Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reverently Irrelevant

One of the greatest tragedies the Christian Church has faced recently is our quest to become relevant.  My sense is that it started sometime around the seeker-sensitive movement in the 90’s.  We decided that in order to reach the broader culture we had to make the message one that encouraged and tickled the ears of our listeners.  What resulted was a watered down version of Christianity that failed to transform the culture it presented itself to (not to mention the countless crappy dramas and skits, “secular” songs with lyrical changes, and horribly produced films that have popped up over the past several years).  What I’m trying to say is that the Church has tried to engage culture by becoming like culture and it’s not working. 

Last night I had the chance to speak to our college students at Crossroads Bible Church.  I’ve been leading worship for these monthly gatherings over the last few months, and I love these students.  They are passionate about following Christ.  They are passionate about worship.  My sense is that God is starting to do some great things in and through this college group.  As I was praying and studying for this talk, God was directing me to the Sermon on the Mount.  I’ve preached on this text before, but this time I zeroed in on Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  The take-away for our college students is that God required humility on two levels:  personally (which I will elaborate on in the rest of this entry) and corporately.  I told them, whenever there is a great move of God, it faces the possibility that we, mere men, will mess it up by becoming arrogant and proud of what we're involved in.  We start to take the glory for ourselves, and just as quickly as God started to move, he quickly stops.  The words I spoke were a warning that just because God is moving in our midst right now, he doesn't have to continue to do so...if we become prideful and arrogant...if we lose our humility and meekness, then surely he will not continue to move in power.

What fascinates me about this text, though…and Jesus whole message…is that the ones who are blessed are the ones who the world (culture) sees as undesirable and weak.  Just think about it…”Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted.”  None of these are highly esteemed in the world’s eyes.  Most look at the poor as a drain on society, if someone is mourning the loss of a loved one we give them a day off work, the meek and humble are looked at as weak, depravity…not righteousness…is honored by the human race (Psalm 12:8), the merciful are mocked because of their forgiving spirits, the pure in heart are looked at as na├»ve, the peacemakers are thought to be unpatriotic, and the persecuted are said to have it coming to them.  And yet, Jesus gives his Kingdom to such as these. 

Lately, the corporate world has received a lot of press…Wall Street bailouts, bankruptcies, companies closing their doors.  All of the financial trouble these big companies are in is driven by selfishness.  In the corporate world, we are told to climb our way (read fight, steal, claw) to the top of the chain.  Success is making more money, and to make more money you’ve got to be at the top.  So, we start at the bottom and we are to sacrifice family and relationships and passions and desires to make it up that ladder.  And so many people…Christian and non-Christian alike…buy into the idea that if we have more money and more things we will finally be happy.  As a result we start to lose our humility.  Pride and arrogance step in and we begin to justify the means by what comes at the end. 

Jesus message turns the whole way culture works on its head.  It is time for Christians to stop trying so hard to be relevant.  Jesus was irrelevant.  The Pharisees of the day hated his message because they thought if they could just abolish sin (prostitutes, tax collectors, etc.) then Messiah would come.  Messiah came and offered hope for the prostitute and tax collector and other sinners.  The Pharisees were angry because they thought Jesus was getting in the way of Messiah coming.  And yet Jesus continued to preach a message that was counter-cultural.  Christians need to do this more today.  We need to stop buying in to the American Dream.  We need to stop trying to climb corporate ladders and make life work for us.  Instead we need to boldly proclaim the hope that Jesus offers…the Gospel that says we are all sinners and because of Christ’s death we can come to God…and because of his resurrection we are no longer slaves to sin or the world’s systems of living.  We need to contrast the hope that Jesus offers with the hope that politicians offer…because I assure you it is not the same. 

If you want to inherit the Kingdom of God, you must be meek.  “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  That is a message that counters the message the world sends us.  That is what it means to be reverently irrelevant.