The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, June 1, 2012

Living in the Christian Ghetto, Wearing Blinders in the Streets: The Need for Perspective

A little perspective never hurt anyone. That's not true, but having no perspective except your own does nothing but hurt.

What is perspective? It is a mental view or outlook, and I am convinced the more we can get outside of ourselves and see the world around us, the less our cultural bias will taint everything we think and feel and do. By seeing the world around us I mean attempting, as best we can, to understand other cultures, at the very least the ones that are pouring into the Great Melting Pot known as the United States. Certainly I refer to different ethnicities and subcultures even within each ethnicity, but beyond that, I also refer to those who are the "rich" of this nation, the "dirt poor," and everyone in between. The way to do this is simply by interacting with people from various ethnicities and backgrounds, cultures and climates. Or, read a book if you prefer. The important thing, however, is to grasp the underlying philosophy of those around us. Why do people do what they do? Simply saying they are sinners and act according to their sin nature isn't enough. That's a given, but that is seen in various expressions in each given culture, ethnicity, and economic situation that a person finds him or herself in. Our environment and culture does affect how we behave, therefore, knowing our environment and culture, along with those around us, is invaluable to ministering to others and ourselves.

Firstly, we have to get outside of ourselves and find meaning and purpose in another, Christ. We must be God-centered, God oriented, not man centered, not self-centered. That's a flip flop, topsy turvey perspective that we obviously cannot fully attain because of our finitude, yet it is what we are called and commanded to do. We understand ourselves better when we see who God is and what He does, because all we can do is what God has enabled us to do, which is to be a living, human reflection of Him.

Unbelievers inevitably do this too, yet poorly. Corruptly. God says eat and we turn to gluttony; he tells us to enjoy wine and we get drunk; He tells us to be fruitful and multiply and we turn sexual ecstasy into our god; We paint paintings and build buildings then boast in ourselves, in the creativity and power of man, forgetting that our strength and creativity comes from the very being of God alone.

So really, it isn't a matter of needing to stop doing things for the Christian, but rather to stop doing them wrongly. Even killing done in defense of oneself or another, to uphold justice, is a righteous and God glorifying thing. But instead we kill babies to protect our "rights" and "freedoms." In this fallen world, it is not killing in itself that is wrong, it is murder; it's not eating that is wrong, it's gluttony; it's not drinking strong drink, it's drunkenness; it's not having sex, it's having sex that signifies nothing and finds it's sole meaning in the physical satisfaction of having the sexual appetite satiated, treating the man, or woman, or animal, or your own hand as nothing but a tool to get the pleasure you crave.

This is evident in the first sin, at the Fall- it was not eating fruit that was sinful, but desiring that piece of fruit  from that tree which was strictly forbidden because that one limitation was God's way of both testing and  privileging man with the opportunity to show his loyalty and obedience to his altogether good Creator. Talk about getting a little dose of perspective eh?

There is a righteous jealousy, a righteous anger, a righteous sorrow, and I would even say a righteous bitterness. A husband should be jealous for his wife if he sees another man wooing her, should have a righteous anger when sinners prosper and the righteous suffer, should sorrow when his son or daughter disobeys or a loved one is lost, and should become embittered when surrounded by rank sin, like Lot was (2 Peter 2:8). Why? Because Christ was jealous for His bride, became outraged at injustice and hypocrisy, wept when Lazarus died, and I think became embittered and perhaps even tormented with the cities that did not repent and continued in sin (Matthew 10:11-15; Luke 13:34-35).

My point? It's about how you do what you do, not what you do, that counts. Everyone is eating and drinking and sleeping and having sex and telling jokes and learning and quarreling and working and consuming art/culture and making art/culture etc. We all have friends, and we all believe in right and wrong at some level. We cannot help but do the same things, because we can only do what we were enabled to do by our Creator. We can only do what God can do, because we were made in His likeness. It is in the how we are doing it, and for what purpose, that determines right from wrong. Why you do what you do, and how you do it, determines whether or not your Creator loves you or hates you, whether or not you are obeying or disobeying Him. The fall of man did not occur because man did something they were always forbidden to do- eating a piece of fruit. The fall of man occurred because man ate a particular piece of fruit for a particular wicked reason. To eat of that fruit tree was to signify eating in an unworthy manner and for a wicked, wicked motive- to know good and evil, become their own masters, and be like God- and how they did it- by listening to the lies of the cunning serpent instead of the truthful Creator and taking the fruit by the hand when they were told not to- is what damned the whole human race.

Eating fruit was a good thing. Eating fruit from that tree, for those reasons, which was essentially cosmic treason against God, was very, very bad. So we see that sin originated by taking a good thing- eating fruit- and doing it in a despicable manner, for a despicable, forbidden reason. It was off limits, yes, but again, that was because God was testing man and at the same time privileging man with the opportunity to show that they lived to be obedient to God and loved God as their Creator, Master, and Provider. Adam and Eve sided with Satan and by eating the fruit proclaimed throughout the universe that they HATED God as their Creator, Master, and Provider, and wanted to be their own maker, master, and provider. And every other sin that we commit today has at the root the same abominable motivation, because that IS what sin is.

But we cannot see the sinfulness of sin unless we have the right perspective. Paul says in Romans 7:7 that God gave us the law to give us the right perspective, to help us understand why sin is so sinful:

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”[a]

And again in Galatians 3:

 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor

Psalm 119 is 176 verses long, and it is all about knowing God's law so that one does not go astray. God's law gives us God's perspective, so that we may rightfully reflect Him. Read the entire chapter on your own, but here is just two parts that I particularly like and I think captures well what I am trying to say:

119 Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart!
They also do no iniquity;
They walk in His ways.
You have commanded us
To keep Your precepts diligently.
Oh, that my ways were directed
To keep Your statutes!
Then I would not be ashamed,
When I look into all Your commandments.
I will praise You with uprightness of heart,
When I learn Your righteous judgments.
I will keep Your statutes;
Oh, do not forsake me utterly!

