My wife is reading a biography of Amy Carmichael who among other things was a missionary to women and children in India. Her personal journal entries alone are enough to inspire us to drink more deeply of Christ and think more broadly about the implications of the Christian life. This dynamic prompted her to have our ten year old daughter read some other sources on Carmichael.
One seemingly minor thing my wife shared with me struck a chord.[i] When Carmichael arrived in India she wore the Indian sari in an effort to better fit into that culture. One thing she didn’t do however was wear jewelry. It’s not that she didn’t appreciate it or believe that wearing jewelry was in itself sinful. It’s that in India jewelry was a source of pride in the caste system. Jewelry demonstrated wealth, position, or a husband’s importance. Not only did she refuse to wear it herself, she privately lamented that the Christian Indian women who worked with her covered themselves with jewels. While she knew it was a pride issue for these women she didn’t want to impose her standard upon them particularly in light of the fact they might interpret it not as her Christian standard but as her English standard. She simply prayed that God would open their eyes.
Soon thereafter a child told one of these Christian Indian women that she wanted to be part of their group when she grew up so that she could wear the fine jewelry they did. Obviously the child’s reason for wanting to join the group had nothing to do with Christ and the woman became convicted of her practice: it was a hindrance to the gospel. She stopped wearing her jewelry and the other ladies in the group stopped wearing theirs as well.
It’s interesting; these women were ridiculed by other women for their decision. At the same time, there were many other women and children who took notice of them and had a different reaction; they observed the group’s love for one another and how they served one another and were converted to Christ.
Now here’s the three-fold chord. First, do we care enough about the little things knowing they are really big things because of the heart issues involved? In other words, are we content to go along with culture or do we seek to examine our hearts before God?
Second, when we find ourselves in a delicate situation, do we really commit it to God in prayer and trust Him to work or do we simply wring our hands thinking we can do nothing and as a result end up moving from wringing our hands to washing our hands of it? Do we care enough about the spiritual well-being of others to do something – and when the only thing we can do is pray – do we believe that’s powerfully everything?
Third, and here’s the big one for me, are we willing to go against the cultural tide, even if it costs us reputation, stylishness, status, or anything else in order to send a physical message to those around us? Let’s put it this way: does the way you dress say that Christ is real to you? I’m not talking about wearing something ugly or out of step for the sake of being different. But I am asking whether we check our hearts; whether we choose style over modesty; whether we choose pop over humility; whether we choose extravagance over tasteful. The Christian life is not a set of rules concerning how we dress per se. But it is a life of examination – not only examination of our own hearts but examination of how our claim to Christ is affected by how we live in every area. Are we sending mixed messages to those around us or are we consistent? Do we dress to impress? Do we dress to impress in a human, prideful sense or do we dress to impress Christ upon others?
One last thing – years later a professional body guard, a watchman as they were called, told Carmichael that no amount of money could hire a watchman for their group had they wore jewelry according to Indian custom – he would have been certainly murdered by thieves. Who knows all that God is doing when He asks us to follow Him and trust Him even in the things we consider insignificant at first glance? Because God has declared the end from the beginning we know that He has things in mind for us now that will affect things of which we are not aware yet – and – we can trust Him.
For more written and audio resources, visit www.pbcsc.org.
[i] The summary of Carmichael’s experience was gleaned from two sources: A Chance to Die: the Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elizabeth Elliot and Hero Tales: A Family Treasury of True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes by Dave and Neta Jackson.
We hear more and more talk about advancing God’s kingdom. That’s a good thing because it’s a major theme in Scripture far too neglected in the contemporary church. We’re also having more conversations about culture making which is also a good thing because we’re created to create culture. These two dynamics – kingdom advance and culture making – go together. Let me explain.
Part of the good news is that in salvation we’ve been delivered from Satan’s kingdom and reign into a completely new kingdom and reign: the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). We are kingdom citizens submitted to a new king called to advance His kingdom in the midst of earthly kingdoms.
The Lord Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Lk. 11:2). When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven His eternal, unshakable, spiritual kingdom is advancing in the earth. It is being brought to bear in the world. When we give a cup of water in Jesus’ Name we are doing kingdom work. To give something in Jesus’ Name is connected to His reality and gospel and opens up conversations about Him because of who we are and what we’re doing. That’s the kingdom advance part.
