
Gail and I saw some friends recently who had moved to Jordan with their kids to teach English. Sunni-Islam is the primary religion. This little country is surrounded by hostile countries. So, this couple has come home to give birth before they go back. They have the opportunity to teach the Bible to help teach English. They’ve been here for a few months and I was talking to them last night. They said they’ve had more impact in a year there in a primarily Islamic country than they think they would have had back in America.
We feel more scared and ill-equipped here in America than in a 97% islamic country.
We looked at 1 Peter in order to reorient us to how we should live in a hostile society.
1 Peter 3:15 says to sanctify Christ in your hearts.
We are hope carriers. There’s a hope inside us. Your life is a platform wherever you are, as long as Christ is sanctified in your heart, as long as Christ dictates everything about your life at the center.
Book: Allan W. - Christ’s lordship must extend beyond our morality. It must seep into our bones and affect the way we live and look in the world. Everything about your life, not just your morals.
One of the great dangers of Christianity is that you turn it into moralism. That’s a real danger. If you make it about that, you end up sounding like everyone else in the world.
Your life becomes the platform for witnessing if its distinct.
I’ve been telling you I’ve been going back to the gym and sitting in the sauna. Good conversations come up. I hear great conversations going on and I get to prompt conversations. It was packed the other day. One of the guys is really loud, using an outside voice in a tight space. He was talking to a buddy who sounds like he was an ex-coworker. This guy was loud and foul. They were ripping on people they know and using really foul language. I’m listening and trying to figure out how to jump in. There’s an old guy in the corner who pops up and says, aren’t you the pastor of Hillside? Everybody’s eyes come to me. He blew my cover. I had no subtle way of entering anything now.
He says his family goes to Hillside and that he visited a couple of times. Then the foul-mouthed guy said, where’s your church? He asked what seminary I went to. I told him and he said he knew some of the guys from there and named off a bunch of guys I know. He said he was discipled by a particular guy. He said, “I almost went into ministry myself. Now I’m just doing Bible Study Fellowship.” Everything in me wanted to say, “Why?!”
Peter is basically saying, if your life isn’t holy, you have no platform. So if you’re going to be a witness, you have to have a life that matches the message. If you don’t have that, you need to get that settled. Then you have to take some basic steps.
I’m going to spend the next two weeks talking about what we should say.
Today we’re going to look at Colossians chapter 4.
When we’re talking about engaging culture, there is an intense, vertical engagement with God. Prayer is not the fall back position, its primary. It’s a spiritual pursuit and you have to be in tune with God about it. Prayer is talking to God about what you’re doing together. You’re not going to journey out there without talking to him about it.
Paul says to be “watchful” and “thankful.” What does that have to do with us engaging the world? “Watchful” has the idea of being awake and alert. We have to be watchful because we know he’s coming back, but we have to be watchful of the times we’re living in as well. How do I orient my life accordingly to this moment? What’s the best approach here?
Prayer is designed to be something that alerts you to what you might encounter today.
Then you have thankfulness. Paul has a specific way he uses it. Here’s an illustration in Colossians 1.
Why are we thanking the Father? Because he’s qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints.
So Paul is saying to be watchful of the times around you. And be thankful, because you get to be in the game as part of the redemptive plan. You understand what you have in him and your place in salvation history relative to Christ’s work.
If you don’t love where you are in redemptive history, you won’t be thankful. We need to become aware of what’s at play and what’s at stake.
It’s almost as if Paul says, when you pray, don’t get too far removed from the wonder of salvation. We forget how great it is to be in this redemptive plan. And we forget his power to rescue. We forget that there’s nothing really special about me or the circumstances I was in when coming to Christ. It was just a miracle of God coming in my life. We forget he can break in anywhere at any time. There’s always hope because of that.
If you remember that there was nothing special about you or the culture or the circumstances, then you know there’s no reason he can’t break in right now. When you’re thanking him for your salvation, you become alert to the fact that you can do anything at any time.
You’re always asking for God for opportunities to connect with people again.
In prayer, I’m learning to talk to God again. I realize the first thing about all this is that it’s a spiritual endeavor. Prayer is hard for all of us. It always comes back to prayer.
Paul says, by the way, pray for us and pray for each other too to have opportunities.