ב Beth

How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
12 Blessed are You, O Lord!
Teach me Your statutes.
13 With my lips I have declared
All the judgments of Your mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on Your precepts,
And contemplate Your ways.
16 I will delight myself in Your statutes;
I will not forget Your word.

97      Oh, how I love Your law!
         It is my meditation all the day.
98 You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the ancients,
Because I keep Your precepts.
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.
102 I have not departed from Your judgments,
For You Yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.

ן Nun

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
106 I have sworn and confirmed
That I will keep Your righteous judgments.
107 I am afflicted very much;
Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.
108 Accept, I pray, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord,
And teach me Your judgments.
109 My life is continually in my hand,
Yet I do not forget Your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
Yet I have not strayed from Your precepts.
111 Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever,
For they are the rejoicing of my heart.
112 I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes
Forever, to the very end.

So how do I connect this truth of knowing and loving the law/ commandments of God in order to glorify Him with understanding where the unbelieving, sinful world is coming from in order to minister to and help them? In part with Romans 12:2, 

 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

To avoid conformity to the world, we have to understand, not just God and His law, but all the subtle, deceptive ways that we twist the law of God and try to pass off unrighteous things as righteous. We don't want to be legalists or antinomians. We want to be like Christ, who as a man was and is the perfect image of His Father. Further, Christ frequently told us not to be like the Pharisees in Matthew 23:

 23 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe,[a] that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ,[b] and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Or how about these snippets from Matthew 6?

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

The rest of Matthew 23 is essentially Jesus attacking the Pharisees and calling them out on all their hypocrisy. Christ is essentially saying "this is what the Pharisees are like, here is why they do what they do, you need to know this and see how bad it is so you can understand them, and in understanding them you can avoid their sin, and potentially even help them."

Then you have Paul who says he became all things to all peoples so that he might by all means win some in 1 Cor. 9:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law,[c] that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God,[d] but under law toward Christ[e]), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as[f] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

Paul apparently became very familiar with all cultures he contacted, for the sake of evangelism, for the sake of the gospel! This is not a light issue I am dealing with, it is crucial if we are to be effective witnesses to the elect that God has not yet called to faith.

And what about having a perspective other than our own from a financial and material standpoint? Again I have Paul to turn to, this time from Philippians 4:

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me. 

If for no other reason, we need to learn the different cultures and backgrounds of people, and what it is like to be filthy rich and dirt poor, if nothing else because God has chosen to save people from all backgrounds, and to save the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. And if we are taking people from their present situations and sins to the cross of Christ, then we have to know where they are coming from. Otherwise, how can we take them from there present situation to Christ? How can we minister to believers who have been damaged from difficult backgrounds and cultures and upbringings if all we know is our "perfect" little Christian world and refuse to get to know their horrible histories and the environs they grew up in that really messed them up?

And isn't this especially dangerous for us reformed folk, who often think we have all the answers and are in the sweet spot of Christianity? Believe me, I think we are too, but it is detestable to stay there, living in the reformed ghetto, surrounded only by other reformed people, looking down from our tall towers on the common arminian Christians and even farther down on the unbelieving pagans, never even attempting to get to know them and where they come from.

And if we must walk the same streets they walk, we put on blinders.

When we act like this, we act like the foolish Pharisees, who grumbled and complained because Jesus actually took the time to get to know the sinners and tax collectors, supping with them:

Matthew 9:10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’[b] For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Of course Christ ate with them to tell them of their sins, but notice He is doing this over a meal. This was over conversation, and there was surely feedback from those whom Christ ate with, and Christ understood where these men were coming from.

I don't want to expose myself, or my children if the Lord blesses me with them, to the sinful ways of this world. I do, however, want them to be fully apprised of the wiles of the devil, which often manifests itself through the sinful cultures and mindsets and philosophies of this world. Even for pagans, their cultures and environs essentially determine their philosophy and outlook on the world, and their philosophical outlook is what undergirds all the sinful things that they engage in on a day to day basis. If I want my children to avoid the sinful world around me, I do shelter them. I may even put them in bubble wrap. But I keep the blinders off and the windows open. I let them observe from a safe distance, and before I do that I teach them the wiles of the devil and the wicked ways of the world. I teach them by pointing to God's law, and explaining how we sinners twist and distort it for wicked, selfish reasons, and I tell my children that's what happened at the Fall and that's what sinners have been doing ever since.

Catechize yes, but don't forget that the reformed Christian bubble is not what we were called to stay in, like a soft, warm blanket that protects us from all harm. At some point that warm blanket is going to be yanked off; sometimes you have to venture out into the cold. The question is, how prepared are we to do this, to be cold, to be out of our comfort zone, and are we sometimes willing to remove the blanket ourselves so we can bring, by God's grace, unbelievers under the warm covers of Christianity with us?

May God help us to not be so smug, so arrogant, so self-righteous like the Pharisees to think that all we need is our perspective on things to be able to honor and glorify God. May God help us to see the importance of grasping the cultures around us, as the missionaries learn to do when they adapt to other cultures so that the gospel can land with power and understanding and relevancy to the natives they are trying to reach, who have never heard the gospel and are so far removed, who are so tangled in sin that they cannot even see a glimmer of the Light. And may God grant us to see that understanding other cultures helps us understand our own sin and selfishness and needs, as well as the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who come from a different culture and context and/or economic and material situation than our own. For these things heavily affect us and can corrupt us indeed, and the devil loves to use it to ravage us.