What about the culture making part? To be created in the image of God means that we image forth God’s character in a number of ways. For example, we can be kind to others because God is kind and when we’re kind we’re imaging forth the reality of His kindness. Now, God is the Creator and He has called us to be creators as well. For example, God told Adam and Eve to cultivate the garden. That is creative activity in terms of agricultural technique and in the production of more bounty and beauty. We can’t create something out of nothing as God can but when we create something new out of existing material we are still imaging forth God’s Creatorship in our God-given creativity. That’s part of what it means to subdue the earth as God commanded: to discover the rich resources God has hidden in His creation and develop them for the good of others and His glory.
When we cultivate or create appropriate things in appropriate ways we are creating for God’s glory and the good of others. In the words of Andy Crouch, we are creating cultural goods: we are culture making. When we write poetry, compose music, write computer code, coach baseball, develop more efficient methods in our place of employment, make investments, produce a crop, deliver packages, etc., we are either cultivating or creating a cultural good. When we do so in the Name of Christ we are creating, in the words of Darrow Miller, kingdom culture. Paul says that we are to glorify God in whatever we do whether we eat, drink, go to work, iron the clothes, or enjoy the sunrise with a loved one. If we are living in light of God’s reality for God’s glory we are living as kingdom citizens and preserving, cultivating, or creating kingdom advance or kingdom culture. We are to create culture that reveals the reality of God. That’s just another way of saying we are to glorify God in all that we do; we are to reflect His reality and attributes.
So, how do kingdom advance and culture making go together? In our homes, work-places, neighborhoods, communities, and indeed in all our spheres of influence we are to reveal God in different ways. We reveal Him by speaking the truth. We reveal Him by being concerned for others. We reveal Him by putting His character on display. We reveal Him by putting His beauty on display.
Think about that one – putting God’s beauty on display. We know that suffering, pain, and sin is the result of the fall. If there is natural disaster, war, crime, arguing, or anything evil it is the result of the fall and brought about by the influence of Satan or our own sinful desires (under the sovereign control of God to be sure). If there is ugliness of any kind it is the result of the fall. On the other hand, if there is healing, goodness, and righteousness it comes from God. If there is natural serenity, peace, goodwill, reconciliation, or anything good it flows in some sense from God’s goodness. If there is beauty of any kind it flows from the reality of God. He is beautiful and He is the source of all beauty.
I know a lady who loves to brighten our sanctuary with flowers. She blesses others with them as well. Sometimes people take little notice of those things. But I wanted her to know something one day. When I see the flowers she has placed in the sanctuary here’s what I think. God is the one who has given each one of us our particular gifts and talents. When this woman puts the flowers out before everyone arrives Sunday morning, she is worshipping God and serving us by using her gift. She is also revealing God in that. Moreover, she is revealing God’s reality by enhancing the beauty of the sanctuary with the beauty of flowers and in so doing she is putting God’s beauty – God’s glory – on display. She is creating a culture of beauty that reveals God. She is advancing His kingdom by doing His will on earth as it is in heaven. She is lavishing the blessings of Jesus on the rest of us. She is a kingdom citizen doing kingdom work that glorifies the King. She is fulfilling the purpose for which she was created: to create kingdom culture. That’s what I think about when I see those flowers every Sunday.
The next time you fulfill the purpose for which you were created (and hopefully that’s more and more everyday in all you do), think of it that way; you are creating kingdom culture. And indeed, that’s why you were created (Eph. 2:10).
For more written and audio resources, visit www.pbcsc.org.
According to Newser, “A Miami-Dade judge approved a settlement in which [a young girl’s] biological mother, her mother's lesbian lover, and the man whose sperm made it all possible will all sign her birth certificate as parents. ‘We're creating entirely new concepts of families,’ says the dad's lawyer.”
Here’s my first question: what right does anyone have to “[create] entirely new concepts of families?” Family is something God ordained, created, and defined. We can’t create new concepts without rejecting Him. Of course, that’s our culture; when God is removed from our thinking, anything goes and we shouldn’t be surprised.