We’re praying and hoping God opens a door. We’re praying for opportunities.
This open door might lead to prison. That was the open door for Paul. But it’s not about him and where he’s at. He’s not trying to get out, he’s just trying to get the message out. The word is characterized with a personal dynamic, like you just let it in and let it do its thing.
The irony is that Paul is behind a closed door looking for open doors.
The word of God is not bound. Your situation doesn’t dictate the effectiveness of the word. Wherever you are, you’re looking for that door to be opened.
You’re watchful and thankful. You’re thankful for the fact that you have it, and you’re going to look for the wisest way to tell somebody.
There’s an element that the message needs to be clear, you need to know what to say. But the first thing is to be prayerful.
Then Paul turns the tables on the direction we’ve been going.
Those of you who are free to walk about the country. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders.
Paul is saying, I’m stuck in this prison, but you’re free to move about. So live, walk.
“Walk” is a verb of motion, and “toward” is a preposition of motion. You have a lot of movement here.
The word “walk” is a metaphor for how you live your life. It’s a series of steps into the life God has for you. You have this metaphor of a life that is moving. And it says to walk in wisdom.
“Wisdom,” like “thankfulness,” is life in Christ. When you use the word wisdom to describe the Christian life, you’re talking about how to be effective in that life. How can that life be effective wherever I am and whatever is happening?
I know what Christlikeness in me looks like in this situation, in this dynamic. There’s some wisdom in that. Paul is basically saying, I don’t want you moving away from outsiders. He’s said a lot about what we need to be careful of in culture. But that doesn’t mean we should move away. We need to be going toward them.
This life in Christ that you’re stepping in, I want it to move toward outsiders, not the opposite.
A few years back I read The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosario Butterfield. She said. Having strong words and strong beliefs, but weak relationships with outsiders is violent.
She says that it captures the violent carelessness and apathy of our social media infused age. It’s a violent apathy. We haven’t just been apathetic, but violently apathetic.
She’s a stark writer and writes with no-nonsense. To imagine that our movement away from the world is not just careless, it’s hostile. It’s anything but loving.
Paul says, I need you to make the best use of time––to redeem the time or to buy it up. There’s a sense of urgency in this temporal reality. Opportunities open, they come and go, and there’s too much at stake. The steps you are taking in Christ ought to be in the direction toward those who don’t know him. Pick up the pace, because a lot is at stake. Don’t slide on over. Hustle. We don’t have all day. Get moving because we don’t have all day.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.
In our time right now, this is really important. When we look at the culture, we get angry, but when you sit in the sauna and hear his story, you’re not mad at him. I don’t know where he is in culture, but he has the same human problems as mine. I’m not even thinking about worldviews when I’m sitting with an individual.
Paul is saying, I just want you to see individuals. Get your mind off the whole thing and look at the opportunities you have in your life.
We need to know how to have an appropriate conversation that has the right touch to it. An attractive tone.
One commentator said, “You ought to be able to hold your own in all social settings.”
Be the thing needed in the moment. Say the thing needed in the moment. You’re not trying to solve it all. It might even be saying nothing at times.
What does this mean practically?
First, we’re praying. Let that be your first step. Praying for God to give you opportunities. My goal is to have a conversation every day with someone I don’t know. I don’t care where it is or where it’s going to lead.
I’ve had different opportunities recently, in the sauna, in an Uber, and with a neighbor. I’ve had the opportunity to share my story in all these settings.
The Uber driver didn’t even want to take me as far as he was taking me. He told me that. But it was hard to leave each other at the end because our conversation was so good. In the sauna, I had to do it really fast. But with the neighbors, they shared their life and story and it sounded very similar to ours.
Let me close by saying this. If you’re in the room and wanting to know, What do I need to do before I leave this room? First thing is you need to be thankful. You’re going to be an ineffective witness if you are not thrilled by what God is doing in your life.
Then, just say that I’m going to have a conversation with somebody. We’re all going to approach it different ways. I have a buddy who gets on the phone and loves to figure out how the people on the phone are doing, and he gets to share his story and pray with people over the phone when he finds out what people are going through in their lives.
Find your spot.
Rosaria says, everyone is looking for where to start, and it might be at the end of your driveway.
You have to move. Take steps. Move towards somebody.