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Time for a Culture Change: Are You Ready?

  • Jim Daly President, Focus on the Family
  • Updated Oct 26, 2012
Time for a Culture Change: Are You Ready?

Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold . . .

Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. - 2 Corinthians 3:122 Corinthians 4:1-2 NLT

My eyes were fixed on the faces of my two sons, their eyes huge with wonder. Trent and Troy were getting their first look at the magnificent Mount Rushmore. I drank in this perfect scene — my boys, ages nine and eleven, struck speechless by the immense white sculpted mountains honoring four of our nation’s great presidents. I had been anticipating this moment mile after mile, and now my heart swelled with gratitude — gratitude for these two young men God had entrusted to Jean and me, gratitude for this great country, and gratitude to the God who had given me this moment.

My wife, Jean, and I had spent months planning this vacation and had driven our fifth wheel from Colorado Springs to the famed but desolate outpost in the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota. Even though I absolutely love my role at Focus, it was great after a particularly tough spring to finally get away from the rigorous office routine and reconnect with the boys at the start of their summer vacation. I had my smartphone in my pocket; I had made a conscious decision to stay away from work and had asked my assistant to refrain from calling me except for dire emergencies.

I moved from studying the faces of my sons to studying the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, contrasted against the crystal-clear blue sky that called my eyes heavenward.

And then my phone rang.

I looked down and recognized the number. It was the office calling, but given the remoteness of our location, the signal was weak. I attempted to answer it, only to quickly lose the call. After repeated attempts at reconnecting, I found a tiny spot where the phone held a signal. I had to almost stand on one leg and lean to one side in order to hear the caller. The news was disheartening.

Several months earlier, our Focus on the Family team had planned an event with TOMS. This corporation was founded on a novel concept: for every pair of TOMS shoes purchased, the company donates a pair to a needy child. When I first heard about what they were doing, I was intrigued. “The goal isn’t how much money you make but how much you help people,” founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie told the New York Times in 2009. Impressive, I thought. I’d love to learn more.

Blake’s concept sparked an idea at Focus. We arranged to host a special event to bring attention to the work that Blake and his colleagues were doing. I believed that his story would inspire other Chris tians to act on their faith and help others in need. We wanted to highlight the great work of TOMS and tell our friends how they could join the mission of putting shoes on the feet of impoverished kids. We envisioned the possibility of giving away as many as a half million shoes through the program.

The night finally arrived, and I interviewed Blake in front of an audience of more than fifteen hundred guests on a summer evening in Southern California. As we left California, we were humbled by the success of the event and excited to see the response to the broadcast, which had yet to air across our radio network.

But now, standing in South Dakota, I was told that TOMS was no longer comfortable with their association with Focus. Blake had just posted a blog about Focus on the Family, and his words, read to me by our vice president of communications, Gary Schneeberger, saddened me. Earlier in the week, Blake and his company had been chastised and petitioned by homosexual advocates, demanding that he apologize for speaking at our event.

What did Blake say in his blog that incited such a strong reaction one week after the interview? He suggested that if he had known what we stood for as a ministry, he wouldn’t have agreed to speak at our event. The topic was grist for the blogosphere, especially at sites promoting homosexual rights. I was most saddened by the level of vitriol heaped not only on Focus on the Family but also on Blake and his colleagues at TOMS by those with whom we have ideological disagreements.

A few days later, Blake and I talked on the phone. I greatly respect and appreciate him and understand the pressure exerted by people in his own organization to distance himself and TOMS from Focus. I tried my best to listen more than talk and didn’t try to strong-arm him. Because we had already taped the program and had it in our possession, we had the ability to ignore Blake’s wishes and air the program. In fact, given the brewing controversy, it would have generated significant publicity and ratings for Focus. But after talking with Blake, I agreed not to air the radio program. It grieved me to think of the great opportunity we had to help kids — but because of the criticism of a vocal minority, we wouldn’t be able to do so. I’d hoped that our partnership with TOMS would be a positive experience of working with those in the business sector, yet our past efforts to be a voice of truth within our culture had alienated so many people that this opportunity to put shoes on the feet of children was squelched.

What happened?

How did we arrive at such a point that an organization like Focus on the Family is deemed unfit by some in our culture to help children in need simply because we hold to what we believe are biblical mandates about marriage and family?

Something is wrong.

But we already knew that.

We’re living in tough and confusing times. We see the brokenness of the world, the inevitability of disappointment, the relentless cycles of heartache.

We see the ugliness inside our culture — the absurdity of seemingly really smart people doing really unwise things — and we find it to be distasteful and downright destructive. We see conflict and controversy growing on a daily basis, pride and power plays, and the sad realization that money, sex, prestige, and power seem to drive the passions of people on all sides of the issues.

