Dangerous and relevant was how a close friend recently summed up the season we’ve just entered. I’ve described it as toxic, but he’s right. It goes beyond toxic and has indeed become dangerous. It’s the spiritual atmosphere. It is the culture. It impacts our very thinking. In facing this reality, our task as members of God’s Kingdom has never been more relevant. Yet, there is nothing new under the sun.
These same linked descriptors, dangerous and relevant, were what prevailed in both the spiritual atmosphere and the culture when Jesus entered His earthly ministry. When we pause long enough, we realize they also enshroud what John saw in His revelation of the turbulent time marking the shift into the restoration of all ages.
The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I realize the depth of the wisdom of what God imparted to Moses, still upheld by the Jews. It was and is the standard for surviving, as well as living and thriving as a distinctive culture within cultures, when everything in the surrounding environment is toxic. It has been the standard for navigating a pathway that is dangerous, while enabling the people of God, to serve as ambassadors of what is relevant.
There’s no question that the “dangerous and relevant” is what underscored the words Jesus used to introduce His earthly ministry: Repent. “Repent,” in reality means to change your thinking. It is a clarion call to live within challenging seasons and cultures with something more to offer than our opinions and self-oriented goals: of becoming relevant game-changers.
This is the time of year Scripture describes as the Festival of Lights. Jesus celebrated it. It began with a time when a sect of Jewish revolutionaries were pushing back against the Hellenistic culture absorbing so much of the world with its thinking. Their initial movement was a quest to uphold the standard with relevance against the toxic seeds of this pagan culture. Indeed it proved dangerous and relevant.
Two recent Wall Street Journal articles point to this juxtaposition, this eroding divide that marks the shift in the season upon us. They highlight the issues, as we face the reality of being a culture within a culture. The subtle challenge is assimilation, of the standard being lowered for those being seduced by the sin of King Saul: the desire to be like everyone else.
One of the articles unveils the subtlety of the danger, while the other the core of the relevance. The one noting the danger is an article describing the shift within our American culture with the common thread of being addicted to outrage.
The one bearing on relevance outlined the leadership and team-building strategy that is included in corporate gratitude to God, building on the tradition set in motion by the Plymouth Colony, yet in reality a case to be made for the feast days outlined by Moses.
Baseline of Identity
The issue comes down to our identity as believers. If we get the identity right, it defines the standard. To truly get the standard right requires changed thinking. That is the admonition to “repent” that Jesus knew would be required to truly employ his message of the Kingdom. Navigating the Kingdom of God incorporates a higher dimension.
The Kingdom standard removes the pollution marked by cultural assimilation from the subtleties of the thinking of the world around us, which as believers we are called to contrast by our lives, our values and the role we serve in it. All of which is the basis of being game-changers. Not just as church-goers, but as we bring God into the open in the everydayness of life, we challenge the prevailing culture around us. That’s dangerous, yet it’s relevant.
It comes down to the Apostle’s admonition: “May this mind be in you, that was in Jesus.” There is a word found throughout Scripture: mindful. In most cases it refers to God being mindful of His people, fully focused on us, those serving as His representatives. Yet, in a few cases, this word uniquely describes the expectation that the Lord has for our response to Him: of having our undistracted focus.
One them involved Jesus’ response to Peter. Peter was real. There was no pretense, no phoniness within him. I really like that about Peter. Yet, his strong personality got him in trouble when he jumped to conclusions, conclusions tainted by naive, polluted thinking that failed to get the focus right. Immediately after Peter had the incredible revelation of Jesus being the Messiah, Peter’s short-sighted thinking then caused him to jump to a religious, but flawed conclusion on what should lay ahead for Jesus.
Scripture tells us that Jesus quickly drew the line and rebuked Peter to the point of telling him that his conclusions were an offense to Him, that the problem was that Peter had become overly “mindful” with the thoughts of men and not of God.
