Mick’s Memo—“In”, But Not “Of”
As followers of Jesus we have conflicting callings. We are to influence others with the influence God has had on us, while resisting the influence on our surroundings. Jesus put it this way in His final intercession for His disciples found in John’s narrative of His life…
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. John 17:13-19 (NIV)
For most of the time that believers have been following and serving Jesus; there has been conflict with the overall flow of culture and society. There is a spiritual conflict permeating human history. There is opposition to all that is true, holy and loving. That opposition begins with pervasive individual selfishness and is institutionalized through clusters of people we call society, culture or countries. Some of these clusters have been less hostile, such as the original structures of our country which were intentionally tuned to balance individual and group values. While not perfect by any means, it was based on better assumptions than the current state of our structures and laws.
How can we appropriately engage in this natural conflict? Again, drawing on the early church records found in Acts, I believe we can find help from their example. In chapter 4 we find Peter and John arrested and summoned before the religious council of Priests, Scribes and Elders. They are confronted for performing a miracle; healing a man who was afflicted with paralysis for 40 years. It is a matter of authority. The council insists that despite the miraculous result, Peter and John are at fault for not being “under their authority”, prohibiting them from such practices. Peter and John simply point to the obvious involvement of God and pose the penetrating question of whether they should obey God’s authority and calling, or that of the council.
God is the authority of all authorities and all other authority is derived from Him (see Romans 13:1-4). Most of the time, following Him does not involve disobedience to those He has endowed with authority. However, in the case Peter and John confronted, and maybe sometimes for us, there will be a conflict. Their response is instructive for us. They were respectful, patient and bold, humbly submitting to God’s calling to bear witness to what they had “seen and heard”. That simple message was that Jesus had come as the Messiah, He was rejected, killed and God raised Him from the dead. The miracle was a means of God authenticating their message.
When they returned to their community of faith, they reported their experience, rejoiced and prayed. Their prayer affirmed God’s sovereign authority, the expectation of conflict and their request for continued boldness to carry out their mission.
That’s a great model for us to follow. We have been given the “baton” for our generation. We are assigned to give testimony to the same simple, yet life-changing, message. When we face conflict, we are to humbly obey our calling with boldness, lovingly demonstrating the life-giving truth entrusted to us. If other authority seeks to supersede God’s, then we must humbly and willingly submit to God’s first, accepting the consequences. We are meant to be “in” this culture. Jesus “sent” us as the Father “sent” Him. But because we are not meant to be “of” the culture, we will experience times when our difference will elicit conflict. We will need to avoid “demonizing” opposing views, while remaining dedicated to the truth God has given us; loving through it all.
This is not for the faint of heart. It requires amazing self-awareness, dedication, self-control, humility and courage. May the Lord empower us to be “in”, but not “of”.
This weekend we are being visited by consultants from “The Center” on Friday evening and Saturday, engaging with our leadership team with the first results of our survey and interviews back in January. Please pray for a blessed time of discovery and planning with them.
Sunday we will continue our series “What is God Really Like?”
Looking forward to seeing you!