If you are like me, you want to do something about it — but what?

There must be a better way.

There has to be a better way.

Perhaps you, like many followers of Christ, have been pouring your heart and soul into the task of helping others, either individually or collectively. Maybe you’ve also been doing your best to help solve the problems of this world, whether social, political, economic, or environmental.

But there’s a problem.

In the process of jumping in, rolling up your sleeves, and getting busy working toward solutions, you’ve discovered that the great divisions in our culture are creating boundaries that we cannot seem to cross. The clash of values has enraged so many, has so alienated citizen from citizen and believer from believer, that even in our efforts to alleviate suffering and help those in need, we are viewed with suspicion or even contempt.

You’ve also realized that you don’t always act like a Christian — and that all too often your heart bends more to the world’s ways than to the ways of Jesus.

Do you see what that means?

You’re actually part and parcel to the problems of the world.

So am I.

And that’s the problem beneath the problem.

The Right Attitude

As Christians, we’re irritated when we see other Christians behaving badly. We grow frustrated when we see people inside the church treating others unkindly. Whether it’s the infighting of partisan politics or disputes over how to strategically engage with the culture, or even theological arguments of various stripes, we don’t always get along with each other in the Christian subculture. We also don’t seem to have much patience for candid and respectful discussions when disagreements spring up. In fact, we’re quick to jump to conclusions and even quicker to criticize our own people when they define the problems, or the solutions, differently than we do.

Let me give you an example.

During a recent interview with Marvin Olasky of World magazine, I was asked about the same-sex marriage debate within today’s culture. The discussion took place in front of students from King’s College inside New York City’s Empire State Building. I simply acknowledged what the facts support. I shared with Mr. Olasky that among younger Americans, same-sex marriage is gaining acceptance and that we’re rowing against the tide. I affirmed that we have God’s design on our side, as well as social science research that affirms the wisdom of traditional one-man/one-woman marriage. Yet given the obvious paradigm shift among the younger generation, I noted that we’re fighting an uphill battle of demographics. Given the facts, how should the church respond to this growing divide? Are we ready for the day when a majority of people disagree with the multimillennium-old definition of marriage? If not, shouldn’t we be ready for it?

Once the excerpted interview was published, several of my Christian associates were upset with me for making such an observation. In response to my attempt to bring perspective and share what the Lord had laid on my heart, some people ridiculed me — yes, these were my fellow Christians! Some perceived my comments as weak, akin to waving a white flag of surrender. Some even accused me of caving in to supporters of same-sex marriage. One supporter even went so far as to write in a private e-mail, “Never have I been so embarrassed to be affiliated with Focus on the Family!”

To be clear, I was not suggesting that Christians throw up their hands and accept the reality of same-sex marriage. I was simply trying to express what so many are struggling with: How do we navigate the coming age and culture in the manner and methods commanded by Jesus? How do we disagree with certain principles within culture without being hostile in our attitude? If our current methods are failing to stem the tide of public acceptance, shouldn’t we consider the possibility that the Lord is calling us to engage in a different way?

Since assuming my role as president of Focus on the Family, an international ministry dedicated to helping families thrive, I’ve had many chats with the Lord about what He is calling me to communicate on His behalf. These haven’t been audible conversations, of course, but I have clearly felt His leading and direction during my prayer times these last seven years. Here is the essence of what He’s been telling me — and what has motivated me to sit down and write this book.

I believe the Lord wants us to get our hearts ready for spiritual battle. Yes, He’s concerned about the practical problems of the world because behind every problem there are people. Real people. People He created. People He loves. People with whom He desires to be in relationship with on a daily, 24/7 basis. So it’s critically important to engage the world and do what we can to alleviate suffering, bring comfort, and allow the Lord to use us to accomplish these things on His behalf.

But He is especially concerned about the condition of our hearts. He’s concerned about what motivates you and me. He’s concerned about what gets you out of bed in the morning. He’s just as much, if not more, concerned about why you care about something as He is with what you care about.

When I examine my life, I’m often struck by the fact that I’m all too often more in love with the heartbeat of the culture than I am with the heart of God Himself. If this weren’t true, I wouldn’t get upset when I receive a stinging e-mail criticizing me for something I believe the Lord wanted me to say — the comment at King’s College, for example. If I truly cared more about God’s ways than the world’s ways, I wouldn’t grow anxious or despondent when my candidate of choice doesn’t win an election or when someone or something infringes on my religious liberties. Of course setbacks of this nature disappoint us, but they shouldn’t paralyze us.

Let me ask you what I asked the students of King’s College: Are you ready?