Another example is from Nehemiah. This was a time of significant change for God’s people, with the societal dynamics underway going through a dramatic shift. In facing the shift, a day of corporate repentance was called. In humbling themselves before the Lord, what was being recalled was the mindsets among their forefathers which had gotten them into a similar dilemma of bondage to the culture around them because: “they were not mindful of the wonders God had done and were determined to return to the bondages of Egypt.” That’s a pretty plain explanation of the assimilation issue and the importance of our “relevance” as believers in being a prophetic people of God upholding the Kingdom culture standard.
In still another biblical illustration of the extent of our “mindfulness toward God,” Peter having gone through the stages in his thinking required for his role as the apostle to the Jewish believers, wrote his followers: to stir up pure minds, being mindful of the prophetic words of their leaders, holding to the expectations tied to the standard defining their identity. He described those resisting as scoffers, who had chosen identities and lifestyles that were aligned with their own lusts. It was a call to be relevant in the face of danger.
The Addiction of Distractions
At the heart of the danger, is the out-of-the-closet addiction to outrage so embedded in American thinking and discourse. It distracts and masks the realities. Behind the outrage is a culture war with tantrum distortions manipulating values and standards central to our Judeo-Christian societal foundations. It’s assimilation without subtlety. The result produces smokescreens of passion and division designed to pervert issues of valid identity and the standard. It’s the redirected myopic thinking that underscored Peter’s sin of being overly mindful of the thoughts of men and not God. Close, but totally missing the mark.
We use the expression “penny-wise and dollar foolish.” It exemplifies the dynamics of the subtlety of the distortions and distractions. The result is our majoring in minor things, while minoring in the truly important ones. Which triggers the importance of the leadership, unity and focus needed in bringing God and the spiritual realities to the forefront. That’s the goal of changed thinking that Jesus required to activate His central message: employing righteous power in a corrupt world.
The Standard and Protection
Change your thinking to conform with not the prevailing wind of issues and passions, but with the spiritual standard defined by the key mandates upheld by righteous Jews. In such thinking is the protection and relevance needed to be a culture within a culture. Setting aside time to be mindful of the Lord. With an undivided mind, to rehearse and embed His ways in the standard guiding our everyday lives. That’s why the wisdom of the article on the Plymouth Colony model of corporate gratitude is so significant. It stops, unifies and calls for humility and mindfulness before the Lord. Because of the corporate focus, it puts an axe to the root of the deceit that perverts and undermines the values and standards that protect us and our thoughts in the midst of the danger.
It parallels what the Lord told Moses when He said: “Tell the children of Israel, surely my Sabbaths you will keep. For it will be a sign throughout the generations that you may know that it is I the Lord who sanctifies you.” Our times of rest, of simply being with Him, mindful of Him, are the times the Lord sanctifies or cleanses us from the dangerous, overwhelming pollution of the toxic fare offered by a world of deceit, a world of false gods, in reality a world trying to reshape the culture, without the Lord.
The corporate gratitude toward God should simultaneously be based on the results of the application of living lives that are distinct from those whose priorities have the mindfulness of men. The book of Hebrews points out that the Son is the radiance, or the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of His being. Being His witnesses means that we are God-reflectors in who we are and what we do.
Therein lies the mantle of Abraham, that through his descendents all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. God-thinking that incorporates God’s ways produces a society of leaders. It’s a society of leaders who build others and prepares the emerging generation as the blessings of God trickle down to those around us.
This is not unlike Joseph the patriarch who, as a slave with no status was observed by the world around him as having the Lord with Him because everything he put his hands to prospered. He was a carrier of God’s presence because his thoughts and priorities were aligned with God’s. When our thoughts and priorities are focused with God’s, we become the reflectors of His creativity and that dimension of His nature that brings increase and blessing. Remember the parable of the talents. If put in a circumstance like Joseph and our faith was based on evidence, I wonder how the balance would tilt.
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© 2018 Morris Ruddick (USCAL member) http://strategic-initiatives.org/