Are Christians Supposed to Be Counter-Cultural?

Counter-cultural was one of those trendy phrases a few years ago. I still hear it often, especially as a call to Christians to be counter-cultural.

I get it. Our lives are supposed to reflect truths and choices that run against the flow of the world, but…

We still breathe the same air, swim in the same water, use the same roads, work in similar places, and so on.

Many groups and movements have used the phrase counter-cultural through the years. Google it, and you’ll find it listed alongside words, people, and movements in history, such as Woodstock, Vietnam, race relations, middle class, and much more. At its very root, counter-cultural simply describes a subculture’s rejection of a mainstream way of doing things. In a sense, perhaps Christianity has always been counter-cultural, but we need to be careful in wearing it as a badge of honor or identity.

People already know what we stand against. In fact, many people make assumptions about what we stand against because of some active, vocal, and even fanatical individuals and groups that stand under the umbrella of Christianity. I may have some things in common with some of those people and groups, but I think I have more not in common with them. When we respond with hatred, legalism, and judgment instead of humility, compassion, and discernment, we are not living as counter-culturally as we might believe. But we may be living counter to Christ.

Yes, we as Christians are called to be different than the world. We are set apart. But we still share the world with others, including many who do not believe what we believe. We can certainly speak out against some things, but we need to be certain we only do so in the context of what we are for and who we believe. We don’t stand on a platform. We stand on Christ.

We must be significant within the culture we live. Being set apart isn’t the same as separating from. Just as Jesus told us, there will be times we shake the dust off our feet and move on, and there will be times when we ask questions that help people explore where they are and what choices they face.

Be different because of who God created you to be, not just for the sake of being different. Refuse to jump on a bandwagon. Know Jesus well and follow Him. Refuse to let what you’re against cloud Who you’re for. Refuse to be more familiar with what you oppose than with whom God intends you to be.

Legalism Gets In The Way

This is who God is/what God thinks…and no one will convince me otherwise.proverbs

Legalism gets in the way. It deters dialogue, which discourages relationships. Being right takes precedence over being respectful. And a much as we believe we are spouting truth, the truth is, God might teach us otherwise.

Faith is about honoring God. As long as we are alive, there is more we can learn about God. We can get closer to Him. We can experience Him, His will, and His world, including people, in surprising ways. We don’t know it all. And we need to accept and embrace that fact. Until we acknowledge we don’t know it all, we’ll limit what we know. We’ll miss out, which is not what God wants for us.

Don’t shut yourself from others, or God, by claiming you know it all. Even when you claim an absolute truth, have respect for others and invite them into dialogue. Who wants to listen to a know-it-all? We even have trouble listening to God at times!


The Blinker

blinkerI followed a car the other day that had its blinker on but drove for miles without turning. I wondered how often we go through life with a spiritual blinker on, intending to turn but finding it easier to stay on the path we’re following.

There’s a difference between intentions and obedience.

Here’s what God’s Word says about intentions:

People may make plans in their minds, but only the Lord can make them come true. You may believe you are doing right, but the Lord will judge your reasons. Depend on the Lord in whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:1-3)

My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring. (1 John 3:18)

Most of all, you must understand this: No prophecy in the Scriptures ever comes from the prophet’s own interpretation. No prophecy ever came from what a person wanted to say, but people led by the Holy Spirit spoke words from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” but do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

Here’s what God’s Word says about obedience:

If you love me, you will obey my commands. (John 14:15)

Do what God’s teaching says; when you only listen and do nothing, you are fooling yourselves. (James 1:22)

Those who know my commands and obey them are the ones who love me, and my Father will love those who love me. I will love them and will show myself to them…If people love me, they will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:21,23)

You are God’s children whom he loves, so try to be like him. Live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Thinking about doing something in God’s name but not doing it isn’t obedience. Doing something because you think it’s good isn’t the same as doing something in God’s name and isn’t obedience. Obedience isn’t about legalism; it’s about a responsive relationship with God.

How responsive is your relationship with God?

“Even the best of intentions hold little value without their fulfillment in obedience to God’s directive, paying no heed of any personal inconvenience.” (Anonymous)

God Says What’s Best. (It’s Not About You.)

healingthehurtWe’re not the center of the universe.

While this statement might not surprise you, we can easily slip into a me-centered way of thinking. It’s not just about selfish, demand-what-we-want-when-we-want-it thinking that’s selfish. You can certainly find someone who is a bit more selfish than you, so you don’t see yourself quite as selfish. Me-centered thinking is more sneaky than the obvious me-statements, whining, and high expectations for people to tend to personal needs and whims. Me-centered thinking is in every single one of us, and it particularly begins to decay the health of church families when we begin with ourselves as the foundation of plans, judgments, and assumptions.

“Well, I know that happens to some people in some churches, but people in my church are much more mature as believers than that. We know the dangers, and we’re cautious never to put our individual selves above the church.” It happens more often than you might recognize, and refusing to consider how me-centered thinking is impacting you as an individual or the church as a whole is negligent and deters you from spiritually growing as God intends.

Even when we know God is sovereign and accept him as all-knowing and all-powerful, our behavior often contradicts our beliefs. Because we can’t understand everything about God, we make some assumptions. We start with what we do understand and make assumptions. We project our limited understanding onto what must be true about God.

We experience fear, and we know God’s Word refers to fear, so we infuse our experience of fear into our belief of what God means when he refers to fear.

We hear a particular Scripture verse taught in a way we’ve never considered before, and without checking the context of the verse or keeping the context of the teaching, we begin to expand the application into areas God never intended. We make our own rules because they make sense to us without checking to see if God says our rules are necessary or God-honoring.

We’re confident God guided in a specific direction in one situation, so when we’re in a similar situation again later, we assume God wants us to move in the same direction.

God’s will is unchanging, but the specifics of how he wants us to respond changes across situations. He desires an ever-deepening relationship with us, which means we must rely on him through every moment of every situation. He guides us to stand up, speak up, speak up, and shut up, depending on what he knows is best in each situation. If faith was as simple as “If A, then B…If C, then D,” we wouldn’t have to rely on God’s leading on an ongoing basis, because we would live within the bounds of legalism. It’s obvious through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees that legalism is not the same as a thriving relationship of faith with God. He’s not interested in legalism. He wants sacrificial dependency that spurs us toward bold obedience.

When we want what is best, we can become so passionately invested that we place blinders on our eyes, causing us to miss some important truths God. We need to invite God to reveal the situation in which we’re starting with what we most want and projecting our wish lists onto what we’re proclaiming as God’s will. Faith is yielding to God. It’s dying to self to live in his will, which isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing commitment. We need to set everything of our own wills to the side—our assumptions, wants, relationships, and much more—in order to hear clearly from God. Only declare his will when your confident it’s founded in God’s Word and not in your own.

Trust the Lord with all your heart  and don’t depend on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.