My second question is what do we do about these developments? The church has to realize we can’t win this battle with legislation. We are increasingly in the minority opinion. Only changed hearts and minds (repentance) will keep people from “creating entirely new concepts of” anything and everything. And that’s the real battle line: the battle for hearts and minds through the message of the cross. If God is not real, then we have no right to define family for anyone but ourselves. The battle front is not debate over definitions but debate over whether God is real.
One more thing: “The settlement follows a two-year paternity battle. Gay stylist Massimiliano Gerina agreed to provide sperm for his lesbian friends, Maria Italiano and Cher Filippazzo in a handshake agreement. But whereas they saw him as merely a donor, he saw himself as a father for the child.” Think about the brutal selfishness here. The women don’t care how their “family” will affect the social and emotional well being of this child. All they want is the experience of having a child – it’s about them. The man has no regard for the child either. Good luck explaining to her that while the court has ruled the three of them a family, they are not a happy family nor are they together as a family. Where’s the love? It’s certainly not on display in a two-year paternity battle. It seems the only love in this situation is the love of self. And that’s another result of getting rid of God; there is no such thing as love for others – it’s about me; what I want is ultimate. In the end, we become gods – and rather poor ones at that, wouldn’t you say?
Sometime back a survey from the Barna Group yielded six reasons young people leave the church. One of those reasons is that churches seem overprotective. Young people have “unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews” while being “prodigious [consumers] of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”
We need to keep some things in mind. Because young people have unprecedented access to ideas and are voracious consumers of pop culture, if they are not given to analyzing those ideas, they are necessarily shaped by those ideas. No idea or trend in pop culture is neutral. Ideas and trends are rooted in worldviews. Of course, that reality is why parents must be diligent in giving their children a biblical worldview so that they may have the discernment they need when confronted by the larger culture. On the one hand, parents must protect their children until they are ready to engage the culture. But that protection does not consist of merely warning them of and keeping them from dangerous, cultural situations. Children must be trained to understand and operate in those situations.
Young people also feel that “Christians demonize everything outside of church.” We have to be honest and discerning here. There are things that should be demonized in the sense they are contrary to God and destructive on many levels. For example, it’s hard to see any redeeming value to a co-ed dorm given the fact that God created men and women to be attracted to one another, men’s sex drives are peaking during those years, dorms are filled with persons with differing moral positions, sex in that context is expected and even encouraged, and temptation is a very real and powerful thing. The gift of sex is reserved for marriage. We pray for God to deliver us from temptation. Part of His answer is His command not to put ourselves in tempting situations. A co-ed dorm certainly qualifies as ongoing tempting situation.
And yet we shouldn’t run to the extreme as parents often do and demonize sex. We should teach our young people the beauty, wonder, joy, and purposes of sex and motivate them to maximize their joy in this tremendous gift God has given us. Yes, that will require comparing the world’s presentation of it with God’s. Such a comparison should make them hungry, but also willing to wait for the finest dinner and all that entails rather than blunt that dinner with McDonalds on the way.
Teens also say their “church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful.” Here are some serious questions: how analytical are you? What is the worldview being presented in a particular movie, piece of music, or video game? Do you take it all in without that analytical eye? Are you engrossed in things that God hates? And, how much time are you giving to these things? Or, do you have a knowledge of and love for God that sees certain movies, musical pieces, and video games as gifts from Him? And, because they are gifts from Him you discern which ones please Him and which ones don’t; you engage them all through the lens of Scripture; you keep them in their proper place in terms of time; and you love the giver more than the gift?
So yes, parents must shield untrained children in the early years and give increasing freedom as they get older and mature into young adults who are equipped to navigate the treacherous waters of our culture. Parents do need to demonstrate how faith in Christ does in fact connect to the fallen culture in which God has placed us for its good. It’s not merely about making it through to adulthood unscathed. It’s about engaging our culture, preserving what is good in our culture, and creating new and better cultural goods for everyone. On the one hand, young people should give their parents and churches a break if they seem to be or are indeed overprotective. On the other hand, parents and churches must recognize that we can’t win a war hunkered down in our foxholes. We have to train at the base, go on maneuvers, and then march into battle armed with the best equipment in the world: Christ, His truth, and the creativity He’s given us to bring His culture (kingdom) to bear in this world.
About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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