Are you ready to engage the culture with winsomeness and with great patience and confidence? Are you ready to endure the slings and arrows of both friend and foe, knowing that you stand solidly on principles that are forever, on words that are rooted in Jesus Christ? Are you ready to play — even if you’re quite sure you’re not going to “win” — at least not win according to the world’s standards?

And here is an especially hard question: Are you ready to play Jesus’ way — to see those living outside God’s will not as opponents to conquer but as people loved by God — people who need to experience His love, possibly even through you?

If you’re anxious and worried about the culture, do you doubt that the Lord has His hand firmly on the wheel?

Are you ready to examine what only you and the Lord can see?

Are you ready to “do business” with the state of your own heart, mind, and soul?

At the very outset, you should know that this isn’t a book about what’s going badly in the culture, but rather one about how Christians should respond to it. Are we doing the right things for the right reasons? Are we more concerned with shaping the debate than we are with shaping and refining our own attitudes toward the world? I’m reminded of the old song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Do you remember it? “Let there be peace on earth,” the song begins, “and let it begin with me.” Or perhaps we should consider the words of a song more familiar to today’s culture: “I’m looking at the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”(1)

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we’re more concerned about God making right the wrongs of the world than we are with cooperating with Him to help us first right the wrongs of our own hearts.

If we’re going to help win people to the heart of Jesus, it’s critical that our own hearts are wedded to His.

Change begins inside our hearts. This is the message Jesus pounded into the heads of the religious leaders of his day.

Physician, Heal Thyself!

When we read through the Gospels, we quickly discover that Jesus is repeatedly dealing with the religious people and forcing them to confront the shape of their hearts toward the sinful world. Consider the bold charge in Luke:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” - Luke 6:27-36 

To be candid, I struggle with these instructions. This behavior doesn’t come naturally to me. And from what I’ve seen in the way people treat those with whom they disagree, I think all of us struggle with these instructions. These are God-focused and supernatural teachings, and the flesh, even subtly, considers this guidance beyond reach. Of course, on our own, it is — but not if we allow God to grab hold of our hearts. Not if we allow Him to mold and shape us in a way that compels us to live lives that reflect His heart, not ours. The New Testament urges us to live quiet lives so we can live in peace. It also reminds us to pray for those in authority over us, including those in government. You’ll note that within the Scriptures we see no distinction of person or ideology. “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” is how the gospel writer Mark (Mark 12:17) recorded Jesus’ instruction. As Christians, we have an obligation to live under secular authority, as long as in doing so, it doesn’t compromise or violate God’s law.

Do you get what this means? To live in this fashion requires us to lay down our own egos, put away our prideful self-interests, and set aside our own expectations. It also means that if we truly embrace this perspective, then we’re likely to run into difficulty and encounter awkwardness and conflict.

So when we encounter this conflict, what are we to do?

Here is the great challenge: we are always called to express our concerns and opinions in a respectful and thoughtful manner. I don’t see any teaching in the New Testament that allows us to cast aside our godly character to gain some victory, regardless of how grand the prize. In other words, the ends do not justify the means. If we Christians attempt to fight a battle with only the goal to win in mind, then we have sold out and do not have the character of Christ. We all want to teach our kids about character. We repeatedly tell them it isn’t about winning or losing but how you played the game. But when it comes to this arena for adults, whether it is in the church or the political theater, do we apply this same principle? What is in our hearts toward the opposition?

I try to remember that the world is constantly watching Christians, wondering whether we truly believe what we preach and profess to be true. In fact, there are some non-Christians who will form an opinion of Christ Himself through an interaction with a person who claims divine allegiance. I have deliberately tried to apply this truth to every aspect of my life.

I am grateful beyond words that Jesus came to eradicate the distance between me and God that was caused by my sin and to invite me into a relationship with God. In the Bible, He instructs me on how to interact with those around me — the believer, the nonbeliever, the godly, the ungodly, those in authority, the religious rulers, and others. I am seeking to reconnect with the heart of God and refocus my efforts to reach a world that does not know His heart.

And may I be candid, especially since we’re going to spend some time together over the course of these next pages? When I look at the culture and the needs of this world, my heart is breaking. I look out, and I am moved toward those who fight Him, reject Him, or, even worse, ignore Him. This is why I am compelled to share this message with you. May the Lord bless and guide your thoughts as we confront one of the greatest tests of our time — the challenge of refocusing our efforts on living in such a way as to invite others to experience the love of Jesus and come to know Him as their personal Savior.

*Excerpted from ReFocus: Living a Life That Reflects God's Heart, by Jim Daly (HarperCollins 2012). Used with permission.

Publication date: October 23, 2012