Over the years I’ve seen mainstream Christianity struggle with being relevant in a post-modern world that is tired with religion and tradition. In sermons and conversations with friends we use references to current movies, TV shows and pop songs and celebrity news. But we’ve taken a big risk immersing ourselves in the waves of the world’s culture – all for the noble cause of reaching the lost – in that we have become swallowed up, instead of being a life-raft.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 513, NIV) It is a huge mistake to think that by becoming more like our worldly friends, we will be of benefit to them. A plain dish of rice doesn’t need more rice to make it tasty, but a dose of salt. I don’t want to be bland and flavourless in my community – I want to provide hope and a different perspective.
But somehow we get caught up in being so in-tune with the world that find ourselves watching TV shows with immorality and violence, listen to music with sex-laden lyrics and negative outlook, and know more about the latest celebrity scandal than becoming familiar with the people of God in the Bible.
Some of us might think, "Well, so what? This is the society we live in." There are many justifications for being aware of the world around us but at the same time we are urged to leave our old ways and be a new person. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2, NIV) Eugene Peterson expands in The Message: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”
I don’t want to worship and follow a God who doesn’t expect more from me. I am tired of making the same old mistakes from my past and using the excuse that ‘it’s just the way I am’. Or ‘I have experiences that make me weak in certain areas – that’s how it is.’ Or ‘My mother was like this and her mother and this is the genetic pattern for our family’. I want to break free and be a new creation, one who is not a slave to sin.
There’s a Cherokee Indian parable that talks about the positive or negative traits we cultivate in our lives – one is the good wolf and one is the bad wolf. When asked which wolf wins, the Cherokee elder says, “The one you feed.”
When running late for an appointment and tempted to exceed the speed limit, there should be no doubt as to what is the right course of action. When flipping through the channels late at night and an explicit sex scene is in view, there should be no doubt as to what to do with the remote control. When fed up with the mess in the lounge room and the noise from the kids, there should be no doubt as to how to handle the situation. However, in all these cases and more, sometimes - without even a struggle - we take the easy route, the wide road, instead of entering through the narrow gate. We do what our flesh desires, because ‘everyone else does it’.
How can we leave our old ways behind when we cling on to the environment that feeds these bad habits? CS Lewis stated that “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Jesus’ desire for us is that we represent Him as His disciples, that we glorify Him and spread the good news about Him to the world.
Being relevant is not about having hundreds of Facebook friends, or knowing all the characters on Sex in the City. It’s also not about wielding Christian ‘bling’ around our necks or following the megachurch trends. It’s not about hiding behind trendy Christian clichés, nor even about jumping on the social justice bandwagon. I don’t want to be one of those ineffective Christians who have a ‘form of godliness but deny its power’ (2 Timothy 3:5, NIV). My idea of relevance is to show that a relationship with God gives real answers to real problems people face, such as loneliness, destructive habits, bad relationships, despair, the search for truth and identity.
For me, I want that true transformation that comes from a decision to leave the old ways behind while feeding myself on the word of God and abiding in His presence. Then I can be an asset to my community – a strong ingredient to enhance and flavour my interactions with those around me.